May 31, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Teenage victim becomes a symbol for Syria's revolution: Mutilated body of Hamza al-Khatib given to family as state TV says injuries were faked by conspirators ( Shiv Malik, Ian Black and Nidaa Hassan, 31 May 2011, The Guardian)

The new face of the Syrian revolution is chubby, has a winning smile and belongs to a 13-year-old named Hamza al-Khatib.

The boy, from a village called al-Jizah near the southern city of Deraa, has become the most famous victim yet of Syria's bloody chapter of the Arab spring.

Hamza was picked up by security forces on 29 April. On 27 May his badly mutilated corpse was released to his horrified family, who were warned to keep silent.

According to a YouTube video and human rights activists, Hamza was tortured and his swollen body showed bullet wounds on his arms, black eyes, cuts, marks consistent with electric shock devices, bruises and whip marks. His neck had been broken and his penis cut off.

Like Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who was shot dead in street protests after Iran's disputed presidential elections two years ago, Hamza has come to symbolise the innocent victims in a struggle for freedom against tyranny and repression.

In the YouTube video, a picture of Hamza is held above his coffin. It shows his angelic grin and thick head of black hair. He is dressed in a polo shirt. Below the gold-framed photo lies his body. "He was taken alive and he was killed because he called for freedom," says the voice-over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Let’s stop blaming America: We are still the prisoners of a culture of conspiracy and inferiority (DR. KHALID ALNOWAISER, 5/31/11, ARAB NEWS)

I AM a proud and loyal Saudi citizen, but I am tired of hearing constant criticism from most Arabs of everything the United States does in its relations with other countries and how it responds to global crises. No nation is perfect, and certainly America has made its share of mistakes such as Vietnam, Cuba and Iraq. I am fully aware of what happened when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the unprecedented abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. However, what would we do if America simply disappeared from the face of the earth such as what happened to the Soviet Union and ancient superpowers like the Roman and Greek empires? These concerns keep me up day and night. It’s frustrating to hear this constant drumbeat of blame directed toward the United States for everything that is going wrong in the world. Who else do we think of to blame for our problems and failures? Do we take personal responsibility for the great issues that affect the security and prosperity of Arab countries? No, we look to America for leadership and then sit back and blame it when we don’t approve of the actions and solutions it proposes or takes.

For instance, if a dictator seizes and holds power such as Egypt’s Mubarak and Libya’s Qaddafi, fingers are pointed only at America for supporting these repressive leaders. If the people overthrow a dictator, fingers are pointed at America for not having done enough to support the protestors. If a nation fails to provide its people with minimum living standards, fingers are pointed at America. If a child dies in an African jungle, America is criticized for not providing necessary aid. If someone somewhere sneezes, fingers are pointed at America. Many other examples exist, too numerous to mention.

I am not pro-American nor am I anti-Arab, but I am worried that unless we wake up, the Arab world will never break out of this vicious and unproductive cycle of blaming America. We must face the truth: Sadly, we are still the prisoners of a culture of conspiracy and cultural inferiority. We have laid the blame on America for all our mistakes, for every failure, for every harm or damage we cause to ourselves. The US has become our scapegoat upon whom our aggression and failures can be placed. We accuse America of interfering in all our affairs and deciding our fate, although we know very well that this is not the case as no superpower can impose its will upon us and control every aspect of our lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Citizenship and Memory: Patriotic citizens are not born, they are made. (Amy Kass & Leon Kass & Diana Schaub, 5/30/11, National Review)

Recognizing the importance of American citizenship, character, and identity is relatively easy. Knowing how to produce them is difficult, especially given the obstacles, old and new, that we face today. Active and attached citizens of good character are not born, they are made. Their making depends partly on explicit instruction, partly on habituation in character-shaping activities — in homes, schools, houses of worship, community organizations, youth groups, voluntary associations, branches of military service, and the like. How all these influences work and coalesce is, in truth, something of a mystery, especially if we remember that making citizens involves more than correcting people’s ignorance or refining their opinions. It requires, above all, the shaping of the central attitudes, sensibilities, and concerns of their being. It is precisely to address these deeper, and often neglected, aspects of making citizens that we have assembled this volume.

Many people in the United States, concerned about the state of civic literacy and national identity, have been developing new programs of instruction that emphasize American history, political thought, and civic institutions. These worthy efforts are largely cognitive: They seek to correct our abysmal ignorance by providing knowledge. But such knowledge will not by itself produce love of country or desires to do something in its service. Knowing the good, while necessary, is not sufficient for doing the good.

Another recent approach to improving civic participation emphasizes learning by doing. Called “service learning,” this approach sends students out into the community to perform mandated services for others, in the hope that the students thereby develop the habit of serving. But these worthy humanitarian activities are usually framed in social services’ language of “client” and “provider,” or the cosmopolitan language of compassion and care, rather than in the political and polity-specific language of American citizenship. And they are rarely accompanied by the sorts of study and discussions that could inform the sentiments employed or make the students more thoughtful about the character and purposes of the polity in which they live and serve.

Developing robust and committed American citizens is a matter of both the heart and the head. Like all building of character, it requires educating our moral imaginations, sentiments, and habits of heart — matters displayed in but also nurtured by great works of imaginative literature. As has been known at least since Homer and Plato, it is the poets, not the philosophers and historians, who shape the loves and hates of souls and cities. Today as well, works of fiction speak most immediately, engagingly, and movingly to the hearts and minds of readers of all ages. For these reasons, in our new anthology What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song, we have adopted a literary approach to making citizens, an approach centering on stories.

By furnishing our imaginations with well-drawn characters confronting concrete difficulties in well-defined circumstances, a well-crafted story can shed light on our national character and civic practices. By enabling us to identify and sympathize with the characters and the situations in which they find themselves, the story invites us to reflect also on ourselves and our own personal and civic experiences. For a practical-minded people like us, not generally given to deep philosophical inquiry or long epic sagas, the short story is a perfect vehicle for generating fruitful self-examination and self-knowledge.

In fact, it may well be the supremely American literary form, whose “nervous, formal, concentrated, brief, and penetrating” literary character, as Wallace Stegner said, best “expresses us as a people.” Many of us love to tell stories, and most of us love to hear them. But to hear — or read — and discuss the best stories told by the best storytellers is more than a way of passing time. It is a way of deepening time, by taking us to the profoundly humanizing truths contained in the ordinary surfaces of our experience. With the help of a great storyteller, we can see in the commonplace the things that really matter. Yes, stories are entertaining, but at their best they inform and reform us by dramatizing belief and rendering feeling thoughtful.

Rather than wasting so much time in schools on math and science and the like, we should return to using public education to train the citizenry for its responsibilities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Putting humanity in a kangaroo court: When Nobel laureates staged a mock eco-trial in Stockholm last week, they were really demanding to rule the world. (Ben Pile, 5/26/11, spiked)

You may not have noticed, but last week you were a co-defendant in a court case. In Stockholm, the Third Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability met at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The event website proclaimed that ‘hjumanity [sic] will be on trial as the Third Nobel Laureate Symposium brings together almost 20 Nobel Laureates, a number of leading policy makers and some of the world’s most renowned thinkers and experts on global sustainability.’

The charge against us, humanity, was that ‘our vast imprint on the planet’s environment has shifted the Earth into a new geological period labelled the “Anthropocene” – the Age of Man’. But this was a showtrial. The guilty verdict had been written before the court had even assembled. ‘The prosecution will therefore maintain that humanity must work towards global stewardship around the planet’s intrinsic boundaries, a scientifically defined space within which we can continue to develop’, claimed Professor Will Steffen, showtrial ‘prosecutor’ and executive director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University. The website and literature accompanying the symposium made no mention of the defence’s argument. Indeed, why would a Symposium on Global Sustainability invite a defence that challenged the premises it intended to promote?

The ‘trial’ was merely a stunt, of course, designed to make a stuffy, pompous and self-serving enterprise such as this more appealing to the media and the hoi polloi it sought to prosecute. It was one of a number of sessions at the event, each intended to qualify the sustainability agenda with the expertise of its participants. But this circle-jerk, show-trial symposium revealed far more about its members and the hollowness of the sustainability agenda than it revealed about humanity.

A trial implies a question mark over the guilt of the accused. A showtrial on the other hand, is a performance designed to serve some agenda or purpose, to make political capital from the trumped-up crimes of the defendant, whose ‘guilt’ has already been established. And so it is with the litany of charges served against humanity: we are ‘influencing critical Earth system processes’, ‘pushing the planet out of the 10,000-year Holocene environment’, causing ‘irreversible and abrupt changes’. These are our transgressions. They were recited in the courtroom melodrama, not to encourage scrutiny of ourselves, of society, or even really our relationship with nature, but to elevate the judges and their agenda. After all, without criminals, there can be no judges.

There is a strange irony to the spectacle of the world’s best thinkers putting humanity on trial. At the same time as they sit in judgement of humanity, those who seemingly best represent its virtues distance themselves from it. This act reflects a disconnect between the world’s elite – the establishment, in other words – and the rest of humanity. It is a practical demonstration of the extent to which contempt for humanity has been absorbed into establishment thinking.

...where the hoi polloi look down on them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


Democracy roots spread in Southeast Asia (Michael Vatikiotis, 6/01/11, Asia Times)

That said, there are recent trends that suggest the coming decade will see more rather than less momentum for political change. These factors could well be enhancers and accelerators of political change.

The first factor is the rise of populist politics. The 1997-98 Asian financial crisis generated popular discontent with old established elites regarded as corrupt and excessively rich, opening the door to populist figures appealing to the frustrated middle classes who lost their wealth and those who felt excluded from power. Joseph Estrada in the Philippines and Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand rode the crest of this wave. The new populist politics has shaken the foundations of established elites and opened the door to more radical social change.

Mobile phone services and the Internet have proven to be powerful agents for mobilizing popular support. More important than the sheer numbers that can be mobilized using mobile phone messaging and the Internet is the ability of the new technology to spread consistent messages and consolidate popular constituencies around platforms for change.

Thailand’s Red Shirt movement was effectively launched on the back of the ability to digitally shape and transmit a simple but powerful message that differentiated between the haves and have-less - the "amart" or aristocrats and the "phrai" or peasants. In Singapore, muscular media management couldn’t cope with the power of social networking and instant messaging that drew huge crowds to the political rallies organized by weak opposition parties and transformed their lawyerly candidates into virtual rock stars.

The major driving force of political change today is pressure from civil society. Across Southeast Asia, people are organizing themselves at the community level to challenge the power holders. Above all, they are able to do so because of the modest opening of space and respect for human rights. In Indonesia, civil society and a free media hold the line against backtracking on bureaucratic reform and a subtle but noticeable impulse to restore central authority and moving away from the decentralization that has helped reduce conflict.

Equally, civil society is more focused on the needs of ordinary people. For much of the last 30 years - especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe, religion replaced socialism as a basis of salvation ideology in the region. However, religious faith is a less effective mobilizer of political change because it is either innately conservative or too far out on the radical fringe to move the mainstream of society. This would appear to be changing with the rise of new neo-socialist movements on the back of populist politics.

Add to this the real chance of deeper and long-lasting recession around the corner combined with the factors mentioned above and this will make it harder for the kind of V-shaped recovery needed to protect the political status quo. One of the inhibitors of sweeping democratic change in the past was the ability of conservative elites to re-invent themselves as democrats in time to prevent the mobilization of mass-based movements with the real capacity to change the status quo. This kind of moderation will be harder to sustain in a prolonged period of economic stress.
If the pace of democratic change in Southeast Asia has been slow and subject to regression these past few decades, what would accelerated and sustained change look like? Will it bring violence? And what form of democracy will evolve? These are tough questions to answer. What we see in the Middle East provides a clue and a warning to what happens when long pent up frustrations boil over and people are willing to subject themselves to violence and even civil war in order to bring down the old autocratic order.

Here in Southeast Asia, fundamentally anti-democratic elites long ago learned to release pressure for change with piecemeal reforms, symbolic gestures and modest but limited measures of popular sovereignty. I coined the term "Trimming the Banyan Tree" but you could also call it "Democracy light". The region’s fast-paced growth of consumption has generally dampened frustrations and provided a sufficient accommodation between the growing aspirations of ordinary people and narrow elite interests. So long as the economic dynamism of this region continues, I see no reason why this should change.

All this is not to say that democracy has shallow roots in Southeast Asia. US President Barack Obama during his visit to Jakarta in November 2010 told Indonesians that "your democracy is sustained and fortified by its checks and balances: a dynamic civil society; political parties and unions; a vibrant media and engaged citizens who have ensured that - in Indonesia - there will be no turning back."

In other countries of the region too, the key to moving forward is to thwart the anti-reformist urges of resilient anti-democratic elites by ensuring a prominent space for civil society and respect for truth and justice that constitutes the basis for equality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Ahmadinejad’s Messianism (Afshin Shahi, 30 May 2011, Open Democracy)

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has taken one step further to galvanize the world. The new claims are so eccentric that one cannot conceivably relate them to the socio-political particularities of the twenty-first century. The Iranian president has been accused of using paranormal activities to enforce his policies. Indeed, he is accused of attempting to control an army of genies to run the country. As strange as these claims may sound, they have not come from the margin of the Iranian political spectrum: the president has been accused by mainstream political figures in Iran.

Over the last six years, many of Ahmadinejad’s idiosyncratic sentiments have been making international headlines. However, observers have not been quite sure if they should take his statements as a reflection of his personal views or as part of his political mandate to run the government. His deep belief in Messianism and statements about the return of the Hidden Imam to change the new world order are now familiar, but I was particularly shocked, when I heard his theory for the American invasion of Iraq in which he claimed that this was based on a national strategy to prevent the occultation of the Imam who has been in hiding since the 9th century.

Lately, the Iranian judiciary has announced that a man called Ghaffari has been arrested over his alleged paranormal activities. Ghaffari is said to be an exorcist close to the president. Of course, this is not the first time that Ahmadinejad is accused of resorting to exorcism for political means: his electoral opponent Mir-Hussain Mousavi, currently under house arrest, accused him of governing the country through paranormal activity. However, back then the Supreme Leader, who was Ahmadinejad’s key supporter, described these accusations as ‘shameful’ in an important Friday prayer. He strongly defended Ahmadinejad and refuted the accusations. Two years after the Supreme Leader’s sermon, the president is under pressure for the same allegations again, but this time the charges are not coming from his traditional opponents, but from high profile hard-liners close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself. The Supreme Leader, now considered the key power broker in the country, has not commented.

Last month, some of the hard-liners criticized the release of a controversial documentary which predicted an imminent occultation of the Hidden Imam. There is a widespread belief that the documentary was funded and supported by forces close to Ahmadinejad’s camp. It claims that the Supreme Leader is Seyyed Khorasani, the figure who according to prophecy will hand over the state to the Hidden Imam and that Ahmadinejad will be the major general in his army. Many pro-Khamenei figures have dismissed the claim, while still reserving the ‘possibility’ that the Leader is indeed Seyyed Khorasani. People such as Mojtaba Zolnour, Leader’s Deputy Representative to the Revolutionary Guard, said it is possible that Ayatollah Khamenei is that long-awaited man, but denied Ahmadinejad his role. The Office of the Supreme Leader maintained its silence, a silence which can be interpreted as wishing to avoid contradicting the prophecy.

But the arrest of Ghaffari, an exorcist close to the president, and the strong criticism from the pro-Khamenei hard-liners indicate that a wind of change is stirring in the conservative camp.

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May 30, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM

Marc Cohn On Mountain Stage (NPR, 7/05/10)

ost recently, Cohn and producer/instrumentalist John Leventhal have collaborated on Listening Booth: 1970, to be released July 20. The new album is named for the year that stirred Cohn's interest in pop music and saw the release of influential albums by Simon & Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, Neil Young and many more. On Listening Booth: 1970, Cohn interprets songs of that era in his own style.

Performing here in his second appearance on Mountain Stage, joined by widely-acclaimed guitarist Shane Fontayne, Cohn performs a career-spanning extended set, including two performances not heard on the radio broadcast: "Perfect Love" by Marc Cohn and Cat Stevens' "Wild World."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM

Arctic Monkeys – Suck It and See: album stream: Your chance to hear the fourth Arctic Monkeys album in full, a week ahead of release (Guardian, 5/30/11)

[F]or those who thought the band had lost their way with the experimental Humbug, there are plenty of pop melodies to placate you here (often ones with a 60s feel to them). Opener She's Thunderstorms shows their nifty way of surprising the listener with an off-kilter chord change, while later on Turner can be found doing his best Richard Hawley impression: "She's been loop the looping, around my mi-i-i-i-nd." Elsewhere, Piledriver Waltz's pretty guitar lines dissolve into a chorus about having "breakfast at the heartbreak hotel".

The band are still determined to rock out, though, and their evolution into a beefier proposition hasn't stalled. Brick By Brick, the first track the band previewed from the album, came across as a sluggish, pub-rock affair, but the haywire riffing on Library Pictures unleashes a more agile, unpredictable noise.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Europe at the Abyss (Robert Samuelson, 5/30/11, RCP)

Some causes of Europe's plight are well-known: the harsh recession following the 2008-2009 financial crisis; aging populations coupled with costly welfare states. But there's also another less recognized culprit: the euro, the single currency now used by 17 countries.

Launched in 1999, it aimed to foster economic and political unity. Economic growth would improve. Costly currency conversions would cease; money would flow smoothly across borders to the best profit opportunities. Using euros -- and not marks or lira -- Germans, Italians and others would increasingly consider themselves "Europeans." For a while, it seemed to succeed. In the euro's first decade, jobs in countries using the common currency increased by 16 million.

It was a mirage. The euro helped create the crisis and has made its resolution harder, as a new report from the International Monetary Fund shows. For starters, the euro fostered a credit bubble that led to booms in housing, borrowing and consumer spending. When each country had its own currency, the country's central bank (its Federal Reserve) regulated local interest rates and credit conditions. With the euro, the European Central Bank (ECB) assumed that job. But one policy didn't fit all: Interest rates suited to Germany and France were too low for "periphery" countries (Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain).

"Financial markets" -- private investors -- compounded the problem by assuming that the euro's creation reduced risk. Weak countries would be protected by the strong. Money poured into the periphery countries. There was a huge compression of interest rates. In 1997, rates on 10-year Greek government bonds averaged 9.8 percent compared to 5.7 percent for similar German bonds. By 2003, Greek bonds fetched 4.3 percent, just above the 4.1 percent of German bonds.

"The markets failed. All this would not have occurred if banks in Germany and France had not lent so much," says economist Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute. "It was like the U.S. housing market." Both American and European banks went overboard in relaxing credit standards.

Now that the credit bubble has burst, the euro impedes recovery. One way countries revive from financial crises is by depreciating their currencies. This makes exports and local tourism cheaper, creating some job gains that cushion the ill effects of austerity elsewhere. But latched to the euro, Greece and other vulnerable debtors forfeit this safety valve.

Greece's debt is now approaching an unsustainable 160 percent of its annual economy (gross domestic product).

...and that Greece's fertility rate is at 1.5, what is the point of trying to rescue them? Leave them on the ice floe and trudge along.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Chinese Dreams: Why is Kissinger so reverential and nostalgic about China? (James Mann, May 30, 2011, Slate)

When Kissinger begins to revisit the era when he ran American China policy, it's striking how much his views and assumptions about Chinese leaders still seem bathed in the sense of awe that he acquired in his early trips to Beijing. Mao, Zhou Enlai, and successors like Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin are regularly depicted as wise and far-sighted. In Kissinger's version, they make few if any mistakes. Where others have argued that China erred during the Korean War or in China's 1979 invasion of Vietnam—in which the Chinese suffered astonishingly heavy casualties—or in the crackdown at Tiananmen Square, Kissinger demurs. He maintains the Vietnam incursion was still a strategic victory for China because it "succeeded in exposing the limits of the Soviet defense commitment to Hanoi." Kissinger can't bring himself to say he approved of what he called the Tiananmen "tragedy" of 1989, but he nevertheless urges understanding, as he did at the time, for Deng Xiaoping's decision to launch the violent crackdown. After all, Kissinger says, even peaceful protests can be a tactic aimed at weakening a government and demonstrating its impotence.

In the last chapters, retracing the years since he left office, Kissinger still tries to plant himself center-stage—and still pays tribute to Chinese leaders whom he portrays operating on a lofty plane well above the mundane concerns of ordinary politicians. As he compares visits to China today with those of four decades ago, he emphasizes the subtlety of the government's diplomacy, even though some of its recent actions concerning the South China Sea and even Norway (which gave Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize) seem more heavy-handed than subtle. "What has not changed significantly," he marvels, "is the meticulous preparation, the complexity of the argumentation, the capacity for long-range planning, and the subtle sense of the intangible."

Meanwhile, the Chinese people are determinedly civic-minded and public-spirited in Kissinger's portrait: "Among the many extraordinary aspects of the Chinese people," he writes, "is the manner in which many of them have retained a commitment to their society regardless of how much agony and injustice it may have inflicted on them." This is a romantic stereotype that dates back to the 1970s, when China was first opening up, and visitors would report that if they left a used razor blade in a hotel room, a hall attendant would rush down the hall to return it to them. It is out of touch with today's China, where private interests often overwhelm wider social loyalties. Not a few Chinese people fear for the safety of their food, health, or pensions precisely because of the society-be-damned greed of others who pollute, dilute, or cheat.

Recall that Mr. Kissinger's fellow Realist, Barrack Obama, wished he were Hu Jintao.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Against Learned Helplessness (PAUL KRUGMAN, 5/29/11, NY Times)

Unemployment is a terrible scourge across much of the Western world. Almost 14 million Americans are jobless, and millions more are stuck with part-time work or jobs that fail to use their skills. Some European countries have it even worse: 21 percent of Spanish workers are unemployed.

Nor is the situation showing rapid improvement. This is a continuing tragedy, and in a rational world bringing an end to this tragedy would be our top economic priority.

A famine is a tragedy. Enjoying the Western standard of living without having to work very hard is a triumph. (Although, the reality is that we have historically elevated levels of employment, thanks largely to moving an epic proportion of women into the workforce over the past 30 years.)

One might more coherently argue that the employment rate is a tragedy (especially for the family and society generally) than that the unemployment rate is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


The inevitable decline of Salafism: All fundamentalists follow the same path of internal development in thought and action, leading either to their retreat and irrelevance, or their destruction (Said Okasha, 5/26/11, Al-Ahram)

Salafis are fundamentalists by definition who share similar convictions across different societies, regardless of the extent to which a society is hailed as "civilised" and regardless of the specific religious affiliations of fundamentalists. Fundamentalism preserves and accepts extremists' ideas and excludes moderation or deconstructing complicated realties. Indeed, there is a unified conceptual methodology to fundamentalism, despite the different religious affiliations of specific fundamentalists, which asserts that there is one possible absolute truth that explains abstract realities and also paves the way for guiding man to avoid the horrors of the day of judgement. This methodology leads to three main stages that Salafis and fundamentalists all go through.

The first of these stages is described as peaceful and the starting point of Salafis' preaching is strengthened by a general lack of theological knowledge in society, accordingly preaching becomes the main activity of Salafis or fundamentalists at this stage with an objective to broaden the masses of followers. The success of this expansionary objective paves the way for the second stage where Salafis or fundamentalists justify the lack of expansionary potential with convicting the population of failing to comprehend true theology and that the devil took over their minds and souls. Also they blame existing political regimes for protecting the status quo of society. At this stage, they start to isolate themselves gradually from society by either making themselves aloof from their surroundings or by migrating to isolated landscapes such as forests and deserts, creating an aloof community protected from exposure to society amongst which the devil is strongly present.

Lastly, there is a third stage where Salafis or fundamentalists are fed up with their choice of isolation and decide to change the status quo of society, explained earlier, by force. This is the stage at which Salafis or fundamentalists are most active. It is a prime stage where they confront the ruling regime or society itself. Nevertheless, such confrontations are characterised by naivety and by the overuse of force and violence and also by a lack of specific goals and objectives. The violence that these groups employ is to achieve a basic objective and assumption of theirs, which is that stratifying society according to religious beliefs and/or ethnicities in a violent framework against each other will lead to the victory of the pure elements in society -- ie, Salafis or fundamentalists. Usually these groups undertake criminal acts that aim to trigger civil war, which puts these groups under the jurisprudence of criminal law and not emergency law, given that the latter is only in place to fight political and not criminal elements in authoritarian states.

Upon the realisation of criminal acts spurring civil war -- as assumed by Salafi or fundamentalist groups -- governing authorities bring Salafi organisations to trial. Usually trying these groups has a popular base due to feelings of insecurity and terror that society has experienced when exposed to strange fundamentalist ideas leading to the killing of innocent and unarmed civilians, a peaceful religious or ethnic sect, and/or popular public figures.

At this point, Salafis or fundamentalists are destined to be labelled and judged as extremists whose ideas lead armed individuals to commit crimes. They are hence hailed as merely criminal groups and not as political activists or freedom fighters. Nevertheless, this does not bring Salafi or fundamentalist thought and its stages of activity to an end. Salafi or fundamentalist thought generally is produced in societies due to a number of factors that may never become extinct, such as: the failings of civilisation to contain basic fears of isolation that sometimes leads to the adoption of extreme ideologies in search of peace of mind. Also, some people's adoption of these ideas comes as a result of dire social circumstances, such as poverty, ignorance, marginalisation, and oppression that leads to loss of integrity; also it can be due to an individual or a community's feeling of incompetence in confronting worldly constraints.

Therefore, Salafism or fundamentalism, generally, is a social-human phenomenon that will continue to exist, renewing itself generation after generation, in any society. Nevertheless, the dangers of these fundamentalist trends are limited because its capacity to crystallise a coherent ideology and a line of organised political action is limited, and moreover no fundamentalist group has been able to reach to government or power in any society in contemporary history except in one country, which is Afghanistan in the 1990s. What resulted from the Taliban being in power in impoverished Afghanistan was a harsh confrontation with the United States after the events of 9/11. This confrontation led to the ouster of the Taliban, the occupation of Afghanistan, and the death of Al-Qaeda's leader who cooperated with Taliban, Osama Bin Laden. These results indicates that Salafism or fundamentalism is degrading and limiting itself gradually, at least in its violent capacity and potential in the foreseeable future.'s easy to topple a government. That's why the thing folks seem to fear the most--Salafists taking power in AfPak or Yemen or wherever--is actually disastrous for the enemy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


'When We Finish, Nobody Is Left Alive' (Michael Sontheimer, Der Spiegel)

On September 1, 1939, German soldiers marched across the border into neighboring Poland. The vastly superior Wehrmacht forces advanced so quickly that the Polish government was forced to flee to Romania just 16 days later. On September 27, the defenders of the Polish capital, Warsaw, gave up. Nine days later, the last remaining Polish troops laid down their weapons.

Thus begun a nightmarish occupation that would last more than five years. In Poland, the Nazis had more time than in any other occupied country to implement their policies against people they classified as "racially inferior."

The task of implementing Hitler's plan fell to Hans Frank, a 39-year-old lawyer, Nazi Party member and brutal champion of the Nazis' vision of racial purity. Frank was named "Governor-General" of a large chunk of Poland, an area of about 95,000 square kilometers (36,680sq mi), with approximately 10 million inhabitants. This was the western part of Poland that had been annexed by the German Reich, while the eastern half of the country was occupied by the Red Army in accordance with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, the 1939 non-aggression treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Frank was unashamedly proud of his ruthless regime, which contrasted with the comparatively lenient system of rule in the "Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia," as the Nazis called the majority ethnic-Czech region they had occupied. In 1940, Frank told a reporter for the Völkische Beobachter newspaper: "In Prague, for example, large red posters were hung up announcing that seven Czechs had been executed that day." That had made him think: "If I had to hang up a poster every time we shot seven Poles, we'd have to cut down all the Polish forests, and we still wouldn't be able to produce enough paper for all the posters I'd need."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Peru, Colombia, and Chile merge stock markets: The market alliance of the three right-leaning nations spanning most of South America's Pacific coast gives investors better exposure to assets linked to the region’s natural resources and its rising middle class. (Stephen Kurczy, Correspondent / May 29, 2011, CS Monitor)

The market alliance of the three right-leaning nations spanning most of South America's Pacific coast gives investors better exposure to assets linked to the region’s natural resources and its rising middle class. And coupled with their recently announced plans with Mexico to form an economic bloc called the Area of In-depth Integration, the stock market merger creates a political foil to the Bolivarian Alliance of regional leftist governments led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

“There's a clear difference in policy organization in this group of countries,” says economic analyst Sebastian Guevara of Ipsos Consultaría, a Lima-based research company. “There's a conscious effort to encourage integration between these like-minded countries.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM

Sasquatch 2011: Aloe Blacc, Live In Concert (Stephen Thompson, May 29, 2011, NPR)

One of the great recent records to accompany a late-night drive through the city, Aloe Blacc's Good Things synthesizes the sounds of vintage soul with a contemporary vision and an ear for brilliantly chosen covers. (How many R&B singers would think to reinvent The Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale"?) [...]

Recorded live at The Gorge on Saturday, May 28, Aloe Blacc performs here as part of the 2011 Sasquatch Music Festival outside Seattle, Wash.


May 29, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Bankers Can’t Avoid Risk by Hiding It (Paul Wilmott , 5/28/11, Bloomberg)

One of the supposed silver linings of our recent economic disaster was the idea that we finally understood how hazardous our exotic financial instruments are and that bankers were finding a better way to "manage"’ that risk. But if at least one of the common practices in banking is anything to go by, risk-management procedures in many cases continue to hide the very dangers they are trying to measure.

This may result in banks taking bigger positions, and end up taking more real risk than they should. And it gets worse. The practice in question goes by the name of "calibration," which is best described using a non-financial example. [...]

I visited a regulator (who shall remain nameless) in Washington recently. People say that regulators don’t have enough bite, so I went there to offer a set of teeth. My goal was to arm them with one simple, surefire way to frighten the pants off any bank. My advice was to ask the banks one simple question: "So, how stable are your calibrated parameters?" They would then find some respect for the regulators. Instead, I found myself surrounded by quants praising calibration, not even appreciating the negating effect of recalibration.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the fallacy in calibration, but it does take someone who can look beyond the math.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


The Tory plan for a permanent majority gathers pace (George Eaton, 29 May 2011, New Statesman)

Labour strategists have long warned of a nightmare scenario under which the party would likely never govern again. First, the coalition's proposed boundary changes are approved, depriving Labour of an estimated 25 seats (the Conservatives would have won 13 fewer seats at the last election and the Lib Dems would have won seven fewer ). Second, Alex Salmond holds a referendum on independence and Scotland votes Yes. Of the 59 Westminster seats in Scotland that would be automatically lost, 41 are Labour-held but just one is Conservative-held. Finally, the Tories and the Lib Dems introduce a cap on party donations, depriving Labour of much of its trade union funding and bankrupting the party. Labour is consigned to permanent opposition and a new age of Tory hegemony is born.

So far this strategy, masterminded by George Osborne, is proceeding remarkably well. The new constituency boundaries are likely to be approved by 2013 and the Alternative Vote, which would have made the formation of a "progressive alliance" more likely, has been rejected by an overwhelming majority.

Meanwhile, an independent Scotland is more likely now than at any point in the 304-year history of the Union.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


As Slang Changes More Rapidly, Expert Has to Watch His Language: Web Makes Keeping Up With Argot Tough; Mr. Dalzell Is a Real 'Big Noise,' Though (VAUHINI VARA, 5/27/11, WSJ)

Tom Dalzell was thrilled last month when he came across a weird new verb: "rickroll."

Then he went online and saw that "rickrolling"—the Internet prank that involves sending someone a link to the music video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up"—has been around for four years. That's an eon in the world of slang, enough time to render a term stale.
Biffle? Stooper? Smoot?

View Interactive

See if you can guess the meaning of some slang words.

More photos and interactive graphics

For most people, being late to a language trend isn't a problem. But Mr. Dalzell, a 59-year-old union leader by day and slang expert after hours, is now in the process of updating the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. And as informal language evolves faster than ever, Mr. Dalzell is finding it trickier to keep up.

"Yesterday's cutting-edge is today's ho-hum," he says.

The problem: Slang is born when groups outside the mainstream invent their own language—verbal code that can quickly lose its punch once others catch on. That process used to take a while. But now that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter let people post messages for anyone to see, slang gets exposed much more quickly.

"It's really shortened the shelf life," says Mr. Dalzell, who is considered to be a real "big noise," or a very important person, among word whizzes like Jesse Sheidlower, editor-at-large at the Oxford English Dictionary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


In ’72, they lifted Cup and region: Swashbuckling Bruins owned the town when last atop hockey world (John Powers, May 29, 2011 , Boston Globe)

The Bruins owned this town in 1972, when they won their second National Hockey League championship in three years, and now that their Spoked-B successors will be playing Vancouver for Lord Stanley’s mug, McKenzie and his former teammates have become celebrities again.

“Every time you go someplace, it’s just phenomenal,’’ says Ken Hodge. “Granted, we’re seeing a lot more grandmothers than we used to, but people remember.’’

They remember a rambunctious crew of frat brothers who performed with moxie and menace and magic, who filled the old Garden to its 13,909 capacity every night, who revived Boston as a hockey town and inspired the creation of dozens of rinks filled with Pee Wees who dreamed of becoming the next Bobby Orr or Phil Esposito or Gerry Cheevers.

“What was so wonderful about those teams was that they made people around you who knew nothing about hockey, like my mother, into absolutely devoted fans,’’ says Dick Johnson, curator of The Sports Museum at TD Garden. “The Bruins became an extension of your family.’’

There was a blue-collar bonhomie to the players that made their fans consider them neighbors.

“They were approachable,’’ recalls Jerry Lauretano, a Somerville native who runs a hair salon there. “I saw Bobby Orr and Gary Doak at a roast beef place in Nahant. I saw Eddie Westfall at a set of lights at Science Park. I saw Derek Sanderson down at Falmouth Heights.’’

Along with the expectation of excellence, those Bruins established the Lunchpail A.C. ethic that still motivates the current roster (whose coach, Claude Julien, spent summers tarring roofs during his playing days).

Unlike this year’s edition, though, the 1972 Bruins had the stage to themselves at a time when the Red Sox were between pennants, the Celtics between titles, and the Patriots were perennial losers.

...they'd totally own the region again. As is, they have to compete with the best team in baseball, even on their own channel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Report: Some areas in China under martial law after protests (Eve Bower, 5/29/11, CNN)

In an apparent response to days of protests, Chinese authorities have declared martial law in parts of the northeast's inner Mongolia autonomous region, according to Amnesty International.

The region has long been the scene of ethnic tension between Mongolians, who have lived in the area for centuries, and the Han people, who arrived in larger numbers after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Han people are the majority ethnic group in China.

In the report released Friday, Amnesty International detailed protests in and around the city of Xilinhot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Rookie governor runs the table (Brian Dickerson, 5/29/11, Detroit Free Press)

For the record, I never for one minute underestimated Rick Snyder's ability to get whatever he wanted from Michigan's historically obstructionist Legislature.

At least, not in so many words.

Oh, I may have snickered, along with other Snyder skeptics, at the thought of the political neophyte from Ann Arbor running headlong into the buzz saw of a Republican legislative caucus more concerned about its own re-election prospects than about the governor's plans to reinvent Michigan.

I may have wondered aloud, and even in print, whether anything in Snyder's experience as a corporate CEO had prepared him for negotiations with a co-equal branch of government -- a branch of government whose members he hadn't hired, couldn't fire, and had little leverage to discipline.

And I may have anticipated that once GOP lawmakers who'd pledged to cut taxes for everyone got a good look at Snyder's proposal (which prescribed tax cuts for employers and tax hikes for most everyone else), the resulting rebellion would send Michigan's earnest young governor scurrying for cover.

But I never said Snyder wouldn't get his way; I'm just a little stunned, along with everyone else who's gotten used to gridlock as a way of life, at the speed and scope of his victory. This was the Lions' Ndamukong Suh rumbling into the end zone for a touchdown before the opposing team knew it had lost possession of the ball. This was Israel after the Six Day War, wondering how it was going to manage all the territory its Army has just overrun.

And I'm talking about how Snyder humbled the opposition in his own part; Democratic legislators barely got on the field before the gun signaling the end of the fourth quarter went off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


As Iran’s Woes Multiply, Leaders Wrestle for Power (DAVID ROSENBERG, 05/29/2011, Jerusalem Post)

It was supposed to be a piece of political theater. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew down to the Abadan oil refinery on Tuesday to dedicate a new terminal for refining gasoline as part of Tehran’s efforts to increase domestic capacity in the face of global sanctions. It was a message to Iranians and to the world that the country was seeing off the threat.

But the show turned into a mix of comedy and tragedy. Just before the president arrived, a fire broke out at the terminal, apparently caused by an accidental leak of gas. But that didn’t stop Ahmadinejad. With his audience fanning away the lingering smoke and fumes, and rescue workers treating the injured and carrying away the dead, he delivered his address, assailing Iran’s foreign enemies and asserting that it could meet all its domestic oil needs.

His domestic enemies lost no time in blaming the president for the tragedy. Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani said Amadinejad’s government had pressured refinery officials to get the plant ready before they were confident it was safe.

For many observers, the incident illustrates just how disconnected Iran’s leadership is from the country’s massive political and economic problems as they devote their time and attention in a bitter power struggle.

And then we're supposed to take seriously the people who portray them as a strategic threat?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


From the Midwest to the West Wing: The formula for a winning GOP candidate (JEFFREY H. ANDERSON, 6/06/11, Weekly Standard)

Ours is a federalist system, however, in which candidates are rewarded for winning a sufficiently large number of (sufficiently large) states. And 17 months out, it is already clear that the 2012 election will be decided in about a quarter of the states. Looking at the 2008 (and 2004 and 2000) presidential election results by state, Obama’s approval rating in state-by-state exit polls, support for repeal in those same exit polls, and states’ 2010 House election results, it looks like 13 states will be somewhat or very competitive. Of the somewhat competitive states, three are Democratic-leaning​—​Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico​—​while the fourth leans Republican: North Carolina. Let’s assume they stay in those respective columns. When added to the 37 predictable states, the electoral tally would be Democrats 217, Republicans 206.

And the 9 very competitive states? Three of these lean Republican: Florida (29 electoral votes), Ohio (18), and Virginia (13). Three lean Democratic: Pennsylvania (20), Wisconsin (10), and Nevada (6). And three are essentially toss-ups: Colorado (9), Iowa (6), and New Hampshire (4). If each party holds all of the states that lean its way, the electoral tally will be Republicans 266, Democrats 253, with Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire hanging in the balance. To prevail, the Republican nominee will have to win one of these three remaining states. Obama will have to sweep them.

When thinking, therefore, about which candidates could maximize the GOP’s advantages on the electoral map​—​advantages that were accentuated through the allocation of 6 electoral votes from Democratic-leaning states to Republican-leaning states as a result of the recent census​—​one should keep in mind that the ideal state for a candidate to be from would be one that is bigger than most (a state with 8 or more electoral votes), is very competitive, and which the other party can’t really afford to lose. [...]

The Chicago Tribune editorialized last week that Mitch Daniels’s decision not to run left “a big hole in the field .  .  . representing certain qualities that can be thought of as Midwestern. And it may be that the person who wins the election next year will be the candidate who displays those attributes most convincingly.”

Indeed, more than any other election in recent memory, the 2012 election clearly calls for a candidate who possesses the characteristically Midwestern virtues of prudence, integrity, humility, and​—​most of all​—​fiscal responsibility. Not so coincidentally, it also calls for a candidate who can carry the Midwest, the most crucial region on the electoral map. It almost goes without saying that the candidate who possesses the former can win the latter​—​and, with it, the White House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


US President Barack Obama's state visit to Britain: he just called to say he loves us: Despite all the pomp, ceremony and glamour of President Obama’s state visit to Britain, it boiled down to one simple message - how Britain and America still need each other (Anne Applebaum, 29 May 2011, The Telegraph)

Though I hadn’t heard anything the president had said, it wasn’t difficult to guess. “We are one civilisation” was the gist of it: from the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence to the Normandy Beaches to Nato – skipping a few minor episodes such as the American Revolution – America and Britain have long shared a common language, a common political culture and a common everything else. Here are some excerpts from the transcript: “Together, we have met great challenges… Our two nations know what it is to confront evil in the world… Enduring allies in the cause of a world that is more peaceful, prosperous, and just.”

It’s been said before. In fact, it’s been said before by just about every president of the United States from the middle of the 20th century onward: Ronald Reagan, Dwight D Eisenhower, John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton – any one of them could have given precisely the same speech. Yet the message clearly resonated among British MPs, and even among British journalists. [...]

[I]n the end, “we are one civilisation” resonates because it is true – now more than ever. American and British business, American and British media, American and British consumers nowadays aren’t just close or similar, they are identical: they inhabit the same ecosystem, influencing and being influenced by one another in a million ways impossible to quantify. You can’t measure the fact that Tina Brown has edited both Tatler and The New Yorker, employing British and American writers interchangeably in both places. Or the fact that The King’s Speech filled more cinemas in America than in Britain. Or that American millionaires now buy English football teams, that quirky British newspaper stories can get millions of hits from American readers – and that any bestselling American novelist has a guaranteed book contract in Britain, too.

America’s stars are Britain’s stars and vice versa – in Hollywood and publishing as well as finance, media, public relations and sport. There have been British-born American Congressmen and American-born British MPs. America doesn’t do dog racing and Britain doesn’t do NASCAR, but, in almost every other sphere of business or pleasure, the two countries are joined at the hip. There is nothing mystical about it: our values are the same because our culture is the same. I speak here as one who holds both US and UK passports, and who feels precisely zero sense of divided loyalty.

Because of the language - because of the long-ago colonial relationship – the cultural, financial and intellectual relationship between our two countries is special, has always been special, and always will be special.

Pretty amusing the way she undercuts her own notion of the UR's particular eloquence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Don’t Scorn Paul Ryan (JOE NOCERA, 5/28/11, NY Times)

The Ryan plan, which would give seniors a fixed amount they can use to buy health insurance, would undoubtedly shift the cost burden over time from the government to seniors themselves, making health care far less affordable for millions of people. Ryan says that “empowering” health care consumers will help control costs, but that’s absurd: Medicare itself has far more pricing power than the people who actually need treatment.

“It is a rejection of the social insurance principles that are at the root of Medicare,” said Theodore Marmor, whose 1973 book, “The Politics of Medicare,” remains the classic work on the subject. “Its pro-market conception is standard Republican orthodoxy.” [...]

[W]hile the Democratic Party might be well served in trying to use the Ryan plan to bury their political opponents, the country itself is not. The debate we need is not about whether Medicare should be reformed, but how.

Marmor, for instance, says that the root problem is not with Medicare itself but with the larger phenomenon of rising health care costs. And he finds himself in philosophical agreement with Ryan about, as he puts it, “the need to put Medicare on a budget,” though he would approach it differently. Rivlin, along with former Senator Pete Domenici, a Republican, has come forth with a less-mean-spirited variant of Ryan’s voucher plan. There are also parts of the Ryan plan that deserve serious consideration, like means-testing — that is, forcing the elderly wealthy to pay more for health care than everyone else.

...all you have to do is rename a plan and give the Democrats credit and they'll do whatever you want.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Mislabeling kids as ADHD? Investigate federal rules (Boston Globe, May 29, 2011)

GOOD INTENTIONS have gone awry in the federal program that gives cash benefits to families of disabled children, and a comprehensive assessment of the program’s weaknesses is the first step toward fixing it. Given the strong possibility that children are being misclassified as disabled to make their families eligible for checks of up to $700 a month, Congress should happily pay the $10 million or so needed to fund a study of the program by the well-regarded Institute of Medicine. And then it should quickly implement any changes based on the institute’s findings before more children are misclassified.'s also getting to drug boys into behaving better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Is President Obama all talk and no action?: The US President has produced little of substance to underpin his high-flown rhetoric about being willing to stand up for freedom (Janet Daley 9:00PM BST 28 May 2011, The Telegraph)

So the question is: when the similarities are added up and the differences subtracted, what is the sum that remains? Is this really a revival of liberal interventionism, or a retreat from it that is being obscured by a lot of high-flown rhetoric?

The commitment to upholding the values of liberty and democratic freedoms as universal human rights was reiterated again and again in terms as unequivocal as any that the previous holders of their offices could have wished. No patronising cynicism about certain races and certain regions of the globe being insufficiently rational to cope with the modern idea of a free and liberal society. (George Bush and Tony Blair were the ghosts at the barbecue, you might say.)

Certainly, the moral obligation to spread the doctrine of democratic government and to support the efforts of any people who seek to liberate themselves from tyranny sounded uncannily like a revival of the Bush doctrine. It would be easy to conclude, as Amity Shlaes puts it in the current issue of Standpoint magazine, “…the reality is that we are all neo-cons now”.

But in fact there was nothing in Mr Obama’s comment that “the longing for freedom and human dignity is not English or American or Western – it is universal” that was the least bit contentious in American terms: the principle that all men are created equal and are born with a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is written into the nation’s sacred founding documents.

Never underestimate the power of the rhetoric.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Raid on bin Laden compound avenged CIA deaths (MATT APUZZO and ADAM GOLDMAN, 5/29/11, Associated Press)

For a small cadre of CIA veterans, the death of Osama bin Laden was more than just a national moment of relief and closure. It was also a measure of payback, a settling of a score for a pair of deaths, the details of which have remained a secret for 13 years.

Tom Shah and Molly Huckaby Hardy were among the 44 U.S. Embassy employees killed when a truck bomb exploded outside the embassy compound in Kenya in 1998.

Though it has never been publicly acknowledged, the two were working undercover for the CIA. In al-Qaida's war on the United States, they are believed to be the first CIA casualties.

..and we've moved on to it being mere revenge?

May 28, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Is World War II Still ‘the Good War’? (ADAM KIRSCH, 5/29/11, NY Times Book Review)

Americans’ favorite World War II stories have always been about the democratic heroism of ordinary soldiers; this kind of popular history has never disappeared, and probably never will. Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” (2010), which has resided for months near the top of the best-seller list, tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an ex-track star turned airman, who was shot down over the Pacific and survived weeks adrift on a raft and even worse ordeals in a Japanese prison camp. As the title suggests, Zamperini is an untroubling kind of war hero, because his greatness was his refusal to break, not his ability to break others — a part of the soldier’s job that is far less comfortable to read about. Zamperini was a bombardier on a B-24, and at the very time he was being tortured by the Japanese, other bomber crews, made up of men no better or worse than he, carried out “Operation Gomorrah” — the weeklong raid on Hamburg, Germany, that in July 1943 killed some 40,000 civilians and destroyed virtually the entire city. Can we make room for that story, and others like it, in our memory of World War II? And if we do, can we still keep our pride in a “good war”?

Those are the questions being asked by the new wave of World War II histories. These books are not “revisionist,” in the pejorative sense: they don’t suggest a moral equivalence between the Axis and the Allies, or minimize Nazi crimes, or deny the Holocaust. Rather, they are thoughtful works by professional historians, who are less interested in rewriting the facts of the war than in reconsidering their moral implications. Americans who learn about the war in Europe from a book like Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” (1992), for instance, could be forgiven for thinking of the defeat of Germany as the work of doughty G.I.’s. Yet in “No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945” (2007), the British historian Norman Davies begins from the premise that “the war effort of the Western powers” was “something of a sideshow.” America lost 143,000 soldiers in the fight against Germany, Davies points out, while the Soviet Union lost 11 million.

And if the main show was a war between Hitler and Stalin, he wonders, wasn’t World War II a clash of nearly equivalent evils? “Anyone genuinely committed to freedom, justice and democracy is duty-bound to condemn both of the great totalitarian systems without fear or favor,” he concludes.

Of course, the stock response when you point this out--often used against Mr. Davies--is that you're saying we shouldn't have crushed the Nazis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Chivalry and the Birth of Celebrity: Medieval knights were the sporting superstars and military heroes of their day, who performed before an adoring public in the tournament. Nigel Saul explains their appeal. (Nigel Saul, History Today)

Where are the origins of the modern cult of celebrity to be found? According to one view celebrity was a by-product of the growth of mass literacy and the rise of the popular press in the late 19th century. The word ‘celebrity’ as applied to a person does not appear in print until 1849 and was not to enter common usage until sometime later. A contrary view, however, is that even if the noun had not yet emerged to describe the phenomenon the substance of celebrity culture was already found in 18th-century London. A free press, an explosion in the number of printing houses and the existence of a public interested in new ways of thinking about themselves all fuelled interest in figures, such as Whig statesman Charles James Fox (1749-1806), who were for some reason notorious or had recognisable extrovert personalities.

Each of these suggestions has much to be said for it. Especially valuable is the fact that, for a celebrity culture to emerge, a public or social space must exist away from the traditional power centres at government and court. It is of the essence of a celebrity that he or she, while possessed of the magic of an anointed monarch, has a populist quality which appeals to a broad rather than an elite audience. This essential requirement is certainly found in 18th- and 19th-century England, especially in the London of the 18th century. It can be argued, however, that it is also found much earlier, in late medieval England. It may be that the origins of the modern celebrity cult are to be found in the 13th and 14th centuries, in the so-called age of chivalry.

Much of course depends on what precisely is meant by ‘celebrity’, or by the term ‘celebrity culture’. The idea of celebrity overlaps with that of its sibling ‘fame’. Fame describes ‘reputation’, ‘renown’ or ‘good report’; it is associated with recognition of an achievement beyond time or place, the assurance that a person’s name will live on, the knowledge that he or she will have a place in history. Celebrity, however, is associated with a certain glitziness which underlies and informs a relationship between the celebrity and an admiring audience. A celebrity is someone possessed of charisma, someone whose appeal to the public transcends the sum of his or her deeds and achievements and turns as much on their personality and personal story. A celebrity has to have the sorts of qualities and abilities that would bring him or her success in today’s ‘show business’. While a statesman can enjoy fame, only the most charismatic personality can enjoy celebrity. If the existence of a well-oiled publicity machine undoubtedly aids in the attainment of celebrity, nonetheless the right sort of personality has to be present in the first place.

When we look for the earliest periods, or the earliest societies, in which we encounter these prerequisites for the emergence of celebrity, we find ourselves in the Middle Ages. It is tempting to say that the first English celebrity was not the Georgian dandy or metropolitan courtesan, but the questing knight who caught the attention of the heralds and onlookers watching him show off his prowess in arms.

A key institution in the emergence of chivalry as a setting for celebrity was the tournament, where the knights honed their skills – a form of combat first encountered at the beginning of the 12th century. [...]

It was on the tourneying field that a man with a claim as good as any to be regarded as the first English celebrity made his name. This was William the Marshal (1146-1219), the most brilliant and charismatic knight of his day, Earl of Pembroke from 1199 and the magnate who was to be regent of England during the minority of Henry III (r. 1216-72). Among the knights of Angevin England, the Marshal stands out for his fame, the respect he commanded and the attention that he attracted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


The Dominique Strauss-Kahn Shipwreck: What will happen after American justice and French conspiracy theories collide? (Paul Berman, May 26, 2011, New Republic)

It is no small thing to seize the most electable person from one of America’s principal rivals around the world (as France sometimes likes to present itself) and lock him up. To arrest the dictator of Panama and throw him in a Florida jail, to scoop up Saddam Hussein’s pistol and award it to George W. Bush as a kind of shrunken-head cannibal trophy, to bomb places where Muammar Qaddafi is thought to be and kill his son and grandchildren—that is one thing. But what if there is a pattern? The sovereignty of Pakistan… And if France is thought to have fallen within the pattern?

Every visit of a communist bloc leader that didn't end with his arrest is a stain on our national character.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


Why Not Let the Dead Pay for Medicare? (Kevin Drum, May. 25, 2011, Mother Jones)

So here's an idea: why not reform Medicare by means testing it? Conservatives should love this idea.

Here's how it works. Basically, we leave Medicare alone. Oh, we can still go ahead with some of the obvious reforms. Comparative effectiveness research is a no-brainer for anyone who's not part of the Republican leadership. Ditto for some of the delivery reforms on the table. Or allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices. It would be great if that stuff works. But if it doesn't, then people will need to pay more for their care. So why not have dead people pay? They don't need the money any more, after all.

So Medicare stays roughly the same, but every time you receive medical care you also get a bill. You don't have to pay it, though. It's just there for accounting purposes. When you die, the bill gets paid out of your estate. If your estate is small or nonexistent, you've gotten lots of free medical care. If it's large, you'll pay for it all. If you're somewhere in between, you'll end up paying for part of the care you've received.

Obviously this gives people incentives to spend all their money before they die. That's fine. I suspect they wouldn't end up spending as much as you'd think. What it does mean, though, is that Medicare has first claim on their estate, not their kids. But that seems fair, doesn't it?

...and pay the bills directly out of the HSA you've been building up for a lifetime with the remainder going to your heirs, which creates an incentive not to waste your money on pointless health care?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM

Raphael Saadiq, In Concert (WXPN, May 20, 2011)

A modern-day soul revivalist, Raphael Saadiq (born Charlie Ray Wiggins) is a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and record producer. A former member of the R&B trio Tony! Toni! Tone!, Saadiq has produced records for John Legend and Joss Stone and collaborated with the likes of Whitney Houston, D'Angelo, Stevie Wonder, The Bee Gees, The Isley Brothers and The Roots. His 20 years in the soul scene have left a remarkable old-school footprint in the music world, as he's fused the classic rock and soul sounds of the 1960s and '70s with his background in classical music, spirituals and jazz.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


WEEKEND INTERVIEW: David Mamet's Coming Out Party: Before he moved to California, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet had never talked to a self-described conservative. 'I realized I lived in this bubble.' (Bari Weiss, 5/28/11, WSJ)

For a few years, he played it coy. In a 2008 interview with New York Magazine, he sloughed off a question about who he was voting for: "I'm not the guy to ask about politics. I'm a gag writer." In 2010, he told PBS's Charlie Rose he'd only offer his opinion about President Obama off-camera.

But spend five minutes with Mr. Mamet and you realize that coy can only last so long. "Being a rather pugnacious sort of fellow I thought, as Albert Finney says in 'Two for the Road': 'As I said to the duchess, 'If you want to be a duchess, be a duchess. If you want to make love, it's hats off.'"

Hats off, indeed. Now Mr. Mamet has written a book-length, raucous coming-out party: "The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture." (If only the Voice editors had been around to supply a snappier title.)

Hear him take on the left's sacred cows. Diversity is a "commodity." College is nothing more than "Socialist Camp." Liberalism is like roulette addiction. Toyota's Prius, he tells me, is an "anti-chick magnet" and "ugly as a dogcatcher's butt." Hollywood liberals—his former crowd—once embraced Communism "because they hadn't invented Pilates yet." Oh, and good radio isn't NPR ("National Palestinian Radio") but Dennis Prager, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt.

The book is blunt, at times funny, and often over the top. When I meet the apostate in a loft in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, he's wrapping up a production meeting. "Bye, bye, Bette!" he calls to the actress walking toward the elevator. That'd be Bette Midler. Al Pacino gets a bear hug. The two are starring in an upcoming HBO film about Phil Spector's murder trial. Mr. Mamet is directing and he looks the part in a scarf, black beret and round yellow-framed glasses. Looking out the window at NYU film school, where he used to teach, I ask him to tell me his conversion story.

He starts, naturally, with the most famous political convert in modern American history: Whittaker Chambers, whose 1952 book, "Witness," documented his turn from Communism. "I read it. It was miraculous. Extraordinary hero-journey of this fellow that had to examine everything he believed in at the great, great cost—which is a cost I'm not subject to—of abandoning his life, his sustenance, his friends, his associations, and his past. And I said, 'Oh my God. . . . Perhaps it might be incumbent upon me to see if I could get my thought and my actions into line too."

There were other books. Most were given to him by his rabbi in L.A., Mordecai Finley. Mr. Mamet rattles off the works that affected him most: "White Guilt" by Shelby Steele, "Ethnic America" by Thomas Sowell, "The Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War" by Wilfred Trotter, "The Road to Serfdom" by Friedrich Hayek, "Capitalism and Freedom" by Milton Friedman, and "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill.

Before he moved to California, Mr. Mamet had never met a self-described conservative or read one's writings. He'd never heard of Messrs. Sowell or Steele. "No one on the left has," he tells me. "I realized I lived in this bubble."

One never tires of that curious chrysalis by which folks grow into their conservatism. The reactionary phase is certainly the most entertaining, but not the most rewarding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


When Kennedy Blinked: a review of Berlin 1961 By Frederick Kempe (CHARLES MCCARRY, 5/27/11, WSJ)

Readers skeptical of the Camelot myth may experience twinges of schadenfreude while reading this meticulously researched, elegantly written account of John F. Kennedy's mortifying encounters with the Soviet Union's Nikita Khrushchev during the first year of his presidency. Others, on coming to the end of Frederick Kempe's molecule-by-molecule deconstruction of the Kennedy reputation for toughness, vigor, smarts and unshakable cool, are more likely to breathe a sigh of relief that civilization somehow survived the confrontation.

"Berlin 1961" revolves around the question of whether Kennedy's decision to countenance the erection of the Berlin Wall was, in Mr. Kempe's words, "a successful means of avoiding war, or . . . the unhappy result of his missing backbone." On those terms, the book is a scholarly history of the crisis that culminated on Aug. 13, 1961, when East Germany, convinced that its economic and political survival depended on stopping the hemorrhage of refugees to the West, cut the city in two with the Berlin Wall, thereby imprisoning its people for the next 26 years. Since 1945, 2.8 million, or one in every six East Germans, had fled their benighted country.

On another level, the book is a richly detailed study of a primal scuffle for supremacy between Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev. The two men had little in common except the personal power to wage nuclear war and the realization that each had something to prove about his geopolitical manhood. The youthful, handsome and wealthy but secretly unhealthy American had attained the presidency by the hair's-breadth margin of a tenth of 1% of the popular vote but raised questions about his judgment and steadiness with his shaky handling of the Bay of Pigs debacle in April 1961. The Russian, an uncouth but shrewd peasant who had been illiterate into his 20s, was beset by enemies within the Soviet leadership who thought—with the encouragement of China's Mao Zedong—that he was insufficiently aggressive in his dealings with the United States. Khrushchev saw in Kennedy's weakness in Cuba an opportunity to correct this impression, solidify his leadership and advance Soviet prestige—by challenging Kennedy on the most dangerous and strategic ground of the Cold War. could learn from reading James Clavell.

May 27, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Patriot Act surveillance provisions extended in nick of time (Reuters, 5/27/11)

The US Congress, racing the clock and rejecting demands for additional safeguards of civil liberties, passed a bill on Thursday to renew three expiring provisions of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act.

Barack Obama, who is in Europe, signed it into law shortly before the provisions were set to expire at midnight. A White House aide said he used an "auto pen", which replicates his signature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Study shows brooding men, smiling women seen as sexy (Reuters, May 26, 2011)

The study, published online in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion, showed pictures of the opposite sex to both men and women. Participants were then asked for their initial reactions on sexual attractiveness based on the expressions they saw.

“Men who smile were considered fairly unattractive by women,” said Jessica Tracy, a University of British Columbia psychology professor who directed the study.

“So to the extent that men think that smiling is a good thing to do if they want to be found sexually attractive, our findings suggest that’s not the case,” Tracy said.

The men’s reaction was just the opposite.

“Women who smile are absolutely very attractive,” Tracy said in an interview. “That was by far the most attractive expression women showed.”

The researchers admit they are not sure why men and women reacted differently to smiles.

Only a scientist could fail to understand. They want mystery. We just don't want to be annoyed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


One Hundred Years of the Indy 500: A century ago, the first Indianapolis 500 race started in high excitement and ended in a muddle (Charles Leerhsen, June 2011, Smithsonian magazine)

The men of the early 20th-century motor press sometimes referred to the 13th circuit of an automobile racecourse as “the hoodoo lap,” not because more bad stuff happened then, but because they fervently wished it would. Coming at that point, a wreck would play nicely into the tabloid trope that superstitions are not to be flouted, and it would give a long car race some much-needed narrative cord. And so it was on May 30, 1911, as several dozen reporters leaned forward anxiously to watch the 40-car field for the first-ever Indianapolis 500-mile race power past the starting line for the 12th time and roar yet again into turn one.

They weren’t a bad lot, the newspapermen who had come to the two-year-old Indianapolis Motor Speedway to cover the event, but they required—and by some standards of judgment deserved—all the help they could get. Many by then had been in Indianapolis for a month or more, pumping up the importance of the Speedway and the coming sweepstakes—the longest race ever contested on the track—via the dispatches they filed for their far-flung dailies. They had recorded the arrival of virtually every “sweepstakes pilot” in the race, especially Ray Harroun, driver of the No. 32 Marmon “Wasp,” an Indianapolis-built car and the only single-seater in the race. (All the other drivers traveled with “riding mechanics,” who manually pumped oil and swiveled their heads constantly to check for oncoming traffic.) They interviewed drop-by celebrities like Detroit Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb and “noted songstress” Alice Lynn, investigated the burgeoning supply of counterfeit $1 general admission tickets, and scrambled for stories about the Indianapolis house cat that “deliberately committed suicide” by jumping from a sixth-story window, the downstate chicken with 14 toes on its left foot and the rumored sightings of a PG-rated pervert known as Jack the Hugger. For men accustomed to doing little more on a workday than walking the length of a boxing ring to ask one toothless man his opinion of another, this was arduous labor.

But the 500-mile sweepstakes, when it finally transpired on that surprisingly cool Tuesday morning, wasn’t paying the pressmen back in kind. The race had gotten off to a thrillingly raucous start replete with aerial bombs and a grandstand packed with an estimated 90,000 enthusiasts. People were excited by the amount of money at stake (the winner’s share would be $10,000, an impressive sum in an era when Cobb, baseball’s highest-paid player, made $10,000 a season) and the danger. (In the downtown saloons you could bet on how many drivers, who wore cloth or leather helmets and had no seat belts or roll bars, might be killed.) But with every mile the story line had become more and more scrambled and the spectators more and more subdued. Those charged with describing the “excitement” to an eager audience of millions were feeling the first damp signs of panic. Like every other lengthy automobile contest these experts on baseball and boxing had ever witnessed, this one was damnably confusing. The auto racing tracks of the day simply did not have the technology to keep track of split times and running order once cars began passing one another and going into and out of the pits.

On certain early developments almost everyone could agree. “Happy” Johnny Aitken, in the dark-blue No. 4 National car, had grabbed the early lead, only to be passed, after about seven miles, by Spencer Wishart, a mining magnate’s son driving a squat, gray customized Mercedes said to have cost his daddy $62,000. Eight laps later Wishart (who wore a custom-made shirt and silk tie beneath his overalls) suddenly pitted with a bad tire, leaving the lead to a big brown Knox driven by an unheralded public-school kid from Springfield, Massachusetts, named Fred Belcher. Soon Wishart stormed back onto the course, but into what lap exactly no one, including the judges, could say for certain. The leaders, as mile 30 approached, were starting to lap the stragglers, so the field was a snake eating its own tail. Belcher now found himself running second to a ball of smoke concealing, it was generally believed, the dark red Fiat of 23-year-old David Bruce-Brown, a square-jawed, fair-haired New Yorker from a wealthy merchant family. A class-war theme might be emerging—trust-fund kids versus their working-class counterparts—but then again, perhaps not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Rough Justice (LIONEL SHRIVER, June 2011, Stanpoint)

The legalities seem straightforward. A non-state actor yes, but bin Laden and his comrades had declared unequivocal war on the US, and the rules of war applied. Wartime killings are nearly all "extrajudicial"; enemy combatants in the field aren't put on trial before becoming fair game. Legitimate targets needn't be brandishing a weapon, either; thus the Seals were not obliged to wait patiently for bin Laden to scrounge his AK from under his bed before they fired. No evidence suggests bin Laden made an effort to surrender. Case closed.

Yet it is worth scrutinising this nitpicking obsession with due process. European liberals are prone to get so het-up about ends not justifying means that they forget all about the ends; the only thing that matters is how you get there. While I'd broadly advocate following legal protocol, I also care about what happens. The European Left is living in a lofty, purist universe while the rest of the world is adhering to the old rules of brute force. Facilitated by Western moral vanity, thugs can easily play the goody-goodies for suckers.

The most dramatic example of Western prissiness being played for all its worth is in the shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia, where pirates are making hundreds of millions of dollars annually from ransoms for hijacked vessels. Earlier this year, the ransom for the chemical container ship Marida Marguerite alone was $5.4 million, and the captured seamen were tortured on board. The greater part of the western Indian Ocean is now designated "high-risk", and the threat of ever-escalating Somali piracy could soon paralyse shipping lanes as far as the Suez Canal. Yet even when the culprits are captured, most of these cutthroats are simply let go, because crews are befuddled about jurisdiction and the complex niceties of bringing the pirates to trial.

Here's a novel idea: shoot them. Is that against the rules? Are ships not allowed to carry armed guards without going through a forbidding rigmarole when they come into port? Then change the rules.'re likely pursuing the wrong ends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


America’s Forgotten Liberal (RICK PERLSTEIN, 5/26/11, NY Times)

Poor Humphrey could never catch a break. Resolutely committed to quiet coalition-building at a time when ideological self-righteousness was the new normal, resolutely unhip at a time when political hipness was at a premium, he was now not just a loser but an embarrassment. He came in second place for the 1972 nomination; the victor, the self-righteous but significantly more hip George S. McGovern, then came in a distant second to Nixon.

In the book by which many would remember that election, Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72,” each mention of Humphrey drips with mocking vituperation. Here, then, to many, is the Humphrey of history: an also-ran, a sellout, a joke.

For progressives today, however, the joke’s on us. In the 1970s the Democratic Party turned its focus from a New Deal-inspired politics of economic security toward a Watergate-inspired embrace of institutional reform. The move was explicitly anti-you-know-who: “We’re not a bunch of little Hubert Humphreys,” proclaimed Gary Hart, the leader of the “Watergate Babies” Democratic Congressional class of 1974.

Their reforms, however, largely failed in their intention to liberalize the nation. Conservatives and business interests were able to bend the new campaign finance rules and Congressional committee systems to their own ends. That, in turn, helped bring about what Paul Krugman calls the “Great Divergence”: the economic inequality that has made a mockery of ordinary Americans’ aspirations to join and stay in the middle class.

The trends were already in evidence during the presidential season of 1976. The only thing missing was any organized Democratic response among the candidates — besides, that is, Hubert Humphrey, who was once more an also-ran for the Democratic nomination.

Instead Humphrey, who had re-entered the Senate in 1971, spent the rest of the decade doggedly devising legislative solutions to the Great Divergence. His Balanced Growth and Economic Planning Act, introduced in May 1975, when unemployment was at a post-Depression high of 9 percent, proposed a sort of domestic World Bank to route capital to job creators. (It spoke to his conviction, in a knee-jerk, anti-corporate age, that pro-labor and pro-business policies were complementary.)

And at a time when other liberals were besotted with affirmative action as a strategy to undo the cruel injustices of American history, Humphrey pointed out that race-based remedies could only prove divisive when good jobs were disappearing for everyone. Liberal policy, he said, must stress “common denominators — mutual needs, mutual wants, common hopes, the same fears.”

In 1976 he joined Representative Augustus Hawkins, a Democrat from the Watts section of Los Angeles, to introduce a bill requiring the government, especially the Federal Reserve, to keep unemployment below 3 percent — and if that failed, to provide emergency government jobs to the unemployed.

It sounds heretical now. But this newspaper endorsed it then...

...actually live through the past fifty years?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Why Palestinians Have Time on Their Side (Jeffrey Goldberg, 5/25/11, Bloomberg)

If I were a Palestinian (and, should there be any confusion on this point, I am not), and if I were the sort of Palestinian who believed that Israel should be wiped off the map, then I would be quite pleased with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance before Congress this morning.

I would applaud Netanyahu for including no bold initiatives that would have suggested to the world that Israel is alive to the threat posed by its seemingly eternal occupation of the West Bank.

In fact, I would make support for Netanyahu the foundation stone of my patient campaign to dismantle the world’s only majority-Jewish country. I would support not only Netanyahu, but the far-right parties of his governing coalition, the parties that seem uninterested in democracy and obsessed with planting more Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

The settlements would have my wholehearted backing. I would encourage my brother Palestinians to help build settlements at a brisk pace. I would ask the Israelis to build an even more intricate system of bypass roads on the West Bank that would connect Jewish settlements to one another and to Israel proper. I would ask my ostensible allies among the Arab nations to provide interest-free mortgages to Israelis in Tel Aviv, so they could move out to the settlements for some fresh air and a little more yard. And, while I was at it, I would insist that my leaders abort their campaign for United Nations recognition of an independent state of Palestine.

My goal: To hopelessly, ineradicably, entangle the two peoples wedged between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

Then I would wait as the Israeli population on the West Bank grew, and grew some more. I would wait until 2017, 50 years after the Six Day War, which ended with Israel in control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I would go before the UN and say the following:

"We, the Palestinians, no longer seek a homeland of our own. We recognize the permanence of Israeli occupation, the dominion of the Israeli military and the power of the Israeli economy. So we would like to join them. In the 50 years since the beginning of the ’temporary’ occupation, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Israelis build communities near our own communities. We admire what they have built, and the system of laws that governs their lives. Unlike them, many of us live under Israeli military law but have no say in choosing the Israelis who rule us. So we no longer want statehood. We simply want the vote."

And this, of course, would bring about the end of Israel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Look, even Sweden charges for healthcare: It is madness to keep the NHS free at the point of use when other spending is being cut (Jeremy Warner, 26 May 2011, The Telegraph)

No system of universal healthcare is perfect. All have their pros and cons. But by common agreement, the best and most effective tend to be those that combine public provision with some form of co-payment or compulsory health insurance. Many of the best healthcare systems also allow for extensive private sector involvement.

Yet in the UK, anything that could be construed as partial “privatisation” remains strictly off limits. Similarly, any discussion of co-payment that goes beyond simple prescription charges, dental care and so on, is taboo. Debate about the future of the NHS remains largely frozen in a miasma of post-war nostalgia. On healthcare reform, as on much else, Britain is firmly stuck in the past.

Even Sweden, spiritual home of the high-tax, social market economy, enthusiastically embraces both co-payment and private sector participation. You won’t pay less than 15 euros to see a doctor in Sweden. Admittedly, the amounts raised by this method are small relative to health spending as a whole, but it does help defray the costs a little.

Perhaps more significantly, it brings about behavioural changes that limit demand, with no discernible impact on standards of health.

Last week, I attended a presentation by the Swedish finance minister, Anders Borg, to the Ifo Institute’s Munich Economic Summit. Though he was plainly putting Sweden’s best foot forward, it was hard not to be impressed. Many of the things Britain has been getting wrong, Sweden is getting right. The economy is growing strongly, labour market participation is at record levels, poverty rates are some of the lowest in Europe, and despite tax cutting, the public finances are comfortably in surplus.

Mr Borg attributed these successes to the enduring strengths of the Nordic model, yet the most striking thing about his presentation was quite how much of the best bits of the Anglo-Saxon way of doing things this model now incorporates – labour market reform, fiscal conservatism, tax cutting, and so on. Believe it or not, government spending in Sweden is now lower as a share of GDP than in the UK. The country has adopted an approach to economic management which is both pragmatic and ideologically agnostic, and it’s plainly working. We should be learning from this success.

May 26, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Bush to Specter: Told Ya So (Matthew Shaffer, May 26, 2011, National Review)

By now it’s clear to most observers that Syria’s ruling Assad family are violent, congenitally anti-democratic stooges of Iran who deserve severe international sanctions. Pres. George W. Bush was at the vanguard of this realization, and was consequently committed to diplomatic isolation of the regime — specifically as punishment for their support of Hezbollah and Hamas and their meddling in Lebanon, but more broadly, as a former Middle East policy adviser to W. puts it, for their history of anti-democratic violence. In other words, Bush worried that something like the current situation in Syria — Bashar al-Assad’s months-long, thousands-killed crackdown on democratic protests — was coming, and wanted to make sure that the United States’ hostility to such a regime was clearly and strongly expressed.

He did his best. But despite Bush’s objections, expressed in no uncertain terms, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania visited Syria throughout W.’s presidency and beyond, continuing after his switch to the Democratic party in 2009, and even on through July 2010, when he was on his way out after being defeated in the Democratic primary.

...the official pro-Israel position being that it is good to keep Arabs in bondage.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The Eating Habits of Conservatives Versus Liberals (Jolie O'Dell, May 26, 2011, Mashable)

Did you know a political conservative is more likely to prefer McDonald’s French fries than his liberal counterpart? He’s also more likely to qualify Chinese takeout as “exotic ethnic food.”

On the other hand, self-identified left-leaners are more likely to drink wine with meals at home (conservatives go for juice or milk), and they’re also more likely than conservatives to enjoy beer drinking.

But there’s one thing politicos of all stripes can agree on: We like our tacos with a soft tortilla, thank you very much.

These insights come from collective intelligence decision-making system, a site that’s gathering data from millions of web users about preferences and building a “taste graph” for the entire Internet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 AM


Squandering Medicare’s Money (Rita F. Redberg, 5/25/11, NY Times)

[L]ittle attention has been focused on a problem staring us in the face: Medicare spends a fortune each year on procedures that have no proven benefit and should not be covered. Examples abound:

• Medicare pays for routine screening colonoscopies in patients over 75 even though the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts financed by the Department of Health and Human Services, advises against them (and against any colonoscopies for patients over 85), because it takes at least eight years to realize any benefits from the procedure. Moreover, colonoscopies carry risks of serious complications (like perforations) and often lead to further unnecessary procedures (like biopsies). In 2009, Medicare paid doctors more than $100 million for nearly 550,000 screening colonoscopies; around 40 percent were for patients over 75.

• The task force recommends against screening for prostate cancer in men 75 and older, and screening for cervical cancer in women 65 and older who have had a previous normal Pap smear, but Medicare spent more than $50 million in 2008 on such screenings, as well as additional money on unnecessary procedures that often follow.

• Two recent randomized trials found that patients receiving two popular procedures for vertebral fractures, kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, experienced no more relief than those receiving a sham procedure. Besides being ineffective, these procedures carry considerable risks. Nevertheless, Medicare pays for 100,000 of these procedures a year, at a cost of around $1 billion.

• Multiple clinical trials have shown that cardiac stents are no more effective than drugs or lifestyle changes in preventing heart attacks or death. Although some studies have shown that stents provide short-term relief of chest pain, up to 30 percent of patients receiving stents have no chest pain to begin with, and thus derive no more benefit from this invasive procedure than from equally effective and far less expensive medicines. Risks associated with stent implantation, meanwhile, include exposure to radiation and to dyes that can damage the kidneys, and in rare cases, death from the stent itself. Yet one study estimated that Medicare spends $1.6 billion on drug-coated stents (the most common type of cardiac stents) annually.

• A recent study found that one-fifth of all implantable cardiac defibrillators were placed in patients who, according to clinical guidelines, will not benefit from them. But Medicare pays for them anyway, at a cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per device implantation.

The full extent of Medicare payments for procedures with no known benefit needs to be quantified. But the estimates are substantial. The chief actuary for Medicare estimates that 15 percent to 30 percent of health care expenditures are wasteful. Medicare spending exceeded $500 billion in 2010, suggesting that $75 billion to $150 billion could be cut without reducing needed services.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM

The Jayhawks In Concert (NPR, May 21, 2011)

At the core of The Jayhawks' alt-country sound is the paired talent of Gary Louris and Mark Olson. These guys have it all: impeccable guitar runs, smooth harmonies and tremendous songwriting.

Formed in Minneapolis in 1985, the band perfected its folk-rock style with loads of local gigging. Drawing inspiration from Gram Parsons, the Louvin Brothers, Tim Hardin and Bob Dylan, [...]

The band will release a new album in September called Mockingbird Time, and you can hear some of its songs during this live set at The Queen in Wilmington, Del., part of the 11th annual NON-COMMvention radio conference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


California’s High-Speed Rail Won’t Go Nowhere: German high-speed trains started in the provinces, too, but now have a fast, efficient and popular system crisscrossing the nation. (Michael Scott Moore, 5/25/11, Miller McCune)

European high-speed rail, of course, wasn’t built overnight; in fact the lines took decades to develop. The German system nominally began in the 1980s, with a stretch of track between the international metropolises of Hamm and Gütersloh, where an experimental train hit a record-setting speed of 197 mph in 1985.

The stretch of land in question was a provincial part of the industrial region northeast of Cologne, in what was then West Germany. But the fully loaded passenger trips were just showcase rides, and because of politics and bureaucratic hassles, German high-speed rail trundled embarrassingly behind the French TGV until the ’90s, when the fall of communism opened longer, more logical routes between east and west.

Now one of the best-used lines runs from Berlin to Cologne. It passes over the Hamm-Gütersloh stretch, which is no longer the most modern leg of the German system. It veers through a few medium-sized cities, just as the California train might veer to Palmdale; it has to slow near the cities for local traffic. But at regular intervals the Deutsche Bahn system can let its fast trains sprint, and several times per day, an InterCity-Express runs from Berlin to Cologne — about 260 miles — in a cool 4.5 hours.

This is nowhere near cutting-edge speed. Germans grumble that their trains can move faster. But it does the job: Airport check-in lines, security lines, luggage lines and the sheer inconvenience of airport locations make a competing one-hour plane journey add up to three or four hours of travel.

The difference isn’t a matter of half an hour more or less; the difference is that most of the travel time, on a train, belongs to the passenger. You can do real work in four hours while your life isn’t being wasted in airport cattleyards.

May 25, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 PM


Infielder Wilson Valdez earns win as Phillies break through in 19th (Associated Press, 5/26/11)

Valdez threw a hitless 19th inning in his first professional pitching appearance. Phillies fans stood and chanted "Let's go, Wilson!" when the 33-year-old Valdez shifted from second to the mound.

The first batter he faced was Joey Votto, and the reigning NL MVP flied out to deep center field.

Valdez acted like a seasoned closer. He hit 90 mph on a fastball to Votto. He shook off catcher Dane Sardinha. And he showed no fear.

"If he hits a home run, they're not going to say anything to me," said Valdez, laughing.

Not bad for a journeyman infielder who became the first position player to earn a win since Colorado catcher Brent Mayne on Aug. 22, 2000, according to STATS LLC. Mayne went one inning in a 7-6 victory over Atlanta in 12 innings.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard put his mitt over his face to hide his smile when Valdez shook off his catcher.

"I was like, 'What is he going to throw? What does he have?" Howard said. "It was funny, but he got it done."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 PM


Cutting Iran Down to Size (Afshin Molavi, May 25, 2011, National Interest)

[D]ig further and there is a grudging respect inherent in the accusation: Ah, those clever British, the undercurrent of the narrative goes, they may be constantly exploiting us, but they understand Iran better than anyone. Enter British Prime Minister David Cameron, who seemed to utter an essential truth of today’s Iran, one that might leave ordinary Iranians shaking their heads in wonder at those “clever” British while angering Iranian government officials.

In Parliament last week, the Conservative leader ridiculed the oft-repeated Western fear narrative that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a country “run by genius politicians who are strategic masters.” Using terms like “basketcase” and pointing out that Iranians “can’t even refine enough of their own oil” and noting their widespread use of the death penalty, Cameron concluded that “we should be describing the regime as much more backward rather than bigging them up.”

Indeed, Cameron is right. When the Islamic Republic of Iran falls, many secrets will be spilled, of human-rights abuses, of torture, of election fraud, but one of the worst-kept secrets of all—one that all Iranians understand but few Westerners pay much heed to—is the general incompetence of the regime to deliver on the basics: a strong economy, adequate infrastructure, environmental security (i.e pollution-choked Tehran), moderate food prices. Ordinary Iranians spend far more time concerned about the price of tomatoes than the state of the country’s uranium enrichment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


The Unbearable Lightness Of UPS's Plastic Trucks (Ariel Schwartz, May 24, 2011, Fast Company)

UPS is also going for a more revolutionary solution: The shipping giant is testing plastic trucks that are supposedly both lighter and more fuel efficient than their sheet-aluminum counterparts.

According to UPS, the diesel trucks come with body panels made out of ABS plastic, which makes them 1,000 pounds lighter than standard trucks. This lightness--and the smaller engine it allows--makes the trucks 40% more fuel efficient, a feature that could save the company 84 million gallons of fuel each year if the technology becomes widespread.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


A Formidable Republican Field (Jay Cost, May 25, 2011, Weekly Standard)

1. Crossover appeal. Huntsman, Pawlenty, and Romney all won statewide elections by performing better than the party normally does in each state. In 2008 Jon Huntsman won 64 percent of the gubernatorial vote in Utah (an improvement on his performance relative to 2004), while John McCain won 62 percent of the presidential vote that same year. Tim Pawlenty won reelection in Minnesota in 2006 narrowly, but this was still an impressive feat considering that Minnesota retains a blue tilt and 2006 was a terrible year for Republicans in general. T-Paw won about 100,000 more votes that the Republican candidates in the 8 Minnesota House districts that year, and 200,000 more votes than Mark Kennedy, the GOP candidate for the open Senate seat. In 2002, Mitt Romney won a comfortable, five point victory in Massachusetts, despite the fact that his party is so weak in the Bay State that it ran just 4 candidates in the 10 House districts that year.

In other words, all three have demonstrated an ability to pull in voters who have previously backed Democrats, which is a requirement if the GOP is going to win the presidency back next year.

2. Records as governors. All three of these candidates earned a national reputation as governors, which will give them all an opportunity to point to their executive records in contrast to President Obama's. This is preferable to coming up through the ranks via the House and Senate, where people don't really "run" anything. And, as we saw with Bob Dole, John Kerry, John McCain, and even Hillary Clinton, Senate candidates often have that strange dialect known as "Senate-ese," wherein they talk about their experience on this or that subcommittee, their support for this or that amendment, or their vital role in this or that part of the inscrutable appropriations process. Put simply, Huntsman, Pawlenty, and Romney can present themselves as men of action, rather than men of deliberation -- and action is what the country wants.

3. No "gotcha votes." There's a second advantage that comes from not having been in Congress. When you're in the House or the Senate, you end up having to vote on pretty much every divisive issue that the country deals with. Many of these votes are irrelevant -- having to do with the legislative process or being for/against bills that have literally no chance of becoming law. Even so, the congressional record is a great place for campaign researchers go when they're looking to smear the opposition. They can take some otherwise irrelevant vote on, say, abortion, taxes, Medicare, whatever, and turn it into a crime against all decency. Governors don't have that problem, at least not nearly to the same degree. While some laws with controversial items might get signed or vetoed, the state legislature regularly works as a buffer for governors. And furthermore state governments do not have to deal with nearly as many divisive subjects as the U.S. Congress does.

4. No bloodbath. I've been pointing out for a while that it's unlikely that the GOP will have to go through the kind of war that nearly destroyed the Democrats in 2008 -- in large part because the Republican party is much more homogenous. If this is the final field (and it might not be), the chances of an extended and bloody primary fight are now even smaller. In fact, there is a growing chance that the nominee could be set by mid- or even early February. The three top candidates are very similar to each other in terms of their background and the nature of their appeal, being as they all are center-right governors who plan to emphasize their abilities to get things done. There's really no need for an extended primary season to see which one is the preferred candidate.

In conclusion, let me say this. On paper, it would be hard to come up with a GOP field that looks as electable as this one does. Here are three results-oriented, center-right governors who have out-performed a generic Republican at one point or another. Two of them won elections in blue states and the third had enough of a reputation to be named ambassador to China, now the second largest economy in the world.

The GOP essentially blew the 2000 election because we pitted the archetypal Republican nominee against the most electable candidate since Ike and ended up with a primary season that damaged W as he was continually forced to jag Right.

The ideal this cycle would have been Jeb, who combines the best features of W with a unique electability, thanks to his Catholicism and appeal to Latino voters. In his absence--and with Mitch Daniels clearing the field--Tim Pawlenty presents a viable alternative.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Hands-Off Training: Google's Self-Driving Car Holds Tantalizing Promise, but Major Roadblocks Remain: Driverless automobiles lack common sense but are getting better at using mapping, GPS and sensing technologies to hold the road (Nick Chambers, May 23, 2011, Scientific American)

The way M.I.T.'s Leonard sees it, these elements of unreliability are what hinder a place for self-driving cars in our future. "Imagine a situation where a box falls on the road in front of you because it wasn't strapped down properly," he says. "The system needs to make a split-second decision to either go straight through it or to swerve left or right—which might have worse consequences than just going forward. The crux of the problem lies in those extreme situations at the tails of the curve that get harder and harder to deal with."

"Despite all the best efforts of the robot designers, humans still do stupid things," Leonard says. "Suppose 10 human-generated fatalities are replaced with five robot-generated fatalities, is that an ethical trade that society wants to make?"

The real question is how we can justify all the deaths caused by allowing the young, the old and the drunk to drive at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM

Ben Harper, In Concert (Live Fridays from XPN, 5/20/11)

Harper has recorded with several different backing bands, but the new Give Till It's Gone finds him returning to his roots as a solo singer. He performed songs from the album on Friday during a special afternoon show at The Queen in Wilmington, Del.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM

Patty Griffin On Mountain Stage (NPR, 5/23/11)

Patty Griffin's encore Mountain Stage performance was recorded in 2007, in support of her sixth album, Children Running Through. Griffin plays piano and guitar and is joined by bassist Bryn Davies and guitarist Doug Lancio.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Chinese general rattles sabre (John Garnaut, May 23, 2011, The Age)

A RISING star of the People's Liberation Army has called for China to rediscover its ''military culture'', while challenging unnamed Communist Party leaders for betraying their revolutionary heritage.

General Liu Yuan displays sympathy for Osama bin Laden, says war is a natural extension of economics and politics and claims that ''man cannot survive without killing''.

His essay, written as a preface to a friend's book, says ''history is written by blood and slaughter'' and describes the nation-state as ''a power machine made of violence''.
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General Liu's public glorification of what he sees as an innate but previously suppressed Chinese military culture reveals an undercurrent that is driving the Communist Party's increasing assertiveness at home and abroad.

His essay emerges at an awkward time internationally, after Army Chief of Staff Chen Bingde last week travelled to Washington with reassurances about China's peaceful intentions.

...they can ill afford peace, but--fortunately for them, given the backwardness of their military--they need a war where they get killed, not do the killing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


The Arab revolutions and al-Qaida (Khaled Hroub, 5/23/11, Open Democracy)

The Arab revolutions of 2011 have exposed the weakness and indeed meaninglessness of the idea of al-Qaida in the eyes of many Arabs and Muslims. The effect of Osama bin Laden’s death on 2 May is to reinforce the message.

The Arab revolutions, incomplete as they are, have made both the means and the rationale of the jihadi network look even more obsolete than they were before. For in addition to toppling regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and frightening those elsewhere, they have overthrown much conventional thinking and prejudice about the Arabs and the possibility of change in the Arab region.

Such thinking, after all, assigned a definite weight and role to various state or non-state actors in the Arab world. These “usual suspects” included regimes and their cliques; western powers and their meddling; Islamist movements, moderate and extremist;, liberal and leftist parties, usually characterised as weak or marginal; and civil-society NGOs, likewise seen as too fragile to be real agents of change.

The Arab revolutions have exploded this familiar schema, as new forces - previously silent, ignored or dismissed - have jumped to the forefront of politics. The lead player among them is formed of educated, energetic, and globally communicative young people. This generation has shown itself to be at once deeply aware of political matters yet free of ideological dogmas; it longs rather for freedom, dignity and the ability to control its future.

...the ease with which it was disposed of.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Why Republicans kill school choice programs (Shayam Menon, 7/19/10, The Daily Caller)

Chicago government schools are a disaster. Only 13% of 8th graders are proficient in math, 17% proficient in reading, the high school graduation rate is a little over 50%, and 6% of kids go on to get college degrees. In March, the Illinois Senate led by Reverend Senator James Meeks (D- Chicago) passed legislation to provide vouchers for kids in the worst Chicago public elementary schools to attend private schools. When the measure reached the House in May, Chicago Democrat Representative Ken Dunkin pleaded: “I’m begging you. Help me help kids in my district.”

If passed, the legislation would likely have produced the nation’s largest voucher program. However, nearly 50% of all House Republicans helped the Democrat leadership kill the measure. Why?

Because their constituents don't want the quality of their local schools threatened by an influx of black kids.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Obama directs U.S. agencies to buy electric vehicles (Wendy Koch, 5/24/11, USA Today)

President Obama directed federal agencies Tuesday to move toward buying -- by 2015 -- only alternative-fuel cars and light-duty trucks and to start with a pilot program of more than 100 electric vehicles.

"Diversifying our transportation fleet with hybrids, electric vehicles and other alternative-fuel vehicles is a critical element in President Obama's long-term plan to break our dependence on foreign oil and invest in America's growing clean energy economy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in the announcement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 AM


Ahmadinejad's Going Down: Not only has the Iranian president managed to make the entire world angry, now he’s outraged the supreme leader. Omid Memarian on the face-off in Iranian politics. (Omid Memarian, 5/25/11, Daily Beast)

Analysts say Ahmadinejad has made a lot of enemies over the past five years and has failed to build political coalitions during his time in power. He has practically brought isolation for himself and Iran internationally. And inside the country, his delusional ambitions for a power grab that could engulf the leader’s territory has resulted in a very strong backlash.

“After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad changed his Foreign Minister [Manouchehr Mottaki] without the leader's approval and appointed his own candidate in his place, the alarm went off for the Iranian leader,” a political activist in Tehran aware of the conversations told The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity. “At a meeting with high state officials, the Iranian leader gave the green light for the pursuit of violations committed by those close to Ahmadinejad.”

Last month, Ahmadinejad also dismissed his cabinet's intelligence minister. But Khamenei opposed the president's action and asked him to change his decision. Although the supreme leader holds the final call on all critical decisions, Ahmadinejad insisted on his decision and refused to attend cabinet meetings for 10 days—10 days that helped a storm of criticism brew against him. He finally gave up and admitted the intelligence minister back into his cabinet.

“It is easier to predict the leader's game. But it is difficult to predict how Ahmadinejad would continue the game, as he behaves emotionally and unpredictably,” said Reza Alijani a prominent political analyst who has recently fled Iran. “Ahmadinejad’s emotional and delusional actions may also lead to his demise, because power plays in Iran are extremely ruthless and the security forces in the leader's camp are known to confront mercilessly.”

The intelligence minister was apparently dismissed when he attempted to install surveillance equipment to tap the conversations of Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, Ahmadinejad's chief of staff and closest, most trusted adviser. Many say there is no doubt the tapping was done on orders from the leader.

Over the past few weeks, several people close to Mashaei have been arrested, and government opposition groups attacked his deputies. But analysts in Iran believe that this is just the beginning of what is expected to include the arrests of Mashei himself and several other authorities close to the president.

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May 24, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:37 PM


U.S. official cites misconduct in Japanese American internment cases: Acting Solicitor Gen. Neal Katyal says one of his predecessors, Charles Fahy, deliberately hid from the Supreme Court a military report that Japanese Americans were not a threat in World War II. (David G. Savage, May 25, 2011, LA Times)

Acting Solicitor Gen. Neal Katyal, in an extraordinary admission of misconduct, took to task one of his predecessors for hiding evidence and deceiving the Supreme Court in two of the major cases in its history: the World War II rulings that upheld the detention of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans.

Katyal said Tuesday that Charles Fahy, an appointee of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, deliberately hid from the court a report from the Office of Naval Intelligence that concluded the Japanese Americans on the West Coast did not pose a military threat. The report indicated there was no evidence Japanese Americans were disloyal, were acting as spies or were signaling enemy submarines, as some at the time had suggested.

Nor were Hiroshima and Nagasaki military targets. This is news?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Storm Over Syria: a review of The Other Side of the Mirror: An American Travels Through Syria by Brooke Allen (Malise Ruthven, 6/09/11, NY Review of Books)

[U]nlike the Muslim Brotherhood’s rebellion in Hama, which shook the government of Bashar al-Assad’s father Hafez in 1982, the Facebook rebellion seems curiously faceless. There are some signs of opposition violence with “plausible reports of security forces being ambushed by unidentified armed groups, as well as of protesters firing back when attacked,” according to the International Crisis Group. But these appear to be small and random incidents. The vast majority of casualties are the consequence of the regime’s brutality. The protests are largely spontaneous. There seem to be no controlling organizations or identifiable leaders, and the opposition’s ideological focus is unclear, beyond slogans calling for an end to corruption and repression.

Optimists see this as an implicit acceptance of democratic values and assumptions. Despite the increasingly desperate efforts of the region’s authoritarian governments to keep their people in the dark about the realities of the outside world by restricting information, the younger generation identifies with its peers in the liberal West and it knows what it is missing in access to material and educational benefits as well as civil and democratic rights. The problem is that while the Facebook generation knows what it doesn’t like, it is far from clear that there are structures in place, or being planned, that could provide the basis for an alternative political system if the regime collapses. Pessimists envisage a scenario encapsulated in the phrase “one man, one vote, one time” leading to a Salafist takeover and a settling of scores against minorities (including Christians) who were protected by the regime or benefited from its pluralist approach. More than 70 percent of the Syrian population are Sunni.

How did Syria come to this pass? While some observers see in recent events a parallel with 1989, with the break-up of the East European–style system introduced by the Baathists in the 1960s, this is no velvet revolution, nor is Syria like Jaruzelski’s Poland. The regime’s violence is not ideological. It is far from being the result of an emotional or philosophical commitment to a party that long ago abandoned its agenda of promoting secular Arab republican values and aspirations. The regime’s ruthless attachment to power lies in a complex web of tribal loyalties and networks of patronage underpinned by a uniquely powerful religious bond.

The Alawis of Syria, who make up only 12 percent of its population, split from the main branch of Shiism more than a thousand years ago. Before the twentieth century they were usually referred to as Nusayris, after their eponymous founder Ibn Nusayr, who lived in Iraq during the ninth century. Taking refuge in the mountains above the port of Latakia, on the coastal strip between modern Lebanon and Turkey, they evolved a highly secretive syncretistic theology containing an amalgam of Neoplatonic, Gnostic, Christian, Muslim, and Zoroastrian elements. Their leading theologian, Abdullah al-Khasibi, who died in 957, proclaimed the divinity of Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, whom other Shiites revere but do not worship. Like many Shiites influenced by ancient Gnostic teachings that predate Islam, they believe that the way to salvation and knowledge lies through a succession of divine emanations. Acknowledging a line of prophets or avatars beginning with Adam and culminating in Christ and Muhammad, they include several figures from classical antiquity in their list, such as Socrates, Plato, Galen, and some of the pre-Islamic Persian masters.

Nusayrism could be described as a folk religion that absorbed many of the spiritual and intellectual currents of late antiquity and early Islam, packaged into a body of teachings that placed its followers beyond the boundaries of orthodoxy. Mainstream Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, regarded them as ghulta, “exaggerators.” Like other sectarian groups they protected their tradition by a strategy known as taqiyya—the right to hide one’s true beliefs from outsiders in order to avoid persecution. Taqiyya makes a perfect qualification for membership in the mukhabarat—the ubiquitous intelligence/security apparatus that has dominated Syria’s government for more than four decades.

Secrecy was also observed by means of a complex system of initiation, in which insiders recognized each other by using special phrases or passwords and neophytes underwent a form of spiritual marriage with the naqibs, or spiritual guides. At this ceremony three superior dignitaries represent a kind of holy trinity of the figures who feature in other Nusayri rituals, namely Ali, Muhammad, and Salman al-Farisi (the Persian companion of Muhammad who in several Islamic traditions forms a link between the Arabs and the wisdom of ancient Persia). Nusayri rituals, performed in private homes or out-of-the-way places, include a ceremony known as Qurban—almost identical to the mass—where wine is consecrated and imbibed in the Christian manner. As Matti Moosa, a leading scholar of the Nusayris, states in his seminal study Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects (1988):

The Christian elements in the Nusayri religion are unmistakable. They include the concept of trinity; the celebration of Christmas, the consecration of the Qurban, that is, the sacrament of the flesh and blood which Christ offered to His disciples, and, most important, the celebration of the Quddas [a lengthy prayer proclaiming the divine attributes of Ali and the personification of all the biblical patriarchs from Adam to Simon Peter, founder of the Church, who is seen, paradoxically, as the embodiment of true Islam].

Moosa suggests that like other schismatic groups residing in Syria, such as the Druzes and Ismailis, the Nusayris do not take their beliefs literally, but understand them as allegorical ways of reaching out to the divine. While this may be true of the educated naqibs, or spiritual elders, such belief systems may have different ramifications for semiliterate peasants, reinforcing a contempt or disdain for outsiders who do not share these beliefs. Like the Druzes and some Ismailis, Nusayris believe in metempsychosis or transmigration. The souls of the wicked pass into unclean animals such as dogs and pigs, while the souls of the righteous enter human bodies more perfect than their present ones. The howls of jackals that can be heard at night are the souls of Sunni Muslims calling their misguided co-religionists to prayer.

It does not take much imagination to see how such beliefs, programmed into the community’s values for more than a millennium, and reinforced by customs such as endogamous marriage—according to which the children of unions between Nusayris and non-Nusayris cannot be initiated into the sect—create very strong notions of apartness and disdain for the “Other.”

The great Arab philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun, who died in 1406, elaborated the concept of ‘asabiyya—variously translated as clannism or group solidarity—that provides a more adequate explanation of the political systems operating in many Arab countries than notions based on imported ideologies such as communism, nationalism, and socialism.

...and Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


How the American dream went global: interview with Fareed Zakaria: Even as America’s middle class plateaus, says author and CNN host Fareed Zakaria, emerging nations are celebrating a confident new class of consumers. (Nora Dunne, May 23, 2011, CS Monitor)

Q. You write that “the rise of the rest is a consequence of American ideas and actions,” but also say that these countries are entering the Western order “on their own terms.” How are they doing it?

A. These countries have embraced open markets, open trade, free market economics – basic American ideas about how to control your supply. It’s the fundamental driver of their growth, growth that has produced a certain kind of cultural pride. It’s an inevitable consequence of success. Whenever societies do well, they believe that there is something in their cultural DNA that made it happen. The first phase of this power shift was a fascination with the West. But now these countries are rediscovering their own values and heritage.

Q. Will one of these emerging countries become the next superpower?

I struggled with what to call the book. I called it “The Post-American World” because I really don’t think that we’re moving to a Chinese world or an Indian world.

It’s easier to define what we’re moving away from. We’re moving away from this period [that’s] rare in human history, where a single power has so dominated on every level of power. Certainly that was true of Rome, and you could argue for a brief period it was true of Britain. The United States has had a military, political, economic, cultural dominance over the last 20 or 30 years. Now we’re moving to an era of greater multipolarity, a genuinely global system where every part of the global system has countries that are rich and vibrant and participating.

On the one hand, he gets that all of the improvement in Third World economies comes from their movement towards the systems and standards of the Anglosphere, which has, of course, dominated global affairs for the past few centuries. But, on the other, that's supposed to be post Anglo-American?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


The Devolution of Pakistan (Ahmed Rashid, May 23, 2011, National Interest)

[I]t would now appear that the only thing Pakistanis are really keen on is remaining ambiguous as to what course of action to pursue next. Unfortunately, the Americans disagree and won’t accept any further vagueness. Senator John Kerry was totally unambiguous when he visited Pakistan and said directly that “Pakistan must take concrete, precise and measurable steps to combat terrorism.’’ He went on to add that ‘”the relationship will be measured exclusively by actions and not words.’’ President Obama was even less ambiguous, saying further U.S. attacks in Pakistan to kill or capture other al-Qaeda leaders could take place.

For now, Pakistan remains at sea without a paddle. There is little sense of direction or idea of how anyone will respond to the next provocation from the U.S., India or terrorists. This is not a country in a hurry to change its mind about its strategic direction.

When even Cabana Boy and the Unicorn Rider aren't afraid of you, you're toast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Falling Comet: In 1955 "Rock Around the Clock" went to the top of the charts and turned Bill Haley into the king of rock and roll. Twenty-five years later, he was holed up in a pool house in Harlingen, drunk, lonely, paranoid, and dying. After three decades of silence, his widow and his children tell the story of his years in Texas and his sad final days. (Michael Hall, June 2011, Texas Monthly)

In the last desperate months of his life, he would come into the restaurant at all hours of the day and take a seat, sometimes at the counter and other times in one of the back booths. He was always alone. He wore a scruffy ball cap, and behind his large, square glasses there was something odd about his eyes. They didn’t always move together. Barbara Billnitzer, one of the waitresses, would bring him a menu and ask how he was doing. “Just fine,” he’d say, and they would chat about the traffic and the weather, which was always warm in South Texas, even in January. He’d order coffee—black—and sometimes a sandwich, maybe turkey with mayo. Then he’d light up a Pall Mall and look out the window or stare off into space. Soon he was lost in thought, looking like any other 55-year-old man passing the time in a Sambo’s on Tyler Street in downtown Harlingen. He had moved there with his family five years before, in 1976. It was a perfect place for a guy who wanted to get away from it all. And he had a lot to get away from. Twenty-five years before, just about everyone in the Western world had known his face. In fact, for a period of time in the mid-fifties, he had been the most popular entertainer on the planet. He had sold tens of millions of rec­ords. He had caused riots. He had headlined shows with a young opening act named Elvis Presley and had inspired John Lennon to pick up the guitar. He had changed the world.

After ten minutes or so Billnitzer would bring him his food. But usually he was thinking about something, so he ignored it. After a while, though, he’d start to shift in his seat and look around. And then he’d start to hum. Billnitzer, refilling his coffee cup, knew the tune—everybody knew that tune. It was “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” the best-selling rock song of all time. She smiled, because she knew what he was doing. He was giving people around him clues. He wanted people to hear him and say, “You’re Bill Haley, aren’t you?”

But they rarely did. His ball cap covered his famous spit curl, and his glasses covered much of his face. So eventually he would turn to the person next to him or even rise and walk over to a nearby table. The patrons would look up at the tall stranger looming over them. “You know who I am?” he’d ask. “I’m Bill Haley.” Then he’d take off the cap and they’d see the curl, and he’d pull out his driver’s license and they’d see his name. Sure enough, there it was: William John Clifton Haley.

He wouldn’t say much beyond that. Some of the customers tried to get to know him, asking simple coffee shop questions such as “How are you doing?” But Haley didn’t seem to be listening. He’d respond in a rambling fashion. Maybe he’d talk about a show he’d done in London back in the sixties or about Rudy Pompilli, his longtime sax player and best friend, who’d died in 1976. He missed Rudy.

Haley appreciated the company in Sambo’s—one time he left a $100 tip for a quiet waitress who could barely speak English. But usually he slipped out without saying a word of goodbye. And though he was mostly a genial customer, he could be volatile. “Once,” remembers Billnitzer, “our busboy Woody said something to him like, ‘Hey, Mr. Haley, how are you?’ and Bill got real upset, threw down his money, and stomped out.”

Haley would get in his Lincoln Continental and drive off. Sometimes he went to the Hop Shop, a bar on South Seventh Street, or Richard’s, a restaurant and bar on south Highway 77, to drink. He liked Scotch—Johnnie Walker Red was his brand. Sometimes he’d drink too much and get back in his car. Occasionally the police, who knew him well, would stop him and take him to jail. If he made it home, he’d stumble to the little pool house out back while his wife and three children slept in the main house. He’d pick up the phone and start calling people he knew from long ago: ex-wives, sons, producers, promoters, band members. He’d tell stories. He’d cry. He’d ramble. Then he’d hang up and call someone else. He felt so isolated out in that room, millions of miles from his past.

He had once been the King of Rock and Roll. He’d written more than a hundred songs and recorded more than five hundred. He’d had nine Top 20 singles, including the biggest one of all. He’d made millions and he’d spent millions. He had performed some 10,000 times, in front of more people than anyone in his era. In England the crowds had yelled, “We want Haley!” and in France, “Vive Haley!”

Not anymore. Nobody was screaming for him now. No one even seemed to remember him. All they talked about was Elvis being the guy who started it all, Elvis being the King. Well, Bill Haley was making rock and roll records when Elvis was still in high school. For that matter, he was playing rock and roll when Chuck Berry was working in a beauty parlor, Jerry Lee Lewis was studying at the Southwestern Bible Institute, and Little Richard was washing dishes in a bus station. He was the father of rock and roll. Why didn’t anybody seem to remember?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Fresh Voice Rising in the Folk Wilderness (Leroy F. Aarons, August 18, 1963, Washington Post)

“Man, I don’t work my songs out. I burp ’em out.”

This is the way a skinny, untidy blond youth named Bob Dylan explains the talent that seems destined to make him a show business sensation.

Dylan, 22, has captured the imagination of a large following which is spreading the word about the Greenwich Village rebel who writes and sings songs of anguished protest.

He has been called both a great poet and a phony. Pete Seeger, the sage of the folk singing set, sees him as heir to the Woody Guthrie tradition of the 1930s. Others find his sloppiness, Midwestern drawl and flip noncomfomity all part of an image designed to win him profitable notoriety.

The answer to the riddle of Dylan probably lies somewhere in between. But anyone who has watched the reaction of a young audience (such as at last month’s Newport Folk Festival) to a Dylan performance, is aware that here is someone to be reckoned with.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


Is America Ready for President TPaw? (GERALD F. SEIB, 5/23/11, WSJ)

Few candidates have had as many things break right for them as has Mr. Pawlenty in the last three months. The shape of the Republican field, the departure of some potential rivals, the pace of the campaign and the emerging issue mix all have broken about as well for the 50-year-old Minnesotan as he could have hoped. [...]

He offers a good narrative for today's Republican party, which is more populist and downscale than your father's GOP.

He's the son of a truck driver and member of a union family who was twice elected a conservative governor in the state that produced liberal icons Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and current Sen. Al Franken.

He showed a grasp of tea-party-friendly populist economics when, before the 2008 campaign, he used a play on words about Wal-Mart's warehouse chain to say his party should construct policies that showed it is the party of "Sam's Club, not just the country club."

As governor he fought Democrats in a budget battle that led to a government shutdown, and battled public-employee unions in a long transit strike. As Stanley Kurtz wrote recently on National Review Online, he is "Scott Walker with experience," a reference to the new Wisconsin GOP governor, who recently caused a much bigger ruckus by doing some of the same things Mr. Pawlenty had already done in Minnesota.

As a former Catholic who has become an evangelical Christian, Mr. Pawlenty has bonds with the Christian conservatives so important in the early states of Iowa and South Carolina.

He isn't loved passionately by any of the important factions in the Republican party, but he's acceptable to all of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Think yourself better: Alternative medical treatments rarely work. But the placebo effect they induce sometimes does (The Economist, May 19th 2011)

Over the years Dr Ernst and his group have run clinical trials and published over 160 meta-analyses of other studies. (Meta-analysis is a statistical technique for extracting information from lots of small trials that are not, by themselves, statistically reliable.) His findings are stark. According to his “Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine”, around 95% of the treatments he and his colleagues examined—in fields as diverse as acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy and reflexology—are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments. In only 5% of cases was there either a clear benefit above and beyond a placebo (there is, for instance, evidence suggesting that St John’s Wort, a herbal remedy, can help with mild depression), or even just a hint that something interesting was happening to suggest that further research might be warranted. [...]

A placebo is a sham medical treatment—a pharmacologically inert sugar pill, perhaps, or a piece of pretend surgery. Its main scientific use at the moment is in clinical trials as a baseline for comparison with another treatment. But just because the medicine is not real does not mean it doesn’t work. That is precisely the point of using it in trials: researchers have known for years that comparing treatment against no treatment at all will give a misleading result.

Giving pretend painkillers, for instance, can reduce the amount of pain a patient experiences. A study carried out in 2002 suggested that fake surgery for arthritis in the knee provides similar benefits to the real thing. And the effects can be harmful as well as helpful. Patients taking fake opiates after having been prescribed the real thing may experience the shallow breathing that is a side-effect of the real drugs.

Besides being benchmarks, placebos are a topic of research in their own right. On May 16th the Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific academy, published a volume of its Philosophical Transactions devoted to the field.

One conclusion emerging from the research, says Irving Kirsch, a professor at Harvard Medical School who wrote the preface to the volume, is that the effect is strongest for those disorders that are predominantly mental and subjective, a conclusion backed by a meta-analysis of placebo studies that was carried out in 2010 by researchers at the Cochrane Collaboration, an organisation that reviews evidence for medical treatments. In the case of depression, says Dr Kirsch, giving patients placebo pills can produce very nearly the same effect as dosing them with the latest antidepressant medicines.

Pain is another nerve-related symptom susceptible to treatment by placebo. Here, patients’ expectations influence the potency of the effect. Telling someone that you are giving him morphine provides more pain relief than saying you are dosing him with aspirin—even when both pills actually contain nothing more than sugar. Neuro-imaging shows that this deception stimulates the production of naturally occurring painkilling chemicals in the brain. A paper in Philosophical Transactions by Karin Meissner of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich concludes that placebo treatments are also able to affect the autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, digestion and the like. Drama is important, too. Placebo injections are more effective than placebo pills, and neither is as potent as sham surgery. And the more positive a doctor is when telling a patient about the placebo he is prescribing, the more likely it is to do that patient good.

One wonders if one of the reasons that people in countries with socialized medicine are "more healthy" is just the psychological factor of knowing they have access to care (at least in theory).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Lower gas prices are possible now (DENNIS KELLEHER & MIKE MASTERS, 5/24/11, Politico)

Commodity markets — including those for wheat, corn and crude oil — are remarkably different from capital markets. These exist primarily to ease investment. Commodity markets, on the other hand, exist solely for commercial purchasers and producers to control business risks when raw materials produced today are used at a later date.

Unfortunately, many investors don’t understand this key difference.

Commodity futures markets were created so that wheat farmers and oil producers could sell their products today — though they won’t produce and deliver them for months. A food manufacturer that uses wheat to make cereal, for example, could pay a farmer today for delivery in a few months. The farmer can then plant his crops knowing there will be a buyer come harvest time.

Similarly, the end-user can plan today because he knows what price he will pay tomorrow. Commodity futures markets offer a central location in which buyers and sellers match up and ensure that they get paid. The noncommercial traders, or speculators, participate because there aren’t always enough commercial producers and purchasers to take the other side. But historically, their participation has been limited to providing supplemental liquidity.

Not that long ago, commercial traders made up about 70 percent of commodity market activity and speculators the remaining 30 percent. For decades, this worked pretty well, serving the commercial participants and keeping prices fairly stable. Prices largely reflected fundamental factors of supply and demand.

But that ratio has flipped in the past few years. Now, speculators are about 70 percent of activity in many commodity markets and commercial hedgers only about 30 percent. This coincided with investment banks creating and selling commodity index funds. These products have poured more than $250 billion into the commodity markets in the past few years, with much of the money flowing into the oil markets. As in any market, when dollars go in, the market has to adjust through prices — in this case, by going up.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:23 AM


Mundell: Deflation Risk for the Dollar: The Nobel winner says a stable dollar-euro rate is the best economic medicine. (SEAN RUSHTON, 5/23/11, WSJ)

Conservative economists have been raising alarms for months about the Federal Reserve's second quantitative-easing program, QE2. They argue it has lowered the dollar's value, leading to higher oil and commodity prices—a precursor to broader, more damaging inflation.

Yet the man many of them regard as their monetary guru—supply-side economics pioneer and Nobel Laureate Robert Mundell—says dollar weakness is not his main concern. Instead, he fears a return to recession later this year when QE2 ends and the dollar begins its inevitable rise. Deflation, not inflation, should be the greater concern. [...]

From 2001-07, he argues, the dollar underwent a long, steady decline against the euro, tacitly encouraged by U.S. monetary authorities. In response to the dollar's decline, investors diverted capital into inflation hedges, notably real estate, leading to the subprime bubble. By mid-2007, the real-estate bubble had burst. In response, the Fed reduced short-term interest rates rapidly, which lowered the dollar further. The subprime crisis was severe, but with looser money, the economy appeared to stabilize in the second quarter of 2008.

Then, in summer 2008, the Fed committed what Mr. Mundell calls one of the worst mistakes in its history: In the middle of the subprime crunch—exacerbated by mark-to-market accounting rules that forced financial companies to cover short-term losses—the central bank paused in lowering the federal funds rate. In response, the dollar soared 30% against the euro in a matter of weeks. Dollar scarcity broke the economy's back, causing a serious economic contraction and crippling financial crisis.

Hard to accept that tight money triggered a needless crisis (and exposed derivative fraud) when you're trying to blame the undeserving poor.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 AM


Friend Driscoll finds a funny.

May 23, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Huntsman, potential GOP candidate, affirms Mormon heritage (Associated Press, May 21, 2011)

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman says he is Mormon, and he doesn't think his religion will be an issue if he decides to run for president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


Can Tim Pawlenty win the GOP presidential nomination? (Brian Montopoli, 5/23/11, CBS News)

Pawlenty's image is one of the nice guy down the street - the solid family man with the firm handshake who might sell you a very reasonable insurance policy. He tried, tentatively, to change that perception as he traveled the country laying the groundwork for his campaign, offering up more forceful and provocative rhetoric that seemed outside his comfort zone. But it didn't really take, and by the time Pawlenty appeared in Iowa to formally announce his presidential campaign Monday, he had settled on his campaign theme: I may not raise your blood pressure, but at least I won't lie to you.

"Fluffy promises of hope and change don't buy our groceries, make our mortgage payments, put gas in our cars, or pay for our children's clothes," he said, in an obvious shot at Mr. Obama. "So, in my campaign, I'm going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth."

Pawlenty went on to back up that claim by calling for reforms to entitlement programs and opposing ethanol subsidies, an position not likely to be popular in Iowa. "Conventional wisdom says you can't talk about ethanol in Iowa or Social Security in Florida or financial reform on Wall Street," he said. "But someone has to say it. Someone has to finally stand up and level with the American people. Someone has to lead."

Pawlenty's presentation wasn't particularly dynamic. But his Minnesota-nice persona may play well with Iowa caucus voters, who may respond positively to Pawlenty's straightforward, flash-free delivery.

Pawlenty's gotten two big gifts in recent weeks: First, 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee decided to pass on the race, greatly improving Pawlenty's chances in Iowa. And then Mitch Daniels, perhaps Pawlenty's biggest challenger in the race to become the GOP establishment's preferred alternative to Mitt Romney, did as well.

Romney is unlikely to make a big push in Iowa, where he was embarrassed by Huckabee in the 2008 cycle. And likely GOP candidate Jon Huntsman appears poised to essentially skip it. That leaves the door open to Pawlenty to take the caucuses - and get a big boost in media coverage, donations and momentum if he does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Election Picture Sharpens for GOP (PATRICK O'CONNOR And JONATHAN WEISMAN, 5/22/WSJ)

The Daniels decision to skip a White House bid has turned the attention of uncommitted Republican donors and activists to those candidates who actually are in the race, and some prominent Republicans said Sunday that donors who had been waiting for Mr. Daniels' decision will likely move into the Pawlenty camp.

But Mr. Daniels' announcement also immediately increased the clamoring in some GOP quarters for other candidates to enter the race. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin are all being urged by various GOP factions to run, though the prospects of any of them choosing to do so didn't appear strong. [...]

But Republican strategists and pollsters say that, despite his recent bounce in the polls, Mr. Obama is beatable because confidence in the economy is still low and the percentage of Americans who say the country is on the wrong track is at high levels that few incumbents historically have survived.

Eric Woolson, a strategist for Mr. Pawlenty, said the Daniels withdrawal won't end speculation about other candidates, because some activists who were pressing Mr. Daniels to join the race would move on to other targets.

But, he added, "it is getting very late in the process" for new prospects to jump in. Many of those activists will take a second look—"or even a first look"—at the existing candidates and realize the field is stronger than believed, he said. That field is heavy with former governors, a proven formula for a strong nominee, he said.

One of the quaint features of presidential politics is that being a declared candidate diminishes you. But eventually the voting satarts and one of the declared becomes the nominee, Tim Pawlenty is as strong a general election candidate as anyone other than Jeb would be.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Arabs and the long revolution (A talk by Brian Whitaker at the Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York, 18 May 2011, Al-bab)

Ten or 20 years from now, the Middle East is going to be a very different place. This may sound like a bold prediction, but one way to see what's coming is to look at the age profile of Arab populations. In Yemen, 43% are under the age of 15. In Syria, the figure is 35%, in Egypt 33%, in Oman 31% and in Saudi Arabia 29%. For comparison, the figure in the EU is just 15% - less than half what it is in many of the Arab countries.

So there is a huge youth bulge coming up. One enormous problem will be how to provide work for them but, perhaps more importantly, as a result of increased contact with the rest of the world the authorities are also going to be dealing with a generation which has different attitudes and aspirations. The change can be seen already among Arabs in their twenties. They are much more globally-aware than previous generations and they see how their own lives are restricted in comparison with elsewhere.

So far, we have witnessed full-scale uprisings in five of the 22 Arab countries – Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, plus major disturbances in Bahrain and warning signs in Algeria, Morocco and Oman. A lot of media reports, especially in the United States, describe the street protests as "pro-democracy demonstrations", but that is really viewing them through a western lens.

If you look at the activists' slogans, hurriya (freedom) is certainly one of the buzz words but "democracy" as such scarcely figures at all, even though democracy may be one of the things that freedom implies.

The most popular Egyptian slogan, later transferred to Syria, was "The people want the fall of the regime". The Arabic word for "regime" is nidham, but it also means "system" and this wider meaning is what the protesters are really talking about: not just getting rid of unpopular leaders but the whole system associated with them – the corruption, the cronyism, the repression, the lack of accountability, and so on.

We also hear protesters demanding "respect" and "dignity". Among other things, that means not being shot at or set upon by thugs when they try to express their views. But it's also, more broadly, a call to be treated like grown-up citizens.

In my book, What's Really Wrong with the Middle East, I argued that Arab regimes are basically modelled on traditional concepts of the Arab family, with a father figure at the head who knows what is best for his children (or at least thinks he does) and whose authority should not be challenged.

This can even be seen in the language and imagery used by the regimes themselves, including the idea that the head of state is a shepherd guiding his flock.

So these calls for respect and dignity may sound quite bland but they are actually very subversive. Though not fully articulated at present, they point to an assertion of rights as citizens and a refusal to be treated like children or sheep.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


Of Evil and Empathy (Theodore Dalrymple, May 2011, New English Review)

Let me give his theory as succinctly, and I hope fairly, as I can. We should, he says, replace the word ‘evil’ by ‘lacking in empathy.’ People who behave evilly lack empathy for those to whom they do it. Either they fail to understand the effects on others of what they do, or if they do understand it, don’t care.

From where does this lack of empathy come? Professor Baron-Cohen tells us that, like many another human characteristic, the capacity to empathise varies along a normal distribution, at the tail ends of which are people with exceptional powers of empathy - I do not much care for the psychotherapist he describes as being of this ilk, in fact she makes me feel rather queasy - or of none. The people with no capacity for empathy are at best utter narcissists and at worst psychopaths. (For the sake of brevity, I here leave out his account of people with autism or Asperger’s syndrome.) Most people, of course, fall between extremes, so that, in certain circumstances, and for varying lengths of time, they may show lack of empathy. I doubt that many readers would disagree with this.

Baron-Cohen goes on to tell us that empathy has, or is caused by, certain pathways in the brain, and that these may be defective for various reasons: genetic or environmental. A lack of empathy runs in families, as demonstrated by the concordance rates among twins, identical and non-identical, as well as by adoption studies, where adopted children come to resemble their biological parents more that their adoptive ones; but also certain experiences, particularly early life experiences, may do permanent damage to the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, as well, of course, as pathological processes such as injury and disease (brain tumour, front-temporal dementia etc.).

I think his theory might very well be grist to the mill of anti-feminists, for he is very keen on the idea that the early experiences of love and security are vital in the development of empathic responses to others. By far the easiest way of giving children that vital early experience of love and security is to ensure that mothers devote a great deal of attention to their children, most other ways having failed miserably, en masse if not in every case. But that is by the by.

Now Baron-Cohen thinks that he has now more or less solved the problem. There are, of course, details to be filled in; not everything is understood about the neural circuits of empathy, not every gene that contributes to the expression of empathy has been found. Environmental factors leading to psychopathy remain to be elucidated, though some are known; but, grosso modo, or in outline, we now understand evil, which is a neuro-psychological state or trait of lack of empathy. Evil has been removed, one might say elevated, from the murky realm of metaphysics into the sunny uplands of science, where all is progress and light.

I am not so sure. In the first place, Baron-Cohen sometimes makes precisely the mistake that he accuses the users of the term ‘evil’ of making, namely of rendering the explanandum identical with the explanans. For example, he describes his discussion with a psychiatrist of the case of a woman who stabbed her two children to death as a way of getting back at her estranged husband, of whose new girlfriend she was jealous. The psychiatrist had found her to be normal, to be not suffering from any identifiable medical condition; but Baron-Cohen thought this ridiculous. At the time of her crime, he said, by definition she must have been suffering from a lack of empathy, even if she had now recovered it: for if she had not, she would not have committed the act.

Now what is being said here is quite obviously open to the objection that he has made to the concept of evil: we know the woman lacked empathy because of what she did, and she did what she did because of lack of empathy. If the concept of evil explains nothing, here (at any rate) the concept of lack of empathy stands in the same case.

Does Baron-Cohen’s theory illuminate mass outbreaks of evil, such as in Lenin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany. Pol-Pot’s Cambodia, or post-Habyarimana’s Rwanda, for example? I think the answer is no.

In Rwanda, for example, if accounts are to be believed, thousands of perfectly ordinary people, of no apparently psychopathic tendencies, took up machetes and other instruments and killed their neighbours, then enjoying their goods and feasting on their food, celebrating what they had done.

What would Baron-Cohen say about this (he does not use this example in his book)? Well, he would say, in certain circumstances – fear, mass hysteria, or whatever – some circuits in the brain overwhelm other circuits in the brain, those for example that are necessary for the expression of empathy. Remember that people are on a continuum of empathy: as circumstances grow more and more dire, so a bigger and bigger percentage of the population loses its capacity for empathy.

But we already know this from raw observation of the events: so when we read Baron-Cohen, we experience no thrill of enlightenment, no eureka moment in which we feel that we now understand what previously was opaque to us. He is, in fact, merely re-describing in slightly different terms what we already knew.

Between the autism spectrum and the ADHD spectrum no male is responsible for any behavior and every boy can be drugged by his parents and teachers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Killing bin Laden, Executing Justice (George Weigel, 5/19/11, Catholic Exchange)

What the death of bin Laden did demonstrate unmistakably is just how poorly many religious leaders and religious intellectuals think about the new kind of war in which we have been engaged for more than a decade and a half (although most of us only recognized that after 9/11). Which is to say, the death of Osama bin Laden demonstrated yet again how badly the just war tradition has been received by the men and women who are supposed to be its intellectual custodians.

Thus from some religious quarters came laments, not over the ongoing damage that bin Laden’s evil network causes, but over the fact that he was killed and the method used to kill him. It seemed as if, at various divinity schools, bin Laden was a gangster writ large who ought to have been dealt with by law enforcement agencies and methods and, after apprehension, read his Miranda rights and given a trial by a jury of his peers.

This is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that. As I told one reporter, attempts to portray what happened to bin Laden in Pakistan as the equivalent of the Chicago police department breaking into a Milwaukee crack house and gunning down a crack-cocaine dealer are preposterous; they completely misconstrue the nature of the conflict between bin Laden and the United States since the mid-1990s.

To say it yet again: in dealing with the bin Ladens of this world, we are engaging in war, not police work; and the relevant moral standards are those derived from the just war tradition, not from the U.S. Criminal Code as interpreted by the Warren Court.

As usual, Rutgers University’s James Turner Johnson got it exactly right: bin Laden’s death was “an execution of justice, plain and simple, carried out under the authority of the one who can properly use bellum (war) in the service of good.”

And why is it important to grasp this? Because if soft-minded and ill-informed religious leaders and intellectuals succeed in gutting the just war tradition and loosening our public culture’s grasp on it, the only alternative will be a raw pragmatism that justifies any end and any means.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Brilliant, Shook-Up Guy (MARC MYERS, 5/20/11, WSJ)

Recorded between 1977 and 2005, the new compilation features live performances in Berlin, Montreux and the Netherlands. All of the remastered selections are breathtakingly contemporary and offer fresh insight into Mr. DeVille's gritty rock romanticism.

Mink DeVille recorded six albums between 1977 and 1985—including three produced by Wall of Sound mastermind Jack Nitzsche. After the original band broke up, Willy DeVille continued to perform and record with a backup group known as the Mink DeVille Band, attracting strong audience reaction in Europe. From 1987 on, he appeared as Willy DeVille.

In some respects, Mr. DeVille's music was too earnest and artsy for the States. Rail-thin, he often appeared with a thick pompadour, rat's-tail moustache and open shirt—the personification of a gigolo at a cheap resort. In later years, his look was given a Zorro-esque overhaul.

But there was creative heat and pain in Mr. DeVille's eerie, edgy look and sound. While his punk-roadhouse fusion sailed over the heads of many at home, his approach inspired many British pop invaders of the '80s, including Tears for Fears, Human League and Culture Club.

Born William Borsey Jr. in 1950 in Stamford, Conn., Mr. DeVille was a chronic collector of obscure R&B and rock records. After dropping out of high school, he moved to London for two years before returning to New York and the punk scene. He started Mink DeVille in San Francisco but relocated the band to New York in 1975, where it built its reputation.

Deep down, Mr. DeVille was a passionate collagist. His songs tastefully flicked at past references and artists such as Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and Ben E. King without ever lingering long enough to be considered derivative or retro.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM


Barack Obama agrees to form joint national security body with UK: US president will use visit to London to announce new co-operation to tackle long-term challenges (Nicholas Watt, 5/23/11, The Guardian)

Barack Obama will announce during his first state visit to Britain this week that the White House is to open up its highly secretive national security council to Downing Street in a move that appears to show the US still values the transatlantic "special relationship".

A joint National Security Strategy Board will be established to ensure that senior officials on both sides of the Atlantic confront long-term challenges rather than just hold emergency talks from the "situation room" in the White House and the Cobra room in the Cabinet Office.

Ask the Queen to take us back too.

May 22, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


Zapatero’s Socialists Routed as People’s Party Takes 38% of Vote in Spain (Emma Ross-Thomas, 5/22/11, Bloomberg)

Spain’s Socialists suffered their worst electoral defeat in more than 30 years as voters punished Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s party for soaring unemployment and spending cuts that aimed to shield the country from Europe’s debt crisis.

With 91 percent of votes counted, the opposition People’s Party won 38 percent of the vote in municipal elections, compared with 28 percent for the ruling Socialists, the Interior Ministry said. The Socialists lost control of Barcelona, the country’s second-biggest city, for the first time since 1979.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


On Virginia’s Crooked Road, Mountain Music Lights the Way (SARAH WILDMAN, 5/20/11, NY Times)

Over five days in April, I rambled along part of the Crooked Road and towns around it, from Fries up to Ferrum and Floyd, back to Galax and out to Marion, dipping down toward Abington, and back to Galax again. With my partner, Ian, his parents and my 2-year-old daughter, Orli, I drove down roads that curve so dramatically that locals joke that you can see your own taillights as you round the bends. The drive cuts through pastures dotted with cows and horses and weather-beaten barns, some abandoned and left to splinter. Many see the land they sold in recent decades now covered in Christmas trees, a boom industry that has changed the landscape. Churches rise up one after the other: Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist. “Google Doesn’t Satisfy All Searches,” reads one church sign. “Can’t Sleep? Try Counting Your Blessings,” says another.

We traveled 370 miles in all, what with switchbacks and retracing our steps to hear just one more tune. We were following the songs that had blown this way and that like so many dandelion seeds across the Blue Ridge Mountains and through the foothills of Appalachia. Our lodgings included everything from a Hampton Inn to an eco-minded auberge decorated by local artists, to a Ragtime-era hotel, recently restored to its former glory.

ALONG the way we stuffed ourselves with buttery biscuits, farm eggs and smokehouse Southern flavors that somehow taste different south of the Mason-Dixon line. Orli loved every minute of it; her affinity for the music was immediate. When she ran onto the dance floor at the Floyd Friday Night Jamboree, the man next to me caught my arm. “Let her be,” he said. “We’re mountain people — we’ll take care of her as our own.” She woke each morning singing the twang of the banjo.

If there ever was a place where musical authenticity was born and nurtured, “raised up” as the people around here say, the Crooked Road is it. From the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons (the site of Johnny Cash’s last concert) and Clintwood, deep in coal country, to the farms near Floyd, music is still being made on fiddles and banjos, mandolins and guitars, dulcimers and autoharps. Every night you’ll find pick-up jams on front porches, performances in theaters and quartets that pack storefronts, an old courthouse and even a Dairy Queen. In summer the area is awash in festivals, from Dr. Ralph Stanley’s Memorial Day bluegrass festival in the mountains of Coeburn, Va., to the venerable Old Fiddlers Convention held every August in Galax.

This region is where old-time and bluegrass was born. Old-time is dance music, simpler and older than bluegrass. Bluegrass is filled with vocal harmonies, many made famous by (relative) newbies like Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch. It is suited more for seated audiences than the foot-stomping dance I saw in Fries, which is known as flatfoot. Both genres evolved from tunes brought by Scotch-Irish and German settlers who traveled down the wagon trails from Pennsylvania. They brought dulcimers and fiddles and later picked up the banjo from former slaves.

“It wasn’t real practical to bring a piano or an organ till there was a train,” said David Arnold, a Fries native whose wild white beard reached mid-sternum. I met him at a jam. It turned out he was the chairman of the Music Heritage Committee at the Grayson County Heritage Foundation in nearby Independence.

Our nights were spent looking for music, but during the day there were farms to explore and hikes to be taken through gorgeous parks. But even there, you’ll find music. For instance, in June, at the Grayson Highlands State Park, home to herds of photogenic wild ponies, the annual Wayne C. Henderson guitar festival draws some of the best guitar players in a region packed with prodigies.

Mr. Henderson himself is a local legend. He lives and makes guitars in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village called Rugby (population 7) that’s not officially on the Crooked Road, though his shop is something of a pilgrimage site. (Eric Clapton owns one of his guitars.) I met him at one of those musical nights that seem to happen all the time around there — this one included fellow guitar makers Jimmy Edmonds and Gerald Anderson performing at a community center in Galax while volunteers sold sacks of homemade gingersnap cookies for a dollar. The event was a fund-raiser for a program called JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) which aims to get local children involved in their own roots by teaching them to play music and introducing them to regional artists. A kids’ string band called Loose Strings played to thunderous applause.

“It was a way of entertainment for mountain people,” Mr. Henderson said of the music he grew up with. He went on to explain why he became a luthier, or instrument maker, a craft for which he won the 1995 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. “I got into making them because I couldn’t afford a nice Martin. Living in Appalachia, nobody’s got much money.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


What's The Fastest-Growing TV Network In America? (NPR, May 22, 2011)

One TV network is serving the fastest-growing consumer population in the country — at times edging out ABC, NBC and CBS in the coveted 18- to 49-year-old viewer demographic. And it isn't broadcast in English.

It's Spanish-language network Univision, which began as a small TV station in San Antonio in 1961. Now, with millions of viewers tuning in each week, it's growing faster than any other broadcast network on television. [...]

What's the Spanish-language and Hispanic community asking for? A wide genre of programming akin to any English network: news, information and entertainment — with a growing cultural relevance for its audience.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Herman Cain Blunders on Palestinian 'Right of Return' (Sarah Burke, 5/22/11, ABC News)

When asked again about whether he believes in the Palestinian right of return, Cain seemed unclear about the Israeli position on the matter, as well as his own.

CAIN: Yes, but under - but not under - Palestinian conditions. Yes. They should have a right to come back if that is a decision that Israel wants to make…. I don't think they have a big problem with people returning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:50 PM


Bin Ladenism: its prospects (Wajahat Qazi, 22 May 2011, Open Democracy)

Essentially, a reactive ideology and posture, Bin Ladenism reflected the reaction or anger against Islam’s encounter with modernity, articulated through the idiom of colonialism and then the perception of a ‘neo colonial’ enterprise that the west had allegedly embarked upon against the ‘dar el Islam’ (world of Islam) through, first the creation of the nation state system, thus dividing the ummah, and then the alliance system, often buttressing vicious authoritarian regimes, maintained by the west. The ‘distant crusader’, by according both tacit and overt support to these odious regimes, became the ‘immediate and real enemy’ and the wrath of the Al Qaeda network which had incubated during the tether end of the Cold war (but has a history predating this) was visited on the west. The result, as we all know was 9/11.

The support accorded to Al Qaeda by state actors such as Afghanistan and implicitly Pakistan reflected, in the case of the former an ideological predilection on the part of the Taliban, and in the case of the latter, an instrument of statecraft. In the process, the region became a play ground for Jihad Inc or Jihad International: that is, a hotbed and magnet attracting a motley bunch of mostly young people - the disaffected and the discontented, the idealistic and the adventurous and, as these kinds of movements always attract, carpetbaggers and rat bags. Bin Laden was an iconic figure in the eyes of many: a Che Guevaraesque figure who had the spine to stand up against the ‘hostile and usurping west’ as opposed to the grovelling and spineless regimes and states who had abdicated Islam in favour of regime maintenance and power. This is why Bin Ladenism attained popularity and Bin Laden became a folk hero in much of the Islamic world. Here was someone who had allegedly given up worldly comforts in pursuit of an ascetic and peripatetic life, staked all and finally poked the eye of those that many in the Muslim world held responsible for the ‘humiliation’ and ‘subjugation’ of Islam. Or in prosaic terms, a classic case of projection took place: the disaffected, powerless, frustrated and denuded mass of people across the Muslim world felt suddenly and momentarily empowered. The schoolyard bully, so to speak, had been given a bloody nose. The violence was felt to be, in the Fanonian schema and formulation, cathartic.

In the meantime, the fallout in much of the western world was that Islam came to be increasingly associated with violence and terrorism. Brand Osama tarnished brand Islam. This transient feeling of illusory empowerment gave way to 'life as usual'. The sober and sobering realities of life in the world of Islam - bad governance, poor economic conditions and an overall sense of torpor and anomie – reasserted themselves. This resignation was given a jolt again by the Arab spring and the world of Islam again made headlines, this time by popular and spontaneous uprisings articulated in an idiom of democracy and rights.

The only thing that could have given Islamicism oxygen is if America had met 9/11 with a war on Islam, which would have fit the narrative. Instead, W launched a war on the dictatorships that held Muslims in thrall. Thus did al Qaedism destroy itself on 9-11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


A Car Subsidy That Makes Sense: Electric cars have many faults. Converting cars to run on compressed natural gas would do justice to both physical and geopolitical reality. (Gary Jason, May 18, 2011 , The American)

As background, I first need to review the current status of what is proving to be America’s saving grace in energy: natural gas. Robert Bryce has surveyed recent developments in natural gas in his recent paper, “Ten Reasons Why Natural Gas Will Fuel the Future.” [...]

Let me briefly highlight Bryce’s points.

• First, natural gas is already saving Americans money. The price reduction in natural gas over the last two years alone saved consumers about $65 billion a year on their energy bills.

• Second, Bryce notes the sad fact that the nuclear reactor problems caused by the huge earthquake in Japan has soured (at least temporarily) the public on nuclear power. Environmentalists around the world have rallied to shut down existing plants. But the electricity supplied by nuclear power (about 20 percent of America’s electricity, and much higher in other countries, such as France, where it is about 85 percent) would have to be replaced, either directly by inexpensive and relatively clean natural gas, or by grotesquely expensive wind and solar power. But those latter sources are only intermittent, so they must be backed up by power plants fueled by gas or some other fossil fuel. Gas is the preferred solution.

• Third, natural gas is so abundant that its global use is increasing rapidly. Over the last 35 years, global gas consumption has jumped more than 150 percent, a faster growth in use than that of any other energy source besides nuclear. However, in spite of this growth, the IEA’s chief economist says the world has an excess of gas now, and will have for the next decade at least. In addition to the rapid growth of unconventional gas production, there has been a concomitant rush of major discoveries of conventional natural gas reservoirs.

• Fourth, there is a nice positive side effect of the growth in unconventional gas production: it is driving a growth in unconventional oil production as well. Just as fracking releases shale gas, it releases shale oil as well. Unconventional oil fields are being exploited from the Bakken shale field in North Dakota to new spots in the Permian Basin, the oldest oil filed exploited in the United States.

• Fifth, U.S. unconventional gas production is in turn driving the U.S. petrochemical industry and the global oil industry to greater heights of production. The U.S. production on natural gas liquids such as ethane hit a new high of 2 million barrels per day in late 2010. This spurred petrochemical companies such as CP Chem and Eastman Chemical to restart dormant plants, and Dow to expand production.

• Sixth, the United States is uniquely positioned to shift to natural gas. The United States is now both the biggest producer and consumer of natural gas. It has the world’s biggest natural gas distribution system, with the most pipeline miles (2.2 million) and the most storage capacity (4 trillion cubic feet, ten times that of France). And we have the biggest and most transparent liquid gas market.

• Seventh, as the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulatory bodies continue to put pressure on coal power, more of our electric power will come from natural gas.

• Eighth, low prices in natural gas translate into lower prices for electricity.

• Ninth, the trend towards increasing decarbonization and urbanization points towards natural gas. Decarbonization refers to a historical trend over the last two centuries observed by a group of scientists towards human use of the cleanest (defined as lowest ratio of carbon “C” to hydrogen “H”) fuel readily available at a given time. For much of man’s existence, wood was the most widely used fuel. Wood has a C:H ratio of 10:1. Then came the rise of coal, with a C:H of 2:1. Coal was in turn replaced by oil, with a C:H of about 1:2. Natural gas has a C:H of 1:4. It produces less carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel when burned. Add to this the historical trend towards people in highly urbanized areas, which again calls for decreasing pollution, and the arrows turn to natural gas.

• Finally, Bryce makes the simple point that the global appetite for reliable, clean electricity is growing. From 1990 to 2007, world electricity usage increased nearly 70 percent (or about three times as fast as oil usage). The IEA projects growth of another 80 percent over the next quarter century.

Let me now connect the dots. In our effort to lessen dependence on foreign oil and lower pollution levels, we are subsidizing EVs at upwards of $7,500 per vehicle. But the cars are flops with the public, because of their limitation on battery capacity and their overall expense. Worse, EVs do not contribute much to cleaning up the environment, because they use mainly coal-derived electricity and the batteries are highly toxic.

Meanwhile, we are in the middle of a turning point in energy history, where more and more conventional and unconventional reservoirs of natural gas are being discovered and exploited. In addition to all this, coal—of which America has about a 200-year supply—can be used to produce natural gas as well. Under present air quality regulations, it is cheaper to burn coal directly, but if in the future air quality standards get tighter, it might prove cost-effective to use coal to produce natural gas.

What’s more, natural gas can easily power cars and buses reasonably cheaply and has no air pollution as a byproduct—just water vapor and carbon dioxide. In fact, natural gas already powers much of our bus fleet nationwide. Cars can be converted to run on compressed natural gas (CNG)—or to run on either gasoline or CNG—for about one-fourth the subsidy for EVs. instead of subsidizing what we think we want, we ought to simply tax what we don't and let the market do the choosing among the alternatives.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:41 PM


The Elephant in the Green Room: The circus Roger Ailes created at Fox News made his network $900 million last year. But it may have lost him something more important: the next election. (Gabriel Sherman, May 22, 2011, New York)

Ailes is the most successful executive in television by a wide margin, and he has been so for more than a decade. He is also, in a sense, the head of the Republican Party, having employed five prospective presidential candidates and done perhaps more than anyone to alter the balance of power in the national media in favor of the Republicans. “Because of his political work”—Ailes was a media strategist for Nixon, Reagan, and George H. W. Bush—“he understood there was an audience,” Ed Rollins, the veteran GOP consultant, told me. “He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.”

For most of his tenure, the roles of network chief and GOP kingmaker have been in perfect synergy. Ailes’s network has dominated the cable news race for most of the past decade, and for much of that time, Fox News attracted more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined. Throughout the George W. Bush years, the network’s patriotic cheerleading helped to marginalize the Democrats. And President Obama—he of the terrorist fist bump and uncertain ancestry and socialist leanings—turned out to be just as good for ratings, while galvanizing a conservative army that crushed the Democrats in the 2010 midterms. This double-barreled success is a testament to Ailes’s ferocious competitive streak. “Roger just likes to win,” former McCain adviser and longtime Ailes friend Charlie Black told me. “He’s very competitive in any game he’s in.”

So it must have been disturbing to Ailes when the wheels started to come off Fox’s presidential-circus caravan. (Coincidentally or not, this happened more or less when Donald Trump jumped on: “They like me on the network,” Trump told me. “I get ratings.”) The problem wasn’t that ratings had been slipping that much—Beck’s show declined by 30 percent from record highs, but the ratings were still nearly double those from before he joined the network. It was that, with an actual presidential election on the horizon, the Fox candidates’ poll numbers remain dismally low (Sarah Palin is polling 12 percent; Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, 10 percent and 2 percent, respectively). Ailes’s ­candidates-in-­waiting were coming up small. And, for all his programming genius, he was more interested in a real narrative than a television narrative—he wanted to elect a president. All he had to do was watch Fox’s May 5 debate in South Carolina to see what a mess the field was—a mess partly created by the loudmouths he’d given airtime to and a tea party he’d nurtured. And, not incidentally, a strong Republican candidate would be good for his business, too. A few months ago, Ailes called Chris Christie and encouraged him to jump into the race. Last summer, he’d invited Christie to dinner at his upstate compound along with Rush Limbaugh, and like much of the GOP Establishment, he fell hard for Christie, who nevertheless politely turned down Ailes’s calls to run. Ailes had also hoped that David Petraeus would run for president, but Petraeus too has decided to sit this election out, choosing to stay on the counterterrorism front lines as the head of Barack Obama’s CIA. The truth is, for all the antics that often appear on his network, there is a seriousness that underlies Ailes’s own politics. He still speaks almost daily with George H. W. Bush, one of the GOP’s last great moderates, and a war hero, which especially impresses Ailes.

All the 2012 candidates know that Ailes is a crucial constituency. “You can’t run for the Republican nomination without talking to Roger,” one GOPer told me. “Every single candidate has consulted with Roger.” But he hasn’t found any of them, including the adults in the room—Jon Huntsman, Mitch Daniels, Mitt Romney—compelling. “He finds flaws in every one,” says a person familiar with his thinking.

“He thinks things are going in a bad direction,” another Republican close to Ailes told me. “Roger is worried about the future of the country. He thinks the election of Obama is a disaster. He thinks Palin is an idiot. He thinks she’s stupid. He helped boost her up. People like Sarah Palin haven’t elevated the conservative movement.”

In the aftermath of the Tucson rampage, the national mood seemed to pivot. Ailes recognized that a Fox brand defined by Palin could be politically vulnerable. Two days after the shooting, he gave an interview to Russell Simmons and told him both sides needed to lower the temperature. “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’ "

For Ailes, Tucson was a turning point, suggesting an end to the silly season that had lasted most of Obama’s term as president and that Ailes had promoted and profited from. While Sean Hannity and other Fox pundits continue to hammer away at Obama, Ailes is hedging his bets. The network is pushing to make news anchor Bret Baier a bigger star. Shepard Smith’s newscast has flashes of outright liberalism. And last month, Ailes encouraged Bill O’Reilly—who seemed to be fading at the height of Beck’s power but now has been recast as the right’s reasonable man, Jon Stewart’s comic foil—to shoot down the “birther” conspiracy and other assorted right-wing myths that have dogged Obama since his election. “Fox gave the tea party the oxygen to prosper,” Chris Ruddy, the CEO of the conservative magazine Newsmax, told me. “Politically, it was brilliant. There were so many disaffected people after the Bush years. Now I sense a slight movement in a new direction. Roger has a long track record. It’s like the book Blink. He’s just got it. We’re going into an election period, and he doesn’t want Fox to be seen as a front of the Republican Party.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


Doomsayer confused as world doesn't end (HEATHER HADDON and DOUGLAS MONTERO, May 22, 2011, NY Post)

When the world did not end at precisely 6 p.m. yesterday, Doomsday prophet Robert Fitzpatrick's fragile grasp on reality crumbled.

"I don't understand why nothing is happening," said Fitzpatrick, flipping through his Bible for clues to why Rapture failed to show up on time.

"It's not a mistake. I did what I had to do."

What use is a god you can order about?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Strauss-Kahn made advances on two hotel staffers, flight attendant (LARRY CELONA and ANNIE KARNI, May 22, 2011, NY Post)

This frog was one horny toad.

Disgraced former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn attempted to lure two attractive hotel employees to his $3,000-a-night hotel suite -- and later put the moves on an Air France flight attendant following his alleged sexual assault on a maid, The Post has learned.

"What a nice ass!" he barked to the attendant, using the lewd French expression "Quel beau cul!" as she prepared the business-class cabin for takeoff last Saturday.

His catcall came just moments before Port Authority detectives hauled him off the plane, the French magazine Le Point reported.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


Mortgage rates hit lows of the year: Mortgage rates for a 30-year loan are now 4.61 percent. Mortgage rates for 15-year loan now average 3.80 percent, lowest since last November. (Associated Press, May 22, 2011)

Fixed mortgage rates fell this week to the lowest point of the year, offering incentive for homeowners to save money by refinancing their loans.

Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate on the 30-year loan fell to 4.61 percent. That's down from 4.63 percent and the lowest level since mid-December.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


Obama to AIPAC: Israelis, Palestinians should negotiate a new border (JTA, May 22, 2011)

“By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967,” Obama said on Sunday morning to the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”

Last week, Obama said Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be based on the pre-’67 lines, with mutually agreed swaps.

...always end up having to give a series of follow-ups apologizing for and explaining what he said in the first instance? Only a speaker as inept as the UR could reiterate the position of Reagan, W and Bibi and make it seem like we were selling out Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:11 PM


Critique of Pure Reason (Paul Greenberg, 5/20/11, Townhall)

Lanny Friedlander had pretty much disappeared from the world's sight for 40 years. As a college student back in 1968, he'd started a little magazine in his dorm room at Boston University -- with a ream of paper, a ditto machine, and a boundless enthusiasm for his own ideas.

But he had to give up both college and the magazine, which he called Reason, when the first symptoms of his mental illness appeared. [...]

Before he dropped out of sight, he'd had time to issue Reason's manifesto, charter, and ideological battle cry. Marked by typos, misspellings, ALLCAPS, and general pizzazz-and-vinegar, it was as clear a paean to the goddess Reason as any pronunciamento since the French Revolution. To quote its first issue:

"When REASON speaks of poverty, racism, the draft, the war, studentpower, politics, and other vital issues, it shall be reasons, not slogans, it gives for conclusions. Proof, not belligerent assertion. Logic, not legends. Coherance, not contradictions. This is our promise: this is the reason for REASON."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


Red Bull's Billionaire Maniac: Dietrich Mateschitz is making a bold move into TV, movies, and magazines. What's the visionary behind a $5 billion-a-year soft-drink empire doing in the media business? Just what he's always done: having a blast (Duff McDonald, 5/19/11, Business Week)

It took him 10 years to get a degree in commerce from the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and he spent part of that time working as a ski instructor to pay the bills. After graduating, at 28, he spent 10 years as the international marketing director of a German consumer products company called Blendax. He was little more than a glorified toothpaste salesman, and by 38 he'd hit a wall. "All I could see was the same gray airplanes, the same gray suits, the same gray faces. All the hotel bars looked the same, and so did the women in them. I asked myself whether I wanted to spend the next decade as I'd spent the previous one."

A chance trip to Thailand in 1982 would prove to be the turning point in Mateschitz's life. Curious to know what attracted the locals to an uncarbonated "tonic" called Krating Daeng (Thai for "water buffalo"), he tried some himself and found that it instantly cured his jet lag. Not long after, while sitting in the bar at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, he read in a magazine that the top corporate taxpayer in Japan that year was a maker of such tonics. Suddenly, the idea hit him: he would sell the stuff in the West.

In 1984, Mateschitz approached one of his Blendax contacts, Chaleo Yoovidhya, a Thai businessman who was selling the tonic in Southeast Asia, and suggested that the two introduce the drink to the rest of the world, with one crucial change: It would be carbonated. Yoovidhya liked the idea, and they agreed to invest $500,000 apiece to establish a 49/49 partnership, with the remaining 2 percent going to Yoovidhya's son. (Yoovidhya remains a silent partner in the company.) Mateschitz then returned to Austria to plan the all-important packaging and slogan. For help, he turned to his university friend Johannes Kastner, who owned his own ad agency in Frankfurt.

"He said he had no money, so we agreed that he would do freelance work for me to pay me for it," says Kastner. Over the next year and a half, Kastner and his team put together about 50 different designs for Red Bull, with Mateschitz finally deciding on the distinctive blue-and-silver can emblazoned with the logo of two muscular bulls about to smash heads in front of a yellow sun. A slogan was harder to come by. "Nothing satisfied him, and I was finally so upset that I told him to find another agency," says Kastner. "He asked me to think about it for one more night. And at 3 a.m. it came to me—'Gives You Wings.' I called him right then and told him it was the last one I'd give him, but he said, 'That's it.'"

It was just what Mateschitz needed—something to convey that Red Bull had tangible effects. That, in turn, would allow his product-positioning master stroke: He would sell Red Bull as an ultra-premium drink in a category all its own. At about $2 a can, it was far-and-away the most expensive carbonated drink on the shelves. "If we'd only had a 15 percent price premium, we'd merely be a premium brand among soft drinks, and not a different category altogether," says Mateschitz. In 1987 he introduced the drink in Austria. Next came Hungary, the U.K., and Germany, and before long sales were spiking all over Europe. [...]

The success of Red Bull defies logic in one important regard: It doesn't taste very good. The amber-colored elixir's taste has been likened to "liquid Sweet Tarts" or "cough medicine in a can." (Although it does grow on you.) One early market research report in the U.K. put it bluntly: "No other new product has ever failed this convincingly." Mateschitz says he didn't care about the taste issue then, and he doesn't care about it now. "It's not just another flavored sugar water differentiated by color or taste or flavor," he says. "It's an efficiency product. I'm talking about improving endurance, concentration, reaction time, speed, vigilance, and emotional status. Taste is of no importance whatsoever."

We received an energy drink sample via the Amazon Vine review program and it made me want to shave my tongue--I wondered then if they could all taste as bad. Guess they do...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Many homeowners are refinancing their mortgages to shorter terms: Borrowers who can afford the higher payments, and who meet lenders' tougher requirements, often opt to replace their 30-year mortgages with shorter-term loans at near-record low rates. (Kenneth R. Harney, May 22, 2011, LA Times)

Freddie Mac chief economist Frank Nothaft calls the shift to shorter terms "a very strong trend." In his company's latest quarterly survey of refinancers, more than 1 in 3 borrowers who ditched their 30-year fixed-rate loans opted to replace them with 15-year or 20-year mortgages at near-record low rates.

Among community banks and lending institutions that originate mortgages to retain for their own portfolios, the trend is toward even shorter maturities. Jeff Lipes, president of the Connecticut Mortgage Bankers Assn. and senior vice president of Family Choice Mortgage near Hartford, Conn., says some institutions are dangling fixed rates just under 3% to refinancers who want to compress their terms to as little as seven years and are willing to set up automatic payment withdrawal accounts.

"It can make a lot of sense if you can do it," he said — especially for baby boomers in their 50s who want to be mortgage-free by the time they hit retirement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Flooding threat along Mississippi River is a test of man vs. nature (Joel Achenbach, May 21 , 2011, Washington Post)

[A]s with any complex system of engineering, there are weak points, question marks, vulnerabilities. Powerful forces are being checked with levees made of clay.

Four barges carrying Midwest grain broke loose Friday in Baton Rouge, and two of them sank. That shut down the river for five miles and kept officials fretting well into Saturday as they worried that one of the barges might plow into a levee and create a breach.

“That system is designed to handle the river and the pressure of the river. It is absolutely not designed to handle a barge hitting it,” Steve Wilson, president of the Pontchartrain Levee District, said Saturday.

“We’re not dealing with digital technology. We’re dealing with earth,” said Joseph Suhayda, a retired Louisiana State University coastal hydrologist. “This goes back to the beginning of civilization. It’s available, it’s cheap, but it’s not very good material.”

He went on: “These seepages and sand boils are reflections of the fact that there are some continued deficiencies in the system. This is not a robust system. It’s not concrete.”

The Army Corps has long prepared for a hypothetical inundation known as the Design Flood. This flood pretty much fits that template. The flow, measured in cubic feet per second, isn’t quite at Design Flood levels, but there are places where the river gauges have measured record-high water, busting the old mark by three feet in some spots.

For years, the smart money has bet that, in the protracted wrestling match on the Mississippi between man and nature, nature will ultimately come out on top. The decision, going back to the 19th century, to imprison a naturally meandering river between levees — parallel Great Walls of China, to use the common analogy — has the inevitable effect of raising the water level downstream. Even at normal stages, the river stands up “like a vein on the back of a hand,” as John McPhee wrote in his 1989 best-selling book “The Control of Nature.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


What If Justice Demands Open Borders?: Why do we cling to the myth that anyone can get in line and come to America? Mostly because our values demand it. (Nathan Smith, May 13, 2011, American)

Why do we cling to this myth that anyone can get in line and come to America? Mostly because our values demand it. We aspire to be a country of “liberty and justice for all.” To accept frankly that some people are excluded from America for life because of their place of birth would make nonsense of this claim. So we try to forget about them.

President Obama, and most Americans, want to find a happy medium. We want to be a place where “anyone can write the next chapter in our history;” and yet we want to accept only the “best and brightest.” We want to be humane to those already here illegally, without creating incentives for more to come. But that happy medium doesn’t exist.

We can persist with the present muddle, in which people break the laws on a large scale because they benefit by doing so. Or we could try to close the borders and do whatever it takes—abandoning all scruples about inalienable rights and liberty and justice for all— and figure out some way to redefine what it is to be American that does not depend on our historic ideals.

Or we could try a third option: resolutely examine what those ideals really demand of us, and do that, even if means changing a lot of bad habits and taking a few risks. [...]

One lesson to take from the Lockean tradition is the imperative for freedom of migration. A country must not prevent peaceful migration by force, because migrants are not violating natural law. They are violating no one’s natural rights. They have committed no violence against persons or property. They are pursuing happiness, without threatening the lives or liberties of others. Coercion against them has no justification if governments are instituted among men to secure inalienable natural rights.

In the 19th century, before the liberal tradition of Locke and Jefferson was partially eclipsed by relatively illiberal political philosophies, the open borders policy implied by these basic ethical facts was actually practiced, for the most part, in the United States and Western Europe. As historian Harold James recalls:

Above all, people moved. They did not need passports. There were hardly any debates about citizenship. In a search for freedom, security, and prosperity… the peoples of Europe and Asia left their homes and took often uncomfortable journeys by rail and by ship, often as part of gigantic human treks. Between 1871 and 1915, 36 million people left Europe.1

World War I and the age of fascism and communism put an end to 19th-century freedom of mobility, but the way politicians talk about immigration, and the way a decent society treats illegal immigrants, show that we still know right from wrong. We don’t want our politicians to tell us that most human beings born into this world are permanently excluded from our country.

Most Americans seem to have more qualms about reporting illegal immigrants to the police, especially those with families or who came here as children, than about doing business or making friends with them. Our immigration laws are like the Prohibition laws of the 1920s. They are a scandal, not only because they are widely disobeyed, but because they are widely disobeyed by normal, decent people. And that is because they have no basis in natural law.

Advocates of immigration restrictions tacitly borrow from another political tradition, from the 17th-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, spokesman for arbitrary and absolute power. Hobbes, long dead, is still with us in disguise. He has taken the form of a word, sovereignty, the uses of which encapsulates his philosophy and sustains his influence. Hobbes and the contemporary proponents of sovereignty relegate natural law to the background, or simply ignore or deny it.

The Hobbesian tradition tells people to obey sovereign governments, no matter what. By contrast, the Lockean tradition affirms that sometimes governments ought to be resisted. As one representative of the Lockean tradition, Martin Luther King Jr., argued:

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality… Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court [desegregating the schools], for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

We have treated King in the usual manner of prophets, honoring him after he is killed, but often ignoring what he said. Yet his words are directly applicable to immigration. Laws against migration, unlike laws against murder or theft, are not rooted in eternal and natural law, and they do not uplift personality. [...]

From the perspective of economic theory, the effect of immigration on employment and wages is ambiguous, but the effect on housing prices is clear. The supply of land is fixed. While developers can convert farmland to suburban land, the territory of a given city center is a fundamentally scarce resource. Since immigrants need to live somewhere, immigration increases demand for housing and raises prices. Immigration reform will help housing prices recover. A house price recovery would help people with underwater mortgages get out of debt and would encourage consumer spending.

If a depressed housing sector is one of the country’s biggest short-run problems, its big long-run problem is that the government is broke. Projected revenues fall far short of covering projected costs. Open borders would mean more taxpayers to help pay for America’s debts, mitigating uncertainty about where the future tax burden will fall.

...which is why three-quarters of us support them provided you dress them up with a comforting name like "path to citizenship."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Obama: Would Raid Pakistan Again if Militant Found (Reuters, 5/21/11)

"We are very respectful of the sovereignty of Pakistan. But we cannot allow someone who is actively planning to kill our people or our allies' people, we can't allow those kind of active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action," Obama told the BBC.

TRANSLATION: Your sovereignty is subject to our approval.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Harper’s Conservatives here to stay? (Susan Delacourt, 5/20/11, Toronto Star)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is building a Conservative coalition in Canada that will probably be more enduring than Brian Mulroney’s conservatism of the 1980s, according to Ipsos pollster Darrell Bricker.

Bricker, delivering his election analysis to a Canadian political scientists’ convention last week, said he believes Harper’s brand of conservatism is built on a stronger base than Mulroney’s.

The big difference, says Bricker, is that Mulroney built his Conservative party out of regional grievances, while Harper is forming a Conservative party around individual voters’ values.

“The interesting thing about what happened in this (May 2) election . . . is that they actually put together a values-based national coalition of Tories — the first time we’ve had it in this country,” Bricker said at a luncheon session of the Canadian Political Science Association, which held its annual meeting at Wilfrid Laurier University last week.

Grievance conservative -- like Reagan's -- was destined to fade once it won, whereas Third Way conservatism -- like that of Thatcher -- completely dominates the entire English-speaking world and most of Protestant Northern Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Mitch Daniels won’t run for president in 2012 (Chris Cillizza, 5/22/11, Washington Post)

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels won’t seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, a decision that could well throw the field open to other late entrants.

“In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one, but that, the interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all,” Daniels said in a statement emailed to supporters early Sunday morning. “If I have disappointed you, I will always be sorry.”

Daniels’ decision not to run ends months of public speculation about his interest in the race in which he went from entirely uninterested to a man on the verge of a national bid.

And, it almost certainly means that an already wide-open race for the GOP nomination in 2012 will become even more so in the coming weeks.

Tim Pawlenty is home and dry. His only stumbling block was that he and Mitch are the same guy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM

WHICH IS WHY IT SHOULD BE CALLED MEN WHO HATE MEN language and (sado-masochism alert)

The Moralist: a review of The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson (Tim Parks, NY Review of Books)

One character holds our attention throughout the trilogy and dominates discussion of the work: Lisbeth Salander. From the first pages, it’s evident that the journalist Mikael Blomkvist is an authorial alter ego. As Larsson once was, he is involved in running a left-wing magazine specializing in courageous investigative journalism; he is idealistic, committed, and of course in the novel he assumes the central, private detective’s role in a situation that sets him up to be a hero protecting vulnerable women from sadistic men. Not that Blomkvist is without his complications: he married and had a child with one woman while openly continuing an affair with another (his editorial partner Erika Berger), who in turn is happily married to a man who apparently has no problems with the arrangement. An experienced financial journalist, Blomkvist has the courage to take on big industry and as the story opens has just received a three-month prison sentence for libeling a major industrialist who deliberately fed him a false scoop in an attempt to destroy both him and his magazine.

When Blomkvist decides to take time away from journalism to tackle the mystery of Harriet Vanger, we feel sure that he will be the book’s main focus of interest. Then Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, becomes his researcher and rapidly takes over both the inquiry and the trilogy. All the real energy of the book will now come from her, to the point that it is only Blomkvist’s interest in Salander that keeps us interested in him.

Lisbeth Salander is a pitifully thin young woman of twenty-four, not five feet tall, flat-chested, “a strange girl—fully grown but with an appearance that made her easily mistaken for a child.” When Blomkvist first meets her, he finds her “altogether odd”:

Long pauses in the middle of the conversation. Her apartment was messy, bordering on chaotic…. She had obviously spent half the night in a bar. She had love bites on her neck and she had clearly had company overnight. She had heaven knows how many tattoos and two piercings on her face and maybe in other places. She was weird.

How does Blomkvist know that Lisbeth maybe had piercings “in other places”? He doesn’t. But that is the kind of thing that Larsson’s alter ego likes to think. Blomkvist is, as we are frequently told, a ladies’ man.

Needless to say, a taciturn young woman of punk appearance flaunting aggressive, antisocial behavior must have had a traumatic childhood. So it is. For reasons unrevealed until the second part of the trilogy (though the reader has no difficulty guessing that male violence is involved), Lisbeth was locked in a psychiatric ward at age twelve and is still under the control of a legal guardian who disposes of her income. She is thus extremely vulnerable, a “perfect victim,” one character thinks of her. On the other hand she is also a “world class hacker,” a brilliant, self-taught mathematician, and “an information junkie with a delinquent child’s take on morals and ethics.”

Working freelance for a security firm that installs sophisticated alarm systems and carries out private investigations, Salander has a magical ability to get inside anyone’s computer at any time and find everything relevant there in just a few moments (something many of us can’t do on our own computers); she has a photographic memory, reads all she sees in a flash, and recalls it word for word; and, or so Blomkvist imagines, she also has “Asperger’s syndrome…. Or something like that. A talent for seeing patterns and understanding abstract reasoning where other people perceive only white noise.” Finally, when circumstances demand, Salander can be extremely violent, even sadistic. She is victim, superhero, and torturer. To emphasize this paradoxical, almost cartoonish aspect of her character, Larsson has the anorexic-looking girl wear T-shirts with aggressive slogans: I CAN BE A REGULAR BITCH, JUST TRY ME or KILL THEM ALL AND LET GOD SORT THEM OUT.

Salander’s dealings with her new guardian, Nils Erik Bjurman—which form the first novel’s main subplot—establish a pattern for the trilogy’s treatment of sexuality, which is arguably its central, if sometimes disguised, subject. Salander’s previous guardian, who generously gave her near-total freedom, has suffered a stroke and his substitute, Bjurman, a fifty-five-year-old lawyer, decides to take advantage of his new charge and satisfy a lust for domination: “[Salander] was the ideal plaything—grown-up, promiscuous, socially incompetent, and at his mercy…. She had no family, no friends: a true victim.”

Bjurman tells Salander that she can only have access to her income in return for sex. After forcing her to engage in oral sex in one encounter, at the next he handcuffs and brutally rapes her:

“So you don’t like anal sex,” he said.

Salander opened her mouth to scream. He grabbed her hair and stuffed the knickers in her mouth. She felt him putting something around her ankles, spread her legs apart and tie them so that she was lying there completely vulnerable…. Then she felt an excruciating pain as he forced something up her anus.

Salander, however, turns the tables. With access, through her work, to high-tech security equipment, she has placed a digital camera in her bag and pointed it at the bed where Bjurman rapes her. How easy, you would have thought, for her now to launch this on the Internet and destroy the man. But “Salander was not like any normal person,” Larsson tells us. She attends the next meeting with Bjurman as promised and when he tries to repeat the scene, she stuns him with a Taser, handcuffs him to the bed, and performs the same anal abuse on him; then she forces him to watch the video of the previous rape and spends a whole night tattooing on his chest in large letters “I AM A SADISTIC PIG, A PERVERT, AND A RAPIST.” From now on Bjurman must do exactly as she tells him, otherwise the video will be made public and he will be destroyed. “She had taken control,” thinks Bjurman in italics. “Impossible. He could do nothing to resist when Salander bent over and placed the anal plug between his buttocks. ‘So you’re a sadist,’ she said….”

There is an element of the graphic novel in all this, a feeling that we have stepped out of any feasible realism into a cartoon fantasy of ugly wish fulfillment.

Because the author wished Lisbeth were his alter ego.

May 21, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Why Dawkins disappoints (Nelson Jones, 20 May 2011, New Statesman)

Richard Dawkins stands accused of cowardice for refusing to debate with an Amercian theologian, William Lane Craig. He responds that he's too busy and that Craig is nothing but a professional debater.

Naturally, Dawkins is under no obligation to take part in someone else's publicity tour, but the allegation does have some force, not least because Craig has a reputation for eating atheists for breakfast.

Even Christopher Hitchens, it is generally conceded (even by atheists), lost his encounter with Craig on points. [...]

[A]theism is easy. It requires no special thought – indeed, it requires no thought at all....

David Hume ripped the ground out from under Rationalism and it never recovered in the Anglosphere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Obama faces narrower path to 2012 re-election (John Whitesides, May 20, 2011, Reuters)

High unemployment and a declining manufacturing industry also have helped drive down his poll numbers in traditional Rust Belt battlegrounds like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which are crucial to his hopes of putting together the 270 electoral votes needed for re-election.

Obama won 365 electoral votes, awarded on a state-by-state basis, in a smashing 2008 victory that gave him 95 electoral votes to spare. This time around, his margin for error will be smaller, Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown said.

"He has a cushion, but it's going to be a lot closer than in 2008," Brown said. "It is hard to see, given the current situation, Obama winning states in 2012 that he did not win in 2008. The question is, how many more states does he lose?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


British work-ethic condemned by Indian steel tycoon (Michael Howie, 21 May 2011, The Telegraph)

A key adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron has launched an attack on the work-ethic of British managers, accusing them of failing to "go the extra mile" and being too keen to clock off at 5pm.

Indian tycoon Ratan Tata made the comments as one of his companies, Tata Steel, proposed to close or mothball part of its Scunthorpe plant, putting at risk 1,200 jobs. The plans would also see 300 jobs lost at its Teesside site.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Gains of True Finn party point to 'Euroskeptic' surge in Finland: (Fred Weir, 5/20/11, The Christian Science Monitor)

A country of 5.3 million people tucked into Europe's forested northeast corner, Finland has been thought of as a well-adjusted EU member. But leaders of the insurgent True Finn party, which rocketed out of obscurity to win third place in parliamentary polls last month, say 16 years of membership in the "United States of Europe" has allowed Brussels bureaucrats to usurp Finnish sovereignty.

"Finns have been tolerant for too long, and now they've had enough," says True Finn party secretary Ossi Sandvik. "Finns don't go into the streets; they express their frustrations at the ballot box. Now the people have spoken, and changes must follow."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Romney’s Evangelical Problem: Mike Huckabee’s exit from the race makes it more imperative for Mitt Romney to increase his appeal among evangelicals. (Ronald Brownstein, May 20, 2011, National Journal)

[W]ith Huckabee off the field, the former Baptist minister’s core constituency—the evangelical Christians who represent nearly half of the GOP’s primary electorate—are now back in play for all competitors. If Romney can’t defang the resistance he encountered from those voters in 2008, he faces the threat that they will eventually consolidate behind another contender, such as former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, with potentially wider support than Huckabee demonstrated last time. “The risk for Romney is that some other candidate with broader appeal may attract them, someone who could stitch together a majority coalition in a way that Huckabee was not going to do,” says veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres, who is working for potential presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman.

Even many Republicans underestimate the centrality of evangelical voters in the GOP’s nominating process. In 2008, self-identified evangelical Christians constituted 44 percent of all Republican presidential primary voters, according to a cumulative analysis of state exit polls by former ABC polling director Gary Langer. Candidates who rely almost entirely on evangelicals—such as Huckabee, Gary Bauer in 2000, and televangelist Pat Robertson in 1988—have never come close to winning the GOP nomination. But evangelicals are plentiful enough that any candidate whom they deem completely unacceptable faces a formidable obstacle—and not only in the Deep South, where they are most heavily concentrated.

Evangelical Christians represented a majority of 2008 GOP primary voters in 11 of the 29 states in which exit polls were conducted. In Iowa and South Carolina, two states that along with more-secular New Hampshire have proved decisive in Republican nomination contests since 1980, evangelicals provided exactly 60 percent of the vote. In 10 other states, including many outside the Deep South, evangelicals represented between one-third and 46 percent of the vote.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Egypt's Brotherhood party chooses Christian VP (AFP, 5/20/11)

The Muslim Brotherhood said on Wednesday the party it formed to contest elections has chosen a Christian intellectual as vice president and numbers almost 100 Coptic Christians among its founding members.

The Freedom and Justice Party also has close to 1,000 female members, party official Saad al-Katatni said on the Islamist group's website. [...]

"The presence of Copts among the party's founders shows the Muslim Brotherhood does what it says it will do, and that our Coptic brothers are partners in the nation," said the party official.

Katatni described the Freedom and Justice Party as a "civilian (movement) based on the principles of (Islamic) Sharia law." Its activities are to kick off on June 17 after the formation of a political bureau, he said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Natural Gas Vehicles Floor It in Long Beach (Shashi Parulekar 05/20/2011, New Geography)

The Alternate Clean Transportation Expo held in Long Beach earlier this month was a spectacular display of engineering ingenuity by Natural Gas Vehicle providers. The event's theme was that America’s self sufficiency in natural gas has decoupled our energy resources from petroleum prices. But the consensus among the gathered engineers and scientists was to look beyond the current prices of petroleum alone, and consider that domestic self sufficiency includes keeping jobs at home.

The NGVs (Natural Gas Vehicles, which include Compressed Natural Gas—CNG, as well Liquefied Natural Gas—LNG) reduce greenhouse gas emissions almost 20 percent on medium and heavy duty models, and 30 percent on light duty vehicles. [...]

Biomethane gas is extracted from biomass, and is therefore renewable, and it can be produced economically in large quantities. Current estimates are that the US has proven reserves of over 1500 TCFs (trillion cubic feet) of natural gas which, by some estimates, should last for the next 100 years.

Potentially, natural gas will create jobs not only through vehicle manufacturing, but through the construction of new CNG stations. A landfill processing plant near Dallas, Texas, owned by a pioneering company in CNG station installation, Clean Energy™, creates up to 9,000,000 GGEs (gasoline gallon equivalents)of biomethane gas for fueling stations. It has agreements with airports in Tampa, New York City, New Orleans and Philadelphia to build CNG filling stations that will support ground transport vehicles and off-airport parking shuttles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Dominique Strauss-Kahn's Case Already a Victory for Our Legal System (Cheryl Thomas, 5/19/11, Daily Beast)

As far as we know, the immigrant woman who accused Dominique Strauss-Kahn of rape has not been ignored, harassed, or banished from her community. Nor has she been accused of prostitution or dishonoring her family, as she might be in many parts of the world.

Rather, New York law-enforcement officials have carefully documented and followed up on the hotel housekeeper’s allegations of violent sexual assault. They pursued a massively powerful man onto an airplane and arrested him based on her statement alone, with no witnesses to corroborate her story. A female judge denied bail and the accused was detained, and prosecutors prepared a complaint.

Compared with what happens in much of the world, our legal system’s response, acknowledging that rape is real criminal behavior instead of shaming or blaming the victim or completely dismissing her claims, is revolutionary. I am deeply proud of it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


The week that Anglophobia died: Queen Elizabeth’s gesture at the Garden of Remembrance was a key moment in the histories of Ireland and Britain, marking the end of Anglophobia and of the British empire’s slow death (FINTAN O'TOOLE, 5/21/11, Irish Times)

IN IRELAND, the phrase “guests of the nation” has a bitterly ironic flavour.

It comes from the title of Frank O’Connor’s story, written in 1931 and set during the War of Independence. The story begins with ordinary human friendship – Englishmen and Irishmen calling each other “chum”. We gradually learn that the Englishmen are captured soldiers – hostages being held by the IRA, to be killed in reprisal for British executions of IRA prisoners. When told that they are indeed to be taken out and shot, one of the soldiers, Hawkins, gives a cry of despairing incomprehension: “Why did any of us want to plug him? What had he done to us? Weren’t we all chums? Didn’t we understand him and didn’t he understand us?”

This week, the phrase “guests of the nation” acquired a different meaning, free of irony and terror. Hawkins’s question – don’t we understand them and they us? – was tinged not with despair and incomprehension but with relief and hope. It seemed, finally, that the answer to the question might simply be “yes”.

O’Connor’s story suggested that, left to themselves, without the interventions of violence and power, Irish people and English people get on together rather well. It is cruel circumstance that has blighted a naturally decent relationship. Queen Elizabeth’s visit was essentially about bringing home the reality that those circumstances have changed for good.

On the cold, rational level, the visit didn’t change anything: it reflected a change that has already happened. The British and Irish Governments have been working very closely together on the Northern Ireland peace process since the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 and especially since the mid-1990s. There are effectively no policy differences on by far the most sensitive area of British-Irish relations, a state of affairs that would seem astonishing had it not become a truism.

Once England had no enemies it just didn't matter that its back was exposed to the Irish. When Ronald Reagan won the Cold War it ended the three seemingly insoluble conflicts in South Africa, Palestine and Northern Ireland.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Rising Literacy and a Shrinking Birth Rate: A Look at the Root Causes of the Arab Revolution: In a SPIEGEL interview, French social scientist Emmanuel Todd discusses the demographic roots of the Arab revolution, which he argues was spurred by rising literacy and rapidly shrinking birth rates. He also muses on the ghost of Osama bin Laden, arguing "al-Qaida was already dead," and on why he believes Germany is not a part of the "core West." (Der Spiegel, 5/20/11)

SPIEGEL: On what indicators do you base your probability calculation?

Todd: Mainly on three factors: the rapid increase in literacy, particularly among women, a falling birthrate and a significant decline in the widespread custom of endogamy, or marriage between first cousins. This shows that the Arab societies were on a path toward cultural and mental modernization, in the course of which the individual becomes much more important as an autonomous entity.

SPIEGEL: And what is the consequence?

Todd: That this development ends with the transformation of the political system, a spreading wave of democratization and the conversion of subjects into citizens. Although this follows a global trend, it can take some time.

SPIEGEL: The impression we have at the moment is of a breathtaking acceleration of history, similar to the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989.

Todd: At this point, no one can say what the liberal movements in these countries will turn into. Revolutions often end up as something different from what their supporters proclaim at the beginning. Democracies are fragile systems that require deep historic roots. It took almost a century from the time of the French Revolution in 1789 until the democratic form of government, in the form of the Third Republic, finally took shape after France had lost a war against the Germans in 1871. In the interim, there was Napoleon, the royalist restoration and the Second Empire under Napoleon III, the "little one," as Victor Hugo said derisively.

SPIEGEL: Can the crises of transition that usually follow revolutions benefit the Islamists?

Todd: This cannot be completely ruled out when the power lies in the streets. Chaos creates the desire for a return to stability, for a sense of direction. But I don't believe that will happen. The Islamists did not play a role in Tunisia and in Egypt the course of events seems to have taken the Muslim Brotherhood by surprise. The Islamists are now trying to organize as political parties within a pluralistic system. These freedom movements are not anti-Western. On the contrary, in Libya, the rebels are calling for more support from NATO. The Arab revolution has set aside the cliché of a cultural and religious uniqueness that supposedly makes Islam incompatible with democracy and supposedly destines Muslims to be ruled by at best enlightened despots. [...]

SPIEGEL: Osama bin Laden sought to conduct this clash of civilizations with spectacularly staged acts of terror. Does his death mark the political end of al-Qaida?

Todd: His ghost may continue to fascinate people. His admirers can try to keep the flame alive. But the horribly brutal action taken by the United States actually came at the worst possible moment. Al-Qaida was already politically dead before the death of Bin Laden. The organization never became a mass movement. It existed solely through the propaganda of the deed, like the European anarchists of the 19th century. [...]

SPIEGEL: Why has it taken so long for the values of the modern age to reach the Islamic world? After all, the golden age of Arab civilization ended in the 13th century.

Todd: There is a simple explanation, which has the benefit of also being applicable to northern India and China, that is, to three completely differently religious communities: Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism. It has to do with the structure of the traditional family in these regions, with its debasement and with the disenfranchisement of women. And in Mesopotamia, for example, it extends well into the pre-Islamic world. Mohammed, the founder of Islam, granted women far more rights than they have had in most Arab societies to this day.

SPIEGEL: Does that mean that the Arabs conformed to older local circumstances and spread them across the entire Middle East?

Todd: Yes. The patrilinear, patrilocal system, in which only male succession is considered valid and newlyweds, preferably cousins in the ideal Arab marriage, live under the roof and authority of the father, inhibits all social progress. The disenfranchisement of women deprives them of the ability to raise their children in a progressive, dynamic fashion. Society calcifies and, in a sense, falls asleep. The powers of the individual cannot develop. The bourgeois achievement of marriage for love, and the free choice of one's partner, replaced the hierarchies of honor in Europe in the 19th century and reinforced the desire for freedom.

Where Christianity disposed of tribalism, Islam succumbed to it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Make My Bed? But You Say the World’s Ending (ASHLEY PARKER, 5/20/11, NY Times)

The Haddad children of Middletown, Md., have a lot on their minds: school projects, SATs, weekend parties. And parents who believe the earth will begin to self-destruct on Saturday.

The three teenagers have been struggling to make sense of their shifting world, which started changing nearly two years ago when their mother, Abby Haddad Carson, left her job as a nurse to “sound the trumpet” on mission trips with her husband, Robert, handing out tracts. They stopped working on their house and saving for college.

Last weekend, the family traveled to New York, the parents dragging their reluctant children through a Manhattan street fair in a final effort to spread the word.

“My mom has told me directly that I’m not going to get into heaven,” Grace Haddad, 16, said. “At first it was really upsetting, but it’s what she honestly believes.”

Thousands of people around the country have spent the last few days taking to the streets and saying final goodbyes before Saturday, Judgment Day, when they expect to be absorbed into heaven in a process known as the rapture. Nonbelievers, they hold, will be left behind to perish along with the world over the next five months.

With their doomsday T-shirts, placards and leaflets, followers — often clutching Bibles — are typically viewed as harmless proselytizers from outside mainstream religion. But their convictions have frequently created the most tension within their own families, particularly with relatives whose main concern about the weekend is whether it will rain.

Kino Douglas, 31, a self-described agnostic, said it was hard to be with his sister Stacey, 33, who “doesn’t want to talk about anything else.”

“I’ll say, ‘Oh, what are we going to do this summer?’ She’s going to say, ‘The world is going to end on May 21, so I don’t know why you’re planning for summer,’ and then everyone goes, ‘Oh, boy,’ ” he said.

Of all the things we say about the Messiah, one of the safest seems to be that He isn't going to show up just because we really wish He would.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 AM


Health Reform in Massachusetts (NY Times, 5/20/11)

Since reform was enacted, the state has achieved its goal of providing near-universal coverage: 98 percent of all residents were insured last year. That has come with minimal fiscal strain. The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonpartisan fiscal monitoring group, estimated that the reforms cost the state $350 million in fiscal year 2010, a little more than 1 percent of the state budget.

Other significant accomplishments:

The percentage of employers offering insurance has increased, probably because more workers are demanding coverage and businesses are required to offer it.

The state has used managed-care plans to hold down the costs of subsidies: per capita payments for low-income enrollees rose an average of 5 percent a year over the first four years, well below recent 7 percent annual increases in per capita health care spending in Massachusetts. The payments are unlikely to rise at all in the current year, in large part because of a competitive bidding process and pressure from the officials supervising it.

The average premiums paid by individuals who purchase unsubsidized insurance have dropped substantially, 20 percent to 40 percent by some estimates, mostly because reform has brought in younger and healthier people to offset the cost of covering the older and sicker. [...]

What reform has not done is slow the rise in health care costs. Massachusetts put off addressing that until it had achieved universal coverage. No one should minimize the challenge, but serious efforts are now being weighed.

Obviously if you make a lot of people buy something they don't need you can lower the cost for the folks who do want it. But was it really a problem that many people didn't have something they don't need? A set of reforms whose primary goal is to have healthy young people buy blanket health coverage makes little sense.

A more sensible goal would be to reform the system so that they can afford care when they actually do need it, which means catastrophic coverage during the healthy years and substantial savings to draw upon during their declining years. One of the great benefits of such a system is that, because money they don't spend belongs to them instead of to an insurer, you get health care cost containment. I don't care if someone else is paying for my bogus test, but at the point where the money comes out of my own pocket I'm not having it done.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


Free Science, One Paper at a Time (David Dobbs, May 11, 2011, Wired)

Jonathan Eisen’s quest has solidified his conviction that science needs to radically rework the way it collects and shares its data, methods, and findings. He has plenty of company. A growing number of prominent scientists want to replace the aging journal system with something faster, cheaper, and richer. The current system, they note, grew out of meeting notes and journals published by societies in Europe over three centuries ago. Back then, quarterly or monthly volumes could accommodate the flow of ideas and data from most disciplines, and the printed journal, though it required a top-heavy, expensive printing and publishing infrastructure, was the most efficient way to share those ideas.

“But now,” says Jonathan Eisen, “there’s this thing called the Internet. It changes not just how things can be done but how they should be done.”

As Stanford biochemist and PLoS co-founder Patrick Brown put it a few years ago, “What seemed an impossible ideal in 1836, when Antonio Panizzi, librarian of the British Museum, wrote, ‘I want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned curiosity, … of consulting the same authorities, … as the richest man in the kingdoms,’ is today within reach. With the Internet, we have the means to make humanity’s treasury of knowledge freely available to scientists, teachers, students and the public around the world.”

“The existing system worked well for quite a while,” says Jonathan Eisen. “But it was not designed by theory. It was designed by constraints.” In a world that provides communications conduits far larger and faster, those constraints have now made science’s traditional pipeline a bottleneck.


To get a sense of how the current system curbs science, consider a rare case in whichresearchers attacked a big medical problem with an open-science model. In 2004, in the United States, a network of government and private researchers, including large drug companies, used open-science principles to accelerate research into Alzheimer’s. The project, as Gina Kolata aptly described it in the New York Times last summer, “was an agreement … not just to raise money, not just to do research on a vast scale, but also to share all the data, making every single finding immediately available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world. Before that, researchers worked separately, siloing off much of their work. Now methods and data formats were standardized. The data would immediately enter the public domain, where anyone could build on it.”

An extraordinary project ensued. The U.S. National Institute on Aging contributed over $40 million, and 20 companies and two nonprofit groups kicked in another $25 million to fund the first six years. The program produced an explosion of papers on early diagnosis and helped generate more than 100 studies to test drugs or other treatments. It greatly sped and opened the flow of findings and data. According to the New York Times, the project’s entire massive database had been downloaded more than 3,200 times by last summer, and the data sets containing images of brain scans was downloaded almost a million times. Everyone was so pleased with the results that they renewed the accord this year. And all because, as a researcher told Kolata, “we parked our egos and intellectual-property noses at the door.”

The language used here — everything entering the public domain, the dismantling of silos, the parking of egos and IP padlocks — might have been lifted from an open-science manifesto. And even Big Science appreciated the outcome. To open-science advocates, this raises a good and somewhat obvious questiknowleon: Why don’t we do science like this all the time?

Part of the answer, strangely, is the very thing at the center of science: the paper. Once science’s main conduit, the paper has become its choke point.

It’s not just that the paper is slow, though that is a huge problem. A researcher who submits a paper to a traditional journal right now, for instance, won’t see the published piece for about a year. She must wait while the paper gets passed around among editors, then goes through rounds of peer review by experts in her field, who might and often do object not just to her methods or data but to her findings and interpretations. Finally, she must wait while it moves through an editing, layout, and publishing pipeline that itself might run anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks.

Yet the paper is not simply slow; it’s heavy. Even as increasingly data-rich science has outgrown the paper’s ability to deliver and describe all that science has to offer — its deep databases, its often elaborate methods — we’ve loaded it up needlessly with reputational weight and vital functions other than carrying data.

The paper is meant to be a conduit for the real content and currency of the science: the ideas, methods, data, and findings of the people who do science. But the tremendous publishing and commercial infrastructure built around the academic paper over the last half-century has concentrated so many functions and so much value in the journal that the paper itself, rather than the information in it, has become science’s main currency. It is the paper you must buy; the paper you must publish; the paper you must cite; the paper on which not just citations but tenure, reputation, status, and even school rankings are built.


To get an idea of the paper’s excess weight, go to Cambridge, England, and find Mark Patterson. Patterson is a scientific-publishing old hand gone rogue. He formerly worked at two of the biggest scientific publishing companies, Elsevier and Nature Publishing Group (NPG), each of which puts out scores of journals. A few years ago he moved to the staff at PLoS.* Patterson is now director of publishing there, and since he joined, PLoS has leveraged open-science principles to become one of the world’s biggest publishers of peer-reviewed science and the biggest single publisher of biomedical literature. Readers like it because they get free access to good science. Researchers like it because their work reaches more readers and colleagues. PLoS’s success is heartening open-science advocates greatly — and unsettling the traditional publishers.

To describe PLoS’s innovations, Patterson likes to talk about how PLoS’s most innovative journal, PLoS One, deals with four essential functions of science that are currently wrapped up in the scientific paper: registration, certification, dissemination, and preservation. The current publishing regime, he argues, locks up these functions too closely in the current, conventional version of the scientific paper — even though some of these functions can be met more efficiently by other means.

So what are these functions?

Registration is essentially a scientific claim of discovery — a marker crediting a particular researcher with an idea or finding. The current system registers these contributions via a paper’s submission date. Certification is essentially quality control: ensuring a paper is solid science. It is traditionally done via peer review. Dissemination means getting the stuff out there — publication and distribution, in printed journals or online. And preservation, or archiving, involves the maintenance of the papers and citations to create a breadcrumb trail other researchers can later follow back to an idea or finding.

“The current journal system does all four of those things,” says Patterson. “But it doesn’t necessarily do them all well. The trick is finding a system that gets each of these done most efficiently, sometimes by other means, instead of having them all held by the publisher.” He and others contend that science would gain both speed and rigor by “unbundling” some of these functions from the paper and doing them in new ways.

PLoS loosens things up mainly in distribution and quality control. All of its journals are open-access — that is, free to read. Instead of making every would-be reader either buy a journal subscription or pay a per-article price of $15 to $50, PLoS collects a fee from the researcher to publish — usually about $1400 or so — and then publishes the paper online and makes it free. The author fee is substantial, but it’s actually a small addition to the other costs of doing science, and performs the essential function of getting it out there. It’s Panizzi’s dream realized: every poor schoolchild — or at least every schoolchild with web access — can read PLoS. Researchers like this, and it works. A recent study showed that on average, papers and data published open-access receive more citations than did those behind paywalls.

PLoS’s rapid growth has shaken things up. Some journal groups, such as Elsevier, have responded by allowing authors to pay to have a paper open-access on publication. Yet commercial publishers that do this tend to retain certain rights that PLoS does not, and they’re less likely to release underlying data, metadata about the publications, or other data and rights. And the practice creates a weird and uncertain market: You can go to, say, Neuron, and find, in the same issue, one paper you can download for free and another that costs $30. The difference? The authors of the latter paper didn’t pay the open-access fee.

Meanwhile, PLoS’s biggest, most cross-disciplinary journal, PLoS One, streamlines quality control in a way that’s more complex and raises more ire. The traditional route, peer review, generally involves having two or three experts evaluate the entire paper — data, methods, findings, conclusions, significance. The publisher relays these peer critiques to the author, usually with requests for either changes or clarifications. If the author answers those to the publisher’s satisfaction, the paper gets approved.

PLoS One uses a similar process but — crucially — asks its reviewers to judge only on technical merits, and not on any assessment of the paper’s novelty, significance, or impact. “The idea,” says Patterson, “is to let the importance be determined later by how much the paper’s ideas and findings and conclusions are taken up by the community. We’re letting the scientific community at large determine a paper’s value and importance, rather than just a couple of reviewers.”

You can certainly understand their fear that the marketplace will determine most papers have no value.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Finally, a Fighting Force (MICHAEL E. O’HANLON, 5/20/11, NY Times)

Helmand Province, for years a Taliban stronghold, has in the past year or so seen remarkable progress. Almost all of the populated parts of the province are now under the control of the Afghan government and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

The region is not completely safe, to be sure. But most major roads are serviceable, and government officials now generally use them instead of NATO helicopters to get around. Markets are open; schools have increased almost 50 percent in number since late 2009; twice as many Afghan officials work in local governments as did a year ago; and poppy production is down.

The even better news is that Afghan forces deserve an increasingly large share of the credit. The message from the Marines and British soldiers I spoke to in the province was one of growing appreciation for the skills and fighting spirit of Afghan soldiers and police officers.

Last year in southern Afghanistan, Afghans made up about half of all the combined forces used to clear the region of most Taliban weapons caches and strongholds. According to the International Security Assistance Force, roughly two-thirds of all Afghan Army battalions nationwide now score at least a 3 on a military-readiness scale from 1 to 5, meaning that while they still require outside help, they are quite effective when conducting missions with NATO troops.

Police and army pay is now adequate by national standards, and local recruiting goals for the Afghan Army and police in Helmand Province have been largely met this spring for the first time since the war began. Desertion rates are still too high, and Afghan troops too often overstay their military leaves, but the trends point in the right direction.

During my travels, several Marine officers who also had experience in Iraq told me that Afghan police officers and soldiers were better fighters than their Iraqi counterparts. Routinely, in towns like Musa Qala that are still tense, Afghans provide half the personnel on most foot patrols — and I was told that they do not shrink from fighting when they run into trouble.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


The Catalan kings: The management secrets of Barcelona Football Club (Schumpeter, May 19th 2011, The Economist)

Barça puts more emphasis than any other major team on growing its own players. Other football teams often resemble the United Nations—the Arsenal first eleven, for example, frequently includes just two native-born Britons. Barça, by contrast, is still dominated by local players, and Catalan is often spoken in the dressing room. Eight of the team’s leading players are products of its football school, La Masia. That includes Mr Messi, an Argentine who moved to Barcelona as a boy, and the team’s coach, Josep (“Pep”) Guardiola. La Masia is unique among football schools. It is a boarding school that puts as much emphasis on character-training as on footballing skills. The students are relentlessly instructed in the importance of team spirit, self-sacrifice and perseverance. They are also taught that Barça is “more than a club”: it is the embodiment of Catalan pride that kept the region’s spirit alive during the years when Spain groaned under the fascist Franco regime. Fans regularly sport banners proclaiming that “Catalonia is not Spain”.

Barça has used the idea that it is “more than a club” to cultivate a two-way relationship with its fans. It is owned by its members (socis in Catalan), who now number 150,000, rather than by shareholders or foreign tycoons. The management is answerable to an assembly that consists of 2,500 randomly chosen socis and the 600 most senior members. The club supports many sports other than football and runs a popular museum in Barcelona. After a recent win more than a million people turned out to cheer.

Barça’s management style chimes in with the thinking of two admired theorists. Boris Groysberg, of Harvard Business School, has warned that companies are too obsessed with hiring stars rather than developing teams. He conducted a fascinating study of successful Wall Street analysts who moved from one firm to another. He discovered that company-switching analysts saw an immediate decline in their performance. For all their swagger, it seems that their success depended as much on their co-workers as their innate talents. Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great”, argues that the secret of long-term corporate success lies in cultivating a distinctive set of values. For all the talk of diversity and globalisation, this usually means promoting from within and putting down deep local roots.

Barça has also blazed a trail in nurturing its brand—a tough job in the internet age, when gossip is plentiful and trust is scarce. The proportion of brands that consumers trust fell from 52% in 1997 to 22% in 2008, according to Y&R, an advertising agency, and traditional forms of advertising are becoming less effective. To combat this problem, some firms try to involve consumers in developing their brands. Lego, a toy brickmaker, invites Lego-heads to its headquarters to work with its designers. Asda, a supermarket, invites regular shoppers to suggest what it should sell. But so far nobody has gone as far as Barça in giving customers a direct say in big decisions.

...they're not only aculturated but cheaper.

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May 20, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


The Obama Deception: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic (Chris Hedges, 5/16/11, TruthDig)

The moral philosopher Cornel West, if Barack Obama’s ascent to power was a morality play, would be the voice of conscience. Rahm Emanuel, a cynical product of the Chicago political machine, would be Satan. Emanuel in the first scene of the play would dangle power, privilege, fame and money before Obama. West would warn Obama that the quality of a life is defined by its moral commitment, that his legacy will be determined by his willingness to defy the cruel assault by the corporate state and the financial elite against the poor and working men and women, and that justice must never be sacrificed on the altar of power.

Perhaps there was never much of a struggle in Obama’s heart. Perhaps West only provided a moral veneer. Perhaps the dark heart of Emanuel was always the dark heart of Obama. Only Obama knows. But we know how the play ends. West is banished like honest Kent in “King Lear.” Emanuel and immoral mediocrities from Lawrence Summers to Timothy Geithner to Robert Gates—think of Goneril and Regan in the Shakespearean tragedy—take power. We lose. And Obama becomes an obedient servant of the corporate elite in exchange for the hollow trappings of authority.

No one grasps this tragic descent better than West, who did 65 campaign events for Obama, believed in the potential for change and was encouraged by the populist rhetoric of the Obama campaign. He now nurses, like many others who placed their faith in Obama, the anguish of the deceived, manipulated and betrayed. He bitterly describes Obama as “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats. And now he has become head of the American killing machine and is proud of it.”

“When you look at a society you look at it through the lens of the least of these, the weak and the vulnerable; you are committed to loving them first, not exclusively, but first, and therefore giving them priority,” says West, the Class of 1943 University Professor of African American Studies and Religion at Princeton University. “And even at this moment, when the empire is in deep decline, the culture is in deep decay, the political system is broken, where nearly everyone is up for sale, you say all I have is the subversive memory of those who came before, personal integrity, trying to live a decent life, and a willingness to live and die for the love of folk who are catching hell. This means civil disobedience, going to jail, supporting progressive forums of social unrest if they in fact awaken the conscience, whatever conscience is left, of the nation. And that’s where I find myself now.

“I have to take some responsibility,” he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. “I could have been reading into it more than was there."

If there was anything there he'd have been unelectable.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Obama the Convert (National Review, 5/20/11)

Where does President Bush go to get his apology?

In his Middle East speech yesterday, President Obama sounded less like himself of old and much more like the predecessor he once condemned. Obama’s general declarations — on universal human rights, the convergence of U.S. interests and democracy promotion, dictators’ ploys to distract their subjects with colonial-era resentments and Israeli bogeymen — made him sound like a convert to W.’s freedom agenda. So did his remarks on Iran, whose “intolerance” and “hypocrisy” he condemned, and whose democrats he honored (two years too late). He even had warm words for Iraq’s nascent democracy.

In typical Obama style, though, he didn’t acknowledge Bush’s contribution or his own change. He seemed rather to suggest that he is the one who reoriented American policy toward the region’s reformers. “Already,” he pronounced at the outset, “we have done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts.” In his telling, America’s move toward democracy promotion began with his Cairo speech, which dealt with the topic almost in passing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:45 PM


When Obama Became Bush (on Iraq) (Peter Wehner, May 20, 2011, Commentary Magazine's Contentions Blog )

All of which brings us to President Obama's speech yesterday, where he said this:

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy. The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they've taken full responsibility for their own security. Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

In just a few years, then, Iraq has, for Barack Obama, gone from a strategic disaster to something of a model for the region. His words sound very much like those of President Bush, who told the United Nations in 2003, "Iraq as a dictatorship has great power to destabilize the Middle East. Iraq as a democracy will have great power to inspire the Middle East."

The fact that Barack Obama is now (belatedly) embracing the views of his predecessor is something to be grateful for. To have a liberal, Democratic president declare that Iraq shows "the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy" and is "poised to play a key role in the region" is a very good thing for our country and the wider Middle East. And it will help to heal the divisions caused by the war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Three Things That Irked Bibi About Obama’s Speech (Jake Tapper, May 20, 2011, ABC News)

Sources tell ABC News that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s issue with President Obama invoking the 1967 borders as a starting off point for negotiations isn’t so much the notion itself, but rather the idea that his position essentially gives the Palestinians an achievement at the bargaining table without having conceded anything in return.

In other words, Netanyahu is well aware that in any peace agreement, Israel will likely have to agree to what President Obama stated yesterday: “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

But Netanyahu wanted to agree to that at the negotiating table with the Palestinians – exacting a concession from the Palestinians in return. Now the Palestinians will be able to come to any future negotiation with those borders as the “American position.”

Negotiations only begin when one side has lost. Of course, the hilarious thing is the commentariat on the Right that refuses to believe the inevitable will ever occur.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


The Other Brother has added a button to the left so that you can follow our Twitter feed. It has all of our posts but I also add stuff that I notice while roaming the web and don't have time to post--heavy on sports, music, etc.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


What the Strauss-Kahn Scandal Teaches the French (Carol Matlack, 5/18/11, Business Week)

In the traditional French view, it's nobody's business if politicians commit adultery, pay for sex, or engage in orgies—so long as they do their jobs. Most people can see the difference between an extramarital dalliance and the violent crime Strauss-Kahn is charged with and to which he plans to plead not guilty. For French politicians, the boundaries may not look so distinct.

...they have no interest in liberty, only egalite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Obama's Mideast metamorphosis: President adopts Bush Doctrine prioritizing spread of democracy (Charles Krauthammer, May 19th 2011, NY POst)

Herewith, President Obama's May 19 Middle East speech, annotated:

"It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy."

With this Obama openly, unreservedly and without a trace of irony or self-reflection adopts the Bush Doctrine, which made the spread of democracy the key U.S. objective in the Middle East.

"Too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people's grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills."

Note how even Obama's rationale matches Bush's. Bush argued that because the roots of 9/11 were to be found in the deflected anger of repressed Middle Eastern peoples, our response would require a democratic transformation of the region.

...check out the picture that accompanies the story.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Netanyahu must move forward and accept 1967 borders (Ari Shavit, 5/190/11, Ha'aretz)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Knesset speech on Monday was a good one. He told the truth. He described the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it is. He set down six principles for Israel as it seeks peace: recognition of Israel as the Jewish national home, a demilitarized Palestine that does not control the Jordan Valley, a solution outside Israel to the refugee problem, retention of settlement blocs, a united Jerusalem and a declaration of an end to the conflict with no further demands.

These six principles are completely loyal to the Rabin legacy, the Sharon legacy and the Kadima party's platform. They are principles that can be legitimately presented to the Palestinians. They are principles that can be explained to the world. They are principles that the sane Israeli majority accepts. Regarding Jerusalem, Israel will have to make another painful concession, but basically there's no two-state solution that is not founded on these six principles.

If we deserve peace, these are the principles it will be based on. If war is imposed on us, these are the principles that will be worth fighting for. This is the Israeli core.

But Netanyahu's speech to Congress next week will have to be even better than Monday's; it will have to be excellent. To achieve this, he will have to include another principle of peace that he didn't mention in the Knesset - the principle of 1967.

Israel's prime minister doesn't have to agree to withdraw to the 1967 borders. Such a withdrawal is impossible. But he will have to agree to give the Palestinians land equivalent to the territory captured in 1967. Such an agreement is vital. Without accepting the principle of 1967, Netanyahu's other principles will remain full of holes. The Palestinians will mock them and the world will reject them. They will end up the latest unimportant remarks by an unimportant prime minister who left no lasting mark.

...but Israel can enforce them for a few years and perhaps that's enough to make up for losing the war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Mr. Nice Guy (Michael Crowley, May 19, 2011, TIME)

[A]ppearing hyperambitious for the presidency can be a liability. And in a sense, the presidential circus first came to Pawlenty, not the other way around. He may have gotten the White House bug in the summer of 2008, when his name was floated as a potential running mate for John McCain. The speculation put Pawlenty on the national radar. And although McCain, looking to shake up the race, chose Palin instead, the logic for Pawlenty was compelling: he was an articulate conservative from a region where Republicans have lost their electoral grip (and was said to have that quality so crucial in a running mate: a skeleton-free closet).

The McCain team was also drawn to Pawlenty's life story, which could have helped confound the image of Republicans as the party of the privileged. Pawlenty has long argued that the GOP must remind Americans that they're "the party of Sam's Club, not just the country club." He grew up in South St. Paul, a blue collar town fragrant from the nearby stockyards and meatpacking plants. He was one of five siblings in a pro-union Catholic family. His father, Eugene Pawlenty — the name is Polish — was a truck driver who worked side jobs on weekends. (Including one cleaning meat hooks: "I tossed my cookies" at the stench when helping out one weekend, Pawlenty has recalled.)

In the 1970s, the meatpacking jobs dried up; his father would eventually lose his. Worse, Pawlenty's mother succumbed to ovarian cancer when he was just 16. On her deathbed, she insisted that Tim be the first in the family to attend college. He put himself through the University of Minnesota by working in a grocery store.

That story is crucial to Pawlenty's appeal, his supporters argue. "The guy has a genuine connection to average people," says his friend Vin Weber, a former Republican Congressman from Minnesota. "Every candidate I know tries to establish some roots in what I call real-world middle America. A lot of them have to invent it. With Tim Pawlenty, it's real. He is not a person who has lost his connection to the working-class folks he grew up with."

Inspired by Ronald Reagan, Pawlenty gravitated to politics in college, volunteering with the College Republicans. He went on to law school, where he met Mary, a graduate of a Christian college who would eventually convert him to Evangelicalism. Meanwhile, he climbed the local political ladder, managing a winning 1988 GOP Senate campaign and getting elected to the state legislature, where he became the GOP leader before his 2002 bid for governor.

Pawlenty likes to boast that he, more than any other candidate, will run on his record. It's a none-too-subtle contrast with Romney, who isn't exactly putting his Massachusetts health care reform front and center. And it's true that Pawlenty governed as a conservative in the state that produced Walter Mondale and that hasn't voted Republican for President since 1972. "He managed to take the anger — the snarl, if you will — out of the hard-core social and economic extremist-conservative agenda," says Dane Smith, a former reporter who covered Pawlenty for years.

As governor, Pawlenty brought a return to normality and a conservative style. He removed from the governor's mansion a portrait of Ventura in knight's armor on a white horse and replaced it with one of an old man praying, and he imported his foosball table from home. Ventura had left behind a $4.5 billion deficit, which Pawlenty closed not by raising taxes (which he would slash by $800 million over the course of his term) but by dramatically slowing spending. He vetoed dozens of Democratic tax-hike bills, and in 2005 he allowed a nine-day state-government shutdown rather than give in to the Democrats' budget demands.

He also picked fights with the liberal establishment. In 2005, Pawlenty set out to cut the generous pension benefits of the state's mass-transit workers' union, triggering a 44-day strike before the union cried uncle. "Pawlenty ought to be getting extra credit for having faced down public-employee unions ... before it was cool," one National Review writer recently noted. On social issues, Pawlenty approved tough new abortion restrictions and gave local school boards the freedom to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. Says Lawrence Jacobs, a professor of politics at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs: "Pawlenty is probably the most conservative governor in Minnesota's history."

To Pawlenty, there's no higher compliment. And, he adds, "if we can do it in my state, we can do it anywhere."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Gov. Mitch Daniels may be GOP's best presidential bet (Vincent Carroll, 5/18/11, Denver Post)

The most attractive contenders to best Romney: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who says he won't run, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who says he might. Daniels has stirred the ire of some on the right for calling for a "truce" on social issues until federal spending is reined in and for refusing to press a fight over right-to-work legislation, but the indictment is moronic. Unlike Romney, Daniels is indisputably pro-life; just ask Planned Parenthood how happy it is with him. And as for unions, Daniels rolled back collective bargaining for public employees years before it became an issue in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Daniels also has lowered taxes and enacted sweeping education reform, which The New York Times says will "expand charter schools, end teacher tenure, narrow teachers' collective bargaining rights and introduce a taxpayer-funded voucher of up to $4,500 for students to attend private schools."

His feats with the budget may be even more remarkable. "When Daniels took office, in 2004, the state faced a $200 million deficit and hadn't balanced its budget in seven years," explained Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard last year. "Four years later, all outstanding debts had been paid off; after four balanced budgets, the state was running a surplus of $1.3 billion, which has cushioned the blows from a steady decline in revenues caused by the recession . . . .

"No other state in the Midwest — all of them, like Indiana, dependent on a declining manufacturing sector — can match this record."

Daniels has called the federal deficit "the new Red Menace, this time consisting of ink." Nice metaphor. But unlike some big talkers about deficits, Daniels can match his rhetoric with his record.

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May 19, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


GM to boost Volt production (Peter Valdes-Dapena, , 5/19/11, CNNMoney)

General Motors is preparing to greatly increase production of the Chevrolet Volt as it prepares to begin selling the Detroit-made plug-in hybrid across the United States as well as in China and Europe. [...]

Volt sales have so far been limited by GM's ability to produce the cars. The automaker has been selling around 500 a month since production began in November. Production capacity will increase to 16,000 units a year, including exports, following the upgrades. In 2012, GM said, production capacity is expected to rise to 60,000 vehicles globally with an estimated 45,000 going to the United States.

The Volt is an electrically driven plug-in car that uses a gasoline engine to generate power for driving farther than about 35 miles. The car has won numerous awards in the United States, including Motor Trend Car of the Year and North American Car of The Year.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


Leaders reach Patriot Act deal (JAKE SHERMAN & JOHN BRESNAHAN, 5/19/11, Politico)

Top lawmakers in the House and Senate reached a deal to extend the Patriot Act for four years, a week before key provisions were set to expire, top aides in both chambers say.

The pieces of the law that allow the government to compel businesses to release records, issue roving wiretaps, and monitor so-called “lone wolf” terror suspects were set to run out on May 27.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


Mideast Speech: Strong Rhetoric, Weak Plan (Elliott Abrams, 5/19/11, CFR)

[T]he president simply rewrote history when it came to supporting democracy in the Middle East. He claimed to have done so from the start, with his Cairo speech. But in fact, his administration's policy was engagement--engagement with regimes, not peoples, including the repressive regimes in Iran and Syria. His reaction to events in Iran in June 2009, and more recently in Tunisia and then Egypt, was cautious and slow. Perhaps this passage was an effort to avoid saying what is more accurate: that the Bush Freedom Agenda turned out to be right, and his own administration had been wrong to jettison it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:04 PM


Stephen Colbert on ‘Network’: Great Film or the Greatest Film? (DAVE ITZKOFF, 5/19/11, NY Times)

Q. [W]hat do you think “Network” got right, in terms of predicting the present-day media landscape?

A. “I will tell you what to think.” That’s what it prefigures most of all. “I will tell you what to think, and how to feel.” [Beale is] doing it in a quasi-benevolent way, which is, I’m going to remind you that you’re being anesthetized right now. That’s what they get right, in terms of what you see on TV. That is a great bulk of what happens with news now. And not just the nighttime people that I’m sort of a parody of, not just the opinion-making people, but even what is left of straight news. Howard Beale is a precursor of people who are telling you how you feel. That’s what they get right. [...]

Q. Did “Network” in any way inspire the creation of “The Colbert Report”?

A. It’s not an influence for my show, because Beale is a hopeless character who ultimately does not succeed in what he wants to do, and is killed. He’s not a messianic figure. When Glenn Beck started, I listened to Glenn on the radio for years. I thought, this guy’s got something here, but he’s not quite focused. He’s always arguing both sides towards the middle, the fill-airtime behavior that you hear a lot on talk radio. And then he got his [television] show and he had to focus and do a single hour, and I thought, he’s really got his game now. He’s got one thing and he’s going to ride that pony till it’s dead, then he’s going to the next pony. But always riding in the same direction. And then I read in an article that he was a big fan of Howard Beale. He’s modeling himself on Howard Beale.

Q. Really?

A. It was in The New York Times. You should read that paper sometime. He talks about how he was modeling himself on Howard Beale, but also on Jesus and Gandhi. And I thought, Wow, none of those stories end well.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Obamacare Waivers Granted to Nevada and New Hampshire (JEFFREY H. ANDERSON, 5/9/11, Weekly Standard)

President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), headed by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has now granted Obamacare waivers to the entire states of Nevada and New Hampshire. In its letter to Nevada, HHS admits that, without the waiver, “there is a reasonable likelihood” that Obamacare would result in “market destabilization, and thus harm to consumers.” Thus, to try to keep insurers from fleeing that state, HHS has exempted Nevada from a portion of Obamacare’s long list of mandates and requirements. HHS also admits to a “reasonable likelihood” that Obamacare would “destabilize the individual market” in New Hampshire, and has granted it a statewide waiver as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Obama Embraces His Inner Bush (Walter Russell Mead, 5/19/11, American Interest)

President Obama has deep-sixed the ‘realism’ that marked the first two years of his approach to the Middle East. He has returned to the foreign policy of George W. Bush.

The United States is no longer, the President told us in words he could have borrowed from his predecessor, a status quo power in the Middle East. The realist course of cooperating with oppressive regimes in a quest for international calm is a dead end. It breeds toxic resentment against the United States; it stores up fuel for an inevitable conflagration when the oppressors weaken; it stokes anti-Israel resentment when hatred of Israel becomes the only form of political activism open to ordinary people; it strengthens the hold of extremist religion and strangles the growth of liberal forces.

More, he attacked Iran. All that talk about avoiding polarization with Iran is gone. Instead, President Obama singled out Iran as an oppressive, tyrannical regime supporting terror and running an “illicit nuclear program” as well.

He also followed Bush in attacking some US allies, calling on Bahrain and Yemen to make changes. It was a speech that enraged almost every powerful actor in the Middle East and put America out on a limb. Like Bush, Obama is willing to confront some of America’s closest allies (the Saudis, who back the crackdown in Bahrain). Like Bush, he hailed Iraq as an example of democracy and pluralism that can play a vital role in the transformation of the region. Like Bush, he proposes to work with opposition groups in friendly countries.

His policy on Israel-Palestine is also looking Bushesque. Like Bush, he wants a sovereign but demilitarized Palestinian state. Like Bush, he believes that the 1967 lines with minor and mutually agreed changes should be the basis for the permanent boundaries between the two countries — and like Bush he set Jerusalem and the refugees to one side.

The President is nailing his colors to the mast of the Anglo-American revolutionary tradition.

...really just serves to illustrate why he could have been perceived as the "other" up until now. A Realist foreign policy is simply unAmerican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM


An Indefensible Defense: French intellectuals’ despicable response to Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest. (David Rieff, May 18, 2011, New Republic)

In his weekly column in Le Point, Lévy asked “how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most New York hotels of sending a ‘cleaning brigade’ of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.” For his part, Daniel wrote in an editorial for his magazine that the fate meted out to DSK, as Strauss-Kahn is generally referred to in the French press, has made him think that, “We [French] and the Americans do not belong to the same civilization,” and demanded to know—shades of my guerrilla friend in South Sudan—why “the supposed victim was treated as worthy and beyond any suspicion?”

As for Badinter, he insisted that by organizing a “perp walk,” in which a handcuffed Strauss-Kahn was paraded before the cameras before being taken to central booking, the New York City Police department had orchestrated DSK’s “mediatic putting to death.” To remember that this was the kind of rhetoric Badinter used in his campaign to abolish the death penalty is to vindicate Marx’s famous observation that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Badinter did not go so far as to claim DSK’s accuser was lying, even if his claims, like those of Lévy, Daniel, and others, that Strauss-Kahn was likely innocent allowed no other conclusion—the only question, really was whether she was lying on her own or was part of a conspiracy. But Badinter did denounce any privileging of the woman’s testimony, even though, by the time he wrote his editorial, it had been leaked that she had picked DSK out of an NYPD lineup. Nonetheless, Badinter persisted in calling for what he called “equality of weapons [between] the accuser and the man presumed to be innocent [sic].”

And where these French master thinkers went, the press swiftly followed. A journalist from one of France’s main radio stations who witnessed Strauss-Kahn’s arraignment reported that, before he had been brought before the judge, there had been a procession of “blacks and Latinos accused of all sorts of petty crimes, above all selling drugs.” The American judicial system was denounced for taking the claims of his alleged victim more seriously than his denials, but the reporter certainly did not accord the same presumption of innocence to the “blacks and Latinos” in question, instead waxing indignant that DSK had not been allowed to jump the queue and been arraigned ahead of this riff-raff. At least, the journalist did not go so far as Bernard-Henri Lévy, who wrote, “I hold it against the American judge who, by delivering [DSK] to the crowd of photo hounds, pretended to take him for a subject of justice like any other.” [...]

[T]hose in France who have risen to DSK’s defense have also repeated over and over again how important Strauss-Kahn has been and all the good and important deeds and crucial roles he has played, above all as head of the IMF, where, as Lévy put it, “Europe, not to say the world … is indebted to him for contributing … to avoiding the worst.” But this is either a non-sequitur—a rapist can do lots of good things in other arenas of his life—or it is a claim that, because DSK is a valuable person, he is entitled to special treatment. In my view, of course, this second claim is the subtext of all the storm and fury in Paris over how Strauss-Kahn has been treated. To which one can only say that one hopes French intellectuals enjoy a system that permits them to claim such privileges for their caste. A

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Smithsonian acquires Parliament-Funkadelic Mothership (Chris Richards, May 18, 2011, Washington Post)

The funkiest UFO in the galaxy is about to land in Chocolate City.

The Mothership — the iconic stage prop made famous by legendary funk collective Parliament-Funkadelic — has been acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture where it will help anchor a permanent music exhibition when the museum opens its doors in 2015.

“I’m about to cry!” Parliament-Funkadelic frontman George Clinton said over the phone from his home in Tallahassee on Wednesday. “They’re taking the Mothership! They’re shipping it out! . . . But I’m glad it’s going to have a nice home there.”

Parliament Chocolate city (1979) [] from INSERT-ROOTS on Vimeo.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:23 PM


A Flight Plan for the American Economy (Fareed Zakaria, May 19, 2011, TIME)

Ironically, it's the astonishing productivity of the U.S. that has brought us to this place. Usually, productivity gains translate into higher economic output, higher incomes and thus rising employment. That was the experience in the 1990s. This time, we've achieved productivity gains almost entirely by cutting jobs, finding ways of making the same products with fewer people. At many major companies, profits have returned to 2007 levels but with thousands fewer workers. "We've found ways to do more with fewer people," says Klaus Kleinfeld, the chairman and CEO of Alcoa.

Two powerful drivers have allowed for this new productivity. The first is technology, which is producing massive efficiencies across industries. It has already transformed manufacturing and is now beginning to transform white-collar professions, with computer programs able to do, for example, the basic discovery work performed by expensive lawyers. (See "Jobs: Some Light at the End of the Tunnel.")

The second force is, of course, globalization. There is now a single world market for many goods and services, and over the past 10 to 15 years, about 400 million people — from China, India, South Africa, Indonesia and elsewhere — have entered the global labor force, offering to make the same things Americans make for a tenth the price. That's why growth by itself won't create enough jobs. The economy increasingly has the capacity to grow nicely without adding many workers. America's largest companies have over $1 trillion in cash on their balance sheets. But the average American, who has seen his or her wages decline over the past decade, simply cannot find a good job. In a working paper for the Council on Foreign Relations, the Nobel Prize–winning economist Michael Spence and his co-author, Sandile Hlatshwayo, argue that "growth and employment are set to diverge" for decades in the U.S. They point out that over the past decade, most job growth was in two sectors — government and health care — and that neither is likely to grow dramatically over the next decade.

The bottom line: forget about the debt ceiling, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The crisis of our times is the employment crisis. And there are solutions to it. We need to focus on five areas that will create jobs.

The point, of course, is that we have an overemployment problem, not an underemployment problem. Folks like Mr. Zakaria seem to thing that the objective of an economy is to create jobs. In fact, it is to create wealth. Doing that more efficiently is a good thing, not a bad one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


It’s a national disgrace – but what nation would that be? (Celia Walden, 19 May 2011, The Telegraph)

As national individuality wanes in the face of globalisation, I’ll bet that each of these countries will be flattened into Anglo-Saxon conformity. France and Italy will be forced to become more censorious not just about sex and affairs but about peccadilloes of every sort, and abject public apologies will be the only way back for disgraced politicians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:59 PM


President Obama finds his inner George W. Bush (Will Inboden, May 19, 2011, Foreign Policy)

Make no mistake about just how dramatic today's speech is. In his remarks today, President Obama also found his "inner George W. Bush" -- and effectively departed from the first 2 ½ years of his own administration's foreign policy. Though not mentioned by name in the speech, the strategic logic of the Bush Doctrine loomed large. It was Bush who in a November 2003 address to the National Endowment for Democracy declared:

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo. Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results.

And today President Obama announced that "after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be … it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Elaborate Marriage Proposal Delights Bride-To-Be [VIRAL VIDEO] (Charlie White, 5/19/11, Mashable)

Matt wanted to make a big splash when he asked his girlfriend Ginny to marry him. So he hired Atlanta wedding photographer/videographer Michael Escobar, and the two men created a dramatic and clever movie trailer that would lead up to a surprising (and very public) proposal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


The Hot-Money Cowboys of Baghdad (STEVEN LEE MYERS,5/22/11, NY Times Magazine )

[Ayad Yahya, the general director of Al-Bilad Islamic Bank], an aging economist who once worked for Iraq’s state bank, recalled visits to Amman and Beirut under Hussein’s rule. “We brought back bananas and Pepsi for our children,” he told me. “We said to them, ‘This is a banana.’ ” In 2007, while the sectarian fighting in Iraq was still in full bloom, Yahya acquired the means to make Pepsi himself. He led a group of investors that took over the formerly state-run Baghdad Soft Drinks Company, a factory on the city’s southern outskirts that was once partly owned by Hussein’s erratic and fearsome son, Uday. It was the officially licensed Pepsi franchise in Iraq from 1984 until it shut down production after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Now it’s humming again. With new management, a renewed Pepsi license and an extensive refurbishment, including new bottling lines, generators and water purifiers (the source being the Tigris River, half a mile away), it supplies 80 percent of the soda in Baghdad and nearly half in all of Iraq. This makes it one of the country’s largest manufacturers, which is a sign of its managerial success and also the sad state of manufacturing in Iraq.

“The economy is growing, but the path is long,” Yahya said later over a lunch at the soda plant that included Iraq’s national dish, a delicious roasted carp, called masquf, and Diet Pepsi. “This is just the very beginning.” As we ate, Al Jazeera murmured on a flat-screen, broadcasting the protests in Egypt that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Yahya watched the scenes, riveted. “Arab investors used to think Egypt was the most stable,” he said. “Now we are.”

The war in Iraq is widely seen as a colossal blunder of American hubris that killed tens of thousands and displaced many more, leaving a shattered, sectarian wreck of a country. Even now, as President Obama withdraws the last of nearly 50,000 American troops by the end of the year, the insurgency simmers and the state is neither stable nor fully democratic. The government is rife with corruption and paralyzed by an ossified bureaucracy. And yet also, undeniably, Iraq has turned a corner. After years of war, looting, sectarian bloodshed and political infighting, Iraq’s economy is beginning to take off, fueled by a resurgence in oil exploitation — and soon natural gas — and an influx of foreign capital that has swelled despite the protracted political impasse that followed Iraq’s parliamentary elections in March 2010.

The International Monetary Fund recently estimated that Iraq’s gross domestic product grew 2.6 percent last year — nearly as much as the struggling American economy did — and it projected astonishing increases exceeding 11 percent this year and next. Some say Iraq’s economy — estimated at roughly $80 billion today — could expand six or seven times in the next decade as it increases oil production to a level rivaling Saudi Arabia’s.

“That’s conservative,” James Hogan, the country director for the international banking giant HSBC, told me as we sat in his sleek, glass-walled office in Baghdad. HSBC acquired control of the Dar Es Salaam Investment Bank in 2005 and has since built it into one of Iraq’s largest private financial institutions. It had assets worth $91 million when HSBC took control; according to Hogan, it has $407 million in assets now. By market capitalization, it is the largest company traded on the Iraqi Stock Exchange, an institution that did not exist in 2003 and began electronic trades only two years ago. “What success will look like in 5, 10, 20 years, that’s what we’re all here for,” Hogan said.

“People used to say: ‘America is coming for our oil! America is after our oil!’ ” Abbas Fadhil Shamara told me. “But at the end of the day, you did not see many companies.” Today Iraqis complain not that Americans are coming to steal their oil but that our companies — and foreign corporations, too — are too slow to arrive.

Thanks, W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


The seat of knowledge: smart and comfortable: Can science provide the ultimate explanation of human nature? No, says Simon Blackburn, who tells us there's life in the philosophical armchair yet (Simon Blackburn, 19 May 2011, Times Higher Education)

The different sciences go about things in different ways, but their practitioners often seem joined in confidence that their tools and procedures have made philosophical reflection obsolete. The philosophical armchair is as discredited an aide to reflection on human nature as the omphalos at Delphi. Indeed, many younger philosophers themselves dispose of such an embarrassing old piece of lumber and talk knowingly only of hippocampi, frontotemporal lobes, oxytocin and evolutionarily stable strategies.

By human nature, of course, I mean not our nature as it is discovered by the camera or in the anatomy lesson, but our nature as it is discovered in our doings. It is the ways in which we think and feel that intrigue us, and it is the old distinction between the Geisteswissenschaften and Naturwissenschaften that is being eroded by the colonial advances of the latter.

Not that this piece of colonial history has in the past been much more glorious than others. There was not only science's flirtations with such things as eugenics, but also the rather alarming tendency for distinguished scientists entering new territories to present not distinguished science but rather - dare one say it - armchair speculation, or ideology, in its place.

Biologists, for instance, have found it irresistible to read the Darwinian struggle into everything we care about. "What passes for cooperation turns out to be a mixture of opportunism and exploitation," says distinguished American biologist Michael Ghiselin. "Scratch an altruist, and watch a hypocrite bleed." Any other view is mere sentimentalism.

Richard Dawkins once veered away from this bleak vision only by having us "rebel against the tyranny of the selfish genes". But this seemed to make sense only if, like some religious people, Dawkins thought that the human soul or spirit floats beautifully free of mere physical processes and, with resources drawn from God knows where, can stick its ghostly finger in and alter the course that these would otherwise have taken.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 AM


The fall of Strauss-Kahn shows the left needs more than a leader (New Statesman, 19 May 2011)

When Europe's social democrats staged their first Progressive Governance Conference in 1999, the centre left held power in 13 of the European Union's 15 member states. Since then, the left has lost ground in almost every country. Just eight of the European parties that attended a similar gathering in Oslo between 12 and 13 May are in government.

Amid the gloom, delegates consoled themselves with the thought that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the presumptive French Socialist Party candidate, would likely defeat Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's presidential election and become the second Socialist leader of the Fifth Republic. But Mr Strauss-Kahn's arrest on suspicion of attempted rape has put paid to such hopes. Whether or not he is found guilty (and he maintains his innocence), both his candidacy and his political career are over.

The downfall of the man France knows as "DSK" is undoubtedly a blow to the French left. As the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he steered that institution, hitherto a bastion of neoliberalism, in a more progressive direction with his support for fiscal stimulus and his emphasis on job creation. Opinion polls consistently showed that he was the candidate with the best chance of denying Mr Sarkozy a second term in the Élysée Palace. But it is symptomatic of the crisis of the French left that many Socialists have already resigned themselves to defeat in 2012. A progressive party should never have allowed itself to become so dependent on one man.

In his recent lecture on the crisis of the European centre left, David Miliband noted: "It is ironic but deeply indicative that it takes a man with the economic credibility of IMF managing director to give the French left its best chance of winning its first presidential election in four."

May 18, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Extinction reports are greatly exaggerated (Iain Coleman, 5/19/11, Cosmos Online)

Predictions of how many species go extinct when habitat is lost are fundamentally flawed, according to new research.

Many estimates of extinction rates due to human activity, including those used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will now have to be revised downward.

"We have proved mathematically where this overestimate comes from, and in this paper we provide a correct method," said Fangliang He of Sun Yat-sen University in China, co-author of the paper published in Nature this week.

"Based on the mathematical proof and empirical data, we prove that the overestimate can be as much as 160%, so previous estimates should be divided by roughly 2.5."

But how many extinct species can fit on a pin head?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Misunderstanding the End of History (Daniel Honan, May 16, 2011, Big Idea)

What's the Big Idea?

Francis Fukuyama wrote a book called The End of History in 1991, a which he told Big Think has "probably been one of the most misunderstood titles every concocted." Of course, the title wasn’t actually Fukuyama's invention. It comes from the German philosopher, Friedrich Hegel. Fukuyama says the main source of misunderstanding "was that people interpreted “End” as termination, you know, finishing." However, “End” in that sense meant the goal or the objective of history.

The End of History is a key concept of Marxism: the belief that "history was progressive and it was going to end in a communist utopia." Fukuyama also argued that history is progressive, but in his view, the collapse of the Soviet Union proved that communism would not be the final stage of man’s political development.

Instead, the end of history seemed to be stopping at the stage before communism, "which the Marxists called Bourgeois Liberal Democracy." That is the political system of the United States and other western democracies, the model system that emerging democracies would inevitably follow.

What's the significance?

Anyone who is concerned about how the tumultuous Arab Spring and other political upheavals will resolve themselves will be heartened by Fukuyama’s argument. It may not happen overnight, but history is leading us inexorably toward a state where democratic capitalism has completely won out.

Fukuyama says those who reject his argument must answer this question: "If you don’t believe that this is the end of history, what’s beyond? You know, are we going to evolve into a Taliban-style Islamic republic? I really doubt it. Are we going to evolve into a Chinese Authoritarian Dictatorship? Well I sort of doubt that also, at least for America and Europe and other places that are wealthy democracies today." that many imagine this to be an unalloyed good, whereas the reality is that you can already see that for secular societies that have reached the End it just means a more comfortable death.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


IMF chief's arrest stirs up anti-Americanism in France (Kim Willsher, 5/18/11, Los Angeles Times)

And so the country launched itself into one of its predictable, periodic spasms of anti-Americanism.

How outrageous that New York police led Strauss-Kahn out of a Police Department facility in handcuffs, resulting in "grotesque" photographs, which nevertheless were widely published in France. What about the presumption of innocence? France wailed about headlines in U.S. tabloids, many of which were reproduced for French readers.

How could a judge throw Strauss-Kahn, DSK no less, into Rikers Island prison, which, readers of Le Figaro newspaper were informed, was noisy, overcrowded, dangerous and filled with prisoners carrying contagious diseases?

"There are numerous very heavy barred doors that make a noise each time they are opened or closed," French lawyer Gerald Lefcourt told the paper. Worse still, he said, "The food is terrible."

...that an elite serial rapist gets away with it until he visits the Puritan Nation?

Code of silence protected IMF chief (Emma-Kate Symons, 5/18/11, The Australian)

WHEN it comes to sex, lies and politics, the French and we so-called "Anglo-Saxons" may as well come from different planets.

The gaping cultural divide between France's Latin tolerance towards the "dalliances" of powerful male politicians and the rush to moral judgments over philandering public figures chiefly among Americans, but also Australians and British, with our more transparent adversarial political and legal systems, has never been so powerfully displayed.

On the one hand the French media at first avoided the word rape or sex in front-page headlines about the International Monetary Fund's managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn's legal woes. [...]

Amid the maelstrom that to French supporters of Strauss-Kahn seems a "surreal" nightmare of a Philip Roth novel cum reality cable TV show involving charges of attempted rape, a brilliant, sexually voracious Jewish French intellectual and a poor black African immigrant maid, there are now serious claims of a widespread and long-term Paris press cover-up of a serial sexual predator.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Anti-Americanism (Jacob Heilbrunn, May 18, 2011, National Interest)

You have to hand it to the French. It didn't take them long to blame America for Dominique Strauss-Kahn's problems. The French satyr, as Maureen Dowd calls him, is in a peck of trouble, sitting in Riker's Island with the hoi polloi. Bad food. Nasty inmates. Confinement. None of it can be very much fun, not to speak of comparing it to his digs at the Sofitel, where he's accused of having attempted to attack a chambermaid, an immigrant from (French?) Africa.

So the French chattering classes have much to chatter about.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Woman’s plane photos of space shuttle go viral (Matt Sedensky, 5/18/11, Associated Press)

Groggy from a late night watching the Yankees, frigid from a chilled airplane cabin, Stefanie Gordon stirred to action after the pilot’s announcement. Lifting her iPhone to the plane’s window, she captured an otherworldly image that rocketed around the globe as fast as her subject: Space shuttle Endeavour soaring from a bank of clouds, its towering plume of white smoke lighting the azure sky.

She had never imagined the response her airborne image — capturing the last launch of Endeavour and the next-to-last space shuttle flight — would ignite. The images and video have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter alone, landed on network newscasts and been published in newspapers worldwide.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


California GOP gets boost in "jungle primary" (Stephanie Condon , 5/18/11, CBS News)

The race isn't over yet in the special election for California's 36th congressional district, but the Republican party notched a surprising victory yesterday in the state's new "jungle primary" system.

The final results from Tuesday's primary are too close to call, but it appears that conservative, Tea Party-backed businessman Craig Huey may have placed second in the race to replace retired Rep. Jane Harman, the Los Angeles Times reports. No candidate in the crowded "jungle primary" won more than 50 percent of the vote, so there will be a final run-off election on July 12.

If the final vote tally does put Huey in second place, he'll face off against the top vote getter, Democrat Janice Hahn, a Los Angeles city councilwoman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Why Israel must recognize Palestine - first (DAVID AVITAL 5/18/11, Politico)

While the momentum toward recognition is strong, Washington can capitalize on the historic opportunity offered by the Israelis and Palestinians current vulnerabilities by developing a plan for Israel to applaud Palestine’s recognition rather than be threatened by it.

The road to peace begins with clearly defined borders.

For the Jewish state, this agreement could stem the increasing isolation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. It would enable systematic negotiations to begin with settlers living in areas due to become part of Palestine, while construction in areas expected to remain part of Israel could continue. This also allows the Israelis to sustain the status quo on key issues like security.

The approach could also establish a context for greater Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation, consistent with Netanyahu’s vision of an “economic peace first.”

However, the alternative – a U.N. vote in favor of a Palestinian state which the U.S. and Israel oppose – could unleash what Defense Minister Ehud Barak described as a “diplomatic tsunami,” engulfing Israel in de-legitimizing campaigns and international legal battles against Israel’s “occupation” of a newly sovereign nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Laboring Under a New World: Unions are taking a big hit this year, and their influence with it. (Josh Kraushaar, May 17, 2011, National Journal)

Labor was on the losing end of the first major referendum on Walker’s policies in Wisconsin, spending millions of dollars on behalf of a liberal challenger to Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a conservative aligned with the governor.

They thought the public was squarely with them, and they got a split verdict instead—Prosser leads by about 7,000 votes, with final results from the recount pending.

They lost in Connecticut, where a Democratic governor who was elected on the efforts of labor, Dan Malloy, abruptly issued pink slips to about 10 percent of the unionized public workforce this month after negotiations hit a standstill—with threats of more to come. His approach worked: Labor leaders conceded to $1.6 billion of givebacks of wage and pension benefits, with concessions in collective bargaining. This from the governor who has framed himself as “the anti-Christie”—someone who would run counter to the way New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie antagonized public unions.

They lost in Illinois, where the Legislature last week passed an education package making it easier to fire ineffective teachers and lengthening the school day—even with three of the state’s teacher unions pulling their support.

The bill was championed by new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and will be signed by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, despite his close relationship with labor.

This is the type of bill unions would have been screaming bloody murder about several years ago, but enough lawmakers thought the tide has shifted enough to make the change.

They lost in Massachusetts, where the Democratic-dominated House last month passed a bill in the dead of night to dramatically weaken unions’ collective bargaining powers. The bill won the support of a clear majority of Democrats, despite labor’s vigorous opposition. After the vote, labor groups protested en masse at the state House, to little avail.

And they’re losing in the Republican presidential field, increasingly being defined by candidates who will be running on challenging labor’s influence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


German Chancellor on the Offensive: Merkel Blasts Greece over Retirement Age, Vacation (Der Spiegel, 05/18/2011)

It was the kind of criticism that one isn't used to hearing from Angela Merkel. Normally sober and analytical to a fault, the German chancellor on Tuesday evening blasted a handful of heavily indebted southern European countries, saying they needed to raise retirement ages and reduce vacation days.

Keeping debt under control, Merkel said in a speech at an event held by her party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union, in the western German town of Meschede, isn't the only priority. "It is also important that people in countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal are not able to retire earlier than in Germany -- that everyone exerts themselves more or less equally. That is important."

She added: "We can't have a common currency where some get lots of vacation time and others very little. That won't work in the long term."

There are indeed significant differences between retirement ages in the two countries. Greece announced reforms to its pension system in early 2010 aimed at reducing early retirement and raising the average age of retirement to 63. Incentives to keep workers in the labor market beyond 65 have likewise been adopted. Germany voted in 2007 to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 over the next several years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


Inside Iran’s Most Secretive Region: Sistan and Balochistan has been described as akin to Mars on Earth. For all the attention they get from Tehran, many Baloch feel they may as well be on another planet. (Karlos Zurutuza, May 16, 2011, The Diplomat)

‘It’s the closest thing to Mars on Earth,’ concluded a group of US geologists visiting the region of Sistan and Balochistan in the early 1970s. And since Iran’s revolution in 1979, the country’s southeast feels as little explored as the Red Planet.

Balochistan, as the Baloch refer to their homeland, is divided today between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the fact that the region is a virtual no-go area for the international media shouldn’t disguise its potential strategic importance. After all, the area—roughly the size of France—holds significant reserves of gas, gold, copper, oil and uranium, and also has a 1,000-kilometre coastline at the gates of the Persian Gulf.

‘(But) unlike what happened in Pakistani-controlled Balochistan, Tehran hasn’t exploited the energy and mineral reserves in the area,’ says Prof. Taj Muhammad Breseeg. ‘It prefers that the region’s resources and population remain undeveloped.’

Today, the region has the lowest per capita income in Iran, with almost 80 percent of the Baloch people living below the poverty line by some estimates. The average life expectancy, meanwhile, is at least eight years lower than the national average, while infant mortality rates are the highest in the country. It all results, suggests Breseeg, from Tehran’s ‘policy of assimilation.’

‘Annexation of the region to Iran in 1928 brought terrible episodes of repression, caused a mass exodus of the local population and saw virtually every Baloch place name changed toa Persian one,’ Breseeg says.

The problem for Balochs is that they are Sunni Muslims in a Shiite-ruled nation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 AM


The Stockholm Syndrome Theory of Long Novels (Mark OConnell, May 16, 2011, The Millions)

[T]hree or four years ago, something changed. For some reason I can’t recall (probably a longish lapse in productivity on my thesis) I set myself the task of reading a Great Big Important Novel. For another reason I can’t recall (probably the fact that it had been sitting on a shelf for years, its pages turning the sullen yellow of neglected great books), I settled on Gravity’s Rainbow. I can’t say that I enjoyed every minute of it, or even that I enjoyed all that much of it at all, but I can say that by the time I got to the end of it I was glad to have read it. Not just glad that I had finally finished it, but that I had started it and seen it through. I felt as though I had been through something major, as though I had not merely experienced something but done something, and that the doing and the experiencing were inseparable in the way that is peculiar to the act of reading. And I’ve had that same feeling, I realize, with almost every very long novel I’ve read before or since.

covercoverYou finish the last page of a book like Gravity’s Rainbow and—even if you’ve spent much of it in a state of bewilderment or frustration or irritation—you think to yourself, “that was monumental.” But it strikes me that this sense of monumentality, this gratified speechlessness that we tend to feel at such moments of closure and valediction, has at least as much to do with our own sense of achievement in having read the thing as it does with a sense of the author’s achievement in having written it. When you read the kind of novel that promises to increase the strength of your upper-body as much as the height of your brow—a Ulysses or a Brothers Karamazov or a Gravity’s Rainbow—there’s an awe about the scale of the work which, rightly, informs your response to it but which, more problematically, is often difficult to separate from an awe at the fact of your own surmounting of it.

The upshot of this, I think, is that the greatness of a novel in the mind of its readers is often alloyed with those readers’ sense of their own greatness (as readers) for having conquered it.

One can't help but pity those who find a sense of self-worth in pretending to have read and enjoyed works universally recognized as dreck.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:44 AM


Forget the gas tax; a driving tax may be next (Steve Hargreaves, May 18, 2011, CNNMoney)

Because greater fuel economy is letting motorists drive more miles using less gas, the current gas tax that funds the federal government's efforts to build and maintain highways isn't generating enough money.

A driving tax, officially known as a "vehicle miles traveled" tax, could close that gap.

While many see a driving tax as more efficient than the gas tax, there are privacy concerns over how driving information would be collected.

Obviously all motorists should pay for the externalities, but gas taxes are producing exactly the sort of innovation we want. Higher ones will produce more.

May 17, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Harmon Killebrew: The Hall of Fame induction speech (Pioneer Press, 05/17/2011)

I was born and raised in a little town in Idaho called Payette, and when I was 8 years old, my father gave me my first baseball glove. He was a great athlete. He played football for James Milligan University in Illinois, and then he played at West Virginia Wesleyan under the great Greasy Neale, who not only was the great football coach for the Philadelphia Eagles but he also played baseball for the Cincinnati Reds. And it was through my father's insistence and persuasion, I guess, to insist that I participate in sports, not only in baseball, but in football and basketball and a little track, that I became acquainted with this great American pastime.

I grew up in this small town in Idaho, and my father used to like to go to the movies, and I'll never forget that a lot of times on warm summer evenings like this my father would take my brother, Bob, and I to the movies. And then after the movie was over, he would race us home. He'd always win. He was a man that took a great deal of pride in his children. I'll never forget, we used to play a lot of ball out in the front yard, and my mother would say, "You're tearing up the grass and digging holes in the front yard?" And my father would say, "We're not raising grass here, we're raising boys."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:36 PM


Hispanics' Ascent Drives Early Moves in 2012 Race (GERALD F. SEIB, 5/17/11, WSJ)

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Democrats retained control of the Senate last year—even while losing control of the House—because of the Hispanic vote. Hispanic voters clearly saved the job of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, and likely the job of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. They also were crucial for a few other Democrats, including Barbara Boxer in California and Patty Murray in Washington—and all that in a year when Hispanic turnout wasn't exactly stunning.

Demographic trends mean the Hispanic vote could be decisive in the coming presidential election, especially because the 2012 vote figures to be closer in some key states than was the 2008 election that brought Mr. Obama to power. A few statistics make the point.

The 2010 Census showed that the country's Hispanic population grew by 43% over the previous decade, while the white population grew by less than 6%. The median age of the Hispanic population is 27.4; for the white population, the median age is 41.2, and for the country as a whole 36.8. [...]

The obvious question, then, is what the two parties' relative strengths and weaknesses are among Hispanics. Democrats have the historic and more natural appeal: They are the party with a far larger share of minorities in its base, and the party that champions social programs important to many low-income Hispanics. The Democrats' mainstream position on an immigration overhaul—more open, for example, to paving a path to citizenship for illegal aliens who have been working and paying taxes for a long period—has given them a more friendly feel to many Hispanics.

Yet the problem for Democrats is that they haven't turned this hospitable population into the kind of electoral force it might be; the 31.2% of eligible Hispanics who voted in 2010 compares to 48.5% among whites, according to a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center. Moreover, it is possible a recent Obama administration crackdown on illegal aliens in the workplace could engender a backlash.

To them, Republicans' message will be two-fold: Jobs are the most important issue to Hispanics, and we are the job-creating party, and Republicans share the conservative social values predominant in the Hispanic community.

The difference, of course, is that if conservatives are true to themselves they embrace their new neighbors, whereas if liberals are true to themselves they reject them for their cultural beliefs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


The electoral reform that no one wanted: As the post-defeat outpourings from Yes campaigners reveal, the 2011 referendum was an entirely elite concoction. (Tim Black, 5/17/11, spiked)

The billboard posters have been removed, the emails have stopped, the website has vanished… It’s almost as if the ‘Yes to Fairer Votes’ referendum campaign – you know, the one in favour of the alternative vote – never happened. Which, given that the referendum result was 69 per cent against AV and 31 per cent in favour, might as well be true. [...]

That the Yes campaign appeared insular shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was the product of a specific cultural milieu speaking to itself, not deliberately, but because the vast majority of us weren’t interested in listening.

May himself mentions the difficulty posed by the public’s lack of interest in electoral reform: ‘Another major problem was that the public awareness levels about AV and the referendum were very low so many of the early contacts made [through phone banks] were not Yes or Nos but “Don’t Knows” which were of little use to follow up “Get out the Vote” calls.’ And again, when talking about the need for members of the various lobby groups behind the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign to learn to get along, May explains that they are just too numerically small to do otherwise: ‘There isn’t enough money, media interest or grassroots support in this constitutional reform for people to be fighting their own side.’ [My emphasis]

Despite the Yes campaign’s best purple-clad, suffragette-invoking attempts to arrogate to itself some popular, democratic lineage, its very public post-defeat implosion tells a different story. The referendum was not the product of a popular struggle. It was not a concession won from a recalcitrant elite backed into a corner by the agitation and protests of the disenfranchised, whether Chartist or Suffragette. In fact, it had very little to do with the people. Rather it was the product of political class wrangling between the Lib Dems and Conservatives, with what external pressure there was exerted by a cronyistic band of professional lobbyists, from the Electoral Reform Society to Unlock Democracy. Which ever way you spin it, this was an elite concoction by and for an elite.

In this regard, the strange case of the 2011 referendum, a yes-no question that few felt needed to be posed, offers us a telling snapshot of contemporary UK politics. It appears as a game played by isolated cliques with the electorate cast in the role of largely unwilling spectators.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


The Long Overdue Palestinian State (MAHMOUD ABBAS, 5/17/11, NY Times)

SIXTY-THREE years ago, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was forced to leave his home in the Galilean city of Safed and flee with his family to Syria. He took up shelter in a canvas tent provided to all the arriving refugees. Though he and his family wished for decades to return to their home and homeland, they were denied that most basic of human rights. That child’s story, like that of so many other Palestinians, is mine.

This month, however, as we commemorate another year of our expulsion — which we call the nakba, or catastrophe — the Palestinian people have cause for hope: this September, at the United Nations General Assembly, we will request international recognition of the State of Palestine on the 1967 border and that our state be admitted as a full member of the United Nations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


Tommy Thompson plans to run for Senate (MIKE ALLEN & EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE | 5/17/11, Politico)

Tommy Thompson, the Republican former Wisconsin governor and George W. Bush’s first secretary of Health and Human Services, has told friends he plans to run for the open Senate seat in Wisconsin, according to top Wisconsin sources.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Could Pawlenty Fill Huckabee's Shoes? (Michael Gerson, 5/17/11, Washington Post)

[P]awlenty also governed as a reformer with populist instincts -- an approach he calls "Sam's Club Republicanism." As governor, he raised education standards, supported the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada, agreed to increase the state cigarette tax, proposed subsidies for alternative energy and pushed for innovative, market-based health reforms. This agenda allowed Pawlenty to win (narrow) victories in a blue state. "If you look," he has argued, "at the brilliance of Reagan and Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln ... they weren't status quo people. They were change agents. They were populists -- with conservative credentials."

Pawlenty is currently attempting to demonstrate the "conservative credentials" portion of that formulation by appealing directly to tea party audiences. Given his admirable handicap of Minnesota niceness, Pawlenty's attempts at partisan outrage can seem awkward. He could get a "Don't Tread on Me" tattoo and still not secure a majority of tea party support. But gaining a significant minority is not hopeless. His fiscal credentials are strong. And many in the tea party movement -- by some estimates, nearly half -- are religious conservatives, of which Pawlenty is one. The strongest argument for Pawlenty's candidacy is his acceptability to some tea party voters, to mainstream Republicans and eventually to independents. His support may currently lack gusto, but it has great potential breadth.

In a general election, Pawlenty could return to populist themes with an ease many of his competitors could not. His blue-collar background gives him standing. His record as governor shows evidence of creative outreach -- the application of conservative and free-market ideas to the task of increasing economic mobility. He does not view empathy as an ideological crime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Connecticut's Union Battle: A Democratic governor struggles deal with fiscal realities and placate his union allies ( BILL MCMORRIS, 5/16/11, Weekly Standard)

Dannel Malloy is Connecticut’s first Democratic governor in twenty years, but he currently rests in no-man’s land. In February, he unveiled a budget which should have appealed to his base. He plans to increase spending by $1.5 billion over the next two years. He proposed the state’s largest tax increase in 20 years, a move which is expected to generate $1.5 billion. But the people who helped bring Malloy to office in an election decided by less than 6,000 votes out of 1.1 million cast are less than happy with the governor at the moment. That is because Malloy is also calling for $2 billion in concessions from the state’s 45,000 workers over the next two years and has issued thousands of layoff notices if his conditions are not met.

Connecticut is the second most indebted state in the nation, according to Forbes, and faces a $3.4 billion deficit, meaning the government does not have the money to cover 17 percent of its spending. On top of that, it is – by conservative estimates – more than $40 billion short of meeting pension obligations to the state’s 90,000 workers and retirees. The benefits afforded to employees are becoming some of the fastest growing costs to the government.

Malloy stated outright in his budget address that state workers enjoy “wage, health care, and pension benefit levels (that) are simply not sustainable.” He is not exaggerating. The average state employee earns $14,000 more than the average private sector worker in Connecticut, figures union leaders say are skewed by the higher education levels of public sector workers like university professors. The data disagrees. In an apples-to-apples comparison conducted by the Office of Legislative Research, low level employees like typists, clerks and secretaries make thousands more than their counterparts in the private sector, while high level employees like professors and lawyers make considerably less.

Malloy is looking to contain these costs by increasing employee contributions to health care, raising the state’s retirement age to 65 for new workers and arranging a two year wage-freeze, which alone would save the state $600 million. He warns of mass layoffs and cuts to the safety net if unions do not agree to the concessions. On Tuesday, he ordered the state to prepare for mass layoffs after failed weekend negotiations with labor leaders; 4,742 employees, almost 11 percent of the state’s workforce, could be shown the door if union leaders do not accede to his demands.

Malloy’s budget strategy came as a shock to labor leaders.

“We worked hard to get him elected and this is not what we expected,” said Sal Luciano, Executive Director of the politically powerful Connecticut chapter of the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

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May 16, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


The desperate Mr. Obama (Frank Donatelli, May 17, 2011, Politico)

So from a strategic perspective, Obama’s prospects don’t look so rosy. He resembles Jimmy Carter more and more by the day.

If you don’t think the president’s team knows this, just look at his actions. He is already campaigning hard for reelection.

On the stump, he seldom talks about his limited accomplishments in favor of demonizing Republicans — not an edifying prospect for the coming campaign. Ronald Reagan was derided for talking about “Morning in America” in 1984. The best Obama can offer now is, “I may not be so great, but look at these other guys.”

“The Audacity of Hope,” indeed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Why Europe is on the brink: The deepening crisis in Greece and the collapse of the Schengen borders agreement are serious threats to the European utopia of political and economic union. Martin Vander Weyer asks how much longer the dream can last (Martin Vander Weyer, 15 May 2011, The Telegraph)

The utopian ideal of a European whole that is greater than its parts remains essential to the rhetoric. This bolting-together of half a billion people in 27 nation states, many of which had waged war against each other, half of which are either former components of the communist bloc or former Right-wing dictatorships, and 17 of which now share a currency, is in many ways a triumph of co-operation and political tenacity.

Yet the reality is that the great experiment has developed stresses and pressure-points that must make even the most ardent Europhile wonder how long it can hold together. The financial collapse of Greece and the disintegration of the Schengen Agreement on passport-free borders vividly illuminate that risk.

And it is not a risk which Britons can watch smugly from over the water, telling ourselves how wise we have been to maintain a truculent attitude to everything emanating from Brussels, to have kept our island frontiers intact, and to have shunned the single currency. We would certainly prefer a financially stable Europe as our closest neighbour — a strong competitor perhaps, but also a prosperous customer for our exports. We recognise the value of a coherent European voice in world affairs. We do not want the continent to regress into internal strife and protectionism.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


Rooting for Khamenei (Geneive Abdo, May 10, 2011, Foreign Policy)

When Khamenei gave the president an ultimatum to reinstate the minister or resign, the supreme leader was not only preserving his own power -- the supreme leader has final say over government affairs -- but that of the entire clerical establishment.

The real fight was not about cabinet ministers. It was part of a test of wills between the Ahmadinejad loyalists, especially those in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the ruling clerical establishment over ideology, religion, the survivability of the Islamic Republic, and Iran's influence in Arab states now in transition. Khamenei appeared to believe that the cocky, alarmist Ahmadinejad, who in recent months had been boldly advancing an Iran with minimal clerical influence run by the IRGC and inspired by Iranian nationalism, not Iranian revolutionary Islamism, had to be slapped down. Otherwise, the Islamic Republic, as it has existed since the 1979 revolution, risked extinction. It might seem counterintuitive, but Khamenei's survival and that of the clerical system is in the West's interest. The alternative -- a highly militarized state run by the Revolutionary Guards -- would be much worse.

Since his election to a first term in 2005, Ahmadinejad had carefully courted Khamenei, his most powerful advocate in the volatile world of Iranian politics. In June 2009, in a rare but highly symbolic moment, Ahmadinejad became the first president in the Islamic Republic to kiss the hands of the supreme leader during his second inauguration ceremony. But no longer. Ahmadinejad embarked on another new trail by becoming the first president in the republic to publicly disobey the supreme leader. Angered by Khamenei's interference in the management of his cabinet, the president staged a boycott and did not show up for work for 11 days.

Khamenei and other powerful figures have clearly come to believe the president poses a very real threat to the system. This has prompted even many of Ahmadinejad's ardent supporters to side with Khamenei. Reactionary cleric Mesbah Yazdi, a longtime mentor of the president, turned against him and criticized the president for challenging supreme clerical rule, the foundation of the Islamic political system. "Some people introduce themselves as supporters of velyat (supreme clerical rule), but in reality they act otherwise," Yazdi said. "The restoration of anti-clerical thinking could be the next great sedition in this country," he said, clearly demonstrating his fears of a plot to do away with, or at least weaken, Iran's political clergy. Other reactionary clerics have gone as far as to throw the president in with Iran's "enemies," a category usually reserved for Israel and the United States.

As much as Khamenei detests the United States, he will always prefer "soft power" to a military confrontation, whether it is with Israel, the United States, or regional rival Saudi Arabia. This is not the case for Ahmadinejad and his partisans inside the IRGC whose members have gained greatly in both political and economic influence.

Khamenei just has to have more faith in his own people, who'd be only too happy to elect a reformist leader who likewise supports the Republic.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


Obama's Post-Bin Laden Bounce Disappears In Gallup Poll (Steven Shepard, May 16, 2011, Hotline)

The bump President Obama received after the killing of Osama bin Laden more than two weeks ago in Pakistan has vanished completely, according to the latest Gallup Tracking poll released Monday.

Obama's approval rating is now at 46 percent, equal to his approval rating in the last tracking poll conducted before Obama addressed Americans late on May 1 and informed them of bin Laden's death. Forty-four percent of Americans now disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Iowan to Gingrich: Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself (Jason Clayworth, 5/16/11, Des Moines Register)

As he was getting ready to leave a speaking engagement Dubuque resident Russell Fuhrman approached him in the lobby of the Holiday Inn:

“Get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself,” Fuhrman said directly to Gingrich.

Gingrich, visibly stunned, quickly moved forward to talk with other guests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 PM


U.S. should sell assets like gold to get out of debt, conservative economists say (Joel Achenbach, May 15, 2011, Washington Post)

With the United States poised to slam into its debt limit Monday, conservative economists are eyeballing all that gold in Fort Knox. There’s about 147 million ounces of gold parked in the legendary vault. Gold is selling at nearly $1,500 an ounce. That’s many billions of dollars in bullion. [...]

The United States may have run up a huge debt, but it is not a poor country by any stretch of the imagination. The federal government owns roughly 650 million acres of land, close to a third of the nation’s total land mass. Plus a million buildings. Plus electrical utilities like the Tennessee Valley Authority. And an interstate highway system.

Economists of a conservative or libertarian bent have long argued that the federal government needs to get out of certain businesses, unload unneeded assets, and privatize such functions as passenger rail service and air traffic control. No one advocates selling Yellowstone, but why, some economists ask, should the federal government be in the electricity business?

Economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute said the federal government should consider the sale of interstate highways. Motorists would have to pay tolls to the private owners, he said, but the roads would likely be in better shape. Federal, state and local governments could raise hundreds of billions of dollars through highway privatization, he said.

“Many of the world’s roads were originally built as toll roads, so it would hardly be revolutionary to return to that model,” Hassett said. “If it can work for the River Styx, why not the Beltway?”

Raising the cost of driving is just good social policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Immigration pits Mormons against hierarchy (Peggy Fletcher Stack, 5/12/11, Religion News Service)

For decades, Mormon conservatives have believed their politics matched the positions of their church: opposing abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment and same-sex marriage, for example.

But now comes an issue that puts the two seemingly at odds: immigration.

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has called for compassion when dealing with undocumented immigrants. It has urged politicians not to divide families, while some members support detention and deportation.

Church leaders have unequivocally lauded a new Utah guest-worker bill, which authorizes a program that allows undocumented immigrants to pay fines and stay in the state. It's the same bill some leading Mormon conservatives are pushing to repeal, likening it to amnesty.

Unlike Mormon liberals, who long have struggled to balance support for their church with disagreement over some of its stances, these conservative members find themselves in an unfamiliar place.

And it's as uncomfortable as it is unexpected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


The Plot to Get Dominique Strauss-Kahn (Jacob Heilbrunn, May 16, 2011, National Interest)

The knives are being sharpened for Dominique Strauss-Kahn—DSK, as he is known in France. Poor fellow! He forgot that he has numerous enemies out to traduce his reputation, destroy his career, leave everything he has worked for—the $3,000 luxury suite, the Porsches—in shambles.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, has good reasons to try and bring Strauss-Kahn and the socialists into disrepute. But another leading suspect in the plot to get DSK has to be Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. Everything about the man must repel her. She leads a personally austere lifestyle.

...but this is profoundly tone deaf.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


How EU officials simply forgot about Christmas: The European oligarchy’s failure to include Christmas in a diary for schoolkids sums up their separation from the demos. (Frank Furedi, 5/16/11, spiked)

A year ago the European Commission (EC) printed more than three million school diaries for distribution to students. They are lovely diaries which, true to the EU’s multicultural ethos, helpfully note all the Sikh, Hindu, Muslim and Chinese festivals. The diary also highlights Europe Day, which falls on 9 May. But the diary is not without some very big gaps. For example, it makes no reference to Christmas - or Easter or indeed to any Christian holidays. [...]

Recently it was reported that the cost of the EU’s proposed House of European History has doubled from its original estimate to £137million. One could live with these rocketing costs if the project remained true to its objective of promoting an awareness of European history. But instead of serving the cause of making Europeans conscious of their historical memory, the museum is likely to institutionalise historical amnesia. Why? Because EU politicians regard the past as a source of tension and conflict and believe Europe’s disunited history is an embarrassment rather than an inspiration.

Consequently, the designers of this project have decided that 1946 will serve as the point of departure for the EU’s history. By settling on 1946 as Europe’s year zero, the EU political elite can free itself of a tradition that it neither appreciates nor understands. A political culture that can be so cavalier with its past is readily disposed to regard the calendar as merely a set of dates to be fiddled with. Disdain for history is the flipside of indifference to a traditional calendar.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Israel's Palestinian Arab Spring: The converging of thousands of Palestinians on Israel’s borders is a sign that they have lost faith in American promises—and that if Israel and the U.S. don't work toward a Palestinian state near 1967 lines, others will seize the initiative in shaping the Middle East (Peter Beinart, 5/16/11, Daily Beast)

I grew up believing that we—Americans and Jews—were the shapers of history in the Middle East. We created reality; others watched, baffled, paralyzed, afraid. In 1989, Americans gloated as the Soviet Union, our former rival for Middle Eastern supremacy, retreated ignominiously from the region. When Saddam Hussein tried to challenge us from within, we thrashed him in the Gulf War. Throughout the 1990s, we sent our economists, law professors and investment bankers to try to teach the Arabs globalization, which back then meant copying us. In a thousand ways, sometimes gently, sometimes brutally, we sent the message: We make the rules; you play by them.

For Jews, this sense of being history’s masters was even more intoxicating. For millennia, we had been acted upon. Mere decades earlier, American Jews had watched, trembling and inarticulate, as European Jews were destroyed. But it was that very impotence that made possible the triumph of Zionism, a movement aimed at snatching history’s reins from gentiles, and perhaps even God. Beginning in the early 20th century, Zionists created facts on the ground. Sometimes the great powers applauded; sometimes they condemned, but acre by acre, Jews seized control of their fate. As David Ben-Gurion liked to say, “Our future does not depend on what gentiles say but on what Jews do.” The Arabs reacted with fury, occasional violence, and in Palestine, a national movement of their own. But they could rarely compete, either politically or militarily. We went from strength to strength; they never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

That world is gone. America and Israel are no longer driving history in the Middle East; for the first time in a long time, Arabs are.

In the face of a sufficient external threat you can deny people their right to self-determination, but once that threat is gone....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


The Affluent Elderly (Robert Samuelson, 5/15/11, Washington Post)

I have been urging higher eligibility ages and more means-testing for Social Security and Medicare for so long that I forget that many Americans still accept the outdated and propagandistic notion that old age automatically impoverishes people. Asks one reader: Who are these "well-off" elderly you keep writing about? The suggestion is that they are figments of my imagination, invented to justify harsh cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare on the needy.

Just the opposite. We see every day that many people in their 60s and older live comfortably -- and still would if they received a little less in Social Security and paid a little more for Medicare. The trouble is that what's intuitively obvious becomes lost in the political debate; it's overwhelmed by selective and self-serving statistics that cast almost everyone over 65 as being on the edge of insolvency. The result: Government over-subsidizes the affluent elderly. It transfers resources from the struggling young to the secure old.

To correct the stereotype, consult a government publication called "Older Americans 2010, Key Indicators of Well-Being." It reminds us that Americans live longer and have gotten healthier. In 1930, life expectancy was 59.2 years at birth and 12.2 years at 65; in 2006, those figures were 77.7 and 18.5. Since 1981, death rates for heart disease and stroke have fallen by half for those 65 and over. In this population, about three-quarters rate their own health as "good" or "excellent."

"Most older people are enjoying greater prosperity than any previous generation," the report says.

It becomes even more important to hike retirement ages and means test as we put in place social safety net reforms that build savings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


The Old World’s Growing Pains (SCOTT MALCOMSON, 5/14/11, NY Times Magazine)

At one level, the problem is that the eurozone does not allow national economies to be their quirky selves — or to pay the appropriate prices for their quirks. This made it hard to accurately value assets in one country or another, and for a while the markets optimistically decided that there weren’t national differences — that, in essence, all European countries were either Germany or proto-Germanies. When, in recession, this was clearly shown to be false, the pendulum swung the other way, and a consensus grew that Greece (as the extreme example) would never, ever, ever be Germany. This puts Greece in an impossible position. As a eurozone country it cannot default, so it faces austerity and unemployment with moments of chaos, on into the future, and a deep sense of having lost control of its own destiny.

Germany, of course, feels that if it is forced to continue rescuing prodigals like Greece, it will also lose control of its destiny. That is one through line: both the givers and the takers feel put upon, at best. It is not a recipe for happy union.

The other through line is fear of immigrants.

Conceptually, the overlap with the euro is only partial. There is no racial equivalent of the euro, no “eurorace,” so to speak, that you can join, and that confers benefits and exacts losses — no real equivalent of whiteness in 19th-century America. There is, however, a connection between anger over the loss of control over one’s national economy and anger over the loss of control over one’s national identity (and perhaps over one’s national foreign policy). This is why people are so interested in the True Finns party, which for the moment has encapsulated the anxiety that national populist politics and anti-E.U. politics could be brought together in a viable form that would put the European Union into a permanently suspended state.

So far, national populism in one or another European country has tended to focus on fear of “non-Europeans” in the somewhat baggy Western-civ sense — in particular, lately, of Muslims and Gypsies — rather than fellow Europeans and their institutional expression, the E.U. That could be changing, because one crucial aspect of E.U. legislation is free movement of people within the Union — a borderless continent. People, like euros, were to flow unimpeded throughout the Union, going wherever desire and opportunity took them, and leading to the maximally profitable uses of both. And it is precisely at the moment when national economies are again being differentiated that national peoples are being differentiated too.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Can Baghdad Learn from Rome?: Italy’s postwar history is an encouraging example for a country that hears little good news. (Jay Hallen, May 16, 2011, National Review)

Iraq today has many of the same conditions that troubled Italy in 1946. Saddam’s Baath party had a socialist economic ideology, with a centrally planned economy relying heavily on the oil sector. Nearly all major sectors have been, and continue to be, in state hands. While the private sector has made key inroads, particularly in the banking industry, a 2008 New York Times survey suggests that the Iraqi government directly or indirectly employs some 2.4 million people, or over 35 percent of the country’s workforce. Security work creates the most jobs, with the Defense and Interior Ministries the two leading employers in Iraq. As in postwar Italy, Iraq’s ministries are largely controlled along political and sectarian lines, with even the lowest-level employees needing to prove their loyalties. There are numerous factions among the primary ethnic and religious groups, and the resentment among the groups is unquestionably deeper-rooted and more complex than in postwar Italy. The January 2011 return to Iraq of firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr only further complicates matters. However, the best path toward reconciliation and healing still starts with the same model of government largesse along party lines. Fortunately, a culture of corruption and favoritism has never been lacking in Iraq.

The absorption of excess labor, particularly former fighters and insurgents of every stripe, into already-bloated government ministries, security forces, and other state-sponsored employment is absolutely critical. Salaries and benefits must be higher than anything al-Qaeda and its affiliates can offer. For Iraq, pacifying the restive Sunni minority, which had governed the country under Saddam but suffered retribution after his fall, is the highest priority. One of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s greatest challenges will be to open more ministry posts for marginalized Sunnis, who have greater experience in managing the state’s bureaucracy. Allowing the Kurds an appropriate level of autonomy, to head off their threats to secede, is also crucial. In September 2010 the Iraqi government unveiled a plan to integrate some 52,000 Sunni members of the pro-U.S. “Awakening Council” militias into an array of federal, provincial, and local government jobs. Maliki is trying to sell the plan to the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry, which is currently pushing back. His success in implementing this plan could be his crowning achievement as a politician, and would go a long way toward helping stabilize the country. Skilled diplomacy is preferable to a constitutional mandate that would divide key government posts along sect lines, as in Lebanon. Lebanon’s model has kept an uneasy peace in that country, but it is an inflexible system that is nearly impossible to amend. Such mandates are not a long-term solution for a democracy.

The distribution of Iraqi oil revenue along political lines can provide a medium-term stability that will encourage foreign and domestic investors to start taking risks. Like Italy, Iraq is sure to experience its own economic miracle once the country is secure, and it is private-sector growth, not a system of patronage, that will guarantee Iraq’s long-term future. Iraq is awash with energy and agricultural resources, and it has a strong culture of entrepreneurship. Investors have been waiting since 2003 to participate in the country’s recovery, while oil prices edge upward amidst a healing global economy. War recovery is big business, as shown by the decades of high growth in Europe immediately following World War II. While Italy and the rest of Europe had the Marshall Plan to assist their growth, Iraq receives and will continue to receive comparable American aid and investment. As the economy grows, the 325 members of Iraq’s Council of Representatives, who hail from four major and five minor political parties, will have more resources at their disposal to direct to supporters in the form of jobs, contracts, subsidies, and more.

Iraq also suffers from a lack of national unity, which, in the most optimistic of circumstances, the dispensation of jobs and favors could help amend. Sunnis’ current grumblings are rooted in a perceived lack of fairness in the distribution of largesse. By tipping the scales slightly more in their favor, the government might help to relieve tensions. Then, as in Italy, once the economy starts growing, and the state refills the power vacuum, and improved security permits cultural institutions like national TV and sporting leagues to flourish, the Iraqi state can reoccupy the common imagination. In my own experience in Iraq in 2003–04, I was encouraged by the near-unanimous acknowledgment by the people I talked with that they were Iraqis first, and whatever sect or ethnicity second. Despite American concerns about Iranian meddling, Iraqi Shiites have historically distrusted their Persian neighbors, and have no interest in living under Tehran’s influence. Memories of the Iran-Iraq War loom large. Iraqi security forces, with the help of retired militiamen, must beat back the remaining extremists who would sow hatred and violence rather than see a multiethnic Iraq flourish — obviously no small task. As the American armed forces continue their gradual withdrawal through 2011, Iraqis will have one less source of tension in their midst, and will be forced to confront a new reality in which they have no choice but to work together with their brothers. Will a fragile Iraqi state unified by economy and culture be able to beat back future acts of terrorism, as the Italians did around 1980? It is hard to say, but with the right governance and some short-term fixes, the economy could grow strong enough that it becomes preferable to any sectarian alternative.

In this best-case scenario, Iraq can follow Italy’s path from a poor, divided, war-ravaged country with a state-run economy to a modern nation with a middle-class populace that takes to the streets over jobs and growth, and not the politics of identity. Today’s Iraq actually leads 1946 Italy in educational attainment, with 9 percent of Iraq’s adults having graduated from secondary school, compared to 5 percent for 1946 Italy. Conversely, 1946 Italy benefitted from the relative stability of its neighbors and the economic integration that would lead to the European Union. But Italy’s road has not been easy either. The country has suffered consistent political upheaval, with no fewer than 62 governments in the 66 years since World War II. The lesson this teaches is profound: Once an economy is allowed to grow, through a peace forged by whatever regrettable or corrupt means necessary, a society can gradually develop a common identity and grow strong enough to withstand social and political shocks. This should be encouraging to Iraq, a place that hears little good news.

The lesson that should be learned is that if you cut to the chase and break up into your constituent nations in the first place then you don't have to pay off each group to stay in the artificial state.

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May 15, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


Samantha and Her Subjects (Jacob Heilbrunn, 4/19/11, National Interest)

These incursions embrace the idea—some more, some less—of humanitarian intervention. The conceit is that when America intervenes, it is not doing so on the basis of sordid national interests but, rather, on the grounds of self-evidently virtuous human rights or, in its most extreme case, to prevent genocide. This development—to call it a mere trend would be to trivialize its true import—has been a long time in the making.

Indeed, in an essay published in The National Interest (now reprinted in The Neoconservative Persuasion), Irving Kristol contended that human rights had become a kind of unquestioned ideology. Kristol traced its origins back to the debates between William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli over intervention in the Balkans, when the Turks massacred some twelve thousand Bulgarians. The realist Disraeli, who sought to check Russia, was unmoved by Gladstone’s humanitarian appeals to endorse self-determination for the Balkan states. But perhaps an even earlier instance came in the lead-up to British involvement in the Crimean War, revolving as it did around the “Eastern Question”; the Turks and Russians could fight it out for influence in the Mediterranean—and the French could get in their squabble over Catholics, without much bother to the Brits. As liberal politician John Bright argued on March 31, 1854, in his great speech to Parliament against squandering power in foolish adventures abroad:

How are the interests of England involved in this question? . . . it is not on a question of sympathy that I dare involve this country, or any country, in a war which must cost an incalculable amount of treasure and of blood. It is not my duty to make this country the knight-errant of the human race, and to take upon herself the protection of the thousand millions of human beings who have been permitted by the Creator of all things to people this planet.

Transforming the United States into a knight-errant, though, is at the heart of liberal internationalism. As in nineteenth-century Britain, so in modern America; just as with Gladstone, the current manifestation of this impulse first became apparent in the Balkans, when NATO established a no-fly zone there, during the bombings of 1995.

As the description concedes, the conceit that America stands on the side of "self-evidently virtuous human rights" is a good bit older than Mr. Heilbrunn seems to want to recognize. The modern Human Rights branch of the Democratic Party is just those folks who have become re-reconciled to America after the anti-American Cold War spasms of the Left.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


Palestinian reconciliation is good news for Mideast peace (Akiva Eldar, 5/02/11, Ha'aretz)

What do they have in common - the hawks of Iz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; his bodyguard, Defense Minister Ehud Barak; and Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Shimon Peres ? They all threw a fit over the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas.

The protest from the Palestinian rejectionist front is obvious; the Egyptian document is Hamas' deed of surrender. It obligates the militant organization to accept the authority of the security forces subordinate to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, without giving it any purchase in the political arena.

From Israel's perspective, the agreement appears to be too good for Hamas political head Khaled Meshal to sign.

So why were Israeli politicians who purport to be peace-loving statesmen so quick to go after Abbas? In the worst case, they realize, the agreement puts paid to the government's claim that Abbas "represents only half of the Palestinian people." If the conditions that Abbas set are observed - "one authority, one law, one gun [army]" - this could ruin the main mantra of the Israeli right: "We left Gaza and got Qassam rockets in return."

The right, knowing that internal Palestinian reconciliation could expedite international recognition for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, intentionally depicts the unity move as anti-Israel. A Fatah-Hamas accord is likely to cool down the Gaza border, but the right is consciously heightening panic by raising the specter of "Qassams in Judea and Samaria." anything that helps the Palestinian people has to be bad for Israel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


An Arab Spring in Their Step: For all the worries about the region's turmoil, there is also cause for hope in the Middle East (GERARD BAKER, 5/14/11, WSJ)

It's not exactly unusual to see Arab demonstrators waving banners that opine heatedly on the tactics employed by the Israeli military. But there was something unique about the one held by a crowd of antigovernment protestors in the Syrian city of Homs last week.

As thousands braved the brutal crackdown by members of President Bashar Assad's military that has killed hundreds of unarmed protestors, a small group boldly held up a sign that read, in Arabic: "We urge our heroic armed forces to use rubber bullets, just as the Israelis do."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


The Purpose of Creation (Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., May 14, 2011, Ignatius Insight)

We have responsibility for creation because we can understand. Moreover, "because God created everything, he can give us life and direct our lives." Already here we see the fact that the intelligibility of the universe is related to our own end which we need to understand. The "central message of the creation" is found by reading together the beginning of Genesis and the beginning of the Prologue of John's Gospel. The world, the heavens and the earth, find their origin in the Logos within the Godhead. This Logos is not just abstract reason but "Reason that both is and creates sense. The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason." When we examine creation and all in it, we find order already there.

If we are told that no reason exists in things, no order, we know that this view is contrary to evidence, logic, and revelation. What we ultimately find behind all creation is freedom, reason, and love, not necessity and chance. That is to say, such realities are already found within the Godhead and are placed within the world in due order. "In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person." These sentences mean that God did not have to create anything. He does not "change" if the world exists or does not exist. But if something does exist, as it does, it flows from God's own inner life. Creation will be marked by intelligence and love once we come to see its overall scope. Deus Caritas Est. Deus Logos Est.

We are not accidents thrown up by chance in some obscure corner of the cosmos. Rather, the cosmos exists that we might exist. We exist to carry out the purpose for which we are created. The cosmos is a consequence, in the divine intention, of our eventual creation. In the plan of God, we are intended before the cosmos it intended. The universe is the arena of our freely achieving (or rejecting) the purpose of our creation. God's original intention was to associate other free and intelligent being within His inner life after the manner of their freedom and intelligence in response to His. "Reason is there at the beginning." We also can refuse to accept what we are offered. "And because it is Reason, it is also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation." That is the history of the Fall in Genesis.

God, in creating free beings who could reject Him, understood that some would reject Him. Thus, He had to respond to their freedom to reject Him with His offer of mercy and forgiveness. Basically, this is what the Incarnation as we know it is about. But we ourselves must "place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom, and love—on the side of God who loves us, so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new definitive and healed life." The one thing that God never does is to make a free being not to be free. This is why history is filled with those also who freely reject the efforts and examples of God to lead us back to the original purpose of creation.

The Old Testament presents "an order of realities." Benedict then shows that the rest on the last day of creation was itself ordered to a transformation whereby the new day of creation began with the Resurrection. But this divine response was not merely an afterthought. "The Covenant is the inner ground of creation, just as creation is the external presupposition of the Covenant." This inner ground of creation indicates the drama that was intended to occur within history. For this to happen, a world had to exist and be prepared to receive human lives that could sustain themselves in the world. The "anthropological principle" that we hear scientists refer to in cosmology is the counterpart of the initial divine intention.

What then is it all about? In a brilliant sentence, Benedict carefully explained the broad sweep of our being to us: "God made the world so that there could be a space where he might communicate his love, and from which the response of love might come back to him." This passage emphasizes the central purpose of creation. For God to communicate His love, some beings capable of loving in return had to exist. Since such beings could not themselves be gods, they needed a place in which they could live. There, they were invited to "respond." They could choose not to do respond, otherwise there could be no true and free love. What Augustine called the City of God and the City of Man are involved in this drama.

Benedict added a further astounding fact. From God's perspective, the heart of the man who responds to him is greater and more important than the whole immense material cosmos." Such a sentence puts things in proper perspective from considerations of abortion, to sinners, to the evils we experience in history. Each person is thus made in the "image" of God, with intelligence, will, and a space in which to decide what he will be. The parable of the lost sheep in the Gospels comes to mind. God searches for what is lost, but He cannot "force" men to choose Him. They have to love him because He is loveable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


The medical mystery of Mitt Romney (Dana Milbank, May 12, 2011, Washington Post)

The conservative Romney head, which aspires to be the Republican presidential nominee, is trying urgently to separate itself from its conjoined liberal twin – but the brightest minds in health care have been unable to help him with this logical leap.

And so the Romney twins presented themselves to the University of Michigan medical school on Thursday for a consult. Based on the symptoms, the prognosis is grim.

“Good morning,” he told his audience — a little after 2 p.m.

“You’ve got companies here in Massachusetts like Parago,” he told them -- in Ann Arbor. Parago, by the way, is based in Texas.

He shuffled his notes and tripped over words, turning “human resources” into “human rights.” Asked a question by a member of the audience, he hunted for a paper on his lectern, saying, “Yeah, I’m going to -- I’m going to -- well, I had my -- my list here -- well, I can’t quite find it.”

It was difficult not to feel pity for Romney in his effort to separate from himself. He’s the titular Republican presidential frontrunner, whose business smarts should make him a solid bet to defeat Obama in this economy. But on the issue that matters most to Republicans, health care, he might as well be, as the Wall Street Journal dubbed him Thursday, “Obama’s Running Mate.”

,,,but Mr. Romney is a non-starter because of the one that actually matters most: religion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


America the Resilient (IRWIN M. STELZER, 5/14/11, Weekly Standard)

Phoenix, Arizona, with temperatures already close to 100°F, has its problems. It is swamped with illegal immigrants, and because it has gone to court to assert its right to attempt to stem the tide that the federal government cannot or will not, has become a hate figure among liberal politicians in Washington who have managed to shield themselves from contact with the problems created by illegal immigrants, most of whom merely want to work, but some of whom overburden the education, health care, and prison systems. Indeed, most politicians come into contact with immigrants, legal or otherwise, only when they employ them to mow their lawns and clean their pools.

Immigration isn’t Phoenix’s only problem. It is at the epicenter of the housing crisis. Prices have fallen by 11 percent in the past year, and by about one-third since 2008. Foreclosures are rampant, the inventory of unsold houses high. This, in a state heavily dependent on the construction industry and the desire of the so-called Snow Birds—mostly older folks seeking escape from the frigid weather of the North—to set up house in warmer—at some times of year much warmer—Arizona. The recession has clipped the Snow Birds’ wings: unable to sell their ice-covered homes, they can’t come to Arizona in the same numbers as in the past. The population growth rate has declined from a pre-financial collapse level of about 3.5 percent to about 0.1 percent, according to data gathered by the local electric utility.

All of which is a perfect prescription for gloom.

It's the perfect illustration of the Right's willingness to destroy an economy in the belief they can preserve racial purity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


The Visionary Generation: Our premier student of the Founding looks at the ideas that shaped the revolution and the early republic : a review of The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States By Gordon S. Wood (JAMES W. CEASER, 5/14/11, WSJ)

"The Idea of America" consists of 11 essays on different aspects of the Founding that are drawn from the full span of Mr. Wood's career, to which he has added a substantial introduction and conclusion. All of the essays have been updated or re-configured, with an afterword appended to each. What the book may sacrifice in overall unity it more than makes up for in the richness of its reflections on the character and import of the Founding. It is Mr. Wood's most "personal" work, providing us, along with much fine history, glimpses into the thinker and the man.

Referring to Isaiah Berlin's famous classification of writers into the categories of the fox (one who knows many things) and the hedgehog (one who fixates on one subject), Mr. Wood describes himself as "a simple hedgehog." Yet his lifelong concentration on the Founding period is no mere result of animal instinct. It stems from his belief that the "Revolution is the most important event in American history, bar none." The centrality of the revolution derives from the fact that it created the political state—for Mr. Wood, "we created a state before we created a nation"—and even more from the fact that it supplied us with "our highest aspirations and noblest values." The ideas that underpin these aspirations and values supply Mr. Wood with the key to the whole American experience, and are the nucleus of the adhesive force that has formed and forms the American people: "The Revolution made us an ideological [i.e., idea-based] people. . . . We Americans have been as ideological as any people in Western Culture."

Within the little band of brothers and sisters in the academy who stress the centrality of the Founding ideas to the American experience there is a long-standing family feud. On one side are those who identify the content of the idea with a "republican ideology," an inheritance of classical, Renaissance and a strand of English Whig thought that subordinates the individual to the community. Arrayed against them are those who emphasize the centrality of the doctrine of natural rights, an Enlightenment discovery that stresses individual liberty as a universal principle. This debate has had important implications for our polity, with republicanism being warmly seized upon by many modern-day egalitarians and communitarians and natural rights being cited by many conservatives. While the origins of Mr. Wood's view lie more in the "republican ideology," this book makes it clear that his understanding of republicanism is supple enough to embrace the enlightenment idea of natural rights as well. In the end, Mr. Wood is content to avoid much of this debate and describe the core principles generally as "liberty and democracy."

The germ of these principles is the notion of equality—a concept akin to the egalitarianism Tocqueville identified as the catalyst of American development. For Mr. Wood, it produced an explosion of energy that reshaped the America of the early republic and has been reshaping it—and the world—ever since.

Mr. Wood fully acknowledges all the hierarchies based on race, class and gender, but unlike so many other historians he views the battles against them as deriving from within the Revolution's principles, not from outside. His idea of democracy is perhaps best grasped in a negative formulation: In America no principle of hierarchy can ever openly be sustained as a title to rule. The "natural" America that Mr. Wood describes has a populist tinge to it. In its cruder application it can appear as the celebration of ordinariness, but it can also accept, and even reward, any individual's accomplishment of wealth, education or merit, though never as an a priori claim of a title to govern.

It is our being incurably ideological that prevents us from being nationalistic and makes nativism a losing battle for the Right.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Converting Mamet: A playwright’s progress (Andrew Ferguson, May 23, 2011, Weekly Standard)

Mamet had been brought to campus by Hillel, and the subject of his talk was “Art, Politics, Judaism, and the Mind of David Mamet.” There wasn’t much talk of Judaism, however, at least not explicitly. He arrived late and took the stage looking vaguely lost. He withdrew from his jacket a sheaf of papers that quickly became disarranged. He lost his place often. He stumbled over his sentences. But the unease that began to ripple through the audience had less to do with the speaker’s delivery than with his speech’s content. Mamet was delivering a frontal assault on American higher education, the provider of the livelihood of nearly everyone in his audience.

Higher ed, he said, was an elaborate scheme to deprive young people of their freedom of thought. He compared four years of college to a lab experiment in which a rat is trained to pull a lever for a pellet of food. A student recites some bit of received and unexamined wisdom—“Thomas Jefferson: slave owner, adulterer, pull the lever”—and is rewarded with his pellet: a grade, a degree, and ultimately a lifelong membership in a tribe of people educated to see the world in the same way.

“If we identify every interaction as having a victim and an oppressor, and we get a pellet when we find the victims, we’re training ourselves not to see cause and effect,” he said. Wasn’t there, he went on, a “much more interesting .  .  . view of the world in which not everything can be reduced to victim and oppressor?”

This led to a full-throated defense of capitalism, a blast at high taxes and the redistribution of wealth, a denunciation of affirmative action, prolonged hymns to the greatness and wonder of the United States, and accusations of hypocrisy toward students and faculty who reviled business and capital even as they fed off the capital that the hard work and ingenuity of businessmen had made possible. The implicit conclusion was that the students in the audience should stop being lab rats and drop out at once, and the faculty should be ashamed of themselves for participating in a swindle—a “shuck,” as Mamet called it.

It was as nervy a speech as I’ve ever seen, and not quite rude—Mamet was too genial to be rude—but almost. The students in Memorial Hall seemed mostly unperturbed. The ripples of dissatisfaction issued from the older members of the crowd. Two couples in front of me shot looks to one another as Mamet went on—first the tight little smiles, then quick shakes of the head, after a few more minutes the eye-rolls, and finally a hitchhiking gesture that was the signal to walk out. Several others followed, with grim faces.

It was too much, really. It’s one thing to titillate progressive theatergoers with scenes of physical abuse and psychological torture and lines like “You’re f—ing f—ed.” But David Mamet had at last gone too far. He’d turned into a f—ing Republican.

Next month a much larger number of liberals and leftists will have the opportunity to be appalled by Mamet’s Stanford speech. Passages from it form the bulk of a chapter in his new book of brief, punchy essays, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture. The book marks the terminal point of a years-long conversion from left to right that Mamet-watchers (there are quite a few of these) have long suspected but hadn’t quite confirmed. It’s part conversion memoir, part anthropology, part rant, part steel-trap argument—the testimony of a highly intelligent man who has wrenched himself from one sphere and is now declaring his citizenship in another, very loudly.

Mamet himself has never been a political playwright or a dramatist of ideas, being concerned with earthier themes—how it is, for example, that everyday conflicts compound into catastrophe. His plays were heavy with a tragic view of human interaction. They depicted, as he put it, people doing despicable things to each other, moved by greed or power lust or some nameless craving. Still, politically minded critics were pleased to divine a political intent: American Buffalo, set in a junk shop, or Glengarry Glen Ross, set in a real estate office, were allegories of the heartlessness of a country (ours) ruled by markets and capital. Their invariably unhappy or unresolved endings drove the point home. And the critics had a point. The world Mamet created was one-half of the leftist view of life, anyway: the Hobbesian jungle that Utopians would rescue us from, liberal idealism with the sunny side down.

The Secret Knowledge begins with a parricide—a verbal throat-slitting of the leftwing playwright Bertolt Brecht, father to three generations of dramatists, especially those who, like Tony Kushner or Anna Deavere Smith or Christopher Durang, make agitprop the primary purpose of their art. For most of his career Mamet revered Brecht too: It was the thing to do. The reverence came to an end when he finally noticed an incongruity between Brecht’s politics and his life. Although a cold-blooded—indeed bloody-minded—advocate for public ownership of the means of production and state confiscation of private wealth, he always took care to copyright his plays. More, he made sure the royalties were deposited in a Swiss bank account far from the clutches of East Germany, where he was nominally a citizen.

“His protestations [against capitalism] were not borne out by his actions, nor could they be,” Mamet writes. “Why, then, did he profess Communism? Because it sold. .  .  . The public’s endorsement of his plays kept him alive; as Marx was kept alive by the fortune Engels’s family had made selling furniture; as universities, established and funded by the Free Enterprise system .  .  . support and coddle generations of the young in their dissertations on the evils of America.”

As the accelerating sequence of that last sentence suggests—from Brecht to Marx to the entire system of American higher education—one wispy aha! leads the convert to a larger revelation and then to one even broader and more comprehensive. That’s the way it is with conversion experiences: The scales fall in a cascade. One light bulb tends to set off another, until it’s pop-pop-pop like paparazzi on Oscar night.

And then Mamet thought some more, and looked in the mirror.

“I never questioned my tribal assumption that Capitalism was bad,” he writes now, “although I, simultaneously, never acted upon these feelings.” He was always happy to cash a royalty check and made sure to insist on a licensing fee. “I supported myself, as do all those not on the government dole, through the operation of the Free Market.”

He saw he was Talking Left and Living Right, a condition common among American liberals, particularly the wealthy among them, who can, for instance, want to impose diversity requirements on private companies while living in monochromatic neighborhoods, or vote against school vouchers while sending their kids to prep school, or shelter their income while advocating higher tax rates. The widening gap between liberal politics and liberal life became real to him when, paradoxically enough, he decided at last to write a political play, or rather a play about politics. It was the first time he thought about partisan politics for any sustained period.

“This was after the 2004 election,” he told me in an interview last month. “I’d never met a conservative. I didn’t know what a conservative was. I didn’t know much of anything.

“But I saw the liberals hated George Bush. It was vicious. And I thought about it, and I didn’t get it. He was no worse than the others, was he? And I’d ask my liberal friends, ‘Well, why do you hate him?’ They’d all say: ‘He lied about WMD.’ Okay. You love Kennedy. Kennedy didn’t write Profiles in Courage—he lied about that. ‘Bush is in bed with the Saudis!’ Okay, Kennedy was in bed with the mafia.”

His play about politics, a comedy called November, opened on Broadway in January 2008 to middling reviews and ran till mid-July. He called it a “love letter to America.” The last line, uttered by a preposterously corrupt but strangely endearing president, is “Jesus, I love this country”—and the irony was only meant to go so far. One of the themes of the play was that the country itself is much too good for politics, especially when politicians seek to govern it by serving their own selfish ends.

“I wondered, How did the system function so well? Because it does—the system functions beautifully.” How did the happiest, freest, and most prosperous country in history sprout from the Hobbesian jungle?

“I realized it was because of this thing, this miracle, this U.S. Constitution.” The separation of powers, the guarantee of property, the freedoms of speech and religion meant that self-interested citizens had a system in which they could hammer out their differences without killing each other. Everyone who wanted to could get ahead. The Founders had accepted the tragic view of life and, as it were, made it pay. It’s a happy paradox: The gloomier one’s view of human nature—and Mamet’s was gloomy—the deeper one’s appreciation of the American miracle.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


Philosophy that’s not for the masses (James Ladyman, 5/10/11, TPM)

I want to explain why I think that much of the specialisation of contemporary philosophy is not a bad thing after all. In large part my argument depends on the engagement of philosophy with rest of knowledge. I want to defend the specialisation in philosophy that is a consequence of the overlap between a subfield of philosophy and another specialised subject matter, where that may be the history of philosophy itself. This is the kind of philosophy that I am most sure is worthwhile. If there is a kind of pure philosophy that may not be valuable, it is not clear that it is anything more than an ideal form anyway, since no philosopher is an island.

Either way, it is important to distinguish between different kinds of specialisation. Some people specialise in the literature that their peer group has produced over the last 20 or 30 years, and have little knowledge of what the great philosophers of the past have said, even about their own preoccupations. This may often be a bad thing. Even worse, every subject has its blind alleys, and there are doubtless branches of philosophy with concepts and questions that we will come to see as pointless. However, it is no easier to pick winners in philosophy than in any other area. We know that the overall contribution of philosophy to human existence is so great as to be impossible to evaluate even if we only consider its spin-offs in science. This contribution comes from a subculture that thinks in a sustained and careful way about something that others take for granted, and this usually means specialising. I must confess that my defence of specialisation is motivated by my earnest wish to be allowed to spend the rest of my life thinking largely about the same nexus of issues that I have been thinking about for 20 years – although in my view that also means learning more about everything else too.

Certainly, academic philosophy can be highly specialised, and discussions often take place in what the outsider would regard as impenetrable jargon. However, this situation is not peculiar to philosophy. Who understands the terms in which mathematicians and theoretical physicists communicate, other than those with sufficient training in the relevant technical areas?

Of course, academics in the arts had to make their specialties absurdly complex because they felt threatened by the fact that while they couldn't follow physics a physicist could understand their field.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Fight to the Debt (YUVAL LEVIN, 5/23/11, Weekly Standard)

Last week, House speaker John Boehner made an excellent start. In a speech before the Economic Club of New York, Boehner said Republicans will insist on tying the amount by which the debt ceiling would be raised to the size of the associated budget cuts. Those cuts, he said, “should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given.” This strategy would highlight the scope of new borrowing required to fund the spending trajectory that Democrats want to sustain, and establish a sensible and easy-to-grasp principle for determining the size of the cuts Republicans will pursue. Voters will likely find it reasonable.

Boehner’s one-for-one rule also means that, in order to avoid another debt ceiling fight before Election Day, Democrats would have to agree to $2 trillion in cuts over the next five years (the period over which such cuts would have to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, according to Boehner’s staff). House Republicans have just passed an outline for such cuts: The Ryan budget reduces federal spending by more than $1.8 trillion in its first five years. But Democrats are unlikely to stomach spending reductions on that scale, and so they will have to accept a smaller increase in the debt ceiling. Thus, Boehner’s strategy makes it likely that we will see yet another debt ceiling fight, with a further chance for cuts, before the 2012 elections.

Whatever the eventual level agreed to in this round of the debt ceiling match, Republicans should draw on the Ryan budget as they pursue particular cuts. Along with its cuts in domestic discretionary spending, Republicans could press for at least some portion of its Medicaid reform, which would block-grant the federal portion of Medicaid funding, giving the states far more flexibility to design their own programs and saving another $200 billion over five years and far more in the years beyond.

Republicans should also pursue the budget process reforms in the Ryan budget, including statutory caps on discretionary spending, binding caps on total federal spending as a percentage of GDP, and the transitioning of some mandatory spending into the regular appropriations process. This would be good policy and good politics. Some Democrats may even find it appealing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Republicans Optimistic About Retaking Senate (CARL HULSE, 5/14/11, NY Times)

Just two years after watching Democrats claim a 60th seat in the Senate, Republicans are heading into the 2012 election season well positioned to challenge them for control of the chamber, giving the party reason for optimism even as it worries about the strength of its presidential field.

With Democrats defending 23 seats to their 10, top Republicans believe they have a built-in advantage in their drive to pick up at least the four seats that would vault them into the majority even if President Obama wins a second term and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. remains able to break Senate ties. And they calculate that their chances are enhanced because important races will be in relatively conservative states like Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota. [...]

The announcement Friday by Senator Herb Kohl, the four-term Wisconsin Democrat, that he would not seek re-election only added to the difficulties facing Democrats, depriving them of a relatively popular incumbent who could have financed his own campaign. Mr. Kohl’s exit instead left Democrats with another open seat to protect — their sixth — and added Wisconsin to the list of more than a dozen high-wattage races that will decide control of the Senate, which is now split 53 to 47.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Unfounded fears: Inflation nightmare of runaway prices just a dream (Steve Chapman, May 12, 2011, Chicago Tribune)

There is no indication that inflation is heating up this time, either. Investors wouldn't be snapping up three-year Treasury notes at 1 percent if they were expecting their purchasing power to be ravaged by wolves any moment now.

It's true that if the Fed pumps too many dollars into the financial system, it will eventually mean too much money chasing too few goods, pushing prices through the roof. But in the aftermath of the near-death experience of 2008, banks have been happy to hang on to cash rather than lend it out. By a broad measure known as M2, the money supply has been growing very slowly.

What Bernanke has done to ward off a catastrophic collapse is not at odds with keeping inflation down. In fact, a decade ago it was recommended to the Japanese central bank by the late Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, who was famed for his aversion to inflation.

The spike in commodity prices has raised fears of a '70s-like wage-price spiral: Prices climb, so workers demand pay raises, which causes their employers to raise prices again, which sparks another round of wage increases.

But you can't have a ham sandwich without ham, and you can't have a wage-price spiral when unemployment is high, workers have little bargaining power and pay is stagnant. Wages and salaries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are up only 0.4 percent in the past year. Raise your hand if your pay is spiraling — upward, I mean.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Obama’s wise investment: Making life easier for 'illegals' (DOUG SAUNDERS, 5/14/11, Globe and Mail)

It has been more than 10 years since the U.S. Congress ended a decade of amnesties granting citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants. Since then, the mood has turned against these non-citizen residents: Several states have passed bills forbidding them or their children from attending school or university, from getting drivers’ licences, from getting health care.

By erasing this large and socially mobile slice of the population from the official economy and denying them a place in public life, the United States has provoked an intergenerational economic and security threat that could soon rival any fiscal or terrorism menace. George W. Bush once understood this, which was why he campaigned in 2000 on a promise to give eventual citizenship to the undocumented – a promise that was ultimately scuppered by his party’s extreme flank.

This is not a narrow slice of Americans. Undocumented immigrants make up between 3 and 4 per cent of the United States’ population, 5.4 per cent of its work force and 6.8 per cent of the students enrolled in its primary and secondary schools. They represent about a third of all foreign-born Americans. They are more likely than native-born Americans to form families, so their numbers are growing fast.

Undocumented immigrants are not, contrary to myth, people who show up to take advantage of social assistance. The risk and expense of migration are too great to make idleness an ambition. Since the downturn of 2008, there has been a net outflow of Central Americans from the United States and of North Africans and Middle Easterners from Europe. When the opportunities aren’t there, people don’t arrive. Conversely, when the economy needs people, it finds ways to supply them, legally or otherwise. And the United States will, by 2030, need 35 million more workers than its working-age population can provide: Immigrants, legal or otherwise, will be the answer.

What happens when they’re not legal? I’ve just finished a tour of the cities of the southwestern United States, and what I found at the core of every city were scores of thriving Central American neighbourhoods, many of them former African-American ghettoes. These are identical in appearance and purpose to the bottom-rung neighbourhoods where millions of Irish, German, Italian and European Jewish Americans made their start and built their fortunes during the 20th century (usually without legal citizenship papers themselves).

But these neighbourhoods are becoming stuck: Adults told me they’d saved money to buy their house, but they aren’t legally allowed to....

For all the politicians who fret about the fallout from amnesty, driving the price of their consituents' homes back up far outweighs any risk from the wahoo fringe.

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May 14, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


The new ethno-politics (The National Post · Mar. 5, 2011)

A front-page article in a Toronto newspaper on Friday told readers about a secret Tory memo that -in the newspaper's words -"laid bare the Harper government's plans to win over immigrant voters by appealing to their social conservatism." This "Ethnic Paid Media Strategy," the newspaper reports, would present immigrant Canadians with the slogan "Isn't it time we all voted our values?" [....]

The Conservatives have adopted a very different, and more laudable, strategy in courting the immigrant vote -one that is apparent in the substance of the leaked memo from Mr. Kenney's office. Canada's liberal journalists may be aghast at the prospect of Ottawa soliciting immigrant support on the basis of "social conservatism" -but the fact is that many new Canadians are more religious and family-oriented than the rest of us. And the Conservatives owe no apologies for appealing to them on this basis. Certainly, it is preferable for our government to tap into immigrants' shared sense of traditional Canadian values than to treat them through the lens of victimhood and identity politics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


A Son of Memphis Salutes His City (MARC MYERS, 5/13/11, WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal: Could you shave when you began recording?

Mr. Jones: [Laughs] No. I was in the 10th grade in 1959 when I played baritone sax on "Cause I Love You," by Carla Thomas and her father Rufus. I had a scary ability to play almost any instrument I picked up. I used to hang around Satellite Records in Memphis after my paper route. Satellite became Stax in 1961. [...]

When did you start the M.G.'s?

In 1961 I put together a quartet. Two of us were black and two were white. We were tight and loved the same music. People who heard the records didn't know what we were and didn't care. Stax soon started using us behind almost all of its artists.

What does the "M.G's" part of the band's name mean?

In 1961, the band was at Stax trying to come up with a name. Out through the window we could see producer-engineer Chips Moman doing tricks with his new red MG sports car. One of the guys suggested we call ourselves the M.G.'s.

What's the meaning of the M.G.'s biggest hit, "Green Onions?"

I came up with the riff in early 1962 while playing the piano over at my mom's house. When our bassist Lewie Steinberg heard it on organ, he said it was so funky it smelled like onions. Jiving around, one of the other guys said "green onions" for emphasis.

And "Born Under a Bad Sign?"

I wrote that song sitting in my den late at night with lyricist William Bell in 1966. I was trying to come up with something for guitarist Albert King. I didn't want to wake my wife, so I played a melody line softly and William said, "Born under a bad sign." Cream recorded it in 1968.

What made your organ sound different?

It's in the settings. The Hammond B-3 has drawbars that you slide in and out to alter the personality of the instrument's sound. I turned off the tremolo, giving it a harder, take-charge sound. Ray Charles on "Genius + Soul = Jazz" in 1961 gave me the idea. Ray used a thinner, higher-pitched tone, which sounded cool, like special effects.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Yale announces free online access to museum, library collections (Associated Press, 5/11/11)

Yale University officials announced yesterday that the school intends to be the first in the Ivy League to offer free online access to digital images of millions of objects housed in its museums, archives, and libraries.

No license will be required for transmission of the images, and no limitations will be imposed on their use, which will allow scholars, artists and others around the world to use Yale collections for study, publication, teaching, and inspiration, Yale officials said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM

Alison Krauss And Union Station On World Cafe (NPR, 5/13/11)

On 2011's Paper Airplane, Krauss teamed up with longtime friends and back-up band Union Station, her first official album with the band since 2004's Lonely Runs. As always, the album stays true to her honest philosophy and bluegrass roots.

Hear Krauss and Union Station singer Dan Tyminski discuss Paper Airplane with host David Dye, then settle in for some live tunes in the WXPN studio.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Pawlenty to Like (Ramesh Ponnuru, Mar.7, 2011, National Review)

He thinks that entitlement spending — he calls it “autopilot spending” — needs to be reformed. Specifically, he wants to cap Medicaid spending and divvy it up among the states to spend as they see fit; alter the Social Security benefits formula so that high earners get less; and — here he gets vague, which also makes him like most Republicans — reform Medicare’s payment system. Fannie and Freddie should be privatized. Obamacare should be repealed. The Fed should rethink quantitative easing, a “preposterous” idea that is “already starting” to create “massive inflationary pressures.” TARP should at the very least have been tougher on its beneficiaries and should not be repeated.

He is more concerned than other Republicans about the cost of college as an impediment to upward mobility. Higher education, he says, has a “personnel, tenure, and salary structure that isn’t as efficient and productive as it should be.” Too many colleges “try to be everything to everyone” instead of picking “areas of strategic significance.” He says he is excited about the possibility that technological change will allow more collegiate learning to take place in living rooms — thus cutting costs and increasing access — and encouraged such a shift in Minnesota.

Pawlenty sees the family as a force for social stability and economic mobility. So he also breaks with contemporary Republicans by suggesting that tax relief should strengthen families as well as promote growth. “The child tax credit could be doubled or tripled,” he says, and we should do what we can “to lighten the load for families more broadly.”

He does not agree with Governor Daniels of Indiana that we should call a “truce” on all issues other than fiscal ones — something most people have interpreted as a call for silence on social issues. He opposes abortion, same-sex marriage, and stem-cell research that destroys human embryos. On that last issue, he again hopes that science will come to the rescue, by making it even clearer that other types of stem-cell research hold at least as much promise of generating cures. His candidacy may provide an interesting test case of whether the combination of evangelicalism and conservatism plays differently with the public when it comes from a midwesterner and not, as it typically has in the Republican party, from a southerner.

In an interview, Pawlenty volunteers that it is a mistake to multiply the categories of conservative. “People say, ‘I’m a tea-party conservative,’ ‘I’m a religious conservative,’ ‘I’m a compassionate conservative.’ But there [aren’t] 16 varieties of conservatism; there are some basic tenets of conservatism.” Those tenets, he believes, are “time-tested principles reflected in our founding documents. . . . The real challenge is to apply it to the challenges of our time.”

On paper, Pawlenty is a great candidate. He was a successful governor of a deep-blue state — Minnesota last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1972 — for two terms. And he’s from an electorally important region of the country, maybe the key swing region for Republicans.

Compared with their potential popular support, Republicans have badly underperformed in the six states from Montana in the west to Michigan in the east. George W. Bush tried and failed to win Minnesota and Wisconsin in both his runs. Even in 2004, when Republicans had their best presidential-election performance of the last 22 years, Democrats won more than four-fifths of the region’s electoral votes. At their mid-decade peak, Republicans held only three of the region’s twelve Senate seats. After the 2008 elections, they were down to one.

But Republicans may be about to make their long-awaited breakthrough in the upper Midwest. After the 2010 elections, they now have three of the region’s Senate seats again. They also have both houses of the legislature in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. They captured the governorships in Michigan and Wisconsin and came close to holding the one in Minnesota. They picked up congressional seats in these states, too. Nominating Pawlenty would increase the Republicans’ chances of winning either Wisconsin or Minnesota. If they do that, they would still need to win back several of the states Bush won in 2004 but McCain lost in 2008. But they wouldn’t have to win Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, or Iowa. The path to victory would get appreciably easier.

Pawlenty is more electable than Palin, who is on the wrong end of a two-to-one split in public opinion; or Huckabee, who has never demonstrated any ability to win votes from non-evangelical voters; or Gingrich, who has enough baggage to open a Louis Vuitton store; or Haley Barbour, who, as a former lobbyist for tobacco companies and the governor of Mississippi, combines several Republican stereotypes to damaging effect. Electability would probably hand Pawlenty the nomination in a one-on-one race against any of these contenders.

He would probably beat Romney in a head-to-head race, too. Like Romney, Pawlenty was elected governor of a blue state in 2002. But there are at least five big differences between them that primary voters may find tell in the Minnesotan’s favor. First, Pawlenty was elected as a conservative whereas Romney ran as a moderate. Second, Pawlenty pursued a more confrontational strategy: He didn’t cut any grand bipartisan deal, as Romney did with Ted Kennedy on health care. Third, and as a result, Pawlenty’s record does not include anything as likely to offend conservative voters as Romney’s Massachusetts health-care law, which made the purchase of health insurance compulsory.

Fourth, Pawlenty won reelection in his blue state, even in 2006, which was a slaughterhouse of a year for Republicans. Romney, by contrast, left the governorship after one term: He was unable to position himself as a conservative for a presidential run while staying popular in his home state. Fifth, Pawlenty has an ability to connect to blue-collar voters that Romney has never demonstrated.

Governor Daniels could be competitive with Pawlenty in a side-by-side comparison.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


How WikiLeaks vindicated Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy (Donald H. Rumsfeld, 5/12/11, Washington Post)

Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. special operations forces is a major success in our country’s war against al-Qaeda. As a result of the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation program and the intelligence gained from detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a major fraction of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership has been captured or killed since 2001.

This conclusion was inadvertently reinforced recently by WikiLeaks’ illegal disclosure of more than 700 classified Defense Department files on Guantanamo Bay detainees. Their publication has harmed our security and cemented the impression among allies that America is incapable of keeping secrets. But the material also provides compelling evidence of the effectiveness of Bush administration anti-terror policies after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Considering all the nonsensical conspiracy theories that people believe in, it's surprising that no one has adopted one that actually makes perfect sense, that Wikileaks is a government plot intended to make us look uniformly good and our enemies bad. (Of course, honest leaks couldn't help but do so.)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Little Pain, Real Gains: California’s Republicans finally offer a (short-term) budget plan. (Steven Greenhut, 13 May 2011, City Journal)

The Republican budget plan proposed on Thursday in the California Assembly wouldn’t fix the fundamental problems with the state’s budget or make long-term reforms to right this long-mismanaged state. But the plan, which Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway called “a no-tax budget blueprint,” does give the lie to Democrats’ insistence that the budget can’t be balanced without massive tax hikes. Further, it avoids borrowing gimmicks and revenue-swap schemes—typical of past budget “solutions”—and little in it would appear particularly painful, given the depth of the budget hole that has been at issue since Governor Jerry Brown’s election in November. Of course, it’s wholly unrealistic to believe that the Democratic majority will take up the minority’s plan. Instead, this was an unusually savvy political move from a Republican Party teetering on irrelevance. If legislators are serious about closing the state’s budget gap, the GOP plan shows them any number of ways to find the money without imposing higher taxes on a state that already carries one of the highest tax burdens in the country. [...]

[T]he Republican plan suggests how simple reforms can save serious dollars. Take the provision of medical care for prison inmates. According to the Assembly GOP’s budget white paper, “The cost of providing health care to state prisoners has been the fastest growing part of the corrections budget. After the [federal] receiver took control of the system in 2006, medical costs skyrocketed. They reached $2.5 billion a year, including mental health care. The cost of health care for each inmate per year in California is approximately $11,600, while prison healthcare costs $5,757 in New York; $4,720 in Florida; $4,418 in Pennsylvania; and $2,920 in Texas. While costs have increased dramatically, it has not improved the quality of care enough to take the system out of federal court receivership.” Under the Republican plan, the state would contract out the correctional health-care system, saving $400 million. But that would mean taking on the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison-guard union that just won an absurdly generous contract from the governor.

Other budget cuts in the Republican blueprint include $3.7 billion from programs related to early childhood, mental health, the poor, and the elderly, as well as $1.1 billion from the state payroll. The plan also includes $2.8 billion in other savings from a bill that has already passed the Assembly but hasn’t become law. It doesn’t go far enough toward addressing the size and scope of California’s government, since the state faces even bigger fiscal problems down the road. But Republicans have made their point: California can fix at least its short-term budget problem if Democrats truly want to.

The majority party, however, seems convinced that the government is too small, taxes are too low, and union members don’t have enough protections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


How We Can Fly to Mars in This Decade—And on the Cheap: The technology now exists and at half the cost of a Space Shuttle flight. All that's lacking is the political will to take more risks. (ROBERT ZUBRIN, 5/13/11, WSJ)

SpaceX's Falcon-9 Heavy rocket will have a launch capacity of 53 metric tons to low Earth orbit. This means that if a conventional hydrogen-oxygen chemical rocket upper stage were added, it could send 17.5 tons on a trajectory to Mars, placing 14 tons in Mars orbit, or landing 11 tons on the Martian surface.

The company has also developed a crew capsule, known as the Dragon, which has a mass of about eight tons. While its current intended mission is to ferry up to seven astronauts to the International Space Station, the Dragon's heat shield system is capable of withstanding re-entry from interplanetary trajectories, not just from Earth orbit. It is rather small for an interplanetary spaceship, but it is designed for multiyear life, and it should be spacious enough for two astronauts with the right stuff.

Thus a Mars mission could be accomplished with three Falcon-9 Heavy launches. One would deliver to Mars orbit an unmanned Dragon capsule with a kerosene/oxygen chemical rocket stage of sufficient power to drive it back to Earth. This is the Earth Return Vehicle.

A second launch would deliver to the Martian surface an 11-ton payload consisting of a two-ton Mars Ascent Vehicle employing a single methane/oxygen rocket propulsion stage, a small automated chemical reactor system, three tons of surface exploration gear, and a 10-kilowatt power supply, which could be either nuclear or solar.

The Mars Ascent Vehicle would carry 2.6 tons of methane in its propellant tanks, but not the nine tons of liquid oxygen required to burn it. Instead, the oxygen could be made over a 500-day period by using the chemical reactor to break down the carbon dioxide that composes 95% of the Martian atmosphere. Using technology to generate oxygen rather than transporting it saves a great deal of mass and provides power and unlimited oxygen once the crew arrives.

The third launch would then send a Dragon capsule with two astronauts to Mars. The capsule would carry 2,500 kilograms of consumables—sufficient, if water and oxygen recycling systems are employed, to support the two-person crew for up to three years. Given the payload capacity, a light ground vehicle and several hundred kilograms of science instruments could be taken along as well.

The crew would reach Mars in six months and land their Dragon capsule near the Mars Ascent Vehicle. They would spend the next year and a half exploring.

Using their ground vehicle for mobility and the Dragon as home and laboratory, they could search the Martian surface for fossil evidence of life that may have existed when the Red Planet featured standing bodies of water. They could also assemble drilling rigs to bring up samples of subsurface water, within which native microbial life may persist. Finding either would prove that life is not unique to Earth, answering a question that mankind has wondered about for millennia.

At the end of their 18-month stay, the crew would transfer to the Mars Ascent Vehicle, take off and rendezvous with the Earth Return Vehicle in orbit. This craft would then take them on a six-month flight back to Earth, splashing down to an ocean landing.

Nothing in this plan is beyond our current technology, and the costs would not be excessive. Falcon-9 Heavy launches are priced at about $100 million each, and Dragons are cheaper. With this approach, we could send expeditions to Mars at half the cost to launch a Space Shuttle flight.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


It's time to admit football is pure evil: Engaging with football can be confusing – like being beaten up by beautiful, smiling nuns (Barney Ronay, 14 May 2011, The Guardian )

For a while this was shaping up as, if not quite one of football's most evil weeks, then at least a week when football could look back on its evildoing with a sense of having gone out there and really done a job. First came Lord Triesman's claims that Fifa – an organisation that inhabits a cavernous bulletproof aircraft hanger and whose gleamingly basted president emanates at all times a personal force field of strangulation-strength phoniness – may actually be a little corrupt.

The suggestion of murkiness was only compounded by Jack Warner's comment that, on hearing the claims against him, he laughed "like hell", as though this would somehow make him seem just really innocent and reassuring, rather than like the kind of horrifying, banshee figure who might appear in your nightmares waving a breadknife and wearing only a butcher's apron and a beard of bees.

The stakes were raised further as news emerged of another event so unusual it was hard to avoid a feeling of a gear change, a vertical take-off into clear blue evil virgin skies. I am referring to the invitation match played in Grozny on Wednesday night between an all-star "World XI" and a team captained by the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. You know: that Ramzan Kadyrov. President of a developing nation but still keeps his own zoo. Possesses a gold plated handgun. Highly unlikely to maintain a current monthly standing order to Amnesty International.

The World XI for this fixture featured Franco Baresi, Fabien Barthez, Luis Figo and, oddly enough, Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler. According to the Guardian's report the World XI went 2-0 up before developing a habit of "melting away" whenever Kadyrov got the ball, allowing the pudgy but tenacious Great Leader to set up four goals in an amazing 5-2 fightback victory. Half-time entertainment was provided by Craig David, who famously met a girl on Monday and took her for a drink on Tuesday – neither of which he's likely to have had much joy with in Chechnya, where women are urged to wear the veil, alcohol is pretty much banned and even "chilling on Sunday" is probably deemed worthy of a roughing up by the state militia.

Football's In Bed With Kadyrov moment pretty much put a cap on things. Taking into account existing ambient evil levels, this week is now probably up there with the most evil in the game's modern history. The time has come to talk openly about this. Football is evil now, albeit in a way that is often quite confusing.'s actually the corporatisation of the game that has cleaned up much of its worst problems, pricing the thugs out of the stadia and making teams multiethnic so that the yobs are rooting for races they used to despise, sort of a Jackie Robinson effect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Comet Theory Comes Crashing to Earth: An elegant archaeological theory, under fire for results that can’t be replicated, may ultimately come undone. (Rex Dalton, 5/13/11, Miller McCune)

It seemed like such an elegant answer to an age-old mystery: the disappearance of what are arguably North America’s first people. A speeding comet nearly 13,000 years ago was the culprit, the theory goes, spraying ice and rocks across the continent, killing the Clovis people and the mammoths they fed on, and plunging the region into a deep chill. The idea so captivated the public that three movies describing the catastrophe were produced.

But now, four years after the purportedly supportive evidence was reported, a host of scientific authorities systematically have made the case that the comet theory is “bogus.” Researchers from multiple scientific fields are calling the theory one of the most misguided ideas in the history of modern archaeology, which begs for an independent review so an accurate record is reflected in the literature.

“It is an impossible scenario,” says Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., where he taps the world’s fastest computers for nuclear bomb experiments to study such impacts. His computations show the debris from such a comet couldn’t cover the proposed impact field. In March, a “requiem” for the theory even was published by a group that included leading specialists from archaeology to botany.

Yet, the scientists who described the alleged impact in a hallowed U.S. scientific journal refuse to consider the critics’ evidence — insisting they are correct, even though no one can replicate their work: the hallmark of credibility in the scientific world.

...why should these quacks?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


A True Finnish Spring (ANU PARTANEN, 5/13/11, NY Times)

Having lived for two years in the United States, I arrived for a visit home this month to a changed land. The long, dark Nordic winter was finally over and the streets of Helsinki were bursting with the bright green of new birch leaves. Usually Finns are gleeful this time of year, but the mood now is sober. My parents and friends talk of nothing but the election results and the risks and benefits of Finland’s policies toward the European Union. Political discussions are even breaking out among strangers in the subway — unheard of here, where we are famous for keeping to ourselves.

The most heated debates revolve around a country at the other end of Europe: Portugal. On the heels of the bailouts of Greece and Ireland, debt-ridden Portugal has been counting on a 78 billion euro rescue package, about $115.5 billion. When the True Finns won 39 seats in Finland’s 200-member Parliament, they became the third-largest party, with enough leverage to try to block Finland from contributing its share. This had the potential to derail the entire rescue package, calling into question the survival of the euro zone itself.

The True Finns have, like populist parties in Denmark, France and the Netherlands, campaigned to restrict immigration, defend family values and stand up to the European Union. In America you might consider them the equivalent of Tea Partiers (if they didn’t support the welfare state, that is).

Their rise is interpreted as a reaction to the harsh realities of the new millennium. Finland’s flagship company, Nokia, is shedding jobs at home. Our welfare state is facing cuts because of the global recession. Europe’s lack of travel restrictions has led to an influx of Eastern European panhandlers.

Myself, I’ve benefited a great deal from the European Union — I’ve studied abroad, traveled easily, enjoyed a strong euro. Like most of my friends I believe in solidarity and in helping the weak.

Yet I was shaken when I learned that we Finns were supposed to lend money to Greece. It didn’t seem fair that my taxes would go to a country that had been living beyond its means.

Our resentment toward being asked to help our far-flung partners in the Union is also exposing the hypocrisy behind another dearly held Finnish tradition: our disgust at how little compassion Americans seem to have for their fellow citizens in terms of sharing the wealth. When my friends criticize the United States for failing to provide universal health care, I point out that America is twice the size of the European Union. It’s not quite parallel, but if Finns were asked to contribute to the health care of the Greeks, the Irish and the Portuguese, they might feel a little like Americans.

And now they do.

...that folks imagined the EU would subsume nationality?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Brandon Phillips Shows up to Baseball Game of Twitter Follower (Larry Brown, May 14, 2011 , Yardbarker)

Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is best known around these parts as the guy who called the St. Louis Cardinals b[+++]es and then fought with them in a benches clearing brawl. Now he’ll be known for pulling off one of the coolest gestures we’ve seen.

Jimmy Traina shared with us the story of Phillips showing up to one of his twitter follower’s baseball games after the follower asked him to attend. Connor Echols tweeted to Phillips Thursday afternoon that he “should really come watch the 14u Cincy flames in West Chester tonight.” Phillips responded by asking what time and where, and Echols gave him the address. Amazingly enough, Phillips actually showed up for the game.

Phillips praised Connor’s performance and then laughed about how much trash the parents were talking. He stuck around afterwards to take pictures with the team, and you could tell he made their day.

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May 13, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 PM


AP Sources: Porn stash found at bin Laden compound (KIMBERLY DOZIER, 5/13/11, AP)

Two U.S. officials say pornography was among the items seized when U.S. Navy SEALs raided the Pakistani hideout of Osama bin Laden almost two weeks ago.

...but the leak should say it was gay porn.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


Huckabee's Aides Say He Won't Run (NEIL KING JR. and JONATHAN WEISMAN, 5/13/11, WSJ)

Mike Huckabee, who holds a leading position in most Republican presidential polls, will say on Saturday whether he will become a candidate, with top aides predicting that he won't run.

Mr. Huckabee's decision, however it falls, is likely to reorder the emerging presidential field. With little effort and no campaign, the former Arkansas governor led in surveys of Republican voters in Iowa and ranked first or second in many national polls, thanks to support among social conservatives and high name recognition as a 2008 candidate and Fox News host.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:31 PM


Dollar Finds Friends As World Realizes Bernanke Was Right (Andrew Wilkinson, 5/13/121, Forbes)

A tame inflation report helped the dollar recoup overnight losses heading into the data although it remains weaker on the day while higher on the week. [...] [T]he dollar has found its wings as the still rising ascendancy of the Fed’s view that inflation won’t gain traction when caused primarily by transitory factors. It could be said that the world’s best hope of winning the battle against inflation comes from a reversal in the dollar’s multi-year weakness as more and more central bankers figure out that Bernanke & Co. had it right all along.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


Getting to Yes for Mitch and Cheri Daniels (Erin McPike, 5/13/11, Real Clear Politics)

He has obviously given some thought to the area beyond Indiana's borders, too.

Daniels accepted an invitation from those 55 students to meet at a spacious bar several blocks away after the event; he sipped Woodford Reserve bourbon as he asked them about their own lives and families. In return, they asked him who he might like to tap as his vice presidential nominee if he runs.

Hypothetically, he told them, he'd like to pick Condoleezza Rice.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:21 PM


Rapper’s Delight: A defense of Common at the White House. (John McWhorter, May 13, 2011, New Republic)

Of course, while Common is a poet worthy of the White House, he’s no political leader, and thus the sourest note about the whole fracas is that it has stirred up something that Obama’s election quietly tamped down. Not so long ago, quite a few harbored a melodramatic notion that “conscious” rap was going to undergird some kind of “hip-hop revolution.” That idea was always a distraction from real politics, which are something quite different from the earnest but idle cynicism set to rhymes over beats.

Immediately after Obama’s election, this trope lost its mojo. I suspect that the election of a black president looked so revolutionary in itself, and was ineluctably real in comparison to the fantastical “hip hop generation” vision. At the Obamas’ poetry night, rap was treated, in a high-profile venue, for what it is. That is, not something that is going to turn the Capitol upside down, but poetry—like Jay-Z’s work now sold between covers.

But the scenario is ruined when we have people of a different brand of recreational opposition protesting on the sidelines as if the Obamas having Common over were like inviting Young Jeezy or Cam’ron. Because Common now has a guru status complete with a burgeoning career in film, the criticism will come off to a healthy contingent as a knock on one of the bards of black dignity—i.e. as more evidence that Republicans are racists just as the debate over racism in the Tea Party has retreated.

Moreover, it will revive the eagerness of that same contingent to fill us in on the fact that “All rap isn’t like that!” The implication traditionally associated with this observation is that the rap not “like that” is our new Freedom Songs. But it never has been, and we’ve seen blissfully little of the pretense over the past two and a half years. It’s a shame, then, that the cotton-headed artistic sensibility of the Republicans’ poster people will pump new life into a routine with such a vast disproportion of heat to light.

a href="">holds Mr. Obama's own father in contempt too:
TOUCH: This is a lyric from the track ‘Heat’ on your ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ album: "State senators, life twirls, most sell out – like a dread with a white girl." Explain please.

COMMON: Rastafarianism is a black culture. When you see dreadlocked dudes with white girls that’s like they going against what the dreadlock’s purpose was. The dreadlock was a symbol of black love and the black people gettin’ to a certain level. In America we’ve got a lot of dreadlocked dudes and all you see them with is white girls. I don’t think there’s anything the matter with somebody loving somebody from another race but it’s almost like a stereotype that if you’ve got dreadlocks you go out with a white girl. I just feel like, as black men, we do have to be aware that, yo, every time we step out with some woman it’s setting an example for our daughters and it’s also representing something for our mothers. If you can’t really love your own, how can you really love others?

TOUCH: So you don’t agree with mixed race relationships?

COMMON: I disagree with them. It's a lack of self-love. It's a problem.

TOUCH: Have you ever dated outside your race?

COMMON: Nah, not dated [giggles].

AUGUST WILSON'S REALITY (John McWhorter, 5/10/07, New Republic)
Several years ago a young black woman I was talking to said "I think we'll always be a sad people." I asked her why, and the upshot of the answer was that our psyches will always be stained with the trauma of dislocation and lost identity.

But to this, I still ask "Why?" I ask that not because I don't want it to be that way--although I don't. I ask that because it is really unclear to me that black Americans will be the only humans in history to never heal. I don't see the logic in it. I, for one, feel thoroughly "real." I have plenty of music in me: I have hundreds of CDs and a piano. I suspect my CD collection and Wilson's would overlap only slightly--but I've got plenty of stuff Wilson would accept as authentically black, and I process all kinds of "realities" in the non-black music as well.

Yes, my wife is white. However, she sure looks real to me, and our relationship feels real, too; last time I checked she was my soulmate. With another roll of the dice, she may have been a black soulmate. They come in all colors.

As much as I have loved so many of Wilson's plays, I do not accept that the life I lead is unreal, inauthentic, or broken. Our vegetable garden is authentic, and I do not water my cucumbers because I wish I was white. My life is authentic. It is authentic to me.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Is the inflation scare over?: The effects of this year's commodity spike should be behind us by this summer. (Colin Barr May 13, 2011, Fortune)

"With crude oil prices falling 10% in the past week and cereal prices in retreat for more than a month now, energy and food should eventually start to have a deflationary impact on the CPI," says Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics.

The selloff that took crude prices in New York below $100 is only the most visible sign of the shift away from commodities. Front-month corn futures have fallen 10% over the past month, thanks in part to a government forecast this month that good weather and increased planting will help grain stocks rebound from a 15-year low hit last year.

"I'm optimistic we can rebuild some stocks this year," says Sal Gilbertie, who runs the Teucrium Corn exchange traded fund that trades under the ticker CORN. "We had some weather shocks last year that sent the price way up, but I think we can expect to see a normal seasonal pattern this year."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


Kohl Not Running For Re-Election (Sean Sullivan and Josh Kraushaar, May 13, 2011, Hotline)

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) announced Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2012, putting a battleground seat Democrats have held for over five decades squarely in play for the upcoming elections. [...]

Several high-profile candidates have already been mentioned as possible targets for both parties. Republicans' top candidate would be House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, whose budget plan tackling entitlement spending has made him a national figure. And Democrats could turn to former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost re-election in 2010, for a political comeback.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


With so much shopping to do, who has time for kids?: Some countries may be caught in a low-fertility trap which dooms them to declining populations. (Michael Cook, 5/13/112, MercatorNet)

The name of the worst case scenario is the “low fertility trap”. This is the intriguing theory of Wolfgang Lutz, of the Vienna Institute of Demography. He is one of the world’s leading demographers and has published articles in journals like Science and Nature.

Why we should assume that people will yearn for replacement level birth rates, he asks in the journal Ageing Horizons. “People will always want to have children,” Winston Churchill reportedly said. But is this true? Once upon a time, demographers wondered whether the TFR would ever sink below replacement level. It did. They thought that it would recover once it hit 1.5.It didn’t. It has sunk below 1.0 in some areas, like Hong Kong or Moscow. In Beijing and Shanghai it is about 0.7 – one third of the replacement level. Why should we assume that it will rise? With so much shopping to do, who has time for kids?

Take one astonishing case: China.

After 40 years of a draconian one-child policy, Chinese officials are beginning to realise that demographic disaster looms. China is on course to become old before it becomes rich. By the year 2040, the median age of Chinese will be higher than Americans, but they will have only one-third of Americans’ per capita income. “There are tremendous demographic crises pending, unprecedented in Chinese demography,” Wang Feng, of the Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing, told the New York Times.

A recent article in the journal Asian Population Studies paints a frightening picture of China’s future:

“China is increasingly becoming a '4-2-1'society, in which one child must support two parents and four grandparents.China will be a society in which most adults have few biological relatives.More and more children will have no siblings, cousins, aunts or uncles, but only parents, grandparents and perhaps, great grandparents. If birth rates remain unchanged, China will join the ranks of Japan, Germany, Russia, Italy and Spain, which stand to lose 20-30 per cent of their population over the next 50 years. “

There are signs that the enigmatic Chinese hierarchy is considering relaxing the one-child policy to allow population growth. But – surprise, surprise – its people may not respond. “The one-child culture is now so ingrained among Chinese that the authorities may not be able to encourage more births even if they try,” says the Times.

Japan, South Korea and Singapore are facing similar problems. In Japan there is no national consensus on how to boost the birth rate in a country which has already begun to decline in population. Its TFR has stayed at about 1.3 for a decade or more.

For decades South Korea promoted one or two-child families. But now that the TFR is about 1.29, it has discovered that it may not even have enough men to maintain the strength of its army. But getting Koreans to have children is proving difficult. Similarly, Singapore introduced draconian laws in the 1970s which made life very difficult for families with more than two children. Now its TFR is stuck at 1.25, despite tax breaks, subsidies, cash bonuses and goofy government match-making services for public servants.

The chilling possibility is that it may be impossible to raise birth rates once they have fallen to the lowest low-fertility rate. If this is true, the future looks grim for these countries.They will have a growing number of unproductive elderly supported by a shrinking number of young workers. Tax rates will rise and young people will leave.

It is true that France and the Nordic countries have managed to maintain relatively high birth rates because of generous taxpayer-supported pro-natalist policies. But these are relatively wealthy countries whose policies have been in place for decades. Handouts are not a quick fix. Nor have their TFRs risen above the replacement level.

Lutz argues that there is no known reason why fertility cannot continue to sink – even below 1.0, improbable as that may seem. He says that there are three “powerful forces toward still lower fertility in countries which already have very low fertility”.

The demographic force is a kind of implosion. “Fewer and few women enter the reproductive age,and, hence the number of births will decline, even if fertility instantly jumps to replacement level.” The number of births spirals downwards.

The sociological force reflects the power of public opinion to shape a child-unfriendly culture.“The norms and in particular the family size ideals of the young generation are influenced by what they experience around them. If their environment includes few or no children, children will figure less prominently in their own image of a desirable life.” Having children is no longer a desirable life project.

The economic force sets people’s ideal family size at a level determined by their aspirations for consumption and for expected income. If they want to consume more than they can earn, they have fewer children. Thus, a generation which sees a bleak economic future ahead will not raise the TFR. This reinforces a downward spiral. Competition for exports depresses wages.The tax burden on the working population grows in order to fund welfare payments for the elderly. There are fewer jobs at an entry level for young people locally, creating an incentive for them to migrate elsewhere. And with the welfare budget already squeezed to pay for the elderly, there is little left over for policies which might encourage higher fertility.

The implications of these dry theories are terrifying for countries like Taiwan (a TFR of 1.1), Slovakia (1.27) or Italy (1.38). Those countries, and many others, could disappear, swamped by immigrants who flow in to fill the gaps left by young natives who were never born, or absorbed into a more powerful neighbour.

Now suppose that these places started to have a few more kids....why would they stay in these dying nations and work like dogs to support the elderly?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


Banned Terror Group Seeks U.S. Rebirth (KEITH JOHNSON, JAY SOLOMON and SCOTT GREENBERG, 5/13/11, WSJ)

The Mujahedin e-Khalq, or People's Holy Warriors, has deployed the heavyweights on speaking tours in Washington and European capitals, hoping to convey the image of a popular, democratic alternative to Tehran's ruling clerics. [...]

Among the group's newfound cheerleaders are recently departed members of President Barack Obama's national security team, including Jim Jones, the former national-security advisor, Dennis Blair, the former director of national intelligence and James Woolsey, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency.

These officials, and others including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former heads of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, have taken the podium to praise the group. The speakers wouldn't disclose their speaking fees, but many of them charge between $25,000 and $40,000 per appearance.

Despite its violent history, these Washington power brokers have spoken up for the U.S. ending the MeK's designation as a terror group.

"We should take the MeK off the [terror] list and recognize them for what they are, which is the legitimate government of the Republic of Iran," former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said at a recent event in London. Mr. Dean said he has made both paid and unpaid speeches for MeK.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


REVIEW: of The Most Human Human: a Defence of Humanity in the Age of the Computer By Brian Christian (John Gray - 12 May 2011, New Statesman)

Computers have been immensely liberating in all kinds of ways, but one of these is in opening up the possibility of a life composed of a succession of individual bits of information. Part of the charm of the wired life is the freedom from meaning it promises. Seeking an extreme form of this freedom, the futurist Ray Kurzweil and his fellow believers look forward to what Christian describes as "a kind of techno-rapture, where humans can upload their consciousnesses on to the internet and get assumed, if not bodily, then at least mentally, into an eternal, imperishable afterlife in the world of electricity".

What is most striking about this fantasy is not that the uploading it envisions is at present technologically impossible. It is that such an uploading would entail leaving behind much that makes us human. Believers in the coming techno-rapture may some day succeed in projecting phantom versions of their conscious selves into cyberspace. Even if this proves fea­sible, what survives will be only a cartoon version of the human individuals that once existed. But perhaps this is what these techno-gnostics really want: to cease to be human.

Christian is surely right in arguing that the rise of computers need not erode the human sense of self. Instead, the result may be to bring into clearer focus what it is that makes us different from machines. If history is any guide, however, human beings do not greatly cherish the features that truly make them what they are - finite creatures, with limited abilities. Quite the contrary, people will do anything they can to escape from being what they are. So, a version of the Sentence still holds true: the human being is the only animal that refuses to be itself.

...interracial dating doesn't mean you hate yourself, being transhumanist does.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


The appeal of a Mitch Daniels’s presidential run (Ruth Marcus, May 12, 2011, Washington Post)

I have a soft spot for OMB directors. The job offers a broad perspective on the operations of the federal government and departments’ competing claims for funding. The OMB director knows where the fat is — and the political forces that prevent it from being cut.

I have an even softer spot for governors. Executive experience isn’t essential to being chief executive, but it helps. Dealing with recalcitrant state legislatures or sluggish state bureaucracies is good seasoning for the national stage. In addition, any president has to grapple with issues of federalism; the current fiscal pressures on states make having occupied the governor’s mansion an even more valuable perspective.

But the real appeal of a Daniels candidacy is that I believe he is serious about reducing the debt and realistic about what it will take to achieve that, as a matter of both substance and politics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Obama calls for "revamping" of farm support system, possible income caps for subsidies (Lucy Madison , 5/12/11, CBS News)

President Obama said in a CBS News' town hall meeting on the economy on Wednesday that it may be time to put an income cap on farm subsidies in order to ensure governmental assistance isn't being funneled to big agri-businesses that don't need them. [...]

"It may start just modestly by, for example, limiting those subsidies to what is a genuine family farm," Mr. Obama told Harsh. "You know, which would put some sort of income cap on whether or not you qualify for this kind of subsidy."

Modestly, but a precedent.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 AM


Poll: 1 in 3 young NYers plans to leave state (AP, May 12, 2011)

A recent poll finds that 1 in 3 New Yorkers under age 30 plans to move to another state at some point. [...]

The poll finds that most of those who plan to move will do so because of economic reasons including jobs, the cost of living, and taxes.

Pollster Lee Miringoff said the trend, if unchecked, will drain the state of its next generation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 AM


Hannibal at bay: It is hard to see past the mistakes and inconsistencies in Livy's account of the Hannibalic War (Mary Beard, May 11, 2011, The Times Literary Supplement)

The British Fabian Society takes its name from the Roman soldier and politician Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus. He may seem an unlikely patron for a society of intellectual socialists. Born into one of the most aristocratic families of ancient Rome, Fabius is not known for his sympathy for the poor. It was his tactics in the war against Hannibal that inspired the society’s founders in the 1880s.

During that war Rome was brought to the brink of disaster thanks to a series of rash and inexperienced generals who insisted on engaging the Carthaginians head on, with terrible consequences. The Battle of Cannae in 216 BC was the worst: our best estimates suggest that some 50,000 Roman soldiers were killed (making it, as Robert Garland puts in his brisk new biography, Hannibal, a bloodbath on the scale of Gettysburg or the first day of the Somme). When Fabius held command, he took a different course. Instead of meeting Hannibal in pitched battle, he played a clever waiting game, harrying the enemy in guerrilla warfare, and scorching the earth of Italy (burning the crops, the homes and the hideouts); the strategy was to wear Hannibal down and deprive him of food for his vast army. Hence his later nickname “Cunctator”, the “Delayer”.

This was exactly the waiting game that these late Victorian “Fabian” socialists intended to play against capitalism: nothing so rash (or uncomfortable) as revolution, but a gradual process of attrition, until the time was ripe for change. As Frank Podmore (whose idea the name “Fabian” was) wrote: “For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently when warring against Hannibal”.

Many more people in the 1880s than now would have known the name of Fabius Maximus. But even then he did not match the popular renown of Hannibal, who so nearly managed to defeat the invincible power of Rome – and who pulled off the famous, if pointless, stunt of bringing his elephants across the snowy Alps. As Garland observes, in a nice chapter on “Afterlife”, it has always been Hannibal’s military tactics, especially at Cannae, that have intrigued modern generals (although George Washington did opt for a Fabian plan at the start of the American War of Independence). And it is Hannibal not Fabius who has become the subject of novels, operas and movies. In fact, just as the popular mythology of King Canute has turned him from a wise man who was concerned to demonstrate his inability to control nature into a fool who thought he could turn back the waves, so the nineteenth-century mythology of Fabius often made him a frightful ditherer rather than a sophisticated strategist. “Cunctator” could mean “slowcoach” or “procrastinator” just as well as “canny delayer”.

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May 12, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


LSU protesters stop planned flag burning (Associated Press, May 12, 2011)

The Advocate reports LSU graduate student Benjamin Haas had originally planned to burn an American flag Wednesday to promote his First Amendment rights and to support an LSU student arrested last week for stealing and burning a flag.

When Haas finally arrived to a chaotic scene, he was surrounded by a large crowd yelling obscenities and chanting, "U-S-A" and "Go to hell hippie, go to hell."

...if it has no consequences for the speaker.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


Economists and Democracy (Dani Rodrik, 5/11/11, Project Syndicate)

I have been presenting my new book The Globalization Paradox to different groups of late. By now I am used to all types of comments from the audience. But at a recent book-launch event, the economist assigned to discuss the book surprised me with an unexpected criticism. “Rodrik wants to make the world safe for politicians,” he huffed. [...]

My discussant found it self-evident that allowing politicians greater room for maneuver was a cockamamie idea – and he assumed that the audience would concur. Remove constraints on what politicians can do, he implied, and all you will get are silly interventions that throttle markets and stall the engine of economic growth.

This criticism reflects a serious misunderstanding of how markets really function. Raised on textbooks that obscure the role of institutions, economists often imagine that markets arise on their own, with no help from purposeful, collective action. Adam Smith may have been right that “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” is innate to humans, but a panoply of non-market institutions is needed to realize this propensity.

Consider all that is required. Modern markets need an infrastructure of transport, logistics, and communication, much of it the result of public investments. They need systems of contract enforcement and property-rights protection. They need regulations to ensure that consumers make informed decisions, externalities are internalized, and market power is not abused. They need central banks and fiscal institutions to avert financial panics and moderate business cycles. They need social protections and safety nets to legitimize distributional outcomes.

Well-functioning markets are always embedded within broader mechanisms of collective governance. That is why the world’s wealthier economies, those with the most productive market systems, also have large public sectors.

Once we recognize that markets require rules, we must next ask who writes those rules. Economists who denigrate the value of democracy sometimes talk as if the alternative to democratic governance is decision-making by high-minded Platonic philosopher-kings – ideally economists!

In the kingdom of the economists, is the one-armed economist the king?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


How Three Texas Counties Created Personal Social Security Accounts and Prospered (Merrill Matthews, May. 12 2011, Forbes)

Like Social Security, employees contribute 6.2 percent of their income, with the county matching the contribution (Galveston has chosen to provide a slightly larger share). Once the county makes its contribution, its financial obligation is done. So there are no long-term unfunded liabilities.

But not all of that money goes into an employee’s retirement account. When financial planner Rick Gornto devised the Alternate Plan in 1981, he wanted it to be a complete substitute for Social Security. And Social Security isn’t just a retirement fund; it’s social insurance that provides a death benefit—a whopping $255—survivors’ insurance, and a disability benefit.

Part of the employer contribution in the Alternate Plan goes toward a term life insurance policy, which pays four times the employee’s salary tax free, up to a maximum of $215,000. That’s nearly 850 times Social Security’s death benefit.

More importantly, if a worker participating in Social Security dies before retirement, he loses his contribution (though part of that money might go to surviving children, if any, or a spouse who didn’t work and therefore didn’t establish his or her own benefits). But a worker in the Alternate Plan owns his account, so the entire account belongs to the estate. There is also, among other benefits, a disability benefit that pays immediately upon injury, rather than waiting six months, plus other restrictions, as under Social Security.

And those who retire under the Galveston model do much better than Social Security. For example:

A lower-middle income worker making about $26,000 at retirement would get about $1,007 a month under Social Security, but $1,826 under the Alternate Plan, according to First Financial’s calculations.

A middle-income worker making $51,200 would get about $1,540 monthly from Social Security, but $3,600 from the banking model.

And a high-income worker who maxed out on his Social Security contribution every year would receive about $2,500 a month from Social Security vs. $5,000 to $6,000 a month from the Alternate Plan.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Why don't we love our intellectuals?: While France celebrates its intelligentsia, you have to go back to Orwell and Huxley to find British intellectuals at the heart of national public debate. Why did we stop caring about ideas? When did 'braininess' become a laughing matter? (John Naughton, 5/08/11, The Observer)

One of the distinctive aspects of British culture is that the word "intellectual" seems to be regarded as a term of abuse. WH Auden summed it up neatly when he wrote: "To the man-in-the-street, who, I'm sorry to say, / Is a keen observer of life,/ The word 'Intellectual' suggests right away/ A man who's untrue to his wife."

Auden wasn't alone in thinking that intellectuals suffer from ethical deficiencies. The journalist and historian Paul Johnson once devoted an entire book, Intellectuals: from Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (2000), to proving that some of the 20th century's most prominent thinkers were moral cretins. And in his book The Intellectuals and the Masses (Faber, 1992) the literary critic John Carey argued that most of our culture's esteemed thinkers over several centuries despised the masses and devoted much of their efforts to excluding the hoi-polloi from cultural life. Both Johnson and Carey were pushing at an open door. Britain is a country in which the word "intellectual" is often preceded by the sneering adjective "so-called", where smart people are put down because they are "too clever by half" and where a cerebral politician (David Willetts) was for years saddled with the soubriquet "Two Brains". It's a society in which creative engineers are labelled "boffins" and kids with a talent for mathematics or computer programming are "nerds". As far as the Brits are concerned, intellectuals begin at Calais and gravitate to Paris, where the fact that they are lionised in its cafes and salons is seen as proof that the French, despite their cheese- and wine-making skills, are fundamentally unsound.

...we English speakers hold them in contempt. And you think we have a problem?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Whether Mitch Daniels runs for president may come down to his wife’s vote (Jason Horowitz, May 11, 2011, Washington Post)

The governor’s political enemies — those who are eager to box out a promising contender with a reputation for fiscal seriousness, establishment backing and intellectual heft — are taking him at his word.

A rival campaign has identified the first lady’s reticence as a pressure point before she steps fully into the limelight. The couple has a complicated personal history. They divorced in 1994, and Cheri Daniels moved to California, where she remarried. The future governor, then a senior executive at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, raised the couple’s four daughters, who at the time spanned the ages of 8 to 14. Cheri Daniels later returned, and the couple remarried in 1997.

In exchange for anonymity, an official for another GOP prospect provided contact information for the ex-wife of the man Cheri Daniels married, in the years between her divorce and remarriage to Daniels. Other officials at potential rival campaigns to Daniels disagreed about whether the personal history of Cheri Daniels would ever be a vulnerability or even germane to the race. One key adviser to a potential candidate said that the guardedness the first lady had exhibited about her past signaled a lack of enthusiasm that, more than any personal baggage, would handicap her husband’s chances over time. An official at another candidate’s campaign said the marital history wouldn’t and shouldn’t matter. [...]

Other potential candidates have had to contend with more sensational marital discord.

Donald Trump has long been known for dating much younger women and then divorcing them for much younger women. Newt Gingrich, who announced his presidential bid Wednesday, left his first wife, his high school geometry teacher, for his second wife, Marianne Gingrich, whom he left for his current wife, Callista Gingrich. A front-page profile of Callista Gingrich in Tuesday’s New York Times ended with a friend’s politically palatable assessment that the “great couple” had “a nontraditional start.”

In 2008, Mitt Romney quipped that of all the Republicans in the field, only the Mormon had one wife. This time around, fellow Mormon Jon Huntsman joins him in that category. Tim Pawlenty has, if anything, sought to spice up depictions of his marriage. In an early 2010 foray into Iowa, Pawlenty opened a speech by saying, “I’m very thankful for my red-hot smoking wife, the first lady of Minnesota.”

Gov. Daniels also relies on a standard line. When discussing his divorce and remarriage to Cheri Daniels, he often remarks: “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Facebook After FarmVille: Sid Meier is one of the most beloved computer game designers of all time. But will fans play his new Civilization for Facebook? (Ben Crair)

Sid Meier was born in 1954. As a child in Michigan, his interests fell toward geekery: model railroads, dinosaurs, board games, and the Civil War. Instead of outgrowing his hobbies, Meier made his living from them. His original idea for Civilization was "Risk brought to life on the computer," and his other games include Gettysburg! and Railroad Tycoon.

"I was interested in gaming in the dark days before computers," Meier tells me in his Baltimore office, which is the type of place he might have dreamed of as a boy. It is cluttered with volumes about both his childhood passions and the ones he's picked up since, like golf-course design and Bach's music.

After graduating with a degree in computer science from the University of Michigan, Meier took a job with General Instrument Corporation in Maryland. Computer games were just a hobby, something he toyed with in his spare time, until he caught the attention of his coworker Bill Stealey at a trade show in Las Vegas.

"Sid and I had been sitting through two days of sales meetings, and he whispered to me, 'Hey, Bill, I know where there's a game room,'" Stealey, a former pilot, remembers. "There was a flying game. I said, 'OK Mario, I bet you a quarter I can beat you at this one.' I sat down and scored 75,000 points. He watched, sat down, and scored 150,000 points." Meier had cracked the game's algorithms as Stealey played. Not long afterward, the two left General Instrument Corporation to form MicroProse, a computer-game company, in 1982.

Meier quickly made a name for himself at MicroProse with flight simulators and a popular 1987 game called Sid Meier's Pirates!. But it was not until Railroad Tycoon that he hit upon the game-design philosophy he would perfect in Civilization. "A few simple systems interacting to create an interesting and complex design," as he puts it.

Civilization layered several basic systems—technology, economy, and military—to create a surprisingly deep game. Games are, in Meier's oft-quoted definition, "a series of interesting choices," but most videogames only require their player to essentially survive as he guides an avatar from plot point to plot point. In Civilization, the player dreamed up an entirely new world every time he played, as he experimented with different strategies—a warmongering Ghandi, say, or (in one of the sequels) a German empire with a Jewish state religion.

The game's enormous scope was made manageable by its structure. "Time is a critical element in games, and one of the characteristics of Civilization is you have as much time as you want to think about things," Meier explains. Say you're playing Civilization IV. Without hitting pause, you can begin building a granary in your capital, declare war on your neighbor, convert your civilization to Confucianism, change your mind about the granary and order a barracks instead, read 50 pages of Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, walk the dog, take a nap, and wake up to find the game exactly as you left it. A player queues up actions and then hits a button to execute those actions all at once. One such sequence constitutes a turn. Acquiring a technology like pottery for your civilization might take six turns, while a world wonder like the Great Pyramids could take 20 turns to build. A typical game consists of 500 turns.

"This is the heritage of board gaming that Sid has brought into the electronic arena," says Sim City designer Will Wright, who calls Meier the "master of turn-based gaming." The turn-based structure lent Civilization an intellectual flavor, as players crafted long-term strategies rather than thumb-jamming in response to whatever appeared on screen. "I want the player to be living in the future of the game, to be thinking what's going to happen next," Meier says. "The game is really happening in their head, as opposed to on the screen."

...but the revelatory aspect of his games is how interested they get boys in military history.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


For Osama, there’s no hope of resurrection (Olivier Roy, 12 May 2011, New Statesman)

With the killing of Bin Laden in Abbottabad, al-Qaeda is as good as dead. This was never a mass movement, or one with connections to real-world struggles like the Arab spring — it fed off the fantasies of loners and theatrical mise en scène. [...]

The great wave of democratic revolts in the Arab world has shown the extent to which al-Qaeda had already been marginalised, as much organisationally as in the form of a political discourse. Al-Qaeda, which has never had roots in social movements, ceases to exist if it isn't on the front pages and on our television screens.

In fact, the marginalisation of al-Qaeda corresponds, as I have noted in previous articles in the New Statesman, to a paradigm shift in the Arab world that is religious as well as political. The demand for freedom and democracy in a national context has displaced the imaginary umma, the world community of Muslims, in its struggle with the west. Charismatic authoritarian personalities such as Bin Laden no longer exert any fascination on an individualistic and rather pragmatic younger generation.

...the great mystery of the era is why otherwise sensible folk of the Right imagined that there was any chance of qaedism having a broad appeal and of it representing any threat to the West. At least when Whittaker Chambers and Aleksandr Solzenhitsyn had their great crises of confidence in the West, there was cause for concern--socialism, after all, does have broad democratic appeal and many in the West were ready to give up the fight against the USSR. Of course. Ronald Reagan understand matters rather better and was properly dismissive of the whole Marxist project. He was especially devastating when he noted that Marxism was doomed not just because it had failed on our terms, but on its own.

How much odder then that just twenty years later so many conservatives imagined Islamicism to be on par with Marxism/Communism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Fire and Ice: Ai Weiwei’s cutting edge art, blogging, and sacrifice on behalf of freedom in China. (Jed Perl, May 11, 2011, New Republic)

The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is a very brave man. Long before April 3, when he was taken into police custody by the Chinese authorities in Beijing as he attempted to board a flight for Hong Kong, he knew that his vigorous support for human rights in China put him on a collision course with the government. He was badly beaten by the police in 2009, his blog was shut down that same year, and in 2010 his new studio in Shanghai was bulldozed by authorities. True, Ai may have imagined that his immense prestige in the international art world—he is regarded as the Chinese answer to Joseph Beuys, a post-Duchampian shaman with an Asian spin—would have provided him some protection. And for a time it did. But Ai, who as a child during the Cultural Revolution saw his own father, Ai Qing, a famous poet, sent to western Xinjiang province, China’s “little Siberia,” where he was given the lowliest of jobs scrubbing toilets, cannot have been unaware of the risks he was running as he protested the policies of China’s totalitarian regime. The new China, much like Stalin’s Russia, only plays the cultural diplomacy card so long as it works to its own advantage. Even the country’s most celebrated artistic spirit—Ai collaborated with the architects Herzog & de Meuron on the design of the Bird’s Nest Stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics—can be sent to prison, just like any other citizen of the police state.

Ai is a fire and ice personality. The ice is in the impossibly self-confident impresario who has become a hero of the global art world with his sometimes elegant, sometimes arrogant, sometimes frankly obnoxious appropriations and deconstructions of China’s cultural heritage. His best known works include: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995), a set of three photographs showing Ai as he shatters the ancient artifact; Template (2007), a construction made of 1001 wooden doors and windows from demolished Ming and Qing Dynasty homes; and Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, currently on display in New York in front of the Plaza Hotel, which consists of bronze replicas or reconstructions of heads designed by European Jesuits for the Manchu emperor Qianlong. The fire—which you find on nearly every page of a new book of Ai’s writings, Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009 (The MIT Press)—is in his critique of contemporary China and the political stands he has taken in the past half-dozen years, including his outspoken support for parents whose children were killed when shoddily constructed schools collapsed during the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008. If the work that has earned Ai an international following reflects the taste for chilly ironies that dominated the New York art world during his time in the city between 1981 and 1995, his experiences in China have turned this swaggering art world insider into an enraged social outsider.

Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009 is the work of a large, restless, impassioned imagination. His writing here has some of the speculative reach we know from William Morris’s critiques of Victorian England and Donald Judd’s indictments of contemporary art world corruption. Like Morris and Judd, Ai keeps pivoting toward the bigger insight, the broader perspective. He is not a great writer, he may not even be a good writer, but there’s heroism in this voice. When Ai speaks about modernism in a 2006 blog, the word regains a vitality it has pretty much lost in the West. “China still lacks a modernist movement of any magnitude,” he writes, “for the basis of such a movement would be the liberation of humanity and the illumination brought by the humanitarian spirit. Democracy, material wealth, and universal education are the soil upon which modernism exists.” Who in the United States or Western Europe dares to say things like this anymore?

W, for one. Though he better understands that the basis for the movement is Christianity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Battle over national debt ceiling has negotiation experts shaking their heads (David A. Fahrenthold, Published: May 11, 2011, Washington Post)

"There are ways to do this. There are tried and proven ways to deal with difficult negotiations,” said William Ury, who helped found Harvard’s Project on Negotiation and co-wrote the negotiation-lit classic “Getting to Yes.” “They work daily, in difficult hostage negotiations. Why not apply them?”

“The country,” Ury said, “deserves better negotiations.”

This negotiation is about raising America’s credit-card limit. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised beyond the current cap of $14.3 trillion, administration officials say the nation could begin defaulting on its debts in early August.

But the Republicans who control the House have said they won’t automatically vote to raise it. On Monday night in New York, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) laid out his party’s demands.

“Without significant spending cuts and changes in the way we spend the American people’s money, there will be no increase in the debt limit,” Boehner said, in an address to the Economic Club of New York. [...]

On the Republican side of the table, Ury — the “Getting to Yes” author — said Boehner chose a strategy that might leave him trapped in a political corner. The problem, he said, was that Boehner had issued a threat to do something unusually drastic: possibly allowing the country to default.

Their livelihood depends on the notion that the process matters, whereas the reality is that the winner has already been decided at the point negotiation begins. Raising the debt limit is just a formality, which the GOP was always going to accede to. They've managed to force Democrats to agree to budget cuts as well. The only question is the size of the cuts, a triviality given that they're just symbolic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Gas prices push commuters to the train (Steve Hargreaves, 5/12/11, CNNMoney)

Rising gas prices are helping drive a double-digit growth in ridership at several public transit systems across the country.

In Miami, passenger counts on the regional rail service connecting the city to the northern suburbs are up over 12% in April compared to a year ago, according to the American Public Transit Association.

In New Mexico, the "Rail Runner," a commuter train that runs from south of Albuquerque to Santa Fe, attracted 14% more riders last month than the same time a year prior.

And in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina, ridership on the express bus service connecting the three cities is up 18%.

The spike is being attributed to people going back to work after the recession and a steady rise in gas prices that's taxing the budgets of many motorists.

Unfortunately, it's not a function of taxing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Budget Presents Opportunities for U.S. Farmers (Andrea Hayley, 5/11/11, Epoch Time)

The most controversial part of the bill came in 1996 when good intentions by Congress went wrong.

“In an attempt to get rid of subsidies they created a program that turned out to be a disaster,” said Wiehoff.

It happened during a good year, like the current year, when commodity prices were high. Congress decided to get rid of subsidies, only to have prices suddenly drop, forcing an emergency bail out of the farmers.

The benefits, now entrenched based on historical allotments, currently go to farmers of major commodities like corn, soybeans, and wheat—products desirable on the global markets.

Farmers of other products, such as fruits, vegetables, and organic and urban growers for example, have no chance of support under this system. Over a billion dollars a year of direct payments are estimated to go to people who no longer farm their land.

“It is not a very rational system. It could be done in a much more thoughtful way,” said Wiehoff.

The federal government’s intervention in the markets has also created a system where certain farmers are encouraged to overproduce using modern, capital intensive farming techniques, which increase yields, but may devastate the quality of the land.

Excess crops are then dumped on the world markets at prices lower than the cost of production, leaving millions of farmers in developing countries unable to compete with the cheap American imports.

The United Nations, developing countries, and the WTO have criticized the United States and other developed nation’s agricultural practices on numerous occasions.

An overhaul of the system could benefit hundreds of thousands more American farmers, as well as provide relief to subsistence farmers in developing nations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollahs (Jed Babbin, 5/12/11, Real Clear Politics)

For at least two months, Ahmadinejad is reportedly saying that the uprisings in many Arab states are a sign that the Mahdi's reappearance is imminent. The Mahdi is the mythic "twelfth imam" whose return to earth is supposed to be brought about by an apocalyptic event and result in an all- Islamic paradise on earth.

A cult of personality has grown around Ahmadinejad. [...]

Ahmadinejad may be arrogant and overly-ambitious, but he's not mad. It's hard to see why he would think he could succeed in a political fight against Khamenei.

It's only hard to see if you misunderstand your own reporting.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 AM


Tough Times for Radical Islam: Osama bin Laden’s world of terrorism no longer exists. (Victor Davis Hanson, 5/12/11, National Review)

[T]here is a final development that caused headaches for radical Islam — the end of the American hysteria over the legality and morality of its own antiterrorism measures.

Although candidate Barack Obama was elected as the anti-Bush who promised to repeal the Republican president’s protocols and end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama did no such thing. He continued the Bush–Petraeus withdrawal plan in Iraq. He escalated in Afghanistan. He kept all the antiterrorism measures that he had once derided. And he expanded the Predator-drone assassination missions fivefold, while sending commandos inside Pakistan to kill — not capture or put on trial — bin Laden. He ignored most recommendations from Attorney General Eric Holder and guessed rightly that his own left-wing base would keep largely quiet.

The effect was twofold. America kept up the pressure on terrorists and their supporters. And the liberal opposition to our antiterrorist policies simply evaporated once Obama became commander-in-chief.

Some who once protested the removal of Saddam lauded the efforts to do the same to Qaddafi. Those who once sued on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo joined the government to ensure the Predator-drone targeted-killing program continued.

The chances in 2012 that the buffoonish Michael Moore — who once praised the Iraqi insurgents — will again be feted as a guest of honor at the Democratic National Convention, as he was in 2004, or that Cindy Sheehan will grab headlines for a second time, are zero.

Polls show that Obama’s America is still just as unpopular among Middle Easterners as it was under George W. Bush. But now a much different media assumes that the problem is theirs, not America’s. In this brave new world, the American liberal community is now invested in the continuance of the once-despised Bush antiterrorism program and the projection of force abroad — and has little sympathy for foreign criticism of an American president.

Quite simply, bin Laden’s world of 2001 no longer exists. That’s mostly good for us, but it’s also quite bad for the dead terrorist’s followers.

...a case that has played out so well it seems to prove Bismarck right. He'll leave office having changed almost nothing but having gotten the Left to shut up while we finished the WoT. Like Nixon going to China, he's been able to wage the war with complete disregard for "international law" and "human rights" without so much as a peep from the folks who thought such things made W a Hitler.

MORE (via Matt Murphy):
Barack Obama action figure styled as Rambo, Navy SEAL Team Six (The Courier-Mail, May 12, 2011)

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has been immortalised in plastic as a Rambo-style SEAL to celebrate the killing of al-Qa'ida chief Osama bin Laden.

Toymaker Herobuilders, famed for making sixth-scale action figures of famous political figures, said: "We call him Rambama.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM

SIMPLE FRAUD (profanity alert):

The People vs. Goldman Sachs: A Senate committee has laid out the evidence. Now the Justice Department should bring criminal charges (Matt Taibi, 5/11/11, Rolling Stone)

By the end of 2006, Goldman was sitting atop a $6 billion bet on American home loans. The bet was a byproduct of Goldman having helped create a new trading index called the ABX, through which it accumulated huge holdings in mortgage-related securities. But in December 2006, a series of top Goldman executives — including Viniar, mortgage chief Daniel Sparks and senior executive Thomas Montag — came to the conclusion that Goldman was overexposed to mortgages and should get out from under its huge bet as quickly as possible. Internal memos indicate that the executives soon became aware of the host of scams that would crater the global economy: home loans awarded with no documentation, loans with little or no equity in them. On December 14th, Viniar met with Sparks and other executives, and stressed the need to get "closer to home" — i.e., to reduce the bank's giant bet on mortgages.

Sparks followed up that meeting with a seven-point memo laying out how to unload the bank's mortgages. Entry No. 2 is particularly noteworthy. "Distribute as much as possible on bonds created from new loan securitizations," Sparks wrote, "and clean previous positions." In other words, the bank needed to find suckers to buy as much of its risky inventory as possible. Goldman was like a car dealership that realized it had a whole lot full of cars with faulty brakes. Instead of announcing a recall, it surged ahead with a two-fold plan to make a fortune: first, by dumping the dangerous products on other people, and second, by taking out life insurance against the fools who bought the deadly cars.

The day he received the Sparks memo, Viniar seconded the plan in a gleeful cheerleading e-mail. "Let's be aggressive distributing things," he wrote, "because there will be very good opportunities as the markets [go] into what is likely to be even greater distress, and we want to be in a position to take advantage of them." Translation: Let's find as many suckers as we can as fast as we can, because we'll only make more money as more and more sh[***] hits the fan.

By February 2007, two months after the Sparks memo, Goldman had gone from betting $6 billion on mortgages to betting $10 billion against them — a shift of $16 billion. Even CEO Lloyd "I'm doing God's work" Blankfein wondered aloud about the bank's progress in "cleaning" its crap. "Could/should we have cleaned up these books before," Blankfein wrote in one e-mail, "and are we doing enough right now to sell off cats and dogs in other books throughout the division?"

How did Goldman sell off its "cats and dogs"? Easy: It assembled new batches of risky mortgage bonds and dumped them on their clients, who took Goldman's word that they were buying a product the bank believed in. The names of the deals Goldman used to "clean" its books — chief among them Hudson and Timberwolf — are now notorious on Wall Street. Each of the deals appears to represent a different and innovative brand of shamelessness and deceit.

In the marketing materials for the Hudson deal, Goldman claimed that its interests were "aligned" with its clients because it bought a tiny, $6 million slice of the riskiest portion of the offering. But what it left out is that it had shorted the entire deal, to the tune of a $2 billion bet against its own clients. The bank, in fact, had specifically designed Hudson to reduce its exposure to the very types of mortgages it was selling — one of its creators, trading chief Michael Swenson, later bragged about the "extraordinary profits" he made shorting the housing market. All told, Goldman dumped $1.2 billion of its own crappy "cats and dogs" into the deal — and then told clients that the assets in Hudson had come not from its own inventory, but had been "sourced from the Street."

Hilariously, when Senate investigators asked Goldman to explain how it could claim it had bought the Hudson assets from "the Street" when in fact it had taken them from its own inventory, the bank's head of CDO trading, David Lehman, claimed it was accurate to say the assets came from "the Street" because Goldman was part of the Street. "They were like, 'We are the Street,'" laughs one investigator.

Hudson lost massive amounts of money almost immediately after the sale was completed. Goldman's biggest client, Morgan Stanley, begged it to liquidate the investment and get out while they could still salvage some value. But Goldman refused, stalling for months as its clients roasted to death in a raging conflagration of losses. At one point, John Pearce, the Morgan Stanley rep dealing with Goldman, lost his temper at the bank's refusal to sell, breaking his phone in frustration. "One day I hope I get the real reason why you are doing this to me," he told a Goldman broker.

Goldman insists it was only required to liquidate the assets "in an orderly fashion." But the bank had an incentive to drag its feet: Goldman's huge bet against the deal meant that the worse Hudson performed, the more money Goldman made. After all, the entire point of the transaction was to screw its own clients so Goldman could "clean its books." The crime was far from victimless: Morgan Stanley alone lost nearly $960 million on the Hudson deal, which admittedly doesn't do much to tug the heartstrings. Except that quickly after Goldman dumped this near-billion-dollar loss on Morgan Stanley, Morgan Stanley turned around and dumped it on taxpayers, who within a year were spending $10 billion bailing out the sucker bank through the TARP program.

It is worth pointing out here that Goldman's behavior in the Hudson scam makes a mockery of standards in the underwriting business. Courts have held that "the relationship between the underwriter and its customer implicitly involves a favorable recommendation of the issued security." The SEC, meanwhile, requires that broker-dealers like Goldman disclose "material adverse facts," which among other things includes "adverse interests." Former prosecutors and regulators I interviewed point to these areas as potential avenues for prosecution; you can judge for yourself if a $2 billion bet against clients qualifies as an "adverse interest" that should have been disclosed.

But these "adverse interests" weren't even the worst part of Hudson. Goldman also used a complex pricing method to turn the deal into an impressive triple screwing. Essentially, Goldman bought some of the mortgage assets in the Hudson deal at a discount, resold them to clients at a higher price and pocketed the difference. This is a little like getting an invoice from an interior decorator who, in addition to his fee for services, charges you $170 a roll for brand-name wallpaper he's actually buying off the back of a truck for $63.

To recap: Goldman, to get $1.2 billion in crap off its books, dumps a huge lot of deadly mortgages on its clients, lies about where that crap came from and claims it believes in the product even as it's betting $2 billion against it. When its victims try to run out of the burning house, Goldman stands in the doorway, blasts them all with gasoline before they can escape, and then has the balls to send a bill overcharging its victims for the pleasure of getting fried.

The point of the instruments was to hide risks.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


The Kugel Conundrum (Josh Ozersky, Apr. 28, 2011, TIME)

Jewish food is awful. I say this with all respect. I'm Jewish myself — Joel Stein is practically a WASP next to me. But the fact has to be faced. And the question asked, isn't there a way out of our culinary wandering in the desert?

I'm not talking about Kosher food, which is a special department of its own. Nor am I speaking of what Jews eat in Spain, Israel, or Argentina—rich, dynamic food cultures that have entranced the world. I'm speaking of the familiar Eastern European Jewish food that most American Jews of my generation grew up eating: dry and flavorless brisket, cooked in a salty fluid of Campbell's beef broth and Lipton onion soup mix. I'm talking about tasteless matzoh balls and aggressively bland "farmer's cheese"; pasty, cold chopped liver with inexplicable pieces of hard boiled egg implanted in it; dense lokshon kugels, sweet noodle casseroles as unappetizing as a Christmas fruitcake; and of course, the always terrifying herring in cream sauces, a food so vile in appearance that it could turn a glutton anorexic overnight.

These and other, worse, foods are all part of the Jewish-American food canon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 AM


Pro-life ‘victory’ as Indiana law cuts all Planned Parenthood funding (Kevin J. Jones, 5/11/11, CNA/EWTN News)

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law a bill that cuts Planned Parenthood state funding and adds other restrictions on abortion.

“It’s a great victory,” said Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference. “This is an achievement we’ve been working towards for a number of years.”

He thought the law offers “a very good chance” to reduce the number of abortions in Indiana.

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May 11, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 PM


A Tight Deadline, 4,000 Words, Then Ten Years of Waiting: A Q&A with Kate Zernike, Osama bin Laden’s obituarist for the NYT (Lauren Kirchner, 5/10/11, CJR)

How long had the Times had this obituary on file? When did you and Michael Kaufman start working on it?

This goes back to November of 2001, when we thought Osama was going to be captured, and presumably killed, in a raid in the next couple of days. So as much as it was a project that waited around for ten years, it actually was written in some ways on a fairly tight deadline.

In November 2001, I was working for the investigations team—I had actually been an education reporter at the Times before 9/11, but after 9/11 happened, everyone sort of got sent to different areas—so I was working in investigations, and Steve Engelberg, the investigations editor, said that we needed a bin Laden obituary. At the time, there was actually a whole bin Laden budget—you know, the list of stories that they were anticipating running. It was a plan for a front page that probably looked a lot like what the front page looked like on Monday, in fact.

Among all of those stories was a bin Laden obituary. It turned out that the obituary editor at the time had actually asked one of his writers to write something up, but it hadn’t been very long. They came to me and very specifically said that they wanted something that would be what’s known as a “double truck” inside. So I took Michael Kaufman’s work—and it’s odd, many times at The New York Times you’ll write a story with someone who you’re not in the same office with, and I never met him, and then of course he died last year—but I took his work and incorporated it into a longer piece.

This was just before Thanksgiving, and I remember we were on a pretty tight deadline, and we didn’t know when this was going to happen. But it’s still hard writing such a long piece, and when I left for Thanksgiving with my family, it wasn’t quite done yet. I remember the phone ringing in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner, and thinking like “Aaah! It’s happened!” because who else would call? Well, we had a guest visiting, and it ended up being her mother on the phone.

So we kept thinking it was going to happen, and I came back to work and finished it in the end of November. And, you know, you think it’s going to run, and then you think it’s going to be another couple of months, and then at some point, later in 2002, we sort of thought, “Okay, this may not run.” And then of course in 2003, it becomes more about the Iraq war, and there’s less talk about bin Laden. I sort of forgot about it....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Kerry: It’s time to give up on Assad the reformer (Josh Rogin, May 10, 2011, Foreign Policy)

[John] Kerry, who has served as Congress's point man on engaging the Syrian regime, told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as recently as March 16 -- shortly after the current uprising had begun -- that he still expected Assad to embrace political reform and move toward more engagement with America and its allies.

"[M]y judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it," said Kerry, who has met with Assad six times over the past two years.

But in an exclusive interview today, Kerry said he no longer saw the Syrian government as willing to reform. "He obviously is not a reformer now," he said, while also defending his previous stance. "I've always said the top goal of Assad is to perpetuate his own regime."

When pressed by The Cable about his earlier, rosier view of Assad, Kerry denied he had expected the Syrian regime would come around.

More buffing the dead skin off Teresa's feet, less time speaking, please.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


Navy Taps the Crowdsourcing Power of Online Gaming to Fight Somali Pirates (Clay Dillow, 05.11.2011, Popular Science)

The Office of Naval Research is seeking fresh tactics for fighting the problem of Somali piracy, and it is turning to the defense community via an increasingly common tool for crowd sourcing tactical advice: a video game. ONR’s Massive Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI) exercise will gather more than 1,000 players into a three-week scenario where they’ll deal with the complex nature of a changing and evolving threat.

It’s safe to say MMOWGLI won’t look like a massive multiplayer round of Black Ops or Counter Strike. ONR isn’t looking for players that are particularly adept at collecting frags with a virtual rifle, but rather for minds from academia, the defense industry, government organizations and other defense- and naval-related fields that might produce solutions to a set of difficult problems. Like how to defend a growing swath of a major shipping lane from determined bandits in small, fast boats.

But it's also looking for suggestions from the larger crowd, as the game is open to anyone who wishes to sign up.

How much do we waste on having professional intelligence agencies?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


Osama bin Laden sought 'new 9/11' to force US out of Middle East: Horde of writings on computers, flash drives and in diary reveal morbid emphasis on another atrocity (Ed Pilkington in New York and Declan Walsh in Islamabad, 5/12/11, The Guardian)

Osama bin Laden went to the bizarre length of trying to calculate how many more American deaths it would take to force the US to retreat from the Middle East, his writings have revealed.

The al-Qaida leader was convinced that only a massive blood-letting on the scale of 9/11 would have the necessary shock factor to effect a change in US policy around the region.

9-11 having worked out so well for al Qaeda? Even Japan didn't rebomb Pearl Harbor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Common Controversy Comes to White House Poetry Night (Jake Tapper, May 11, 2011, ABC News)

New Jersey State Trooper Dave Jones could hardly believe it.

An official from the White House had called him to find out more about his objections to the participation of the hip hop artist “Common” in White House poetry night, and the official had never heard of Joanne Chesimard.

Common celebrated Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, in his song "A Song for Assata,” one of a handful of works that have this week been criticized with his invitation to the White House. Common is a fairly mainstream hip hop artist, but he has voiced opinions that members of law enforcement and others find offensive.

Jones, a 33-year veteran and president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, explained to the White House official – whom he wouldn’t name – who Joanne Chesmard is.

“She’s a domestic terrorist who wrapped her criminality and her abhorrent anti social behavior in a cause to try to disguise her disgust for America in this make believe 1960s radicalism,” Jones told ABC News Wednesday morning. “In 1973 she executed Trooper Werner Foerster with his own gun after he was already shot and didn’t represent a threat to anyone. And after she shot him she kicked him in the head to the point that hours later after he was picked up his brain was still part of the remnants on her shoe.” [...]

In a Def Poetry Jam poem, Common said, “flyers say ‘free Mumia’ on my freezer,” a reference to cause célèbre Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, whose supporters maintain his innocence.

Jones doesn’t like Common, but his main issue with Common coming to the White House, he says, is that this is Police Week in Washington, DC. In a vigil on Friday, Jones will add the name of a fallen trooper -- Marc Castellano, 29, hit by a car in June 2010 – to the Law Enforcement Memorial.

“Of all the times for the president to have this nitwit in the White House reading his vitriolic nonsense…” Jones says, his voice trailing off.

Mr. Jones ought not take it so personally, the nitwit holds Mr. Obama's own father in contempt too:
TOUCH: This is a lyric from the track ‘Heat’ on your ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ album: "State senators, life twirls, most sell out – like a dread with a white girl." Explain please.

COMMON: Rastafarianism is a black culture. When you see dreadlocked dudes with white girls that’s like they going against what the dreadlock’s purpose was. The dreadlock was a symbol of black love and the black people gettin’ to a certain level. In America we’ve got a lot of dreadlocked dudes and all you see them with is white girls. I don’t think there’s anything the matter with somebody loving somebody from another race but it’s almost like a stereotype that if you’ve got dreadlocks you go out with a white girl. I just feel like, as black men, we do have to be aware that, yo, every time we step out with some woman it’s setting an example for our daughters and it’s also representing something for our mothers. If you can’t really love your own, how can you really love others?

TOUCH: So you don’t agree with mixed race relationships?

COMMON: I disagree with them. It's a lack of self-love. It's a problem.

TOUCH: Have you ever dated outside your race?

COMMON: Nah, not dated [giggles].

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


The Immigration Paradox: Americans say they want to give illegal immigrants a shot at citizenship, but their representatives aren't sure they mean it. (Ronald Brownstein, May 11, 2011, National Journal)

For years, in good economic times and bad, polls have consistently found that most Americans believe immigrants who are in the United States illegally should be provided a pathway to legal status if they take steps such as paying a fine or learning English. And yet, no matter how many times pollsters return that verdict, most Republican and Democratic elected officials alike remain convinced that providing illegal immigrants any route to legal status is a losing cause politically.

It’s difficult to think of another issue on which so many political leaders are so flatly, reflexively dismissive of a consistent finding in public opinion polling. “I have given briefings to Republican congressmen at retreats on Capitol Hill [about those numbers] and they just look at me and say flatly, ‘that’s not what people in my district think,' " says Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

Every Republican elected to the presidency the past thirty years has favored open borders.

Neo-Nazi Father Is Killed; Son, 10, Steeped in Beliefs, Is Accused (JESSE McKINLEY, 5/11/11, NY Times)

The day before he allegedly shot his father, the sandy-haired 10-year-old boy showed off a prized possession to a visitor. It was a thin leather belt emblazoned with a silver insignia of the Nazi SS.

“Look what my dad got me,” the boy said shyly, perched on the living room stairs, one of the few quiet spots in a house with five children.

A little more than 12 hours later, the police say, the boy stood near those stairs with a handgun and killed his father, Jeff Hall, as he lay on the living room couch. It was about 4 a.m. on May 1; paramedics declared Mr. Hall dead when they arrived.

The police say that the killing was intentional, but that the motives behind it are still not fully understood. But whatever the reason, it has cast fresh light on the fringe group to which Mr. Hall devoted his life: the National Socialist Movement, the nation’s largest neo-Nazi party, whose message stands in surreal juxtaposition to the suburban, workaday trappings of many of its members.

Mr. Hall, who led a chapter of the group in Riverside, Calif., east of Los Angeles, had predicted that his political activities — in a world rife with hatred, suspicion and violence — would lead to his demise.

“I want a white society,” Mr. Hall said. “I believe in secession. I believe in giving my life for secession.”

What he could never have expected was that his death might come at the hand of his son, whom he was steeping in his beliefs of white supremacy and its obsessions with weapons, racist speech and Nazi regalia.

Over the last two months, The New York Times attended and documented a series of events held by Mr. Hall and the National Socialist Movement, or N.S.M., including virulent, hate-filled rallies as well as barbecues and baby showers in the backyard of his Southern California home.

Mr. Hall was a rising force in the party, which has capitalized on a tide of anti-immigrant sentiment to attract members — young racist skinheads, aging Ku Klux Klan members, and extremists on the left and the right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Britain Goes Wobbly on Terror: The foul outpouring of sneering anti-Americanism and concern for bin Laden's human rights has left me deeply ashamed. (ANDREW ROBERTS, 5/11/11, WSJ)

When the Mets-Phillies baseball game erupted into cheers on hearing the wonderful news, or the crowds chanted "USA! USA!" outside the White House, they were manifesting the finest emotional responses of a great people. By total contrast, when Douglas Murray, the associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, told the BBC's flagship program "Question Time" last Thursday that he felt "elated" at the news, he was booed, heckled and almost shouted down.

Another panelist, the writer Yasmin Alibhai Brown, was applauded when she said she was "depressed" by the killing, as it "demeans a democracy and a president who has shown himself to be the Ugly American. He's degraded American democracy, which had already degraded itself through torture and rendition." The former Liberal Party leader Paddy Ashdown was then cheered when he said: "I cannot rejoice on the killing of any man. I belong to a country that is founded on the principle of exercise of due process of law," as though the United States was founded on some other idea.

...they're not serious people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Under police protection, staunchly ecumenist Park51 achieves a sort of normalcy ( Colby Hamilton, May. 10, 2011, Capital New York)

Around the corner, on Park Place, the din of activity faded. The street was nearly empty, other than two policemen leaning against a cruiser parked outside a building with peeling white paint and the faded remains of a sign indicating the former presence of a Burlington Coat Factory. This was the site of as-yet-unbuilt Park51—the “Ground Zero mosque”—where a scheduled event on traditional Islamic medicine was about to begin. [...]

The ground floor has been gutted, leaving exposed concrete walls and a dust-covered floor. The old escalator is still there, but unused, leading up to nothing but darkness. A security guard stands near a folding table with photocopied information sheets on the Park51 project.

The only signs of life were to the left of the entryway. Adjacent to—but not, as the Park51 website makes a lot of effort to point out, in—the actual community center is an area called PrayerSpace, where Muslim faithful can attend daily prayers. This is as close to an actual mosque as exists there. A long room with commercial-grade carpet and pillars down the center, it looks like any number of church basements nearby, or anywhere.

But here the gates over the windows were down, a large man standing under them who was obviously there for security, creating an overall sense of being in a bunker.

In the back, a crowd of about 20 people (and one reporter) had gathered for the night’s event, advertised by Park51 as “So Old, It’s New: the Practice of a Sacred Medical Science.” The purpose, according to a flier, was to “discuss Park51’s integrated approach to health and well-being.”

Most of the people who coalesced around a solitary chair at the back of the room occupied by the night’s speaker, Hakim Mirza Ilyas al-Kashani, were Muslims, but the crowd was diverse-looking. [...]

If you’ve ever had acupuncture, gone to a spa retreat, or relied on herbal medicine to heal what ails you, Kashani’s description of traditional Islamic medicine would sound pretty familiar. Take the word “Islam” out of the mix and the talk could have been taking place at a yoga studio in Park Slope.

Of course, that’s the big, fundamental difference.

“God is the central figure in anything that we can possibly talk about,” Kashani said in an interview after the talk. “What sets us apart [from other Eastern traditional practices] is that we will, of course, be speaking to a massive community of people on the planet that are believers—whether they’re Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.”

It was dark by the time the event was over. Outside, the two cops were standing in the same spot against their car. Asked if they were there every night, one of them said, "Every night and every day. We’re out here 24/7.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Church Burners (Pamela Colloff, May 2011, Texas Monthly)

THE FIRST CHURCH TO GO UP IN FLAMES WAS Little Hope Baptist Church, outside the East Texas town of Canton, on New Year’s Day 
2010. The small, red-brick church overlooked a quiet stretch of 
farmland, accessible only by way of meandering back roads. At around 
nine o’clock that morning, a parishioner who lived nearby spotted 
fire venting from the roof of the fellowship hall. Thick, black smoke 
drifted over Little Hope, across the neighboring pastures, and into the cold winter 
air. The local fire department raced to the scene, but the hall, which had been 
built by church members more than half a century earlier, was quickly consumed, 
its walls left scorched and blackened by the blaze.

Two hours later, flames were seen rising from the roof of Faith Church of Athens, twenty miles away. The vaulted sanctuary and everything inside—pews, a grand piano, Bibles, and a stained-glass cross—were destroyed. As Pastor Leon Wallace walked through the ruins, he could see that someone had ransacked the place; his desk had been riffled through, and $2 had been taken from the Sunday school room. Although the blaze at Little Hope was thought by the Van Zandt County fire marshal to have been sparked by a faulty electrical box, the cause of the fire at Faith Church was determined to be arson. That Sunday, shaken churchgoers crowded into Faith Church’s youth room to pray, wondering who might have been responsible and why.

Then, ten days later, on the night of January 11, smoke was seen pouring out of an open doorway at Grace Community Church, not far from Athens’s main square. Flames quickly engulfed the sanctuary, leaving it completely gutted. As firefighters struggled to put out the blaze, they received news that Lake Athens Baptist Church, six miles away, was also on fire. Pastor John E. Green watched as the sanctuary where he had baptized his great-grandchildren and led the funeral service for his wife of fifty years burned to the ground. “I knew God was going to use this to strengthen and resolve us,” Green said. “But we were fearful too. No one knew how many more churches were going to be destroyed.” In the damp clay soil, two sets of shoe prints were found: one that matched a pair of sneakers, the other, a pair of work boots.

The Texas Rangers were called in, as were federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but over the following week, three more churches were torched, two in Tyler and one in nearby Lindale. Unlike the previous targets, these churches were located in well-traveled areas. First Church of Christ, Scientist, for example, stood at the heart of Tyler’s historic Azalea District, on Broadway, the main thoroughfare in town. Some of 
the churches had been elaborately staged before being set alight. Bibles, hymnals, and pew cushions were used as kindling and were stacked around pulpits, under pianos, and inside baptisteries.

In a largely rural region where faith is an integral part of everyday life, the audacity of the arsonists stirred both panic and outrage. “Area Pastors Begin Vigilant Watches, Worried Their Churches Could Be Targeted,” read the front page of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. “Area Christians Ready to Stand Ground in ‘Spiritual Battle,’ ” read another headline. Soon the hunt for the church burners—a probe that would span three counties and involve 75 federal agents, 50 investigators from the Department of Public Safety, and 30 Texas Rangers—had grown into the largest criminal investigation in East Texas history. More than one hundred troopers were called in to patrol the region’s towns and back roads, and at night, volunteers took turns keeping watch outside their churches.

There was no way to predict where or when the perpetrators would attack next; they struck at different times of day, on varying days of the week, and did not single out any particular race or denomination. Though anonymous calls came pouring into the East Texas Church Fires Tip Line and dozens of potential suspects were questioned, each lead turned out to be a dead end. Desperate for clues, undercover agents attended a prayer vigil across the street from the burned-out shell of First Church of Christ, Scientist, scanning the crowd for anyone who looked out of place. “It felt like we were being held hostage,” recalled Smith County district attorney Matt Bingham. “Everyone was holding their breath, wondering, ‘Is this going to happen again tonight? Will it be my church this time?’ ”

Two weeks passed uneventfully. Then, in the predawn hours of February 4, Russell Memorial United Methodist Church, in Wills Point, an hour’s drive west of Tyler, went up in flames. The church stood directly across the street from the local volunteer fire department. Four nights later, smoke was seen billowing from Dover Baptist Church, in a rural area northwest of Tyler. Not long after firefighters arrived, word came over the police scanner that another church, five miles down the road, Clear Spring Missionary Baptist, was ablaze. Texas Ranger Brent Davis and ATF special agent Larry Smith, the probe’s two lead investigators, raced from one fire to the next. Davis, a former trooper who had earned his Ranger badge two years earlier, and Smith, a veteran fire investigator who had worked the crash scene at the Pentagon after 9/11, looked on helplessly as Clear Spring’s roof buckled and fell, illuminating the night sky. Firefighters, who were still struggling to suppress the blaze at Dover, had not yet hauled their water and equipment to Clear Spring. “We had to stand there and watch it burn,” Smith said.

The two lawmen finally caught a lucky break on Valentine’s Day, when a customer reported some unusual graffiti in the rest­room of Atwoods Ranch and Home, a 
Tyler hardware and farm supply store. Etched into the metal partition of the handicapped stall was an inverted cross crowned with crudely drawn flames; above it, someone had scratched the words “Little Hope was arson.” Davis and Smith were elated: Because the blaze had been thought to be accidental, Little Hope had never been mentioned in news reports 
of the church fires. Only someone intimately familiar with the crimes would make such a claim.

On the grainy footage recorded by Atwoods’ security cameras the previous day, one man seen entering the restroom was immediately recognizable to investigators: nineteen-year-old Jason Bourque. ATF agents had visited the chubby, curly-haired teenager just two days earlier, following up on a tip from a friend who believed he was involved in the fires. Bourque had been under surveillance ever since, though his graffiti had escaped the attention of the federal agents who were trailing him. A former honor student, Eagle Scout, and state debate champion, Bourque hardly fit the profile of a church burner—he had, in fact, been a devout Baptist for most of his life. But Davis and Smith were certain they had found who they were looking for.

AS A KID GROWING UP near the small town of Ben Wheeler, half an hour’s drive west of Tyler, Jason Bourque possessed the certainty of a true believer. He carried a leather-bound King James Bible with him wherever he went, reading it during his lunch break at school and quoting Scripture in class to bolster any argument he tried to make. His other Bible, which he kept at home, was so well-worn by the time he reached high school that he had to reinforce it with duct tape to prevent it from falling apart. “Jason was very passionate about his faith,” said LaRue Allen, his former Boy Scout troop leader. “He argued with anyone who didn’t see the world as he did. He was very big on creationism, for example, so if you believed in evolution, he would fight you tooth and nail to bring you around to his position.” During his five years in the Scouts, Jason served as his troop’s chaplain, leading a prayer before mealtimes and a short Sunday service on weekend campouts. “Not everyone liked how aggressively he pushed his point of view, so some kids got along with him and others didn’t,” said Allen. “He was always a lightning rod.”

Jason was raised by his maternal grandparents—Bob Steel, a retired oil refinery superintendent, and his wife, Brenda—who rescued him from the chaos of his early childhood. They took Jason in at the age of four after his mother, Kim, became heavily addicted to methamphetamine and his father, Bobby, was sent to prison for selling cocaine. The Steels, by contrast, were models of respectability, and they doted on Jason, giving him the run of their 75-acre property, which had two ponds, a creek, and a swimming pool. Though they didn’t regularly attend church, Brenda hoped that a good Christian upbringing would prevent Jason from following the same self-destructive path as his parents, and she began taking him to Sunday school. After a few months of dropping him off at church, a nagging sense of guilt pushed her to stay and listen too. She also started watching charismatic preacher Joyce Meyer on television every day. “It gradually dawned on me that I wasn’t living right,” Brenda said. “Not that I was doing anything terribly wrong but that maybe God had a message for me too.”

Brenda began attending a Bible study, and when Jason was nine, she experienced an ecstatic spiritual awakening. “Joyce Meyer talks about God filling her with ‘liquid love,’ and that’s what happened to me,” Brenda said. “I wanted everyone to feel what I was feeling. I told my daughter, ‘Kim, I’ve never done drugs, but there couldn’t be any drug better than this.’ ” She and Bob were both baptized, and she immersed herself in 
Bible studies that sometimes stretched on for the whole day. “Mom couldn’t have a normal conversation,” Kim told me. “Everything led back to God and what she was reading in the Bible that day.” (Kim intermittently lived in a trailer on the Steels’ property, sometimes disappearing for extended periods of time.) But Jason liked the sense of structure their new faith provided. That summer, he returned home from a weeklong vacation Bible camp and proudly announced that he had been saved. Soon afterward he was baptized at First Baptist Church of Ben Wheeler, where the Steels signed on as Sunday school teachers and Jason got involved in the youth ministry. “We became radically committed to God and working in his kingdom,” Brenda said.

At First Baptist, Jason quickly distinguished himself. “He was brilliant—one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” said a former pastor of his, who asked that his name be withheld. “He was a serious, scholarly Bible reader at a very early age. I assumed he was headed for Rice or Harvard. He had that kind of intellect.” Jason’s only shortcoming was that “everything was black and white,” recalled the pastor. “Subtleties were hard for him. He didn’t see grays.”

A voracious reader, Jason spent hours each night thumbing through books from the library. He was particularly interested in philosophy and was drawn to the writings of political thinker John Rawls, who believed in the importance of social justice. “Jason was very inquisitive,” Brenda said. “He knew something about everything.” His curiosity about the world served him well when he joined the debate team at his high school, in the nearby town of Van, where he excelled at LD—short for “Lincoln-Douglas”—debating: a one-on-one style of debate in which a particular value or philosophical principle is deliberated. (During one competition his junior year, a judge noted on his ballot: “You are too fabulous for words! Go to law school!”) Jason advanced to the state UIL Lincoln-Douglas tournament when he was a junior, winning third place. His senior year, he placed first.

Jason’s precociousness did not always endear him to his peers at Van High School, who remember him as an emotionally immature know-it-all with few social graces. “Jason wasn’t an easy person to get along with,” said Sarah Hunt-Nichols, a former member of the debate team. “He would argue about anything—‘No, the sky isn’t blue’—just to argue.” The Steels, who had done well in the stock market, gave him a silver Mustang convertible when he was seventeen, a detail that cast him as a rich kid in the minds of his classmates, even though the car was six years old. Jason did little to discourage the impression; he cultivated a preppy image, wearing khakis and polo shirts, and he always had spending money, even though he never held a job. He seemed to enjoy getting under people’s skin. His junior year, he started a My­Space page called Van Rumors, on which he anonymously posted gossip about students and teachers. After months of speculation over who was behind the widely read web page, he proudly revealed himself as its author, even though its content had devastated some of his classmates. “He loved to shock people and be provocative,” said friend Whitney Faber. “He craved attention.”

Outside school, Jason’s life centered on First Baptist, where he passed the time shooting pool and playing Ping-Pong in the recreation hall. He spent his summers on missions with the church’s youth ministry, building houses in impoverished areas of Alabama and Georgia. And it was at First Baptist where he met his best friend, Daniel McAllister, whose mother ran the nursery. An introverted, gangly kid with severe dyslexia, Daniel was two years older than Jason and painfully shy. Outwardly, the two boys—who had met when Jason was in the third grade and Daniel was in the fifth grade—could not have been any more mismatched. Daniel, who was home­schooled, in part because he lagged academically, was hardly bookish; his dream was to someday be a motorcycle mechanic. His father made a meager living working intermittently as a carpenter and struggled to make ends meet for Daniel and his two older sisters, Christy and Jessica. But the two boys enjoyed each other’s company and spent hours together every weekend, four-wheeling and roaming around the Steels’ property. “Jason was on a different level than most children his age, and that caused problems for him at times, because other kids didn’t understand him,” Brenda said. “I think that’s why he and Daniel were so close, even though they were opposites. Daniel accepted him.”

When the boys got into their first bit of mischief it was, naturally, at First Baptist. The church was usually left unlocked, and late one night, when Jason and Daniel were teenagers, they let themselves in. They would do so dozens of times in the years that followed. Rumor had it that First Baptist was haunted, and so they went ghost hunting, walking around the darkened sanctuary or sitting perfectly still in its pews, listening for the telltale sounds of spirits. Sometimes they closed all the doors inside First Baptist and waited for hours to see if any of them moved. Their pastor caught them once, but he chose not to discipline them, chalking the episode up to youthful hijinks.

IN 2007, THE YEAR BEFORE he graduated from high school, Jason began to experience a crisis of faith. “Anytime we got into a fight, he would tell me that the reason things weren’t going so well was that he was not okay with God,” his girlfriend at the time would later tell investigators. “He said he believed in God, but he had so many questions that nobody could explain.” Jason continued attending church and having lengthy discussions with his grandmother about Scripture, but in conversations with friends that stretched on for hours, he aired his doubts: If God really did exist, why didn’t he perform miracles more often? Why didn’t he communicate with his believers verbally? Why had he allowed Satan to exist and corrupt mankind?

Michael Fumento did a lot of great work on the original church burning hoax, but this story reminds of a few reasons churches are so often targeted: the arsonists are lashing out at God and churches--many of them old--have bad security and fire safety and burn good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


AP sources: US closer to calling for Assad to go (BRADLEY KLAPPER and MATTHEW LEE , 05.10.11, AP)

The Obama administration is edging closer to calling for an end to the long rule of the Assad family in Syria. Administration officials said Tuesday that the first step would be to say for the first time that President Bashar Assad has forfeited his legitimacy to rule, a major policy shift that would amount to a call for regime change that has questionable support in the world community.

Keep crusading, Barry.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


Oil tumbles as U.S. supplies rise and demand falls (Tom Petruno, May 11, 2011, LA Times)

Energy prices led a renewed plunge in commodities Wednesday after government data showed rising U.S. crude oil and gasoline inventories -- and weaker demand.

A fresh surge in the dollar also knocked many raw materials prices for a loop by raising the cost of commodities for foreign buyers.

Near-term crude futures in New York were down $5.34, or 5.1%, to $98.54 a barrel at about 11:30 a.m. PDT, the second decline below the $100 mark in four trading sessions.

Gasoline futures plunged 25.38 cents, or 7.5%, to $3.12 a gallon.

Trading in oil and gasoline futures was briefly halted when the slide in gas prices reached 25 cents, triggering a preset circuit breaker.

That commodity prices couldn't withstand the shooting of one nutcase in a Pakistani fleabag tells you all you need to know about that bubble.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Lifeguarding in OC is totally lucrative; some make over $200k (Brian Calle, 5/10/11, Orange County Register)

High pay and benefits for lifeguards in Newport Beach is the latest example of frustrating levels of compensation for public employees. More than half the city’s full-time lifeguards are paid a salary of over $100,000 and all but one of them collect more than $100,000 in total compensation including benefits.

When thinking about career options with high salaries, lifeguarding is probably not one of the first jobs to come to mind. But it apparently should. In one of Orange County’s most desirable beach destinations, Newport Beach, lifeguards are compensated all too well; especially compared with the county annual median household income of $71,735.

And Governor Brown thinks people will mind budget cuts?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


What "God Said" Matters (William E. Carroll, 5/11/11, The Catholic Thing)

In his homily, the pope reflected on the opening of Gospel of John as a commentary on the opening of Genesis:

“In the beginning was the Word.” In effect, the creation account . . . is characterized by the regularly recurring phrase: “And God said…” The world is a product of the Word, of the Logos, as Saint John expresses it, using a key term from the Greek language. “Logos” means “reason,” “sense,” “word.” It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense. The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason.

In revealing that the source of everything is creative Reason, which embraces love and freedom in Benedict’s reading, we have a far richer sense of reason from what has been celebrated in the modern world from the time of Descartes. This wider sense of reason incorporates but is not limited to the rationality central to the natural sciences and philosophy. Furthermore, to identify Reason, Logos, as the creative source of all that is, is to recognize that appeals to randomness and chance as ultimate explanatory principles of nature must be rejected.

Again, the Pope’s words:

Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom, and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis. As believers we answer, with the creation account and with Saint John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom . . .

Do we recognize that the universe is the result of God’s free creative Word, that all that is depends, at every moment of its existence, upon God’s causal agency, or do we think that there is no ultimate source of things, that all that is just happens to be, and, ultimately, without reason?

Benedict says, “everything hinges upon” our response to this question.

First Meme.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


The Tragedy of Sarah Palin: From the moment Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech electrified the Republican convention, she was seen as an unbending, hard-charging, red-meat ideologue—to which soon was added “thin-skinned” and “vindictive.” But a look at what Palin did while in office in Alaska—the only record she has—shows a very different politician: one who worked with Democrats to tame Big Oil and solve the great problem at the heart of the state’s politics. That Sarah Palin might have set the nation on a different course. What went wrong? (Joshua Green, June 2011, The Atlantic)

As governor, Palin demonstrated many of the qualities we expect in our best leaders. She set aside private concerns for the greater good, forgoing a focus on social issues to confront the great problem plaguing Alaska, its corrupt oil-and-gas politics. She did this in a way that seems wildly out of character today—by cooperating with Democrats and moderate Republicans to raise taxes on Big Business. And she succeeded to a remarkable extent in settling, at least for a time, what had seemed insoluble problems, in the process putting Alaska on a trajectory to financial well-being. Since 2008, Sarah Palin has influenced her party, and the tenor of its politics, perhaps more than any other Republican, but in a way that is almost the antithesis of what she did in Alaska. Had she stayed true to her record, she might have pointed her party in a very different direction.

It's the grown up party and adults don't walk away from their responsibilities.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


The Destruction of Economic Facts: Renowned Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto argues that the financial crisis wasn't just about finance—it was about a staggering lack of knowledge (Hernando de Soto, 4/28/11, Business Week)

Without standardization, the values of assets and relationships are so variable that they can't be used to guarantee credit, to generate mortgages and bundle them into securities, to represent them in shares to raise capital. Nor do they fit the standard slots required to enter global markets. That's why credit crunches and massive unemployment are chronic conditions for most people forced to operate in the informal economy. These are the ones you see protesting in the streets of Arab countries or living in tents surrounding Port-au-Prince. We know only too well that facts don't speak for themselves: They have to be constructed through legal processes and kept transparent. They have to be defended, too.

When then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson initiated his Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in September 2008, I assumed the objective was to restore trust in the market by identifying and weeding out the "troubled assets" held by the world's financial institutions. Three weeks later, when I asked American friends why Paulson had switched strategies and was injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into struggling financial institutions, I was told that there were so many idiosyncratic types of paper scattered around the world that no one had any clear idea of how many there were, where they were, how to value them, or who was holding the risk. These securities had slipped outside the recorded memory systems and were no longer easy to connect to the assets from which they had originally been derived. Oh, and their notional value was somewhere between $600 trillion and $700 trillion dollars, 10 times the annual production of the entire world.

Three years later there's still plenty to be concerned about. Governments have worked to enact major financial and regulatory reforms, such as the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act ushered through Congress in 2010 by former Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Dodd-Frank has sought to move derivatives into clearinghouses where more data about them can be collected. It's a step in the right direction. But if you believe in the value of public memory and economic facts, the reforms leave a number of problems outstanding.

First, various groups of derivatives end users, such as nonfinancial companies and sovereign wealth funds, are likely to be exempted from the clearing process—from 40 percent of them, according to Craig Pirrong of the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, to 70 percent, according to Michael Greenberger, a former Commodities Futures Trading Commission director. Second, the information collected would be available only to regulators because certain business data are considered "proprietary." Third, the $700 trillion worth of derivatives that ignited the recession are not covered by Dodd-Frank. Warren Buffett successfully lobbied for their exclusion, saying it would be tantamount to rewriting old contracts and would force healthy derivatives players such as his own Berkshire Hathaway to post collateral on old deals. Fourth, the clearing system is not likely to be fully operational for another 5 to 10 years. Fifth, many clearinghouses do not have the kind of complete information required by traditional public memory systems: incentives for recording that asset owners can't resist; standard classifications to facilitate identifying and governing the assets; universal access to the information; integration or linkages with other recording systems; provisions to protect third parties from negative externalities; identification of all asset holders and interested parties; limited liability provisions to improve accountability.

While the Right prattles on about the undeserving poor getting loans from Fannie and Freddie...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


How the Illusion of Being Observed Can Make You a Better Person: Even a poster with eyes on it changes how people behave (Sander van der Linden, May 3, 2011, Scientific American)

I think Thomas Jefferson was on a similar train of thought when he wrote, “Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” I always found this to be a particularly interesting quote, as it reminds us of the fact that we tend to be on our best behavior when we know that we are being observed. While this may seem obvious, new research points to something far less obvious: it doesn’t take a fellow human being to make us feel “as if the world were watching,” not even another living organism. All it takes is an image of a pair of human eyes.

A group of scientists at Newcastle University, headed by Melissa Bateson and Daniel Nettle of the Center for Behavior and Evolution, conducted a field experiment demonstrating that merely hanging up posters of staring human eyes is enough to significantly change people’s behavior. Over the course of 32 days, the scientists spent many hours recording customer’s “littering behavior” in their university’s main cafeteria, counting the number of people that cleaned up after themselves after they had finished their meals. In their study, the researchers determined the effect of the eyes on individual behavior by controlling for several conditions (e.g. posters with a corresponding verbal text, without any text, male versus female faces, posters of something unrelated like flowers, etc). The posters were hung at eye-level and every day the location of each poster was randomly determined. The researchers found that during periods when the posters of eyes, instead of flowers, overlooked the diners, twice as many people cleaned up after themselves

In fact, this research builds on a long tradition of psychologists being interested in explaining and stimulating human cooperation in matters of the collective. In technical terms, we often speak of a “social dilemma,” that is, a situation where personal interests are at odds with that of the collective. (For example, it would be easier for me to throw my trash on the ground, but if everyone thought that way, we would all be stuck with a huge pile of waste.) Robyn Dawes and colleagues showed in the 70’s that the presence of other people in the room tends to have a positive effect on people’s decision-making when faced with a social dilemma. Yet, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Terence Burnham and Brian Hare published an article in Human Nature that showed people make more cooperative choices in economic computer games when they are “watched” on the screen by a robot with human-like eyes. Somewhat baffled, a number of researchers subsequently conducted a set of experiments that confirmed these initial findings.

While philosophers have fretted about it, one of the great strengths of democracy is the weight of social conformity it brings to bear on the citizenry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


Bin Laden's Poisonous Ideology Began To Wither on 9/11 (Peter Bergen,5/09/11 New America Foundation)

Though bin Laden's body may have been buried at sea on May 2, the burial of bin Ladenism has been a decade in the making.

Osama bin Laden long fancied himself something of a poet. His compositions tended to the morbid, and a poem written two years after 9/11 in which he contemplated the circumstances of his death was no exception. Bin Laden wrote, "Let my grave be an eagle's belly, its resting place in the sky's atmosphere amongst perched eagles."

As it turns out, bin Laden's grave is somewhere at the bottom of the Arabian Sea, to which his body was consigned after his death in Pakistan at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs. If there is poetry in bin Laden's end, it is the poetry of justice, and it calls to mind what President George W. Bush had predicted would happen in a speech he gave to Congress just nine days after 9/11. In an uncharacteristic burst of eloquence, Bush asserted that bin Laden and al-Qaeda would eventually be consigned to "history's unmarked grave of discarded lies," just as communism and Nazism had been before them.

Though bin Laden's body may have been buried at sea on May 2, the burial of bin Ladenism has been a decade in the making. Indeed, it began on the very day of bin Laden's greatest triumph. At first glance, the 9/11 assault looked like a stunning win for al-Qaeda, a ragtag band of jihadists who had bloodied the nose of the world's only superpower. But on closer look it became something far less significant, because the attacks on Washington and New York City did not achieve bin Laden's key strategic goal: the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Middle East, which he imagined would lead to the collapse of all the American-backed authoritarian regimes in the region.

Instead, the opposite happened: The U.S. invaded and occupied first Afghanistan and then Iraq. By attacking the American mainland and inviting reprisal, al-Qaeda, which means "the base" in Arabic, lost the best base it had ever had: Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. In this sense, 9/11 was similar to another surprise attack, that on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, a stunning tactical victory that set in motion events that would end in the defeat of imperial Japan.

Shrewder members of bin Laden's inner circle had warned him before 9/11 that antagonizing the United States would be counterproductive, and internal al-Qaeda memos written after the fall of the Taliban and later recovered by the U.S. military show that some of bin Laden's followers fully understood the folly of the attacks. In 2002 an al-Qaeda insider wrote to another, saying, "Regrettably, my brother ... during just six months, we lost what we built in years."

The responsibility for that act of hubris lies squarely with bin Laden. Despite his reputation for shyness and diffidence, he ran al-Qaeda as a dictatorship. His son Omar recalls that the men who worked for his father had a habit of requesting permission before they spoke with their leader, saying, "Dear prince, may I speak?" Joining al-Qaeda meant taking a personal religious oath of allegiance to bin Laden, just as joining the Nazi Party had required swearing personal fealty to the Führer. So bin Laden's group became just as much a hostage to its leader's flawed strategic vision as the Nazis were to Hitler's.

The key to understanding this vision and all of bin Laden's actions was his utter conviction that he was an instrument of God's will.

It's not just the disdain we demonstrated by attacking, but that we worked to replace those regimes that Arabs could legitimately object to our supporting with democracies. We demonstrated that it is God's will that the Islamic World join the rest of mankind at the End of History. It was an ideological war.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Morgellons: A hidden epidemic or mass hysteria? (Will Storr, 5/07/11, The Guardian)

It all started in August 2007, on a family holiday in New England. Paul had been watching Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix with his wife and two sons, and he had started to itch. His legs, his arms, his torso – it was everywhere. It must be fleas in the seat, he decided.

But the 55-year-old IT executive from Birmingham has been itching ever since, and the mystery of what is wrong with him has only deepened. When Paul rubbed his fingertips over the pimples that dotted his skin, he felt spines. Weird, alien things, like splinters. Then, in 2008, his wife was soothing his back with surgical spirit when the cotton swab she was using gathered a curious blue-black haze from his skin. Paul went out, bought a £40 microscope and examined the cotton. What were those curling, coloured fibres? He Googled the words: "Fibres. Itch. Sting. Skin." And there was his answer. It must be: all the symptoms fitted. He had a new disease called morgellons. The fibres were the product of mysterious creatures that burrow and breed in the body. As he read on, he had no idea that morgellons would turn out to be the worst kind of answer imaginable.

Morgellons was named in 2001 by an American called Mary Leitao, whose son complained of sores around his mouth and the sensation of "bugs". Examining him with a toy microscope, Leitao found him to be covered in unexplained red, blue, black and white fibres. Since then, workers at her Morgellons Research Foundation say they have been contacted by more than 12,000 affected families. Campaign group the Charles E Holman Foundation states there are sufferers in "every continent except Antarctica". Thousands have written to Congress demanding action. In response, more than 40 senators, including Hillary Clinton, John McCain and a pre-presidential Barack Obama, pressured the Centres For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) to investigate; in 2006, it formed a special taskforce, setting aside $1m to study the condition. Sufferers include folk singer Joni Mitchell, who has complained of "this weird incurable disease that seems like it's from outer space... Fibres in a variety of colours protrude out of my skin: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer – a terrorist disease. It will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year."

Except that it's from Inner space, the one between your ears.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 AM


How the beat of Scottish nationalism is becoming the nation's music (Gerry Hassan, 10 May 2011, Open Democracy)

The appeal of Scottish nationalism, just like Labour Scotland before it, is wide, but also has significant limits. These need to be understood at the moment of the SNP’s great victory, so it does not engage in over-reach and become guilty of hubris. Scottish nationalism as a political force is still seen negatively by parts of Scottish society: namely parts of establishment and institutional Scotland, parts of the extended Labour state, and older voters. Many of these groups may be declining in number and influence, but we need to understand their reservations.

One of the most significant factors in the SNP victory has been the slow decline of Scottish unionism to the sad state it is in today. The short answer given for its state by most commentators and public opinion is one word, Thatcher. This is completely and utterly wrong.

The long-term decline of Scottish unionism was evident long before Thatcher. It is a product of deep-seated changes in post-war Scottish society, the economy, the decline of traditional manufacturing, and the shift to a more service driven economy, along with the decline of Empire. British economic decline and the numerous post-war crises, and in particular the 1967 devaluation and 1976 IMF crisis, played their part as Scots saw the British social contract and citizenship, which they believed in, threatened and diluted.

A referendum on Scottish independence is now inevitable, an epoch making moment in the history of Scotland and the UK. It could foreseeably be won; it could be won because although there is no pro-independence majority in Scotland at the moment or in last week’s election, one could emerge. This would be because the story of Britain is over, and at the same time the Ukanian state still exercises a major hold over large aspects of our life. Those two factors create major possibilities for an independence majority.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


Osama bin Laden mission agreed in secret 10 years ago by US and Pakistan: US forces were given permission to conduct unilateral raid inside Pakistan if they knew where Bin Laden was hiding, officials say (Declan Walsh, 5/09/11,

The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week's raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Guardian has learned.

The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.

Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaida No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.

"There was an agreement between Bush and Musharraf that if we knew where Osama was, we were going to come and get him," said a former senior US official with knowledge of counterterrorism operations. "The Pakistanis would put up a hue and cry, but they wouldn't stop us."

May 10, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 PM


Pig and Wolf will be here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Study: Race is a factor in charity, social programs (Dwight Ott, 5/08/11, Philadelphia Tribune)

“I think people who are willing to cut Medicaid and Medicare are driven by heterogeneity,” said Albert Alesina, one of the researchers, with “heterogeneity” here clearly meaning racial differences.

Indeed, based on their 2001 study — which they say is still applicable today — the three researchers concluded that race is a major factor in the generosity or lack of generosity built into American social assistance programs. With unabashed bluntness, the study — completed by Harvard economics professors Alesina and Edward Gleaser, and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth — stated: “Race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.”

The study goes on to conclude that, “A natural generalization of race-based theory is that Americans think of the poor as members of some different group other than themselves, whereas Europeans think of the poor as members of their own group.”

In other words, people who dislike transferring money to people of a different color seem to be a major determinant in why there is a “redistribution gap” between the United States and Europe.

But while the professors assert that race is the most “salient” predictor of support for welfare, they are unable to fully identify why this is the case.

The professors state: “We do not really know why interpersonal altruism seems linked to race. It is possible that human beings are hard-wired to dislike people with different skin color. A more reasonable theory is that human beings are genetically programmed to form in-group, out-group associations and to prefer members of what they perceive as their own group.”

In their study, “Why doesn’t the U.S. Have a European Style Welfare State?,” the researchers indicate that white Americans have no problem giving to programs that are seen as supportive of whites, but some oppose programs which seem to support Blacks.

“People have a negative, hostile reaction when they see welfare recipients of a different race, and a sympathetic reaction when they see welfare recipients of their own race,” the study states.

And at least two of the researchers contacted last week said they believed their study was as relevant now as it was a decade ago. Indeed, today, as an urgency to cut the deficit ramps up, entitlement programs — which typically help Blacks and other minorities — are on the chopping block.

“We have hit a point where it is obvious we can’t give to everybody,” said Sacerdote, referring to the current hard times that have limited America’s options.

Sacerdote also said that hard decisions will have to be made. “The question of how to divide the pie is becoming more important,” he stated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Danger: Falling Tyrants: As Dictatorships crumble across the Middle East, what happens if Arab democracy means the rise of radical Islamism? Does promoting American values while protecting American interests—most notably, containing Iran and preserving our access to oil—require the Obama administration to call for more democracy in one country while propping up the monarch next door? In a word, yes. (Jeffrey Goldberg, June 2011, The Atlantic)

Hillary Clinton, as one would expect, doesn’t think much of the charge that the administration is engaged in a sustained campaign of hypocrisy. As the administration’s point person on the entire set of issues roiling the Middle East, she is perceived in dramatically divergent ways. In Cairo, many democracy activists believe she was overly coddling of Mubarak; at the same time, she is the object of an intense lobbying campaign by leaders of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, who fear, according to ambassadors and foreign ministers I have spoken with, that she has become some sort of moralizing neoconservative. One Gulf official I spoke with asked me earnestly if Paul Wolfowitz, the leading neoconservative theoretician of the previous presidency, was now serving as her adviser. I mentioned to Clinton that she is seen in some quarters as a kind of wild-eyed Wolfowitz. “Oh, no, not that!” she said. “Call me wild-eyed, but not that.”

When I asked her how she squares the inconsistency—working to build democracies in some countries while keeping incompetent monarchs on their thrones in others—she rejected its very existence.

“I wouldn’t accept the premise,” she said. “I think we believe in the same values and principles, full stop. We believe that countries should empower their people. We believe that people should have certain universal rights. We believe that there are certain economic systems that work better for the vast majority of people than other systems. I think we’re very consistent.”

The U.S. needs to work with the monarchies to help them stay ahead of the unrest brewing in their kingdoms, Clinton said, but even if they don’t take American advice—and she was adamant (and the record does, in fact, show) that Hosni Mubarak was offered a great deal of advice that he consistently ignored—the administration will live with what she refuses to see as inconsistencies.

“We live in the real world, and there are lots of countries that we deal with because we have interests in common, we have certain security issues that we are both looking at,” she said. “Obviously, in the Middle East, Iran is an overwhelming challenge to all of us. We do business with a lot of countries whose economic systems or political systems are not ones we would design or choose to live under. We encourage consistently, both publicly and privately, reform and the protection of human rights. But we don’t walk away from dealing with China because we think they have a deplorable human-rights record. We don’t walk away from Saudi Arabia.”

I noted that the Chinese seem frightened by the possibility that the forces unleashed by the suicide of a Tunisian peddler could reach Tiananmen Square. “They’re worried,” she said. “They’re trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They cannot do it, but they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.”

If it is true, to cite one of President Obama’s favorite Martin Luther King Jr. quotations, that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice; and if it is true that history will sooner or later catch up with the Chinese Communist Party, then why isn’t it also true that history will soon catch up with a collection of superannuated desert monarchs? The answer came, elliptically, when I asked Clinton whether she would be sad to see the disappearance of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Not long ago, Clinton had been criticized for suggesting that Assad himself might be a “reformer,” though she acknowledges that Assad is anti-American in some very consequential ways (and not only in his service to Iran). “Depends on what replaces it,” she said, her answer combining disdain for Assad with a realpolitik understanding that some things out there are, despite the promise of the Arab Spring, potentially more dangerous to U.S. interests than certain dictatorships. For people who have known only dictatorship and who yearn for democracy, this is a hard swallow.

Striking this balance—understanding when the United States absolutely must support leaders it dislikes intensely—will remain the key foreign-policy challenge for the Obama administration, and perhaps its successors, in the coming years. Managing Saudi Arabia’s pre-modern royal family alone is a herculean task. But the United States will ultimately fail if it forgets its fundamental responsibility to people who are living under the boot of repression, and seek the freedoms Americans already have.

She has it backwards, she is Wolfowitz, just not wild-eyed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


Have 401(k)s Recovered Yet? (Emily Brandon, May 10, 2011, US News)

Retirement accounts held about $8.7 trillion in the third quarter of 2007. However, 401(k)s and IRAs then lost 31 percent of their peak value and held just $6 trillion by the end of the first quarter of 2009. Retirement accounts finally rebounded to their peak value, again reaching $8.7 trillion, in the first quarter of 2011, according to calculations by Urban Institute researchers Barbara Butrica and Philip Issa. But once inflation is factored in, retirement account balances are still 5 percent below the 2007 peak value.

Thanks, W.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


Liberals in southern Arizona seek to form new state (Brad Poole, 5/10/11, Reuters)

A long-simmering movement by liberal stalwarts in southern Arizona to break away from the rest of the largely conservative state is at a boiling point as secession backers press to bring their longshot ambition to the forefront of Arizona politics.

A group of lawyers from the Democratic stronghold of Tucson and surrounding Pima County have launched a petition drive seeking support for a November 2012 ballot question on whether the 48th state should be divided in two.

The ultimate goal of the newly formed political action committee Start our State is to split Pima County off into what would become the nation's 51st state, tentatively dubbed Baja Arizona.

And Lincoln's dead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Senate Democrats Target Tax Breaks for Big Oil (TENNILLE TRACY, 5/10/11, WSJ)

The oil industry has warned that gasoline prices would climb even higher and U.S. energy production would decline if the companies' tax incentives are removed. [...]

The bill would modify a foreign-tax provision that allows the companies to receive a tax credit for every dollar of taxes they pay to foreign governments. The measure also would repeal a popular tax deduction known as the 199 deduction, which allows companies to deduct a certain percentage of their income.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Maine senators may not like each other much, but they share love of state, job (Martha Sherrill, May 5, 2011, Washington Post)

The most exasperating fact of life for a U.S. senator is not wrestling with those impossible, angry windbags across the aisle. The true test of civility is forging a relationship with that one other person who was sent to Washington to work alongside you. That unwanted sibling with whom you must share everything: a beloved home state, a prestigious job and all the voters out there in the dark.

If you happen to be members of the same party? Even worse.

Same-state rivalries abound in the Senate. And delicious tales of clashing egos and epic grudges are widely shared — doled out by insiders like pieces of Hill candy. Some of these special relationships matter more than others. For years, tensions along the border of Ted Kennedy and John Kerry fascinated Senate-watchers, because both Massachusetts patricians had such sway.

Now the complex partnership to watch is the team from Maine. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both moderate Republicans, are wedged into a tight political corner together. As the polarized right and left duke it out for airtime and dollars, these two women — often ignored — have unprecedented power.

Publicly, the duo is known for voting together. Lockstep. Straight down the middle. In the past 15 years, they have voted in unison on war, taxes, gays, guns, health care and the stimulus package. And when it came to the 2008 presidential election, they both went early for John McCain.

But raise their names among staffers, journalists, even other senators, and the first thing mentioned isn’t their voting record, but the wintry chill between them. Their Capitol Hill nickname, The Sisters, reflects both their public synchronicity and their private conflict.

“Did you say you were writing a dual profile — or, is that d-u-e-l?” asks Sen. Joe Lieberman with a chuckle. He is a close friend and colleague of Collins. “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


The Force of the Deed (ROGER COHEN, 5/09/11, NY Times)

I must end with the deed. It was also Obama’s. He’s the guy who said: “It’s a go.” In the duel of Obama with Osama, there was something of fate. The president kept coming back to him. There is strength in humility. Sometimes you have to keep coming back.

Rilke, in a far different context, had this to say of Cézanne’s abiding obsession with apples and wine bottles: “And (like Van Gogh) he makes his ‘saints’ out of such things: and forces them — forces them — to be beautiful, to stand for the whole world and all joy and all glory, and he doesn’t know whether he has succeeded in making them do it for him. And sits in the garden like an old dog, the dog of his work that is calling him again and that beats him and lets him starve.”

For America, long starved of the satisfactions sustained purpose brings, the decade-old work is done.

...that in America even a gay, Kenyan, Muslim, socialist (add your own full moon Right epithet here) ultimately acts like a cowboy crusader?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Obama Values: Kill But Don't Waterboard (Debra Saunders, 5/09/11, RCP)

At the end of his "60 Minutes" interview, President Obama said of Osama bin Laden's death, "Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn't deserve what he got needs to have their head examined."

The longer he serves in office, the more Obama sounds like George W. Bush.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd also has started to sound like Bush. In her Sunday column, "Killing Evil Doesn't Make Us Evil," Dowd writes that when Navy SEALs shot and killed bin Laden, it seemed like "the only civilized and morally sound response."

To review: Obama and Dowd long have claimed that it was morally reprehensible for U.S. intelligence operatives to waterboard 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Candidate Obama said that waterboarding was "never acceptable" because it contradicts our values. Obama even dished his now-Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, for having said in 2006 that she would authorize brutal interrogation measures to prevent a terrorist attack.

Apparently, it is consistent with Obama's and Dowd's values to shoot and kill an unarmed bin Laden -- as long as you don't waterboard him to learn possible intelligence that might prevent a terrorist attack first.

It's amazing how partisan politics can make the medicine go down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 AM


The Perfect Storm in Af-Pak (Shuja Nawaz, May 9, 2011, National Interest)

Until recently, Pakistan’s military has made deals with Haqqani and adopted a laissez-faire policy, allowing his forces to use North Waziristan as a sanctuary. In return, Haqqani has not attacked the army directly and has also allowed rations to be supplied to Pakistan’s border posts—border posts that are designed to interdict movement across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The irony and contradiction of all this is glaring. What use are the posts if the people whom they are supposed to monitor and stop are the ones that allow the posts to be supplied?

Times may be changing. There are some reports from regimental-level officers in the territory that Haqqani forces or their allies have given sanctuary and support to escapees from South Waziristan, escapees who have attacked and killed army and Frontier Corps soldiers periodically. If true, the army may have good reason to want to push Haqqani back into Afghanistan. Thus far Pakistan has held off from moving against Haqqani for two reasons: first, his perceived usefulness as a bargaining chip in ensuring that there is Pashtun representation in an Afghan government after coalition forces withdraw; second, Pakistan does not have the force needed to effectively mount a cleanup operation. But as Pakistan talks directly with the Afghan authorities and reaches an understanding of what the shape of a Kabul government will be in years to come, it may find Haqqani more of a liability than an asset: he is known for his independence and likely will not follow Pakistani orders. Further, Pakistan is now moving forces from Swat and will have at least one extra division, if not more, to move into North Waziristan to supplement the seven division troops based there. If debate in the Pakistan military high command continues over what to do about Haqqani, it is possible that military action may occur. But the sorry state of U.S.-Pakistani relations may affect the timetable adversely. Among other things, the Pakistanis will be looking for signs of U.S. troop movement into the regional command opposite North Waziristan to indicate U.S. resolve to take on Haqqani in his own territory with more than just Special Forces. U.S. success may embolden the Pakistanis to act against Haqqani. But they will also be watching what happens in the overall allied effort in Afghanistan after this summer’s deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Pakistan faces a more serious problem in the hinterland. There is no evidence of a strategy to take on the Sunni militants that are fighting the state nor outward-facing groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba. Even if Afghanistan settles down, Pakistan faces a long war for which it is not fully prepared. The result may be continuing instability inside Pakistan and creeping radicalization may become a reality in society at large and perhaps even infect the military over time. In nuclear-armed Pakistan, this may pose a regional and global threat to peace and stability. Pakistan needs to begin this fight at home. If it takes the first steps, the world may be able to help it. The alternative is unimaginable.

Really? Suppose Pakistan were just to state the obvious: the Tribal Areas which it is incapable of exerting sovereignty over are not part of the nation and the military will no longer try to force them to be. Not only would the rump state of Pakistan be more stable but the tribes and groups within the Tribal Areas would be reduced to a fight amongst themselves over who gets to run what portion of the territories. This collapse of violence inwards would not only make it easier for central governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan to get on with life but the eventual winners in the Tribal Areas would render themselves easy targets for military strikes should they fail to restrain violence directed outwards.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 AM


U.S. intelligence and the wisdom of crowds (Bernd Debusmann, Apr 1, 2011, Reuters)

After a string of world-shaking events America’s spies failed to predict, most recently the turmoil sweeping the Arab world, a vast project is taking shape to improve forecasting. It involves thousands of volunteers and the wisdom of crowds.

It’s officially known as the Forecasting World Events Project and is sponsored by the Intelligence Advanced Research Activity (IARPA), a little-known agency run by a woman, Lisa Porter, who is occasionally described as America’s answer to the fictional Agent Q who designs cutting edge gadgets for James Bond. Much of IARPA’s work is classified, as is its budget. But the forecasting project is not classified. Invitations to participate are now on the Internet.

The idea is to raise five large competing teams of people of diverse backgrounds who will be asked to make predictions on fields that range from politics and global security to business and economics, public health, social and cultural change and science and technology. The project is expected to run for four years and stems from the recognition that expert forecasts are very often wrong.

One of the teams is being put together by University of Pennsylvania professor Philip Tetlock, whose ground-breaking 2005 book (Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know?) analysed 27,450 predictions from a variety of experts and found they were no more accurate than random guesses or, as he put it, “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


World of discovery: Science’s new age of enlightenment spreads to once-dark nations (Trevor Butterworth, April 11, 2011, The Daily)

Pop quiz: Which country is the world’s fastest growing producer of scientific research? If you don’t already know, smart guesses would be China, which has increased its R&D budget by 20 percent per year since 1999, or India or Brazil, two of the other recent big investors in scientific research. But the answer is, in fact, Iran, according to a fascinating study by Britain’s Royal Society, “Knowledge, Networks and Nations.” [...]

Reading through the 144-page report, one can almost sense the authors — some of Britain’s most distinguished scientists — marveling at the findings. Here is Tunisia, which spent just 0.03 percent of its GDP on research in 1996, increasing spending to 1.25 percent in 2009, and thereby adding 139 new research laboratories. There’s Turkey, now spending more on research than Denmark. And Saudi Arabia has just opened its first graduate research university with an endowment of $20 billion and a host of international partnerships.

Even Cambodia, which practically lost its entire educated class under Pol Pot, has boosted its scientific research from seven papers in 1996 to 114 in 2008. [...]

Less obvious, but perhaps even more important is the collaborative nature of this global race. Buried in those thousands of Iranian research papers is the number 472, the percent increase in collaboration between Iranian and American scientists on co-authored papers.

And when the going gets tough between nation-states, it is this shared quest for knowledge, this common bond of curiosity, which keeps scientists talking. As the Royal Society reminds us, “Following the Iranian elections in June 2009, Iranian scientists called out to the international research community to ‘do everything possible to promote continued contact with colleagues in Iran, if only to promote détente between Iran and the West when relations are contentious.’”

A case in point of science bridging seemingly entrenched political divides is Iranian participation, along with scientists from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in the Synchroton-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East, a costly technology for analyzing the structure of substances essential for doing world-class science. The project was inspired by Stanford University Professor Herman Winick, facilitated by a gift of equipment from Germany, developed by UNESCO, and built in Jordan.

While it would be reading too much into these collaborations to see evidence of a new kind of science-based geopolitics, these developments, when added to the power of the web to circulate research and connect scientists, are nothing short of amazing; at least, they certainly would have amazed all those 18th and 19th century botanists, chemists and engineers, amateurs and geniuses alike, who believed, passionately, in spreading knowledge for the betterment of mankind.

And yet, this portrait of a world in a state of transformation, sharing knowledge on a scale as never before, made little impression in the American media.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 AM


Prophets of Error: a review of Future Babble by Dan Gardner (TREVOR BUTTERWORTH, April 30, 2011, The Wall Street Journal)

In Future Babble, a delicious gathering of such useless conjecture, Dan Gardner samples from the finest experts known to mankind (or at least to the mass media) and excavates a trove of detailed research to show how a seemingly rational activity – calculating the probability of something happening – has turned into a continuous farce.

How bad are expert predictions? Almost predictably bad. In 2005, Philip Tetlock, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, published the results of a magisterial 20-year analysis of 27,450 judgments about the future from 284 experts. He discovered that the experts, in aggregate, did little better, and sometimes considerably worse, than "a dart-throwing chimpanzee."

While Mr. Tetlock guaranteed anonymity to get his experts to reveal how useless they were, Mr. Gardner names names. In the late 1960s, he notes, the political scientist Andrew Hacker predicted that race relations in America would soon get so bad that they would lead to the "dynamiting of bridges and water mains" and the "assassinating of public officials and private luminaries." In the early 1970s, Richard Falk, at Princeton, imagined that by the 1990s we would be living in a world dominated by "the politics of catastrophe." In the mid-1970s, Daniel Bell and other analysts assumed that high levels of inflation were, as Mr. Gardner puts it, "here to stay." (In fact, inflation cooled off in the early 1980s and has stayed low for decades.) In the early 1990s, Lester Thurow, the MIT economist, was one of the experts who predicted that Japan would dominate the 21st century, though he noted that Europe had a chance, too.

The high priest of erroneous prediction is, of course, Paul Ehrlich, who, though a respected entomologist, turned into an end-of-the-worlder with The Population Bomb (1968) and The End of Affluence (1974). In the latter book he wrote: "If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." Now 77, Mr. Ehrlich is "a gregarious and delightful man, a natural performer," Mr. Gardner reports, thereby tapping into the sources of his success in the face of repeated failure: Never admit mistakes, never sound doubtful. As Mr. Gardner shows in his survey of expert prediction-making, the more you sound like you know what you are talking about, the more people will believe you.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 AM


Here Be Monsters: They did it for the simplest of reasons: adventure. Three friends, on a drunken dare, set out in a dinghy for a nearby island. But when the gas ran out and they drifted into barren waters, their biggest threat wasn't the water or the ocean—it was each other (Michael Finkel, May 2011, GQ)

It began, in the grand tradition of ill-considered ideas, with a group of boys and a bottle of booze—the most common of circumstances in the least common of places. The boys were gathered in their clubhouse—broken sofas, graffitied walls—near the end of the only road in the only village on the Pacific island of Atafu. Atafu is one of three atolls that make up the nation of Tokelau (which is not, technically, a nation but a territory of New Zealand). The total amount of land on Atafu is 1.4 square miles. Population: 524.

The nearest atoll, equally tiny, is fifty-seven miles to the south, well beyond the range of visibility. The closest significant land mass is Samoa, a twenty-eight-hour ferry ride away. There is no landing strip on Tokelau. There are also no dogs, prisons, lawyers, pavement, or soil—the land is mostly bits of broken coral. The highest elevation is fifteen feet. Coconuts and fish are the traditional diet, though the ferry, which comes once every two weeks, brings so much junk food these days that obesity and diabetes have become significant problems. From any point on Atafu's shoreline, nothing can be seen but water, all the way to the horizon.

One of the boys in the clubhouse—by most accounts, the unofficial leader—was named Filo Filo. (It's not uncommon in Tokelau to have the same first and last names.) Filo was tall and strong and exceptionally athletic. His dream was to play for the New Zealand All Blacks. Though his parents were both Tokelauan, Filo had lived his entire life away from the islands, mostly in Sydney, Australia, where his mother had moved after she'd separated from Filo's father. But in 2007, Filo's mother grew concerned about his poor grades and growing reputation as a troublemaker. As a sort of reform school, she sent him to Atafu to live with his dad, who in addition to being a fisherman—the profession of nearly every Tokelauan man—was also the local rugby coach. Filo became a star athlete on Atafu, but some people still thought of him, to use the Tokelauan word, as a palagi—a foreigner. One classmate called him a "wanna-be gangster." He was, in truth, a city kid who had been exiled to one of the tiniest and most remote places on the planet.

Filo had become best friends with a boy named Samu Tonuia. They were both 15 and in the same class at school—a class of seven students. Samu, like Filo, was tall and muscular for his age and also an excellent rugby player. Otherwise, the two boys could not have been more different. Samu had never once in his life left Tokelau. It is customary in Tokelau to assign one child to care for elderly relatives, and while the rest of his family had moved to Australia, Samu lived on Atafu with his grandmother. He'd never been in an airplane or a restaurant or a movie theater. According to one classmate, Samu had been a decent student—until Filo arrived.

So there they were, Filo and Samu, the permanent foreigner and the ultimate local, a gang of two, sitting in their clubhouse along with a handful of other boys. It was October 3, 2010. They were drinking vodka, smoking cigarettes, telling stories. It was getting late.

Then someone brought up the tale of the teenagers. Five or six years previous, three teens had taken a boat without permission and broken one of the cardinal rules of Tokelauan society: They'd ventured into the open ocean without the escort of a tautai, a master fisherman. Atafu's forty-two small islands encircle a gorgeous turquoise lagoon in which anyone can boat or swim. It's the kiddie pool. The ocean is an unpredictable and occasionally violent place, and the title of tautai, bestowed by the island's elders, is equivalent to a driver's license. Even tautais do not venture far offshore.

But to teenage boys, in Atafu as in every pocket of the planet, rules are made to be broken. And the isolation of Atafu can at times be difficult to bear. There's now satellite Internet service on the island, which only emphasizes how much fun everyone else is having. Filo told me that Atafu "felt like a prison." The desire to escape can become overwhelming.

Which is what those teenagers did five or six years ago. They escaped, trying to reach some other place. Any other place. They didn't make it. They were rescued after five days by the Tokelau ferry. They'd run out of gas but had plenty of food. Though they were severely punished by the elders, in Filo and Samu's clubhouse they were heroes. And as a plastic jug of vodka was passed around, the old story soon morphed into a new idea. By the time the jug was finished, the idea had become a plan.

Etueni Nasau was also in the clubhouse. He'd listened intently to the story but had passed on the vodka. He wasn't much of a drinker. Etueni (his name is pronounced ed-ween-aye) was, at 14, a year younger than Samu and Filo and a grade lower in school. He was also much smaller and not nearly as athletic. When I asked all three boys what they wanted to be when they grew up, Filo said "rugby player" and Samu said "rugby player" and Etueni said "surgeon." Etueni was neither an outsider, like Filo, nor an insider, like Samu, but somewhere in between. He was born in New Zealand, spent his early childhood in Atafu, went to school in American Samoa, and then moved full-time to Atafu in 2008.

Hearing the story of the teens sparked something in Etueni. He'd always been a good student, a well-behaved boy. But he, too, was often frustrated with the truncated boundaries of life on a tiny atoll, his one square mile of world. "Its freekin hell" he once posted on Facebook. He also yearned to be more popular, to be thought of by the others in the clubhouse as a hero rather than a nerd. To have a grand adventure. And so almost on a whim, when the plans became serious—when Samu announced he'd be willing to steal his uncle's new boat—and most everyone in the clubhouse began backpedaling from their bluster, Etueni finally spoke up. He said he was in.

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May 9, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


Democrats See Strategy to End Big Oil Tax Breaks (CARL HULSE, 5/09/11, NY Times)

Linking two of the politically volatile issues of the moment, Senate Democrats say they will move forward this week with a plan that would eliminate tax breaks for big oil companies and divert the savings to offset the deficit.

With high gas prices and rising federal deficits in the political spotlight, senior Democrats believe that tying the two together will put pressure on Senate Republicans to support the measure or face a difficult time explaining their opposition to voters whose family budgets are being strained by fuel prices.

President Obama and some top Congressional Democrats have said they want to take some of an estimated $21 billion in savings from ending the tax breaks and steer it to clean energy projects. But the Senate’s Democratic leadership is calculating that using it to cut the deficit instead makes it a tougher issue politically for Republicans who are trying to burnish their conservative fiscal credentials.

The higher the price of gas the better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 PM


Unholy Alliance (Steven Cook, 5/09/11, The Atlantic)

One of the iron fisted rules of the Middle East seems to be “what an Assad giveth, an Assad also taketh away.” Since protests began in his country, Syrian President Bashar al Assad has lifted the emergency law, abolished state security courts, and stepped up the repression that has been a hallmark of his now 11-year rule. No one should be surprised that Syria’s security forces have used violence against peaceful demonstrators. Still, if there was any lingering doubt about the nature of the regime, the 500 or more dead in the streets across several Syrian cities should be plenty evidence of its brutality.

Many smart people, in Washington and elsewhere, have long been willing to forgive the Assad family for their many sins, going back to the tenure of Bashar’s father, Hafiz al Assad, who ruled from 1971 to 2000. The allure of bringing the Syrian-Israeli state of war to an end and the tantalizing possibility (a fantasy, it turns out) of breaking the Tehran-Damascus axis led observers to believe that Hafiz was capable of making peace and that Bashar was a reformer. Bashar has been tolerated, engaged, even supported in the hopes that the world could entice him, with the prospects of good relations with the West, to change. But there was never any real evidence that Damascus was genuinely interested in peace or reform.

As the world (slowly) comes to grips with the horror of Syria and the Assads, there remains a coalition of nations that appear to be acting under the belief that the Assad regime is better than what might come next. It’s an odd group in the rather strange new world of the Middle East: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. For the Israelis, already reeling from the loss of a regional strategic asset — Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt — the predictability of Assad’s Syria was some consolation. Israel and Syria may be in a technical state of war, but the Syrians have scrupulously kept the armistice on the Golan Heights and it has been a long time since Syria’s military posed any significant security threat to Israel. The Israelis put a premium on authoritarian stability in the Arab world, where they fear change will almost always rebound to the benefit of hostile Islamist groups. Sitting in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, it is little wonder the Israeli leadership is having serious qualms about the unrest in Syria. Assad may be an implacable foe, but he is better than the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. From the perspective of the Israeli security establishment, at least Assad is doing what Hosni Mubarak should have done: using all available means to save his regime.

...Israelis never have to wonder, "Why do they hate us?"

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Obama order could make corporate political spending public (Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger, May 8, 2011, LA Times)

A lobbying battle is raging largely behind the scenes over a seemingly obscure executive order that could — if signed by President Obama — make public the political spending that many corporations can now keep secret.

Under the proposed order, all companies bidding for federal contracts would be required to disclose money spent on political campaign efforts, including dollars forwarded through associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other private groups.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


With Osama Bin Laden Videos, U.S. Is Managing the Message (David_Kerley) and CAIT TAYLOR, May 8, 2011, ABC News)

"This shows the reality. This man is not a fighter. This man is not carrying his AK-47. He is an individual that is isolated, living with women and children," 40-year CIA veteran Charlie Allen said.

Allen said the clips of bin Laden, including his missed cue and the lights going out, all serve to debunk the image bin Laden worked years to create.

"I think the administration has done a very intelligent thing," he said. "The whole view is to try to take away some of his mystique, some of this great idea that is a great spiritual leader of al Qaeda globally."

Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Jack Cloonan echoed Allen's assessment.

"The first image that we were talking about is trying to say, 'Look, this isn't the guy that you think he is. He isn't the leader. He doesn't look young. He doesn't look vibrant,'" Cloonan said. "And if we were trying to encourage recruitments, given what's happened in the so-called Arab Spring, I don't think that is the image that would entice people to join, frankly."

Even without the release of the bin Laden tapes, there are indications that his message was already losing influence throughout the Arab world. In the past months there have been popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya, all calling for democracy not bin Laden's radical version of Islam.

According to former acting CIA director John McLaughlin, these uprising do not play into al Qaeda's plan.

"They're on the losing end of what's going on in the Middle East," McLaughlin said. "No one's carrying around al Qaeda placards on the streets in places like Egypt and Tunisia."

Especially not with Predators circling.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


President Obama dashes ‘Jimmy Carter’ label (ALEXANDER BURNS, 5/9/11, Politico)

So much for campaigning against Jimmy Carter.

In the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death, Republicans are adjusting to a new political reality: with the bin Laden trump card now in President Barack Obama’s possession, it’s looking increasingly likely the 2012 campaign will ride on a single number—the national unemployment rate.

Jimmy Carter got a similar bump in the polls after invading Iran to rescue the hostages, as did GHWB after Gulf I. They remained Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Fed Has Power To Pop Commodity Bubble (Mark Sunshine, 5/08/11, Forbes)

Last week the margin requirements for silver — a relatively minor commodity — were changed and triggered a widespread sell off. The evidence of a speculator driven bubble was unmistakable by the end of the week — crude oil was down almost 15%, corn down about 10% and wheat down almost 8%.

If margin rule changes for a minor commodity can trigger a general price run, imagine what would happen if a series of broad based rule changes were implemented.

Well I have a suggestion for our economic leadership in Washington — go crazy — change the rules for all commodities. I guarantee that the commodities price bubble will instantly pop. was driven by the killing of OBL, demonstrating that the bubble is completely untethered from economic reality.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 AM


Whose Foreign Policy Is It? (ROSS DOUTHAT, 5/08/11, NY Times)

For those with eyes to see, the daylight between the foreign policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama has been shrinking ever since the current president took the oath of office. But last week made it official: When the story of America’s post-9/11 wars is written, historians will be obliged to assess the two administrations together, and pass judgment on the Bush-Obama era.

The death of Osama bin Laden, in a raid that operationalized Bush’s famous “dead or alive” dictum, offered the most visible proof of this continuity. But the more important evidence of the Bush-Obama convergence lay elsewhere, in developments from last week that didn’t merit screaming headlines, because they seemed routine rather than remarkable.

One was NATO’s ongoing bombing campaign in Libya, which now barely even pretends to be confined to humanitarian objectives, or to be bound by the letter of the United Nations resolution. Another was Friday’s Predator strike inside Pakistan’s tribal regions, which killed a group of suspected militants while the world’s attention was still fixed on Bin Laden’s final hours. Another was the American missile that just missed killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who has emerged as a key recruiter for Al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate.

Given, in particular, Reagan's bombing of Qaddafi, GHWB's war with Saddam, etc., the continuity that historians write about will extend far further than two administrations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 AM


The Blockbuster Effect: Some finale, huh? Kurt Andersen on the arc of Osama bin Laden, and how our need to see the world through stories shapes the way those stories end. (Kurt Andersen, May 8, 2011, New York)

[I] don’t think it’s crazy to think that those pop-­cultural archetypes not only frame the public understanding of the events but actually shaped the events themselves. Days after 9/11, we all remember Bush saying, “There’s an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’ ”He surely never saw such a poster in real life: Like the rest of us, he knew it from old movies and shows. And the yearning for a satisfying finale after 9/11 helped drive the U.S. to invade a country that had nothing to do with the attacks.

President Obama obviously gets the power of storytelling. After publishing his first book but before recommitting to politics, I’m reliably told, he thought of changing careers to become a novelist, a writer of Scott Turovian thrillers. Minimizing civilian casualties and harvesting intelligence aside, he knew that a commando raid, if it worked, would make for a far, far better last chapter.

The stories we tell and retell—­fictional, nonfictional, hybrids of the two—really do inform important choices we make. They matter.

Americans think that bin ­Laden’s execution will make Americans more vulnerable to a terrorist attack, but they’re nevertheless thrilled it happened—happy, in other words, to slightly increase their odds of being murdered in order to experience a gratifying symbolic charge.

Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda role for the last nine years and eight months, it turns out, was not merely symbolic, but the lunatic fantasies he encouraged—9/11 worked liked a dream, and the superpower couldn’t catch him because his success had been divinely ordained—gave him tremendous symbolic power. And now, maybe, the craziest Islamist dreams of inevitability will lose some of their crazy appeal.

None of the wars we’ve fought since World War II—Korea, Vietnam, Iraq—concluded triumphantly or unambiguously. The endgame in Afghanistan will surely be no different. As stories, as symbols, earlier wars’ most salient themes are very unsatisfying: wishful hubris, stupidity, bad luck, muddles. And ever since Vietnam and the rise of the Reaganist trope that “government is the problem,” Americans have defaulted to the idea that Washington is irredeemably feckless, incompetent, unable to stick with important projects for the long haul. The successful Javertism of bin Laden’s apprehension could help reduce people’s dangerous overinvestment in that idea.

The staying power of this story’s last chapter will never equal that of the first. But to the degree 9/11 “changed everything,” it did so not in some rational cost-benefit fashion. We coolly write off thousands of unnecessary American deaths and destroyed buildings every year. The trauma of that attack, for most of us, was the result of a symbolic assault. Which does not diminish its enduring historical significance. And to the degree that finally finding and killing Osama bin Laden is a symbolic victory, that just might prove to have enduring historical significance as well.

Which is why it doesn't matter whether that was OBL in that hovel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


High Noon in Pakistan (Walter Russell Mead, 5/08/11, American Interest)

The taking of Osama was a defeat for Al Qaeda. It was a disaster for Pakistan.

The Assassination in Abbottabad was a strategic catastrophe for the military rulers of this slowly and painfully failing state. On the one hand, it leaves the reputation of Pakistan as an effective partner against fanatical terror groups in ruins. The debate in Washington and around the world now is whether the Pakistani state is in league with Al Qaeda or whether it is so weak, divided and incompetent that rogue factions within the state have escaped all control. The rich intelligence haul the US gathered in Osama’s lair will help the US learn more about Osama’s protectors in Pakistan; in the meantime it is transparently clear that whether incompetence or malfeasance is more to blame, the government of Pakistan cannot safely be trusted — by anyone, on anything.

The argument for a continued US-Pakistani alliance took a body blow. If Pakistan can’t or won’t help us with the capture of Osama bin Laden, what possible justification does the alliance have?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 AM


One Hundred Years of Mississippi Blues: From Robert Johnson to Cedric Burnside (Denise Sullivan, May 6, 2011, Crawdaddy)

“You have to wonder if Johnson was playing for an audience that only he could see, one off in the future,” writes Bob Dylan in his book Chronicles of Robert Johnson, the blues genius whose work is still celebrated, 100 years from the day he was born. Johnson’s 29 songs were prescient in the way they would shape folk, rock, blues, and soul—as was his groundbreaking style of playing and singing them—and this week marks the beginning of his centennial year. Had he not died in 1938 at the age of 27, Johnson would be turning 100 on this Sunday, May 8th—supposedly—since the facts as we know them are still being contested, over 70 years after his death. But as the calendar opens on events scheduled for Johnson’s home turf of Greenwood, Mississippi, and across the country, in his honor we thought we’d look at his blues and revisit the well-worn folk legend about his meeting the devil at midnight at the crossroads, while we also check on the state of the 21st century blues from the perspective of a contemporary Mississippi blues player, Cedric Burnside.

From old-time and ragtime, to uptown Chicago strut, Delta picking, and hill country stomp, the root of all blues can be found in Johnson’s songs, which have served all forms of folk, rock, and even soul-jazz; he has survived homages by artists diverse as the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones, to Gil Scott Heron, the White Stripes and Keb’ Mo’, and satirists like Tenacious D. Indeed there is something supernatural about the way Johnson’s music, as well as the Faustian myth surrounding him, has survived time, outstretching the work of musicians from here to Yazoo, but there is obviously more to his achievements than a simple midnight pact made on the hallowed ground where Highways 61 and 49 now stand.

The real juju was displayed withstanding Ralph Macchio.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Bin Laden Was Dead Already (GILLES KEPEL, 5/08/11, NY Times)

The waning relevance of Al Qaeda and authoritarian legitimacy opened a political space for the Jasmine Revolution in Tunis and the Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt. Islamists and their sympathizers have been involved in the antigovernment movements. Some might once have been lured by Qaeda mythology, but most seek to blend democracy and pluralism with the tenets of Islamic civilization. The Turkish example of a secular state with an Islamic flavor is debated far more in the Arab media than Al Qaeda’s jihadist vision.

The most charismatic of global terrorists is now gone: does that mean that his network will collapse in despair, or are we to expect more violence by his orphans? In April, Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian-born doctor who was Al Qaeda’s second in command, posted an hourlong video from his hideout in Pakistan singing the praises of Abboud al-Zomor, the former intelligence officer who supplied the bullets that killed President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt in 1981. Mr. al-Zomor, who was released from prison after Mr. Mubarak’s downfall, has been trying to mobilize an Islamist party that would adopt Shariah law.

But Mr. al-Zawahri’s desperate effort to jump on the bandwagon of the Egyptian revolution has had little resonance. More troubling are the continued efforts of Qaeda splinter groups in North Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula. Any future acts of terrorism, however, are unlikely to have a snowball effect. Terrorism has its own political economy: when repeated too often, to no avail, its operations lose impact and eventually backfire.

Bin Laden’s heirs can still spread havoc, but they have lost the political momentum. Within the field of Islamist militancy, the axis of the battle runs now between Salafists who adhere to a strict, literal version of Shariah and the scattered Muslim Brotherhood, torn between a young generation that finds much in common with its secular contemporaries and the “old turbans” who still run the show. Another fault line divides those Islamists who wish to be a part of pluralistic political life, and those who see elections as a chance to seize power and not give it back.

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May 8, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 PM


Grab the reins of power (Shahid Saeed, 5/05/11, DAWN.COM)

What we know today is that this is possibly the biggest embarrassment the military has faced in a long, long time. Forget 1971, it was far more morally disastrous but it had its jingoistic and racist supporters, but even in the eyes of the khaki-apologist, today the military is naked and deserving of criticism. The khaki apologist who becomes a constitutionalist when it comes to the failings of the army (the politicians are the constitutional power holders, they guided the actions, they “sold the country”, not the Army – is the usual defence) and are cognizant of the military’s powers only when it is on the good side of things, is angry today too. There are too many questions.

Did we protect him? Did we give him refuge? Why would we do that? If not, did we ignore his presence? Are we this incompetent? Did the Field Intelligence Unit (FIU) never ask a question about a mysterious seven kanal house with a three-story building, built by settlers known from being Waziristan? Is the holy mother of all agencies so inept and useless that in the sweeps done around areas visited regularly by the Army Chief and the upper hierarchy, they never got suspicious of the house and its residents? How did bin Laden come to Abbottabad in the first place? Did he take a Rs. 70, 13-seater Hiace ride from Mansehra and stop off at the Baloch Regimental Center?

If not, then why did they allow a foreign power to come in and hunt him down? Did our forces coordinate and collaborate with the US on the raid? Why are they not speaking? It is not as if they would not want to take credit for it. The logic of avoiding the local terrorists’ wrath is just too pathetic, they already target us. Mullah Omar’s, Hekmatyar’s and Haqqani’s anger be damned, this is their protector we are talking about. It is stupid, nay unimaginable, that our forces collaborated extensively and do not want to take credit for it. They would not risk inviting the wrath of the international media that they have called upon themselves today.

And then there is the ultimate nightmare. If they did not know about the operation, then really, like the Foreign Office in its poorly worded, shamefully funny press statement says, we failed to respond in time to nothing less than an invasion? At cruise speed, terrain hugging and avoiding radars, a UH-60 “Blackhawk” (or even the secretive stealth helicopter that are rumoured to have been used, although non-stealth Chinooks are alleged to have provided support too) would have easily spent more than 30 minutes inside Pakistani territory before the soldiers roped down into the compound. A 40-minute operation and then the return ride. In all, the US team spent at least an hour-and-a-half inside Pakistan and we failed to respond? Were our radars jammed completely? Did we even fail to respond to visual sighting of a bunch of helicopters? Is our response time so slow? With three regimental centres in a highly militarised town, no one was able to answer to a 40-minute ground operation by foreign forces? Are our defenses so inept and weak? Did we scramble jets? When did we, if, realise that it was a friendly country conducting an anti-terrorism raid and not “the enemy”? What is the purpose of keeping the armed forces if they consume such a large chunk of our budget and fail to respond to nothing less than an invasion that lasted for 90 full minutes?

I am, for not a single moment, arguing we should have shot down the Americans. I for one believe they did the right thing. For all we know, it was the nightmare we have, that some sympathetic group in our very forces protected the most wanted man on Earth. The questions I pose are the multitude that people from various facets of life and inclinations ask. They ask what would happen if India were to carry out the “surgical strike” that their jingoists threaten of? They ask, yes India is not the United States, but how could our air defense systems be so easily jammed and fooled and tricked? They ask, what is the response time to an invasion? What is the purpose of an Army that let’s others not just operate in its territory, but come in, operate and go back?

So, today, we are at a point where the Army’s defenses are weak. It is being criticised by the international community and ever so slightly, by locals too. But the criticism is weak and non-existent in comparison to what it should be. This is the time when the Army is rightfully exposed to the most criticism. If you ever held any views on civil-military balance that did not hold civilians in contempt, right now is the time to shout and be heard.

If there’s anything that can be guaranteed, it is that the military will remain the most dominant player in the echelons of power for the times to come. And because that will happen, we will continue to fight for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, we will continue to hold India as the mortal enemy, we will continue to amass even more nuclear weapons, procure even more fighter jets and buy another air refueler and what not. We will remain an impoverished, militarised, third world country. And as long as we remain militarised, and existing only to fight against the mythical enemy, the schools will remain dysfunctional, the hospitals non-existent and the people, poor, hungry and malnutritioned.

Barely 40 hours before the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or SEAL Team Six, fast roped down into the compound of Osama bin Laden, our Army Chief told a ceremony at the annual ‘Youm-e-Shuhuda’ (Day of the Martyrs) that prosperity must not come at the cost of honour and dignity. Where was the honour and dignity when, like the Foreign Office says, soldiers from another country basically invaded ours, operated and went back, without even so much as a bird being swatted in response?

The political process is an evolutionary one. Slowly, and slowly, we are moving towards a functional democracy. A Public Accounts Committee functions well today, maybe another institution of accountability and justice and public service will improve tomorrow. The politics of urbanisation is here. But amongst all this evolutionary change, unless the fish with the small legs comes out of the water, the process of evolution will face the ultimate barrier – the military. have a military that would stand any chance against America, Israel, and India, which is the alliance they face.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Jerry Brown’s Last Stand (ADAM NAGOURNEY, 5/04/11, NY Times Magazine)

There may be no better prism to view what is happening to the left during this era of the Tea Party than through Brown’s difficulties this spring. Although Brown may never have been the liberal that many took him for, he falls on the left on any conventional political spectrum. In the midst of his bracing talk about the need to change the way business is done in Sacramento, he came under fire for negotiating agreements with California unions — including some big supporters of his campaign — that fell short of winning the concessions he had promised and that fiscal analysts say are critical for his state’s long-term health. Yet at the same time, the argument playing out in this most Democratic of states is not whether there should be cuts in spending on social programs but whether the cuts should be very deep or very, very, very deep. Brown’s budget is hardly the kind of proposal a governor like Brown’s father would have championed.

For all that, it does not appear to be giving him any huge problems with his liberal supporters. Part of that is because this state is coming off almost eight years of Republican rule, which makes Brown seem much more acceptable by contrast. It is also a sign of just how anxious Californians are about the state’s fiscal and political path and how few choices there really are. David Geffen said Brown has shifted because that is the only way to get anything accomplished. “You’d have to call him a centrist — more of a centrist than he was 30 years ago,” Geffen said. “You can only solve problems in the middle. I don’t think you can solve problems from the left or the right.” Most of all, Brown has been around a long time: His supporters trust him, and they know who they voted for. “Jerry and I don’t agree on many issues,” said Jodie Evans, a longtime aide to Brown who today runs Code Pink, the antiwar group. “But I don’t believe there is anybody better to do this job right now. I might be outside the university protesting what he’s doing, but there isn’t anybody I trust the way I trust him.”

A few weeks after introducing his budget proposal, Brown met privately with Democratic legislators. The spending cuts were, as expected, causing distress among Democrats, though they were going to pass them. The tax extensions were even more of a problem; the Republican votes were still not there. When he was done making his presentation, according to people in the room, someone asked: “What happens if Plan A fails? What is your Plan B?” Brown didn’t flinch. “I believe in the Hernando Cortes approach,” he said, invoking the Spanish conqueror. “When you hit the shore, burn the ships. There is no Plan B.” The lawmakers sat in disbelieving silence. But that remark was borne out after the collapse of the budget talks; it was not clear that Brown knew what to do next.

Unless Plan B really is to do precisely what he said he would do: cut billions more from the state’s budget. The governor may be crafty — he is very much a politician — but on this point he seems utterly transparent. “He is what he is, and he’s been it for a long time,” Beatty, who has been a friend of Brown’s for 30 years, told me. “After a few decades of skepticism about him, you can now see he really means what he says.”

In our conversations over the last few months, it became clear that Brown is considering, in the event of failure, a subversive notion, a last-stand response to the Republican agenda of blocking the tax extensions and forcing spending cuts: Let it happen. “If you talk about taxes, you don’t get elected — so that’s a nonstarter now,” he told me. “You have to keep cutting to the point where people say they want to increase their contribution.”

In other words, the only way a majority of Americans might reconsider taxes is if they experience the full brunt of spending cuts, not only in California but also in Washington. “People have never experienced cutting like that before,” Brown told me. “That will create turbulence.” If raising taxes is a nonstarter in this environment, change the environment.

Although Brown did not put it this way, this idea is the reverse of a Republican strategy known as “starve the beast,” in which politically popular tax cuts are intended to force subsequent reductions in government spending. The notion is most identified with Grover Norquist, the antitax advocate (and a powerful foe of Brown’s bid to extend California’s tax increases), who has said he wants to shrink government so that you could “drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” What Brown is proposing is to demonstrate just how disruptive a radically smaller government would be. Government might become so diminished that Californians demand to rescue it from Norquist’s bathtub.

If Brown can’t win his battle over taxes, this line of thinking goes, the next best thing would be for him to lose his battle over taxes. California would once again become a great national laboratory. “It will be wrenching,” Brown said.

What if no one, other than state employees, notices the cuts?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:27 PM


Cheap and abundant energy is on hand (Matt Ridley, 9 May 2011, Online Opinion)

The world will use about 450 exajoules (billion billion joules) of fossil fuel energy this year and has so far used less than 20,000 exajoules since the Industrial Revolution began. Total oil, gas and coal resources in the Earth's crust are estimated at more than 570,000 exajoules. So if energy use was a journey from St Pancras to Istanbul by train, we have not yet reached the Channel Tunnel. Resources can be finite yet effectively inexhaustible or, like dodos and forests, infinitely renewable yet easily exhausted.

Quantity is not really the point; price is. Most fossil fuels are impossibly hard to extract at a reasonable price. More than half the reserves consist of methane clathrates hydrated gas found mostly on the seabed near the margins of the continents in vast quantities. Nobody knows how to turn them into fuel except at huge cost, although the Japanese are on the case. So the question is not whether we run out of fossil fuels but whether we run out of cheap fossil fuels.

With oil, the answer may be "yes". A huge amount of oil is still untapped, but most of it is under deep water or in oil sands and is costly to extract. But with gas, the answer is "no". Most free methane is found in impermeable rocks such as shale, not in permeable "traps" whence it is easiest to extract. Shale gas was thought to be as inaccessible as clathrates, and when it began to be exploited in the 1990s it looked as if it would still come in at the top of the price range. Now technological improvements have brought the price down so far that it undercuts conventional gas.

In a report I have written for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, published yesterday, I conclude that this "shale-gas shock" will have far-reaching consequences. It will make gas prices lower and less volatile relative to oil than ever before.

This will cause gas to take market share from coal, nuclear and renewables in electricity generation, and from oil in transport. London buses should follow Washington and Delhi in switching to gas both to save money and to produce less smog.

Shale gas is good news for America and China (which probably has even more of it than America), consumers (cheap fuel means higher standards of living) and farmers (fertiliser is made from gas). It is bad news for Russia and Iran (which hoped to corner the gas market in coming decades), for coal (until now the cheapest fuel for electricity) and for the nuclear and wind industries.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


Why Singapore's ruling party suffered historic setback at polls: Voter dissatisfaction is high over rising inequality and the high cost of living. For the first time, opposition candidates contested virtually every seat in parliament. . (Simon Montlake, May 8, 2011, CS Monitor)

Analysts say the high-profile role of young professionals in the opposition movement gave it a broader appeal to voters than the left-leaning candidates of previous campaigns. Their next task will be proving that they are a credible alternative to the PAP, which has governed Singapore since independence and keeps a tight grip on public debate.

“What this means is a much greater critical mass of talented opposition MPs in parliament. That’s even more important than the psychological breakthrough of winning a [multimember constituency],” says Michael Montesano, a historian at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Sic transit authoritarian capitalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


The Double Game: The unintended consequences of American funding in Pakistan. (Lawrence Wright, 5/16/11, The New Yorker)

It’s the end of the Second World War, and the United States is deciding what to do about two immense, poor, densely populated countries in Asia. America chooses one of the countries, becoming its benefactor. Over the decades, it pours billions of dollars into that country’s economy, training and equipping its military and its intelligence services. The stated goal is to create a reliable ally with strong institutions and a modern, vigorous democracy. The other country, meanwhile, is spurned because it forges alliances with America’s enemies.

The country not chosen was India, which “tilted” toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Pakistan became America’s protégé, firmly supporting its fight to contain Communism. The benefits that Pakistan accrued from this relationship were quickly apparent: in the nineteen-sixties, its economy was an exemplar. India, by contrast, was a byword for basket case. Fifty years then went by. What was the result of this social experiment?

India has become the state that we tried to create in Pakistan. It is a rising economic star, militarily powerful and democratic, and it shares American interests. Pakistan, however, is one of the most anti-American countries in the world, and a covert sponsor of terrorism. Politically and economically, it verges on being a failed state. And, despite Pakistani avowals to the contrary, America’s worst enemy, Osama bin Laden, had been hiding there for years—in strikingly comfortable circumstances—before U.S. commandos finally tracked him down and killed him, on May 2nd.

American aid is hardly the only factor that led these two countries to such disparate outcomes. But, at this pivotal moment, it would be a mistake not to examine the degree to which U.S. dollars have undermined our strategic relationship with Pakistan—and created monstrous contradictions within Pakistan itself. [...]

The main beneficiary of U.S. money, the Pakistani military, has never won a war, but, according to “Military Inc.,” by Ayesha Siddiqa, it has done very well in its investments: hotels, real estate, shopping malls. Such entrepreneurship, however corrupt, fills a gap, as Pakistan’s economy is now almost entirely dependent on American taxpayers. In a country of a hundred and eighty million people, fewer than two million citizens pay taxes, and Pakistan’s leaders are doing little to change the situation. In Karachi, the financial capital, the government recently inaugurated a program to appoint eunuchs as tax collectors. Eunuchs are considered relentless scolds in South Asia, and the threat of being hounded by one is somehow supposed to take the place of audits.

In 2008, Pakistan’s government made the dramatic announcement that it was placing the I.S.I. under the control of its Interior Ministry—a restructuring that was revoked within hours by inflamed military leaders, who effectively vetoed the government. That November, Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organization that has reportedly received backing from the I.S.I. to wage jihad in Kashmir, carried out attacks on tourists in Mumbai. According to American indictments, an I.S.I. officer directed the surveillance of suitable targets. Those sites included the Taj and Oberoi hotels, the train station, the Leopold Café, and the Chabad House, a Lubavitch outpost run by an American rabbi and his pregnant wife. According to Sebastian Rotella, who has written extensively for ProPublica about the attack, “They were going out of their way to kill Americans.” At the hotels, the attackers sorted through passports, looking for American and British citizens. In the end, a hundred and sixty-six people were killed, but only six were Americans. The Pakistani government denied any involvement, although it eventually conceded that the attacks had been planned in Pakistan.

Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. special agent who interrogated many of the Al Qaeda members captured in Pakistan, told me that “the majority of them said that Lashkar-e-Taiba had given them shelter.” After the battle of Tora Bora, he added, the Al Qaeda members who fled to Pakistan—including top leaders—were greeted by Lashkar operatives and taken to safe houses. Some Pakistanis worry that Lashkar may become the new Al Qaeda.

In 2009, Senators Richard Lugar and John Kerry, recognizing that American military aid had given the Army and the I.S.I. disproportionate power in Pakistan, helped pass legislation in Congress sanctioning seven and a half billion dollars in civilian assistance, to be disbursed over a period of five years. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, apparently at the direction of the military, flew to Washington, and insisted that his country would not be micromanaged. So far, less than a hundred and eighty million dollars of that money has been spent, because the civilian projects require oversight and checks on corruption. The Pakistani military, meanwhile, submits expense claims every month to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad; according to a report in the Guardian, receipts are not provided—or requested.

Just as we forced the Afrikaaners, the Israelis and the Protestant Irish to disgorge their territorial claims after the Cold War, we needed to devolve Pakistan into its constituent parts.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Bin Laden's Death and the Future of Violent Jihad: He is best known for his 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the rise of al-Qaida and the September 11 attacks. In a piece for SPIEGEL, Lawrence Wright argues that Osama bin Laden's death -- at a time when peaceful Arab youths are delivering what jihad has been unable to -- has drastically diminished al-Qaida's standing. (Lawrence Wright, 5/08/11, Der Spiegel)

We are witnessing an extraordinary Arab revolution, and we are observing that al-Qaida has no influence on it, has nothing to say about the choices that Arabs are making. This has been a revelation not only to Westerners, but also to Arabs themselves -- and certainly to al-Qaida. Its message is that peaceful means of protest can bring about the change that years of jihad have failed to accomplish.

Indeed, this is a turning point, something that changes the narrative of al-Qaida, which posits that real change can only come about through violent revolution. Now it has seen that real change can be achieved through nonviolent means. [...]

We are witnessing dramatic change in the Arab world. Look at the evolution of Islamist movements like Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood: They are more open-minded to democracy and modernism now because members of the younger generation are taking over. Indeed, there is a very powerful will among young Arabs to be part of the modern world. Al-Qaida does not stand for this modern world, and that is not a very good stance for a political movement today.

The overthrow of the autocrats, especially in Egypt, makes not only deposed President Hosni Mubarak, but also the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood look like dinosaurs. In fact, it was the youth movement inside the Muslim Brotherhood that finally decided to go out onto Tahrir Square in January.

Zawahiri and bin Laden are also part of the gerontocracy. There are new alliances now, and one of the very powerful ones is the youth movement in the Arab world. Al-Qaida is very far removed from that, from the aspirations of young people. What you see all over now is a modernist movement that has no interest in continuing the fundamentalist search for the past that al-Qaida champions.

As when the USSR fell--thanks in part to the jihadis--what's most striking is how completely outdated the underlying ideology is.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Tim Pawlenty's gambit: The Minnesota Republican is focusing on the issues that helped the GOP win in 2010 (Doyle McManus, May 8, 2011, LA Times)

[T]he decidedly bland and uncharismatic Pawlenty stands a good chance of being the Republicans' next candidate for president. And he might even turn out to be a pretty good nominee, with his message focused steadfastly on the issues that helped Republicans win last year's congressional elections: low taxes, spending cuts, less regulation.

How could Pawlenty, who currently gets the support of roughly 5% of Republican voters on a good day, win the nomination? Mostly by process of elimination.

Every potential Republican candidate has flaws. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the putative front-runner, is distrusted by many conservatives for his moderate past, especially for passing a healthcare law that looks suspiciously like "Obamacare."

Some of the most intriguing potential candidates — real estate mogul Donald Trump, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — draw negative reactions from big chunks of the electorate. Some of the most electable — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels — sound as if they don't plan to run. By showing up in South Carolina, Pawlenty showcased one of his main strengths at the moment: He's actually running.

So despite the long list of potential names on the ballot, the race could quickly turn into a two-man contest, Romney versus Pawlenty. And in that matchup, Pawlenty stands a good chance of winning as the most plausible candidate acceptable to conservatives.

Pawlenty's more interesting than he looks. "He was the most conservative governor we've ever had," said Lawrence R. Jacobs of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Jacobs, who's not a Republican, gives Pawlenty credit for governing as "a thoughtful conservative," a policy wonk who reduced spending on healthcare through programs that pushed hospitals and other providers to become more efficient.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Friedrich A. Hayek, Big-Government Skeptic: THE CONSTITUTION OF LIBERTY: The Definitive Edition. (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume XVII.) By F. A. Hayek, Edited by Ronald Hamowy (FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, 5/07/11, NY Times Book Review)

Hayek’s skepticism about the effects of “big government” are rooted in an epistemological observation summarized in a 1945 article called “The Uses of Knowledge in Society.” There he argued that most of the knowledge in a modern economy was local in nature, and hence unavailable to central planners. The brilliance of a market economy was that it allocated resources through the decentralized decisions of a myriad of buyers and sellers who interacted on the basis of their own particular knowledge. The market was a form of “spontaneous order,” which was far superior to planned societies based on the hubris of Cartesian rationalism. He and his fellow Austrian Ludwig von Mises used this argument against Joseph Schumpeter in a famous debate in the 1930s and ’40s over whether socialism or capitalism offered a more efficient economic system. In hindsight, Hayek clearly emerged the winner.

“The Constitution of Liberty” builds on this view of the limits of human cognition to make the case that no government can know enough about a society to plan effectively. The government’s true role is more modest: to create laws that are general and equally applied; these laws constitute the matrix in which the spontaneous interactions of individuals can occur. (It may, however, surprise some of Hayek’s new followers to learn that “The Constitution of Liberty” argues that the government may need to provide health insurance and even make it ­compulsory.) [....]

In the end, what drove people on the left crazy about Hayek back in the 1950s is the same thing that makes him appealing to a Glenn Beck today. Hayek made the slipperiest of slippery slope arguments: the smallest move toward the expansion of government would lead to a cascade of bad consequences that would result in full-blown authoritarian socialism. If anything, however, the history of the past 50 years shows us that the slippery slope has all sorts of ledges and handholds by which we can brake our descent into serfdom and indeed climb back up. Voters in the United States and Europe took seriously the arguments about the dangers of big government and reversed course after the 1980s. Indeed, the pendulum swung so far backward that financial markets were left dangerously unregulated prior to the financial crisis. President Obama’s return to “big government” didn’t last more than a year before it was met with fierce ­resistance.

In the end, there is a deep contradiction in Hayek’s thought. His great insight is that individual human beings muddle along, making progress by planning, experimenting, trying, failing and trying again. They never have as much clarity about the future as they think they do. But Hayek somehow knows with great certainty that when governments, as opposed to individuals, engage in a similar process of innovation and discovery, they will fail. He insists that the dividing line between state and society must be drawn according to a strict abstract principle rather than through empirical adaptation. In so doing, he proves himself to be far more of a hubristic Cartesian than a true Hayekian.

Considered only in terms of economics, the most successful nations tend to have less than 40 million citizens (America being a glaring exception). And small island nations (within the Anglosphere) do exceptionally well. This would seem to argue in favor of the idea that good government is a product of localness.

On the other hand, these smaller homogenous states tend towards "bigger" government, precisely because the recipients of taxpayer largesse are perceived as neighbors.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Ahmadinejad allies charged with sorcery: Iranian power struggle between president and supreme leader sees arrests and claims of undue influence of chief of staff (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 5/05/11,

Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds".

The arrests come amid a growing rift between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei which has prompted several MPs to call for the president to be impeached.

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad returned to his office after an 11-day walkout in an apparent protest over Khamenei's reinstatement of the intelligence minister, who the president had initiallyasked to resign. [...]

[T]he feud has taken a metaphysical turn following the release of an Iranian documentary alleging the imminent return of the Hidden Imam Mahdi – the revered saviour of Shia Islam, whose reappearance is anticipated by believers in a manner comparable to that with which Christian fundamentalists anticipate the second coming of Jesus.

Conservative clerics, who say that the Mahdi's return cannot be predicted, have accused a "deviant current" within the president's inner circle, including Mashaei, of being responsible for the film.

Ahmadinejad's obsession with the hidden imam is well known. He often refers to him in his speeches and in 2009 said that he had documentary evidence that the US was trying to prevent Mahdi's return.

Can't be president of an Islamic Republic if you aren't even a Muslim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


The Hunt: A different sort of search requires a new set of tactics (Peter Finn, Ian Shapira and Marc Fisher, May 6, 2011, Washington Post)

Finally, after weeks of searching the caves and mountains of Tora Bora for traces of Osama bin Laden, CIA field commander Gary Berntsen believed his men had a good peg on the terrorist. Berntsen called in the big bomb - the BLU-82, a 15,000-pound device the size of a car.

The bomb was pushed out of the back of a C-130 transport plane. It struck with such force that it vaporized men deep inside caves. The devastation spread across an area as big as five football fields, killing numerous al-Qaeda fighters - including, Berntsen believed, bin Laden.

It was three months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and Berntsen thought, "I've got him now."

Six days later, two of Berntsen's men were listening to a radio they had picked up from a dead al-Qaeda fighter. They heard bin Laden addressing his troops in Arabic. The hunt went on.

Immediately after al-Qaeda's attack, America went after the world's most notorious terrorist with a quick-action injection of cash, commandos and massive firepower.

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May 7, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


If You Have the Answers, Tell Me (N. GREGORY MANKIW, 5/07/11, NY Times)

How long will inflation expectations remain anchored?

In 1967, Milton Friedman gave an address to the American Economic Association with this simple but profound message: The inflation rate that the economy gets is, in large measure, based on the inflation rate that people expect. When everyone expects high inflation, workers bargain hard for wage increases, and companies push prices higher to keep up with the projected cost increases. When everyone expects inflation to be benign, workers and companies are less aggressive. In short, the perception of inflation — or of the lack of it — creates the reality.

Although novel when Professor Friedman proposed it, his theory is now textbook economics, and is at the heart of Federal Reserve policy. Fed policy makers are keeping interest rates low, despite soaring commodity prices. Why? Inflation expectations are “well anchored,” we are told, so there is no continuing problem with inflation. Rising gasoline prices are just a transitory blip.

They are probably right, but there is still reason to wonder.

Females, blacks and people over 65 are all considered worthy of employment domestically, while "Made in ...." is no longer a slur but reflects the advent of cheaper labor abroad for American-designed products. In such an economic milieu, employees have no power to ask for higher wages. Thus the realistic expectation of inflation is deflation.

Consider just one, relatively unnoticed, current event: the most important result of the Arab Spring is a labor force of 60 million people becoming available to the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


The End of a United Kingdom? (PHILIP TERZIAN, 5/07/11, Weekly Standard)

The news has flown a bit under the radar here in the United States, for understandable reasons; but the results earlier this week of the Scottish parliament elections are historic. Whether this is good or bad history, of course, remains to be seen. For the first time, and much against the odds and recent opinion polls, Alex Salmond's Scottish Nationalist Party has won an absolute majority in the Edinburgh parliament--something that the Hollyrood system was designed to prevent, and which now puts the future of the United Kingdom itself in jeopardy.

Heck, even splitting America off was bad history, but we've all muddled through okay.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:38 PM


Drone Strike in Yemen Was Aimed at Awlaki (MARK MAZZETTI, 5/07/11, NY Times)

A missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.

The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.

A horse may not do it., but the UR just won the Triple Crown: assassination, of a US citizen, on foreign (theoretically sovereign) soil.

How long until the Left starts calling for his indictment or impeachment?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:32 PM


...if he requires teleprompting to bid his wife and kids, "Good Morning":

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Gunning for Bin Laden: Did the U.S. ever intend to do anything other than kill the Al Qaeda leader? (LA Times, 5/05/11)

The attractions of assassination over capture are obvious: Killing Bin Laden forestalls public controversy over whether and where he should be tried. It provides the American people with a sense of closure not offered by a trial. And it sends a powerful message to the world about U.S. resolve — or, as some might perceive it, ruthlessness.

...the politicization of our detainee treatment made it impossible for the UR to risk taking OBL alive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Indiana's Great Education Leap: The Hoosier State passes vouchers and dissolves teacher tenure. (WSJ, 5/06/11)

School choice is gaining new momentum, and one of the biggest political breakthroughs came this week in Indiana. Governor Mitch Daniels signed legislation Thursday that includes far-reaching reforms in teacher assessment and tenure, as well the most ambitious voucher program in memory.

Under the new law, the state will provide 7,500 publicly financed scholarships of up to $4,500 a year to Hoosier elementary school kids who have been in public schools for the last two semesters and then want to attend another school, public or private. That scholarship number rises to 15,000 in the second year, with no cap in the third year and beyond. High school students can also qualify for a voucher of up to 90% of the state public school support, which varies by school district.

The thinking here is that parents have to give the public schools a try, but then their children shouldn't be trapped by inferior schools merely because of where they live. The voucher is means-tested by family income up to a maximum of roughly $60,000 or so, with lower-income families getting a larger payment. Mr. Daniels says about half of all Hoosier school children will qualify.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Bin Laden Dead: The Sovereignty Debate (Maha Atal, 5/06/11, Forbes)

So what we have is a situation in which the U.S. government, while keeping the raid a secret and hoping to be in and out of Pakistan without incident, was prepared for and half expected to draw fire from the Pakistani military. They went in knowing this. And a situation in which Pakistan, not knowing of the raid but recognizing a foreign air presence in Abbottabad (whether they saw it enter the country or not), behaved as they might when under attack. Neither side is calling it a breach of sovereignty, because–with so many billions of dollars between them–it’s in neither party’s interest to do so. But all the pieces of what might constitute a breach of sovereignty are there, and it is only because of timing that we’ve been spared the disaster of a Pakistani-American military confrontation.

If Pakistan wanted to make an issue of it, says Gary D. Solis of Georgetown Law, the United States would make the argument that its actions constituted a form of “extraterritorial law enforcement.” That’s a bit of jargon developed in particular response to the question of non-state terrorist actors and the states where they hide out. It provides for a situation in which an organization carrying out terrorism from a base in State A on victims in State B can be targeted by State B without the targeting being construed as an attack on State A, provided that B can make a good case for why A is ‘unable or unwilling’ to take care of the terrorists on its turf. Very importantly, this doctrine does not assume that A (the host state) is actively shielding the terrorist group, and it does not provide for attacks on A’s state assets. It also doesn’t come down clearly on what rights State A has to retaliate or claim self-defense if it opposes the action. The most recent government to make this case? Israel, in its 2006 retaliation against Hezbollah, and the all-out war with Lebanon that followed. Given the political controversy surrounding the ethics of Israel’s actions, it’s hardly a cut-and-dry precedent, nor one that helps the U.S. avoid the impression it’s in a state of quasi-war with Pakistan.

The doctrine of extraterritorial law enforcement has typically applied to one state taking action in a neighboring state. But in this case, we’re looking at the United States, which happens to be conducting military operations in Afghanistan, extending its military actions into neighboring Pakistan. Under the laws of war, the U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan is currently considered to be an Article 3 presence, in which the foreign forces are ‘helping’ the Afghan government fight its domestic insurgency, as opposed to a war on Afghanistan itself. There’s no precedent for “extraterritorial law enforcement” being undertaken as an extension of an Article 3 conflict, by a state that doesn’t border the state where the terrorists sit. The U.S. can argue that it’s acting on behalf of Afghanistan, except that the Afghan government didn’t ask for or know about this raid.

Futhermore, the insurgency the U.S. is helping Afghanistan contain comes from the Taliban and the Haqqani network. Al Qaeda central, and bin Laden himself, haven’t been involved in the attacks on troops or civilians in Afghanistan since the Article 3 phase of the conflict commenced with the establishment of this Afghan government and the ISAF agreement in December 2001.

Solis concedes that both of these are potential holes in the putative U.S. defense.

Thankfully, for the moment, the United States doesn’t need to defend its actions on Sunday because Pakistan is not pushing it.

We don't have to defend it because we decide what sovereignty is. Note that even the proposed defense is just "jargon" we invented to cover our actions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Should We Hit Gaddafi Next?: The president acted bravely in choosing to strike at Osama bin Laden. Will he act on behalf of the people of Libya next? (Paul Wolfowitz, 5/06/11, Daily Beast)

It was not for lack of trying that bin Laden was not killed or captured much sooner. But, in one sense, it is good that he lived so long—long enough to see the defeat of so many of his satanic dreams. Most of all, there is profound justice in the fact that he had a chance before he died to witness the overthrow of so many Arab dictators, overthrown not by his followers but by men and women who were lovers of freedom (and of Facebook).

One of the most extraordinary features of the protests that have swept the Muslim world has been the courage of the demonstrators. The great bravery of Tunisians and Egyptians has been exceeded by that of the Libyans and Syrians, while Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Gaddafi have joined the ranks of bin Laden as killers of the defenseless.

One of bin Laden's followers wrote that the trouble with democracy is that it encourages people to love life too much and fear death, and to become unwilling to perform jihad. What bin Laden and that writer fail to understand is that there are people who do love life but who love freedom more and are willing to risk their lives for it. It is that love of life—not a hope for paradise—that motivates the brave Americans who have defended their country through the generations. And we now see the same brave love of freedom demonstrated by thousands of Arabs. [...]

For some reason, the president has so far held back from other decisions that would involve no risk to American lives but that could save the lives of Libyans that we have committed to protect—like recognizing the provisional government in Benghazi, providing them with military assistance, shutting down the propaganda broadcasts of the Gaddafi regime. None of these actions would guarantee an opposition victory, but they would reduce the risks of a prolonged stalemate that would cost more Libyan lives and increase the risk that the U.S. would eventually be drawn in deeper than we need to be. For the sake of the Libyan people and for America's reputation in the Arab world, one has to hope that President Obama has learned the value of boldness.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Mother of all embarrassments (Ayaz Amir, May 06, 2011, The News)

To say that our security czars and assorted knights have been caught with their pants down would be the understatement of the century. This is the mother of all embarrassments, showing us either to be incompetent – it can’t get any worse than this, Osama living in a sprawling compound a short walk from that nursery school of the army, the Pakistan Military Academy and, if we are to believe this, our ever-vigilant eyes and ears knowing nothing about it – or, heaven forbid, complicit.

I would settle for incompetence anytime because the implications of complicity are too dreadful to contemplate.

And the Americans came, swooping over the mountains, right into the heart of the compound, and after carrying out their operation flew away into the moonless night without our formidable guardians of national security knowing anything about it. This is to pour salt over our wounds. The obvious question which even a child would raise is that if a cantonment crawling with the army such as Abbottabad is not safe from stealthy assault what does it say about the safety of our famous nuke capability, the mainstay of national pride and defence?

May 6, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


What if Osama Bin Laden Had Been Captured: Unlike bin Laden, the US managed to capture former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein alive. A Washington FBI agent then found himself with an unlikely assignment: Interrogate the captured dictator (Garrett M. Graff, April 2011, The Washingtonian)

FBI agent George Piro was driving south on the Fairfax County Parkway when his cell phone rang on Christmas Eve 2003. He knew immediately it was something big: "It was my section chief—my boss's boss," Piro says. The mission was quickly explained: Just months after returning from his first wartime deployment to Iraq, he was being ordered back. He had a new assignment: to interrogate Saddam Hussein.

Piro's path to Iraq had begun two years earlier, on September 11, 2001. Then the sole Arabic speaker in the FBI's Phoenix field office, he had watched the attacks on the television in the office gym. Piro's knowledge of Islamic extremism was unparalleled in the bureau. Born in Lebanon, he and his family lived through years of the civil war there before moving to California's San Joaquin Valley when he was 12. He already had a deeper understanding of the threat of groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas than most counterterrorism experts. Drawn from the start to law enforcement—Air Force security police, then a police detective in California—he became an FBI agent in 1999.

On 9/11, the Phoenix field office had a single squad working all the various threads of international terror. Piro worked with Kenneth Williams, a more experienced agent, and they'd made some good cases in just two years, including the bureau's first prosecution of an Iranian agent for violating sanctions against Iran. In the summer of 2001, Williams, after his work with Piro, had sent FBI headquarters an "electronic communication" warning of Arab students taking flight lessons; the so-called "Phoenix memo" would be held up later as a missed opportunity before 9/11.

Starting just after 7 am in Phoenix on September 11, Piro watched the attacks unfold on TV. He quickly showered and headed upstairs to meet Williams, who had been through big cases before—he'd helped work the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Williams began to tell Piro what the coming days were likely to hold for the Phoenix office. As the attacks continued on the East Coast, the partners decided they didn't want to sit around waiting for an order. They knew Phoenix had the nation's second-highest concentration of flight schools. Piro opened the Yellow Pages and scanned the listings until he found three programs that offered commercial licenses. The two men set out.

Just then, Piro's cell phone rang. On the line was an agent at Boston's Logan Airport with a name from the flight manifest for the Phoenix team to check out: Hani Hanjour. I"'m holding his file in my hands right now," Piro said.

They raced back to the field office. "I've identified one of the hijackers," Piro told his squad leader.

"Get out of here—I don't have time for jokes today," his supervisor said.

Hanjour's file was just the beginning: A second hijacker also had trained nearby. And there were other suspicious individuals who hadn't been on the planes—were they lying in wait for a second wave? Warning bells went off as they examined the file of Faisal al-Salmi. He was Saudi, matched the age range of the other hijackers, had signed up for flight lessons along with Hanjour, but hadn't performed well. "If this guy ran into a cloud, he'd be dead," one flight instructor said of him.

On September 18, Piro and Williams knocked on al-Salmi's door. Over the next eight hours, the agents interrogated him, first at his apartment and then at the FBI field office.

"I was very uncomfortable with his statement," recalls Piro, who alternated between Arabic and English in his questioning. Initially al-Salmi denied any ties to Hanjour. By night's end, he admitted having had conversations with Hanjour. Al-Salmi, indicted for lying to federal agents, became the first arrest directly tied to the 9/11 investigation.

September was the beginning of a whirlwind for Piro and Williams, neither of whom took a day off until Thanksgiving—and got going again as soon as the turkey was eaten.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 PM


Mitch Daniels, an alternative to scary (Dana Milbank, May 4, 2011, Washington Post)

Mitch Daniels, the conservative intelligentsia’s choice for president in 2012, came to Washington on Wednesday to give a speech on education policy to a conservative think tank. But not 10 minutes into his address, he took an unexpected turn.

“Most of what I’ve talked about so far, and much of what I will, is strongly supported by the Obama administration,” the Republican governor of Indiana told the standing-room-only crowd at the American Enterprise Institute. “I salute the president, Secretary [Arne] Duncan. They are right about these things.”

Off-message alert! One of the right-minded thinkers in the room rose to give Daniels a second chance to criticize Obama. The governor declined. “I really do want to salute and commend — and I’ve done it over and over — the president, Secretary Duncan, for a lot of leadership in this area,” he affirmed. “There is a federal role” in education, he argued. “I believe in national standards.” [...]

But the Indiana governor is following a well-written playbook. A dozen years ago, George W. Bush (for whom Daniels later worked as White House budget director) campaigned for the GOP presidential nomination as a different kind of Republican, a “compassionate conservative” motivated principally by concern for poor black kids and public schools.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Diagnosis as disease: Physicians are now making diagnoses in individuals who wouldn't have been considered sick in the past, and it's raising healthcare costs. (H. Gilbert Welch, May 6, 2011, LA Times)

One of the first things we were taught in medical school was the pivotal role of thresholds in governing the human body. To trigger a nerve to fire or a muscle to contract, there must be a stimulus of electrical activity that exceeds a threshold value. If the threshold value is too low, muscles go into spasm and deadly rhythms develop in the heart.

Low thresholds, however, aren't just a problem for an individual's health. They are increasingly a problem for the health of our medical care system.

The threshold for diagnosis has fallen too low. Physicians are now making diagnoses in individuals who wouldn't have been considered sick in the past.

Part of the explanation is technological: diagnostic tests able to detect biochemical and anatomic abnormalities that were undetectable in the past. But part of the explanation is behavioral: We look harder for things to be wrong. We test more often, we are more likely to test people who have no symptoms, and we have changed the rules about what degree of abnormality constitutes disease (a fasting blood sugar of 130 was not considered to be diabetes before 1997; now it is).

Low diagnostic thresholds lead people who feel well to be labeled as unwell. Not surprisingly, some subsequently feel less well. In short, low diagnostic thresholds introduce more "dis"-ease into the population. Does that sound like a good thing for a "healthcare" system to do?

Of course, if being diseased cost you money instead of winning you cash, we'd be extraordinarily healthy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


The Waterboarding Trail to bin Laden: Former CIA Director Michael Hayden said that as late as 2006 fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from harsh interrogations. (MICHAEL B. MUKASEY, 5/06/11, WSJ)

Consider how the intelligence that led to bin Laden came to hand. It began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.

That regimen of harsh interrogation was used on KSM after another detainee, Abu Zubaydeh, was subjected to the same techniques. When he broke, he said that he and other members of al Qaeda were obligated to resist only until they could no longer do so, at which point it became permissible for them to yield. "Do this for all the brothers," he advised his interrogators.

Abu Zubaydeh was coerced into disclosing information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh, another of the planners of 9/11. Bin al Shibh disclosed information that, when combined with what was learned from Abu Zubaydeh, helped lead to the capture of KSM and other senior terrorists and the disruption of follow-on plots aimed at both Europe and the United States.

Another of those gathered up later in this harvest, Abu Faraj al-Libi, also was subjected to certain of these harsh techniques and disclosed further details about bin Laden's couriers that helped in last weekend's achievement.

The harsh techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA. Of the thousands of unlawful combatants captured by the U.S., fewer than 100 were detained and questioned in the CIA program. Of those, fewer than one-third were subjected to any of these techniques.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden has said that, as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


At first GOP debate, substance and Obama bashing (Jan Crawford , 5/06/11, CBS news)

Sure, the top contenders weren't there, but so what? In this debate, there were substantive moments on foreign policy and the economy, lively responses on social issues and ample opportunity for these five potential candidates to bash President Obama, defend past Republican presidents and explain their own views and potential weaknesses.

And there were two winners: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and businessman Herman Cain. Both clearly benefited from the small group on stage -- because they were able to assume roles they can take with them for a while, and they didn't have much competition to get them.

Without former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on the stage, Pawlenty came across as a serious presidential candidate. He hit Obama hard, but gave him credit for directing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He was substantive and informed. And he managed to introduce himself to viewers by talking about how he grew up in a blue-collar meatpacking town in a family of union members.

And without Donald Trump on the stage, Cain assumed the mantle of the straight-talking successful businessman who can fix the mess Washington has got the country in. He was hazy on details, and is the longest of long shots to win. But for now he can send a message: Washington politicians are a disgrace, and it's going to take an outsider to tell it like it is and clean the place up.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Osama bin Laden: UN watchdogs demand mission details: Human rights chiefs want to know if US operation ever considered capturing al-Qaida leader alive (Peter Walker, 5/05/11,

Two United Nations human rights watchdogs have asked the US to provide details about the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, in particular whether it ever included the possibility that he could be captured alive.

A series of questions have arisen about the potential legality of the mission after it emerged that four of the five people killed when US Navy Seals raided the house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were unarmed, Bin Laden among them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Al Qaeda Planned to Attack U.S. Trains on 9/11 Anniversary, Bin Laden Material Shows (AP, May 05, 2011)

As of February 2010, the terror organization was considering plans to attack the U.S. on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. One idea was to tamper with an unspecified U.S. rail track so that a train would fall off the track at a valley or a bridge, according to a joint FBI and Homeland Security bulletin sent to law enforcement officials around the country Thursday.

Does their evil know no limits?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


‘More than a club’? No, just a football team: Barcelona’s handbaggery, theatrics and glorious goals in El Clásico showed that football has FA to do with morality. (Duleep Allirajah, 5/06/11, spiked)

Barcelona won the Champions League semi-final 3-1 on aggregate. But who were the losers? Real Madrid, yes obviously, but the casualty list also includes the reputations of Barcelona, Jose Mourinho and Spanish football.

I find it quite amusing that Barca’s self-righteous halo has slipped. But I refuse to join in with the wider chorus of boos aimed at cheating Spaniards or Mourinho’s pragmatism.

The tie was hyped as the ultimate showdown between the two titans of Spanish football. In truth the first leg was more El Histrionico than El Clásico. The game was littered with fouls, playacting, referee hounding, recriminations and handbaggery of the highest order. The football purists were appalled, but as a piece of theatre it was compelling viewing.

The British press are normally adoringly reverential about Barcelona’s beautiful football but their gamesmanship has prompted a rethink. The Daily Mail’s Des Kelly was not impressed. ‘At the Bernabeu, Pedro fell over more often than a drunk stepping off a spinning merry-go-round with an inner ear infection. Dani Alves spent so long rolling on the turf he became the first player to be stretchered away with third-degree grass burns’, wrote Kelly.

Barca are the first to complain when opponents employ spoiling tactics against them. But, as this match demonstrated, they’re not averse to resorting to the dark arts of gamesmanship themselves. Hopefully their playacting will deter prospective acolytes from being so easily seduced by their ‘more than a club’ self-righteousness.

They're too dependent of the referees to be considered great.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:58 AM

Walnut-crusted chicken breasts (Susan M. Selasky, Detroit Free Press McClatchy-Tribune)

2 slices 100 percent whole-wheat bread, dried

1/3 cup walnuts, toasted if desired

2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 large egg white

4 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless (6 ounces each)

1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil

Lemon slices, for serving

Salad greens for serving, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, combine bread, walnuts and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Process until fine bread crumbs form. Transfer to a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, beat egg white until frothy.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dip each breast into egg white, letting excess drip off, and then into crumb mixture, pressing to adhere.

In a large, nonstick, ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned, 1 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn chicken over and put skillet in oven. Bake until chicken is golden brown and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve chicken with lemon slices and green salad.

Adapted from "Power Foods" by the editors of Whole Living Magazine (Clarkson Potter, $24.99).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 AM


A Predicament Of His Own Making (Owen Fiss, 5/03/11, Boston Review of Books)

In the past, military commissions have been used on the battlefield to try belligerents caught red-handed and accused of war crimes. In such circumstances they have been allowed as tribunals of necessity. The 2009 Act and Bush’s earlier measures transformed them into tribunals of convenience, for the statutory changes allowed military commissions to be used for trials at Guantánamo—far removed from any battlefield—for persons held years for on end, in some cases almost a decade.

Given his National Archives speech and his sponsorship of the Military Commissions Act of 2009, Obama is in no position to complain of the threat that the use of military commissions in these circumstances poses to due process. Obama’s only remaining objection to Congress’s actions is a rather limp separation of powers claim—that the December 2010 legislation barring the transfer of Guantánamo prisoners to the United States constituted an improper interference with executive prerogatives. However, if we assume, as Obama posits, that due process does not bar the use of military commissions, it is not clear why the choice of tribunal—federal civilian court versus military commission—should be entrusted to the exclusive discretion of the attorney general. After all, Congress created both tribunals.

...hey, Mr. Fiss, in the past what form of tribunals were typically used for belligerents once we took them off the battlefield?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 AM


The West’s very own celeb terrorist: Whether he was droning on about climate change or consumption, OBL’s ‘ideas’ were born and bred in the West. (Bill Durodié, 5/05/11, spiked)

[B]in Laden himself was always fond of citing Western commentators, academics and diplomats in seeking to legitimise his ostensible cause.

Sounding like any other contemporary critic of American policy, bin Laden droned on about a rag-bag of causes at different times: he lambasted the US for not signing up to the Kyoto treaty to control greenhouse gases; accused Washington of being controlled by a Jewish lobby; suddenly became concerned about Palestine after 9/11; suggested that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were simply money-making ventures for large US corporations; and even had the gall – for one in thrall to the Taliban – to argue that Western advertising exploited women.

In this regard, bin Laden revealed his true nature through his statements – including his annual post-9/11 rants that became as boring and predictable as the British queen’s Christmas message. He was entirely parasitical on what was being said about him and about the state of world affairs in the West. After the Madrid bombings of 2004, he even proposed that Western leaders should pay more attention to surveys that revealed how few people supported the war in Iraq.

But what kind of spiritual leader is it who piggy-backs on Western opinion-poll data and the views of environmentalists to get his point across? Why did he advocate reading Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky, rather than the Koran? In truth, bin Laden was entirely lacking in any substantial ideas of his own, let alone anything that could amount to an ideology. More media-has-been than mujahideen after his escape from US forces in late 2001, bin Laden was the leader of nothing who became the quintessential celebrity terrorist of our times – unable even to control his own fans, never mind control the course of history.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


The rise and rise of a pity-for-Osama lobby: The chattering classes’ ‘uncomfortable feeling’ with the killing of bin Laden is underpinned more by moral cowardice than political principle. (Brendan O’Neill, 5/05/11, spiked)

This week we have shuttled from an atmosphere of congratulation, even muted celebration, over the killing of OBL to what Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and High Priest of the Chattering Classes, describes as a ‘very uncomfortable feeling’ about the killing of OBL. Those who dare to celebrate his death – mainly young American jocks – have been denounced as ‘abhorrent’ and ‘sickening’, and now the main way you advertise your decency, your membership of the civilised, upstanding, oh-so-unAmerican classes, is by wondering out loud if poor old OBL shouldn’t have been arrested and put on trial rather than having a bullet planted his head.

This pity-for-Osama lobby, this bishop-led congregation of ‘uncomfortable’ moral handwringers, might pose as radical, denouncing America’s military action in bin Laden’s compound as ‘Wild West-style vengeance’. Yet in truth it is fuelled by self-loathing more than justice-loving. These critics are not opposed to Western intervention in principle – indeed, most of them have demanded ‘humanitarian’, political or legalistic intervention in other states’ affairs at one point or another. No, it is a discomfort with decisive action, a fear of what such action might lead to in the future, and a belief that people in the West should douse their emotional zeal and learn to be more meek, which motors the creepingly conformist anti-Obama and pro-Osama (well, almost) brigade. There is little, if anything, in this outburst of concerned liberal moralism that is worth backing.

The most striking thing was the speed with which the great and the good of the Western liberal elite sought to distance themselves from those vulgar, excitable Yanks and to express a more erudite and PC view of OBL’s demise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


Bin Laden operation: Military success, PR fiasco? (Neil Munro, 5/05/11, Daily Caller)

The administration’s clashing desires to celebrate the successful killing of America’s enemy but also to mollify jihad-sympathizers has caused repeated media flubs in the days after the Osama bin Laden raid, say PR experts and Islamic-modernizers.

The fumbles are exemplified by the two-day debate over whether to release photographs of bin Laden’s “gruesome” facial wounds. Officials simultaneously argued that any disrespect shown toward bin Laden’s body would spur violence in Muslim countries, but also that bin Laden was not a leader of Muslims.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama seemingly gave a green-light to the release of photographs when he said that “Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader; he was a mass murderer of Muslims…So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.” On Wednesday, Obama backtracked and formally overruled CIA chief Leon Panetta’s push to release the photos. “It is important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of someone shot in the head are not floating around as incitement to additional violence,” Obama said.

The core conflict is the White House’s “desire to kill bin Laden but also to have the world think we did so respectfully and politely,” said Eric Dezenhall, founder of Dezenhall Resources, a PR firm. “I’m in the PR business, and I don’t think guys like me have the alchemy to persuade the public that something is the opposite of what it is,” he said, adding, “spin only gets you so far.”

How did they think a "kill mission" ended?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 AM


Where did it all go wrong for Labour in Scotland? (George Eaton - 06 May 2011, New Statesman)

It was a truly terrible night for Labour in Scotland. The SNP has won a second straight victory and now looks like the natural party of devolved government. The proportional Additional Member System is designed to prevent any party from winning a majority (a safety valve against independence) but it looks like Alex Salmond could get one. The SNP are predicted to win 68 seats, which would give the party an overall majority of three.

So, where did it all go wrong for Labour? As recently as March the party enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls. What's now clear is that their attempt to turn the election into a referendum on the Westminster coalition was a disastrous misjudgement. Ed Miliband urged the public to use the contest to give Labour "the best chance of stopping it (the coalition) going to the full term". But he badly misread the mood in Scotland after one term of SNP governance. The electorate chose to judge the contest on its own merits and concluded that Alex Salmond would do a better job of standing up for Scotland's interests than Iain Gray (Gray by name, grey by nature).

There is no Britain.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 AM


Booker T. Jones: Tiny Desk Concert (Bob Boilen, NPR)

Jones is synonymous with the Hammond B3. At 17, he recorded the instrument's anthem, "Green Onions," with his band Booker T & The MG's. On this day at NPR, he played the song all alone — and with such joy, you'd swear he just discovered it. I was standing just a few feet from him shooting video, watching his beaming face and his hands as he flipped switches, making that Leslie speaker spin and creating that swirling sound.

I asked what it's been like to perform that song so many times since its creation at Stax Studios in the summer of 1962. Jones said he's never grown tired of his signature song, and then told us his story of hearing the organ for the first time at the home of his piano teacher in Alabama.


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May 5, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


The Gut-Wrenching Rout In Commodity Prices Suggests A Slowing Global Economy (Robert Lenzner, May. 5 2011, Forbes)

The unprecedented downturn in key resource prices is potentially dislocating of markets across the globe. Energy down 9% with the overall CRB commodity index losing almost 5% is at the very least the temporary bursting of a bubble. The decline in oil of about $9.50 a barrel was the second largest daily decline in energy prices in terms of dollars. Maybe, the alleged dumping of his gold position was George Soros figuring that the speculative fervor in precious metals had gotten out of hand.

Clearly, the price of natural resources and precious metals had gotten ahead of the actual growth of 1.8%, the weak housing and jobs picture, and attempts by India and China to slow their growth engines. Silver, which had been made subject to substantial margin requirements fell another 11%– or 28% in a week. What goes up can often go down even faster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 PM


Pew Political Typology (Pew Research)
I came out as:

Main Street Republicans

11% of the public

What They Believe

Highly critical of government
Strongly opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage
Less enamored of business than the Staunch Conservatives
Generally negative about immigrants
Mostly opposed to social welfare programs
Confident that hard work pays off
Supportive of government efforts to protect the environment

Who They Are

76% are Republicans
Most are homeowners (84%); 51% have a gun in the household
Predominately non-Hispanic white (88%)
Highly religious (91% say religion is a very important part of their lives)
Concentrated in the South and Midwest
Nearly one-quarter (24%) follow NASCAR racing
Most say they have enough income to lead the life they want

Though this seems just as close:
New Coalition Democrats

10% of the public
What They Believe

Strongly pro-government
Upbeat about the country's ability to solve problems and an individual's ability to get ahead through hard work
Approve of regulation and environmental protection
More positive about business than other Democratic-oriented groups
Generally liberal on racial issues
Hospitable to immigrants: 78% believe they strengthen society
Very religious and socially conservative

Who They Are

56% are Democrats
Majority-minority group: 34% white, 30% black and 26% Latino
About three-in-ten are first or second generation Americans
55% have only a high school education or less
23% are not registered to vote
Only 34% read a daily newspaper
Half are regular volunteers for charity or non-profit groups

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


GM profit soars to $3.2 billion in first quarter (Tiffany Hsu, 5/05/11Los Angeles Times)

In its fifth straight profitable quarter, the nation's largest automaker saw net income boom to $1.77 a share from 55 cents a share, or $900 million, in the first quarter of last year.

Revenue spiked to $36.2 billion, up $4.7 billion from the same period in 2010, GM said before the market opened Thursday. The company also reported onetime gains of $1.9 billion after selling its stakes in parts supplier Delphi Automotive and Ally Financial.

"We are on plan … thanks to strong customer demand for our new fuel-efficient vehicles and a competitive cost structure that allows us to leverage our strong brands around the world and focus on driving profitable automotive growth," said Chief Executive Dan Akerson in a statement.

Even the least sensible bailouts are going to make us money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


Mortgage rates drift lower, Freddie Mac says (E. Scott Reckard, May 5, 2011, LA Times)

Here's a bit of good news for anyone still thinking about refinancing a home loan -- mortgage rates have once again drifted lower for well-qualified buyers.

FREmonument A Freddie Mac report on Thursday said the lenders it surveys were offering 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at an average rate of 4.71% early this week, compared with 4.78% the week before.

Rates for 15-year fixed loans, a popular option for homeowners looking to refinance mortgages, averaged 3.89%, down from 3

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


In bin Laden victory, echoes of the Bush years (Scott Wilson and Anne E. Kornblut, May 4, 2011, Washington Post)

As President Obama celebrates the signature national-security success of his tenure, he has a long list of people to thank. On the list: George W. Bush.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush waged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have forged a military so skilled that it carried out a complicated covert raid with only a minor complication. Public tolerance for military operations over the past decade has shifted to the degree that a mission carried out deep inside a sovereign country has raised little domestic protest.

And a detention and interrogation system that Obama once condemned as contrary to American values produced one early lead that, years later, brought U.S. forces to the high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and a fatal encounter with an unarmed Osama bin Laden.

But the bridge connecting the two administrations has also led Obama to the same contested legal terrain over how to fight against stateless enemies and whether values should be sacrificed in the pursuit of security.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


The Shadow Line: Britain’s answer to The Killing (Benji Wilson, 03 May 2011, Telegraph)

The writer and director Hugo Blick lives in a windmill. On the top floor he has a large whiteboard and it was on this, several years ago, that he plotted out the conspiracy that underlies his major new thriller The Shadow Line, which begins on BBC Two tomorrow.

“I drew the entire conspiracy after about four months of deep thought,” says Blick, 46. “And it looks like a Crick double helix. By the time you get down to the bottom of the whiteboard, which is the murder at the start of episode one, you have your whole conspiracy. All the seven hours of screentime does is move forwards to go backwards, to peel back the layers of that conspiracy.”

From Blick’s spidery whiteboard alone you will gather that The Shadow Line is not some ordinary pot-boiler. It begins with the murder of a drug kingpin, Harvey Wratten, and the parallel investigation by both the police and Wratten’s associates to find the perpetrator. But it soon spirals off into the most ambitious and quite possibly the best British thriller since Paul Abbott’s State of Play in 2003.

If you've never seen the tv version of State of Play, it's terrific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Tim Pawlenty prepares for his moment (ALEXANDER BURNS | 5/5/11, Politico)

He won’t have the chance to spar with top-tier rivals, since the biggest names are skipping the event. The former Minnesota governor won’t have the benefit of overwhelming media attention, either. Coming just days after the killing of Osama bin Laden, a debate that might once have commanded wide interest will probably draw a much slimmer audience.

But what Pawlenty will have is a chance to show Republican primary voters that he’s prepared to cast the first stone against President Barack Obama – setting him apart from a larger group of viable presidential candidates who have shied away from fully engaging the campaign.

As Pawlenty put it during a trip to Iowa this week: “It’s time to get off the sideline.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 AM


Republicans want a candidate with a plan (Sarah Palermo, 5/01/11, Concord Monitor)

Pawlenty stands out for [Michelle] McManus: "I want someone who's done something," she said, pointing to the budget cuts and tough stances on unions and entitlement programs he took while governor, listed in a handout amid the stack of promotional paperwork left in front of every seat in the room.

Nancy Wendt, a retired teacher from Londonderry, was also impressed by Pawlenty - for now.

On Friday, she heard Herman Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza, and was fairly convinced he'd be her guy.

"He seemed to have a plan," she said, and she liked his experience in the private sector.

"But my husband's always been for Tim Pawlenty, and I can see it now," she said. "I haven't heard everybody, but I was impressed. He has a plan, an economic plan, and he's proven it can be done."

Only the governors have done anything.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 AM


Rising gasoline prices fuel the growing appeal of compressed natural gas vehicles: Honda, the only automaker selling natural gas passenger cars, has seen sales of its Civic GX almost triple so far this year and interest in converting conventional vehicles to natural gas is growing because it costs about half as much as gasoline. (Jerry Hirsch, 5/04/11, Los Angeles Times)

[W]hile demand is rising, there just aren't many vehicles to choose from, so a growing number of consumers are purchasing Ford's old CNG Crown Victoria and looking at retrofitting used natural gas cars, creating an aftermarket for such autos.

For the moment, Honda is the only major automaker selling natural gas passenger cars in the U.S.

Honda, which makes the CNG-powered Civic GX in Indiana, has sold a record number so far this year. Although the volume was small — 643 — it was almost triple the number sold during the same period a year earlier and the company expects to run out of the cars this summer as it gets ready to sell a larger, redesigned version this fall. The current version gets 24 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 on the highway. The next-generation vehicle is expected to have better fuel economy.

Honda wants to double annual production to at least 2,000 and maybe more, depending on parts availability from earthquake stricken Japan. The cars list for $25,490 and are sold at 139 dealers in 33 states. Honda plans to certify more dealers to service and sell the cars this year, pushing it into more regions where there are natural gas filling stations, Honda spokesman Eric Rosenberg said.

"The interest in this car has grown significantly," he said, which is why the automaker plans to pack it with more options, such as a navigation system and rear stereo speakers and aluminum wheels.

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May 4, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Raise Taxes, but Not Tax Rates (Martin S. Feldstein, 5/04/11, NY Times)

As the bipartisan fiscal commission appointed by President Obama stressed last year, tax revenues can be increased substantially by limiting the deductions, credits and exclusions that are essentially government spending by another name.

Tax credits for buying solar panels or hybrid cars are just like government spending to subsidize those purchases. Similarly, the exclusion from employees’ taxable incomes of employer payments for health insurance is no different from subsidizing the purchase of those insurance policies. The deduction for interest on residential mortgages, probably the best-known tax expenditure, amounts to a giant subsidy for homeownership.

At their worst, such tax expenditures create incentives for wasteful borrowing and spending; they have been factors in the mortgage crisis and the rising cost of health care.

Tax expenditures collectively increase the budget deficit by more than all other nondefense spending combined, other than Social Security and Medicare. And unlike those direct outlays, these tax expenditures are not subject to annual review as part of the appropriations process. Once they are part of the law, they automatically continue and become more costly with time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 PM


Was Bin Laden's Killing Legal? (Thomas Darnstädt, 5/04/11, Der Spiegel)

What is just about killing a feared terrorist in his home in the middle of Pakistan? For the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and for patriotic Americans who saw their grand nation challenged by a band of criminals, the answer might be simple. But international law experts, who have been grappling with the question of the legal status of the US-led war on terror for years, find Obama's pithy words on Sunday night more problematic.

...he answers to Americans, not to international law experts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 PM


Same Old New Atheism: On Sam Harris (Jackson Lears, May 16, 2011, The Nation)

During the past several decades, there has been a revival of positivism alongside the resurgence of laissez-faire economics and other remnants of late-nineteenth-century social thought. E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology (1975) launched pop-evolutionary biologism on the way to producing “evolutionary psychology”—a parascience that reduces complex human social interactions to adaptive behaviors inherited from our Pleistocene ancestors. Absence of evidence from the Pleistocene did not deter evolutionary psychologists from telling Darwinian stories about the origins of contemporary social life. Advances in neuroscience and genetics bred a resurgent faith in the existence of something called human nature and the sense that science is on the verge of explaining its workings, usually with reference to brains that are “hard-wired” for particular kinds of adaptive, self-interested behavior. In the problematic science of intelligence testing, scientific racism made a comeback with the publication of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve in 1994.

This resurgent positivism provoked ferocious criticism, most of it serious and justified. Stephen Jay Gould took dead aim at what he called “Darwinian Fundamentalism,” arguing that strict adaptationist accounts of evolutionary thought presented “a miserly and blinkered picture of evolution,” impoverished not only by the lack of evidence but also by the reductionist tendency to insist on the simplest possible explanation for the complexities of human and animal behavior. Other critics—Noam Chomsky, Richard Lewontin—joined Gould in noting the tendency of Darwinian fundamentalists to “prove” adaptationist arguments by telling “just-so stories.” These are narratives about evolution based on hypotheses that are plausible, and internally consistent with the strict adaptationist program, but lacking the essential component of the scientific method: falsifiability. This was a powerful argument.

Within the wider culture, however, reductionism reigned. Hardly a day went by without journalists producing another just-so story about primitive life on the savanna thousands of years ago, purporting to show why things as they are have to be the way they are. In these stories, the parched fruits of a mirthless and minor imagination, all sorts of behavior, from generals’ exaggerations of their armies’ strength to the promiscuity of powerful men, could be viewed as an adaptive strategy, embedded in a gene that would be passed on to subsequent generations. In the late twentieth century, as in the late nineteenth, positivism’s account of human behavior centered on the idea that the relentless assertion of advantage by the strong serves the evolutionary interests of the species. Positivism remained a mighty weapon of the status quo, ratifying existing arrangements of wealth, power and prestige.

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, injected positivism with a missionary zeal. “Once I had experienced all the usual mammalian gamut of emotions, from rage to nausea, I also discovered that another sensation was contending for mastery,” Christopher Hitchens wrote several months after 9/11. “On examination, and to my own surprise and pleasure, it turned out to be exhilaration. Here was the most frightful enemy—theocratic barbarism—in plain view…. I realized that if the battle went on until the last day of my life, I would never get bored in prosecuting it to the utmost” [see “Images in a Rearview Mirror,” December 3, 2001]. Putting aside the question of how Hitchens intended to “prosecute” this battle other than pontificating about it, and the irrelevance of his boredom to dead and maimed soldiers and civilians, one cannot deny that he embraced, from a safe distance, the “war on terror” as an Enlightenment crusade. He was not alone. Other intellectuals fell into line, many holding aloft the banner of science and reason against the forces of “theocratic barbarism.” Most prominent were the intellectuals the media chose to anoint, with characteristic originality, as the New Atheists, a group that included Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. In the shadow of 9/11, they were ready to press the case against religion with renewed determination and fire.

Atheism has always been a tough sell in the United States. In Europe, where for centuries religious authority was intertwined with government power, atheists were heroic dissenters against the unholy alliance of church and state. In the United States, where the two realms are constitutionally separate, Protestant Christianity suffused public discourse so completely in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that some positivists felt the need to paper over their differences with religion. US politics has frequently been flooded by waves of Christian fervor. Sometimes religion has bolstered the forces of political sanctimony and persecution, as with Prohibition in the 1920s and anticommunism during the cold war; but it has also encouraged dissenters to speak truth to power—to abolish slavery, to regulate capitalism, to end the Vietnam War. [...]

[H]arris has the more impressive credentials. In addition to being a prolific pundit on websites, a marquee name on the lecture circuit and the author of three popular books, The End of Faith (2004), Letter to a Christian Nation (2006) and The Moral Landscape (2010), he is a practicing neuroscientist who emerges from the lab to reveal the fundamental truths he claims to have learned there. Chief among them are the destructive power of religion, which Harris always defines in the most literal and extreme terms, and the immediate global threat of radical Islam. Everything can be explained by the menace of mobilized religious dogma, which is exacerbated by liberal tolerance. Stupefied by cultural relativism, we refuse to recognize that some ways of being in the world—our own especially—are superior to others. As a consequence, we are at the mercy of fanatics who will stop at nothing until they “refashion the societies of Europe into a new Caliphate.” They are natural-born killers, and we are decadent couch potatoes. Our only defense, Harris insists, is the rejection of both religion and cultural relativism, and the embrace of science as the true source of moral value.

Harris claims he is committed to the reasonable weighing of evidence against the demands of blind faith. This is an admirable stance, but it conceals an absolutist cast of mind. He tells us that because “the well-being of conscious [and implicitly human] creatures” is the only reliable indicator of moral good, and science the only reliable means for enhancing well-being, only science can be a source of moral value. Experiments in neuroimaging, Harris argues, reveal that the brain makes no distinction between judgments of value and judgments of fact; from this finding he extracts the non sequitur that fact and value are the same. We may not know all the moral truths that research will unearth, but we will soon know many more of them. Neuroscience, he insists, is on the verge of revealing the keys to human well-being: in brains we trust.

To define science as the source of absolute truth, Harris must first ignore the messy realities of power in the world of Big Science. In his books there is no discussion of the involvement of scientists in the military-industrial complex or in the pharmacological pursuit of profit. Nor is any attention paid to the ways that chance, careerism and intellectual fashion can shape research: how they can skew data, promote the publication of some results and consign others to obscurity, channel financial support or choke it off. Rather than provide a thorough evaluation of evidence, Harris is given to sweeping, unsupported generalizations. His idea of an argument about religious fanaticism is to string together random citations from the Koran or the Bible. His books display a stunning ignorance of history, including the history of science. For a man supposedly committed to the rational defense of science, Harris is remarkably casual about putting a thumb on the scale in his arguments.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 PM


Mitch Daniels: Education Reformer (RYAN STREETER, 5/03/11, Weekly Standard)

Jeb Bush has rightfully earned the reputation as America’s most reform-minded governor on education issues. He introduced vouchers for students in failing schools, created greater accountability within the system, and based teacher pay on merit. His achievements have set the standard for subsequent would-be reformers such as Daniels.

But now Indiana’s governor aims to go beyond Bush. The other week, Indiana’s legislature passed the last of four bills that Daniels has been advocating for awhile in his effort to make Indiana the vanguard of education reform in America. Once implemented, his education agenda will be the most expansive school reform effort the country has seen.

Indiana’s reforms are similar in many respects to Florida’s focus on accountability, high standards, school choice, and teacher performance.

The Daniels reforms go beyond the Florida experiment, however, in two important areas: institutionalizing choice for families and establishing classroom-level performance as the key metric for schools. On the first point, Indiana has conceived choice more universally than was the case in Florida. On the second point, Indiana’s policy is close to Florida’s, but the Hoosiers have been able to go farther by overcoming political barriers that tripped up Florida’s reformers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


New San Francisco Fed chief downplays inflation threat, sees price pressures easing (Tom Petruno, May 4, 2011, LA Times)

John Williams, who was named president of the San Francisco Fed bank March 1, told a Town Hall Los Angeles forum Wednesday that he expected current inflation pressures to recede and that the Fed had an “unwavering commitment to price stability.” [...]

[L]ike Bernanke, Williams blamed the jump in commodities on “the rapid rebound in the global economy in the past year and a half, led by robust growth in emerging market economies.”

But he said there were more signs lately that commodity price gains were running out of steam, which he said should help to deflate inflation pressures in the second half of the year. Repeating another Fed theme, Williams said that anemic growth in wages (stemming from still-high unemployment) was a major barrier to a 1970s-style inflation spiral developing this time around.

No wage inflation is the same thing as no inflation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


The 2012 Electoral Math Looks Good for the GOP: The presidential election will likely be decided in 14 states. (Karl Rove, 5/04/11, WSJ)

Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, and Florida, with 29, both went Democratic in 2008 (they went Republican in 2004), but the swing in each was less than the national average. This indicates some weakness for Mr. Obama that has persisted: A recent Quinnipiac University poll in Florida shows the president losing to a generic, unnamed Republican by three points.

There are nine other states that have frequently been battlegrounds in recent contests. There is every reason to believe they will be so again.

According to recent polls (conducted by Public Policy Polling and the polling arms of Suffolk and Quinnipiac universities, the University of New Hampshire, and Dartmouth College), Mr. Obama trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in New Hampshire (four electoral votes), and he leads a generic, unnamed Republican by only one point in Pennsylvania (20 votes), a state he carried last time by over 10%. He leads a Republican (both unnamed and named) in the Midwest states of Michigan (16 electoral votes), Wisconsin (10), Iowa (six), and Minnesota (10)—but with less than 50%.

Then there are Western battlegrounds: Colorado (nine electoral votes), New Mexico (five) and Nevada (six). Mr. Obama leads in the first two with more than 50%—albeit in polls by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm that tends to be more generous to its party's candidates. But in Nevada, Mr. Obama trails Mr. Romney in a poll conducted by the same firm.

The 2012 presidential election is likely to be decided in 14 states. If Mr. Obama loses the three states he narrowly carried in 2008 plus Ohio and Florida, then the GOP would win back the White House by swiping any one of the nine remaining battlegrounds. This is a good place for the party to be right now. that, for obvious reasons, they're where he ran to McCain's right, by promising to conserve health care unchanged, whereas Maverick proposed reforming it. So it is there (here) that voters were most directly betrayed by Obamacare.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Freddie Mac Shows Signs of Turning Corner (NICK TIMIRAOS, 5/04/11, WSJ)

The report could signal that Freddie, buoyed by U.S. job growth, has turned the corner after reporting a string of losses in 13 of the previous 14 quarters. [...]

In recent months, the bottom lines at Freddie and Fannie have fared better than even the "best-case" estimates made by the firms' federal regulator last fall. The Federal Housing Finance Agency projected in October that Freddie Mac would need between $7 and $20 billion in aid for the last half of 2010. Instead, the company needed $600 million over that span.

The federal government took over Fannie and Freddie in 2008 and has agreed to pump unlimited sums to prop the companies up and keep mortgage markets from collapsing. So far, taxpayers are on the hook for around $133 billion.

In exchange, the government receives preferred shares that pay a 10% dividend. Consequently, even after the firms stop losing money, they may still have to ask the government for funds to make those payments to the Treasury. At the current rate, Freddie must pay the government $1.6 billion each quarter and Fannie must pay $2.3 billion.

The payments, which were structured by the Bush administration when it placed the companies into conservatorship, were designed to force Congress to overhaul the companies and to effectively wipe out the firms' shareholders.

Grant amnesty and we can cash in on yet another bailout.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Daniels in the Lamb’s Den (Hendrik Hertzberg, 5/04/11, The New Yorker)

On Tuesday, at the Gilded Age Upper East Side mansion that houses the nascent Bloomberg View, Daniels lunched with a baker’s dozen of journo-pundits ranging politics-wise from rightish (Peggy Noonan, Ramesh Ponnuru) and leftish (Michael Kinsley, Josh Marshall) to neitherish (Mark Halperin), and outlet-wise from mass market (George Stephanopoulos) to niche market (me). Afterward, the informal consensus of the leftish contingent was summed up in this exchange:

“If we have to have a Republican…”
“…this one seems like he’d be better than the others.”

Better for the country, that is, in case Obama loses. The tradeoff is that Daniels would be harder to beat.

Daniels is unobtrusively friendly. He doesn’t get defensive or suspicious. He is relaxed, and being around him is relaxing. He doesn’t throw off the crackles of craziness—or weirdness or megalomania or suppressed something (rage, fear, insecurity, resentment)—that, to a greater (Palin, Bachmann, Gingrich, Trump, Paul) or lesser (Huckabee, Romney) degree, you get from all the rest. (Huntsman is probably unweird, too, but I haven’t seen enough of him to judge.)

Daniels will be, if not a one-issue candidate, certainly a one-theme candidate, the theme being fiscal responsibility, the deficit, the debt—all that stuff.

Read more the time we're one week into hist first term, Mr. Hertzberg and company will be saying he's worse than W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


U.S. team's mission was to kill bin Laden, not capture (Reuters, 5/02/11)

The U.S. special forces team that hunted down Osama bin Laden was under orders to kill the al Qaeda mastermind, not capture him, a U.S. national security official told Reuters.

"This was a kill operation," the official said, making clear there was no desire to try to capture bin Laden alive in Pakistan.

...that the Left approves of assassinating OBL but thinks it would have been awful to waterboard him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


MO House Overrides Nixon's Map Veto (Cameron Joseph, May 4, 2011, Hotline)

With the override of a gubernatorial veto Wednesday, Missouri's state House Republicans all-but guaranteed the elimination of the district of Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo., and the enactment of a new congressional map that will give the GOP a likely 6-2 advantage in the state's congressional delegation.

Four Democratic legislators with ties to Reps. Lacy Clay of St. Louis and Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City - who are happy with the district lines they get in new map - helped Republicans achieve the two-thirds majority they needed to overturn Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's weekend veto of the proposed new congressional district map. Missouri is losing one House seat under reapportionment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


The Interrupted Reading: The Kids with George W. Bush on 9/11 (Tim Padgett, May 03, 2011, TIME)

Similar fears started running through Mariah Williams' head. "I don't remember the story we were reading — was it about pigs?" says Williams, 16. "But I'll always remember watching his face turn red. He got really serious all of a sudden. But I was clueless. I was just 7. I'm just glad he didn't get up and leave, because then I would have been more scared and confused." Chantal Guerrero, 16, agrees. Even today, she's grateful that Bush regained his composure and stayed with the students until The Pet Goat was finished. "I think the President was trying to keep us from finding out," says Guerrero, "so we all wouldn't freak out."

Even if that didn't happen, it's apparent that the sharing of that terrifying Tuesday with Bush has affected those students in the decade since — and, they say, it made the news of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's killing by U.S. commandos on May 1 all the more meaningful. Dubrocq, now a junior at Riverview High School in Sarasota, doubts that he would be a student in the rigorous international-baccalaureate program if he hadn't been with the President as one of history's most infamous global events unfolded. "Because of that," he says, "I came to realize as I grew up that the world is a much bigger place and that there are differing opinions about us out there, not all of them good."

Guerrero, today a junior at the Sarasota Military Academy, believes the experience "has since given us all a better understanding of the situation, sort of made us take it all more seriously. At that age, I couldn't understand how anyone could take innocent lives that way. And I still of course can't. But today I can problem-solve it all a lot better, maybe better than other kids because I was kind of part of it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Still Stupid, Still Wrong, Still Immoral: Why the death of Osama Bin Laden shouldn't change our views about torture—or of the people who approved it. (Dahlia Lithwick, May 4, 2011, Slate)

[T]he subject of illegally torturing people for information appears to be open for discussion yet again. So before I rehearse my argument, allow me to suggest that the only reason we are having this discussion at all is because we have tortured people.

Not quite. The reason is that we've done it, and will do so again--because it's popular in democracies and we are one--but the chattering classes oppose it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


'Europeans Find the Ground Zero Celebrations Somewhat Embarrassing': The death of Osama bin Laden has raised important questions about how far a country can go in the desire for revenge. In a SPIEGEL ONLINE interview, German political scientist Herfried Münkler discusses whether democracies can carry out targeted killings and talks about the "unthinking naïveté" of the American celebrations at Ground Zero. (Der Spiegel, 5/04/11)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How should politicians deal with the desire for revenge?

Münkler: Two thousand years ago, a Roman politician would have been able to publicly express his pleasure at getting his revenge. The crucial difference is that Western politicians today are people who are influenced by Christianity, people who are bound to the idea of mercy. Only someone who believes in the existence of 'evil' and who does not explain 'evil' in terms of an unhappy childhood, someone who upholds the Old Testament principle of an eye for eye and a tooth for tooth, is justified in publicly expressing their joy at the death of an enemy and their satisfaction at getting revenge. The Americans' reactions to bin Laden's death therefore mainly reflect the fact that they have different values (from Europeans).

SPIEGEL ONLINE: At Ground Zero in New York, people openly rejoiced about the death of bin Laden. The images were reminiscent of Muslims celebrating in the Gaza Strip after the 9/11 attacks. Do you think that is acceptable?

Münkler: For European observers, these kinds of public gatherings are indeed somewhat embarrassing, because they demonstrate a kind of unthinking naïveté, and also because there is something provocative about them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


Soros Reported To Have Sold Gold Position in April (Robert Lenzner, May. 4 2011, Forbes)

George Soros apparently thinks the gold bubble reached its peak in April. The multibillionaire hedge fund manager sold his large holding in GLD, the gold ETF in April as the price spiked to the $1550 an ounce level. Soros’ liquidation could well mark the peak for gold since other hedge funds and traders who followed him into the gold trade, could decide to sell before QE2, the Fed’s $600 billion program of quantitative easing is over.

If true, it means that Soros; gold position, first accumulated in 2008 when gold was in the $850-900 an ounce range, made him and his investors a return of at least 60-70% over almost 3 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM

Kentucky Derby Chocolate Walnut Pie (Kendra Nordin, May 4, 2011, CS Monitor)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup shelled pecans (or walnuts), chopped
1 cup chocolate chips

1 unbaked 9-inch pastry shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl mix sugar and flour. Stir in eggs, butter, and vanilla. Add walnuts and chocolate chips and stir until combined.

Spread mixture evenly in pastry shell.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until set. The pie should be soft and chewy but not runny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Saudi police say al-Qaida member on wanted list has turned self in (Associated Press, May 4, 2011)

Saudi Arabia says an al-Qaida member on the kingdom’s most wanted list called from abroad and turned himself in.

Interior Ministry’s spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki said in a statement Wednesday that Khaled Hathal Abdullah al-Atifi al-Qahtani contacted the security authorities from an undisclosed country and expressed his wish to come home.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


Bush Declines Obama’s Invitation to Ground Zero (MARK LANDLER and PETER BAKER, 5/03/11, NY Times)

“President Bush will not be in attendance on Thursday,” said his spokesman, David Sherzer. “He appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight. He continues to celebrate with Americans this important victory in the war on terror.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Dalai Lama suggests Osama bin Laden's death was justified Speaking at USC, the Buddhist spiritual leader says of the Al Qaeda chief's assassination: 'Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened.' (Mitchell Landsberg, 5/04/11, Los Angeles Times)

As the leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the 14th Dalai Lama says he practices compassion to such an extent that he tries to avoid swatting mosquitoes "when my mood is good and there is no danger of malaria," sometimes watching with interest as they swell with his blood.

Yet, in an appearance Tuesday at USC, he appeared to suggest that the United States was justified in killing Osama bin Laden.

As a human being, Bin Laden may have deserved compassion and even forgiveness, the Dalai Lama said in answer to a question about the assassination of the Al Qaeda leader. But, he said, "Forgiveness doesn't mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


CIA Chief Breaks Silence: Pakistan Would Have Jeopardized bin Laden Raid, ‘Impressive’ Intel Captured (Massimo Calabresi, May 3, 2011, TIME)

In his first interview since commanding the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, CIA chief Leon Panetta tells TIME that U.S. officials feared that Pakistan could have undermined the operation by leaking word to its targets. Long before Panetta ordered Vice Admiral William McRaven, head of the Joint Special Forces Command, to undertake the mission at 1:22 p.m. on Friday, the CIA had been gaming out how to structure the raid. Months prior, the U.S. had considered expanding the assault to include coordination with other countries, notably Pakistan. But the CIA ruled out participating with its nominal South Asian ally early on because “it was decided that any effort to work with the Pakistanis could jeopardize the mission. They might alert the targets,” Panetta says.

The U.S. also considered running a high-altitude bombing raid from B-2 bombers or launching a “direct shot” with cruise missiles but ruled out those options because of the possibility of “too much collateral,” Panetta says. The direct-shot option was still on the table as late as last Thursday as the CIA and then the White House grappled with how much risk to take on the mission. Waiting for more intelligence also remained a possibility.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:01 AM


Pak Generals afraid US may now raid nukes (Josy Joseph, 5/03/11, TNN)

A vast majority of Pakistan's military leadership is unhappy about the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden and fears that America will conduct similar raids in the future to target the country's nuclear arsenal.

An assessment made by Indian agencies suggests that almost three-fourths of the Pakistani military brass is concerned about the way American helicopters crossed into Pakistani territory, carried out a surgical strike and left without informing either the Pakistani government or security establishment, Indian government sources said.

India and Israel have been training troops for this moment for 30 years. Carpe diem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


May 3, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


Bin Laden's death rekindles 'enhanced' interrogation debate: Did high-pressure questioning of suspected terrorists lead to al-Qaida leader? (Michael Isikoff, 5/02/11, Nesweek)

The trail that led to the doorstep of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan began years earlier with aggressive interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and CIA “black site" prisons overseas, according to U.S. officials.

It was those sometimes controversial interrogations that first produced descriptions of members of bin Laden’s courier network, including one critical Middle Eastern courier who along with his brother was protecting bin Laden at his heavily fortified compound in Abbottabad on Sunday. [...]

The identity of at least one of the detainees who provided early information about the courier who led to bin Laden could be politically explosive. According to a U.S. official, that detainee was notorious Saudi al-Qaida operative and accused 9/11 conspirator Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was subjected to some of the most humiliating interrogations at Guantanamo. Among the enhanced interrogation techniques used on him were being forced to wear a woman’s bra, being led around on a leash and forced to perform dog tricks and being subjected to cold temperatures that twice required his hospitalization, according to a later U.S. military report.

U.S. officials have accused Qahtani of being the so-called 20th hijacker for the 9/11 plot based on his unsuccessful attempt to enter the U.S. in August 2011 at the Orlando airport, where lead hijacker Mohammed Atta had arrived to meet him.

But in January 2009, Susan Crawford, then chief of the U.S. military commissions under President George W. Bush, rejected the proposed prosecution of Qahtani because of what had been done to him in interrogations at Guantanamo. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture,” Crawford told the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Why do Americans still dislike atheists? (Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, April 29, 2011, Washington Times)

Long after blacks and Jews have made great strides, and even as homosexuals gain respect, acceptance and new rights, there is still a group that lots of Americans just don’t like much: atheists. Those who don’t believe in God are widely considered to be immoral, wicked and angry. They can’t join the Boy Scouts. Atheist soldiers are rated potentially deficient when they do not score as sufficiently “spiritual” in military psychological evaluations. Surveys find that most Americans refuse or are reluctant to marry or vote for nontheists; in other words, nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied in practical terms the right to assume office despite the constitutional ban on religious tests.

There is no right to office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Mitch Daniels spoke to George W. Bush about 2012 run (MAGGIE HABERMAN | 5/3/11, Politico))

Mitch Daniels revealed Tuesday morning that he's consulted with former President George W. Bush, whose administration he served in as budget director, as he's weighed a 2012 presidential run.

"Yes," Daniels replied to the "Fox and Friends" crew when they asked if he's talked to Bush, who appointed Daniels as Office of Management and Budget head back in 2001.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


GM's April U.S. Car Sales Rose 26% ( JOHN KELL AND SHARON TERLEP, 5/03/11, WSJ)

General Motors Co.'s U.S. auto sales jumped 26% in April on strong demand for its passenger cars as buyers shifted to more fuel efficient vehicles.

...but a simple tweak to tax policy will drive demand even harder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Not Just a Figurehead (Fred Kaplan, May 2, 2011, Slate)

An important caveat: Bin Laden's presence and influence were much diminished in recent years as he had to isolate himself from network technology (lest he reveal his location) and as his movement fractured into increasingly self-directed franchises. Bruce Hoffman, counterterrorism expert at Georgetown University, notes that, historically, decapitation has had little impact on the fate of violent organizations. Capturing Saddam Hussein, for instance, did nothing to impede the Iraqi insurgency.

Hold after ten years Mr. Kaplan now believes that Saddam was a leader of Islamicist terror?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


The Slaughter That Muslims Could Not Ignore: The killing of Shiites in Iraq was Bin Laden's undoing in the eyes of many Muslims (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 5/03/11, WSJ)

Historically, Islamic societies have had a fairly high tolerance for the use of violence for a just cause. Bin Laden knew well the line of thought that sees rebellion against unjust rulers as a moral obligation. This was a defining theme of early Islamic history, when Muslims as a community wrestled with what constituted legitimate authority after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

Among the Arabs, Princeton's Michael Cook has written, "political and military participation were very widely spread, far more so than in the mainstream of human societies—whether those of the steppe nomads, the later Islamic world, or the modern West. It was the fusion of this egalitarian and activist tribal ethos with the monotheist tradition that gave Islam its distinctive political character. In no other civilization was rebellion for conscience sake so widespread as it was in the early centuries of Islamic history; no other major religious tradition has lent itself to revival as a political ideology—and not just a political identity—in the modern world."

Bin Laden, who believed that only the most virtuous had the right to rule over the community, was undone by his love of violence. He pushed it too far: Slaughtering innocent Africans in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 was tolerable since the targets were American embassies (and black Muslim Africans were too far from the Arab world to compel a scathing moral critique). Killing American sailors on the USS Cole in the port of Aden was praiseworthy since no modern Muslim power had ever so humbled an American man-of-war. And destroying the Twin Towers and punching a hole in the Pentagon was just astonishing.

But then came the slaughter that could not be ignored, as al Qaeda affiliates started killing in Muslim lands. The suicide bombers who hit Casablanca in 2003 and Amman in 2005 made an impact. But the war in Iraq was bin Laden's great moral undoing.

Iraq was supposed to be where al Qaeda and other "good Muslims" broke the American back. Instead the carnage there, carried in all its gore by Arabic satellite channels, produced a backlash. There was a limit to the number of Shiite women and children that Sunni Arabs could see murdered. Blowing up hospitals, mosques and shrines—even Shiite ones—became too ghastly to sublimate into an acceptable war against the Americans.

Al Qaeda had helped to provoke one of the worst bloodlettings in contemporary Arab history. Voices within Islam began to rise against its ruthlessness. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's intellectual, knew that his kind had gone too far, but there was little that he or bin Laden could do once the jihadist beast had been let loose.

The peculiar genius of the WoT was the way it consistently liberated and empowered the Shi'a, the scum of the Arab world, provoking reprisals by the fundamentalists and envy on the part of the Sunni masses, who then demanded the same for themselves.

The America that had helped prop up the dictators who kept them powerless may have "deserved it" but the one that was democratizing the Islamic World was to be emulated.

The End of the Jihadist Dream (ALI H. SOUFAN, 5/02/11, NY Times)

Not only has Al Qaeda lost its best recruiter and fund-raiser, but no one in the organization can come close to filling that void. Bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, who will probably try to take over, is a divisive figure. His personality and leadership style alienate many, he lacks Bin Laden’s charisma and connections and his Egyptian nationality is a major mark against him.

Indeed, one of the earliest things I discovered from interrogating Qaeda members in Afghanistan and Yemen as well as Guantánamo was the group’s internal divisions; the most severe is the rivalry between the Egyptians and members hailing from the Arabian Peninsula. (Even soccer games pit Egyptians against Persian Gulf Arabs.) While Egyptians typically travel to the Gulf to work for Arabs there, in Al Qaeda, Egyptians have traditionally held most of the senior positions.

It was only the knowledge that they were ultimately following Bin Laden — a Saudi of Yemeni origin, and therefore one of their own — that kept non-Egyptian members in line. Now, unless a non-Egyptian takes over, the group is likely to splinter into subgroups. Someone like Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American who is a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, is a likely rival to Mr. Zawahri.

Bin Laden was adept at convincing smaller, regional terrorist groups that allying with Al Qaeda and focusing on America were the best ways to topple corrupt regimes at home. But many of his supporters grew increasingly distressed by Al Qaeda’s attacks in the last few years — which have killed mostly Muslims — and came to realize that Bin Laden had no long-term political program aside from nihilism and death.

The Arab Spring, during which ordinary people in countries like Tunisia and Egypt overthrew their governments, proved that contrary to Al Qaeda’s narrative, hated rulers could be toppled peacefully without attacking America. Indeed, protesters in many cases saw Washington supporting their efforts, further undermining Al Qaeda’s claims.

Little support for Osama bin Laden among Muslims worldwide (Samira Shackle, 03 May 2011, New Statesman)
In the aftermath of the killing of bin Laden, Pew has collated findings from the six predominantly Muslim nations recently surveyed for its Global Attitudes Project.

The highest level of support for bin Laden was found in the Palestinian territories - although even there, only 34 per cent said they had confidence that he would do the right thing in world affairs. In Indonesia, 26 per cent of Muslims said they trusted him, while 22 per cent agreed in Egypt, and 13 per cent in Jordan. There was hardly any support for him at all amongst Turkish (three per cent) or Lebanese Muslims (one per cent).

The figures have also dropped sharply over time. Back in 2003, 72 per cent of Muslims in the Palestinian territories expressed support for bin Laden, a figure which has now dropped by 38 points. The proportion of Indonesian Muslims who voiced confidence in him has also dropped by 33 points from 59 per cent in 2003.

This could partly be because of terrorist attacks on Muslim soil

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Harper 'humbled' by majority; Layton in Opposition; Ignatieff, Duceppe ousted (Randy Boswell, Postmedia News May 3, 2011, Ottawa Citizen)

Conservative leader Stephen Harper waves to supporters gathered at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary, Alberta, May 2, 2011 as he celebrates the election of a Conservative majority government in the federal election. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper won re-election Monday at the head of an elusive majority government, the first for his Conservative Party since 1988, television projections showed.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper's long-running quest to attain a majority government was finally achieved Monday in a landmark federal election that also saw Jack Layton's NDP surge dramatically to become the country's official Opposition for the first time in that party's history.

Two other leaders — Michael Ignatieff of the Liberals and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois — went down to defeat in disastrous campaigns for their parties, while Green leader Elizabeth May won her party's first seat in Parliament, another milestone victory in an election marked by seismic shifts in Canada's political landscape.

"What a great night," Harper exclaimed as he addressed cheering supporters in Calgary. "And friends, I have to say it: A strong, stable, national, majority Conservative government.

"We are grateful, deeply honoured — in fact, humbled — by the decisive endorsement of so many Canadians. We shall be faithful to the trust that you have reposed in us," Harper continued. "Whether or not you cast a vote for our party today, our government must and will stand on guard for all regions — and friends, we shall do that faithfully."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


Osama Bin Laden, Weak Horse: Expelled from Afghanistan, rejected in Iraq, he died as a new Arab order that has nothing to do with jihad is struggling to be born. (Fouad Ajami, 5/03/11, WSJ)

Bin Laden and Zawahiri had little to offer that world, but what they presented, it must be conceded, had its appeals. There were media spectaculars, attacks against American embassies and battleships and military housing compounds. There was the sheer satisfaction of seeing the mighty get their comeuppance.

From perfectly educated and otherwise normal folks in Arab and Muslim cities could be heard echoes of bin Laden's sentiments, sly insinuations that the man was an avenger for the slights suffered by Arabs and Muslims in modern life. For a perilous moment, when Osama bin Laden held spellbound the audience of the television channel Al Jazeera, there was a rancid wind at play in Islamic lands. Even with the terror of 9/11, when soot and ruin hit American soil, there could be seen that deadly mix of moral indifference and satisfaction in Arab-Muslim places. Bin Laden had sold a cult of power. When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse, he had famously opined.

But American power held steady in the Islamic world. We did not cede that vast region to the jihadists and their enablers. We were not brilliant in every campaign. We did not fully know our enemies and their cunning. We were not always at home in the tricks of the dictators and the hustlers in that vast arc of trouble in the Greater Middle East, but we held the line when it truly mattered.

Global View Columnist Bret Stephens and Matthew Kaminski of the editorial board forecast the impact of Osama Bin Laden's death.

In Afghanistan and Iraq we fought back, we even put on the ground—in the face of all kind of obstacles—a reasonably successful democratic experiment in Iraq. Bin Laden and his ilk (not to mention some neighboring powers) had done their best to thwart the Iraqi project, but the experiment had survived. And al Qaeda was to be rebuffed in Iraq by the very Sunnis it had presumably come to rescue. Bin Laden's bet had failed: There would be no hasty American retreats à la Beirut and Mogadishu. We had awakened to the connection between Arab pathologies and our own security here at home.

In the decade that separates us from 9/11, the bin Laden legend dimmed. The tapes he sent were "proof of life" and little else. Arabs began to reconsider their place in the world, and that grotesque disfiguring of a religious tradition, the cult of martyrdom, lost its luster. There was no way back to the Islamic caliphate.

It was bin Laden's deserved fate to be struck down when an entirely different Arab world was struggling to be born. The Arab Spring is a repudiation of everything Osama bin Laden preached and stood for. If al Qaeda found an appropriate burial ground, the place must be Midan al-Tahrir, Liberation Square, in Cairo. Of all Arab lands, Egypt is the biggest, the most culturally evolved polity, the one with perhaps the most acute economic and demographic crisis. This was Zawahiri's birthplace and a special target of the jihadists—claim this realm and you will have upended the entire balance in the region.

Yet no one in Liberation Square paid heed to bin Laden and Zawahiri, no one chanted "Death to America." They had, in their own peaceful way, settled their account with the dictator and signaled their desire for a free, modern society. The drums of anti-Americanism, steady during the Mubarak years, came to a halt. force us to fulfill our responsibilities.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 AM


Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven – review: Anatol Lieven's clear-sighted study asks if Pakistan has lost control of its international narrative (Pankaj Mishra, 5/03/11, The Guardian)

Lieven is more than aware of the many challenges Pakistan confronts; in fact, he adds climate change to the daunting list, and he is worried that Pakistan may indeed fall apart if the United States continues to pursue its misbegotten war in the region, thereby risking a catastrophic mutiny in the military, the country's most efficient institution. But Lieven is more interested in why Pakistan is also "in many ways surprisingly tough and resilient as a state and a society" and how the country, like India, has for decades mocked its obituaries which have been written obsessively by the west.

Briskly, Lieven identifies Pakistan's many centrifugal and centripetal forces: "Much of Pakistan is a highly conservative, archaic, even sometimes inert and somnolent mass of different societies." He describes its regional variations: the restive Pashtuns in the west, the tensions between Sindhis and migrants from India in Sindh, the layered power structures of Punjab, and the tribal complexities of Balochistan. He discusses at length the varieties of South Asian Islam, and their political and social roles in Pakistani society.

Some of Lieven's cliché-busting seems straightforward enough. Islamist politics, he demonstrates, are extremely weak in Pakistan, even if they provoke hysterical headlines in the west. Secularists may see popular allegiance to Islam as one of the biggest problems. But, as Lieven rightly says, "the cults of the saints, and the Sufi orders and Barelvi theology which underpin them, are an immense obstacle to the spread of Taliban and sectarian extremism, and of Islamist politics in general."

From afar, a majority of Pakistanis appear fanatically anti-American while also being hopelessly infatuated with Sharia. Lieven shows that, as in Latin America, anti-Americanism in Pakistan is characterised less by racial or religious supremacism than by a political bitterness about a supposed ally that is perceived to be ruthlessly pursuing its own interests while claiming virtue for its blackest deeds. And if many Pakistanis seem to prefer Islamic or tribal legal codes, it is not because they love stoning women to death but because the modern institutions of the police and judiciary inherited from the British are shockingly corrupt, not to mention profoundly ill-suited to a poor country.

As one of Lieven's intelligent interlocutors in Pakistan points out, many ordinary people dislike the Anglo-Saxon legal system partly because it offers no compensation: "Yes, they say, the law has hanged my brother's killer, but now who is to support my dead brother's family (who, by the way, have ruined themselves bribing the legal system to get the killer punished)?"

Lieven, a reporter for the Times in Pakistan in the late 1980s, has supplemented his early experience of the country with extensive recent travels, including to a village of Taliban sympathisers in the North West Frontier, and conversations with an impressive cross-section of Pakistan's population: farmers, businessmen, landowners, spies, judges, clerics, politicians, soldiers and jihadis. He commands a cosmopolitan range of reference – Irish tribes, Peronism, South Korean dictatorships, and Indian caste violence – as he probes into "the reality of Pakistan's social, economic and cultural power structures".

Approaching his subject as a trained anthropologist would, Lieven describes how Pakistan, though nominally a modern nation state, is still largely governed by the "traditions of overriding loyalty to family, clan and religion". There is hardly an institution in Pakistan that is immune to "the rules of behavior that these loyalties enjoin". These persisting ties of patronage and kinship, which are reminiscent of pre-modern Europe, indicate that the work of creating impersonal modern institutions and turning Pakistanis into citizens of a nation state – a long and brutal process in Europe, as Eugen Weber and others have shown – has barely begun.

...why would you worry that it's going to?

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May 2, 2011

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


The last prisoner: Pavel Galitsky spent fifteen years in the brutal labour camps of Kolyma, Siberia. Against the odds, the 100-year old dissident is still alive and Skype'ing, having outlived both his contemporaries and tormentors. He recounts the full horror of his experience to oDR writer Ekaterina Loushnikova. (Ekaterina Loushnikova, 28 April 2011, Open Democracy)

“Kolyma is Auschwitz without the ovens. Prisoners travelled in batches of 1500; within 3 months only 450 people of our batch were left alive. They died of cold, hunger and the backbreaking labour. We extracted gold in mines and in quarries. The norm was 150 carts and if you didn’t make it, then you stayed on for the second shift to make up your quota. Then you had to drill two or three drillholes in the permafrost. Then you were sent to the forest to get firewood for the hut and for the kitchen. We worked 16 hours a day. Men turned into animals, dumb cattle. Your only thoughts were of food, of an extra bowl of balanda [thin soup].”

“What is balanda and how is it made?”

“It’s soup made of flounder, which comes straight from the barrel and is boiled up, guts and all, with salt. Then red cabbage is added in and you have your gruel – greasy and delicious!”


“Of course not! It’s unbelievably bitter. You wouldn’t be able to eat it, but we did, because there was nothing else. Each person got a ladle of this brew. It was dished out by a fellow prisoner: if he liked you, he’d dig down so you got a thicker soup, if he didn’t he’d take it from the surface and it’d be sloppier. The canteen was cold and filthy with icicles on the floor, so you had to pick you way like a mountaineer. By the time you got to the table the soup was cold. In the morning you got runny slops, tea, a piece of sugar and 600-900 grammes of bread. You mix it all up so your tin is full, then you eat it and feel as though your stomach’s full, though you’re just as hungry as you were. I used to collect up herring heads and eat them.

“You can’t get to sleep, when you’re so hungry, then you sleep for a hour and have to rush to the toilet. That’s a pit in the ground surrounded by poles and that’s the toilet. The filth was indescribable. There were mounds of s[**]t all round and outside the barrack there were veritable mountains. In the spring the goners had to hack at it.”

“But where did the prisoners sleep and did you have a blanket?”

“At first we slept in a tent, then we built a hut. The bunks were in two layers and made of poles. Mattresses were stuffed with straw and the ceiling was covered with peat. If it rained, the peat got soaked through and started to drip. The stoves smoked, it was airless, steamy and the stench was unbearable. We did have blankets, but when it was cold we slept in our clothes. We were issued with padded clothes: trousers, a jerkin and a short jacket. We even got fur coats, but what good are they when it’s 70° below freezing? Someone’s ear fell off once, but life goes on without it,” laughed Pavel Kalinkovich. “What you can’t live without is….”

“What?” I interrupted in horror.

“Boots. I remember a Jewish man, a railway engineer. He was so polite you couldn’t believe it. One evening we were issued with boots, but when he woke up in the morning – no boots! They’d been stolen! ‘Comrades, who’s taken my boots? It’s not funny. Give them back!’ Of course no one did and there was much mirth in the hut. He was sent out to work barefoot, got frostbite, lost the will to live and then died.

“What was bad was that educated, cultured people…gave up more quickly and died. The peasants knew how to survive, no matter what. There was one Siberian, a strong lad – he did his shift in the mine, had dinner and then sawed wood for the kitchen. For that he got 3 litres of balanda. He ate it and went to sleep. When he woke up, he went to heat up the remains. He poured it into the bowl and then….pulled out a mouse! A mangy dead mouse, which he’d cooked with the soup. And what do you think? He fished the mouse out and carried right on eating as if nothing had happened. Would you have been able to do that?”

My hundred-year old looked at me with curiosity.

“I would! A starving man can eat anything”, I assured him.

I remembered a documentary about Auschwitz. Skeletons in striped prison clothes look with inflamed eyes at the camera. In that state one could probably eat anything. But Pavel Kalinkovich doesn't believe me.

“Katya, you'd have been sick! You would, really. But then you'd have got used to it anyway”. The voice of Pavel Kalinkovich, which had hitherto been calm and even cheerful, turned into a shriek, “I saw a man picking grains out of his faeces. He was an engineer, a railway boss and a cultured man. I had come to pee and he was sitting on the john, picking out the grains and eating them. He looked at me and burst into tears ‘Pavlik, I’m not a human being any more…I’m not!’”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band On Mountain Stage (NPR, 5/02/11)

The pioneering group The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which re-introduced America to country legends Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Martin and Mother Maybelle Carter with its landmark 1972 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken, were a fitting choice to appear in Bristol. Since its formation in California some 45 years ago, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have recorded folk, bluegrass and country rock, and laid the foundation for generations of bands, from The Eagles to Alabama to Uncle Tupelo.

The group plays a selection of tunes from its storied career, including "Mr. Bojangles" and "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," along with "The Resurrection" and "Tulsa Sounds Like Trouble to Me" from its most recent release, Speed of Life.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Ratings: Millions watched Royal Wedding; ceremony draws more households than Charles and Diana (James Hibberd, 5/02/11, Entertainment Weekly)

Despite starting at 6 a.m. on a weekday, the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton drew a king-size U.S. audience Friday morning.

The wedding coverage was carried live from about 6 a.m. to 7:15 a.m. on 11 networks and drew 22.8 million viewers and 18.6 million households, according to Nielsen Media Research. [...]

By comparison, about the same number of people watched American Idol’s performance show this week (22 million), and 28.9 million watched President Obama’s inauguration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


Firing Into a Continent (Matthew Omolesky, 5.2.11, American Spectator)

TODAY, HUMANITARIAN INTERVENTIONS in Africa and elsewhere are accompanied not by the language of the mission civilisatrice, but rather by the notion of a "responsibility to protect" civilians. The phrase "responsibility to protect" itself first came to international prominence only fairly recently, having been the subject of an influential 2001 report prepared by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The humanitarian sentiments that, from time immemorial, have prompted outside actors to intervene in unstable situations was therein presented as having evolved to such an extent that, as Tanzania's Salim Ahmed Salim put it in 1998, "we should talk about the need for accountability of governments and of their national and international responsibilities. In the process, we shall be redefining sovereignty." Nelson Mandela declared that very same year that "Africa has a right and a duty to intervene to root out tyranny…we must all accept that we cannot abuse the concept of national sovereignty to deny the rest of the continent the right and duty to intervene when behind those sovereign boundaries, people are being slaughtered to protect tyranny."

Such ideas are hardly novel, of course. The Hague Convention of 1899, drafted the same year that Conrad's Heart of Darkness first appeared, contained language referring to the need to enforce the "laws of humanity, and the requirements of the public conscience," while the duties to "prevent and punish" crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide have been enshrined in the 1948 Genocide Convention and thereby afforded the status of jus cogens (a peremptory norm of international law). Yet the recommendations of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty did constitute a significant step in a new direction. By proffering that "[w]here a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect," the Commission was proposing a paradigm shift in international relations. The traditional sovereign norms embodied, for instance, by the Abomey dispatch of 1890 were steadily being undermined.

The breadth of this doctrine is wide indeed, and the more idealistic of its proponents have been prone to push its limits to implausible extents. Academics like Jeremy Sarkin have maintained that the implication of the burgeoning "responsibility to protect" is that the "onus to prevent and react should also be placed on those states that have important relationships with violator states. These states, for example China with respect to Sudan, Zimbabwe and others, have significant economic and military relationships. They are in influential positions to affect the conduct of these rogue states. Where these states fail to use their influence they are also failing their obligations." One can hardly imagine the Chinese government being held in violation of international law for failing to launch a humanitarian intervention against the powers that be in Khartoum or Harare. Going even farther than Sarkin, Samantha Power, a human rights scholar and presently the Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs for the United States National Security Council, notoriously argued in 2003 that the situation in Palestine was such that "both political leaders [Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon] have been dreadfully irresponsible. And, unfortunately, it does require external intervention." The very idea of such an "external intervention," an "imposition of a solution on unwilling parties" involving "a meaningful military presence," could only exist in the abstract, and indeed Power was obliged to repudiate her comments in 2008. Despite the obvious pitfalls and practical difficulties inherent in the expansion of notions of humanitarian intervention, however, the responsibility to prevent atrocities, protect civilians, and react to human rights crimes is increasingly felt in the international community, as evidenced by recent events in the Maghreb.

THE ONGOING MULTINATIONAL intervention against Muammar Gaddafi and his Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, enabled by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, has been expressly predicated on the idea of a responsibility to protect Libyan civilians, and as such represents a useful test case for the nascent doctrine. The March 17, 2011 resolution refers to "the responsibility of the Libyan authorities to protect the Libyan population," the determination of the international community to "ensure the protection of civilians and civilian populated areas and the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance and the safety of humanitarian personnel," and the authorization of member states to "take all necessary measures… to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory." On its face, this is a humanitarian intervention based almost entirely on the principles set forth by Salim, Mandela, Sarkin, Power, and the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Nicolas Sarkozy, in their recent op-ed "Libya's Pathway to Peace," drove the point home by basking in the "unprecedented international legal mandate" that produced the intervention.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Price war! Amazon launches 69-cent MP3 store for top-selling tunes (Alex Pham, April 28, 2011, LA Times), which is a distant No. 2 to Apple Inc. as a retailer of downloadable music, has upped the ante or, rather, lowered its prices to compete with iTunes.

The Seattle online company is now pricing select top-selling tunes for 69 cents, down from 89 cents previously. Many of the songs in Amazon's 69-cent store sell for $1.29 on iTunes, including Katy Perry's "E.T.", Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor" and Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


R.A. Dickey’s Well-Named Arsenal (TYLER KEPNER, 4/30/11, NY Times)

Naming a baseball bat is not a new phenomenon. Shoeless Joe Jackson’s beloved Black Betsy sold for $577,610 in 2001, and the fictional Wonder Boy made Roy Hobbs famous. But leave it to a pitcher, the Mets’ R. A. Dickey, to come up with the most creative names of all. [...]

One bat is called Orcrist the Goblin Cleaver and the other is Hrunting. Dickey, an avid reader, said that Orcrist came from “The Hobbit.” Hrunting — the H is silent, Dickey said — came from the epic poem “Beowulf”; it is the sword Beowulf uses to slay Grendel’s mother.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:13 PM


Musharraf: Bin Laden mission violated Pakistan (Ashish Kumar Sen, 5/02/11, The Washington Times)

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Monday accused the U.S. of violating his country’s sovereignty by sending in special forces to kill Osama bin Laden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM

NY imam: Bin Laden death paves way for healing (AP, 5/02/11)

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (rah-OOF') said Monday that Obama's actions help support "people in the Arab world who are also fighting against terrorism by their own rulers."

Rauf said bin Laden's death can bring "closure and healing around 9/11."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Osama bin Laden's death may reignite torture debate (Lucy Madison , 5/02/11, CBS News)

s details emerge about the events leading to the terrorist leader's demise, some have begun to point to the role that controversial interrogation techniques may have played in his capture - and question whether the issue should be brought back to front and center in American political discourse.

Throughout his political career, Mr. Obama has consistently been an outspoken opponent of harsh interrogation techniques; just days after his 2009 presidential inauguration, the president issued an executive order barring the use in interrogations of waterboarding (which he has condemned as "torture") - or any other method not explicitly set out in the U.S. Army's field manual.

The position, along with his pledge to shut down the Guantanamo Bay military prison, signaled a departure from the George W. Bush administration with regard to the handling and interrogation of terror suspects.

Yet reports suggest it was through intelligence gathered in Guantanamo Bay and overseas prisons that led to the discovery of Osama bin Laden's location - and ultimately, his death. According to the Washington Post, some of those detainees may have been subjected to the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" that many decry as inhumane.

At least one Republican was quick to spotlight the issue. In a Tweet on Monday morning, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wondered, sarcastically, "Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?"

It's really delicious how many canards this whole episode exposed. We assassinated the guy using evidence obtained by torture on the "sovereign" soil of another country. International law is whatever we decide it is.

As to debating the matter, local radio was playing American anthems all day, including "Party in the USA."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


From Abbottabad, Live-Tweeting the bin Laden Attack (Shefali Anand, 5/02/11, WSJ)

A man in Abbottabad, the town where Osama bin Laden was killed by the U.S. on Monday, inadvertently live-tweeted the attack as it started.

The man, who uses the Twitter handle “ReallyVirtual”, identifies himself as Sohaib Athar, “an IT consultant taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops.”

Around 11 hours ago, according to the Twitter timeline, Mr. Athar first tweeted about a helicopter hovering above him at 1 a.m., saying it was a “rare event” for Abbottabad. That would have been at about 3.30 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday.

Still, Mr. Athar seems to have thought of it as a mere annoyance, as his next tweet was “Go away helicopter – before I take out my giant swatter :-/”

Within minutes, he tweeted: “A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S”.

After a while when the sound of the helicopter stopped following a blast, Mr. Athar tweeted “seems like my giant swatter worked !” [...]

As the Twitter world discovered Mr. Athar’s live tweets from last night, thousands of followers have added him in the last few hours.

Two hours ago, he wrote: “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Explaining Obama: A review of Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism, by Stanley Kurtz; and The Roots of Obama’s Rage, by Dinesh D’Souza (Ramesh Ponnuru, May 2, 2011, Claremont Review of Books)

Perhaps the real solution to the mystery of Obama is that there is no mystery at all. Obama's political views are consequential because he is the president, but they show little sign of being especially interesting aside from that. Genus liberal, species academic, character type pragmatic: That classification seems adequate. His heart belongs to the Left, and his heart of hearts to Barack Obama.

His conventionality is a good thing for conservatism. One reason conservatism's political fortunes rebounded so quickly after the 2008 election is that liberalism made its critique of President Bush too personal-a matter of his own alleged stupidity and closed-mindedness rather than of the conservative creed. If Americans reach the verdict that President Obama is a failure, it would be better for conservatism if they attributed that failure to the liberalism he shares with most of his party rather than to his personal quirks.

...but his failings have been entirely a matter of his lack of qualification for the job and inability to fulfill its functions.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Leader of the pack? (Mary Beth Schneider , May. 1, 2011, Indy Star)

"Ask yourself this question," said Charlie Cook, editor of the Washington-based Cook Political Report. "Where's the 800-pound gorilla? Who's the Ronald Reagan? Who's the formidable front-runner? Seriously. Who ought to scare Mitch out of this race?"

Cook and others say Daniels has what it takes to successfully launch a campaign: an enviable political Rolodex that includes contacts from his years working for two presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush; a business background coupled with a laid-back political style that makes him as comfortable in the boardroom as in a diner; and a tight-fisted, reform-oriented record from two terms as governor.

Combined, they give Daniels the ability to raise the money he'll need to build a political campaign almost overnight.

"Politically speaking, I don't know of any reason why he shouldn't run," Cook said.

But, he added, there also is the "personal calculus" every candidate must weigh. He and others point to the one person whose opinion might overrule all of the political math: Cheri Daniels.

Daniels' wife has been a low-profile first lady of Indiana. The mere fact that she'll be the keynote speaker at the Indiana GOP's fundraising dinner May 12 spurred speculation that she's trying the role of presidential candidate's wife on for size -- and even that she might use that speech to announce his plans.

She declined to be interviewed but recently told The Indianapolis Star that this will be "a complete family decision."

If he doesn't enter the race, she said, family "will definitely be a reason. It would not be the sole reason."

The governor gave a similar assessment last week, saying his family's opinion is "a very major factor, but there are a lot of factors."

Those, though, are political ones, and on that ground he sounds a lot like a candidate. He even gave what many consider his first presidential campaign speech -- his Feb. 11 address to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

In it, he laid out what would be the theme of his campaign: a rhetorical call to arms to combat "the red menace" of a rising national deficit.

It's a message political insiders said would play well in the two states that can launch a candidate from obscurity to front-runner status: Iowa, which has the first caucus, and New Hampshire, which has the first primary.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said he has encouraged Daniels to run and thinks Daniels' "economic message will resonate with Iowans.

"Certainly a governor with the record Mitch Daniels has, I think, could be surprisingly strong," said Branstad, who is staying neutral for now.

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