February 28, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 PM


Giuliani-Appointed Judges Tend to Lean to the Left (Ben Smith, February 28, 2007, Politico)

When Rudy Giuliani faces Republicans concerned about his support of gay rights and legal abortion, he reassures them that he is a conservative on the decisions that matter most.

"I would want judges who are strict constructionists because I am," he told South Carolina Republicans last month. "Those are the kinds of justices I would appoint -- Scalia, Alito and Roberts."

But most of Giuliani's judicial appointments during his eight years as mayor of New York were hardly in the model of Chief Justice John Roberts or Samuel Alito -- much less aggressive conservatives in the mold of Antonin Scalia.

A Politico review of the 75 judges Giuliani appointed to three of New York state's lower courts found that Democrats outnumbered Republicans by more than 8 to 1. One of his appointments was an officer of the International Association of Lesbian and Gay Judges. Another ruled that the state law banning liquor sales on Sundays was unconstitutional because it was insufficiently secular.

A third, an abortion-rights supporter, later made it to the federal bench in part because New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a liberal Democrat, said he liked her ideology.

Cumulatively, Giuilani's record was enough to win applause from people like Kelli Conlin, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, the state's leading abortion-rights group. "They were decent, moderate people," she said.

The candidate of New York City values.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 PM


Alzheimer's patients overpaying for drugs (JENNY HOPE, 28th February 2007, Daily Mail)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 PM


This Spring America's Target Is Not Iran But Pakistan (Abid Mustafa, 01 March, 2007, Countercurrents.org)

The rising NATO causalities spurred the EU, especially Britain to expose Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. This forced the Bush administration to gradually withdraw its support for the peace deals. By now Pakistan was also struggling to gain control of the Pushtoon resistance. British influence in the religious seminaries, amongst the scholars and in the tribal areas, foiled Pakistan's attempt to create a monolithic Taleban army that Pakistan could use effectively. Beyond Quetta and some parts of tribal areas the new Taliban failed to make impact.

It is not the first time the EU has been at odds with the US over Afghanistan. European countries have consistently refused to deploy a significant numbers of troops assist NATO efforts in Afghanistan. In his speech at the AEI, President Bush lamented at European countries for their failings. He said, "For NATO to succeed, member nations must provide commanders on the ground with the troops and the equipment they need to do their jobs.As well, allies must lift restrictions on the forces they do provide so NATO commanders have the flexibility they need to defeat the enemy wherever the enemy may make a stand." The EU's reluctance to contribute to NATO's mission in war torn Afghanistan can only be explained by its desire to see America fail in Afghanistan. But at the same time the EU does not want to see Islam returning to Afghanistan-a political conundrum it has been unable to solve.

The additional US and UK soldiers sent to be bolster NATO troops in Afghanistan fall way short of the numbers required to confront the Pushtoon resistance. The troop numbers have been further exacerbated by America's distrust of the Afghan army- the army has been intentionally deprived of heavy weaponry-rendering almost useless in any upcoming battle. All of this means that the US will have to bear the brunt of the fighting. This comes as a huge blow- US forces are over stretched in Iraq and there are not enough troops to send to Afghanistan. The situation is rapidly deteriorating in Afghanistan. The assassination attempt on Dick Cheney clearly highlights America's predicament.

To redress this situation America has again turned to Musharraf to prepare for a mini war in the tribal belt and Southern Afghanistan. Negroponte's remarks about Al Qaeda regrouping in Pakistan and the recent US intelligence assessments echoing similar findings are intended to prepare opinion both at home and abroad for this war. It is expected that Pakistan will provide the bulk of the troops for this offensive, while NATO will utilise the American build up in the Gulf to conduct air strikes and limited ground operations.

America knows full well that she will not be able to crush the Pushtun resistance and that Musharraf may not survive. But the US has no choice-it is make or break for the US in Afghanistan and the calculus of Musharraf survival is irrelevant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Justice for Darfur (Angelina Jolie, February 28, 2007, Washington Post)

Until the killers and their sponsors are prosecuted and punished, violence will continue on a massive scale. Ending it may well require military action. But accountability can also come from international tribunals, measuring the perpetrators against international standards of justice. [...]

As the prosecutions unfold, I hope the international community will intervene, right away, to protect the people of Darfur and prevent further violence. The refugees don't need more resolutions or statements of concern. They need follow-through on past promises of action.

There has been a groundswell of public support for action. People may disagree on how to intervene -- airstrikes, sending troops, sanctions, divestment -- but we all should agree that the slaughter must be stopped and the perpetrators brought to justice.

In my five years with UNHCR, I have visited more than 20 refugee camps in Sierra Leone, Congo, Kosovo and elsewhere. I have met families uprooted by conflict and lobbied governments to help them. Years later, I have found myself at the same camps, hearing the same stories and seeing the same lack of clean water, medicine, security and hope.

It has become clear to me that there will be no enduring peace without justice. History shows that there will be another Darfur, another exodus, in a vicious cycle of bloodshed and retribution. But an international court finally exists. It will be as strong as the support we give it. This might be the moment we stop the cycle of violence and end our tolerance for crimes against humanity.

What the worst people in the world fear most is justice. That's what we should deliver.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 PM


Some in Iran denounce Ahmadinejad stance (IranMania.com, February 27, 2007)

On Monday, the US, the four other permanent members of the Security Council and Germany met in London to consider further sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, after Tehran rejected UN demands it halt its uranium enrichment program.

On the eve of the gathering, Ahmadinejad struck a defiant tone. He told a group of clerics that Iran's nuclear ambitions were unstoppable. "The train of the Iranian nation is without brakes and a rear gear ... We dismantled the reverse gear and brakes of the train and threw them away some time ago," he said.

Those comments brought a hail of condemnations in Iran on Monday, not only from reformists who have long opposed Ahmadinejad, but also from conservatives who once backed him but now see his fiery rhetoric as needlessly provoking the West into confrontation.

"Why are you speaking a language that causes a person to be ashamed?" wrote the reformist daily Etemad-e-Melli, or National Confidence.

"A train's brakes are needed to reach its destination safely," it said. "You represent the voters of the great Iranian nation. Speak equal to the name and dignity of this nation."

The conservative daily Resalat chided Ahmadinejad, saying "neither weakness nor unnecessarily offensive language is acceptable in foreign policy."

"Our foreign policy must reflect the ancient Iranian civilization and rich Islamic culture of the Iranian nation. Therefore, delicacy ... rich diplomatic language and non-primitive policies must be part of a calculated combination to work," it said.

Ahmadinejad's critics have grown more vocal ever since his allies suffered a humiliating defeat in local elections in December. That vote was swept by reformists and anti-Ahmadinejad conservatives who said the president has spent too much time castigating the West and neglected dealing with Iran's faltering economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 PM


Cheney's Rules for the Press (Dan Froomkin, February 28, 2007, washingtonpost.com)

After nine days of almost completely ignoring the small pool of reporters who diligently followed him around through seven countries, Vice President Cheney yesterday finally agreed to a short group interview. But only on one condition: The reporters would have to agree not to tell anyone that the person they talked to was him.

Cheney's insistence on being identified as a "senior administration official" -- even when the transcript shows he spoke in the first person -- is in some ways laughably trivial.

But in other ways, the vice president's decision to extort reporters into a ridiculous agreement reflects the contempt Cheney has for the press corps.

The press insists, on the one hand, on its right to be adversarial but then, on the other, whines that it isn't extended the privileges of pals. If you consider yourselves his enemy why shouldn't he?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Over There: America's Unsung Heroes (MARK MOYAR, February 28, 2007, NY Sun)

Neil Sheehan began his Pulitzer-Prize winning book "A Bright Shining Lie" by pronouncing the Vietnam War "a war without heroes." In the rest of the book, the Americans in Vietnam largely came across as fools, liars, criminals, or a combination thereof, with the exception of Mr. Sheehan and his fellow journalists, who were depicted as brave unmaskers of ineptitude and absurdity. Sheehan ignored the real heroism of many brave Americans -- such as Marvin Shields, Carlos McAfee, Antonio Smaldone, and Steven L. Bennett, to name but a few -- and many military victories, for American triumphs did not square with his claims about the war. He badly distorted press involvement in the war so that he and his colleagues, particularly David Halberstam and Stanley Karnow, could dodge the blame they deserved for promoting the disastrous coup against the South Vietnamese government in November 1963.

The Vietnam-era journalists began a tradition that today's press consistently upholds. We hear very little from most large press outlets about American heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan, men like James Coffman Jr., Danny Dietz, and Christopher Adlesperger, or about our military successes there. Instead of associating such names with these wars, Americans associate the words they hear most often from the press, like Abu Ghraib and Haditha. As in Vietnam, too, the shunning of heroes does not extend to the press's coverage of itself. Awards to journalists, both those who have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who have not, are considered worthy of lengthy news stories.

Publicizing American heroism and success is essential today for two reasons. First, it permits a nuanced view of Iraq and Afghanistan, one which cannot be discerned from the daily stories of sectarian murders and the photos of American troops who have just been killed. Second, American troops and the American people become more courageous and resolute when they hear of their countrymen's military heroism and success, past and present. In earlier times, Americans ingrained their traditions of heroism and victory into the country's youth through historical instruction. Today's history textbooks largely ignore America's military past, a reflection of the anti-military prejudices, lack of military experience, and cosmopolitanism that pervade the intelligentsia.

Most Americans outside of academia and the mainstream press, on the other hand, still understand the importance of military tradition, and they crave stories about valorous Americans at war. We are fortunate, therefore, to have "Don't Tread on Me: A 400-Year History of America at War, From Indian Fighting to Terrorist Hunting" (Crown, 464 pages, $27.50) to satisfy that yearning. In witty and irreverent prose, author H.W. Crocker III provides a broad survey of America's martial history, starting at the arrival of the first English colonists and ending with the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the great military men whom Mr. Crocker profiles are some who remain widely known because they later became president (Jackson, Taylor, Theodore Roosevelt), or because their renown is too enormous to hide (Douglas MacArthur, George Patton). But most are men whose fame has been dimmed by the neglect of the cultural elites.

Sheehan and his fellow Vietnam journalists -- David Halberstam in particular -- couldn't come off much worse than they do in Mr. Moyar's own book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


US troops in Philippines defy old stereotype: In southern islands, the US has helped the Philippine Army for more than five years to stem Muslim insurgency. (Simon Montlake, 3/01/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

One measure of the US approach can be found on Basilan, where US troops first deployed in 2002. At the time, the extremist group Abu Sayyaf had turned the island, a 30-minute ferry ride from Zamboanga, into a no-go zone with a string of abductions, bombings, and beheadings.

Commander Steve Kelley, a naval engineering reservist, says it was a tough mission. "It wasn't a warm welcome," he recalls. But humanitarian projects, including the construction of an 80- kilometer (50-mile) coastal road and a series of mobile clinics, won residents over. "It was a huge turnaround," he says. Local officials say the improved security has restored normalcy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Color it cauliflower: Diverse selection puts nutty flavor back in favor (Amy Scattergood, 2/28/07, Los Angeles Times)

Long neglected and even maligned, cauliflower is back in fashion, thanks not only to appealing colored varieties showing up in farmers markets and grocery stores, but also to chefs who have rediscovered the vegetable's subtle charms.

The many-lobed vegetable is spotlighted for its nuanced flavors and rich nutty notes in such dishes as cauliflower panna cotta with beluga caviar, sea urchin with lobster gelee and cauliflower cream, and cauliflower risotto with carpaccio of cauliflower and chocolate jelly.

Vivid colors -- purple Graffiti, orange Cheddar and stunning green Romanesco cauliflowers -- add to the attraction. The newly popular varieties are a mixture of heirloom varieties, naturally occurring accidents and the hybrids grown from them.

Perhaps the most dramatic with its conical florets is the heirloom Romanesco, a near-perfect example of a naturally occurring fractal: a fragmented geometric shape composed of smaller parts that are copies of the whole.

The new cauliflower colors not only liven up the plate visually but also are significant indicators of flavor and health benefits.

Purple cauliflower, which gets its deep lavender color from anthocyanins, the antioxidant in red wine, has a milder flavor than white cauliflower -- it's sweeter, nuttier and without the bitterness sometimes found in its white cousin. Steamed, simmered or roasted, it retains its lavender beauty, especially with a little lemon or vinegar splashed on before cooking (though some purple varieties can turn green if overcooked).

Purple cauliflower soup with walnut oil (Los Angeles Times, 2/28/07)
1 tablespoon butter
1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced ( 1/2 cup)
3 medium purple potatoes, peeled and quartered (about 1 1/2 cups)
Florets from 2 small heads purple cauliflower (3 1/2 cups)
4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Walnut oil for garnish

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat, add leeks and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, cauliflower, milk and salt, and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low heat until vegetables are soft, about 25 minutes. Do not boil.

Remove saucepan from the heat, cool slightly and puree vegetables in a blender, with an immersion blender or in a food mill. If using an immersion blender, cover with a towel to avoid splattering. Season to taste with white pepper.

If serving warm, reheat gently and serve with a drizzle of walnut oil. If serving cold, chill in the refrigerator before serving (also with walnut oil).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 PM


Ukip may split over suspension of MEP (Tania Branigan, February 28, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

At least three of Ukip's 10 MEPs are on the verge of walking out of the party, in yet another blow for the beleaguered organisation, the Guardian has learned.

The pending split comes amid increasing discontentment about Nigel Farage's leadership and is prompted by the United Kingdom Independence party's decision to suspend an MEP this morning after the European Anti-Fraud Office said it was investigating his use of European parliament money.

The party faced further embarrassment this afternoon as it became embroiled in a row with a disabled would-be candidate. [...]

It was revealed this afternoon that the party had told a man he could not be a full Ukip candidate because he was disabled.

Nationalists never change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Britain plans to withdraw its 600 troops from Bosnia (The Associated Press, February 28, 2007)

Who lost the Balkans?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 PM


White's rock quarry could net pitcher billions (Associated Press, 2/28/07)

Matt White, a journeyman pitcher trying to make the Los Angeles Dodgers, could become baseball's first billionaire player.

It has nothing to do with his arm. He owns a rock quarry in western Massachusetts.

White, who has appeared in seven big league games in nine professional seasons, paid $50,000 three years ago to buy 50 acres of land from an elderly aunt who needed the money to pay for a nursing home.

While clearing out a couple acres to build a home, he discovered stone ledges in the ground, prompting him to have the property surveyed.

A geologist estimated there were 24 million tons of the stone on his land. The stone is being sold for upward of $100 per ton, meaning there's well over $2 billion worth of material used for sidewalks, patios and the like.

Geez, and our Grandmother tried to make me feel guilty about swiping her car...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Some push for Huckabee to run for Senate, not president (Aaron Blake, 2/28/07, The Hill)

Though his long-shot presidential campaign is still in its early stages, some wish former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee would drop his national aspirations and return home to wage what they see as a vital campaign against Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) in 2008 instead.

Arkansas is often listed among the top Republican pickup opportunities in the country, but Huckabee is the only Republican who matches up to Pryor and there are no comparable alternatives, observers say.

Although those close to Huckabee chalk up the Senate talk to overanxious bloggers and speculation, some see Huckabee-for-Senate as a real possibility and most Republicans make it clear they would welcome him home.

One state GOP source familiar with Huckabee's campaign said a Senate bid could indeed materialize and that it's something Huckabee has considered and analyzed.

One big strike against Mitt and Rudy is that they've put personal ambition above party and not pursued the statewide offices they could have denied Democrats. Mr. Huckabee's multiple terms as governor make him different, but a Senate run is the best thing he could do for the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Egyptians look to God, not government, for help (Michael Slackman, February 28, 2007 , NY Times)

Cairo is home to 15 million and often described as the center of the Arab world, an incubator of culture and ideas. But it is also a collection of villages, a ruralized metropolis where people live by their wits and devices, cut off from the authorities, the law and often each other.

That social reality does not just speak to the quality and style of life for millions of Egyptians. It also plays a role in the nation's style of governance.

The fisherman on the Nile, the shepherd in the road and residents of so- called informal communities say their experiences navigating city life have taught them the same lessons: the government is not there to better their lives; advancement is based on connections and bribes; the central authority is at best a benign force to be avoided.

"Everything is from God," said Mezar, the fisherman, who was speaking practically, not theologically. "There is no such thing as government. The government is one thing and we are something else. What am I going to get from the government?"

Cairo has been the capital of Egypt for more than 1,000 years, and sits where the dry sands of the desert lead to the fertile Nile Delta. Egyptian officials like to say that this is where modern bureaucracy was invented, where the mechanics of governance first took shape.

While the Egyptian government is the country's largest employer, it is by all accounts an utterly unreliable source of help for the average citizen. That combination, social scientists say, helps seed the playing field for a system that has stifled political opposition and allowed a small group to remain in power for decades.

One brick in the foundation of single-party rule has been public resignation. There is no widespread expectation that the authorities will give the common man a voice, and so there is rarely any outrage when they do not. The fisherman, the shepherd and Fathy all said that the most they could hope for from the government was that it stay out of their lives.

"We hope God keeps the municipality away from us," Sayed said as he sat in a wooden chair, surveying his fetid flock of goats and sheep with headlights streaming by.

Such a feeling of separation is one reason that the leadership has been able to clamp down on opposition political activities without incurring widespread public wrath, political analysts say.

"People see the government as something quite foreign or removed from their lives," said Diane Singerman, a professor in government at the American University in Washington who has written extensively about Cairo. "Commuters to the city, or poor peddlers and working people, do not see the government as particularly interested in their lives, and they also see politics as quite elite and risky and something to stay away from."

The great irony is that government has to achieve a level of intrusiveness before the citizenry cares about having a say in how its run. Paradoxically, democracy is a function of declining freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


Better Health Through Politics: Ron Wyden's smart plan (Jacob Weisberg, Feb. 28, 2007, Slate)

The action at the moment is all in the big space between the status quo and single-payer. President Bush started the conversation in his January State of the Union address, in which he proposed capping the tax deductibility of employer-provided plans and creating a new tax deduction for individuals. By turning the health-care tax deduction into a kind of voucher, Bush would discipline spending and allow more individuals to afford insurance. His proposal didn't deserve the scorn heaped on it by leading Democrats. A paper from the liberal Tax Policy Center calls the president's proposal "in some respects ... innovative and a step in the right direction." But Bush is thinking too small. His plan risks undermining the current employer-based system without replacing it, and fails to grapple in a serious way with the problem of the uninsured. [...]

Ron Wyden, the Democratic senator from Oregon, would directly sever that link. Wyden is a politically savvy wonk, who in drafting the bill he recently introduced has tried to learn from previous Democratic mistakes. He recently told me he had read The System, David Broder and Haynes Johnson's massive tome on the failure of the Clinton health-care reform plan, no less than five times. (Apparently, Starbucks now offers an intravenous drip.) Wyden's bill is 166 pages against Hillary's 1364, and he thinks he can pare it further. When he was getting started, Wyden drew a grid of the major interest groups and made sure there were plusses as well as minuses for each in his bill. He has support from CEOs, labor leaders, and even one maverick health-insurance executive. And instead of trying to flatten the opposition, as the Clintons did in 1994, Wyden is courting Republicans. He recently got five of the most conservative men in the Senate to join him and four other Democrats as co-signers of a letter to Bush responding to the White House proposal. The letter endorses the principles of universal coverage and cost containment, and proposes that they all work together on a compromise

Under Wyden's plan, employers would no longer provide health coverage, as they have since World War II. Instead, they'd convert the current cost of coverage into additional salary for employees. Individuals would use this money to buy insurance, which they would be required to have. Private insurance plans would compete on features and price but would have to offer benefits at least equivalent to the Blue Cross "standard" option. Signing up for insurance would be as easy as ticking off a box on your tax return. In most cases, insurance premiums would be withheld from paychecks, as they are now.

Eliminating employers as an additional payer would encourage consumers to use health care more efficiently. Getting rid of the employer tax deduction, which costs a whopping $200 billion a year, would free up funds to subsidize insurance up to 400 percent of the poverty line, which is $82,000 for a family of four. The Lewin Group, an independent consulting firm, has estimated that Wyden's plan would reduce overall national spending on health care by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years and that it would save the government money through great administrative efficiency and competition.

Can Wyden and his allies market this kind of bill as an advance for competition and choice, which it is?

Which perfectly illustrates how the final deals on such matters will require that Democrats be allowed to pretend. Having your employer give you a voucher for your HSA hardly severs the link, but if Mr. Wyden needs to make believe it does, the President can easily yield the point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Europe's Runaway Prosecutions (David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, February 28, 2007, Washington Post)

The United States has used extraordinary renditions as part of the war on terrorism, but the continuing value of this tactic, particularly in Europe, is questionable. One of the primary European objections to the concept of a "war" on terrorism is the fear that U.S. forces will treat Europe as a battlefield.

It's an ideal battlefield because there are no friendlies to be hurt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:45 PM


Another front on the Sunni-Shiite war (Olivier Guitta, 2/28/07, The Examiner)

While the media focuses on the aggressive Iranian expansion in the whole Middle East, another insidious campaign is being orchestrated by Iran to control the region. Proselytizing is the new name of the game.

And since, through this Iranian-sponsored operation, Sunnis have been converting to Shiism in significant numbers, Sunni states are starting to react. That could well open a new front in the Sunni-Shiite war.

Of all Sunni countries, Saudi Arabia is the one feeling the most threatened by this new wave of Shiite proselytizing. "If it's not to export the revolution like in the time of the Khomeini regime, Shiism exportation, as we see it today is still unacceptable" noted Saudi Social Affairs Minister Abdel Mohsen al Hakas.

Interestingly, Saudi King Abdullah went further in a recent interview with the Kuwaiti daily Al Seyassah when he accused Shiites of trying to convert Sunnis and added that he knew exactly who was behind this campaign, clearly pointing his finger at Tehran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:39 PM


The Tehran Option: Democrats criticize Bush's Iran policy, but theirs is almost identical (Shmuel Rosner, Feb. 27, 2007, Slate)

The pro-dialogue argument is an understandable and obvious one. In fact, it's the only option if you're looking for a solution that hasn't already been tried. Democrats keep calling for coalition-building, but the Bush administration can claim that it has already done that through U.N. Security Council resolutions. The Democrats also keep calling for more diplomacy, but the administration repeats again and again that it is committed to a "diplomatic solution." Since every poll shows that the public will always support "direct dialogue," whatever that means, the Democrats are wise to focus on this option, which also has the benefit of being a recommendation of the Iraq Study Group.

"Can we not speak of the interests of others, work to establish a sustained dialogue, and seek to benefit the people of Iran and the region?" asks the new Web site stopIranWar.com, sponsored by Gen. Wesley Clark. "We have tools available to us to engage them," Edwards said in Iowa two weeks ago. What benefits the Democrats on the issue of engagement is that most people aren't interested in details. No talks are happening--so it must be that the administration doesn't want any. But is that really true? "What we need to do is to engage Iran on the basis of the international community's standard," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week. This standard is "that they need to stop their enrichment and reprocessing capabilities" for the talks to begin.

Do you hear any Democrats suggesting that this condition should be removed from the table? Do they want the United States to talk to Iran while the centrifuges in Natanz are producing enriched uranium? I couldn't find any such suggestion. What one does hear from the Democrats is a general, noncommittal assertion of the need to talk. For the past year or so, this has been administration policy, but only if the Iranians will freeze their enrichment activities. On Monday, David Ignatius reported that this policy will be moderated even further. "The Bush administration has agreed to sit around a negotiating table with official representatives of Iran and Syria next month--as part of a planned regional conference in Baghdad to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq."

If the Democrats' policy propositions seem like the one the administration is implementing, talk about the future is even more similar--but once again, political masquerading covers it in a lot of anti-Bush rhetoric.

The sad thing is that the Democrats could stick to the dialogue option but still be proposing a radically different approach, if only the understood the situation any better. Sending senior Administration officials, congressional delegations and even the President himself to speak directly to the people of Iran and to senior clerics, while cutting Ahmedinejad and his clique out of the loop altogether, would hasten the reforms that the Iranians need.

Will Surge Hurt US More Than Sanctions Hurt Iran? (Trita Parsi, Feb 26, 2007, IPS)

Over the past few months, Iran's hard-line president has suffered several political defeats at home. The most important of these were the Dec. 15 municipal elections last year where candidates allied with the president fared miserably, while centrist conservatives close to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani -- a key rival of Ahmadinejad -- made significant gains.

Ahmadinejad's defeat, coupled with increased criticism against him at home over his economic policies and his failure to evade U.N. Security Council Sanctions, have left Washington with the impression that its efforts to squeeze Iran's access to international finance has borne fruit at a surprising rate.

Washington's euphoria over this perceived success has been used as an argument with its European allies that the pressure is working and that if only Europe joins the U.S., Iran will eventually be brought down to its knees.

This argument is likely to be repeated today when the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany meet to discuss how to respond to Iran's refusal to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, as requested by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1737.

But Washington's reading of developments in Iran is severely flawed. Most importantly, there is likely no significant causality between the U.S.'s recently imposed unilateral financial sanctions and Ahmadinejad's dwindling popularity.

The George W. Bush administration seems to be confusing its sanctions policies with Ahmadinejad's incompetent economic policies. The push-back against Ahmadinejad has, according to observers of Iran's domestic political scene, far more to do with his failed economic policies and his populist promises, which have created exaggerated expectations among the Iranian populace, than with Tehran's nuclear posturing or Washington's financial sanctions.

A key trigger of the anti-Ahmadinejad sentiments has been rising inflation, which has been caused by an influx of liquidity into the Iranian economy rather than a shortage of it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Call to Expand Union Rights Could Derail Antiterror Bill (ERIC LIPTON, 2/28/07, NY Times)

Democrats in Congress are pushing to extend union protection to 43,000 federal airport security workers, reviving a debate that stalled the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and could now derail broad antiterrorism legislation.

The proposal has provoked opposition from Senate Republicans and the Bush administration. It is the latest in a series of labor-related fights in Washington as Democrats try to use their new majority to push long-delayed proposals that benefit rank-and-file workers, like increasing the minimum wage.

White House officials made clear on Tuesday that President Bush was prepared to veto a bill that enacted recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission if the provision granting Transportation Security Administration workers collective bargaining rights was not removed.

Public employee unions are a bigger problem than terrorism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Immigrants boost pay, not prison populations, new studies show: Immigrants are less likely to go to prison than U.S.-born residents of the same ethnic group and they boost pay for natives, research says (Teresa Watanabe, February 28, 2007, LA Times)

Two new studies by California researchers counter negative perceptions that immigrants increase crime and job competition, showing that they are incarcerated at far lower rates than native-born citizens and actually help boost their wages.

A study released Tuesday by the Public Policy Institute of California found that immigrants who arrived in the state between 1990 and 2004 increased wages for native workers by an average 4%.

UC Davis economist Giovanni Peri, who conducted the study, said the benefits were shared by all native-born workers, from high school dropouts to college graduates, because immigrants generally perform complementary rather than competitive work.

As immigrants filled lower-skilled jobs, they pushed natives up the economic ladder into employment that required more English or know-how of the U.S. system, he said.

"The big message is that there is no big loss from immigration," Peri said. "There are gains, and these are enjoyed by a much bigger share of the population than is commonly believed."

Another study released Monday by the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center showed that immigrant men ages 18 to 39 had an incarceration rate five times lower than native-born citizens in every ethnic group examined.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


The myth of Canada as peacekeeper: Despite high-minded policy statements and public perception, Canada's global role (Michael Valpy, 2/28/07, Globe and Mail)

It's so hard to square mythology with reality. While 70 per cent of Canadians consider military peacekeeping a defining characteristic of their country, Canada has turned down so many United Nations' requests to join peacekeeping missions during the past decade that the UN has stopped asking.

In 1991, Canada contributed more than 10 per cent of all peacekeeping troops to the UN. Sixteen years later, its contribution is less than 0.1 per cent.

On this month's fifth anniversary of Canadian troops being sent to Afghanistan and one year after assuming responsibility for the counterinsurgency campaign -- a war by any other name -- in Kandahar province, one of the country's biggest unanswered questions is: What is Canadian military policy? It's certainly not to be the global leader in peacekeeping the country once was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Democrats Need W.Va., Ark. to Swing Back Their Way (David Mark, February 27, 2007, Politico)

West Virginia and Arkansas may be the most unnatural states to have twice backed President Bush. [...]

West Virginia, with its five electoral votes, and Arkansas, with its six, represent the sort of states a Democratic candidate would need to win for the party to regain the White House. As Democratic strategists survey the national political landscape more than 20 months before the November 2008 election, West Virginia and Arkansas are at the top of states that must be pried away from Republicans.

The key to victory there, analysts suggest, is in trotting out a candidate who would appeal to those states' largely rural constituencies, while maintaining support from Democratic coastal elites. That's the sort of political balancing act President Bill Clinton executed in his 1992 and 1996 victories, which included support from several Southern states.

"If the Democrats present a candidate who can have some personal or cultural affinity, at least on a limited basis, in states like West Virginia and Arkansas, they can carry it," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and a longtime observer of Southern politics as a columnist for the Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky.

West Virginia has proved a vexing electoral problem for Democrats in the past two presidential elections. In 2000, voters there backed Bush over Al Gore 52 percent to 46 percent, and gave the incumbent president an even more comfortable margin of victory, 56 percent to 43 percent, in his reelection win over John F. Kerry.

Cultural affinity is just another name for common religion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


The Next Steps in Iraqi Economic Reform (Austin Bay, 2/28/07, Real Clear Politics)

The "oil reform" program in Iraq is long overdue, but the Iraqi government also deserves kudos for the effort. Democracy is often a slow, muddled and tedious operation (look at the U.S. Congress).

Until Iraq's democratically elected parliament was seated and the government selected, Iraq lacked "full sovereignty." Any "permanent oil reform" implemented by the Coalition Provisional Authority or an interim Iraqi government would have been portrayed as inherently illegitimate. The new bargain has its flaws (what legislation doesn't?), but illegitimacy isn't among them. The Iraqis have worked through the snarl on their own.

Implementing the new program will strengthen the national government while giving all regions an economic stake in its political success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


The sky is the limit for Bucs' McCutchen (Dawn Klemish, 2/28/07, MLB.com)

As the youngest in an already baby-faced Pirates clubhouse, it'd surely be forgivable if Andrew McCutchen were a little timid. Instead of standing in the shadows, though, the 20-year-old is making leaps.

Excuse him if he's not playing scared any more, but the age gap is nothing new. In high school, McCutchen routinely played on the older travel baseball teams. Last year, he became the youngest ever to grace Double-A Altoona's lineup. And now, as McCutchen is rolling in his second year of big-league camp, Pirates player development director Brian Graham said the sky's the limit.

"We do anticipate [McCutchen] playing in Altoona, and it's just a matter of performing," said Graham. "We're not sending him there to work on jumps in the outfield or hitting breaking balls, we're sending him there to get experience and perform. His performance is going to dictate how fast he moves."

If the past is any indication of what's to come, there's already a buzz that McCutchen could receive a September callup to Pittsburgh.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


French left fears repeat of 2002 fiasco as Bayrou support grows (John Lichfield, 28 February 2007, Independent)

The centrist candidate François Bayrou is within striking distance of an upset victory over the Socialist hopeful Ségolène Royal in the first round of the French presidential elections, according to an opinion poll published yesterday.

However, the surge of support for M. Bayrou is unusually "soft", according to pollsters. The French electorate is always difficult to poll and seems to be in an especially skittish mood this year. Other recent polls have suggested that support for Mme Royal is strengthening.

With just under eight weeks to go before the first round of the election on 22 April, more than half of the voters have still to choose a firm favourite. This is an unusually high figure, even for the notoriously volatile French electorate.

At the end of the day, they're still French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Democrats Back Away From War Fund Plan (ANNE FLAHERTY, February 27, 2007, The Associated Press)

House Democratic leaders are backing away from a plan to scale back U.S. involvement in the Iraq war by using Congress' most powerful tool _ withholding money in the budget.

Instead, party officials said Tuesday, leaders are weighing a proposal that would attempt to embarrass Bush into abandoning his war strategy.

Seems fitting since they likewise think surrendering to the USSR and al Qaeda would embarrass them into behaving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


In shift, US to join Iran, Syria in talks about Iraq (Glenn Kessler, February 28, 2007, Washington Post)

The United States agreed yesterday to join high-level talks with Iran and Syria on the future of Iraq, an abrupt shift in policy that opens the door to diplomatic dealings the White House had shunned in recent months despite mounting criticism.

The move was announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in testimony on Capitol Hill, after Iraq said it had invited neighboring states, the United States, and other nations to a pair of regional conferences.

"I would note that the Iraqi government has invited all of its neighbors, including Syria and Iran, to attend both of these regional meetings," Rice told the Senate Appropriations Committee. "We hope that all governments will seize this opportunity to improve the relations with Iraq and to work for peace and stability in the region."

Iran gives cautious nod to Iraq talks (Staff and agencies, February 28, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)
Tehran today gave a guarded welcome to a newly-announced US plan to invite Iran, Syria and others to discuss ways to stablise Iraq.

"We are reviewing the proposal," Ali Larijani, the head of Iran's supreme national security council was quoted as saying by a state TV website.

"We support solving problems of Iraq by all means and we will attend the conference if it is expedient," he said. "We believe Iraq's security is related to all its neighbouring countries, and they have to help settle the situation."

We have a common cause with the Iranians in Iraq, but the three of us -- Iraq, Iran, and the U.S. -- should use such meetings to read Syria the riot act.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Republicans Set to Block Jefferson's Appointment to Homeland Security Panel (Patrick O'Connor, February 28, 2007, Politico)

Republicans plan to force a floor vote on Rep. William Jefferson's move to the Homeland Security Committee in an unprecedented maneuver to force Democrats to go on the record supporting their embattled colleague who is the target of a federal bribery investigation.

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) pledged to call for a recorded vote on the House floor when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) introduces a resolution to make the Jefferson move official.

Pelosi removed Jefferson from the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in response to Justice Department allegations that the Louisiana Democrat had accepted $100,000 in bribes and stored $90,000 of them in his freezer. The speaker then gave Jefferson a seat on the Homeland Security, and Democrats agreed to the change in a closed-door caucus in February.

"The idea that Homeland Security is less important than the tax-writing committee is ludicrous," Blunt said Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Can the Term "Guys" Refer to Women and Girls? (Heather Gehlert, 2/28/07, AlterNet)

Going out to eat with my father is always a tense affair. For the five or ten minutes it takes from the time the host or hostess seats us to the time our server comes to take our order, I sit quietly, feeling anxious and wondering how our waiter or waitress will greet us.

Will she say, "How are you all doing today?" Or, "What can I get you folks to drink?" If we're near our hometown in the rural Midwest, there is a good chance she'll say the latter, but, more often than not, we hear: "Hi, my name is Jamie, and I'll be taking care of you guys today. Our specials this afternoon are smoked salmon, parmesan-crusted tilapia ..."

"Excuse me," my dad cuts in, his eyes narrowing to a glare, "but I only see one guy here."

My stomach drops and I stare at the table in front of me, trying not to roll my eyes. The lecture never takes more than a minute, but it's still excruciating.

On rare occasion, a waiter or waitress will argue back, saying "guys" is a gender-neutral term. But, most of the time, he or she just stands very still, jaw dropped, looking stunned.

Because this exchange never leads to a thoughtful discussion of gender and language, I long ago dismissed it as one of my dad's quirks -- a one-person tirade to laugh at and let go of. Besides, one of my father's biggest heroes is Bill O'Reilly -- not exactly a portrait of feminist ideals.

Yet, for whatever reason, now that my dad and I live in different states and I see him only once or twice a year, I'm noticing how often men and women use the phrase " you guys" to refer to both sexes. It happens in restaurants, at council meetings -- even in grade-school classrooms.

And so, a voice in the back of my head is starting to say, Maybe he has a point. Maybe this isn't an arbitrary battle over an arbitrary word.

Imagine how often their food gets spit upon?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


To the ends of the earth: An awfully big adventurer: Even at 62, there is no stopping Sir Ranulph Fiennes. His latest challenge is to climb the fearsome north face of the Eiger - despite suffering from vertigo. (Paul Vallely, 28 February 2007, Independent)

There is something splendidly barmy about Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham Fiennes, the aristocratic British explorer who can, it is said, trace his lineage back to Charlemagne.

He was, after all, expelled from the SAS, where he had specialised in demolition, for blowing up an ugly concrete dam built by a US film company in what is reputedly the prettiest village in England because it had blocked a rather fine trout stream.

And he is the man who regularly doubled back while running the New York marathon so he could finish at the same time as his slower partner. Yet such exploits are only the icing on this particularly English fruitcake.

February 27, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 PM


KAZAKHSTAN PLANS POLITICAL REFORM (Joanna Lillis 2/26/07, EurasiaNet)

A proposal to reorganize Kazakhstan's political system would reconfigure the legislature, while enhancing its powers. Ultimately, however, the executive branch would retain a preponderance of power.

Kazakhstan's State Democracy Commission wound up nearly a year of work on February 19, making non-binding recommendations on political reform. President Nursultan Nazarbayev chaired the session, welcoming the proposals � but stressing that there was no question of Kazakhstan turning away from a powerful presidency. "Society has learnt an important lesson, realizing that powerful authorities and democracy are not polar opposites," he told delegates.

The commission � comprising leading administration officials, MPs, political activists and NGO representatives - was established in March 2006 in connection with Kazakhstan's overall effort to promote political and economic modernization. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The commission's biggest proposed changes concern parliament. One would alter the election format for the lower house, the Mazhilis, by boosting the number of deputies elected on party lists to 50 percent, with the rest elected to single-seat constituencies. In the current system, 10 are elected on party lists and 67 to single-seat constituencies.

Nazarbayev called for a clear choice between a majority system and proportional representation. He spoke out against expanding the number of Mazhilis seats, calling for a "compact and professional parliament." However, he supported a bid to expand the upper house by reserving a quota in the Senate for the Assembly of Peoples of Kazakhstan, which brings together the leaders of Kazakhstan's ethnic minorities and is composed largely of delegates loyal to Nazarbayev.

The president also backed proposals to hand some of his powers to parliament, including the right to nominate members to the Constitutional Court, the Central Electoral Commission and the Audit Committee. Parliament may also gain oversight over the budget and input in the formation of the government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM



Some experts suggest Rafsanjani achieved his primary goal during the February 8-9 visit to Qom -- lining up the support of a critical mass of the country's spiritual leadership. "Qom spread the red carpet and [Rafsanjani] was clearly basking [in the spotlight]," said the Tehran political scientist. "His hosts were competing with each other to shower him with praise."

In Qom, Rafsanjani held private meetings with grand ayatollahs spanning the spiritual spectrum -- from ultra-conservative to the reformists. Clearly absent from the list of Rafsanjani's interlocutors was the name of his theological nemesis, the controversial Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, who is closely aligned with the presidential camp.

While Rafsanjani's talks with the grand ayatollahs occurred behind closed doors, newspaper reports made it clear that these influential clerics endorsed Rafsanjani's views. For example, reform-minded Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei was quoted as telling Rafsanjani, "Your fortitude, faith and courage are exemplary. ... Your popularity with the public and among most factional heads exerts extra pressure on you to navigate the country and the state through the turbulent waters ahead."

The reception offered Rafsanjani in early February in Qom was markedly different from that which he received during a visit he made last May, when he was jeered by young followers of Mesbah Yazdi and forced to cut short a speech. A change in attitude on the part of many grand ayatollahs in the way they perceive Ahmadinejad seems to have played a large role in enhancing Rafsanjani's status in Qom.

"Government-Seminary relations can be described as frosty at the moment," a well-respected religious scholar told EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity. "Some key figures in the Qom religious establishment have serious misgivings about the present government."

"Most knowledgeable clergymen are unhappy with the diminution of the [influence] of the clergy in society, and they believe this government is doing nothing to remedy [the situation]." According to the religious scholar, Qom's grand ayatollahs reportedly have declined to meet with the president in the last few months.

The post-Mahmoud planning has begun.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


A breach in the church-state wall: A case before the US Supreme Court could deal a sharp blow to the separation of church and state (Andrew B. Coan, 2/28/07, CS Monitor)

The plaintiffs are ordinary citizens who object to their federal tax dollars being used to fund the president's program for "faith-based and community initiatives." [...]

[A[t this stage, the Bush administration is asking the court to throw the case out on grounds that ordinary taxpayers have no legal interest in how the executive branch spends public money.

It seems like the kind of dry, legalistic dispute that only a lawyer could love. But the appearance is deceiving. If the court grants the administration's request, it will eliminate what is often the only effective mechanism for challenging financial support of religion by the executive branch. The effect would be to grant the president and his staff, as well as the vast federal bureaucracy, a license to preach.

Kind of an odd notion that a license is needed, if not anticonstitutional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Contrary to global trends, Nigerians love America:The US's image has declined worldwide since 2000, even among its allies, but polls in Nigeria show climbing approval rates. (Sarah Simpson, 2/28/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Some 72 percent of Nigerians say that the US is having a mainly positive effect in the world, according to a BBC World Service poll released last month.

A 2006 poll by the US-based Pew Global Attitudes Project reveals that 62 percent of Nigerians have a positive opinion of the US, up from 46 percent in 2000.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM


Meetings make us dumber, study shows: Brainstorming sessions backfire when group thinking clouds decisions (Abigail W. Leonard, Feb 22, 2007, Live Science)

People have a harder time coming up with alternative solutions to a problem when they are part of a group, new research suggests.

Scientists exposed study participants to one brand of soft drink then asked them to think of alternative brands. Alone, they came up with significantly more products than when they were grouped with two others.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


Strike threats loom ahead of Airbus restructuring plan (David Robertson, 2/28/07, Times of London)

Airbus, the troubled European aircraft manufacturer, will announce its restructuring plans today amid political posturing and industrial action.

Trade unions said yesterday that job losses and factory closures could spark Europe-wide strikes.

Workers at one Airbus plant outside Paris spontaneously downed tools and walked out yesterday at the threat that their facility could close.

And, really, aren't those the sorts of workers you want?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Joke is on Jeter!: President and Mantle pop up on Topps' gag baseball card (ANTHONY McCARRON, 2/27/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

It's hard to Topps this one: The card company has issued a Derek Jeter baseball card with a smiling President Bush in the stands.

But there's something very wrong with that picture: Bush wasn't really at the game that day.

A not-so-careful analysis of the card makes it clear that Bush was digitally superimposed - his right arm extended in a waving motion and his left arm seemingly missing.

The mischievous elves at Topps then played another version of Where's Waldo - sticking a picture of Mickey Mantle in the dugout.

The Mick is depicted in uniform, holding a bat as though he were back from the dead and preparing to pinch hit.

Gotta think no one wants a copy of this card more than W himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Giuliani: 'Party of Freedom' Will Define Republicans (RUSSELL BERMAN, February 27, 2007, NY Sun)

Mayor Giuliani is calling on the Republican Party to redefine itself as "the party of freedom," focusing on lower taxes, school choice, and a health care system rooted in free market principles.

Delivering a policy-driven overview of his presidential platform yesterday, Mr. Giuliani outlined the agenda in a Washington speech before a conservative think tank that sought to make clear distinctions between his vision and that of the Democrats, if not his rivals for the Republican nomination in 2008. The former New York mayor's proposed redefinition of the Republican platform would signal a shift away from any focus on social issues, on which Mr. Giuliani is much less ideologically aligned with the party.

Running on a platform of making the GOP pro-abortion, pro-drugs, pro-deviance, etc. will boost his numbers in those national polls, but kill him in the primaries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Iran: Détente, Not Regime Change (Ray Takeyh, 2/27/07, Foreign Affairs)

In order to develop a smarter Iran policy, U.S. leaders must first accept certain distasteful facts -- such as Iran's ascendance as a regional power and the endurance of its regime -- and then ask how these can be accommodated. Despite its incendiary rhetoric and flamboyant claims, the Islamic Republic is not Nazi Germany. It is an opportunistic power seeking to assert predominance in its immediate neighborhood without recourse to war. Acknowledging that Iran is a rising power, the United States should open talks with a view to creating a framework to regulate Iran's influence, displaying a willingness to coexist with Iran while limiting its excesses. In other words, Washington should embrace a policy of détente.

Maintaining Perspective (Fouad Ajami, 2/25/07, US News)
Iran is a radical player in the world of states, to be sure, but we should not overstate its power. We should not fall for the Persian bluff. It is important that we do all we can to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions and to checkmate it in arenas that count, but we should always remember that this is a society swimming against the tide of history and confronting the limits of its capabilities. There is an Iranian role in Iraq, but it should not be exaggerated. It is not true that the Iraqi political class marches to the Iranian drummer. It is well known that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spent his years of exile in Syria and kept his distance from the Iranians. "Iraq is a cemetery of dreams," a thoughtful Iraqi observed to me of his country. "Iranian dreams, no less than American dreams perhaps." Iraqis are a tough breed, and the notion that they are eager to take their country into a Persian dominion is unconvincing. The Iranians dwell virtually alone in the House of Islam, separated by language and culture, marked by their Shiism.

Then there are the troubles that count-the disabilities at home. Iran's deranged president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, came into power promising to put Iran's oil wealth "on the dinner table." But the Iranian economy is on the ropes. Hyperinflation, the drying up of international credit lines, and the astounding growth in energy consumption in Iran are bringing the country to the edge of crisis. The price of bread and meat and basic commodities has risen by as much as 25 percent. To tranquilize the realm, gasoline is subsidized well below its cost, and domestic consumption now accounts for a stunning 40 percent of Iran's oil production. Dire predictions now hold that the country will be unable to export much oil a decade from now.

The true believers will proclaim that revolutionary purity trumps all, but worldly needs and affairs ultimately prevail. A society that spends $20 billion a year to subsidize the price of energy, electricity, and gasoline will in the end have to contend with the wrath and disappointment of its people. There is swagger in Iran, and there is menace, for its rulers are without scruples. Terrorism, for them, is always an option. But theirs is a vulnerable and brittle society. There is no need to "engage" them and bail them out as they stumble. The regime should be harassed, contained, and held to account. We may not have to wait two centuries to pronounce on the fate of this revolution. The swagger abroad and the rot at home: It is a trajectory we are all too familiar with by now.

...that the folks who think Nazism, Communism, Islamicism, [fill in the blank-ism], are mighty and permanent rivals of ours are considered the Realists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Pelosi Falls Short On Election Promises (Daniel W. Reilly and Jim VandeHei, February 27, 2007, Politico)

[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi vowed that five-day workweeks would be a hallmark of a harder-working Democratic majority. So far, the House has logged only one. Lawmakers plan to clock three days this week.

The speaker has denied Republicans a vote on their proposals during congressional debates -- a tactic she previously declared oppressive and promised to end. Pelosi has opened the floor to a Republican alternative just once.

Pelosi set a high standard for herself when she pledged to make this "the most ethical Congress in history" -- a boast that was the political equivalent of leading with her chin. And some critics have been happy to hit it.

She is drawing fire for putting Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who had $90,000 in alleged bribe money in his freezer, on the Homeland Security Committee. And The Washington Post reported during the weekend that she is helping chairmen raise money from donors with business before their committees.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Cheney Unfazed (John D. McKinnon, 2/27/07, Wall Street Journal)

Vice President Dick Cheney responded to a suicide bomber in Afghanistan much the same way he responds to most of the attacks he undergoes daily in Washington: with few words and not much apparent concern.

Which is perhaps not quite fair to Democrats and the media even if they are equally ineffectual.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Presidential Predicting: The good news for Republicans. (Bruce Bartlett, 2/27/07, National Review)

[L]et's first look at which states voted for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004, and those that went for both Al Gore and John Kerry. This will give us a good guide to each party's base.

Starting with Bush, we see that he carried all of these states twice: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. They have 274 electoral votes, with 270 needed to win.

Gore and Kerry carried all of these states: California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. These have 248 electoral votes.

In 2000, Iowa and New Mexico went for Gore and switched to Bush in 2004. New Hampshire went for Bush in 2000, but went for Kerry in 2004. These three states are the only ones that changed party, and the vote shift was very small. In 2000, Gore won Iowa with 48.54 percent of the vote to 48.22 percent for Bush; in 2004, Bush won the state with 49.9 percent to Kerry's 49.23 percent.

A similar story is told in New Hampshire and New Mexico. Bush carried the Granite State with 48.07 percent of the vote to 46.8 percent for Gore in 2000; in 2004, Kerry got 50.24 percent to 48.87 percent for Bush. New Mexico gave Gore 47.91 percent of the vote in 2000 to Bush's 47.85 percent. In 2004, Bush took the Land of Enchantment with 49.84 percent to 49.05 percent for Kerry.

Not only can both Senator McCain and the Mayor carry NH and NM but they'd even be competitive enough in CA to tie down the Democratic nominee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


No compromise with extremists (Matthew Mainen, February 27, 2007, International Herald Tribune)_

The United States is currently pressuring the newly instated Somali government to reach out to "moderate" leaders of the Islamic Courts Union, the extremist regime that was disposed of by Ethiopian troops in the beginning of the year. Such a move, the Bush administration believes, will help create a more stable environment and end the 16 years of anarchy that has plagued Somalia.

We'd have saved the Somalis some pointless misery by embracing the ICU government and getting them to bring in the others.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


Supersized Barry: Shadows afterword details Bonds' freakish growth (Tom Verducci, February 27, 2007, Sports Illustrated)

[Game of Shadows] is released this week in a paperback edition with a new afterword, the most important constant in the 12-month wake of Shadows is this: Bonds has not challenged a single fact in the book. It stands as an encyclopedia of this doping era in general and of Bonds' massive doping regimen in specifics. [...]

You hear all that noise from the Bonds camp and yet most conspicuous is the silence on challenging the facts of the case. Shadows succeeded because it couched nothing and stood unchallenged. My favorite fact: the authors detail in their afterword the freakish growth of Bonds' body parts in his years with the Giants: from size 42 to a size 52 jersey; from size 10 1/2 to size 13 cleats; and from a size 7 1/8 to size 7 1/4 cap, even though he had taken to shaving his head.

"The changes in his foot and head size," they write, "were of special interest: medical experts said overuse of human growth hormone could cause an adult's extremities to begin growing, aping the symptoms of the glandular disorder acromegaly."

If he adds 3/4s to his hat size but keeps his feet and shoulders steady we'll be able to share wardrobes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


An Early Environmentalist, Embracing New 'Heresies' (JOHN TIERNEY, 2/27/07, NY Times)

[Stewart Brand] divides environmentalists into romantics and scientists, the two cultures he's been straddling and blending since the 1960s. [...]

He is now promoting environmental heresies, as he called them in Technology Review. He sees genetic engineering as a tool for environmental protection: crops designed to grow on less land with less pesticide; new microbes that protect ecosystems against invasive species, produce new fuels and maybe sequester carbon.

He thinks the fears of genetically engineered bugs causing disaster are as overstated as the counterculture's fears of computers turning into Big Brother. "Starting in the 1960s, hackers turned computers from organizational control machines into individual freedom machines," he told Conservation magazine last year. "Where are the green biotech hackers?"

He's also looking for green nuclear engineers, and says he feels guilty that he and his fellow environmentalists created so much fear of nuclear power. Alternative energy and conservation are fine steps to reduce carbon emissions, he says, but now nuclear power is a proven technology working on a scale to make a serious difference.

"There were legitimate reasons to worry about nuclear power, but now that we know about the threat of climate change, we have to put the risks in perspective," he says. "Sure, nuclear waste is a problem, but the great thing about it is you know where it is and you can guard it. The bad thing about coal waste is that you don't know where it is and you don't know what it's doing. The carbon dioxide is in everybody's atmosphere."

Mr. Brand predicts that his heresies will become accepted in the next decade as the scientific minority in the environmental movement persuades the romantic majority. He still considers himself a member of both factions, just as in the days of the Merry Pranksters, but he's been shifting toward the minority.

"My trend has been toward more rational and less romantic as the decades go by," he says. "I keep seeing the harm done by religious romanticism, the terrible conservatism of romanticism, the ingrained pessimism of romanticism. It builds in a certain immunity to the scientific frame of mind."

Kind of odd that the Romantics fetishized Nature and demonized humankind, but there you are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


POLL: McCain the most popular presidential candidate nationwide (Keating Holland, 2/07/00, CNN)

Arizona Sen. John McCain is now the most popular presidential candidate among likely voters nationwide, and for the first time, McCain has more support than George W. Bush in hypothetical match-ups against Al Gore, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.

The poll, conducted February 4-6, consisted of interviews with 1,018 Americans -- including 386 registered Democrats and 401 registered Republicans.

If the election were held today, 58 percent of all likely voters would choose McCain and 36 percent would pick Gore. In the same scenario, Bush would beat Gore by a smaller 53 percent to 44 percent margin. McCain also possesses a larger lead than Bush over former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley. [...]

More bad news for Bush: nearly two-thirds of all registered Republicans say that they would prefer a candidate who is not tied to the party's leaders. That indicates that Bush's ace-in-the-hole -- endorsements and organizational support from officeholders around the country -- could be used against him.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 10:11 AM


Dexter Gordon's work as the first bebop tenor player can be heard in a collection of his recordings for Savoy in the late '40's released under the title Dexter Rides Again. His mature style is captured in a series of LP's he made for Blue Note in the 1960's, including Our Man in Paris and A Swinging Affair. Following a long stay in Europe, he made a triumphal return to the States in the mid '70's, captured on the albums Live at the Village Vanguard and Manhattan Symphony. And, of course, he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Dale Turner in 'Round Midnight. For casual fans, the best way to describe Dex is that when you imagine the sound of a jazz saxophone in your head, the sound you hear is probably Dexter Gordon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Illiterary criticism: If you can't stand Henry James, if Flaubert seems rubbish and Wordsworth simply 'a pile of arse', maybe that's your problem, not theirs. (Stephen Moss, February 26, 2007, The Guardian)

Sam Jordison doesn't think much of Henry James, and told us so on this site recently without any Jamesian syntactical beating about the bush. "Wading through his books seems to me to be the literary equivalent of wearing a very stiff and uncomfortable shirt simply in order to attend an endless speech given by a dull and pompous old headmaster," said the Hammerer of Henry, though the critique was weakened somewhat by his assertion that he had read only three of his novels and by his disappointment in finding that The Turn of the Screw was not "fun".

If Jordison wants straightforward early James, might I recommend The Portrait of a Lady and Washington Square? Then perhaps he could move on to the stodgier, often hard-to-assimilate later James - The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, The Golden Bowl. No one who has any serious interest in the evolution of the novel can afford to ignore these books, and James's oh-so-painful efforts to exactly represent human thought and emotion, every shade of it, in prose. It will exhaust you: James said his ideal reader would get through just five pages a day; you will lose his thread in the way you do with Proust's labyrinthine sentences; but you will surely appreciate the art and the ambition.

Translation: Sure, we all know James sucks, but you'll never understand why even suckier stuff follows without wading through the suckage. And folks wonder why the Anglosphere is so contemptuous of intellectuals?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Of Rivals: a review of That Sweet Enemy: The French and the British from the Sun King to the Present by Robert Tombs (Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic)

Sometime intimate foes, sometime bitter allies, France and Britain have for centuries largely defined themselves in relation to each other. This remarkably inventive, stylish, and audacious work traces the history of that infernal couple, from the seventeenth century to the present. Probing national culture and sensibility as well as war, diplomacy, and finance, the authors (husband and wife -- he's a Cambridge don who has written a pathbreaking study of the Paris Commune; she's a French-born historian of Britain who works at the Foreign Office) assay the entire 300-plus years in their nearly 800-page history, but they focus on what scholars call the "Second Hundred Years' War": the period of intermittent conflict between 1689 and 1815, which started when William III summoned a "Grand Alliance" to thwart the Sun King's bid for European mastery and ended with Wellington's defeat of Napoleon, a defeat that permanently blunted and diverted France's power and international ambitions.

These were struggles on an appalling scale: The years between 1688 and the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 claimed the lives of some 2 million combatants; the death toll in Marlborough's victory at the Battle of Malplaquet, in 1709, matched that of the first day of the Somme; the Napoleonic Wars cost France 1.4 million men and Britain some 200,000. They were also of a global scope: During the Seven Years' War (which Winston Churchill called the true "first world war"), French and British soldiers fought each other in the Ohio Valley, on the Mediterranean, and on the plains of Plassey, in India, among other places. And hence they were phenomenally expensive: Just maintaining Nelson's flagship, the HMS Victory, over its lifespan cost as much as "the annual budget of a small state"; owing to the wars against France, Britain raised taxes by 1,600 percent between 1689 and 1815, and government borrowing increased by 24,000 percent.

Synthesizing a generation of scholarship on the rise of the "military-fiscal state," by such historians as John Brewer, Paul Langford, and N. A. M. Rodger, the Tombses breezily explicate how, in a somewhat circular process, Britain's naval contest with France -- which Rodger has called "the largest, longest, most complex and expensive project ever undertaken by the British state and society" -- demanded a transformation in public finance, which in turn spurred the commercial and industrial revolutions that would propel Britain to its economic and geopolitical ascendancy.

Now they bitch and moan over the minimal cost in lucre and lives of liberating Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Democracy up to 100 years away, China's Premier says (SCOTT MCDONALD, 2/27/07, Associated Press

Communist leaders have no plans to allow democracy in the near future because they must focus on economic development before political reform, China's No. 3 leader said in comments published Tuesday.

Democracy will emerge once a "mature socialist system" develops but that might not happen for up to 100 years, Premier Wen Jiabao wrote in an article in the People's Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper.

For now, China must focus on "sustained rapid growth of productive forces ... to finally secure fairness and social justice that lies within the essence of socialism," Mr. Wen wrote.

The Premier said the country is "still far from advancing out of the primary stage of socialism. We must adhere to the party's basic guidelines of the primary stage of socialism for 100 years."

It's because the Party can't provide what the first stage promises that they don't have even a tenth of that 100 years left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Document shows Romney's strategies: Plan addresses faith, rivals, shift on issues (Scott Helman, February 27, 2007, Boston Globe)

Here are some views of Mitt Romney causing concern inside his campaign: His hair looks too perfect, he's not a tough war time leader, and he has earned a reputation as "Slick Dancing Mitt" or "Flip-Flop Mitt."

Romney and his advisers have identified those perceptions as threats to his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, according to an exhaustive internal campaign document obtained by the Globe.

The 77-slide PowerPoint presentation offers a revealing look at Romney's pursuit of the White House, outlining a plan for branding himself, framing his competitors, and allaying voter concerns about his record, his Mormon faith, and his shifts on key issues like abortion.

Dated Dec. 11, the blueprint is wide-ranging and analyzes in detail the strengths and weaknesses of Romney and his two main Republican rivals, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York. The plan, which top Romney strategist Alex Castellanos helped to draft, charts a course for Romney to emerge as the nominee, but acknowledges that the "electorate is not where it needs to be for us to succeed." [...]

The plan, for instance, indicates that Romney will define himself in part by focusing on and highlighting enemies and adversaries, such common political targets as "jihadism," the "Washington establishment," and taxes, but also Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, "European-style socialism," and, specifically, France. Even Massachusetts, where Romney has lived for almost 40 years, is listed as one of those "bogeymen," alongside liberalism and Hollywood values.

Indeed, a page titled "Primal Code for Brand Romney" said that Romney should define himself as a foil to Bay State Democrats such as Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry and former governor Michael Dukakis. Romney should position himself as "the anti-Kerry," the presentation says. But elsewhere in the plan, it's clear that Romney and his aides are aware he's open to the same charge that helped derail Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004: that he is a flip-flopper who has changed positions out of political expediency.

Because he is attempting to capture the conservative vote, Romney is facing persistent questions about his relatively recent shifts to more conservative positions on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control. One page of the plan cites Kerry and says Romney doesn't want to spend 2007 facing skepticism about his conservative message.

The blueprint also describes political assets and vulnerabilities of McCain and Giuliani, who lead Romney in the polls.

McCain is described as a war hero and maverick with a compelling narrative and a reputation for wit, authenticity, and straight talk. But he's also seen as "too Washington," "too close to [Democratic] Left," an "uncertain, erratic, unreliable leader in uncertain times." "Does he fit The Big Chair?" the document asks. The plan calls McCain, 70, a "mature brand" and raises questions about whether he could handle the rigors of leading the free world.

Giuliani is called an outside-the-Beltway rock star and truth teller who earned the nation's trust for his leadership of New York City's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But he is described as a one-dimensional Lone Ranger whose social views -- he supports abortion rights and civil unions for gay couples -- could destroy the "GOP brand." "We can't disqualify Dems like Hillary on social issues ever again" if Giuliani is the nominee, the document states.

The plan also touches on what it calls Giuliani's ethical issues, including his relationship with Bernard Kerik , former New York police commissioner who withdrew from consideration to become US homeland security secretary amid allegations of improprieties. It raises Giuliani's "personal political liabilities," an apparent reference to his three marriages and bitter public divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover.

How much do guys get paid for telling them stuff that obvious?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Testing the line between despotism and a free society (Scot Lehigh, February 27, 2007, Boston Globe)

HABEAS CORPUS is now headed back to the US Supreme Court, in a case that will prove a fundamental test of US justice.

Will the Roberts court uphold one of the oldest and most basic rights in the US Constitution -- that of a prisoner to go to court to challenge his imprisonment?

The issue could also test the courage of the new Congress. Will the Democratic majority wage a determined fight to re-establish what has been a basic guarantee of procedural rights?

We still eagerly await so much as a single citation to a successful habeus corpus claim brought by a German POW, many of whom were actually held in the continental United States, not purposefully outside our borders. ... [chirp] ... [chirp] ....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Richard S. Prather: Creator of the private eye Shell Scott: Richard Scott Prather, crime novelist: born Santa Ana, California 9 September 1921; married 1945 Tina Hager (died 2004); died Sedona, Arizona 1[4] February 2007 (Independent, 27 February 2007)

The mystery writer Richard S. Prather will forever be associated with one of the top-selling, hard-hitting and raciest paperback lines of the years after the Second World War: Fawcett Gold Medal Books ("The Gold Medal seal on this book," read the helpful back-cover strapline, "means it has never been published as a book before").

Prather was discovered by Gold Medal's legendary editor Bill Lengel, who spent the early 1950s building up a team of writers who virtually created a hardboiled house style for the line: David Goodis, Charlie Williams, Vin Packer (i.e. Marijane Meaker), John D. Macdonald, Bruno Fischer, Richard Himmel. Prather threw in his job as a clerk at a US Air Force base to become a self- employed writer on the strength of Lengel's enthusiastic reception of The Case of the Vanishing Beauty, which duly appeared in Gold Medal's lists in the line's first 12 months, in 1950.

Thereafter he pounded out over 20 fast and furious - and often very funny - novel-length yarns for Lengel, from 1950 through to the early 1960s, sometimes producing two or three books in a single year. His annus mirabilis was 1952, in which he produced two thrillers for Fawcett, two for Lion Books (one, The Peddler, as by "Douglas Ring"), one for Graphic (Pattern for Murder, as by "David Knight"), and Dagger of Flesh for Falcon Books.

Although his early books were only mildly amusing, Prather soon settled into a groove of hilarious near-parody of the hardboiled genre itself, although he could still throw off the odd startlingly vicious little tale - such as The Peddler, a novel about the Mob which pulled no punches and provided few laughs.

Prather's series character was the private eye Shell (short for Sheldon) Scott (Prather's own middle name), a guy, to quote his creator, "with an eye for the broads and the frails", a talent for mangling the English language, and a glow-in-the-dark white-hair crew-cut, whose adventures, as the years went by, just grew wackier and more hilariously bizarre. Strip for Murder (1955) has Scott at large in a nudist colony, at one stage fronting a hundred nudists at their vigorous morning callisthenics, and finally escaping from the bad guys, au naturel, in a hot-air balloon sailing over downtown Los Angeles. It cannot be said that Prather did not give his readers their full 25-centsworth.

Linda Pendleton -- widow of the great Don Pendleton, author of the Mack Bolan: Executioner series -- wrote to correct the death date above: Mr. Prather died on the 14th. She also sent a link to an interview she did with Mr. Prather, probably his last, Exclusive Interview with Richard S. Prather (Linda Pendleton, Copyright 2006 by Linda Pendleton and Richard S. Prather)
Our Dad used to read both Mr. Prather and Mr. Pendleton -- along with Nick Carter, The Destroyer, and The Death Merchant -- and got me hooked in my early teens. These are the guys -- along with Maxwell Grant (Walter Gibson) and Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent) -- who made me love reading.

Another Giant Falls (J. Kingston Pierce, 2/16/07, Rapsheet)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Iraqis agree to share oil money in win for U.S. (AP< February 27, 2007)

The Iraqi Cabinet approved a draft law Monday to manage the country's vast oil industry and distribute its wealth among the population -- a major breakthrough in U.S. efforts to press the country's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish groups to reach agreements to achieve stability.

''I very much hope the main political groups will rise to the occasion'' and approve the bill in parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, a Kurd, said.

Iraq has some of the world's largest petroleum reserves, and supporters hope the legislation will encourage major oil companies to invest billions -- if security improves.

Avoiding the Oil Curse: What Norway can teach Iraq (Daniel Gross, Oct. 29, 2004, Slate)
When it comes to oil--and investing--it's easy to overlook Norway. While political and social upheavals in major oil producers--Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia, the Persian Gulf--dominate headlines, Norway since 1971 has quietly been pumping massive quantities of crude from the icy waters of the North Sea. Today, Norway is the world's third-largest oil exporter, behind only Saudi Arabia and Russia, and the seventh-largest oil producer. The Norwegians have proven that oil doesn't have to be an obstacle to stability and long-term growth. [...]

Iraq is on the verge of finding out whether it will succumb to the curse or defeat it. Norway offers an interesting model for the Iraqis to consider. Assuming things ever calm down, Iraq will decide how to use the nation's oil wealth to benefit its putative owners--the long-suffering Iraqi people. More than a year ago, Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation suggested that Iraq duplicate the Alaska Permanent Fund. Established in the 1970s, the fund guarantees that at least a quarter of all oil revenues received by the state be invested on behalf of the state's hardy residents. It has grown into a huge, highly diversified mutual fund. According to its September 2004 report, the APF has about $28 billion in assets. Each year, it pays out dividends to qualified residents--$919.84 per person. And in many ways, it's a classically American approach--built on a concept of individual ownership and intended to spur demand and consumption. Last year, the fund injected about $581 million into the state's economy.

Norway has pursued a classically Scandinavian solution. It has viewed oil revenues as a temporary, collectively owned windfall that, instead of spurring consumption today, can be used to insulate the country from the storms of the global economy and provide a thick, goose-down cushion for the distant day when the oil wells run dry.

Less than 20 years after they started producing oil, the Norwegians realized their geological good luck would only be temporary. In 1990, the nation's parliament set up the Petroleum Fund of Norway to function as a fiscal shock absorber. Run under the auspices of the country's central bank, the fund, like the Alaska Fund, converts petrodollars into stocks and bonds. But instead of paying dividends, it uses revenues and appreciation to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth across generations.

Here's how it works. Cash flow from the government's petroleum activities--the state owns 81 percent of the aptly named Statoil--is funneled into the fund. Last year, the total came to 91.9 billion kroner (about $14 billion). The fund then hires external managers to invest, generally using low-cost indexing strategies. It's conservatively managed--more bonds than stocks, and investments divided equally between Europe and the rest of the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Perfect timing: Can natural family planning really be as effective as the pill? New research suggests that it is, says Sarah Ebner - once you have learned the ropes (Sarah Ebner, February 27, 2007, The Guardian)

Good news has emerged this month for those who want an effective method of contraception that does not involve hormones, injections or intrauterine devices. New research, published in the journal Human Reproduction, has found that the sympto-thermal method (STM) of family planning is just as effective as the pill. STM uses two indicators - body temperature and changes in cervical mucus - to identify the most fertile phase of a woman's menstrual cycle. "This puts contraception under a woman's control," says Toni Belfield of the Family Planning Association. "It's easy to learn, it can enhance a relationship, and it's easy to stop if a woman decides she does want to become pregnant." [...]

Professor Petra Frank-Hermann, from the University of Heidelberg, led the new research. "For a contraceptive method to be rated as highly as the hormonal pill, there should be less than one pregnancy per 100 women per year when the method is used correctly," she says. "The pregnancy rate for women who correctly used the STM method in our study was 0.4%, which can be interpreted as one pregnancy occurring per 250 women per year. Therefore, we maintain that the effectiveness of STM is comparable to the effectiveness of modern contraceptive methods such as oral contraceptives."

Of course, natural family planning is nothing new, and has often been used by those who oppose contraception on religious grounds. But the so-called "rhythm method" - which simply involved counting the days of the menstrual cycle - has long caused despair in family planning circles.

"It went out with the ark," says Belfield.

In other words, they object to it because of its religious overtones, but throw in a little pointless science and everything's copacetic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


The great Japan-Mongolia love affair (Hisane Masaki, 2/28/07, Asia Times)

Japan rolled out the red carpet for Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar when, at Tokyo's invitation, he arrived on Monday for a five-day visit for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a luncheon hosted by Emperor Akihito in his honor at the Imperial Palace.

Ostensibly, the Mongolian leader's visit is to mark the 35th anniversary of the two countries' establishing diplomatic relations in February 1972. But Tokyo has another particular reason to extend the greatest possible hospitality to him. Only a month ago, Tokyo received a much-appreciated diplomatic present from Ulan Bator.

Abe and Enkhbayar agreed in a telephone conversation on January 24 that Japan will seek a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for a two-year term starting in 2009 in lieu of Mongolia. Enkhbayar conveyed to Abe Mongolia's decision to withdraw its bid for a seat to let Japan run for the post.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Iranian Leaders Criticize President (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 2/26/07, The Associated Press)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced a new round of sharp criticism at home Monday after he said Iran's nuclear program is an unstoppable train without brakes. Reformers and conservatives said such tough talk only inflames the West as it considers further sanctions.

The criticism came even as new signs have arisen that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is growing discontented with Ahmadinejad, whom he is believed to have supported in 2005 presidential elections.

Last week, Khamenei voiced rare criticism of the domestic performance of Ahmadinejad's government, and the president was notably absent when a group of Cabinet members and vice presidents met with Khamenei, who has the final word in all political affairs in Iran, including the nuclear issue.

Except, of course, that the Ayatollah didn't support Mahmoud in 2005 either, setting up what he thought would be a run-off between the Reformist Mostafa Moin and the mullahs chosen reformer, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

MORE (via Kevin Whited):
Persian Shrug (EDWARD N. LUTTWAK, February 27, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Back in the 1970s, détente with the Soviet Union was criticized on the grounds that it actually propped up a regime in irreversible decline, and whose power could be confronted successfully. In the 1980s, the critics of that détente led by Ronald Reagan had their opportunity to challenge the Soviet Union, which did not outlast the decade.

There is every reason to believe that history is about to repeat itself. Iran does not resemble the Soviet Union in any other way and certainly does not have even a fraction of its military power, but it too is a multinational state in an age when nations are everywhere asserting their separate identities. In arguing that there is universal support for the nuclear program, regime spokesmen and even many Persians in exile speak of Iran as a unitary state inhabited by "Iranians" who are very nationalistic, even if they oppose the ayatollahs.

None of this remotely corresponds to Iran's ethnic realities. Persians only account for half the population, and the other half includes many different nationalities increasingly resentful of Persian cultural imperialism.

Kurds account for some 7% of the population, and their nationalism is Kurdish and not Persian, having been much strengthened by the successful example of virtual Kurdish independence in Iraq. Their demands for autonomy have become sufficiently forceful to start an insurgency. The same is true of two smaller nationalities that are even more violently disaffected with frequent fire-fights and bombings: the Arabs and the Baluch, which account for another 3% of the population. But the largest of Iran's subject nationalities are the Azeris. While many have been assimilated, at least 20 million still speak an entirely different Turkic language, and increasingly form the core of a united Azeri nation that extends beyond western Iran to include the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

The religious extremism of Iran's regime creates its own divisions. The bloody persecution of the Bahais, the new persecution of the Sufis and the institutional subjection of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians have attracted greater attention, but the ill-treatment of the 9% of the population that is Sunni is more important politically: In Tehran where more than a million Sunnis live, there is no Sunni mosque as there is in Rome, Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C.

If Iran's economy were more successful, ethnic divisions and even religious resentments would matter less. As it is, with at least 20% unemployment and an annual inflation rate of some 30%, Iran's economy is scarcely a unifying force, especially because most of its minorities are distinctly poorer than the dominant Persians.

Viewed from the inside, Iran is hardly the formidable power that some see on the outside.

The recognition that only genuine economic growth can save the Republic is what made Khamenei and Rafsanjani privatizers and reformers, even if reluctant ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Fjuckby name stays the same (The Local, 27th February 2007)

The pilloried residents of Fjuckby have been left with little option but to endure their village's unfortunate name after the Institute of Language and Folklore rejected calls for a name change.

Fjuckby is saddled with the dual misfortune of containing both the rude Swedish word 'juck' and its more internationally recognisable English equivalent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Redraw congressional districts: Democrats don't mind redistricting reform as long as their congressional majority stays put. But that leaves district drawing open to corruption. (LA Times, February 27, 2007)

THE DRIVE TO GET California politicians out of the business of selecting their own voters by shaping their own districts may be derailed by the speakership of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). Although not long ago it was Republicans who didn't want to risk losing any of their California seats, it's now Pelosi and nervous Democrats who are threatening to scuttle badly needed reform by putting their own interests first.

You'd think the experience of the 20th Century would have cured the Left of the notion that putting them in power repeals human nature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Justices Decline Case on 200-Year Sentence for Man Who Possessed Child Pornography (LINDA GREENHOUSE, 2/27/07, NY Times)

An Arizona man who received a 200-year prison sentence for possessing 20 pornographic images of children failed Monday to persuade the Supreme Court to consider whether the sentence was unconstitutionally excessive.

...better to execute such evil-doers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Democrats Battle Over Policy on Iraq: Lawmakers Debate Whether to Exercise Power of the Purse (DAVID ROGERS, February 27, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

In the wake of their election losses in November, Republicans have their own divisions over the president's policy. But Democrats face greater pressure, and the debate exposes internal politics and warring personalities, especially in the House.

After proposing restrictions on the funds, the bill's manager, Rep. John Murtha (D., Pa.), has been pummeled by Republicans and fellow Democrats eager to bring him down a peg or two. His friendship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and past rivalry with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) adds spice to the story. And fearing the entire bill could collapse, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D., Wis.) has sanctioned the drafting of waivers to the Murtha-backed provisions that would restore more flexibility to the administration.

"They want to end the war, but they want to fund the war," said Mr. Murtha, frustrated by his party's reluctance to exert its power over spending.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic caucus chairman, is cautious about crossing this line and argues any conditions on funding should focus on the Iraq government, not U.S. forces. "Congress has the job of oversight and holding the administration accountable, but the war is owned and managed from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," the Illinois Democrat said.

Congress should repeal its authorization to use force in Iraq (Joseph R. Biden Jr., February 27, 2007, Boston Globe)
TWO WEEKS ago, Congress made clear its opposition to President Bush's plan to send more US troops to Iraq.

Opposing the surge is only a first step. There needs to be a radical change in course in Iraq. The pressure is building on Congress -- especially Republicans -- to act if the president will not.

The best next step is to revisit the authorization Congress granted Bush in 2002 to use force in Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


On the mend, with a mission
: In 'To Iraq and Back,' Bob Woodruff talks about the limited care for soldiers suffering from brain injuries (Matea Gold, February 27, 2007, LA Times)

He occasionally searches for a word and has limited vision in the right corners of his eyes. But aside from some red scars that pocket his face, there are few outward signs that 13 months ago part of Bob Woodruff's skull was blown off by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

"I feel so lucky in so many ways," the ABC correspondent said Monday, seated in an airy conference room in the network's Manhattan headquarters. "I see what my family has gone through and I realize how difficult it has been."

In "To Iraq and Back: Bob Woodruff Reports," an hourlong documentary airing at 10 tonight on ABC, Woodruff tells the story of his recovery from the explosion that seriously wounded him and cameraman Doug Vogt. It's his first time on the air since an improvised explosive device hit the Iraqi personnel carrier they were riding in north of Baghdad in January 2006, just weeks after he and colleague Elizabeth Vargas had begun their short-lived pairing as co-anchors of the evening news.

The bomb shattered Woodruff's left shoulder and pelted his body with shrapnel, including a half-dollar-sized rock that pierced his neck, barely missing a key artery. In the immediate days after the explosion, he came close to death several times. The 45-year-old father of four was in a medically induced coma for 36 days.

When he woke up at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Woodruff didn't remember his brothers' names -- or even the existence of his two youngest daughters. He couldn't read or write or recall basic vocabulary. In one scene in the documentary, his three daughters huddle next to him on his bed, coaching him how to say "belt buckle."

A year later, it's difficult to believe he's the same man whose skull was flattened on one side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Light-bulb industry at a "tipping point" (TOBY STERLING, 2/27/07, The Associated Press)

European light-bulb makers are close to an agreement in principle to work together on phasing out energy-wasting incandescent bulbs for the consumer market, the chief executive of Royal Philips Electronics' lighting division said Monday.

Philips is the largest lighting maker globally, followed by Siemens, known for the Osram-Sylvania brands. General Electric, whose founder Thomas Edison patented the incandescent bulb in 1880, is biggest in the United States.

In a telephone interview, Theo van Deursen said "the tipping point is very close, to be frank, for the [European] lighting industry" to agree on a phase-out of incandescent bulbs in the home. He said an announcement from a group of major producers could come as early as this week.

The Right will still be fighting against bans on incandescent bulbs long after the last one has burned out.

February 26, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 PM


Democrats back away from Iraq plan (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, 2/26/07, Associated Press)

Democratic leaders backed away from aggressive plans to limit President Bush's war authority, the latest sign of divisions within their ranks over how to proceed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (news, bio, voting record), D-Nev., said Monday he wanted to delay votes on a measure that would repeal the 2002 war authorization and narrow the mission in

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 PM


Battle Lines Drawn for Key S.C. Republican Primary (Jonathan Martin, February 26, 2007, Politico)

It is impossible to understand South Carolina Republican politics without knowing about these rival campaign consultants, who seem to loom over the GOP here as much as any elected officials. Both are veterans of the South Carolina political wars, having worked in the Republican vineyards for decades. Their clients include many of the top politicians in the state, most notably both U.S. senators, other statewide officeholders and a raft of legislators.

In conversations with Republican politicians and operatives here in South Carolina, it is almost imperative to preface a conversation by asking whether they are a "Quinn person" or a "Tompkins person." In a state that knows something about civil war, this modern political battle pits Republican brother versus brother.

All this would be little more than inside baseball, of scant interest to anybody outside a five-mile radius of the gracious, copper-domed capitol here, were it not for one important fact that South Carolina Republicans delight in reminding visitors: Forget about snowy Iowa and frosty New Hampshire -- no GOP presidential contender has won his party's nomination without winning the South Carolina primary. So it was in 2000 when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush bounced back from a thumping in New Hampshire at the hands of John McCain with a hard-fought victory in South Carolina over the Arizonan. The lead consultants in that bare-knuckle contest: Richard Quinn with McCain and Warren Tompkins for Bush.

Now, seven years later, there seems to be a reprisal of that now-infamous primary in the offing. McCain is back in the running and retains the services of Quinn and his team. Tompkins and his people are with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. One difference, however, is that this time around, some of the people who lined up with Tompkins and Bush in 2000 are backing the man they worked against that year rather than Romney. McCain has garnered endorsements from numerous elected officials, donors and activists who were in Bush's corner last time.

"We are not focused on the endorsement game," says Terry Sullivan, Romney's South Carolina director and Tompkins' business partner, dismissing McCain's strategy of rolling out a steady stream of Bush converts.

Given that Rudy Giuliani can't even run in the primaries in the South, the folks anointing him sound particularly Beltwayish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 PM


AUDIO: The Sixteen perform Tavener, Tallis (Saint Paul Sunday, 4/09/06)

Music for Passiontide: This Sunday, the first following Ash Wednesday, Harry Christophers will lead the Sixteen in a program of polyphonic Renaissance music for which the British ensemble is beloved the world over: haunting choral works of Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Antonio Lotti, and Tomas Luis de Victoria. All are rooted in Passiontide and anchored by one of the most beloved of all Renaissance choral works--Gregorio Allegri's soaring Miserere. A young Mozart first transcribed the Miserere by ear after hearing it sung inside the Vatican, which at the time closely guarded the music as its sole property and, with Mozart, knew it to be a timeless musical treasure. [...]


* Antonio Lotti: Crucifixus a 8 (text from the Creed)
* Thomas Tallis: In ieunio et fletu (In Fasting and Weeping)
* Thomas Tallis: If ye love me
* Thomas Tallis: Salvator mundi (Antiphon for Good Friday)
* Gregorio Allegri: Miserere (Psalm 51 - Ash Wednesday)
* Thomas Tallis: Suscipe quaeso
* Tomas Luis de Victoria: O vos omnes (Responsory at Matins for Holy Saturday)
* William Byrd: Ave verum corpus (Passiontide)
* Tomas de Victoria (Vere languores)
* John Tavener: Hymn to the Mother of God

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


Democrats may try to curb 527s (Alexander Bolton, 2/26/07, The Hill)

Senate Democrats are considering placing curbs on soft-money 527 groups amid evidence that they are beginning to lose the political advantage these largely unregulated funds have given them over Republicans.

This is a move Democrats had strenuously opposed during the last Congress, when they were believed to benefit from the lion's share of 527 money, but now there is evidence that more of the money from these groups, named for a clause in the tax code, is flowing to the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 PM


Is George Bush a Closet Green? (Lloyd Alter, Toronto, 02.19.07, Tree Hugger)

Only your dispassionate Canadian correspondent could write this without colour or favour, but is it possible that George Bush is a secret Green? Evidently his Crawford Winter White House has 25,000 gallons of rainwater storage, gray water collection from sinks and showers for irrigation, passive solar, geothermal heating and cooling. "By marketplace standards, the house is startlingly small," says David Heymann, the architect of the 4,000-square-foot home. "Clients of similar ilk are building 16-to-20,000-square-foot houses." Furthermore for thermal mass the walls are clad in "discards of a local stone called Leuders limestone, which is quarried in the area."

A Republican president who enjoys and values nature is hardly news.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 PM


Russia's bid for 'competitive' elections: Ahead of March polls, a new Kremlin-backed party aims to woo left-wing voters away from independent parties (Fred Weir, 2/27/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

As 14 Russian regions prepare to hold local elections slated for March 11, the country's electoral system appears to have the healthy glow of democracy. Two Kremlin-backed parties, Fair Russia and United Russia, are competing smoothly against each other in the full glare of media coverage. [...]

Fair Russia, a self-described left-wing party, says its goal is to displace the opposition Communists. The centrist United Russia, established five years ago to "support President Vladimir Putin," already controls a majority of seats in the State Duma and many local legislatures. Experts say that there are also plans to create a Kremlin-friendly liberal party, to be named Free Russia, tasked with squeezing out the independent Yabloko party and the Union of Right Forces.

Solzhenitsyn: Russia dogged by problems similar to those that led to 1917 revolution (Vladimir Isachenkov, 27 February 2007, AP)
Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn warns in the preface to a newly republished article that Russia is still struggling with challenges similar to those of the revolutionary turmoil of 1917 that led to the demise of the czarist empire.

The article - which will appear tomorrow in the influential government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta - analyzes the roots of the February revolution 90 years ago that forced the abdication of the last czar, Nicholas II, and helped pave the way for the Bolsheviks.

"It's all the more bitter that a quarter of a century later, some of these conclusions are still applicable to the alarming disorder of today," Solzhenitsyn wrote in a preface to the article first written in the early 1980s.

Solzhenitsyn's wife, Natalya, said it should serve as a reminder to Russia's political class about the dangers stemming from the huge gap between the rich and the poor, and the stark contrast in lifestyle and moral attitudes in the glitzy Russian capital compared to the far less prosperous provinces. [...]

Returning to Russia in 1994 to find a country in deep disarray, Solzhenitsyn's dismal view of 1990s Russia, along with his nationalism and hope for a resurgence of his country, has aligned him with President Vladimir Putin, who has presented his time in office as a period of recovery following economic and social turmoil at home and weakness on the world stage that Russia suffered after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

The 88-year-old has appeared infrequently in public in recent years, and he is believed to be ailing. In rare print or broadcast interviews, he has lamented the state of Russian politics and the government, but also has praised Putin despite the president's KGB background.

His wife said yesterday that Solzhenitsyn had a high opinion of the Kremlin's increasingly assertive foreign policy.

"He believes that many right steps have been taken in the foreign policy field, and Russia has regained its weight," Natalya Solzhenitsyn said.

A little democracy goes a long way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 PM


Chinese county reins in birth-rate - without a one-child limit: Yicheng's birthrate is lower than China's national average, but without the unpopular population-control policy in place (Peter Ford, 2/27/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

For the past 21 years, the citizens of Yicheng County, in the mining province of Shanxi, have been exempt from the "one-child policy" on which the Chinese government has founded its bid to keep a lid on its vast population. They have been allowed to have two children. Yet Yicheng's birth-rate is lower than the national average.

"If the whole country had adopted the Yicheng policy from the start, we could have kept China's population under 1.2 billion," below the official target for 2000, says Tan Kejian, of Shanxi's provincial Academy of Social Sciences. "And this policy was much easier for peasants to accept."

They miss the point, of course. Even when China lifts the official policy it won't be able to stop its slide into the abyss. It's too soul sick.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Tory donations outstrip other parties combined (Ben Russell, 27 February 2007, Independent)

Labour remains more than £23m in debt and has still to repay millions of pounds in loans linked to the cash-for-honours affair, accounts have revealed.

The funding gap between Labour and the Conservatives has widened, with the Tories reporting donations of £5.3m in the final three months of last year - more than Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined.

Cameron boosts Tory coffers (JANE MERRICK, 26th February 2007, Daily Mail)
Even if only cash donations are taken into account, the Conservatives' £17.5 million amounts to more than Labour's £11.7 million and the Lib Dems' £2.7 million combined.

Conservative income from donations even topped the amount taken in 2005, the year of the General Election - usually the focus of any party's fundraising efforts - and amounted to several times the total normally taken in a non-election year.

The figures reflect the revival of Tory fortunes under Mr Cameron's leadership as polls begin to suggest he may be in with a chance of returning the party to power. And they indicate that the Conservatives - who are due to move to a new home near to Labour's old HQ on Millbank - are already in the process of creating the foundations for a war-chest to fight the election expected in 2009 or 2010.

Conservatives take 11-point lead over Labour (Andrew Grice, 27 February 2007, Independent)
The Conservatives have opened an 11-point lead over Labour, enough to give David Cameron an overall Commons majority of 100, according to the latest monthly opinion poll for The Independent.

The survey by CommunicateResearch suggests Mr Cameron's drive to rebrand his party is attracting floating voters and firming up the support of natural Tories. It is the Tories' highest rating from CommunicateResearch since the company began political polling in August 2004.

The findings will add to the jitters of Labour backbenchers who fear the party is on the slide during Tony Blair's final months and worry that Gordon Brown, his most likely successor, will struggle to turn round such a big deficit. "We are just treading water and wasting time," one Labour MP said last night.

A Kindler, Gentler Tory Party: Whatever happened to Britain's Conservatives? (Christopher Hitchens, Feb. 27, 2007, Slate)
David Cameron has become the green challenger. His party's events feature tie-less informality and earth tones and much grave talk about the need for "organic" attitudes. Confronted with things like youthful crime, which used to bring out the authoritarian beast in his party's traditionalist ranks, Cameron speaks soothingly of root causes and compassion. He has publicly regretted the way in which his party was too late in seeing the virtues of Nelson Mandela. Most astonishingly of all, he is running against Tony Blair (or rather, against Blair's heir-presumptive, Gordon Brown) as the candidate who wants to refashion Britain's relationship with Washington in such a way as to take distance from the American alliance. The press conference at which Cameron announced this new initiative was held on Sept. 11 last, as if to emphasize that the American Embassy could no longer take Tory sympathy for granted. And Cameron has appointed William Hague, a former leader of the party, as his spokesman on foreign affairs. Hague takes every opportunity to criticize the Blair administration for its slavish endorsement of George Bush and to promise that a Conservative government cannot be counted upon for Republican military expeditions.

Twenty or even 10 years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the historic left-right divide in British politics could have taken this form. Old leftist friends of mine from the 1960s are now on Labor's front bench and staunchly defend the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as a part of the noble anti-fascist tradition, while dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries are warning against American hubris. I keep having to pinch myself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Iraq War Sticker Shock: An iconoclastic economist discusses how the White House cooked the books on its march to war (Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell, February 21 , 2007, Mother Jones)

Joseph Stiglitz has never shied away from using his platform as a Nobel Prize winner in Economics to point out policy follies in high places. In 2002, after he had left a post as the World Bank's chief economist, he published the bestseller Globalization and Its Discontents, in which he took the International Monetary Fund and the Treasury Department to task for their overzealous approach to privatization in Russia and their one-size-fits-all response to the East Asian financial crisis. Now an economics professor and director of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University, Stiglitz remains an outspoken critic of subsidies and other trade practices that hurt less developed countries.

Last year, Stiglitz received renewed attention for a paper [PDF], co-written with Harvard professor of public finance Linda Bilmes that projected that the total economic costs of the Iraq War would exceed a trillion dollars. [...]

MJ: You predicted that the total cost of the Iraq war would top a trillion dollars. Can you put a number like that into perspective?

JS: That was last year. I think it is clear from what has happened since then that a trillion dollars was a vast underestimate. We are talking at least between one and two trillion dollars now. To put that into perspective, President Bush went to the American people at the beginning of his second term, saying that we have a major crisis with our Social Security system. For somewhere between a half and quarter of the cost of the war in Iraq you could have fixed all the problems associated with Social Security for the next 75 years and still have had a lot left over. Put in another way: We are now spending something like $10 billion a month--$120 billion dollars a year--on Iraq. The amount the entire world gives in foreign aid, on an annual basis, is about half that.

To put it into perspective, for about 10% of one year's GDP we removed one of the most genocidal regimes in the world and liberated the Kurds and Shi'a. So here's the interesting question for the Left: if we can free people so cheaply how can it be justified morally not to do so?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


The Mysterious Mullah Omar: Tracing the elusive footsteps of the Taliban's Supreme Leader--and bracing for what may be their bloodiest drive yet (Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau, 3/05/07, Newsweek)

Mullah Omar has emerged from the shadows, his field officers say, and with his inspiration they're planning a military push against U.S.-led forces like never before. NEWSWEEK has viewed a new recruiting video in which the Taliban's most notoriously cruel commander, the one-legged Mullah Dadullah Akhund, addresses an audience of some 400 men who are described as trained suicide bombers, ready to die on his order. "Our suicide bombers are countless," he says in a videotaped response to questions from NEWSWEEK. "Hundreds have already registered their names, and hundreds more are on the waiting list." Those claims, while impossible to verify, can't be discounted, either. In an interview that aired on Al-Jazeera last week, Dadullah claimed to have more than 6,000 armed guerrillas in underground hideouts and other staging areas, awaiting the moment to strike. "The attack is imminent," he told the Arabic TV channel.

Western forces are certainly bracing for one. Thousands of reinforcements have deployed to Afghanistan, bringing the Coalition's total armed strength to nearly 50,000, including 15,500 Americans in NATO's ranks and 11,000 others under direct U.S. command. NATO's chief spokes-man in Kabul, Col. Tom Collins, says his force intends to head off the militants' assault with pre-emptive attacks against Taliban strongholds and sanctuaries in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces. The Coalition, with its enormous superiority in firepower, sees no way the Taliban can capture and hold any significant target. "They may hold a small place for days," Collins allows, "but they'll get run out at a high cost." An estimated 3,000 Taliban fighters died in last year's engagements alone.

...we'll kill more...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Brinksmanship at Airbus (Thomas Lifson, 2/26/07, Real Clear Politics)

With only 10 aircraft on order, the additional cost of producing a freighter version of the A380 may be greater than any possible financial benefit to Airbus for completing the engineering, tooling, and other costs involved in modifying the passenger version for freight use. Airbus desperately needs both engineering talent and money to work on the twin jet A350XWB next-generation composite technology airliner, to compete with Boeing in the largest market segment for jumbo jets. If it decides to concentrate its resources where the payoff is greater, that might be a rational business decision.

Moreover, if the UPS delivery slots are vacated, it frees them up to be used by passenger airline customers, whose own orders would be less delayed as a result. This could lessen the penalty payments Airbus must make to these airlines, adding to financial benefits of a cancellation.

The freighter version of the A380 faces a difficult market ahead anyway. Because of its double deck configuration, it is best suited to comparatively lightweight package service of the sort UPS and Fedex specialize in. It cannot carry high density heavy cargo as well as the various 747 freighter models (including the forthcoming 747-8F stretch version). Boeing has already sold more than 50 copies of the 747-8F before it even takes to the air.

However, if Airbus finally admits defeat and cancels the A380 freighter, this might set a precedent for cancelling the entire A380 project, something that has so far been regarded as absolutely unthinkable in political terms. However, a freighter cancellation might also throw a scare into Airbus workers and labor unions, targets of another sort of brinksmanship.

Brinksmanship with the Unions

Perhaps the most dramatic news to leak out of Airbus over the weekend following the Franco-German summit was notice that Airbus might ask its workers to put in a 40 hour week, instead of the 35 hours per week they have been working. For no extra pay. Via Reuters:

Airbus is considering extending its workweek to 40 hours from 35 hours without compensation as part of the European planemaker's restructuring plans, German magazine Focus reported.

The reported proposal is likely to ring alarm bells in France, where a 35-hour work week was introduced by a Socialist government in 2000 and remains a potentially divisive issue ahead of April-June presidential and legislative elections.

"Management apparently is talking to unions about longer hours: 40 instead of 35 per week are envisaged," Focus reported in its Monday edition.

EADS unit Airbus declined comment and union representatives could not be reached.

French and German labor laws probably would have to be changed to permit a 40 hour week, but indications are that this could well happen.

Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has promised to review the 35-hour work week with the aim of "reducing negative consequences for workers and employees."

Conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy says the 35-hour week should be retained but viewed as a minimum, not a maximum, with people free to work more or longer if they want.

Retreating on the 35 hour work week would itself be a humiliating retreat for France and Germany, which have taken pride in their more civilized approach than the savage Americans. No doubt, vicious American competition would be blamed, but one wonders if other sectors of the French and German labor force would welcome such an increase in work at no additional compensation, just because their political leaders backed a grandiose airliner. Once Airbus is allowed to inhumanely exploit its laborers in this way, what greedy capitalist could fail to demand the same from his own laborers?

http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,468624,00.html>Germany's Airbus Disadvantage (Dinah Deckstein, Konstantin von Hammerstein, Wolfgang Reuter and Janko Tietz, 2/26/07, Der Spiegel)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


Olympic Champion Gardner Survives Plane Crash (AP, February 26, 2007)

Olympic wrestling champion Rulon Gardner lost a toe to frostbite after being stranded in the wilderness, impaled himself with an arrow and was involved in a serious motorcycle accident.

In his latest escape from death, he survived a plane crash over the weekend into the aptly named Good Hope Bay on the Utah-Arizona border. [...]

Gardner and two Utah brothers were rescued by a fisherman Sunday after swimming more than an hour in 44-degree water and spending the night without shelter. [...]

"It takes only about 30 minutes for someone swimming in 44-degree water to start suffering the effects of hypothermia, so the fact that they swam in it for an hour, not to mention surviving the plane crash and the night without fire or shelter, is pretty amazing," said Steven Luckesen, a district ranger at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. "If these guys were a cat with nine lives, they just used up three of them." [...]

In 2002, he became stranded while snowmobiling in the Wyoming and lost a toe. Then in 2004, he was struck by an automobile while riding a motorcycle. Back in third grade, he punctured his abdomen with an arrow at a class show-and-tell.

The lesson, Gardner said, is "hopefully teach people to be smarter about the choices they make."

Dinosaurs made better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


Sun's Output Increasing in Possible Trend Fueling Global Warming (Robert Roy Britt, 20 March 2003, Space.com)

In what could be the simplest explanation for one component of global warming, a new study shows the Sun's radiation has increased by .05 percent per decade since the late 1970s. [...]

The Sun's increasing output has only been monitored with precision since satellite technology allowed necessary observations. Willson is not sure if the trend extends further back in time, but other studies suggest it does.

"This trend is important because, if sustained over many decades, it could cause significant climate change," Willson said.

Do you smell another Oscar?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


Ants 'Hate Each Other' But Work Together (Abigail W. Leonard, 2/22/07, LiveScience)

Different ant species can coexist because, as the saying goes, where one is weak another is strong.

In what researchers describe as "un-peaceful coexistence," multiple ant species stake out the same territory and compete for the same food, but no single species wins out since some are better at finding resources and others better at guarding them. [...]

The take-away message is not that utopian co-existence is possible, since after all, said Adler, "these species hate each other." It is more about understanding the natural limits of organisms: No single species wins every time, because it is impossible to be well adapted to do everything. From an evolutionary perspective, he explained, "there are limits to how well you can design something."

Humans, he added, are the only species that seem to be able to break these constraints--owing to our intelligence, not physical capabilities.

This one has everything: anthropomorphizing; acknowledgment that survival pressures are ineffectual; avowal of Man's unique immunity to evolution; and, as Friend Boys points out, that priceless bit of confusion between Darwinism and Design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


'Civilization' and Its Contents: A video game for the ages (Victorino Matus, 02/26/2007, Weekly Standard)

Delinquency aside, given the amount of time some people spend on the games, especially on their employers' computers, you have to wonder if that $10 billion in sales isn't more than wiped out by the loss in productivity.

Was Higinbotham right? Should we have pulled the plug? Maybe. But then we wouldn't have games like Civilization, the thinking man's Grand Theft Auto, the video game version of a classical education. Yes, there is the potential for violence, on a global scale no less. But really the game is more of a grandiose chessboard than a combat zone. Here's how it works.

Let's say you are "Caesar of the Romans," presiding over a tiny tribe at the dawn of time. You send out settlers to found cities across the continent and discover resources like horses and iron, and luxury goods such as wine and silk. The governors of your cities ask you what they should build--barracks, a temple, a marketplace? At the same time you must decide what your scientists should study--developing the wheel is always a good first step. As your nation begins to take shape, you will inevitably run into other civilizations, such as Egypt and Carthage, or maybe even the Germans and the French. All of these other powers (regardless of when they existed in real history) originate at the same time as yours, circa 4,000 B.C. And from ancient times up to the present and beyond, it is a race to see which of the various civilizations becomes culturally or militarily dominant.

And you don't always have to rule Rome either. You could be Genghis Khan of the Mongols. Or Isabella of Spain. Each civilization has its characteristic strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you control the Japanese, when your scientists discover the chivalric code, you are able to create ruthless Samurai warriors. The trick, as always, is timing. You may think the key to the game is to be the founder of American civilization, and get busy building F-15 fighter jets. But it will take millennia (a few hundred turns, in game time) for your scientists to get up to speed. First, they will need to study physics and engineering, not to mention combustion. Meanwhile, the Greeks almost immediately produce their hoplite--the most fearsome infantryman of the ancient world.

The most addictive aspect of the game is its turn-based system: When you are finished issuing orders for the management of your cities and deploying your troops, you hit the spacebar, allowing the computer to play out the moves of the other civilizations. A few seconds later, it is your turn again. It may take 20 turns to build a great wonder like the Hanging Gardens or 12 turns to learn fission. Every time you hit that spacebar, you get closer to your objective. The tagline for Civilization is "You won't stop playing until you want to stop playing."

Sound appealing? Since the first version of Civilization came out in 1991, about 8 million units have been sold. The current edition, Civilization IV, has sold more
than 3 million copies worldwide in the last two years. [...]

Civilization followed on the heels of Meier's Railroad Tycoon, which was released in 1990, and the smashing success of Will Wright's SimCity. Both are considered the earliest of the so-called "God games," in which all-powerful players focus primarily on building rather than destroying.

Given the popularity of such God games, especially among the geek set, we might consider the possibility that they have contributed to the paradigm shifting out from under the feet of the Darwinists over the past few decades. Kind of tough to convince creators/designers that there is no Creator/Designer.

The Dawkins Confusion: Naturalism ad absurdum (Alvin Plantinga, March/April 2007, Books & Culture)

Now despite the fact that this book is mainly philosophy, Dawkins is not a philosopher (he's a biologist). Even taking this into account, however, much of the philosophy he purveys is at best jejune. You might say that some of his forays into philosophy are at best sophomoric, but that would be unfair to sophomores; the fact is (grade inflation aside), many of his arguments would receive a failing grade in a sophomore philosophy class. This, combined with the arrogant, smarter-than-thou tone of the book, can be annoying. I shall put irritation aside, however and do my best to take Dawkins' main argument seriously.

Chapter 3, "Why There Almost Certainly is No God," is the heart of the book. Well, why does Dawkins think there almost certainly isn't any such person as God? It's because, he says, the existence of God is monumentally improbable. How improbable? The astronomer Fred Hoyle famously claimed that the probability of life arising on earth (by purely natural means, without special divine aid) is less than the probability that a flight-worthy Boeing 747 should be assembled by a hurricane roaring through a junkyard. Dawkins appears to think the probability of the existence of God is in that same neighborhood--so small as to be negligible for all practical (and most impractical) purposes. Why does he think so?

Here Dawkins doesn't appeal to the usual anti-theistic arguments--the argument from evil, for example, or the claim that it's impossible that there be a being with the attributes believers ascribe to God.2 So why does he think theism is enormously improbable? The answer: if there were such a person as God, he would have to be enormously complex, and the more complex something is, the less probable it is: "However statistically improbable the entity you seek to explain by invoking a designer, the designer himself has got to be at least as improbable. God is the Ultimate Boeing 747." The basic idea is that anything that knows and can do what God knows and can do would have to be incredibly complex. In particular, anything that can create or design something must be at least as complex as the thing it can design or create. Putting it another way, Dawkins says a designer must contain at least as much information as what it creates or designs, and information is inversely related to probability. Therefore, he thinks, God would have to be monumentally complex, hence astronomically improbable; thus it is almost certain that God does not exist.

But why does Dawkins think God is complex? And why does he think that the more complex something is, the less probable it is? Before looking more closely into his reasoning, I'd like to digress for a moment; this claim of improbability can help us understand something otherwise very perplexing about Dawkins' argument in his earlier and influential book, The Blind Watchmaker. There he argues that the scientific theory of evolution shows that our world has not been designed--by God or anyone else. This thought is trumpeted by the subtitle of the book: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design.

How so? Suppose the evidence of evolution suggests that all living creatures have evolved from some elementary form of life: how does that show that the universe is without design? Well, if the universe has not been designed, then the process of evolution is unguided, unorchestrated, by any intelligent being; it is, as Dawkins suggests, blind. So his claim is that the evidence of evolution reveals that evolution is unplanned, unguided, unorchestrated by any intelligent being.

But how could the evidence of evolution reveal a thing like that? After all, couldn't it be that God has directed and overseen the process of evolution? What makes Dawkins think evolution is unguided? What he does in The Blind Watchmaker, fundamentally, is three things. First, he recounts in vivid and arresting detail some of the fascinating anatomical details of certain living creatures and their incredibly complex and ingenious ways of making a living; this is the sort of thing Dawkins does best. Second, he tries to refute arguments for the conclusion that blind, unguided evolution could not have produced certain of these wonders of the living world--the mammalian eye, for example, or the wing. Third, he makes suggestions as to how these and other organic systems could have developed by unguided evolution.

Suppose he's successful with these three things: how would that show that the universe is without design? How does the main argument go from there? His detailed arguments are all for the conclusion that it is biologically possible that these various organs and systems should have come to be by unguided Darwinian mechanisms (and some of what he says here is of considerable interest). What is truly remarkable, however, is the form of what seems to be the main argument. The premise he argues for is something like this:

1. We know of no irrefutable objections to its being biologically possible that all of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes;

and Dawkins supports that premise by trying to refute objections to its being biologically possible that life has come to be that way. His conclusion, however, is

2. All of life has come to be by way of unguided Darwinian processes.

It's worth meditating, if only for a moment, on the striking distance, here, between premise and conclusion. The premise tells us, substantially, that there are no irrefutable objections to its being possible that unguided evolution has produced all of the wonders of the living world; the conclusion is that it is true that unguided evolution has indeed produced all of those wonders. The argument form seems to be something like

We know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that p;
p is true.

Philosophers sometimes propound invalid arguments (I've propounded a few myself); few of those arguments display the truly colossal distance between premise and conclusion sported by this one. I come into the departmental office and announce to the chairman that the dean has just authorized a $50,000 raise for me; naturally he wants to know why I think so. I tell him that we know of no irrefutable objections to its being possible that the dean has done that. My guess is he'd gently suggest that it is high time for me to retire.

Here is where that alleged massive improbability of theism is relevant. If theism is false, then (apart from certain weird suggestions we can safely ignore) evolution is unguided. But it is extremely likely, Dawkins thinks, that theism is false. Hence it is extremely likely that evolution is unguided--in which case to establish it as true, he seems to think, all that is needed is to refute those claims that it is impossible. So perhaps we can think about his Blind Watchmaker argument as follows: he is really employing as an additional if unexpressed premise his idea that the existence of God is enormously unlikely. If so, then the argument doesn't seem quite so magnificently invalid. (It is still invalid, however, even if not quite so magnificently--you can't establish something as a fact by showing that objections to its possibility fail, and adding that it is very probable.)

Now suppose we return to Dawkins' argument for the claim that theism is monumentally improbable. As you recall, the reason Dawkins gives is that God would have to be enormously complex, and hence enormously improbable ("God, or any intelligent, decision-making calculating agent, is complex, which is another way of saying improbable"). What can be said for this argument?

Not much. First, is God complex? According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense, so that in him there is no distinction of thing and property, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence, and the like. Some of the discussions of divine simplicity get pretty complicated, not to say arcane.3 (It isn't only Catholic theology that declares God simple; according to the Belgic Confession, a splendid expression of Reformed Christianity, God is "a single and simple spiritual being.") So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex.4 More remarkable, perhaps, is that according to Dawkins' own definition of complexity, God is not complex. According to his definition (set out in The Blind Watchmaker), something is complex if it has parts that are "arranged in a way that is unlikely to have arisen by chance alone." But of course God is a spirit, not a material object at all, and hence has no parts.5 A fortiori (as philosophers like to say) God doesn't have parts arranged in ways unlikely to have arisen by chance. Therefore, given the definition of complexity Dawkins himself proposes, God is not complex.

So first, it is far from obvious that God is complex. But second, suppose we concede, at least for purposes of argument, that God is complex. Perhaps we think the more a being knows, the more complex it is; God, being omniscient, would then be highly complex. Perhaps so; still, why does Dawkins think it follows that God would be improbable? Given materialism and the idea that the ultimate objects in our universe are the elementary particles of physics, perhaps a being that knew a great deal would be improbable--how could those particles get arranged in such a way as to constitute a being with all that knowledge? Of course we aren't given materialism. Dawkins is arguing that theism is improbable; it would be dialectically deficient in excelsis to argue this by appealing to materialism as a premise. Of course it is unlikely that there is such a person as God if materialism is true; in fact materialism logically entails that there is no such person as God; but it would be obviously question-begging to argue that theism is improbable because materialism is true.

So why think God must be improbable? According to classical theism, God is a necessary being; it is not so much as possible that there should be no such person as God; he exists in all possible worlds. But if God is a necessary being, if he exists in all possible worlds, then the probability that he exists, of course, is 1, and the probability that he does not exist is 0. Far from its being improbable that he exists, his existence is maximally probable. So if Dawkins proposes that God's existence is improbable, he owes us an argument for the conclusion that there is no necessary being with the attributes of God--an argument that doesn't just start from the premise that materialism is true. Neither he nor anyone else has provided even a decent argument along these lines; Dawkins doesn't even seem to be aware that he needs an argument of that sort.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Why the Economy Is Weathering Oil's Swings: A return to peak price levels would hamper U.S. GDP, but overall the economy needs less oil to be productive (David Wyss and Beth Ann Bovino, 2/26/07, Business Week)

Although there has long been talk of energy shortages looming, such worries are misplaced. There's plenty of energy on and in the planet Earth. What's in short supply is cheap crude oil.

The Energy Information Agency (EIA) of the U.S. Energy Dept. estimates that there are 6 trillion barrels of conventional petroleum in the world. Of that, however, 5 trillion are concentrated in areas that are either difficult to tap (offshore or in the Arctic), politically unstable (the Middle East, Nigeria), or environmentally sensitive.

Among other forms of fossil fuels, nonconventional oil sources--such as tar sands and shale oil--could contain another 3 trillion barrels, and reserves in North America could exceed Saudi Arabia's crude reserves. Natural gas deposits probably exceed oil deposits; proven reserves are at about a 65-year supply at current production levels, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Estimated coal reserves are at a 155-year supply at current production levels. Although such quantities seem abundant, estimates are highly uncertain. In addition, these other fossil fuels are more expensive to use than conventional petroleum, which provides energy in a form that is relatively easy to extract, transport, and burn. [...]

[O]il has dropped to 36% of the world energy supply in 2003 from 44% in 1971, with most of the drop offset by increased use of natural gas and nuclear power. This indicates that even if oil supplies become scarce, energy will still be available.

Peak oil is like SS bankruptcy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


House's travel rules limited (Tim Dillon, 2/26/07, USA TODAY)

Lawmakers have continued to take trips paid for by outside groups since the House voted last month to restrict who can pay for such travel.

House travel records show that 19 members since Jan. 5 have accepted airfare, meals and lodging from special interests, including groups that employ lobbyists. The records were compiled by the non-partisan PoliticalMoneyLine.

The trips demonstrate that lawmakers "are trying to see what they are going to get away with," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal-leaning watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


And the Loser Is...: The movie-going audience, who is ignored by the Academy, and the telecast audience, who is subjected to an overlong, overwrought Oscars show (Ronald Grover, 2/26/07, Business Week)

Anyone who watched last night's Oscar telecast no doubt came away with one of several conclusions. First, Al Gore, whose environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth won an Academy Award, is the most popular guy in Hollywood these days. Or maybe that ABC found a new, more boring way than usual to spread out what could be a two-hour ceremony into something almost interminable. But I came away with some new-found respect for Will Ferrell, or the guy who wrote the words to the song he performed with Jack Black. "You're the saddest guy of all," the comedian warbled about big-budget action stars. "Your movies make money but they'll never call your name."

O.K. so The Departed took home the Oscar for the best film of 2006. But was it? Maybe, but that's only because the level of competition was so very low. But, as usual, when the green-eyeshade guys at PricewaterhouseCoopers tabulate up the winners often has more to do with which film, actor, or director has the backing of those working in the industry. Should we trust a bunch of folks with vested interests, far-too-insider views and maybe a little too much riding on the results? Can these people really judge what film would be Best Picture for the Folks Who Watch Them?

When we were kids everyone used to watch them--they used to celebrate the movies. Know anyone who still does now that they celebrate Hollywood's politics?

The Broadcast: Long and Longer (Tom Shales, February 26, 2007, Washington Post)

Alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) a bore and a horror, the 79th annual Academy Awards, televised live from Los Angeles on ABC, had a few bright spots to keep weary viewers propping their eyes open as midnight approached -- even if they had never heard of, much less seen, many of the nominated films.

Host DeGeneres schmoozes as audience snoozes (Matthew Gilbert, February 26, 2007, Boston Globe)
Ellen DeGeneres was a tepid host at last night's Academy Awards. With her wry, rambling, hemming-and-hawing style, she wanted to put everyone at ease; but instead, she put us to sleep. She took a rice-cake approach to her monologue -- it was airy, bland, and a little crunchy, as she focused on the diversity of the audience. "If there weren't blacks, Jews, and gays," she said to applause, "there would be no Oscars."

Alas, DeGeneres had less comic impact than one or two glimpses of Jack Nicholson, who'd shaved his head in solidarity with Britney Spears. He looked like the genie from a very high-proof bottle. When DeGeneres went into the audience and offered a script to Martin Scorsese, she wanted us to laugh, but we cringed as Mark Wahlberg sat right behind them. Moments earlier, Wahlberg had lost his supporting-actor contest.

And so the night proceeded with the same meandering tone as DeGeneres, inching toward nothing in particular.

Welcome to the club: Scorsese will remember his big night. But will filmgoers remember 'The Departed'? (Patrick Goldstein, February 26, 2007, LA Times)
HAVING won the Oscar for best picture, "The Departed" will always, from here to eternity, have an aura of distinction, like a suave white-haired gent gliding into the Governors Ball in his tuxedo.

But once the hoopla dies -- and in Hollywood, hoopla dies pretty quickly -- a thornier question will surface: What will we think of "The Departed" 30 years from now? Will it be considered a classic like "Lawrence of Arabia" or a musty heirloom like "My Fair Lady"?

Royal Flush: Whitaker, Mirren, crowned with Oscar gold (James Verniere, 2/26/07, Boston Herald)
Last night's Best Picture winner came with a "made-in-Boston" label and a Dropkick Murphys theme song.

Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg also presented six-time Academy Award nominee Martin Scorsese with his first Oscar for Best Director. A deeply moved Forest Whitaker accepted the Best Actor statuette for "The Last King of Scotland." Whitaker's fellow nominee, Peter O'Toole ("Venus"), was shut out of his eighth contest, making him the most-nominated actor not to win. Odds-on favorite Helen Mirren took home the Best Actress award for "The Queen."

"The Departed" picked up four prizes, including Film Editing by Scorsese regular Thelma Schoonmaker and Best Adapted Screenplay by the Boston-born writer William Monahan.

An air of uncertainty hung over last night's 79th Annual Academy Awards, the sense that anything could happen. And it did, when Alan Arkin was named Best Supporting Actor for his foul-mouthed, drug-addicted grandfather in "Little Miss Sunshine."

Presumably Sheldon Kornpett didn't swear enough?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Immigrants who wire money get help from the Fed: Directo a Mexico lets customers without Social Security numbers wire money at little cost (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, February 26, 2007, LA Times)

Dubbed Directo a Mexico, the Federal Reserve-sponsored service allows customers without Social Security numbers to wire money through the Fed system to Mexico's central bank at little cost. In September, the Fed expanded the remittance program by allowing immigrants, legal or not, to open accounts at participating banks and credit unions in the U.S. or Mexico. About 27,000 transfers are made through the program each month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Retarded mice get smarter with drug: Down syndrome researchers see promise in PTZ, or pentylenetetrazole (Denise Gellene, February 26, 2007, LA Times)

Lab mice with the mental retardation of Down syndrome got smarter after being fed a drug that strengthened brain circuits involved in learning and memory, researchers reported Sunday.

After receiving once-daily doses of pentylenetetrazole, or PTZ, for 17 days, the mice could recognize objects and navigate mazes as well as normal mice did, researchers said. The improvements lasted up to two months after the drug was discontinued, according to the report in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Scientists said the study opened a promising avenue for research in a field that had seen little success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Cheney Warns Pakistan to Act on Terror (DAVID E. SANGER and MARK MAZZETTI, 2/26/07, NY Times)

Vice President Dick Cheney made an unannounced trip to Pakistan on Monday to deliver what officials in Washington described as an unusually tough message to Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces become far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda.

Mr. Cheney's trip was shrouded in secrecy, and he was on the ground for only a few hours, sharing a private lunch with the Pakistani leader at his palace. Notably, Mr. Cheney traveled with the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Steve Kappes, an indication that the conversation with the Pakistani president likely included discussion of American intelligence agency contentions that Al Qaeda camps have been reconstituted along the border of Afghanistan.

The decision to send Mr. Cheney secretly to Pakistan came after the White House concluded that General Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Mr. Bush during a visit here in September.

It's obviously preferable if the hostilities in Western Pakistan are red on red, but if the Pakistanis are balking we can do them ourselves now that Mr. Musharraf has gotten them to cluster in a free-fire zone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


The Choice on Iraq (JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, February 26, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Two months into the 110th Congress, Washington has never been more bitterly divided over our mission in Iraq. The Senate and House of Representatives are bracing for parliamentary trench warfare--trapped in an escalating dynamic of division and confrontation that will neither resolve the tough challenges we face in Iraq nor strengthen our nation against its terrorist enemies around the world.

What is remarkable about this state of affairs in Washington is just how removed it is from what is actually happening in Iraq. There, the battle of Baghdad is now under way. A new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, has taken command, having been confirmed by the Senate, 81-0, just a few weeks ago. And a new strategy is being put into action, with thousands of additional American soldiers streaming into the Iraqi capital.

Congress thus faces a choice in the weeks and months ahead. Will we allow our actions to be driven by the changing conditions on the ground in Iraq--or by the unchanging political and ideological positions long ago staked out in Washington? What ultimately matters more to us: the real fight over there, or the political fight over here?

Come home, Joe.

Rice says Congress shouldn't micromanage war: Bush won't let himself be constrained, the secretary of State says. (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, February 26, 2007, LA Times)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke out Sunday against efforts in Congress to limit the role of U.S. forces in Iraq, saying President Bush would not allow himself to be constrained by such a "micromanagement of military affairs."

Asked whether Bush would abide by a binding resolution, now being drafted by Democratic leaders, that would include the start of troop withdrawal from Iraq, Rice told "Fox News Sunday" such a measure would hinder his efforts to support the "flexibility of our commanders to do what they think they need to do on the ground."

"I can't imagine a circumstance in which it's a good thing that their flexibility is constrained by people sitting here in Washington, sitting in the Congress, trying to micromanage this war," Rice said.

Few in GOP want to bail out Dems on Iraq (ROBERT NOVAK, 2/26/07, Chicago Sun-Times)
As Congress returns this week from the year's first recess, authorization repeal is supposed to be attached to the bill containing homeland security recommendations by the 9/11 commission. But Sen. Norm Coleman, who has become prominent among Republican critics of Bush's war policy, told me from his home state of Minnesota that he would oppose the de-authorization and predicted no more than two Republican senators would vote for it.

One of those two Republican senators would have to be Chuck Hagel, who has fearlessly critiqued Bush war policy. But he told me from Nebraska that he would not be inclined to support repeal. If Hagel is lost, Democrats might fall short of the 50 senators necessary for passage, much less the 60 senators necessary to close off debate. [...]

After checking with anti-war Republicans on recess last week, I found that several who had favored a non-binding resolution rejecting Bush's policy are loath to give Democrats an Iraq-get-out-of-jail-free-card. An exception was Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon, who indicated he might favor de-authorization but never would cut off funds. However, Coleman told me: "I don't see us going back and rewriting history." Similarly, Hagel said: "We are not going back and rewind every decision we made."

Without Joe Lieberman mightn't they even lose the vote?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Look to the states, America (Neal Peirce, 2/26/07, Seattle Times)

If you're wondering where American governance is headed, don't look to Washington -- look to the states.

We're into one of those classic times, repeated through our history, when the federal government retrenches, trying to cut taxes, leaving decisions to the private sector.

The Democrats controlling Congress may prefer a more activist course, but the Bush administration's program of deep tax cuts and its preference for military over domestic spending will leave its mark for years to come. Even a Democratic president, should one be elected, would be restrained by the deep debt run up by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and by Bush-era deficit spending.

But check the states.

If the Rightwing think tanks sat down to draw up a plan for what a presidency should achieve, two of the main goals would be returning power to the states and the private sphere. W has accomplished them and they think he's a Leftist. We aren't called the Stupid Party for nothin'.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


A Japanese lesson for China: Officials in the U.S. and China can learn from Japan's boom and bust in the 1980s and '90s (Lawrence H. Summers, February 26, 2007, LA Times)

A RISING Asian power is an export juggernaut and enjoys prodigious growth fueled by high savings and investment rates. Its rapidly modernizing industries threaten an ever greater swath of industry in Europe and the United States. Its formidable central bank reserves and burgeoning account surplus lead to claims that its exchange rate is being unfairly manipulated. Its financial system is bank-centric, heavily regulated in favor of domestic institutions and closely tied to government and industry. Rapid productivity growth holds down prices, but its asset values rise sharply.

Key congressional leaders in Washington demand radical action to contain the economic threat. Diplomats warn that public bashing is unproductive but make clear that economic issues are a crucial part of the bilateral relationship. Delegations of senior U.S. officials engage in "dialogue" with their counterparts about the many aspects of their economic policies that promote imbalances, warning of the congressional demons who stand ready to act if "results" are not achieved quickly.

All of this describes what is happening in China, and with our relationship with Beijing, today. It also describes the Japanese economy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before its lost decade of deflation and considerable deterioration in global prestige. Although there are obvious differences, notably China's much lower level of development, the similarities are striking enough to invite an effort to draw some lessons from the Japanese experience.

China has greater natural resources and a bigger military, but shares the rest of the structural problems that doomed Japan. Folks who fear China -- as Communism, Fascism, & Islamicism -- generally fail to comprehend just how massive an advantage our culture gives us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


How to Keep America Competitive (Bill Gates, February 25, 2007, Washington Post)

American competitiveness also requires immigration reforms that reflect the importance of highly skilled foreign-born employees. Demand for specialized technical skills has long exceeded the supply of native-born workers with advanced degrees, and scientists and engineers from other countries fill this gap.

This issue has reached a crisis point. Computer science employment is growing by nearly 100,000 jobs annually. But at the same time studies show that there is a dramatic decline in the number of students graduating with computer science degrees.

The United States provides 65,000 temporary H-1B visas each year to make up this shortfall -- not nearly enough to fill open technical positions.

Permanent residency regulations compound this problem. Temporary employees wait five years or longer for a green card. During that time they can't change jobs, which limits their opportunities to contribute to their employer's success and overall economic growth.

Last year, reform on this issue stalled as Congress struggled to address border security and undocumented immigration. As lawmakers grapple with those important issues once again, I urge them to support changes to the H-1B visa program that allow American businesses to hire foreign-born scientists and engineers when they can't find the homegrown talent they need. This program has strong wage protections for U.S. workers: Like other companies, Microsoft pays H-1B and U.S. employees the same high levels -- levels that exceed the government's prevailing wage.

Reforming the green card program to make it easier to retain highly skilled professionals is also necessary. These employees are vital to U.S. competitiveness, and we should welcome their contribution to U.S. economic growth.

We should also encourage foreign students to stay here after they graduate. Half of this country's doctoral candidates in computer science come from abroad. It's not in our national interest to educate them here but send them home when they've completed their studies.

During the past 30 years, U.S. innovation has been the catalyst for the digital information revolution. If the United States is to remain a global economic leader, we must foster an environment that enables a new generation to dream up innovations, regardless of where they were born. Talent in this country is not the problem -- the issue is political will.

If other companies aren't generating new ideas what's he supposed to steal?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Nuclear diplomacy and Iran: Seeking the next step (Economist.com, 2/24/07)

For a start, economic pressure may begin to tell, despite the boon in revenues from high oil prices. The non-oil sectors continue to perform poorly. An Iranian parliamentary committee reported late last year that sanctions on Iran's oil exports, if ever imposed, would force the country to "modify its national priorities, and to devote the bulk of its resources to preventing major social upheaval". No one proposes oil sanctions, not least because these would hurt the world economy too. But the parliamentary report shows that Iran is aware of its own vulnerabilities. And non-oil sanctions, notably unilateral financial pressure from America and other Western countries, may already be having an impact, deterring investors and putting up the cost of funding an assortment of activities, including in the energy sector.

In turn there are some signs of political divisions within Iran. Some newspapers have recently dared to start criticising the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his controversial comments over the Holocaust, Israel's right to exist and other topics which have helped make Iran look more of a pariah. Urban-dwellers, especially, are uncomfortable about international isolation. Ms Rice would love to exploit internal splits. She has said she hoped to convince "those who are reasonable in Iran" to suspend enrichment and return to talks. The trouble is, it may be difficult to tell which reasonable-sounding Iranians really speak for the regime.

If outside powers preserve a relatively united front--for example at a meeting of senior diplomats in London on February 26th--perhaps the pressure will really begin to tell. Despite splits over Iraq, the big European powers have stood together with America over this confrontation. Russia's and China's recalcitrance over sanctions may not bode well, but even that may not be permanent. If Iran both remains stubborn externally and looks wobbly internally, the two might decide that a gentle racheting up of pressure might help achieve the goal they say they want--defanging of Iran's nuclear programme without sparking a third regional war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


GOP is abandoning Bush? Not quite (Richard Benedetto, 2/26/07, USA Today)

The Washington punditocracy has proclaimed far and wide that Republicans, disenchanted with the war in Iraq, are abandoning President Bush in droves, leaving him the lamest of lame ducks. However, the latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll suggests Bush might not be as wounded as he appears -- at least not among his party faithful.

The Feb. 9-11 poll puts Bush's job approval at 37%, but among people who identify themselves as Republican or leaning Republican, his approval rating is 76%.

Thus, despite bad news from Baghdad and carefully crafted hand-wringing by high-profile GOP war critics in Congress such as Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, three of four Republicans in the country are hanging in there with the president.

The poll also shows that rank-and-file Republicans have higher regard for the president than they do Republicans in Congress. They gave GOP lawmakers a 63% job-approval rating, 13 points below Bush's. And 72% of Republicans do not think Bush made a mistake sending U.S. troops to Iraq.

So if congressional Republicans figure the key to re-election in 2008 is taking a hard line against Bush on Iraq, they could be dead wrong. They might lure some independents, but they risk alienating their GOP base. To win, you need solid support from your base plus independents, not independents alone.

Conventional wisdom also says the presidential ambitions of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., could be derailed by his strong support for the war. This poll, however, shows that his stance could be a plus among the base.

Running against W could hardly have served them worse in the midterm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Teens Can Multitask, But What Are Costs?: Ability to Analyze May Be Affected, Experts Worry (Lori Aratani, 2/26/07, Washington Post)

The students who do it say multitasking makes them feel more productive and less stressed. Researchers aren't sure what the long-term impact will be because no studies have probed its effect on teenage development. But some fear that the penchant for flitting from task to task could have serious consequences on young people's ability to focus and develop analytical skills.

There is special concern for teenagers because parts of their brain are still developing, said Jordan Grafman, chief of cognitive neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

"Introducing multitasking in younger kids in my opinion can be detrimental," he said. "One of the biggest problems about multitasking is that it's almost impossible to gain a depth of knowledge of any of the tasks you do while you're multitasking. And if it becomes normal to do, you'll likely be satisfied with very surface-level investigation and knowledge."

Yet men are supposed to be bothered that women multitask better than we do?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The $103,000,000 mechanics of Daisuke Matsuzaka (Carlos Gomez, February 26, 2007, Hardball Times)

I will let the smarter folks here at THT get into statistical projections of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Instead, I would like to focus on Matsuzaka's mechanics from a scout's point of view.

Specifically, I'd like to address the mechanical issues that will play a role in how Matsuzaka's career turns out:

1) How efficient is he with his mechanics?
2) Will he keep his velocity/stuff throughout his career?
3) What about potential injury risks?

Without saying anything further, here is a clip of Daisuke Matsuzaka at the World Baseball Classic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Capitalism on the kibbutz: Many Israeli collectives shunning system of financial equality (Matthew Kalman, February 26, 2007, Boston Globe)

[L]ast week, [Yoya] Shapiro joined 320 fellow kibbutzniks in a vote that finally ended the financial equality among members that was a cornerstone of the ideology hewn during those early years of agricultural labor.

With that decision, Deganya joined a growing number of the nation's 270 kibbutzim in adopting many of the trappings of free-market capitalism, including differential wages and the ability to own private property. The vote ended nearly a century in which members worked according to their ability and received food, goods, clothes, and services according to their needs. Under the new system, kibbutz members keep their salaries, but pay taxes into a fund for common services such as health, education, and cultural events, as well as a support fund for poorer members.

As of December 2006, 61 percent of kibbutzim were paying differential salaries to their members and more than 20 percent had decided to transfer ownership of kibbutz houses from the collective to the members who live in them.

After two hundred years of testing, it seems safe to say that the French model is a complete failure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Catholics in England Boosted by Migrants: Influx of Devout From New E.U. Countries Swells Attendance, Transforms Church (Mary Jordan, 2/26/07, Washington Post)

In the past few years, roughly the same number of Catholics and Anglicans have been attending Sunday services in any given week -- about a million each, according to spokesmen for both churches. But now, "ethnic congregations are exploding," said Francis Davis, author of a new report by the Von Hugel Institute at Cambridge University on the phenomenal influx of Catholic immigrants.

Davis said that as many as 500,000 Catholic immigrants, many of them very devout, are causing Catholic church attendance "to take off." One London church was down to 20 members when it introduced Masses in Portuguese, and suddenly about 1,400 people were attending Sunday Mass, Davis said.

Arun Kataria, a spokesman for the Church of England, said that weekly participation at services is only one way to measure the strength of a church. He said that 26 million people in England are baptized Anglicans, compared with 4.2 million baptized Catholics, and that the number of Anglican worshipers is holding steady. Of the many immigrants coming to Britain, he said, most tend to live in cities and have not affected the religious makeup of the countryside.

Kataria said that although "clearly a great many immigrants are coming in," not all of them are flocking to Catholic churches.

But many are.

"The face of London is changing, and with it, the church," said Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, when he addressed the topic recently. He said immigrants were filling 90 percent of low-paid jobs, working as cleaners, builders and caterers, and he estimated that they make up almost a third of the city's workforce. "A very high proportion -- notably from Central and Eastern Europe -- are practicing Catholics," he said.

Murphy-O'Connor said it was a challenge for the church to fulfill the needs of immigrants, some of whom end up homeless and exploited. Last May, he said from the pulpit that he backed a government amnesty for long-term illegal residents, prompting an estimated 2,000 immigrants in the cathedral to burst into applause.

Migration is also swelling the ranks of Catholics in Northern Ireland, where the Catholic minority has long been feuding with the Protestant majority. Three decades of armed conflict, largely pitting Catholics against Protestants, cost more than 3,600 lives before a cease-fire was negotiated. Projections now show that immigration, along with higher birthrates among Catholics, may soon leave the population of Northern Ireland evenly divided between the two faiths.

The religious makeup of the province's police force has been a major hurdle in cementing peace. Northern Irish Catholics for decades have mistrusted and boycotted the police, a Protestant-majority force that Catholics viewed as biased against them. Officials have been trying to recruit more Catholics, and last month they got an unexpected boost when 1,000 Poles signed up -- nearly all of them Catholic immigrants.

The influx of new immigrants is generally traced to 2004, when the European Union expanded from 15 countries to 25. That meant workers from the new member countries -- eight of them in Eastern Europe -- were legally allowed to work in the United Kingdom. Poland, which is more than 90 percent Catholic, has by far the largest population of the new E.U. countries.

Official British government statistics show that about 490,000 migrants, 300,000 of them Poles, have arrived since 2004. Polish authorities estimate that the number of Polish workers here is far higher, about double the official figure, at 600,000. Thousands of Polish migrants continue to arrive at London bus stations and airports every week.

"It is very, very good, but sometimes it can be difficult" to have so many parishioners, said Tadeusz Wyszomirski, a parish priest at Our Lady Mother of the Church in west London.

Even though he recently added a seventh Sunday Mass -- all of them are in Polish -- the large church with grand stained-glass windows still overflows at most services. Some people kneel in the aisles, others stand outside even in London's cold winter rain. Crowds also flock to the church's three daily Masses in Polish on weekdays.

"I hope it continues to grow," he said. But the five priests are very busy, he added, trying to keep up with all the weddings, baptisms and home visits to the sick.

...he'd be forced to conclude that the environment has determined that Catholics asre fit and seculars unfit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Mental health problems worse in cities (The Local, 26th February 2007)

Swedish city-dwellers have more psychological problems than people living in other parts of the country.

The results of a survey carried out by the Swedish National Institute of Public Health also show men and women in northern Sweden reporting an improvement in their mental wellbeing.

Stress, uneasiness, worry and anxiety are all more common in towns than in the countryside. And the symptoms are more widespread among women than men.

Cities are effective as office parks and entertainment centers, but humans oughtn't live in them.

February 25, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 PM


Bob Woodruff Returns to ABC News to Report His Story (6ABC.com)

In his first on-air reporting since being severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq last January, ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff will tell the incredible story of his severe wounding and amazing but painstaking recovery over the past year. Through interviews with the ABC News team and soldiers with him on that fateful patrol, as well as the military and civilian medical teams who saved his life, we learn about Woodruff's journey from the battlefield in Iraq to Germany and finally home to the United States. "To Iraq and back: Bob Woodruff Reports" will air TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

In this special primetime documentary, Woodruff's wife, Lee, will talk for the first time about the gravity of her husband's medical condition and the impact on their family.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


Voters Remain In Neutral As Presidential Campaign Moves Into High Gear (Pew Research, February 23, 2007)

The 2008 presidential campaign has kicked off earlier than usual with more candidates than usual, but many people appear not to have noticed. Americans are no more likely to say they have given the presidential campaign much thought than they did in December, and just small minorities can name a candidate they might support.

The public's lack of engagement in the campaign is reflected in how people are reacting to the large slates of potential candidates in both parties. Of the announced and highly probable candidates, only a few in each party are widely familiar. The results of in-depth questions suggest that the images of even the well-known candidates are fairly thin. [...]

Specific impressions of the leading candidates generally reflect either the national roles they have played or the visible aspects of their backgrounds: Hillary Clinton as the wife of former President Bill Clinton; John McCain as a Vietnam POW; Rudy Giuliani as a mayor and 9/11 figure; and John Edwards as a lawyer and former vice presidential candidate.

Barack Obama is an exception to this pattern. When people are asked what comes to mind when they think of Obama, a lack of history predominates; words like "inexperienced," "young," and "new" are frequently mentioned.

The Clinton and McCain campaigns will be the ones to describe the Mayor and Senator Obama to us and neither is likely to come out of it well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 PM


US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran (William Lowther and Colin Freeman, 25/02/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions. [...]

Such incidents have been carried out by the Kurds in the west, the Azeris in the north-west, the Ahwazi Arabs in the south-west, and the Baluchis in the south-east. Non-Persians make up nearly 40 per cent of Iran's 69 million population, with around 16 million Azeris, seven million Kurds, five million Ahwazis and one million Baluchis. Most Baluchis live over the border in Pakistan.

Funding for their separatist causes comes directly from the CIA's classified budget but is now "no great secret", according to one former high-ranking CIA official in Washington who spoke anonymously to The Sunday Telegraph.

His claims were backed by Fred Burton, a former US state department counter-terrorism agent, who said: "The latest attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and train Iran's ethnic minorities to destabilise the Iranian regime."

Foreign Devils In The Iranian Mountains (M K Bhadrakumar, 26 February, 2007, Asia Times Online)
In a rare public criticism of Pakistan, the Tehran Times commented last week that an exclusive Islamabad-Washington nexus is at work manipulating the Afghan situation. The daily, which reflects official Iranian thinking, spelled out something that others perhaps knew already but were afraid to talk about publicly. [...]

The Iranian outburst was, conceivably, prompted by the spurt of trans-border terrorism inside Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province, which borders Pakistan. Ten days ago, a militant group called Jundallah killed 11 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards in an attack in the city center of Zahedan. Iranian state media reported that the attack was part of US plans to provoke ethnic and religious violence in Iran. Balochs are Sunnis numbering about 1.5 million out of Iran's 70 million predominantly Shi'ite population.

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi alleged that in the recent past, US intelligence operatives in Afghanistan had been meeting and coordinating with Iranian militants, apart from encouraging the smuggling of drugs into Iran from Afghanistan. He said the US operatives were working to create Shi'ite-Sunni strife within Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


The long march across China (and a very British hero): Compassion in conflict George Hogg took 60 orphans on a perilous winter trek across war-torn China to save them from the advancing Japanese. His remarkable story has been turned into a film, which threatens to reopen old wounds. (Clifford Coonan, 26 February 2007, Independent)

The story of how a young Englishman, George Hogg, took 60 orphans on a journey of hundreds of miles to safety across war-ravaged China in the winter of 1944 is one of the more remarkable tales of the Second World War.

In the town of Shandan, in Gansu province on the Mongolian border, Hogg and his friend and mentor, the New Zealand philanthropist Rewi Alley, are remembered with a statue and affection, but Hogg is little known outside China. This is all set to change with a new film called The Children of Huang Shi currently being made by the Canadian-born director Roger Spottiswoode.

With Japanese forces snapping at their heels as they made their western advance across China in 1944, and with the help of Mao Zedong's Communist guerrillas, Hogg escorted the boys across 688 miles of treacherous mountainous terrain in north-western China to a temple town in Shandan. Just one year later, Hogg contracted tetanus after he injured his toe playing basketball with the students. With no medicines to stop lockjaw, he died aged 29.

His Chinese odyssey is just one small part of this remarkable Englishman's life, which encompassed the most radical changes the Middle Kingdom had seen for thousands of years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


Report: 3 Gulf states agree to IAF overflights en route to Iran (Yoav Stern and Yossi Melman, 2/25/07, Haaretz)

Three Arab states in the Persian Gulf would be willing to allow the Israel Air force to enter their airspace in order to reach Iran in case of an attack on its nuclear facilities, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Siyasa reported on Sunday.

According to the report, a diplomat from one of the gulf states visiting Washington on Saturday said the three states, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have told the United States that they would not object to Israel using their airspace, despite their fear of an Iranian response.

Al-Siyasa further reported that NATO leaders are urging Turkey to open its airspace for an Attack on Iran as well and to also open its airports and borders in case of a ground attack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 PM


Faith: Britain's new cultural divide is not between Christian and Muslim, Hindu and Jew. It is between those who have faith and those who do not. Stuart Jeffries reports on the vicious and uncompromising battle between believers and non-believers (Stuart Jeffries, February 26, 2007, The Guardian)

Another reason for secularist rage at people of faith, one might think, is exasperation on the part of militant atheists that religion has not died out as they hoped. "It has taken centuries and centuries to wrestle away from the churches the levers of power," says Grayling.

Tamimi contends that this was not quite what happened. Rather, he suggests that Christians were complicit in their marginalisation from power. "Christians did that to themselves - they allowed religion to move to the private sphere. That would be intolerable for Muslims." Why? "Partly because secularism doesn't mean the same for Muslims from the Middle East. The story of secularism in the Middle East is not one of democracy, as we are always told it was in the west. Instead, it is associated with tyranny - with Ataturk in Turkey, for instance. Islam is compatible with democracy, but not with this secular fundamentalism we are witnessing."

Grayling contends that during the late 20th century, Islam became more militant and assertive and this has changed British society radically. "In Britain we have seen Muslims burn Salman Rushdie's book. And to an extent other religions wanted to get a bit of the action - hence the protests against Jerry Springer: the Opera." When Stewart Lee, one of the writers of Jerry Springer, was interviewed amid protests against the allegedly blasphemous work being screened on TV, he suggested that Islamic culture had been more careful in protecting itself than Christian culture: "In the west, Christianity relinquished the right to be protective of its icons the day Virgin Mary snow globes were put up for sale at the Vatican. But in Islamic culture it is very different. To use a corporate image, Islam has always been a lot more conscientious about protecting its brand." Now other religions are becoming more publicly conscientious.

One example of this growing conscientiousness is a recent paper for the new public theology think-tank Theos, in which Nick Spencer concluded that in the 21st century, liberal humanism would face a challenge from an "old man" - God. "The feeble and slightly embarrassing old man who had been pacing about the house quietly mumbling to himself suddenly wanted to participate in family conversation and, what's more, to be taken seriously." Indeed, in Britain's ethically repellent consumerist society, even some atheists might consider it would be good to hear from the old man again, if only to provide a moral framework beyond shopping.

The refrain of Christians like Spencer is that unless religion is a part of public-policy debates, then society will be impoverished. Last November the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a lecture in which he distinguished between programmatic and procedural secularism. The former meant that in the public domain, everybody had to silence their fundamental convictions and debate in a value-free atmosphere of public neutrality. For Williams, this was a hopeless way of carrying on public discourse in a bewildering society that embraced not only many faiths but many anti-faith positions, and in which real disputes over very different values needed to take place. Better was procedural secularism, which promised that different groups could at least converse with each other in public discussions over sensitive questions of value and policy. This would involve, said Williams, "a crowded and argumentative public square that acknowledges the authority of a legal mediator or broker whose job it is to balance and manage real difference".

It is an idea similar to one set out by Yahya Birt, research fellow at The Islamic Foundation. "One form of secularism suggests that religion should be kept in the private sphere. That's Dawkins' position. Another form, expressed by philosophers suc has Isaiah Berlin and John Gray, is to do with establishing a modus vivendi. It accepts that you come to the public debate with baggage that will inform your arguments. In this, the government tries to find common ground and the best possible consensus, which can only work if we share enough to behave civilly. Of course, there will be real clashes over issues such as gay adoption, but it's not clear to me that that's a problem per se."

What should such a public square be like? It might not be Menckian, but it could be based on respectful understanding of others' most cherished beliefs, argues Spencer: "We should be more willing to treat other value systems as coherent, reasonable and even valuable rather than as primitive or grotesque mutations of liberal humanism to which every sane person adheres." It is, at least, a hope, albeit one, given our current climate, in which it would be foolish to place too much faith.

The problem, of course, is that no one actually believes in such modus vivendi liberalism. A person of the Left can explain to her own satisfaction why she must have the right to kill a baby and you should have no say in it, but not why she should in turn have a say in whether you kill her because you're a misogynist or because she's a Jew and you're an anti-Semite or because she's black and you're a racist, etc., etc., etc.....

Brother and sister fight for right to continue their incestuous affair (Tony Paterson, 26 February 2007, Independent)

"We want the law which makes incest a crime to be abolished," said Mr Stübing - who faces the prospect of another jail term for continuing his relationship with his sister. "We do not feel guilty about what has happened between us," both added in a joint statement.

The couple's case has sparked wide controversy. Many of Germany's European neighbours, such as Belgium, Holland, and France, do not treat incest as a criminal offence.

Several German doctors have implied that the ruling is necessary to prevent illnesses caused by inbreeding. However, a growing number of politicians and legal experts have called for the law - which formed part of the "racial hygiene" policies of the Nazi era - to be scrapped.

"We are dealing with a piece of legislation which dates back to the last century and which no longer makes any sense," said Jerzy Montag, a spokesman for Germany's Green party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Europe warms to US missile shield: Concerns about Iran have reduced opposition to US plans to extend its 'star wars' defense system (Jeffrey White, 2/26/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Despite Russia's mounting opposition, the Czech Republic, Poland, and - as of Friday - Britain have all expressed serious interest in hosting parts of the shield. Other countries traditionally cool to the idea have been notably quiet. The trigger: concern about a nuclear Iran.

"This is all a result of Iran," says Tim Williams, a European security analyst at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London. "Governments see that Iranian missiles can hit Europe, and suddenly they are very worried about the threat from ballistic missiles. They have to look at missile defenses."

Didn't fifty years of depending on us for their existence make them big enough welfare queens?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Social Security: a contrarian view: New York actuary David Langer advocates making benefits much more generous, instead of cutting back (David R. Francis, 2/26/07, CS Monitor)

Because of their long-term nature, these forecasts are shaky. They hang on assumptions of interest rates, human longevity, economic growth, immigration, population, etc., that can't really be known with precision today.

Langer figures the optimistic projection is most likely to be true. It shows a small surplus in the trust fund at the end of 75 years. After looking at the annual trustees' reports from 1992 to 2002, he finds this cheery forecast the most accurate in predicting - so far - the future level of the fund's assets.

Projected shortfalls are like WMD in Iraq, just tools to get folks to move who wouldn't otherwise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


The other Islamic revolution (Shahram Akbarzadeh, 2/20/07, Eureka Street)

Islam is going through a quiet revolution in the West. This is not a revolution of blood and gunfire, but one of deep thought and radical ideas. Like all other revolutions in history, the final outcome is not predetermined. But there are very hopeful signs about its success.

This quiet revolution is carried out by ordinary men and women who happen to be Muslim, but are otherwise undistinguishable from the rest of the community. They live their daily lives according to a set of revolutionary, though not necessarily novel, ideals of being genuine citizens and true Muslims. Most do not consider this to be anything extraordinary. Herein lies the enormous force of this revolution. It does not depend on a cadres of dedicated revolutionaries, but on the everyday practices of ordinary people.

The guiding principles of combining Muslim faith and citizenship in a secular democracy are pretty basic. Muslims living in Australia, for example, do not have to turn their backs to religion in order to be good citizens. Quite the contrary: they turn to the essentials of their faith to fulfil their citizenship. The essentials of Islam, as those of other Abrahamic religions, are justice, fairness and equity. Although many cultural practices have been traditionally ascribed to Islam in different parts of the Muslim world, in essence, the core values are constant and consistent with the values that govern liberal democracies.

The reality of migration to Western secular societies for the first generation, and the experiences of the following generations of Muslims in Australia and elsewhere, have freed Islam from its cultural shackles. As Muslim intellectuals in Europe and North America have noted, the migration of Muslims from traditionally Muslim societies to secular liberal societies has allowed them to return to the essential kernel of their faith. This is made possible because the governing principles of the West, that draws on Judo-Christian ethical foundations, and of Islam substantially overlap.

Some observers have repeatedly called for an Islamic reformation- by which they mean accepting the separation of church and state. In reality, this reformation is already underway in the daily practices of Muslims who quietly observe social and legal codes of behaviour. They see no contradiction between performing their public duties and believing in Allah.

The Vatican was likewise Reformed by the experience of Catholics living in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


The fake morality of Al Gore's convenient lie (Scott Stephens, 20 February 2007, Online Opinion)

For many people, it is fine to indulge moderate green sympathies, but only once the effects of climate change touch us directly, and only up to the point that we have to pay some personal cost. George Megalogenis has made a particularly chilling observation regarding such self-serving environmentalism in his book, The Longest Decade:

Even support for the environment, the ultimate expression of altruism, can be traced back to house prices. Labor pollsters Hawker Britton found in early 2004 that concerns for green issues were greater in those suburbs where property was more expensive. In other words, the ordinary Australian who favours protecting the environment can source his or her green values to the selfish calculation that more development in their neighbourhood equals less trees equals poorer views equals lower house prices.

Perhaps even the slick advocacy of Al Gore's pop environmentalism is, in the end, the convenient lie of our time: a way of baptising lives that are already excessive, self-seeking and idolatrous with a sickly green tinge; of not changing our consumption habits, but feeling much better about them (rather like drinking Diet Coke).

Given the similar function of religion in our culture, maybe Michael Crichton wasn't too far off the mark when he called environmentalism "the religion of choice for urban atheists".

On the other hand, self-interest is a rather effective political sales pitch, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Howard's workplace and welfare reforms and Australian values (Fred Argy, 26 February 2007, Online Opinion)

In his first three terms of office, John Howard resisted pressures to radicalise his reform agenda. He had to. There was no obvious economic rationale for a shift in gear, the public mood was still less than fully receptive to big reform leaps and he lacked Senate control.

By the end of 2005, all that had changed. First, wider public awareness of the prospective ageing of the population (hyped up more than a little by government and media), coupled with evidence of relatively low workforce participation rates in Australia (especially among those aged 25 to 54), provided a stronger economic and fiscal rationale for governments to address Australia's "hidden unemployment" problem.

Second, by 2005, community values had become less friendly to egalitarian policies in the workplace - reflecting such changes as the fracturing of worker solidarity, the growing equity investment culture (which aligned workers' interests more closely with those of companies), the cumulative effects of globalisation in encouraging competitive individualism and the increasing community hostility to government hand-outs for able-bodied people in the buoyant economic conditions.

Third, and most importantly, the Coalition gained control of the Senate in 2004 - removing one big hurdle to radical reform.

In this new political and cultural environment, Howard was able to give freer rein to his ideological propensities - especially his dislike of trade unionism and worker protection regulation.

WorkChoices became operational in April 2006. In essence, it involves a shift from regulated awards and collective bargaining to individual contracts, and a marked strengthening of managerial powers over the deployment and remuneration of staff (for example, hiring and firing, penalty rates, working times and access to foreign guest workers).

At the same time, the Howard Government has made welfare less accessible and more conditional, with much tougher penalties imposed for compliance failures (including "no-payment" for up to eight weeks), and it extended the new rules to many sole parents and people with disabilities, who will now be forced to look for part-time, low-skilled work.

The fear of losing eligibility to welfare benefits will also make it more difficult for employed workers to exit from unsatisfactory jobs or, if retrenched, to reject lower-paid jobs. The net effect of the changes in the welfare system will be to further increase the potential market power of employers relative to vulnerable employees. [...]

In terms of its impact on the distribution of market power, Howard's WorkChoices and welfare-to-work agenda should be seen as a fundamental break with the past. By markedly clawing back collective bargaining (even when wanted by nearly 100 per cent of employees), by greatly increasing managerial autonomy, by transforming what was an indirect power to make labour laws (through an independent arbiter) into a direct power under the control of the Executive, by completely disempowering many workers and by fundamentally redefining the right to welfare, Howard has taken a big step towards (and even in some respects beyond) the US social model and retreated much further from Australia's consensus-based "wage-earners welfare state".

What's notable is how similarly Third Way the reforms are across the Anglosphere.

A Tax-Cutting Democrat: Bill Richardson's New Mexico record (Jennifer Rubin, 03/05/2007, Weekly Standard)

In July 2006 the Wall Street Journal touted New Mexico's governor Bill Richardson as a man who "embraced tax cutting and benefited politically." The Journal quoted Richardson approvingly for advising his party that "we have to be the party of growth and the American dream, not the party of redistribution." Which party is Richardson talking about? The Democrats.

Indeed, the former U.N. ambassador and secretary of energy stands out as the only Democratic presidential candidate who has successfully enacted tax cuts and other pro-growth economic policies. When asked about the importance of tax cuts, Richardson says: "Cutting taxes and creating tax credits can be essential to creating jobs and a strong economy." One of his first measures after he was elected governor in 2002 was to cut New Mexico's top income tax rate from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent over five years. "This was our way of declaring to the world that New Mexico is open for business," Richardson told the Journal in 2005. Echoing what conservatives have been saying for decades, he explained: "After all, businesses move to states where taxes are falling, not rising." At the midpoint of his first term, Richardson earned a "B" rating on the CATO Institute's 2004 Fiscal Report Card on America's Governors. Two years later, CATO explained the rating this way: "His income tax cuts were indeed substantial. The top marginal income tax rate has dropped a remarkable 35 percent as a result of Richardson's actions and is still the largest income tax rate cut in the nation over the past few years."

Richardson seems to relish his tax-cutting image. Reacting to a four-star rating for his pro-growth policies from Inc. magazine in October 2006, Richardson boasted in a press release: "New Mexico is a national leader in job growth, we have invested in better schools and improved access to health care and--most importantly for the business community--we have cut taxes year after year." In his 2007 state of the state address, Richardson continued to advertise his tax cutting credentials, declaring that New Mexico was a state "where tax rates go down, while salaries go up." Most recently, at the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee, Richardson reminded his audience that he "first passed a specific tax credit for creating good paying jobs" and was responsible for a host of other tax cuts and credits that helped "local companies that showed great promise for success and job creation."

Anywhere else in the Anglosphere, but not in the BDS-0afflicted Democratic Party, he's exactly the sort of guy who'd be chosen to lead the opposition as it sought to out-Thatcher the party in power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Iran's hints suggest chance for diplomacy (Abbas Milani, February 25, 2007, Sacramento Bee)

After a meeting with the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader's chief foreign policy adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati, declared last week that suspending uranium enrichment is not a red line for the regime -- in other words, the mullahs might be ready to agree to some kind of a suspension.

Another powerful insider, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said much the same thing in a different setting, while a third high-ranking official acknowledged that the Islamic Republic is seriously considering a proposal by President Vladimir Putin of Russia to suspend enrichment at least long enough to start serious negotiations with the United Nations.

There have also been indications that the Iranians are willing to accept a compromise plan presented by Mohamed El Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That plan calls for the suspension of all major enrichment activities but allows the regime to save face by keeping a handful of centrifuges in operation.

The mullahs are keen on damage control on another front as well.

After his meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei, Velayati announced that the Holocaust is a fact of history and chastised those who question its reality. Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, also declared the Holocaust a "historical matter" to be discussed by scholars (and not, he implied, by ignorant politicians). In short, there is a new willingness among the Iranian political elite to avoid the rhetoric of confrontation and to negotiate.

Ahmadinejad Pledges to Push Iran Privatization (Fars News Agency, 2/25/07)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pledged to drive ahead privatization in Iran following recent orders by the Supreme Leader to accelerate the slow opening-up of the country's economy to the private sector.

"The government is determined to open all avenues and unscrew every bolt to implement article 44 of the constitution," Ahmadinejad told a meeting of leaders from the engineering sector. [...]

Ayatollah Khamenei had on Monday described the actions undertaken to implement article 44 as unsatisfactory, saying that not enough attention was being paid to "creating a major evolution in the country's economy."

"Those that are hostile to these policies are those who are going to lose their interests and influence," he said.

They don't call him the Guardian for nothin'.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Romney Family Tree Has Polygamy Branch (JENNIFER DOBNER and GLEN JOHNSON, 2/24/07, Associated Press)

Romney's father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, where Mormons fled in the 1800s to escape religious persecution and U.S. laws forbidding polygamy. He and his family did not return to the United States until 1912, more than two decades after the church issued "The Manifesto" banning polygamy.

Is someone birthed abroad by voluntary expatriates a "natural born citizen"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:21 PM

TEACH THE CHILDREN WELL (via The Mother Judd):

For Sale by Teenager: Lightly Used Gadget. Cheap (EVE TAHMINCIOGLU, 2/18/07, NY Times)

MANY of today's teenagers are sitting on a growing pile of consumer electronics -- items like MP3 players and laptops. And as they acquire the latest models, more of them are realizing that they can turn their older gadgets into cold hard cash.

Consider Greg Stoft, 18, who lives with his parents in Fremont, Calif. He wanted to buy a $45 skateboard, but he doesn't work and his parents recently decided to tighten the purse strings, he said. To get the money, he decided to sell his used iPod Nano on Craigslist, the free online bulletin board.

The ad said: "White ipod nano, 4GB, no bad scratches. I don't need it anymore." He posted it one evening early this month with a price of $90 and by the next morning he had sold it for $70. "It was easy," he said.

Not a bad return on investment, considering that the Nano was a gift from his parents, who were fine with him selling it, he said. And he is not worried about going without: his parents bought him a new video iPod this last Christmas for around $300.

"It's the first time I ever sold anything like that, but lots of kids I know sell their iPods and stuff," he said. "I thought: Why shouldn't I do it?"

Mr. Stoft is among a growing group of teenagers who are creating their own slice of capitalism, one sale at a time.

How ya gonna keep them on Maggie's Farm after they've seen capitalism in action?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:47 PM


Murtha Stumbles on Iraq Funding Curbs: Democrats Were Ill-Prepared for Unplanned Disclosure, Republican Attacks (Jonathan Weisman and Lyndsey Layton, 2/25/07, Washington Post)

[A] botched launch by the plan's author, Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), has united Republicans and divided Democrats, sending the latter back to the drawing board just a week before scheduled legislative action, a score of House Democratic lawmakers said last week.

"If this is going to be legislation that's crafted in such a way that holds back resources from our troops, that is a non-starter, an absolute non-starter," declared Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah), a leader of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

Murtha's credentials as a Marine combat veteran, a critic of the war and close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) were supposed to make him an unassailable spokesman for Democratic war policy. Instead, he has become a lightning rod for criticism from Republicans and members of his own party.

They'd have been better off making Foster Brooks a party leader.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:37 PM


Radically rethinking L.A. County: The 10-million-strong county has outgrown its government (LA Times, February 25, 2007)

[L]os Angeles County, with its five supervisors each representing 2 million people, has become nearly ungovernable with its outdated structure. The one thing supervisors excel at is repelling challengers to their seats. The last time an incumbent was voted out of office, astonishingly, was in 1980, when Mike Antonovich defeated Baxter Ward. So whose fault is it today when patients are mistreated at the former King/Drew Medical Center and voters refuse to hold their supervisor accountable? Is it the voters' fault? Or is there something wrong with the structure?

Consider the dysfunctional relationship between the county and city of Los Angeles, whose budget is a third the size of the county's. A city program to crack down on gang crime means that the county supervisors and sheriff will have to find more room in the jails, more money for prosecutors, more funding for deputy public defenders, more space in the probation system. A ward of the county's juvenile hall system will run a gantlet of potentially worthy services: mental health, foster care, education -- but all of it provided by different agencies, funded by different budgets, headed by leaders not answerable to the same single executive. The opportunities for waste, suspicion and failure are endless.

The county government -- at least the design of its leadership structure -- remains moored to the pretense that its mission is simply to act as an outpost of the state. Hence, there are only five supervisors exercising quasi-executive, quasi-legislative authority. There is no one really in charge, exercising full executive authority.

The county government can do better. But to do better, it needs to be reshaped. The supervisors are taking a necessary first step, preparing to ask voters to turn the chief administrator into an actual executive with the power to hire and fire department chiefs. It's a step short of a move that Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy has pushed -- creating an elected county executive -- and a majority of Yaroslavsky's colleagues agreed to go forward only after realizing that no one, for any amount of money, had the qualifications and the desire to replace retiring Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen. But it's a move in the right direction.

For decades, committees of civic do-gooders and deep-thinking academic experts have drafted reports on how to fix things. Those reports have sat on shelves, gathering dust. Now that county supervisors have begun to grapple with their limitations and embrace plans for a more powerful executive, it's time to decide what might work better for the county's residents. Break the county into three? Merge it with the city? Demand more local control over tax revenue?

Democracy may be sacrosanct, but its current format in Los Angeles County isn't.

Golden State may be blinded by its luster: California slipping in rate of growth and in job creation (Joel Kotkin, February 25, 2007, SF Chronicle)

The state rate of GDP growth over the past decade has been strong, ranking fourth in the nation, but California has been losing ground in the new millennium. In 2004-05, it fell to 17th, behind not only fast-growing Arizona and Nevada but also Oregon, Washington and rival "nation-state" Texas.

Job creation has been even less impressive. In the Bay Area and Los Angeles, it can only be considered mediocre or worse. If not for the strong performance of the interior counties of the state -- what Bill Frey and I call the "Third California" -- the state already would be rightly considered a laggard when it comes to creating employment.

More disturbing, as California's population has grown -- largely from immigration -- per-capita income growth has weakened. From the 1930s to as late as the 1980s, Californians generally got richer faster than other Americans. In 1946, Gunther reported, Californians enjoyed the highest living standards and the third-highest per-capita income in the country.

Today, California ranks 12th in per-capita income. And it's losing ground: Between 1999 and 2004, California's per-capita income growth ranked a miserable 40th among the states. [...]

Parallel to these developments, California is losing its once broad middle class, the traditional source of its political ballast and much of its entrepreneurial genius. Outmigration from the state is growing and, contrary to the notions of some sophisticates, it's not just the rubes and roughhouses who are leaving.

Indeed, an analysis of the most recent migration numbers shows a disturbing trend: an increasing out-migration of educated people from California's largest metropolitan areas. Back in the 1990s, this was mostly a Los Angeles phenomena, but since 2000, the Bay Area appears to be suffering a high per-capita outflow of educated people.

A look at data from the 2004-05 American community survey, these emigrants include many workers in technology, arts, finance, science, management, high-end sales and medicine -- the creative class. Perhaps the only saving grace is that some migrants are still staying in California, largely in the Sacramento and Inland Empire regions.

This middle class flight is likely driven by two things: greater opportunities outside the state and the cost of housing in-state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


Timorese independence leader declares bid for presidency (The Associated Press, February 25, 2007)

The Nobel laureate and prime minister of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, told a cheering crowd in his hometown Sunday that he would stand in presidential elections in April, vowing to help return peace and stability to the troubled nation.

Ramos-Horta, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for leading nonviolent resistance to Indonesian rule, said in his candidacy speech that he went through "weeks of reflection and hesitation" before deciding to run during the worst crisis since East Timor became independent from Jakarta in 1999.

"We laid down the arms after the fight against the occupation, but now our fight is for our future," he said, speaking in the local Tetum language. "In this new fight, each Timorese citizen has the responsibility to serve their country."

What's with the suddenly useful Peace prize winners?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 PM


THE REDIRECTION: Is the Administration's new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism? (SEYMOUR M. HERSH, 2007-03-05, The New Yorker)

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The "redirection," as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia's government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration's perspective, the most profound--and unintended--strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country's right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that "realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region."

After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq's Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is "a new strategic alignment in the Middle East," separating "reformers" and "extremists"; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were "on the other side of that divide." (Syria's Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, "have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize."

Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee told me that he had heard about the new strategy, but felt that he and his colleagues had not been adequately briefed. "We haven't got any of this," he said. "We ask for anything going on, and they say there's nothing. And when we ask specific questions they say, 'We're going to get back to you.' It's so frustrating."

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney. (Cheney's office and the White House declined to comment for this story; the Pentagon did not respond to specific queries but said, "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran.")

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.

The new strategy "is a major shift in American policy--it's a sea change," a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. The Sunni states "were petrified of a Shiite resurgence, and there was growing resentment with our gambling on the moderate Shiites in Iraq," he said. "We cannot reverse the Shiite gain in Iraq, but we can contain it."

"It seems there has been a debate inside the government over what's the biggest danger--Iran or Sunni radicals," Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, told me. "The Saudis and some in the Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line."

Martin Indyk, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration who also served as Ambassador to Israel, said that "the Middle East is heading into a serious Sunni-Shiite Cold War." Indyk, who is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, added that, in his opinion, it was not clear whether the White House was fully aware of the strategic implications of its new policy. "The White House is not just doubling the bet in Iraq," he said. "It's doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down." [...]

On a warm, clear night early last December, in a bombed-out suburb a few miles south of downtown Beirut, I got a preview of how the Administration's new strategy might play out in Lebanon. Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, who has been in hiding, had agreed to an interview. Security arrangements for the meeting were secretive and elaborate. I was driven, in the back seat of a darkened car, to a damaged underground garage somewhere in Beirut, searched with a handheld scanner, placed in a second car to be driven to yet another bomb-scarred underground garage, and transferred again. Last summer, it was reported that Israel was trying to kill Nasrallah, but the extraordinary precautions were not due only to that threat. Nasrallah's aides told me that they believe he is a prime target of fellow-Arabs, primarily Jordanian intelligence operatives, as well as Sunni jihadists who they believe are affiliated with Al Qaeda. (The government consultant and a retired four-star general said that Jordanian intelligence, with support from the U.S. and Israel, had been trying to infiltrate Shiite groups, to work against Hezbollah. Jordan's King Abdullah II has warned that a Shiite government in Iraq that was close to Iran would lead to the emergence of a Shiite crescent.) This is something of an ironic turn: Nasrallah's battle with Israel last summer turned him--a Shiite--into the most popular and influential figure among Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region. In recent months, however, he has increasingly been seen by many Sunnis not as a symbol of Arab unity but as a participant in a sectarian war.

Nasrallah, dressed, as usual, in religious garb, was waiting for me in an unremarkable apartment. One of his advisers said that he was not likely to remain there overnight; he has been on the move since his decision, last July, to order the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid set off the thirty-three-day war. Nasrallah has since said publicly--and repeated to me--that he misjudged the Israeli response. "We just wanted to capture prisoners for exchange purposes," he told me. "We never wanted to drag the region into war."

Nasrallah accused the Bush Administration of working with Israel to deliberately instigate fitna, an Arabic word that is used to mean "insurrection and fragmentation within Islam." "In my opinion, there is a huge campaign through the media throughout the world to put each side up against the other," he said. "I believe that all this is being run by American and Israeli intelligence." (He did not provide any specific evidence for this.) He said that the U.S. war in Iraq had increased sectarian tensions, but argued that Hezbollah had tried to prevent them from spreading into Lebanon. (Sunni-Shiite confrontations increased, along with violence, in the weeks after we talked.)

Nasrallah said he believed that President Bush's goal was "the drawing of a new map for the region. They want the partition of Iraq. Iraq is not on the edge of a civil war--there is a civil war. There is ethnic and sectarian cleansing. The daily killing and displacement which is taking place in Iraq aims at achieving three Iraqi parts, which will be sectarian and ethnically pure as a prelude to the partition of Iraq. Within one or two years at the most, there will be total Sunni areas, total Shiite areas, and total Kurdish areas. Even in Baghdad, there is a fear that it might be divided into two areas, one Sunni and one Shiite."

He went on, "I can say that President Bush is lying when he says he does not want Iraq to be partitioned. All the facts occurring now on the ground make you swear he is dragging Iraq to partition. And a day will come when he will say, 'I cannot do anything, since the Iraqis want the partition of their country and I honor the wishes of the people of Iraq.' "

Nasrallah said he believed that America also wanted to bring about the partition of Lebanon and of Syria. In Syria, he said, the result would be to push the country "into chaos and internal battles like in Iraq." In Lebanon, "There will be a Sunni state, an Alawi state, a Christian state, and a Druze state." But, he said, "I do not know if there will be a Shiite state." Nasrallah told me that he suspected that one aim of the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer was "the destruction of Shiite areas and the displacement of Shiites from Lebanon. The idea was to have the Shiites of Lebanon and Syria flee to southern Iraq," which is dominated by Shiites. "I am not sure, but I smell this," he told me.

Partition would leave Israel surrounded by "small tranquil states," he said. "I can assure you that the Saudi kingdom will also be divided, and the issue will reach to North African states. There will be small ethnic and confessional states," he said. "In other words, Israel will be the most important and the strongest state in a region that has been partitioned into ethnic and confessional states that are in agreement with each other. This is the new Middle East."

In fact, the Bush Administration has adamantly resisted talk of partitioning Iraq, and its public stances suggest that the White House sees a future Lebanon that is intact, with a weak, disarmed Hezbollah playing, at most, a minor political role. There is also no evidence to support Nasrallah's belief that the Israelis were seeking to drive the Shiites into southern Iraq. Nevertheless, Nasrallah's vision of a larger sectarian conflict in which the United States is implicated suggests a possible consequence of the White House's new strategy.

In the interview, Nasrallah made mollifying gestures and promises that would likely be met with skepticism by his opponents. "If the United States says that discussions with the likes of us can be useful and influential in determining American policy in the region, we have no objection to talks or meetings," he said. "But, if their aim through this meeting is to impose their policy on us, it will be a waste of time." He said that the Hezbollah militia, unless attacked, would operate only within the borders of Lebanon, and pledged to disarm it when the Lebanese Army was able to stand up. Nasrallah said that he had no interest in initiating another war with Israel. However, he added that he was anticipating, and preparing for, another Israeli attack, later this year.

Nasrallah further insisted that the street demonstrations in Beirut would continue until the Siniora government fell or met his coalition's political demands. "Practically speaking, this government cannot rule," he told me. "It might issue orders, but the majority of the Lebanese people will not abide and will not recognize the legitimacy of this government. Siniora remains in office because of international support, but this does not mean that Siniora can rule Lebanon."

President Bush's repeated praise of the Siniora government, Nasrallah said, "is the best service to the Lebanese opposition he can give, because it weakens their position vis-à-vis the Lebanese people and the Arab and Islamic populations. They are betting on us getting tired. We did not get tired during the war, so how could we get tired in a demonstration?"

There is sharp division inside and outside the Bush Administration about how best to deal with Nasrallah, and whether he could, in fact, be a partner in a political settlement. The outgoing director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, in a farewell briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee, in January, said that Hezbollah "lies at the center of Iran's terrorist strategy. . . . It could decide to conduct attacks against U.S. interests in the event it feels its survival or that of Iran is threatened. . . . Lebanese Hezbollah sees itself as Tehran's partner."

In 2002, Richard Armitage, then the Deputy Secretary of State, called Hezbollah "the A-team" of terrorists. In a recent interview, however, Armitage acknowledged that the issue has become somewhat more complicated. Nasrallah, Armitage told me, has emerged as "a political force of some note, with a political role to play inside Lebanon if he chooses to do so." In terms of public relations and political gamesmanship, Armitage said, Nasrallah "is the smartest man in the Middle East." But, he added, Nasrallah "has got to make it clear that he wants to play an appropriate role as the loyal opposition. For me, there's still a blood debt to pay"--a reference to the murdered colonel and the Marine barracks bombing.

Robert Baer, a former longtime C.I.A. agent in Lebanon, has been a severe critic of Hezbollah and has warned of its links to Iranian-sponsored terrorism. But now, he told me, "we've got Sunni Arabs preparing for cataclysmic conflict, and we will need somebody to protect the Christians in Lebanon. It used to be the French and the United States who would do it, and now it's going to be Nasrallah and the Shiites.

"The most important story in the Middle East is the growth of Nasrallah from a street guy to a leader--from a terrorist to a statesman," Baer added. "The dog that didn't bark this summer"--during the war with Israel--"is Shiite terrorism." Baer was referring to fears that Nasrallah, in addition to firing rockets into Israel and kidnapping its soldiers, might set in motion a wave of terror attacks on Israeli and American targets around the world. "He could have pulled the trigger, but he did not," Baer said.

Obviously siding with the Wahabbists authoritarians against the messianic democrats would be bassackwards--it's the kind of mistake that got us all into this mess in the first place.

The Surge (Peter W. Galbraith, 3/15/07, NY Review of Books)

As everyone except Bush seems to understand, Iraq's Shiite-led government has no intention of transforming itself into an inclusive government of national unity. The parties that lead Iraq define themselves--and the state they now control--by their Shiite identity. For them, Saddam's overthrow and their electoral victory is a triumph for Islam's minority sect that has been 1,300 years in the making and a matter of historic justice. They are not going to abandon this achievement for the sake of a particular Iraqi identity urged by an American president.

Sunni Arabs are implacably opposed to an Iraq ruled by Shiites who want to define their country by the religion of the majority. Most see the current Iraqi government as alien and disloyal to the Iraq the Sunni Arabs built. (On the gallows, Saddam spoke for many Sunni Arabs when he warned against the Americans and "the Persians," by which he clearly meant Iraq's Shiite rulers.) The Sunni Arabs will not be reconciled with what they see as small measures, such as a guaranteed share of petroleum, a relaxation of de-Baathification laws, or constitutional amendments. They object to the very things that are quintessential to the claims of the Shiites, namely Shiite rule and the Shiite character of the new Iraq.

Bush's strategy depends on the Iraqi police and army eventually taking over from US forces. Somehow the President imagines that Iraq's army and police are exempt from the country's sectarian and ethnic divisions. In reality, both the army and police are as polarized as the country itself. US training will not make these forces neutral guarantors of public security but will make them more effective killers in Iraq's civil war. It is hard to see how this is in the US interest. The execution of Saddam--in which, as Iraqi officials subsequently admitted, members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army participated--illustrated just how pervasive is the militia penetration of Iraq's security services. Since the advocates of the President's surge strategy have had no idea about how to make Iraq's police and army committed to an inclusive Iraq, they simply pretend the problem does not exist.

At best, Bush's new strategy will be a costly postponement of the day of reckoning with failure. But it is also a reckless escalation of the military mission in Iraq that could leave US forces fighting a powerful new enemy with only marginally more troops than are now engaged in fighting the Sunni insurgency. The strategy also risks extending Iraq's civil war to the hitherto peaceful Kurdish regions, with no corresponding gain for security in the Arab parts of the country.

Until now, US forces in Iraq have been fighting, almost exclusively, the Sunni Arab insurgency. Bush's new plan calls for the US military to initiate operations against the Mahdi Army (and related militias) as well, a measure that could mean US forces will become embroiled in all-out urban warfare throughout Baghdad, a city of more than five million. In addition, the Mahdi Army has members throughout southern Iraq, in the Diyala Governorate northeast of Baghdad, and in Kirkuk. While many Shiites do not support al-Sadr (the Mahdi Army has had armed clashes with the Badr Organization belonging to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, or SCIRI, one of the two main Shiite parties), the Mahdi Army is a formidable force comprising as many as 60,000 armed men.[2] With Bush ratcheting up the rhetoric against Iran, the Iranian government may see a broad-based Shiite uprising against the coalition as its best insurance against a US military strike. It has every incentive to encourage--and assist--the Mahdi Army in organizing such an uprising. Iran has sufficient influence with Iraqi Shiite groups--including SCIRI--to ensure at least their neutrality in a clash with the Mahdi Army.

Fighting Iran -- With Patience (Jim Hoagland, February 25, 2007, Washington Post)
"There is movement behind the scenes," a European diplomat who closely follows Iran told me last week. "The Iranians are nervous and want to get engaged." Details of a confidential Iranian proposal that has been circulating in Brussels and Tehran for four months support the view that there could be an opening on the Iranian front despite the angry rhetoric from Iran triggered by last week's new indictment of its nuclear ambitions by the International Atomic Energy Agency. [...]

The change on North Korea is described by former administration officials as a strategic decision by the president to start "to pry the lid off" of that starving, tyrannized remnant of the Cold War by offering Pyongyang a path for peaceful change. Cooperation in the six-party negotiations would also help stabilize China's relations with Japan and the United States, in this view.

The president reportedly surprised Chinese President Hu Jintao during their lunch at the White House last April by suggesting that, if the nuclear impasse could be resolved, the time was right for a formal peace treaty to end the Korean conflict. And when North Korea defied Chinese "advice" by conducting a nuclear test in October, China became more engaged in pulling Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. [...]

Last autumn, Iran's Ali Larijani told European Union negotiator Javier Solana that Iran could accept the Russian-E.U. proposal for an international consortium to enrich and reprocess nuclear fuel for Iran -- if the enrichment and reprocessing were done on Iranian soil.

A diplomatic device known as a nonpaper (so its existence can be denied) and dated Oct. 1, 2006, describes a "gentlemen's agreement" by the two diplomats to use the proposal "to help open the way to negotiations." When I telephoned him in Berlin last week, Solana affably but deftly warded off questions about the nonpaper, then added: "Nothing has been agreed. Nothing has been put forward in formal terms."

Rebel Shiite cleric reining in militia; motive questioned (DAMIEN CAVE, 2/25/07, The New York Times)
Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric and founder of the Mahdi Army militia, discovered recently that two of his commanders had created DVDs of their men killing Sunnis in Baghdad.

Documents suggested that they had received money from Iran.

So he suspended them and stripped them of power, said two Mahdi leaders in Sadr City, the heart of al-Sadr's support here in the capital.

But did he do so as part of his cooperation with the new security plan for Baghdad, which aims to quell the sectarian violence tormenting the city? Because his men had been disloyal, taking orders from Iran, whose support he values but whose control he fights? Or was it just for show -- the act of an image-conscious leader who grasped the risk of graphic videos and ties to Tehran and wanted to stave off direct U.S. action against him?

Bush to warn leader of Pakistan on aid (David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, February 25, 2007, NY Times)
President George W. Bush has decided to send an unusually tough message to one of his most important allies, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, warning him that the newly Democratic Congress could cut aid to his country unless his forces became far more aggressive in hunting down operatives with Al Qaeda, senior administration officials say.

The decision came after the White House concluded that Musharraf is failing to live up to commitments he made to Bush during a visit here in September. Musharraf insisted then, both in private and public, that a peace deal he struck with tribal leaders in one of the country's most lawless border areas would not diminish the hunt for the leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban or their training camps.

Now, American intelligence officials have concluded that the terrorist infrastructure is being rebuilt, and that while Pakistan has attacked some camps, its overall effort has flagged.

'History will see Blair as Churchillian' (Colin Freeman, 25/02/2007, Sunday Telegraph)
Tony Blair's backing for the Iraq war will be honoured by history in the same way as Churchill's decision to fight Hitler, Iraq's former prime minister has told The Sunday Telegraph.

In remarks that will be a welcome fillip to Mr Blair, Ibrahim al-Jaafari said that getting rid of Saddam Hussein would be a legacy that future generations of Britons would be "proud of".

Mr Jaafari spoke out at the end of a week in which Mr Blair faced some of his toughest criticism yet over his decision to back George W Bush and join in the 2003 invasion.

More FDRian. Churchill led the Allies. Mr. Blair has followed W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:00 PM


The other Israelis: Emboldened by the Palestinian struggle, an emerging movement in Israel wants full equality for the country's Arab citizens. But that would mean redefining the nature of the Jewish state (David B. Green, February 25, 2007, Boston Globe)

When you think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what's likely to come to mind are the intifada, Hamas and Fatah, the West Bank and Gaza, road maps and roadblocks, and a story that seems to have no end. But there is another Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one just as old and as vexing, and no less a "time bomb" if not addressed: that between Israel and its own Arab citizens.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 left some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs refugees, but another 160,000 stayed put and became Israeli citizens. Today, Israel's Arab community numbers 1.2 million, constituting nearly a fifth of the country's population. By all material measures -- income, education level, unemployment -- they lag far behind the Jewish population, but they are also denied certain privileges guaranteed by law to the Jews. The Law of Return, for example, gives Jews from anywhere in the world, or their descendants or spouses, the right to show up and claim Israeli citizenship.

Israel's Declaration of Independence promises "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex." But the reality, as the Palestinian-Israeli historian Adel Mana'a told me, is that "I'm a 'subtenant' here, even though I was the 'owner' before the Jews came."

Members of the Arab population have clashed violently with authorities in the past, most notably in October 2000, when angry demonstrations within Arab communities in the Galilee resulted in the deaths of 12 Arab citizens and one Palestinian from the territories -- all but one, who was killed by Jewish rioters, were shot by the police.

Overall, however, relations between the Jewish majority and Arab minority have been peaceful, if tense, over the state's 59-year history. Israeli-Arab involvement in Palestinian terrorist activity, for example, or espionage against the state, has been minimal. This may explain why the situation has received little attention, even in Israel.

But that is changing. With a growing boldness and facility with the language and tools of human-rights activism, a new generation of Israeli Palestinian jurists and intellectuals, in the past few months alone, have come out with several formal proposals that would redefine their status within Israeli society -- that would, in fact, redefine the nature of the "Jewish state" itself.

Not only is outbreeding them in accord with God's commands but it's a political imperative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Geffen's beef with Clintons is former president's decisions on pardons (ROBERT NOVAK, 2/25/07, Sun-Times)

Democratic sources believe that the harsh response by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign to criticism by Hollywood producer David Geffen stems from an overreaction by Bill Clinton to any attack on his pardon policy as president.

Geffen sniped at the Clintons in his interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd because President Clinton had pardoned financial contributor Marc Rich instead of American Indian activist Leonard Peltier.

Activist? Okay, now imagine what Mr. Novak would have written had the Clintons pardoned the domestic terrorist....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Independent Jewish Voices can carry on talking to themselves. I don't want to know: Its fantasy of itself as a doughty band confronting the might of official bias is self-indulgent (Howard Jacobson, 10 February 2007, Independent)

How is it that people you admire individually look considerably less admirable the minute they become signatories to a public letter? Why is it that a list of prominent names embracing a cause - any cause - invariably adds up to less than its constituent parts, that what was beautiful as a single bloom looks preposterous in a bunch? I am only pretending not to know the answer. The answer smacks you in the face. It is because you have admired them individually for their individuality, and the minute they sign up to something, they agree to think alike.

The particular consensus of folly I'm referring to - which contains people I know and like personally as well as people whose work I would go so far as to say I revere - calls itself, oxymoronically, Independent Jewish Voices and has been declaring its guiding principles left, right and centre, though mainly left, all week. These principles bear, of course, on the Middle East and are, on the face of it, unexceptionable. Human rights indivisible, Palestinians and Israelis have same right to peaceful and secure lives, no justification for racism, etc etc. To which your response, like mine, will be: There needs no letter, come from Stephen Fry and Janet Suzman, to tell us this.

Ask what more specific need Independent Jewish Voices serves, however, and you get the small print. The IJV, as I fear we now have to call it, since it appears to be seeking a quasi-formal legitimacy, is a response to a conviction that "the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole".

One's ears prick to talk of a "broad spectrum of opinion" in a manifesto since that usually means "whatever the manifestees happen to think". In this case, whatever they happen to think is wrong with Israel and the unquestioning support it receives from English Jews. From which you could be excused supposing the IJV to be a voice crying in the wilderness, a David taking on the Goliath of pro-Israel orthodoxy.

In fact the exact opposite is the case. In so far as there is an orthodoxy regarding Israel in this country, the IJV with its "ashamed" and "disgusted" signatories is indubitably it.

Which raises the obvious questions of how you can admire such Philistines individually either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Dice-K shows what's up: Matsuzaka dazzles in first live hitters stint (Jeff Horrigan, February 25, 2007, Boston Herald)

It seemed to matter little to Daisuke Matsuzaka that catcher Jason Varitek was telling hitters which pitch was about to be thrown yesterday when the Red Sox' newest star threw to batters for the first time since coming from the Seibu Lions.

As is the case in all live batting practice sessions, the catcher tipped off Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Cash, Bobby Scales and Luis Jimenez on whether Matsuzaka was to throw a fastball, curveball, slider or changeup.

For the most part, the youngsters still couldn't get a bat on the ball. [...]

Matsuzaka threw 44 pitches, including 20 out of the stretch and two pitchouts, and only had two hit well. Cash lined a fastball off the left-center field wall on a hop, while Ellsbury lashed an opposite-field hit down the left field line on a changeup.

"The thing I noticed most was his slider," Ellsbury said. "I knew it was coming and I still missed by six inches."

We remain dubious that he is really going to maintain above-average velocity into the late innings, but if you've seen film of him pitching it's the ability to throw that filthy slider and the screwball or change or whatever the pitch is that he makes break in the opposite direction that makes it seem likely he can succeed at this level.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Chemical equation (JIM DeROGATIS, 2/25/07, Chicago Sun-Times)

To fully appreciate glam/goth pop-punk chart-toppers My Chemical Romance, it helps to understand where the band's leader grew up. Belleville, N.J., is a run-down blue-collar suburb sandwiched between Newark, which still hasn't recovered from the riots of 1968, and Jersey City, one of the ugliest and most corrupt burgs in America.

I know: I grew up there, too, not far from the Pulaski Skyway, which connects Jersey City and Newark. Tony Soprano drives over this elevated highway during the opening of every episode of HBO's mob series; it runs past tank farms and chemical factories and spans the PJP Landfill, which for decades had the distinction of being the only toxic site on the federal Superfund cleanup list that was actually on fire.

When you'd drive over the Pulaski Skyway at night -- as Gerard Way and his brother Mikey did when they were old enough to go to rock shows in Manhattan, a mere 10 miles but an entire universe away -- you could see the conflagrations smoldering underground. It looked like Dante's "Inferno" -- or a visual evocation of the music of My Chemical Romance. The quintet's 29-year-old vocalist wholeheartedly agrees.

"You know what's funny?" Gerard Way says, laughing. "Somebody that's from there will have a certain understanding of the band -- a very specific understanding that other people just won't have."

We used to visit the landfill on the campaign trail and it truly was like a portal to Hell.

February 24, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 PM


India: Bush's forgotten triumph (Bill Emmott, 2/25/.07, Times of London)

In Bush's case, although foreign policy has been dominated by Afghanistan and Iraq, it may prove that his most important strategic move was the nuclear pact between the United States and India signed a year ago. [...]

In the West people have been obsessed by the threat from China, mainly to their jobs but also to their leadership in the world, and in the past few years have begun to add India to their concerns. If "the world is flat", in Tom Friedman's phrase, then even white-collar jobs can migrate to these enormous, low-cost producers. By the middle of this century Goldman Sachs forecasts that both China and India will have overtaken us all in economic output. They are a threat, so western thinking goes.

We can debate whether those forecasts make sense, or whether the political systems of either country will survive economic transformation. Yet this too is to miss the real point. China's growth is setting off a new power game in Asia that will in turn affect the world. And the country that feels most threatened by that growth and that game is not Britain, America or France. It is India.

If you talk to Indian military folk, or recently retired top diplomats freed from the restraints of office, the message is clear. India feels increasingly encircled by China's foreign policy and by its economic development.

China's vast hunger for energy and other natural resources has led it, as was noted copiously during President Hu Jintao's recent tour of Africa, to make investments and friendships, lubricated by aid grants and cheap loans, with resources producers in Africa and the Middle East. India has been doing the same, albeit on a smaller scale. But this trend has also brought Chinese influence into the Indian Ocean.

Chinese engineers are building a deep-water port at Gwadar in Pakistan and are working on a harbour in southern Sri Lanka. China has installed surveillance equipment on the Coco Islands off the coast of Burma, islands that India gave to Burma in the 1950s. China has been selling arms to Bangladesh and to Nepal. It has a contingent of troops in Sudan protecting its investments there. Pipelines and roads are planned across Burma and perhaps Bangladesh to enable China to reduce its dependence on the narrow shipping route through the Malacca Straits that connects the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea.

On his African tour, Hu also found time to visit the Seychelles, where he went neither for resources nor snorkelling. In due course China would like its naval ships to be able to call in on ports there.

None of this is directly hostile to India. It is all a logical extension of China's economic growth. But it makes India feel vulnerable, makes it sure it needs to make countermoves to maintain its position in its own neighbourhood and to guarantee its own access to natural resources, and makes it sure it needs to maintain its naval superiority over the Chinese fleet.

It also convinces Indian policy makers of the vital need for India's own economic growth to be sustained or even accelerated, in order to avoid being dominated by its already richer neighbour. And it means that India needs friends.

That is why Bush's nuclear pact with India makes such strong strategic sense. Having been estranged from India during the cold war, thanks to India's decision to build trade and military ties with the Soviet Union, America had been edging closer to India during the 1990s, and India had been encouraging that process. India doesn't want formal alliances, it doesn't want to confront China, and it doesn't want to close off its options. But it does need nuclear energy and it does want a close friendship with the world's superpower. The nuclear pact has given it both.

China is actually doomed for many of the same reasons that Mr. Emmott brilliantly demonstrated that Japan was twenty years ago, but this alliance will be paying dividends long after China implodes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 PM


Cargo A380 may be ditched: UPS pact 'a recipe for cancellation' (MARY SCHLANGENSTEIN, 2/24/07, BLOOMBERG NEWS)

United Parcel Service Inc., the world's largest package shipper, and plane maker Airbus said Friday that they have agreed that either company can cancel an order this year for 10 A380 freighters after repeated production delays.

UPS will decide whether to retain the $2.8 billion order after getting new delivery dates from Airbus, UPS spokesman Mark Giuffre said in an interview. The companies declined to provide details of the accord.

Airbus' ability to void the order heightens chances that the manufacturer may scrap the troubled cargo version of the world's largest commercial jet amid cost overruns and customer cancellations. Atlanta-based UPS is now the only buyer for the A380 freighter.

"Two out of three customers cancel or convert orders, not a lot of market demand, engineers needed elsewhere. That's a recipe for cancellation," said Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va.-based aerospace consulting firm.

The subhead might better have used the term rotten than ripe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 PM


Hatred of America unites the world (Niall Ferguson, 25/02/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

Being hated is no fun. Few of us are like those pantomime villains who glory in the hisses and boos of an audience. And few people hate being hated more than Americans. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've been asked the plaintive question: "Why do they hate us?" and another for each of the different answers I've heard. It's because of our foreign policy. It's because of their extremism. It's because of our arrogance. It's because of their inferiority complex. Americans really hate not knowing why they're hated.

Mr. Ferguson has to get out more. He may hear that in coastal cities, but in the rest of America you hear folks say, like chiding parents: Oh, yeah, we'll give them something to hate us for....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


God help France if it falls for the charms of Ms Royal: The man who did her calculations was so shocked he resigned (Chris Walker, 25 February 2007, Independent)

In 1979, the British were 20 per cent poorer than the French, as measured by GDP per head. We are now 5 per cent richer, and the outlook is for that gap to widen further. The general economic background is a major part of this - the French economy has crawled along at a growth rate that has averaged half that of the UK's in recent years. Unemployment is stubbornly high, and even after a recent recovery, remains nearly twice the UK's.

All this despite the extraordinary act of generational theft that is being committed daily by the French pension system, which is funding current consumption by inadequately providing for the future. Not to mention incredibly high government spending - 43 per cent of GDP, while national debt is now equivalent to 70 per cent.

Income tax and national insurance, too, are frighteningly high. The average rate for individuals is some 45.3 per cent, compared with 41 per cent across the EU. The top marginal rate was, until recently, nearly 70 per cent, leading to the classic brain drain that Britain suffered in the 1970s. Johnny Hallyday was a recent high-profile departure for Switzerland, and over 300,000 have chosen exile in the UK alone. The rate of exodus appears to be accelerating. This in itself leads to ever-lower tax take for the Treasury.

This is the situation after years of right-wing leadership that has clearly failed to tackle the ensuing crisis. Time for "France's Blair"?

Ségolène Royal's famous "100 Point Plan" seems more like "100 Ways to Make Things Worse".

Sarkozy is France's Blair.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


Shiite Protests Send Message (ROBERT H. REID, 2/24/07, AP)

Thousands of Shiites on Saturday protested the U.S. detention of the son of Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician, and the country's Kurdish president deplored the "uncivilized" behavior of the American soldiers responsible.

The real message of the demonstrations: Don't push the Shiites too far either over concessions to the Sunnis or ties to Iran .

The surge makes sense for Iraqis only to the extent that it targets the Sunni.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


ed Driscoll interviews Austin Bay and Adam Bellow in the latest podcast from Pajamas Media.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM

DON'T TELL THE NEOCONS (via Kevin Whited ):

Baghdad 'Surge' Returns Chalabi To Center Stage: Political Survivor Gets
Post as Public Liaison; Does Bigger Role Loom? (YOCHI J. DREAZEN, February 23, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

In his latest remarkable political reincarnation, onetime U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi has secured a position inside the Iraqi government that could help determine whether the Bush administration's new push to secure Baghdad succeeds.

In a new post created earlier this year, Mr. Chalabi will serve as an intermediary between Baghdad residents and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces mounting an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign across the city. The position is meant to help Iraqis arrange reimbursement for damage to their cars and homes caused by the security sweeps in the hope of maintaining public support for the strategy.

Mr. Chalabi's writ is supposed to be limited mainly to security, according to aides to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but he is already speaking ambitiously about playing a larger role in economic, health and reconstruction efforts as well. In his new capacity, Mr. Chalabi answers directly to Mr. Maliki and is already taking part in weekly planning meetings with senior American officials such as Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.

One of the signal mistakes of the war was not getting an interim government led by Mr. Chalabi and endorsed by Ayatollah Sistani up and running by the end of Summer 2003. Choosing to be an occupying power instead was unwise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Former ACLU Chapter President Arrested for Child Pornography (JACK DATE, Feb. 23, 2007, ABC News)

Federal agents arrested Charles Rust-Tierney, the former president of the Virginia chapter of the ACLU, Friday in Arlington for allegedly possessing child pornography. [...]

The videos described in the complaint depict graphic forcible intercourse with prepubescent females. One if the girls is described in court documents as being "seen and heard crying", another is described as being "bound by rope." [...]

Rust Tierney coaches various youth sports teams in and around Arlington, Virginia, according to court documents.

In the past, Rust-Tierney had argued against restricting Internet access in public libraries in Virginia, writing, "Recognizing that individuals will continue to behave responsibly and appropriately while in the library, the default should be maximum, unrestricted access to the valuable resources of the Internet."

If it ever did believe in civil liberty, the ACLU long ago deserted it for freedom, and there is no coherent argument that freedom oughtn't cover such. He's just being consistent in exercising the sort of freedom they demand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Gay men seek 'female cancer' jab (Michelle Roberts, 2/23/07, BBC News)

Homosexual men are requesting a controversial "sex disease" vaccine designed to prevent a female cancer.

Gardasil protects against the most common of sexually transmitted infections, human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer.

But HPV also causes genital warts and anal and penile cancer, and men argue the jab would guard against these.

Pssst...there's an easier way to avoid them...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


David Geffen as Sister Souljah (Craig Crawford, Feb. 22, 2007, CQ Politics)

Aside from their ties to the recording industry, Hollywood biggie David Geffen could not be any less like hip-hop artist Sister Souljah. But you have to wonder whether Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign operatives are trying to turn Geffen into their foil for appealing to centrist voters, in the way that Sister Souljah was for Bill Clinton in his 1992 bid for the White House. [...]

Now, the Hillary Clinton camp is blasting Geffen -- a supporter of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a leading rival to Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination -- for telling New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that while "everybody in politics lies," Bill and Hillary Clinton "do it with such ease, it's troubling."

Given the Clintons' longstanding coziness with Hollywood's elite film stars and celebrity executives -- including Geffen at one time -- provoking a public feud with one of those types might just help buttress Clinton's pitch to middle-class voters.

Just as her husband's attack against an African-American activist's comments 15 years ago helped ease suspicions among moderate voters that he was too cozy with liberal extremists.

There is no downside for her in a fight with a gay Hollywood film producer who's upset Bill didn't pardon an Indian cop-killer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Extremist gangs clash in central Gothenburg (The Local, 24th February 2007)

Two rival gangs clashed on Kungsgatan in central Gothenburg at lunchtime on Saturday. Around 20 people, who were masked and bearing baseball bats and iron rods, were involved in the brawl.

According to police in the city, a number of members of an extreme right wing organisation were handing out flyers on the street when they were approached by left wing activists.

Let them fight to the death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


A Conservative Conservationist?: Why the Right Needs to Get Invested in the Search for Climate Change Solutions (Mark Sanford, February 23, 2007, Washington Post)

When George W. Bush, The Post and the insurance giant Lloyd's of London agree on something, it's obvious a new wind is blowing. The climate change debate is here to stay, and as America warms to the idea of environmental conservation on a grander scale, it's vital that conservatives change the debate before government regulation expands yet again and personal freedom is pushed closer toward extinction.

The fact is, I'm a conservative and a conservationist -- and that's okay. [...]

I believe conservatives have a window of opportunity, but that window is closing fast.

First, conservatives must reframe the environmental discussion by replacing the political left's scare tactics with conservative principles such as responsibility and stewardship. Stewardship -- the idea that we need to take care of what we've been given -- simply makes sense. It makes dollars as well, for the simple reason that our economy is founded on natural resources, from tourism and manufacturing to real estate and agriculture. Here in South Carolina, conservation easements are springing up across the state as landowners see the dual benefit of preserving the environment and protecting their pocketbooks.

Second, conservatives must reclaim lost ground from far-left interest groups by showing how environmental conservation is as much about expanding economic opportunity as it is about saving whales or replanting rain forests. When corporations such as BP and Shell America pursue alternative energy sources, they not only cut carbon emissions but help cut our petroleum dependency on OPEC nations. When South Carolina restaurants recycle their oyster shells, they not only restore shellfish habitat but take a job off local governments' plates and ensure continuing revenue streams for local fishermen.

Third, conservatives must respond to climate change with innovation, not regulation. This means encouraging private research and implementation of more eco-friendly construction, more energy-efficient workplaces and more sustainable ways of going about life -- all of which cuts costs and protects God's creation. It means looking past the question of whether your car's exhaust melts polar ice caps and instead treating our environment as an investment our future depends on.

Conservatives can't rule out regulation and be significant players on the issue. If there's something worth conserving it's necessarily worth using reasonable means to achieve that end. Obvious examples that are consistent with conservative principles include consumption taxes and things like banning incandescent bulbs, Battle of the light bulbs (Marc Lifsher and Adrian G. Uribarri, 2/24/07, LA
A new light is about to burn more brightly: the stubby, squiggly fluorescent bulb. Environmentalists love it, Wal-Mart is promoting it and Australia is eyeing it as an easy way to save energy and curb global warming.

Now, California lawmakers are giving it some wattage by considering a ban on the sale of old-fashioned incandescent bulbs beginning in 2012.

The proposed switch represents a revolution in a lampshade, because incandescents account for 95% of light bulb sales. Replacing each descendant of Thomas A. Edison's invention with a low-energy, long-lasting, compact fluorescent bulb would slash electricity consumption by 75%, proponents say.

Retired aerospace engineer Frank Vincent is sold. "I use them. It saves me energy and it saves me money on that energy," said Vincent, 63, who was shopping Friday at a Wal-Mart store on Crenshaw Boulevard.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has thrown considerable marketing might behind the newfangled bulbs, urging its 100 million customers to buy at least one. The world's largest retailer says that would collectively save them $3 billion over the bulbs' life.

Note that while the environmental effects are speculative the economic benefits are certain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


The Literary Tenor of the Times (Mark Helprin, Winter 2006, Claremont Review of Books)

Unable as usual to resist the absurd, the New York Times recently attempted to find and certify the best work of American fiction that appeared in the last quarter-century, and perhaps to dilute their unconscious embarrassment published a list of the runners-up. Asked to serve on the enormous panel of solons they had assembled for the purpose, I declined on the grounds that neither I nor just about anyone else has a sufficiently wide or deep knowledge of all that has been written in the period, and that even if we had, such a determination is impossible, especially at the hands of literary people who have intellectual debtors and creditors, protégés, and favorites (including, not least, themselves). [...]

[T]he literary tenor of the times is saturated above all with nihilism and its outrider, contempt; followed by politicization and its outrider, conformity. The first pair of abominations serves to dissolve the supple, living flesh of civilization--whether in blunt Leninist political combat hidden in the folds of academic relativism, or in the unbridled Satanic ravings of popular culture that society has lost the courage to dismiss outright. And the second pair of abominations serves to cast what remains after the dissolution into a slipshod orthodoxy as gray, hard, and dead as concrete. [...]

One seldom encounters pure nihilism, for just as anarchists are usually very well-organized, most of what passes for nihilism is a compromise with advocacy. Present literary forms may spurn the individual, emotion, beauty, sacrifice, love, and truth, but they energetically embrace the collective, coldness of feeling, ugliness, self-assertion, contempt, and disbelief. And why? Simply because the acolytes of modernism are terribly and justly afraid. They fear that if they do not display their cynicism they will be taken for fools. They fear that if they commit to and uphold something outside the puppet channels of orthodoxy they will be mocked, that if they are open they will be attacked, that if they appreciate that which is simple and good they will foolishly have overlooked its occult corruptions, that if they stand they will be struck down, that if they love they will lose, and that if they live they will die.

As surely they will. And others of their fears are legitimate as well, so they withdraw from engagement and risk into what they believe is the safety of cynicism and mockery. The sum of their engagement is to show that they are disengaged, and they have built an elaborate edifice, which now casts a shadow over every facet of civilization, for the purpose of representing their cowardice as wisdom. Mainly to protect themselves, they write coldly, cruelly, and as if nothing matters.

But life is short, and things do matter, often more than the human heart can bear. This is an elemental truth that neither temporarily victorious nihilism, nor fashion, nor cowardice can long suppress, which is why the literary tenor of the times cannot and will not last. And which is one reason among many why one must not accept its dictates or write according to its conventions. These must and will fall, for they are subject to constant pressure as generation after generation rises in unprompted affirmation of human nature. And though perhaps none living may see the change, it is an honor to predict and await it.

We've long thought that the novel that most perfectly captures the tenor of the intellectuals' times is The Talented Mr. Ripley. Of course, that tenor is why Americans are notoriously anti-intellectual.

N.B.: Friend Miller's favorite line is actually this one:

"For example, in affirming his courage, Norman Mailer--everything he has done has been to affirm his courage, which perhaps one should not condemn in a man who bears such a strong physical resemblance to Mamie Eisenhower--pronounces that he has been a leftist all his life, something that in Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights may not be quite as dangerous as he hallucinates."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Vilsack, First Democrat In, Is Quickly Out: Former Iowa Governor Cites Financial Demands in Ending Bid for Presidency (Dan Balz, 2/24/07, Washington Post)

Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, the first Democrat to announce a 2008 candidacy for the White House, abruptly dropped out of the race yesterday, a victim of the prodigious fundraising demands of an early-starting campaign and the star appeal of rivals Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

"This process has become to a great extent about money -- a lot of money," Vilsack said at a news conference in Des Moines yesterday. "And it is clear to me that we would not be able to continue to raise money in the amounts necessary to sustain not just a campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire but a campaign across this country. So it is money and only money that is the reason that we are leaving today."

It's at least notable that while Mr. Vilsack's bid was always dubious there's only one thing that changed this week: he participated in the first debate and there proposed a rational reform measure for Social Security and the Left declared him beyond the Pale of their party's ideology. There is no Third Way any longer for the Democrats. It's back to the 70s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Nats' Fruto Is 'a Baby With a Big Arm' (Barry Svrluga, 2/24/07, Washington Post)

Every year at every baseball training site from Florida to Arizona, someone appears as a potential spring fling, a dance partner who instantly merits a second or third date. He dazzles at introductions, teases with his talent, makes the men who run baseball clubs wonder if he could be part of a long-term relationship.

Such is the case with one Emiliano Fruto, or, as he was known to his former teammates in Seattle, "Cabeza Grande," what with his 7 3/8 -inch hat that only partially covers a massive forehead. But here, at the Washington Nationals' camp, it isn't Fruto's head or his legendary ability to juggle a soccer ball or the fact that he can outrun most of his fellow pitchers in a sprint that has folks intrigued. It is simply what caught the eye of Bob Boone, the club's director of player development, during a scouting trip last year.

"He's a baby," Boone said, "with a big arm."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Argentina's Soccer Gangs Test Limits of Public Tolerance (Monte Reel, February 24, 2007, Washington Post)

Even by the standards of Argentina, where people like to joke that soccer is less a pastime than a pathology, a recent surge of fan violence has been exceptional.

In the past two weeks, local stadiums have erupted in mass fights -- some of them all-out brawls injuring dozens of fans -- an average of every other day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Democrats Offer Up Chairmen For Donors: Party's Campaigns Had Faulted GOP For 'Selling Access' (Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and John Solomon, February 24, 2007, Washington Post)

Eager to shore up their fragile House and Senate majorities, congressional Democrats have enlisted their committee chairmen in an early blitz to bring millions of dollars into the party's coffers, culminating in a late-March event featuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and 10 of the powerful panel chairs.

In the next 10 days alone, Democratic fundraisers will feature the chairmen of the House's financial services panel and the House and Senate tax-writing committees. Senate Democrats also plan a fundraising reception during a major gathering of Native Americans in the capital Tuesday evening, an event hosted by lobbyists and the political action committee for tribal casinos, including those Jack Abramoff was paid to represent.

Critics deride the aggressive fundraising push as the kind of business as usual that voters rejected at the ballot box last November -- particularly the practice of giving interest groups access to committee chairmen in exchange for sizable donations -- but Democrats are unapologetic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


McConnell Threatens to Block Bid to Repeal War Resolution: Republican Wants to Force Vote on Guaranteeing Funding for Troops (Shailagh Murray, February 24, 2007, Washington Post)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned yesterday that a new Democratic effort to repeal the 2002 Iraq war resolution would meet the same fate as two previous efforts to limit President Bush's authority: blocked by procedural obstacles, unless Democrats relent to GOP terms.

Speaking to reporters by conference call from his Louisville home, McConnell compared the latest Democratic move to "trying to unring a bell." He warned that Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, would "have to surround himself with lawyers" to comply with the new resolution that senior Democrats are drafting.

Mr. Reid is starting to resemble the hunter in the old joke who keeps getting sodomized by the bear.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


U.S. sorry after detaining powerful Shiite pol's son (BRIAN MURPHY, 2/24/07, Chicago Sun-Times)

U.S. troops detained the eldest son of Iraq's most influential Shiite politician for nearly 12 hours Friday as he crossed back from Iran -- the same route Washington thinks is used to keep powerful Shiite militias flush with weapons and aid.

Even though the U.S. ambassador issued a rapid apology, the decision to hold Amar al-Hakim, 35, risks touching off a backlash from Shiite leaders at a time when their cooperation is needed most to keep a major security sweep through Baghdad from unraveling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Obama's neighbor causing a stir (CHRIS FUSCO AND DAVE MCKINNEY, February 24, 2007, Chicago Sun-Times)

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has a new neighbor.

It's no longer the wife of indicted political fund-raiser Tony Rezko.

It's a Rezko lawyer.

And the lawyer's plan to build a six-unit condominium building south of Obama's house is already sparking opposition in Obama's historic South Side neighborhood dominated by single-family homes.

Rita Rezko sold the corner lot to a firm owned by her husband's longtime business attorney, Michael J. Sreenan, late last year, newly filed property records show.

The parcel is smaller than the one she originally purchased because Obama bought a 10-foot-wide strip in January 2006 -- giving the senator a bigger buffer between his house and any potential development next door.

He got his, now he just has to get them theirs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Mission to the Moon: How We'll Go Back -- and Stay This Time: With the iconic Space Shuttle nearing retirement, the pressure is on NASA to design a new manned vehicle -- one that will deliver us safely to the lunar surface by 2020 before building a lasting lunar base. From ensuring a safe launch to getting the vehicle back on the ground, here's an inside look at some of the toughest challenges Orion's engineers are now confronting. (David Noland, March 2007, Popular Mechanics)

Not long after the inaugural launch of Endeavour (the fifth and final shuttle) in 1992, NASA began contemplating a new generation of manned spacecraft. The agency selected Lockheed Martin to design the X-33 single-stage-to-orbit space plane in 1996; it was abandoned five years later because of technical difficulties. The agency then considered the less ambitious Orbital Space Plane, or OSP. But the second shuttle disaster, the loss of Columbia in 2003, forced NASA to rethink its entire manned space program. It dropped the OSP and suggested another concept: the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV).

After reviewing an initial round of proposals, NASA announced the basic design parameters in September 2005. Many space buffs were disappointed. Instead of Lockheed Martin's proposal for a sleek, high-tech space plane, first previewed in PM's June 2005 issue, the agency decided to build its new spacecraft with off-the-shelf technology. The squat "spam-in-the-can" capsule that NASA unveiled was at first glance a dead ringer for the 1960s-era Apollo spacecraft. Even the launch vehicles were to be pieced together using warmed-over components from both the current shuttle and the Apollo-era Saturn boosters.

By relying on existing technology, the design would allow for more efficient construction, narrowing the gap between the shuttle's retirement in 2010 and the next manned flight. But it also stirred a hot debate within the aerospace community. "NASA's attitude seems to be that Apollo worked, so let's just redo Apollo," says Charles Lurio, a Boston space consultant. Burt Rutan, the mastermind behind the rocket SpaceShipOne, likened the new CEV to an archeological dig. "To get to Mars and the moons of Saturn, we need breakthroughs. But the way NASA's doing it, we won't be learning anything new."

Scott Horowitz, NASA's associate administrator for Exploration Systems, defends the agency's approach. "Sure, we'd love to have antimatter warp drive," he says. "But I suspect that would be kind of expensive. Unfortunately, we just don't have the money for huge technological breakthroughs. We've got to do the best we can within our constraints of performance, cost and schedule."

The result, as NASA boss Michael Griffin puts it, is "Apollo on steroids" -- a new-and-improved version of what was, as even critics must acknowledge, mankind's greatest technological feat. Recently dubbed Orion, the CEV will share Apollo's conical form, but be one and a half times as wide (16.5 ft.) and have more than double the habitable internal volume (361 cu. ft.)­, allowing it to carry six astronauts to the space station and four to the moon.

Orion also will boast a number of new tricks, such as hands-off autodocking and the ability to autonomously loiter in lunar orbit for up to six months. Its dual-fault tolerant avionics, based on those of the Boeing 787, will be able to sustain two computer failures and still return the vehicle to Earth. The avionics also will have open architecture, which means they can be easily updated and modified.

Although the CEV concept has been percolating for well over a year, the real design work -- putting detailed flesh on NASA's basic frame -- is only just beginning at the agency and at Lockheed Martin, NASA's prime contractor. Engineers face a bewildering array of decisions, a complex matrix of tradeoffs among cost, weight, time, safety and mission. "We're struggling mightily to figure out the ramifications of all these requirements," says Bill Johns, Lockheed Martin's chief engineer for Orion. "It's a huge coordination problem that keeps me awake at night."

From ensuring a safe launch to getting the vehicle back on the ground, here's an inside look at some of the toughest challenges Orion's engineers are now confronting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Michael Porter on Libya's Potential: The Harvard professor talks about the country's "dependency economy" and his work to promote reform (Business Week, 2/23/07)

How much support will you get from Muammar Qaddafi?

Qaddafi at some point decided the Libyan people could not live in a country isolated from the rest of the world. And opening up is more in line with his objectives and values.

Qaddafi's Green Book talks about self-reliance and a bottoms-up society. Instead, Libya has grown into a dependency economy. Most people have jobs given by the government. The typical Libyan is paid twice as much in subsidies as salary. Qaddafi made the decision to move in a different direction.

What is Seif, Muammar Qaddafi's son, like?

I have gotten to know Seif quite well. He was a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics, where he studied with some of the best professors. He's very much oriented toward making Libya a member of the modern world community.

Why are you working with Libya?

I didn't take this on because this is a big economy. It was very important, very symbolic. If this can be successful, then other countries will be able to change.

Provided they have enough Seifs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


"Raise unemployment pay to get Swedes off sick leave" (The Local, 24th February 2007)

Many Swedes remain on long term sick leave even when they are capable of returning to work because they are worried about becoming unemployed - where they will earn less than their sick pay.

An official inquiry into Sweden's social insurance system has concluded that initial unemployment benefits should rise, at least to the level of sick pay, to encourage people to move from one system to the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Cheney Remark Rankles Pelosi: Vice President Says He's Not Questioning Her Patriotism (Michael Abramowitz, 2/24/07, Washington Post)

"She accused me of questioning her patriotism," Cheney said. "I didn't question her patriotism. I questioned her judgment."

"Al-Qaeda functions on the basis that they think they can break our will. That's their fundamental underlying strategy: that if they can kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in Iraq, then we'll quit and go home," Cheney added. "And my statement was that if we adopt the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of al-Qaeda. I said it, and I meant it."

At some point it's just about wanting a bit of rough...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Iraqi allies, U.S. split on Baathist policy: Baghdad is blocking a reform that Washington considers crucial to its strategy for reining in violence (Paul Richter, February 24, 2007, LA Times)

Serious new divisions have emerged between the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies over the Baghdad government's refusal to enact a reform that the White House considers crucial to its new strategy for bringing the country's violence under control.

In spite of a commitment by Iraq's prime minister to its passage, legislation that would ease rules barring former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from government service has been blocked by the country's Shiite-dominated parliament.

U.S. officials repeatedly have expressed confidence that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki would work for passage of "de-Baathification" reform. However, they have begun to express disappointment over the Iraqi stalemate, saying that the reform remains a top political priority and is essential to convince the country's Sunni minority that it can receive fair treatment in the new system.

One U.S. official said the reform, far from advancing as promised, was "moving backward" and "almost dead in the water."

Oughtn't fair treatment begin with justice for their past crimes?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


N. Korea invites U.N. nuclear monitor: Pyongyang says it will discuss shutting down its weapons program (Bob Drogin, 2/24/07, LA Times)

In a fresh sign of easing tensions, North Korean officials Friday invited the chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to visit Pyongyang next month to develop plans aimed at dismantling the nation's nuclear weapons program, officials said here.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he hoped to discuss the "shutdown and eventual abandonment" of the plutonium-producing reactor facility at Yongbyon, ending its ability to produce fuel for additional nuclear weapons. [...]

"I see this as a step toward the denuclearization of the North Korean peninsula," ElBaradei told reporters in a joint briefing with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is visiting Vienna. A spokeswoman said ElBaradei probably would visit in the second week of March.

The White House, which is eager to see North Korea disarm, applauded the invitation as a sign of progress. "It's a positive sign," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "It shows that we're beginning to execute the terms of the agreement."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Congressional Democrats Wrestle Over How to Force Bush to Alter Iraq Policy (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and JOHN M. BRODER, 2/24/07, NY Times)

Congressional Democrats, divided over how to press President Bush to alter his policy in Iraq, are wrestling over whether to use the power of the purse to wind down the war, and they seem headed for a confrontation among themselves, possibly as early as next week, over a proposal to revoke the 2002 resolution authorizing the war.

Of course, the infighting means they lose the war....

February 23, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 PM


Lothar-Guenther Buchheim, author of 'Das Boot,' dies at 89 (Melissa Eddy, 2/24/07, Associated Press)

German author and art collector Lothar-Guenther Buchheim, who was best known for his autobiographical novel "Das Boot," has died, his museum and the office of the governor of Bavaria said Friday. He was 89. [...]

Buchheim was acclaimed for his works of fiction and nonfiction, including several about his World War II patrol aboard the German submarine U-96 in the Atlantic Ocean in 1941. He crafted that experience into the novel "Das Boot," or "The Boat," which was published in 1973 and carried an underlying anti-war message.

In 1981, the book was turned into an acclaimed German film starring Juergen Prochnow that detailed the hopelessness of war and its effect on the crew of a submarine who spent much of their time beneath the surface amid the cramped confines of their boat.

If you ever get a chance to see Das Boot in a theater, the scene where the rivets start popping is even more claustrophobia inducing than Alien.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 PM


Bachmann on Iran: "There's already an agreement made. [Iran is] going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone." (Eric Black, 2/23/07, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann claims to know of a plan, already worked out with a line drawn on the map, for the partition of Iraq in which Iran will control half of the country and set it up as a "a terrorist safe haven zone" and a staging area for attacks around the Middle East and on the United States. [...]

"Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you know why? It's because they've already decided that they're going to partition Iraq.

And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called.... the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I'm sorry, I don't have the official name, but it's meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There's already an agreement made.

They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United States because we are their avowed enemy."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 PM


Lawrence of Arabia was really a Zionist, historian claims (Donald Macintyre, 24 February 2007, Independent)

It appears to be revisionism on a grand scale. Popular imagination, fed on Peter O'Toole's portrayal in David Lean's film classic Lawrence of Arabia, will have a hard time absorbing the startling assertion by the historian Sir Martin Gilbert that its hero was in fact a "serious Zionist" who believed in a "Jewish state from the Mediterranean shore to the River Jordan". [...]

Sir Martin revealed last night that a series of minutes written by Lawrence, which he uncovered in the National Archive, demonstrated his sympathy with the Zionist cause. Working for Churchill in 1921, for example, he clearly identified "the area of Palestine from the Mediterranean to Jordan" as the "Jewish National Home".

While the discoveries overturn many popular assumptions about Lawrence in Britain and much of the Arab world, they will come as less of a surprise to prominent historians here.

Norman Rose of the Hebrew University, and a leading expert on the history of Zionism in Britain, leaves little room for doubt about Lawrence's admiration for Chaim Weizmann in his biography of the Belarus-born Zionist who became a British citizen in 1910, was the leading lobbyist for the 1917 Balfour declaration pledging a Jewish homeland, and the first President of Israel.

The biography quotes Lawrence as telling the Archbishop of Jerusalem, a sceptic about Weizmann, that the Zionist leader "is a great man whose boots neither you nor I are fit to black". When Weizmann finally settled in Palestine in 1934, and told his friend Lewis Namier that he regretted not having done so a decade earlier, Namier could not resist replying that Lawrence had remarked to him of Weizmann that "one does not build the National Home by living in a villa in Addison Road". This was hardly, to put it mildly, the sentiment of an anti-Zionist.

Lawrence, who had played a leading part in co-ordinating the Arab revolt against the Turks to serve British interests, mediated and translated at the post war Jewish-Arab accord between the future King Feisal of Iraq and Weizmann, which allowed for "large-scale immigration" of Jews to Palestine and implementation of the Balfour declaration in return for the Arab state promised ­ and then reneged on ­ by the British.

Professor Rose said yesterday: "I am no expert on Lawrence, but this was when many people did not see a contradiction between a Jewish National Home and Arab independence."

If the Jews and Arabs had been given back their own states then it would have saved an awful lot of trouble later.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 PM


Does Bush Know What Neocon Means?: That isn't a rhetorical question. (Timothy Noah, Feb. 23, 2007, Slate)

[C]ockburn continues:

Notwithstanding this episode, Bush 43 still sometimes drew on his father's wide knowledge of the world. Though he refused to read newspapers, he was aware of criticism that his administration had been excessively beholden to a particular clique, and wanted to know more about them. One day during that holiday, according to friends of the family, 43 asked his father, "What's a neocon?"

"Do you want names, or a description?" answered 41.


"Well," said the former president of the United States, "I'll give it to you in one word: Israel."

Let's set aside the question of whether it's fair to describe neocons as caring only about Israel. (My own view is that it would have been unfair, and possibly anti-Semitic, 20 years ago, but that the neocon agenda has since dwindled to such an extent that by now it's an acceptable shorthand, if slightly risqué.) Instead, let's focus on the anecdote's suggestion that as recently as two and a half years ago, the president of the United States didn't know what neocon meant.

Can this possibly be true?

Who, other than the neocons themselves and the enemies who obsess over them, cares what they think? In 2000 John McCain was the official candidate of the neocons and W whipped him. What more does he need to know?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 PM


Pitching offers promise for Bucs (Justice B. Hill, 2/23/07, MLB.com)

Manager Jim Tracy can look at the second half of 2006 and see plenty of promise for what might be ahead for his Pirates in '07.

In that second half of last season, the Pirates played above .500 ball, which was a stark contrast to the 30-60 record his young club posted during the first half. Tracy views that second-half success as a strong foundation for optimism. [...]

Much of that consistency was simply the byproduct of a young pitching staff maturing, he said. Zach Duke, Ian Snell, Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny have a combined 134 starts in the big leagues, a total offseason pickup Tony Armas Jr. (155) has logged alone.

Tracy said that any of the team's young arms should know he can step into a start and put a tourniquet on the wound. That knowledge will, he said, better help the Pirates play baseball at above .500 rather than below it.

Kolb seeks more than spot: Former All-Star closer eyes pivotal role in bullpen (Dejan Kovacevic, 2/24/07, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Above all, the team is of the mind that Kolb does have, as he put it, a chance to reclaim his outstanding form of 2003-04 with the Milwaukee Brewers, when he nailed 60 of 67 saves with a 2.55 ERA and pitched in the All-Star Game.

This despite the two lackluster years that followed: He had a 5.93 ERA with the Atlanta Braves in 2005 and lost the closer's job, then a 4.84 ERA back in Milwaukee last season.

"I've seen this guy in a couple different locations, and the one thing I can tell you is that there's nothing wrong with that arm," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "Somewhere between the first stint in Milwaukee and his time in Atlanta, command became an issue. Now, the key for us is to figure out why."

To that end, pitching coach Jim Colborn and bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar are spending extra time with Kolb to solidify his mechanics.

"He seems to be very receptive, too," Tracy said. "I'll tell you: This could be one of those diamond-in-the-rough types that really pays dividends for you."

Kolb is no less optimistic, mostly because he rediscovered some consistency in the second half of last season: His ERA after the All-Star break was 2.75 in 19 2/3 innings, and that included a run of 14 consecutive scoreless appearances in July and August.

He credited Brewers manager Ned Yost for returning him to late-inning usage.

"More opportunities, better situations," Kolb said. "Early in the year, I was being used anywhere. I think I got into the third inning a couple of times. But, by the end of the year, I was back toward the end of the game again. That's where my adrenaline is. That's where my feel for the game is."

And his feel by season's end?

"I feel like I got a little bit of my '04 season back. Now, I'm just looking to continue what happened in those couple of months."

Even if Kolb makes the Pirates' roster, it apparently would take some doing to get back to the late innings. Salomon Torres is the closer, and management has made clear that Matt Capps and John Grabow -- unquestioned pieces of the team's future -- will get first crack at setup duty.

"I just want to pitch toward the end of the game, whether that's as a setup guy or closer or whatever," Kolb said. "Obviously, they've got Torres here to close. I've pitched against him for a long time now, and I know he's got the stuff to do it. And I'll help him out with anything he needs. I'll be there for him. I'm here to help these guys out and get back to the form I used to have."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


Few trades as NBA deadline passes (John Eligon, February 23, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Days of aggressive negotiating by any number of NBA general managers came to an anticlimactic conclusion when only three deals were reached at the trading deadline, none of them involving star players.

The Nets' Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, the Sacramento Kings' Mike Bibby and the Memphis Grizzlies' Pau Gasol -- the top players on the trade market -- will remain with their teams.

The quiet passing of the deadline Thursday was a reflection of how difficult the NBA's salary structure and rules make it for teams to complete blockbuster deals in the middle of a season.

All those folks who hate the Yankees and Sox because they try too hard to win ought to be NBA fans, where no one cares about winning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 PM


Cheney hints at Iran attack (Greg Sheridan, February 24, 2007, The Australian)

In an exclusive interview with The Weekend Australian, Mr Cheney said: "I would guess that John McCain and I are pretty close to agreement."

The visiting Vice-President said that he had no doubt Iran was striving to enrich uranium to the point where they could make nuclear weapons.

He accused Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of espousing an "apocalyptic philosophy" and making "threatening noises about Israel and the US and others".

He also said Iran was a sponsor of terrorism, especially through Hezbollah. However, the US did not believe Iran possessed any nuclear weapons as yet.

"You get various estimates of where the point of no return is," Mr Cheney said, identifying nuclear terrorism as the greatest threat to the world.

"Is it when they possess weapons or does it come sooner, when they have mastered the technology but perhaps not yet produced fissile material for weapons?"

Gotta love the embrace of Maverick, who's been trying to create some daylight, too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Among Religious Groups, Jewish Americans Most Strongly Oppose War (Jeffrey M. Jones, 2/23/07, GALLUP NEWS SERVICE)

An analysis of Gallup Poll data collected since the beginning of 2005 finds that among the major religious groups in the United States, Jewish Americans are the most strongly opposed to the Iraq war. Catholics and Protestants are more or less divided in their views on the war, while Mormons are the most likely to favor it. Those with no religious affiliation also oppose the war, but not to the same extent that Jewish people do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


How Tom Cruise Almost Saved Icelandic Handball (Sveinn Birkir Björnsson, 2/08/07, The Reykjavik Grapevine)

Handball is to Iceland what football is to Brazillians. When Iceland plays an international handball tournament, the gross national product suffers. During the recent handball World Championship in Germany, I would dare to estimate that on average, close to a half of all workhours in the country were spent talking about handball, discussing our chances, dissecting strategy, debating substitution patterns and badmouthing referees.

There are in fact, 300,000 coaches for the Icelandic men's handball team. Obviously, it is a cliché to talk about sports in terms of religion. None the less, team Iceland, aptly nicknamed "Our Boys", is the single most powerful unifier in our country. As a nation, we tend to disagree on everything, except international handball. No religious organisation could realistically demand such devout following from its supporters. Besides Scientology perhaps... But their star player is Tom (nicknamed "the Messiah") Cruise, while ours is Guðjón Valur (not deemed worthy of a nickname). It is not really a level playing field.

After an easy victory against the Australians in the opening game, "Our Boys" dug themselves a deep hole against the Ukrainian team in the second game of the preliminary round. Half-the-way-to-China-deep. A game that had been considered all but a formality for Iceland turned into something else entirely, as the Ukrainians outplayed them in the second half while Iceland's offensive game came to a halt. It was one of the worst performance by the team in recent memory, and frankly, an embarrasing day to be an Icelander.

A second loss against France in the final game of the preliminary round would mean the Icelandic team would have been playing for seats 13 through 23 in the tournament, while a victory would likely propel them to the top of their four team group, ahead of both France and Ukraine; and the sitting duck that was Australia.

Things were looking bleak. France is an an elite team in handball, the current European Champions and winner of the having previously coasted through games against both Ukraine and Australia; the team's coach, former star player Alfreð Gíslason, managed to pull a rabbitt out of his hat. In a motivational ploy befit of Pat Riley, Gíslason spendt the night before the game splicing together game films of the French team, apparently interjected with scenes from the Last Samurai. (There is no escaping the Tom Cruise connection, is there?).

It worked. The Icelanders were swift and deadly in the opening minutes, attacking the French defense in a samuraian fashion, scoring five unanswered goals and building a healthy ten goal lead by halftime. A familiar ghost hunted the Icelandic team the first few minutes of the second half. They tend to start slow and play sluggishly after returning from the dressing room, dropping out of close games or allowing opposing teams to close the gap on more than one occasion, their downfall in many previous games. After four unanswered goals by the Frenchmen, things were starting to look bleak. Fortunately, Tom Cruise's teaching's had allowed the team to build a comfortable lead, giving the team time to find their rhythm again and eventually hold back the Frenchmen for an eight goal victory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


Ahmadinejad and Russian Roulette (Amir Taheri, 23/02/2007, Asharaq Alawsat)

Over the past quarter of a century, the Khomeinist regime has had the prudence not to behave like suicidal adolescents. When faced with the risk of hitting something hard, it has always retreated. In 1988, Khomeini accepted a humiliating ceasefire with Iraq when he realized that the Americans would punish him if he refused. Ten years later, Khamenehi, decided to eat humble pie when the Taliban killed dozens of Iranians, including eight diplomats. He had no stomach for a fight against elements even madder than the mullahs.

The key question now is whether the Khomeinist regime, which has always played chess, has decided to play Russian roulette.

The perceived political weakness of the United States, and the expectation that the Democrats would seek a strategic retreat, may have persuaded the Khomeinist leadership that Ahmadinejad may be right after all: the Islamic Republic can pursue a hegemonic strategy with no fear of hitting something hard.

Ahmadinejad, reported to watch a lot of CNN, has seen the gunboats sail in. But he has also seen Nancy Pelosi, Jack Murtha, Barrack Obama, and other American luminaries such as Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky and Jane Fonda who would rather see Bush destroyed than the mullahs restrained. The American gunboat ballet does not impress the radicals in the ascendancy in Tehran. And that is bad news for all concerned, above all the people of the region.

As the Democrats defeat on even a non-binding resolution demonstrated, the President's weakness is largely imaginary. However, since our foreign enemies share the delusion with his domestic foes, a flashy shift in the storyline would be devastating for both. This gives Joe Lieberman a truly unprecedented opportunity because by crossing the Senate aisle and restoring control to the president's party he would deal a crushing blow to al Qaeda, the Ba'athists, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the French, etc. Joementum is a legitimate WMD.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


UPS pushes back delivery dates for Airbus superjumbo freighter (Reuters, February 23, 2007)

United Parcel Service, the last remaining customer for the Airbus A380 superjumbo freighter, said Friday that it reached an agreement for Airbus to push back delivery dates of the planes and left open its option to cancel the order.

You can't promise customers reliable delivery and fly third world planes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


New Yorker editor denies cartoon a 'Polish joke' (VERENA DOBNIK, 2/23/07, Associated Press)

The editor of The New Yorker said Thursday his magazine never intended to offend anyone when it published a cartoon that joked about a Polish name and drunkenness.

David Remnick was responding to the reaction of some New Yorkers of Polish origin, angered by what they consider a "Polish joke" published in the Feb. 19 issue of the magazine.

Veteran cartoonist Robert Weber had sketched two children chatting at a bus stop with the caption, "My parents named me Zbigniew because they were drunk."

...they wouldn't have run it with two black kids and the name Barack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


A Surmountable Hill: Mrs. Clinton seems less inevitable after this week. (Peggy Noonan, February 23, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Republicans and conservatives have been trying to sink Mrs. Clinton for years, but she keeps bob-bob-bobbing along. "Oh those Clinton haters, what's wrong with them?"

Only a Democrat could hurt her, and a Democrat just did. Hollywood titan David Geffen, who now supports Barack Obama, this week famously retagged the Clintons as an Ivy League Bonnie and Clyde. Bill is "reckless," Hillary relentless--"God knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary?" In an interview that seemed like an audience, with the New York Times's Maureen Dowd, Mr. Geffen said, "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling." In this he was, knowingly or unknowingly, echoing Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator, who said in 1996 of the then-president, "Clinton's an unusually good liar. Unusually good. Do you realize that?" Mr. Kerrey suffered for the remark and was shunned within his party for a while, but didn't retract.

In her column Ms. Dowd labeled the campaign operation "Hillary Inc." but Mr. Geffen got closer to the heart of it: It is the Clinton "machine" and it "is going to be very unpleasant and unattractive and effective."

He's probably about to find out how true that is.

She'd have done better to ignore the bitching, but Ms. Clinton wins the exchange easily when she points out that Mr. Geffen is upset that the Clintons didn't spring a terrorist who killed federal officers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Behind the Sunni-Shi'ite Divide (Bobby Ghosh, 2/23/07, Time, CNN)

It has come to this: the hatred between Iraq's warring sects is now so toxic, it contaminates even the memory of a shining moment of goodwill. On Aug. 31, 2005, a stampede among Shi'ite pilgrims on a bridge over the Tigris River in Baghdad led to hundreds jumping into the water in panic. Several young men in Adhamiya, the Sunni neighborhood on the eastern bank, dived in to help. One of them, Othman al-Obeidi, 25, rescued six people before his limbs gave out from exhaustion and he himself drowned. Nearly 1,000 pilgrims died that afternoon, but community leaders in the Shi'ite district of Khadamiya, on the western bank, lauded the "martyrdom" of al-Obeidi and the bravery of his friends. Adhamiya residents, for their part, held up al-Obeidi's sacrifice as proof that Sunnis bore no ill will toward their Shi'ite neighbors across the river.

Eighteen months on, one of the men who jumped into the river to help the Shi'ites says al-Obeidi "wasted his life for those animals." Hamza Muslawi refuses to talk about how many he himself saved, saying it fills him with shame. "If I see a Shi'ite child about to drown in the Tigris now," says the carpenter, "I will not reach my hand out to save him." In Khadamiya, too, the narrative about Aug. 31 has changed. Karrar Hussein, 28, was crossing the bridge when the stampede began. Ask him about al-Obeidi, and his cheerful demeanor quickly turns sour. "That is a myth," hisses the cell-phone salesman. "That person never existed at all. He was invented by the Sunnis to make them look good." Rather than jumping in to help, he claims, the people of Adhamiya laughed and cheered as Shi'ites drowned.

The bridge connecting the two neighborhoods is now closed for security reasons--just as well, since the chasm between them is too wide for any man-made span. Mortars fired from the cemetery behind Abu Hanifa, a Sunni shrine in Adhamiya, have caused carnage in the bustling markets of the western bank. There are more mortars going in the opposite direction; on a recent afternoon, the sound of an explosion on the Sunni side of the river is greeted with cheers by worshippers at a Shi'ite shrine in Khadamiya.

Those cheers are just one sign of how much venom has seeped into Sunni-Shi'ite relations in the year since their simmering conflict was brought to a boil by the bombing of Samarra's golden-domed shrine. The bloodlust is no longer limited to extremists on both sides. Hatred has gone mainstream, spreading first to victims of the violence and their families--the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have lost loved ones, jobs, homes, occasionally entire neighborhoods--and then into the wider society. Now it permeates not only the rancorous political discourse of Baghdad's Green Zone but also ordinary conversations in homes and marketplaces, arousing a fury even in those who have no obvious, pressing grievance. Neither Muslawi nor Hussein has suffered personal loss, but they are relatively able to tap into the same loathing that motivates the Shi'ite militias and Sunni jihadis. "The air has become poisoned [by sectarianism], and we have all been breathing it," says Abbas Fadhil, a Baghdad physician. "And so now everybody is talking the same language, whether they are educated or illiterate, secular or religious, violent or not."

Worse, there are clear signs that Iraq's malice has an echo in other parts of the Middle East, exacerbating existing tensions between Sunnis and Shi'ites and reanimating long-dormant ones. In Lebanon, some Hizballah supporters seeking to topple the government in Beirut chant the name of radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia is blamed for thousands of Sunni deaths. In Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Egypt, sympathy for Sunnis in Iraq is spiked with the fear, notably in official circles, of a Shi'ite tide rising across the Middle East, instigated and underwritten by an ancient enemy of the Arabs: Iran.

For those who follow Iraq from afar, the daily stories of sectarian slaughter are perplexing. Why are the Shi'ites and Sunnis fighting? Why now? There are several explanations for the timing of the outbreak of hostilities, each tied to a particular interpretation of how events unfolded after the fall of Saddam Hussein: flawed American postwar policies, provocation by foreign jihadis, retaliation by militias like al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, the ineptitude of Iraqi politicians and, lately, Iranian interference. But the rage burning in people like Muslawi and Hussein has much deeper and older roots. It is the product of centuries of social, political and economic inequality, imposed by repression and prejudice and frequently reinforced by bloodshed. The hatred is not principally about religion. Sunnis and Shi'ites may disagree on some matters of dogma and some details of Islam's early history, but these differences are small--they agree on most of the important tenets of the faith, like the infallibility of the Koran, and they venerate the Prophet Muhammad. Despite the claims by some Arab commentators, there is no evidence that Iraq's Shi'ite extremists are trying to convert Sunnis, or vice versa. For Iraqi fighters on both sides, "their sect is nothing more than a uniform, a convenient way to tell friend from enemy," says Ghanim Hashem Kudhir, who teaches modern Islamic history at Baghdad's Mustansiriya University. "What binds them is not religion but common historical experience: Shi'ites see themselves as the oppressed, and they see Sunnis as the oppressors."

Sunnis and Shi'ites are fighting for a secular prize: political domination. The warring sects, says a U.S. official in Baghdad, "are simply communities ... striving to gain or regain power." Without an understanding of the roots of the rage that drives people like Muslawi and Hussein, any plan--American or Iraqi, military or political--to stabilize Iraq is doomed to failure. And that power struggle in Iraq, whether it draws neighboring countries into a wider sectarian conflict or forces a realignment of alliances, has the potential to radically alter the Middle East. [...]

Sectarian relations worsened in the 16th century. By then the seat of Sunni power had moved to Istanbul. When the Turkish Sunni Ottomans fought a series of wars with the Shi'ite Safavids of Persia, the Arabs caught in between were sometimes obliged to take sides. Sectarian suspicions planted then have never fully subsided, and Sunni Arabs still pejoratively label Shi'ites as "Persians" or "Safavis." The Ottomans eventually won control of the Arab territories and cemented Sunni dominance. The British, the next power in the Middle East, did nothing to change the equation. In the settlement after World War I, they handed the newly created states of Iraq and Bahrain, both with Shi'ite majorities, to Sunni monarchs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Labor Seeks Boost From Pro-Union Measure (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 2/23/07, NY Times)

Organized labor is fighting for a pro-union bill as if its life depended on it.

Some labor experts say the union movement's ability to reverse its slide could in fact hinge on its winning passage of the bill, which would make it easier for workers to join unions.

The United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation and more than a dozen other business groups are mounting a fierce campaign to stop the bill, inundating Congress with more than 10,000 e-mail messages and letters. At the same time, labor unions are sponsoring demonstrations, conferences and meetings in 99 cities this month to push for the legislation. The two sides have also squared off with newspaper advertisements.

"The business community thinks the labor movement is at death's door, and they want to make sure they keep this bill from passing," said Charles Craver, a professor of labor law at George Washington University. "If it passes, it will give labor a big boost." [...]

Business lobbyists voice confidence that they can block the bill in the Senate, where opponents say a filibuster is likely. Vice President Dick Cheney said last week that President Bush would veto the bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Stepping to the Plate, Giuliani Is Seeing Only Softballs (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, 2/23/07, NY Times)

In a swing through South Carolina this week, Rudolph W. Giuliani chose to campaign at a fire house, which is a little like Derek Jeter meeting with Yankees fans -- a most unlikely forum for hostility, or even much skepticism.

Instead of the sometimes barbed give-and-take endured by the other candidates, Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, fielded a few questions from the firefighters and police officers who gathered to hear him here. The questions, which began with comments like, "Being in your presence here is just unbelievable," stuck almost entirely to issues on which Mr. Giuliani is most comfortable, like airport security and border control.

More than the other major presidential candidates, Mr. Giuliani has limited himself to events with narrowly defined, friendly audiences, avoiding the kind of uncomfortable interrogations his rivals have occasionally faced.

What else can he do? As soon as he has to start explaining his political views his candidacy is over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Signals From Tehran (David Ignatius, 2/23/07, Real Clear Politics)

The multi-pronged squeeze on Tehran surprised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials, who seemed confident when I visited the country last September that they were in the driver's seat, and that it was the U.S. that was weakened and isolated. "We knocked them off stride and put them on the defensive,'' argues Burns. A British official who follows the issue closely agrees: "The Iranians have moved from cockiness to division and nervousness.''

Western officials see various signs of an altered political balance in Tehran: public criticism of Ahmadinejad's management of the economy by former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; a letter challenging the president's economic policy signed by 150 members of the Iranian parliament; criticism of Ahmadinejad's handling of the nuclear issue by former members of the Iranian negotiating team and by a hard-line newspaper; and now new signals from Larijani and others that Iran wants to resume the preliminary negotiations it broke off last September.

"The financial sanctions have had a real impact,'' says the British official. "They lead to a general insecurity about economic viability.''

So does all this mean it's time to go back to the bargaining table? Not yet, say a range of U.S. and European officials. They insist the Iranians must stop haggling and agree to stop enriching uranium. Russian officials told me in Moscow last week that President Vladimir Putin passed the message to a top Iranian emissary a week ago that Tehran must agree to a "time out'' in enriching uranium if it wants to settle the nuclear issue.

It seems not unlikely that Mr. Putin's rather absurd recent saber-rattling is driven by domestic political pressures to distract attention from his complete fold to the West over Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Wilberforce and the Roots of Freedom: A great man of history whom we would do well to remember (Jonathan Bean, 2/23/07, National Review)

William Wilberforce is one of the great forgotten men of history. That will change, and Wilberforce will be simply one of the great men of history, when the remarkable new film Amazing Grace opens nationwide this weekend.

Amazing Grace commemorates the bicentennial of the British ban on the slave trade (1807), an antislavery movement led by Wilberforce. Without him, there would have been no end to the slave trade, certainly not in his time. And, without his conversion to Christianity, Wilberforce might have lived a forgettable life as a rich man's son. Instead, he helped give birth to new freedom in the British Empire, hope in America, and inspiration to abolitionists everywhere. Today, with slavery spreading in Africa and Asia, and an estimated 27 million in slavery worldwide, Amazing Grace is more than a period piece: It is a timely and enduring lesson on what one man can do to stop the spread of evil.

"Religion in politics" is a topic hot enough to spark a barroom brawl--or, at least, an inter-cubicle dispute. Yet there is no getting around the religious passion that fed abolitionism, or, for that matter, the later civil-rights movements. Slavery mocked the rhetoric of our Declaration of Independence, as abolitionists made clear. Yet many abolitionists in both Britain and America were also inspired to fight passionately against this injustice by the moral teachings of Jesus Christ. The fervor of abolitionism came from the New Testament, a body of literature providing the universal principles of natural law with which to attack slavery.

The story of the abolitionist movement really begins in Britain, where an unlikely Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce, courageously took up the cause of human emancipation, despite virtually universal opposition.

Had we retained the King and a formal relationship with Britain the South would likely have been shamed into giving up slavery without the Civil War.

Amazing Story: Eric Metaxas on the life of William Wilberforce: An NRO Q&A (Kathryn Lopez, 2/23/07, National Review)

William Wilberforce was a British abolitionist leader member of Parliament in the early 19th century. Largely well-known in limited circles, a new movie out today and book (soon to debut as a New York Times bestseller), both by the title Amazing Grace, hope to change that.

The author of the book, Eric Metaxas, recently took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez. [...]

Metaxas: Wilberforce practically invented what we would call a social conscience. And we can't bear the thought that we weren't always wonderful human beings who always cared for the poor and righted wrongs where we saw them. But we weren't! Today we argue about how. Conservatives say the private sector should take the lead and liberals say the government should take the lead. But we never ever argue about whether we should try to help the poor and the suffering. It's something that's become utterly taken for granted. But we shouldn't take it for granted, because before Wilberforce and his pioneering efforts in social reform, all of these ideas were quite foreign. Most "enlightened" Europeans and Americans were quite content to let poverty and suffering and inequalities alone, with no moral qualms about it. Wilberforce introduced the foreign notion from Scripture that we must use what we have to bless others -- however we do it. That was not a notion that leapt from the noble human breast, but from the pages of Scripture. And to be reminded of it makes us uncomfortable because it's rather humbling. Social Darwinism comes to us naturally, but social conscience came to us supernaturally, and in many ways via Wilberforce.

Lopez: That's quite the accomplishment. And what about slavery - that was no small matter.

Metaxas: Well of course history should revere him because he led the monumental and heroic Battle to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire -- and inspired and cajoled the rest of the European powers to do the same. He was a tireless advocate for the downtrodden in a day when it was completely unpopular. He was praised by Lincoln and by Frederick Douglass. They saw him as the great man that he was, and we do history a monstrous injustice in not seeing him as they did.

Hollywood's 'Amazing' Glaze: What the new movie covers up about William Wilberforce (CHARLOTTE ALLEN, February 23, 2007, Opinion Journal)
[W]William Wilberforce was driven by a version of Christianity that today would be derided as "fundamentalist." One of his sons, sharing his father's outlook, was the Anglican bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who wrote a passionate critique of "The Origin of the Species," arguing that Darwin's then-new theory could not fully account for the emergence of human beings. William Wilberforce himself, as a student at Cambridge University in the 1770s and as a young member of Parliament soon after, had no more than a nominal sense of faith. Then, in 1785, he began reading evangelical treatises and underwent what he called "the Great Change," almost dropping out of politics to study for the ministry until friends persuaded him that he could do more good where he was.

And he did a great deal of good, as Mr. Apted's movie shows. His relentless campaign eventually led Parliament to ban the slave trade, in 1807, and to pass a law shortly after his death in 1833, making the entire institution of slavery illegal. But it is impossible to understand Wilberforce's long antislavery campaign without seeing it as part of a larger Christian impulse. The man who prodded Parliament so famously also wrote theological tracts, sponsored missionary and charitable works, and fought for what he called the "reformation of manners," a campaign against vice. This is the Wilberforce that Mr. Apted has played down. [...]

Thanks to Wilberforce, the movement's most visible champion, Britain ended slavery well before America, but the abolitionist cause in America, too, was driven by Christian churches more than is often acknowledged. Steven Spielberg's 1997 "Amistad," about the fate of blacks on a mutinous slave ship, also obscured the Christian zeal of the abolitionists.

Nowadays it is all too common--and not only in Hollywood--to assume that conservative Christian belief and a commitment to social justice are incompatible. Wilberforce's embrace of both suggests that this divide is a creation of our own time and, so to speak, sinfully wrong-headed.

-REVIEW: Amazing Abolitionist: Amazing Grace shows Wilberforce in Action (Mark Moring, 02/22/07, Christianity Today)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM

60 IN '10:

Arnold Defends Hillary, Mulls Senate Run (Roger Simon, February 23, 2007, Politico)

If Arnold Schwarzenegger had been born in Austin instead Austria, he might be president today.

But because that office is denied him by the U.S. Constitution, he is concentrating on other things.

He told me in a 45-minute interview in his office in the state capitol Thursday:

* He will not rule out running for future public office including U.S. senator or mayor of Los Angeles when his term as governor expires in January 2011.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM

CURSES, OIL AGAIN (via Jim Hamlen):

India: Blessed With Less (AMITY SHLAES, February 22, 2007, NY Sun)

This week, Russia is busy warning that Poland or the Czech Republic will be targeted by its missiles if they cooperate with America in missile defense. This action follows a threatening speech by President Putin in Munich.

India, by contrast, is emphatically assuring the world that the recent bombing of a Pakistan-bound train won't ruin relations with its Muslim neighbor.

In other words, Russia is turning out to be a country that creates geopolitical shocks, India a country that absorbs them. It may be that the Russia problem doesn't have so much to do with national temperament as with oil. New oil has further corrupted the Russian people. It has even -- improbable as this might have once sounded -- transformed Mr. Putin into a Latin-style petrocrat.

There's a corollary to the blame-the-oil proposition. It is that India is a source of stability precisely because it has no oil or any comparable windfall. If natural resources are a curse, their absence is a blessing.

What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
by Bernard Lewis
(Booknotes, 12/30/2001, C-Span)
Prof. LEWIS: ... It has a very disruptive effect, and on the whole, I should say that oil has been a curse to the Arab world.

LAMB: Why?

Prof. LEWIS: Precisely this reason. You know, there's this old American dictum: no taxation without representation. What is sometimes overlooked is that the converse is also true: no representation without taxation. And with our revenues, they didn't need taxes; therefore, they didn't need assemblies to levy taxes. And they were made independent of public opinion in their own countries with this untold wealth accruing from oil revenues. This greatly strengthened the power of autocratic governments, far greater than it had ever been in the past. Now if traditional Islamic government is authoritarian, but it is not dictatorial or despotic, it is governed under certain rules and so on. In modern times, the power of the author--the power of the ruler has been vastly augmented by these huge revenues so that he doesn't need public support or public approval of his taxes.

Putin's patrimony: Russia's economy is more dependent on natural resources than in Soviet times. This "oil curse" means a brittle economy and an unstable political system based on the fusion of power and property. Watch out for the coming Putin succession crisis (Robert Skidelsky, March 2007, Prospect)
As Airbus squabble grows, Putin calls for aerospace aid (David Robertson, 2/22/07, Times of London)

Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, again demonstrated his tendency towards "muscular diplomacy" yesterday as he took advantage of chaos at Airbus, the European aircraft maker, to demand help developing the Russian aerospace industry.

At a meeting with French defence and finance ministers, Mr Putin said that the Russians would continue to buy shares in EADS, Airbus's parent, unless the company agreed to greater cooperation with Russia. The Russians already have a 6 per cent holding.

Russian-built jets are noisy, inefficient and heavy polluters, but the Kremlin does not want to admit defeat and give up on the high-tech aerospace industry. This is partly for strategic reasons and partly because the Kremlin does not want to spend billions on Airbus and Boeing. However, the Russian aerospace industry can only improve if it gains access to Western technology and Mr Putin is trying to lure Airbus into greater cooperation.

Russia interested in acquiring larger stake in EADS: Putin (The Associated Press, February 21, 2007)
Russia is interested in acquiring a larger stake in European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., the parent company of airline manufacturer Airbus, President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

Such "meaningful cooperation would be interesting and useful not only for Russian producers but for their European partners," Putin said during a meeting with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.

The Oil Curse: The history of oil investment in the developing world hints at trouble ahead for the multinationals in Iraq (Daniel Litvin, March 2003, Prospect))
[N]o amount of CSR or diplomacy by Aramco could control the dramatic process of social change in Saudi Arabia which the wealth brought by its oil revenues had unleashed. Over the space of several decades, oil money had transformed Saudi Arabia from a traditional society of subsistence farmers and nomads to one accustomed to western standards of living and�at least for the elite�lavish palaces, expensive cars, and so on. While welcomed by some Saudis, such changes also created social tensions which eventually rebounded against Aramco. In particular, devout Muslims among the population argued that exposure to western ideas and materialism was corrupting Saudi society. Such criticisms could not be ignored by the royal family, itself followers of the puritanical Wahhabi branch of Islam. Adopting a tough approach towards the US companies presented the Saudi rulers with an opportunity to assert their anti-western credentials.

This tension within the Saudi regime between pro and anti-western forces unleashed by the oil investment, also lies at the heart of America's current problems with the country. While Saudi Arabia professes support for America's war on terror, wealthy Saudis are accused of bankrolling suspect groups. Can Saudi Arabia continue to be considered a secure oil supplier to the west? Whatever the answer, the story of Aramco illustrates the limitations of CSR in managing strategic foreign investments.

The second example is Shell's experience in Nigeria. Although far from the middle east, Nigeria has some important similarities with Iraq: it is an oil-rich, ethnically-divided state, with its borders arbitrarily drawn during the colonial era. As in Iraq, it was the British empire which tried, with limited success, to impose a sense of nationhood on a set of distinct ethnic and religious groups. In Nigeria's case, the main tribes are the Hausa-Fulanis in the north, the Yorubas in the southwest, and the Ibos in the southeast. Within the main oil-producing region of Nigeria�the Niger Delta�there are also dozens of smaller ethnic and religious groups.

Shell became famously embroiled in an international controversy in 1995 when the Nigerian government executed Ken Saro-Wiwa, a leader of the movement for the survival of the Ogoni people (one of these small Niger Delta groups), and western campaigners accused the company of guilt by association. Posters of Shell's logo dripping with blood sprang up in many western countries. Following that episode, the company invested more in its CSR and environmental programmes in the Delta region. But violent local unrest persists: in March, for example, Shell was forced to shut down much of its Nigerian oil production, as fighting erupted between Ijaws, Itsekiris and government troops in the Delta region. As in 1995, disagreements over the distribution of oil revenues drove much of the violence.

Indeed, Shell's experience in Nigeria is more than just another illustration of the limitations of CSR. It shows how the politics of revenue distribution could be a particularly hazardous issue for the oil companies in Iraq. The companies will face two broad options. One is to side with the government in Baghdad. The other is to pay most attention to the demands of local groups in the various oil-producing areas, whether these be Kurds, Sunnis, or Marsh Arabs.

An attraction of the Baghdad option which is likely to weigh heavily in the case of Iraq is that it allows companies to avoid accusations of imperial meddling. This was why Shell, in the decades after Nigeria's independence from Britain in 1960, left the issue of revenue distribution to the central government and was reluctant to lobby openly for other groups. The threat of nationalisation was real at the time�BP lost its stake in Nigeria's main oil concession in 1979.

However, ignoring the demands of the communities in the Niger Delta sowed the seeds for the public uproar against Shell in 1995. When local groups began to protest, federal troops were dispatched to the region to quash dissent�often brutally. The situation was compounded by deep corruption at both the local and federal level. And Shell, for much of the time, stood by, refusing to get "involved in politics."

The Ogoni, one of the aggrieved local groups, brought the issue to international attention with some shrewd marketing. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a journalist and former writer of television soap operas, appreciated the potency of images of environmental destruction for western audiences. He helped frame the Ogoni cause as a green, anti-corporate movement, and thereby directed the wrath of western protestors against Shell.

Since 1995, Shell has changed course. It has pumped more money into local welfare projects, such as schools and small-business schemes (its community development budget has roughly trebled to over $60m a year). It has also begun to exert more explicit political pressure on the federal government to assist the development of the Niger Delta. For several years now, the government has been returning 13 per cent of the oil revenues to the Delta region, compared with 3 per cent previously. Shell lobbying was one factor behind this rise.

The recent fighting involving Ijaws and Itsekiris is one indication that this strategy has not yet brought peace to the area. More generally, Shell's new approach of trying to balance federal and local interests risks opening the company precisely to the accusation that it is meddling in domestic politics�especially from those ethnic groups which are now receiving a diminished proportion of the oil wealth.

Conflicting demands over oil revenues have already driven one secessionist movement in Nigeria�the Biafran war in the late 1960s�in which over 1m people are thought to have lost their lives to violence and to famine. In that case, it was the Ibos who tried (and failed) to split from the rest of the country and take the oil provinces with them. Today, many of the tribes in the Delta, although less populous than the Ibos, also feel little political attachment to Nigeria. "Nigeria is a shaky, even temporary, phenomenon," says one Ijaw activist ominously.

Even if Iraq holds together as a nation in the immediate wake of the war, in the long run the demands of various ethnic groups for a greater share of the oil money could accelerate a process of internal fragmentation. In such a situation, the position adopted by the oil companies will be key, and misjudgement on their part could exacerbate conflict.

It is ironic, perhaps, that the giant oil companies, for all their power and wealth, often find it difficult to manage local politics effectively. But keeping local people happy and maintaining a stable climate for investment over the long term, can be a highly complex business, requiring a deep understanding of local traditions and a delicate balancing of conflicting pressures. And if the multinationals do get it wrong in the case of Iraq, US and British soldiers may find themselves back on the ground, charged with sorting out another oil-fuelled mess.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


U.S. Used Base in Ethiopia to Hunt Al Qaeda in Africa (MICHAEL R. GORDON and MARK MAZZETTI, 2/23/07, NY Times)

The American military quietly waged a campaign from Ethiopia last month to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa, including the use of an airstrip in eastern Ethiopia to mount airstrikes against Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia, according to American officials.

The close and largely clandestine relationship with Ethiopia also included significant sharing of intelligence on the Islamic militants' positions and information from American spy satellites with the Ethiopian military. Members of a secret American Special Operations unit, Task Force 88, were deployed in Ethiopia and Kenya, and ventured into Somalia, the officials said.

The counterterrorism effort was described by American officials as a qualified success that disrupted terrorist networks in Somalia, led to the death or capture of several Islamic militants and involved a collaborative relationship with Ethiopia that had been developing for years.

But the tally of the dead and captured does not as yet include some Qaeda leaders -- including Fazul Abdullah Mohammed and Fahid Mohammed Ally Msalam -- whom the United States has hunted for their suspected roles in the attacks on American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. With Somalia still in a chaotic state, and American and African officials struggling to cobble together a peacekeeping force for the war-ravaged country, the long-term effects of recent American operations remain unclear.

So it was predictably ineffectual and now we need the Islamists to resume control of a country that is otherwise lawless and therefore a genuine threat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Democrats Seek to Repeal 2002 War Authorization (Shailagh Murray and Jonathan Weisman, February 23, 2007, Washington Post)

Senate Democratic leaders intend to unveil a plan next week to repeal the 2002 resolution authorizing the war in Iraq in favor of narrower authority that restricts the military's role and begins withdrawals of combat troops.

House Democrats have pulled back from efforts to link additional funding for the war to strict troop-readiness standards after the proposal came under withering fire from Republicans and from their party's own moderates. That strategy was championed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) and endorsed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

"If you strictly limit a commander's ability to rotate troops in and out of Iraq, that kind of inflexibility could put some missions and some troops at risk," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), who personally lodged his concerns with Murtha.

Oops, don't let Ms Pelosi hear you say that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Blog blunders highlight pitfalls of political cyberspace (Ellen Goodman, 2/23/07, Boston Globe)

I suppose you could describe these two women as cybertrailblazers. But their cybertrails, alas, followed them from a checkered past, not to the glorious future. And the blaze they created was a bit more like a flameout.

More like a cross burning on a lawn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


It Can Happen Here (Joe Conason, Thomas Dunne Books, February 23, 2007, AlterNet)

The following is excerpted from Joe Conason's new book, "It Can Happen Here" (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007).

Can it happen here? Is it happening here already? That depends, as a recent president might have said, on what the meaning of "it" is.

To Sinclair Lewis, who sardonically titled his 1935 dystopian novel "It Can't Happen Here," "it" plainly meant an American version of the totalitarian dictatorships that had seized power in Germany and Italy. Married at the time to the pioneering reporter Dorothy Thompson, who had been expelled from Berlin by the Nazis a year earlier and quickly became one of America's most outspoken critics of fascism, Lewis was acutely aware of the domestic and foreign threats to American freedom. So often did he and Thompson discuss the crisis in Europe and the implications of Europe's fate for the Depression-wracked United States that, according to his biographer, Mark Schorer, Lewis referred to the entire topic somewhat contemptuously as "it."

If "it" denotes the police state American-style as imagined and satirized by Lewis, complete with concentration camps, martial law, and mass executions of strikers and other dissidents, then "it" hasn't happened here and isn't likely to happen anytime soon.

For contemporary Americans, however, "it" could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule. That is why Lewis's darkly funny but grim fable of an authoritarian coup achieved through a democratic election still resonates today -- along with all the eerie parallels between what he imagined then and what we live with now.

For the first time since the resignation of Richard M. Nixon more than three decades ago, Americans have had reason to doubt the future of democracy and the rule of law in our own country.

The funniest thing about such bilge is that such folks don't even seem to realize that they're just trying to puff up their opposition to toppling real dictatorships in the Middle East into an imaginary resistance to dictatorship at home. Of course, had Mr. Conason written so about Saddam while in Iraq he'd have been fed to a shredder.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Is recruiting his new pitch? (Gordon Edes, February 23, 2007, Boston Globe)

The news that Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, frustrated by years of losing in Seattle, may explore free agency after the season has not been lost on Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Matsuzaka was asked about Ichiro leaving Seattle, and whether as a friend he could entice the former American League batting champion into coming to Boston.

"I had the opportunity to play on the same team with Ichiro for the first time ever in the World Baseball Classic," Matsuzaka said yesterday through interpreter Sachiyo Sekiguchi. "By being on the same team with Ichiro-san, I felt his greatness and his ability and also his reliability. I felt his greatness through that experience.

"If I could be on the same team with him, there would be nobody I could count on more."

February 22, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 PM


US intelligence on Iran does not stand up, say Vienna sources (Julian Borger, February 23, 2007, The Guardian)

Much of the intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities provided to UN inspectors by American spy agencies has turned out to be unfounded, according to diplomatic sources in Vienna. [...]

At the heart of the debate are accusations, spearheaded by the US, that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. However, most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed sources in Vienna.

"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," said a diplomat at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's investigations. [...]

A western counter-proliferation official accepted that intelligence on Iran had sometimes been patchy but argued that the essential point was Iran's failure to live up to its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

"I take on board on what they're saying, but the bottom line is that for nearly 20 years [the Iranians] were violating safeguards agreements," the official said. "There is a confidence deficit here about the regime's true intentions."

Which ought to be sufficient, instead of manufacturing bogeymen.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


The myth of Muslim support for terror: The common enemy is violence and terrorism, not Muslims any more than Christians or Jews (Kenneth Ballen, 2/23/07, CS Monitor)

The survey, conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland's prestigious Program on International Public Attitudes, shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."

Contrast those numbers with 2006 polling results from the world's most-populous Muslim countries - Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Terror Free Tomorrow, the organization I lead, found that 74 percent of respondents in Indonesia agreed that terrorist attacks are "never justified"; in Pakistan, that figure was 86 percent; in Bangladesh, 81 percent.

When we target civilians it isn't terror, just good clean fun.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Market approach recasts often-hungry Ethiopia as potential bread basket: The African nation produces more maize than neighbors Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania combined (Scott Baldauf, 2/23/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

"Ethiopia is the second-largest maize producer in Africa, and yet Ethiopian farmers are getting poorer and poorer," says Ms. Gabre-Madhin, the head of Ethiopia's soon-to-be-functioning commodities exchange. "We're going to have to do something very dramatically different. The stakes are high."

What Gabre-Madhin is proposing may sound grandiose - she wants to set up a commodities exchange, similar to the Chicago Board of Trade. But her free-market passion has convinced Ethiopia's left-leaning Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to make her proposal his top domestic priority this year. Most Ethiopians earn their livelihoods from agriculture, and anything that promises to increase incomes and help Ethiopia compete on the global stage is welcome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Laureate to Enter Politics (Anjana Pasricha, 21 February 2007, VOA News)

Three decades ago, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, began giving tiny loans to poor people in Bangladesh to help them start small, income generating projects. His path-breaking work lifted millions out of poverty and made him a household name.

Now the "banker to the poor" is taking on an even more formidable challenge - cleansing the country's discredited and divisive political culture. He recently announced plans to start a new political party because he has had enough of what he calls the politics of "disunity and division". [...]

Most people yearn for honest leadership in a country where political corruption is endemic, and where politicians have failed to deliver any real change. But some people worry that the murky world of Bangladesh's politics could taint the image of one of its most popular and respected men. Others doubt he can mobilize wide political support.

The editor of Daily Star, a leading newspaper, Mahfuz Anam, says many are hoping Yunus can create a new culture by focusing on the public good, even if he does not emerge as a major political player.

"Chances of success measured by capturing power through elections may be limited," Anam said, "but in terms of bringing about a qualitative changes in our politics, a politics which is focused on developmental work, focused on concerns of people's lives rather than rhetoric which has engulfed country... he does provide a formidable option."

The Reformation rolls on...

Posted by Bryan Francoeur at 4:23 PM


Iraq tank command for Prince Harry (CNN, 2/22/07)

Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, is to join troops serving in Iraq, defense officials confirmed Thursday.

Ending weeks of speculation on the young royal's future, the Ministry of Defense said Harry, 22, will be deployed with his Blues and Royals regiment in May or June this year.

The prince will become the first royal to serve in a war zone since his uncle, the Duke of York, piloted helicopters in the Falklands conflict 25 years ago.

I don't care what anybody says...I dig the royal family.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:15 PM


Truth, lies and anti-semitism: Irène Némirovsky's last novel, written before her death in Auschwitz, caused a sensation when it was discovered in 2004. But the charge that she might have been anti-semitic - even though she was Jewish - threatens to stain her reputation. Stuart Jeffries investigates (Stuart Jeffries, February 22, 2007, The Guardian)

When Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française was published in English last year, something was left out. Just a few lines omit-ted from the introduction to the French edition that had appeared two years previously. Nothing to diminish the remarkable achievement of the writer's novel describing life in a French village under Nazi occupation. Nothing to undermine the ecstatic reviews - Le Monde called the book "a masterpiece ... ripped from oblivion" - and the fact that the novel has become a runaway bestseller.

And nothing to taint the story of the book's extraordinary appearance after 50 years tucked away in a French cellar, or the narrative of Némirovsky's tragic last years - stories that helped make Suite Française a literary sensation. Némirovsky, a Kiev-born Jewish woman, had settled in France with her wealthy family after the Russian revolution; become a literary celebrity on a par with Colette in 1930s Paris; was refused French citizenship shortly before the second world war broke out; and, in 1942, was deported to Auschwitz where she died, a stateless Jew, aged 39. For many years, the manuscript of her masterpiece, written on paper as thin as onion peel, had remained in a suitcase that she handed to her daughter Denise when she was arrested.

What was missing from the British Chatto & Windus edition was a passage in which Miriam Anissimov, a biographer of Primo Levi, suggested that Némirovsky was a self-hating Jew.

And the claims made in that passage have fuelled a transatlantic row about whether the writer was indeed an anti-semitic Jew who cosied up to some of the most unpleasant anti-semites in 1930s France. It's a row that threatens to tarnish the rather idealised image of Némirovsky that has been developed since her unfinished masterpiece was disinterred three years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:13 PM


Terror suspect 'will be tortured' if deported (The Local, 22nd February 2007)

A terror suspect [Hassan assad] who says he could be tortured if sent back to Jordan is embarking a last-ditch attempt to stay in Sweden. [...]

Assad is accused by the Swedish security police, Säpo, of working undercover for terrorist organizations and funding terrorist activities. In an interview with The Local, he denied the charges, explaining that he has been providing aid for the welfare of Palestinians.

According to the Red Cross, if Assad goes back to Jordan, his country of citizenship, he is likely to be tortured in police interrogation.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Read My Lips: Raise Taxes: The era of the tax revolt is over. How Democrats have an opportunity to redefine the politics of government (Mark Schmitt, Jan/Feb, Washinton Monthly)

Public opinion polls suggest that making the system fairer and simpler might be far more appealing than tax cuts ever were. A poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in 2003 found that when people were asked, "What bothers you most?" about the tax system, 77 percent said it was either complexity or the feeling that wealthy individuals and corporations don't pay their fair share, while only 14 percent said what bothered them was the amount they themselves pay in taxes. Nonetheless, people are notoriously averse to "tax the rich" proposals if they see them as punitive. The idea of treating investment income and income from work identically, which was a centerpiece of John Edwards's 2004 campaign, would seem to finesse that paradox by establishing a neutral principle that applies to rich and poor alike.

But while fairness should be the main goal of reform, fairness alone will not raise revenues adequate to meet government's needs. One of the brilliant tactical moves of the mid-'80s tax reformers was to first agree that reform would be "revenue-neutral," so that issues of raising or lowering taxes would not get in the way. At a recent press conference with Bradley, Wyden sounded nostalgic for those days, answering questions about revenues with a promise that reform would do no more than "lower rates and close loopholes." But revenue neutrality is not a luxury that 21st-century reformers can afford. In place of revenue neutrality, they will have to adopt some predetermined target level of revenues that will keep pace with the natural growth of entitlement programs because of the aging population and health-care inflation--the main drivers of the so-called "entitlement crisis." Even with a target level of revenues much higher than today's 17 percent, they will still be unable to avoid significant cuts to the two fast-growing entitlements, Medicare and Medicaid, or a wholesale revision of the health system. This, too, creates an opportunity for bipartisanship.

If the tax reformers of the future are to make good on the promise of lower rates, as well as surrendering the revenues from the AMT, as well as paying for an aging population, they will have to go well beyond the boundaries of the income tax. And here is where the greatest opportunities for an entirely new political configuration may be found. Conservatives have always been interested in taxing consumption as a way of encouraging savings and investment, and liberals in need of revenue will have no alternative but to reconsider their historical aversion to consumption taxes as regressive.

Taxing consumption is usually synonymous with some version of a Value-Added Tax, (VAT) which is slowly gaining acceptance among liberals. (See "Value Added," by Jeffrey Birnbaum) An alternative would be a tax either on gasoline (always unpopular) or more broadly on energy use, which could be built with incentives and subsidies for clean-energy technology and thus help address climate change as well as ameliorate dependence on the Middle East. Broad energy taxes have an unfortunate political history (old-timers in Congress will not soon forget the phrase "we got BTU'd" from 1993, when House Democrats voted for a politically risky energy tax based on BTU usage, only to see the Senate drop the plan). But the politics of an energy tax today would be very different, offering the potential to reconfigure our relationships in the Middle East, address climate change, and create jobs in cleaner, more efficient innovations, a field that many believe will be the next driver of the American economy. Washington insiders will also note that when the BTU was killed, it was because Democrats from oil states such as Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma dominated the Finance and Energy Committees, as they always had. Soon afterwards, those states threw their lot in with the Republican right. Today, the oil industry has lost its influence in the Democratic Party and is unrepresented on the Finance Committee. Oil companies are a ripe, unprotected target.

There is also renewed interest in energy taxes on the moderate right. A former Bush economic advisor, Greg Mankiw, recently announced the formation of the Pigou Club (named for the British economist Arthur Pigou, a colleague of John Maynard Keynes), an informal and involuntary alliance of economists and commentators who advocate carbon or energy taxes, or other "Pigovian" taxes that have the simultaneous effect of raising revenues and reducing consumption of something undesirable. Pigou Club members are deemed by Mankiw to have "signed up" when they say something in public favoring such taxes, and range from Alan Greenspan and Martin Feldstein to Al Gore and Paul Krugman.

What's beautiful about the situation is that the federal tax burden is indeed quite low in reality, but the Left has spent so much of its time and energy yapping about the overburdened middle class that folks still perceive it as onerous, making any meaningful hikes impossible. Taxes will be reformed, not raised, and reformed in a conservative direction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Goat-sex SMS sinks candidate (Simon Benson and Kate Sikora, February 23, 2007, The Daily Telegraph)

THE NSW Liberal Party yesterday sacked its candidate for a key marginal seat after learning of an obscene group text message, involving a goat, which he sent to local councillors as a joke.

On the other hand, he's the new favorite for next mayor of Enumclaw.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Senate illegals bill near complete (Charles Hurt, 2/22/07, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Senators and lobbyists are putting the final touches on a comprehensive immigration-reform bill that includes an easier citizenship path for illegal aliens and weaker enforcement provisions than were in the highly criticized legislation that the Senate approved last year.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who ardently supports citizenship rights for illegals, will introduce the bill as early as next week, according to Senate sources knowledgeable about the negotiations. If the Senate Judiciary Committee can make quick work of the bill, it could be ready for floor action in April.

Mr. Kennedy drafted this year's bill with help from Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and outside lobbyists. Mr. McCain and the outside groups share Mr. Kennedy's support for increased immigration and leniency for illegals already in the country.

Among the most active participants have been the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition (EWIC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Both groups support giving current illegals a path to citizenship and increasing the flow of foreign workers into the country.

We're already getting the tougher border enforcement that folks want, amnesty is the other half of the deal.

More Mexican labour needed in oil patch, executives say (STEVEN CHASE, 2/23/07, Globe and Mail)

Canada and Mexico should accelerate efforts to import temporary Mexican energy workers to alleviate the skills shortage in Alberta and other provinces as oil sands development ramps up, top North American CEOs will recommend today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Lieberman Says War Vote Could Prompt Party Switch (Carrie Budoff, February 22, 2007, Politico)

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut told the Politico Thursday that he has no immediate plans to switch parties, but suggested Democratic opposition to funding the war in Iraq might change his mind.

He'd be ideally positioned to take over State when Condi replaces Dick Cheney.

What Joe Lieberman Wants... (Massimo Calabresi, 2/22/07, TIME)

In his 18 years in the U.S. Senate, Joe Lieberman has cultivated an image of himself as a lonely prude among the morally corrupt, that rare Washington official who places principle above politics. But with the Democrats' hold on power dependent on just one vote -- in effect, his -- and with Republicans courting him to tilt the balance in their favor, Lieberman has been indulging in some fairly immodest political footsie. Early this year he terrified fellow Democrats by skipping several of the weekly caucus lunches that cement party fidelity in the Senate. Recently he was spotted in the Republican cloakroom talking with South Carolina's Lindsey Graham about reforming Social Security. He even says he might vote Republican for President in 2008, a not-so-veiled hint that he would prefer John McCain, his fellow true believer in the Iraq war, to most, perhaps all, Democratic alternatives.

The Democrats' 2000 candidate for Vice President is the only party member in the Senate supporting President Bush's Iraq policy and says he is "very troubled about the direction the party is heading on foreign policy generally." With his re-election in November, many old allies now rue abandoning him after he lost the Connecticut Democratic primary to Ned Lamont last August. Both sides concede that bitterness remains. "It's still a little painful and awkward," says the majority whip, Dick Durbin, "but I think the caucus counts him as a friend."

Lieberman says leaving the Democratic Party is a "very remote possibility." But even that slight ambiguity -- and all his cross-aisle flirtation -- has proved more than enough to position Lieberman as the Senate's one-man tipping point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


A Lack of Courage In Their Convictions (George F. Will, February 22, 2007, Washington Post)

First, China was infuriated by North Korea's October nuclear test, which fizzled but expressed defiance of China. So now China seems amenable to serious pressure on its mendicant neighbor, which is substantially dependent on China for food and energy.

Second, the new agreement, like the 1994 pact, is an attempt to modify behavior using bribery. But under the 1994 agreement, North Korea got the bribe -- energy assistance -- before being required to change its behavior. Under the new agreement, North Korea will receive just 5 percent of promised oil -- 50,000 of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil -- before it must fulfill, in 60 days, the first of the many commitments it has made.

Third, the administration believes it found, in Banco Delta Asia, a lever that moved Pyongyang. The Macau bank was pressured into freezing 52 accounts holding $24 million -- yes, million, not billion -- of North Korean assets because Pyongyang has been using them for illicit purposes. If Pyongyang flinched from being deprived of $24 million -- less than Americans spend on archery equipment in a month -- Pyongyang's low pain threshold suggests how fragile, and hence perhaps how containable, that regime is.

Funny to hear Mr. Will, whose been a prime example of BDS, criticize fellow sufferers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


..that there is no difference between this site, which has to be satire, and what it would look like if they were serious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


The End of the Alliance (BARTLE BREESE BULL, 2/22/07, NY Times)

Contrary to the grumbling among many Americans, they have done a lot of good work in southern Iraq. I have seen British troops on patrol in the marshes and countryside, watched grateful Iraqis rush to ask for their help in mediating tribal disputes or providing more protection from the militias.

Thanks to British oversight and protection, Saddam Hussein's cruel efforts to drain the country's southern marshes have been completely reversed. The marshes are now back to about 40 percent of their original size, with parts visibly flourishing. (With 75 percent of the water of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers now siphoned off by neighboring countries before it gets to Iraq, it is unlikely that the marshes will ever recover fully.)

When I visited a date palm plantation near Basra last year, Iraqi farmers told me that British aircraft had sprayed almost 100,000 trees with insecticide, helping their production to double since the days of Saddam Hussein's rule. (One of the men also insisted that I visit the old British cemetery in Baghdad. It was beautiful, he said: a sanctuary, a paradise. "And the gravestones are safe," he assured me. "I have removed them, so no one will destroy them.")

The British successes have also been political. In the south, Iraq's elections and constitutional processes have been far more successful in terms of security and turnout than almost anywhere else in the country.

The war was won in the South on the day the regime fell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Signs of the times: Why so much medical research is rot (The Economist, 2/22/07)

PEOPLE born under the astrological sign of Leo are 15% more likely to be admitted to hospital with gastric bleeding than those born under the other 11 signs. Sagittarians are 38% more likely than others to land up there because of a broken arm. Those are the conclusions that many medical researchers would be forced to make from a set of data presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Peter Austin of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto. At least, they would be forced to draw them if they applied the lax statistical methods of their own work to the records of hospital admissions in Ontario, Canada, used by Dr Austin.

Dr Austin, of course, does not draw those conclusions. His point was to shock medical researchers into using better statistics, because the ones they routinely employ today run the risk of identifying relationships when, in fact, there are none. He also wanted to explain why so many health claims that look important when they are first made are not substantiated in later studies. [...]

Unfortunately, many researchers looking for risk factors for diseases are not aware that they need to modify their statistics when they test multiple hypotheses. The consequence of that mistake, as John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina School of Medicine, in Greece, explained to the meeting, is that a lot of observational health studies--those that go trawling through databases, rather than relying on controlled experiments--cannot be reproduced by other researchers. Previous work by Dr Ioannidis, on six highly cited observational studies, showed that conclusions from five of them were later refuted. In the new work he presented to the meeting, he looked systematically at the causes of bias in such research and confirmed that the results of observational studies are likely to be completely correct only 20% of the time. If such a study tests many hypotheses, the likelihood its conclusions are correct may drop as low as one in 1,000--and studies that appear to find larger effects are likely, in fact, simply to have more bias.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 PM


Something is stirring (Bagehot, 2/22/07, The Economist)

Three quite big and important things appear to be going on. The first is that a sort of positive feedback loop has been established in which the long-standing misgivings about Mr Brown within his own party are now being projected back to it by the voters. Senior Labour figures glumly go through the motions of declaring in public their utter confidence in Mr Brown's prime-ministerial credentials. He is the most successful chancellor of the exchequer since records began, a political heavyweight of towering intellectual stature and soaring moral purpose. It's a testimonial just close enough to the truth not to provoke sniggers, but they and we know it's only half the story. What increasingly worries ministers, and those Labour MPs in southern seats whose majorities hang by a thread, is that, unless he can reveal a different side to his personality, dour, stiff, slightly odd Mr Brown will struggle to reach those aspiring middle-class voters whom Mr Blair could still just about deliver in 2005.

The second big thing is that the mood of the electorate seems to be swinging from apathetic boredom and irritation with the government to a feeling that maybe it's time for a change. If that is right, Mr Brown, for all his admirable qualities, is the last person on earth who can deliver it. However much Mr Brown and his supporters insist that Labour will look very different when he is prime minister, the fact is that Mr Brown is universally recognised as the joint-architect of the government's successes and failures. It is hard to see what sort of meaningful fresh start Mr Brown can offer. [...]

The other factor behind that fourth Tory victory was that the more people saw of Labour's leader, Neil Kinnock, the less they liked the thought of him as prime minister. The third big thing that may be happening this time around is that voters are inching towards the opposite conclusion about Mr Cameron.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


Why David Geffen Hates Hillary & Bill Clinton (Newsmax, 2/22/07)

DreamWorks co-chairman Geffen and Bill Clinton were once close, and Geffen raised some $18 million for Clinton. He was even a guest in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton presidency.

Geffen turned his back on his friend when he pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich in the last days of his administration - after rebuffing Geffen's request for a pardon for Leonard Peltier.

Ought to give him half of what he wants...a blanket.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


Pasta and fries: Italian anti-Americanism costs Romano Prodi his job (The Economist, 2/22/07)

Behind the defeat lay profound divisions over foreign policy within Mr Prodi's government. In recent weeks two largely separate issues have become perilously entwined. One is Italy's contribution to Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Since Mr Prodi pulled Italian forces out of Iraq last year, the left-most members of his sprawling, nine-party coalition, which includes Greens, Christian centrists, ex-communists and radical leftists, have increasingly focused their attention on ISAF. Though the mission has a United Nations mandate, it is NATO-run, jarring the Italian left's strong pacifist and anti-American sensibilities. Three ministers walked out of the cabinet rather than sign off extra funding for the Afghan force, which has yet to be endorsed by parliament. [...]

The day before the Senate vote, Mr Prodi sealed a deal with the majority of the doubters in his camp by promising to use a meeting on Afghanistan in Rome, due by May, to prepare a future peace conference (to which some on the left would like to invite the Taliban). But this proved too little for two far-left senators, who withheld their votes.

They and other radicals were equally exercised by the government's readiness to agree to the expansion of an American military base at Vicenza in northern Italy. On February 17th, some 70,000 people--including leading figures in the governing coalition--marched in protest at the plan. Mr Prodi swiftly declared that he did not intend changing a 50 year-old defence policy, based on the three pillars of the European Union, the UN and NATO.

Fine words. But barely a week later, that once-uncontroversial approach to Italy's alliances had ended in disaster.

The Democrats are so trapped in the past they still think the Europeans are our allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


Men-free tourism island planned (Reuters)

Iran plans a female-only island to boost tourism in a northwest province, the Tehran-e Emrouz newspaper on Wednesday quoted a local official as saying.

Why not just go to Martha's Vineyard? There are no men there either.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Can't live without books? Read on . . . (Nigel Reynolds, 22/02/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Does Britain still love classic novels - Dickens, Tolstoy or Austen - or has so-called dumbing down triumphed?

An answer will be provided on March 1, on World Book Day, with the results of a poll to find the 10 books people say they "can't live without".

The online poll asks readers of all tastes to name their 10 favourite titles - fiction, non-fiction or even reference books. A final top 10 will be published to offer a picture of Britain's reading habits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


The War on Error: Hillary Clinton's sorry nonapology (William Saletan, Feb. 20, 2007, Slate)
Five years ago, Hillary Clinton supported a Senate resolution authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. So did I. It took me four years to admit this was a mistake. I've been wondering when Clinton would admit it. Now, from campaign insiders quoted in the New York Times, comes the answer: never. As she told voters a few days ago: "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from."

This is an amazingly stupid and arrogant position. If she sticks to it, it will probably kill her candidacy. And it should.

According to Clinton's advisers, she has taken this position for several reasons. She believes in "responsibility" and would want congressional deference if she's president. She wants to look "firm," because that's what voters want. She thinks an apology would look like a gimmick and a flip-flop, repeating the mistakes of Al Gore and John Kerry. That's the "box" she's trying to avoid.
She ought, instead, to be avoiding the box Democrats got themselves into last war, when they abandoned the fight against Communism even as we were winning it. Bailing on the war on Islamicism makes even less sense given how much weaker it has and how rapidly the Middle East is changing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Arabs say Israel is not just for Jews: A manifesto argues that the nation's minority is entitled to share power in a binational state (Richard Boudreaux, February 22, 2007, LA Times)

In a manifesto that is stirring anger and soul-searching among Jews, Arab leaders have declared that Israel's 1.4 million Arab citizens are an indigenous group with collective rights, not just individual rights. The document argues that Arabs are entitled to share power in a binational state and block policies that discriminate against them.

Arab citizens, who make up about one-fifth of Israel's population, have always felt alienated by the Star of David on Israel's flag and a national anthem that expresses the Jewish yearning for a return to Zion. They have long protested the disproportionate Jewish share of budget resources, public services and land.

Until now, though, only small groups of Arab intellectuals had dared to advocate collective equality or the abolition of Jewish national symbols.

"The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" is the first such sweeping demand by Israel's Arab mainstream. The manifesto was drafted by 40 academics and activists under the sponsorship of the Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel and has been endorsed by an unprecedented range of Arab community leaders.

As such, it has set off alarms.

As Ariel Sharon, nearly alone, understood, the single greatest threat to Israel's immediate future is that the Palestinians renounce their claim to an independent state and demand full rights within Israel. The longer term threat is that even this 20% eventually becomes 50% because Israelis are too secularized to reproduce.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Jobs Bashes Teachers Unions: Apple CEO Steve Jobs said today that teachers unions are "what's wrong with our schools." (Gregg Keizer, 2/20/07, Computerworld)

Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs laid into teachers unions Friday at a Texas education reform conference, an Austin, Texas, newspaper reported, saying they're "what's wrong with our schools."

Teachers unions have traditionally represented one of Apple's most loyal group of customers and have largely stuck with the company since the days of the Apple IIe.

Unionization, said Jobs in reports filed by both the Associated Press and the Austin American-Statesman, was "off-the-charts crazy."

During a joint appearance with Michael Dell that was sponsored by the Texas Public Education Reform Foundation, Jobs took on the unions by first comparing schools to small businesses, and school principals to CEOs. He then asked rhetorically: "What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in, they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good? Not really great ones, because if you're really smart, you go, 'I can't win.' "

He went on to say that "what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."

Make him Secretary of Education today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


The Japanese Gyroball Mystery (LEE JENKINS, 2/22/07, NY Times)

Is the gyroball a myth, or is it real? And if it is real, what exactly is it?

Kazushi Tezuka says he has the answer, and he flew from Japan to the United States this week to reveal it. Tezuka, a Japanese trainer who is credited with creating the gyroball 12 years ago, walked to the mound at Scottsdale Stadium on Wednesday to show off his invention.

Tezuka used a standard fastball grip. He went into a basic motion. Only at the end of his delivery did he deviate. He turned the inside of his throwing arm away from his body and released the ball as if it were a football, making it spiral toward home plate.

The pitch started on the same course as a changeup, but it barely dipped. It looked like a slider, but it did not break. The gyroball, despite its zany name, is supposed to stay perfectly straight.

"That's it!" Tezuka said, laughing hysterically on the mound. "That's the gyro!"

For all of the kids who launch balls around the backyard, baseball is slow to invent new pitches, and even slower to recognize them. The last pitch to be adopted by major leaguers was the split-fingered fastball, about 30 years ago.

The gyroball is not going to revolutionize the sport. Like a four-seam fastball, a four-seam gyroball is designed to surprise hitters with its speed. Like a changeup, a two-seam gyroball is designed to fool hitters with its slower pace.

"I think it's basically a myth, but it's like a lot of myths in baseball -- it can be useful," said Robert Adair, who wrote "The Physics of Baseball." "If you're a batter and you think a guy occasionally throws this pitch, it is something extra to worry about."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


Pelosi Calls Bush to Complain of Cheney's Comments on Democrats' Iraq Strategy (Fox News, February 22, 2007)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday phoned President Bush to air her complaints over Vice President Dick Cheney's comments that the Congressional Democrats' plan for Iraq would "validate the Al Qaeda strategy."

Pelosi, who said she could not reach the president, said Cheney's comments wrongly questioned critics' patriotism and ignored Bush's call for openness on Iraq strategy.

"You cannot say as the president of the United States, 'I welcome disagreement in a time of war,' and then have the vice president of the United States go out of the country and mischaracterize a position of the speaker of the House and in a manner that says that person in that position of authority is acting against the national security of our country," the speaker said.

Because, after all, free speech to the Left means never having your own tirades challenged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Iranian official offers glimpse from within: A desire for U.S. ally (Christiane Amanpour, 2/22/07, CNN)

As I sat down recently with a senior Iranian government official, he urgently waved a column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in my face, one about how the United States and Iran need to engage each other.

''Natural allies,'' this official said.

It was a surprising choice of words considering the barbs Washington and Tehran have been trading of late.

"We are not after conflict. We are not after crisis. We are not after war," said this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But we don't know whether the same is true in the U.S. or not. If the same is true on the U.S. side, the first step must be to end this vicious cycle that can lead to dangerous action -- war."

He confided that what he was telling me was not shared by all in the Iranian government, but it was endorsed so high up in the religious leadership that he felt confident spelling out the rationale.

"This view is not off the streets. It's not the reformist view and it's not even the view of the whole government," he replied.

But he insisted he was describing the thinking at the highest levels of the religious leadership -- the center of decision-making power in Iran.

I asked whether he meant Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself.

"Yes," he said.

It'll be a formal alliance by early next decade.

Tehran falling into a US psy-ops trap (Mahan Abedin , 2/23/07, Asia Times)

With backgrounds in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (the IRGC, the Islamic Republic's large and competent ideological army), Ahmadinejad and his supporters believe the Islamic Republic is unconquerable; with its ability to project power well beyond its actual size and resources rooted in its "undeterrable" nature.

It is very important to understand the origins and intricacies of this mindset. People like Ahmadinejad and Kachouyan developed their political consciousness not on the turbulent streets of the Iranian revolution but in the revolutionary decade of the 1980s, and especially in the front lines of the Iran-Iraq War. The belief that Iran faced much of the Western and Eastern worlds during the war is widely shared in the population, but it is especially intense in the networks linked to the second-generation revolutionaries.

From their perspective, the Islamic Republic ensured its long-term stability by facing much of the world with modest means and with iron will as its only real strategic asset (against an enemy that enjoyed the unqualified support of much of the Arab and Western worlds). They believe that the culture of sacrifice born out of eight years of war, and the unique nationalist-Islamic political heritage it has spawned, will ensure the survival of the Islamic Republic against all odds.

Furthermore, the very distinct features of the Islamic Republic (a political system that effortlessly combines democratic and theocratic ideas and institutions) and the intense loyalty it inspires among a substantial section of the Iranian population (as well as a considerable number of non-Iranians) enables the regime to face its only serious security threat, namely the United States.

Which is why their repudiation by the clerics at the top and the voters at the bottom of society will be so devastating.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


China's Widening Income Gap: With city-dwellers now earning 3.2 times what rural residents do, workers are demanding more rights--and Beijing is starting to worry (Dexter Roberts, 2/16/07, Business Week)

Why does Beijing care about inequity? One obvious reason is that it is sparking social unrest. Protests by workers angry about unpaid wages and farmers concerned over land seizures by local governments have helped fuel the estimated 87,000 major protest incidents that occurred in 2005, up from only 11,000 a decade before, according to China's Public Security Ministry.

"When a country has such high disparity it cannot sustain social stability," says Li Ping, chief representative of the Beijing office of the Rural Development Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit that focuses on rural land issues.

To show Beijing's concern about widening social inequity, Premier Wen Jiabao on Feb. 6 met with a group of farmers, construction workers, and unemployed laborers. The purpose: to get their input before he presents the government's annual work report at the upcoming March Congress.

"It is [a government] of the people, for the people, and by the people. This is our objective," said Wen according to official news agency Xinhua following the meeting.
Little Enforcement

It's noble goal in principle, but all too often pretty words like Wen's don't translate into any real policy change. Meanwhile, new regulations often don't get implemented fully in the far reaches of China.

"Even when China has very good laws, implementation lags far behind," says RDI's Li Ping. Adds Kent D. Kedl, executive director of Shanghai-based business consultancy Technomic Asia: "They talk about the law, then they issue the law. Then it is another two or three years before it is finally enforced, and then only selectively."

The problem is, Beijing may not have that time to spare. Already China's richest 10% of the population owns 40% of all private assets, while 2% of total wealth goes to the bottom tenth, according to a survey released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in January. With stark differences like that, it's no wonder income disparity increasingly is seen as the most pressing issue for the mainland.

Ironically, those problems will ease and greater input from the people will be possible only after China has been destabilized and broken into smaller states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Voice of the Middle East?: Alaa Al Aswany's controversial novel The Yacoubian Building has taken the Arab world by storm. He talks to Rachel Aspden. (Rachel Aspden, 26 February 2007, New Statesman)

"You hate Egypt?" a disbelieving aristocratic roué demands of his impoverished secretary in Alaa Al Aswany's novel The Yacoubian Building.

"Of course," she replies, shocked that he had to ask.

In Cairo, this is a dangerous sentiment - and Al Aswany's portrayal of homosexuality, Islam ism, poverty, exploitation and corruption is doubly so. Writers in Egypt are caught in a tug-of-war between an autocratic government intolerant of criticism and dissent, and an increasingly powerful Islamist movement vioently opposed to any "affront to public morality".

The space between them is narrow. In the past few years, writers have been imprisoned, beaten, fined and had their books pulped by government agencies - and suffered harassment, attacks and even murder at the hands of Islamists. But The Yacoubian Building slipped through, selling hundreds of thousands of copies since its first publication in 2002, and becoming the bestselling Arabic novel in recent history. In 2006, when a lavish film adaptation was released, 112 MPs demanded that the film be censored for "spreading obscenity and debauchery".

Controversy, especially involving sex and Islamists, sells. The Yacoubian Building, in an excellent translation by Humphrey Davies, has been picked up by HarperCollins for a rare publication in the west. Like The Bookseller of Kabul and last year's Booker-shortlisted In the Country of Men, it will become famous for offering, as the New York Review of Books put it, "an amazing glimpse" into Middle Eastern society and culture. Ominously, President Bush's adviser Karen Hughes has it on her bedside table. [...]

Religious extremism, he says, has been nurtured by the government. "In Egypt, we have always had a tolerant reading of Islam. But since the 1970s, the Saudis have spent billions of dollars on exporting [the radical tradition of] Wahhabism. And Wahhabism is a Christmas present for the Arab dictators - they both deny political rights to the individual." The west's fear of Islamists (in the shape of the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned organisation whose members are allowed to run for parliament as "independent" candidates) coming to power in a democratic election "has been whipped up by the government in order to secure its own position".

"Let's use a medical analogy," continues Al Aswany. "When you analyse Egypt's problems, you have to separate the disease from its symptoms and complications. Our disease is dictatorship, and the symptoms are poverty, injustice, corruption and fanaticism. If you treat the symptoms as though they were the disease, you will kill the patient. And this is what the west and the government are trying to do. Terrorism is not the disease. These people asking 'What shall we do about terrorism?' are missing the point."

The Yacoubian Building is full of vignettes illustrating the corruption that trickles down from the top layers of Egyptian society.

Lawrence Wright's Looming Tower is excellent on the nexus between the Egyptian origins of Islamic terror and the Saudi funding of extremist Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


A double spring offensive: After a dreadful year in Afghanistan, a newly confident NATO is preparing itself to take on the Taliban. Success will be difficult, but not impossible (The Economist, 2/22/07)

[N]ATO is feeling bullish. Along with Afghanistan's own forces, it is preparing "Operation Nowrouz" (new year), a spring offensive to disrupt the Taliban's spring offensive. Fighting has continued through the winter, but it has usually been at NATO's initiative. In Helmand the British have been raiding deep into Taliban areas. The Canadians have been clearing out more of the Panjwayi valley, claiming success in finding and killing key Taliban leaders and thus allowing civilians to start returning. Despite the war of words between Afghanistan and Pakistan, intelligence co-operation is improving, with the creation of a joint NATO-Afghan-Pakistan intelligence cell in Kabul.

Above all, the alliance has been energised by America's intensified commitment. On top of the surge of five brigades into Iraq, George Bush announced on February 15th that an extra brigade would be deployed in Afghanistan. He is also requesting an additional $11.8 billion in military and civilian aid over two years, mostly to pay for the expansion and training of the Afghan army and police.

Britain is beefing up its forces in the south with an extra battalion in April; additional special forces are also expected. A fresh battalion is due from Poland. Bits and bobs are being offered by other allies: six reconnaissance jets from Germany, more surveillance drones and a transport plane from Italy, military trainers from Spain and so on. But these commitments emphasise the split in the alliance. "Those with their hands in the mangle of the fighting in the south have no choice but to reinforce," says one senior NATO officer. "The rest are trying to stay out of it."

A recent report by the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, blamed the growth of the insurgency on "the desire for a quick, cheap war followed by a quick, cheap peace". Even with the extra resources, NATO will still be stretched thin. Afghanistan is bigger than Iraq, both in terms of size and population. But the number of security forces, whether foreign troops or local soldiers, is less than a third of those available in Iraq.

The country has seen real achievements since the fall of the Taliban, not least the growth in education and health care (admittedly more in quantity than quality) and the return of more than 3m refugees. The north and west are relatively stable. The population of Kabul has expanded eight-fold, and streets ravaged by war are bustling with street markets. People in the capital still express their strong support for the presence of international forces.

Even the Taliban isn't crazy enough to stand and fight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Even the Yankee way can't last forever (Larry Stone, 2/22/07, Seattle Times)

While the names and details change, frantic upheavals are a staple of Yankees camp. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Oh, something is going on with the Yankees, all right. Something big, potentially even profound.

An era is grinding to a close. The Yankees' way of doing business is in flux.

For more than a decade, what a glorious ride it has been -- four World Series titles in Joe Torre's first five years, and a core of players that have earned their place in the Yankees pantheon: Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada.

But the signs of change are everywhere. Partly, it's the cycle of baseball. Players grow old, and they're replaced. It happened with cornerstones of the early dynasty, like Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez and Andy Pettitte (back in pinstripes after three years in Houston), and now it's happening with Williams, who refuses to come to camp as a nonroster player. Posada and Rivera, entering the final year of their contracts, could be next out the door.

Even for Yankee haters it's kind of sad that the two men most responsible for killing the Yankee Way are Joe Torre and Derek Jeter, who don't seem like bad guys. Buster Olney's Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty was brutally frank about how the two lost interest in the entire team concept once that late '90s team started turning over. Rather than smoothing the way for new guys they resented and snubbed them. That's presumably a big reason why they've done so little with so much talent for the last half decade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Britons fall out of love with marriage (Rosemary Bennett and Sam Coates, 2/22/07, Times of London)

The number of Britons choosing to marry has fallen to the lowest levels in a hundred and eleven years.

Latest figures reveal that the number of marriages has dropped by 30,000 between 2004 and 2005 to a total of just over 244,000.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


In French Campaign, Immigrants Find a Voice: Voter Registration Soars After '05 Suburban Riots (Molly Moore, 2/22/07, Washington Post)

Sixteen months after immigrant neighborhoods exploded in the country's worst civil unrest in nearly half a century, the suburbs are emerging for the first time as a potent force in the presidential campaign.

Immigrant citizens and their first-generation French children have registered to vote in unprecedented numbers, forcing politicians to address a potential voter pool previously written off as politically insignificant.

Thousands of small, vocal political action groups representing Africans, Arabs and young people have sprung up in suburbs across the country, fledgling challengers to the political monopolies of unions and other establishment organizations.

Grass-roots blogs and Web sites are scrutinizing candidate records, becoming sassy and candid alternatives to the nation's mainstream news media.

"The suburban vote is very important," Bayrou, a three-time presidential contender, said in an interview after surprising commuters when he and his media entourage crammed onto a train for the 25-minute ride from Paris to Mantes-la-Jolie. "I'm not naturally a candidate of the suburbs, my constituency historically is rural -- but I am here."
Addressing Discrimination

The suburban violence that stunned the nation and besmirched France's image across the globe not only fueled greater political activism in the immigrant neighborhoods but also has forced presidential candidates to confront issues previously considered politically taboo: racial, ethnic and religious discrimination.

A recent survey commissioned by a black advocacy group, the Representative Council of Black Associations, and conducted by the TNS-Sofres polling firm, found that 61 percent of blacks polled said they are victimized by discrimination on a daily basis. France has no blacks in its legislative National Assembly other than the 10 representatives from its overseas departments that are predominantly black. [...]

In contrast to the United States, France has concentrated its immigrant and poor populations in the suburbs rather than the inner cities.

Suburban issues have dominated the presidential campaign of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate of the ruling center-right Union for a Popular Movement party. Many critics blame him for inflaming the suburbs during the fall 2005 violence when he referred to some youths as "scum" that should be washed out of the neighborhoods.

He has since tried to ameliorate the anger and has appointed an Algerian-born Muslim, Abderrahmane Dahmane, to the position of "national secretary in charge of relations with associations involved in French immigration issues."

But Sarkozy is not expected to draw many votes among immigrants in the suburbs, according to most opinion polls and political analysts.

Dahmane tries to play down the importance of the populace Sarkozy has asked him to oversee: "These communities don't vote a lot; they talk a lot but they don't vote," he said.

That could change this year.

Voter registration has skyrocketed in every French demographic group and nearly every district -- urban, suburban and rural. Across the country, voter registration is up nearly 50 percent over the last presidential election in 2002, according to preliminary figures. In some localities, the number of new voters increased more than 300 percent, according to tallies by the daily newspaper Le Monde.

Analysts and political activists say the increase in voter registration was the result of two events that shocked the country: the 2005 suburban violence and Le Pen's second-place showing in the last election.

Reportedly, policy makers in the U.S. government discount the idea of getting any help from Europe in the Middle East because government there are too afraid of their own populations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Harvard Guru to Help Libya: Michael Porter wants to revamp Qaddafi's creaky economy. But will privatization and "mini-MBAs" prevail over statism and red tape? (Stanley Reed, 2/20/07, Business Week)

Can Harvard Business School competitiveness guru Michael Porter fix the Libyan economy? Since meeting one of Muammar al-Qaddafi's sons at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2004, Porter and a group of Western consultants have become deeply engaged in overhauling the Mediterranean petro-state.

Qaddafi's son, Seif al Islam (Sword of God), is making a career of trying to reform what is by many measures one of the world's most backward economies. Now, thanks to his relationship with Porter and Monitor Group, a consulting firm with which Porter is affiliated, a roadmap for restructuring is emerging.

Monitor has pored over the Libyan economy and mapped out a strategy for the next decade or so, focusing on energy, tourism, trade, and construction. Now the more difficult work begins--making real changes that free up the private sector and improve the business environment.

If only Gamal Mubarak were as wise.

February 21, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Boeing beats Airbus to $1.6bn BA jet order (Michael Harrison, 22 February 2007, Independent)

Boeing won the first round in a $10bn (£5.1bn) contest with Airbus to re-equip the British Airways fleet yesterday, after the US plane-maker clinched an initial order for up to eight long-range aircraft.

BA is purchasing four Boeing 777-200ER aircraft and taking options on a further four in preference to the Airbus A330, in a deal worth up to $1.6bn.

The move is a setback for Airbus, which was thrown into renewed turmoil this week when its French and German shareholders failed to reach agreement on a critical restructuring of the company.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Global capitalism now has no serious rivals (Timothy Garton Ash, February 22, 2007, The Guardian)

What is the elephant in all our rooms? It is the global triumph of capitalism. Democracy is fiercely disputed. Freedom is under threat even in old-established democracies such as Britain. Western supremacy is on the skids. But everyone does capitalism. Americans and Europeans do it. Indians do it. Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes do it. Even Chinese communists do it. And now the members of Israel's oldest kibbutz, that last best hope of egalitarian socialism, have voted to introduce variable salaries based on individual performance. Karl Marx would be turning in his grave. Or perhaps not, since some of his writings eerily foreshadowed our era of globalised capitalism. His prescription failed but his description was prescient.

Here is the great fact about the early 21st century, so big and taken for granted that we rarely stop to think how extraordinary it is. It was not ever thus. "Can capitalism survive?" asked the British socialist thinker GDH Cole, in a book published in 1938 under the title Socialism in Evolution. His answer was no. Socialism would succeed it. Most readers of this newspaper in 1938 would probably have agreed.

What are the big ideological alternatives being proposed today? Hugo Chávez's "21st century socialism" still looks like a local or at most a regional phenomenon, best practised in oil-rich states. Islamism, sometimes billed as democratic capitalism's great competitor in a new ideological struggle, does not offer an alternative economic system (aside from the peculiarities of Islamic finance) and anyway does not appeal beyond the Muslim umma.

Nor within. Nor does the democratic West (which means America) have any rivals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 PM


Enthusiasts defend Auden's reputation on centenary (Martin Wainwright, February 22, 2007, Guardian)

"He has been much criticised for leaving Britain when he did," said Dr Rhodes, who lectures in literature and visual culture at Sussex University. "Traditionalists condemned him for that while the left and radicals denounced the way he changed his views, his religious conversion and the way he seemed to retreat into lyrical poetry. But it's hard to see those opinions accounting for the lack of interest among today's students."

There are smaller initiatives which attest to Auden's enduring appeal. In York taxi drivers have adopted the poet for a Culture Cab scheme, in which drivers memorise Auden's work to make visitors feel welcome to the city where he was born. It is an initiative typical of what academics call the "Four Weddings phenomenon", which has given Auden - or a small number of his 400-plus poems - a mass audience, while specialist work dwindles on his life and verse.

Hugh Haughton, lecturer in English and related literature at York University and another speaker at the conference, said: "It is a mystery that he is not more studied, but this could be a reason. We are comfortable with modernists, or with poets of the everyday such as Larkin. But what do we do when faced with someone who could do both? Auden's ability to travel between different types of poetry and to master them all seems to be hard for us to digest. It is like dealing with two people - a parallel with the problems people have in coping with his Marxist early years and conservative views later on."

Lyricism, of course, follows necessarily from the other choices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Sudden cold snap linked to Neanderthals' demise (Ian Herbert, 22 February 2007, Independent)

They once inhabited a zone stretching from Asia to western Europe and eked out an existence until some 24,000 years ago. But in the end it was a familiar foe - climate change - that did for our evolutionary cousins the Neanderthals, new research suggests.

The ancient population found their last refuge in the Gibraltar area, where the diverse plant life, animals, sandy plains, woodlands, wetlands and coastline enabled them to maintain their lifestyle. But then came a sharp downturn in temperatures which, scientists say, may have dealt the Neanderthals a killer blow in southern Iberia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Why US is now turning to diplomacy: After success with Libya and North Korea, the US is bringing its multilateral approach to Iran (Howard LaFranchi, 2/22/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

[I]t also suggests a growing sense within the White House that once-maligned multilateralism is getting results - on issues ranging from Iran to North Korea.

[A]fter a long campaign in Iraq, Iran's rise, and a nuclear test by North Korea, the US is putting new faith in diplomacy, hard bargaining, and multilateral action, he says. "It worked with Libya. It's working with North Korea. And it could work with Iran."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


American education thriving ... in Qatar: Five US universities have opened satellite campuses in the Mideast state. (Danna Harman, 2/22/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Taking globalization of higher education to new heights, five American universities, including Carnegie Mellon and Georgetown, have opened satellite campuses here in the past few years, employing some of the same professors as at their stateside campuses, demanding the same tuition, and - theoretically - providing the same education.

The aim, says Nawal Abdullah al-Shaikh, spokeswoman for the country's Supreme Education Council, is to create an environment of reform and progress without losing strong Islamic values.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


Easy classic chicken pot pie (Rick Rogers)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, about 1 1/4 pounds, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups canned chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
One 1-pound bag thawed frozen vegetable medley (use your favorite blend, such as carrots, corn, green beans and peas)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 (15-ounce) box ready-to-roll-out refrigerated pie crust (such as Pillsbury) or homemade pie crust for a double-crust pie
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water, for glaze

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place rack in center position. Grease a 9-inch deep-dish Pyrex or ceramic pie plate.

In large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook uncovered, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 8 minutes. Add shallots and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat well. Stir in broth, wine, half-and-half and parsley, and bring to simmer. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in the thawed vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into pie plate. Unwrap and unroll pie crusts onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll each out to a 10-inch diameter. Brush entire surface of one crust with the egg yolk and place the second crust directly on top to make a double layer. Brush egg glaze in a 1-inch wide border around outside of crust. Place crust on pie plate, egg side down, covering the filling, and press crust onto the sides of dish to seal. Use a fork to seal the edges; it is OK if it is a bit uneven. Brush top of crust lightly with the egg glaze. Cut a few slits in crust with tip of knife. Place pie plate on baking sheet to catch drips. Bake in center of oven until crust is a nice golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately while hot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


Prodi resigns as Italian premier (Guardian Unlimited, February 21, 2007)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM



Possessing a popular mandate, and emboldened by the apparent support of a substantial number of senior clerics, Iran's political maverick, Aliakbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is pressing a campaign to diminish President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's influence over the country's policy-making apparatus. While the outcome is far from certain, Rafsanjani has already succeeded in recasting the terms of political discourse inside Iran, emphasizing a cautious, rather than radical approach to policy dilemmas, especially the one revolving around the country's controversial nuclear program. [...]

Over the last few weeks, Rafsanjani, a consummate pragmatist, has solidified his standing as the chief political alternative to the neo-conservative president. In the span of five days in early February, Rafsanjani gave two provocative television speeches and made a highly publicized visit to Qom, Iran's main spiritual center, unleashing a rhetorical offensive that threw the president off balance.

"This is the first time after the [presidential election] victory of the neo-conservatives over a year and a half ago that an individual from Iran's political class has articulated a coherent set of policy statements in direct opposition to the present government," noted a Tehran political scientist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The political scientist added that opposition to Ahmadinejad's policies had been rising, but, until now, presidential opponents lacked a figure around which they could rally. "Many people from elite circles are unhappy with the president's stand on a range of topics -- from Iran's nuclear program to his denial of the Holocaust to his economic policy. What [Rafsanjani] has done is to tap into this sense of unease and use it to rally all the disaffected factions under his own leadership."

In Qom, Rafsanjani met with many of the country's most powerful religious leaders and received rousing endorsements from a large number of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM

BADLY ADAPTED DUCKS (via Brandon Heathcotte):

Rare loon deaths in New Hampshire faze scientists (Brian Early, Feb 20, 2007, Reuters)

Scientists are struggling to explain the rare death of 17 loons in New Hampshire, saying warm weather may have confused the threatened species of bird which typically heads to the ocean for winter.

Who knew loons rarely die?

Posted by Bryan Francoeur at 6:26 PM


US missile shield plan risks sowing EU disunity (Mark Beunderman, 2/19/07, EU Observer)

EU disunity is looming over US plans to build an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech republic, with Germany saying over the weekend that Russia should be consulted over the scheme. [...]

Germany has now expressed understanding for the Russian position, with German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier telling daily Handelsblatt over the weekend that "in view of the strategic nature of these sorts of projects, I am pleading for caution and for an intensive dialogue with all the partners directly and indirectly affected."

"Because the sites for the stationing are getting nearer to Russia, one should have talked about it with Russia beforehand," Mr Steinmeier said, with reports indicating that existing US anti-missile facilities are currently limited to bases in the US itself.

The remarks of Mr Steinmeier - the former cabinet chief of ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who maintained close ties with Mr Putin - were echoed by German defence minister Franz Josef Jung, who is a member of the more Russia-critical conservatives.

Mr Jung told the daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung that "Given our common security interests we should make sure that also in the future, NATO and Russia are developing on the basis of partnership."

Germany's stance risks colliding with that of Poland and the Czech Republic, which have indicated they are interested in responding positively to the US request.

We get missile defense, strengthen our ties to our true allies and help
kill off the EU. Sounds good to me!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Tribal Warfare: Mitt Romney's symbolic appeals to conservative Republicans. (Rick Perlstein, 2/21/07, TNR Online)

As the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) immediately observed, its location, the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, is a "testament to the life of ... a notorious anti-Semite and xenophobe." Some observers wondered if perhaps this wasn't intentional: If you want to prove to conservatives you're no liberal, what better way than to announce on the former estate of a man who, as the NJDC also pointed out, was "bestowed with the Grand Service Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle by Adolf Hitler"?

The campaign denies such calculations outright of course. "I think most people, no matter what your ideology," spokesman Kevin Madden says, "saw that as a somewhat absurd criticism, given that it's a museum, a place of learning, a Michigan landmark. Thousands of schoolchildren go through this place." And he's right: Thus framed, the charge is an absurdity. Praise the Lord, there is no electoral payoff in appealing to heartland memories of the Henry Ford whose Dearborn Independent reached a circulation of 900,000 featuring articles like "Jewish Jazz--Moron Music--Becomes Our National Music."

Those memories no longer exist--except to the hair-trigger sensitivities of the likes of the NJDC, which put out their press release and garnered an AP article on the flap. But here's something to consider: The Romney campaign has harvested benefits from that flap, whether it was intentional or not. Consider the sarcastic reflection of this denizen of the right-wing website Free Republic:

Allright, an AP hit piece! The MSM has more acute RINOdar than we. Real RINO's don't get rinky-dink MSM hit pieces such as this. This proves that the MSM believes Romney is a conservative, and therefore must be roughed up.

Translation: I used to suspect that Romney was only a "Republican in Name Only." But now I realize: He bugs the liberal media. By the tribal logic of right-wing identity politics, that is enough--Mitt Romney now can be called a conservative.

Despite our best efforts to dissuade him, Friend Perlstein continues to believe that the commentors at Free Republic are representative of the GOP base, rather than wingnuts. Of course, he also thinks the Kosmmunists are the mainstream of the Democratic party....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Clinton and Obama camps trade opening salvos (Klaus Marre, 2/21/07, The Hill)

The Clinton campaign called Geffen's statements vicious and personal attacks on the New York senator and former President Bill Clinton.

"If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money," Sen. Clinton's communications director Howard Wolfson said in response. "While Democrats should engage in a vigorous debate on the issues, there is no place in our party or our politics for the kind of personal insults made by Senator Obama's principal fundraiser."

All they're doing is calling attention to remarks made by a nobody to a nobody and treating Obama like an equal. It's wholly counterproductive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Rudy Can Fail: He's a leader, not a manager (Jacob Weisberg, Feb. 21, 2007, Slate)

[O]ver time, Giuliani's Putin (or Rasputin)-like tendencies became increasingly evident. Instead of taking on new challenges after his re-election in 1997, he dedicated his second term to punishing his enemies, including his wife at the time. He made his former driver, Bernard Kerik, chief of police and retreated even further into the comfort of his cronies. Fran Reiter, who served as a deputy mayor under Giuliani, describes him as depressed and directionless after being sworn in for the second time. "He can get mired in the petty stuff," she told me. "He doesn't suffer political opponents well, and there are times when he doesn't compromise well."

In his second term, Giuliani showed himself to be a classic micromanager, unable to delegate and unwilling to share the spotlight. He had already driven out William Bratton, his victorious chief of police, in a battle over credit. Bratton's fate was sealed when he, not Rudy, appeared on the cover of Time. Nor could Giuliani abide mockery. He went to court to try to stop New York magazine from advertising itself on the sides of buses as "POSSIBLY THE ONLY GOOD THING IN NEW YORK RUDY HASN'T TAKEN CREDIT FOR." After Sept. 11, he threatened, in Caudillo-like fashion, to ignore the legal term limit and run for re-election again if the candidates running to succeed him didn't all agree to let him stay in office for three extra months.

Rudy's weaknesses as a manager--and as a human being--have become more evident in the light of his successor, Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has neither a whim of steel nor a pandering bone in his body. Arriving in 2002 at a City Hall that had no e-mail system or computerized payroll, he quietly cleaned up the mess--including a huge number of dubious, no-bid contracts--without faulting his predecessor. He and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, have managed to continue to make further gains against crime, which few thought possible, without becoming obsessed with their press clippings. Above all, Bloomberg has taken on the big problems Giuliani never faced, without the constant attitude that he might declare martial law if you cross him again.

Perhaps the biggest difference is on fiscal issues. Giuliani, who lost interest in curtailing the growth of city government in his latter years, left behind a fiscal catastrophe--a $6.4 billion deficit proportionately bigger than the hole that caused the 1975 fiscal shortfall. "Bloomberg cleaned this up by cutting spending as much as he could without gutting basic services, negotiating labor givebacks, and increasing property and other taxes," says Esther Fuchs, a former Bloomberg adviser and now a professor of public policy at Columbia University. The tax increases were deeply unpopular but necessary. Bloomberg's style is less theatrical than Giuliani's, but as a negotiator, he's probably tougher. Last winter, he took a paralyzing transit strike and sent the union's chief to jail rather than cave to demands that the city couldn't afford over the long term. Today, the city's budget is in surplus, construction is ubiquitous, and despite 9/11, New York has become a more attractive business destination than ever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Ex-GOP Rep. Kasich considers run for governor (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2/21/07)

Former U.S. Rep. John Kasich is contemplating a run for Ohio governor 2010, prompting him to begin speaking regularly at Republican functions around the state.

"I've made it clear to people that I'm going to look at the governor's office," Kasich said during a recent Lincoln Day dinner in Clermont County. "I hope that (Gov.) Ted Strickland will do a good job so I won't have to go around the state doing this stuff."

Kasich, a 2000 presidential contender who now hosts a talk show on Fox News, is scheduled as the keynote speaker next month at four more of the dinners at which the GOP marks its founding and raises money. Kasich, who left public service five years ago after 18 years in Congress, said he is using the events to reconnect with GOP voters.

...as Governor of OH he'd be a serious presidential contender.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 PM


Some Americans Reluctant to Vote for Mormon, 72-Year-Old Presidential Candidates: Strong support for black, women, Catholic candidates (Jeffrey M. Jones, 2/20/07, GALLUP NEWS SERVICE)

With arguably the most diverse field of candidates in U.S. history to choose from, Americans will have to decide how comfortable they are electing a person who is not a white Protestant male as president. Whereas in past elections non-traditional candidates were often long-shots to win their party's nominations, let alone the presidency, many of the leading candidates in the early stages of the 2008 election process are not cut from the typical presidential cloth, making this issue more salient than ever.

A recent USA Today/Gallup poll updated a question first asked in 1937 about the public's willingness to vote for presidential candidates from a variety of different genders, religions, and other backgrounds. While Americans overwhelmingly say they would vote for a black, woman, Catholic, or Hispanic president, they are less likely to say they would support a Mormon candidate, one who is 72 years old, or one who has been married three times.

The best part of the poll is the one thing that's truly disqualifying.

Giuliani Tops Clinton In 2008 Presidential Race, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; Republican Runs Strong In Red, Blue And Purple States (Quinnipiac University, February 21, 2007)

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani leads Sen. Hillary Clinton 48 - 43 percent among American voters in a 2008 national presidential poll released by Quinnipiac University today. Arizona Sen. John McCain edges Sen. Clinton 46 - 44 percent.

Giuliani tops Clinton 55 - 38 percent in Red states, which voted Republican in the 2004 presidential election, and ties her 46 - 46 percent in Blue states, which went Democratic in 2004. He gets 44 percent to Clinton's 45 percent in Purple states, where the margin in 2004 was less than 7 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. In other possible presidential matchups:

* Clinton tops former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 49 - 37 percent;
* Giuliani beats Illinois Sen. Barack Obama 47 - 40 percent;
* Giuliani tops 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards 48 - 40 percent;
* McCain ties Obama 43 - 43 percent;
* McCain gets 43 percent to Edward's 42 percent, a tie;
* Obama tops Romney 49 - 29 percent;
* Edwards beats Romney 48 - 32 percent.

The problem is that they aren't a woman, a black, and a Catholic, but three liberals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Adolf Hitler: How the intellectual climate in Germany shaped the future Führer (Clive James, Feb. 21, 2007, Slate)

Respectably situated in Berlin's Motzstrasse, to the south of the Tiergarten, the Juni-­Klub, or June Club (the name breathed defiance at the Treaty of Versailles), was a '20s talking shop for ­right-­wing intellectuals concerned with revolutionary conservatism. The consciously oxymoronic idea of revolutionary conservatism had almost as many forms as it had advocates, who found it easy to mistake their dialectical hubbub for the clanging forge of a new order. Of the 150 members, 30 were present on the afternoon Hitler dropped in. They thought he had come to hear what they had to say, and they found out that he had no intention of listening to any voice but his own. Their scholarly qualifications counted for nothing. Best qualified of all was Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. Before World War I, Moeller had been a translator of Baudelaire, Defoe, De Quincey, and the complete poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, and had written essays on Nietzsche, Strindberg, and others. He knew Paris well and spent time also in London, Sicily, Venice, the Baltic countries, and Russia. For cultivation he was up there with Ernst Jünger, one of Germany's most gifted modern prose writers and likewise a revolutionary conservative.

As a kind of ­back-­to-­the-­future movement, revolutionary conservatism depended for its force on advocates who embodied established values. Moeller embodied learning the way Jünger embodied ­storm-­of-­steel militarism. Both had their rationale for a conservative revolution worked out in detail, with all the nuances duly noted. Possibly because of this meeting at the June Club, Moeller was the first to grasp that Hitler didn't care about any of it. Moeller's revolutionary conservatism was meant to safeguard the nation's ­Wesens-Urgestein (the original essential stone) from the corrosive encrustation of mixed blood. Nominally, the tainted blood he was most concerned about was the Latin blood of the German south. Some of Moeller's colleagues thought that Hitler might have picked up the dreaded southern infection from spending too long in Bavaria. But it hardly needs saying that Jewish blood was the real bother. If anyone is still looking for the linking factor between the resolutely thuggish Nazi movement and all those ­long-forgotten, highfalutin nationalist groups that superficially seem so much more refined, ­anti-­Semitism is it.

When, during World War II, Jünger finally allowed himself to find out exactly what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in the east, he was suitably devastated. But during the '20s it never seemed to concern him much that all the various nationalist groups always seemed to have this one characteristic, ­anti-­Semitism, in common. Not, of course, that it would have come to anything much if Jünger and the rest of the intellectuals had been left to themselves. It wasn't mass murder that they had in mind: just the purification and protection of the folk heritage, brought to the point of irreversible decay by the curse of liberalism. Moeller thought that Julius Stahl, the 19th-­century theorist of Prussian conservatism, was not conservative enough. Stahl was baptized a Lutheran, but he was Jewish. So the objection was racial, although Moeller would have resisted being defined as a mere racist. He had bigger ideas than that. The biggest of them was that liberalism was the real enemy. To the June Club's collective testament, he contributed a fragment of his forthcoming book, which he called "Through Liberalism Peoples Go to Ruin." The book, published in 1923, carried a title that would gain in resonance beyond his death: The Third Reich.

I have a copy of The Third Reich in front of me as I write. An ugly little volume bound in paper, it was put out in 1931 by a Nazi publishing outfit based in Hamburg. This particular example was first purchased by someone signing himself Wm. Montgomery Watt--presumably a Scot, because I found the book in a dust pile in the back of an Edinburgh ­second­hand bookshop. Watt underlined the same point over and over. It was the point Moeller couldn't help making: He got around to it whatever the nominal subject. The point was that Germany had never lost the war, except politically. Militarily, it had triumphed, and all that was now needed was a revolution in order to put reality back in touch with the facts. It just never occurred to Moeller that to say "Germany had never lost the war except politically" was like saying that a cat run over by a car had never died except physically. It never occurred to hundreds of thousands of present and future Nazis, either, but Moeller was supposed to be an intellectual. So was Jünger, whose book Der Arbeiter (also published by Nazi outfit) came with a resonant line of publicity material: "Jünger sees that bourgeois individualism, the cult of personality, the conceit of the ego all belong to the nineteenth century, and are now visibly melting before our eyes through the transformation of separate people into a collectivity." (Memo to a young student of cultural flux: When you buy old books, keep the wrappers if you can. Nothing gives you the temperature of the time like the puffs and quotations.)

All these finely articulated arguments were going strictly nowhere, because nobody in the Nazi hierarchy ever found much time to read them, and certainly Hitler never read a single line. What continues to matter, however, is not where the arguments were going but where they came from. They came from the same source that gave the chance of action to the thugs who used them as a warrant: the chaos, the dislocation, and the demoralization of a civil order.

The chaos left folks groping for ideas, but the ones they grabbed on to came from the Rationalists generally and the Darwinists in particular, Medical Science Under Dictatorship (Leo Alexander, M.D., July 14, 1949, The New England Journal of Medicine)
Science under dictatorship becomes subordinated to the guiding philosophy of the dictatorship. Irrespective of other ideologic trappings, the guiding philosophic principle of recent dictatorships, including that of the Nazis, has been Hegelian in that what has been considered "rational utility" and corresponding doctrine and planning has replaced moral, ethical and religious values. Nazi propaganda was highly effective in perverting public opinion and public conscience, in a remarkably short time. In the medical profession this expressed itself in a rapid decline in standards of professional ethics. Medical science in Nazi Germany collaborated with this Hegelian trend particularly in the following enterprises: the mass extermination of the chronically sick in the interest of saving "useless" expenses to the community as a whole; the mass extermination of those considered socially disturbing or racially and ideologically unwanted; the individual, inconspicuous extermination of those considered disloyal within the ruling group; and the ruthless use of "human experimental material" for medico-military research.

This paper discusses the origins of these activities, as well as their consequences upon the body social, and the motivation of those participating in them.

Preparatory Propaganda

Even before the Nazis took open charge in Germany, a propaganda barrage was directed against the traditional compassionate nineteenth-century attitudes toward the chronically ill, and for the adoption of a utilitarian, Hegelian point of view. Sterilization and euthanasia of persons with chronic mental illnesses was discussed at a meeting of Bavarian psychiatrists in 1931. By 1936 extermination of the physically or socially unfit was so openly accepted that its practice was mentioned incidentally in an article published in an official German medical journal.

Lay opinion was not neglected in this campaign. Adults were propagandized by motion pictures, one of which, entitled "I Accuse," deals entirely with euthanasia. This film depicts the life history of a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis; in it her husband, a doctor, finally kills her to the accompaniment of soft piano music rendered by a sympathetic colleague in an adjoining room. Acceptance of this ideology was implanted even in the children. A widely used high-school mathematics text, "Mathematics in the Service of National Political Education," includes problems stated in distorted terms of the cost of caring for and rehabilitating the chronically sick and crippled, the criminal and the insane."


The first direct order for euthanasia was issued by Hitler on September 1, 1939, and an organization was set up to execute the program. Dr. Karl Brandt headed the medical section, and Phillip Bouhler the administrative section. All state institutions were required to report on patients who had been ill five years or more and who were unable to work, by filling out questionnaires giving name, race, marital status, nationality, next of kin, whether regularly visited and by whom, who bore financial responsibility and so forth. The decision regarding which patients should be killed was made entirely on the basis of this brief information by expert consultants, most of whom were professors of psychiatry in the key universities. These consultants never saw the patients themselves. The thoroughness of their scrutiny can be appraised by the work of on expert, who between November 14 and December 1, 1940, evaluated 2109 questionnaires.

These questionnaires were collected by a "Realm's Work Committee of Institutions for Cure and Care." A parallel organization devoted exclusively to the killing of children was known by the similarly euphemistic name of "Realm's Committee for Scientific Approach to Severe Illness Due to Heredity and Constitution." The "Charitable Transport Company for the Sick" transported patients to the killing centers, and the "Charitable Foundation for Institutional Care" was in charge of collecting the cost of the killings from the relatives, without, however, informing them what the charges were for; in the death certificates the cause of death was falsified.

What these activities meant to the population at large was well expressed by a few hardy souls who dared to protest. A member of the court of appeals at Frankfurt-am-Main wrote in December, 1939:

There is constant discussion of the question of the destruction of socially unfit life--in the places where there are mental institutions, in neighboring towns, sometimes over a large area, throughout the Rhineland, for example. The people have come to recognize the vehicles in which the patients are taken from their original institution to the intermediate institution and from there to the liquidation institution. I am told that when they see these buses even the children call out: "They're taking some more people to be gassed." From Limburg it is reported that every day from one to three buses which shades drawn pass through on the way from Weilmunster to Hadmar, delivering inmates to the liquidation institution there. According to the stories the arrivals are immediately stripped to the skin, dressed in paper shirts, and forthwith taken to a gas chamber, where they are liquidated with hydro-cyanic acid gas and an added anesthetic. The bodies are reported to be moved to a combustion chamber by means of a conveyor belt, six bodies to a furnace. The resulting ashes are then distributed into six urns which are shipped to the families. The heavy smoke from the crematory building is said to be visible over Hadamar every day. There is talk, furthermore, that in some cases heads and other portions of the body are removed for anatomical examination. The people working at this liquidation job in the institutions are said to be assigned from other areas and are shunned completely by the populace. This personnel is described as frequenting the bars at night and drinking heavily. Quite apart from these overt incidents that exercise the imagination of the people, the are disquieted by the question of whether old folk who have worked hard all their lives and may merely have come into their dotage are also being liquidated. There is talk that the homes for the aged are to be cleaned out too. The people are said to be waiting for legislative regulation providing some orderly method that will insure especially that the aged feeble-minded are not included in the program.

Here one sees what "euthanasia" means in actual practice. According to the records, 275,000 people were put to death in these killing centers. Ghastly as this seems, it should be realized that this program was merely the entering wedge for exterminations for far greater scope in the political program for genocide of conquered nations and the racially unwanted. The methods used and personnel trained in the killing centers for the chronically sick became the nucleus of the much larger centers on the East, where the plan was to kill all Jews and Poles and to cut down the Russian population by 30,000,000. [...]

It is rather significant that the German people were considered by their Nazi leaders more ready to accept the exterminations of the sick than those for political reasons. It was for that reason that the first exterminations of the latter group were carried out under the guise of sickness. So-called "psychiatric experts" were dispatched to survey the inmates of camps with the specific order to pick out members of racial minorities and political offenders from occupied territories and to dispatch them to killing centers with specially made diagnoses such as that of "inveterate German hater" applied to a number of prisoners who had been active in the Czech underground.

Certain classes of patients with mental diseases who were capable of performing labor, particularly members of the armed forces suffering from psychopathy or neurosis, were sent to concentration camps to be worked to death, or to be reassigned to punishment battalions and to be exterminated in the process of removal of mine fields.

A large number of those marked for death for political or racial reasons were made available for "medical" experiments involving the use of involuntary human subjects. From 1942 on, such experiments carried out in concentration camps were openly presented at medical meetings. This program included "terminal human experiments," a term introduced by Dr. Rascher to denote an experiment so designed that its successful conclusion depended upon the test person's being put to death. [...]

Under all forms of dictatorship the dictating bodies or individuals claim that all that is done is being done for the best of the people as a whole, and that for that reason they look at health merely in terms of utility, efficiency and productivity. It is natural in such a setting that eventually Hegel's principle that "what is useful is good" wins out completely. The killing center is the reductio ad absurdum of all health planning based only on rational principles and economy and not on humane compassion and divine law. To be sure, American physicians are still far from the point of thinking of killing centers, but they have arrived at a danger point in thinking, at which likelihood of full rehabilitation is considered a factor that should determine the amount of time, effort and cost to be devoted to a particular type of patient on the part of the social body upon which this decision rests. At this point Americans should remember that the enormity of a euthanasia movement is present in their own midst. To the psychiatrist it is obvious that this represents the eruption of unconscious aggression on the part of certain administrators alluded to above, as well as on the part of relatives who have been understandably frustrated by the tragedy of illness in its close interaction upon their own lives. The hostility of a father erupting against his feebleminded son is understandable and should be considered from the psychiatric point of view, but it certainly should not influence social thinking. The development of effective analgesics and pain-relieving operations has taken even the last rationalization away from the supporters of euthanasia.

The case, therefore, that I should like to make is that American medicine must realize where it stands in its fundamental premises. There can be no doubt that in a subtle way the Hegelian premise of "what is useful is right" has infected society, including the medical portion. Physicians must return to the older premises, which were the emotional foundation and driving force of an amazingly successful quest to increase powers of healing if they are not held down to earth by the pernicious attitudes of an overdone practical realism.

What occurred in Germany may have been the inexorable historic progression that the Greek historians have described as the law of the fall of civilizations and that Toynbee has convincingly confirmed--namely, that there is a logical sequence from Koros to Hybris to Ate, which means from surfeit to disdainful arrogance to disaster, the surfeit being increased scientific and practical accomplishments, which, however, brought about an inclination to throw away the old motivations and values by disdainful arrogant pride in practical efficiency. Moral and physical disaster is the inevitable consequence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


Words to Die By: A new series resurrects some of history's bloodiest manifestos: a review of Virtue and Terror, by Maximilien Robespierre and On Practice and Contradiction, by Mao Zedong (John Kekes, 20 February 2007, City Journal)

These two books appear in a new series, "Revolutions," published by Verso, a well-known British firm specializing in radical leftist gobbledygook. The books come with introductions by Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian psychoanalyst and social theorist, who assaults both the English language and the intelligence of those who actually manage to figure out what he's saying.

If you think that's harsh, here's a representative Žižekian sentence: "The claim that the people does exist is the basic axiom of 'totalitarianism,' and the mistake of 'totalitarianism' is strictly homologous to the Kantian misuse ('paralogism') of political reason: 'the People exists' through a determinate political agent which acts as if it directly embodies (not only re-presents) the People, its true Will (the totalitarian Party and its Leader), i.e. in the terms of transcendental critique, as a direct phenomenal embodiment of the noumenal People." Got that? The advertising that accompanies the two books says that "only a philosophical voice so profoundly attuned to the dissonances of our age as Slavoj Žižek's could do justice to the great revolutionary texts of modernity." In a way it's true: Žižek's matchless prose is a fitting introduction to these abhorrent volumes.

To its credit, the Right has rejected its most murderous manifesto: The Descent of Man.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


How Teddy Kennedy Hampered Reagan's Cold War Efforts (Paul Kengor, 02/20/2007, Human Events)

Once Reagan was President, he found himself at odds with the latest Sen. Kennedy. Reagan ideas such as deploying intermediate-range nuclear forces (INFs) in Western Europe and the Strategic Defense Initiative infuriated Ted Kennedy, who, according to a highly sensitive KGB document discovered by reporter Tim Sebastian of the London Times (which ran an article on the document Feb. 2, 1992), was motivated to do something quite unusual:

On May 14, 1983, KGB head Viktor Chebrikov sent a message of "Special Importance" with the highest classification to General Secretary Yuri Andropov. The subject head to the letter read: "Regarding Senator Kennedy's request to the General Secretary of the Communist Party Y. V. Andropov." According to Chebrikov, Sen. Kennedy was "very troubled" by the state of U.S.-Soviet relations. Kennedy believed that the main reason for the dangerous situation was "Reagan's belligerence" and particularly his INF plan. "According to Kennedy," reported Chebrikov, "the current threat is due to the President's refusal to engage any modification to his politics."

The fourth and fifth paragraphs of Chebrikov's memo held out hope that Reagan's 1984 re-election bid could be thwarted. But where was the President vulnerable? Chebrikov stated that Kennedy had provided a possible answer. "The only real threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations," wrote Chebrikov. "These issues, according to the senator [Kennedy], will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign." According to Chebrikov, Kennedy lamented that Reagan was good at "propaganda," whereas statements from Soviet officials were quoted "out of context" or "whimsically discounted."

Chebrikov then relayed Kennedy's alleged offer to Andropov: "Kennedy believes that, given the state of current affairs and in the interest of peace, it would be prudent and timely to undertake the following steps to counter the militaristic politics of Reagan." The first step, according to the document, was a recommendation by Kennedy that Andropov invite him to Moscow for a personal meeting. Chebrikov reported: "The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they would be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA."

Second, wrote the KGB head, "Kennedy believes that in order to influence Americans it would be important to organize in August-September of this year [1983], televised interviews with Y. V. Andropov in the USA." He said the Massachusetts senator had suggested a "direct appeal" by Andropov to the American people. "Kennedy and his friends," wrote Chebrikov, would hook up Andropov with television reporters such as Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters. Chebrikov said that Kennedy had suggested arranging interviews not merely for Andropov but also for "lower-level Soviet officials, particularly from the military," who "would also have an opportunity to appeal directly to the American people about the peaceful intentions of the U.S.S.R."

In essence, Chebrikov reported that Kennedy offered to help organize a Soviet PR campaign, which would "root out the threat of nuclear war" and "improve Soviet-American relations" (and also hurt Reagan's 1984 re-election prospects). "Kennedy is very impressed with the activities of Y. V. Andropov and other Soviet leaders," explained Chebrikov.

Democrats are pretty consistent in their opposition to wars waged by Republican presidents, to the point of trying to rescue the Sandinistas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Cameron declares his faith in a state education for his children (Anthony Browne, Fran Yeoman, and Alex Blair, 2/21/07, Times of London)

David Cameron said yesterday that he wanted to send his daughter to a state school and, like Tony Blair before him, entered into an educational controversy. Rather than choose a grant-maintained school, as Mr Blair did, the Conservative leader is opting for a faith school. "I'm quite a fan of faith schools and we're looking at a church school we're very keen on, but we'll have to see what places are available," he told You and Yours, the BBC Radio 4 programme.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


Faltering in polls, Romney takes to airwaves: TV commercials in N.H., Iowa bring candidate up close (Lisa Wangsness, February 21, 2007, Boston Globe)

Mitt Romney, behind in early New Hampshire polls but flush with campaign cash, will launch a television commercial in New Hampshire and Iowa today, becoming the first major presidential candidate to take to the airwaves in those early battleground states.

Titled "Unplugged," the commercial was shot in a stripped-down style with hand-held digital video cameras during his announcement tour last week, giving viewers the illusion of having an up-close view of the candidate.

"I believe the American people are overtaxed and the government is overfed," Romney says in the ad, speaking before a flag-draped stage, as his audience breaks into cheers. "I believe we're spending too much money, and that's got to stop. I believe our laws ought to be written by the people and not by unelected judges."

He's not going to make up for unpopularity by shoveling pabulum. He ought to at least make a bid to be the candidate of ideas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Saudis Cozy Up To Jews in America (YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, February 20, 2007, NY Sun)

Extra, extra, read all about it: The Saudi-Jewish entente is here.

The Saudis are rolling out a charm offensive and getting good publicity for it. In the latest manifestation, the outgoing Saudi ambassador, Prince Turki al-Faisal, attended a reception in Washington last month backed by American Jewish organizations to honor a State Department diplomat appointed to -- here comes the chutzpah bit -- combat anti-Semitism.

Prince Turki, the head of Saudi intelligence for a quarter of a century and a senior prince in line to the Saudi throne, was even glimpsed in photos shaking hands with Jews.

That might be a source of joy were it not for the anti-Semitic slurs heaped daily on Jews in the Saudi press, the anti-Semitic diatribes from evangelical-style Saudi television preachers, or the endless references in school lessons to Jews and Christians as "descendants of pigs and monkeys."

Saudi surges of warmth toward Jews crop up whenever danger lurks, but they rarely survive beyond the menace. This time around, the warmth is motivated by Iran's looming Shiite hegemony in the Persian Gulf, a direct menace to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim states in the region. [...]

But why should American Jews, or anyone else, go along with such a charade?

...everybody actually hates the Shi'a, though for the same reason they hate Jews and Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Gray Matters: In Japan, where one fifth of the population is now over 65, a preview of a global future. (Akiko Kashiwagi, 2/19/07, Newsweek)

Last December, a state-run think tank published a report noting that right now one out of five Japanese are over the age of 65--making Japan one of the oldest populations in the world. And the trend is headed up: by 2023, people over 65 will make up 30 percent of the population; by 2055, they will be more than 40 percent. For women like my mother, the news is even better: Right now the average life span for a Japanese woman is 85.5 years, and, according to a recent WTO study, by 2030 that figure will rise to 88.5. Meanwhile, Japan's impressive health-care system and healthy lifestyles have allowed seniors to live fuller lives.

That's the good news. The bad news is that these longer lives can mean greater costs for society as a whole. Retirees are often drawing on funds from the public purse while there are ever-fewer workers to pay into it. Already in Japan, a whopping 71 percent of total social-welfare appropriations goes to entitlements for the elderly. That's up from 59 percent in 1990, compared with a mere 25 percent in 1973.

The problem is not just in Japan, though the pace of aging seems not as fast elsewhere. In 2005, the elderly population accounted for 20 percent in Italy, about the same as in Japan, followed by Germany (18.8 percent), Sweden (17.2 percent) and France (16.6 percent), according to United Nations data. (The United States figure is 12.3 percent.) [...]

Last summer we watched in horror as TV news broadcasts announced that the government of Yubari, a rural town on the northern island of Hokkaido, was declaring bankruptcy because of its excessive debts. There was a time when Yubari was best known for its pricey muskmelons, which went for $10 a slice. But today it's famous for being Japan 's grayest city, where 40 percent of the population is 65 or older. Amid aging and loss of jobs, the city kept borrowing by stimulating economy using loans and subsidies in a manner typical of rural Japan. This summer, then, it revealed it had a huge hidden debt and was no longer capable of making its loan payments. Under a new workout program it's being forced to lay off workers, cut services and slash subsidies for the elderly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Which candidates will pass the beer test? (Jonah Goldberg, 2/21/07, www.JewishWorldReview.com)

Interestingly, the GOP has a significant likability advantage (and disadvantages almost everywhere else). John McCain may be unpopular with much of the Republican base, but Americans would love to go to the pub with him. Rudy Giuliani, too, seems like a good guy with whom to watch a baseball game at the bar. The super-polished Mitt Romney's a tougher call, and Duncan Hunter would be a pain because he'd keep asking the immigration status of the busboys.

But the GOP front-runners (save perhaps Newt Gingrich) all have the advantage over Hillary. She may have star power, but you get the sense that most Americans would like to have their picture taken with her and then drink alone. With the exception of Sen. Christopher Dodd, I'd guess all of the Democratic wannabes are more likable than Clinton, too. Sexism probably is part of the equation, but not as much as Clinton's defenders will claim. There's room for perceptions to change as we get to know the candidates (though we already know Hillary pretty well).

Please don't be scandalized by all of this. It's just something to think about. For the record, I think everyone should vote based on principle. But principles are for a person; they're less helpful when it comes to predicting people.

We all had friends like Rudy in college--instead of drinking a beer with you he was hitting on everything in a skirt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Pension gap divides public and private workers (Dennis Cauchon, 2/21/07, USA TODAY)

Johnnie Nichols, a civilian Defense Department employee, contributes to a federal pension that will let him retire at age 56, after 32 years of service.

His wife, Kimberly, a math teacher at a private business college, has no pension after two decades of teaching and running a horse farm. Their marriage reflects the new world of retirement: government employees who have secure benefits and private workers who increasingly are on their own.

"If we were both in her shoes, we'd be in a world of hurt," says Nichols, 45, an information technology manager in Middletown, Ind. "We wouldn't be able to retire until age 67."

The notion that retiring only twenty years before you die is "a world of hurt" is insane.

Mission: Impossible: A radically retooled Minneapolis School Board tries to stop the bleeding and start over (Beth Hawkins, 2/20/07, citypages.com)

''What we've inherited is a big ball of ugly," says Chris Stewart. "No matter where you touch it, pull on it, it's ugly."

The topic is the Minneapolis Public Schools, and Stewart is so engrossed he's been trying to get the same tidy, precise rectangle of chicken enchilada to his mouth for 15 minutes, without success. He picks the fork up, gets it halfway to his lips, and gets derailed by another thought. The fork hovers for a moment, and then slowly sinks back to the plate.

Stewart has served on Minneapolis's Board of Education for a scant six weeks, during which time it's become clear that there will be no honeymoon. The backlog of business left undone by the last board is too big, the weeks ahead hold little but unpleasant decisions: Some 13 schools and programs will probably need to be closed, contract negotiations with the teachers' union haven't begun but are already threatening to turn nasty, and over the next three years a $50 million budget shortfall is forecast.

And those are just the fires that need to be put out immediately. In the medium term, someone has to figure out how to stanch the exodus of kids leaving the district--25 percent in the last six years, with projected continuing losses of 4 to 5 percent a year.

"No one respects the board," Stewart says. "No one expects it to make things happen."

Even though most people would agree, this isn't the kind of talk people are used to hearing from politicians. Stewart doesn't seem to care. For starters, in a city where DFL endorsees are school board shoo-ins, he's a conservative African American evangelical--not the kind of guy who typically makes it through the party caucus. [...]

In the coming weeks, the MPS board will consider a number of tough topics. The debate over school closings is guaranteed to be emotional and divisive, especially if Stewart is right that budget realities mean the board needs to look at cutting even popular and successful programs. (At press time, a preliminary discussion about facilities was scheduled to take place at the board's regular meeting on February 20, a list of facilities and programs staff recommend closing was to be released March 6, and the board was tentatively committed to making a decision March 13.)

But the battle over closings is likely to pale in comparison to the issues expected to be on the table in the upcoming contract negotiations between the district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

The thorniest is the way teachers are placed in schools. Currently, when there's an opening, teachers bid for it and the applicant with the most seniority wins. Consequently, the teachers with the most experience tend to be clustered in the most desirable schools, which also happen to be the programs with the most children from middle- and upper-income families and the fewest children with Individual Education Plans--code for special ed.

High teacher turnover and burnout rates have long frustrated African American families, but it's become particularly acute in the last five years, as cuts in state funding have meant massive layoffs. The cuts have reached so deep into the union's seniority list that most MPS teachers either have 10 or more years of experience, or virtually none.

New teachers on probationary status tend to land in a handful of schools, some of which have had more than 200 percent turnover in the last three years. "When each new round of layoffs comes, those probationary teachers who've made it through a year with those high-poverty kids are gone," laments Carla Bates, an education activist with three kids in MPS.

She points to district statistics that show that from 2000 to 2003, five of the district's elementary schools had turnover of more than 200 percent: Jordan Park's core staff turned over by 443 percent during that time; Lincoln Elementary's by 330 percent; Green Central Park, 333; Cityview, 258; and Anderson Open, 222. All are large schools with high numbers of English-language learners (accounting for half of enrollment at Green, Jordan Park, and Anderson), large contingents of special ed students, and, most telling, student bodies filled with kids living in poverty.

Stewart and the other board members interviewed for this article say the district can't make headway on the achievement gap between minorities and white students, the political third rail running under so many of the crises of the last few years, without a major change. [...]

TWENTY YEARS AGO, AT THE AGE of 19, Stewart set out to make his fortune in California. It was supposed to be the land of opportunity, but even after four interviews with McDonald's he couldn't land a job. He'd even ditched his New Orleans drawl--"I was acutely aware how much smarter I got when I lost my accent." But after a few months Stewart was sleeping in a park.

He got on a bus headed east. Everywhere the bus stopped Stewart would get off, find a newspaper, and look at the want ads to see what the job market was like. "Salt Lake City, Omaha, Des Moines"--he shivers at the last--"the economy had tanked."

He got off the bus in Minneapolis. The next day he had two jobs, one in the young men's department of the Donaldson's at Southdale, and another across the hall in a nut shop. He was thrilled, but even before he got out of the mall he realized he'd never be able to put together first and last month's rent.

He was still pondering this when he met a girl whose mother rented rooms in her house in St. Louis Park. She called home, and her mom said Stewart could stay if he promised to hand over $60 from his first paycheck and another $60 every week thereafter.

To Stewart, this particular yarn is about social capital. To get to the moral, fast-forward 13 years. Stewart was working for a staffing company, one that wasn't particularly interested in the kind of temp workers who couldn't get permanent jobs on their own.

"We didn't even want 'those people' in the lobby," he says. "But [the company] did like the commission it got when I placed someone on a job." His bosses dubbed his caseload "the huddled masses," but otherwise they let him be.

One day, someone from a social service agency appeared in the office, wanting to see the guy who could place anyone. She sent him a test case, and when Stewart found the person a job, the woman called him and said she was moving out of town. Did Stewart want her job?

"It was one of the few times in life when God spoke to me. I really believe that," he says. "From that moment on, I was happy. In fact, I was self-righteous."

In his new post, Stewart revisited the subject of social capital daily as he helped welfare recipients find work. But he always felt like he was years too late. After five years, he went to work for the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, where his job now is to work with Minneapolis schools and colleges to make sure they provide the training the state's businesses want future workers to have. Again, he found himself feeling that whatever he might accomplish, it was coming years too late in the lives of his clients.

It had to start in school, he reckoned. But he couldn't get the district's attention to do anything about it, partly because of the administrative staff's notoriously insular culture and partly because the school board and its superintendent were in the process of melting down. Thandiwe Peebles's dramatic flameout in January 2006 was followed by the news that four of the school board's seven members would not seek re-election. Stewart immediately grasped the importance of the moment.

"With four people leaving, there would be this ability to inspire change," he says. And the field of potential replacements didn't do much for him. "One of the things that compelled me to run was the fear that the candidates would be the usual suspects. I did not see a diverse selection of black candidates. There was no one who could challenge the black leadership. There was no conservative.

"Win or lose, I decided to run an as outsider candidate who was going to say what I saw, whether it was palatable or not."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Bush has undermined Reagan's conservative movement (Joe Scarborough, 2/21/07, JewishWorldReview.com)

[I] expected no flowers from the White House this Valentine's Day because I have angered more than my share of Republican apologists for suggesting Bush has done more to damage the conservative movement than Newt Gingrich could ever have managed. In fact, Bush's Big Government Republicanism has so undermined Ronald Reagan's conservative movement, Gingrich is the only champion of conservative causes still occupying the national stage.

But don't try to tell that to the same suck-ups who blasted me during the Newt wars. They will tell you that conservatives should look away when Republicans set records for federal spending, national deficits and spiraling debts. They will tell you that even though we criticized Bill Clinton for ignoring his generals' advice, we should give George W. Bush a free pass for doing the same thing 10 years later. And if we are truly loyal party members, we should attack those generals as defeatists.

Well, it's all too much for me. I thank G-d for conservatives like Largent, Coburn and those who entered Congress in 1994. I thank G-d for Ronald Reagan's daring to take on a bloated party establishment in 1976. How funny that Reagan saved the same party that despised him for taking on a sitting president.

Party types called Reagan a traitor in 1976 for daring to buck the political establishment. But the way I see it, the Gipper showed loyalty by telling the truth and making his party better. Four years later, the Reagan Revolution was lodged because of his courage.

We need more Reagans today.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of Reaganite defenders of the New Deal in Congress, which is why George Bush is nearly alone in trying to reform SS along conservative lines. Sadly, too few conservatives are Reaganite on immigration amnesty, so it will be george Bush and Democrats who do the reforming there. And, of course, it's a smaller war, so it costs less, but pretty much everyone in Washington is more fiscally conservative than the Gipper was.

Meanwhile, the most conspicuous thing about Mr. Scarborough and his band of brothers is that nearly all made a hash of their own political careers. Now, like drunk fans in the cheap seats, they heckle the guys who are still in the ring....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Joint force weighs move on Sadr City: The vast Baghdad slum harbors a key militia but a sweep could backfire (Borzou Daragahi, February 21, 2007, LA Times)

Political pressure has mounted to crack down on the Baghdad neighborhood that harbors the militia loyal to radical anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr. Sunni Arabs, who make up the backbone of the insurgency, have long accused Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of allowing Sadr City to remain a haven for the militia to keep the support of Sadr's followers.

"We think that much of the ... violence that comes as a result of operations emanating from Sadr City will be remarkably diminished if they crack down," said Ammar Wajuih, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's main Sunni political organization.

U.S. and Iraqi military commanders setting out the next steps of the Baghdad security plan are concerned about stirring up a hornet's nest in a neighborhood of more than 2 million Shiites.

They worry that by moving too aggressively they could sabotage one of the few success stories in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The teeming streets of Sadr City are thriving while the rest of the violence-racked capital wilts. The district pulses with commerce and youth, even as huge stretches of Baghdad fade into ghost towns.

Sadr City may shelter troublemakers, but they're lying low for the most part now. Moreover, Sadr's deputies have endorsed the security crackdown.

Even amid the bloodshed across Baghdad, customers fill Sadr City's shops. Workers repair its streets and sewage lines. Children play soccer on its dusty fields and walk to school along newly prettified squares, verdant emblems of progress in a quarter long one of Iraq's most deprived.

"Sadr City has always been safe, with the exception of the suicide and roadside bomb attacks," said Talib Saad, a barber along the district's main thoroughfare.

U.S. troops took heavy casualties when they tried to storm Sadr City in the spring and summer of 2004. For the Americans, the grueling street fights with black-clad teens holding AK-47s while running down the streets represented a nadir few want to relive.

Rather than crush the Al Mahdi, the U.S. wound up bolstering Sadr's street credibility and undermining the popularity of then-Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, who was pro-American.

Any new move into Sadr City remains controversial among military experts. Army Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff, and military analyst Frederick Kagan, who were among the most influential advocates of the current Bush administration plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 21,500, have warned that a push into Sadr City would unnecessarily unite the country's now-splintered Shiite leadership.

"Attempting to clear Sadr City would almost certainly force the [Al Mahdi militia] into [a direct] confrontation with American troops," they wrote in a January report for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

"It would also do enormous damage to [Maliki's] political base and would probably lead to the collapse of the Iraqi government."

If we attack our allies then we will lose the war, though those allies will still win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Chefs love pork belly, oozing with flavor and texture (HSIAO-CHING CHOU, 2/21/07, Seattle P-I)

"It's such an amazing textural experience," said Maria Hines, chef and owner of Tilth restaurant. "You have a nice layer of meat, a nice layer of fat, another nice layer of meat, another nice layer of fat, and when you cook it properly, you have a thin crispy layer on top that's crackly when you bite down into it -- which you should never do in less than three seconds."

Daniel Newell, chef de cuisine at Restaurant Zoe, likes pork belly for "its rich, juicy loveliness."

Thierry Rautureau, owner/chef at Rover's, considers pork belly his "favorite dessert" and enjoys the "feeling of flavor oozing in your mouth."

Boka chef Seis Kamimura can't get enough of the "full fat flavor" and the combination of textures.

Hines added: "You could probably roll it in dirt and it would still sell." [...]



# 1 tablespoon tamarind paste (available in Asian markets)
# 2 teaspoons brown sugar
# 1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam)
# 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
# 1 tablespoon minced shallot or green onions
# 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
# 1 pound pork belly, skin removed and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick slices

Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Add the sliced pork belly to the marinade and marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours at room temperature.

Set up a gas or charcoal grill with a medium fire. Remove the pork from the marinade, thread on skewers to keep the slices from curling, and grill over medium coals for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until nicely browned. Serve at once.

Note: If you can find sliced, raw bacon (unsmoked), you can use that instead of slicing your own.

Oh, glorious, flavorful pork: Kurobuta cuts, salumi, carnitas, crown roast: This really is the Year of the Pig. (Russ Parsons, February 21, 2007, LA Times)
THEY call me Pork Boy, and as far as I'm concerned, the Year of the Pig couldn't have come at a better time. At long last, after decades of abuse, my favorite meat is once again getting a little love.

I come by my nickname honestly. It's a rare week that goes by at my house when I don't fix pork in some form or another. In fact, I'll bet if you added it all up, I probably cook as much pork as I do all other meats combined.

No meat offers a cook more than pork does. Beef and lamb have force of personality; pork has depth and subtlety. It offers a variety of flavors and textures. You can roast it, stew it, grill it or fry it. It has been the foundation of cuisines as diverse as Mexican, Italian and Chinese. [...]

Cider-brined pork chops with wild rice [...]


3/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

3 whole cloves

1 cup apple cider

4 medium-thick pork chops (about 2 pounds)

1 1/2 cups wild rice

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup chopped dried apples

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds

1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar


1. In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups of water, 2 1/2 tablespoons salt, the peppercorns and cloves to a simmer. Remove from heat and let steep until room temperature. Add the cider.

2. Place the pork chops in a sealable plastic bag and strain the brining mixture over it, discarding the peppercorns and cloves. Squeeze out any air; the brine should just cover the chops. Seal tightly and refrigerate 6 to 8 hours or overnight.

3. Combine the wild rice, 5 cups of water and three-fourths teaspoon salt in a large saucepan and cook uncovered over medium-high heat until the water has almost entirely evaporated and the rice is tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Drain the rice and return to the pan. Add the shallot, cherries and apples. Cover the pan and let stand until the pork is ready.

4. Heat a grill pan or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the chops from the marinade and pat dry thoroughly. When the pan is very hot, add the vegetable oil to the pan and add the chops. Sear on one side, about 2 minutes, then turn the chops over and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, covered, until the pork is lightly browned and firm, about 7 to 8 minutes and 132 to 135 degrees (the temperature will increase as it rests). It should still be slightly pink inside and moist. (If using a grill pan, you can use any metal pan lid that will cover the chops as you cook them; the objective is to keep them covered so they can steam as they grill and cook faster.)

5. When the pork is ready, season the rice to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the almonds and red wine vinegar. Spoon a mound of wild rice on each plate and tilt a pork chop against it. Serve immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Thirteen Years Later (George H. Wittman, 2/21/2007, American Spectator)

China, already politically dominant, is now recognized as the major regional economic power -- competing only with Japan. Ironically this strength has been gained through the PRC veering away from its commitment to strict socialist economic principles. The North Korean leadership cannot admit it openly, but it no longer can consider China as the same fraternal partner it once was. Pyongyang, from its continued Stalinist perspective, certainly views Beijing's eroding Communist dogma as giving impetus to China's emergence as a nascent capitalist state.

For its part Beijing perceives the ongoing contest of wills between Washington and Pyongyang as now having a new formidable component in Tokyo's intense reaction against the DPRK's nuclear armament. Japan is no longer relatively passive in the face of North Korea's aggressive behavior. In other words, the overall dynamic has been altered.

The North Koreans, in turn, recognize this change in the environment of the negotiations at hand. Under this new set of parameters is a host of economic, political and military considerations that did not exist thirteen years ago. [...]

China expects success in the next two months in the shutting down of the North Korean nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, as does most, though not all, of the Bush Administration. [...]

The DPRK desperately needed the proffered energy assistance and the Bush Administration needed this political win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Road pricing is not a stealth tax, says Blair (Deborah Summers, February 21, 2007, Guardian Unlimited

Tony Blair today denied road charging was about "stealth taxes" or "Big Brother" surveillance as he began responding to the 1.8 million people who signed a Downing Street petition.

Indeed, the objection is that it is a user fee. Drivers always want a free ride.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


French police 'hit fans escaping crush': 'I think people were worried it might be like Hillsborough' (Staff and agencies, February 21, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Riot police fired tear gas into the overcrowded away section of the Stade Félix-Bollaert as some visiting United fans appeared to be crushed against a 10ft-high metal pitch perimeter fence. At least two supporters were lifted over the barrier, while security officials slammed shut a gate which had been pushed open by United supporters trying to relieve the pressure.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


The Defense Rests, and Not a Minute Too Soon (Dana Milbank, February 21, 2007, Washington Post)

For a brief moment yesterday, Scooter Libby was not a former White House aide on trial for perjury. He was an orphan in need of a loving home.

"He's been under my protection for the last month; now I'm entrusting him to you," defense lawyer Ted Wells told the puzzled jurors.

His voice breaking, the $700-an-hour lawyer pleaded: "Give him back! Give him back to me!"

Wells sobbed loudly and went back to his chair, where he sat staring at the floor and emitting the occasional sniffle.

Exactly what Wells was trying to achieve with this outburst -- if he intended it at all -- was a mystery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Where Tim Hardaway Was Right (Michael Medved, February 21, 2007, Townhall)

In the wake of the nearly-universal condemnation of Tim Hardaway's statements to a radio interviewer, the substantive issue remains. Is it a reasonable for an NBA basketball player (or a soldier in basic training, for that matter) to feel uncomfortable sharing intimate quarters with a homosexual, or does this represent an outrageous, irrational fear? In response to the Hardaway controversy, several sports columnists compared his resistance to the idea of playing alongside gay teammates to the racism of previous years when white players tried to avoid competing with (or against) blacks.

The analogy is ridiculous, of course. There is no rational basis for discomfort at playing with athletes of another race since science and experience show that human racial differences remain insignificant.

Whereas a teammate's immorality ought to influence your reaction to him. A gay player resembles the bigot, not the victim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Tuesday Map: The happiest countries in the world (Blake Hounshell, 02/20/2007, Foreign Policy)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Is there life after Bush?: We've been hating him forever, but he's leaving. Now we have to decide what to do with the rest of our lives (Gary Kamiya, Feb. 20, 2007, Salon)

Hating George W. Bush sometimes feels like a full-time job. I get up in the morning, open the paper, and it's Bush World. His ruinous handiwork is all over the place, whether it's Putin threatening to start a new Cold War, another Neanderthal anti-Enlightenment skirmish in the U.S. or some fresh hell in Baghdad. I turn on the TV and there he is, uttering reality-averse platitudes while mangling the English language in his best frat-boy twang. And then there's the Internet, where my bookmarked band of rhetorical assassins stir facts and commentary about his wretched tenure into a damning cocktail that I happily imbibe.

It isn't surprising that Bush is deeply implanted in my brain -- when you're the worst president in modern history, you tend to work your way into people's psyches. But it's still a little strange. I've been forced to deal with this wretched president for so long that hating him has virtually become part of my identity.

This is, as the hippies used to say, a lot of bad karma. To tell the truth, I don't know if I actually hate Bush. I'm not sure if you can hate someone you don't actually know, and I'm not even sure if I really hate anyone. But I definitely feel every other negative emotion you can imagine toward him -- anger, contempt, fear, disgust, outrage -- so let's go ahead and call it hate. And millions of other Americans are in the same boat.

But this is all going to change. Pretty soon, we won't have Bush to kick around anymore. And I've started wondering: What are we going to do then?

He nearly grasps the point that this isn't about W, just about his own psyche.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


In Somalia, violence is status quo, dashing hopes (Jeffrey Gettleman, February 21, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

"To tell you the truth, I'm pretty worried," said Ali Mahdi Muhammad, an influential clan elder and once a contender for president of Somalia. When the government came to Mogadishu, he said, "I felt we were going the right way. Unfortunately, that's not the case anymore and soon it's going to be too late."

It is hard to believe, but Somalia is actually becoming a more violent and chaotic place. This is not how it was supposed to be.

The Islamists will be welcomed back with open arms, not least by us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM



This was about E-6, error on Jeter for malfeasance as a leader. His relationship with Alex Rodriguez has mattered because Rodriguez matters so much to the success of the Yankees, and A-Rod has cared deeply about Jeter's approval.

Rodriguez attempted to recast the bond between the two and, perhaps, the power dynamics Monday when he admitted that their association had dwindled from "blood brothers" to "a working relationship." It was, perhaps, a liberating moment for Rodriguez, a chance to stop having to act as if something existed that does not any more.

Jeter's opportunity to take the cathartic baton came and went yesterday with the Yankee captain defiantly sticking to his cover story that nothing is wrong, and nothing has ever been wrong. Jeter is not dumb, so we must assume he just continues to play dumb. The ice prince wants to freeze A-Rod out, and then haughtily dismiss any discussion of the subject.

As he did last year, Jeter returned to the nonsense that "I don't think it's my job to tell fans to boo or not" when it comes to A-Rod. Well, first of all, Jeter did exactly that in June 2005, instructing the fans to start cheering the beleaguered Jason Giambi for the good of the team. And, at that point, Giambi had been shamed as a drug cheat and someone who pulled himself out of a World Series game. The difference, of course, was Jeter likes the easily likeable Giambi.

But reducing this to lecturing the fans about etiquette is just obfuscation. Jeter did not have to tell the fans what to do. He simply had to make Rodriguez feel more comfortable, more welcomed. Instead, Jeter has shown the unforgiving nature of a Soprano.

Hard to think of any team captain who's been more of a cancer on his team. It's been all downhill since he insisted that Arod, the obviously superior defensive player, move off SS instead of volunteering to do so himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Case closed, no evidence to prove the JFK conspiracy: Gerald Posner, in The New York Times, on how new film vindicates the single bullet-single gunman theory (Gerald Posner, February 22, 2007, The Australian)
LAST weekend, a never-before-seen home movie was made public showing president John F. Kennedy's motorcade just before his assassination ... The footage definitively resolves one of the case's enduring controversies: that the bullet wound on Kennedy's back, as documented and photographed during the autopsy, did not match up with the location of the bullet hole on the back of his suit jacket and shirt. [...]

For years, those of us who concluded that the single-bullet theory was sound still had to speculate that Kennedy's suit had bunched up during the ride, causing the hole to be lower in the fabric than one would expect. Because the holes in the shirt and jacket align perfectly, if the jacket was elevated when the shot struck, the shirt also had to have been raised. Conspiracy theorists have done everything to disprove that the jacket was bunched ...

The new film has finally resolved the issue. At the end of the clip, as the camera focuses on the backs of the president and first lady, Kennedy's suit is significantly bunched up, with several layers creased together. Only 90 seconds before Lee Harvey Oswald fired the first shot, Kennedy's suit jacket was precisely in the position to misrepresent the bullet's entry point.
Mr. Posner's Case Closed is one of those books that is simply dispositive on a point where people believe much nonsense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


The Woman in the Middle: Moderate Democrat Is New Target of Liberal Bloggers (Juliet Eilperin and Michael Grunwald, February 21, 2007, Washington Post)

The Democratic majority was only three weeks old, but by Jan. 26, the grass-roots and Net-roots activists of the party's left wing had already settled on their new enemy: Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), the outspoken chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition.

Progressive blogs -- including two new ones, Ellen Tauscher Weekly and Dump Ellen Tauscher -- were bashing her as a traitor to her party. A new liberal political action committee had just named her its "Worst Offender." And in Tauscher's East Bay district office that day in January, eight MoveOn.org activists were accusing her of helping President Bush send more troops to Iraq. [...]

The anti-Tauscher backlash illustrates how the Democratic takeover has energized and emboldened the party's liberal base, ratcheting up the pressure on the party's moderates. That pressure is also reaching House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a San Francisco liberal who recognizes that moderate voters helped sweep Democrats into the majority. Pelosi has clashed with Tauscher in the past, but she's now eager to hold together her diverse caucus and to avoid the mistakes of GOP leaders who routinely ignored their moderates.

So far, Pelosi and her leadership team seem determined to protect Tauscher and her 60 New Democrats -- up from 47 before the election. In fact, the day after Working for Us, the new progressive political action committee, targeted Tauscher, Pelosi sought her out at a caucus meeting and assured her: "I'm not going to let this happen." House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) spent 20 minutes complaining to Working for Us founder Steve Rosenthal, who swiftly removed the hit list of "Worst Offenders" from the group's Web site.

Said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly: "We want to protect our incumbents. That's what we're about."

Democratic leaders want their activists to focus on beating Republicans. But the grass roots and Net roots believe the political tide is shifting their way, and they can provide the money, ground troops and buzz to challenge Democratic incumbents they don't like. MoveOn.org had two Bay Area chapters before the election; now it has 15, and they could all go to work against Tauscher in a primary. "Absolutely, we could take her out," said Markos Moulitsas Zúniga -- better known as Kos -- the Bay Area blogger behind the influential Daily Kos site.

They sound like the far Right, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Woman stabs boyfriend after disappointing sex (The Local, 21st February 2007)

A 40 year old man from Luleå received life-threatening injuries after being stabbed in the lung by his 28 year old Russian girlfriend. The pair were staying at the man's apartment in the northern Swedish town when they got into a heated argument about their relationship.

The 40 year old says that his girlfriend was disappointed with the quality of their sex that evening.

February 20, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 PM


The Other Brother just added a thingy from Pajamas Media, at the bottom of the stuff on the left hand side of the page, where you can vote in a presidential straw poll. It's pretty worthless because of the nature of the blogosphere--after the first week McCain was in 5th for the GOP and Bill Richardson in 1st for the Democrats--but Brothers Judd is its own precinct so you can see who our guests in particular are backing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 PM


Lebanon will be first victim of Iran crisis (Robert Fisk, 21 February 2007, Independent)

How easily the sparks from the American-Israeli fire fall across the Middle East. Every threat, every intransigence uttered in Washington and Tehran now burns a little bit more of Lebanon. It is not by chance that the UN forces in the south of the country now face growing suspicion among the Shia Muslims who live there. It is no coincidence that Israel thunders that the Hizbollah are now more powerful than they were before last year's July war. [...]

In last month's street fighting in Beirut and other towns, General Sulieman's soldiers achieved the extraordinary feat of repeatedly breaking up riots without killing a single one of their own citizens.

"Lebanon cannot be governed by its military or through a dictatorship," he said. "It is a country satiated with democracy... but such a great amount of democracy in Lebanon might lead to chaos.

"Soldiers are even more conscientious than many leaders in this country."

Up to 70 per cent of the Lebanese army - which is now a volunteer, rather than a conscript force - are Shia, which is why it cannot be used to disarm the Shia Hizbollah.

Indeed, it's so satiated the majority insists it should be fully represented.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Chávez Threatens to Jail Price Control Violators (SIMON ROMERO, 2/17/07, NY Times)

[E]conomists who have worked with Mr. Chávez's government say that soaring public spending is overheating Venezuela's economy, generating imbalances in the distribution of products from sugar to basic construction materials like wallboard.

Public spending grew last year by more than 50 percent and has more than doubled since the start of 2004, as Mr. Chávez has channeled oil revenues into social programs and projects like bridges, highways, trains, subways, museums and, in a departure for a country where baseball reigns supreme, soccer stadiums.

Because baseball is the enemy of socialism and soccer its handmaiden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Court Backs White House On Gitmo Detainees (CBS/AP, 2/20/07)

Guantanamo Bay detainees may not challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a federal appeals court said Tuesday in a ruling upholding a key provision of a law at the center of President Bush's anti-terrorism plan.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 that civilian courts no longer have the authority to consider whether the military is illegally holding foreigners.

Barring detainees from the U.S. court system was a key provision in the Military Commissions Act, which Mr. Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a system to prosecute terrorism suspects.

"This is a setback for the detainees, but everyone involved in these cases knows that the real battle will be fought at the Supreme Court," said CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen.

Why should the Executive even argue its case before a branch that has no authority in the matter?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


What the CIA Leak Case Is About (Byron York, February 17, 2007, Washington Post)

After the testimony of star prosecution witness Tim Russert, Walton scanned the jurors' queries and announced, "There is going to be one question I'm not going to ask. I've concluded that that question is not appropriate and therefore you should not speculate as to what the response would have been."

What was he talking about? A moment later, Walton told the jurors: "What Mrs. Wilson's status was at the CIA, whether it was covert or not covert, is not something that you're going to hear any evidence presented to you on in this trial."

"Whether she was, or whether she was not, covert is not relevant to the issues you have to decide in this case," he said.

It is The Thing That Cannot Be Spoken at the Libby trial.

From the first day, Walton has said that jurors will not be allowed to know, or even ask, about the status -- covert, classified or otherwise -- of Valerie Plame Wilson, the woman at the heart of the CIA leak case. "You must not consider these matters in your deliberations or speculate or guess about them," he told jurors in his opening instructions.

A few days later, on Jan. 29, Walton told everyone in the courtroom that the jurors are not the only ones in the dark about Mrs. Wilson's status. "I don't know, based on what has been presented to me in this case, what her status was," Walton said. Two days later, he added, "I to this day don't know what her actual status was."

Walton's reasoning is this: The trial is about whether Libby lied to the grand jury in the CIA leak investigation. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald never charged anyone with leaking the identity of a covert or classified agent. Libby isn't on trial for that, so jurors -- and judge -- don't need to know.

It's never the non-crime that gets you in trouble but the cover-up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


NO TAKERS: If Airbus Is Selling -- Who's Buying?: Airbus is planning to announce a new restructuring program. Smaller production sites, such as Varel and Nordenham, will probably be sold off. Experts are puzzling over who will buy them. (Matthias Streitz, 2/20/07, Der Spiegel)

But who will buy the Airbus plants? It's a riddle the aviation sector is puzzling over. "There are sure to be some interested parties," says Andreas Knorr, a Speyer-based university professor and aviation expert. It is thought likely that medium-sized or small industrial companies with some experience in armaments and aviation could make a bid. Diehl from Nuremberg, OHB Technology from Bremen and the German-Swiss Liebherr group are names that come up particularly often.

German daily Bild reported that the purchase of the Airbus plant in Varel by the Liebherr group has already been decided. The plant employs about 24,000 workers and has an annual turnover of more than €5 billion ($6.6 billion). Sources within Airbus's Hamburg works council describe this report as plausible.

But sources at Liebherr in Biberach, in the state of Baden-Württemberg, say the story is simply not true. In an e-mail to SPIEGEL ONLINE, CEO Henning Rapp writes: "The statement that Liebherr will purchase the Airbus plant in Varel is not accurate. The claim, which has appeared in several media, has no factual basis." Rapp did not answer the question as to whether Liebherr is principally interested in purchasing one of the plants and whether the possibility has been discussed.

OHB in Bremen is less tight-lipped. While a speaker there also said that "the rumor that we're interested in the purchase of an Airbus plant has no basis whatsoever," she added that, in general, OHB is "always interested in changes in the industry and keeping an eye on the options presenting themselves to us." The Bremen-based company is involved in the Ariane rocket project via a subsidiary purchased from German engineering giant MAN. OHB is already supplying Airbus with components.

A spokesperson for Diehl in Nuremberg says: "To my knowledge, there are no such plans to purchase Airbus component plants."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:30 PM


Why John McCain: He's a leader for our times (PHIL GRAMM, February 20, 2007, Opinion Journal)

I believe the man we need to meet the mortal need today is here. He is experienced, but has not lost his common sense or his ability to be outraged. His conservatism is not the result of a studied philosophy, but of common sense and personal observation. His name is John McCain. He might not be the right president for all times, but he is the right president for these times.

Today we have an unnecessary budget deficit, the result of wanton waste and dishonesty. John McCain has been a lonely but clarion voice on this issue: "Bills that perpetuate wasteful spending should be vetoed," he says. "Not some of them, all of them. The numbers should shock us; indifference to them should shame us."

This is not a concern he discovered when he decided to run for president. I first heard him say these things when we served together in the House many years ago. To ask if he would really take on the spending establishment that runs Congress is to ask if water will wet, if fire will burn. If you want to end the spending spree in Washington, he is your man.

John McCain understands instinctively that just as "in war, there is no substitute for victory, in peace, there is no substitute for growth." He believes that "the strength of our economy promotes freedom not just at home but in every distant corner of our planet. End growth in America and the lights start to go out all over the world."

The success of the Reagan program taught Sen. McCain that growth requires responsible, limited government and ever-expanding freedom. As he has said, "The answer to deficits is not to raise taxes or repeal the [Bush] tax cuts but to restrain our spending habit. If the federal government can not be funded by current revenues then we must reduce its size."

Others tell us that pigs have wings and we can have it all: more spending, more government, lower taxes and more freedom. John McCain's says that "tax cuts work best when accompanied by lower spending." Yes, he understands that cutting taxes creates the incentive to work, save and invest; and that sometimes you have to cut taxes first to get the economy going and then control spending. But in his common-sense view, as in the immutable laws that govern our world, you can't let government spend it and let the taxpayer keep it for very long. Nothing endangers the Bush tax cuts today as much as the spending orgy that the very proponents of those tax cuts allowed to occur.

Sen. McCain stands tall, and often alone, in his support for free trade against special interests and against the politicians who would risk destroying our economy to win an election. His view is straightforward and ratified by all our national experience: "Free trade is the key to economic growth, and a key to U.S. economic success. We need to stand up for free trade with no ifs, ands or buts about it. We let free trade and globalization be politicized at our own peril."

But he is not blind or callous to the real costs imposed on the few as trade and globalization create prosperity for the many. In his view, "We must remain committed to education, retraining and help for displaced workers, all the while reminding ourselves that our ability to change is a great strength of our nation." But, he adds, "We cannot let fear and the appeals of protectionism lead us backwards."

John McCain is one of the few politicians in America who consistently levels with us about the mounting insolvency of Social Security and Medicare. "We have made promises that we cannot keep. Some day the government will be forced to make dramatic cuts in these programs, or crippling increases in taxes on workers or both." For Sen. McCain, salvaging the social safety net and saving the economy means making the hard choices now to right the current system for those already in it, and building a new system for future workers based on real investments, not empty promises.

Being honest about Social Security and Medicare is a necessary but not sufficient condition for fixing a broken system. Think for a moment about all the possible candidates running for president next year, and then ask yourself this question: Who else has shown any ability to reach across the party divide and build a bipartisan consensus? Who else could lead worried Americans and shame a reluctant Congress into action? Who else would stay on course with political flak exploding all around him, and his political life hanging in the balance? The easy answer is--no one but John McCain.

Which candidate is best equipped to lead an America at war, with battle lines raging in far away places and on Main Street, where you live? It is in meeting this mortal need more than any other that John McCain stands head and shoulders above the alternatives. Only he has the life experience to know what is really entailed in sending young men and women into combat. With a son at Annapolis and a son in the Marine Corps, he still has plenty of "skin in the game." His life experience and intimate knowledge of defense and foreign policy give Sen. McCain moral authority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Supreme Court's new tilt could put Scalia on a roll: The outspoken justice is poised to lead a new conservative majority (David G. Savage, February 20, 2007, LA Times)

It has been two decades in the making, but this is the year Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court's most outspoken dissenter, could emerge as a leader of a new conservative majority.

Between now and late June, the court is set to hand down decisions in four areas of law -- race, religion, abortion regulation and campaign finance -- where Scalia's views may now represent the majority.

In each of those areas, the retirement of centrist Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and her replacement with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. figure to tip the court to the right. That would give the 70-year-old Scalia the chance to play a part that has largely eluded him: speaking for the court in major rulings.

Scalia does not see shades of gray in most legal disputes; instead, he favors clear rules and broad decisions.

Nothing in Justice Scalia's career suggests that it would make sense for the Chief to assign him opinions that matter, given that he generally can't even get Clarence Thomas to sign on to them. To influence the Court you need to be willing to subsume self to build consensus. That's why William Brennan, though often wrong as to law, may have been the greatest justice ever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Give him an A for ambition (Joel Rubin, February 20, 2007, LA Times)

STEVE Barr may not be a household name, but he is doing more these days to shake up public education in Los Angeles than anyone but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. [...]

"Steve Barr is a believer that one person can change the world," Villaraigosa said. "He is absolutely passionate about transforming our schools, and has put in the blood, sweat and tears to make it happen."

Barr has never worked as a principal or a teacher. Indeed, compared to the professional educators who typically start charter schools, he doesn't know much about teaching kids. Nevertheless, Green Dot high schools have posted some promising early results.

Located in some of the region's toughest, poorest Latino and black neighborhoods, Barr's schools are rooted in a common-sense assumption: All students can learn if they are held to high expectations and taught by capable, empowered teachers in small schools.

TO understand how Barr got into the business of educating kids, you have to know the pain and guilt he feels about his dead brother, Michael.

The brothers lived a meager and unsettled childhood. Their father left shortly after Michael was born and Steve was 2. Their mother, who worked odd jobs and as an Army dental assistant, raised the boys herself. They moved frequently, landing in such places as Fond du Lac, Wis., and Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. For a year, when Steve was 5, his mother put the boys in foster care.

"My mom was a tough lady but always on the borderline of cracking up because it was just overwhelming," Barr said. "We had the basics, but for a few years there it was really tough.... We were never incredibly hungry, but I was not unfamiliar with it."

Before Barr started high school, the family moved to California and Barr's mother made a decision that he credits with changing his life. After renting a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose, she moved the family again, this time just a few blocks into neighboring Cupertino, so her boys could attend the town's high-performing high school.

At Cupertino High, Barr came into his own. He was an average student but a star basketball player. He fell in easily with the jocks and the privileged kids of Hewlett-Packard engineers.

His brother, however, foundered. A chubby, awkward kid with ill-fitting glasses, Michael struggled to make friends. While Barr played it straight ("I didn't drink a beer until senior year and still have never done a drug stronger than tequila"), Michael got heavily into drugs.

Their lives diverged dramatically. Steve went on to a local community college and later transferred to UC Santa Barbara. Michael dropped out of high school at 16. After he was busted for drug possession, a judge essentially gave him a choice between jail and the Navy, Barr said. Michael enlisted, becoming a ship's cook.

Years later, shortly after leaving the Navy, Michael was hit by a flower truck that had run a light. One of his legs was crushed, and in the years that followed, he underwent dozens of operations in a futile effort to ease the pain. In 1992, he died of an overdose of alcohol and painkillers.

His death had a profound effect on Barr, who sees his brother's overdose as the coda to a sad life that began its downward spiral in high school. Despite being awash in funding and resources, the Cupertino campus was, Barr recalls, a segregated place. Only a select slice of students was rigorously prepared for college. Others received little attention and were dispatched into the low-skill jobs of California's booming manufacturing economy.

At a recent Green Dot staff retreat, Barr held aloft a photo of his brother in his Navy uniform.

"All this kid needed, all he really needed, was for someone to see what a great kid he was," he said, his voiced choked with emotion. "When I see our kids walking the halls today, I think about my brother and I see it's just so simple. These kids are getting attention. My mending has been Green Dot."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Booker Seeks Vouchers, Says He Could Best Bloomberg on Schools (SARAH GARLAND, February 20, 2007, NY Sun)

The mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, says he could turn around his city's struggling schools in half the time it has taken Mayor Bloomberg to make improvements in New York City's schools -- if voters grant him mayoral control.

Merit pay for teachers, vouchers, more charter schools and New York City-style empowerment for principals are also on Mr. Booker's schools agenda, which he disclosed to The New York Sun in an interview last week. In the interview he also declared his aspirations to take over Newark's schools as Mayor Bloomberg has done in New York City. He said he would then follow the example of Chancellor Joel Klein, one of his heroes when it comes to education, by slimming down the bureaucracy and devolving more power and money to individual schools.

"Joel is a great model. I just believe, very optimistically, that Joel Klein is dealing with a million kids, and we're dealing with 44,000," Mr. Booker said. "So we're going to be able to show a difference a lot earlier."

Funny how Democrats with new ideas have old Republican ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


East is East: a review of Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents by Robert Irwin (Christopher Hitchens, Atlantic Monthly)

Of what book and author was the following sentence written, and by whom?

Rarely has an Oriental servant of a white-identified,
imperial design managed to pack so many services to
imperial hubris abroad and racist elitism at home --
all in one act.

This was the quasi-articulate attack recently leveled, by a professor
of comparative literature at Columbia University, on Reading Lolita
in Tehran, Azar Nafisi's account of private seminars on Nabokov
for young women in Iran. The professor described Nafisi's work
as resembling "the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British
in India," and its author as the moral equivalent of a sadistic
torturer at Abu Ghraib. "To me there is no difference between
Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi," Hamid Dabashi, who is himself
of Iranian origin and believes that Nafisi's book is a conscious
part of the softening-up for an American bombing campaign in Iran,
has said.

I cannot imagine my late friend Edward Said, who was a professor
of English and comparative literature at Columbia, either saying
or believing anything so vulgar. And I know from experience that
he was often dismayed by the views of people claiming to be his
acolytes. But if there is a faction in the academy that now regards
the acquisition of knowledge about "the East" as an essentially
imperialist project, amounting to an "appropriation" and "subordination"
of another culture, then it must be conceded that Said's 1978
book, Orientalism, was highly influential in forming this cast
of mind. [...]

Though this book is an extraordinarily attractive short introduction
to the different national schools of Orientalism, and to the various
scholars who labored to make Eastern philology and philosophy
more accessible, its chief interest to the lay reader lies in
its consideration of Orientalism as a study of Islam. Irwin shows
us the early Christian attempts to translate and understand the
Koran, most of which were preoccupied with showing its heretical
character. These make especially absorbing reading in the light
of the pope's recent lecture at Regensburg University, and his
revival of the medieval critique of the teachings of Muhammad.
That tradition extends quite far into the modern epoch, with the
consecrated work of Father Henri Lammens, a Belgian Jesuit who
taught in Beirut in the early part of the twentieth century and
made himself master of the suras and hadiths. Lammens's intention
was to show that, to the extent that Muhammad could be said to
have existed, the prophet was a sex-crazed brigand whose preachments
were either plagiarized or falsified. The greatest Orientalist
of them all, the Hungarian genius Ignaz Goldziher, asked ironically,
"What would remain of the Gospels if [Lammens] applied to them
the same methods he applies to the Qur'an?"

The Gospels would be unchanged, but Lammens would have his own column at Front Page.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Bad singing leads to attack with golf club on teammate (AP, 2/19/07)

Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy added a new twist to the problem of soccer violence last week when he attacked a teammate.

Yes, a teammate.

The Wales forward allegedly hit John Arne Riise in the legs with a golf club while Liverpool was in Portugal at a training camp preparing for a Champions League match against defending champion FC Barcelona. [...]

If teammates whacking each other with golf clubs after a night out isn't absurd enough, consider the reason for the fight - they were arguing about a karaoke competition.


It's not easy deciding which Village People anthem to make your own.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Privatization will lead to prosperity: Leader (Tehran Times, 2/20/07)

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said here on Monday that all national economic activities and planning should be conducted within the framework of the Article 44 privatization plan.

Ayatollah Khamenei issued a decree in early July to privatize state industries by amending Article 44 of the Constitution, which had banned private ownership of state institutions.

In a meeting with the officials in charge of implementing the privatization plan, he said the measures taken to implement the initiative have not been satisfactory.

"This problem has come up due to neglect of the Article 44 policies meant to create a massive economic transformation of the country or because of a lack of understanding (about the plan) among different bodies," he added.

The Leader called efforts to realize the privatization policies a kind of jihad, saying if officials make serious efforts, the encouraging effect of the privatization plan can be felt in two or three years.

It's not that the conservatives wish to be reformers, but that at the End of History they have no choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Israel's oldest kibbutz votes for privatisation (Rory McCarthy, February 20, 2007, The Guardian)

Nearly a century after it was founded, Israel's first and most famous kibbutz has voted to give up its early socialist ideals and to privatise itself.

The changes at Degania, which was founded where the Sea of Galilee meets the river Jordan, were agreed by a vote and come after a one-year trial in which residents for the first time received private salaries.

In the past the 320 members of the kibbutz saw their salaries paid into a communal account and then received free services and an allowance based on need, usually determined by the size of their families. In future they will be paid varied salaries based on ability not need and, most importantly, they will be allowed to keep them. In return they will have to pay for services such as electricity and water and they will have to pay a progressive income tax into the kibbutz which will be used to support the least well off.

Although some have objected to the changes, the vote was carried by 85% and represents a trend throughout Israel's kibbutz movement. Around two-thirds of the country's 230 or so kibbutzim have adopted similar privatisation plans in recent years, an attempt to hold on to their community lifestyle in the face of the influence of the outside world.

It's not that liberals wish to reform but that at the End of History they have no choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Election in Nigeria has US ramifications: Hopes are for first peaceful handover (Roy Greene, February 20, 2007, Boston Globe)

President Olusegun Obasanjo is clear about his plans after finishing his second term and overseeing the national election in April: He will retire to the pastoral life of a gentleman chicken farmer. [...]

On the eve of Obasanjo's scheduled departure, democracy is facing a crucial test in Nigeria, Africa's most-populous country and its largest oil producer. If he hands power to an elected successor, it will be the first such peaceful, constitutional transfer of power from one civilian government to another since Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960.

The stakes in the April 19 presidential election are high not just for Africa but also for the United States, which relies on Nigeria for about 14 percent of its energy resources and is expected to seek more as it tries to reduce its dependence on the Middle East.

"What we have is a president who thinks he's a messiah, and his basic belief is that he has all the solutions," Jibrin Ibrahim, director of the Center for Democracy and Development, a nongovernmental organization based in the Nigerian capital, told a group of visiting US editors. "But he has done his time and must now move on."

Questions about the president's intentions have deepened since lawmakers rebuffed his attempt last spring to amend the constitution to allow him to seek a third term. In recent weeks, the president has insisted the election would take place as scheduled and that he would honor the results.

"By the 29th of May, I'll be back on the farm," he said, referring to the constitutional deadline for him to leave office.

But from the dusty streets of Kano, a regional capital in the predominantly Muslim north, to the steamy coastal city of Lagos, Nigerians are questioning that pledge and how the nation would respond if the president refuses to budge. Some predict massive street protests and even violence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM

MR. 5X5:

Power play: Brodeur making MVP noises in Power Rankings (Kevin Allen, 2/20/07, USA TODAY)

The only debate about the New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur is whether he is just the best goaltender -- or the best player -- in the NHL this season.

No, the debate is whether that sentence should have a "this season" qualifier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Dems, Bush should take "yes" for answer, start entitlement talks (Mort Kondracke, 2/20/07, Jewish World Review)

It's time for the Bush administration and Democratic Congressional leaders to stop talking about talking about entitlement reform -- and actually start talking about reform itself.

There's agreement on both sides that beginning soon, the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for the baby boom generation will put unsustainable burdens on taxpayers and the economy -- and that something must be done about it. Top administration officials including Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten all have told congressional Democrats they want to hold talks on entitlement reform "without preconditions."

A half-dozen specific proposals have been made for bipartisan negotiations on the problem. In fact, a meeting between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President Bush was scheduled for Jan. 17 to begin work on a plan hatched by Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

But the meeting was postponed when House Democrats "got skittish," one insider said.

The key is going to be for Democrats to propose the same stuff the President has, but to pretend they're defying him. So the plan for SS reform will have private accounts but they'll be "outside" of SS somehow and them the Dems can make believe that they aren't privatizing FDR's legacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


The Most Anemic Branch (Bruce Fein, February 19, 2007, Politico)

The diminishment of the legislative branch will not end with the administration of President Bush unless the next president declares that:

-- Signing statements would end.

-- Criminal prosecutions or courts-martial would substitute for military commissions.

-- Secret evidence or testimony extracted by torture or coercion would be excluded.

-- Citizens would not be detained indefinitely as unlawful enemy combatants on the president's say-so alone.

-- All secret spying programs would be disclosed to the relevant congressional committees.

-- The National Security Agency would be precluded from gathering foreign intelligence without warrants in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, as amended six times since 9/11, or its sister statutes.

-- Executive privilege would not be invoked to deny Congress information necessary to oversight.

-- The Great Writ of habeas corpus would be restored to all detainees held in the custody or control of the United States.

-- No individual or organization would be listed as a foreign terrorist or global terrorist organization without a fair hearing.

-- Persons would not be abducted, detained, and tortured in secret prisons abroad.

-- The media would not be prosecuted for publishing national defense or classified information like the CIA's secret prisons in Europe or the Nati
As the whole FISA kerfuffle demonstrates, a president can't actually cede the power of the executive branch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Can a Saudi Dealmaker Rescue Bush? (Jackson Diehl, February 19, 2007, Washington Post)

In the past month Bandar has held three meetings with the Iranian national security chief, Ali Larijani, most recently last Wednesday in Riyadh. He's met twice with Vladimir Putin, in Moscow and Riyadh, to talk about Middle East affairs; overseen talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders; and quietly shuttled to Washington to brief President Bush. He helped broker this month's Palestinian accord on a unity government as well as a Saudi-Iranian understanding to cool political conflict in Lebanon. And he's been talking with the most senior officials of the Iranian and U.S. governments about whether there's a way out of the standoff over Iran's nuclear weapons.

Can Bandar bail the United States out of the multiple crises it has stumbled into in the Middle East? Maybe not, but Washington's old friend may be one of the best bets a desperate Bush administration has going at the moment. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has maneuvered herself into a corner by refusing to talk to Syria and Iran and boycotting the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Consequently there's little the United States can do diplomatically to defuse the conflicts in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, not to mention Iraq. Rice tried calling on Egypt, abruptly dropping the administration's previous urging that its autocratic government "lead the way" in democratizing the Middle East. But Egypt has been unable to deliver: It tried and failed to pry Syria away from its alliance with Iran, and it tried and failed to win concessions from Hamas.

That leaves Saudi Arabia and the hyperkinetic Bandar. In his last visit to Washington he offered a rosy report on his travels. Iran, he assured his American friends, had been taken aback by President Bush's recent shows of strength in the region, by the failure of his administration to collapse after midterm elections and by the unanimous passage of a U.N. resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for failing to stop its nuclear program. The mullahs, he said, were worried about Shiite-Sunni conflict spreading from Iraq around the region, and about an escalating conflict with the United States; they were interested in tamping both down.

Bandar and Larijani already worked to stop incipient street fighting between Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement and pro-Western Sunni and Christian parties several weeks ago. But the Saudis have bigger plans: Bandar reported to Washington that he's hoping to split Iran from Syria -- reversing the maneuver that Egypt tried. The means would be a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran over a Lebanese settlement that included authorization of a U.N. tribunal to try those responsible for the murder of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. That would be poison to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who almost certainly was behind the murder.

US/Israeli deals with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas would leave Syria high and dry and the increasing democratization of the region would put even more pressure on Egypt and the Sa'uds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


No schism for now: Williams gets tough on liberals to save the church (Stephen Bates, February 20, 2007, The Guardian)

The archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, kept the worldwide Anglican communion together, at least in the short term, but at the cost of imposing unprecedented sanctions on the US Episcopal church to force it to abandon its liberal policies towards gay people.

You can either have a religion or accept homosexuality, not both.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Ignoring Chavez's Plan (MICHAEL ROWAN AND DOUG SCHOEN, February 20, 2007, NY Sun)

Hugo Chavez may have lost both the recall referendum in 2004 and the December 2006 presidential election, according to studies conducted by a distinguished multidisciplinary team in Caracas, Venezuela. The team includes the rector of Universidad Simon Bolivar, Frederick Malpica, and a former rector of the National Electoral Council, Alfredo Weil.

Astonishing as it may seem to Americans who believe the contention by Mr. Chavez that he won both elections by a landslide -- 58% to 42% in the recall and 61% to 39% in the presidential election -- the studies show that since 2003, Mr. Chavez has added 4.4 million favorable names to the voter list and "migrated" 2.6 million unfavorable voters to places where it was difficult or impossible for them to vote.

None of these additions or migrations to the voter-register has been independently audited in Venezuela. Instead, the votes have been electronically counted by Chavez cronies. So when Mr. Chavez announces a landslide, there has been no way to prove otherwise, even though exit polls and other data have consistently shown that half the voters of Venezuela or more oppose Mr. Chavez.

It's not like it's hard to fool Mother Sheehan and Jimmy Carter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Wild Daytona 500 finish bent both fenders, rules (JENNA FRYER, 2/20/07, The Associated Press)

It was a split-second decision that NASCAR could get neither right nor wrong.

As the cars tumbled across the track in the Daytona 500's closing moments, series officials had to make a tough choice.

They could throw a caution flag immediately, giving Mark Martin a sentimental victory while denying Kevin Harvick a chance to race to the finish. Or they could let them race on -- even as a seven-car demolition derby exploded behind them -- in a frenzied final stretch that will be remembered as one of the best in NASCAR history.

NASCAR went for the drama.

When the cars crossed the finish line, the cheating scandal that ensnared five teams and tainted preparations for the Great American Race was forgotten -- at least for a while. [...]

In the old days, drivers raced to the flag when the caution came out. That practice was stopped in 2003, when NASCAR determined it was too dangerous to allow speeding cars to zip past an accident scene.

Now, the field is frozen and all cars must slow down when a caution comes out. Multi-car mayhem generally warrants a caution. But as Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon bumped and banged across the track just a few hundred yards from the finish, NASCAR let the racing go on.

It wasn't until Clint Bowyer flipped, crossing the finish line on his roof as flames ripped through his car, that NASCAR finally waved the yellow flag.

After the last 50 laps you had a sense that if they just raced a little longer ever car would be upside down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


What's That in The Sky? (MARK RICHARDSON, February 20, 2007, NY Sun)

[E]xplosions in the Sky's music hinges on overlapping guitars -- sometimes three at once -- that build from lyrical miniatures to epic, wall-of-sound crescendos. The band is the foremost American practitioner of the style. Toronto's Godspeed You Black Emperor! pioneered the sound, which has roots in the postrock movement of the 1990s. Scotland's Mogwai and Japan's Mono are prominent in the same vein.

"All of a Sudden, I Miss Everyone" is Explosions in the Sky's fourth full-length album. As one moves through the band's discography, it's easy to understand the most common criticism: Forall the prettiness and ear-frying volume, the songs are ultimately too alike. There are, perhaps, only so manyways one can move from quiet, tinkling strums to ripping power chords. It's a conundrum every band working in this style must confront eventually.

Explosions in the Sky addresses these concerns by incorporating textures on loan from the soundtrack world. "Your Hand in Mine (with Strings)" from "Friday Night Lights" took one of the band's earlier compositions and sweetened it with strings; similar orchestral turns pop up again here, albeit in a more abrasive form. There's also more piano.

The block piano chords that mark the changes on the tense, brooding "It's Natural To Be Afraid" are accompanied by a trembling cello, which serves as a delicate counterpoint to the feedback consuming the track during its final section. The tumbling cluster of piano that opens "What Do You Go Home To?" is at first edgy and uncertain, but partway through, the notes congeal into a shimmering mathematical pattern redolent of Philip Glass.

There's a greater sense of patience to these tracks than Explosions in the Sky has displayed before. The huge crash that seems imminent throughout "What Do You Go Home To?," for example, never arrives. Where the music on this album usually seems to be moving either up or down (usually up), on this album development is more likely to hinge on melody.

Indeed, melody emerges as the band's secret weapon when it stays truest to its established style. What most differentiates Explosions in the Sky from Mono or Mogwai is the strength of its songwriting. The tunes are hummable to say the least, provided you don't mind humming so loudly your teeth begin to ache.

Such bands are by their nature very hit or miss and the best of them is certainly Sigur Ros:

February 19, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 PM


Brown v Cameron - exclusive poll puts Labour 13 points adrift (Julian Glover, February 19, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Gordon Brown is failing to persuade the public that he would make a better prime minister than David Cameron, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today which suggests the Conservatives could win a working majority at the next general election.

Voters give the Tories a clear 13-point lead when asked which party they would back in a likely contest between Mr Brown, Mr Cameron and Sir Menzies Campbell.

The result would give the party 42% of the vote against Labour on 29%, similar to its performance under Michael Foot in 1983. The Liberal Democrats would drop to 17%. The result is the highest that the Conservatives have scored in any ICM poll since July 1992, just after their last general election victory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


Airbus postpones major restructuring announcement (Reuters, February 19, 2007)

European Aeronautic, Defence & Space Co., the parent company of Airbus, on Monday postponed a major announcement on job cuts planned for Tuesday, saying European nations could not agree how to share out work on its next aircraft, the wide-bodied A350.

The surprise statement exposed continued rifts among the four countries where Airbus plants are based -- Britain, France, Germany and Spain -- as the planemaker prepares to axe up to 10,000 jobs or a fifth of its workforce. [...]

In a rare act of public brinkmanship, Airbus chief Louis Gallois challenged governments to end recent squabbling and cancelled union and press briefings on his "Power8" restructuring programme which had been called for Tuesday.

It's Europe--it's all brink.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Iran says insurgent bombers are trained in Pakistan (Nazila Fathi, February 19, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has charged that Sunni insurgents from Iran used Pakistan as a base to plan a bombing that killed 11 people and wounded more than 30 in the southeastern border city of Zahedan last week, and an official said that the ministry had demanded an explanation from the Pakistani ambassador.

Which is why it is India that will broker the American/Iranian love match.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Global Poll Finds that Religion and Culture are Not to Blame for Tensions between Islam and the West (World Public Opinion, 2/19/-07)

The global public believes that tensions between Islam and the West arise from conflicts over political power and interests and not from differences of religion and culture, according to a BBC World Service poll across 27 countries.

While three in ten (29%) believe religious or cultural differences are the cause of tensions, a slight majority (52%) say tensions are due to conflicting interests.

The poll also reveals that most people see the problems arising from intolerant minorities and not the cultures as a whole. While 26 percent believe fundamental differences in cultures are to blame, 58 percent say intolerant minorities are causing the conflict - with most of these (39% of the full sample) saying that the intolerant minorities are on both sides.

The idea that violent conflict is inevitable between Islam and the West is mainly rejected by Muslims, non-Muslims and Westerners alike. While more than a quarter of all respondents (28%) think that violent conflict is inevitable, twice as many (56%) believe that "common ground can be found."

The survey of over 28,000 respondents across 27 countries was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. GlobeScan coordinated the fieldwork between November 2006 and January 2007.

"Most people around the world clearly reject the idea that Islam and the West are caught in an inevitable clash of civilizations," said Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland.

Doug Miller, president of GlobeScan, added: "Perhaps the strongest finding is that so many people across the world blame intolerant minorities on both sides for the tensions between Islam and the West."

While the clash is inevitable, there's little reason to believe it will be particularly violent, especially by comparison to the clashes that took down the isms that were simply incompatible with Western culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


A Devilishly Original Twist (OTTO PENZLER, January 17, 2007, NY Sun)

It is a spectacular literary achievement to invent a truly original type of story. Most of what is admired in detective fiction are variations on a theme conceived by Edgar Allan Poe -- remarkably, in a single short story, "Murders in the Rue Morgue" -- a manifestation of a certain genius never equaled since.

Several of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century, illustrated by the fact that their novels have never gone out of print and are read as eagerly today as when they were first published, are crime writers. Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, even with the difficult plot constraints of genre fiction, have produced examinations of the often complex workings of the human psyche with clarity and insight every bit as profound and intellectually sound as their more acclaimed "literary" peers.

Today's writers for the ages do the same. James Crumley, Michael Connelly, Robert B. Parker, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and a few others dig deep to explore both the darkest and most noble elements of the human condition, while maintaining the integrity of the mystery story.

All these giants of the past and present have elevated an existing genre. Their characters may be unlike any you have encountered before, plot twists may be original, and they may reach a stylistic level so exalted that you are compelled to reread sections and quote them aloud to others.

Having said all that, it took the underappreciated William Hjortsberg to produce the single most original private eye novel ever written. "Falling Angel" is not necessarily the best, mind you, but it is unique, and how many authors can say that?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


EU wants rest of world to adopt its rules (Tobias Buck, February 18 2007, Financial Times)

Brussels wants the rest of the world to adopt the European Union's regulations, the European Commission will say this week.

A Commission policy paper that examines the future of the Union's single market says European single market rules have inspired global standard-setting in areas such as product safety, the environment, securities and corporate governance.

"Increasingly the world is looking to Europe and adopts the standards that are set here," the paper, seen by the Financial Times, says.

The paper calls on the EU to encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit - for example by "promoting European standards internationally through international organisation and bilateral agreements".

Outside of academia, urban cocktail parties and the Democratic cloakrooms on the Hill, is there anywhere that people wish their country was more like Europe?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


Redesigning Robert Moses: Three new views of the controversial urban planner (Howard Kissel, 2/19/07, NY Daily News)
A few years ago, taking relatives on a walking tour of the West Village, I was struck by how many playgrounds there were. Mentioning it to a friend, I was surprised to learn they were created by Robert Moses.

Until that moment, like many New Yorkers, I had thought of Moses as The Great Satan.

I viewed him through the prism of Jane Jacobs, the author of 1961's seminal "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." Jacobs' idea of the city - based on streets that mixed residential and commercial uses, all on a human scale - was the direct opposite of his.

He was the proponent of huge apartment complexes with large expanses of grass between them - which, Jacobs correctly observed, remained largely unused.

He was the man who destroyed the South Bronx and many Manhattan neighborhoods to accommodate the automobile. [...]

Why is there this sudden desire to reevaluate Moses?

"New York was at its nadir in the early '70s when Caro wrote his book," Tom Finkelpearl, executive director of the QMA, explains. "It was almost as if people thought, 'Who can we blame for this?'

"Now that the city has made a remarkable turnaround, it's as if people want to ask, 'Who made this possible?' The answer, again, is Robert Moses."

Finkelpearl notes that Caro was so intent on demonstrating Moses' power that he minimized his defeats, notably the community effort that derailed his attempt to build a four-lane highway through Washington Square.
It could have been worse is always a desperation defense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


Reid: Iraq war 'worst foreign policy mistake' in U.S. history (CNN, 2/18/07)

After months of heated rhetoric slamming President Bush's Iraq policy, the Senate's top Democrat moved into new terrain by declaring the Iraq war a worse blunder than Vietnam.

"This war is a serious situation. It involves the worst foreign policy mistake in the history of this country," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

In addition to most of us, the Shi'a, Kurds and most Sunni would obviously disagree. But, let us grant for the sake of argument that removing a genocidal tyrant was a mistake--it would still only be the 4th worst mistake we've made in Iraq alone, nevermind across the planet over the course of our history. The failure to reconfigure the region along republican lines after WWI, WWII, and the first Gulf War were all worse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Saving North Korea's Refugees (NICHOLAS EBERSTADT and CHRISTOPHER GRIFFIN, 2/19/07, NY Times)

[I]nexplicably, the Bush team continues to overlook a spectacular opportunity to deliver freedom to tens of thousands of North Koreans, to pressure the country from within for fundamental change and to lay the groundwork for a peaceful, reunified Korean Peninsula. By fostering an underground railroad to rescue North Korean refugees living in China, the United States could do all these things at once.

On humanitarian grounds alone, the case for action on behalf of the wretched North Koreans in hiding north of their country's border along the Yalu River is compelling. While the exact numbers are unknown, this refugee emergency may be second only to Darfur: the International Crisis Group speaks of scores of thousands of refugees, and recently uncovered Chinese official documents indicate hundreds of thousands.

As illegal immigrants in China (Beijing insists North Korean border-crossers are economic migrants, or worse), they live in constant fear and at terrible risk. [...]

The desperation of North Korean refugees has also attracted unscrupulous entrepreneurs who guide refugees out of China for a profit. This latter-day flesh trade has been criticized by the governments of China and South Korea -- each eager, for its own reasons, to discredit any efforts at exodus from North Korea. But whether created by noble motives or mercenary ones, this continuing trickle of escapees proves that a path to freedom already exists. And that trickle would grow if these North Koreans knew they could count on official protection along the way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Iraqi Sunni Lands Show New Oil and Gas Promise (JAMES GLANZ, 2/19/07, NY Times)

Huge petroleum deposits have long been known in Iraq's Kurdish north and Shiite south. But now, Iraq has substantially increased its estimates of the amount of oil and natural gas in deposits on Sunni lands after quietly paying foreign oil companies tens of millions of dollars over the past two years to re-examine old seismic data across the country and retrain Iraqi petroleum engineers.

The development is likely to have significant political effects: the lack of natural resources in the central and western regions where Sunnis hold sway has fed their disenchantment with the nation they once ruled. And it has driven their insistence on a strong central government, one that would collect oil revenues and spread them equitably among the country's factions, rather than any division of the country along sectarian regional boundaries.

Though Western and Iraqi engineers have always known that there are oil formations beneath Sunni lands, the issue is coming into sharper focus with the new studies, senior Oil Ministry officials said. The question of where the oil reserves are concentrated is taking on still more importance as it appears that negotiators are close to agreement on a long-debated oil law that would regulate how Iraqi and international oil companies would be allowed to develop Iraq's fields.

The new studies have increased estimates of the amount of oil in a series of deposits in Sunni territory to the north and east of Baghdad and in a series of deposits that run through western Iraq like beads on a string, and could contain as much as a trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The division of Iraq is inevitable, because the Kurds consider themselves a nation already, but scenarios that envision a tripartite division fail to ask a basic question: why should the Shi'a grant the Sunni an independent state in their midst?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Al Qaeda Chiefs Are Seen to Regain Power (MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID ROHDE, 2/19/07, NY Times)

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan.

American analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab, Pakistani and Afghan militants allied with Al Qaeda. They receive guidance from their commanders and Mr. Zawahri, the analysts said. Mr. bin Laden, who has long played less of an operational role, appears to have little direct involvement.

Because he's dead, as will the rest of these guys be if they're really stupid enough to cluster in a free-fire zone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Mugabe bans rallies as unrest spirals (Peta Thornycroft, 19/02/2007, Daily Telegraph)

President Robert Mugabe's regime tried to suppress rising discontent across Zimbabwe yesterday by banning all opposition political gatherings.

Heavily armed riot police enforced this edict by preventing one rally from taking place in the capital, Harare, and breaking up another in Bulawayo on Saturday.

Although the law had previously forced the opposition to seek police permission for any gathering, an outright ban has never been imposed before.

It's one thing for the British Left to claim they bear no responsibility for the plight of the Iraqi people, but how do they dodge it for places like Zimbabwe?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Reverse mortgages have gotten even better (TERRY SAVAGE, 2/19/07, Chicago Sun-Times)

There's good news for seniors who own their homes, and want to continue living in them in spite of higher property taxes, utility bills and other costs. Reverse mortgages, which allow seniors to turn their home equity into a tax-free monthly pension check, have become more attractive. Competition means there are better deals and lower rates.

First, a reminder of how reverse mortgages work. Any senior age 62 or older who has a fully paid mortgage, or only a small balance remaining, can obtain a reverse mortgage -- a withdrawal of the equity in their home, on a tax-free basis.

This is a scary concept for the frugal seniors who have spent a lifetime paying down the mortgage, and don't want to be in debt. They worry about the possibility of losing their home. But let me stress that reverse mortgages enable you to remain in control of your property, and permit you to sell at any time.

Your home is your home

The loan is only repaid when you sell, move out, or die. And no matter how long you live, you can't be forced out of your home.

Take a deep breath. Here's how it works.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Iran dashes hopes of nuclear compromise (Roula Khalaf, February 18 2007, Financial Times)

A diplomatic initiative by Tehran, which took senior envoys of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, to Russia, Europe and Saudi Arabia this month, sent a conciliatory message. This included a willingness to consider some form of suspension of the most sensitive part of the nuclear programme. "There is no idea that cannot from the outset be considered," Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Mr Khamenei, told France's Libération newspaper, last week. [...]

The dilemma facing Ayatollah Khamenei, however, is that suspension was tried under the former government - in 2004 and 2005 - yet failed to convince the west that Iran should maintain a nuclear programme.

Officials in Tehran also argue that they have already compromised, with their demands now limited to maintaining a small-scale enrichment programme, rather than the industrial production of fuel.

Nasser Hadian, a professor of politics at Tehran University, said full suspension might well become a serious option for Iran - but not before enrichment research reaches a more advanced technical level. "Then Iran can announce victory - and it can suspend," he said.

A great power can afford to let a minor one save face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


In Limbo in Washington, McCain Comes Alive in Iowa: Campaigning for Conservatives, He Plays Up Fiscal Discipline (Dan Balz, 2/19/07, Washington Post)

Former Texas senator Phil Gramm was wrapping up his introduction in Des Moines on Saturday morning when a white-haired man wearing gray slacks and a big, brown leather jacket ambled up the aisle and stopped at the side of the stage, the curl of a smile on his lips. [...]

[A]s he campaigned across Iowa this weekend, there were flashes of the old McCain. During town hall meetings in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, he staunchly defended his position on the war, decried a Republican Party that he said has lost its way and punctuated question-and-answer sessions with his particular brand of humor.

"I had my glass of ethanol this morning, and I'm feeling good," he said to ripples of laughter as he delivered his opening remarks to a jampacked audience in a Des Moines hotel ballroom. "I hope you did, too. Tastes good."

When a man said he was serving in the Marines in Vietnam around the time McCain was being held in a North Vietnamese prison camp, the senator interjected, "Why didn't you come get me?"

As the audience broke into laughter, the man responded, "Marines always love to rescue the Navy when they get the chance."

"That's what you get for being a smart [expletive]," McCain said of being turned into the butt of the joke.

A young man in Davenport said pointedly: "You ditched Iowa in 2000. Why should we support you?" The candidate responded, to peals of laughter: "You know, we should never let these young punks in. No respect. You remind me of my own kids."

The ethanol joke was not lost on anyone, either. When he ran for president eight years ago, McCain skipped the Iowa caucuses, saying he did not have the resources to compete both there and in New Hampshire. But many Republicans suspected that his opposition to ethanol subsidies, vital to the Iowa economy, influenced his decision to stay out of the state.

McCain lost that first race for president after a bitter fight with Bush, who proved more adept at appealing to the Republican base. Now back for a second try for the GOP nomination, support for ethanol -- he says it is economically justifiable now that oil prices have risen -- is just one of a number of things he has been willing to swallow to try to win.

The McCain team is focused on building an infrastructure of financial and political support second to none in the GOP field. The candidate himself, whose formal announcement will come next month, is determined to make himself acceptable to Republicans who spurned him the last time around.

McCain's path to the nomination is made less difficult by the absence of a top-tier candidate with the ability to consolidate the conservative base of the party. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is far more liberal on social issues than McCain is, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is struggling to explain his conversion from a social moderate in the 1990s to an ardent conservative now that he is running for president.

McCain advisers believe he can change attitudes among many culturally conservative voters and win the nomination as the favorite of the GOP establishment. On what was McCain's first campaign swing through Iowa since setting up his presidential campaign committee, the differences between 2000 and today were evident.

If he were to name Phil Gramm his shadow Treasury Secretary he'd sew up the entire economic Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 AM


Maryland to Unveil the Page That Began a New Chapter: George Washington's Resignation Speech Left the U.S. Military in Civilians' Hands (William Wan, 2/19/07, Washington Post)

It was a speech so moving the crowd wept. It was a speech so personally important George Washington's hand shook as he read it until he had to hold the paper still with both hands. After the ceremony, he handed the thing to a friend and sped out the door of the State House in Annapolis, riding off by horse.

For centuries, his words have resonated in American democracy even as the speech itself -- the small piece of paper that shook in his hands that day -- was quietly put away, out of the public eye and largely forgotten.

Today, however, amid festivities celebrating his birthday, Maryland officials plan to unveil the original document -- worth $1.5 million -- after acquiring it in a private sale from a family in Maryland who had kept it all these years. It took two years to negotiate the deal and raise money for the speech, which experts consider the most significant Washington document to change hands in the past 50 years.

The speech, scholars say, was a turning point in U.S. history. As the Revolutionary War was winding down, some wanted to make Washington king. Some whispered conspiracy, trying to seduce him with the trappings of power. But Washington renounced them all.

By resigning his commission as commander in chief to the Continental Congress -- then housed at the Annapolis capitol -- Washington laid the cornerstone for an American principle that persists today: Civilians, not generals, are ultimately in charge of military power.

[To the Continental Congress] [Annapolis, Md. 23 December 1783]

Mr President

The great events on which my resignation depended having at length taken place; I have now the honor of offering my sincere Congratulations to Congress & of presenting myself before them to surrender into their hands the trust committed to me, and to claim the indulgence of retiring from the Service of my Country.

Happy in the confirmation of our Independence and Sovereignty, and pleased with the oppertunity afforded the United States of becoming a respectable Nation, I resign with satisfaction the Appointment I accepted with diffidence--A diffidence in my abilities to accomplish so arduous a task, which however was superseded by a confidence in the rectitude of our Cause, the support of the Supreme Power of the Union, and the patronage of Heaven.

The Successful termination of the War has verified the more sanguine expectations--and my gratitude for the interposition of Providence, and the assistance I have received from my Countrymen encreases with every review of the momentous Contest.

While I repeat my obligations to the Army in general, I should do injustice to my own feelings not to acknowledge in this place the peculiar Services and distinguished merits of the Gentlemen who have been attached to my person during the War. It was impossible the choice of confidential Officers to compose my family should have been more fortunate. Permit me Sir, to recommend in particular those, who have continued in Service to the present moment, as worthy of the favorable notice & patronage of Congress.

I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commanding the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those Who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.

Having now finished the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of Action--and bidding an Affectionate farewell to this August body under whose orders I have so long acted, I here offer my Commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life.

The Man Who Would Not Be King (Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., 2/05/07, Heritage Foundation)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire (Chalmers Johnson, 2/18/07, AlterNet)

The total of America's military bases in other people's countries in 2005, according to official sources, was 737. Reflecting massive deployments to Iraq and the pursuit of President Bush's strategy of preemptive war, the trend line for numbers of overseas bases continues to go up.

Interestingly enough, the thirty-eight large and medium-sized American facilities spread around the globe in 2005 -- mostly air and naval bases for our bombers and fleets -- almost exactly equals Britain's thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons at its imperial zenith in 1898. The Roman Empire at its height in 117 AD required thirty-seven major bases to police its realm from Britannia to Egypt, from Hispania to Armenia. Perhaps the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty.

Using data from fiscal year 2005, the Pentagon bureaucrats calculated that its overseas bases were worth at least $127 billion -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic products of most countries -- and an estimated $658.1 billion for all of them, foreign and domestic (a base's "worth" is based on a Department of Defense estimate of what it would cost to replace it). During fiscal 2005, the military high command deployed to our overseas bases some 196,975 uniformed personnel as well as an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employed an additional 81,425 locally hired foreigners.

The worldwide total of U.S. military personnel in 2005, including those based domestically, was 1,840,062 supported by an additional 473,306 Defense Department civil service employees and 203,328 local hires. Its overseas bases, according to the Pentagon, contained 32,327 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and 16,527 more that it leased. The size of these holdings was recorded in the inventory as covering 687,347 acres overseas and 29,819,492 acres worldwide, making the Pentagon easily one of the world's largest landlords.

These numbers, although staggeringly big, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2005 Base Structure Report fails, for instance, to mention any garrisons in Kosovo (or Serbia, of which Kosovo is still officially a province) -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel built in 1999 and maintained ever since by the KBR corporation (formerly known as Kellogg Brown & Root), a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation of Houston.

The report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq (106 garrisons as of May 2005), Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, even though the U.S. military has established colossal base structures in the Persian Gulf and Central Asian areas since 9/11. By way of excuse, a note in the preface says that "facilities provided by other nations at foreign locations" are not included, although this is not strictly true. The report does include twenty sites in Turkey, all owned by the Turkish government and used jointly with the Americans. The Pentagon continues to omit from its accounts most of the $5 billion worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure.

While the military, like any federal bureaucracy, is far too bloated and inefficient, the problem is that we spend such a trivial amount of money on these bases in historical terms that there's just not much pressure to get rid of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


'Xenophobic' row deepens between SNP and defiant Lib Dem MSPs (HAMISH MACDONELL, 2/19/07, scotsman.com)

Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Caithness and Sutherland, sparked the spat on Saturday when he accused the SNP of being "xenophobic" - just after his leader, Nicol Stephen, had publicly berated the other main parties of running a negative campaign.

Mr Stone's comments provoked a barrage of complaints from the SNP, with Alex Salmond, the party's leader, demanding an apology and action from Mr Stephen against Mr Stone.

Then, yesterday, Danny Alexander, the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, fuelled the controversy by insisting there was an issue which had to be addressed.

Mr Alexander refused to issue a categoric apology, either on behalf of Mr Stone or his party, and then compounded the row by stating on BBC Scotland's Politics Show: "Nationalism is about building up barriers between people, liberalism is about breaking those barriers down."

The row between the potential coalition partners overshadowed the Liberal Democrats' Scottish conference in Aviemore.

Nationalism is, of course, a creation of liberalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Churches back plan to unite under Pope (Ruth Gledhill, 2/19/07, Times of London)

Radical proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of the Pope are to be published this year, The Times has learnt.

The proposals have been agreed by senior bishops of both churches.

In a 42-page statement prepared by an international commission of both churches, Anglicans and Roman Catholics are urged to explore how they might reunite under the Pope.

The statement, leaked to The Times, is being considered by the Vatican, where Catholic bishops are preparing a formal response.

At the point where you've got a Tocquevillian Pope there just isn't much to argue about anymore. Let priests marry and reunify the Church.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Valley of the Dolls: As the anti-Barbie, the American Girl doll is an exceptional artifact that combines the commercial with the good, writes AMITY SHLAES. Mattel makes money, and kids learn history. (Amity Shlaes, February 02, 2007, America)

She has a round childish face, the braidable hair of an eight-year-old, and, at least sometimes, glasses. The deeper difference, however, is that the American Girl's culture is rooted in fact, not relationship. The glory is a series of 11 period dolls, each rep­resenting a different phase of American history.

At first I resisted this anti-Barbie. The cheapest starter kit for Felicity, the colonial doll, goes for $87. The American Girl product generally exudes an odor of political correctness--there's a doll for every ethnicity--that made me want to bolt and splurge on the Barbie Hot Tub Party Bus ($64.74 at Wal-Mart). American Girl's founder, Pleasant T. Rowland, used to be a teacher, and that too was irri­tating. In 1998, Mattel bought Pleasant Company, and a short time later, I relented. We acquired Kit, the Great Depression doll.

Then a friend handed down a Molly, American Girl's World War II doll. Daughter Number One approved of her accessory school desk and the fact that she knew about knitting blankets for soldiers.

Next, we purchased Addy, the Civil War doll. She, like each of the dolls, came with a novelette about her time period. A bad plantation owner sold Addy's father to another plantation; a bad overseer made Addy eat slugs. Then Addy and her mother escaped to freedom (we reread this story several times). Although we don't have Josefina, we do have Josefina's herb-gathering outfit--thank you, Grandma. And we do know she is Hispanic and lives on a rancho in the colonial New Mexico of 1824.

The facts and the stories hooked us. On Fifth Avenue, there's an American Girl store we have vis­ited twice. Molly had her hair done there. After an unfortunate blow to her eye, Kit went off in a wheel­chair to the American Girl hospital. I have drawn the line at buying tickets to an American Girl play (about Addy's flight), but my daughters are working to change their mother's mind.

So are millions of other girls, including, appar­ently, those who live far away from the three American Girl Place stores. One and a half million girls and their parents traveled an average of over four hours last year to visit the American Place flagship in Chicago (there's another in Los Angeles), spending an average of four hours and $225 there, pursuing such activities as dining on pancakes with their dolls.

The genius of the doll is that they get the Mothers hooked just as surely as the daughters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Undemocratic demography: Ensuring Jewish majority via human rights violations could de-legitimize Zionism (M. Cohen-Eliya, G. Stopler, 02.16.07, YNet News)

The fear of losing the Jewish majority in Israel has played a major role in the thinking behind the country's future when it comes to the disengagement plan, amendments to the Citizenship Law, the Lieberman plan for trading territory, and the activity of the National Demographic Council.

The desire to guarantee the majority does not necessarily contradict liberal principles of humanism and human rights.

Many national groups present a legitimate demand to realize their right for self-determination through a majority in their own country. This requirement is particularly strong in Israel in light of the Middle-East conflict. It is clear that failing to maintain a Jewish majority would lead, under current circumstances, to a substantive threat to the personal security of Jews in Israel.

However, the State of Israel is not only "Jewish," but rather, also "democratic." Therefore, it must balance these legitimate aims with human rights.

Facing Mecca (Uri Avnery, 19 February, 2007, Gush Shalom)
The United States does not give a damn if anybody recognizes its right to exist or not. It does not demand this from the countries with which it maintains relations.

Why? Because this is a ridiculous demand to start with.

OK, the United States is older than the State of Israel, as well as bigger and more powerful. But countries that are not super-powers do not demand this either. India, for example, is not expected to recognize Pakistan's "right to exist", in spite of the fact that Pakistan was established at the same time as Israel, and--like Israel--on an ethnic/religious basis.

SO WHY is Hamas required to "recognize Israel's right to exist"?

When a state "recognizes" another state, it is a formal recognition, the acknowledgement of an existing fact. It does not imply approval. The Soviet Union was not required to recognize the existence of the USA as a capitalist state. On the contrary, Nikita Khrushchev promised in 1956 to "bury" it. The US certainly did not dream of recognizing at any time the right of the Soviet Union to exist as a communist state.

So why is this weird demand addressed to the Palestinians? Why must they recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State?

I am an Israeli patriot, and I do not feel that I need anybody's recognition of the right of my state to exist. If somebody is ready to make peace with me, within borders and on conditions agreed upon in negotiations, that is quite enough for me. I am prepared to leave the history, ideology and theology of the matter to the theologians, ideologues and historians.

Perhaps after 60 years of the existence of Israel, and after we have become a regional power, we are still so unsure of ourselves that we crave for constant assurance of our right to exist--and of all people, from those that we have been oppressing for the last 40 years. Perhaps it is the mentality of the Ghetto that is still so deeply ingrained in us.

Running with the jackals of hate: Prominent 'progressive' Jewish critics of Israel stake a false claim of victimhood (Jonathan Tobin, 2/19/07, www.JewishWorldReview.com

Sometimes, the most daring thing a scholar or an organization can do is to mention the obvious. That is a lesson that Indiana University's Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld and the American Jewish Committee have recently learned to their sorrow.

Rosenfeld is the author of a 30-page study titled " 'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism," which was published in December by AJCommittee. In it Rosenfeld, briefly surveys the international rise of anti-Semitism and then goes on to touch on the various excesses of intellectual anti-Zionists with an emphasis on those leftist Jews who are important elements in the massive contemporary assault on Israel.

Rosenfeld's conclusion is that those Jewish writers and thinkers who have aided the assault on Israel's legitimacy and its right to exist cannot pretend that their stand is unrelated to the wave of violent Jew-hatred, which is itself largely focused on the delegitimization of Israel and Jewish self-defense. He rightly asserts that anti-Zionist Jewish authors such as British historian Jacqueline Rose, New York University's Tony Judt and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Tony Kushner have been carrying the intellectual water for a weird coalition of the far-left, the far-right, and the Arab and Islamic propagandists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Was Washington Really a Deist? (Michael and Jana Novak, February 19, 2007, First Things)

Deism is not exactly a creed with clear tenets; it is more like a tendency of the mind; a movement like rationalism or romanticism; and, in the view of some historians of ideas, a half-way marker slowly moving from Jewish or Christian orthodoxy toward early modern science. The general drift of deism is that the originating and governing force of the universe is the god of modern rationalists (Newton, Spinoza, et al.), not at all like the Great God Jehovah of the Hebrew Bible. Deists prefer the god of reason to the God of revelation.

The latter has a special love and care for particular peoples and persons, unlike the deist god, who is impersonal and indifferent to the world he sets in motion. The God of revelation intervenes and interposes in historical events and personal lives, and hears and answers prayers; the god of reason does no such things. At the same time, from various motives some Christians, even bishops and clergymen, described themselves as deists as well as Christians.

Still, in one sense "deist" is intended as the opposite of "Christian" or "Jewish," and incompatible with them. To say that Washington is a deist is in this sense to derogate from his being Christian. The evidence on this point comes down to this: When Washington prays and urges the nation (or his army) to pray, does he expect God to care about the fate of the American cause, as distinct from the British cause, since they also pray to the same God? Does he imagine God actually interposing himself in the events of history? Or inspiring a human mind with ideas, or forgiving sins?

The most important answer to these questions is found in the prayers that, as general and as president, Washington publicly urged upon the army and the nation. The Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789 declared it "the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor . . . and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions."

In a letter announcing his retirement from the army at the close of the War, he wrote: "I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."

Clearly these samples, only a small part of what might be adduced, are not the prayers of a deist to an impersonal, nonintervening god. These are the words of someone who expects God to be deeply involved in our nation's welfare. Why? Because he made the world for liberty, and our nation was, under God, a pioneer in political, civil, and religious liberties.

George Washington First Inaugural Address (In the City of New York, April 30, 1789)

[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


American Idol: America has been surprisingly fertile ground for Nietzsche's ideas -- even though he challenged pretty much everything America embodies or represents. (Christopher Shea, February 18, 2007, Boston Globe)

In an essay in the latest issue of the Journal of American History, Ratner-Rosenhagen, who got her doctorate at Brandeis, explores how Nietzsche -- his ideas, but just as much, his name and visage -- became such a potent symbol in American culture. The story stretches from the journalist H.L. Mencken's championing of him in the early years of the 20th century as an antidote to the middlebrow "booboisie" he loathed ("Only blockheads today know nothing of his ideas and only fools are unshaken by them") through Nietzsche's use today as a pop-culture prop [...]

But Ratner-Rosenhagen argues that, in a more serious way, America has been surprisingly fertile ground for Nietzsche's ideas, ever since he was first translated into English, in 1896. This is more than a little counterintuitive, as she points out, because Nietzsche challenged pretty much everything America embodies or represents, including the ideal of equality, reverence for Enlightenment rationality, and belief in God.

In a sense, that's precisely why a frustrated minority of marginalized and discontented Americans have seized on Nietzsche as a thinker and symbol. The commercial bourgeois culture, hostile to art and learnedness, that Nietzsche worried about in Europe was even more advanced here. "American readers" -- or at least those on the margins -- "have had a sense that Nietzsche is talking to them directly," Ratner-Rosenhagen says. For them, she writes, Nietzsche provided a "moral language for greatness."

The American academy, naturally the main site of arguments over Nietzsche, has been divided over what to make of this moral language.

It's not counterintuitive, but counterfactual. Mencken is famous for being at odds with the mainstream of American opinion, specifically its Judeo-Christianity and Americans are notoriously anti-Academy for precisely the reason that intellectuals are so gullible they lap up drivel like Nietzschism, Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, and the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


For work ethic, long hours, we're still No. 1 (Knowledge@Wharton, February 18, 2007)

Work and vacation habits in the world's most economically advanced regions weren't always this way. As recently as the 1960s, Europeans worked more than people in the U.S., according to a 2005 study by Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth University and Alberto Alesina and Ed Glaeser, both of Harvard University. Since then, however, the regions' appetites for leisure have diverged, with Americans grinding away for ever-more hours at the office and Europeans taking time to savor la dolce vita ("the sweet life"). These days, the U.S. even outworks famously industrious Japan.

What changed? The explanations vary as much as the potential locales for a summer sojourn. Several experts at Wharton see a role for culture and history. A Nobel laureate, in contrast, says the difference boils down to taxes. And Sacerdote, Alesina and Glaeser chalk it up to levels of unionization.

February 18, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


French thinkers abandon 'archaic' Royal (Henry Samuel, 19/02/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Battle-lines are being drawn in the salons of Paris' Left Bank after several eminent philosophers did the unthinkable and publicly disavowed the Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal in favour of "la droite".

France's traditionally Left-wing intellectual elite has been ablaze since one of its leading members, the former Maoist André Glucksmann, wrote an article in Le Monde entitled: "Why I choose Nicolas Sarkozy."

Jean-Paul Sartre will no doubt be turning in his grave, but Mr Glucksmann, who co-founded the influential New Philosophy movement in the 1970s, said that the Right-wing interior minister is the only candidate who represents France's tradition of anti-totalitarian humanism -- "the France of the heart".

Conscious that his backing of Mr Sarkozy would earn him many enemies, he described the Left as fatally out of touch and "marinating in its own narcissism".

Which would explain why they smell.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


Rankin battles Jowell to save Conan Doyle's home (Oliver Duff, 19 February 2007, Independent)

Tessa Jowell is setting herself up to become a villain or victim in the forthcoming, and final, Inspector Rebus crime novel, currently being written by Ian Rankin.

Rankin accuses the Culture Secretary of a disregard for the literary opus of Arthur Conan Doyle, akin to that of the pigeons who decorate Edinburgh's statue of Sherlock Holmes. He has joined a campaign for better protection of Conan Doyle's Surrey house, Undershaw, where he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles. It is boarded up; the roofs leak. Grade I listed status would secure its future.

Jowell believes the property to be "an unremarkable late-19th-century domestic house ... with many of the original features long gone". She has tried to placate Conan Doyle fans by offering to Grade I-list 221b Baker Street.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:11 PM


Ethnic minorities more likely to feel British than white people, says research (Daily Mail, 18th February 2007)

Ethnic minorities are now more likely to feel British than white people, research has found.

The study by the Institute for Public Policy Research said that 51 per cent of blacks and Asians describe themselves as British compared with just 29 per cent of whites.

The left-leaning think tank warns of a 'growing divide' in England between those who consider themselves English or British.

It argues that UK is in the grip of a national identity crisis as the white population increasingly fragments into English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish identities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


Democrats weigh their next move to try to rein in Bush (Brian Knowlton, February 18, 2007, NY Times)

A day after falling short of issuing a rebuke of Bush administration policy in Iraq, Senate Democrats said Sunday that they would try moving next to restrict the president's authority to wage war, forcing American troops to shift from combat missions to a supporting role. [...]

Republicans derided the vote Saturday as political theater and said Democrats still faced stark divisions on legislative approaches for stopping the war. They have portrayed any funds cutoff as an undercutting of U.S. troops and a reflection of Democratic weakness -- a particularly sensitive charge for the lawmakers who are pursuing 2008 presidential runs.

Snow said that Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq was "absolutely vital." When lawmakers debate the request for an additional $100 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, he said on NBC, they will be called on to answer the question, "If you support the troops, are you in fact going to provide the reinforcements they need?"

Such talk drew an angry response from a Republican critic of the war, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

"Of course, we're going to support the troops," he said on NBC, adding that it was "really scurrilous" for anyone to suggest otherwise. Hagel was among the seven Republicans to side with Democrats on Saturday.

House Democrats say they, too, will fund the president's spending request, but only if the administration strictly observes standards for training and equipping troops, standards that may end up depressing current numbers in the field.

Democrats assert that they are working to carry out the public will, as expressed in the November elections, to wind down the Iraq war. But they admit to facing high hurdles.

If Senate Democrats were unable to pass a nonbinding resolution against the troop increase, Levin acknowledged, "it may be even more difficult to get a binding resolution passed."

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he saw no chance for a bill deauthorizing the Iraq war. "I believe the president would veto it and the veto would be upheld," he said.

Democrats are so convinced that al Qaeda is winning the WoT they've decided to adopt the tactic of suicide bombing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM

JUST NUTS (via The Mother Judd):

With One Word, Children's Book Sets Off Uproar (JULIE BOSMAN, 2/18/07, NY Times)

The word "scrotum" does not often appear in polite conversation. Or children's literature, for that matter.

Yet there it is on the first page of "The Higher Power of Lucky," by Susan Patron, this year's winner of the Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children's literature. The book's heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in a wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.

"Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much," the book continues. "It sounded medical and secret, but also important."

The inclusion of the word has shocked some school librarians, who have pledged to ban the book from elementary schools, and reopened the debate over what constitutes acceptable content in children's books. The controversy was first reported by Publishers Weekly, a trade magazine.

Oughtn't we to be more surprised that the scene isn't advocating cross-species sex?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


George Polk's Real World War II Record: The fictional career of a famous newsman. (Richard B. Frank, 02/17/2007, Weekly Standard)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This article is the product of extensive research in archives and secondary sources, as well as consultation with other historians who are specialists in naval air combat in the Pacific on both sides. Individuals like John Lundstrom, Barrett Tillman, and James Sawruk not only looked at the same official records I did but, in the case of Lundstrom and Tillman, also interviewed surviving pilots and read letters and diaries. For the sake of brevity and accessibility, this article does not attempt to discuss the sources in detail, but a much longer narrative, along with many of the key documents supporting the conclusions offered here, can be read at www.weeklystandard.com. There are, of course, hundreds of pages of documents that could be deemed relevant if one included all the records I and my colleagues looked at that do not mention Polk when they should have if he had done what he claimed. A shorter version of this article appears in the February 26 issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

The dedicated website of the George Polk Awards trumpets that the prize is "one of America's most coveted journalism honors-and probably its most respected." Bill Moyers and Russell Baker, among others, testify that the award means more to them than any other. The list of those cited since the award's inception in 1949 comprises a two-generation roll call of distinguished names in American journalism: Christiane Amanpour, Roger Angell, R.W. Apple, Homer Bigart, Jimmy Breslin, Walter Cronkite, Gloria Emerson, Frances FitzGerald, Thomas Friedman, David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, Marguerite Higgins, Chet Huntley, Peter Jennings, John Kifner, Ted Koppel, Charles Kuralt, Joseph Lelyveld, Tony Lukas, Mary McGrory, Edward R. Murrow, Jack Newfield, Roger Rosenblatt, Morley Safer, Oliver Sacks, Harrison Salisbury, Sidney Schanberg, Daniel Schorr, Eric Severeid, Howard K. Smith, Red Smith, I.F. Stone, Nina Totenberg, and many others.

It is improbable that a George Polk Award will come to Jayson Blair, the former New York Times reporter exposed for fraudulently concocting all or important parts of more than two score of stories. It is even less likely that Blair's name will crown a journalism honor. An internal investigation disclosed that his frauds began not on the pages of the New York Times, but in the lies he told his employers about his biography and work. If telling falsehoods to his employers about his background now stands as the unheard alarm bell for Blair, then there is something critical that Blair and Polk share. Yet there remains a vital difference between Blair and Polk. Blair inflicted severe damage to the most respected news organization in American journalism. That damage, however, only indirectly affected journalism as a profession. George Polk's story, because of the awards given annually in his name and proudly held by scores of well-known journalists, brings discredit to the entire profession.

In what conceivable sense is journalism a profession?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


Spain's Peace Process in Tatters After Basque Separatist Bombing (John Ward Anderson, 2/18/07, Washington Post)

Call it prophetic or defeatist or just plain cynical. But when the Basque separatist group known as ETA shattered its so-called "permanent cease-fire" in December with a massive bombing at Madrid's airport that killed two people, former ETA leader and convicted killer Eduardo Uriarte was not surprised.

What had stunned him, he said, was that nine months earlier, Socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had bothered to reach out to ETA, which seemed close to final defeat after a nearly 40-year campaign of terror and assassinations that has left more than 800 people dead.

"ETA had almost disappeared, and the decision to have a dialogue with them brought ETA back to life," said Uriarte, 61, who spent eight years in prison for his part in the first ETA killing, in 1968. He was released in a general amnesty in 1977 and is now a peace activist.

"A government cannot give a terrorist group credibility and dignity like the Spanish government did," Uriarte said. "ETA is not looking for negotiation. They're looking for victory."

It's the same mistake Israel has made with Palestinian organizations, continuing to negotiate after you've already determined to give them what they want. Better to break the A frame and stop depending so much on each other for stability.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


Sour Cherry Pie (Marlene Parrish, 2/18/07, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Make this American favorite when sour cherries are in season. Any other time, used frozen or canned sour pie cherries.

* Pastry for a 9-inch pie with lattice crust or double crust
* 5 cups pitted sour cherries
* 1/2 cup cherry juice
* 3/4 cup sugar, or to taste
* 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
* 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, optional
* 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
* Pinch salt
* 1 tablespoon butter
* Vanilla ice cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Make your own pastry or have packaged pie crusts at the ready.

Drain cherries well, saving 1/2 cup juice. Mix the cherries, reserved juice, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice if using, almond extract and salt. Set aside.

Line the pie pan with bottom pastry. Transfer the cherry filling into the pie shell. Filling will be thin. Dot with butter.

Moisten the edge of the pastry with water, and add the top crust, pressing down at the edge. Crimp the edge.

Place pie on a drip pan (a pizza pan is good) and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.

Lower the heat to 375 degrees and bake 45-60 minutes or until the pie juices have bubbled for 10 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool.

Allow the pie to come to room temperature before cutting. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Science knowledge increases, but ... (Randolph E. Schmid, 2/18/07, The Associated Press)

Americans know more about basic science today than they did two decades ago [...]

But there also has been a drop in the number of people who believe evolution correctly explains development of life on Earth...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


The father of harmolodics (Greg Burke, 2/18/07, The LA Times)

SINCE the 1950s, Ornette Coleman has hacked his own trails in improvised music. It was lonely out there in the wilderness, but he never looked back. What made him do it?

"My mother and my father were both born on Dec. 25," the sax-violin-trumpet virtuoso says quietly, crouched on a couch in his Midtown Manhattan loft, a week before last Sunday's presentation of a Grammy lifetime achievement award that brought him his biggest prime-time recognition, just before the age of 77. Christmas? Coleman implies significance in his parents' shared birth date: He was an ordinary Earth child, while they seemed like gods, "and that's exactly how far away I was to them." His father died before Coleman could know him; he was raised by women, the only male in the family.

"They wasn't interested in nothing I could do or say," he says. "To this very day, I feel like an outsider just breathing. Because let's face it, you'd be seeking, trying to find something that you could enjoy, or something that you could do that would make you feel normal. But you can't take that cure. There's no medicine for that."

Family was Coleman's dry nurse; Los Angeles was his next desert -- he emigrated from Fort Worth in 1953 at age 23. It was here, amid a smog of hostility and conservatism, that he inspired a few allies (trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden, drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins) to boost his transition from blues and bop to the "harmolodic" music he heard in his head -- joyous, jagged, chordless, free. It was here he made his first albums, for Contemporary Records. It was here that his unorthodox blowing got him kicked off a lot of bandstands while he supported himself with odd jobs.

"I was at the point where it was nothing but work," he says. "But not professional work. You know -- like knees and hands." And it was from here in 1959 that he fled like a bat out of hell to New York, where he instantly polarized the jazz world and made grave imprints on the heaviest contenders in his field, along with a whole generation to follow.

Coleman's freedom and democracy found ready ears amid the 1960s' racial struggle and countercultural mapmaking. In addition to John Coltrane and Don Cherry's album "The Avant-Garde" (recorded 1960) and Sonny Rollins' LP "Our Man in Jazz" (1962) -- both featuring Coleman sidemen and both launching years of reconsideration by the two tenor colossi -- numerous explosive projectiles by Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker and others would never have made waves without Coleman's initial harmolodic splashdown.

His influence, though, has been more conceptual than specific.

Amazing how closely fatherlessness tracks with the pursuit of bad ideas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 AM


The good old days of the Cold War: Don't wax too nostalgic -- the world was once a much more dangerous place (Paul Kennedy, February 18, 2007, LA Times)

First, however tricky our relationships with Putin's Russia and President Hu Jintao's China are nowadays, the prospect of our entering a massive and mutually cataclysmic conflict with either nation are vastly reduced.

We seem to have forgotten that our right-wing hawks argued passionately for "nuking" communist China during the Korean War and again during the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1954. We also have apparently forgotten -- although newly released archival evidence overwhelmingly confirms this -- how close we came to a nuclear Armageddon during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Likewise, we've forgotten the shock of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which prompted then-German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to ask, "Is this the new Sarajevo?" a reference to the outbreak of World War I. And who still remembers 1984-85, when we were riveted by Jonathan Schell's argument in the New Yorker that even a few nuclear explosions would trigger such dust storms as to produce a "nuclear winter"?

Those were really scary times, and much more dangerous than our present circumstance because the potential damage that could be inflicted during an East-West conflagration was far, far greater than anything that Al Qaeda can do to us now. [...]

[W]hat if, for example, Josef Stalin had prevented American and British supply aircraft from flying into Berlin in 1948-49? Phew! The years 1945 to, say, 1990 were horrible on other accounts. China's Mao Tse-tung's ghastly Great Leap Forward led to as many as 30 million deaths, the greatest loss of life since the Black Death. The Soviet Union was incarcerating tens of thousands of its citizens in the gulags, as were most of the other members of the Warsaw Pact. The Indo-Pakistan wars, and the repeated conflicts between Israel and its neighbors, produced enormous casualties, but nothing like the numbers that were being slaughtered in Angola, Nigeria, the Congo, Vietnam and Cambodia. Most of the nations of the world were "un-free."

It is hard to explain to a younger generation that such delightful countries as Greece, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Poland and Czechoslovakia (to name only a few) were run in those days by fascist generals, avowed racists or one-party totalitarian regimes. I am ancient enough to remember the long list of countries I would not visit for summer holidays; old enough to recall how creepy it was to enter Walter Ulbricht's East German prison house of a state via Checkpoint Charlie in the late 1960s. Ugh.

Let us not, then, wax too nostalgic about the good old days of the Cold War.

Most important, the Cold War lasted for fifty years at that fevered pitch. The WoT is over after five.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Taliban offensive expected in spring: Some observers worry that NATO forces in Afghanistan have failed to seize the initiative (Laura King, 2/18/07, LA Times)

As the U.S. Black Hawk helicopter skimmed low over the desert, the signs of approaching spring were everywhere: melting frost in the hollows, the first shoots of green in the nearby fields, shrinking snowcaps on distant peaks.

In coming weeks, winter will loosen its grip on Afghanistan. Senior NATO generals insist that their troops are well positioned to confront the Taliban offensive that is expected to follow.

But some analysts, diplomats and other observers think the Western alliance, and the Afghan government it supports, has failed to use winter's relative lull in fighting to seize the initiative in advance of a new battle with the insurgents. [...]

In some key districts, Taliban militants have reinfiltrated areas they were driven from months ago. Even before the start of any large-scale offensive, the insurgents are demonstrating an ability to capture territory, including their brazen seizure of the town of Musa Qala in Helmand province this month.

With Western troop levels at their highest since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, including a record 26,000 U.S. soldiers, senior NATO officials in Kabul, the capital, described the insurgents as scattered and demoralized after defeats last year -- the bloodiest year of the conflict, with about 4,000 people killed.

The Taliban harbored ambitions of seizing Kandahar, the movement's onetime stronghold, but were blocked in that drive last autumn, though fighting came within 10 miles of the city.

"2006 was a year of Taliban failure," said British Gen. David Richards, who turned over command of NATO forces to U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill this month. "The Taliban did not achieve a single objective.... We proved that NATO can and will defeat the Taliban militarily."

But commanders of remote coalition outposts that have come under frequent hit-and-run attacks this winter describe a resourceful and determined foe they think will be back in force to fight again.

The biggest mistake we could make is preventing them from massing and attacking us, which is when we get to kill them in bunches instead of ones and twos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Bush's "Nixon to China" Moment (Steve Chapman, 2/18/07, Real Clear Politics)

If the deal works, it will go far to redeem Bush's foreign policy -- which until now looked as though it would leave all three countries in the axis of evil more dangerous than they were before. To persuade a rogue regime that has built its own atomic arsenal to give them up would be unprecedented. And that accomplishment might be less important than a secondary effect: preventing Kim Jong Il from selling nukes to other countries or, worse, to terrorist groups.

That scenario, of course, is the congenial one, not the likely one. Negotiating with the North Korean regime often seems like trying to tackle a greased pig: You never quite accomplish your purpose, and the pig never gets tired. If the last nuclear agreement had worked as intended, after all, we wouldn't need this one.

Under the 1994 accord, reached by the Clinton administration, North Korea was supposed to suspend its weapons program -- in exchange for a light water reactor, supplies of fuel oil and eventual normalization of relations. But they cheated by pursuing a secret uranium enrichment effort. And when the Bush administration called them on it, they evicted international inspectors, resumed the production of weapons material and, last year, detonated a nuclear weapon.

That test forced the administration to reconsider its approach, which was to give nothing and expect everything. The advantage it had was that this time, the talks included South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. The latter, Pyongyang's chief patron and ally, was not pleased with the nuclear test and used its leverage to force a deal.

Are the North Koreans serious this time? No one knows, but it won't take much time or money to find out. We agreed to ship them a million tons of heavy fuel oil -- but only 5 percent of it will go out in the next 60 days, by which time they will have to shut down their chief nuclear facility and admit international inspectors.

If they balk, the game will be up. If not, they will have to proceed with steps to dismantle the plant, disclose all their nuclear activities and ultimately surrender their bombs. Any rewards they get will require them to meet their obligations, step by step.

Denuclearizing the North is an ambitious, difficult goal, and the administration deserves credit for making every effort to attain it.

For us it's a no-lose proposition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


In Majority, Democrats Run Hill Much as GOP Did (Lyndsey Layton, February 18, 2007, Washington Post)

Democrats pledged to bring courtesy to the Capitol when they assumed control of Congress last month. But from the start, the new majority used its muscle to force through its agenda in the House and sideline Republicans.

And after an initial burst of lawmaking, the Democratic juggernaut has kept on rolling.

Of nine major bills passed by the House since the 110th Congress began, Republicans have been allowed to make amendments to just one, a measure directing federal research into additives to biofuels. In the arcane world of Capitol Hill, where the majority dictates which legislation comes before the House and which dies on a shelf, the ability to offer amendments from the floor is one of the minority's few tools.

Last week, the strong-arming continued...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Nothing masks Paulino's signals: Pirates' catcher makes priority of handling pitchers (Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

He batted .310 last season, highest average for any rookie catcher with 100 or more at-bats since Mike Piazza in 1993. He threw out 32 percent of runners attempting to steal, his total of 38 caught stealings leading the National League. And he had shortcomings, too, particularly on defense, any of which might have consumed someone else.

But those closest to Paulino insist his focus never wavered from the pitchers.

"That's just how I've always thought about the game," said Paulino, 25. "The biggest part of the game is the pitching, and the biggest part of my job is handling the pitchers."

It starts with intense studying, not only of the Pirates' pitchers but also of the hitters they are facing. He often is among the first to the clubhouse on a game day, usually seated before a laptop alongside that evening's starter. And he is a vocal participant in all daily meetings related to pitching.

"This guy's right in the middle of all of it," Tracy said. "And that's why he's always on the same page with the pitchers."

Some of that goes beyond studying, according to bench coach Jim Lett, the man responsible for instructing the Pirates' catchers.

"There's a bit of a sixth sense to it, and a lot of guys don't have it," Lett said. "You can work into it, but some guys just have it naturally. They can just feel their way through what a pitcher's doing. To have it to Ronny's extent ... that's not really something you can coach."

And the result?

"You don't see the pitcher shaking him off much."

For all Paulino has achieved in this regard and others, though, there remains considerable room for improvement, at the plate and behind it.

His.310 average -- including a .339 mark against left-handers that ranked fifth in the National League -- might have been the Pirates' most pleasant surprise last season, ranking even above Freddy Sanchez's batting title. Paulino had topped .300 just once in eight minor-league seasons and entered spring training last year as a distant No. 3 on the catching depth chart behind Ryan Doumit and Humberto Cota.

Still, for someone who is a barrel-chested 6 feet 2, 245 pounds, he showed little power: Only 25 of his 137 hits -- 19 doubles and six home runs -- went for extra bases.

"As I say all the time, power is the last thing to come," Tracy said. "This young man has it."

"I'm not worried about power or the average," Paulino said. "I was seventh or eighth in the order most of the time, so I knew we just needed a hit, not a home run. And the average ... I don't think about .350 or .320. I just want to make sure I'm getting that hit when we need it, when it makes a difference."

That much he did effectively: His 55 RBIs ranked fourth on the Pirates, and he batted .346 with runners in scoring position, .444 with the bases loaded.

"Time and time again, this guy got us the big hit," Tracy said. "And he's going to get even better there."

February 17, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Cheap Oil to Last, "Doomsday" Fears Overblown, Author Says (Brian Handwerk, 2/14/07, National Geographic News)

[Leonardo] Maugeri is the author of The Age of Oil: The Mythology, History, and Future of the World's Most Controversial Resource. As a senior vice president at the Italian oil corporation Eni SpA, he's also an oil-industry insider.

In his book Maugeri explains how prices affect the cycle of oil production and why he believes oil "doomsday theorists" are tapping an empty well.

Maugeri's theories often challenge conventional wisdom but are likely to become an essential part of the debate on oil's future.

He discussed his controversial ideas in an interview with National Geographic News.

Some experts believe we're at or near a point where world oil supply will be unable to meet demand--with potentially devastating consequences. Are we close to this point of "peak oil"?

It's so seductive, in a way, to speak of a coming catastrophe--but we're not on the brink of a catastrophe.

People usually assume that the planet is thoroughly explored [for oil], but this is not true. The United States and Canada are the most thoroughly explored, and the latest discovery by Chevron in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates that they are not really so [thoroughly] explored.

Other parts of the world are really not explored at all. Even today more than 70 percent of the world's oil exploration wells are concentrated in the U.S. and Canada--countries that hold only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. Conversely, only 3 percent of the world's exploration wells are drilled in the Middle East.

Many countries, Saudi Arabia in particular, have discovered oil fields in the past but have never developed them because of their fear of creating excess capacity.

No one knows how much oil there is. But all the hints we have--for example surveys made the U.S. Geological Survey--indicate that the world still has really huge oil resources in its soil. [...]

Can we ease our "oil addiction" before supplies run short?

The Stone Age didn't finish because of a lack of stone. The Oil Age won't finish because of a lack of oil. Sooner or later, probably in this century, oil will be surpassed by another source of energy.

Great line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


McCain to Preach Abstinence in S.C. (JIM DAVENPORT, 2/16/07, Associated Press)

Most presidential candidates are trying to get people to say "yes." Republican Sen. John McCain will be encouraging South Carolina students to say "no."

The Arizona lawmaker is scheduled to speak Sunday night to about 1,500 middle and high school students about abstaining from premarital sex. Abstinence and abortion loom large as issues in this first-in-the-South primary state in the heart of the Bible Belt.

"Senator McCain has a long legislative record of supporting abstinence-based initiatives in his record in the U.S. Senate," said Trey Walker, McCain's South Carolina campaign director. "He thinks that abstinence is healthier and should be promoted in our society for young people."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


'Shia Democracy': Myth or Reality? (Sreeram Chaulia, February 16, 2007, World Press)

Discussions about the democratic deficit in the Muslim world tend to conflate Sunnis and Shias as culturally homogeneous groups. Nuances about diversity within Islam only come up related to the regional variation in practices and political institutions (e.g. Middle Eastern Islam, North African Islam, South Asian Islam, Central Asian Islam, and Southeast Asian Islam). Some scholars make the distinction between Arab and non-Arab countries with regard to their political culture and regime type. The unspoken assumption in studies proving the proclivity of Muslim countries toward authoritarianism is that sectarian schisms within Islam do not matter much when it comes to attitude and receptivity to democracy. Whether there are well-delineated differences between Shias and Sunnis in the way they conceive of--and construct--political authority has not been given much serious research. This is a surprising omission in contrast to the extent to which political scientists have debated the impact of the Catholic-Protestant schism on the evolution of capitalism and democracy in the Western hemisphere.

Blindness to the Shia-Sunni divide in the literature on democratization is likely to be the result of glossing over the smaller sect of Islam, Shiism, which claims no more than 15 percent of the world's Muslims. [...]

Masoumeh Ebtekar, the first female vice president of Iran under the reformist former President Muhammad Khatami, recently remarked that Shia gains through electoral means in Iraq will "encourage us (Iran) to open up, since we see a different example of governance but with similar mentality that is also Shiite" (2005, 58). This sentiment is echoed by the prominent Iranian dissident intellectual Abdol Karim Soroush's thinking that as the Shia majority in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq comes to power, there will be a shift in "the overall balance among Shiites toward democratic legitimacy and away from the idea of clerical rule we see in Iran" (2004a). Historian Juan Cole buttresses this school of thought by noting that between April 2003 and January 2005, Shias underwent a remarkable development in legal thinking about democracy that is not new and that will outlive the contingencies in Iraq:

The ideals of elections, representation of the people, expression of the national will, and a rule of law are invoked over and over again by the most prominent Shiite religious leaders. Unlike Khomeini in 1979, they are completely unafraid of the term "democracy" and generally see no contradiction between it and Islam. (2006, 34)

The first full-length treatment of the subject of Shias as democratizers has been given by Vali Nasr, another Iranian thinker, who extends the range of the projected democratic tide beyond Iran to Shia-populated parts of the Middle East and South Asia. The gist of his argument is as follows:

Shias are both an objective and a subjective democratic force. Their rise in relative power is injecting a robust element of real pluralism into the too-often Sunni-dominated political life of the Muslim world. Many Shias are also finding democracy appealing as an idea in itself, not merely as an episodically useful vehicle for their power and ambitions. (2006, 180)

Shias, unlike Sunnis, are supposed to be rebellious by nature and opposed to dutifully obeying authority that lacks legitimacy. Historically repressed and discriminated, Shiism's ideal was always to fight against Sunni injustices and tyrannical rulers. Since the origin of the Shia-Sunni split in medieval times, Shia imams (spiritual leaders descended from the Prophet Muhammad) invoked a fear of revolt among Sunni Caliphs and were countered with persecution, imprisonment, and killing. To survive persecution in the Sunni-dominated Caliphates and Ottoman Empire, ordinary Shias had to hide their sectarian affiliations (taqqiya) and their imams escaped to Iran and India to seek refuge. The germs of anti-authoritarianism and protection of minority rights were thus, according to Nasr, inherent in Shiism from the very beginning (c. eighth century A.D.).

The break Shias initiated from Sunnism centered on what they considered to be the morally just kind of political authority. In contrast, the Sunni understanding of worldly power concentrated on a preoccupation with order, not the quality of rulership. The theory of government developed by medieval Sunni jurists was to uphold any government as long as it maintained stability and order and protected the Muslim (Sunni) community. Shiism emphasized the substance and quality of a regime much more than its form, an important congenital characteristic that would resonate with the evolution of democracy in modern times.

What Tehran Is Really Up To (Daniel L. Byman, February 18, 2007, Washington Post)

Ironically, Iran's long-term position could weaken when the United States draws down its forces. At first, the U.S. withdrawal will expand the power vacuum and Iran will try to fill it, but the limited chaos Iran foments can easily become uncontrolled. Iran's economic and military power is limited, and Iran's theocratic model of governance has little appeal for most Iraqis. Even many Shiite militants have at times been hostile to Iran, and respected moderates such as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani are careful to maintain their distance from Tehran. Sunnis already rage against perceived Iranian dominance.

In a postwar environment, Tehran will have lost a lever against U.S. pressure and may find itself both overextended and vulnerable in Iraq -- a weakness that the United States might exploit in years to come.

Why Iran 'meddles' in Iraq: Is Tehran's supposed involvement malign, or are its interests in the war legitimate? (Adam Shatz, February 18, 2007, LA Times)
If Iran wants to see a friendly government established in Iraq, it hardly lacks for reasons. Unlike the United States, Iran was attacked by Iraq, back when Hussein's regime enjoyed American support as a bulwark against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's revolution. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians died during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). When Iraq used poison gas against Iranian troops, the United States uttered not a single protest.

Not surprisingly, Iran wants to ensure that no government in Iraq will threaten it again. That's why Iran made no secret of its joy over Hussein's downfall, but it also refuses to accept a potentially hostile American base in the Persian Gulf or to cede absolute control over Iraq's future to the United States.

Iran also sees itself as a protector of Shiite interests in the region -- and is, with a mixture of gratitude and wariness, viewed as such by Shiites from the gulf to Lebanon to Pakistan. Iraq's Shiite majority, though Arab and nationalist, is linked to Iran's Shiites through both family and religious ties. It was in Tehran that many of the Iraqi Shiite parties in power today found sanctuary from Hussein's agents; many Iraqi clerics studied in Iran, and some -- most notably Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani -- were born in Iran. Every Iraqi Shiite politician must pay his respects to Tehran, including secularists such as Washington's former darling, Ahmad Chalabi.

The future Iraqi government, frankly, is likely to bear a stronger resemblance to the Islamic republic than to the liberal democracy the Bush administration publicly championed -- or to the "Saddamism without Saddam" scenario that many advocates of the invasion privately preferred. That Iran has acted to bolster the power of its Shiite allies in Iraq -- and to arm Shiite militias avenging Sunni attacks on their people and their shrines -- may not be to Washington's liking, but "meddling" doesn't seem the right word for it.

In thinking about Iran's behavior, it's important to remember that the United States has made plain its determination to curb Iranian influence in the region -- by force of arms, if necessary. From Iran's perspective, the U.S. is an implacable enemy that has rebuffed its diplomatic overtures. No state likes to see a hostile army stationed in its backyard.

If Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has indulged Ahmadinejad's rhetorical extremism, it may be because he expected to be rewarded, rather than punished, for Iran's assistance to the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Gareth Porter recently reported in the American Prospect, Iran floated a proposal in May 2003, shortly after the fall of Baghdad, for a "grand bargain" with the United States. It offered to back the 2002 Arab Summit's proposal for a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine and to end its military support for armed Palestinian groups as well as Hezbollah in return for the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States.

Prematurely intoxicated by its "mission accomplished," the Bush administration reportedly ignored Iran's proposal and has since given every indication that it prefers regime change in Tehran to the kind of dialogue recommended by the Iraq Study Group. To this end, the administration has flirted with the Iranian Mujahedin Khalq, also known as MEK, a bizarre Maoist guerrilla group/cult that opposes the Islamic government and frequently launched attacks on Iran from Iraq with Hussein's backing.

Given the Bush administration's belligerent position, the Iranian government might have concluded that, with Hussein dead and the Shiite parties in power, Tehran's interests are best served by the withdrawal of American troops on its border. Even if the Iraqis fail to drive out U.S. forces, a deepening quagmire usefully distracts attention from Tehran's nuclear program and reminds the United States that it needs Iran in order to exit with its honor intact.

Like any state, the Islamic republic seeks above all to preserve itself. But, again, is this "malign intent" or a sober calculation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


Senate Republicans Block Floor Vote on Iraq Resolution (William Branigin, February 17, 2007, Washington Post)

Senate Republicans today blocked a floor vote on a House-passed resolution that expresses disapproval of President Bush's plan to send thousands of additional U.S. troops to Iraq, as a procedural motion to cut off debate on the measure fell short of the 60 votes needed.

It was the second time this month that minority Republicans successfully filibustered a nonbinding resolution opposing the troop buildup.

Senators voted 56-34 to invoke cloture and proceed to a floor vote on the resolution, with seven Republicans joining all the chamber's Democrats in calling for an end to the debate. But the motion fell four votes short of the threshold needed under Senate rules.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Jacques Barzun Centennial Celebration (November 2007, Columbia University in the City of New York )

Seat 61

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Familiar Problem Stalls Minimum Wage Bill (EDMUND L. ANDREWS, 2/17/07, NY Times)

When Democrats campaigned last fall to recapture control of Congress, few domestic issues seemed to have as much winning potential as raising the minimum wage.

Democrats ostentatiously signed pledges to block any pay increase for Congress until it raised the minimum wage. They organized ballot initiatives to raise the state minimum wage. And when they did recapture the House and the Senate, Democrats made it a top priority.

Yet after six weeks in power, the Democratic-led House and Senate have yet to agree on a final bill. The obstacle is the same one that stymied Republicans time after time when they had control: paralyzingly thin margins in the Senate.

You mean we didn't repeal the Constitution last November?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Workers are fine with fewer unions: Wealth and productivity have soared while union membership has declined (Russell Roberts, February 17, 2007, LA Times)

When more than 90% of the private-sector labor force isn't unionized, why do 97% of us earn above the minimum wage? If our bargaining power is so pitiful, why don't greedy employers exploit us and drive wages down to the legal minimum?

The simple answer is that bargaining power comes from having alternatives. Even in the absence of unions, employers have to treat workers well to attract and keep them. In a workplace as dynamic as that of the United States, where millions of jobs are destroyed and created every quarter, a company's ability to exploit workers is greatly limited by how easy it is to find another job.

Ultimately, it is competition among employers that protects us from exploitation. Even those who would seem to be the most vulnerable -- immigrants who struggle to speak English, for example -- can earn much more than the minimum wage simply because of competition for their skills. Cleaning people routinely earn $20 an hour, more than most cities' so-called living wage.

Look at workers' share of the nation's income. In 1950, employee compensation was 53% of gross domestic income. In 2005, that number was 57%. Somehow, as unions' strength dwindled over the decades, employees' share actually grew. And it's a share of a dramatically larger pie, the result of the incredible economic boom of the last half a century.

Ronald Reagan broke the labor movement and all we got was a quarter century of uninterrupted economic growth....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


NASCAR's oval goes global with Montoya: On Daytona's high-banked track, Montoya and stock car racing hope to benefit from a different direction (Kevin Baxter, February 17, 2007, LA Times)

NASCAR kicks off its 2007 Nextel Cup season with Sunday's Daytona 500 after a year in which TV ratings rose for only three of the series' 36 races, dropping 6.5% overall on Fox, 5% on TNT and a whopping 10% on NBC. And although NASCAR tracks don't release firm attendance figures, fewer than half of last year's races sold out, and crowds for at least 12 races decreased.

No driver, even one with [Juan Pablo] Montoya's sizable gifts, can turn that around alone. But the Colombian gives NASCAR a lot to work with.

First, there's his skill. The youngest driver to win a championship in the old CART series, and a winner of the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix of Monaco, Montoya was an open-wheel superstar. And though drivers and fans in the wine-and-brie world of Formula One tend to look down their noses at stock cars, Montoya's defection seems likely to persuade at least some in the fractured world of open-wheel racing -- where CART's successor, the Champ Car World Series, and the Indy Racing League battle for sponsorships and fans -- to give NASCAR a look.

Then there's his personality. A handsome, charismatic 31-year-old, Montoya is bright and articulate in two languages -- something that will not only help NASCAR internationally but nationally as well, since more than a quarter of this year's Nextel Cup races will be run in Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, states with sizable Latino populations.

"Once the Spanish[-speaking] community can get to know this kid is out there, he's going to attract a whole new wave of clients," says Felix Sabates, co-owner of the Ganassi team. "He's a sponsor's dream."

He's also wealthy and something of a celebrity on two continents -- Europe and South America. In Colombia, for instance, kids don miniature versions of Montoya's fire suit on Halloween and he can't go out to dinner without being hounded by fans. (Which isn't entirely a bad thing. He met his wife Connie when she approached him for an autograph, and the couple now has two children.)

As a result, there's an air of both erudition and regality about Montoya, who has filled his 44th-floor bayside penthouse with works by Brazilian pop artist Romero Britto and who counts Mexican royalty -- singers Luis Miguel and Patty Manterola -- among his neighbors.

"He's bringing a whole new wave of people to the sport," Sabates says. "He's bringing flamboyance into the sport."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Inequality and its discontents (Robert J Shiller, 2/17/07, Daily Times)

Leaders around the world seem to be convinced that inequality and lack of broad participation in economic growth, if allowed to persist, will lead to social discord and even violence. But is inequality the real problem? [...]

[S]ome statistical analyses of the correlation between inequality and social conflict conclude that there may even be an inverse relationship: societies that are more unequal tend to show less conflict, because the rich are better able to control the poor.

There is some evidence that social unrest follows from inequality. The economists Alberto Alesina and Roberto Perotti have shown that, after controlling for several other factors, high-inequality countries do tend to have more social instability, as measured by, say, the number of politically motivated assassinations or the number of people killed in conjunction with domestic mass violence.

Nevertheless, one wonders why the evidence that inequality causes social unrest is not stronger.

One part of the problem may be that it is not always inequality per se that causes social discord, but also how inequality is perceived to have come. Unrest may reflect more a sense of betrayal - that others are not living up to their implied promises or are not behaving honourably.

Indeed, a sense of trust in others' intentions is central to a functioning economy. Lawyers write a lot of contracts, and courts spend a lot of time enforcing them, but these institutions cannot cover everything. Most economic relationships depend on good will, a basic inclination to do the right thing even if no one is checking.

Trustworthiness is hardly universal. But the business world is built on our intuitive knowledge of when we can trust people fairly well and when we can't trust them much at all.

How can there be any trust between people in a system where the regime is responsible for the distribution of wealth? If you set out to make individuals dependent on the state you can hardly be surprised when they end up atomized from each other and uninterested in society generally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


House votes against troop buildup in Iraq: Democrats' landmark resolution against Bush's plans passes with the help of 17 Republicans. It is unclear whether the Senate will debate the issue. (Richard Simon, February 17, 2007, LA Times)

The nonbinding resolution expressing disapproval of the troop buildup passed 246 to 182, largely along party lines, with 17 Republicans joining 229 Democrats to back what amounts to a rare wartime rebuke of a commander in chief. Voting against it were 180 Republicans and two Democrats.

The sharp partisan split was a disappointment to Democratic leaders, who had hoped for more GOP support, and it lessened the vote's political impact.

Still, the vote marked a milestone in the declining public support for the nearly 4-year-old war, and it signified the growing Democratic determination to press for a de-escalation of U.S. involvement in the conflict.

That the best they can muster is a non-binding motion with too few votes to survive a veto if it were anything meaningful seems more embarrassing to them than to the President. The Bolland Amendment was unconstitutional, but they did at least pass it into law, back when they were opposing a different liberation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


There Was No 'Smart' Way to Invade Iraq (Sam Rosenfeld and Matthew Yglesias, 2/17/07, The American Prospect

Though defending the competence of the Bush administration is a fool's endeavor, administrative bungling is simply not the root source of America's failure in Iraq. The alternative scenarios liberal hawks retrospectively envision for a successful administration of the war reflect blithe assumptions -- about the capabilities of the U.S. military and the prospects for nation building in polities wracked by civil conflict -- that would be shattered by a few minutes of Googling.

The incompetence critique is, in short, a dodge -- a way for liberal hawks to acknowledge the obviously grim reality of the war without rethinking any of the premises that led them to support it in the first place. In part, the dodge helps protect its exponents from personal embarrassment. But it also serves a more important, and dangerous, function: Liberal hawks see themselves as defenders of the legitimacy of humanitarian intervention -- such as the Clinton-era military campaigns in Haiti and the Balkans -- and as advocates for the role of idealism and values in foreign policy. The dodgers believe that to reject the idea of the Iraq War is, necessarily, to embrace either isolationism or, even worse in their worldview, realism -- the notion, introduced to America by Hans Morgenthau and epitomized (not for the better) by the statecraft of Henry Kissinger, that U.S. foreign policy should concern itself exclusively with the national interest and exclude consideration of human rights and liberal values. Liberal hawk John Lloyd of the Financial Times has gone so far as to equate attacks on his support for the war with doing damage to "the idea, and ideal, of freedom itself."

It sounds alluring. But it's backward: An honest reckoning with this war's failure does not threaten the future of liberal interventionism. Instead, it is liberal interventionism's only hope. By erecting a false dichotomy between support for the current bad war and a Kissingerian amoralism, the dodgers run the risk of merely driving ever-larger numbers of liberals into the realist camp. Left-of-center opinion neither will nor should follow a group of people who continue to insist that the march to Baghdad was, in principle, the height of moral policy thinking. If interventionism is to be saved, it must first be saved from the interventionists.

They frame the choice rather well--in an artificial country like Iraq, you can either have totalitarian stability or else you have to unleash the pent up furies along the way to achieving a more natural set of nations. The folks on the decent Left who wish to believe that they'd have handled things better are just kidding themselves. If Iraq's Sunni refused to be governed by the will of the majority the rest followed inevitably from freedom.

Liberals are now the appeasers of hate: In the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, the Left's conscience has failed the world (Nick Cohen, February 17, 2007, The Australian)

Saddam was against everything represented by Amnesty International and all the other admirable nongovernmental organisations. No anti-liberal, anti-democratic tyrant could be further from the professed principles of the British Liberal Democrats, the European Social and Christian Democrats and the African National Congress. He was an embodiment of the mass terror and racism of the 20th century which they said they wanted to escape. When a war to overthrow him came, the liberals had two choices.

The first was to oppose the war, remain hypercritical of aspects of the Bush administration's policy, but support Iraqis as they struggled to establish a democracy. The policy of not leaving Iraqis stranded was so clearly the only moral option, it never occurred to me that there could be another choice. From the point of view of the liberals, the only ground they would have had to concede if they had stuck by their principles in Iraq would have been an acknowledgment that the war had a degree of legitimacy.

They would still have been able to say it was catastrophically mismanaged, a provocation to al-Qa'ida and all the rest of it. They would still have been able to condemn atrocities by American troops, Guantanamo Bay, and Bush's pushing of the boundaries on torture. They might usefully have linked up with like-minded Iraqis, who wanted international support to fight against the American insistence on privatisation of industries, for instance. All they would have had to accept was that the attempt to build a better Iraq was worthwhile and one to which they could and should make a positive commitment. A small price to pay; a price all their liberal principles insisted they had a duty to pay. Or so it seemed.

The second choice for the liberals was to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. To look at the Iraqi civilians and the British and American troops who were dying in a war whose central premise had proved to be false, and to go berserk; to allow justifiable anger to propel them into "binges of posturing and ultra-radicalism" as the 1960s' liberals had done when they went off the rails.

As one critic characteried the position, they would have to pretend that "the United States was the problem and Iraq was its problem". They would have to maintain that the war was not an attempt to break the power of tyranny in a benighted region, but the bloody result of a "financially driven mania to control Middle Eastern oil, and the faith-driven crusade to batter the crescent with the cross". They chose to go berserk.

In 2003, while his friends in Washington were enjoying their brief moment of triumph, the neo-conservative thinker Robert Kagan tried to warn Republicans that the apparently feeble liberals of Europe had a latent power. On the face of it, Europe and by extension the countries and organisations that favoured the multilateralism associated with the ideals of Europe was a joke. It talked loudly and carried a small stick.

For all the high-sounding speeches from the inhabitants of "Paradise" about "never again" and human rights, they relied on the Americans to stop the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo and condemned them when they didn't intervene in Rwanda. Militarily, the US could have won the war in Iraq without the support of a single ally, including Britain. Economically, it could afford to rebuild Iraq, even if the task took decades, as it did in Western Europe and Japan after World War II.

But Kagan warned that politically a split in the democratic world would be calamitous. The European opponents of the war in Paris and Berlin, and all the organisations and liberal-minded people there and elsewhere who said they supported human rights, had the power to deny America moral legitimacy by saying the war was "illegal".

Logically, they should then have followed through and demanded that the Americans release Saddam from prison and restore him to the presidency that the invading forces had "illegally" stolen from him. But, as the theorists from the universities' cultural studies departments of the '80s and '90s had anticipated, there wasn't much call for logic in a postmodern world that welcomed self-righteous fury without positive commitments.

In defiance of the stereotype, Americans have always cared what the rest of the world thinks about them, said Kagan. Their Declaration of Independence said they must have "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind". Paine, Jefferson and Franklin said from the start that American democratic values should be universal. "Because Americans do care," argued Kagan, "the steady denial of international legitimacy by fellow democracies over time will become debilitating and perhaps even paralysing."

He didn't think of a further consequence - maybe because it was too scandalous to imagine. What would be the effect of pretending that it was illegal to overthrow a genocidal regime on Iraqis who were struggling to build a better country? The answer came soon after the invasion when the liberals gave aid and comfort to the Islamists and the Baathists. The "insurgents" were able to use the liberals' slogans - "It's all about oil!" "It's illegal!" - and to taunt their opponents with the indisputable fact that even their supposed liberal allies in New York, London, Berlin and Paris didn't support them.

The push for a democratic Iraq had American military and financial power behind it, but liberals the world over denied it moral support and legitimacy, which matter more. In the eyes of liberal opinion, the millions of Iraqis who voted for a new government were little better than the receivers of stolen goods.

Richard Dawkins was a typical case. A polemical scientist who had pulverised religious fundamentalism in Britain and the US, he couldn't see beyond Bush to an Iraq that was being pulverised by Islamists. In a letter to the press just after the war he summed up the liberals' raging indifference when he gloated, "Now Bush is begging the United Nations to help clean up the mess he created in Iraq, there is a temptation to tell him to get lost. It is a temptation to which I hope the United Nations will succumb. US armed forces are 'overstretched', and that is exactly how they should be."

The short point is that the ideology of the new far Left or new far Right, or however you wish to characterise the nihilist mentality we saw developing in the universities and the anti-globalisation movement, was now mainstream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Short Changing 9/11: Popular Documentary Takes Us Nowhere (George Monbiot, 2/17/07, AlterNet)

There is a virus sweeping the world. It infects opponents of the Bush government, sucks their brains out through their eyes and turns them into gibbering idiots. The disease is called Loose Change. It is a film made by three young men which airs most of the standard conspiracy theories about the attacks of September 11 2001. Unlike the other 9/11 conspiracy films, Loose Change is sharp and swift, with a thumping soundtrack, slick graphics and a calm and authoritative voiceover. Its makers claim that it has now been watched by 100 million people. [...]

People believe Loose Change because it proposes a closed world: comprehensible, controllable, small. Despite the great evil which runs it, it is more companionable than the chaos which really governs our lives, a world without destination or purpose. This neat story draws campaigners away from real issues -- global warming, the Iraq war, nuclear weapons, privatisation, inequality -- while permanently wrecking their credibility. Bush did capitalise on the attacks, and he did follow a pre-existing agenda, spelt out, as Loose Change says, by the Project for a New American Century. But by drowning this truth in an ocean of nonsense, the conspiracists ensure that it can never again be taken seriously.

The film's greatest flaw is this: the men who made it are still alive. If the US government is running an all-knowing, all-encompassing conspiracy, why did it not snuff them out long ago? There is only one possible explanation. They are in fact agents of the Bush regime, employed to distract people from its real abuses of power. This, if you are inclined to believe such stories, is surely a more plausible theory than the one proposed in Loose Change.

Note that his reasoning applies equally well to global warming.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


Window into Puritan life: Renovation of 1648 house offers a look at settlers' everyday lives (Brian MacQuarrie, February 17, 2007, Boston Globe)

"This is a window of opportunity that we have here right now," said city archeologist Ellen Berkland, who is live-in curator at the house in Edward Everett Square. "It will be sealed up soon with new shingles, and we won't be able to get to it for another 100 years."

What they have found at the house, built about 1648, is a hardy oak frame, hand-hewn beams and boards, hand-forged nails, and meticulous construction that has withstood the withering test of time. The restoration crew also has found wooden braces in hidden, unexpected places among long-concealed timbers, human hair in the wattle and daub, and a smattering of buttons, badges, and textiles.

"This is very cool," said Jerry Eide, a preservation contractor, as he inspected part of the exposed skeleton of the house. "I'm learning new things every day."

Indeed, Eide said that the quality of wood, with its hard texture and straight grain, is superior to much of today's building materials.

"The saving grace is that they overbuilt," said John Goff, a preservation consultant who studied the Blake House in preparation for the project. "It could easily last 1,000 years if it's maintained properly."

February 16, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 PM


Romney explains '92 vote for Tsongas (Jonathan Greenberger, 2/16/07, ABC News)

Republican presidential candididate Mitt Romney offered a new explanation today for why he supported a Democrat in 1992.

That year, Romney, then a registered independent, voted for former Sen. Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary. He told ABC's George Stephanopoulos, in an interview that will air Sunday on "This Week," that his vote was meant as a tactical maneuver aimed at finding the weakest opponent for incumbent President George H.W. Bush.

"In Massachusetts, if you register as an independent, you can vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary," said Romney, who until he made an unsuccessful run for Senate in 1994 had spent his adult life as a registered independent. "When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I'd vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for the Republican."

But 12 years ago, the Boston Globe reported that Romney was giving a different explanation for his vote for Tsongas.

"Romney confirmed he voted for former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas in the state's 1992 Democratic presidential primary, saying he did so both because Tsongas was from Massachusetts and because he favored his ideas over those of Bill Clinton," the Boston Globe's Scot Lehigh and Frank Phillips wrote on Feb. 3, 1994. "He added he had been sure the G.O.P. would renominate George Bush, for whom he voted in the fall election."

You've hit six feet...stop digging....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Some GOP Voters Wrongly Think Rudy Giuliani is Pro-Life on Abortion (Steven Ertelt, 2/16/07, LifeNews.com Editor)

A new Fox News poll released yesterday finds that only 42 percent of GOP voters correctly identified Giuliani as pro-abortion. Some 21 percent say he's pro-life and another 36 percent don't know where he stands.

Giuliani's high poll numbers will likely drop once more voters find out he supports abortion.

That's because the poll showed 46 percent of GOP voters are less likely to support a pro-abortion candidate -- with 36% a lot less likely and 10 percent somewhat less likely. Only 22 percent are more likely to support an abortion advocate.

That means nearly half of the people who will make the decision at the ballot box in early 2008 as to who will represent the Republican Party in the next election will be less inclined to back Giuliani and about 60 percent of GOP voters have yet to find out that he supports abortion.

Those numbers could be why Giuliani has been soft-peddling his pro-abortion stance in recent media interviews.

9-11 made the Mayor widely, but shallowly, known. He can't withstand deeper knowledge of his politics unless he changes them radically.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


ASU helps create real face of George Washington: ASU researchers and others mix technology, art, science (Anne Ryman, Feb. 16, 2007, The Arizona Republic)

Researchers at Arizona State University and the University of Pittsburgh have re-created Washington at three ages, using anthropology, 3-D scanning and digital reconstruction. The 2 1/2-year project culminated in new life-size figures unveiled in the fall at Washington's Mount Vernon home in Virginia.

He is not the Washington on the dollar bill. [...]

Using a grant from the Mount Vernon estate, researchers approached their work from a scientific standpoint. Unlike early portrait painters, who were known to embellish famous subjects, their work would be based on data.

Schwartz knew Razdan from a previous visit to ASU and believed the university's expertise in digital 3-D would be ideal for the Washington project. ASU's Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling, or PRISM, specializes in 3-D computer modeling and visualization. Washington was their first famous subject.

Examining the first president's skeleton wasn't an option. He is buried at Mount Vernon, and the estate didn't want an exhumation.

Instead, they relied on historical records and existing images. They steeped themselves in history by reading books and documents and traveled to examine Washington's dentures, clothing, a terra-cotta bust and a life-size statue.

Razdan's team used a breadbox-size scanner to capture digital 3-D images of a mask and bust made when Washington was 53. The bust and mask, kept at Mount Vernon, are believed to be accurate representations of the former president because he told the sculptor he wanted them lifelike. The team also traveled to the state Capitol in Richmond, Va., where they spent five days scanning Washington's statue.

Once the scans were done, it was time to manipulate the data to show Washington at different ages. This was challenging because he lost his teeth during his life, which altered his jaw and face. He was known to crack walnuts with his teeth, which exacerbated his problems.

His first tooth was pulled in his early 20s, and by the time he turned 53, he may have had only two lower teeth left, Schwartz said. Portraits painted in his 50s show him unsmiling and stern, which may be because he clenched his dentures while the artists painted.

The ASU team used existing software and created its own to morph Washington's face. The difficult part was translating what Schwartz wanted into reality.

"He would say, 'Taper the jaw, elongate the chin.' He'd say, 'It's a tad too much.' We had to figure out what 'a tad' meant," Razdan said.

Just because your pallet and brushes are electronic doesn't mean you're closer to reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


The Dangerfield Economy: The current robust economy and the Bush administration policies that underpin it get no respect. (Victor A. Canto, 2/16/07, National Review)

By any objective measure, the U.S. economy continues to perform in a more-than-respectable manner. Growth since the Bush tax-rate cuts of mid-2003 has averaged more than 3.6 percent. Historically sound growth. Since 2003, the Fed's favorite measure of inflation, the rate of change of the PCE price index, has increased at a 2 percent annual rate. Historically low inflation. On a trailing four-quarter basis, the U.S. economy has enjoyed 18 consecutive quarters of double-digit corporate-profit gains. Our companies are healthy and getting healthier. Since the beginning of 2003, the stock market, as measured by the S&P 500, has gained 78 percent on a total-return basis. American investors, some 100 million or so, are making serious hay.

In times past, people would label this an era of unprecedented economic prosperity. Yet as I read the financial pages, I'm hard pressed to find any credit being given to either the economy or the policies that have delivered it:

"Extend the President's tax cuts beyond 2009 and 2010, and the fiscal hole is enormous. Let them expire and the tax increases could derail the economy."

"The President's budget and economic polices count on continued good luck."

"If the U.S. economy keeps growing like it is, Rodney Dangerfield is going to rise from the dead and file a patent claim."

US economic data point to soft landing (Eoin Callan in Washington, Saskia Scholtes in New York and Doug Cameron in Chicago, February 16 2007, Financial Times)
New US construction activity slowed sharply last month as home starts fell to a 10-year low, fresh figures showed on Friday in a sign that a soft landing in the housing sector is still not certain.

Work on new homes dropped by 14 per cent to 1.4m in January, although there were sings of stabilisation ahead as applications for building permits fell a modest 2.8 per cent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Embattled Louisiana Rep. Jefferson Gets Homeland Security Seat (Susan Ferrechio, Feb. 16, 2007, CQ Today)

Eight months after stripping Rep. William J. Jefferson of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to award the lawmaker with a spot on the Homeland Security panel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Landlady cleared for throwing out two lesbian PCs 'kissing' in pub (Daily Mail, 16th February 2007)

A landlady who swore at two lesbian police officers fondling in her public house - The Old Cock - has been cleared of a public order offence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


Royal row: Ségolène aide quits campaign over 'zig-zag' policies (John Lichfield, 16 February 2007, Independent)

New opinion polls suggested that a landmark speech by Mme Royal at the weekend - including a 100-point "pact" with the French people - had failed to revive her floundering attempt to become France's first female president.

The Socialist Party's chief economic strategist, Eric Besson, stormed out of a party meeting on Wednesday after quarrelling with François Hollande, the party leader and Mme Royal's partner. M. Besson is reported to have protested against "zig-zags in strategy" and "idiocies" by her other advisers, who wanted to ban public discussion of the cost of new and expanded social programmes announced by Mme Royal on Sunday.

To add further insult, Mme Royal was booed by schoolchildren when she visited the training ground of the France rugby team south of Paris.

If it were a soccer team she'd be dead now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Inside the Quds Force: America's New Enemy?: Bush blames Iran's Quds Force for a spike in anti-American violence in Iraq. Who are they, and how tight are their ties with Tehran? (Michael Hirsh, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Mark Hosenball, Feb. 15, 2007, Newsweek)

The Quds Force was created by the IRGC--the powerful institution created to defend Iran's 1979 Islamist revolution--toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Its purpose: to conduct operations inside Iraqi territory, especially the Kurdish region that operated somewhat autonomously from Saddam Hussein's government. "Quds" means "Jerusalem" in Arabic, and the goal of the Islamist revolutionaries who started the group was to take over Jerusalem after capturing Baghdad. Even after the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988, the Quds Force, or Quds Brigade as it is also called, maintained three major foreign operations: supporting the Kurds in Iraq against Saddam, backing the Muslim Bosnians against the Serbs and working with Masoud and his Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. After Masoud was assassinated by Al Qaeda operatives on Sept. 9., 2001, Quds Force members helped the U.S.-assisted Northern Alliance cross the Kokcha River between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and advance toward Kabul to oust the Taliban, according to Iranian officials.

Perhaps no one has benefited from the Quds Force's patronage more than the current president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, who is also a close U.S. ally. Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party was Iran's main ally in northern Iraq during the 1980s. When fighting broke out between rival Kurdish groups in the mid-'90s, the Quds Force fought on Talabani's side against Massoud Barzani, whose Kurdish party had asked for Saddam Hussein's help.

Today, the Iranian government still maintains that its officials enter Iraq only at the invitation of the Iraqi government. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, said his Shiite nation's "interest is in not undermining the current Iraqi government," which is Shia-dominated. "That's the most important issue," he said, adding that the Bush administration's own recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq said the violence in Iraq was largely "self-sustained."

The confusion over the Quds Force--what exactly they're doing in Iraq and how they came to be there--has created a dangerous ambiguity about the Iranian operatives who are now being targeted by U.S. forces. That became clear late last year when key Iraqi politicians complained that U.S. troops had arrested two Iranians who were guests of the Iraqi government. The incident occurred after Talabani hammered out a security agreement with Iranian officials last fall. In December, two IRGC officials were invited to Iraq, including a man believed to be the third most senior Quds Force official, Mohsen Chizari. U.S. troops arrested the men, even though they had diplomatic passports. Talabani demanded immediate release of the Iranians and confirmed that they had been invited by the Iraqi government.

On the night they were detained, the two Iranians had met with Hadi al-Ameri, head of the Badr Organization, once the militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Ameri also heads up the security committee in the Iraqi National Assembly. The two officials had come, Ameri told NEWSWEEK, to discuss security issues. Ameri said two top Iraqi government officials, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih and national-security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, had asked the Iranian government to help rein in the Mahdi Army, the rival Shiite militia directed by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr that is believed to be responsible for death squads and other sectarian violence, as well as attacks on U.S. troops. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki "wanted Iran's help and said you can influence this issue," Ameri said in an interview. "This led to the Iranians sending the group with the diplomatic passports." He added: "They had a meeting with me and we talked about how to put pressure on the Jaish Mahdi [Mahdi Army] not to attack Sunnis ... how to prevent the Jaish Mahdi from working against the government and not to raise their weapons illegally."

The spokesman for the U.S.-led multinational forces in Iraq, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, later said that U.S. soldiers had found long lists of weapons inventories in the SCIRI compound where the Iranian officials were staying. He said SCIRI representatives told the Americans the weapons were for their protection. The upshot is that while the American military is blaming the Quds Force and IRGC for all sorts of misdeeds, the highest officials in the U.S.-backed Iraqi government appear to be buying weapons from them and asking for their help on security issues.

Yet even if elements of the Quds Force are involved in weapons trafficking, it is unclear if they are being directed by Tehran or if they are freelancing. After the war in Bosnia in the '90s, some former Quds Force members were known to engage in smuggling, apparently without the knowledge of their central command.

One of the things that keeps Iran from having a particularly repressive regime is how widely diffused power is.

U.S. has little data on Iranian unit under suspicion (Scott Shane, February 17, 2007, NY Times)

Questions about what exactly Quds Force officers have done and whether they acted at the direction of the Iranian leadership have taken on particular urgency as the Bush administration sends more troops to damp the violence in Baghdad and ratchets up its rhetoric against Iran.

Administration officials have made new claims that advanced improvised explosive devices are being provided by the Iranians. Even so, they have vehemently denied they have any plans to go to war against Iran.

Though the U.S. allegations about the Quds Force have received attention from administration officials and the media only in recent weeks, they are not new. On several occasions over the last year, senior Pentagon officials have spoken publicly about the Iranian role in Iraq.

But by all accounts, the imperfect nature of U.S. intelligence agencies' reporting on Iran makes certain conclusions difficult to reach. "I just don't think we have a very acute understanding of the internal workings of the regime in Iran," said Patrick Clawson, an Iran expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The competing power centers inside the Iranian government, and the intense secrecy that obscures decision- making, make answers elusive.

"We know that the Quds Force is involved," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters on Thursday. "We know the Quds Force is a paramilitary arm of the IRGC," he added, using the abbreviation for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"So we assume that the leadership of the IRGC knows about this," Gates said. "Whether or not more senior political leaders in Iran know about it, we don't know."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


The Treaty of the Democratic Peace: What the world needs now (Tod Lindberg, 02/12/2007, Weekly Standard)

[W]e are still waiting for anything like the "attractive power" of the E.U. and NATO on a global scale. The best effort so far was a Clinton administration brainchild, the Community of Democracies. The CD is a loose affinity organization that first met in 2000 in Warsaw, where participating nations, typically represented by their foreign ministers, adopted the "Warsaw Declaration" pledging their commitment to democracy and the promotion of democracy. The problem is that a number of nondemocratic countries, such as Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, and Bangladesh, participated and signed the declaration. The CD has met on several occasions since but has yet to develop much in the way of institutional capacity. Worse, how you might transform it from what it is to what one would like it to be is an exquisite diplomatic challenge, entailing, as it necessarily would, kicking people out.

Some have proposed greater cooperation and coordination among democracies at the United Nations. A wide array of NGOs favor establishing a "Caucus of Democracies" within the U.N. in order to encourage promotion of democracy and human rights. The 2005 United States Institute of Peace Task Force on U.N. Reform (the Gingrich-Mitchell task force) strongly endorsed efforts to strengthen the Caucus of Democracies at the U.N. But the odds against using the United Nations to promote democracy are formidable, as the ongoing depredations of the Human Rights Council, the "reformed" successor to the widely discredited Human Rights Commission in Geneva, make painfully clear. As long as the informal mechanism providing for rotation within regional blocs remains entrenched--thus giving each dictatorship its day in the sun--the U.N. will be largely ineffectual in promoting human rights.

Efforts to strengthen cooperation among democracies are chiefly motivated by the view of proponents that democracies acting in concert have a special capacity to legitimize international action because the governments have a legitimate claim to be speaking for the people of their countries. Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay have been at the forefront of this argument, urging in the American Interest the creation of a "Concert of Democracies." An earlier incarnation of the "Concert of Democracies" idea became a marquee recommendation of the Princeton Project on National Security. Some proponents, such as Daalder, regard the legitimacy obtained by agreement among democracies as superior to the legitimacy represented by agreement of groups of nations that include nondemocracies, such as the U.N. Security Council or General Assembly. Others, such as Princeton's Anne-Marie Slaughter and G. John Ikenberry, co-directors of the Princeton Project, prefer to work through the U.N. to seek legitimacy but see democracies acting in concert as an alternative in the event of the inability of the U.N. to take effective action (e.g., NATO in Kosovo, Darfur).

The question of how to give democratic states the operational capacity to act collectively has remained a difficult one. Granting the fact that mature, liberal democracies live in peace with each other, agree on the unique legitimacy democratic governance provides, have a track record of assisting countries making a transition to democracy, and might wish to collaborate on at least some issues in a global forum that excludes the worst human rights abusers, tyrants, and authoritarians from the deliberations, maybe it's time to make a clean break. Maybe it's time for the United States to join other democracies in adopting a new Treaty of the Democratic Peace.

The parties to such a treaty would reaffirm, consistent with the United Nations Charter and their other international obligations, their commitment to democratic governance; note their long practice of living peacefully among themselves; affirm their intention to continue to do so permanently and to settle all matters between them peacefully; and commit to the extension of the democratic peace by pledging assistance to other states in the development and improvement of their practice of democratic self-government.

The treaty would create a council--it could indeed be called the Concert of Democracies or, as Kiso and Taylor propose, the Organization of Democratic States, or something else--charged with implementation of the treaty provisions. The council would be its decision-making body. The treaty would also create a secretariat to advise the council on matters of relevance to the treaty organization and to implement decisions of the treaty council. The treaty would provide for the accession of additional states upon invitation of the council and ratification by national governments; it would also have to grant contracting parties the right to withdraw within a short interval of renouncing the treaty, and it should include a mechanism to ensure that any member that abandons democracy can be excluded from future participation.

Without doubt, any proposal for a major new international institution has an idealistic and aspirational component to it. This has been true at least since Tennyson mused about "a Parliament of man, a Federation of the world" ushering in an era of common sense and universal law in "Locksley Hall," not to mention the fond hopes Woodrow Wilson pinned on his League of Nations as well as the similar hopes animating the drafters of the United Nations Charter. And of course the annals of 20th-century diplomatic history feature such notorious misfires as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan as well as the United States, France, and the U.K., renouncing no less than "war as an instrument of national policy"--which remind us of the regular failure of such initiatives to live up to the aspirations of their proponents.

This treaty proposal certainly has its aspirational element as well. Yet it begins not with a dream but with the fact of democratic peace. It is not merely aspirational. It differs from the Kellogg-Briand Pact in a number of decisive ways. It is at best unclear that the Kellogg-Briand signatories were sincere in their undertakings, and in any case, little more than a decade had passed since a number of the signatories were at war with each other. In addition, the governments of a number of the parties to Kellogg Briand were not democratic or were at best illiberal. India was "represented" by British imperial authorities. Italy still had its monarchy, Japan its emperor. By contrast, the parties to the Treaty of the Democratic Peace would be states that have long lived peacefully with each other, in some cases for two generations or more, and expect to continue to do so. They are mature, liberal democracies whose internal democratic processes have been tested by internal and external political shocks without disruption. They have a track record of working cooperatively on matters of mutual interest.

Given the current configuration of power politics internationally, the United States is a lonely "hyperpower" (in the coinage of former French foreign minister Hubert Védrine). Having explored the limits of unilateralism in the first Bush term, the second Bush administration has placed a much higher value on working with others, and future administrations are likely to make even more pronounced efforts along those lines. Decisions made in Washington ramify around the world in ways that are often discomfiting or worse to those affected by them but who have no say in them. This is never going to be a source of American popularity, including among democracies. Others want influence over the United States, and who can blame them? For them, the treaty body offers the forum in which, as Daalder and Lindsay note, the United States is most likely to be influenced: among like-minded democratic states seeking a basis for cooperative action.

Nevertheless, the historical record argues for a cautious approach and limited aspirations. The treaty should explicitly assign only the most general role to the treaty council and the secretariat. The institutional point is not to assume the treaty council and the secretariat will be playing major roles on the world stage, but to create these entities in order to respond to the needs of members as they see fit. It is quite possible that the treaty council and the secretariat will be rather sleepy places for some time. But they will be available for members to take action whenever the members themselves find utility in acting as a body of democracies. The NATO alliance was hardly founded with the expectation that member-states would one day convene at its Brussels headquarters to decide to undertake a combat mission in Afghanistan against Islamist extremists. That institution continues to prove its utility for members even though the threat the alliance was created to defend against is no more.

Insofar as a Treaty of the Democratic Peace affirmed a commitment to the spread of democratic principles and liberalization, there would seem to be an organic role for the council and secretariat to play in supporting states making transitions to democratic governance. It would be hard to imagine the council turning down a fledgling democracy's request for technical assistance and "best practices" guidance. A parallel example would be the process by which NATO became involved in Darfur. In early 2005, the North Atlantic Council found itself blocked from considering support for humanitarian operations there because of the view of some allies (notably France) that NATO had no business in Africa. Yet when a formal request for NATO's assistance came in from the African Union, which under U.N. mandate was providing a peacekeeping force in Darfur, the position of those allies opposed in the abstract to the idea of a NATO role in Africa became untenable.

Beyond offering such assistance when asked, the treaty council also might want to involve itself in work to promote democracy and liberalization and to support those working peacefully toward those ends. Here, of course, we enter a more controversial sphere of activity, as it is by no means clear that all the member states (or whatever majority of them would constitute the basis for a council decision) would want to risk antagonizing nondemocratic states by promoting activities that autocrats deem subversive. Nevertheless, in certain instances they might. The case of Ukraine 2004 comes to mind.

An essential element of the democracy promotion possible under the treaty would be its openness to new members. A state that demonstrates a commitment to democratic governance and declares its commitment to the democratic peace should be eligible for participation in a process that leads eventually to an invitation to join. This process should not be too hasty, insofar as the Treaty of the Democratic Peace would have its origins in the actual, demonstrated commitment of democratic states to live in peace with each other. But states should also receive benefits and encouragement for a genuine demonstration of an intention to accede. The treaty council could designate states in train for accession as eligible for observer status. With such status might come funds to assist with democratic transitions and democracy-building. Here is the potential for the global extension of the "attractive power" incentives of the E.U. and NATO.

Since the accession process would be intended to help and encourage states in transition to deepen their commitment to democracy, the treaty council, acting through the secretariat, might want to advise aspirant states about measures they should consider to improve their democratic governance. The council could also set conditions for eligibility and a process to evaluate potential members' candidacies on a country-by-country basis, as NATO and the E.U. have done.

In the end, since accession would be by invitation of the treaty council and ratification by national governments, the parties themselves would have final say on whether a country met the test of being truly democratic and truly committed to the democratic peace. Admission would be by democratic "peer review." The evaluation each national government would perform, taken collectively, would be a better test of how democratic an aspirant was than the application of an abstract set of criteria. This mechanism would likely prevent states about which genuine questions remain with regard to their commitment to democracy and the democratic peace from acceding to the treaty and diluting its essential character.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Forgotten History: How Hollywood Once Produced a President (Paul Kengor, 2/16/07, Political Mavens)

Beginning in 1937, Reagan made 53 films. By the late 1940s, however, the offers slowed considerably. He started replacing pictures with political activism and union work as president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

It was during this time that Reagan's political interests went global. The liberal Democrat spoke forcefully against Nazism. But the times were changing. Now, he judged, America faced a new enemy: Soviet communism. And therein, Reagan's first public confrontation with the USSR has been missed by historians:

Reagan spoke on behalf of the "DPs," the Displaced Persons. A daily headline in 1947, the DPs were initially survivors of World War II fascism, mainly from Germany, Italy, and Austria, and were primarily persecuted Jews. Once the war ended, the designated list of DPs widened to 1.5 million individuals escaping Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe.

The DPs were held in camps, at large cost to the United States. Soviet officials outrageously claimed that the United States was holding the DPs as a source of slave labor -- a charge dismissed by Eleanor Roosevelt, who was intimately involved in the issue, as "utterly untrue." Moscow insisted the DPs be forcibly transported to areas under Soviet control. Secretary of State George Marshall adamantly rejected the demand.

A bill was introduced by Congressman William Stratton (R-IL) to permit entry of 400,000 DPs into the United States-a lifeboat. Yet, the legislation faced stiff opposition, which Reagan resisted. "There are some people who would rather bury the Stratton bill ... and thus bury the DPs in a mass grave," protested Reagan. "They would be burying Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike."

On May 7, 1947, Reagan released a SAG statement urging passage of the Stratton bill. It was his first campaign against the Kremlin. [...]

What is forgotten, however, is that on several occasions Reagan fought the Cold War during GE Theatre episodes. For example, at the close of a February 3, 1957 broadcast, he put in a word for Hungarian refugees, fresh off a merciless Soviet invasion. "Ladies and gentlemen, about 160,000 Hungarian refugees have reached safety in Austria," reported Reagan to his huge audience. "More are expected. These people need food, clothes, medicine, and shelter." He told his fellow Americans to send donations to the Red Cross or church or synagogue of their choice.

There were other GE Theatre occasions where Reagan assumed political roles. Special to him was a two-part broadcast titled, "My Dark Days," aired on March 18 and 25, 1962. Based on a true story, Reagan starred as the husband of a housewife who got involved with a communist front group and became an informant.

He later complained to a friend of the difficulties he faced getting the show produced: "I had to fight right down to the wire to make the communists villains." The problem, explained Reagan, was that the producing staff believed that communist infiltration was a fantasy "dreamed up" by "right-wingers."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Bush Regains His Footing (David S. Broder, February 16, 2007, Washington Post)

[H]e is demonstrating political smarts that even his critics have to acknowledge.

His reaction to the planned House vote opposing the increase he ordered in U.S. troops deployed to Iraq illustrates the point. [...]

He did three things to diminish the impact of that impending defeat.

First, he argued that the House was at odds with the Senate, which had within the past month unanimously confirmed Gen. David H. Petraeus as the new commander in Iraq -- the man Bush said was the author of the surge strategy and the man who could make it work. Bush has made Petraeus his blocking back in this debate -- replacing Vice President Cheney, whose credibility is much lower.

Second, he minimized the stakes in the House debate by endorsing the good motives of his critics, rejecting the notion that their actions would damage U.S. troops' morale or embolden the enemy -- all by way of saying that the House vote was no big deal.

And third, by contrasting today's vote on a nonbinding resolution with the pending vote on funding the war in Iraq, he shifted the battleground to a fight he is likely to win -- and put the Democrats on the defensive. [...]

In other respects, too, Bush has been impressive in recent days.

You'd think Mr. Broder would have sense enough to hide his own surprise at a completely routine development.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Antarctic temperatures disagree with climate model predictions (Eurekalert, 2/15/07)

A new report on climate over the world's southernmost continent shows that temperatures during the late 20th century did not climb as had been predicted by many global climate models.

This comes soon after the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that strongly supports the conclusion that the Earth's climate as a whole is warming, largely due to human activity.

It also follows a similar finding from last summer by the same research group that showed no increase in precipitation over Antarctica in the last 50 years. Most models predict that both precipitation and temperature will increase over Antarctica with a warming of the planet.

David Bromwich, professor of professor of atmospheric sciences in the Department of Geography, and researcher with the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, reported on this work at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at San Francisco.

"It's hard to see a global warming signal from the mainland of Antarctica right now," he said. [...]

"The best we can say right now is that the climate models are somewhat inconsistent with the evidence that we have for the last 50 years from continental Antarctica .

"We're looking for a small signal that represents the impact of human activity and it is hard to find it at the moment," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Professionals Exit Venezuela: Chávez's Grip on Power Drives Out Oil Experts; Support Hugo or You Go (PETER MILLARD, February 15, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

[T]t the U.S. Embassy call center for visas in Caracas, the lines have been jammed since Mr. Chávez announced in early January the nationalization of the electricity industry and Venezuela's largest telecommunications firm. "It doubled practically overnight," said a U.S. diplomat.

The number of Venezuelans receiving U.S. legal permanent residence more than doubled from 2000 to 2005, when 10,870 got their green cards. In that period the overall number of green cards increased by a third. During that period the number of Venezuelan-born U.S. residents increased 42%, to 151,743, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The oil industry appears to be taking notice of the available talent. Qatar Petroleum has run ads in local papers this year, offering tax-free salaries for geologists, reservoir engineers and geophysicists.

Canadian immigration law firm Benchetrit & Associates recently held four days of seminars in Caracas on living and working in Canada. "A plan for your life," read an advertisement for the seminars.

A Canadian embassy spokesman said oil companies are the main recruiters on the ground in Caracas. Canada is developing extra-heavy oil reserves that are comparable to those in Venezuela's Orinoco river basin, providing a ready job market for current and former staffers at Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PdVSA. The number of work visas Canada granted Venezuelans more than doubled last year, to 340.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Not a pardonable offense (Ruben Navarrette, February 10, 2007, San Diego Union-Tribune)

According to the evidence presented at the trial, including the agents' testimony and their statements after the incident, here are the facts.

On Feb. 17, 2005, about 1 p.m., Compean and Ramos were on duty along the U.S.-Mexico border when they observed a suspicious vehicle - a van that turned out to be loaded with 700 pounds of marijuana.

The driver - later identified as Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila - jumped out of the vehicle and tried to run back into Mexico.

Ramos and Compean testified they made a point of looking at the suspect's hands and saw no weapon. Compean fired at least 14 rounds and Ramos fired once.

Ramos wounded the suspect and saw him limp into Mexico. The agents collected the shell casings and filed false reports, trying to cover up the incident.

The case has become a cause célèbre for radio talk-show hosts, anti-immigrant groups, congressional Republicans, Minuteman vigilantes and cable television talkers with a knack for turning ranting into ratings.

The convictions also have been sucked into the wind tunnel of the immigration debate and turned Republican hard-liners into bleeding hearts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


A Great Colonial Escape (FRANCIS MORRONE, February 16, 2007, NY Sun)

George Washington was a Virginian, but New York was a central city in his life. At the start of the revolution, the British made it a priority to take New York. They wanted it for its harbor, and because it separated the northern from the southern colonies. The Continental Congress had made Washington, a hero of the French and Indian War, commander of Continental forces. He attempted to defend New York from the British, who, in a muscle-flexing gesture, sent to New York Harbor the largest fleet any nation had ever sent to a foreign port. The British, aided by Hessian mercenaries, routed the colonials in the Battle of Brooklyn at the end of August 1776. Remarkably, Washington and most of his troops got away, across the East River to Manhattan, under the cover of fog, on August 31. In September and October Washington kept his headquarters at the commandeered home of a former British officer named Roger Morris.

Today we call the house the Morris-Jumel Mansion. [...]

The clapboarded house is a beauty of Georgian architecture, with a marvelous four-columned portico surmounted by a broad triangular pediment, and with lovely rooftop balustrades. The grounds steadily yielded to development. In 1882, for example, the very unusual street of wooden row houses, Sylvan Terrace, rose just to the west of the mansion.

The mansion is maintained as a historic house museum, and is a must to visit, especially as it can be combined with visits to other nearby Harlem attractions. Today from noon to 4 p.m. the museum is hosting a "Washington's Birthday Celebration," with music, talks, demonstrations, and refreshments. Call 212-923-8008. Normal hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Mondays and Tuesdays when the house is open by appointment only.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Emerging economies are edging further out of the wilderness: US dominance had more to do with European failure than with a new lease of life within the US economy (Stephen King, 05 February 2007, Independent)

If there's a lesson from my Bulgarian trip, it's that Bulgarians - and presumably many others who lived in repressive regimes - were desperate to emulate western lifestyles. Given the opportunity, they would happily consume all manner of products, even at ridiculously inflated prices or, in the case of my jeans, with worryingly poor standards of hygiene.

The end of this repression has unleashed a huge wage of additional demand in the global economy that is changing the balance of economic power across nations. Every year, as previously repressed economies make further steps out of the economic wilderness, economic relationships change. One consequence of this has been the declining relevance of the United States.

This is not to say that the US is unimportant. Rather, the global economy no longer depends on the US for its momentum. Last year, the US housing market collapsed. As a result, US domestic demand and import growth came in below economists' expectations.

Now, imagine you are a rather unusual economist, someone who is able to look at future domestic US economic developments with perfect foresight, but who has no more knowledge than anyone else about the rest of the world. What would you do armed with information that told you that US domestic demand was going to be disappointingly weak? I'd imagine you'd be tempted to slash your export forecasts for America's main trading partners. The next step would be to use those export downgrades to predict income losses and, hence, weaker consumption and investment elsewhere in the world. It wouldn't be long before you'd be worrying about a global economic downturn.

Last year, your perfect foresight would have been of no help at all. Although US demand was weaker than expected, the rest of the world absolutely boomed. US national income was still able to rise by a healthy 3.4 per cent because US exports were lifted by strong consumption and investment demand elsewhere in the world.

And who was doing all this spending? Out of the top 10 destinations for US export growth, five - Mexico, China, South Korea, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates - were emerging markets. Mexico's and China's contributions were double those of Germany and the UK, eight times bigger than those of France and 16 times bigger than Italy's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Jimmy Carter's Jewish Problem (Jason Maoz, November 22, 2006, Jewish Press)

In The Unfinished Presidency, his book about Carter's post-White House activities, the liberal historian Douglas Brinkley provides a detailed account of the former president's obsession with helping Palestinian terror chief Yasir Arafat polish his image. Carter, according to Brinkley, regularly advised Arafat on how to shape his message for Western journalists and even wrote some speeches for him.

Carter was also a vocal critic of Israeli policies and "view[ed] the unarmed young Palestinians who stood up against thousands of Israel soldiers as 'instant heroes,' " wrote Brinkley. "Buoyed by the intifada, Carter passed on to the Palestinians, through Arafat, his congratulations."

Former New York mayor Ed Koch, in his 1984 bestseller Mayor, recounted a conversation he had shortly before the 1980 election with Cyrus Vance, who'd recently resigned as Carter's secretary of state. Koch told Vance that many Jews would not be voting for Carter because they feared "that if he is reelected he will sell them out."

"Vance," recalled Koch, "nodded and said, 'He will.' "

In Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn revealed that during a March 1980 meeting with his senior political advisers, Carter, discussing his fading reelection prospects and his sinking approval rating in the Jewish community, snapped, "If I get back in, I'm going to [expletive] the Jews."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Egypt cracks down on Muslim Brotherhood: The banned group had been grudgingly tolerated, but regional chaos creates an opportunity for Mubarak's regime (Megan K. Stack and Noha el Hennawy, February 16, 2007, LA Times)

Egypt's regime is seizing upon a moment of regional chaos and U.S. inattention to crack down aggressively on the country's most popular opposition group and shore up its hold on power, analysts here say.

In a bald push against the Muslim Brotherhood, the secular government in recent weeks has arrested hundreds of activists, unveiled new restrictions on political Islam and published a stream of anti-Brotherhood propaganda in the state-run media. More than 80 members were jailed on Thursday alone, Brotherhood officials said.

"This is the most brutal campaign against the Brothers since [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak came to power," said Amr Shobaki, a political analyst and Muslim Brotherhood expert at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

With the U.S. distracted by the war in Iraq and increasingly nervous about the regional rise of political Islam, Mubarak's regime appears free to squeeze the Brotherhood, which has long been officially outlawed -- though tolerated -- as an Islamist opposition force.

President Bush's drive for democracy in the Middle East can not be squared with his short-sighted intolerance of political Islam.

What the West Can Learn From Islam (TARIQ RAMADAN, 2/16/07, The Chronicle Review)

We in the West have entered a phase of transition, fraught with tension. Just as it is true that our societies must make major adjustments, it is equally essential that Muslims, who have been residing in the West for several generations, respond clearly to the challenges of the modern, secularized societies in which they have chosen to make their homes. For the last 20 years, I have been focusing my efforts on the ways that Muslims can live their lives in the West, becoming Western Muslims: Muslims by religion; American, British, French, German by culture.

To promote that view, I have found it necessary to revisit the Islamic scriptural sources. Some of what we highlight today as core principles of Islam derive from the specific cultures of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia; we read our texts mainly against the backdrop of a period, since the 13th century, when Muslims in those areas were struggling against Western aggression. They emphasized withdrawing from the taint of the West and drew a border between two different worlds: "the abode of Islam" and "the abode of war." That polarized understanding of the world, which relies on a specific reading of only some verses of the Quran and of Prophetic traditions, is outdated.

In my work of the last several years, including To Be a European Muslim (published in 1997 in Europe by the Islamic Foundation) and Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (published in French in 2003 and in English by Oxford University Press in 2004), I have examined the key factors leading to confusion in the minds of Muslims about living between one's culture of origin and Islamic principles. I have attempted to show that one can be entirely European, or American, and Muslim (that is why I have written my books in Western languages). We all possess multiple identities, and we must, as a matter of necessity, put forward the values we share with our Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and atheist fellow citizens of our secularized societies. Social justice, for example, is essential. As the Quran mentions: "God commands you to be just." So, too, rereading the scriptures sheds light on a concept of the citizen's attitude toward the state that is compatible with modern life in the West: The Quran reinforces the idea of consultation when it speaks of the shura, which could be a council of advisers to the government: "The Muslims are those who consult each other regarding their affair." The idea of consultation is also at the heart of Western democracy, and readers of the sources of Western tradition and of Islamic tradition may be surprised to find that the two are not so far different from each other.

We must turn our backs on a vision that posits "us" against "them" and understand that our shared citizenship is the key factor in building the society of the future together. We must move forward from integration -- simply becoming a member of a society -- to contribution -- to being proactive and offering something to the society.

Since September 11, the shift in outlook I call for has become even more urgent. Fear, the obsession with security, and more recently the Danish cartoon crisis over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and Pope Benedict XVI's remarks on Islam's "evil and inhuman" teachings have polarized the debate. In most Western societies, citizens increasingly speak in terms of us (Westerners) and them (Muslims) -- and vice versa.

Therefore I have also tried to tie rereading the scriptures to how, in practice, Muslims can contribute to and be more visible in debates on topics like education, social and urban policy, or marginalization. It is crucial that today's Western Muslims -- men and women -- make their voices heard on such issues; they must refuse to withdraw into religious, cultural, or social ghettos. They must no longer see themselves as a "minority." What I am calling for is an "ethics of citizenship" that would encourage Muslims to make their decisions as citizens in the name of shared principles (competence, integrity, justice, etc.), not solely based on their religious identity.

At the grass-roots level, a "silent revolution" is already taking place in Muslim communities. In everyday life, millions of women and men are building connecting passageways; committing themselves at the social, political, and cultural level; giving shape to a new "we." Muslims have been active, for example, in helping to produce and circulate the Rotterdam Charter. Initiated in 1996 in the Netherlands, and now being circulated for adoption in European nations, the charter pledges to develop and improve police services for a multiethnic society. In London, citizens' groups from across the city are working to bring different communities together on common projects, including steps to end discrimination in the job market and in housing. The political debates and ideological confrontations among Western elites fail to embrace those fascinating processes that are emerging at the local level and obscure the living dynamics of encounter and dialogue that are flourishing at the grass roots.

Those processes, which have been accelerating over the last 15 years, are of enormous importance for the contemporary Muslim conscience. On the theoretical and juridical level, they oblige Muslim scholars (ulema) to return to the founding texts to derive new ways of understanding, fresh responses to the challenges of our age. Indeed, as American and European Muslims in the heart of our industrialized, postmodern societies confront complex scientific, economic, political, and cultural issues, they are not finding the answers they seek from the intellectual output of the ulema living in societies where Muslims form a majority. As a result, for the first time, we are witnessing the reversal of a trend: Western Muslims -- by necessity of their environments, their new understandings, and their new initiatives -- are beginning to have an influence on traditional Muslim societies. Ideas of civil society, of citizenship, of democracy, and of relations with Western secularized or non-Muslim societies are now openly discussed in many parts of the Muslim world; Western Muslims and those living in countries where Muslims are in the majority share in the central debate over what rights and freedoms citizens have. It is, I believe, clear that the experience of Muslims in the West has, and will increasingly have, an impact on traditional Muslim societies.,/blockquote>

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Anger at France drives Rwanda into arms of the Commonwealth: French are the ones who trained the militias even after genocide started, President Kagame tells The Times (Jonathan Clayton, 2/16/07, Times of London)

Paul Kagame, the Rwandan President, says that his country will cement its bitter divorce from France and the French-speaking world, which he holds responsible for the 1994 slaughter of up to one million of his countrymen, by joining the Commonwealth later year.

"There are many benefits for us in joining the Commonwealth -- cultural, economic, political," he told The Times.

Mr Kagame has been invited to attend the next Commonwealth summit as an observer. "I hope they will then approve our membership. I am looking forward to it."

Mr Kagame, a lanky former guerrilla fighter with an austere manner, rarely shows any emotion. But the softly-spoken 50-year-old struggles to contain his anger when discussing France in Africa. "They are the ones who armed and trained the militias . . . the evidence is everywhere. They continued to do so even after the genocide started," he said.

France in bid to salvage waning ties to Africa: France is hosting its 24th Franco-African summit this week as critics slam its role in the region (Scott Baldauf, 2/16/07, The Christian Science Monitor)
[A]t a time of increasing competition from Chinese, American, Indian, and South African players in search of African resources, France is finding that "la francophonie" - the language, culture, and history it shares with its former colonies - is a harder sell. France is also fending off increased criticism over its tendency to put relations with allied African regimes above good governance.

"France has traditionally had difficulty letting go of its colonies, and has meddled heavily and propped up its former colonies," says Ross Herbert, a political analyst at the South African Institute for International Affairs in Johannesburg. As a result, "Francophone countries in Africa have largely delayed the kinds of political reforms that English-speaking countries did 15 years ago, and so you see a lot of anti-democratic behavior prevailing among their leaders, and corruption, and economic and political decay."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM



Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign reached a deal to pay a key South Carolina black leader's consulting firm more than $200,000 just days before he agreed to endorse her run for president, it was revealed yesterday.

The arrangement involves South Carolina state Sen. Darrell Jackson, a well-connected African-American leader and pastor whose support is coveted by national campaigns. [...]

Jackson had also been in talks with Sen. Barack Obama's campaign about endorsing him and entering into a consulting contract for more than $5,000, sources said - raising questions about whether Jackson's endorsement was bought by a higher bidder.

Really? Who questions it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 AM


Vietnamese minced pork with lemongrass and shrimp sauce (San Jose Mercury News)

1/4 cup canola or other neutral oil
1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground pork, coarsely chopped to loosen
12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into pea-sized pieces
3 hefty or 5 medium stalks lemongrass, trimmed and minced (about 1 cup)
4 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons fine shrimp sauce diluted with 1/4 cup water (see Note)
2 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
1 small English cucumber or 2 pickling (Kirby) cucumbers, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced

In 12-inch skillet, heat oil and red chile flakes over medium heat. When oil becomes fragrant and pale orange, add garlic and saute for about 30 seconds or until aromatic. Add pork and use a large slotted spoon to stir, poke and break it into small pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes, or until meat has lost most of its pink color.

Add shrimp and lemongrass and give the mixture a big stir to incorporate. Sprinkle in the sugar, pour in shrimp sauce, and let mixture cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Stir it frequently and splash in some water whenever the skillet seems dry or if caramelized bits are sticking to the bottom. You want an intensely spicy, salty flavor, so don't add too much water. The mixture should gently sizzle as it cooks. This dish is done when the pork has turned reddish brown.

Remove from heat and stir in peanuts. Transfer to serving plate or shallow bowl and sprinkle on sesame seeds. Garnish with cucumber slices or place them alongside, and then serve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies (Richard Smith, May 17, 2005, PLoS Med)

The most conspicuous example of medical journals' dependence on the pharmaceutical industry is the substantial income from advertising, but this is, I suggest, the least corrupting form of dependence. The advertisements may often be misleading and the profits worth millions, but the advertisements are there for all to see and criticise. Doctors may not be as uninfluenced by the advertisements as they would like to believe, but in every sphere, the public is used to discounting the claims of advertisers.

The much bigger problem lies with the original studies, particularly the clinical trials, published by journals. Far from discounting these, readers see randomised controlled trials as one of the highest forms of evidence. A large trial published in a major journal has the journal's stamp of approval (unlike the advertising), will be distributed around the world, and may well receive global media coverage, particularly if promoted simultaneously by press releases from both the journal and the expensive public-relations firm hired by the pharmaceutical company that sponsored the trial. For a drug company, a favourable trial is worth thousands of pages of advertising, which is why a company will sometimes spend upwards of a million dollars on reprints of the trial for worldwide distribution. The doctors receiving the reprints may not read them, but they will be impressed by the name of the journal from which they come. The quality of the journal will bless the quality of the drug.

Fortunately from the point of view of the companies funding these trials--but unfortunately for the credibility of the journals who publish them--these trials rarely produce results that are unfavourable to the companies' products. Paula Rochon and others examined in 1994 all the trials funded by manufacturers of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for arthritis that they could find. They found 56 trials, and not one of the published trials presented results that were unfavourable to the company that sponsored the trial. Every trial showed the company's drug to be as good as or better than the comparison treatment.

By 2003 it was possible to do a systematic review of 30 studies comparing the outcomes of studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry with those of studies funded from other sources. Some 16 of the studies looked at clinical trials or meta-analyses, and 13 had outcomes favourable to the sponsoring companies. Overall, studies funded by a company were four times more likely to have results favourable to the company than studies funded from other sources. In the case of the five studies that looked at economic evaluations, the results were favourable to the sponsoring company in every case.

The evidence is strong that companies are getting the results they want, and this is especially worrisome because between two-thirds and three-quarters of the trials published in the major journals--Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Lancet, and New England Journal of Medicine--are funded by the industry. For the BMJ, it's only one-third--partly, perhaps, because the journal has less influence than the others in North America, which is responsible for half of all the revenue of drug companies, and partly because the journal publishes more cluster-randomised trials (which are usually not drug trials).

Why Do Pharmaceutical Companies Get the Results They Want?

Why are pharmaceutical companies getting the results they want? Why are the peer-review systems of journals not noticing what seem to be biased results? The systematic review of 2003 looked at the technical quality of the studies funded by the industry and found that it was as good--and often better--than that of studies funded by others. This is not surprising as the companies have huge resources and are very familiar with conducting trials to the highest standards.

The companies seem to get the results they want not by fiddling the results, which would be far too crude and possibly detectable by peer review, but rather by asking the "right" questions--and there are many ways to do this.

Experiments will produce any result the experimenter wishes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Law & order -- and Eternity (Rabbi Berel Wein, 2/16/07, JewishWorldReview.com)

Judaism is primarily a society of laws and not of men. It is possibly the first society in human history that stressed the primacy of law over the rule of humans, no matter how righteous and benign that rule may be. In Jewish life, law reigns supreme. Judaism is a religion of Halacha. Within that field of Halacha there is room for opinion and innovation, but there is no possibility to leave that field and decide matters on the basis of personal whim or set agenda.

The Torah portion of Mishpatim follows immediately after the weekly reading that described the giving of the Torah to Israel at Mount Sinai. This juxtaposition is to reinforce this idea of the supremacy of the law in a Torah society. There is no absolute freedom for leaders and rulers to do as they wish, to institute norms that are contrary to the laws and values of the Torah itself. The law of the Torah reigns supreme in Jewish life. There may unfortunately be lawbreakers in Jewish life, just as there are in all societies. But that in no way diminishes the supremacy of Torah law and its discipline on Jews.

That's the theory anyway. Their voting Democrat disproves it though.

February 15, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


Citizens' Groups Take Root Across China (HOWARD W. FRENCH, 2/15/07, NY Times)

In 15 years, China has gone from having virtually no independent groups of any kind to more than 300,000 nongovernmental organizations, by official count. But that understates the true number. Counting unregistered groups, some estimates place the number as high as two million.

As Mr. Du's experience attests, such activism has spread out of the big cities and well beyond the intellectual class that gave rise to the movement in the early 1990s. It has done so by taking on what were less risky issues like environmental protection and avoiding overt challenges to the government, like those that led to the Tiananmen Square massacre.

This explosion has begun to change the relationship between citizens and the government. Many activists say it has gradually pushed the authoritarian system in the direction of greater openness and accountability.

It has also aroused strong concerns within the government, with some officials warning that nongovernmental organizations could become Trojan horses for Western-style democratization.

Although they rarely use the word Western to describe their inspiration, many people in the movement acknowledge that gradual democratization is precisely the point.

"In the past, all decisions were made according to the government's sole judgment," said Wang Yongchen, a co-founder of the Green Earth Volunteers, one of the oldest organizations. "What we're saying is not only the government, but the nongovernment sector, too, should participate in decision making so that broader public interests can be reflected in decisions."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


Sadr orders militia heads out of Iraq : president (Ross Colvin, 2/15/07, Reuters)

Radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered heads of his Mehdi Army militia to leave Iraq and asked the government to arrest "outlaws" under a U.S.-backed crackdown, Iraq's president said on Thursday.

President Jalal Talabani made the remarks after Iraq closed its borders with Iran and Syria and as U.S. and Iraqi troops tightened their grip on Baghdad, searching neighborhoods and setting up checkpoints that searched even official convoys.

Baghdad sweep targets Sunni strongholds (BRIAN MURPHY, 2/15/07, Associated Press)
Most of the latest resistance has come from Sunni factions, which perceive their
Saddam Hussein-era influence slipping away as the majority Shiites extend their political muscle and bolster ties to powerful Iran.

In Baghdad's Dora neighborhood -- a longtime Sunni militant hotbed -- two parked cars wired with explosives were triggered as a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol rolled past. The convoy was unharmed, but the blast killed at least four civilians and wounded 15.

Control of the Dora district, a once upscale neighborhood favored by Saddam's regime, is important as a gateway between Baghdad and the Shiite-dominated south. Two other car bomb blasts came as security forces moved through the capital, killing at least three civilians.

Outside Baghdad, troops also faced Sunni ambushes. In Buhriz, about 30 miles northeast of the capital, Sunni gunmen and soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment engaged in a 20-minute firefight.

U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles fired 25mm rounds into homes shielding the gunmen, said an Associated Press reporter traveling with the unit.

No U.S. casualties were reported, and the militant toll was not known. Separately, however, a U.S. Marine was killed in combat in Iraq's western Anbar province, a Sunni militant stronghold.

Even the first steps of the security operation display the sectarian divides complicating any plan to calm Baghdad -- which is key to begin stabilizing the rest of the country.

A leader of the main Sunni bloc in parliament, Adnan al-Dulaimi, claimed the U.S.-led sweeps have "started to attack" mostly Sunni areas. "It should concentrate on those who are perpetrating the violence and terrorist acts in all districts," he said -- an apparent reference to the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City.

Kinda slow on the uptake there, fella.

Iraqi terror leader reported wounded (CNN, 2/15/07)

The leader of al Qaeda in Iraq has been wounded and his top aide killed in a clash with police, an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman told CNN Thursday.

Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf said Iraqi police got into a firefight with insurgents on the road between Falluja, west of Baghdad, and Samarra, north of Baghdad, and wounded Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Abu Abdullah al-Majamiai, al-Masri's top aide, was killed, he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Protector of the free world deserves better: Anti-Americanism has a long pedigree, but that only makes it more irrational (Janet Albrechtsen, February 14, 2007, The Australian)

[T]he problem with what Martin Amis calls the rodeo of anti-Americanism drawing crowds across the globe is that the antagonism is fuelled not just by what America does but also, in no small part, by what America is. It's here that rationality vanishes among even the most intelligent Westerners. British author Margaret Drabble summed it up thus: "My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me like a disease. It rises in my throat like acid reflux."

Actually, it's more akin to reflex than reflux. And a new book on anti-Americanism in Europe offers an insight into the reflexive hatred of the US: a hatred that has travelled beyond its traditional home of European elites.

Andrei S. Markovits, author of Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, is no neo-con Bush cheerleader. Markovits told The Australian he is a card-carrying progressive signing up to every seminal Left issue. But he cannot stomach the toxic anti-Americanism, a staple of his side of politics. [...]

Anti-Americanism has less to do with US politics and policies and more to do with what Markovits calls the "perfectly respectable human need to hate the big guy". Half a century ago, Hannah Arendt commented on the same psychology of mistrust aimed at the US. It was, she said, the inevitable plight of the big, rich guy to be alternately flattered and abused, remaining unpopular no matter how generous they were.

And so Norwegian Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun hated the US for being too big and too fast. Anti-Americanism has morphed into a desire to bring America to heel, something that coincides with the goal of Islamists.

Given that we're getting huger and they're all shrinking, bring the hate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


Coming up from the bottom: The present regime has made things a bit better for Afghanistan's underclass (The Economist, Feb 15th 2007)

"WHEN God created the donkey, the Hazaras wept," runs a particularly heartless Afghan saying. Historically the servant underclass, the Hazaras, who are members of the Shia Muslim minority and have a distinctive Central Asian look, have long been the butt of such jibes. Nowadays it is a little different. A painting in the office of Hussain Yasa, the editor of Outlook Afghanistan, a magazine, depicts the stereotypical Hazara man: a threadbare street porter. Yet the basket on his back is laden not with the usual wood or cement, but with a computer and dangling mouse.

The Hazaras thank the present Afghan regime of Hamid Karzai, the president, for their better times. In Khair Khana, a bomb-scarred suburb of western Kabul that is a Hazara enclave, the enthusiasm for his administration and its Western allies is far from the jaded cynicism displayed by most Afghans. Many Hazaras, such as Ghulam Abas, an oil-smeared fuel salesman, wish Mr Karzai a long life, thanking him that the Hazaras for the first time enjoy theoretical, if not yet actual, equality.

Afghanistan's new constitution accepts Shia Islam as a state religion, and gives all Afghans equal legal status, including the right to hold public office and to live and work where they want. As late as the 1970s, Hazaras were still banned from the army officer corps. They have been largely confined to Bamiyan, a marginal and backward province, since the 1880s.

"In terms of the law we now have equality," says Mohammad Mohaqeq, the Hazaras' political leader, "but it will take at least another ten years to destroy anti-Hazara sentiment."

The Kite Runner offers a especially affecting portrait of the way Hazaras have been considered sub-human by even the most decent Sunni Afghans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


The lady in red: The Socialist candidate emerges in her true colours (The Economist, Feb 15th 2007)

SEGOLENE ROYAL, the French Socialist presidential candidate, is trying to pull off a heroic political trick. She wants to appear to be modern, fresh and different. But she is all the while leaning on old-style socialist policies that have been ditched by almost every other mainstream left-wing party in Europe.

The contradiction was exposed last weekend in a packed conference hall outside Paris, where Ms Royal finally unveiled her "presidential pact". The event was designed to show that she does politics differently. It was the conclusion of her "listening phase", during which more than 6,000 town-hall meetings were organised across France and 135,000 contributions posted on her website. She talked in modernising terms, of a new France, of research and of innovation. Instead of citing the great intellectual heroes of the left, she spoke of "Odile, a single mother", "Karim from Toulon" and Diam's, a French rapper. Rather than lecturing her supporters, she gave them cute, homespun encouragement: "I want for every child born here what I wanted for my own children."

Yet the 100 detailed policies that Ms Royal unveiled to steer France down this soft-focus path amounted, in the main, to a long wishlist of spending pledges, with little explanation as to how any of them would be paid for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Why is a barren Chinese mountain being painted green? (The Associated Press, February 14, 2007)

Villagers in southwestern China are puzzled by a county government's decision to paint an entire barren mountainside green.

Workers who began spraying Laoshou mountain in August told villagers that they were doing so on orders of the county government but were not told why, media reports said Wednesday.

Easier than growing trees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:09 PM


We are asking the wrong questions of Iran (Rageh Omaar, 19 February 2007, New Statesman)

Some facts: two-thirds of this population of 70 million are under 30 years old. Iran is one of the youngest countries on earth. It is also one of the oldest civilisations on earth. The Islamic revolution led by Khomeini is only 28 years old. This means that the overwhelming majority of Iranians have no recollection of what life was like under the shah. They cannot remember the rejection of that period by their parents' generation, and they have grown up knowing only the edicts of the Islamic Republic.

Like young people anywhere, they are restless, ambitious, unpredictable and often courageous in the face of authority. The ideas and grievances on which the revolution was built mean little to them. In the face of this, Iran's theocracy, more than any other regime in the Middle East - more even than pro-western states such as Jordan and Egypt - has been held up to scrutiny and challenge and has undergone incremental but profound change.

Some of the changes may have been unintentional, but they are irreversible. Most of Iran's university entrants are women and the country has a literacy rate comparable with Britain's. In the 1980s, the Islamic authorities wanted to bring the kind of university education enjoyed by urban elites to provincial communities. The effect was that the more conservative and traditional families suddenly felt more at ease with sending their daughters to all-female colleges. The effect has been dramatic, raising the visibility of women in the workplace.

Most foreign news coverage of Iran has focused on political and military developments. But delve deeper into society, and it is not hard to find myriad vivid snapshots of life. These give the lie to the stereotype of the dark, forbidding and hostile society. Consider: more plastic surgery operations are carried out in Tehran than in Los Angeles, and drug addiction is openly recognised (a taboo in other Middle Eastern Muslim countries). There are two million heroin addicts in Iran and a large number of independent drug rehab charities helping them. There is a similar story with HIV. Iran has one of the largest non-governmental networks of charities and aid agencies in the Middle East, working beyond state control on anything from child labour to girls' education.

Everyone recognizes now that Mahmoud's days are numbered, but it was revealing that even in the first flush of power he understood himself to be too weak to roll back the social liberation of the Khatami years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM


Best Outfield Arms of 2006 (John Walsh, February 15, 2007, Hardball Times)

Last year I developed a method for evaluating outfield arms, which you can read about here and here. The first article has all the gory details of the methodology, here is the short, painless version: using play-by-play data, I consider five different situations when an outfielder's throwing ability comes into play:

1. Single with runner on first base (second base unoccupied).
2. Double with runner on first base.
3. Single with runner on second base.
4. Fly out with runner on third base, fewer than two outs.
5. Fly out with runner on second base, fewer than two outs (third base unoccupied).

For those plays, I add up how often the runner is thrown out or how often the runner is "held," i.e. prevented from taking the extra base. A comparison with league average allows me to rate the outfielder's arm.

By the way, I used this same method to rank the arms of outfielders from the full Retrosheet era, which roughly covers the years from Roberto Clemente through Juan Pierre. Actually, the rankings pretty much go from Clemente to Pierre, as well. Anyway, if you enjoy this kind of thing, the article appears in The Hardball Times Annual 2007, so be sure to check it out.

That historical analysis may be trhe best thing in what is a very fine Annual generally.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:53 PM


Ports Deal Could Fail, Say Top Execs (Neil King Jr., 2/15/07, Wall Street Journal)

The two top executives behind the controversial effort to have Dubai Ports World divest its U.S. holdings warn in a barbed letter today that an unprecedented $84 million approval fee being requested by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey will doom the sale.

Dubai Ports World is trying to end a long-running political saga by selling its U.S. holdings at six major U.S. ports to AIG Global Investment Group, but the Port Authority threw a wrench in the deal this week by demanding an $84 million payment to approve the lease transfer for the port of New York/New Jersey.

Just drop the deal. No one cares any more. That emotion wore off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Son King: Further confirmation that the wrong Bush brother was
elected president : a review of Jeb by S.V. Date (Phillip Longman, Washington Monthly)

Dáte, who covered and clashed with Bush for seven years as a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, makes no pretext of neutrality. That's okay by me. It's his book, and there's plenty about Jeb Bush and his policies to dislike, including his disdainful treatment of the reporters seeking access to public documents. But Dáte is much better at setting down facts than he is at making consistent formulations about their meaning. At one point, for example, he tells us that not only was Bush intent on favoring business and dismantling Florida's government, he also "tried to run Florida like it was the Soviet Russia." Don't you hate those Communist dictators who favor business?

Still, Dáte wants people to read his book, and that means he has to convince us that Bush's record and character are strong enough that he just might wind up being elected president despite his older brother's seeming ruination of the family name. The result is an imperative to build Jeb up as presidential material while also tearing him down. This, plus Dáte's simple sloppiness in making his charges, leads to a series of what might be called "backhanded insults," derogatory assertions that Dáte formulates in such a way that the more you think about them the more you cannot help but see them as compliments.

For example, one of Dáte's major themes is that Jeb is dangerously arrogant. Indeed, according to Dáte, the enormity of his ego is such that he doesn't let himself get pushed around by campaign contributors. "Jeb personally does not go out of his way to reward political donors with contracts or anything else," Dáte tells us, "because he truly believes he is doing us all a favor by serving as our leader." Gee, does that mean Jeb's an honest politician? [...]

Even in trying to question Jeb's commitment to public life, Dáte winds up complimenting him. Dáte writes of Bush, "If he truly wanted to be a public servant, he would be angling to run FEMA. His experience in Florida suggests he would be good at it, and God knows the nation needs someone good in that job."

If there is a smoking gun in the book, I can't find it. Bush exploited changes in the state constitution that gave him far more executive power than any previous Florida governor. This power was what allowed him to take on bold (if often, in my view, misguided) efforts at revamping Florida's education system, including a rigorous standardized testing program passed before No Child Left Behind. His enhanced constitutional powers were not enough to keep the courts from ultimately striking down his equally bold school voucher and charter school initiatives, but they were sufficient to allow Jeb to privatize many other state functions, from processing Medicaid third-party payments to collecting highway tolls and managing the state lottery. For better or for worse, Jeb Bush shook up Florida's government and many of its entrenched special interests and power centers.

All this made him a lot of enemies in the legislature. And the press had to get used to working with a strong governor who didn't have to rely much on their approval. But that doesn't make Jeb a dictator. Indeed, after years of watching Florida's elected cabinet members get captured by the special interests they regulated, I'm glad Florida's governor now gets to appoint his own education secretary, for example, as well as his own comptroller and bank examiners, even if I disagree with this particular governor's choices and policies. In allowing for a strong executive, Florida is simply overcoming its Confederate past and becoming like most other states.

He's the 800 lb. gorilla in the '08 campaign -- a candidate who is all strengths and no weaknesses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM

GIANTS IN THOSE DAYS (via David Cohen)

Margaret Thatcher's life in the shadows (Geoffrey Levy, 15th February 2007, Daily Mail)

At the House of Commons, in just under a week's time, Margaret Thatcher -- who so significantly transformed the fortunes of this country and the world -- will come face to face with herself in the form of a 7ft 6in statue in the Members' Lobby.

For this extraordinary woman, who still remains the butt of the sniggering classes after leading the country for 11-and-a-half years, the unveiling will be 'a 2 proud and moving moment', according to her friend and former Cabinet colleague Norman (now Lord) Tebbit.

Everyone is hoping that Lady Thatcher, 81, will be having one of her 'good days' as the Speaker of the House, Michael Martin, hosts a reception and leads the toasts in his state rooms.

What a pity it will be if she is having one of her 'bad days' and the significance of the honour that is being paid to Britain's only woman prime minister by her peers -- an honour that cheap-jack critics loudly opposed -- passes her by.

Some 16 years after her own cowardly senior colleagues pushed her from office, and with her short-term memory these days a shadow of the ferocious recall that terrorised opponents, she remains sadly uncertain of her place in the hearts of the British people. As she sits at home in Chester Square, Belgravia, reading a little and watching TV, images of her great days still flit across the deep recesses of that once formidable mind. [....]

Is her resentment over the way she was treated still there? 'I don't think you could ever get over what happened to her,' murmurs Lord Tebbit, who supported her against the putsch. 'It was very cruel.'

Carol Thatcher, her journalist daughter, says: 'I know how strongly she felt for years afterwards about being betrayed. I don't think she got over it, but I think she's probably come to terms with it. It was awful. Treachery festers in your DNA.'

It was not only treachery, but probably stupidity too, since, without her, the Tories were soon floundering and then sinking almost without trace in three thumping General Election defeats.

Meanwhile, many of the policies in which Thatcher believed and which brought her into conflict with some of her own Cabinet (such as the importance of retaining British sovereignty over our own laws and borders and not joining the euro) are espoused by practically everybody these days.

She can console herself with the curious fact that, in the long run, she has turned out to be the more influential political figure than even her great friend, Ronald Reagan. The modern politics of the Anglosphere revolves, to a stunning degree, around a consensus Thatcherism.

What do we owe to Thatcherite economics? (James Arnold, 5/06/04, BBC News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


Gitmo detainees are not ordinary felons: David Hicks should not be returned to Australia for trial before a regular criminal court (Jeremy Rabkin, February 16, 2007, The Australian)

Now that the Prime Minister has broken the ice, let me return the favour by voicing some exasperation at what some of your Opposition Labor politicians, such as shadow attorney-general Kelvin Thomson, and even federal Liberal backbenchers such as Michael Johnson and Don Randall, are saying about the case of David Hicks. [...]

Trials by military commissions were not invented from whole cloth by the Bush administration. They were used in the aftermath of World WarII to try war criminals such as General Tomoyuki Yamashita for Japanese atrocities in The Philippines. Military commissions were used in the American Civil War, among other things for the trial of Abraham Lincoln's (civilian) assassins. Even the Geneva Conventions, in provisions applicable to prisoners covered by all its protections, authorise trial of prisoners by military tribunals when they are accused of special offences. They do not impose many definite procedural requirements for such trials.

In its ruling last year in Hamdan v Rumsfeld, the US Supreme Court held that trials at Guantanamo should conform to the general provision in the Geneva Conventions applying to "armed conflict not of an international character": to conflicts where the rest of the conventions' protections do not apply.

That provision (in Article 3) prohibits "passing of sentences ... without ... affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognised as indispensable by civilised peoples". Quite a few aspects of ordinary criminal procedure might be judged as less than indispensable, as all the justices agreed.

The serious questions here are inevitably rather technical. [...]

Before critics get too worked up, they might recall that the problems here are not unique to US military trials. Compromises with normal procedure have characterised international war crimes trials, too, starting with the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals in 1946, where, among other things, defendants were made to answer for some crimes only defined as such in retrospect. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has, on several occasions, protected witnesses by shielding their identities from defendants.

Whatever happens to Hicks, we are not likely to see the end of the terror threat any time soon. If critics insist that justice and security point in entirely opposite directions, they shouldn't be confident that governments - and voters - will always give priority to their notions of perfect justice.

Or ever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Afghanistan: Winning or losing? (Paul Reynolds, 2/15/07, BBC News)

After this onslaught, the audience at the International Institute for Strategic Studies might have expected a defensive display from Dr David Kilcullen, Chief Strategist in the Office of the Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism at the US State Department.

A former Lt Colonel in the Australian army, Dr Kilcullen has become influential in counter-insurgency thinking.

He presented a very different view of Afghanistan.

"The fundamentals, the bones of the situation, in Afghanistan are quite sound," he said.

"Challenges remain and will have to be tackled but the prospect for success remains good."

He said that the Taleban offensive of last year had failed. It had a narrow base of appeal and most Afghans supported the Karzai government.

He conceded that the Taleban were "the toughest enemy anywhere and I have seen the enemy up close. They are professional as a military force and also as a subversive force."

He also rejected the suggestion that opium production should be licensed.

A "hearts and minds" strategy, he said, did not mean that you simply had to be nice to the civilian population.

"You have to persuade their hearts that it is in their interest that you win but their minds that you will win. Gratitude does not work in Afghanistan. You have got to get them to make a choice.

"The Taleban has a political strategy of defending the poppy fields, in order to detach the people from the government and we have to counter that."

It was at times difficult to accept that the speakers were talking of the same country but Dr Kilcullen declared to a sceptical questioner: "I am not painting a rosy picture but simply the facts."

The main address of the day came from a senior British military figure who has had close knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan.

He spoke off the record so cannot be directly quoted but it would be fair to say that he, too, expressed some optimism about the future and seemed somewhat irritated that the media did not always share this.

However he also cautioned against over-optimism and pointed to a gap in Nato troop deployment along the Afghan side of the frontier with Pakistan, which allowed the Taleban to come and go.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Light is shed on darkest galaxies (BBC, 2/15/07)

The mystery of how the darkest galaxies in the Universe came to exist may have been solved by scientists. [...]

The scientists used computer simulations to uncover what might have happened 10 billion years ago as a gas-dominated dwarf galaxy hurtled into the orbit of a larger, Milky-Way-sized system.

Because we're all intelligent designists now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Research: Red-light cameras work (Larry Copeland, 2/15/07, USA TODAY)

Surveillance cameras at major intersections dramatically reduce the number of drivers who barrel through red lights, two new research reports say.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Dice-K investment already paying off (Jeff Horrigan, February 15, 2007, Boston Herald)

Details of the deal aren't being announced but the Red Sox [team stats] are already beginning to recoup a small part of their $103.2 million expenditure on Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Sox officially announced yesterday that they have entered into a partnership agreement with Funai Electric Company Ltd., that will allow for some prime exposure for the Osaka-based maker of televisions, cameras and electronic equipment in the North American market.

Funai will have a media presence during spring training and throughout the regular season.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Atlanta to raze most of its public housing complexes (S.A. REID, 02/14/07, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Atlanta is gearing up to raze nearly all of its remaining stock of aging, dilapidated multifamily complexes and two senior residences within the next several years.

The move will affect more than 3,000 units and 9,600 residents at a dozen properties as far flung as Leila Valley in far southeast Atlanta to Bankhead Courts near the Cobb County border.

Residents will be offered a variety of relocation options and long-term assistance that include federal rent-assistance vouchers good anywhere in the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Judge deals Libby a setback: Once-classified defense evidence cannot be presented because the former White House aide won't be testifying, the jurist rules (Richard B. Schmitt, February 15, 2007, LA Times)

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's decision not to testify in his perjury case damaged a key part of his defense Wednesday, when a federal judge ruled that his lawyers could not introduce once-classified details of his workload without Libby taking the witness stand.

The damage is obviously less severe than that which putting a guilty client on the stand would inflict.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Tehran's Iraq role unclear, U.S. now says: But Bush calls it irrelevant that no solid evidence links Iranian officials to alleged weapons aid (Borzou Daragahi and James Gerstenzang, February 15, 2007, LA Times)

U.S. officials from President Bush to a top general in Baghdad said Wednesday that there was no solid evidence that high-ranking officials in Iran had ordered deadly weapons to be sent to Iraq for use against American troops, backing away from claims made by military and intelligence officials in Baghdad this week.

Pretty bad when even he can't keep a straight face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


American leftists were Pol Pot's cheerleaders (Jeff Jacoby, April 30, 1998, Boston Globe)

On the campuses, in the media, and in Congress, it was taken on faith that a Khmer Rouge victory would bring peace and enlightened leadership to Cambodia.

``The growing hysteria of the administration's posture on Cambodia,'' declared Senator George McGovern, ``seems to me to reflect a determined refusal to consider what the fall of the existing government in Phnom Penh would actually mean. . . . We should be able to see that the kind of government which would succeed Lon Nol's forces would most likely be a government . . . run by some of the best-educated, most able intellectuals in Cambodia.''

Stanley Karnow, hailed nowadays as an authoritative Indochina historian, was quite sure that ``the `loss' of Cambodia would . . . be the salvation of the Cambodians.'' There was no point helping the noncommunist government survive, he wrote, ``since the rebels are unlikely to kill more innocent civilians than are being slaughtered by the rockets promiscuously hitting Phnom Penh.''

The New Republic told its readers that the ouster of Lon Nol should be of no concern, since ``the Cambodian people will finally be rescued from the horrors of a war that never really had any meaning.''

In Washington, then-Representative Christopher Dodd of Connecticut averred: ``The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambodian people is peace, not guns. And the best way to accomplish that goal is by ending military aid now.''

Was this willful blindness or mere stupidity? To believe that the Khmer Rouge would be good for Cambodia, one had to ignore everything the world had learned about communist brutality since 1917. How could intelligent Americans have said such things?

But they did, repeatedly.

In the news columns of The New York Times, the celebrated Sydney Schanberg wrote of Cambodians that ``it is difficult to imagine how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.'' He dismissed predictions of mass executions in the wake of a Khmer Rouge victory: ``It would be tendentious to forecast such abnormal behavior as national policy under a Communist government once the war is over.'' On April 13, 1975, Schanberg's dispatch from Phnom Penh was headlined, ``Indochina without Americans: for most, a better life.''

On the op-ed page, Anthony Lewis was calling ``the whole bloodbath debate unreal. What future could possibly be more terrible,'' he demanded, ``than the reality of what is happening to Cambodia now?''

As the death marches out of Phnom Penh proceeded, Lewis went on making excuses for the Khmer Rouge. He mused that it was ``the only way to start on their vision of a new society.'' Americans who objected were guilty of ``cultural arrogance, an imperial assumption, that . . . our way of life'' would be better.

The return to Year Zero is intellectualism par excellence, how could they not support it?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Hardaway comments honest but hate-filled (DAN LE BATARD, 2/15/07, MiamiHerald.com)

How do you deal with a gay teammate?

''First of all, I wouldn't want him on my team,'' former Miami Heat star Tim Hardaway said Wednesday. ``Second of all, if he was on my team, I'd really distance myself from him. I don't think he should be in the locker room when we are in the locker room. I wouldn't even be a part of that. . . . I'd ask for him to get traded. Something has to give. The majority of the players would ask for him to be traded, or they would want to get traded. Or just buy him out of his contract and let him go.''

But, Tim, you realize that's bigotry and homophobia?

''I hate gay people,'' Hardaway said in an interview on 790 The Ticket. ``I let it be known. I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. I don't like it. There shouldn't be a world for that or [a place] in the United States for it. I don't like it.''

There it is, ignorance and hatred without a filter, coming from one of the most popular players in Heat history. And Hardaway is hardly alone, even though he is the first to voice it so plainly since former player John Amaechi last week became the first former NBA player to come out of the closet.

Amaechi's response?

''I'm actually tempted to laugh,'' Amaechi said Wednesday. ``Finally, someone who is honest."

It is inappropriate to hate someone for their mental illness, so Mr. Hardaway should have been clearer about hating homosexuality rather than homosexuals, but it is pretty amusing to see how folks are reacting to the first honest comment about the whole Amaechi kerfuffle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Bipolar labels for children stir concern: Hull case highlights debate on diagnosis (Carey Goldberg, February 15, 2007, Boston Globe)

The case of Rebecca Riley highlights a hot debate in psychiatric circles over the growing number of children who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder -- a battle centered largely in Boston but affecting the treatment of young patients nationwide.

Riley, the Hull 4-year-old who died of an overdose of psychiatric medications, was exceptionally young when she was diagnosed, just 2 1/2. But among somewhat older children, the bipolar label has proliferated to the point that some psychiatrists now suspect the diagnosis may be sometimes misused, placing some children at unnecessary risk from the serious medications that usually follow.

Some? It's revealing that stories like this are followed several months later by similar ones about how pet owners are doing likewise to their dogs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Tapping Ahmadinejad's egg (Victor Davis Hanson, 2/15/07, Jewish World Review)

Imagine that Iran is a hardboiled egg with a thin shell. We should tap it lightly wherever we can -- until tiny fissures join and shatter the shell. [...]

[W]e should announce in advance that we don't want any bases in Iran, that we don't want its oil, and that we won't send American infantry there. That would preempt the tired charges of imperialism and colonialism. [...]

Let's also keep our distance and moderate our rhetoric. There's no reason to frighten average Iranians -- who may share our antipathy to their country's regime -- or to make therapeutic pleas to talk with those leaders in bunkers whom we know are our enemies.

Finally, and most importantly, Americans must conserve energy, gasify coal, diversify fuels, drill more petroleum and invent new energy sources. Only that can collapse the world price of petroleum.

When oil is priced at $60 a barrel, Ahmadinejad is a charismatic Third World benefactor who throws cash to every thug who wants a roadside bomb or shouldered-fired missile -- and has plenty of money to buy Pakistani, North Korean or Russian nuclear components. But when oil is $30 a barrel, Ahmadinejad will be despised by his own masses, who will become enraged as state-subsidized food and gas skyrocket, and scarce Iranian petrodollars are wasted on Hezbollah and Hamas.

None of these taps alone will fracture Iran and stop it from going nuclear. But all of them together might well crack Ahmadinejad's thin shell before he gets the bomb.

As their recent midterm election demonstrated, we can also exploit the fact of Iranian democracy as we spectacularly failed to do in their last presidential election. We and Ayatollah Khamenei will be making common (if unacknowledged) cause in coaxing reformers to return to the polls to elect new leadership.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM

SO IT'S ENTIRELY LEARNED (via The Other Brother)

Study finds out why it's gross to kiss your sister (Maggie Fox, February 14, 2007, Reuters)

Researchers who wanted to find out why it is not only taboo to kiss your sister, but also disgusting, said on Wednesday they have discovered why in a discovery that challenges some basic tenets of Freudian theory.

The instinct evolved naturally and cannot be taught, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides of the University of California Santa Barbara wrote in their report in the journal Nature.

Spending time in the same household and watching your mother care for your brother or sister is all it takes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Catholics set to pass Anglicans as leading UK church (Ruth Gledhill, 2/15/07, Times of London)

Roman Catholicism is set to become the dominant religion in Britain for the first time since the Reformation because of massive migration from Catholic countries across the world.

Catholic parishes will swell by hundreds of thousands over the next few years after managing years of decline, according to a new report, as both legal and illegal migrants enter the country.

February 14, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM

DONDE ESTA EL DINGUS? (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Maltese Falcon disappears in a real-life mystery: A thief takes a replica of the movie prop from a San Francisco eatery where Sam Spade, and his creator, dined (John M. Glionna, February 14, 2007, LA Times)

Call in the coppers, get Sam Spade on the case: The Maltese Falcon's gone again.

In a missing-bird caper reminiscent of the one that perplexed Dashiell Hammett's fictional sleuth, the owner of a landmark restaurant here is offering 25 Gs ($25,000) for a replica of the famed Maltese Falcon swiped from a locked display case over the weekend.

John Konstin, the owner of John's Grill, a nearly 100-year-old restaurant with a museum dedicated to the crime novelist, said the purloined plaster statuette and 15 rare books by and about Hammett that were also stolen are emotionally priceless.

After all, Spade was pretty good at finding the replica...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 PM


Europe could bridge the economic gap with the US - but there's no way without the will: The UK is only barely catching up. The rest are not only poorer but becoming even more poor (Hamish McRae, 15 February 2007, Independent)

Most European countries are still losing ground to the US in economic terms and most of those that are closing the gap are doing so very slowly. [...]

The benchmark is the US because it remains almost the richest country in the world in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per head and has almost the highest productivity per head. Only Luxembourg, which is tiny and has a special position within the EU, and Norway, which has oil, have higher GDP per head.

As for productivity, those two plus the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Ireland, are the only ones that have higher productivity per hour worked. Among those, Belgium and France have high unemployment (thereby excluding their less productive workers from the statistics), the Netherlands has high concealed unemployment and Ireland has benefited from massive high- productivity inward investment.

So the big picture remains that somehow or other the US is more productive than everywhere else. [...]

Most large European countries, with the exception of Spain and the UK, are not only poorer but have been losing ground - the UK is only barely catching up. The rest, including Italy, France and Germany, are not only poorer but becoming even more poor in relative terms.

This has obvious and alarming implications. If, for another generation, Europe falls further and further behind the US, its best and brightest young people are likely to want to emigrate. If the gap in wealth stays at 20-25 per cent or less maybe the social and cultural advantages of Europe are sufficient to retain talent. But if the living standards gap slips to 40 per cent or more, as it will do on present trends for Italy and Germany within a decade, then there will surely be a problem. [...]

The big point here, though, is that much of the gap can be explained. There is no magic ability or skills that Americans have that Europeans do not have. The policies that the OECD suggests to close that gap, however, are rather different from the policies that EU governments have been urged to adopt under the Lisbon Agenda. It may even be that the European establishment does not really want to close the gap. Or at least it feels that the political costs involved do not warrant the advantages that might be gained.

In short, the good news is that this is fixable; the bad news is that in much of Europe at least, it won't be fixed.

It's not about ability or skills, just Judeo-Christianity vs Reason.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


The Stubborn Welfare State (Robert Samuelson, 2/14/07, Real Clear Politics)

Annual budget debates are sterile -- long on rhetoric, short on action -- because each side blames the other for a situation that neither chooses to change. To cut spending significantly, conservatives would have to go after popular welfare programs, including Social Security and Medicare. To raise taxes significantly, liberals would have to go after the upper-middle class, a constituency they covet (two-thirds of all federal taxes come from the richest fifth). Deficits persist, because neither side risks its popularity, and indeed, both sides pursue popularity with new spending programs and tax breaks.

It might help if Americans called welfare programs -- current benefits for select populations, paid for by current taxes -- by their proper name, rather than by the soothing (and misleading) labels of "entitlements'' and "social insurance.'' That way, we might ask ourselves who deserves welfare and why.

We could consider all of federal spending and not just small bits of it. But most Americans don't want to admit that they are current or prospective welfare recipients. They prefer to think that they automatically deserve whatever they've been promised simply because the promises were made. Americans do not want to pose the basic questions, and their political leaders mirror that reluctance. This makes the welfare state immovable and the budget situation intractable.

It's been sad to watch the normally sensible Mr. Samuelson succumb to BDS over the last couple years but, as Brother Whited points out, if he'd just stop foaming for a second here he'd realize that the means testing the President has proposed in his budget is exactly what he's calling for himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


A good year for pork (Carolyn Jung, 2/14/07, San Jose Mercury News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 PM


Maple-brown sugar pudding cake (King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking)

For firstlayer:

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) whole-wheat flour, traditional or white whole wheat
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup grade B or dark amber maple syrup
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon maple flavor
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (4 ounces) chopped walnuts
Forsecond layer:
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 3/4 cups hot water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Have on hand an 8- or 9-inch-square pan.

To make first layer: Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar in a large bowl. Mix together milk, syrup, egg, vanilla, maple flavor and melted butter in a medium bowl. Pour this mixture into dry ingredients, stirring until evenly moistened. Stir in walnuts and spread batter into the pan.

To make second layer: Combine brown sugar and cornstarch in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over batter. Place pan on middle rack of oven and pour hot water over batter.

Bake 45 minutes. During baking, the cake layer will rise to the top and the pudding layer will settle to the bottom. Remove from oven and serve warm from the pan, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 PM


Dow Hits New Record after Bernanke Speech: The Fed chief's remarks suggested policymakers may keep interest rates steady. Also in focus: DaimlerChrysler restructuring, retail sales (Marc Hogan, 2/14/07, Business Week)

Stocks rallied Wednesday, with the Dow Jones industrial average reaching a new all-time closing high, as investors cheered Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's moderately upbeat testimony to Congress. A big automaker's realignment and some upbeat earnings news helped offset lackluster reports on January retail sales and December business inventories.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 87.01 points, or 0.69%, to 12,741,86.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Iranian official hints at halting atomic work (Parisa Hafezi, 2/14/07, Reuters)

An adviser to Iran's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, suggested in remarks published on Wednesday that Tehran might consider suspending sensitive atomic work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


The Ever-'Present' Obama: Barack has a along track record of not taking a stand (NATHAN GONZALES, February 14, 2007, Slate)

[I]t's Obama's history of voting "present" in Springfield--even on some of the most controversial and politically explosive issues of the day--that raises questions that he will need to answer. Voting "present" is one of three options in the Illinois Legislature (along with "yes" and "no"), but it's almost never an option for the occupant of the Oval Office.

We aren't talking about a "present" vote on whether to name a state office building after a deceased state official, but rather about votes that reflect an officeholder's core values.

For example, in 1997, Obama voted "present" on two bills (HB 382 and SB 230) that would have prohibited a procedure often referred to as partial birth abortion. He also voted "present" on SB 71, which lowered the first offense of carrying a concealed weapon from a felony to a misdemeanor and raised the penalty of subsequent offenses.

In 1999, Obama voted "present" on SB 759, a bill that required mandatory adult prosecution for firing a gun on or near school grounds. The bill passed the state Senate 52-1. Also in 1999, Obama voted "present" on HB 854 that protected the privacy of sex-abuse victims by allowing petitions to have the trial records sealed. He was the only member to not support the bill.

In 2001, Obama voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted "present" on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion. In his book, the "Audacity of Hope," on page 132, Obama explained his problems with the "born alive" bills, specifically arguing that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. But he failed to mention that he only felt strongly enough to vote "present" on the bills instead of "no."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM

MAKE IT 100%:

Bush budget plan's drug fees attacked (Julie Schmit, 2/14/07, USA TODAY)

Of the FDA's proposed $2.1 billion budget for fiscal 2008, 21.3% would come from user fees paid mostly by drug, medical device and food companies. That's about the same as in last year's proposed budget.

The FDA first required drugmakers in 1993 to pay fees to help fund reviews of new human drugs before they are approved for sale. User fees for animal-drug reviews began in 2003 and for medical-device reviews in 2002.

Now, the FDA seeks fees for generic-drug reviews, for food and animal-feed exporters seeking FDA certification, and for re-inspections of FDA-regulated facilities, including manufacturing plants, that fail a first FDA check. Drugmakers will pay the bulk of the $444 million in fees the FDA expects to raise in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

In addition to criticism from some members of Congress, the drug industry is questioning the growth of user fees, too. In the next fiscal year, drugmakers will fund almost 60% of the FDA's reviews of human-drug applications, estimates the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. That's up from about 40% 10 years ago. "There's concern about it getting this high," says Alan Goldhammer, PhRMA deputy vice president for regulatory affairs.

They should fund it all since it's their business that makes it necessary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


In Philippines, U.S. making progress in war on terror (Paul Wiseman, 2/14/07, USA TODAY)

Thousands of miles from the bazaars of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, U.S. military forces are quietly helping defeat terrorists in the jungles of the southern Philippines, a forgotten front in the global war on terrorism.

Working behind the scenes with a rejuvenated Philippine military, U.S. special forces have helped kill, capture or rout hundreds of Abu Sayyaf guerrillas who have links to the Islamic terror groups Jemaah Islamiyah and al-Qaeda, Philippine and U.S. military commanders say.

The Abu Sayyaf, responsible for 16 years of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in the southern Philippines, has been forced to flee into the mountainous terrain here on Jolo island in the remote Sulu Archipelago.

Where have the terrorists not been killed. captured and forced into hiding?

NATO air strike targets Taliban leader (NOOR KHAN, 2/14/07, Associated Press)

A NATO air strike early Wednesday destroyed a compound housing a Taliban leader responsible for a wave of violence across southern Afghanistan, the Western alliance said. [...]

The air strike against the compound in a small village a half hour outside Musa Qala killed 20 militants who had sought shelter there the previous night, said Wali Mohammad, a resident of Musa Qala.

It's dawn, and the shelling starts. Time to go into the Taleban maze (Anthony lloyd, 2/14/07, Times of London)
There is much talk of a Taleban spring offensive in Afghanistan. But for the M company Marines based in Kajaki, the past six weeks have already been filled with fighting in which the initiative has been their own. Indeed, 11 troop's 23-year-old commander, a second lieutenant who completed his training in December, has already led his men into assaults in which they have fixed bayonets on at least four occasions.

If only they would launch an offensive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Study predicts rise in inmate populations (Kevin Johnson, 2/13/07, USA TODAY)

The number of inmates in U.S. prisons likely will rise nearly 13% during the next five years, costing states up to $27.5 billion in new operating and construction expenses, according to a new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Pew report, to be released today, projects the nation's prison population will be about 1.72 million by 2011, up from an estimated 1.53 million at the end of last year. Such an increase would roughly equal the current population of the federal prison system.

Pew analysts said the growth is being fueled by mandatory minimum sentences that have stretched prison terms for many criminals, declines in inmates granted parole and other policies that states have passed in recent years to crack down on crime.

And not only will more wrongdoers be behind bars but we'll import more hard-working Mexicans to build the jails. It's a win-win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM

CIRCLING THE DRAIN (via Ali Choudhury):

China plans to take action on brain drain (Sydney Morning Herald, February 14, 2007)

The number of well-educated Chinese leaving to work abroad is growing, and many who go overseas to study do not return home, state media say.

Of the 1 million Chinese people who have studied abroad since the 1980s, two-thirds have not come back, a Chinese think tank has reported.

"It has been a great loss for China - which is now in dire need of people of expertise - to see well-educated professionals leave after the country has invested a lot in them," the official newspaper China Daily quoted one of the report's authors, Li Xiaoli, as saying. [...]

The newspaper said in an editorial that the Government should do more to encourage these people to come home.

Like hop in the wayback machine and help Chiang win instead of Mao?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Second Edwards Blogger Quits (Howard Kurtz, 2/14/07, Washington Post)

One day after Amanda Marcotte said she was bailing from the Edwards presidential campaign amid criticism that her writings were anti-Catholic, the former senator's other hire from the blogosphere, Melissa McEwan, called it quits last night. [...]

Edwards had decided last week to retain Marcotte and McEwan even while saying he found some of their writing offensive. McEwan, who had called President Bush's conservative Christian supporters his "wingnut Christofascist base," apologized for "letting down my peers" in the liberal online world but said she had been the target of a campaign of "frightening ugliness."

"There will be some who clamor to claim victory for my resignation, but I caution them that in doing so, they are tacitly accepting responsibility for those who have deluged my blog and my inbox with vitriol and veiled threats," McEwan said.

So her inbox matches her outbox now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Rolling out the 'Dice' (STEVEN KRASNER, 2/14/07, Providence Journal)

George Kottaras is in Red Sox camp trying to impress the Boston coaching staff, hoping to shove Doug Mirabelli out of the reserve catcher's role.

It's a relatively low-level battle as spring-training dramas go.

Yesterday, though, George Kottaras was in the middle of intense media scrutiny with more than 70 members of the media either holding TV cameras, still cameras or notepads, recording every movement of his game of catch at an otherwise deserted minor-league complex.

It wasn't as if Kottaras hadn't been watched by a large media horde before. He did play for Greece in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, so marching in for the Opening Ceremonies was done so in front of a large media and fan presence.

"But this was the first time I've ever experienced this for a long-toss session," said Kottaras after the workout.

Dice K is a nice luxury, improving the catching situation is a necessity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


'No Child' Commission Presents Ambitious Plan (Amit R. Paley, 2/14/07, Washington Post)

The 230-page bipartisan report, perhaps the most detailed blueprint sent to Congress thus far as it considers renewal of the federal education law, also proposes sanctions for teachers with poorly performing students and the creation of new national standards and tests.

The recommendations from the Commission on No Child Left Behind underscore that the emerging debate over the law is not over whether it will continue, but rather over how much it will be expanded and modified. Even the panel's leaders acknowledged that their proposal is more sweeping than many politicians had expected or wanted.

"You're never going to hit a home run unless you swing for the fences, and this is swinging for the fences" said Tommy G. Thompson, a former secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration and a former governor of Wisconsin. Thompson, a Republican who is weighing a run for president, co-chaired the commission with former Georgia governor Roy E. Barnes, a Democrat.

Universal vouchers depend on a 100% failure rate for the current system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Sunni vs. Shi'a: It's Not All Islam (Ralph Peters, 2/14/07, Real Clear Politics)

[T]he biggest obstacle to establishing the Caliphate in California is that Shi'a "Islam" never bought into the Caliphate at all. At bottom, it's a different religion from Sunni Islam. They're not just different branches of a faith, as with Protestantism and Catholicism, but separate faiths whose core differences are more-pronounced than those between Christians and Jews.

Technically, Sunni militants are correct when they label the Shi'a "heretics." Persians and their closest neighbors, with long memories of great civilizations, were never comfortable with the crudeness of Arabian Islam--which the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss aptly called "a barracks religion."

The struggle has never ended between the ascetic, intolerant Bedouin faith of Arabia, with its fascist obsession on behavior, and the profound theologies of Persian civilization that absorbed and transformed Islam. While Shi'ism only prevailed in Persia within the last millennium (nudging out Sunni Islam at last), "Aryan" Islam had long been shaped by Zoroastrianism and other ineradicable pre-Islamic legacies.

Persians made the new faith their own, incorporating cherished traditions--just as northern Europeans made Christianity their own through Protestantism. It's illuminating to hear Iran's president rumor the return of the Twelfth Imam, since the coming of that messiah figure is pure Zoroastrianism, with no connection to the Koran or the Hadiths.

Even the rhetoric of Iran's Islamic Revolution, condemning the U.S. as the "Great Satan" divided the world into forces of light and darkness--Zoroaster again, as well as Mani, the dualist whose followers we know as "Manicheans." Iranians excitedly deny such pre-Islamic influences--then worship at the ancient shrines of re-invented saints, celebrate the Zoroastrian New Year, and incorporate fire rites into social events.

The Prophet's attempt to discipline Arabian hillbillies produced a faith ill-fitted to Persia's complex civilization--or to Mesopotamian Arabs, who despised the illiterate desert nomads. Islam was bound to change as it occupied this haunted real estate.

What we've gotten ourselves involved in today is an old and endless struggle between the desert and the city, between civilization and barbarism. Long oppression may have made Shi'ism appear backward, but it's inherently a richer faith than Sunni Islam. With its End-of-Times vision, founding martyrs and radiant angels, its mysticism and wariness of the flesh, Shi'ism is closer to Christianity than check-list Sunni Islam ever could be.

Indeed, given how fiercely Judaism reacted against its own messianism because of Christianity, it's not that clear that the core differences between Sunni and Shi'a are that different. Meanwhile, they sound like their opposites who claim the Administration staged 9-11.

Sunni rebels blamed for deadly attack on elite Iranian guards (Robert Tait, February 14, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Sunni rebels allegedly linked to al-Qaida were blamed for a deadly car bomb attack which destroyed a bus and killed at least 11 Revolutionary Guards today in the latest outbreak of violence to strike one of Iran's most unstable provinces.

The attack took place in the Sistan-Baluchestan provincial capital, Zahedan, in south-east Iran, as the guards were being bussed to work. Witnesses said the bus was travelling in the city's Ahmadabad district when it was overtaken by a car which then stopped suddenly.

The car's occupants jumped out seconds before it exploded and fled in motorcycles parked nearby. Television footage showed the bus, which had 24 passengers, reduced to a mess of twisted wreckage.

The semi-official Fars news agency reported that Jundallah, a Sunni militant group widely blamed for a series of previous attacks in the province, had claimed responsibility. Iranian officials branded the incident a terrorist attack carried out by "insurgents and elements of insecurity".

The Islamophobes must now square the circle of their theory that the Iranians are behind such attacks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


US writes off $391m Liberian debt (Krishna Guha, February 13 2007, Financial Times)

The US will write off $391m in bilateral debt owed to it by Liberia immediately and work with the World Bank and the IMF to find a solution to the $1.2bn debt it owes the multilateral organisations, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice announced on Tuesday.

The harder we make it for dictators to do business the better.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


U.S. Flexibility Credited in Nuclear Deal With N. Korea (Glenn Kessler and Edward Cody, February 14, 2007, Washington Post)

The six-nation deal to shut down North Korea's nuclear facility, four months after Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test, was reached yesterday largely because President Bush was willing to give U.S. negotiators new flexibility to reach an agreement, U.S. officials and Asian diplomats said yesterday. [...]

The chief U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, had over time been viewed with suspicion by administration hawks. But, in recent weeks, he worked closely with a White House aide, Victor Cha, who has conservative bona fides on North Korea. Informal talks Cha had with the North Koreans -- including a chance encounter in the Beijing airport in December -- helped lead to the unusual negotiations Hill and Cha held with North Korean counterparts in Berlin last month, officials said.

Those bilateral talks -- which sketched out the parameters of the final deal -- were personally approved by Bush after he had insisted for four years that he would not allow direct U.S.-North Korean negotiations.

Under the agreement, North Korea will close and "seal" its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon within 60 days in return for 50,000 tons of fuel oil, as a first step in its abandonment of all nuclear weapons and research programs.

North Korea also reaffirmed a commitment to disable the reactor in an undefined next phase of denuclearization, and to discuss with the United States and other nations its plutonium fuel reserves and other nuclear programs that "would be abandoned." In return for taking those further steps, the accord said, North Korea would receive additional "economic, energy and humanitarian assistance up to the equivalent of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil."

The pledges -- cited in an agreement reached in Beijing by North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States after six days of lengthy negotiations -- marked North Korea's first concrete commitment to implement an agreement in principle, dating to September 2005, to relinquish its entire nuclear program. In the view of U.S. and allied diplomats, they also amounted to a down payment on the establishment of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and of new relations among Northeast Asian countries.

The invasion of Iraq revealed how effective a sufficiently intrusive inspections regime could be. But it's important to remember that the most important tool of the inspector is the GPS unit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Banking on illegal immigrants: A move to issue credit cards to people without Social Security numbers draws anger and praise. (E. Scott Reckard, David Streitfeld and Adrian G. Uribarri, February 14, 2007, LA Times)

Bank of America said Tuesday that it was issuing credit cards to Spanish-speaking immigrants who may not have Social Security numbers, triggering complaints that the nation's largest retail bank is tacitly endorsing illegal immigration. [...]

The bank's program may be controversial, but it also vividly demonstrates that businesses view the country's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants not as lawbreakers but as customers.

Other major banks including Wells Fargo & Co. and Citibank have launched similar initiatives to gain customers in the burgeoning Latino community.

Wells Fargo began a pilot program last year in Los Angeles and Orange counties to offer home mortgages to immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least two years. The customers are allowed to identify themselves using taxpayer numbers issued by the Internal Revenue Service instead of Social Security numbers. That's the same type of identification number an immigrant can use to obtain a credit card under Bank of America's pilot program.

Wells Fargo may follow Bank of America's lead on credit cards.

"We are also looking at the possibility of offering unsecured credit cards to customers who may not have Social Security numbers," Wells Fargo spokeswoman Mary Trigg said.

Although important for all major banks, the immigrant market is especially key for Bank of America. Though now based in North Carolina, the bank, once headquartered in San Francisco, still has its largest retail operation in California, home to a huge Latino population.

"Bank of America is the biggest bank for Hispanics in the country, and it made a decision a couple of years ago to keep pushing that market," including buying a 25% stake in a Mexican bank, said Richard Bove, a banking analyst for investment firm Punk, Ziegel & Co. [...]

"It helps to further embed illegal immigrants into American society," said Steven Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, which backs stricter enforcement of immigration laws. "It makes amnesty a fait accompli."

It's already a fait accompli--just makes good business sense to cash in on it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Breaking All the Rules, With a Shrug and a Sigh (IAN FISHER, 2/14/07, NY Times)

The shrugged shoulder is real, a daily reminder here that part of Italy's charm rests in the fact that it does not much care for rules. Italians can be downright poetic about it, this inclination to dodge taxes, to cut lines, to erect entire neighborhoods without permits or simply to run red lights, while smoking or talking on the phone. [...]

But every now and again, Italians wake up to the unpleasant reality that whatever the reasons, however lightly it can be explained, breaking the rules is also part of Italy's malaise. Two weeks ago, a 38-year-old policeman with two children was killed during a riot at a soccer stadium in Sicily -- two years after a law mandating antihooliganism measures was passed and widely ignored.

Of 31 stadiums surveyed after the killing, only six were found to comply with the law.

In this case, a life was lost (though some skeptics noted that compliance might not have saved that life, because the riot happened outside the stadium). But in this and scores of other ways, contempt for rules ends up to be not so charming.

The Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries of Donna Leon do an especially fine job of depicting this lawlessness and its devastating effects on Italian society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Dispatch From Beirut: Forget about Shiites and Sunnis. Lebanon's deepest fault line is between rival Christian groups (Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Feb. 14, 2007, Slate)

Khoury is a Maronite Christian. The men facing him across the barricades last month were also Maronite Christians. The current political standoff has split their community apart--and however inscrutable the internecine feuds may seem, they could prove to be the flashpoint for a broader conflict.

The situation is particularly ominous because today's main Christian antagonists--Gen. Michel Aoun, a former army commander, and Samir Geagea, the leader of a militia-turned-political-party called the Lebanese Forces--have a bitter history of confrontation. In the final years of the 1975-90 civil wars, Geagea's Lebanese Forces and the last remnants of the Aoun-led army massacred each other in the mountains above Beirut in some of the bloodiest battles Lebanon had seen. For most of the subsequent 15 years of Syrian control, both were absent from the political scene. Geagea was thrown in jail. Aoun went into exile in France. Their followers lived, as one Aounist put it, "in a gloom, a decline, without a true leader to represent or fight for us." But soon after the "cedar revolution" that drove Syrian troops out of Lebanon two years ago, Aoun and Geagea came crashing back.

It was not long before Aoun and Geagea had resumed their hostile poses. The Lebanese Forces became the key Christian player in the new Sunni-dominated, pro-Western government--known as the "March 14" government, after the massive anti-Syrian protests that followed former Prime Minster Rafik Hariri's assassination two years ago--while Aoun threw the weight of his Free Patriotic Movement (backed at the time by two-thirds of Lebanon's Christians) with Shiite Hezbollah. In December, when Hezbollah took to the streets in an effort to force early elections, Aoun's partisans--Aldo Khoury among them--joined the occupation. And when Khoury and his camp-mates seized the traffic circle last month, it was Geagea's men who came to bust them up. Now, explained one prominent political observer, "the Lebanese Forces desperately want something to happen so that Geagea can show that he is the muscle of the government. Aoun might not understand how serious the situation is, but on some level he also doesn't mind going back to the 1980s."

To each Muslim state its own Maronite minority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Libby Team Reverses Its Course: Defendant, Vice President Will Not Take the Stand (JOSH GERSTEIN, February 14, 2007, NY Sun)

In a major reversal, defense lawyers for I. Lewis Libby Jr. now intend to close their case without testimony from the former White House aide or his onetime boss, Vice President Cheney.

They were never going to let a guilty client testify. There's no jury nullification card to be played here.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Saying Goodbye to Cheap Airfare (Gregory Lamb, February 14, 2007, Christian Science Monitor)

Just a few decades from now, people may look back at the early 21st century with both fondness and horror as the Era of the Cheap Airline Flight. They may wax nostalgic for the days when visiting distant relatives and taking vacations in exotic locales were easily affordable for the masses. But they also may be alarmed at how long it took the world to realize the havoc that unfettered air travel was wreaking on the world's climate.

At least one travel industry official predicts that in 30 years, long-distance flying will be undertaken only by the wealthy as ticket prices rise dramatically -- and the number of flights shrinks proportionately -- to curb the emissions of greenhouse gases created by air travel.

We can use gas taxes to cut that thirty years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Some donors ditch Romney for McCain (Casey Ross, 2/14/07, Boston Herald)

On the eve of his official entry into the 2008 presidential race, Mitt Romney came under attack yesterday by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who sought to kill the former governor's momentum by snatching away conservative backers in Massachusetts and Michigan.

McCain operatives flooded reporters' in-boxes yesterday with news of defection from Romney's campaign, ratcheting up the brewing Republican primary battle as Romney begins a five-state announcement tour. Among those throwing their support to McCain are some of Romney's longtime campaign donors in Massachusetts.

"Sen. McCain is the clear choice," said state Rep. Paul Loscocco (R-Holliston), who gave maximum $500 donations to Romney in 2002 and 2003. "As loyalty to the former governor starts to fade, (Republicans) are going to start examining who is the best person to lead as president. A lot of folks are excited about McCain."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Firms accused of bribing Saddam to be investigated by fraud office (David Leigh and Rob Evans, February 14, 2007, The Guardian)

The Serious Fraud Office has launched an investigation into allegations that a number of major UK-based firms paid bribes to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. The firms being targeted include the drug giants GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly. The international oil traders and UK bridge-builders Mabey and Johnson are also to be investigated.

They are on a long list of international companies accused in a UN report of paying kickbacks under the discredited oil-for-food sanctions regime, which enabled Saddam to illicitly amass an estimated $1.8bn. Ministers have agreed to fund the investigation with £22m over three years.

Revealing to compare the continuing outrage at companies that helped the Nazis 70 years ago with the quietude surrounding those who helped keep Saddam in power for thirty years as he butchered Kurds and Shi'a.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Miramar elementary evacuated for gas smell (JENNIFER MOONEY PIEDRA, 2/14/07, MiamiHerald.com)

Perry Elementary in Miramar has been evacuated while hazardous-materials crews investigate a gas odor near the school's cafeteria, fire officials said.

We had two teachers who used to sneak out for lunch to White Castle about once a month, so you didn't want to be in their afternoon classes. Never evacuated the building though...

February 13, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 PM


The Price Is Wrong: Why Our Roads Are So Clogged (Joseph Giglio, 13 Feb 2007, Tech Central Station)

[T]he fact is that congestion pricing is conservative economics at its best. For decades, conservatives have championed market-oriented solutions to highway problems as a means to allocate scarce resources. Congestion pricing gives consumers the opportunity to decide when it is in their economic interest to ride crowded roads, and whether the price charged for a given trip is worth their travel time savings.

In the former Soviet-bloc states, the standard way to allocate scarce goods was to set the purchase price low enough for everyone to afford, but to make consumers wait in long lines to buy them. The real price depended on what value consumers placed on their time.

This approach is the way we've always allocated access to most roadways in capitalist America - access is "free," just like for a public park. But our real cost skyrockets when we consider the time we spend crawling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic and with no option to pay extra for a faster trip.

And even without factoring in the cost of time frittered away listening to satellite radio, highways have never really been "free," but subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Congestion pricing is not a tax increase, but a user fee, which, conservatives agree, is a better way to divide costs. Indeed, economists across the political spectrum have long waxed enthusiastic about the superior logic of levying market-based prices for access to roadways; but until recently it remained little more than an interesting classroom concept since there was no practical way to charge motorists directly.

The advent of Electronic Toll Collection technology changed all this.

But conservatives hate free market economics when it costs them money.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 PM


TROUBLED WATERS OVER OIL (James Surowiecki, 2007-02-19, The New Yorker)

In the current confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, these same concerns create a perverse set of incentives: whenever the U.S. says things that make a military conflict with Iran seem more likely, the price of oil rises, strengthening Iran's regime rather than weakening it. The more we talk about curbing Iranian power, the more difficult it gets.

It's hard to measure the risk premium exactly, but most estimates suggest that in the past couple of years, thanks largely to the turmoil in the Middle East, it has accounted for somewhere between ten and twenty dollars on each barrel of oil. (Last year, Qatar's oil minister said, "If you can stop the politicians from making negative statements, I am sure you will see almost fifteen dollars disappear from the price.") And, because Iran has the world's second-largest reserves and pumps so much oil, trouble with Tehran sends the premium soaring. Ten months ago, for instance, when Iranian leaders were talking about their progress in enriching uranium, and were threatening to attack Israel in response to any U.S. attack, the price of oil rose to more than seventy-five dollars a barrel. The economic consequences of this are not trivial; in the past few years, the inflated risk premium has given Iran tens of billions of dollars that it would otherwise not have had.

This helps Ahmadinejad enormously, because Iran has made huge commitments to government spending that can be kept only by relying on oil revenue. Last year, Iran spent more than forty billion dollars on things like subsidies for gasoline, bread, and heating fuel, and to keep money-losing enterprises in business. High oil prices also help protect Iran against the woeful state of its oil infrastructure. Getting a barrel of oil out of the ground can cost Iran three or four times what it costs Saudi Arabia, and a recent paper by Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Johns Hopkins University, argues that Iran's lack of investment in its oil fields has reached a point where the country may be unable to export oil within the decade. Iran, in short, may well be running itself into the ground. But higher oil prices defer the day of reckoning.

The persistence of the risk premium means that Ahmadinejad, whatever his religious or nationalist inspiration, has an economic incentive to say confrontational things that spook the oil market. But the effect of his pronouncements is limited, because traders know that self-interest is likely to keep Iran from doing anything that would cut off the supply of oil. What really keeps the risk premium high is the American penchant for public responses to Iran's provocations. So cooling down the martial rhetoric--even if we plan to take military action eventually--would likely bring oil prices down for a time, making Iran weaker.

Public meetings between American officials and guys like Larijani and Rafsanjani then would serve not only to obviously undercut Ahmedinejad but to deprive him of the premium.

US's smoking gun on Iran misfires (Gareth Porter, 2/14/07, Asia Times)

The first major effort by the administration of US President George W Bush to substantiate its case that the Iranian government has been providing weapons to Iraqi Shi'ites who oppose the occupation undermines the administration's political line by showing that it has been unable to find any real evidence of an Iranian government role.

On the other hand, their nuclear program is a joke too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


The World Can Halt Bush's Crimes By Dumping The Dollar (Paul Craig Roberts, 14 February, 2007, Countercurrents.org)

If the rest of the world would simply stop purchasing US Treasuries, and instead dump their surplus dollars into the foreign exchange market, the Bush Regime would be overwhelmed with economic crisis and unable to wage war. The arrogant hubris associated with the "sole superpower" myth would burst like the bubble it is.

He only has to reverse engineer that to get to the truth: That America is the sole superpower on Earth is amply demonstrated by the fact that it offers the only genuine "security" to the global market. No one is going to dump dollars to buy the currency of dying nations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 PM


Anti-American cleric flees Iraq for Iran (ANNE GEARAN, 2/14/07, AP)

Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fled Iraq for Iran ahead of a security crackdown in Baghdad and the arrival of 21,500 U.S. troops sent by President Bush to quell sectarian violence, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.

Al-Sadr left his Baghdad stronghold some weeks ago, the official said, and is believed to be in Tehran, where he has family.

Sadr aides say cleric in Iraq, laying low (Dean Yates and Mariam Karouny, 2/14/07, Reuters)
Four of Sadr's aides said he was still in Iraq. Some said he was in the holy Shi'ite city of Najaf but had reduced public appearances for "security reasons". They did not elaborate.

"He is now in Iraq," said Nassar al-Rubaei, head of the Sadrist bloc in Iraq's parliament, reiterating the Sadrists backing for an offensive in Baghdad that is seen as a final attempt to prevent all-out sectarian civil war.

"We fully support this security plan. It would make no sense for our leadership to escape it."

Doesn't matter where we have him hidden, the deal just requires that he not be harmed during the surge.

Al-Sadr offers Baghdad deal (Liz Sly, 1/30/07, Chicago Tribune)

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his militia not to confront U.S. forces and has endorsed negotiations aimed at easing the deployment of American troops in his strongholds, according to Sadrist and other Shiite officials.

Ahead of a planned surge of 21,500 U.S. troops intended to secure Baghdad, the cleric has instructed his al-Mahdi Army, recently described by the Pentagon as the biggest single threat to a stable Iraq, to keep a low profile and stay off the streets, Sadr officials say.

A deal with the supporters of the fiercely anti-American cleric would temper U.S. military commanders' concern that any attempt to secure Baghdad will inevitably lead to a showdown with Iraq's biggest private army. In 2004, the U.S. military fought bloody battles with the Mahdi Army in Najaf and in Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite enclave in Baghdad, and has since steered clear of direct confrontations with the militia.

The Sadrist movement has given its blessing to an initiative led by one of two mayors of Sadr City to negotiate terms under which U.S. forces will be able to deploy freely there.

If the negotiations succeed, U.S. forces will be welcome in Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold that has witnessed two previous battles between U.S. troops and the Shiite militia, said Rahim al-Daraji, the mayor of the southern half of Sadr City. Al-Daraji said he has been authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Mahdi Army and other Shiite factions.

"It will mean any U.S. soldier will be as welcome in Sadr City as any Iraqi citizen," said al-Daraji, who said he is politically independent. "He will be able to walk safely in Sadr City, sit in any restaurant he likes, and he can help in reconstructing the city."

Al-Daraji says he has met with coalition military and U.S. Embassy officials three times since President Bush's revised strategy for Iraq was announced.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Senate panel: Canada should withdraw from Afghanistan unless NATO delivers (The Associated Pres, February 12, 2007)

Canada should consider withdrawing from Afghanistan unless its NATO allies deliver additional troops to the international mission, a Senate committee recommended Monday.

In a 45-page report, the Senate's national security and defense committee described the mission of stabilizing Afghanistan as an uphill battle that could take decades.

It also cast the mission as a major test for NATO in the post-Cold War era -- and suggested Canada should consider a pullout if other NATO countries refuse to pitch in more troops.

"We expect the allies to step up," said Senator Colin Kenny, the committee chair.

Canada doesn't have European allies--it has the Brits and Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 PM


North Korea deal 'a message to Iran' (Richard Spencer and Toby Harnden, 13/02/2007, Daily Telegraph)

America has described a dramatic deal aimed at reining in North Korea's nuclear ambitions as a "message to Iran" that the world would stand firm against atomic proliferation.

After marathon six-party talks in Beijing saw an agreement struck with the Pyongyang regime, America was quick to point to this as an example of what could be achieved with other rogue states. America has described a dramatic deal aimed at reining in North Korea's nuclear ambitions as a "message to Iran" that the world would stand firm against atomic proliferation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


From Pearl Lagoon to the Back Bay (Amy K. Nelson, 2/12/07, ESPN The Magazine)

The Nicaraguan pitcher with a Jamaican inflection and British surname sat in his airy Toronto five-star hotel room this past September, took a deep breath and looked down at his dark, flexed forearms.

"A Pearl Lagoon boy is here," Red Sox pitcher Devern Hansack said. "I can't believe I'm here."

You can't fault his amazement, since the past year lifted Hansack from obscure pitcher playing pro ball in Nicaragua to major leaguer on the last day of the season at Fenway Park, no-hitting the Orioles for five rain-shortened innings.

It was Craig Shipley, Boston's vice president of international and pro scouting, who spotted the 27-year-old Hansack in the fall of 2005 in Holland pitching for the Nicaraguan national team. Hansack had been released by the Astros in 2003, and went unsigned until Shipley gave him a $3,000 bonus. Hansack went on to become the Red Sox's Double-A pitcher of the year while living in a Dominican fan's basement apartment in Portland, Maine.

Now Hansack, at 29 and with a wicked slider and a mid-90s fastball, has got an outside chance of winning the closer's job for the Red Sox. It might be a long shot, but so is Hansack.

"Boston signed me and gave me a second chance," Hansack says. "I can tell any young guy who wants to do something, there's a second chance. Just put your mind to it."

In late January Hansack invited The Magazine on a wild trip back to his hometown, where most people speak English with a Jamaican lilt. "I think he lives in the middle of nowhere," Red Sox PR director John Blake told me when I asked in early January about finding Hansack. "It may be difficult."

It was. From Cessna airplane to motorized canoe to Pearl Lagoon, the journey isn't for the weak.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


Rudy Giuliani's Vulnerabilities: Secret study cited "weirdness factor" among candidate weaknesses (The Smoking Gun, 2/12/07)

As he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, Rudolph Giuliani will have to contend with political and personal baggage unknown to prospective supporters whose knowledge of the former New York mayor is limited to his post-September 11 exploits. So, in a bid to educate the electorate, we're offering excerpts from a remarkable "vulnerability study" that was commissioned by Giuliani's campaign prior to his successful 1993 City Hall run. The confidential 450-page report, authored by Giuliani's research director and another aide, was the campaign's attempt to identify possible lines of attack against Giuliani and prepare the candidate and his staff to counter "the kinds of no-holes-barred assault" expected in a general election rematch with Democratic incumbent David Dinkins. As he tried to win election in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Giuliani needed "inoculating against" the "Reagan Republican moniker," the vulnerability study reported. "The Giuliani campaign should emphasize its candidate's independence from traditional national Republican policies." The final six words of that sentence are underlined in the study. Additionally, the Giuliani report noted that the candidate needed to make it clear to voters that he was "pretty good on most issues of concern to gay and lesbian New Yorkers" and was pro-choice and supported public funding for abortion. "He will continue city funding for abortions at city hospitals. Nothing more, nothing less." Giuliani's stance on these issues, of course, may leave him vulnerable today with an entirely different electorate. The campaign study was obtained by The Village Voice's Wayne Barrett in the course of preparing "Rudy!," an investigative biography of Giuliani. In its preface, the study notes that it is "tough and hard-hitting. It pulls no punches." Perhaps that is why Giuliani, as Barrett reported, ordered copies of the vulnerability study destroyed shortly after it was circulated to top campaign aides. He surely could not have been pleased to read that his "personal life raises questions about a 'weirdness factor.'" That weirdness, aides reported, stemmed from Giuliani's 14-year marriage to his second cousin, a union that he got annulled by claiming to have never received proper dispensation from the Catholic Church for the unorthodox nuptials. "When asked about his personal life, Giuliani gives a wide array of conflicting answers," the campaign report stated. "All of this brings the soundness of his judgement into question--and the veracity of his answers."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


Experts question theory on global warming (Anil Anand, February 11, 2007, Hindustan Times)

Believe it or not. There are only about a dozen scientists working on 9,575 glaciers in India under the aegis of the Geological Society of India. Is the available data enough to believe that the glaciers are retreating due to global warming?

Some experts have questioned the alarmists theory on global warming leading to shrinkage of Himalayan glaciers. VK Raina, a leading glaciologist and former ADG of GSI is one among them.

He feels that the research on Indian glaciers is negligible. Nothing but the remote sensing data forms the basis of these alarmists observations and not on the spot research.

Raina told the Hindustan Times that out of 9,575 glaciers in India, till date, research has been conducted only on about 50. Nearly 200 years data has shown that nothing abnormal has occurred in any of these glaciers.

It is simple. The issue of glacial retreat is being sensationalised by a few individuals, the septuagenarian Raina claimed. Throwing a gauntlet to the alarmist, he said the issue should be debated threadbare before drawing a conclusion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


Bush close to trade deal with Congress (Eoin Callan, February 12 2007, Financial Times)

The Bush administration is close to a deal with Congress to pass pending trade agreements and form a common international economic agenda for the president's last two years in office, say senior officials and leading Democrats.

The negotiations are designed to reach an agreement that would leave the administration six weeks to submit agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama and possibly South Korea to Congress for ratification. [...]

Agreement by leading Democrats to support the Latin American deals would be followed by further bargaining over trade and currency imbalances with China and Japan and the treatment of vehicles and agriculture in negotiations between Washington and Seoul. [...]

An administration official said leading Democrats and Republicans were ready to proceed despite opposition from "elements in both parties that don't want this to succeed".

If the Democrats screw their base on the trade front it makes the midterm even less significant than we thought.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


New Life at the Plate: Hamilton Looks to Resurrect a Once-Promising Career Derailed by Drugs (Dave Sheinin, 2/13/07, Washington Post)

Before the Reds plucked [Josh] Hamilton from the baseball scrap heap in December with the intent of putting him in the big leagues for the first time, before he and his family left their North Carolina home and rented a house in Sarasota last month to get a jump-start on his first spring training in four years, and before the clock on his sobriety began its uninterrupted march on Oct. 6, 2005 -- before all those good things happened, Josh Hamilton was a junkie.

Here, in the sport-utility vehicle cruising toward Clearwater, Hamilton peers into his rearview mirror, waiting until his wife, Katie, sitting in back, secures the headphones over the ears of daughter Julia, 5, her child from a previous relationship, and makes sure Sierra, 17 months, is occupied with some animal crackers. Only then does he begin to tell his story.

It is early February, and Josh has already been drug-tested this morning, as he is three times a week. As he heads north out of Sarasota on I-75, the green exit signs beckon toward Bradenton. It's a good place to start the story, because this is where it all started to go bad.

"My first drink -- my first drink ever -- was at a strip club down there, with the tattoo guys," Hamilton says. "Pretty soon, I started using. First the powder. Then crack. I was 20. I wasn't playing. I was hurt. My parents left and went back home. I was by myself for the first time."

Until the spring of 2001, Hamilton was that most beautiful and precious and frightening of sports creatures -- the can't-miss prospect. But even that tag doesn't convey the immensity of his talent. He was 6 feet 4, 210 pounds, left-handed, with size 19 feet. He could throw 96 mph but was even better as a hitter. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays had made him the first overall pick of the 1999 draft -- the first high school position player to be so honored since Alex Rodriguez six years earlier -- and paid him a record signing bonus of $3.96 million.

His parents, Linda and Tony, quit their jobs, going on the road with him as he began his pro career -- with stops in Princeton, W.Va., Fishkill, N.Y., and Charleston, S.C. They would follow behind the team bus in their truck and stay at the same hotels, Linda cooking Josh's meals, and Tony breaking down his performance after every game.

But on Feb. 28, 2001, two years into his pro career, Hamilton was riding in his family's pickup truck, with Linda driving, when it was slammed into by a dump truck that had run a red light in Bradenton. Josh's back was injured and Linda had to be pried out of the driver's seat by medical personnel.

With Josh unable to play, and Linda requiring frequent medical care, she and Tony returned home to Raleigh, N.C., leaving Josh alone in the world for the first time in his life -- flush with cash, naive about the ways of the world and bored to tears.

The first tattoo he got was tame enough: "HAMMER," his nickname, on his right arm. But then came the blue flames snaking down his forearms, then the tribal symbols whose meanings Josh didn't even know, then assorted demons, and the face of the Devil himself. The tattoo parlor became a hangout, and Josh would spend eight hours in the chair at a time, watching the needle squirt the ink under his skin. Afterward, they'd all go out, get drunk and score some blow.

"They weren't bad people," Josh says now. "They just did bad things."

When he went home to Raleigh for a visit, his mother greeted him at the front door and broke into tears. "What have you done to your beautiful body?" she asked him. "Tribal signs? What tribe are you from?"

One of the last tattoos he got was the one of Jesus's face superimposed on the cross, perhaps an odd choice for someone seemingly so ungodly.

"I don't even know why I got that one," he says. "See, I didn't realize it at the time, but I think it was like spiritual warfare -- the Devil, Christ. I have tattoos of demons with no eyes. And I didn't realize it at the time, but no eyes means 'no soul.'

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Google Book-Scanning Efforts Spark Debate (MICHAEL LIEDTKE, 12/20/06, The Associated Press)

A splinter group called the Open Content Alliance favors a less restrictive approach to prevent mankind's accumulated knowledge from being controlled by a commercial entity, even if it's a company like Google that has embraced "Don't Be Evil" as its creed.

"You are talking about the fruits of our civilization and culture. You want to keep it open and certainly don't want any company to enclose it," said Doron Weber, program director of public understanding of science and technology for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The New York-based foundation on Wednesday will announce a $1 million grant to the Internet Archive, a leader in the Open Content Alliance, to help pay for digital copies of collections owned by the Boston Public Library, the Getty Research Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The works to be scanned include the personal library of John Adams, the nation's second president, and thousands of images from the Metropolitan Museum.

As both Genesis and Physics tell us, this is simply fulfilling our purpose.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Bangladesh 'coup' gets wide support: Despite mass arrests, the army-backed regime benefits from the fear a canceled election would have led to bloodshed. (Henry Chu, February 13, 2007, LA Times)

For a nation steeped in political crisis, life seems remarkably calm out on the sun-dappled streets.

Women haggle in the market. Shopkeepers trade the daily dish while smoking cigarettes and spitting jets of betel juice. Traffic moves at a crawl, when it moves at all, which is business as usual on the clogged roads of this densely packed capital.

But the apparent normality masks a sobering reality: namely, that democracy in Bangladesh lies battered and broken -- and the military has stepped in to fix it.

Since Jan. 11, this