April 30, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


P.E. Classes Turn to Video Game That Works Legs (SETH SCHIESEL, 4/30/07, NY Times)

Children don’t often yell in excitement when they are let into class, but as the doors opened to the upper level of the gym at South Middle School here one recent Monday, the assembled students let out a chorus of shrieks.

In they rushed, past the Ping-Pong table, past the balance beams and the wrestling mats stacked unused. They sprinted past the ghosts of Gym Class Past toward two TV sets looming over square plastic mats on the floor. In less than a minute a dozen seventh graders were dancing in furiously kinetic union to the thumps of a techno song called “Speed Over Beethoven.”

Bill Hines, a physical education teacher at the school for 27 years, shook his head a little, smiled and said, “I’ll tell you one thing: they don’t run in here like that for basketball.”

It is a scene being repeated across the country as schools deploy the blood-pumping video game Dance Dance Revolution as the latest weapon in the nation’s battle against the epidemic of childhood obesity. While traditional video games are often criticized for contributing to the expanding waistlines of the nation’s children, at least several hundred schools in at least 10 states are now using Dance Dance Revolution, or D.D.R., as a regular part of their physical education curriculum.

Based on current plans, more than 1,500 schools are expected to be using the game by the end of the decade.

It would be even better if they played Dodge Dance Revolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


High court: police can use violent means to end high-speed chases: The Supreme Court's 8-to-1 decision involved a Georgia teenager, who sued a police deputy who rammed the teen's speeding car, causing serious physical damage. (Warren Richey, 5/01/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

In an important ruling defining Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures in the context of high-speed police chases, the US Supreme Court on Monday gave a green light to law enforcement to use violent force to stop fleeing suspects who pose a substantial and immediate risk of serious physical injury to others. [...]

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a lone dissent.

Presumably when Justice Stevens retires we'll be treated to a host of articles about how out of touch he was with the legal views of his peers and the American people, right?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Supreme Court declines to enter fray on detainee trials: Monday's action helps to clear the way for the next military trials against terror suspects at Guantánamo Bay. (Warren Richey, 5/01/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

The US Supreme Court has helped clear the way for the next round of special trials by military commissions at the terror detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

On Monday, the court declined to take up a joint appeal filed by former Osama bin Laden driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan of Yemen and Omar Khadr, a Canadian national, who faces murder charges for allegedly throwing a hand grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan. Mr. Khadr was 15 years old at the time.

...that this represents a defeat for the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


How pistachios help the heart (FIONA MACRAE, 30th April 2007, Daily Mail)

A handful or two of pistachio nuts a day could keep heart disease at bay, research suggests.

They appear to lower cholesterol and keep arteries healthy.

Just three ounces of pistachios a day is enough to significantly lower the risk of heart disease.

First beer, then chocolate, now pistachios...what next? Bacon cheesburgers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


Allies 'kill 145 Taliban' in Operation Achilles (Kim Sengupta, 01 May 2007, Independent)

British, Nato and Afghan forces have launched offensives in the west and south of the country, with reports that "scores" of Taliban rebels have been killed during heavy fighting.

The battles took place in Shindbad, 80 miles south of Herat, and the Sangin Valley in Helmand, with about 4,500 Western and Afghan troops involved. The US military claimed 145 Taliban fighters had been killed in the west during fighting that claimed one American life.

The figures, if accurate, would mean the worst loss for the Islamist forces this year.

,,,die in such massive numbers that we'll be embarrassed when we run out of body bags.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


The Empire of Lies: The twenty-first century will not belong to China. (Guy Sormanm, Spring 2007, City Journal)

The Western press is full of stories these days on China’s arrival as a superpower, some even heralding, or warning, that the future may belong to her. Western political and business delegations stream into Beijing, confident of China’s economy, which continues to grow rapidly. Investment pours in. Crowning China’s new status, Beijing will host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

But China’s success is, at least in part, a mirage. True, 200 million of her subjects, fortunate to be working for an expanding global market, increasingly enjoy a middle-class standard of living. The remaining 1 billion, however, remain among the poorest and most exploited people in the world, lacking even minimal rights and public services. Popular discontent simmers, especially in the countryside, where it often flares into violent confrontation with Communist Party authorities. China’s economic “miracle” is rotting from within.

The Party’s primary concern is not improving the lives of the downtrodden; it seeks power more than it seeks social development. It expends extraordinary energy in suppressing Chinese freedoms—the media operate under suffocating censorship, and political opposition can result in expulsion or prison—even as it tries to seduce the West, which has conferred greater legitimacy on it than do the Chinese themselves.

The West’s tendency to misread China dates back to the seventeenth century, when French and Italian Jesuit travelers formed stereotypes that clutter our minds even today. We learned then—or thought we learned—that the Chinese were not like us. They had no religion, and the notion of freedom was alien to them. They naturally gravitated toward enlightened despotism, as embodied by the philosopher-emperor. Such misconceptions link up across time: Voltaire sang the praises of the Mandarins, wishing a similar elite class could rule Europe; leftist intellectuals in the sixties and seventies celebrated the heroism of Mao Zedong; and today’s business elites happily go along with the Communist propaganda that democracy and free speech are contrary to the Chinese ethos.

Yet with enough patience and will, one can plunge into the real China. Since 1967, I have visited the country regularly, and I spent all of 2005 and part of 2006 traveling through her teeming cities as well as her innermost recesses, where few Westerners go. I make no claim to know China fully, an impossibly ambitious task. I merely want to record the words and impressions of some exceptional Chinese men and women, who mostly suffer in silence, raising when they can the demand for a free nation—a “normal” nation.

It would seem an opportune moment to revive the Dr. Fu Manchu franchise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:37 PM


Broken Windows Turns 25: And it has worked wonders on both coasts. (Charles Upton Sahm, Spring 2007, City Journal)

Twenty-five years ago, social scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist (and Manhattan Institute senior fellow) George Kelling first introduced the phrase “Broken Windows” into the public policy lexicon. In a pathbreaking Atlantic Monthly article, Wilson and Kelling pointed out that people were likelier to vandalize a building with one broken window than a building with none, since a broken window sends the message that nobody cares, encouraging vandals to act on their destructive impulses. Similarly, they suggested, if a community tolerates quality-of-life offenses, such as drug use and prostitution, it signals to all potential lawbreakers that it doesn’t care what happens to it; more serious crime will soon result.

In the early nineties, the chief of New York City’s transit police, William Bratton, put the Broken Windows theory into practice. With Kelling as consultant, Bratton began to go after the fare evaders, aggressive panhandlers, pickpockets, and other petty (and not so petty) criminals who had turned the subway system into what he called “the transit equivalent of Dante’s Inferno.” Bratton also had cops enforce anti-loitering laws to steer the homeless away from the subways and toward social services. Homeless advocates and civil libertarians fought him every step of the way, but Bratton prevailed, bringing order to the chaotic system. Sure enough, not only did minor crime plummet; serious crime did, too, and ridership soared. In nabbing low-level offenders, Bratton also discovered that many of them were wanted for much more serious crimes.

A few years later, Mayor Rudy Giuliani chose Bratton as his top cop and charged him with leading a similar revolution above ground. The rest, as they say, is history. With Broken Windows as a key part of a broader reform of policing (including the introduction of new accountability measures and computer analysis of crime patterns), the Giuliani era saw serious crime fall 65 percent in Gotham, sparking a citywide revitalization. Bratton’s successors—Howard Safir and Bernard Kerik under Giuliani, and now Ray Kelly under Mayor Mike Bloomberg—have kept the policing innovations in place.

Bratton is now the chief of police in Los Angeles, where he has successfully employed many of the tactics that worked in New York.

Our Taliban is good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


John Kerry's neverland (Joan Vennochi, April 29, 2007, Boston Globe)

Like it or not, Kerry could end up a US senator for life, even though his popularity is down since his glory days as a presidential nominee.

A December 2006 Survey USA poll put Kerry's approval rating in Massachusetts at 43 percent, with 53 percent disapproving. A more recent poll conducted by Suffolk University and 7News suggests that Bay State voters are, fittingly, for and against their junior senator. When 400 registered voters were asked whether Kerry should run for another six-year term, 56 percent of them said that it is time to give someone else a chance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Germany Rediscovers the US as a Partner (Der Spiegel, 4/30/07)

For Merkel...the closeness with the US is much more than mere symbolism. She sees America as "a force that has brought freedom to the peoples of the world." She now plans to make the most of that freedom by further strengthening the two countries' economic ties. In the storm of globalization, the United States and Europe plan to expand their cooperation to benefit both countries.

It is virtually unprecedented in German history for a chancellor to be so unreservedly aligned with the US. Adenauer, the first chancellor of West Germany, saw America as a guarantor of freedom, but also perceived it as an occupation force. Helmut Schmidt and Willy Brandt, both Social Democratic (SPD) chancellors, were pro-American but innately skeptical.

Merkel, on the contrary, wants to expand Germany's close ties with the United States and is on the verge of making a pact with America the cornerstone of her foreign policy. Indeed, the resoluteness with which she has pursued this goal stands in conspicuous contrast with her government's lack of political progress back home in Germany.

A new beginning in trans-Atlantic relations? Out of consideration for her SPD coalition partners, Merkel has elected not to shine the spotlight too brightly on recent improvements in US-German relations -- indeed, her political modesty is one condition for the policy's success. Should she toot her own horn, she would likely alienate the SPD, her party's partner in Berlin's governing coalition.

Still, the contrast between Merkel and SPD-man Schröder, who courted Russian President Vladimir Putin and cultivated anti-American sentiment, couldn't be greater. Today's SPD, led by Kurt Beck, a skeptic on the subject of the United States, and represented in the cabinet by Foreign Minister and Schröder friend Frank-Walter Steinmeier, prefers a clearly distanced approach. Even in his inaugural speech, Steinmeier stressed his intent to be "when necessary (America's) constructively critical partner."

Merkel thinks differently. She is dedicated to the trans-Atlantic relationship and bases it on a fundamental political calculation. She is convinced that there can be no progress anywhere in opposition to the United States -- not in Europe and not in the Middle East. Even Europe's relationship with Asia requires coordination with Merkel's friends in the White House.

...is that they demanded that George W. Bush alter our national security policy to bring it into line with the pro-Saddamists -- Jacques Chretien, Jean-Claude Chirac, Kofi Annan, and Gerhard Schroeder -- all of whom were subsequently repudiated even in their own bailiwicks, never mind by the rest of the world and by history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM


Reality Show: Sen. McCain Injects Some Useful Truths Into The Presidential Campaign (The Washington Post, April 29, 2007)

[M]r. McCain's remarks upon his formal entry into the 2008 presidential campaign offered a reminder of the appealing qualities that attracted so many voters eight years ago -- and that make him a formidable contender still. [...]

Whatever your position on the war, then or now, Mr. McCain deserves credit for foresight and consistency about how the war should have been waged.

The senator spent the bulk of his speech outlining other priorities, including reforming a wasteful and needlessly complex tax code, reducing dependence on foreign oil, maintaining free trade while finding more effective ways to help workers hurt by globalization, and helping the uninsured "without bankrupting the country."

His discussion of the looming problem of runaway entitlement spending was forthright As with the other areas he discussed, the senator didn't spell out what tough choices he would endorse, but at least he addressed the issue, neither discounting the magnitude of the problem nor promising a painless solution. This is why the 2008 race is better for having Mr. McCain in it.

Mr. McCain bebnefits greatly from the fact that none of his opponents can say what they actually believe because the other Republicans are too liberal for the party, the Democrats for the country. Only Fred Thompson can really challenge him at this point and is too much the neophyte to win in the GOP, despite his myriad strengths.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Why you pretend to like modern art (Spengler, 5/01/07, Asia Times)

After I wrote Admit it - you really hate modern art (January 30), many readers assured me that I was quite mistaken about them. Especially among the educated elites there are many who will go to their graves proclaiming their love for modern art, and I owe them an explanation of sorts. At the cost of most of few remaining friends, I will provide it.

You pretend to like modern art because you want to be creative. In fact, you are not creative, not in the least. In all of human history we know of only a few hundred truly creative men and women. It saddens me to break the news, but you aren't one of them. By insisting that you are not creative, you think I am saying that you are not important. I do not mean that, but will have to return to the topic later.

You have your heart set on being creative because you want to worship yourself, your children, or some pretentious impostor, rather than the god of the Bible. Absence of faith has not made you more rational. On the contrary, it has made you ridiculous in your adoration of clownish little deities, of whom the silliest is yourself.

One of the things that makes Rationalists so precious is that their refusal to believe that they are comical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Blair's regrets over three wasted years: Reforms were too slow, says Falconer (Nicholas Watt and Patrick Wintour, April 30, 2007, The Guardian)

Tony Blair will mark his decade in office this week with "big regrets" at his inability to move more quickly to reform Britain's public services, one of his closest cabinet allies has claimed.

As the prime minister puts the finishing touches to his resignation statement, in which he will declare that Labour has transformed schools and hospitals, Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, told the Guardian that up to three years were lost after the 1997 election victory. "One of Tony's big regrets, I think, would be that we didn't realise quick enough that if you genuinely wanted to change the way the public service delivered for the public you needed to embark upon a process of cultural change," he said in an interview to mark Mr Blair's 10 years in Downing Street.

"I think it is 99-2000 that he begins to realise that something more profound is required."

Lord Falconer, who has played a key role as Mr Blair's "fixer", said the initial period after Labour's landslide general election victory became an immense struggle, like "pushing water up hills".

The assessment of the pace of reform in key areas of domestic policy, such as health, education and welfare, comes as Mr Blair moves to underline the significance of his legacy.

On the other hand, Bill Clinton wasted the opportunity of his later years, when he could have worked with the GOP to radically reform the welfare state along Pinochetist lines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


The real winner of an SNP victory in Scotland this week would be English nationalism (Melanie Phillips, 30th April 2007, Daily Mail)

[Alex Salmond] has even suggested that an independent Scotland would remain a loyal subject of the English Crown. Some might find such touching effusions simply incredible; but the fact remains that Mr Salmond has skilfully transformed his image from Braveheart warrior to emollient statesman. [...]

[T]he potential implications for British politics are seismic.

Labour will lose not just Scottish Executive seats but its national power base. For its strength as a national political party derives from its representation in Scotland, where the vast majority of MPs are Labour.

Gordon Brown, meanwhile, will have lost the country which has been regarded as his personal fiefdom and where so many of his own placemen have been put into positions of power. If he can't even win in his own 'backyard, his party will be asking, how is he going to win in the rest of the nation? At the very moment he finally comes into his longed-for inheritance at Westminster, he will lose the basis of his political power.

Indeed, the fact that he is so determined above all else to become Prime Minister in the English Parliament has confirmed many Scots in their opinion that he has betrayed his origins.

The best solution for the colonies was, likewise, independence from the English Parliament but fealty to the Crown.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 AM


The Pirate Pose
: Twenty years after Bonfire of the Vanities, the author checks in on the new masters of the universe and finds them even coarser and ruder than their predecessors could have ever imagined being. (Tom Wolfe, May 2007, Conde Nast Portfolio)

Somehow the members of the Knickerbocker, the Brook, the Union, and the Leash, for that matter, do not seem too keen on recruiting people infinitely richer than they are who pride themselves on their aggressive nature and will happily see to it you enjoy doing things their way; even less so, the three clubs that count, socially, in Greenwich, the Round Hill Club, the Field Club, and the Greenwich Country Club. The country club is bigger and doesn’t seem as picky as the others, but it is not eager to welcome these people.

So what? We will build our own clubs! Our own sports emporia! Our own resorts! We will outdo the wobbly too-tall old elite with their scrubbed-wood aesthetic left over from the early days of the 20th century. Have you -ever actually been inside that Round Hill Club they’re so proud of? The worn wood, the rickety sashes, the tired paint, the failing fabrics, the cracked leather—the place is falling apart, the way we see it. (We’re capital-M Modern.) Imagine how it would look if it were set beside Stevie Cohen’s own 32,000-square-foot clubhouse and 14 acres of grounds! Next to Stevie’s art collection—which is nothing less than a world-class museum!—Stevie’s indoor basketball court, year-round swimming pool under glass, his gym, his spa facility, his theater for movies and every other electronic medium, his hair salon, two putting greens complete with sand traps and a fairway in between, and, as the pièce de résistance, an ice rink the size of Rockefeller Center’s with a 30-by-24-foot rink house for the Zamboni! Clubhouses? We’ll show you clubhouses!

The only thing missing is an entire 18-hole golf course. There is always the Burning Tree Country Club, whose membership is largely Jewish, nearby, but who has to bother with “nearby”? When we want to play golf, we just go over to the Westchester County Airport, where our Gulfstreams, Falcons, and full crews fly us anywhere in the world to play on courses that make the Greenwich Country Club look like miniature golf. Every weekend? Anytime we want!

As for the co-op buildings in New York, their residents having felt already burned by the fabulous new money, some are now considering new screening devices. The “good buildings” have traditionally required full financial--disclosure statements, certified by C.P.A.’s, to make sure applicants have enough money. The board of a building on Park Avenue is now considering rejecting applicants who have too much money. These days, when a personal net worth punches a hole in the earth’s atmosphere, it invariably signals one of these people.

In Greenwich, the two charities with old-money cachet, namely the Boys and Girls Club and Greenwich Hospital, will gladly accept these people’s money but don’t seem to have them on their boards. So these people’s money goes mainly to the Bruce Museum, which has no such scruples. The Bruce Museum’s Renaissance Ball is perhaps the most lavish party of the year in Greenwich.

In New York there are now, as there have been for 125 years, two cracks in the “walled city,” as Theodore Dreiser called it in Sister Carrie, through which new money can slip: charity and the arts.

But these people keep getting stuck halfway. On the art front, they soon realize they have a problem. New York’s great cultural repositories, the museums, libraries, and performing arts centers, have a social hierarchy. To use an N.C.A.A. analogy, there is Division I, consisting of (1) the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (2) the New York Public Library, (3) the Museum of Modern Art, and (4) the Frick Collection. From that elevation it is a terrifying plunge in status to Division III: the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, Lincoln Center, the Museum of Natural History, the Morgan Library, the Museum of the City of New York, and the New-York Historical Society. There is no Division II.

All these institutions are dying to get their hands on the stupendous palletloads of money that socially ambitious hedge fund managers have amassed. The Division III institutions can’t resist. For example, 43-year-old David Ganek of Level Global Investors is not only on the board of the Guggenheim, he is treated as a star. He is touted as having assembled a breathtaking art collection of his own, of the Richard Prince, Jeff Koons hot-now variety. He was co-chairman of the museum’s annual benefit extravaganza in November and appeared onstage with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and celebrity lure Dennis Hopper. The party brought in $4 million, which made the museum’s director ecstatic.

On the other hand, it was anemic compared with the Robin Hood Foundation’s $48 million. That may explain why another Division III board, Lincoln Center’s, has made Bruce Kovner of Caxton Associates vice chairman and featured star. Kovner has donated $20 million (as well as $25 million to Juilliard). He is also head recruiter of other hedge fund managers. Last year, he convened a breakfast meeting in his office with six of them, including Steven Mnuchin of Dune Capital and Eric Mindich of Eton Park, both of whom are also on the Division III Whitney’s board.

Lincoln Center’s gratitude to Kovner knows no boundaries—except possibly for a single tiny leg up he accomplished in all innocence. There were old-money sorts on the board who rolled their eyes in a northerly orbit the time he sat down at a meeting and slung one leg over the arm of his chair.

Only halfway, halfway, halfway … These people have yet to actually make it into the walled city and onto the boards of the Big Four. Steve Cohen has a $3 billion fortune, according to Forbes, and a huge collection of Modern and contemporary art reportedly worth $500 million one day and $750 million the next. That may be so, and the Museum of Modern Art would no doubt like to have some of both, but Cohen has gotten no further at the museum than its paintings-and-sculpture-acquisition committee. Ganek, likewise, has made it to the Metropolitan Museum’s photography committee, and that’s it for him.

Edith Wharton’s New York new money, embodied by Undine Spragg in The Custom of the Country, wanted nothing so much as to replicate the status symbols and customs of old money—the architecture, the art collections, the country estates, the dress, manners, politesse, sophistication, worldly wisdom—in order to achieve certified respectability. But we can assume no such thing about our new hedge fund money. Getting in socially in the Edith Wharton sense may be part of their ambition, but it crashes head-on into their most cherished values, their very status fixation. The animal spirits that have brought them their astounding fortunes and, equally important, honor in the eyes of one another practically guarantee that they will be shut out of places like the Knickerbocker, the Brook, the Union. For that matter, even a much younger, hipper club, such as Soho House, hasn’t welcomed them either—and these people thought they would fit right in.

So in the spring of 2005, they opened their own club, the Core Club, in midtown Manhattan, a club to beat all clubs, a billionaires club. No amenity would be regarded as too over-the-top. Every member working out in the club’s fitness center would have a butler at his elbow. To do what, was not immediately evident. Nevertheless, the prospects of the ultimate club seemed so swell, 100 people ponied up $100,000 each as “elite founding members,” reported a wide-eyed Time magazine. Each of the 400 other members—500 was the limit—agreed to pay an initiation fee of $55,000, staggeringly high for an in-town, indoor club, plus $1,000 a month in dues, meaning the club would take in $6 million a year in dues alone. The membership was a royal assortment of hedge fund managers and suchlike: David Ganek, Richard Perry, Stephen Schwarzman, Barry Rosenstein, Teddy Forstmann, Bruce Wasserstein, plus a few female celebrities such as Patty Smyth and Fergie, Duchess of York, plus—ahhhh, the poetry of status justice!—the bitterest and most poetic mocker of private clubs in our time … Daniel Loeb! Daniel Loeb … club man at last! The club remains flush with cash and Croesuses. Some have been saying, however, that there are reports that the members are not exactly wild about going to the club to beat all clubs anymore.

If so, the reason is not hard to find. At the Soho House, and wherever else the younger smart set convenes, the Core Club is now known as the “club for people who can’t get into clubs.”

...you don't belong anywhere and money doesn't buy belonging.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


UK troops lead anti-Taliban operation (Independent, 30 April 2007)

British troops were today leading an operation to drive the Taliban out of one of its heartlands in the south of Afghanistan.

Operation Silicon, involving more than 2,000 Nato and Afghan troops, was launched before dawn in the Sangin valley area of Helmand province.

In the first hours of the operation, several Taliban compounds were seized and destroyed amid moderate resistance from the group's fighters, said a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Regional Command South.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Iran's long road to Sharm al-Sheikh (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 5/01/07, Asia Times)

Although Iran's delegation will be headed by Mottaki, all eyes are on Ali Larijani, the powerful head of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, who made a surprise visit to Baghdad to discuss the summit, about which Larijani has expressed "certain ambiguities and questions".

But the ambiguities may run on both sides, and a key question centers on Iran's own diplomatic priorities. Larijani is fresh from constructive dialogue with Javier Solana, the foreign-policy chief of the European Union, in Ankara last week, on Iran's nuclear program. Solana has said Larijani told him Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had expressed "readiness to engage in direct dialogue" with the United States. [...]

Rice appears to be amenable to Solana's suggestion and has stated that she does not "rule out" the possibility of direct dialogue with Mottaki on the sidelines of the Egypt conference, adding that if this were to take place, she would discuss not only Iraq but also the nuclear issue.

Inside the struggle for Iran (Simon Tisdall, April 30, 2007, The Guardian)

A grand coalition of anti-government forces is planning a second Iranian revolution via the ballot box to deny President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad another term in office and break the grip of what they call the "militia state" on public life and personal freedom.

Encouraged by recent successes in local elections, opposition factions, democracy activists, and pro-reform clerics say they will bring together progressive parties loyal to former president Mohammad Khatami with so-called pragmatic conservatives led by Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani. [...]

[O]pposition spokesmen say their broader objective is to bring down the fundamentalist regime by democratic means, transform Iran into a "normal country", and obviate the need for any military or other US and western intervention. Rightwing political and religious forces, divided and dismayed by Mr Ahmadinejad's much-criticised performance, are already mobilising to meet the threat.

The movement amounts to the clearest sign yet within Iran that the country is by no means unified behind a president who has led it into confrontation with the west over the nuclear issue, while presiding over economic decline at home.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


Keep Foot On, Or Chaos and "Shiastan" (Leon Krauze, 4/30/07, PostGlobal)

Four years ago, George W. Bush opened Pandora’s Box. And now there is no realistic way to put the lid back on.

For a while now, there have been only two possible outcomes in Iraq: the bad and the worse. Which is the latter and how to avoid it? The worst outcome for Iraq would be a full-scale civil war that ends in the country’s partition. There is little question that, once the American forces leave, the country will become a far bloodier and more lawless battleground than it is now.

Once that happens, I see no reason why Moqtada al-Sadr and other Shiite strongmen would seek any kind of compromise with Sunni leaders in a pluralist government. Outright Shia domination of Iraq should never be allowed.

...of why Mexicans should be allowed to dominate Mexico.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Did Justices' Catholicism Play Part in Abortion Ruling? (Robert Barnes, 4/30/07, Washington Post)

Is it significant that the five Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold the federal ban on a controversial abortion procedure also happen to be the court's Roman Catholics?

It is to Tony Auth, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He drew Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. wearing bishop's miters, and labeled his cartoon "Church and State."

Rosie O'Donnell and Barbara Walters hashed out the issue on "The View," with O'Donnell noting that a majority of the court is Catholic and wondering about "separation of church and state."

Not even the Stupid Party can fail to exploit this divide and win the Latino vote in perpetuity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Fluorescent Bulbs Are Known to Zap Domestic Tranquillity: Energy-Savers a Turnoff for Wives (Blaine Harden, 4/30/07, Washington Post)

Alex and Sara Sifford, who live here on the Oregon coast, want to do the right thing to save a warming world.

To that end, Alex Sifford, 51, has been buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use about 75 percent less power than incandescent bulbs. He sneaks them into sockets all over the house. This has been driving his wife nuts.

She knows that the bulbs, called CFLs, save money and use less energy, thus cutting greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change. She knows, too, that Al Gore, Oprah Winfrey and the Department of Energy endorse them. Still, the bulbs, with their initial flicker, slow warm-up and slightly weird color, bug her.

"What really got me was when my husband put a fluorescent in the lamp next to my bed," recalls Sara Sifford, 53. She said she yelled at her husband for "violating the last vestige of my personal space."

Experts on energy consumption call it the "wife test." And one of the dimly lighted truths of the global-warming era is that fluorescent bulbs still seem to be flunking out in most American homes. [...]

"There is still a big hurdle in convincing Americans that lighting-purchase decisions make a big difference in individual electricity bills and collectively for the environment," said Wendy Reed, director of the federal government's Energy Star campaign, which labels products that save energy and has been working with retailers to market CFL bulbs.

"I have heard time and again that a husband goes out and puts the bulb into the house, thinking he is doing a good thing," Reed said. "Then, the CFL bulb is changed back out by the women. It seems that women are much more concerned with how things look. We are the nesters."

But just try getting them to dust....

Lamps Out Over D.C. (MARK STEYN, April 30, 2007, NY Sun)

Everything's difficult, isn't it? In the Democratic presidential candidates' debate, Senator Barack Obama was asked what he personally was doing to save the environment and replied that his family was "working on" changing their light bulbs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


Maliki's Office Is Seen Behind Purge in Forces: Some Commanders Had Pursued Militias (Joshua Partlow, 4/30/07, Washington Post)

A department of the Iraqi prime minister's office is playing a leading role in the arrest and removal of senior Iraqi army and national police officers, some of whom had apparently worked too aggressively to combat violent Shiite militias, according to U.S. military officials in Baghdad.

Since March 1, at least 16 army and national police commanders have been fired, detained or pressured to resign; at least nine of them are Sunnis, according to U.S. military documents shown to The Washington Post.

Although some of the officers appear to have been fired for legitimate reasons, such as poor performance or corruption, several were considered to be among the better Iraqi officers in the field. The dismissals have angered U.S. and Iraqi leaders who say the Shiite-led government is sabotaging the military to achieve sectarian goals.

Why did they think Mookie agreed to the deal?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


What war?: At home, the economy soars and Americans let the good times roll. Meanwhile, Iraq burns. (Niall Ferguson, April 30, 2007, LA Times)

On Wednesday, fueled by seemingly limitless liquidity and reports of strong corporate earnings, the Dow Jones industrial average hit a record 13,000. The financial markets seem to have shrugged off their recent anxieties about so-called subprime mortgages, focusing instead on the megabucks being made at the other end of the income distribution scale. A survey by Alpha magazine revealed that three American hedge-fund managers earned more than $1 billion last year.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Iraq burns. More than 3,100 Americans have died there, the equivalent of 100 Virginia Techs.

A more apt comparison for his point is that it's the equivalent of winning WWII while losing only three USS Indianapolis's of men the entire war. Or, to stick with his Vietnam example, at this rate we'd have to stay in Iraq for something like seventy years to match our losses in that earlier war. The war has had so little impact at home because in national and historical terms it is a pretty trivial exercise. Do Americans today even recall our fighting in the rather similar war in the Philippines?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Generation tolerant: A cellphone poll of California youth shows remarkably liberal attitudes toward race but conservative beliefs on family values. (LA Times, April 30, 2007)

The survey, sponsored by New America Media, found dramatically liberal attitudes when it comes to the issue of getting along. Two-thirds say they have dated someone of another ethnicity, and a whopping 87% say they would marry or have a life partner of a different race. [...]

Most young adult Californians have many friends outside their own race, the survey found. For Asians and Anglos, the majority of their friends are of different races, while Latinos and blacks said that about 40% of their friends come from different groups.

And as for illegal immigration, basically the kids don't see what the fuss is all about — 82% say illegal immigrants should be given a chance to earn citizenship.

But if you think that California is producing a generation of young liberals, think again. The young people in the survey swing to the right when it comes to family values and religion.

Their No. 1 concern is the breakdown of the family. Second is violence in their neighborhoods. A majority say they are religious and spiritual. They plan to go to college, have jobs, marry, buy homes, raise kids.

From their morality follows the views on race and immigration.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Sarkozy: I am no fascist (even if I sound like one) (John Lichfield, 30 April 2007, Independent)

The centre-right candidate gave a cheering crowd of 20,000 people a piece of vintage "Sarko" - 80 minutes of finger-jabbing indignation against the political system to which he has belonged for 20 years.

True, M. Sarkozy, 52, the centre-right candidate for the presidency, angrily denied that he was a fascist or even a "nationalist". He reminded the crowd that France's greatest, modern political hero, Charles de Gaulle, had also been accused of having fascist, anti- democratic leanings. True, M. Sarkozy promised, if elected, to introduce a small dose of proportional representation into one of the two houses of the French parliament. That is a long-standing demand of supporters of the centrist UDF party who hold the key to Sunday's election.

Otherwise, it was a high-octane performance of controlled populism, touching every button of anger and indignation in a country with as many grumbles as cheeses. M. Sarkozy said that he wanted to be the "spokesman for France".

He wanted to stand up to all those who fleeced the French people, which included "politicians, technocrats, trades unionists and fraudsters". Presumably, M. Sarkozy does not count himself as a politician.

This was the language of the extreme, populist right, in the name - M. Sarkozy insisted - of consensual, pragmatic, liberalising reform. M. Sarkozy may not be a fascist but he is not afraid of sounding like one. This may be the secret of his success but it also explains why a large part of France - and not just on the left - is scared of the prospect, even the probability, of a Sarkozy presidency.

Doesn't that mean an even larger part is afraid of his opponent?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Malians vote in model election for Africa (Simon Usborne, 30 April 2007, Independent)

It is one of the world's poorest countries and lies at the heart of a region often marred by vote rigging and polling day violence, but as Malians await the results of yesterday's election - their fourth free ballot in 15 years - the former French colony is quickly emerging as a democratic model for Africa.

A steady trickle of voters began lining up early yesterday morning at polling stations in Bamako, the Mali capital, and throughout the vast West African state, which stretches from the windswept dunes of the Saharan north to the fertile cotton fields that lie beside the River Niger in the south.

Soldiers guarded voting centres and early balloting was reported to be calm and orderly, in stark contrast to the bloody chaos that beset elections in Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, earlier this month.

Most voters predicted an easy re-election victory for former coup leader, President Amadou Toumani Touré, known as "The Soldier of Malian Democracy" by his supporters after he saved the country from decades of dictatorship.

Speaking to reporters after voting in central Bamako, Mr Touré, who faced competition from seven other candidates, was quick to affirm that elections would be free and fair.

"My wish is for a turnout which reflects our democratic culture," he said as supporters mobbed him chanting "ATT", the initials by which is he popularly known.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Companies Shift More Donations To Democrats: House Leaders' Coffers Swell as Balance Swings Against Republicans (BRODY MULLINS and DEAN TREFTZ, April 30, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

For the new Democratic bosses in the House, power has quickly translated into money, as many big companies have shifted more of their campaign contributions to the new congressional majority, and away from longtime Republican allies.

The top four House leaders -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and their main lieutenants -- raised a combined $2.24 million in the first quarter of 2007, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. That was more than three times as much as the $697,694 they raised in the first quarter of 2005, the comparable period in the previous two-year election cycle.

Business is buying and the Democrats are selling and so it goes...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Yanks' pitching, not Torre, is to blame (Ken Rosenthal, 4/30/07, FOXSports.com)

Torre shouldn't be fired Monday. He shouldn't be fired Tuesday. He probably shouldn't be fired at all this season, not when general manager Brian Cashman handed him a pitching staff that would make any manager look dumb.

Even Cashman could not have anticipated that four of the Yankees' top six starters would get injured, though the losses of Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano do not exactly qualify as surprises.

The truth is, rival general managers have spent years waiting for this moment — the moment when the Yankees' pitching staff would be caught in a difficult transition between old and young.

In other words, everyone but Cashmoney anticipated it. The problem is that, once you get past Phil Hughes, there is no young to be integrated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith (JODI KANTOR, 4/30/07, NY Times)

Members of Trinity United Church of Christ squeezed into a downtown hotel ballroom in early March to celebrate the long service of their pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. [...]

Few of those at Mr. Wright’s tribute in March knew of the pressures that Mr. Obama’s presidential run was placing on the relationship between the pastor and his star congregant. Mr. Wright’s assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February.

Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate who says he was only shielding his pastor from the spotlight, said he respected Mr. Wright’s work for the poor and his fight against injustice. But “we don’t agree on everything,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve never had a thorough conversation with him about all aspects of politics.”

It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright. [...]

It is difficult to tell whether Mr. Obama’s religious and political beliefs are fused or simply run parallel. The junior senator from Illinois often talks of faith as a moral force essential for solving America’s vexing problems. Like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John Edwards, his fellow Democratic candidates, he expresses both a political and a religious obligation to help the downtrodden. Like conservative Christians, he speaks of AIDS as a moral crisis. And like his pastor, Mr. Obama opposes the Iraq war.

His embrace of faith was a sharp change for a man whose family offered him something of a crash course in comparative religion but no belief to call his own. “He comes from a very secular, skeptical family,” said Jim Wallis, a Christian antipoverty activist and longtime friend of Mr. Obama. “His faith is really a personal and an adult choice. His is a conversion story.”

The grandparents who helped raise Mr. Obama were nonpracticing Baptists and Methodists. His mother was an anthropologist who collected religious texts the way others picked up tribal masks, teaching her children the inspirational power of the common narratives and heroes.

His mother’s tutelage took place mostly in Indonesia, in the household of Mr. Obama’s stepfather, Lolo Soetoro, a nominal Muslim who hung prayer beads over his bed but enjoyed bacon, which Islam forbids.

“My whole family was Muslim, and most of the people I knew were Muslim,” said Maya Soetoro-Ng, Mr. Obama’s younger half sister. [...]

Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring. He was also interested in the world beyond his own; in 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views.

Followers were also drawn simply by Mr. Wright’s appeal. Trinity has 8,500 members today, making it the largest American congregation in the United Church of Christ, a mostly white denomination known for the independence of its congregations and its willingness to experiment with traditional Protestant theology.

Mr. Wright preached black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people, whom by virtue of their oppression are better able to understand Scripture than those who have suffered less. That message can sound different to white audiences, said Dwight Hopkins, a professor at University of Chicago Divinity School and a Trinity member. “Some white people hear it as racism in reverse,” Dr. Hopkins said...

It's going to be like clubbing seals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Sexier and slimmer with a pill that raises the libido while making you thin (SAM GREENHILL, 29th April 2007, Daily Mail)

It could be the answer to many women's prayers - not to mention men's.

A wonder pill has been developed which not only boosts a female's sex drive, but helps her lose weight at the same time.

So far it has been tested only on shrews...

Skinny horny harpies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Pats procure incomparable weapon (John Tomase, 4/30/07, Boston Herald)

It’s fair to say that Tom Brady has never thrown to anyone even remotely approximating Moss, who’s big (6-foot-4), strong (210 pounds) and blazingly fast (4.29-second 40-yard dash, if you’re to believe his representatives).

He can sprint by defensive backs on one play, then leap over them on the next. He can stretch the field before the catch, and run with the ball after it. He’s a weapon on either 10-yard line.

Oh, and he’s dying to win a Super Bowl, as he proved yesterday by leaving $21 million on the table to sign a one-year, $3 million deal with the Pats that includes $2 million in incentives.

“I’ve made a lot of money in my career and I still have money in the bank,” Moss said. “So by me coming to an organization like the Patriots, why would money be a factor?” [...]

Imagine being an NFL defensive coordinator and game-planning for the Pats. Moss and Donte’ Stallworth represent vertical threats on every play. Wes Welker works the slot as well as anyone. Tight end Ben Watson, freed from the pressure of serving as the top target, can exploit mismatches underneath. That still leaves Kevin Faulk out of the backfield, Laurence Maroney in the running game or tight end David Thomas sitting in a zone.

It’s no stretch to say the Patriots have transformed the league’s worst receiving corps into its best. Last year’s starters, Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, might not even make the team. Same goes for old favorite Troy Brown.

Straight out of Moneyball, Belichick picks up the undevalued troubled guy (likewise with their first round pick) when the rest of the League suddenly shies away.


Patriots have dealt themselves into Super Bowl favorite's role with Moss
(David Steele, April 30, 2007, Baltimore Sun)

Moss going to the Patriots -- baggage, Hall of Fame numbers and all -- eclipsed everything that had happened in the draft Saturday and everything that followed it yesterday. JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, all the overblown, premature hype surrounding the most out-of-control non-event in sports, were quashed by the news of Moss joining forces with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, fellow wide receiver newcomers Donte' Stallworth and Wes Welker and some guy named Adalius Thomas on the three-time champs.

Even the most hard-core, purple-clad here in town now have to look at everything that's happened with their team this offseason, and everything that will happen, through the Moss-New England filter. [...]

Remember last January: Brady had Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney as his wide receivers, and he had them one minute away from a Super Bowl berth in the AFC title game at the RCA Dome.

He also gets A.D. on defense this season. The Ravens, you might have heard, lose A.D. on defense.


Of course, they lost to the Colts because they stopped running themselves and couldn't stop the run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


BY DAVID GALULA (Ann Marlowe, 4/29/07, NY Post)

Galula's big idea was simple: to place small numbers of the 100 soldiers under his command in isolated villages, living among the populace. His company was "spread over six posts with 10 to 15 men each." Galula's men supervised and funded the building of the area's first schools, first latrines, garbage pits and street cleaning in their villages.

The top brass didn't get it. An inspecting general complained, "Your posts are utterly useless, their strength is too small to allow a serious sortie against the guerrillas!" The generals were looking for body counts.

Galula "tried to explain that the very fact that I could disperse my company so much was proof of my success." He realized that the objective wasn't to kill terrorists so much as to create an environment in the civilian population where they could not find support.

Galula's practice mustn't be mistaken for the nonsense known as "winning hearts and minds," which suggests bribing the locals into obeying the laws of their own elected government. Galula restored the government's control over disputed areas and showed the locals that taking the government's side made sense.

"Pacification" also discusses in grainy detail such issues as the use of torture and the press' role in counterinsurgency. The Algerian war was the last major conflict fought just before the advent of television, but print journalism had an enormous influence on its conduct.

Happily, the U.S. Army has recognized Galula's insights.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Isolationist Ignorance in Action: Watch Lou Dobbs ascend to the pinnacle of protectionist prevarication. (Donald Luskin, 4/30/07, National Review)

The advocates of free trade have on their side over 200 years of settled science in economics, going all the way back to Adam Smith. The advocates of protectionism have Lou Dobbs.

With his nightly harangues on CNN and through his books, Lou Dobbs has become the public face of today’s dangerous movement toward economic isolationism. That movement has become all the more dangerous since the Democratic party took control of Congress. Beholden to Big Labor, the Democrats have no choice but to cater to that powerful lobby’s fears of a dynamic globalized American economy.

Last month, when Dobbs testified before Congress, it was not just a case of preaching to the choir, or even the blind leading the stupid. It was vivid proof of Goethe’s famous dictum, “Nothing is more terrible than ignorance in action.”

Except ignorance in power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


All Eyes on Slovakia's Flat Tax: Q&A with: Laura Alfaro, Vincent Dessain, and Ane Damgaard Jensen (Martha Lagace, April 30, 2007, HBS Working Knowledge)

The flat tax is an idea that's burst to life in post-communist Eastern and Central Europe, especially in Slovakia. But is the rest of the world ready? A new Harvard Business School case on Slovakia's complex experience highlights many hurdles elsewhere, as HBS professor Laura Alfaro, Europe Research Center Director Vincent Dessain, and Research Assistant Ane Damgaard Jensen explain in this Q&A.

Q: Could the flat tax only have been introduced in the context of other reforms that Slovakia was managing during its post-communism transition, such as labor reform and privatization?

Alfaro: It is true that the countries that have introduced a flat tax have all been in macroeconomic situations where something had to be done to foster growth and attract investments, which indicates a major trend for linking tax reform with, for instance, privatization and labor and welfare reforms. So existing evidence indicates that overhauling other parts of the public system, in order to afford a perceived cut in tax revenues through a flat tax implementation, is needed. This, however, does not indicate that the opposite is impossible.

It also has to be said that a lot of the appeal behind the flat tax is related to the reduction in the administrative burden, but also that flat taxes tend to be low. So one could question whether the theoretical flat part of the flat tax concept is in fact what has been attractive or whether the flat aspect has been a political way to sell the overall tax reform, and hence mostly low taxes.

Q: Can Slovakia serve as a model for other countries that are weighing a flat tax? If so, how should other countries learn from positives and negatives of the Slovak experience?

Dessain: Estonia, Slovakia, and other Eastern European countries are in fact already serving as models for other countries that are considering adopting a flat tax. The former Prime Minister of Estonia, Mart Laar, was the pioneer in Eastern Europe, implementing a flat tax in 1994. One of the fascinating aspects about the Estonian example is that Laar thought that a flat tax had already been tried and proved successful in Western economies, as the literature on the concept was widespread and it seemed so obvious to him what a flat tax could do. So he decided to give it a try. And this is essentially what he advocates: that countries should try it out. Laar has made a tour of many countries and recently paid a visit to Costa Rica to talk to government officials, members of congress, economists, and businesspeople about his country's experiences with the flat tax. He also gave advice on what he believed the flat tax should be linked with (privatization and access to a free trade area) in order to turn the economy around and make it grow.

Jensen: Former Finance Minister Ivan Mikloš, who introduced the flat tax in Slovakia, has also been a strong advocate for the wider spread of the concept. Martin Bruncko, a 2003 graduate of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and the chief economic adviser to Finance Minister Mikloš, has traveled extensively throughout Europe in order to explain what a flat tax is and what it can do. Interestingly enough, Western European countries are also listening. But again, the fact that many countries are thinking about adopting a flat tax may have something to do with finding a political way to implement low corporate tax rates. And there are fears of a race to the bottom. However, recent events in Slovenia might demonstrate a reversal in Eastern Europe. Slovenia is one of the smallest among the recent wave of EU entrants, and it is also the closest to the standards of living enjoyed in the more established EU countries. Slovenia rejected the flat tax, which is consistent with the aversion seen in some EU 15 countries.

Alfaro: Overall, other countries can look to Slovakia as a model of what might happen when a flat tax is adopted, as this example illustrates several aspects. The overall economic performance has improved: Real output growth in Slovakia was 8.2 percent in 2006—a record high. However, it is difficult to disentangle the effects of the flat tax from that of the other reforms. Clearly, a lesson to be learned from Slovakia is that such a drastic change to fundamental tax habits needs to be thoroughly explained to all individuals and groups affected by it. It has to be taken into consideration, however, that flat taxes in these countries were often made possible by the fact that tax collection had been limited under the communist regime, so in any case tax revenues were likely to increase. Recently, the government elected in June 2006 introduced some changes to the original reforms, even through these changes were, in the eyes of many, quite minor. But again, the case of Slovakia highlights that beliefs and views of a country on what is fair matter for the long-term sustainability of reforms.

Q: What do you think it would take for the idea of a flat tax to gain ground in the U.S. or Western Europe?

Dessain: Economists and business leaders alike are talking about flat taxes in many countries. As Western European countries lose ground vis-à-vis countries in Eastern Europe endowed with low tax rates, low salaries, and skilled labor, governments will increasingly look for ways to reform their tax and labor systems in order to attract business—or simply stop businesses from delocalizing. The direct effect of the Slovak flat tax can be seen in Europe, where neighboring Austria has lowered its corporate tax rate from 34 percent to 25 percent. This has been perceived by many as a clear sign that the Slovak reforms have been attractive to foreign investors. In response to broader initiatives, Germany has recently decided to reduce its corporate tax rate from 39 percent to below 30 percent in an effort to make the country attractive for investors.

Jensen: Similarly, voters in Finland decided to oust the ruling Social Democrats in favor of parties promoting tax cuts in response to the attraction of neighboring Estonia's flat tax. Most recently, the United Kingdom reduced its corporate tax rate from 30 percent to 28 percent and its income tax rate from 22 percent to 20 percent in an attempt to simplify the tax system. Still, the British government decided to reduce social security contributions and industry allowances, as the initiative was supposed to be revenue neutral.

Alfaro: In spite of these examples of tax reduction, there is a long way to go from lowering tax rates to introducing a flat tax in the U.S. or in Western Europe. This would require a change of attitude in countries marked by a substantial history with progressive taxation. To many, the concept of applying the same rate of tax to everyone regardless of income is simply not possible. Most certainly, the elimination of deductions and exemptions—such as mortgages, etc.—is a battle many politicians will not want to take on in the near future. Also, the argument that a flat tax is likely to be paid by the middle classes is probably one reason why the concept has yet to gain ground in the U.S. or in Western Europe; the middle class simply doesn't want it. As economist Joseph Schumpeter said, "The spirit of a people, its cultural level, its social structure, the deeds its policy may prepare—all this and more is written in its fiscal history."

One of the perverse ironies of the success of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush is that our taxes are too low for us to care much about making the code more coherent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

April 29, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


Climate change hits Mars: Mars is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap (Jonathan Leake, 4/29/07, Sunday Times of London)

Scientists from Nasa say that Mars has warmed by about 0.5C since the 1970s. This is similar to the warming experienced on Earth over approximately the same period.

Since there is no known life on Mars it suggests rapid changes in planetary climates could be natural phenomena.

The mechanism at work on Mars appears, however, to be different from that on Earth. One of the researchers, Lori Fenton, believes variations in radiation and temperature across the surface of the Red Planet are generating strong winds.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, she suggests that such winds can stir up giant dust storms, trapping heat and raising the planet’s temperature.

Strange, scientists solemnly assured us in the 80s that the dust kicked up by nuclear warheads would cause global winter. If they weren't smarter than everyone else you'd swear they had no idea what they're talking about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


Tulowitzki turns unassisted triple play (Owen Perkins, 4/29/07, MLB.com)

Rookie shortstop Troy Tulowitzki gave the Coors Field crowd something to cheer about Sunday, once they recovered their dropping draws.

In the top of the seventh inning of a tied game, with runners on first and second and nobody out, Chipper Jones hit a line drive at Tulowitzki, who snared the ball in flight, stepped on second to double up Kelly Johnson, and tagged Edgar Renteria just between first and second for an unassisted triple play.

Just to be safe, Tulowitzki fired the ball to Todd Helton at first, but three outs was sufficient on the play.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


New Saudi tack on Al Qaeda: The arrest of 172 suspected militants reveals a Saudi public that is helping in the fight against the terrorist group. (Dan Murphy, 4/30/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

What happened, analysts say, is that the Saudis came to view Al Qaeda as a legitimate threat as average Saudis – who had been somewhat supportive of Al Qaeda when its attacks seemed targeted at driving the US out of Afghanistan or Iraq or focused on foreigners in the kingdom – grew disgusted with bloodshed on their own soil. [...]

"More importantly, there has been a change in Saudi society," says Alani. "Al Qaeda made a strategic mistake by attacking Saudis, Arabs, and Muslims. For the sake of killing one foreigner, they are killing five or 10 Saudis. The average man no longer believes it is jihad. Any attacks in Saudi Arabia they see as unjustifiable, illegitimate, and terrorism, not jihad."

...is that the enemies have been too crazy to win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


California to expand its packed prisons: California's solution to desperately overcrowded prisons seems simple enough: Expand the prisons. (Ben Arnoldy, 4/30/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) this week is expected to sign a $7.4 billion bill that will primarily add 53,000 beds, with a $50 million sliver going to rehabilitation programs. California's state prisons currently house 172,000 convicts, nearly twice the system's capacity. [...]

But the bill's critics – and even some lawmakers who voted for it – decry the lack of changes to sentencing and parole policies, and the proportionately small funding increase for rehabilitation.

It's always fun to hear the American Right -- where the prison population is over 2 million and growing -- denounce the strictness of Islamists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Friend John Barrett, Jr. has a jazz radio show on WIDR, which streams over the web. He invites everyone to join him for the broadcast from noon to three on Sunday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


Islam's coming renaissance will rise in the West: A wave of rationalism is spreading from emigre Muslim intellectuals (Ameer Ali, April 30, 2007, The Australian)

IN the minds of many Muslims, an imagined West is the source of all or most of the problems afflicting the world of Islam. Similarly, in the West, an imagined Islam, purposefully structured and popularly propagated, has created a perception that this religion is a threat to Western civilisation. Between these mutually exclusive mind-sets a new phenomenon is emerging in the real West, laying the foundations for a new wave of Islamic rationalism in the 21st century.

The Islamic resurgence of the post-1970s strengthened the hands of the religious orthodoxy and engendered the spectre of political Islam but failed to rekindle the spirit of intellectual rationalism that once pushed Islam to the frontiers of science and modernity. That failure was compounded and worsened by the rise of tyrannical regimes in the Muslim world. The absence of democracy and lack of popular support forced these regimes to look for legitimacy elsewhere.

By championing the cause of religious orthodoxy of the dominant variety in each context, these regimes masqueraded as champions of popular and populist Islam. Any intellectual pursuit that threatened this state-mullah alliance was aggressively curtailed. In Egypt, in Pakistan, in Syria, and in many other Muslim countries Muslim intellectuals who challenged populist Islam faced condemnation not only by the religious hardliners but also by the secular elite that governed these countries.

One happy outcome of this tragic situation was the voluntary exodus of Muslim intellectuals to the West. From an inhospitable environment of political tyranny and ideological oppression Muslim scholars migrated to find refuge in the West, where the mind enjoys more freedom to think, debate and express. As a result, the migrant Muslim intellectuals are now producing a new genre of publications, many of which are questioning centuries-old interpretations of the primary texts in Islam. A new era of ijtihad (independent thinking) rooted in scientific, objective reasoning is spreading from the West and is beginning to make its mark in the Muslim mind-set.

One of the things this points up -- if all our military forces in the Middle East don't -- is that Islam actually is under assault from the West. Not that it's a bad thing....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Boris the Fighter (BILL CLINTON, 4/29/07, NY Times)

The last time I saw Mr. Yeltsin during my presidency was in June 2000, six months after he became the first leader of Russia to step down voluntarily as part of a constitutional transition. Though the burdens of office and his heart surgery had taken a toll on his health, he still had his trademark bear hug and smile. He clearly thought he had done the right thing in stepping down early and in selecting as his successor Vladimir Putin, who had the intelligence, energy and stamina the country needed to get Russia’s economy on track and handle its complicated politics.

I told him I was impressed by what I had seen of President Putin but wasn’t sure he was as comfortable with or committed to democracy as Mr. Yeltsin. Mr. Yeltsin replied that we would have disagreements as Russia found its way into the future, but that President Putin would not turn the clock back and we would find a way to work together.

I saw Mr. Yeltsin one more time, when I went back to the Kremlin for the 75th birthday party President Putin held for him last year. He seemed in good health and at peace with himself and his work.

Boris Yeltsin was intelligent, passionate, emotional, strong-willed and courageous. He wasn’t perfect, and he had to contend with staggering political and economic challenges as he led Russia away from centuries of authoritarian rule. But lead he did. At the end of the cold war, Russia and the world were lucky to have him.

History will be kind to my friend Boris.

...that nothing made George Washington greater in the eyes of his contemporaries than his willingness to turn power over to others. Just because it took a Russian two hundred years to follow the example doesn't make it any less worth celebrating.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Somalia's 'total nightmare': The Somali capital Mogadishu has this week seen some of its worst fighting for 16 years. A fragile transitional government there has been trying to destroy groups of fighters left over from the so-called Islamic Courts group which was in control of much of the country last year. (Adam Mynott, 4/29/07, BBC News)

Just a few months ago, Mogadishu and much of Somalia were enjoying their most stable period for 16 years.

Under the brief control of the Islamic Courts Union, the grip of the warlords was loosened and some of the basic expectations of an organised life were being restored.

Schools were opening, police were being trained, roadblocks were removed and litter was even collected from the streets.

Many Somalis were unhappy with the more extreme rules of the Islamic Courts: closing down the cinemas, banning music and insisting women were veils.

But the Islamists were able to spread their power steadily through more of Somalia and this alarmed the government in neighbouring Ethiopia who have long feared a radical Islamic group in control of the country.

It worried the Americans too, who feared the Islamic Courts were harbouring al-Qaeda elements.

So with tacit American approval and with other international governments looking on, Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to support the weak transitional government.

Ethiopia is now trapped.

It wants to get out of Somalia, but cannot go until what it calls the "Islamist threat" is eliminated.

But every moment Ethiopian troops spend in Somalia stirs up more resentment and their presence acts as a compelling recruiting sergeant for insurgents, who say they will die trying to rid their country of the Ethiopian invaders.

The one big mental adjustment the Bush Administration hasn't made is the recognition that just as Americans may choose a conservative religious leadership, so too may Muslim nations. Until they can process the fact that Islamist parties can lead popular governments they'll be at odds with their own strategy of liberalization/democratization.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Catalytic Converters (ANDREW TABLER, 4/29/07, NY Times)

Direct inquiries into Shiite numbers in Syria raise more questions than answers, as the sensitive topic gives observers complex incentives to round up or down. When I asked Sayyid Abdullah Nizam, leader of Syria’s Shiite community, to estimate the size of his flock, he put it at less than 1 percent of the population of 19 million. Asked the same question, the leader of Syria’s Sunnis, Grand Mufti Sheik Ahmad Badr Eddin Hassoun, replied carefully; he said that 6 to 8 percent of Syrians now adhere to the “Jaafari school,” the school of Islamic jurisprudence followed by mainstream Shiites in Iran and Lebanon.

It was only when I met an actual convert that the mufti’s words began to make sense. Louay, a 28-year-old teacher in Damascus wearing jeans, a wool sweater and a close-cropped beard, seemed the epitome of the capital’s Sunni middle class. Yet within the last year, as Hezbollah rose to national prominence in the Lebanese government, he — along with his mother — began practicing Shiite Islam. He changed the wording of his prayers and his posture while praying, holding his arms at his sides instead of before him, and during Ramadan he followed Shiite customs on breaking the fast. In many Middle Eastern countries, his conversion wouldn’t be possible — it would be considered apostasy. The Syrian regime restricts its people’s political liberties, but unlike most other ruling dynasties in the Arab world, it allows freedom of religion. “In Saudi Arabia, they ban books on other faiths,” Louay said. “In Syria, I can buy whatever book on religion I want, and no one can say a word.”

Politics, it seems, is only one of the attractions of Shiism. In addition to Louay, I spoke with four other Syrian converts, who asked not to be identified for fear of harassment by Sunni fundamentalists. Louay and the others all spoke of religious transformation as much as of Hezbollah. “Half the reason why I converted was because of Ijtihad,” Louay said, using the Arabic word for the independent interpretation of the Koran and the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. Suddenly the mufti’s enigmatic answer became clearer. Ijtihad is practiced more widely by Shiites of the Jaafari school than by Sunnis. These Shiites believe that, on all but the largest moral issues, Muslims should interpret their faith by reading holy texts and reasoning back and forth between them and current issues. Many Sunnis say they quietly practice Ijtihad in everyday life as well, but conservative Sunnis do not encourage individual interpretation of the Koran.

For Louay, the difference is immense. “Take the Internet. Some conservative Sunni sheiks say the Internet is haram,” or illegal, he said. “If I go back to Jaafar al-Sadiq” — the eighth-century founder of the Jaafari school — “I will not find a ruling on it. So instead I use my mind to sort it out. On the Internet, some things are positive, some negative. I choose the positive for myself.”

Americans might find it surprising that the man Louay looks to for more current and oftentimes liberal guidance on controversial issues is Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. For four decades, Syrians had to rely on advice from the local Sunni clerics who appeared in state-owned media. With the advent of satellite television and the Internet, however, Louay said he is now able to keep up with his favorite scholars across the Islamic world. You could easily draw a comparison with the way Protestants in Europe were able to follow the likes of Martin Luther after the introduction of movable type.

Even if Shiitization is at this point as much a rumor as a confirmed fact, the subject is highly charged. It is part of a much larger discussion among Washington’s Sunni allies about the rise of a “Shiite Crescent” — an Iranian-backed alliance stretching westward from Iran to Syria to Lebanon that could challenge the traditional power of Sunni elites. With its Sunni masses and minority Tehran-backed regime, Syria is the weak link in the chain. Many Syrians say they are worried Iraq’s sectarian strife might spread to Syria; the execution of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, at the hands of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, infuriated many. The conversion of Syrians to Shiism could create still more conflict.

Few places need such conflict more than Syria.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Change France but keep the lunches (Caroline Wyatt, 4/29/07, BBC News)

As France goes to the polls many agree that change is vital to tackle the slowing economy and growing public debt. But they also want to keep the best of what makes the country so distinctive... so French...

Choosing to die off comfortably is perfectly rational.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Iraqis reclaim Ramadi from insurgents: Residents turn against militants and cooperate with the U.S. after three years of oppression and killings of friends (Chris Kraul, April 29, 2007, LA Times)

They closed down Hissam Hamed's Internet cafe, told history professor Abid Mohammed how to pray, and killed 16-year-old Ammar Alwani because he scoffed at their religious edicts.

Nearly everyone you talk to in Ramadi has a story about how life under the insurgents calling themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq progressively worsened over the three years they were in control here, finally pushing the residents of this Sunni Triangle city into the unlikely arms of the U.S. military.

When they arrived in the summer of 2003, the Islamic extremists found Ramadi fertile ground for recruits to fight the U.S. Marines and soldiers who had occupied the city after overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Al Qaeda in Iraq even declared an Islamic state of Iraq, with Ramadi its provisional capital.

But over time, the extremists overplayed their hand by imposing strict religious doctrine, hijacking the city government and enforcing a brutal intimidation campaign to keep the locals in line, residents said.

"They killed people right in front of our eyes," said Sameh Khalif, an apparel merchant on Market Street, referring to insurgents from foreign countries, including Syria, Algeria and Morocco, who flocked to Ramadi.

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mike Silverman, who commands a unit in charge of northwest Ramadi, permits himself the hope that a corner has been turned here in Al Anbar province, thanks in large part to Al Qaeda in Iraq's missteps.

"They nearly achieved it, turning Al Anbar into the new Afghanistan," Silverman said. "But they shot themselves in the foot. Their violent tactics just discredited them further and further." [...]

The militants also targeted Ramadi's educators, killing several schoolteachers as well as 10 professors at Al Anbar University who refused to teach Sharia, or Islamic law, said Arab history professor Abid Mohammed. As a result, Ramadi's school system was closed for months because students and teachers were terrified that Al Qaeda would raid classes.

But schools in most of the city have been open since September, officials say, and Mohammed is running a special literacy school for security force recruits working out of the new police station in the Faraj neighborhood.

Young entrepreneur and Internet cafe operator Hamed said Al Qaeda in Iraq threatened to blow up his shop unless he shut down his two computers. "They ruined my income," Hamed said. "Then suddenly the Iraqi police were here and security has improved, and so I've reopened. Of course I support the security forces here."

That support has been evidenced by a surge in police and army recruits, a downturn in attacks on U.S. forces and a rise in weapons cache recoveries, a cycle fed by improved security. Most insurgents were flushed from Ramadi in 10 U.S.-led military operations between January and mid-April. In its wake, the military left a score of police stations manned by the fresh recruits.

"I couldn't have joined a year ago. I would have been beheaded," said police recruit Nasser Ibrahim Hussein, 20, as he stood guard at Ramadi General Hospital.

...they can't control any territory anywhere for any significant period of time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Revenge of the Dark Knight: Hard-edged comics guru Frank Miller is hot in Hollywood. Now for the graphic details (Geoff Boucher, April 29, 2007, LA Times)

FRANK MILLER, his pale hands wrapped around a cane and the smoke from his cigarette swirling beneath the brim of his Homburg, sat at the poolside bar at the W Hotel in Westwood and watched the swimsuits saunter by. "I'm married to New York," he said between sips of a fizzy Red Bull cocktail. "But there's something to be said about Los Angeles too."

Miller arrived at the W a month and a half ago with a one-week reservation, but the L.A. fling is still going and he's still living out of a suitcase filled with black clothes. The reason is that Miller, the most important comic book artist of the last 25 years, is enjoying his moment in the Hollywood sun. There was, of course, the record-breaking March box office of "300," a lovingly faithful adaptation of Miller's bloody 1998 graphic novel, but there's also the two sequels to "Sin City" now in the pipeline and the Batman project now being filmed in London that borrows its title from Miller's 1986 masterpiece, "The Dark Knight Returns." "They finally got the title right," Miller said with a pretend sneer. "I was wondering when that would happen."

Miller fancies himself a curmudgeon, and on talk shows he's proven to be a firebrand with his political views challenging modern-day Islam. But it's hard to stay grumpy when everything is going your way. Like most stars of the comic-book community (where he is the rare artist who became equally celebrated as a writer), he had become accustomed to be treated like a valet by Hollywood — Hey, kid, thanks for the keys and the vehicle, here's a couple of bucks — and then forced to watch the studios wreck everything on screen. The 1990s Batman movies, for instance, would not have happened without Miller's work, but they often ignored or trampled his contributions to the character. On two "RoboCop" films, meanwhile, Miller was hired as a screenwriter, but the efforts fell flat. Then Elektra, a beloved character he created, tanked badly on the screen in the hands of others.

Now there's a sweet satisfaction in the fact that the new Hollywood approach is to hire fan-boy directors and show fawning respect for the source material. "Sin City's" Robert Rodriguez even insisted on sharing director credits with Miller on those films (a maverick stand that cost Rodriguez his membership in the Directors Guild), and that led directly to a somewhat shocking development: Miller has now been tapped to write and direct his own film based on Will Eisner's classic noir hero "The Spirit." [...]

MUCH has been made of Miller's politics in the wake of "300." The deliriously violent and stylized sword film is based on a Spartan battle in 480 B.C., and although Miller wrote and drew the story for Dark Horse comics a decade ago, in film form it was received by many as a grotesque parody of the ancient Persians and a fetish piece for a war on Islam. Miller scoffs at those notions. "I think it's ridiculous that we set aside certain groups and say that we can't risk offending their ancestors. Please. I'd like to say, as an American, I was deeply offended by 'The Last of the Mohicans.' "

Still, Miller gets stirred up about any criticism of the war in Iraq or the hunt for terrorists, which he views as the front in a war between the civilized Western world and bloodthirsty Islamic fundamentalists.

"What people are not dealing with is the fact that we're going up against a culture that finds it acceptable to do things that the rest of the world left behind with the barbarians in the 6th century," Miller said. "I'm a little tired of people worrying about being polite. We are fighting in the face of fascists."

The director of "300," Zack Snyder, chuckled about the portrayal of Miller as a conservative on the attack or a "proto-fascist" as one pundit called him. "I don't think he really has politics, he just sees the world in moral terms."

Memo to Mr. Snyder: that's all conservatism is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Deadly crashes are wrecking young lives (Marie Szaniszlo, Heather Schultz and Laura Crimaldi, April 29, 2007, Boston Herald)

The lucky survivors of teen car wrecks are warning their peers against the heartbreaking formula of speed and an inexperienced driver after a devastating spate of car crashes claimed the lives of at least nine young Bay Staters in the last 19 days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Hill's big break (CAROL SLEZAK, 4/29/07, suntimes.com)

Rich Hill's curveball has been called lethal, unhittable, dominating, baffling, wicked and nasty, and that's just for starters. It's tough to find the perfect word for Hill's curve. How do you describe a pitch that breaks so sharply, it looks as though it's being yanked toward the ground by an invisible string? Magical?

''I don't think it's magic,'' the Cubs left-hander said with a laugh. ''I think probably the majority of it is God-given. I've been fortunate to be blessed with a good curveball. Sometimes I try to teach my curveball, and I don't know how to explain it. You can tell somebody how to do it, but unless you have the ability to do it, it just usually doesn't come out.''

Holding a baseball, the 6-5, 205-pound Hill demonstrated the grip as he tried to explain it.

''If the horseshoe part of the stitching is facing where it makes [the letter 'C'], you put your [middle] finger on the outside seam of the 'C,''' he said. ''Your thumb goes underneath, on the other seam. And you want to throw it almost like a chop action with your hand.''

And then, abracadabra, the ball will do its thing and frustrate the heck out of the batter. (Note to kids: Don't try this at home. Hill didn't throw his first curve until he was 17.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Saved by the (Later) BellTen schools in Massachusetts are testing a first-in-the-nation initiative to extend learning time. Believe it or not, the students (after initial grumbling) seem to like it, and so do their parents. Shouldn't every school rethink its schedule? (Lisa Prevost, April 29, 2007, Boston Globe)

School schedules that stretch into late afternoon are keeping kids off the street and away from the television, filling once-empty hours with extra teaching, homework help, sports, music lessons, and theater. Some students relish the structure, some still resent it. Either way, cops say it’s keeping kids out of trouble, and some parents say it’s boosting their children’s grades. Politicians like Governor Deval Patrick and US Senator Ted Kennedy are promoting the longer school day as the 21st-century norm in a global economy where American students’ competitors spend an average of 30 percent more time in school.

Most folks applaud expanded days for underperforming schools and students whose parents don’t have the resources to provide quality after-school activities. (Together, the 10 ELT schools have high rates of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals and low rates of proficiency on state exams.) But the politically charged question is whether a longer day is right for all schools. Many middle-class parents, after all, are already paying for Little League and tutors and piano lessons. Their children are already getting high marks on standardized tests and college acceptances. Why lengthen their school day if it means stealing hours from family time?

Advocates say all children deserve more enriching class time (and, in many cases, a restoration of the art and physical education classes that have been eliminated over the years). They hope that momentum for longer days will build on its own if kids at underperforming schools begin showing their stuff on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams, the proficiency tests that reveal school performance and dictate whether high schoolers can graduate. Despite the disagreement, educators know there is nothing like the gift of time.

At the 10 schools participating in this reform experiment, the teachers’ obvious elation – in spite of their fatigue – is perhaps the most persuasive indicator that the program makes sense. “I’m absolutely exhausted, but this has been one of my most rewarding teaching years in all my life,” says Stephanie Baker, a family and consumer science teacher who has taught at Fall River’s Matthew J. Kuss Middle School, another ELT grant recipient, for the past 22 years. Baker says the longer day allows her more time to answer students’ questions and to connect with them on a more personal level, especially in her new afternoon cooking class. “I feel good about this year,” Baker says. “There’s something absolutely right about this.”

Education officials here and around the country are keeping close watch on the experiment. The ELT initiative is an outgrowth of the work of Massachusetts 2020, the nonprofit foundation started by venture capitalist and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli. After initially leading the effort to strengthen Boston’s after-school programs, the foundation rolled that success into a drive to make those programs part of the normal school day. “It’s not that it’s more convenient to extend the day,” Gabrieli says. “It’s just that you can’t do it all in less time.” As it stands now, higher-income parents are unlikely to entrust the public schools with providing the same quality of afternoon enrichment they’re currently paying for elsewhere, he acknowledges. More middle-class districts, including Framingham and Methuen, are considering a longer day, however. As the concept gains traction, Gabrieli says, “we’re hoping that it will be hard to resist.”

Also watching the experiment closely is Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who supports extended days for students falling behind as well as four successful students, who would benefit from extra enrichment programs like art. “Our school day was created 70 years ago, when we had farms,” he says. “If we really want to get serious about education, we need longer school days.”

While school districts in other states are adding an hour here and there at underperforming schools, Massachusetts is the first state to sponsor competitive grants for expanding learning time and to open up the opportunity to the entire system (even schools meeting state testing goals). Every participating school must commit to extending its schedule by 25 to 30 percent. If Massachusetts 2020 is the chief architect of the expanded day, the principals and staff are the craftsmen, molding the concept into a workable form that looks slightly different at each school. One of their primary aims, and the measure by which they will be judged, is to move as many kids as possible to proficiency on the MCAS. Across the 10 schools, about 65 percent of students have not achieved proficiency in English/language arts and about 75 percent have fallen short in math. Most of the kids at the ELT institutions began to fall behind in elementary school, “so to help them catch up requires a very intense intervention,” says Michael Sabin, principal of Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, one of the ELT schools. “It’s not realistic to think it’s going to happen without more time.”

Simply tacking two or three hours onto the school day isn’t enough. Research has shown the strongest links between additional time and increased learning when those hours are used for more direct instruction and active learning.

Kids should also start their school day later and get more sleep in the morning.

April 28, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 PM


Why health saving accounts are growing popular (KAREN KERRIGAN, April 28, 2007, Chicago Sun-Times)

There are two things a small business or self-employed person dreads the most: taxes and health-care costs. However, the small business and self-employed sectors have been increasingly turning to a solution that provides a much-needed break: health savings accounts.

These accounts help control costs and provide attractive tax advantages, both for people who purchase their own insurance (self-employed) and for small business owners. The market is headed in this direction as the U.S. Treasury estimates the number of Americans with health savings accounts will grow to 25 million to 30 million by 2010. Many insurance companies are seeing the growth in their popularity and are marketing a variety of products.

United Healthcare's Golden Rule Insurance Co., based in Indianapolis, pioneered the health savings account concept about 15 years ago, and now 40 percent of its customer base has the accounts. Other companies including Aetna, Cigna and Blue Cross Blue Shield continue to enter the health savings account market in large part because of its attractiveness to small-business and self-employed individuals.

That attraction is being driven in part by prohibitive costs. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits 2006 Survey, health insurance premiums have ''increased more than twice as fast as workers' wages and overall inflation.'' Premiums have actually increased by 87 percent over the past six years.

The same report noted that the self-employed pay an average of $11,480 for family health coverage. This is where health savings accounts become an increasingly attractive solution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 PM


10 Steps to Reforming Baby-Boomer Retirement (John C. Goodman, Devon M. Herrick and Matt Moore, April 2007, Kiplinger's)

Step 2: Improve 401(k) Plans. More than half of all workers invest in a 401(k) or similar savings vehicle. But not enough people are investing appropriately for their future. They either do not invest enough or they pursue investment strategies that will not provide an adequate retirement income. To correct this problem, employers should be given a safe harbor against lawsuits and receive other regulatory relief if they invest employees in diversified portfolios, follow an investment strategy that becomes more conservative as the employee ages, and convert the funds into an annuity at retirement -- unless the employee specifically opts out.

Step 3: Expand Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). Current tax law penalizes those who do not have employer-sponsored savings plans. For example, participants in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan can contribute up to $15,000 annually, while nonparticipants can contribute only $4,000 to a tax-advantaged IRA. Treat all savers equally. [...]

Step 6: Use the Roth Method of Taxation. Unlike traditional savings vehicles, deposits into Roth IRAs are made with after-tax dollars, and withdrawals are tax free. Given the effects of the Social Security benefits tax and the expectation that tax rates will be much higher in the future (in part to deal with the expenses of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), Roth taxation makes sense for many taxpayers. Yet Roth IRAs, like traditional IRAs, are discriminated against relative to employer-provided savings plans. Level the playing field. [...]

Step 9: Create Health Savings Accounts for Seniors. Despite coverage from Medicare, seniors pay half their medical bills out of their own pockets. And they have few opportunities to use tax-free savings to prepare for these expenses. Under current law, Medicare-eligible seniors cannot open or make deposits to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and opportunities for young people to make deposits are too restrictive. Clearly we need a more liberal HSA policy. Short of that, seniors should be able to turn IRA and 401(k) funds into new Roth HSAs so money spent on health care is not taxed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 PM


Iranian tip-off may have led Americans to al-Qaeda leader: A major in Saddam's army, believed to have masterminded the London bombings, could have been betrayed in Tehran (Jason Burke, April 29, 2007, Observer)

Abdul Hadi, 45, a former Iraqi army officer who speaks five languages and is a key link between the al-Qaeda leadership in western Pakistan and militants in Iraq, had 'met with al-Qaeda leaders in Iran' and had urged them to support efforts in Iraq and to cause 'problems within Iran', US military sources told The Observer

Elements within the complex matrix of interest groups that make up the Iranian regime, who have co-operated with Western intelligence services before when it has served their purposes, provided crucial elements of information, possibly through intermediaries, allowing Abdul Hadi to be captured. 'They may have felt he posed an equal threat to them,' said one Paris-based Middle Eastern diplomat yesterday. 'One of Tehran's biggest fears is of an alliance between Kurdish ethnic separatists in the northwest and al-Qaeda.'

Any such help would have been highly secret, given the tense relations between the Iranian regime and Western nations which came to a head with last month's detention of British naval personnel, allegations that Tehran is supporting Shia militants in Iraq and fierce recriminations over Iran's continued pursuit of nuclear technology.

However, senior US intelligence officials told The Observer that the Iranian government has 'in some cases' been helpful in tracking and 'disabling' key militants crossing their national territory between Iraq and Afghanistan. The key Egyptian militant Saif al-Adel, once in charge of training al-Qaeda's new recruits, and one of Osama bin Laden's sons are both believed to be under some kind of detention in Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 PM


US aircrews show Taliban no mercy (Gethin Chamberlain in Kandahar, 29/04/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

Caught in the middle of the Helmand river, the fleeing Taliban were paddling their boat back to shore for dear life.

Smoke from the ambush they had just sprung on American special forces still hung in the air, but their attention was fixed on the two helicopter gunships that had appeared above them as their leader, the tallest man in the group, struggled to pull what appeared to be a burqa over his head.

As the boat reached the shore, Captain Larry Staley tilted the nose of the lead Apache gunship downwards into a dive. One of the men turned to face the helicopter and sank to his knees. Capt Staley's gunner pressed the trigger and the man disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust.

By the time the gunships had finished, 21 minutes later, military officials say 14 Taliban were confirmed dead, including one of their key commanders in Helmand.

The mission is typical of a new, aggressive, approach adopted by American forces in southern Afghanistan and particularly in Helmand, where British troops last year bore the brunt of some of the heaviest fighting since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

American commanders believe that the uncompromising use of airpower in recent weeks has been a key factor in preventing the Taliban from launching their expected full-scale spring offensive against coalition forces and forcing them to rethink their tactics.

Aircrews say they have been told to show no mercy, but to press home their advantage until all their targets have been destroyed.

Just wait 'til the feared Afghan winter sets in.....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


Motherhood On Hold (Julia Stuart, 29 April 2007, Independent)

Look around and there are certainly the signs. Most of us know of women in their mid-thirties who haven't had children. But research published last week showed a startling picture: 40 per cent of graduate women are still childless by the age of 35, an increase of 20 per cent in just over a decade. A third of female university graduates will never have children. Some right-wing commentators blamed these "selfish" women for the pensions crisis facing the country. Others asked, "Who is to blame?" But the author of the research - along with women all over Britain - says that the real questions are much more complex.

The findings come from a study of more than 5,000 women born in 1970 and tracked throughout their lives by researchers at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, based at the Institute of Education, University of London. "Highly educated women," says Professor Heather Joshi, head of the research team, "are more likely not to have children young and they are more likely to end up with none. It's probably because they have better paying careers, better alternatives: they may have the kind of careers in which they need to settle before they think about having breaks or finding the means to combine parenthood with paid work. They may have higher aspirations about the housing market and who they will settle with. There are a lot of factors."

The author Lionel Shriver, 49, chose not to become a mother. "For me, establishing myself as a writer was so important, and took so long, that it consumed my entire reproductive lifetime ... I didn't feel I could afford the distraction and emotional energy that it would have taken to try and raise a family at the same time."

Shriver, who won the Orange Prize in 2005, believes that had she become more successful earlier in her career, she would have been more likely to have had children. But she is at peace with her decision.

It's not as if her books will be read, so what has she achieved?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


Ukraine is Drifting to the West - Slowly but Surely (Oleksandr Shepotylo, The Ukranian Observer)

Democracy works efficiently when there is a wide consensus over the ideological values across different groups of population. When the population is ideologically united and determined to protect their economic and political rights, the ruling elites are forced to sign a mutual pact even if they have serious conflicts of interest. The elites have limited opportunities to manipulate public opinion and prefer to follow the rules and agreements that mark the boundaries of their political powers specified in the pact.

The Glorious Revolution in England in 1688 was an illustration of Weingast's ideas. In the aftermath of the revolution, the Bill of Rights had been signed in 1689. The document declared the separation of powers between the Crown and the Parliament and outlined the basic rights of the citizens that could not be violated by anyone, including the King and other influential individuals. The Bill of Rights proved to be very successful and laid down the basis of the unwritten British Constitution because it was accepted not only by elites but also by the citizens.

On the other hand, a democratic country may be trapped into political disputes and economic stagnation if a broad consensus of citizens has not been reached. In these circumstances, any political agreement among elites is unstable and frequently violated.

The problem of finding common ideological ground becomes more severe when a country is sharply divided in religious, ethnic, or cultural dimensions. In his study, Weingast pointed out directly that countries with culturally or ethnically diverse population have major difficulties in finding social consensus and implementing efficient economic policies.
The Universal of National Unity signed in August of 2006 by the President and by four political parties represented in the Verkhovna Rada in Ukraine was meant to unite the nation and elites over some basic principles. However, as we all observed, the Universal proved to be extremely ineffective in reaching its declared goals.

The Universal was not reached as the consensus across various groups of the whole population but was worked out as a partial compromise of political elites. Therefore, the Party of Regions felt comfortable to violate the Universal because it was not obliged to follow the principles declared by the party's supporters.

The Ukrainian example is not unique. The most culturally and ethnically diverse countries are located in Africa according to a study conducted by Alberto Alesina, a highly regarded Harvard University economist. Therefore, it is not surprising that African countries have major difficulties in forming stable governments and experience frequent military coups. [...]

Regression analysis of the last parliamentary elections shows that the choice of voters was primarily driven by ideological and cultural differences. The share of Ukrainian and Russian speaking population at the oblast level - an indicator of cultural differences -explains about 86 percent of all variations in the share of voters who voted for the "Party of Regions".

Likewise, this explains 74 percent of the cross oblast differences in voting patterns of the Block of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYT) supporters. [...]

The ideal solution would by to put aside our differences and concentrate on common economic interests. If our politicians accepted the current division of power and started working on reforming the tax system, legal system, social security, education and medicine we would all benefit, regardless of the language we speak. Unfortunately, our political leaders will not leave well-enough alone and try as hard as they can to exploit our differences in their political games. They have done it many times before and I see no reason why they would be willing to stop these practices.

There is hope though. Speaking of the long term horizon, Ukraine is demographically drifting to the European Union. First of all, the population mass is literally moving to the west - Western regions of Ukraine and Kyiv outperforming Eastern regions in the demographic dynamics - due both to natural demographic changes and to migration processes. Secondly, the younger generations of Ukrainians are less likely to vote for parties with the socialist or communist ideologies, as the regression analysis showed. Both trends work in favor of the Europe-oriented liberal economic model of development and reduce ideological and cultural differences for the whole country.

...the principle of self-determination has acted as a solvent upon countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Letter from Liberia: Liberia is a country mired in its past. But, as Zadie Smith discovers when she meets its traumatised boy soldiers, struggling rubber workers and children desperate to learn, it is taking its first tentative steps to a better future. In the second part of the Observer and Oxfam's 'Words in Action' initiative, the prize-winning writer finds hope amongst the heartbreak (Zadie Smith, April 29, 2007, The Observer)

The street scene in Monrovia is post-apocalyptic: people occupy the shell of a previous existence. The InterContinental Hotel is a slum, home to hundreds. The old executive mansion is broken open like a child's playhouse; young men sit on the skeletal spiral staircase, taking advantage of the shade. Abraham points out Liberia's state seal on the wall: a ship at anchor with the inscription The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here. In 1822 freed American slaves (known as Americo-Liberians or, colloquially, Congos) founded the colony at the instigation of the American Colonization Society, a coalition of slave owners and politicians whose motives are not hard to tease out.

Even Liberia's roots are sunk in bad faith. Of the first wave of emigrants, half died of yellow fever. By the end of the 1820s a small colony of 3,000 souls survived. In Liberia they built a facsimile life: plantation-style homes, white-spired churches. Hostile local Malinke tribes resented their arrival and expansion; sporadic armed battle was common. When the ACS went bankrupt in the 1840s, they demanded the 'Country of Liberia' declare its independence. It was the first of many category errors: Liberia was not yet a country. Their agricultural exports were soon dwarfed by the price of imports. A pattern of European loans (and defaulting on same) began in the 1870s. The money was used to partially modernise the black Americo-Liberian hinterlands while ignoring the impoverished indigenous interior. The relationship between the two communities is a lesson in the factitiousness of 'race'. To the Americo-Liberians, these were 'natives' - they continued an illicit slave trade in Malinke people until the 1850s. As late as 1931, the League of Nations uncovered the use of forced indigenous labour.

Abraham, in the front seat, bends his head round to Lysbeth in the back: 'You know what we say to that seal? The Love of Liberty MET us here.' This is a popular Liberian joke. He laughs immoderately. 'So that's how it was. They came here and always kept the power away from us! They had their True Whig Party and for 133 years we were a peaceful one-party state. But there was no justice. The indigenous are 95 per cent of this country, but we had nothing. Oh, those Congos - they had every little bit of power. Everyone in the government was Congo. They did each other favours, gave each other money. We were not even allowed the vote until the Sixties!'

Lys asks a reasonable question: 'But how would one know someone was a Congo?'

'Oh, you would know. They had a way of speaking, a way of dressing. They always called each other Mister. Always the Big Man. And they lived very well. This,' he says, waving at the devastation of Monrovia, 'was all very nice.'

The largest concrete structures - the old ministry of health, the old ministry of defence, the True Whig Party headquarters - are remnants of the peaceful, unjust regimes of President Tubman (1944-71) and President Tolbert (1971-80), for whom Liberians feel a perverse nostalgia. The university, the hospital, the schools, these were financed by a True Whig policy of massive international loans and deregulated foreign-business concessions, typically given to agriculturally 'extractive' companies which ship resources directly out of the country without committing their companies to any value-added processing. For much of the 20th century Liberia had a nickname: Firestone Republic. The deals which condemned Liberians to poverty wages and inhumane living conditions were made in these old government buildings. The people who benefited most from these deals worked in these buildings. Now these buildings have rags hanging from their windows, bullet holes in their facades, and thousands of squatters inside, without toilets, without running water. Naturally, new buildings are built, new deals are made. On 28 January 2005, while an interim 'caretaker' government presided briefly over a ruined country (the elections were due later that year), Firestone rushed through a new concession: 50 cents an acre for the next 37 years.

A processing plant - for which Liberians have been asking since the Seventies - was not part of this deal. Ministers of finance and agriculture, who had no mandate from the people, who would be out of office in a few months, negotiated the deal. It was signed in the cabinet room at the Executive Mansion in the presence of John Blaney, US ambassador at the time. During the same period, Mittal Steel acquired the country's iron ore, giving the company virtual control of the vast Nimba concession area. The campaigning group Global Witness described the Mittal deal as a 'case study in which multinational corporations seek to maximise profit by using an international regulatory void to gain concessions and contracts which strongly favour the corporation over the host nation'.

It is a frustration for activists that Liberians have tended not to trace their trouble back to extractive foreign companies or their government lobbies.

Their sense of connection to their Anglospheric roots is why there's reason to hope for their future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


When Needed Most, Pettitte Can’t Steady the Sliding Yankees (TYLER KEPNER, 4/28/07, NY Times)

The season is too young to be slipping away from the Yankees. But it has gotten ugly quickly, with the team on its longest losing streak since 2000. The voices in the organization that grumble about Manager Joe Torre, whose contract expires after the season, will grow louder if the losses keep mounting.

Torre left Yankee Stadium at 12:40am this morning, much later than usual. He was nearly fired after last season, and if the Yankees are swept this weekend, his job security would be very much at risk. It is doubtful that General Manager Brian Cashman could save Torre’s job again.

Yet there are some nights Torre seems helpless, when stalwarts like Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera let him down. Last night the Yankees gave a lead to Pettitte, their best starter, in the middle innings. But with a burst of wildness by a veteran, another game got away.

“This is as frustrating as you can get,” Pettitte said. “It’s embarrassing, is what it is.”

...the question arises of whether giving Torre this bad a pitching staff wasn't intended to grease the skids so they could get rid of him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Joe Biden is Dead Right on Iraq: He may not have a prayer of becoming president. But the six-term Democratic senator from Delaware is the only presidential candidate talking sensibly about Iraq. (Michael Hirsh, 4/26/07, Newsweek)

Biden...has been on the record for a year with a fully thought-out vision for Iraq that offers a real alternative to the bleak choice we’re getting from everyone else. Let’s face it, the “debate” pits the Bush administration’s model-democracy delusion against the Democrats’ let’s-just-get-out state of denial. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee—far and away the most experienced foreign-policy hand among the Democratic candidates—has proposed a quasi-partition plan that actually does reflect the bloody reality emerging on the ground. His scheme calls for dividing Iraq into three or more separate regions held together by a loose central government, thus clearing the way for withdrawing most U.S. troops by 2008. It’s a solution, not a surrender, and it’s what they used to call realpolitik.

Actually, it's an excellent illustration of the delusional nature of the Realists that they imagine the 80% of Iraq that is under attack would tolerate a state in their midst for the 20% of attackers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps (Naomi Wolf, Chelsea Green Publishing)

Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down -- the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel and took certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy, but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated in the United States by the Bush administration.

We need to make a deal with these people: they can publish this stuff if we can keep them at Gitmo.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


CIA held suspect in secret prison for months (Mark Mazzetti and David S. Cloud, April 28, 2007, )

The CIA held a captured Al Qaeda leader in a secret prison since autumn and transferred him a week ago to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, officials said Friday.

The detainee, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, an Iraqi Kurd who is said to have joined Al Qaeda in the late 1990s and ascended to become a top aide to Osama bin Laden, is the first terrorism suspect known to have been held in secret Central Intelligence Agency jails since President George W. Bush announced the transfer of 14 captives to Guantánamo Bay in September.

Intelligence officials said that under questioning Iraqi had provided valuable intelligence about Al Qaeda's hierarchy and operations. It appears he gave up this information after being subjected to interrogation methods approved for the Defense Department, not harsher methods that the CIA is awaiting approval to use.

Human rights advocates expressed anger that the United States continued a program of secret detention, and some wondered why the CIA claimed it needed harsh interrogation methods to extract information from detainees when it appeared that Iraqi had given up information using Pentagon-approved interrogation practices.

You'd think human rights advocates would be pleased that we'd obtained intelligence that might help save innocent people, or do only evildoers have these rights?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM

THIS JUST IN... (via Ed Driscoll):

Keeping it unreal: We consider the "primitive" music of blues singers such as Leadbelly to be more authentic than that of the Monkees. But all pop musicians are fakes: a review of Faking It: the quest for authenticity in popular music by Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor (Jeff Sharlet, 16 April 2007, New Statesman)

Hugh Barker and Yuval Taylor, two publishing professionals who have turned out their personal record collections to produce a persuasive defence of inauthenticity as the defining characteristic of great popular music, borrow the title of their book, Faking It, from a suicide note - the most authentic, and also the stupidest, genre of all. "The fact is," wrote Nirvana's singer Kurt Cobain shortly before eating the muzzle of a shotgun in 1994, "I can't fool you, any one of you . . . The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I'm having 100% fun." [...]

Consider the case of Mississippi John Hurt, the subject of the book's longest and most powerful essay. First, there's his name: Mississippi was an add-on from the record company. Then there's his reputation as a patriarch of the Delta blues: Hurt wasn't from the Mississippi Delta and he insisted he wasn't a blues musician. And then there is the problem of his blackness, thought by the white fans who rediscovered him in the 1960s to be pure and profound ("Uncle Remus come to life," write the authors). When Hurt was "discovered" the first time, he was performing for black and white audiences backed by a white fiddler and a white guitar player who also happened to be the local sheriff. He recorded blues because the record company insisted he do so. Meanwhile, Jimmie Rodgers, a white musician who happened to be a bluesman, recorded what came to be known as "country" music because the blues were reserved by the market for black men. One more twist: when Harry Smith included two of Hurt's songs on his great Smithsonian Folk Anthology, most listeners mistook the black musician for a white hillbilly.

The term "folk" itself presents more problems. Until 1949, country music was simply "folk", as was much "black" music. Racism was the centrifuge that separated them: Henry Ford, for instance, poured money into a campaign to promote square-dancing as a form of authentic (read: white and Protestant) Americanism. One of the pioneering producers of "old-time" music in the early 20th century, Ralph Peer, later boasted: "I invented the hillbilly and nigger stuff."

The weakness of Faking It, otherwise a fascinating and nimble investigation of pop's paradoxes, is its failure to explore the political implications to which it so often points. Barker and Taylor have escaped the authenticity trap, but only by embracing the pleasures of inauthenticity. There's nothing wrong with entertainment, they insist. True enough; but there's nothing wrong with taking music seriously, either, even when it's "fake".

Barker and Taylor do that, too, but after describing the marketing manoeuvres that made country and the blues racially "pure" categories (and left much of folk a politically impotent exercise in earnestness), they shy away from the legacy of that divide: rock purists and anti-hip-hop crusades on the one hand, and, on the other, pop music that entertains but rarely provokes, and never threatens any real danger but suicide, packaged and sold as a gesture of romantic authenticity. By the time they get to punk, a genre defined by politics, they're so committed to avoiding the authenticity trap that they celebrate punk's overlooked showmanship, failing to recognise that their embrace of inauthenticity as the essence of popular music is itself a trap.

But, as they write of the Monkees' utterly contrived "I'm a Believer", so what? It's still a great song.

...Richard Wagner didn't actually worship the Norse gods!

Their point eludes me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Sex, Life, and Videotape: Ultrasound and the future of abortion. (William Saletan, April 28, 2007, Slate)

Last week, pro-lifers won their biggest victory in 40 years: a Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. This week, they announced their next target. Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, concluded that the court's ruling "should give encouragement to the legislators who are pursuing other types of regulation," particularly bills that "require the abortionist to offer the woman an opportunity to view an ultrasound" of her fetus.

For pro-lifers, this segue is logical. For the court, it means trouble. It threatens to unravel the latest judicial compromise and, with it, Roe v. Wade. In its April 18 ruling, the court treated abortion like an obscenity—something that could be done, but not out in the open. Partial-birth abortions, the court reasoned, could be banned because they occur outside the woman's body. Other abortions need not be outlawed, since the womb conceals them.

Ultrasound dissolves this distinction. It offers to make every fetus and every abortion visible. It forces the court to renounce either the partial-birth ban or the right to abortion.

Like an obscenity?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Immigration set to boost Texas, Florida Republicans (GERRY SMITH, 4/28/07, Cox News Service)

Immigration is driving the growing electoral power of Texas and Florida, as census projections show a shift of congressional seats to those states, and Republicans are expected to reap the biggest immediate gains, demographers say.

After the 2010 census, when House seats are redistributed based on population, Texas will pick up three seats and Florida will pick up two seats. Six of the seven states projected to gain seats in 2010 now lean Republican, according to Mark Mather, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau.

By 2030, Texas will gain eight seats and Florida will gain nine seats. And Republicans could double their advantage in the Electoral College from 34 votes to 68 votes if voting patterns remain unchanged, according to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institute.

But with Hispanic immigrants driving much of the population growth, the future for Democrats may not be entirely grim, analysts say.

Which is why W's amnesty is the vital final piece of his legacy.

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves (JASON DePARLE, 4/22/07, NY Times)

About 200 million migrants from different countries are scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is as big if not bigger. Were these half-billion or so people to constitute a state — migration nation — it would rank as the world’s third-largest. While some migrants go abroad with Ph.D.’s, most travel as Emmet did, with modest skills but fearsome motivation. The risks migrants face are widely known, including the risk of death, but the amounts they secure for their families have just recently come into view. Migrants worldwide sent home an estimated $300 billion last year — nearly three times the world’s foreign-aid budgets combined. These sums — “remittances” — bring Morocco more money than tourism does. They bring Sri Lanka more money than tea does.

The numbers, which have doubled in the past five years, have riveted the attention of development experts who once paid them little mind. One study after another has examined how private money, in the form of remittances, might serve the public good. A growing number of economists see migrants, and the money they send home, as a part of the solution to global poverty.

Yet competing with the literature of gain is a parallel literature of loss. About half the world’s migrants are women, many of whom care for children abroad while leaving their own children home. “Your loved ones across that ocean . . . ,” Nadine Sarreal, a Filipina poet in Singapore, warns:

Will sit at breakfast and try not to gaze

Where you would sit at the table.

Meals now divided by five

Instead of six, don’t feed an emptiness.

Earlier waves of globalization, the movement of money and goods, were shaped by mediating institutions and protocols. The International Monetary Fund regulates finance. The World Trade Organization regularizes trade. The movement of people — the most intimate form of globalization — is the one with the fewest rules. There is no “World Migration Organization” to monitor the migrants’ fate. A Kurd gaining asylum in Sweden can have his children taught school in their mother tongue, while a Filipino bringing a Bible into Riyadh risks being expelled.

The growth in migration has roiled the West, but demographic logic suggests it will only continue. Aging industrial economies need workers. People in poor countries need jobs. Transportation and communication have made moving easier. And the potential economic gains are at record highs. A Central American laborer who moves to the United States can expect to multiply his earnings about six times after adjusting for the higher cost of living. That is a pay raise about twice as large as the one that propelled the last great wave of immigration a century ago.

With about one Filipino worker in seven abroad at any given time, migration is to the Philippines what cars once were to Detroit: its civil religion. A million Overseas Filipino Workers — O.F.W.’s — left last year, enough to fill six 747s a day. Nearly half the country’s 10-to-12-year-olds say they have thought about whether to go. Television novellas plumb the migrants’ loneliness. Politicians court their votes. Real estate salesmen bury them in condominium brochures. Drive by the Central Bank during the holiday season, and you will find a high-rise graph of the year’s remittances strung up in Christmas lights.

Across the archipelago, stories of rags to riches compete with stories of rags to rags. New malls define the landscape; so do left-behind kids. Gain and loss are so thoroughly joined that the logo of the migrant welfare agency shows the sun doing battle with the rain. Local idiom stresses the uncertainty of the migrant’s lot. An O.F.W. does not say he is off to make his fortune. He says, “I am going to try my luck.”

A kilometer of crimson stretched across the Manila airport, awaiting a planeload of returning workers and the president who would greet them. The V.I.P. lounge hummed with marketing schemes aimed at migrants and their families. Globe Telecom had got its name on the security guards’ vests. A Microsoft rep had flown in from the States with a prototype of an Internet phone. An executive from Philam Insurance noted that overseas workers buy one of every five new policies. Sirens disrupted the finger food, and a motorcade delivered the diminutive head of state, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who once a year offers rice cakes and red carpet to those she calls “modern heroes.”

America has always been made up of such heroes, who revitalize the tired blood of the natives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Is Scotland on Verge of Independence? (Ian Bremmer, 4/28/07, Real Clear Politics)

On May 1, England and Scotland will mark the 300th anniversary of the treaty that wedded the two within the United Kingdom. The festivities won't last long. Two days later, Scottish voters are expected to hand dominance of Scotland's parliament to the separatist Scottish National Party, which has called for a popular referendum to force a divorce.

Prospects for Scottish independence are far from certain. Even if the SNP finishes first on May 3, it's not at all clear it can win enough seats to bring independence to a vote in 2010. Even if it does, Scots may not be ready to cut all ties with England. But nationalist control of Scotland's parliament, with or without a vote on independence, poses plenty of risks -- for the UK, for Scotland and perhaps for unity in other European countries. [...]

Even if an SNP government lacks the votes to schedule the referendum, tensions between England and Scotland will grow. The Scottish parliament will seek (and likely receive) new concessions from Westminster, provoking resentment in England. Many English officials argue it is inherently unfair that Scottish members of Britain's parliament now vote on health and education issues affecting English voters, while English lawmakers have virtually no say in Scottish affairs.

In addition, as part of the original devolution plan, British subsidies provide Scottish students with free university tuition and elderly Scots with free long-term health care, benefits the English must pay for. Scottish voters counter that these subsidies are financed with revenue from North Sea oil and gas, much of it extracted from "Scotland's waters." Yet, polls suggest that many English voters are now content to see Scotland fend for itself.

This is a particularly awkward problem for the member representing the Scots of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, British Labour's prime minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown. If his countrymen vote to bolt from the United Kingdom, those who ask "who lost Scotland?" will surely point toward Brown -- especially since the original devolution of powers was Labour's idea.

The countries of Europe integrated their constituent nations so poorly that the majorities are no more interested in preserving the artificial unity than the minorities.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Reading the Constitution Right (Stephen B. Presser, Spring 2007, City Journal)

Despite Thomas's willingness to go against the grain, critics have often charged that he is subservient to the man the Times calls his "mentor": fellow originalist Scalia. And it's true that Thomas concurs more often with Scalia than with any other justice. In one of his lighter moments, he mused that Scalia must have implanted a chip in his brain to control his jurisprudence. But Thomas is no Scalia clone; in fact, he's even more committed to originalism than is the elder justice. Scalia, for instance, has said that he might temper his originalism to accommodate long-standing Court precedent. Thomas believes that, when given the chance, the Court should right its past errors--even if it means overturning "settled" law.

Fittingly, Thomas has emerged as a muscular proponent of states' rights, again countering decades' worth of constitutional law, which has cut back on state power and signed off on a massive expansion of the federal government. Thomas makes clear that, for him, the "ultimate source of the Constitution's authority is the consent of the people of each individual State, not the consent of the undifferentiated people of the Nation as a whole." This "compact" theory of the Constitution has a tricky history. Jefferson and Madison--the father of the Constitution himself--adopted it in the crisis of the late 1790s; so did the Southern states when they withdrew from the Union. It's a controversial idea, to say the least, and it flies in the face not only of much modern legal theory but also of the views of some nineteenth-century jurists, including Supreme Court justice Joseph Story, in his celebrated and influential 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution.

Equally boldly, and again in accordance with his views of the primacy of state power, Thomas argues that modern jurisprudence "fundamentally misunderstands"--"ignores" might be a better way of putting it--the notion of "reserved powers" from the Tenth Amendment, which holds that the "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Taking the Tenth Amendment seriously would mean imposing a more modest role on the central government.

Thomas's states-rights leanings show up most clearly in his dissent in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (1995), a case in which the Court ruled unconstitutional Arkansas's imposition of term limits on its congressional representatives. The Constitution, reasoned the Court, already listed certain qualifications for congressional office--a representative must be at least 25 years old, for example, and a senator 30--and no state could add to those restrictions. The Court had read Story's treatise, which not only rejected the compact theory but also asserted that the states' sole "reserved powers" were those that they enjoyed before the framing of the Constitution. Because none of the states at the time had placed term limits on their national representatives, it followed that they didn't have the power to do it now.

Thomas didn't buy it, opining that the majority made a mistake in relying on Story's constrained interpretation of "reserved powers." Story "was not a member of the Founding generation, and his Commentaries on the Constitution were written a half-century after the framing," Thomas noted. "Rather than representing the original understanding of the Constitution, they represent only his own understanding." Story's assertion "conflicts with both the plain language of the Tenth Amendment and the underlying theory of the Constitution." Surveying the historical period shortly after the Constitution's ratification, Thomas also showed that at least some states had imposed restrictions on qualifications for office beyond those that the Constitution specified--implying that the document, as the founding era interpreted it, permitted them. Therefore, Thomas concluded, since there was no explicit constitutional denial of the power of setting congressional term limits, the people of the states should retain it.

As a simple matter of text and original understanding, Thomas may well have been right, and the venerated Story wrong.

Thomas has also taken on the modern Court's misinterpretation of the First Amendment's religion clause, which has barred states and localities from promoting religion in the public square. The clause provides that "Congress . . . shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Since its decision in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township (1947), the Court has interpreted that to mean a nearly impenetrable "wall of separation" should stand between church and state--and has applied the principle not only to the federal government but also to state and local governments. For example, the Warren Court barred state-sanctioned public school prayer or Bible reading. More recently, the Court has forbidden public schools to invite clergymen to give benedictions at graduations, or to allow student-led prayer at football games.

But recent work of legal historians, including my own, has shown that the religion clause's real purpose was likely to protect the state establishments of religion that still existed in 1791 in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia, and probably also the religious restrictions for voting or for holding public office that 11 states had on the books at the time. Endorsing this view, Thomas--alone on the Court--wrote in his concurrence in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow (2004) that "the text and history of the Establishment Clause strongly suggest that it is a federalism provision intended to prevent Congress from interfering with state establishments." As he bluntly put it, "the Constitution left religion to the States."

Justice Thomas's views on abortion similarly reflect his belief that, according to the Constitution, it's up to the states to decide the most important matters of domestic law. In his dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), joined by justices Rehnquist and Scalia, Thomas affirmed that Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 declared that the constitutional "right to privacy" included the right for a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy, was "grievously wrong." "Nothing in our Federal Constitution deprives the people of this country of the right to determine whether the consequences of abortion to the fetus and to society outweigh the burden of an unwanted pregnancy on the mother," said Thomas. "Although a State may permit abortion, nothing in the Constitution dictates that a State must do so." It seems that those liberals who feared that a Justice Thomas would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade, and return the issue of abortion to state voters, were correct.

Thomas's most powerful opinions, however, concern race. In his view--which not all originalists share--the Fourteenth Amendment's provision forbidding states from depriving any person of the "equal protection of the laws," together with Fifth Amendment federal due-process protections, means that the Constitution is colorblind, pure and simple.

In Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena (1995), the Supreme Court, narrowing the range of permissible race-conscious policies, found that a federal affirmative-action program that gave preferences to minorities in awarding contracts had to show a "compelling governmental interest"--and be "narrowly tailored" to address it--to pass constitutional muster. Thomas concurred, but made clear that he would have gone much further: "I believe that there is a 'moral [and] constitutional equivalence' . . . between laws designed to subjugate a race and those that distribute benefits on the basis of race in order to foster some current notion of equality." No matter the law's intentions, Thomas maintained, "under our Constitution, the government may not make distinctions on the basis of race."

For Thomas, the core of racial preference programs was a paternalism "at war with the principle of inherent equality that underlies and infuses our Constitution." To support his assertion, he cited the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." As Scott Gerber observes, Thomas's striking argument seeks to incorporate the notion of equality that inheres in the Declaration into the Constitution itself.

It would seem to go without saying that to the extent a Constitutional interpretation diverges from the Declaration it is illegitimate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Brazil's leader begins diplomatic offensive
: Analysts say Lula, on visits to Chile and Argentina, hopes to offset the growing influence of Venezuela's oil-providing Chavez. (Patrick J. McDonnell, April 27, 2007, LA Times)

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrived in Argentina on Thursday night as part of a diplomatic offensive aimed at reasserting Brazil's regional leadership role against a mounting challenge by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Though Lula has denied any effort to undermine Chavez's petro-diplomacy, South American analysts see the Brazilian president responding to his Venezuelan counterpart's oil-funded strategy to become a regional power broker — a role Lula believes should rightly be his because his nation is Latin America's largest and most populous.

"Brazil is returning step by step to the political initiative," said Julio Burdman, a political analyst here. "That includes balancing the aspirations of Chavez to lead the region." [...]

Lula touched down in the Argentine capital after a visit in Santiago with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, another leader with close ties to Washington who is wary of Chavez's growing sway.

While in Chile, the Brazilian president said he agreed with the assessment of popular former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos that chavismo, as the Venezuelan leader's charismatic vision of socialism is sometimes called, was illusory.

"Neither do I believe in the existence of chavismo," Lula told reporters in Chile. "I believe in the existence of a South American conscience."

The Brazilian president has been a strong proponent of South American integration, a vaguely defined goal that most leaders on the continent endorse in theory. But Lula has departed from Chavez's anti-U.S. vision of integration, failing to embrace, for instance, the Venezuelan's plan for a "Bank of the South," a kind of alternative to U.S.-dominated lending agencies such as the World Bank.

The Bush administration, alarmed by the emergence of a pro-Chavez, anti-Washington alliance in Latin America, has warmly embraced Lula as a moderate leftist who is a role model for the region. President Bush's visit last month to Brazil, and Lula's subsequent trip to Washington, solidified the perception in South America that the Brazilian president — just embarking on a second four-year term — was keen to assume a broader profile and offset Chavez's larger-than-life image.

"Brazil has long had a position of leadership, but in recent years it has lost that momentum," noted Rafael Villa, a political analyst in Sao Paulo, Brazil. "Now, through diplomatic action, it is trying to recover the initiative."

The Return of the Idiot: Throughout the 20th century, Latin America’s populist leaders waved Marxist banners, railed against foreign imperialists, and promised to deliver their people from poverty. One after another, their ideologically driven policies proved to be sluggish and shortsighted. Their failures led to a temporary retreat of the strongman. But now, a new generation of self-styled revolutionaries is trying to revive the misguided methods of their predecessors. (Alvaro Vargas Llosa, May/June 2007, Foreign Policy)

Ten years ago, Colombian writer Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner, and I wrote Guide to the Perfect Latin American Idiot, a book criticizing opinion and political leaders who clung to ill-conceived political myths despite evidence to the contrary. The “Idiot” species, we suggested, bore responsibility for Latin America’s underdevelopment. Its beliefs—revolution, economic nationalism, hatred of the United States, faith in the government as an agent of social justice, a passion for strongman rule over the rule of law—derived, in our opinion, from an inferiority complex. In the late 1990s, it seemed as if the Idiot were finally retreating. But the retreat was short lived. Today, the species is back in force in the form of populist heads of state who are reenacting the failed policies of the past, opinion leaders from around the world who are lending new credence to them, and supporters who are giving new life to ideas that seemed extinct.

Because of the inexorable passing of time, today’s young Latin American Idiots prefer Shakira’s pop ballads to Pérez Prado’s mambos and no longer sing leftist anthems like “The Internationale” or “Until Always Comandante.” But they are still descendants of rural migrants, middle class, and deeply resentful of the frivolous lives of the wealthy displayed in the glossy magazines they discreetly leaf through on street corners. State-run universities provide them with a class-based view of society that argues that wealth is something that needs to be retaken from those who have stolen it. For these young Idiots, Latin America’s condition is the result of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, followed by U.S. imperialism. These basic beliefs provide a safety valve for their grievances against a society that offers scant opportunity for social mobility. Freud might say they have deficient egos that are unable to mediate between their instincts and their idea of morality. Instead, they suppress the notion that predation and vindictiveness are wrong and rationalize their aggressiveness with elementary notions of Marxism.

Latin American Idiots have traditionally identified themselves with caudillos, those larger-than-life authoritarian figures who have dominated the region’s politics, ranting against foreign influence and republican institutions. Two leaders in particular inspire today’s Idiot: President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Evo Morales of Bolivia. Chávez is seen as the perfect successor to Cuba’s Fidel Castro (whom the Idiot also admires): He came to power through the ballot box, which exonerates him from the need to justify armed struggle, and he has abundant oil, which means he can put his money where his mouth is when it comes to championing social causes. The Idiot also credits Chávez with the most progressive policy of all—putting the military, that paradigm of oligarchic rule, to work on social programs.

For his part, Bolivia’s Evo Morales has indigenista appeal. In the eyes of the Idiot, the former coca farmer is the reincarnation of Túpac Katari, an 18th-century Aymara rebel who, before his execution by Spanish colonial authorities, vowed, “I shall return and I shall be millions.” They believe Morales when he professes to speak for the indigenous masses, from southern Mexico to the Andes, who seek redress of the exploitation inflicted on them by 300 years of colonial rule and 200 more of oligarchic republican rule.

The Idiot’s worldview, in turn, finds an echo among distinguished intellectuals in Europe and the United States.

April 27, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 PM


Red Sox continue dominating Yankees (Ronald Blum, 4/27/07, AP)

Daisuke Matsuzaka overcame control problems to defeat the Yankees for the second time in six days, and Kevin Youkilis and Julio Lugo homered in a come-from-behind 11-4 victory Friday night that improved Boston to 4-0 against its longtime rival this season. [...]

Given a 4-2 lead after the Yankees scored four in the fourth, Andy Pettitte (1-1) immediately gave it back, forcing in the tying run with a bases-loaded walk and allowing the go-ahead run to score on a wild pitch. Pettitte allowed five runs, six hits and five walks in 4 2-3 innings, making it 11 times in 21 games that New York's starters failed to pitch five innings.

Andy Pettite is their #1 starter and was pretty bad in the NL Central. Meanwhile, Roger Clemens says he won't decide whether to pitch this season until the end of May.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


F-22 Tops Japan''s Military Wish List (David A. Fulghum and Douglas Barrie, 4/22/07, Aviation Week)

Top Japanese military officials are quietly but firmly insisting they want the U.S. to release the F-22 to compete for the air force's F-X fighter program, and are adamant about fielding the most advanced air-combat technology available.

Tokyo wants a stealthy fighter equipped with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for cruise missile detection and wide-band data links to push additional information into Japan's increasingly sophisticated air defense system. For the moment, only the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor offers all these features.

Access, however, is far from assured, with the U.S. Congress requiring over-sight and approval of any plan for foreign sale of the stealth fighter. [...]

Release of the F-22 is becoming a point of pride with the Japanese, who provide the U.S. forward bases in the region as well as dispersal and rapid deployment options in case of a military confrontation or natural disaster, say U.S. officials. Exporting the technology isn't a concern for U.S. combat pilots, since software packages for U.S. versions of the aircraft will always contain extra capabilities. In addition, U.S. military officials are privately asking administration and senior Pentagon civilians to reconsider the export restrictions, at least for Japan.

"I'm aware the Japanese are interested in the F-22," Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Aviation Week & Space Technology last week. "I'm also aware of our concerns about what we export and don't export of our high technologies. The Japanese are very close friends. We're committed to protecting Japan, so we'll work our way through it. We all need to be concerned about both ballistic and cruise missile defense. It's something that we . . . need to work on."

There also seems to be a Pentagon precedent for meeting Japan's high-tech needs.

"We had an identical situation with the F-15," says a U.S. aerospace industry official close to the program. "It was a point of pride with the Japanese, and even though the F-15 was considered exceptional technology, they had it within two years of initial operational capability in the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. Air Force and the Japanese Ministry of Defense want the sale to take place, but what's missing this time is someone pushing it at the State Dept. level. There needs to be political pressure, but right now there's no vocal advocate."

What may change the formula is the growing awareness of cruise missile technology proliferation and the fact that little attention has been paid to fielding cruise missile defenses in Japan, which is only a few hundred miles from North Korea and China and would be the most vulnerable from a surprise attack.

"Once the Japanese politicians realize that it's a matter of national survival, not just national pride, it could generate support outside the Japanese Self-Defense Force," the industry official says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:56 PM


Pitching has Yankees in a tailspin (Bob Klapisch, 4/27/07, ESPN.com)

So where does the blame lay? Pick your poison. There's been assembly line of starting pitchers -- nine different ones in 21 games -- none of whom have come close to matching Josh Beckett's 5-0 start. In fact, Yankee starters are averaging just 4.9 innings per appearance, worst in the majors. No wonder the Yankees' bullpen has four relievers on a pace for more than 100 games this year.

No one counted on such a wide gulf between the blueprint and reality. Wang has been hurt, and Pettitte, with just one win to show for his 1.78 ERA, actually has had to pitch out of the bullpen twice, a clear sign of Torre's distress. The manager's decision to use Rivera in the eighth inning last Friday at Fenway also stunned observers.

"Five outs? In April?" one executive asked incredulously. Of course, Torre couldn't have known Rivera would fail so completely. He blew a 5-2 lead and was clocked at just 88 mph, a 5-mph drop-off from his usual velocity. Even more significantly, Rivera's cutter was missing its last-second darting action. That's what really troubles Yankee officials: Rivera's stuff was diminished following three games of inactivity, when the Yankees were sweeping the Indians and the closer was reluctant to take the ball.

Could Rivera be trying to nurse his arm through an injury? The Yankees don't dare think that way, especially since he threw with more authority last Monday against Tampa Bay. Still, if Rivera can't be counted on to dominate (of the nine swings the Red Sox took last Friday, they missed just once) the Yankee dynasty may be closer to collapse than at any time since the early '90s.

Of course, all of this could change quickly. Wang and Pettitte are both capable of beating the Sox and changing the chemistry in the East in the next three days. And it's also possible rookie Phil Hughes could evolve quickly. But long-range issues linger. No one knows if Mike Mussina will regain the 5-mph on his fastball that's so far been missing. At 85 mph, "he hasn't got enough" said one American League scout. Indeed, Mussina's other pitches, particularly his curveball, are all dramatically compromised unless he's throwing harder. The Yankees will find out on Wednesday, when Mussina is scheduled to come off the disabled list.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have all but given up on Carl Pavano, who continues to insist there's a "grabbing" sensation in his right forearm. Pavano's only remaining ally in the organization is general manager Brian Cashman, who's on the hook for the $40 million he's invested in the pitcher. Otherwise, Pavano is an invisible man in the clubhouse. [...]

Of all the mistakes the Yankees' hierarchy has made in recent months -- underbidding on Daisuke Matsuzaka, counting on Pavano to return to the rotation, failing to acquire a run-producer at first base -- the $20 million invested in Igawa through 2011 could turn out to be one of the most costly.

That's no small wound, now that Cashman is trying to run the organization with a business plan.

In other words, it's pretty easy to assign blame: it's down to a series of awful judgments by Mr. Cashman.

Tracy Ringolsby's weekly baseball notes package (TRACY RINGOLSBY, April 26, 2007)

Right-hander Philip Hughes, the Yankees' first-round draft pick in 2004, became the first No. 1 pick to make it to the majors with the Yankees since shortstop Derek Jeter, who was their No. 1 in 1992.

Unable to develop young players of their own, they've bought old ones until it hurts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


The disarming of America (Dan Simpson, 4/27/07, Toledo Blade)

LAST week's tragedy at Virginia Tech in which a mentally disturbed person gunned down 32 of America's finest - intelligent young people with futures ahead of them - once again puts the phenomenon of an armed society into focus for Americans.

The likely underestimate of how many guns are wandering around America runs at 240 million in a population of about 300 million. What was clear last week is that at least two of those guns were in the wrong hands.

When people talk about doing something about guns in America, it often comes down to this: "How could America disarm even if it wanted to? There are so many guns out there."

Because I have little or no power to influence the "if" part of the issue, I will stick with the "how." And before anyone starts to hyperventilate and think I'm a crazed liberal zealot wanting to take his gun from his cold, dead hands, let me share my experience of guns.

Now, how would one disarm the American population? First of all, federal or state laws would need to make it a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and one year in prison per weapon to possess a firearm.

Strange, you'd have thought "First" would be followed by, "change the Constitution."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


Brown dragging Labour to defeat in polls (George Jones and Andrew Pierce, 27/04/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Gordon Brown is becoming a growing electoral liability to the Labour Party as a YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph today shows that he is falling even further behind David Cameron.

The poll points to Labour's worst local election performance in two decades, with the party poised to lose hundreds of seats in England and Wales. Labour is also facing a catastrophic loss of power to the nationalists in Scotland, opening up the prospect of a referendum on the end of the Union within four years.

The Tory leader has surged into a 10-point lead after voters were asked if they would prefer a Cameron-led Conservative government to a Brown administration.

The rapidly growing gap has triggered the first signs of panic within the Labour Party leadership that the local elections will give a powerful boost to Mr Cameron's aim to be regarded as a potential prime minister.

The best early sign for Mr. Cameron is how much the Right hates him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


Misguided rage at US supremacy: A new book offers insights about how America (Greg Sheridan, April 28, 2007, The Australian)

WHEN the 9/11 terror attacks occurred in the US, the official reaction of the Iraqi government was ecstatic. Saddam Hussein issued a statement saying: "The American cowboy is reaping the fruits of his crimes against humanity."

As two Iraqi authors write in a new study: "Saddam Hussein did his utmost to implant in the Iraqi psyche an ugly image of the US: coloniser, Zionist, bully and greedy oil thief."

At the same time, the opponents of Saddam had come to be profoundly hostile to the US for exactly the opposite reason. After the 1991 US-led operation to reverse Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, the Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north rebelled against Saddam's rule, only to be savagely crushed. The Americans did not come to the aid of the rebels, who saw this, with some justice, as American betrayal.

Here is a classic contradiction of anti-Americanism. The Americans are hated by one segment of Iraqi society for opposing Saddam and are hated equally by another section for not opposing Saddam enough.

...the Realists think our policy should be to make them all happy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:27 AM


Clinton Seen as the Hawk of Democrats: Debate May Reshape the Race Ahead (RUSSELL BERMAN, April 27, 2007, NY Sun)

The Democratic presidential debate in South Carolina may reshape the party's primary when it comes to national security, casting Senator Clinton and Governor Richardson as the hawks in the race, positioning Senator Obama and John Edwards in the middle, and giving new prominence to two strident opponents of military force: Rep. Dennis Kucinich and a former senator from Alaska, Michael Gravel.

Mrs. Clinton positioned herself as more willing than Messrs. Obama or Edwards, her chief rivals for the nomination, to use military force in the event of terrorist attacks against America.

"I think a president must move as swiftly as is prudent to retaliate," Mrs. Clinton said when asked how she would use the military if terrorists struck two American cities simultaneously. The answer came in stark contrast to the responses given by Messrs. Obama and Edwards to the same question.

...Mr. Obama wants to be the darling of the Left and the media.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:58 AM


Branson Twists Knife In Airbus' Back With Boeing Order (Aero-News, 26 Apr '07)

Sir Richard Branson is irked at Airbus, for three delays in Virgin Atlantic's order for the A380 superjumbo.

How irked? Branson posed with Boeing executives to announce his decision to purchase as many as 43 Boeing 787 Dreamliners for Virgin, snubbing the Airbus A350 XWB. But he didn't stop there, reports Forbes.

The statement from Virgin said its new partnership with Boeing would benefit the environment, because the US-made 787 burns 27 per cent less fuel per passenger-mile than the Airbus A340s it will replace.

Ouch. But Branson still wasn't through.

Branson -- never at a loss for words -- also called the A380 "a financial disaster", suggesting Airbus will be hard-pressed to ever sell enough of the planes to turn a profit.

It's revealing that pretty much the only orders extant are from state-owned airlines. They'll just cancel the A380 program, and would have already were it not a government jobs program.

Nigerian order caps Boeing's big day (Dominic Gates, 4/27/07, Seattle Times)

At Boeing Field on Thursday, Roman Catholic Archbishop Patrick Ekpu, of Nigeria, sprinkled holy water from a Fairmont Hotel water bottle onto two new 737-700s.

With that, the jets were officially baptized Michael and Martin — the names are painted on the fuselage — after the two sons of J.I.A. Arumemi-Johnson, chairman of Nigerian startup airline Arik Air. Before the elaborate 737 delivery ceremony, Arumemi-Johnson announced a big order for seven Boeing wide-bodies: three 787-9 Dreamliners, two ultra-long haul 777-200LRs and two 777-300ERs. The order previously was booked as being from an unidentified customer.

The order appears to secure for Boeing the fledgling airline market in a country that, though troubled, is rapidly developing, thanks to oil wealth. The 737s parked behind him as he spoke are the first new airplanes sold into the Nigerian market in 25 years. Arik bought them not from Boeing but from U.S. carrier Air Tran, which sold the 737s to the African airline directly off the production line.

The Arik announcement capped a big order day for Boeing, as the planemaker also announced new firm orders for 16 jets. India's Spicejet ordered 10 Boeing 737-800s and Oak Hill Capital Partners, a private-equity firm, ordered six Boeing 777 freighters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Shift in Congress Brings Little Change, Most Americans Say (John Harwood, 4/27/07, The Wall Street Journal)

Six in 10 Americans say restoring Democrats to control of Capitol Hill “hasn’t brought much change.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Iraq, and the Truth We Dare Not Speak: We must win American hearts and minds. (Victor Davis Hanson, 4/27/07, National Review)

Not long ago I talked to a right-wing hardnosed fellow in a conservative central California town about the need to stay and finish the task of stabilizing the democracy in Iraq and rectifying the disastrous aftermath of 1991. He wasn’t buying. Instead he kept ranting about the war in the ‘more rubble, less trouble’ vein. And his anger wasn’t only over our costs in lives and treasure. So I finally asked him exactly why the venom over Iraq. He shouted, “I don’t like them sons of bitches over there — any of ’em.” His was a sort of echo of Bismarck’s oft-quoted “The whole of the Balkans is not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.” [...]

A controversial and costly war continues, in part so as to give Arab Muslims the sort of freedom the West takes for granted; but at precisely the time that the public increasingly is tired of Middle Eastern madness. In short, America believes that the entire region is not worth the bones of a single Marine.

To counteract this, we need more clarity both here and abroad. First, the administration must articulate how our idealism is stark realism as well. Americans daily have to be reminded that consensual government in Iraq — not just plebiscites — is in our long-term strategic interest. Second, we should hear far more of Iraqi cooperation and joint operations, both military and civilian, that in fact do characterize this war and reveal an Arab desire to be free of the past. And third, far more long-suffering members of the Iraqi government need to express some appreciation for the American sacrifice — and express such gratitude to the American people directly.

We worry rightly about anti-Americanism and winning over the people of Iraq. But the greater problem, at least as we now witness it in the Senate and House, is winning back those here at home.

The reason presidents have always relied on false war provocations is because it's tough to get folks interested in fighting wars purely for others, which all of our wars--since the Revolution--have been. What's remarkable is actually that a country whose national security has so seldom faced any genuine threat has been at war for so much of its history. We've generally ended those wars badly, making the next inevitable, but the point is that we fight the next one too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Ethiopia Finds Itself Ensnared in Somalia: Some Observers See Similarities To U.S. in Iraq (Stephanie McCrummen, 4/27/07, Washington Post)

Four months after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi declared his own "war on terror" against an Islamic movement in Somalia, Ethiopia remains entangled in a situation that analysts and critics are comparing to the U.S. experience in Iraq.

Though Meles proclaimed his military mission accomplished in January, thousands of Ethiopian troops remain in the Somali capital, where they have used attack helicopters, tanks and other heavy weapons in a bloody campaign against insurgents that in recent weeks has killed more than 1,000 people, mostly civilians, and forced half of the city's population to flee.

On Thursday, the Ethiopian-backed Somali prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, declared that three weeks of heavy fighting was over, a statement tempered by the mortar blasts that continued to boom in the distance, witnesses said.

Meanwhile, a political crisis seems to be worsening, as the Somali transitional government, steadfastly supported by the United States, faces a swell of criticism for ignoring concerns of the city's dominant Hawiye clan, whose militias form the core of the insurgency and who are motivated not by the ideology of jihad, but power.

"It's just exactly like the Americans in Iraq," said Beyene Petros, a member of the Ethiopian Parliament and an early critic of the invasion. "I don't see how this was a victory. It really was a futile exercise."

Except that America will turn Iraq over to the 80% Shi'a and Kurds who are allies and want democracy, not to the Ba'ath, while Ethiopia will turn Somalia over to the Islamists, who they theoretically went there to deprive of power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Pena makes it grand finale: He lowers the boom as Sox dust Orioles (Gordon Edes, April 27, 2007, Boston Globe)

So, Red Sox shortstop Julio Lugo was asked, for one day would he like to have Wily Mo Peña's body?

"No, I like my body," said Lugo, who gives away at least 100 pounds to a man who makes David Ortiz look like a welterweight.

OK, then, how about Peña's power?

"Oh, yeah, I'd love to have his power," Lugo said. "I'd love to have his power. He's amazing. That ball he hit, with the wind blowing in?"

Let Josh Beckett pick up the retelling of Peña's 430-foot grand slam, the one that made Beckett the majors' first five-game winner this season after a 5-2 victory over the Orioles last night.

Blue Jays keep Yankees down: Hughes not answer against Burnett (Mike Fitzpatrick, April 27, 2007, Associated Press)
[A.J.] Burnett dominated the struggling Yankees and outclassed their prized prospect on the mound, sending last-place New York to its sixth straight loss by pitching the Toronto Blue Jays to a 6-0 victory last night.

"He's got the capability of doing that every time he goes out there. All we have to do is keep him healthy," Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells said.

Making his much-anticipated major league debut, Hughes received a rough welcome from the hard-hitting Blue Jays and a valuable lesson in power pitching from Burnett. [...]

The Yankees (8-12) are on their longest skid since they dropped six in a row from May 28-June 3, 2005. They managed only four singles and are percentage points behind Tampa Bay in the AL East.

"There's going to be panic soon if the winning doesn't start," said center fielder Johnny Damon.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


What Rudy Believes: Gun control? Welcoming immigrants? A woman's right to choose? Never mind his past positions. The only -ism that Rudy Giuliani believes in is sadism. (Michael Tomasky, 05.08.07, American Prospect)

Conservatives who admire Rudolph Giuliani for his association with the date September 11, 2001, may wish to consult Google on the question of the mayor's behavior on May 10, 2000. The Rudy of that date should give them, and everyone, reason to stop and think about the great hero's moral architecture.

The weeks leading up to the date had been surreal. Giuliani was running for a U.S. Senate seat against Hillary Clinton. The traditional Senate campaign in New York consists of swings upstate to discuss economic development and airfares, day trips out to Long Island to curse sprawl and pledge devotion to oysters, and occasional high-minded speeches in the city at places like the Council on Foreign Relations -- Clinton's tedious, but quite effective, course. Rudy's, however: Rudy's campaign since March had consisted of vicious attacks on a police-shooting victim named Patrick Dorismond; an announcement by his estranged wife, Donna Hanover, that she would appear in The Vagina Monologues ("GYNO-MITE!" ran the headline in the New York Post); and the exposure, at long last, of Rudy's extramarital relationship, with a woman named Judith Nathan. In the middle of it all, he'd been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but even that sympathetic note seemed strange enough as to be somehow part of his willed unraveling.

A full week had now passed since the Nathan story broke, and Giuliani, in the face of a frenzied media circus, had said nothing publicly about his marriage. A photo, indelibly etched in my memory, from Cardinal John O'Connor's May 8 funeral service -- he had died the same night Nathan hit the papers -- summed up the weirdness better than any words could: There in the front pews sat the Clintons, the Gores, the Bushes, the Patakis, and, all by himself, Giuliani. And so the papers, that morning of May 10, carried livid admonitions from Republicans like state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno for the mayor to return to planet Earth, to address his situation, and to run a campaign. As fate would have it, I had lunch that day on Union Square with Juleanna Glover Weiss, Giuliani's just-hired press secretary who later went on to a certain kind of fame as one of "Cheney's Angels" (the vice president's loyal and secretive spokeswomen). So I missed the press conference -- as did she, more importantly -- at the New York Public Library at which The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller asked Giuliani, "Do you have any reaction to Mr. Bruno's comments yesterday … about your marriage?" [...]

"I do," Giuliani said to Bumiller. "It was very, very painful. For quite some time, it's probably been apparent that Donna and I" -- his New York accent, never thick, was real enough that "Donna and I" always came out "Donner and I," making it sound like he was talking about a reindeer -- "lead, in many ways, independent and separate lives. It's been a very painful road, and I'm hopeful that we'll be able to formalize that in an agreement that protects our children …"

Sounds reasonable, right? Indeed, it sounds even open, honest, and painful -- and for those reasons admirable, especially for a politician. But there was one huge catch: He hadn't told Donna that he was announcing this. Today, as Giuliani seeks the presidency, journalistic shorthand typically refers to his "messy divorce," or uses other phrases like that. Barbara Walters assembled a report for 20/20 in late March that was focused squarely on the question of the Giuliani-Nathan relationship -- this was the Giuliani campaign's spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to render Nathan a sympathetic figure -- but even then, Walters glossed over the sordid details. Reports like Walters' avoid describing what really happened: that he used his own philandering as a ploy to elicit public sympathy in a battle that he started against the mother of his two children, then ages 10 and 14.

That May afternoon, "Donner" emerged from Gracie Mansion and announced that she'd tried to keep her marriage together, referring to an attempted reconciliation the previous summer, but that "it was difficult to participate in Rudy's public life because of his relationship with one staff member" (both Giuliani and Lategano have always denied a dalliance). Two nights later, while Donna and the kids were on a plane to Los Angeles to spend the weekend -- Mother's Day weekend, no less! -- with her parents, Rudy took Judy out for a stroll up Second Avenue, permitting the newspaper photographers to snap pictures all along the way. They were on the cover -- the "wood," in the argot -- of the tabloids the next day, as Giuliani undoubtedly knew they would be. That, I thought, was an interesting way to "protect" his children, which he had vowed so solemnly to do just 48 hours previous.

Bill Clinton may have embarrassed his family, but Rudy Giuliani humiliated his. That previous summer to which Donna referred, when she thought she and her husband were reconciling? He was dashing out to the Hamptons to spend weekends at Judy's condo! This was not mere irresponsibility, the kind of "mistake" we "learn from," as he has taken to saying on the stump. This was sadism. And he didn't act this way only toward his wife and kids, which might render this a private matter. No -- this was how the man dealt with enemies private and public.

Conservatives may think they're supporting the September 11 Rudy. But I covered the man for 15 years, and I can guarantee them they'll be getting the May 10 Rudy as part of the bargain. If they actually nominate him, they will eventually learn this the hard way, just like poor Donna did.

With every voter who finds out his politics there's less chance of that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Morse: The No.1 gentleman detective: He's described by his producer as 'a miserable sod who likes beer and can't relate to women'. Yet the viewers love him - all one billion of them. As ITV celebrates 20 years of Inspector Morse with a weekend of back-to-back screenings (Guy Adams, 27 April 2007, Independent)

Twenty years ago, a white-haired detective with a melancholy disposition drove a red Jaguar past some dreaming spires to the scene of an apparent suicide in the Oxford suburb of Jericho.

The detective was called Inspector Morse. His assistant was a younger man by the name of Lewis. After several pints of beer and a few crossword puzzles, they rubbed their heads together and realised the suicide was actually murder. Eventually, they caught the killer.

So began a famous partnership that endured for 13 years, 33 episodes, and more than 80 murders. It was a career of staggering, almost unbelievable commercial success, which turned a middle-aged Oxfordshire copper into a global icon.

Morse also became one of the biggest exports in the history of British television drama. The shows were sold to a total of 200 countries from Mongolia and Nepal to Malawi, El Salvador and Papua New Guinea. According to ITV, a billion people, just under a sixth of the world's population, have watched at least one episode.

At the same time, John Thaw, the late actor who played Morse, achieved fame on a par with a major Hollywood star, becoming a poster boy for an idyllic land of warm beers and happy country pubs that the rest of the world likes to associates with Middle England.

His success has spawned a thousand less-successful imitations and a spin-off television series called Lewis. It was behind a minor industry that has flogged ranges of merchandise and DVD box-sets to fans, and still sees a total of three companies competing to offer Morse-themed city tours to tourists visiting Oxford.

Today, seven years after he was finally killed off, Morse is the subject of a long-awaited celebration. This weekend sees the old dog's official 20th birthday, and ITV3 is devoting an entire 48 hours of television to the occasion. Morse fans, as they say in the Shires, are putting up the bunting.

While the books are very good, the Tham/Whatley chemistry is really the key to the greatness of the tv series.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Compromising ideologies: Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of Militants, Martyrs and Spies by Zaki Chehab (Simon Martelli, 4/27.07, Asia Times)

Time will tell whether Hamas can maintain its support at the level of mainstream politics and continue on its path of defiance. Zaki Chehab has no crystal ball. But with his book Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of Militants, Martyrs and Spies, the London-based Arab journalist has given us a colorful first-hand account of a movement, both despised and revered, that must yet play a central role in any resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. As Gaza sinks further into a state of anarchy, this is a well-informed contribution to a highly emotive and pressingly topical issue.

Despite its violent history, only a small fraction of the Hamas budget has gone toward its military operations, with the lion's share being allocated to its social and welfare programs. These programs, along with Hamas' clean-handed administration and moral discipline, were inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and have characterized the political activities of its Palestinian offshoot. At the parliamentary elections in 2006, Hamas' clean image contrasted sharply with the rival secular party Fatah's history of bad governance, corruption and failed negotiations with Israel. Fatah was left completely shattered after 40 years in power.

After the movement's inception, which coincided with the first Intifada and was loosely tolerated, as the author points out, by the Israelis then looking for a way to undermine the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hamas developed its military wing, the Izzedin Al Qassam brigades, "initially armed with nothing more dangerous than plastic guns and knives". Chehab charts the painful and violent years of the 1990s, after the Oslo Accords, when many disillusioned Palestinians volunteered themselves for suicide missions, and touches on the important role Iran and Syria played in supporting and sheltering the movement. [...]

[Y]assin and his successors' strategic decisions were only ever temporary measures, since their long-term goal has never changed: to reclaim the whole of Palestine as it had been before 1948, with Jerusalem as its capital. In the words of one senior Hamas official, speaking after the election, "You will never find anyone in Hamas who will recognize Israel's right to exist. If you do, he is a liar."

In itself, however, and as some observers have pointed out, this does not entirely preclude the possibility of an agreement with Israel now that Hamas is in power. After all, the hardline Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein signed up to a peace agreement with the British and Irish governments in 1998 that eventually paved the way for a power-sharing assembly, despite decades of violent opposition to British rule.

Contrary to the claims of those who saw the Hamas election victory as dashing any hope of peace, new opportunities for a long-term interim agreement could yet emerge, say the optimists, with the moribund peace initiatives of the past being replaced by bolder and fairer solutions for the Palestinians. The prospects are hardly encouraging. [...]

Hamas is not a hostage to its ideology. But in the absence of any significant concessions from Israel, the movement will never discard its core ideological position and make the transition to parliamentary politics. It will not just be the Palestinians who pay the price for Hamas' failure to do so.

Unfortunately, the medical problems of Ariel Sharon brough back the Israeli agreement fetish.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Rogues of the world unite (Clifford McCoy, 4/28/07, Asia Times)

One advantage for North Korea in normalizing bilateral relations with Myanmar would be to establish a formal diplomatic channel to pressure the junta to crack down on North Korean refugees escaping across the Chinese border, traveling through Myanmar and across to Thailand, from where they are repatriated to South Korea. Growing refugee flows have become a point of embarrassment for Pyongyang and it undoubtedly would like to see the route through Myanmar severed. Myanmar security forces would also likely have knowledge of the movement of North Korean refugees through their contacts with ethnic insurgent ceasefire groups along the Chinese border and hence would be in a position to interdict the refugees if ordered to do so.

Yet there are also risks to normalizing ties. South Korea has become one of Myanmar's leading trade partners and a major investor, and establishing formal diplomatic relations with North Korea could risk antagonizing the budding commercial relationship. The decision will likely also be unpopular with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, particularly with member countries Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Myanmar is a member of the grouping.

Myanmar's apparent desire to acquire power-projection capabilities makes Thailand in particular nervous, considering the two traditional adversaries share long stretches of contested border areas and Bangkok has quietly provided sanctuary and support to armed ethnic insurgent groups. Myanmar's army and Thai security forces have occasionally clashed in recent years.

Meanwhile, both Malaysia and Singapore would likely view any sort of North Korean military presence in the region as a destabilizing influence. Myanmar's attempts to acquire SRBMs, submarines and nuclear capability from Pyongyang could spark a new arms race, one that few regional governments could afford.

The SPDC may be hoping that the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with North Korea will give it an ally against Western pressure, especially from the US. It may turn out, however, that the opposite is true. Both regimes have well-documented histories of human-rights abuses, narcotics trafficking, money-laundering, human trafficking and forced labor, and establishing formal bilateral relations and strategic linkages will likely make the US and the European Union take greater notice of their interactions.

The US already views Myanmar as a rogue state and some US politicians called for adding Yangon to President George W Bush's "axis of evil" after the SPDC's violent attack in May 2003 on democratic opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's motorcade. Until now, Myanmar has not been a strategic concern to the US, but a substantial improvement in Myanmar's military capabilities and closer ties with a proliferating North Korea could quickly change that calculus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Saudis arrest 172 militants in anti-terror sweep (The Associated Press, April 27, 2007)

Police have arrested 172 Islamic militants, some of whom were being trained abroad as pilots so they could fly aircraft in attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil fields, the Interior Ministry said Friday.

...but setting the oil fields on fire would be good for the country, if not necessarily the monarchy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Beijing spring: Democracy is in the air (Kent Ewing, 4/27/07, Asia Times)

Spring has not proved to be a hopeful season in the politics of China's past, but that could be changing. These days, there is democracy as well as pollen in the air. All this seems to pave the way for the introduction of a more democratic election system in the all-important 17th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) this autumn.

Start with the fact that both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have recently spoken positively about democratic development both in Hong Kong and on the mainland. In addition, a number of articles on political reform have appeared in the state-controlled media and Communist Party journals. There has also been speculation by veteran commentators overseas on the possibility of a democratic future for China. [...]

Both the president and premier have pledged to support Hong Kong's democratic development. But that is no big surprise, as the Basic Law, the constitution agreed to by London and Beijing before the city reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, calls for popular election of executive and legislature some time in the future.

But Wen's expatiations on democratic development on the mainland at a March 16 news conference created a genuine stir. When the premier was asked about an article he had written for the People's Daily in which he stated that socialism and democracy were not mutually exclusive, he answered willingly and at length.

At one point, he declared: "You are actually asking what socialist democracy means. Let me be very clear about it: socialist democracy, in the final analysis, is to enable the people to govern themselves. This means we need to ensure people's rights to democratic elections, democratic decision-making, democratic management and democratic oversight. It means we need to create conditions for people to oversee and criticize the government."

But Wen went on to say that the development of democracy in a country as large and complex as China would be a gradual process and that, more immediately, it was important for the present (unelected) leadership to create a sense of social, economic and political justice among ordinary citizens. That, he added, can only come from listening and responding to the people - although he said nothing about letting them vote.

April 26, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Trade Talks: Nearing a Deal? (Greg Hitt, 4/26/07, Wall Street Journal)

Expectations grow that House Democrats may be nearing a deal with the Bush administration to allow some key trade pacts to move forward.

...then what did they get out of the midterm other than better offices and parking spaces?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


Like it or loathe it, after 10 years Blair knows exactly what he stands for: Sitting in the Downing Street garden, I ask him what is the essence of Blairism in foreign policy. 'Liberal interventionism' (Timothy Garton Ash, April 26, 2007, The Guardian)

So what is the distinctive feature of Blair's own approach? What is the essence of Blairism? His answer could not be clearer: "It is liberal interventionism." Blairism is, he elaborates, about a progressive view of the world, starting from the reality of interdependence in an age of globalisation, and acting according to certain values. "I'm a proud interventionist." He would not withdraw anything he said in his 1999 Chicago speech, with its liberal interventionist "doctrine of international community". Even if it is true, as I suggest, that the Bush administration is rowing backwards from its advocacy of democratisation as a central plank of its foreign policy, he is not: "Whether they do or not, I don't."

That includes Iraq. The overwhelming majority of ordinary Iraqis want peace and democracy, but they are being sabotaged by "external players" - he mentions Iran and al-Qaida - plus "a minority of internal extremists". Isn't it a nightmare for him that he'll spend the rest of his life answering questions about Iraq? No, that seems to him perfectly reasonable, but "when people say 'Iraq will determine everything', the answer is: it depends what happens." So are they wrong to argue that the situation in Iraq will determine the verdict on his foreign policy? No, it was certainly "a major dimension" of it; but it is too soon to say how Iraq will turn out. History will tell.

I turn to those alliances with Europe and the US. The only major foreign policy plank in Labour's 1997 election manifesto was to "give Britain the leadership in Europe which Britain and Europe need". Does he think he has? "Britain has been a leader in Europe," he says, a tad defensively, although "on the surface, British attitudes remain stolidly Eurosceptic". A great deal of that is due to the Eurosceptic media. Europe is the area above all "where I'm urged by even quite sensible parts of the media to do things that I know are completely daft, and that anyone sitting in my chair would think are completely daft".

But "I have a theory about this". His theory is that "the British people are sensible enough to know that, even if they have a certain prejudice about Europe, they don't expect their government necessarily to share it or act upon it". So, for example, at the European council on June 21 and 22 (which he clearly still expects to be attending as prime minister), he hopes to agree, with other European leaders, the terms for negotiating a treaty, codifying those institutional changes that are required to make an enlarged EU work. Not a constitution any more, just a simple amending treaty. The Eurosceptic press will cry blue murder, but this will nonetheless be "the proper decision in the true British national interest".

Then, with a new French president, a friendly German chancellor and a helpful European commission president, Britain can go forward with its partners to tackle more important matters for the future of Europe.

Much as we admire the PM and as grateful that he returned England to the liberal interventionism that has always characterized America and made Churchill and Thatcher such good partners in the past, you'd think a guy who's presiding over the demise of Britain would no better than to believe a unified Europe has any future whatsoever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 PM


Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, Houston Chronicle)

* 2 cups finely crushed gingersnap cookies

* ½ cup finely chopped pecans

* 6 tablespoons butter, melted

* 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

* 1 cup sugar, divided

* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* 3 eggs

* 1 cup canned pumpkin

* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

* ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

* Dash ground cloves

* Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

To make the crust, mix the gingersnap crumbs, pecans and butter. Press
onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, ¾ cup sugar and vanilla
with an electric mixer until very smooth. Add the eggs, 1 at a time,
mixing on low speed after each addition, just until blended. Remove and
reserve 1½ cups of the plain batter. Stir the remaining ¼ cup sugar,
pumpkin and spices into the remaining batter.

Spoon half of the pumpkin batter over the crust. Top with spoonfuls of
half of the reserved plain batter. Repeat layers. Cut through batters
with a knife several times to marble the cake.

Bake for 55 minutes or until the center is almost set. Remove from the
oven. Run a knife along the edges of the pan to loosen the cake; this
will help prevent the cheesecake from cracking. Cool before removing
the sides of pan. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 PM


Old Mike, new Christine (Mike Penner, April 26, 2007, LA Times)

During my 23 years with The Times' sports department, I have held a wide variety of roles and titles. Tennis writer. Angels beat reporter. Olympics writer. Essayist. Sports media critic. NFL columnist. Recent keeper of the Morning Briefing flame.

Today I leave for a few weeks' vacation, and when I return, I will come back in yet another incarnation.

As Christine.

I am a transsexual sportswriter. [...]

When I told Robert, the soccer-loving lad from Wales who cuts my hair, why I wanted to start growing my hair out, he had to take a seat, blink hard a few times and ask, "Does this mean you don't like football anymore, Mike?"

No, I had to assure him, I still love soccer. I will continue to watch it. I hope to continue to coach it.

My days of playing in men's over-30 rec leagues, however, could be numbered.

When I told Eric, who has played sweeper behind my plodding stopper for more than a decade, he brightly suggested, "Well, you're still good for co-ed!" [...]

People have asked if transitioning will affect my writing. And if so, how?

A lot more coverage of soccer?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM

THE BIG QUESTION HERE... (via Bryan Francoeur):

Rice Signals Rejection of House Subpoena (MATTHEW LEE, 4/26/07, AP)

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday
she has already answered the questions she has been subpoenaed to
answer before a congressional committee and suggested she is not
inclined to comply with the order. [...]

Rice noted that she had been serving as President Bush's national
security adviser during the period covered by the panel's questions
and stressed the administration's position that presidential aides not
confirmed by the Senate cannot be forced to testify before Congress
under the doctrine of executive privilege.

``This all took place in my role as national security adviser,'' she
said. ``There is a constitutional principle. There is a separation of
powers and advisers to the president under that constitutional
principle are not generally required to go and testify in Congress.

``So, I think we have to observe and uphold the constitutional
principle, but I also observe and uphold the obligation of Congress to
conduct its oversight role, I respect that. But I think I have more
than answered these questions, and answered them directly to
Congressman Waxman.''

...is which boots she wears to walk all over the Congressman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:42 PM


I will not seek third term, says Putin (Associated Press, April 26, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, today said he would not seek a third term in power. [...]

Mr Putin's second - and constitutionally final - term in office ends next year, and some observers have suggested he could attempt to amend the constitution to remain in office.

Last month, the head of the upper house of parliament proposed making such a change.

However, Mr Putin has consistently dismissed the idea, and today said the next state of the nation address "will be given by another head of state".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM


Culture War: AMERICA'S BEST WEAPON IS THE IRANIAN PEOPLE. (Azar Nafisi, 04.26.07, New Republic) If you take the long view of

Iranian history and focus on the country's people rather than its rulers, a very different picture emerges: that of an Iranian order in crisis.

Evidence for this proposition is everywhere. A cursory look at Iran's publications and blogs shows that, although some Iranians--for a variety of reasons--support their regime's nuclear ambitions, most are far more interested in trying to redress day-to-day problems like corruption, the struggling economy, rising unemployment, political and social repression, and a general lack of freedom. Few are well-informed about the nuclear program, and most are embarrassed and disturbed by the image of their country in the world. Indeed, Iran's new international isolation and pariah status is deeply unpopular at home, and the fact that the government is emptying its coffers to foment revolution abroad rather than to support the welfare of the Iranian people has turned many of Ahmadinejad's supporters against him. Workers' protests have lately escalated in at least ten cities. Angry union leaders have held the president responsible for the weakening of the economy. In the recent city council elections in Tehran, only two of 13 winners were supporters of Ahmadinejad.

This discontent has seeped upward to high levels of Iranian politics--for instance, members of parliament, who, during Ahmadinejad's presentation of the annual budget last December, noisily protested the worsening economic conditions. There has even been serious talk about impeaching him. Since his election, Iranian hard-liners have openly divided into two opposing factions, creating a great deal of anxiety among conservative leaders who have been trying to mend the breach. Prominent reformist dissenters, such as Ayatollah Montazeri, have accused the government of using the country's considerable resources to meddle in other people's affairs. Even Ahmadinejad has occasionally sounded dispirited. He recently conceded that 28 years of Islamic rule has failed to eliminate liberal elements from Iranian society. Almost 30 years ago, in his prophetic essay "The Power of the Powerless," Václav Havel wrote that "a specter is haunting eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called dissent.'" That specter has now moved to Iran.

The fact that neither Khatami nor Ahmadinejad has been able to foster unity--even within the ruling elite--is a good indication of the crisis within the system. For over two decades, the main resistance to that system has come from within Iranian civil society. And it is Iranian civil society that will ultimately prove to be the Achilles heel of the Islamic Regime.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 PM


Senate OKs Bill Containing Iraq Timeline (ANNE FLAHERTY, April 26, 2007, Associated Press)

The 51-46 vote was largely along party lines, and like House passage of the same bill a day earlier, fell far short of the two-thirds margin needed to overturn the president's threatened veto. Nevertheless, the legislation is the first binding challenge on the war that Democrats have managed to send to Bush since they reclaimed control of both houses of Congress in January.

It's about as binding as Ted Kennedy's seat belt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 PM

WHAT WAR? (via Gene Brown):

Al Qaeda Strikes Back (Bruce Riedel, May 2007, Foreign Affairs)

Al Qaeda is a more dangerous enemy today than it has ever been before. It has suffered some setbacks since September 11, 2001: losing its state within a state in Afghanistan, having several of its top operatives killed, failing in its attempts to overthrow the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. But thanks largely to Washington's eagerness to go into Iraq rather than concentrate on hunting down al Qaeda's leaders, the organization now has a solid base of operations in the badlands of Pakistan and an effective franchise in western Iraq. Its reach has spread throughout the Muslim world, where it has developed a large cadre of operatives, and in Europe, where it can claim the support of some disenfranchised Muslim locals and members of the Arab and Asian diasporas. Osama bin Laden has mounted a successful propaganda campaign to make himself and his movement the primary symbols of Islamic resistance worldwide. His ideas now attract more followers than ever.

Bin Laden's goals remain the same, as does his basic strategy. He seeks to, as he puts it, "provoke and bait" the United States into "bleeding wars" throughout the Islamic world; he wants to bankrupt the country much as he helped bankrupt, he claims, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Bulls see a lucky Dow 13,000: As the index passes that milestone, many expect a big year for blue chips that may share in global economic growth. (Tom Petruno and Walter Hamilton, April 26, 2007, LA Times)
Are U.S. blue-chip stocks ready to shed their ugly-duckling status?

A surge in big-name shares Wednesday catapulted the Dow index past the 13,000 mark for the first time and boosted hopes that those issues could lead the market to heady gains this year.

The Dow industrials jumped 135.95 points, or 1.1%, to a record 13,089.89 amid a broad rally stoked by upbeat earnings reports and encouraging economic data.

The more al Qaeda "wins" the better things get.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:17 PM


Sad Day Ahead In Caracas (YOUSSEF IBRAHIM, April 26, 2007, NY Sun)

On or around May 1, President Chavez is expected to expropriate American and European oil ventures in Venezuela.

It will be a sad day for the Venezuelan economy. The same thing happened to Libya in the 1970s, when Muammar Gadhafi nationalized the oil industry, and Libya and the other OPEC member states that later undertook such an experiment have yet to recover.

While the oil companies survived, and even expanded, the Libyan oil industry suffered stilted growth and a huge drop in technological advances, restricting it to this day to a meager production level of about 1.4 million barrels a day. [...]

By and large, once Big Oil, be it American or European, is plundered, it is disinclined to come back for more. To be sure, new "service" contracts have been signed with Libya, Saudi Arabia, and OPEC to do some exploration work, lend a hand with the pumping. But without a share of the equity, these are cosmetic efforts. The heart isn't in it.

That is the lesson Mr. Chavez is about to learn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Take a Bite of Education (TIMOTHY MULHEARN, April 26, 2007, NY Sun)

Two New York legislators have introduced a bill that can help all New York students, whether they attend public or nonpublic schools. With the Educational Tax Incentives Act, Senator Serphin Maltese of Queens and Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn attempt to go one better than Governor Spitzer, who did not succeed in passing his tuition tax deduction proposal, which would have benefited nonpublic school students.

This measure, which they have jointly promoted for several years, would allow principals as well as school boards to solicit donations from individuals and corporations. Because of its potential to help all New York State, a total of 41 legislators, Democrats and Republicans representing city districts as well as suburban and rural regions, have signed on as co-sponsors to the 2007 version. While the legislation would allow some help for nonpublic school children, public education would be its primary beneficiary.

Donors to schools could claim a credit on their state income tax returns. This credit would be for 50% of the donation, with a $140 cap for personal tax returns and a $4,000 cap for taxpayers who file a corporate franchise tax return, as well as for those who have S corporations, limited liability partnerships, and other such business arrangements.

The significance of these donations is that all the money thus raised would come without an increase in the school tax rate. These dollar amounts were calculated to bring the first-year cost of the bill within the $25 million figure proposed by Governor Spitzer for helping parents of nonpublic school students.

Since the credit is for only half of the amount donated, this measure has the potential to raise $50 million to support education. Based on the experience of Arizona, where a similar law has been in effect for several years and about 80% of first-year donations went to public education, analysts have projected that in New York about $40 million would go to support public schools in the first year. In other words, public education would gain $15 million more than the state would lose. New York's public schools would benefit even more in subsequent years, as the amounts donated are expected to increase.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Putin gains a bargaining chip with suspension of treaty (C.J. Chivers, April 26, 2007, NY Times)

President Vladimir Putin announced on Thursday that Russia would suspend its compliance with a treaty on conventional arms in Europe that was forged at the end of the cold war. Putin said the Kremlin would use future compliance with the treaty as a bargaining point in the dispute with United States over American proposals to install missile defenses in Europe.

Putin's announcement, made in his annual address to Parliament, underscored the Kremlin's anger at the United States for proposing a new missile-defense system, which the Bush administration insists is meant to counter potential threats from North Korea and Iran.

The sorry state of his country guarantees all the compliance needed. No matter how tough the ant talks to the elephant, he's still just a bug.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Justices Raise Doubts on Campaign Finance (LINDA GREENHOUSE, 4/26/07, NY Times)

The argument on Wednesday was over whether, despite the 2003 blanket endorsement, the law would be constitutional if applied to three specific ads that an anti-abortion group sought to broadcast before the 2004 Senate election in Wisconsin.

The ads, sponsored by Wisconsin Right to Life Inc., mentioned the state’s two senators, both Democrats: Russell D. Feingold, a co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold law, who was up for re-election, and Herb Kohl, who was not. The advertisements’ focus was a Democratic-led filibuster of some of President Bush’s judicial nominees. Viewers were urged to “contact Senators Feingold and Kohl and tell them to oppose the filibuster.” The ads provided no contact information, instead directing viewers to a Web site that contained explicit criticism of Mr. Feingold.

A special three-judge Federal District Court here ruled that because the text and images of the ads did not show that they were “intended to influence the voters’ decisions,” they were “genuine issue ads” that the government could not keep off the air.

Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, arguing on behalf of the Federal Election Commission, told the justices that if these ads qualified for an exception to the law’s ban on issue ads that mention a candidate for federal office right before an election, so would many or most others, leaving the statute “wide open.”

Describing the ads as typical of those the court had reviewed when it rejected the initial challenge to the law, Mr. Clement said that a finding that these could not be regulated “just seems inconsistent” with the earlier ruling.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. turned the solicitor general’s argument against him. It was Mr. Clement who was being inconsistent, the chief justice said, noting that in an earlier phase of this case a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the provision could be challenged “as applied” on a case-by-case basis.

If the Roberts court were writing on a clean slate, a broad declaration of unconstitutionality might well be the result. But the court’s 2003 decision in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, upholding the law, is so recent as to make such a bold step unlikely. Instead, many election law experts believe the fate of the statute may depend on how broad an exception the court carves out through its handling of this or future “as applied” challenges. [...]

For the first half-hour of the argument, Justice Alito said nothing, leaning forward in his seat at the end of the bench with an intense expression. He finally intervened during the argument by Seth P. Waxman, who was defending the law on behalf of a group of its Congressional supporters including Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is the other lead sponsor.

What would happen, Justice Alito asked Mr. Waxman, if a group had been running an ad about an issue, “and let’s say a particular candidate’s position on the issue is very well known to people who pay attention to public affairs.” Suppose the blackout period established by the law was approaching — 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election — “and an important vote is coming up in Congress on that very issue.” Could the group be prohibited from continuing to broadcast the ad?

That would depend on the context, Mr. Waxman replied.

Justice Alito did not appear satisfied. “What do you make of the fact that there are so many groups that say this is really impractical?” he asked. His reference was to the impressive array of ideological strange-bedfellows that filed briefs in support of Wisconsin Right to Life’s challenge. These range from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Rifle Association to the United States Chamber of Commerce to the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

“I love it!” Mr. Waxman replied energetically, as if he had been waiting for just such a question. He said that although these many groups opposed the law, they were living with it and contenting themselves with running advertisements that advocated their positions on issues without mentioning candidates. The only two as-applied challenges, he noted, have both been brought by Wisconsin Right to Life’s lawyer, James Bopp Jr., who also has another case pending before the court.

Chief Justice Roberts was unimpressed by this line of argument. “I think it’s an important part of their exercise of First Amendment rights to petition their senators and congressmen and to urge others to, as in these ads, contact your senators, contact your congressmen,” he said, adding, “Just because the A.C.L.U. doesn’t do that doesn’t seem particularly pertinent to me.”

The law’s most vigorous defense from the bench came from Justices Stephen G. Breyer and David H. Souter. “If we agree with you in this case, goodbye McCain-Feingold,” Justice Breyer told Mr. Bopp. His point was that there is an inextricable link between the law’s two major provisions: the advertising restriction and the ban on the receipt and expenditure by political parties of unregulated “soft money” from corporations and unions. If corporations can underwrite television ads, which are “the single best way to get somebody defeated or elected,” Justice Breyer said, then “forget the rule that corporations can’t contribute.”

Of course, there's no reason to treat corporations and unions like citizens' groups. Just ban them from advertising as well as contributing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Even in death, Yeltsin shuns Soviet ways: The former president is buried with Orthodox rites, a first since czarist times for a Russian head of state. (David Holley, April 26, 2007, LA Times)

Former President Boris N. Yeltsin, putting an end to Soviet practices in death as he did in life, was buried Wednesday with Russian Orthodox rites. The service marked the first time in more than a century that Russia bid a religious farewell to a deceased head of state. [...]

At the graveside, Yeltsin's widow, Naina, stroked and kissed his forehead and face, then blessed him with the sign of the cross. The coffin was then closed, and an artillery salute was fired as it was lowered into the grave.

"The fate of Boris Nikolayevich reflects the entire dramatic history of the 20th century," Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II, who was unable to attend because of medical treatment, said in a statement read out at the cathedral service. "At the turn of the 1980s and the early 1990s, he became a witness and a participant in a historic turnaround in the life of Russia. At that time the will of our people for freedom became manifest. Boris Nikolayevich sensed that will and helped for it to be carried out."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


The Sounds of Silence From Democrats on the Hot-Button Issues (Stuart Rothenberg, 4/26/07, Real Clear Politics)

If you really want to see how times have changed across the nation in general, and on Capitol Hill in particular, all you need to do is consider both the way high-profile Democrats have reacted to recent events and how the Democrats are proceeding in Congress. It’s stunning, and that’s not mere hyperbole.

The nation was better served by Bill Clinton's Third Way politics, but the fact that Democrats have to go radio silent to maintain what's left of the Second Way is a hopeful sign too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Can Russia meld order with the freedom it briefly savoured? (News Statesm,an, 4/30/07)

As Boris Yeltsin is laid to rest, to what extent can the excesses of his period be seen as responsible for the clampdown that has followed? To what extent could Russia have followed a different, more gradual course out of communism? The two questions are interlinked. They tend to be posed by many Russians now in order to elicit a derogatory response to the late president and his record. Yeltsin allowed a nation's assets to fall into the hands of the largest modern-day kleptocracy. That much is undeniable. But perhaps those most at fault were the foreign advisers who took over the Kremlin, pursuing "shock therapy" privatisation without heed to the peculiarities of the country in which they were experimenting. They not only failed to appreciate the need to build a new form of civil society first, but sent millions of Russians into abject poverty. They undermined confidence in western economic and political remedies.

And yet, it is still not clear whether the outcome would have been significantly better if a more wary path had been pursued. Such were the structures of the former USSR that it was almost inevitable that those who enjoyed political power would seek to grab for themselves and their friends the riches of a newly marketised economy. Putin has restored a semblance of order to economic dealings, but this is superficial. The corruption and cronyism that reached a peak in Yeltsin's second term have simply become more discreet.

Despite the surprisingly fond farewell for Yeltsin, most of what he built is being systematically dismantled by his successor. A crusading press has withered. Parliament and television stations have regained their puppet status and dissent is again a parlous occupation. The deaths of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinenko attest to that. Other journalists and activists have given in to threats and silenced themselves. Those who do not, such as Garry Kasparov's "Other Russia" group, meet violence from police even where their rallies have been notionally sanctioned by city authorities. Those who wish to make money keep their heads down.

Putin is more confident than he was three years ago. He presides over not a return to the dictatorship of Soviet communism but a form of Latin American autocracy. Only the most outspoken get into trouble. Meanwhile, rich Russians go skiing and eat sushi, and the poor seek to make ends meet. (At least state salaries are being paid now.) It was not wrong for western leaders to seek to woo Putin when he came to power in 2000. It is right that they continue to engage with him, albeit more cautiously. Attention will soon turn to the next succession when the incumbent's two-term tenure runs out in 2008. Will Putin do what Yeltsin did and go quietly? The prospects are not encouraging.

The big question in Russia is unchanged: are the autocrats following the Pinochet model or just content to run a banana republic?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Introducing the latest superfood... Purple asparagus (Daily Mail, 26th April 2007)

A purple asparagus, so sweet it can be eaten raw, has gone on sale in British supermarkets for the first time. [...]

Purple aspa­ragus has much smaller quantities of lignin, the fibrous ­material that makes the green version stringy.

This is also the reason why it can be eaten raw, making it suitable for salads, for instance.

Purple foods are popular with health-conscious consumers because the colour indicates a high level of supposedly health-enhancing anti­oxidants.

Other purple superfoods include tomatoes, being perfected by researchers at Oregon State University, and Purple Haze carrots, which remain orange on the inside.

Growers also have high hopes for purple sprouting broccoli, which has be­come increasingly popular in recent years.

Pacific Purple Aspara­gus, to give it its full name, has high concentrations of the antioxidant called anthocyanin.

Now all of us can be King George.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


A dry run for a Japan-US FTA (Hisane Masaki, 4/27/07, Asia Times)

Japan has kicked off negotiations with Australia on concluding a free-trade agreement (FTA), in a desperate bid to play catch-up in the ever-intensifying regional and global FTA race. The negotiations with Australia, launched this week, are particularly significant because they are Japan's first with a major agricultural exporter and are widely seen as a dry run for possible future talks with the United States. [...]

Pressure has been growing from other domestic industries for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government to move toward FTA negotiations with the US as soon as possible. The pressure has increased since the US and South Korea reached an agreement early this month.

Abe is expected to raise the possibility of concluding an FTA with the US in his talks with President George W Bush in Washington on Friday during a two-day US visit, his first since taking office last September.

Japan's recently revved-up FTA drive has been largely fueled by an intensifying rivalry with China, a rapidly ascending economic as well as military power, over leadership in regional economic integration - and political clout - and also by increasingly tough global competition for oil, gas and other resources.

If the US and its Anglosphere/Axis of Good partners conclude trade treaties, what choice do the countries holding up the Doha Round have but to join the fun?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Spinach Pancakes (SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER, April 26, 2007)

10 ounces fresh spinach, well-washed, large stems removed, or 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk or thin yogurt

2 tablespoons melted and cooled butter, plus unmelted butter for cooking, or use oil

1 cup sour cream, optional

1 tablespoon minced lemon peel, optional.

If using fresh spinach, place in a covered saucepan over medium heat, with just the water that clings to its leaves after washing; or plunge it into a pot of salted boiling water. Either way, cook it until it wilts, just a couple of minutes. Drain, cool, squeeze dry and chop.

Preheat large skillet over medium-low heat while you make batter. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Beat eggs into 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, then stir in the melted butter. Stir this into dry ingredients, adding a little more buttermilk if batter seems thick; stir in spinach.

Place a teaspoon or two of butter or oil in pan. When butter foam subsides or oil shimmers, ladle batter onto skillet, making any size pancakes you like.

Adjust heat as necessary; first batch will require higher heat than subsequent batches. Add more butter or oil to pan as necessary. Brown bottoms in 2 to 4 minutes. Flip only when pancakes are fully cooked on bottom; they won't hold together well until they are ready.

Cook until second side is lightly browned; as pancakes are done, put them on an ovenproof plate in oven for up to 15 minutes. Mix sour cream and lemon peel together and place a small dollop on each pancake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Thousands flee as shelling by Ethiopian tanks kills hundreds of civilians in Somali capital (Chris McGreal, April 26, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

The Somali capital Mogadishu suffered some of the heaviest bombardment in nine days of fighting today, as Ethiopian tanks supporting the interim government shelled new areas of the city despite a claim by the Somali prime minister to have routed Islamist insurgents.

The Ethiopian assault has killed several hundred people, many of them civilians harmed by indiscriminate shelling that has destroyed homes and shops, and forced tens of thousands to flee the city as it spread to previously relatively peaceful parts of Mogadishu. Corpses lay scattered on the streets because it is too dangerous to collect them.

More than 1,000 people were killed in an earlier round of fighting last month. More than a third of the civilian population — some 340,000 people — have fled in the past three months.

At least no one need wonder when Somalis hate us.

April 25, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


Beer Foam Riddle Solved (AFP, April 25, 2007)

There is the nagging question of whether life exists other than on Earth. The enduring mystery of who made us — and why.

And then there is this: Why does the foam on a pint of lager quickly disappear but the head on a pint of Guinness linger?

Answers to questions 1 and 2 are still being sought, but the Great Beer Riddle, at least, may soon be solved.

Writing in the prestigious British science journal Nature, an elite scientific duo say they have devised an equation to describe beer froth.

Let's just say that we know someone who's owed apologies from their parents, Wife, several professors ands a dean or two, who refused to believe that he was working on this problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 PM


C.J. Chivers Wins Michael Kelly Award

Esquire contributor C.J. Chivers won the journalism award for his gripping story "The School," about the 2004 Beslan school massacre.

The School: On the first day of school in 2004, a Chechen terrorist group struck the Russian town of Beslan. Targeting children, they took more than eleven hundred hostages. The attack represented a horrifying innovation in human brutality. Here, an extraordinary accounting of the experience of terror in the age of terrorism. (CJ Chivers, Esquire)

Mid-afternoon. The cafeteria.

The survivors slumped in the corner by the dish-washing room, perhaps twenty-five people crammed in a tiny space. Still the bullets kept coming. A crash sounded along the outside wall; they noticed that the iron bars on the window in the left corner were gone. Three Russian commandos climbed in.

They were a fit and nimble trio, carrying rifles and wearing body armor and helmets. They stood among the dead and the injured, weapons ready, blood, broken glass, and spent shells around their feet. One of them bled from his hand. "Where are the bastards?" one whispered.

A door to the storerooms swung open. Ibragim was there. Simultaneously, the commandos and the terrorist opened fire over the hostages. Ibragim stepped aside, then reappeared, holding two hand grenades. Bullets hit him as he let them go.

Time seemed to slow.

Larisa Kudziyeva watched one of the grenades, a smooth metal oval about the size of a lime, as it passed over her, fell to the floor, and bounced off the kitchen tile toward the soldiers. Her son was beneath her and her daughter beside her. She squeezed the boy, threw her leg and arm over him, and swung her other hand over her daughter's face.

A hand grenade is a small explosive charge surrounded by a metal shell, whose detonation is controlled by a fuse with a few-second delay. When the charge explodes, it shatters the metal exterior, turning it into bits of shrapnel that rush away at thousands of feet per second, accompanied by a shock wave and heat. It can kill a man fifteen yards away. The nook was less than six yards across.

The grenade exploded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Eastern Europeans Happier and Healthier Under Capitalism
: Eastern Europeans are happier and healthier than ever before as a result of a better diet and economic success. Drinking and smoking less hasn't hurt either. (Der Spiegel, 4/26/07)

Slovaks, Czechs and Poles are healthier and happier than ever before, new studies show.

Life expectancy in Slovakia has increased to just over 70 years for men -- up from 67 in the 1980s -- according to new statistics from the country's Public Health Bureau, while the average life expectancy for Slovak women is now 77.9 years, up from a 1980s lifespan of some 75 years.

Reflecting increased awareness of health and diet, Slovaks are drinking less beer. Slovaks drank a mere 7.4 liters of pure alcohol per capita in 2003, slightly more than half of the 13.7 liters they each quaffed in 1991.

Poles, too, are living longer, to the ripe old age of almost 71 for men and 79 for women on average -- both about four years more than under Communism -- according to figures from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). One explanation for their longer lives could be that they are also smoking less. Back in the bleak 1980s, 15 million Poles smoked out of a population of 38 million -- now the country has a mere 8 million smokers.

Women in particular are taking better care of their health, getting check-ups more often, meaning health problems are being recognized earlier.

Sign up for Spiegel Online's daily newsletter and get the best of Der Spiegel's and Spiegel Online's international coverage in your In- Box everyday.

Czechs too are happier than ever, with a massive 81 percent of the population describing themselves as satisfied. They too are living longer, with life expectancy figures similar to Poland, partly as a result of a healthier diet containing less fat and more vitamins.

"The increase in quality of life as a result of the booming economy and improved education has had a positive effect on people's state of health," comments Ivan Rovny, head of the Institute of Public Health in Bratislava,

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


America The Ugly (OTTO PENZLER, April 25, 200, NY Sun)

Let me make something clear. I'm prejudiced: I don't like people who don't like America, and I especially don't like Americans who don't like America. I've never met David Ignatius, but I don't believe I'd like him, though I hope I'm wrong because he sure can write. I just find it impossible to separate the political tone (it's all our fault) from the novel, just as I can no longer be enchanted by Barbra Streisand's voice or Sean Penn's thespian skills.

Now, if you're more open-minded than I am (I won't say liberal, because no one is more closedminded than liberals, thereby ruining a wonderful word and an outstanding concept), just skip this column and go out and get a copy of "Body of Lies" ) because it is an exceptionally exciting thriller.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:38 AM


Are Yanks Wrong To Push Hughes in the Deep End? (TIM MARCHMAN, April 25, 2007, NY Sun)

Tomorrow night, two months before his 21st birthday, Phil Hughes will take the mound at Yankee Stadium as the best pitching prospect in baseball, and the best New York has seen since Dwight Gooden. In better circumstances, he might have pitched in the minor leagues for a few more months, apprenticed in the Yankees bullpen for a time, and then taken a rotation spot either later in the summer or next year. As things have turned, he will bear not only the immense pressure of his reputation, but the burden of having to restore order to a Yankees rotation that has, due to injuries and failures, gone from a strength to a liability in three weeks.

In several ways, the Yankees are compromising their own interests by turning to Hughes under these conditions. That doesn't mean that promoting Hughes right now will prove to be a mistake — he may, right now, be their best pitcher. But it's at best a curious way to protect one of the game's more valuable assets.

The main problem is that the Yankees have two mutually opposed interests right now. The first, and I think clearly the most important, is ensuring that Hughes is put in the best possible situation for his long-term development. The second is winning. This creates a variety of conflicts. There is no doubt that in an ideal world Hughes would spend a few months testing himself against experienced hitters at Triple-A and that his first major league games would be of little or no consequence. Whether or not one agrees, one can understand why the Yankees would put a higher priority on not falling deep into a hole by the end of April than on creating the ideal environment for the development of a young pitcher, but one can't ignore the costs of doing so.

Somewhat less obviously, these opposing interests cause conflicts that will either lead to the Yankees getting far less out of Hughes than he has to offer, thus making his call up essentially irrelevant, or to them putting his career and potential at risk in exchange for a fix to a temporary and easily solved problem.

It's a risk that badly managed teams run. But when management knows it's on the way out the door it runs things badly.

Crawford Slam Sends Yankees To Last Place (Associated Press, April 25, 2007)

Alex Rodriguez's 23-game hitting streak is over. The Yankees can't say the same about a slide that's dropped them into last place.

Tampa Bay pitching cooled off ARod, and Carl Crawford hit his first career grand slam rallied the Devil Rays over Chien-Ming Wang and the Yankees 6–4 last night, extending the Yankees' losing streak to five games.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Democrats still silent on gun control (Derrick Z. Jackson, April 25, 2007, Boston Globe)

Last week's massacre at Virginia Tech that claimed 33 lives has done little to reignite the gun-control debate. One expects nothing from the Bush administration and the Republicans, who beginning with the 2000 elections have received 92 percent of the $9.1 million in campaign contributions from gun-rights organizations, according to the Center for Responsible Politics.

The Democrats, not officially beholden to the National Rifle Association, have been cowards more concerned about reelection in centrist districts than the trauma to American children. The same Reid who bemoans the loss of life over a failed Iraq war said about Virginia Tech, "I hope there's not a rush to do anything. We need to take a deep breath." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ignored a question by a reporter on whether Virginia Tech would inspire Democrats to revisit gun control. All she said was, "the mood in Congress is one of mourning, sadness, and the inadequacy of our words or our actions to console the families and the children who were affected there."

"Inadequacy of our words or our actions" was a Freudian slip. None of the home pages on the websites of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, or John Edwards says anything about guns in relation to Virginia Tech. This is despite the fact that the US public arsenal, according to the Small Arms Survey, an independent research group based in Switzerland, "is comparable or even greater than the total firearms of all the armed forces in the entire world."

This week, Massachusetts Representative Michael Capuano told the Globe "we know we're going to lose" on any serious push for gun control because "the NRA has this place wrapped up." With defeatism like that, who needs a Democratic majority?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Glimmer of Hope in Europe (ALBERTO ALESINA and FRANCESCO GIAVAZZI, April 25, 2007, NY Sun)

The current conservative government folded up reforms as soon as a few thousand students marched the streets of Paris. But considering that Mr. Sarkozy sometimes has a difficult personality and many voters dislike him personally, the fact that he is ahead in the polls shows how much the French are worried about their future if nothing changes.

Things are also changing in Sweden, the champion of the Nordic model: competition in the markets for labor, goods, and services, and the country has one of the most efficient social safety nets in the world. Six months ago, Swedish voters replaced the Social Democrats that had been in power for over 10 years with an young, energetic prime minister, Fredrick Reinfeldt, committed to reassessing the country's social model. While maintaining the generosity of the welfare system, he promised to eliminate distortions and further protect free markets. He wants to merge deregulation of markets, including labor markets, with a tax transfer system consistent with the Swedish predilection for low inequality, but with the least possible amount of market distortions.

In Denmark, deregulation of the labor market has made the unemployment rate even less than that of America. Some unproductive hiring in the public sector has helped, but the direction of the reform is right.

In Germany, its chancellor, Angela Merkel, despite the internal strife of her "grand coalition" has introduced a health reform which will slow down the explosion of health spending, something that America has not done yet. Even in Italy some timid steps toward more open markets, especially in services, have finally happened. Unfortunately, when it came to the sale of the Italian telecommunication giant, Telecom, state capitalism rose its ugly head, stopping foreign bidders, including AT&T, in order to protect Italian insiders.

European citizens are not ready for an anti-tax revolt, but they are increasingly more reluctant to pay high taxes if they are not accompanied by good public services. In the countries where governments are chronically unable to provide good services, taxes can only go down.

Let's be clear: Europeans will always prefer a more generous welfare state than Americans, but perhaps they are beginning to understand two things. One is that generous social insurance can be coupled with competition in markets for goods, services, and labor. Second, you do not need to increase public spending to 50% of the gross domestic product to protect the truly poor.

So Mr. Sarkozy can enact reforms because the French hate him anyway? That would seem a tenuous basis for hope.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Court Weighs Campaign Ads: Curbs on Firms, Unions In Run-Up to Elections May Ride on Alito Vote (JESS BRAVIN, April 25, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Last year, the court acknowledged that in some cases, the regulation of corporate-financed "electioneering communications" potentially could be enforced in a way that impinged on First Amendment free-speech and association rights.

The unsigned opinion opened the door to a lawsuit brought by Wisconsin Right to Life Inc. against the Federal Election Commission, which enforces McCain-Feingold, over a set of ads aired before the 2004 elections. While the FEC considered the ads to be prohibited "electioneering communications," Wisconsin Right to Life said the ads, which it financed with money supplied by undisclosed corporations, comprised constitutionally protected "grass-roots lobbying."

The provision bars corporations and labor organizations from funding "electioneering communications" on TV or radio for 30 days prior to a primary and 60 days prior to a general election. To fall under the restriction, the ad must refer to "a clearly identified candidate for federal office" and, for House and Senate races, target the candidate's constituency, defined as an audience of at least 50,000.

There are some exceptions. For instance, ideological lobbying groups organized as nonprofit corporations can run such ads, as long as they don't accept donations from corporations or unions that are themselves restricted under McCain-Feingold. Corporations and unions also can form and make limited contributions to separate political action committees that pay for campaign ads. And the curbs don't apply to other forms of political ads -- in newspapers, on the Web or through bumper stickers, billboards or telephone calls.

In 2004, Senate Democrats, then in the minority, used a filibuster to block some Bush nominees to appellate courts. The president's supporters focused on the filibuster as a reason for conservative voters to elect Republicans. During the covered period, Wisconsin Right to Life ran one TV and two radio ads against the filibuster. The ads criticized an unnamed "group of senators" for using a filibuster to block "qualified candidates" from getting a "chance to serve" as judges. "Contact Senators Feingold and [Herb] Kohl and tell them to oppose the filibuster," the ads said.

Sen. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, wasn't on the ballot, so the ad could have mentioned him with no controversy. But Sen. Feingold was seeking re-election, and the FEC found the ads in violation. Mr. Feingold won his race by 12 percentage points.

In December, a special panel of the U.S. District Court here voted 2-1 for Wisconsin Right to Life. The court observed that "to the untutored viewer's eye, the ads, on their face, neither reveal either senator's thinking on the issue nor reference Sen. Feingold's upcoming election contest." It therefore found the ads couldn't be considered an attempt to influence voters, and fell outside the McCain-Feingold regulation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Spinal Tap to reform for Live Earth (Paul MacInnes, April 25, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

While rock fans have been dreaming of a Spinal Tap reunion for years, an important enough reason for the band to get back together has remained elusive. What possible cause could be big enough bring back the band who have seen it all, played it all and, later, scooped it all into a box so they could take it on their tour bus with them?

The answer has become clear today, however, after it was announced that the legendary UK act led by Nigel Tufnel and David St Hubbins are to reform in order to fight global warming. A new film delving into the band's eco-consciousness is to be screened today, and they will back it up with an appearance at this summer's Live Earth festival.

Director Rob Reiner, whose relationship with the band dates back to their classic rockumentary, This is Spinal Tap, explained the decision ahead of the film's debut at a New York festival tonight. "They're not that environmentally conscious, but they've heard of global warming," said Reiner. "Nigel thought it was just because he was wearing too much clothing - that if he just took his jacket off it would be cooler."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Giuliani Faces Skeptical GOP Voters (LIZ SIDOTI, 4/24/07, Associated Press)

Republican presidential contender Rudy Giuliani defended his positions on a late-term abortion procedure and gun control Tuesday as he faced skeptical GOP voters who questioned his sincerity. [...]

Molly Smith, 27, of Hooksett, N.H., a Republican who says she supports former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, noted Giuliani's backing of abortion rights as well as his response last week to the Supreme Court ruling.

"How can we trust you on this issue?" Smith asked.

"I think you can be personally opposed to it, hate abortion, respect somebody else's conscience who might make a different decision, and also believe that particular form of abortion is wrong," Giuliani said.

Peter Bearse, 65, a Freemont, N.H., Republican who said he isn't yet backing a candidate but is leaning toward Arizona Sen. John McCain, asked how Giuliani planned to survive a GOP primary given that his past and current positions on abortion and gun control are in conflict. That, Bearse said, raises questions about "believability."

"I'm older than most here, so I remember certain things," Bearse said, recalling that the ex-mayor had advised Clinton on the issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


-The Zincs (Official Band Site)
-The Zincs (MySpace)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Need a reason to eat asparagus? Here are 10 (HSIAO-CHING CHOU, 4/25/07, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

You need another reason to eat bacon.

Toss some homemade bacon bits onto cooked asparagus, or wrap thick spears with bacon strips. One bite has it all: salty, smoky, juicy, sweet.

...if you need an excuse you have a problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Move Over, Moneyball: Stat nerds are out! Biomechanics nerds are in! (Seth Stevenson, April 24, 2007, Slate)

You could view the mechanics obsession as just another evolution in fan identity. We've always been armchair managers, second-guessing our team's decisions to bunt, or hit and run, or leave a pitcher out on the mound (damn you, Grady Little). Since the advent of fantasy baseball, we've identified more closely with the GMs—analyzing stats, weighing different roster constructions, and calculating salary-to-production ratios. Now, with the mechanics movement, we're all amateur scouts.

There are some inherent frustrations in this approach to baseball fandom. With reams of statistics now available to anyone who cares, the average fan can make his own judgments with regards to the numbers. But when it comes to mechanics, it still feels like we're in the Dark Ages. There's a clear thirst out there for this kind of stuff, but it's hard to tell which (if any) of these message-board guys knows what he's talking about. Mechanics analysis is so subjective, and such an esoteric niche right now, that the fan has little recourse but to put his faith in guys who claim to have some expertise.

As with any trend, the mechanics movement has its emerging gurus. At the Hardball Times, someone named Carlos Gomez (a self-described "retired pro baseball player" and "mechanics geek") has written a series of columns on pitching mechanics. His essay on Matsuzaka's motion praised Dice-K's "aggressive" leg swing and "elbowy" arm action. Sounds legit, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll has also positioned himself as a mechanics expert. Carroll (who at times seems ickily comfortable with self-promotion) makes confident predictions about which pitchers are injury risks due to flawed form and which boast deliveries so smooth as to make injuries unlikely. Again, I just have to take him at his word. Carroll's analysis of Matsuzaka—a featured video clip at MLB.com—throws up side-by-side video of Dice-K and Roger Clemens, noting how similar the deliveries look. But it's my feeling that at least half the hard-throwing right-handers in baseball would look nearly identical to an untrained eye.

Also consider that in late 2003, Carroll (and co-author Nate Silver) wrote that Cubs pitcher Mark Prior

might be a special case, not because of his numbers, but because of his mechanics. What does a biomechanist see when Prior takes the mound? There are five major principles of proper delivery that can be summarized as balance, posture, anatomical position, rotation, and release. Prior is textbook with all five.

Prior is also now an injury-ridden mess. Carroll blames this on the heavy usage Prior has endured in his young career. But you'd think "textbook" mechanics would let him handle a heavy workload without major problems. Other pitchers have done that.

It also matters though what a young pitcher does with those mechanics--he needs to be efficient or be limited by management.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Illegal migrants' right to work wins support of public in poll (Colin Brown 25 April 2007, Independent)

A campaign for an estimated 500,000 illegal workers in Britain to be given the official right to earn a living would have popular support, according to findings in an opinion poll. [...]

But an opinion poll commissioned by Strangers into Citizens - a campaign to give employment rights to illegal immigrants -shows that 66 per cent of people in the UK would accept refused asylum-seekers and those who had overstayed their visas if they worked and paid taxes. The poll was conducted last weekend by ORB with a sample of 1,004 adults across the UK.

Polling here likewise shows that large majorities want them to be able to stay, just want them legalized first.

April 24, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 PM


John McCain's Speech On Energy Policy (Senator John McCain, 4/23/07, Center for Strategic and International Studies)

Thank you. I appreciate the invitation to talk with you about a great and urgent challenge - breaking our nation's critical dependence on foreign sources of oil, and making America safer, stronger and more prosperous by modernizing the way we generate and employ energy.

Oil is often called the lifeblood of our economy-the indispensable commodity that keeps commerce humming and America on the move. But, in today's world, our dependency on foreign oil and the way we use hydrocarbons is a major strategic vulnerability, a serious threat to our security, our economy and the well being of our planet.

Fortunately, there are times in a nation's history when great challenges coalesce with great moments of opportunity. We are at such a moment today. We have the urgent need and the opportunity to build a safer and thriving future with more diverse, reliable, and cleaner energy. But it will take another indispensable commodity to make it happen -American leadership. I'm running for President to help provide that leadership. And I want to talk a little today about the direction I want to lead us and why.

Oil is a vital resource and we will always need it. But we account for 25% of global demand and possess less than 3% of proven reserves. Most of the world's known reserves are in the Persian Gulf, in the hands of dictators or nationalized oil companies. Its availability and price are manipulated by a cartel of countries where our values aren't typically shared and our interests aren't their first priority.

By mid-century there will be three-and-a-half billion cars worldwide-over four times the number today. Most of the growth will take place in the developing world, in India and China, but the increase in fuel prices, pollution, and climate impacts will be felt worldwide. As world demand for oil soars, higher prices, severe economic volatility, and heightened international tensions follow. These unpredictable forces could seriously circumscribe our future if we let them. Great nations don't leave the "lifeblood" of their economy in the hands of foreign cartels or bet their future on a commodity located in countries where authoritarians repress their people and terrorists find their main support. Terrorists understand the seriousness of our vulnerability. Al Qaeda plans for attacks on oil facilities in the Middle East to destroy the American economy. A little over a year ago, a suicide attack at a major Saudi Arabian oil refinery came close to disabling its target. Had it succeeded, it would have driven the world price of oil above $150 dollars a barrel -and kept it there for a year.

We're one successful attack away from an economic crisis. The flow of oil has many chokepoints - pipelines, refineries, transit routes, and terminals; most of them outside our jurisdiction and control. Our enemies understand the effects on America of a significant disruption in supply - a crippled transportation system, gasoline too expensive for many Americans to purchase, businesses closed.

Al Qaeda must revel in the irony that America is effectively helping to fund both sides of the war they caused. As we sacrifice blood and treasure, some of our gas dollars flow to the fanatics who build the bombs, hatch the plots, and carry out attacks on our soldiers and citizens. Iran made over $45 billion from oil sales in 2005, and it is the number one state sponsor of terrorism.

The transfer of American wealth to the Middle East helps sustain the conditions on which terrorists prey. Some of the most oil-rich nations are the most stagnant societies on earth. As long as petro-dollars flow freely to them those regimes have little incentive to open their politics and economies so that all their people may benefit from their countries' natural wealth. The Middle East's example is spreading to our own hemisphere. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is using his country's oil revenues to establish a dictatorship, bully his neighbors and succeed Castro as Latin America's leading antagonist of the United States. The politics of oil impede the global progress of our values, and restrains governments from acting on the most basic impulses of human decency. There is only one reason China has opposed sanctions to pressure Sudan to stop the killing in Darfur: China needs Sudan's oil.

The burning of oil and other fossil fuels is contributing to the dangerous accumulation of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere, altering our climate with the potential for major social, economic and political upheaval. The world is already feeling the powerful effects of global warming, and far more dire consequences are predicted if we let the growing deluge of greenhouse gas emissions continue, and wreak havoc with God's creation. A group of senior retired military officers recently warned about the potential upheaval caused by conflicts over water, arable land and other natural resources under strain from a warming planet. The problem isn't a Hollywood invention nor is doing something about it a vanity of Cassandra like hysterics. It is a serious and urgent economic, environmental and national security challenge.

National security depends on energy security, which we cannot achieve if we remain dependent on imported oil from Middle Eastern governments who support or foment by their own inattention and inequities the rise of terrorists or on swaggering demagogues and would be dictators in our hemisphere.

There's no doubt it's an enormous challenge. But is it too big a challenge for America to tackle; this great country that has never before confronted a problem it couldn't solve? No, it is not. No people have ever been better innovators and problem solvers than Americans. It is in our national DNA to see challenges as opportunities; to conquer problems beyond the expectation of an admiring world. America, relying as always on the industry and imagination of a free people, and the power and innovation of free markets, is capable of overcoming any challenge from within and without our borders. Our enemies believe we're too weak to overcome our dependence on foreign oil. Even some of our allies think we're no longer the world's most visionary, most capable country or committed to the advancement of mankind. I think we know better than that. I think we know who we are and what we can do. Now, let's remind the world.

George Gershwin wrote that good music reflects its people and times. "My people are Americans," he said. "My time is today." That's what made his music memorable. That's what made all America's best accomplishments memorable. We were capable and confident, we aspired to greatness and we understood our times. Our time is today, my friends, and the achievements of our storied past will shine no brighter than those we accomplish right now, in our time, if we meet our problems confidently and honestly; if we trust in the strength and ideals of free people; if we aspire to greatness.

As President, I'll propose a national energy strategy that will amount to a declaration of independence from the fear bred by our reliance on oil sheiks and our vulnerability to the troubled politics of the lands they rule. When we reach the limits of military power and diplomacy to contain the dangers of that cauldron of burning resentments and extremism, energy security is our best defense. We won't achieve it tomorrow, but we must achieve it in our time.

The strategy I propose won't be another grab bag of handouts to this or that industry and a full employment act for lobbyists. It will promote the diversification and conservation of our energy sources that will in sufficient time break the dominance of oil in our transportation sector just as we diversified away from oil use in electric power generation thirty years ago; and substantially reduce the impact of our energy consumption on the planet. It will rely on the genius and technological prowess of American industry and science. Government must set achievable goals, but the markets should be free to produce the means. And those means are within our reach.

Energy efficiency by using improved technology and practicing sensible habits in our homes, businesses and automobiles is a big part of the answer, and is something we can achieve right now. And new advances will make conservation an ever more important part of the solution. Improved light bulbs can use much less energy; smart grid technology can help homeowners and businesses lower their energy use, and breakthroughs in high tech materials can greatly improve fuel efficiency in the transportation sector. We need to dispel the image of conservation that entails shivering in cold rooms, reading by candlelight, and lower productivity. Americans have it in their power today to contribute to our national security, prosperity and a cleaner environment. They understand the dangers we face, and are prepared to respond to appeals to patriotism that explain how we can free ourselves from them.

We need not wait for another age, in which science fiction becomes every day reality. Flexible-fuel vehicles aren't futuristic pie in the sky. We can easily deploy such technology today for less than $100 per vehicle; and we must develop the infrastructure necessary to take full advantage. We were able to overcome the challenges of putting seatbelts, airbags, and computer technology in practically every car. We can provide fuel options and improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet by making them out of high tech materials that improve their strength and safety. We are doing that very thing right now to beat our foreign competitors in the aerospace industry.

Alcohol fuels made from corn, sugar, switch grass and many other sources, fuel cells, biodiesel derived from waste products, natural gas, and other technologies are all promising and available alternatives to oil. I won't support subsidizing every alternative or tariffs that restrict the healthy competition that stimulates innovation and lower costs. But I'll encourage the development of infrastructure and market growth necessary for these products to compete, and let consumers choose the winners. I've never known an American entrepreneur worthy of the name who wouldn't rather compete for sales than subsidies.

America's electricity production is for the most part petroleum free, and the existing electric power grid has the capacity to handle the added demand imposed by plug-in hybrid vehicles. We can add more capacity and improve its reliability in the years ahead. Nuclear energy, renewable power, and other emission free forms of power production can expand capacity, improve local air quality and address climate change. I'll work to promote real partnerships between utilities and automakers to accelerate the deployment of plug-in hybrids.

With some of the savings from cutting subsidies for industries that can stand on their own, we can establish a national challenge to improve the cost, range, size, and weight of electric batteries for automobiles. Fifty percent of cars on the road are driven 25 miles a day or less. Affordable battery-powered vehicles that can meet average commuter needs could help us cut oil imports in half. The reward will be earned through merit by whomever accomplishes the task, whether a laboratory in the Department of Energy, a university, a corporation or an enterprising young inventor who works out of his family's garage.

There is much we can do to increase our own oil production in ways that protect the environment using advanced technologies, including those that use and bury carbon dioxide, to recover the oil below the wells we have already drilled, and tap oil, natural gas, and shale economically with minimal environmental impact.

The United States has coal reserves more abundant than Saudi Arabia's oil reserves. We found a way to cut down acid rain pollutants from burning coal, and we can find a way to use our coal resources without emitting excessive greenhouse gases.

We have in use today a zero emission energy that could provide electricity for millions more homes and businesses than it currently does. Yet it has been over twenty-five years since a nuclear power plant has been constructed. The barriers to nuclear energy are political not technological. We've let the fears of thirty years ago, and an endless political squabble over the storage of nuclear spent fuel make it virtually impossible to build a single new plant that produces a form of energy that is safe and non-polluting. If France can produce 80% of its electricity with nuclear power, why can't we? Is France a more secure, advanced and innovative country than we are? Are France's scientists and entrepreneurs more capable than we are? I need no answer to that rhetorical question. I know my country well enough to know otherwise.

Let's provide for safe storage of spent nuclear fuel, and give host states or localities a proprietary interest so when advanced recycling technologies turn used fuel into a valuable commodity, the public will share in its economic benefits.

I want to improve and make permanent the research and development tax credit. I want to spend less money on government bureaucracies, and, where the private sector isn't moving out of regulatory fear, to form the partnerships necessary to build demonstration models of promising new technologies such as advanced nuclear power plants, coal gasification, carbon capture and storage, and renewable power so we can take maximum advantage of our most abundant resources. And I'll make it a national mission to develop a catalyst capable of breaking down carbon dioxide into useful chemical building blocks, and rendering it a new source of revenue and opportunity.

America competes in a global economy where innovation and entrepreneurship are the pillars of prosperity. The competition is stiff and the stakes are high. We have the opportunity to apply America's technological supremacy to capture the export markets for advanced energy technologies, reaping the capital investment and good jobs it will provide. Our innovators, scientists, entrepreneurs and workers have the knowledge, resources, and drive to lead the way on energy security, as we have in so many other world-changing advancements. The race has always been to the swift, and America must be first to market with innovations that meet mankind's growing energy and environmental needs. Again, government should set the standards, and leave it to the marketplace to win the race.

I have proposed a bipartisan plan to address the problem of climate change and stimulate the development and use of advanced technologies. It is a market-based approach that would set reasonable caps on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, and provide industries with tradable credits. By reducing its emissions, a utility or industrial plant can generate credits it may trade on the open market for a profit, offering a powerful incentive to drive the deployment of new and better energy sources and technologies; for automakers to develop new ways to lower pollution and increase mileage; for utilities to generate cleaner electricity and capture carbon; for appliance manufacturers to make more efficient products, and for the nation to use energy with maximum efficiency-building conservation into the economy in a manner that produces financial and environmental benefits. Dupont Corporation has reaped $2 billion dollars in energy savings and reduced its carbon emissions by 72% since 1990.

As it always does, the profit motive will attract the transformational power of venture capital, and unleash the market to move clean alternative fuels and advanced energy technologies from the margins into the mainstream.

Some urge we do nothing because we can't be certain how bad the problem might become or they presume the worst effects are most likely to occur in our grandchildren's lifetime. I'm a proud conservative, and I reject that kind of live-for-today, "me generation," attitude. It is unworthy of us and incompatible with our reputation as visionaries and problem solvers. Americans have never feared change. We make change work for us.

In the coming months, other proposals will be offered to establish a national climate policy. I welcome this. But let's not let urgency breed rashness and irresponsibility. I claim no monopoly on the best answers. Let the marketplace of ideas flourish. But as there is great reward in the responsible policy, there's also enormous risk in the wrong way forward. The policy must include mechanisms to control costs and protect the economy. Just as there is danger in doing too little, there is peril in going too far, too fast, in a way that imposes unsustainable costs on the economy. I believe "cap and trade" is the best way to manage cost and maximize benefits, but we must look at other market-based means to give added assurance that our policies are an instrument of job creation, economic progress, and environmental problem solving.

Climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. But we know America has both an obligation and a compelling national interest in fulfilling our historic leadership role. China's carbon emissions will soon exceed ours. As President, I will invite a collaborative relationship with China to make coal use cleaner and climate friendly. But, we should address the problem on our terms, and bring others into the fold of a common sense effort to solve it, while we sell to the world the technologies needed to do it.

Answering great challenges is nothing new to America. It's what we do. We built the rockets that took us to the moon not because it was easy but because it was hard. We've sent space probes into the distant reaches of the universe. We harnessed nuclear energy, mapped the human genome, created the Internet and pioneered integrated circuits that possess the computing power of Apollo spacecraft on a single silicon chip you can barely see. In twenty years we've gone from using this cell phone, a $4000 toy for the wealthy, to this cell phone, an inexpensive and virtually universal means of communication. We can solve our oil dependence. You can't sell me on hopelessness. You can't convince me the problem is insurmountable. I know my country. I know what we're capable of. We're capable of unimaginable progress, unmatched prosperity, and vision that sees around the corner of history. We've always understood our times, accepted our challenges and made from our opportunities, another better world. My people are Americans. Our time is today. That is the country I ask to lead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 PM

THE BELCHING DRAGON (via Oswald Czolgosz):

Report: China Will Pass U.S. As Polluter (AP, 4/24/07)

China will pass the United States as the world's biggest source of greenhouse gasses this year, an official with the International Energy Agency was quoted as saying.

China had been forecast to surpass the U.S. in 2010, but its sizzling economic growth has pushed the date forward, the IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol, was quoted as saying in an interview appearing in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal newspaper.

"In the past couple of months, economic growth and related coal consumption has grown at such an unexpected rate," Birol was quoted as saying. China's rising emissions will effectively cancel out attempts by other countries to reduce their own, he said.

So a military deindustrialization of the Chinese would be more useful than our adopting the Kyoto Treaty? Why, it's enough to make Al Gore a hawk again....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


A ruthless foe (Michael O'Hanlon, April 24, 2007, Washington Times)

In its 230 years of independence, the United States has faced a wide range of military opponents. We started of course with the British; the North fought the slave-holding South in the Civil War; we fought native Americans as well as the Mexicans and Spanish during other parts of the 19th century; we opposed Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany in World War I and Adolf Hitler as well as the Japanese in World War II; during the Cold War we waged war against North Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese communists.

Against this historical backdrop, two facts stand out about our collection of enemies in Iraq, with a particular focus on the ex-Ba'athists and the terrorists who produced the bulk of the violence over the conflict's first three years. First, they are a small group relative to the population within which they are found. And second, even by the standards of our nation's past enemies, they are a despicable lot. [...]

Admittedly, guerrilla movements are often relatively small, but Iraq's insurgency has been particularly so. Its al Qaeda element, responsible for most of the suicide attacks such as those that terrorized Baghdad April 18, has been downright tiny.

As for the character of our enemies, they have been unusually ruthless and nihilistic. This is not meant as a trite, nationalistic but a comparative comment. Looking back historically, at least some of our enemies can be respected, albeit begrudgingly.

The proper comparison would seem to obviously be the Indian population which chose not to submit to democratic rule, for which we exterminated and resettled them. Iraq's Shi'a will have to do the same to recalcitrant Sunni until they bow to the inevitable

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 PM


Hundreds of Taliban Forces Surrounded (Associated Press, April 24, 2007)

Afghan forces have trapped up to 200 Taliban fighters in a southern village, possibly including the militia's military commander, demanding they surrender or come under attack, Afghan officials said Monday.

Afghan police and government officials said the suspected Taliban fighters were surrounded as they gathered for a meeting in the mountain village of Keshay in Uruzgan province on Saturday.

The central fact of the WoT remains unchanged: any time the enemy is "strong" enough to gather in significant numbers he just presents an easier target for us. The war may not be much fun for us, but it is unloseable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 PM


Franco marks 25th anniversary of debut (Anthony DiComo, 04/23/2007, MLB.com)

Twenty-five years has its way of blurring memories. So it is with Julio Franco, who, on the silver anniversary of his big-league debut, can't dig out details of the night that became the intro to an epic.

But the scraps of memory that do exist are historical artifacts, the last remnants of a banner day. No pictures, no souvenir balls, no jerseys -- just dusty recollections. [...]

[A]pril 23, 1982, became Franco's night to shine, batting seventh against a Cardinals team that went on to win the World Series. It was one of just 29 at-bats the 23-year-old Franco would receive that year and one of only eight hits.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Jindal "in the Catbird Seat" (Christopher Tidmore, 4/24/07, www.thenew995fm.com)

Pollster Bernie Pinsonat tells 99.5 FM that there is little that can stop Bobby Jindal from becoming Governor of Louisiana. And, if the Democrats do not find a decent candidate, the may lose effective control of the State Senate--as well as the House.

"Jindal is in a great position based on what I've seen. He's in the catbird seat, and we may have a dull election," Pinsonat told Rob Couhig and Bo Walker Tuesday morning.

The Democrats seem incapable of fielding a competitive candidate, and as a consequence, have put themselves in serious danger of becoming a minority party--in Both Houses of the Legislature.

"If there is a Jindal landslide, and the Democratic Party is sitting on the sidelines," Pinsonat explained, "If Jindal is able to win 10 to 12 points, their dreams of having a dominant role in the Senate are over."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 PM

WHY THE MAYOR WON'T RUN (via The Other Brother):

McCain surges among New Hampshire conservatives (Granite Prof, 4/24/07)

What leaps out from Smith's copious crosstabs is how well McCain is doing among New Hampshire's conservative Republicans.

Just two months ago, McCain's net favorables (favorable minus unfavorable) among conservatives stood at a paltry 14 percent. In the latest poll, McCain now stands at + 47 among conservatives.

Moreover, he has increased his favorability among conservatives without hurting his popularity with moderate and liberal Republicans. In February, he enjoyed + 55 net favorables, and the latest survey puts him at + 56.

McCain also doubled his net favorables among undeclareds, from +29 in February to + 57 in April.

Rudy Guiliani is a non-starter in IA and SC so would have to win NH...but can't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


Muslims Believe US Seeks to Undermine Islam (World Public Opinion, 4/24/07)

There is strong support for enhancing the role of Islam in all of the countries polled, through such measures as the imposition of sharia (Islamic law). This does not mean that they want to isolate their societies from outside influences: Most view globalization positively and favor democracy and freedom of religion.

These findings are from surveys in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia conducted from December 2006 to February, 2007 by WorldPublicOpinion.org with support from the START Consortium at the University of Maryland.

Large majorities across all four countries believe the United States seeks to “weaken and divide the Islamic world.” On average 79 percent say they perceive this as a US goal, ranging from 73 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan to 92 percent in Egypt. Equally large numbers perceive that the United States is trying to maintain “control over the oil resources of the Middle East” (average 79%). Strong majorities (average 64%) even believe it is a US goal to “spread Christianity in the region.”

“While US leaders may frame the conflict as a war on terrorism, people in the Islamic world clearly perceive the US as being at war with Islam,” said Steven Kull, editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org.

Consistent with this concern, large majorities in all countries (average 74%) support the goal of getting the United States to “remove its bases and military forces from all Islamic countries,” ranging from 64 percent in Indonesia to 92 percent in Egypt.

Mr. Kull misses the point of "divide." It is not Islanm generally that we're at war with but the Wahabbist/Salafist variant and the easiest way to defet it is indeed to split it off from Shi'ism and more moderate versions of Sunni Islam. Meanwhile, globalization is nothing more than the imposition of Anglo-America's Judeo-Christian values on the rest of the world. Having Reformed the Catholic Church, Judaism, and the Confucian world, Islam is just next in line. It's nothing personal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Yankees make tough call on Hughes; Rocket next? (Tom Verducci, April 24, 2007, Sports Illustrated)

The most important man in the American League East has made himself known. It took just 18 games, 18 ridiculously messy New York Yankees games in which:

• Andy Pettitte, a guy with a checkered history when it comes to his left elbow, pitched twice out of the bullpen.

• Manager Joe Torre broke his spring vow to keep Mariano Rivera out of the eighth inning.

• And Chase Wright turned himself into an infamous trivia answer, if not an outright public hazard because of the carpet bombing of home run balls he engendered on Lansdowne Street.

It took 18 games for Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who tried to sell everyone on a rotation that included Carl (the Tin Man) Pavano and Kei Igawa (Japanese for "Jaret Wright"), to cry uncle.

Cashman is bringing up Phil Hughes, 20, the best pitching prospect in baseball, simply because it made no sense for the top pitcher in the organization to be getting outs for Scranton when nobody on the big league club could do so with even half his efficiency. Hughes, on Thursday, will become the team's ninth starting pitcher in the first 21 games of the season.

Cashman didn't want Hughes this early, perhaps not even at all this year -- not when the organization babied him last year while holding him to 146 total innings. Now he says Hughes may be around only for one start. Right. He is the best arm the Yankees have -- the one Torre wanted last August -- and they'd rather keep giving the ball to Igawa or counting on Pavano? Sure.

There's no way Hughes should be allowed to pitch 175 innings this year, but good luck getting him out of the rotation now. You try telling Torre that Hughes shouldn't pitch in September because his arm isn't ready for a sixth month and 30 more innings than he's ever thrown in a season.

For all the credit that Yankee fans try to give Mr. Cashman:

(1) Instead of starting Randy Johnson against the Sox this weekend he has Luis Vizcaino walking everyone in the park.

(2) Doug Mientkiewicz and Kevin Thompson are getting meaningful at-bats, instead of Garry Sheffield, while Humberto Sanchez's injured arm has him lost for the season.

(3) In trying to match the Sox' Japanese starter he saddled himself with a AAA pitcher he can't afford to farm out simply because it's too embarrassing.

(4) Rather than using the tried and true strategy of trading small-market teams guys like Melky Cabrera, who are attractive only because of NYC hype, he's held them long enough to expose their limitations to everyone.

(5) Even with Jorge Posada in his walk year and getting on in years, he's backing him up with Wil Nieves, who catches as if the pitcher were heaving porcupines at him.

(6) They still have a good shortstop playing third and a quite possibly passable centerfielder butchering short. With every year that passes it looks a worse decision.

(7) He kept Joe Torre for another year, even though everyone knows he's going to be fired unless they win the World Series, and now he's handing him the crown jewel of the thin farm system. Mike Hargrove gave us all an object lesson in what such managers do to young arms when he left King Felix out on the mound for no apparent reason in several April starts. Does anyone think Joe is going to pull Phil Hughes from a start and hand the ball to Kyle Farnsworth just because the young stud has thrown 85 pitches through 5?

(8) Worst of all, this set of moves reflects a deep schizophrenia that he's allowed to infect the entire organization. Keeping Torre, pulling Highes up before he's ready, etc. suggests a team that thinks it can, or even needs to, win this year. Trading Randy Johnson and Garry Sheffield for mediocre youngsters, stocking the coaching staff with succesors to the managerial seat, etc. suggests a team that realizes it needs to rebuild. Trying to walk the tightrope between the two, instead of commiting to one or the other, is usually a recipe for disaster.

Where firing Mr. Cashman several years ago would have been just another sign of George Steinbrenner's petulant nature, it would by now be pretty well justified. If he and Joe Torre wreck Phil Hughes firing may be too good for them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Health care proposal gains steam: Plan offers more choices, benefits (Lesley Stedman Weidenbener, 4/23/07, The Courier-Journal)

Even as lawmakers continue to debate how to pay for expanding health coverage to more Hoosiers, key Republicans and Democrats say they are close to agreement on the basic outline of the insurance itself.

The proposal will give adults who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but still have incomes that are less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level a chance to buy newly created coverage that is sponsored by the state but offered by private companies.

The state already covers children at that income level.

Democrats like the plan because it has the potential to reduce the state's uninsured population with benefits that go beyond the basics. Republicans like its "market-based" approach, giving consumers choices plus incentives to make financially prudent decisions.

"This is about getting people with no insurance to have insurance," said the plan's author, Senate Health Chairwoman Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis. "This is going to help a lot of people who need it, but it will also help taxpayers who are already paying higher bills because of those who don't have insurance."

The plan is based on a proposal Gov. Mitch Daniels made to the legislature earlier this year when he asked lawmakers to raise cigarette taxes to pay for it. He called it the Healthy Indiana Plan.

Mitch Daniels once again leads the (third) way. Were Democrats in Congress interested in providing universal health care, rather than truckilng to interest groups, they'd join the President in adopting such an HSA plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM

1979 INSTEAD OF 1789?:

Ségolène faces uphill struggle for hearts and minds of France (Daily Mail, 23rd April 2007)

Ms Royal, 53, is sometimes called Mitterand's political daughter and she has pledged to pursue traditional policies of the Left.

They include increased state aid for the unemployed (who make up almost 10 per cent of the population) intervention on the part of workers affected by globalisation and a massive campaign against social exclusion.

Mr Sarkozy, 52, says further featherbedding by the state will lead France into deeper economic stagnation, stifling opportunities which - especially for the young - are already few.

During his campaign Mr Sarkozy visited a city where he knew there were 400,000 potential votes - London. He has pointed to Britain as an example of how free market policies and a laissez-faire attitude towards business can bring growth and prosperity.

The French population in Britain, especially London, has grown substantially as workers seek opportunities they cannot find at home, a point he stressed again and again.

For many, his message bears echoes of Thatcherism. He wants to make the 35-hour working week a minimum, rather than a maximum.

He wants to shift the emphasis from employment by the state to a revitalised business sector. He wants to sell social housing to its tenants. Unlike his opponents on the Left, he does not despise what is called the "Anglo Saxon model".

Ms Royal, by contrast, has pledged that her socialism would not reflect that of New Labour across the Channel and she has pointedly said that she would never bend her knee to George Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Diplomatic dances over Iran (Kaveh L Afrasiabi , 4/25/07, Asia Times)

"Iran is prepared to provide the most cooperation in the area of control and monitoring" of its nuclear program, the powerful editor of Resalat has stated, a position reiterated by Larijani, who has said: "If they are concerned about diversion [to a weapons program], the issue is so important as to become the focus of future negotiations. We would like that others would have no concern about Iran's peaceful nuclear activities."

Calling for a "different methodology" to pursue results in the nuclear talks, Larijani has at the same time declared Iran's "readiness to step in the path of cooperation". He has dismissed a report from Russia that as long as the nuclear stalemate continues, the power plant in Bushehr in Iran that the Russians are building will not be completed.

Yet that may be the price that Iran will have to pay if Russia and other members of the UN's "5+1" - the Permanent Five Security Council members (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) plus Germany - escalate pressure on Iran in the face of Tehran's defiance of UN resolutions over ceasing uranium enrichment.

Russia has already committed itself to the charted path of the Security Council, and President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to shift course at a time he is cultivating relations with the EU and repairing damage with Washington.

Iran's challenge is precisely how to find a suitable formula whereby its nuclear rights can be maintained while, at the same time, it shows a greater deference than hitherto observed toward UN resolutions.

Failed talks between Larijani and Solana will only harden the resolve of the 5+1 to toughen sanctions, whereas a mini-breakthrough will give Russia the space necessary to maneuver at the UN and, perhaps, make a pitch for returning Iran's dossier to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog.

In the absence of serious signs of a new flexible approach, Iran's nuclear diplomacy runs the risk of alienating not only the EU but also Russia and China, and thus failing to reverse the negative impact of sanctions on Iran's economy. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes, and the new circumstances demand a deeper level of flexibility from Iran than hitherto observed.

Except that, as his ow reporting shows, all that's necessary is for Iran to change its behavior.

April 23, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 PM


Docs fight to save man's willy (MIKE SULLIVAN and JOHN KAY, April 24, 2007, Daily Sun)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 PM


Pulitzer Prize winner Halberstam killed in car crash (ESPN.com news services, 4/23/07)

David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who chronicled the Vietnam War generation, civil rights and the world of sports, was killed in a car crash Monday, his wife and local authorities said. He was 73. [...]

After years of daily journalism, Halberstam turned his attention to America's fascination with sports later in his career.

His classic baseball book, "Summer of '49," was published in 1989 and chronicled the famed pennant race between the Red Sox and Yankees. The 1999 book "Playing for Keeps" looked at Michael Jordan phenomenon. His most recent work, 2001's "The Education of a Coach" provides an inside look into Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Perhaps it's best we remember him as a fine sports author--he even wrote the only good basketball book--and forget his deeply despicable behavior in Vietnam, which contributed in no small part to the overthrow and murder of our vital ally, Ngo Dinh Diem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:20 PM


Bush Flunks Diplomacy 101: How to infuriate Russia and the European Union and waste $10 billion a year. (Fred Kaplan, April 23, 2007, Slate)

As Casey Stengel once screamed, "Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?"

It's one thing to waste $10 billion a year quixotically developing a missile-defense system; President Bush clearly announced from the get-go that he was determined to do that, and Congress has been complicit in his quest.

But to spark a diplomatic crisis with Russia and the European Union while doing so—that takes bungling of an unusually intense quality.

...good diplomacy is when your enemies are pleased with your actions. And then they wonder why Americans aren't Realists?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Sarkoland and Segoland: an election of two nations (John Lichfield, 24 April 2007, Independent)

The map looks like France in the middle ages: a country split down the middle, owing allegiance to different monarchs.

It shows, in fact, the France of April 2007 or rather it shows "two Frances" - the deeply divided country that voted in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday.

To the north, east and south is "Sarkoland": the départements (or counties) where the centre-right candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, topped the poll. To the west and south-west, with one outlying island in the centre, is the much smaller territory of "Ségoland": the départements where the Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal, scored the largest number of votes.

François Bayrou, the centrist candidate, came first in only one département, his home area of Pyrénées-Atlantiques on France's Atlantic border with Spain. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right candidate, who came first in many areas in the east and north and south in 2002, topped the poll nowhere in 2007.

The sheer size of the Sarkozy territory illustrates the magnitude of Mme Royal's challenge as she tries to become France's first female president in the second round on 6 May.

Le Pen claims victory of ideas after defeat (John Lichfield, 24 April 2007, Independent)
The first round of the French presidential election was a disaster for the veteran far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Was it a triumph for his ideas?

The French left and the far right, who usually agree on nothing, agreed on one thing yesterday. Nicolas Sarkozy owed his high score on Sunday to the theft of several of M. Le Pen's fav-ourite themes: immigration, crime, national identity.

Communists in disarray as far-left vote collapses (Anne Penketh, 24 April 2007, Independent)
France's Communist and far-left parties suffered an electoral debacle in the first round of the presidential election.

The Communist Party shrank to a record 1.93 per cent of the vote under its leader, Marie-George Buffet, an even more catastrophic result than under her predecessor, Robert Hue. [...]

In 2002, the Communist and radical left parties soaked up 13.8 per cent of the total first-round vote, contributing to the defeat of the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, by the far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

On Sunday, their vote totalled 9 per cent.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 5:56 PM


'Girls Gone Wild' Founder Gets Jail Time: Founder of 'Girls Gone Wild' Videos Sentenced in Fla. to Jail for Contempt of Court (Melissa Nelson, 4/23/07, AP)

Blowing his nose and wiping away tears, the multimillionaire founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" video empire pleaded guilty to contempt of court Monday and was sentenced to 35 days in jail.

Joe Francis, who was sued by seven women who were minors when filmed, apologized to the judge for yelling at the plaintiffs during settlement talks.

"I am sorry for my behavior. It was wrong. I had heard about appeals and things and I was confused. I am sorry, I really am," said Francis, 34.

Francis drew the contempt charge during negotiations to settle the federal lawsuit brought after his production company filmed the women at Panama City Beach in 2003.

Attorneys for the women said Francis, who makes a reported $29 million a year taping topless women for his videos, lost his temper in negotiations and yelled obscenities at them.

U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak ordered Francis to settle the case or go to jail for contempt of court. When talks fell through, Francis lashed out at Smoak in the media, calling him a "judge gone wild" and questioning the judge's authority to order a settlement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:41 PM


Phil Hughes-S- Yankees (Rotoworld, 4/23/07)

The Yankees will call up Phil Hughes to start Thursday against the Blue Jays.

And so, to try and save this last iteration of the Jeter/Torre Yankees the team's best pitching prospect since [who? Jim Beattie?] must be sacrificed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


More Saudi women join the workforce, but limits remain strict: They are challenging sex segregation, taking jobs in education, medicine, and banking (Dan Murphy, 4/24/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Just as in the West, Saudi women are graduating from universities at higher rates than men. And they are demanding opportunities that the ulema – the Islamic scholars who hold vast sway in the Kingdom – have long denied them.

They are taking jobs in education, medicine, and banking. Lately, the country's labor minister has been pushing for legal changes that would allow more women to work in retail jobs and factories – a sharp challenge to Saudi Arabia's sex segregation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:32 PM


Why Syrian Elections Matter: . . . even though they aren't much of a horserace. (David Schenker, 04/20/2007, Weekly Standard)

Washington, it appears, has decided to stay clear of the Syrian elections, neither funding its reformer allies nor condemning the entire charade. No doubt, the administration debated the merit of wading into Syrian electoral politics--pressing for international election monitors, for example--but in the end, decided against it. Perhaps the decision against weighing in reflects the administration's new, more circumscribed view of the priority of democracy promotion. Given the increasingly long--and growing--list of U.S. grievances against Syria, however, the administration's disinclination to tangle with Damascus on the democracy issue is troubling.

Syria remains a problem for U.S. policymakers. This week's elections are yet another reminder, both to the administration and Congress, that Washington should harbor no illusions as to the true nature of the Assad regime. At the same time, good U.S. policy options on Syria are limited. For decades, Washington has been in search of elusive leverage vis-à-vis Damascus. And while democracy hasn't always been a winning issue, it does resonate with some of our European allies who are currently weighing a rapprochement with Syria. At the very least, democracy would be another arrow in the U.S. policy quiver. In this regard the U.S. tact on the elections represents a missed opportunity.

The salient point is that the Ba'ath, like Saddam in his "election," is trying to establish some sense of legitimacy by pretending to democracy. They won't make themselves legitimate but will have established the test.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


The Big White Lie (Andrew Klavan, 4/23/07, City Journal)

The thing I like best about being a conservative is that I don’t have to lie. I don’t have to pretend that men and women are the same. I don’t have to declare that failed or oppressive cultures are as good as mine. I don’t have to say that everyone’s special or that the rich cause poverty or that all religions are a path to God. I don’t have to claim that a bad writer like Alice Walker is a good one or that a good writer like Toni Morrison is a great one. I don’t have to pretend that Islam means peace.

Of course, like everything, this candor has its price. A politics that depends on honesty will be, by nature, often impolite. Good manners and hypocrisy are intimately intertwined, and so conservatives, with their gimlet-eyed view of the world, are always susceptible to charges of incivility. It’s not really nice, you know, to describe things as they are.

This is leftism’s great strength: it’s all white lies. That’s its only advantage, as far as I can tell. None of its programs actually works, after all. From statism and income redistribution to liberalized criminal laws and multiculturalism, from its assault on religion to its redefinition of family, leftist policies have made the common life worse wherever they’re installed. But because it depends on—indeed is defined by—describing the human condition inaccurately, leftism is nothing if not polite. With its tortuous attempts to rename unpleasant facts out of existence—he’s not crippled, dear, he’s handicapped; it’s not a slum, it’s an inner city; it’s not surrender, it’s redeployment—leftism has outlived its own failure by hiding itself within the most labyrinthine construct of social delicacy since Victoria was queen.

The best comedy reveals truths to us, which is why a liberalism that is premised on lies can never be funny, except to the degree that we're all laughing at them. He's wrong though that we need to be honest with them when good manners, rather than political correctness, counsels against it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:15 PM


Cory Booker’s Battle for Newark: A bold reformer takes on entrenched crime and corruption. (Steven Malanga, Spring 2007, City Journal)

Some politicians shape their election strategies on the campaign trail. Others develop them while poring over poll numbers or plotting with advisors. Cory Booker found his on the streets of Newark. One day in 2004, as Booker strolled near his apartment building with his father, the pair heard shots ring out, and then watched chaos erupt as a pack of teens ran past. Booker rushed toward the source of the gunshots and saw a young man staggering toward him. “I caught him in my hands and saw that his chest, his white T-shirt, was filling with deep rich red blood,” Booker remembers. Though Booker urged the boy to “hold tight” and “stay with me,” 19-year-old Wazn Miller died in his arms, gunned down in broad daylight by a hooded assassin.

Miller might have been another in a depressingly long line of Newark teens murdered and then forgotten, except for Booker’s presence. Booker describes that day as one of his darkest, when he feared most for the city’s future. It was also the day when he resolved to double his efforts to lead Newark, one of America’s poorest and most violent cities, out of the turmoil that has afflicted it for more than 40 years. Booker invoked Miller’s murder during a successful 2006 campaign to become Newark’s mayor, and today rarely shrinks from describing the harsh reality of crime in New Jersey’s biggest city. “People are dying on a chillingly regular basis in Newark, and there is no moral outrage,” says Booker.

Booker believes that he can revive Newark by bringing to it many of the urban reforms that turned New York City around in the nineties. Since taking office last July, the former Rhodes scholar, who grew up in a largely white, affluent suburb, has made reducing crime his Number One priority and installed a zero-tolerance policing strategy engineered by a veteran of New York’s drug wars. He’s also pushing school choice to shake up Newark’s appalling public schools, and has imported top managers from around the country to combat the legacy of political bossism and patronage that has left Newark with an often woefully incompetent government.

As thorny as the challenge might seem in a city whose residents have seen one broken promise after another since race riots erupted there 40 years ago, Booker and his team are hopeful. Unlike some other faded industrial cities, Newark has potential advantages for the twenty-first-century economy, with a location in the middle of the Washington–New York corridor, impressive transportation options, and far lower costs than nearby Gotham. “The unrealized potential of Newark is tragic,” says Stefan Pryor, Booker’s new economic development chief.

He is who Obama pretends to be.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


Boris Yeltsin, flawed hero with a giant legacy, dies at 76 (Marilyn Berger, April 23, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Yeltsin left a giant, if flawed, legacy. He was at once the country's democratic father and a reviled figure blamed for most of the ills and hardships that followed the Soviet collapse. Mikhail Gorbachev, his last Soviet predecessor and sometime rival for power, told the Interfax news agency that Yeltsin was one "on whose shoulders rest major events for the good of the country, and serious mistakes."

Although Yeltsin's commitment to reform wavered, he eliminated government censorship of the press, tolerated public criticism and steered Russia toward a free market. The rapid privatization of industry led to a form of buccaneer capitalism, and a new class of oligarchs usurped political power as they plundered the country's resources, but Yeltsin's actions assured that there would be no turning back to the centralized Soviet command economy that had strangled growth and reduced a country populated by talented and cultured people and rich in natural resources to a beggar among nations.

Not least, Yeltsin was instrumental in dismembering the Soviet Union and allowing its former republics to make their way as independent states.

The Yeltsin era effectively began in August 1991, when he clambered atop a tank to rally Muscovites to put down a right-wing coup against Gorbachev, a heroic moment etched in the minds of the Russian people and television viewers all over the world; it ended with his electrifying resignation speech on New Year's Eve 1999, surprising the world.

These were Yeltsin's finest hours, in an era marked by extraordinary political change as well as painful economic dislocation for many of his countrymen and stupendous wealth for a privileged few.

To turn around the battleship that was the Soviet Union, with its bloated military-industrial establishment, its ravaged economy, its devastated environment and its antiquated and inefficient health and social services system, would have been a Herculean task for any leader in the prime of life and the best of health. But in Russia, the job of building a new state from the ashes of the old was taken on by Yeltsin, the dedicated but imperfect reformer, a man in precarious health whose frequent mysterious disappearances from public life were attributed to heart and respiratory problems, excessive drinking and bouts of depression. These personal weaknesses left a sense of lost opportunity.

Yeltsin left with his fondest wish for the Russian people only partly fulfilled. "I want their lives to improve before my own eyes," he once said, remembering the hardship of growing up in a single room in a cold communal hut, "that is the most important thing."

In fact, in the dislocation and chaos that accompanied the transition from the centralized economy he had inherited from the old Soviet Union, most people saw their circumstances deteriorate. Inflation became rampant, the poor became poorer, profiteers grew rich, the military and many state employees went unpaid and flagrant criminality flourished. Much of Russia's inheritance from the Soviet Union stubbornly endures.

Gorbachev had sought to preserve the Soviet Union and, with his programs of glasnost and perestroika, to give communism a more human dimension. Yeltsin, on the other hand, believed that democracy, the rule of law and the market were the answers to Russia's problems.

During a visit to the United States in 1989 he became more convinced than ever that Russia had been ruinously damaged by the centralized, state-run economic system where people stood in long lines to buy the most basic needs of life and more often than not found the shelves bare. He was overwhelmed by what he saw at a Houston supermarket, by the kaleidoscopic variety of meats and vegetables available to ordinary Americans.

Gorbachev, of course, was a participant in the coup, not its target, but that sort of slip is emblematic of the Left's desire for him to be the hero of the story, lest Ronald Reagan get the credit for ending the USSR. Whatever his flaws, Boris Yeltsin grasped the big points about the End of History in a way that Gorbachev did not.

Boris Yeltsin, 1931-2007: A genuine man of transition. (Anne Applebaum, April 23, 2007, Slate)

It was October 1987, three weeks before the 70th anniversary of the Russian revolution. The Soviet elite had gathered in Moscow to mark the occasion. Following the customarily lengthy speech by the Communist Party general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, the chairman asked if anyone wanted to respond.

Unexpectedly, Boris Yeltsin, then the Moscow party boss, came to the rostrum. He spoke for a mere 10 minutes—and in that 10 minutes, he changed Russian history.

Reading that speech now, it's hard to see what the fuss was all about. Yeltsin complained that the party was lacking in "revolutionary spirit" and that the Soviet people were suffering from "disillusionment." The language was that of a party functionary, which is, of course, what Yeltsin was.

But then, unexpectedly, he resigned. And with that extraordinarily canny decision, he won instant notoriety: Never before had a Communist leader set himself up as a popular alternative to the Communist Party. Within days, half a dozen different versions of Yeltsin's speech were being sold on the streets of Moscow, their authors variously speculating that Yeltsin had condemned communism, had supported democracy, had attacked the privileges of the Communist leadership. Every person who felt dissatisfied—and there were many— believed that Yeltsin shared his views. Two decades later, in a far more cynical Russia, this mood is hard to remember. But in the late 1980s, Yeltsin was wildly popular. When the first presidential elections were held in Russia in 1991, it was inevitable that he would win.

Indeed, Gorbachev's coup was aimed at thwarting Yeltsin's rise and stopping the dissolution of the Empire.

Russia’s U.S. Grant: Boris Yeltsin’s place in history. (Nikolas K. Gvosdev, 4/23/07, National Review)

He was the man who did more than any other to delegitimize the Communist Party and the Soviet system, the favored son who saw the errors of his ways and whose dramatic “repentance” (when he left the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1990 before the fate of the U.S.S.R. became clear) started the tidal wave that doomed Mikhail Gorbachev’s hopes of making the C.P.S.U. a kinder, gentler organ of power. It was Yeltsin, unlike Gorbachev, who was willing to stake his political career on the gamble of popular sovereignty, subjecting himself to election campaigns in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1996. It was Yeltsin who brokered the arrangements that allowed a fractious and sometimes rancorous group of anti-Soviet deputies at both the U.S.S.R. Congress of People’s Deputies and the Russian Republican legislature to coalesce into a powerful pro-democracy movement, the man who could bring together dissident intellectuals, working-class union organizers, reform Communists and Russian nationalists into a common movement. And it was Yeltsin’s personal courage and public defiance which doomed the aborted coup attempt in August 1991.

Yeltsin was the man who collapsed the U.S.S.R., but he struggled with fashioning order out of the rubble.

Yeltsin: The man who beat Communism: He oversaw the USSR's death and the oligarchs' birth; his drunken antics are remembered as often as his bravery. (Mary Dejevsky, 24 April 2007, Independent)
It is the classic historian's question: do individuals or impersonal forces move nations? Anyone who saw Boris Yeltsin, as I did, descend the steps from the Russian parliament and clamber on to the tank to address a message of defiance to the small crowd of Muscovites below, will retain not a sliver of doubt. Individuals move nations - brave, foolhardy, strangely guileless individuals, such as Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin.

That scene from 19 August 1991 is preserved in slow motion in my memory, as it must be in the memory of everyone who was there. That morning, Moscow seemed a zone of timeless uncertainty. A state of emergency had been declared before dawn. According to a clumsily formulaic announcement, the Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, had been removed from power due to ill health. A committee had taken over and a state of emergency declared.

Tanks had rolled into Moscow amid the Monday morning rush-hour traffic and converged on strategic locations: the Kremlin, the KGB headquarters, the defence ministry and the White House, the cavernous building of the Russian parliament. Anticipating the paraphernalia of military coups, ID checks, barred roads, I decided for no particular reason, to make for the White House.

Armoured vehicles were positioned around the building. Diplomatic cars, whose arrival apparently predated the tanks, filled the car park. Then suddenly there was movement: a small group started to come down the steps. Yeltsin was in the centre; aides on either side seemed to be trying to dissuade him. He walked slowly and very deliberately, towards the tanks. A few pleasantries with the guards, and he was on the top, reading from a scrap of paper. "I do not accept this coup," was the crucial sentiment I remember now.

Until the world allowed itself to be diverted by the drunken buffoonery of Yeltsin's last years in office, this was the image that defined him. It is also his rightful legacy. Without Yeltsin's challenge, the coup against the Soviet President might have succeeded, the Soviet Union might have staggered on, with an increasingly fearful, and repressive, Politburo in charge.

Yeltsin called the plotters' bluff. He rallied the nation. He anathematised the Communist Party and pronounced it summarily dissolved. The bizarrely incompetent coup still had two full days and two agonisingly tense nights to come, but one man in Russia had refused to accept it. At the emergency committee's embarrassing press conference that afternoon, a few brave young Russian journalists followed suit. The sparse crowd outside the White House grew through the rainy evening, as people came after work intent on seeing the night through. Young men offered themselves to fight, swearing allegiance to Russia and its President on a Bible. Those were truly the days Soviet Communism was smashed. They were also the days when Russia was reborn.

Boris on a Pedestal: a review of Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life, by Leon Aron (David Pryce-Jones, March 20, 2000, issue of National Review)
The evolution of Yeltsin from loyal ally of Gorbachev into deadly rival is open to several interpretations, to do with personality and the exploitation of opportunity through the lying and intrigues that the Communist system standardized for everyone. But the decisive factor, according to Aron, was Yeltsin's discovery in Moscow that perestroika and glasnost were beautiful but inapplicable ideas. Ordinary people, as Yeltsin was the first Communist leader ever to admit openly, led lives of helpless degradation, while party bosses were privileged thugs. Nothing could be done to change these extremes. Taking the unprecedented step of resigning from the Politburo in October 1987, Yeltsin became an instant folk hero and martyr.

Lenin had always maintained that the only real danger to Communism lay in factionalism. The moment the party ceased to speak in a single voice, its claim to absolute authority was open to challenge. To protect themselves against such an emergency, previous general secretaries would have had Yeltsin murdered or at least exiled. Gorbachev merely demoted him. This was also unprecedented, and a credit to Gorbachev's character. At the same time, the leniency of the response revealed that he completely misread the essential nature of Communism. The instrument of force alone guaranteed the party's supremacy, and the least attempt to moderate it- never mind genuine reform-led straight to confusion and chaos.

Virtually all observers had always agreed that, for human reasons, Communism was not sustainable in the long run; but the likely ending of the Soviet system in world war and apocalypse was too frightful to envisage. The introduction of a process of election to the Soviet and then the Russian parliaments proved to be all that was necessary. The process was partial, and rigged in several respects, but it was still enough to widen factionalism out into open politics. An alternative to the Communist monopoly of power was at hand. The merits of democratic procedure have rarely been so convincingly demonstrated.

Almost certainly, Yeltsin saw in these elections only the means to have his revenge on Gorbachev. Their mutual animosity had become obsessive and total. Nobody could predict who would win, or what the consequences might be for the losers. Anxious to be on the winning side, petrified by Stalinist memories of Siberia and worse, bureaucrats and generals and even the KGB suspended all decision-making until they knew which way to jump in safety. The state was paralyzed.

Far less intelligent than Gorbachev, Yeltsin won through tactical skill, daring, the support of Andrei Sakharov and the handful of like- minded reformers who understood what was at stake-and last but most importantly, luck. Unforeseeably, the coup of August 1991 enabled Yeltsin to seize the role of popular tribune and champion of liberty, standing on a tank for all the world to applaud and remember. The August conspirators well knew that force was the prime Communist instrument, and it is again inexplicable-the hand of fortune-that they did not make sure to kill Yeltsin. In the aftermath, he duly rubbished Gorbachev, dissolved the Communist party and the Soviet Union too, granting the national republics their freedom. What Gorbachev had begun unconsciously, Yeltsin finished consciously. It was in his interest to do so, but a wonderful feat all the same, and Aron is right to acclaim it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Balance of Power (Dennis Ross, 04.23.07, New Republic)

Iran's seizure of 15 British sailors dominated international headlines and attention for nearly two weeks. Many wondered whether it would become a long, drawn-out affair like the American hostage crisis in 1980. Others feared that it might lead to an escalation, not just of tension with Iran, but of incidents across Iraq and the Persian Gulf.

From the outset, I saw it as an event that would offer us a window to watch the balance of forces in the Iranian leadership. [...]

Since, with any act of statecraft, it is essential to understand reality as it is, knowing whether the IRGC and its standard bearer, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hold the upper hand in Iran will tell us a lot about whether we can dissuade the Iranians from going nuclear--and if so, how best to do it. While some observers like John Bolton declared that, in the crisis, Ahmadinejad "scored a political victory, both in Iran and internationally," the facts suggest just the opposite.

First, note that the Iranian press did not even mention the crisis for several days after the British sailors were seized: This was hardly a case in which the regime was trying to whip the public into a frenzy. On the contrary, it seemed to downplay the issue. Second, after the release of the sailors, Ahmadinejad was roundly criticized in many Iranian newspapers, with several articles making the point that the crisis cost Iran greatly without any corresponding benefit. Third, Admadinejad himself acknowledged that the British made no concessions when he said that they weren't big enough to admit mistake; and an article in the Iranian newspaper Aftab e Yazd even suggested that the Iranians were coerced into letting the sailors go: "If we wanted, as the president says, to pardon them while we had the authority to try them, why did we not release them before Blair's ultimatum or three days after it?"

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Ahmadinejad was a loser in the crisis, and that other Iranian leaders decided they needed to cut their losses. Interestingly, I know from speaking to British officials that they were surprised when Ahmadinejad announced the release of the sailors in his press conference. They had expected that there were going to be more quiet talks with the Iranians, in part to work out the details of the release and in part to discuss, without any British apology, how to minimize the possibility of avoiding future such problems. This was how they expected the Iranians to climb down.

And, yet, the Iranians ended the crisis unilaterally. Bear in mind that, early in the crisis, unnamed Iranians were quoted insisting that there must be a British apology and that the British sailors would be tried. They proved to be wrong. Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme Council on National Security, later told a British interviewer that there would be no trial and that the issue needed to be resolved peacefully; he proved to be right.

Larijani is known to be close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While Khamenei made no public comments during the crisis, he is the only one empowered by the Iranian constitution to pardon detainees. Again, according to the British officials I spoke with, they believe that Khamenei ordered the sailors released but allowed Ahmadinejad to do it--giving him a platform to weave his own public story and to bestow medals upon the IRGC soldiers who seized the sailors. Even then, Ahmadinejad wasn't spared public criticism in Iran. (For an overview of the criticism he sustained, read Mehdi Khalaji's April paper for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.)

The arc of the "crisis" was entirely predictable, but not by most of the folks paid to make predictions about Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Bloomberg and Pigou (New York Sun Staff Editorial, April 23, 2007, NY Sun)

A bit of a debate is erupting on the World Wide Web in respect of whether the fee that Mayor Bloomberg plans to charge for driving into Manhattan is a Pigovian tax. This is a reference to the ideas of a British economist named Arthur Cecil Pigou. The mayor reckons that congestion pricing, which involves making drivers pay a fee to enter parts of Manhattan during certain hours, will keep down traffic in the city, speed the flow of cars and delivery vehicles, and, on a net basis, give a boost to commerce.

This is in line with the ideas of Pigou, who reckoned that it was a beneficial thing for governments to use the taxing power to affect behavior. Pigou would have understood what the mayor was talking about when he said, "Using economics to influence public behavior is something this country is built on — it's called capitalism." The mayor was quoted to that effect in the Web log of a Harvard professor of economics named Gregory Mankiw, who is a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and who offers what he calls "random observations for students of economics." [...]

"When people are not charged (or are undercharged) for using a common resource such [as] a congested road, then incremental use of the resource entails a negative externality on other users. Imposing a user fee for the scarce resource can be described as a Pigovian tax to deal with this externality. Similarly, a conventional Pigovian tax such as a tax on pollution emissions can be described as a user fee for consuming clean air."

Mr. Mankiw maintains what he's calling the Pigou Club, which is basically a group of economists and pundits with what Mr. Mankiw calls "the good sense to have publicly advocated higher Pigovian taxes, such as gasoline taxes and carbon taxes." His list includes not only himself and Martin Feldstein but columnists Paul Krugman, Gregg Easterbrook, John Tierney, Jonathan Rauch, and Thomas Friedman, along with Vice President Gore. Secretary of State Shultz and Chairman Greenspan are also in the Pigou Club.

The neocon moment may be over, but the neoconomists are just getting warmed up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Kurds Cultivating Their Own Bonds With U.S. (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, 4/23/07, Washington Post)

With Sunni and Shiite Arabs locked in a bloody sectarian war, Iraq's Kurds are promoting their interests through an influence-buying campaign in the United States that includes airing nationwide television advertisements, hiring powerful Washington lobbyists and playing parts of the U.S. government against each other. A former car mechanic who happens to be the son of Iraq's president is at the center of Kurdish efforts to cultivate support for their semi-independent enclave, but the cast of Kurdish proponents also includes evangelical Christians, Israeli operatives and Republican political consultants.

In the past year, the Kurds have spent more than $3 million to retain lobbyists and set up a diplomatic office in Washington. They are cultivating grass-roots advocates among supporters of President Bush's war policy and evangelicals who believe that many key figures in the Bible lived in Kurdistan. And they are seeking to build an emotional bond with ordinary Americans, like those forged by Israel and Taiwan, by running commercials on national cable news channels to assert that even as Iraq teeters toward a full-blown civil war, one corner of the country, at least, has fulfilled the Bush administration's ambition of a peaceful, democratic, pro-Western beachhead in the Middle East.

But elements of the Kurds' campaign run counter to the policy of a unified Iraq espoused by the U.S. and Iraqi governments.

We should have recognized them as an independent state when we imposed the no-fly zone in '91.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


US experts call for new trade system (Krishna Guha, April 20 2007, Financial Times)

[The Atlantic Council of the US], which is chaired by two former US commerce undersecretaries, said the struggle to complete the Doha round showed that it was no longer possible to make meaningful progress in a global negotiating system that operated through consensus. It said economies willing to offer large tariff and subsidy cuts need to be able to deal with the “free rider” problem by not extending the same terms to everyone regardless of whether they made equally big concessions – the so-called MFN principle.

A coalition of pro-free trade states should be able to exclude non-participants from taking advantage of tariff cuts in specific product lines, though not from sectoral agreements.

Stuart Eizenstat, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, said this proposal would be compatible with World Trade Organisation rules and the coalition of the willing would agree to use the existing WTO dispute settlement mechanism.

Mr Eizenstat said whether the current Doha trade round yielded an agreement or not, it should be the last of its kind. “The world is moving too fast for this kind of consensus-driven, five, six, seven, eight-year rounds.”

In order to preserve sovereignty, the rulings ought to be merely advisory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Sadr's murky vision for Iraq (Edward Wong, April 22, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

[P]ress his aides for concrete details of a timetable to present to the Americans, and the picture becomes murkier. They say they want the Americans out. But not just yet.

"In order to drive out the occupation, we need to build up the security forces; then we can have a timetable," said Abdul Mehdi Mutairi, one of Mr. Sadr's top political officials, as he smoked at his desk inside the main Sadr office in Baghdad, his television tuned to an Iranian-financed satellite network. He was referring to the Iraqi government's largely Shiite army and police, which by all accounts could not yet control Iraqi violence on their own.

The gap between Mr. Sadr's public oratory and his actions shows that he, as much as any American or Iraqi official, is captive to the fact that there is no easy path to securing Iraq's future. He does have a starkly plain vision — a centralized Islamist Iraq ruled by nationalist Shiites who are distanced from, if not openly hostile to, the United States. But he also has a problem all too familiar to the Bush administration: he does not know exactly how to realize his vision, given the complexities of the conflict.

He has become a great improviser, the Miles Davis of the war.

Neither he nor we can acknowledge that we're de facto allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Lemonade Remade (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4/23/007)

1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (from about 12 lemons)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 lemon thinly sliced

cold water

In a large pitcher, combine the lemon juice, sugar and 1 cup of cold water. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add 5 more cups cold water, the lemon slices, some ice and serve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Welcome to the new Politico.com (Dan Kunitz, April 23, 2007, Politico)

Politico.com is three months old today, and just like a real baby, it's growing so fast its parents can't believe it. We launched a redesigned site this weekend that has a cleaner look. It's easier to read, and our best features are easier to find. Our home page and story pages feature the new look; many of our sub-pages will be re-designed in the coming weeks.

Not only does the new Politico.com have a lot more content, it has lots of ways for you to interact with other politicos, including the pack of people running for president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Baseball's Big Bucks (Kurt Badenhausen, Michael K. Ozanian and Christina Settimi 04.19.07, Forbes)

Baseball games can turn quickly with one swing of the bat. Baseball's finances can change quickly too.

Three years ago, the 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams posted an operating loss (in the sense of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $57 million. Last season, they earned a record $496 million. [...]

Three years ago, MLB, which owned the Montreal Expos, couldn't find a buyer for the team. Two years after the team moved to Washington, D.C., the Nationals, as the team is now known, were bought for $450 million by Theodore Lerner and his family. Buyers have been lining up to bid for the Cubs (the team will be put on the block after the pending sale of Tribune is finalized), who haven't won the World Series in a century and have not even played in one in three generations. Look for the buyer to be a Chicagoan that will pay around $600 million, or perhaps as much as $900 million if Tribune's interest in WGN and Comcast SportsNet are also part of the deal, surpassing the then-record $700 million John Henry's group paid for the Red Sox and 80% of NESN five years ago.

How quickly the game has changed.

The relative labor peace that Bud Selig has brought about and a resulting stretch without walkouts or lockouts has been a real boon, though too late for the Expos...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


United on immigration, Democrats divide voters (Stephen Dinan, April 23, 2007, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

While some of the top Republican candidates have begun to change their positions to appeal to conservative voters, Democratic candidates remain firmly behind legalization of most illegal aliens. Still, they are almost apologetic as they make their pitches. [...]

Former Vice President Al Gore, who has said he is not running in 2008, may have the best chance to capture voters who favor increased restrictions.

Americans for Better Immigration, which opposes legalization of aliens, graded Mr. Gore an A-minus for his votes in Congress.

After all, environmentalists make no bones about their hatred of humans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Back to the future of seats on a plane? (Dan Reed, 4/23/07, USA TODAY)

The dreaded middle seat in coach may never be the same on long international flights.

Britain's Premium Aircraft Interiors Group, or PAIG, has introduced the Freedom Economy Seat, a three-seat row that flips the middle one backward. PAIG also has a four-seat row in which the middle two face backward.

The configuration, introduced at a trade show in Germany last week, promises to minimize or eliminate the current problems of coach passengers bumping elbows, knees and especially shoulders, typically the widest part of the body. Freedom seats also would give passengers at least two more inches of legroom than conventional seats, PAIG says.

Ben Bettell, the PAIG executive who led the seat design project, says they provide passengers more room while allowing airlines to get 10 passengers across in coach sections of wide-body planes such as the Boeing 777 rather than the current nine. The typical gain for that type of plane would be 21 seats. "It's a win-win situation for the passenger and the airline," he says.

...for those trapped in the forward-facxing, or death, seats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


April 22, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 PM


Positioned to succeed: New Patriot Thomas values his versatility, determination (Christopher L. Gasper, April 19, 2007, Boston Globe)

Three rounds went by without a call, two more the following day, when about half of the friends and family returned. Thomas was finally taken by the Baltimore Ravens in the sixth round with the 186th overall pick, one selection before the Patriots picked safety Antwan Harris out of Virginia and 13 before New England tabbed Tom Brady. Thomas was out playing with his two pit bulls when he got the call, having long since stopped waiting for it.

"I was thinking this draft thing is overrated. It was just a big disappointment," said Thomas, during a recent interview in Foxborough. "It was kind of like tears of frustration and tears of joy; it's still a blessing that you get a chance to play, but it was a bittersweet thing."

Now, Thomas, New England's prize free agent acquisition, is on the same team as Brady, signed to a five-year, $35.04 million deal last month to upgrade a linebacking corps that was exposed in the AFC Championship game loss to the Colts. For the first time in his career, Thomas is getting what he deserves. As his father, Reverend Adonis Thomas, pastor of the Flint Hill Baptist Church in nearby Alexander City, said, his son has turned a stumbling block into a steppingstone.

The 29-year-old Thomas comes to Foxborough with a reputation for versatility -- he played eight positions in his seven seasons in Baltimore -- durability -- he's missed just three regular-season games since 2001 -- and big-play ability -- he has five career defensive touchdowns, four of which have come in the last two seasons.

Like Brady, the 6-foot-2-inch, 270-pound Thomas has blossomed, but he still carries a chip on his shoulder.

"I think you have to," said Thomas, who earned a Pro Bowl selection, his first as a defensive player, last season with a career-high 11 sacks. "You carry it not from a standpoint that you're bitter, but you carry it from a standpoint that you know that everything that everybody says about you isn't true. That's even from the standpoint of when I came here and people said, 'Baltimore is not losing much.' That's fine. That's your opinion."

With the big contract, which included $20 million in bonuses ($12 million signing bonus and $8 million option bonus, payable starting in 2008), comes the responsibility of proving he's worth it. Thomas has always had to prove his worth on the field. He was lightly recruited coming out of high school, as only Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State offered scholarships. He was overlooked in the early rounds of the draft, despite being a two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year and setting a school record for sacks with 34 1/2 at Southern Miss., and he was, perhaps, undervalued on a Ravens defense laden with stars such as vociferous linebacker Ray Lewis, rapacious safety Ed Reed, and sackmaster Terrell Suggs.

Deion Sanders, who played two seasons in Baltimore with Thomas and is now an analyst for the NFL Network, said Thomas never got his just due.

"You know how someone is just not that high draft choice, not that guy you thought was going to be this or that?" said Sanders. "He was just that guy. He wasn't that high draft choice. Lewis was, Reed was, Suggs was. He wasn't."

Sanders said teammates knew Thomas's value and so did defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who nicknamed Thomas, "The Coordinator."

"Ray Lewis was the leader by media and on game day, but AD was a leader. He was the leader. He knew all his assignments. He knew everyone else's assignments and then he played special teams. He touched every aspect of the game. You would see him just busting his butt and they really didn't want to give him his credit."

OSU’s Gonzalez might be quite a catch (John Tomase, 4/23/07, Boston Herald)

This wide receiver class is considered particularly deep, with Pro Football Weekly giving it an A, thanks to the presence of a number of underclassmen.

Whether the Patriots dive in after a busy offseason remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting they’ve selected a wide receiver in four of the last five drafts. Considering the depth issues that plagued them last year, there’s always a chance they’ll add a prospect to a group that includes new faces Wes Welker, Donte’ Stallworth and Kelley Washington. [...]

If the Patriots go the receiver route in an early round, one name to watch is Anthony Gonzalez. Ginn’s teammate at Ohio State, Gonzalez is speedy (4.4 in the 40), strong (6-0, 195) and smart (philosophy major).

He’s considered a potential standout in the slot, which the Patriots currently have manned by Welker and veteran Troy Brown [stats], should he be healthy enough to play.

“What I hope to bring is consistency and reliability and accountability,” Gonzalez said. “That’s on the field, off the field, wherever. I want to be the type of person that coaches and fans and the media know, when he comes in a situation, he’s going to be a consistent person.”

Pats may add beef up front: Nebraska star fits team style (John Tomase, 4/22/07, Boston Herald)
Defensive line is one of the last positions the Patriots [team stats] need to address in the upcoming draft, but their reliance on a rotation in the 3-4 alignment means a high pick here can’t be ruled out.

A number of underclassmen have turned this position from a so-so group into a strong one. Considering the importance the Pats place on depth at the position, it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if they use one of their two first-round picks on a player like Nebraska’s Adam Carriker. [...]

If there’s a player who appeals to the Patriots who could be there at either 24 or 28, it’s Carriker. The Big 12 defensive lineman of the year recorded seven sacks and 16 tackles for losses last year, but in the pros he projects as a versatile run stuffer in either the 3-4 or 4-3.
Scouts rave about his work ethic, character and love of the game. He interviewed very well at the combine and fits the Patriots mode of being a team-first performer. At 6-6, 296, he’s also big and strong enough to hold his ground against the run.

A passing thought: Pats may opt for QB late (Karen Guregian, 4/21/07, Boston Herald)
The Pats had University of Washington’s Isaiah Stanback in for a visit. The 6-foot-2, 216-pounder is cut out of the Michael Vick mold. He’s a pure athlete who clocked a 4.4 in the 40, can play receiver and return punts and kicks. He lettered on Washington’s track team.

Although he has a strong arm, Stanback likely will be converted into a wide receiver, a move he doesn’t necessarily want to make.

“For me, personally, I love playing quarterback,” he said at the NFL’s scouting combine in February. “I’m passionate about the position. I don’t see any reason why I can’t play the position. I’ve been through a lot of changes in the past few years and haven’t been comfortable to get established at that, but the past two years, where I’ve had a consistent staff, I have made great jumps. I’m just looking for an opportunity to do that.”

Iowa’s Drew Tate is another possibility.

His lack of size - 5-11, 191 - might be a drawback, but he reads defenses well, leads receivers well, has a good pocket presence and has good touch on short-to-intermediate length passes.

Pittsburgh’s Tyler Palko, meanwhile, had a taste of pro sets and schemes with Dave Wannstedt as his coach and Matt Cavanaugh as his offensive coordinator. The two previously coached in the NFL.

“(Wannstedt) runs the program like it’s a professional team,” Palko said at the combine. “Having him and Matt (Cavanaugh) helped me tremendously, just the approach of playing football as a professional. So it definitely helped.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 PM


How Hitler cheated death in 1943 coup... thanks to the Allies (MURDO MACLEOD, 4/22/07, scotlandonsunday.com)

DER Führer Adolf Hitler ist tot. These six words, announcing the death of the Nazi leader, should have brought the Second World War to an end in November 1943. [...]

Major General Henning von Tresckow created a new force of around 20,000 troops based in German-controlled territory in the east, telling High Command it was needed to protect against a potential revolt by slave labourers.

Tresckow then organised a 'fashion parade' at which Hitler was to inspect new uniforms, little suspecting one of the models was a suicide bomber. Once the Führer was dead, Tresckow planned to blame the killing on rogue SS elements, use his secret army to take command, and end the war.

But the putsch was foiled days before it was due to be launched, thanks to the RAF. The uniforms were among the casualties from two nights of bombing raids on Berlin, so the plot was abandoned.

Documents minutely detailing every moment of the overthrow of Nazi Germany and its aftermath were immediately buried by the panicked plotters. They were uncovered by the victorious Soviets in 1945 and lay in Moscow archives until a recent study by Professor Peter Hoffmann of the McGill University, Montreal.

Hoffman, a world authority on wartime resistance to Hitler within the German army, believes another of the plotters was Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who earned his place in history by almost killing the Führer with a briefcase bomb in 1944.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


Sarkozy prepares for a battle Royal (Henry Samuel, 23/04/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The result heralds the promise of a true showdown between an uninhibited Right, offering relatively liberal reforms, and an emphasis on work and meritocracy, and a Left offering a real change in leadership style while seeking to preserve at all costs the generous social model.

Mr Sarkozy said the French "have clearly shown their desire to get to the end of the debate between two ideas of the nation, two projects for society, two value systems, two conceptions of politics".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 PM


Boston hits 4 straight homers off Yankees rookie Wright (Associated Press, 4/22/07)

The Red Sox hit four straight home runs Sunday night against the New York Yankees, tying a major league record.

Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek connected in a span of 13 pitches during the third inning against Chase Wright, who was making his second major league start for New York.

The Red Sox became the fifth team in major league history to hit four consecutive homers. The Los Angeles Dodgers did it on Sept. 18 last season against San Diego — and Drew hit the second homer in that outburst as well.

Can anyone explain why Jason Varitek is still a switch-hitter? He's not awful batting righty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


Quantum physics says goodbye to reality: Some physicists are uncomfortable with the idea that all individual quantum events are innately random. This is why many have proposed more complete theories, which suggest that events are at least partially governed by extra "hidden variables". Now physicists from Austria claim to have performed an experiment that rules out a broad class of hidden-variables theories that focus on realism -- giving the uneasy consequence that reality does not exist when we are not observing it (Nature 446 871) (Jon Cartwright, 4/20/07 Physics Web)

Markus Aspelmeyer and colleagues from the University of Vienna, however, have now shown that realism is more of a problem than locality in the quantum world. They devised an experiment that violates a different inequality proposed by physicist Anthony Leggett in 2003 that relies only on realism, and relaxes the reliance on locality. To do this, rather than taking measurements along just one plane of polarization, the Austrian team took measurements in additional, perpendicular planes to check for elliptical polarization.

They found that, just as in the realizations of Bell's thought experiment, Leggett’s inequality is violated – thus stressing the quantum-mechanical assertion that reality does not exist when we're not observing it. "Our study shows that 'just' giving up the concept of locality would not be enough to obtain a more complete description of quantum mechanics," Aspelmeyer told Physics Web. "You would also have to give up certain intuitive features of realism."

You have to love the way those who are most insistent on the efficacy of science and Reason refuse to believe in where it leads.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 PM


Edwards 'embarrassed' by haircut (Todd Dorman, April 20, 2007, Quad City Times)

As a gusty spring wind tousled his neatly trimmed locks Friday, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said he’s embarrassed about his now-famous $400 haircut.

Campaign finance records show that Edwards’ campaign paid a Beverly Hills stylist $400 for his haircuts. Those pricey snips have undercut Edwards’ image as a populist crusading for the little guy.

“It’s a ridiculous amount of money for a haircut,” Edwards told reporters after a campaign stop on Adel’s town square. “I’m actually embarrassed by it."

...but isn't it more embarrassing to have a candidacy that's essentially based on the quality of his hair?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Sarkozy, Royal lead French election (Reuters. 4/22/07)

Conservative leader Nicolas Sarkozy has finished first in the opening round of France's presidential election and will meet Socialist rival Segolene Royal in a run-off vote, initial returns show.

With just over 80 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Sarkozy had 30.7 per cent of the vote, Ms Royal was in second place on 25.17 per cent and centrist Francois Bayrou was third with 18.4 per cent.

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who stunned France by coming second in the 2002 election, looked set to finish a distant fourth with around 11.05 per cent.

Now for the race to the centre of France: Sarkozy may be the man to beat. But Royal could still pip him to the Elysée - with a little help from the voters who backed the man in the middle (Mark Tran, April 23, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

The combined left vote in the first round came to 36.4%, including Ms Royal's 25.84% and that of the other candidates on the left such as the anti-globalisation candidate José Bové and Arlette Laguiller, the Trotskyist candidate. All those on the left can be expected to rally to Royal in a "stop Sarkozy" coalition.

But Mr Sarkozy still has the numerical advantage. The combined left vote does not match up to that on the right. Mr Sarkozy came top, with 31.1%. And the vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front, collapsed to 10.5% from his shock 18% in the first round of the 2002 presidential vote, with many defecting to Mr Sarkozy. Mr Le Pen has said he gets on better with Mr Sarkozy than with Mr Chirac, so it is likely that the 78-year-old former paratrooper will fall in line behind Mr Sarkozy.

So for the second round, Mr Sarkozy can count on a solid foundation of 41% of the popular vote. That makes him the man to beat. But there remain all those Bayrou voters to play for. If - and it is, admittedly, a big if - most of them throw their support for Ms Royal, then she could still pip Mr Sarkozy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


One League Is Superior, and Don’t Blame the Yankees (DAN ROSENHECK, 4/22/07, NY Times)

[A]lthough the teams had the same 2006 won-lost record and split their interleague games, last year’s Yankees probably would have beaten the Mets comfortably had they played more games against each other.

The Yankees were superior because they faced a subtle but significant disadvantage: their league. The gap between the American League and the National League has grown larger in the past two years than at any point since the 1950s, when the N.L. integrated black players much faster than the A.L. did. According to Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus, a typical A.L. hitter moving to the N.L. can expect to gain about 10 points of batting average and on-base percentage and 20 points of slugging percentage. A.L. pitchers switching leagues will usually have their earned run averages decrease because of the absence of the designated hitter in the N.L., but Silver calculates that the E.R.A. of an A.L. pitcher switching leagues is likely to drop by 0.25 runs more than can be accounted for by the D.H.

At a team level, an average A.L. squad would probably improve its record by about 10 games if it could face N.L. competition, meaning that last year’s Yankees probably would have been a 107-win juggernaut if they had played the Mets’ schedule. The same is true in reverse: if the 2006 Mets had played in the A.L., they would have won only 87 games and missed the playoffs. This is about the same difference in league strength as the gap between today’s N.L. and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

Some variation in league strength is not uncommon in baseball history, but the magnitude of today’s imbalance is remarkable.

Notice how Ted Lilly has suddenly become Steve Carlton?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


France Looks Ahead, and It Doesn’t Look Good (TONY JUDT, 4/22/07, NY Times)

By standing up to Mr. Bush and instructing his representatives at the United Nations to block a rush to an unprovoked war, the French president saved both the honor of the United Nations and the credibility of the international community.
We can argue about whether he was a good or bad leader, but in backing the Stalinist Saddam against the Anglo-American liberationists he was a quintessentially French one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


After Iraqi Troops Do Dirty Work, 3 Detainees Talk (ALISSA J. RUBIN, 4/22/07, NY Times)

Out here in what the soldiers call Baghdad’s wild west, sometimes the choices are all bad.

In one of the new joint American-Iraqi security stations in the capital this month, in the volatile Ghazaliya neighborhood, Capt. Darren Fowler was heaping praise on his Iraqi counterparts for helping capture three insurgent suspects who had provided information he believed would save American lives.

“The detainee gave us names from the highest to the lowest,” Captain Fowler told the Iraqi soldiers. “He showed us their safe houses, where they store weapons and I.E.D.’s and where they keep kidnap victims, how they get weapons, where weapons come from, how they place I.E.D.’s, attack us and go away. Because you detained this guy this is the first intelligence linking everything together. Good job. Very good job.”

The Iraqi officers beamed. What the Americans did not know and what the Iraqis had not told them was that before handing over the detainees to the Americans, the Iraqi soldiers had beaten one of them in front of the other two, the Iraqis said. The stripes on the detainee’s back, which appeared to be the product of a whipping with electrical cables, were later shown briefly to a photographer, who was not allowed to take a picture.

To the Iraqi soldiers, the treatment was normal and necessary. They were proud of their technique and proud to have helped the Americans.

“I prepared him for the Americans and let them take his confession,” Capt. Bassim Hassan said through an interpreter. “We know how to make them talk. We know their back streets. We beat them. I don’t beat them that much, but enough so he feels the pain and it makes him desperate.”

Note that this is not to extract a confession, which is valueless following torture, but intelligence about the enemy, which is easily tested. If we aren't willing to participate or utilize it, we really need to get out and let the serious people win the war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Outrage as Salmond brands Labour opponents 'anti-Scottish' (EDDIE BARNES, 4/22/07, scotlandonsunday.com)

ALEX Salmond last night branded his Labour opponents anti-Scottish, prompting a furious counter-claim that he had plumbed new depths in the search for votes.

The SNP leader accused Labour of "attacking Scotland and Scottish self-confidence", claiming Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Jack McConnell were guilty of falling "out of touch" with a new mood of can-do optimism in the country.

Labour's campaign, which has sought to highlight the cost of independence and the SNP, is "anti that modern Scotland," he added.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Dice-K joins in rivalry (Steve Buckley, 4/22/07, Boston Herald)

Years from now, aging New England baseball fans will be able to tell you that Daisuke Matsuzaka’s first appearance in a Red Sox uniform was a spring training tuneup against Boston College, and that the first man to connect for a hit was Eagles outfielder Johnny Ayers.

Some will remember that Matsuzaka’s first appearance against a big league team took place in Jupiter, Fla., in a Grapefruit League game against the Florida Marlins, and that his first regular-season game was in Kansas City.

The Dice Man’s Fenway Park debut? April 11. Seattle Mariners. Ichiro.

And now, as this season of firsts continues for the most-watched, most-covered, most-talked-about rookie in Red Sox history, another significant milestone is kneeling in history’s on-deck circle.

Tonight, Daisuke Matsuzaka faces the New York Yankees.

Whether or not it was the best baseball decision -- and it's looking like it was -- the decision to rely on Hideki Okajima so heavily in the first two games of a series that's getting blanket coverage in Japan is brilliant marketing and entertainment.

Reliever's been lighting it up: Okajima emerging from large shadow (Gordon Edes, April 22, 2007, Boston Globe)

Daisuke Matsuzaka is the Monster. Hideki Matsui is Godzilla. And what about Hideki Okajima?

A reader (and baseball blogger) named Peter Naboicheck of Farmington, Conn., has taken to calling Okajima "Darkman," a comic-book creation played in the 1990 movie version by actor Liam Neeson. Naboicheck is riffing off Okajima's spring training utterance in which he said of pitching in Matsuzaka's shadow, "I am willing to be a hero in the dark."

The nickname may not stick, but Naboicheck may be onto something. Okajima has to rank as the revelation of the team's first month. Coming into the season, the 31-year-old lefthanded reliever's greatest value to the Sox, according to the wise guys, was to keep Matsuzaka company.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


French slums key to presidential vote?: Front-runner Sarkozy finds himself on the defensive in the leftist bastions, but he has supporters there too (Sebastian Rotella, April 22, 2007, LA Times)

"It's true that after the riots of 2005, many young people accepted our appeal," said local Socialist leader Ali Romdhane, a former city council member who led a drive here that registered 7,200 new voters, a 15% increase.

"In a way, Sarkozy helped us. Our slogan was, 'Vote instead of vandalize.' We told the young people that their strength rested in their voter identification card. And they are the ones who are going to make the difference."

But Sarkozy's rivals may be simplifying matters. The 52-year-old has won admirers on France's toughest streets precisely because of his plain-spoken, pugnacious attitude and his crime-fighting record as interior minister, experts say. And his feud with a relatively small population of youths enhances his popularity with older, more conservative voters, they say.

"There's a rupture between him and the immigrant youth, but overall the political forces in the banlieues are more balanced than you would think," said a veteran police intelligence official who asked not to be named, using the French term for areas on the urban periphery that typically contain industrial housing projects. "Sarkozy does well with a population, whether French or North African, that wants security restored in the housing projects. He's responsible for the rupture with the kids, but he also benefits from it."

Although the police official disagrees with Sarkozy's politics, he said the candidate is one of the few leaders with a keen insight into the brew of crime, poverty, alienation and Islamic extremism in the slums. Sarkozy resigned as interior minister recently to run for president.

A pro-Sarkozy youth leader in Argenteuil said he respects the candidate because he has a long record of visiting underprivileged areas, where he emphasizes hard work, upward mobility and equal opportunity.

"What happened here with the youths who want to derail Nicolas Sarkozy is not representative of what's happening in the banlieues," said Tarek Moudane, 27, who leads a local youth association called Blue, White and Red. "In fact, those were youths who don't vote and don't have the slightest notion of the political world. I've got kids who come to see me at the association and say, 'Yeah, we like Sarkozy,' but a lot don't want to say it loud. But they tell us that he's the only gentleman who can get France going."

So the French Left thinks it helps to portray themselves as the choice of the lawless?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


An asterisk to Obama's policy on donations: A presidential hopeful's refusal of lobbyist money has its limits. (Dan Morain, April 22, 2007, LA Times)

While pledging to turn down donations from lobbyists themselves, Sen. Barack Obama raised more than $1 million in the first three months of his presidential campaign from law firms and companies that have major lobbying operations in the nation's capital.

Portraying himself as a new-style politician determined to reform Washington, Obama makes his policy clear in fundraising invitations, stating that he takes no donations from "federal lobbyists." His aides announced last week he was returning $43,000 to lobbyists who donated to his campaign.

But the Illinois Democrat's policy of shunning money from lobbyists registered to do business on Capitol Hill does not extend to lawyers whose partners lobby there.

Nor does the ban apply to corporations that have major lobbying operations in Washington. And the prohibition does not extend to lobbyists who ply their trade in such state capitals as Springfield, Ill.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and Sacramento, though some deal with national clients and issues.

"Clearly, the distinction is not that significant," said Stephen Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that focuses on campaign issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Tragedy that has Capitol Hill running scared of gun laws (ALEX MASSIE, 4/22/07, Scotland on Sunday)

WHEN A former Miss America was confronted by a thief in her Kentucky barn last week, the plucky 82-year-old knew just how to react. Venus Ramey, whose figure adorned Second World War B52 bombers, pulled out her .38 calibre handgun, leaned on her walking frame to steady her aim and coolly shot out the tyres of the startled intruder's getaway vehicle. She then held him at gunpoint, flagged down a motorist to raise the alarm and calmly waited until the sheriff arrived.

The story was celebrated as an example of the unquenchable American frontier spirit and the inalienable constitutional right to defend hearth and home with firearms.

Coming just a few days after South Korean student Cho Seung-Hui used a handgun to slay 32 fellow students and teachers on the campus of Virginia Tech, there can be no clearer example of America's schizophrenia towards gun control.

Given that the Constitution enunciates a political right to bear arms, and the hostility of the public to gun control, aren't we just phrenic?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 AM


Gore campaign team assembles in secret (Tim Shipman in Washington, 21/04/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

Friends of Al Gore have secretly started assembling a campaign team in preparation for the former American vice-president to make a fresh bid for the White House.

Two members of Mr Gore's staff from his unsuccessful attempt in 2000 say they have been approached to see if they would be available to work with him again.

Mr Gore, President Bill Clinton's deputy, has said he wants to concentrate on publicising the need to combat climate change, a case made in his film, An Inconvenient Truth, which won him an Oscar this year.

If they were true friends they'd tell him he's proposing running on an issue that people are deeply dubious about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Yankees need Clemens immediately, if not sooner (Wallace Matthews, April 22, 2007, Newsday)

[W]hat happened to the Yankees yesterday and what is likely to happen to them tonight is simply not acceptable, coming into Boston with one major-league starter and two minor-league call-ups for a series against the only team realistically standing between them and October.

The Yankees' new policy of fiscal restraint is admirable in many ways and many cases. But this isn't one of them. The season is only 16 games old, the Red Sox are only three games in front and as of today, the Yankees still have only one dependable starting pitcher.

"I wouldn't say we're hanging on," Joe Torre said. "My feeling is, we just need to hold our own here."

Who was the last Yankee manager to say a thing like that? Stump Merrill?

For the first time in their recent history, the Yankees are living like mortals, with not enough pitching, with too many key guys hurt and with no easy answers in sight.

This is the kind of thing that happens with regularity in Pittsburgh and Kansas City and Tampa Bay, but not in the Bronx and certainly not at Fenway when the Yankees come to town, even if the season is a mere 16 games old.

Much as we in Red Sox Nation would like to sign him as a kind of extravagant cherry to top our dominant pitching sundae, the Rocket is 45 years old and two years removed from the time when steroids could be used freely. It's a little much to expect him to save a team that's old, bad on defense and has only two major league pitchers, one still in AAA.

April 21, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Charge for the presidency: Sarkozy strikes a pose for the floating voters (Anne Penketh, 22 April 2007, Independent)

It was probably one of the most striking images of France's presidential campaign - the front-runner, right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, astride a horse in a pose reminiscent of George Bush on his Texas ranch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 PM


The Emerging Axis Of Good (INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY, 4/20/2007)

Alliances: The sun may be setting on the British empire, but at least one part of it is still showing some spunk. Japan, meanwhile, is shaking off its pacifist past to become the Gibraltar of the Far East. We are not alone.

The departure of Tony Blair and Britain's resolve is regrettable. And the wimpy reaction of Britain to Iran's seizure of 15 Royal Navy seamen won't make anyone forget Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar anytime soon. But Australia and its prime minister, John Howard, have made it clear they aren't going anywhere.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Bush gains support for new approach on global food aid (Celia W. Dugger, April 21, 2007, international Herald Tribune)

It was here in Kansas City, at the 2005 food aid conference, that the Bush administration pushed for a fundamental change that would have diminished profits to domestic agribusiness and shipping companies. It proposed allowing a quarter of the Food for Peace budget to be used to buy food in poor countries near hunger crises, rather than buying only U.S.-grown food that had to be shipped across oceans.

And Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns spoke at the conference on Wednesday to make the administration's case for the same idea, contending that such a policy would speed delivery, improve efficiency and save many lives.

Congress in each of the past two years killed the proposal, which was opposed by agribusiness and shipping interests who stood to lose business, even as it won support from liberal Democrats like Representatives Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.

But there are signs that the frozen politics of the issue are beginning to thaw, especially as evidence of flaws in the current aid system mounts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:54 PM


Benedict’s Global Agenda (Samuel Gregg, D.Phil., 4/18/07, Acton Institute)

Given his age, Benedict knows he has limited time to pursue his particular concerns. The irony is that each amounts to a grand project in itself.

Unquestionably Europe – especially Western Europe – ranks high in Benedict’s concerns. Even before becoming pope, Joseph Ratzinger had been writing about European cultural trends for decades.

Since his election, Benedict has repeated many times that Europe seems “tired,” and referenced its collapsing demography as symptomatic of deeper problems. But he upped the ante recently by insisting that the apparent determination of Europe’s political classes to continue denying Europe’s Judeo-Christian historical roots amounted to Europe apostatizing from itself.

Though few recognized it at the time, Benedict’s now-famous 2006 Regensburg address also touched deeply on Europe.

This lecture – which will be remembered as one of this century’s most provocative orations, akin to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard commencement address – identified the separation of faith and reason as central to the existential crisis of historical denial which Benedict believes is sapping Europe’s civilizational genius.

It is not well understood that Benedict does not view this as an epic “Catholicism-versus-the Enlightenment” clash.

Careful reading of Benedict’s speeches demonstrates his belief that many Enlightenment thinkers made positive contributions to Europe’s development, especially with respect to religious liberty. Reason, Benedict writes, needs faith to check reason’s potential for hubris, while faith needs reason to purify religion of unreasonable behavior.

Which brings us to another subject high on Benedict’s agenda — Islam.

Catholicism and Islam are the world’s fastest growing religions. They co-exist alongside and within each other. Significant Muslim minorities now live in Christianity’s European hinterlands. Large numbers of Christians have lived in Islamic countries for centuries.

Early in his papacy, Benedict made clear his dissatisfaction with the character of official Catholic-Muslim dialogue. At Regensburg, he dramatically moved the conversation beyond the bromides all too common in ecumenical/inter-religious circles by publicly asking the question few had hitherto dared ask. Is violence somehow intrinsic to Islam, or is it an aberration?

The less-than coherent response from much of the Muslim world and many Westerners’ evident unease that Benedict even posed the question indicates he struck a nerve, but also forced open a long overdue debate.

The stakes are not simply intellectual. Benedict was reminding Europe that the more it trivializes religion, the less it possesses the capacity to understand some of its own and Islam’s problems. He was also attempting to facilitate a conversation about Islam and violence among Muslims themselves – an argument with profound implications for international stability.

The same debates also created room for Benedict to press another point that concerns him: the legal and informal restrictions endured by Christians living in Islamic countries. Benedict’s 2006 visit to Turkey highlighted to the world the constraints upon the religious liberty of Christians living in this ostensibly secular Muslim country.

Benedict is not asking for some form of privileged status reminiscent of 19th century colonialism for Christians in Muslim countries. He is merely requesting reciprocity: that Christians in Muslim nations experience the same religious liberty enjoyed by Muslims living in nations with Christian heritages.

The same insistence upon religious liberty underpins Benedict’s outreach to China, something no-one predicted as a priority for his papacy.

What America has taught the Church -- and de Tocqueville, in particular, has taught the Pope -- is the difference between freedom, that monstrous spawn of Reason, and liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Thousands of China's dams are 'time bombs' waiting to burst (AFP, 4/20/07)

Thousands of reservoirs in China are "time bombs" waiting to burst, an official was quoted as saying Friday, a day after a dam collapse forced the evacuation of 1,700 people.

"The problematic reservoirs are like time bombs, seriously threatening the lives and property of people living downstream," said Jiao Yong, deputy minister of water resources, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

On Thursday, 1,700 people had to be evacuated from four villages after a dam in northwest China's Gansu province was breached, causing water to flood the surrounding area and destroying a highway bridge. [...]

China has more than 85,000 reservoirs, of which 30,000 have serious structural problems, including 200 large and 1,600 medium-sized dams, Xinhua said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


From Clinton, Hip-Hop Hypocrisy (Colbert I. King, April 21, 2007, Washington Post)

Put me in the camp of those who implore Sen. Hillary Clinton to give it back -- "it" being the reported $800,000 that's sitting in her presidential campaign coffers thanks to a fundraiser hosted in her honor March 31 in the Pinecrest, Fla., home of a huge Clinton fan who refers to himself as Timbaland. [...]

Mrs. Clinton, you may recall, took umbrage at Imus's remarks, branding them "small-minded bigotry and coarse sexism." His words, she said in an e-mail to supporters, "showed a disregard for basic decency and were disrespectful and degrading to African Americans and women everywhere."

Good for her, I say, except it must be asked why she was down in Florida making nice to -- and pocketing big bucks from -- a rapper whose obscenity-laced lyrics praise violence, perpetuate racist stereotypes and demean black women.

Don't tell Mr. King, but it seems likely that a portion of his paycheck comes from ads for music and movies that disrespect and demean black women too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Vatican panel condemns limbo to eternal dustbin: An advisory study, approved by the pope, concludes that unbaptized babies may go to heaven after all (Tracy Wilkinson and Louis Sahagun, April 21, 2007, LA Times)

The Vatican's International Theological Commission issued its findings — with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI — in a document published by the Catholic News Service, the news agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The commission is advisory, but the pope's endorsement of the document appears to indicate his acceptance of its findings.

Limbo, the commission said, "reflects an unduly restrictive view of salvation."

"Our conclusion," the panel said in its 41-page report, is that there are "serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness." The committee added that although this is not "sure knowledge," it comes in the context of a loving and just God who "wants all human beings to be saved."

A church decision to abolish limbo has long been expected. Benedict and his predecessor, the late Pope John Paul II, expressed misgivings about the concept. Benedict, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the church's top enforcer of dogma, said he viewed limbo as a mere "theological hypothesis." Never part of formal doctrine because it does not appear in Scripture, limbo was removed from the Catholic catechism 15 years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


A totalitarian Islam (Khaled Fouad Allam, 4/20/07, Chiesa)

The Taliban is the product of the contemporary fracture between an absolutist Islam and an open Islam.

They have found in Arab Wahhabism of the Qur’anic school of Deoband, founded in New Delhi at the end of the 1800’s, their ideological point of departure. They then made this the ideology of the Pashtun, over 12 million persons divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Why were the Pashtun, and not another tribe, made the bearers of Wahhabism in that area? Because they are the only tribe in that place that boasts an Arab genealogy: Wazir, one of their ancestors who gives the name to the Pakistani province of Waziristan, was from the Arabian peninsula. Wahhabism, born in the 1700’s in an Arab context, has functioned as a unifying force for many of these tribes. Al Qaeda understood well that the phenomenon of the Taliban could become a political experiment, a laboratory from which political Islam could draw, in order to bring the entire Muslim world along with it.

The battle taking place in Afghanistan is, therefore, a battle of meaning, and the fate of much of the Muslim world depends on its outcome.

Except that he's just described that it's particular to Sunni Arab tribes.

April 20, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 PM


Red Sox overcome 2 more homers by A-Rod (Jimmy Golen, April 20, 2007, AP)

Alex Rodriguez hit two more homers, but Coco Crisp tied the game with a two-run triple and then scored the winning run on Alex Cora's blooper during a five-run eighth inning Friday night in the Boston Red Sox's 7-6, comeback victory over the New York Yankees.

Crisp was already in the highlights after toppling into the Boston bullpen in pursuit of Rodriguez's second homer of the game, a three-run shot in the fifth that gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. Rodriguez went 3-for-5 and joined Mike Schmidt, who hit 12 homers in the first 15 games in 1976, as the fastest to reach a dozen in baseball history. [...]

Rodriguez, who has hit safely in all 15 games this year, also leads the majors with 30 RBIs and 65 total bases.

...imagine if Jeter, Torre and the fans had gotten their way and Arod were gone?

Red Sox honor Auerbach with green (Alex McPhillips, 4/20/07, MLB.com)

No, it wasn't that time of the year. As Friday's unseasonably seasonal weather pushed a reluctant sunny day on Boston, and the Red Sox wore their signature St. Patrick's Day green jerseys a month later than usual, fans witnessed a different kind of Yankees opener.

That was because the team was honoring legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach, who died last year at the age of 89. Last week's originally scheduled celebration, which was to feature Bill Russell, Jim Loscutoff and Frank Ramsey, among others, was postponed because of wind and rain.

This time, the Red Sox managed to unfurl 16 championship banners from the top of the Green Monster -- from '57, '59, '60, '61, '62, '63, '64, '65, '66, '68, '69, '74, '76, '81, '84 and '86 -- and keep them there through the first pitch, a one-hopper down the middle by NBA Hall of Famer Bob Cousy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 PM


Jindal wins endorsement from La. sheriff's association (KATC3, 4/20/07)

The Louisiana Sheriff's Association has voted to endorse Republican U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal for governor, a rare move for a politically influential group made up mainly of Democrats. [...]

Hal Turner, the group's executive director, announced the endorsement Friday in a press release, saying Jindal "has demonstrated an unerring and determined dedication to the higher good of law enforcement, anti-terrorism, the criminal justice system and the people of Louisiana."

Sheriffs are a potentially powerful political force, partly because they employ so many people. Modern telephone, television and Internet advertising campaigns have diluted that clout, but they retain sway over many voters, political observers said.

"Sheriffs are still really important, especially in rural parishes," said Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. "They're generally considered to be the most important elected official in any parish. And in a rural parish, you can multiply that by two."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 PM


>Jobless doctors 'to be shipped overseas' (George Jones, 21/04/2007, Daily Telegraph

Up to 10,000 young doctors who are unable to find jobs in the NHS could be offered voluntary work overseas.

According to official documents leaked yesterday, the plan was drawn up by NHS managers following the botched introduction of an online appointments system, which could leave thousands of junior doctors without training places this summer.

The document, Maximising Employment Opportunities, confirmed that there was a 10,000 "excess of applicants for training posts over places".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


I will protect you, Sarkozy tells France as his flame burns again on last day of campaigning (Angelique Chrisafis, April 21, 2007, The Guardian)

On a stage facing a sea of tricolour flags stood a small figure in a pinstriped suit hailed as the greatest orator in France. Slicing the air with both hands and jabbing his finger, he waved his arms like an orchestra conductor, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as he promised a France that would no longer hate itself, that would no longer let unchecked immigrants invade its borders and burn its suburbs.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the rightwing frontrunner in France's first-round presidential vote, has spent weeks stressing that he has mellowed. But at his final campaign rally in front of 20,000 people in Marseille, the former interior minister who once suggested wayward suburban youths were scum, sent a clear message: "I'm still myself."

Reclaiming the passion he had recently toned down, he dripped with sweat as he promised to be France's "protector" and restore faith in a country crippled by unemployment, economic stagnation and self-doubt.

"I hate this fashion for repentance that says France hates itself and its history," he roared. He said colonisation might have been an "unfair system" but would not apologise for it and talked of the debt owed to those "decent and hardworking French families" forced out of Africa. Boasting no fear of the "politically correct" lobby, he proudly repeated his codewords for a new moral and patriotic France. "Authority! Authority! Authority!" he shouted to wild cheers.

Only the French need to use German methods to sell the Anglo-American model.

Resentment and anger mar slice of paradise (Simon Heffer, 21/04/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The north-west part of Provence is everything the French like to imagine their country to be. It has vineyards, olive groves, fields of artichokes, strawberries and lavender, rolling hills and distant mountains. Even in mid-April, it is hot rather than warm, the sky is an unbroken azure, and little stone-built hilltop villages shimmer in the strong sunlight. Tourists flock here and Parisians buy up charming houses as second homes - the capital is just over two-and-a-half hours from the local TGV station.

Yet this apparent slice of paradise - the Vaucluse - is also a microcosm of all the French feel is wrong with France today. Beneath the gorgeous face it presents to the world, there are tensions, discontents and fears that have bred anger and resentment - emotions that will strongly influence how the locals are likely to vote in tomorrow's first round of France's presidential election.

Rural Vaucluse is still visibly the bucolic France of Marcel Pagnol; but go into even small towns such as Carpentras, 15 miles from Avignon and about 75 minutes by road north of Marseilles, and the social revolution that has disturbed so many of the French, and caused them to want a clean break with the policies that successive governments have followed since the Second World War, is plainly visible. With some 30,000 inhabitants, Carpentras is about the size of Chippenham or Whitstable, and has a similarly rural hinterland. However, quite unlike such English towns, a considerable proportion of its population is of North African origin. The French do not publish official figures of people by ethnic origin: everyone in France is deemed to be French, and the authorities have no truck with ethnic monitoring.

However, the consensus among the indigenous French in Carpentras is that the Muslims in the town now comprise about a quarter of its population. In France as a whole, estimates of the Muslim population range from between 10 and 13 per cent, but the hinterland of Marseilles has a heavy concentration of North Africans. Unemployment is just above the national average of 10 per cent, and seems widespread among the Muslim population - some local businessmen put that community's unemployment at around 60 per cent, including illegal immigrants who do not feature in the official statistics. Throughout the day, the benches in the neat little gardens in the town are packed with men in Maghrebian dress, simply sitting and staring into an indefinite distance. The bourgeois who walk past seem to be making a conscious effort not to notice them, and it is reciprocated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Blair savages ‘lightweight’ Cameron (Daily Mail, 20th April 2007)

Labour can win the next election if it exposes David Cameron as a "lightweight" PR man who has failed to change the Tories, the Prime Minister has said.

Funny how the closer your opponent gets to your idea the more likely you are to say he has none.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


Rudy showing off his flip side (DAVID SALTONSTALL and CELESTE KATZ, 4/19/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

It happened again yesterday - the pro-choice Giuliani was quick to applaud the Supreme Court ruling upholding a partial-birth abortion ban, calling it "the correct conclusion."

But when he was preparing to run against Sen. Hillary Clinton in 2000, Giuliani opposed a partial-birth abortion ban for New York, saying he would "preserve the option for women" and that he did not foresee ever changing his view. [...]

The calculus has divided Giuliani into the old Rudy and the new Rudy.

Just this week, Giuliani said the Virginia Tech tragedy "does not alter the Second Amendment." Since he began running for President, he has said he believes states should have the power to set gun laws.

But as mayor and as a Senate candidate before dropping out for health reasons, Giuliani strongly favored mandatory federal licensing of handguns, and backed an assault weapon ban and a waiting period for gun purchases.

And while as mayor he declared the flat tax, where everyone pays the same amount, a "terrible mistake for urban areas," he seemed much more open to the idea last month while accepting the endorsement of Mr. Flat Tax himself, Steve Forbes.

There was never a chance that his candidacy could withstand Republicans learning that he'd done more than respond well on 9-11. His record makes him unnominatable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


Iraqi insurgents now fighting each other (TODD PITMAN, 4/20/07, The Associated Press)

At least two major insurgent groups are battling al-Qaida in provinces outside Baghdad, American military commanders said Friday, an indication of a deepening rift between Sunni guerrilla groups in Iraq.

U.S. officers say a growing number of Sunni tribes are turning against al-Qaida, repelled by the terror group's sheer brutality and austere religious extremism. The tribes are competing with al-Qaida for influence and control over diminishing territory in the face of U.S. assaults, the officers say. The influx of Sunni fighters to areas outside the capital in advance of the security crackdown in Baghdad may have further unsettled the region.

"This is a big turning point," U.S. Maj. David Baker said Friday in the Diyala provincial capital of Baqouba. "If they are fighting against each other, it's better than them fighting against us."

The more deadly the easier for the Shi'a to establish control afterwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


When you've got MoveOn accusing you of being too tough on Iran you're winning the new cycle eight ways from wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Justice Kennedy is key to abortion future: Justice's wording in opinion is seen as good news and bad by both sides (MARK SHERMAN, 4/20/07, Associated Press)

Kennedy holds the balance of power.

He has written key decisions on both sides of the long-standing divisive issue.

Particularly since O'Connor's retirement last year, what he thinks probably is where the court will come out when asked to consider new abortion restrictions.

Ed Whelan, a former law clerk to Scalia and later an official in the Bush administration Justice Department, said the decision most likely would invite new state laws banning the same procedure covered by the federal law and requiring that women seeking abortions be given detailed warnings about the dangers of abortion.

"Those regulations seem to me far more likely to be sustained," Whelan said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


McJobs worth more than university (The Local, 20th April 2007)

A majority of personnel managers consider a job at McDonalds more valuable than a political science course at university.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


In Loco Parentis - Not (KAY HYMOWITZ, April 20, 2007, NY Sun)

So what prevented anyone from taking this creature out of the dorms and off the streets? For starters, as the New York Times reported, privacy and anti-discrimination laws make it almost impossible for school officials to protect students from crazed classmates. If they try to expel a student from a dorm because they think he's dangerous, they can be sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recently, CUNY officials had to pay $65,000 to forestall a lawsuit by a student barred from her dormitory after her suicide attempt and hospitalization.

The only people who might be able to take some action when a student shows signs of trouble — family members — are kept deliberately out of the loop. A 1974 law, known as the Buckley Amendment in tribute to its architect, former senator, James Buckley, makes it illegal for administrators to tell parents almost any details about their child's college life — including serious medical problems — without the student's permission.

Some years ago, when my daughter was starting out at Amherst, the college president explained the terms of the Buckley Amendment to the parents of incoming freshmen. One parent asked in disbelief, "You mean, if my kid were to disappear to California with a drugged-out nut, you wouldn't even tell me she was missing?" The president smiled with just a hint of condescension. "That's right," he said.

Mental-health experts also found themselves paralyzed by laws and bad ideas when faced with a dangerous psychotic. The psychologist at Carilion St. Albans Hospital got a pretty good look at Cho in 2005, yet released him the next day because, as he wrote, the young man "denies suicidal intentions" and "does not acknowledge symptoms of a thought disorder."

Lay people may not find it surprising that a madman, if asked, would deny being a madman. But today's psychiatrists, who have all but jettisoned the idea of the unconscious, use crude interviewing protocols that rely on superficial self-reports and resort to tautological diagnoses that tell little about any underlying disease.

Further, unless someone has committed a crime, civil-liberties laws and limited hospital space make it exceedingly difficult to hospitalize someone, no matter how bizarrely dangerous his behavior.

We're not all victims: Not everyone was connected to Virginia Tech, but you wouldn't know it by watching Americans. (Rosa Brooks, April 20, 2007, LA Times)

FIVE DAYS after the Virginia Tech massacre, the friends and families of the victims are grieving — and despite the relentless glare of the media spotlight, their pain is still private. It belongs to them, not to the rest of us.

But you sure wouldn't know it from the way we talk about the tragedy.

In modern America, there's always plenty of trauma to go around. Even if you knew no one involved in the shootings, have never been to Virginia and can't tell the difference between a Hokie and a Wahoo, there's no need for you to feel left out.

NBC bashed for airing Virginia Tech killer's rants (Matea Gold, April 20, 2007, LA Times)
NBC's decision to broadcast portions of Seung-hui Cho's angry rants triggered a storm of condemnation Thursday from viewers and victims' relatives, illuminating the treacherous middle ground between exposure and exploitation in a fast-moving news cycle.

A day after receiving a package containing the Virginia Tech gunman's profanity-laced writings and videos, mailed shortly before his second round of shootings, NBC drastically curtailed its use of the images, as did most of its television brethren.

But the rapid dissemination of the materials and subsequent backlash triggered a debate about where the line gets drawn — what constitutes news, and what goes too far.

Though media ethicists generally approved of NBC's handling of the tapes, Tony Burman, editor in chief of Canada's CBC News, called NBC's airing of the footage a "mistake," warning it could lead to copycat massacres.

Media "ethicists" who claim that the media isn't complicit in these incidents are like medical "ethicists" who find excuses for doctors to kill their patients.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


McCain: Critics of Iran joke should "get a life" (Kathleen Hennessey, 4/20/07, The Associated Press0

Sen. John McCain has a message for any critics who thought his musical joke about bombing Iran wasn't funny: Get a life.

While campaigning for president in South Carolina on Wednesday, McCain responded to a question about how to deal with Iran by breaking into the melody of the Beach Boys song "Barbara Ann" but changing the lyrics to "Bomb Iran."

"That old, eh, that old Beach Boys song, 'Bomb Iran,' " McCain said, and then added: "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb ... anyway, ah ... " The audience responded with laughter.

The Arizona Republican was asked for his reaction to any negative response to the joke.

"Please, I was talking to some of my old veterans friends," he told reporters. "My response is, lighten up and get a life."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Dan Zanes goes for the Grateful Dead effect: Former Del Fuego Dan Zane likes his concerts homey and his fans dancing! (Lynne Heffley, April 19, 2007, LA Times)

DAN ZANES' idea of a good time is hanging out with family and friends old and new, making music, swapping stories or just grooving to the rhythm of the day.

That casual approach and an all-inclusive spirit have fueled Zanes' plunge into the growing family music pool. And it's paid off for the former frontman of the alt-rock band Del Fuegos.

This year, Zanes' signature "handmade" music earned the singer his first Grammy Award, a best children's music trophy for "Catch That Train," a mix of old-time spirituals and folk songs and warm-hearted, quirky originals. The album was recorded in Zanes' living room with the Kronos Quartet, Natalie Merchant, the Blind Boys of Alabama and such Zanes regulars as singer Barbara Brousal and banjo-master Donald Saaf.

Zanes' concert schedule, including a sellout at Carnegie Hall last November, continues to expand to major venues across the country and beyond — with gigs in Melbourne, Australia, and London. This weekend, Zanes returns to UCLA's Royce Hall, where he will play two Saturday concerts.

As always, the wild-haired, raspy-voiced singer wants his audiences young and old to come prepared to "sing at the top of their lungs and do as much dancing as they want. I really want it to be as much like a little Grateful Dead concert as possible.

"No one's expected to sit quietly in their seat — it would make me anxious if they did," Zanes said. "It's really just, whatever venue we go to, how can we make it feel like one big living room?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Great stuff: The most unhittable pitches in baseball (TOM KOCH-WESER, April 19, 2007, Yahoo)

Scouts often speak of pitchers with "plus" or "plus-plus" offerings, usually referring to where a particular pitch falls on the 20-80 scouting scale in terms of both velocity and movement. But if we dig a little deeper, which pitches - given their speed, movement and deception - are actually the most unhittable in the game? [...]

[Cole] Hamels consistently delivered the most unhittable changeup in 2006, producing a Whiff Rate of .514, the leading figure by a significant margin over Colorado closer Brian Fuentes, who posted a rate of .460, and Arizona's Brandon Webb (.454).

Johan Santana, widely considered to have the best change in the game, finished the year at .450, fourth among qualifiers. To his credit, Santana also delivered his changeup more frequently in the strike zone (38.6 percent) than anyone in the top five, while opposing hitters slugged a meager .221 against it, also the best of the group.

Hamels' teammate, Ryan Madson, ranked fifth at .426.

While those players are certainly dominant when it comes to the premier off-speed pitch, the mantle of the most unhittable pitch in 2006 goes to the slider of Fernando Cabrera.

Cleveland's young reliever recorded a Whiff Rate of .652 on that breaking ball, and, if you think that's a fluke, think again. Had Cabrera qualified the year before, 2006 would have been the second consecutive season his slider led the league. In 2005, Cabrera posted an eye-popping Whiff Rate of .762, though in limited action (42 swings).

Interestingly, Cabrera only threw his slider in the strike zone 28.6 percent of the time, well below the major league average of 41.6 percent. In other words, he makes the pitch unhittable with a late bite that places the ball outside the plate or in the dirt much of the time.

The most unhittable pitch in baseball has long been a sufficiently tight slider. Unfortunately, it's also the most unthrowable. That's what ate Kerry Wood's elbow. Watch tape of his 20k game and you'll see one (though they pretended he was throiwing a curve back then) that God couldn't hit with a boat oar, and it broke so sharply that it even stayed in the strike zone.

April 19, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 PM


'I felt more welcome in the Bible belt': Manal Omar had used her five-piece 'Islamic-style' swimsuit for years - in Rio, Washington and Kuala Lumpur - and it had never brought her more than a curious glance. Then she went for a dip in Oxford ... (Manal Omar, April 20, 2007, The Guardian)

One Sunday last month I went for my afternoon swim at my local David Lloyd's fitness club wearing the Islamic-style swimsuit I have been wearing for years. The swimsuit has recently been celebrated by media outlets from Newsweek to National Geographic as an innovative way for Muslim women to become more active. As an American-Muslim woman, I have always been determined to be active without compromising my faith. I have been swimming in capital cities across the world from Rio de Janeiro to Washington DC to Kuala Lumpur, and now London. Although I get curious stares, I have never had any awkward moments when I head out for a swim.

Article continues
That is, until I came to Oxford.

As I was getting ready to head home from my Sunday swim, I heard a loud voice from a man stating that he needed to speak to the manager about dress code. I picked up on it, but didn't really give it too much thought, until I heard him yelling about "that woman over there" who was wearing the "burkini", the gist of what he was saying seemingly being that it was inappropriate. What the hell is that? The burkini? I could feel a rising indignation at the man's audacity in singling me out in this way. Who had died and declared him the pool police? There were several lifeguards on duty who had seen me swimming there over the previous six months, and none had objected to the swimsuit. It's been nearly a year since I moved to Oxford, and frankly, I had had enough of the anti-Muslim rhetoric in British political life. Now that I was in the middle of it, I refused to stand on the sidelines.

I walked up to the burly, middle-aged man who had been pointing at me a minute before and asked, "Are you guys talking about me?"

He turned towards me, and waved a dismissive hand: "This has nothing to do with you."

"Are you talking about me? Because if you are, this has everything to do with me."

He then confirmed he was indeed talking about me, but not talking to me. He was talking to the manager. [...]

Having spent my entire life in the United States, as a veiled Muslim woman I am no stranger to discrimination. In fact, as a child, I grew up in the hardcore territories of the south in the US, known as the Bible belt. Although I faced comments and questions, my personal lifestyle and space never felt invaded. In fact, the churchgoing community I lived in as a child welcomed me, and after my experience in the UK I want to go back to the local priest and kiss him on the forehead for not only preaching about respect but putting it into practice.

Looking back, what disturbed me the most about the debate was that my very identity was reduced to a cluster of cliches about Muslim women. I was painted in broad strokes as an oppressed, unstable Muslim woman. I was made invisible, an object of ridicule and debate, with no opinion or independent thoughts. The fact that I had dedicated the past 10 years to working on women's issues on a global level, led a delegation of American women into Afghanistan in 2003, and put my life on the line in Iraq struggling for women's constitutional rights were clearly beyond anyone's imagination. The part of my life where I had the opportunity of meeting leading women from Queen Rania of Jordan to Hillary Clinton was erased.

When I chose to wear the headscarf nearly 15 years ago, I promised myself it would never hold me back from my two passions: travel and sport. Neither my mother nor my sister had worn the headscarf, and my family raised us with the gift of freedom of choice. To this day my sister and I enjoy the outdoors, each never giving a second thought to our choice of dress - her bikini or my "burkini". It strongly disturbs me that I was disregarded as an individual, and demeaned to a one-dimensional stereotype. For many of those involved in the debate, the fact that I covered my head and my body seemed to make them forget that I had a brain.

The truth of the matter is that as a Muslim woman living in the US - and I was in Washington DC on September 11 2001 - I never felt so isolated and discriminated against as I have these past few weeks in Oxford. Given that this is supposed to be one of the great seats of western civilisation, that should give British citizens something to chat about.

It's hardly surprising that her religiosity would be more widely accepted in a more religious society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 PM


Sarkozy accused of forging ties with National Front leader (Delphine Strauss, April 14 2007, Financial Times)

The magazine Nouvel Observateur reported yesterday that a survey of voting intentions by the intelligence services showed Mr Sarkozy could find himself facing the nationalist candidate in this year's run-off vote.

The intelligence services, recently under Mr Sarkozy's control as interior minister, deny having conducted any survey.

The Nouvel Observateur said it put Mr Sarkozy inthe lead in the first-round vote, with his Socialist party rival, Ségolène Royal, eliminated.

Yet rivals to the left of Mr Sarkozy's UMP party view his sympathy for far-right themes as the weakest point of his campaign, and appear to be making it their key target in a concerted attempt to erode his consistent lead in opinion polls.

Polls show a run-off between the Right and the Fascist so the Left is playing up the very issues that made them a non-alternative?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 PM


Fetal Attraction: Why embryos are cooler than kids. (JULIA GORIN, April 19, 2007, Opinion Journal)

There's another reason I have a soft spot for the preborn: Children who have been born have plenty of defenders, advocates, protective laws and folks who love kids; they're universally recognized as human beings and get all the attendant protections, including a mother's self-restraint even at the most trying times. Their right to life isn't in dispute. But these other, utterly defenseless critters are under daily threat of slaughter. The way I see it, the "mass of cells" has a human soul in there. (Of course, once it's out, then I don't know what it is aside from a pain in the butt that you'd better keep out of my way.)

As a former fetus--and an endangered one at that (in Russia abortion was the dominant form of birth control)--yes, I take it personally when people want to kill fetuses. But remembering what a horror I was as a toddler, I can totally understand people giving up their kids. While I didn't deserve to be aborted, I might have earned a visit to the adoption agency.

Feminists heralded the proliferation of abortion as a tool by which to "empower" women and give them control over their lives and destinies. But power is being pregnant. Because it gives you control over other people's lives.

The deeper truth lurks at that precise point. Strip away all the dogma and abortion has merely a means for women to express their newfound power by exercising the ultimate control over the lives of others: by killing them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 PM


The I's Have It: Three cheers for pro-life incrementalism (Michael J. New, 4/20/07, National Review)

Wednesday’s Gonzales v. Carhart decision upholding the federal partial-birth-abortion ban has been well received by pro-lifers. Indeed, the Judiciary has been a consistent thorn in the side of the pro-life movement and Supreme Court decisions that uphold pro-life laws should rightfully be applauded. More importantly, this decision demonstrates that the incremental strategy pursued by the pro-life movement continues to pay some real dividends. The ruling is a good indication pro-lifers would do well to continue this strategy of incrementalism in the future.

The National Review crowd might have done well to think about incrementalism before they started the Administration and the Republican Congress as enemies.

Recall Hoffer:

Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.

Finding Real Alternatives to Abortion: Interview With Official of Pro-life Government-Funded Agency (APRIL 19, 2007, Zenit.org)

In 1995, Pennsylvania started a bold, state-funded initiative to reduce the number of abortions by providing pregnant women the necessary resources to keep their children.

In this interview with ZENIT, Kevin Bagatta, president & chief executive officer of Real Alternatives, (www.realalternatives.org/aboutus), discusses the Pennsylvania Alternative to Abortion Services Program and how it has helped abortion rates in the state to fall steadily.

Q: How did you get involved in Real Alternatives?

Bagatta: My three brothers and I were born and raised on Long Island, New York. Both of our parents are handicapped. My Italian-American dad, a World War II veteran, walks with cane and a brace and my Irish-American mom became paralyzed with polio during the polio epidemic.

They both taught us -- and still do -- the true value of life. Having watched the culture of death practiced by Nazi Germany, they immediately explained to my brothers and I how wrong the Roe vs. Wade decision was that legalized abortion in America and the ill effects it would have on our country. [...]

Q: Recently you began working with faith-based organizations. How does that teamwork happen, practically speaking?

Bagatta: This has been a greatly welcomed change in our ability to use experienced service providers to serve women throughout the state.

Again, due to interpretation of U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment cases, we were restricted in the type of faith-based organizations we were allowed to contract due to the program being funded with government money.

Thanks to President George Bush's Faith-Based Initiative Executive Order, all entities administering government funds are allowed to contract with faith-based organizations as long as the faith-based organization keeps their promotion of religion separate from the government-funded service.

Now, women can receive our government-funded service from a faith-based organization like Catholic Charities and also receive religious services and support.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


One baby in 30 left alive after medical termination (FIONA MACRAE, 20th April 2007, Daily Mail)

One in 30 babies aborted for medical reasons is born alive, a study has found.

They lived for an average of 80 minutes - although in some cases foetuses survived for over six hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:34 PM


Comebacks Set the Weekend Stage (Tim Daloisio, 4/19/07, Red Sox Times)

As if in anticipation of the next twenty-seven (or more) innings to come over the weekend, both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees stepped up their game in the late innings of their games today with come from behind wins. With a three game series looming, neither team wanted to come in on a down note. Instead, they both came in with a bang.

As the Red Sox entered the eighth inning down 3-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees were giving back a 2-1 lead to the Cleveland Indians in the seventh inning. As Manny Ramirez’s first home run of the year, hopefully a slump-breaker, flew over the center field wall in the Rogers Center to tie the game at three, the Yankees found themselves down 6-2. The Red Sox would grab two runs in the ninth inning off of Blue Jays interim closer Jason Frasor and watch Jonathan Papelbon close out the ninth inning in impressive fashion capping off the come from behind win.

In New York, the Yankees would find themselves down to their final out still facing that four run deficit and Indians closer Joe Borowski, that is until Josh Phelps started a rally for the ages with a solo shot to left field. A single, walk, and back to back singles brought Alex Rodriguez up to the plate with two men on trailing now only by one run. Previous versions of Arod would have likely made the final out quelling a rally and squashing any momentum that the Yankees could take with them to Boston, but Arod 2.0 - the 2007 version - did just the opposite treating the Yankee fans to his second walk off home run of the season.

Should be fun. One team has no offense, the other no pitching. One team has the best pitching staff in baseball, the other the best offense. They're both so flawed that if they stood pat from here on out they'd be unlikely to make the World Series, but both capable of adding the missing pieces rather quickly -- thanks to a stocked farm system (the Sox) or an owner's wallet (the Yanks). It is not unlikely that no one who starts a game for the Yanks this weekend will be in the rotation come September nor that three starting position players for the Sox will be replaced by then.

Somehow you have to figure that this series comes down to Arod, who can convert his detractors by continuing his hot start, or feed their animus by stumbling in these first meaningful games of the season.

Three for the money: Sox throw big-game experience at Yanks (John Tomase, 4/20/07, Boston Herald)

They found Curt Schilling one Thanksgiving in Arizona by way of Alaska. Young Texan Josh Beckett arrived from Florida for two of their best prospects. Daisuke Matsuzaka merely required some of the highest-stakes negotiations in the game’s history - not to mention thousands of frequent flier miles to Japan.

The Red Sox were willing to do whatever it took to secure the three because they represent the rarest of commodities - battle-tested power pitchers with no fear of the crucible that is Boston.

Schilling’s playoff exploits are legendary and will probably land him in the Hall of Fame. Beckett could retire tomorrow and never be forgotten for his shutout to clinch the 2003 World Series. And Matsuzaka has merely been a national icon since high school.

All three were clearly born with something that keeps their palms dry no matter how overwhelming the pressure. And though it’s only April, they’ve serendipitously been given a stage on which to strut their stuff this weekend. [...]

“We didn’t maneuver to have it work out this way,” manager Terry Francona noted, “but we’re not going to apologize for having those three going.”

How the Red Sox Got Their Groove Back: Last season’s humiliating debacle was the capper to two years of disharmony and disarray in the Red Sox front office. But with fans worrying that the team was sliding back into its dark days, a curious thing happened. The real story behind the off-season that has us dreaming of another World Series. (Seth Mnookin, April 2007, Boston Magazine)
After two seasons in which the ceaseless chatter that surrounded the team so often centered on what was going wrong—on the field, in the front office, wherever—we’re now talking about the epic potential of a lineup whose number three, four, and five hitters combined to hit 109 home runs and drive in 339 runs last season. And then there’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, baseball’s newest international idol, who judging from the hype should turn out to be a combination of Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, and God. Oh, and we did it all without giving up any of the team’s much heralded prospects. It’s a far cry from last year, when the biggest news was the addition of a man who shared his name with a breakfast cereal.

Surely it’s no accident that these moves are occurring during a time in which Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino appear to have reached the kind of uneasy truce that allows them to focus on the team and not each other. The two men aren’t, to be certain, about to take any vacations together. What they have proved, though, is that they can work together when they need to—and their combined firepower can be pretty damn impressive. If all you’ve been focusing on are the individual headlines, you might have missed the bigger story. Put the pieces together, though, and there’s no denying it: The Red Sox have got their groove back.

In the half decade since John Henry and Tom Werner bought the team, public reaction to the owners (and the front office) has been ping-ponging between extremes. When the Sox didn’t bring Cliff Floyd back in 2003, they were cheapskates. When a bunch of garbage-heap pickups—Bill Mueller, David Ortiz, et al.—powered that season’s prodigious, record-setting offense, they were geniuses. Screwing up the A-Rod negotiations: moronic. Convincing Curt to come to Boston: brilliant. Alienating Nomar: inexcusable. Bringing in Orlando Cabrera and Dave Roberts: exemplary. Hell, in less than a year, the Edgar Renteria acquisition was evidence of the team’s sagacity and its stupidity.

Just on the basis of that brief history, you’d have thunk the team’s new leaders would have realized that, for all our promises that a single World Series win would bring endless goodwill, local reaction still will virtually always be dictated by whatever has transpired most recently. And yet somehow, beginning in 2005, the team’s executives actually made things worse. Larry Lucchino, perhaps the most creative CEO in baseball, continued to pursue his small-market pragmatism in a region that was already deeply in love with its local nine, amping up the team’s marketing efforts and thereby transforming the existing fever pitch into a full-on frenzy freckled by pink hats and $200 first dates on the Budweiser pavilion. (Rest assured that if there’s a way to monetize urinal cakes, the Sox will figure out what it is.) Meanwhile, Epstein, whose shrewdness belied his age, tried in vain to educate the team’s mushrooming fan base on the importance of a long-term game plan that favored less expensive young lions over brand-name all-stars whose best years are behind them.

All of which was a little confusing for your average sports-radio listener, who, let’s be honest, doesn’t have the longest attention span to begin with. Should we expect the world? Or focus on the future? Somehow, it seemed, the Sox thought they could up the ante and tamp down expectations at the same time. And if you don’t stay on message, as any good politician will tell you, you lose control of the story line.

Adding Drew, Dice-K, ohkajima and Lugo without giving up any of their prospects leaves them in prime position to add the catcher & 2B who'd make them a championship team.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 PM


Australians are all conservatives now: Regardless of this year's election results, the left-wing dogma of interventionism and statism is in retreat while free-market causes will prevail across the nation (Scott Prasser, April 20, 2007, The Australian)

WHATEVER the Australian Labor Party decides at its national conference, which begins next Friday, whatever sham debates are waged between Left and Right factions, whatever policy victories on mining or industrial relations are stage-managed to bolster Kevin Rudd's leadership, it will be irrelevant for the direction of a future federal Labor government.

Why? Because during the past two decades conservatives have won all the key policy battles. Conservative values drive the policy agenda to such an extent that whoever is in power is essentially unimportant. Now, and in the foreseeable future, there will be little divergence from the conservative agenda. We live in a conservative world and the Labor Party takes its policy cues from the conservative framework. Left-of-centre views may still have currency at universities, but in the real world of voter preferences and policies that work there is no market for outdated left-of-centre policy products. Everywhere, leftist policies are in retreat. [...]

Nor is this trend just an Australian phenomenon. Tony Blair's New Labour Government in Britain has largely continued Margaret Thatcher's policies. The Iron Lady just did the dirty work in tackling the country's out-of-control trade unions and privatising those decrepit overstaffed government-owned businesses.

Similarly, in the US the Reagan Republican conservative agenda was pursued just as vigorously by a Democratic president. Who can forget Bil Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 when "he pledged to end welfare as we know it"? His subsequent commitment to welfare reform, balanced budgets and free trade was confirmation that he was more in keeping with Barry Goldwater than George McGovern.

And if the British and US cases do not prove the point, bear in mind that even many European countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Germany have adopted the conservative free-market policy agenda of reduced government spending, tax reform and privatisation with some success. Only France remains a reluctant starter and its high unemployment rate testifies to the resultant policy failure of its approach, but a president Nicolas Sarkozy may begin to reverse the tide.

So, far from there being a third way as Blair and Rudd pretend, there is merely the conservative way or a return to non-viable policies of the statist Left.

Close, but not quite. While the Left has had to accept that its statist social welfare solutions don't work, the Right has had to accept that electorates do want solutions of some kind. The genius of the Third Way--whether of Thatcher/Blair or Clinton/Gingrich/Bush--is to achieve what were initially the ends of the Left via the means of the Right, such as work requirements in Welfare, self-funded unemplyment benefits, personal accounts in SS, HSAs, school choice, etc.The psychic disonnance that makes Left and Right so crazy these days comes about because the rank-and-file trail their leaders in accepting these realities. The Left hates the means more than it desires the ends and the Right is unreconciled to accepting the ends. Significantly, the most prominent Third Wayers (even though they don't generally refer to themselves as such) are religious believers (and do quite explicitly refer to themselves as such), for whom the end of caring for your neighbor, defending the dignity of the person, and the inferiority of the state to society are all doctrinal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


The Dawkins Delusion: BRITAIN’S CRUSADING ATHEIST (Jonathan Luxmoore, May 2007, Commonweal)

According to Dawkins, morality is “biologically determined,” and all moral questions, from the prohibition of incest to the allocation of kidney machines, should be decided by “utilitarian moral philosophers” trained to assess the “balance of suffering and happiness” such questions address. “This is a very different way of doing morality than the absolutist way, which supposes some things are absolutely wrong,” Dawkins has argued.

Different, indeed. Brilliant as he may be in explicating biology for mass audiences, Dawkins goes badly astray when he ventures into moral speculation. Speaking at Oxford’s Literary Festival in 2006, alongside the philosopher A. C. Grayling and the Cambridge ethnologist Patrick Bateson, he insisted that human beings were growing “ever nicer” thanks to the decline of religion and the rise of science. Asked why the twentieth century had witnessed so many atrocities, he insisted Hitler and Stalin had been “quite mild” compared to the religious “monsters of the Middle Ages.” In a series on Britain’s Channel Four TV, he equated elderly pilgrims at Lourdes with suicide bombers on the London Underground. “Far from being beaten, militant faith is on the march all across the world with terrifying consequences,” Dawkins told TV viewers. “It’s something we must resist, because irrational faith is fuelling murderous intolerance throughout the world.”

Language like this would sound familiar to those who remember the campaign against religious faith in Eastern Europe, where claims about religion’s social divisiveness were used by totalitarian regimes to justify savage repression. Under such regimes, scientific atheism was a requirement for teachers and educators, legislators and ministers. Schools and colleges were seen as the frontline in a struggle against religious belief, a struggle that included removing Christian symbols and place names and disrupting Christian influences in marriage and family life. These were political systems in which just being a Christian was enough to attract the cold glare of suspicion and hostility. The utilitarian morality favored by Dawkins was given free rein.

Every intellectual basically thinks he ought to be one of the philosopher kings.

The Gentle Darwinians: What Darwin’s Champions Won’t Mention (Peter Quinn, Commonweal)

Lurking behind this science-versus-religion controversy has been an issue that extends beyond creationists and evolutionists. Among the first to frame it was Friedrich Nietzsche. In the words of biographer Curtis Cate, Nietzsche hailed Darwin’s “calm annihilation of the fairy-tale fable of the Creation of the World” and welcomed the support it supplied in his campaign for a “transvaluation of values” to overthrow the “morality of slaves.” But Nietzsche disliked what he detected in Darwin as a genuflection toward English industrialists and imperialists, as if they were the end product of the contest for existence.

The relationship between the views of Nietzsche and Darwin is interesting both for the general insights it offers into the intellectual upheaval in nineteenth-century Europe and for the particular questions it raises about the impact of these two thinkers. In the case of Nietzsche, the question of whether he was a champion of artistic freedom and uncompromising individualism or, instead, a prophet of enslaving the weak and eradicating the unfit was examined in “The Gentle Nie-tzscheans,” a controversial and influential article by Conor Cruise O’Brien published in the New York Review of Books almost four decades ago (November 5, 1970).

It was no accident, wrote Cruise O’Brien, that Nietzsche was remembered as an apolitical “man of thought and letters” who made major “contributions to psychology, German prose, and the critique of ethics.” This image of Nietzsche had been crafted by latter-day disciples-“Gentle Nietzscheans”-who insisted that his most violent and brutal teachings were meant to be “provocative” and “paradoxical,” always intended “in the most spiritual sense,” never as policies of state. Pictured in this light, Nietzsche becomes, in Cruise O’Brien’s analysis, “a benign schoolmaster, whose astringent and sometimes frightening quips conceal a heart of gold and a strenuous urge to improve the spiritual and moral condition of his pupils.”

In reality, Cruise O’Brien contended, Nietzsche sought a societal and political context in which the illusions and evasions of Judeo-Christian morality would be replaced by unflinching realism and unmerciful resolve. In The Will to Power, for example, Nietzsche posited that “society, the great trustee of life, is responsible to life itself for every miscarried life-it also has to pay for such lives: consequently, it ought to prevent them. In numerous cases, society ought to prevent procreation: to this end, it may hold in readiness, without regard to descent, rank, or spirit, the most rigorous means of constraint, deprivation of freedom, in certain circumstances castration.”

The enthusiasm Nietzsche expresses in this passage is for eugenics, a theory of biological determinism invented by Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s first cousin. However extreme Nietzsche’s recommendation might sound today, by the first part of the twentieth century eugenics came to be widely practiced. In 1933, little more than thirty years after Nietzsche’s death, the Hereditary Health Courts set up in Nazi Germany were enforcing a rigorous policy of enforced sterilization; to a lesser degree, similar policies were carried out in societies from the United States to Scandinavia.

In 1912, in his presidential address to the First International Congress of Eugenics, a landmark gathering in London of racial biologists from Germany, the United States, and other parts of the world, Major Leonard Darwin, Charles Darwin’s son, trumpeted the spread of eugenics and evolution. As described by Nicholas Wright Gillham in his A Life of Francis Galton, Major Darwin foresaw the day when “eugenics would become not only a grail, a substitute for religion, as Galton had hoped, but a ‘paramount duty’ whose tenets would presumably become enforceable.” The major repeated his father’s admonition that, though the crudest workings of natural selection must be mitigated by “the spirit of civilization,” society must encourage breeding among the best stock and prevent it among the worst “without further delay.”

Leonard Darwin’s recognition of his father’s role in the formation and promotion of eugenics was more than filial piety. Though Charles Darwin usually preferred the savannas of research to the sierras of philosophic speculation, he was a main player in the “transvaluation of values,” including the advancement of theories every bit as hard and merciless as Nietzsche’s. Adrian Desmond and James Moore in their 1991 biography, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, make clear that natural selection was intended as more than a theory of life’s origins. “‘Social Darwinism’ is often taken to be something extraneous, an ugly concretion added to the pure Darwinian corpus after the event, tarnishing Darwin’s image,” they write. “But his notebooks make plain that competition, free trade, imperialism, racial extermination, and sexual inequality were written into the equation from the start-Darwinism was invented to explain human society.”

As with Nietzsche, so too with Darwin-there is a school of interpreters dedicated to insulating him from any unpleasantries associated with his ideas or their consequences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 PM


French Front-Runner's American Style (Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson, April 19, 2007, Washington Post)

He urges young people to embrace Martin Luther King Jr. as a role model. He is a devotee of Hollywood movies, and his favorite author is Ernest Hemingway. He wrote a book preaching the gospel of the American work ethic to a nation that clings to a 35-hour workweek.

None of which may seem remarkable, except that the man in question -- Nicolas Sarkozy -- is running for president of France, which typically turns up its nose at such flagrant displays of Yankee Doodlism. And he is leading in all the polls.

"I don't see why my country doesn't take inspiration from its great ally," Sarkozy, former interior minister and now candidate of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, wrote in his recently updated political autobiography. "I love the value Americans place on work and the desire for excellence that you find everywhere."

Sarkozy's unabashed admiration of the United States has earned him the disparaging moniker "Sarko the American." [...]

"He is not the epitome of the average French guy -- he likes mobility, the capacity to anticipate, to change views, which is more American than French," said Philippe Ridet, a veteran French political reporter who has written a biography of Sarkozy. "He likes Capra's and John Ford's America. Their films, in which your future can always be improved, fascinate him."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 PM


Government should be the only party with weapons, says Sistani (Saadon al-Jaberi, April 19, 2007, Azzaman)

Grand Aytollah Ali Sistani has forbidden the killing of Muslims in Iraq and has urged the government to disarm all militia groups in the country.

Sistani, Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, made the call in a meeting which grouped both Muslim Shiite and Sunni clergy from the provinces of Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, Tikreet, Ramadi, Kirkuk and the Kurdish region.

The visit was to explore ways of ending the current sectarian strife in the country and methods to bring about national reconciliation.

“We have come to visit (Sistani) to back the project of national reconciliation … Sistani has forbidden the shedding of blood of all Muslims and reiterated the necessity of the state being the sole possessor of arms in Iraq,” said Sheikh Mohammed Talabani, a Sunni cleric and head of the delegation.

Sadr's Rising Star To Eclipse Bush's Surge? (Dilip Hiro, April 17, 2007, TomPaine)
Though in his early thirties and only a hojatalislam ("proof of Islam")—one rank below an ayatollah in the Shiite religious hierarchy—Muqtada al-Sadr has pursued a political strategy no other Iraqi politician can match.

The sources of his ever-expanding appeal are: his pedigree, his fierce nationalism, his shrewd sense of when to confront the occupying power and when to lie low, and his adherence to the hierarchical order of the Shiite sect, topped by a grand ayatollah—at present 73-year-old Ali Sistani—whose opinion or decree must be accepted by all those below him. (For his part, Sistani does not criticize any Shiite leader.)

Muqtada's father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and two elder brothers were assassinated outside a mosque in Najaf in February 1999 by the henchmen of President Saddam Hussein. The Grand Ayatollah had defied Saddam by issuing a religious decree calling on Shiites to attend Friday prayers in mosques. The Iraqi dictator, paranoid about large Shiite gatherings, feared these would suddenly turn violently anti-regime.

Muqtada then went underground—just as he did recently in the face of the Bush administration's "surge" plan—resurfacing only after the Baathist regime fell in April 2003; and Saddam City, the vast slum of Baghdad, with nearly 2 million Shiite residents, was renamed Sadr City. As the surviving son of the martyred family of a grand ayatollah, Muqtada was lauded by most Shiites.

While welcoming the demise of the Baathist regime, Sadr consistently opposed the continuing occupation of his country by Anglo-American forces. When Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq, banned his magazine Al Hawza al Natiqa ("The Vocal Seminary") in April 2004 and American soldiers fired on his followers protesting peacefully against the publication's closure, Sadr called for "armed resistance" to the occupiers.

Uprisings spread from Sadr City to the southern Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Karbala as well as four other cities to the south. More than 540 civilians died in the resulting battles and skirmishes. Since the American forces were then also battling Sunni insurgents in Falluja, Bremer let the ban on the magazine lapse and dropped his plan to arrest Sadr.

Later, Sadr fell in line with the wishes of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to see all Shiite religious groups gather under one umbrella to contest the upcoming parliamentary election. His faction allied with two other Shiite religious parties—the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Al Daawa al Islamiya (the Islamic Call)—to form the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

By so doing, in the face of American hostility, Sadr gave protective political cover to his faction and its armed wing, called the Mahdi Army. (U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington have long viewed Sadr and his militia as the greatest threat to American interests in Iraq.) Of the 38 ministers in Maliki's cabinet, six belong to the Sadrist group.

When the Pentagon mounted its latest security plan for Baghdad on February 13—aiming to crush both the Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias—Sadr considered discretion the better part of valor. He ordered his Mahdi militiamen to get off the streets and hide their weapons. For the moment, they were not to resist American forays into Shiite neighborhoods. He then went incommunicado.

Muqtada's decision to avoid bloodshed won plaudits not only from Iraqi politicians but also, discreetly, from Sistani, who decries violence, and whose commitment to bringing about the end of the foreign occupation of Iraq is as strong as Sadr's—albeit not as vocal.

Chalabi Worried About Bringing Back Baathists (ELI LAKE, April 19, 2007, NY Sun)
Mr. Chalabi told The New York Sun that the draft American proposal would cause an "uproar." He made his remarks during an interview at his summer estate in Baghdad's Hurriya neighborhood, under the shade of recently built guard towers and some of the city's tallest date palms.

"It would have guaranteed positions for the Fedayeen Saddam," Mr. Chalabi said, referring to the militia that fought American troops when Iraq's army splintered and that formed the original insurgency with al Qaeda.

"The fourth article of this proposal says under this new law, all members of Saddam's security services, special republican guards, general security service, Fedayeen Saddam will be entitled to the equivalent positions in the new government," he said.

De-Baathification remains a thorny issue for Shiite lawmakers, not to mention the leading Shiite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who have resisted earlier pressure from the minority Sunni politicians to remove restrictions that bar the highest level Baathists from resuming their posts in the new government.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:17 PM


Republicans Block Medicare Drug Price Bill (Shailagh Murray, 4/19/07, Washington Post)

Senate Republicans blocked legislation yesterday that would have allowed the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices, denying Democrats a victory on their 2006 election vow to lower prescription costs for senior citizens.

...of having their keisters handed to them on a platter?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Stand-Up Comedy Formula Decoded (Jennifer Viegas, April 12, 2007, Discovery News)

Stand-up comedy routines, which often only involve a lone comedian on a stage with a microphone, appear to be simple performances, but a new study reveals many acts follow a complex formula strengthened by multiple linguistic techniques. [...]

[Douglas] Glick, an assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University in New York, explained that many modern stand-up routines follow three steps. The first Glick describes as "foregrounding," which is coming up with a concept or situation that is unexpected.

During the second step, the comic "sets up a comparison that sets up the joke."

The third "pay off" step occurs when the comic leads the audience to "discover something else about the context of the performance — either in the performance, as for Izzard, or from our general cultural knowledge — that makes the comparison between what we expected, and what happened, funny."

Note that not only does the "foregrounding" require a shared concept of what is to be expected, but by making that which deviates from the expected an object of fun it tends to reinforce the shared concept.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


A comic film about a grim subject: Why Iranians of all stripes are packing the cinemas to see it (The Economist, 4/19/07)

After two successful documentaries, about prostitution and football violence, [Masoud] Dehnamaki's first feature film, now filling cinemas in the capital, Tehran, is an irreverent comedy called Ekhrajiha (“The Outcasts”). By portraying a gang of Tehran thieves and junkies as war heroes, it took the authorities by surprise.

At the start of the film, the hero, Majid, is imprisoned for attacking a man who makes salacious comments to a virtuous young woman. Despite the authorities' unwillingness to accept Majid and his unsavoury friends as volunteers in the war against Iraq (all of whom were meant to be devout), they reach the front line to be redeemed by sacrifice. When Ekhrajiha failed to win any of the prizes at the recent Fajr International Film Festival in Tehran, Mr Dehnamaki hinted that the authorities wanted to suppress it for being subversive.

But his dismissive attitude to the revolution's sacred cows has won him wide admiration, among both liberal intellectuals and Muslim fundamentalists. His first documentary, about prostitution, was equally provocative, breaking an official taboo by suggesting that the Islamic republic's veneer of virtue hid a society marred by corruption and poverty.

Illustrating both the lack of effective repression and the distance of the masses from officialdom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


In the beginning: The debate over creation and evolution, once most conspicuous in America, is fast going global (The Economist, 4/19/07)

Darwin-bashers in America suffered a body-blow in December 2005, when a judge—striking down the policies of a district school board in Pennsylvania—delivered a 139-page verdict that delved deeply into questions about the origin of life and tore apart the case made by the “intelligent design” camp: the idea that some features of the natural world can be explained only by the direct intervention of a ingenious creator.

Intelligent design, the judge found, was a religious theory, not a scientific one—and its teaching in schools violated the constitution, which bars the establishment of any religion. One point advanced in favour of intelligent design—the “irreducible complexity” of some living things—was purportedly scientific, but it was not well-founded, the judge ruled. Proponents of intelligent design were also dishonest in saying that where there were gaps in evolutionary theory, their own view was the only alternative, according to the judge.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which has spearheaded the American campaign to counter-balance the teaching of evolution, artfully distanced itself from the Pennsylvania case, saying the local school board had gone too far in mixing intelligent design with a more overtly religious doctrine of “creationism”. But the verdict made it much harder for school boards in other parts of America to mandate curbs on the teaching of evolution, as many have tried to do—to the horror of most professional scientists.

Whatever the defeats they have suffered on home ground, American foes of Darwin seem to be gaining influence elsewhere. In February several luminaries of the anti-evolution movement in the United States went to Istanbul for a grand conference where Darwin's ideas were roundly denounced. The organiser of the gathering was a Turkish Muslim author and columnist, Mustafa Akyol, who forged strong American connections during a fellowship at the Discovery Institute.

To the dismay of some Americans and the delight of others, Mr Akyol was invited to give evidence (against Darwin's ideas) at hearings held by the Kansas school board in 2005 on how science should be taught. Mr Akyol, an advocate of reconciliation between Muslims and the West who is much in demand at conferences on the future of Islam, is careful to distinguish his position from that of the extravagant publishing venture in his home city. “They make some valid criticisms of Darwinism, but I disagree with most of their other views,” insists the young author, whose other favourite cause is the compatibility between Islam and Western liberal ideals, including human rights and capitalism. But a multi-layered anti-Darwin movement has certainly brought about a climate in Turkey and other Muslim countries that makes sure challenges to evolution theory, be they sophisticated or crude, are often well received.

America's arguments over evolution are also being followed closely in Brazil, where—as the pope will find when he visits the country next month—various forms of evangelicalism and Pentecostalism are advancing rapidly at the expense of the majority Catholic faith. Samuel Rodovalho, an activist in Brazil's Pentecostal church, puts it simply: “We are convinced that the story of Genesis is right, and we take heart from the fact that in North America the teaching of evolution in schools has been challenged.”

Even in the United States, defenders of evolution teaching do not see their battle as won. There was widespread dismay in their ranks in February when John McCain, a Republican presidential candidate, accepted an invitation (albeit to talk about geopolitics, not science) from the Discovery Institute. And some opponents of intelligent design are still recovering from their shock at reading in the New York Times a commentary written, partly at the prompting of the Discovery Institute, by the pope's close friend, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna.

Of course, a jury trial in the Dover case would have arrived at the opposite verdict. Darwinism can only prevail in front of the 13%ers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


A Sick Business Decision (Jack Kelly, 4/19/07, Real Clear Politics)

For the sake of a few dollars more, NBC has brought closer the day of the next public mass killing in America.

"This was a sick business tonight, going on the air with this," acknowledged NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams of his network's decision to air portions of the "multimedia manifesto" Cho Seung-Hui mailed NBC in the interval between his murder sprees on the Virginia Tech campus.

It was indeed a sick business decision. Mass killings inspire copycats. "School campuses in at least 10 states were locked down or evacuated in the aftermath of a Virginia Tech student's shooting rampage," the AP reported Wednesday.

NBC is not alone in its guilt. Every news organization which rebroadcast portions of the video, or newspapers (like mine) which published still photographs of Mr. Cho posing with his weapons is complicit.

Local author, Judi Picoult, recently released a novel about a school shooting that was obviously set at Hanover High School. Not only that but she set it in the immediate future. So on the day she'd written about in the book there were about 200 kids absent, cops and parents in the hallways and students sobbing. Of course, those are just the sacrifices we get to make for her "art."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:58 PM


Red Sox, Manny rally to beat Jays with Yanks on deck (CBS SportsLine.com, 4/19/07)

Manny Ramirez and Alex Cora sent the Boston Red Sox home with a victory heading into their first series of the year against the New York Yankees.

Ramirez hit a tying, two-run homer in the eighth inning, Cora had a go-ahead triple in the ninth and the Red Sox beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 Thursday.

...we just went from NH to the Cape by way of RI, and only missed CT because The Wife woke up.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Seeking with Groans: The moral universe of film noir (Thomas Hibbs, March/April 2007, Books & Culture)

"I don't want to die."

"Neither do I, baby, but if I have to, I'm gonna die last."

That's a bit of romantic dialogue between two characters from Out of the Past, one of the films featured in the Film Noir Classics Collection. The fifteen films in these three box sets were originally released between the mid-1940s and the early 1950s. (A fourth volume, featuring ten films, is promised later this year.) They thus bypass the early period of noir, defined by such classics as Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon, films whose viewing by French critics in the middle of the decade gave rise to the noir tag in the first place, but they include such gems as The Asphalt Jungle, The Set-Up, Murder My Sweet, Dillinger, On Dangerous Ground, and Narrow Margin. Clearly there's a growing contemporary interest, both popular and critical, in film noir. Book-length analyses of the historical, cultural, and philosophical roots and implications of film noir continue to multiply—including two noteworthy recent examples, Mark Conard's edited volume, The Philosophy of Film Noir, and John Irwin's Unless the Threat of Death Is Behind Them. Even this limited sample of films and books gives evidence of the rich philosophical resources in noir; its penchant for subversive, anti-Enlightenment themes; and its revival of a peculiar kind of quest.

As the discussion of the essence or nature of film noir in the books from Conard and Irwin indicates, critics seeking a unifying definition of noir as a genre have failed to achieve consensus. Still, the films grouped under the noir label exhibit what philosophers call family resemblances, including recurring themes (criminality, infidelity, get-rich-quick schemes, and seemingly doomed quests), dominant moods (anxiety, dread, and oppressive entrapment), typical settings (cities at night and in the rain), and peculiar styles of filming (sharp contrasts between light and dark and tight, off-center camera angles). Noir is certainly a counter to the optimistic, progressive vision of postwar America; subverting the rationality of the pursuit of happiness, noir turns the American dream into a nightmare. Noir also counters the Enlightenment vision of the city as the locus of human bliss, wherein human autonomy and rational economics could combine to bring about the satisfaction of human desire. Instead of Enlightenment progress, with its lucid sense of where we are and where we are going, noir gives us disconcerting shadows and a present tense that is incapable of moving forward because it is overwhelmed by the past. In the noir universe, progress and autonomy are debilitating illusions. The title Out of the Past is a synecdoche for much of the noir genre.

The Golden Age of Hollywood was largely the product of censorship. It forced upon filmmakers the central, and quintessentially American, theme of noir, that bad deeds always end in tragedy. The more freedom the movies have been granted the less they've done with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 PM


Democratic Race Tightens as Views of Clinton Become More Negative: Forty-five percent favorable rating one of lowest ever for Clinton (Jeffrey M. Jones, 4/18/07, GALLUP NEWS SERVICE)

A majority of Americans have an unfavorable image of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton's current 45% favorable rating with the American public is her third consecutive reading below 50% in the past two months, and is one of the lowest Gallup has measured for her since 1993. [...]

Clinton is no doubt a formidable candidate for president. She is the best-known candidate of either party, is widely respected by members of her own party, and has been able to raise large sums of money to fund her presidential campaign. Despite these advantages, recent Gallup polling reveals a potential weakness in her rather low likability scores among the general public. In the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted April 13-15, 2007, more Americans say they have an unfavorable (52%) than a favorable view (45%) of Clinton. Clinton's favorable rating has been below 50% in each of the last three Gallup Polls, after being consistently above that mark since June 2003. As recently as February, her favorable rating was a solid 58%.

Maverick will have little trouble carrying in a GOP House, though the Senate will be tougher.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Hezbollah's big challenge (Pepe Escobar, 4/19/07, Asia Times)

The easiest way to avoid trouble in Lebanon is to behave like a Shi'ite in the south, like a Sunni in Jiyyih and like a Christian in Beirut. Anyone strictly secular may run the risk of talking to the deaf. Unlike Syria, sectarianism rules. It sounds like Iraq in more ways than one - a non-viable state.

Crackpots abound - like Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who qualifies Nasrallah as a Syrian agent, Assad as a "serial killer" and Hezbollah as puppets of Tehran. Or Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who proposed chartering flights full of Lebanese politicians to Saudi Arabia so they can be all swayed (by checkbook?) by King Abdullah. As'ad AbuKhalil, host of the Angry Arab website, always stresses that the Lebanese civil war never ended. What outsiders don't know is the current sectarian wave was unleashed by Hariri Inc and their wealthy Saudi associates.

But the buck doesn't stop with them. Because there will always be the Washington-House of Saud axis.

Saudi Arabia's powerful Prince Bandar, former ambassador to Washington, also known as Bandar Bush - who harbors desires of becoming the next Saudi king - is basically pro-US and anti-Syria, thus fiercely anti-Hezbollah. Bandar has been instrumental in convincing other members of the "axis of fear" apart from Saudi Arabia - Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the Emirates - that the US must attack Iran sooner rather than later.

It's an open secret in Beirut - and across the Middle East - that the US is financing the Fouad Siniora government with Bandar money, not to mention the almost $9 billion which "mysteriously" disappeared from Iraq.

You don't have to buy into all the Middle Eastern conspiracy theories to see how incoherent our policy vis-a-vis the Shi'a/Sunni divide is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Otis Taylor: Singing the blues, with new textures (Mike Zwerin, April 17, 2007, Bloomberg News)

Otis Taylor has become one of those musicians who are too good to be famous - but not good enough to be good and popular at the same time, like, for example, Jimi Hendrix. They are famous for not being famous.

His new album, "Below The Fold" (Telarc), continues his exploration of the universality of the blues, combining it with country music (banjos, fiddles), jazz (trumpeter Ron Miles), classical music (cellos), and African grooves. [...]

Taylor is a sophisticated 21st-century version of the traditional West African oral historians called griots. With some irony, he calls it "voodoo music." Actually, it might be called cool: The melodies are catchy, the lyrics universal. He's been compared with the Velvet Underground and John Lee Hooker, and described as a combination of Ali Farka Touré and Nick Cave. [...]

His next recording, currently in production, will be called "Recapturing the Banjo," and will feature black guitarists such as Keb' Mo' and Corey Harris playing banjos.

-The Hypnotic Banjo: Otis Taylor's spooky, trance-inducing blues. (John Morthland, Sept. 3, 2003, Slate)
-Otis Taylor: Bluesman with a conscience (Tony Engelhart, Hybrid)
-Otis Taylor’s “Rosa Rosa” (Jenny Shank, 12-16-05, New West)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Gordon Brown's new book teaches us, if nothing else, that we are to have another pious Christian for PM (Catherine Bennett, April 19, 2007, The Guardian)

Whoever wrote Courage by Gordon Brown, he, she or they are to be congratulated. I have not read anything so thoroughly improving since the Reverend Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies, in which the reader must endure the protracted, watery afflictions of young Tom, ploughing on, right to the last pages, before the author finally asks, "And now, my dear little man, what should we learn from this parable?"

In his eight portraits of "men and women of courage", on the other hand, the Reverend Brown's moral purpose confronts us from the first: "Their stories live on and inspire us," he begins his chapters on Edith Cavell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Raoul Wallenberg, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Cicely Saunders and Aung San Suu Kyi. "They were prepared to endure great sacrifices and persist, some of them for many years, against the odds and in the face of the greatest adversity."

And what else, my dear little man, should we learn from the chancellor's book, when it appears in June? Why, in the first place, that, in this largely secular and sceptical country, we are to have another pious Christian for a prime minister. In the past, Brown's spiritual life has been so mercifully private, in comparison to the lenten homilies and mantilla-draped devotions of the Blairs, that the question of his faith could generally be overlooked. In his 2004 biography of Brown, Tom Bower wrote: "Neither in public nor in private would he ever express thanks to God or refer to Christianity as an influence, guide or support for his life."

No longer. The new book, in which five of Brown's eight peerless individuals are guided and sustained by a profound Christian faith (a characteristic that might make them elusive role models for non-believers), amounts, surely, to a declaration of faith.

The Brits want so badly to remain Anglospheric.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


A sick France means a sick Europe - and that must be bad for Britain:
Just as Blair is leaving the stage, a kind of Blairism could prevail across the channel. Under another name, of course (Timothy Garton Ash, April 19, 2007, The Guardian)

What an irony. Just as Blair leaves the stage in Britain, Blairism arrives in France. Le Blair est parti, vive le blairisme! Not explicitly, of course, and not as a particular set of post-Thatcherite, neoliberal economic policies, habitually denounced in Paris as "Anglo-Saxon". I mean Blairism as a post-ideological, pragmatic way of doing politics which borrows eclectically from left and right, and worries about results rather than ideological consistency. Responding to the challenge of globalisation, it aims to combine entrepreneurial economic dynamism with high employment and social justice, mediated by a redistributive welfare state. Its true motto is "whatever works".

French Blairism will be very different from British Blairism, because France is not Britain. For a start, whoever is the next French president, their policy will not be called Blairism.

Of course, it's rightfully Pinochetism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 AM


Spider-Man 3 (Leo Lewis, 4/19/07, Times of London)

Also disappointing is the inability of the director, Sam Raimi, to end the romp without a fleeting shot of the American flag. The Stars and Stripes just happens to be fluttering behind Spidey as he makes his triumphal return to honour, probity and good honest fist-fighting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 AM


Climate change: Why we don't believe it (Lois Rogers, 23 April 2007, New Statesman)

Beyond the corridors of Westminster and the offices of environmental pressure groups, where global warming and sustainability are buzzwords of the moment, British consumers continue flying, driving and buying with unchecked enthusiasm. The gulf between the pronouncements of our politicians and what the majority of people think and do, could scarcely be wider.

A survey by the polling organisation MORI, published at the end of last year but unreported by the mainstream media, found that about a third of the population - 32 per cent - still knows little or nothing about the threat of climate change. Of those who had heard of it, half thought it was at least partly a natural process, and only 11 per cent of those questioned thought it was up to individuals to change their behaviour. MORI's head of research, John Leaman, acknowledges that the battle for public opinion is not only not won, it has not even seriously begun: "The question of how you persuade people that it is to do with them is a very interesting one," he said. "We need to know whether people's attitudes are the consequence of ignorance, disbelief or personal self-interest and inertia. Even among those who do know about climate change, there is a yawning gap between what people say and what they do. I don't think there is any simple answer." As an organisation, MORI is keen to be seen taking this problem seriously. It is planning its own forum in June, to contribute ideas for ways to promote awareness and behaviour change. (Ironically, the identified key speaker appeared to be away on a foreign holiday and could not be contacted for comment.)

How then are our leaders going to engage our hearts and minds in the green debate? What will be the tipping point that will lead people not just into giving the fashionable answers in opinion polls, but to actually change their behaviour?

...doesn't make Marxism, Freudianism, Darwinism, Climate Hysteria and the like any less fringe ideologies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 AM


Shooter took a break to send an angry message: Cho sent a package to NBC between shootings. Contacts with police and mental health experts are revealed. (Richard A. Serrano and David Zucchino, April 19, 2007, LA Times)

In a chilling video made public Wednesday, Virginia Tech gunman Seung-hui Cho declared: "This didn't have to happen," likening himself to the Columbine killers and talking of his hatred for the wealthy.

Cho mailed the package, which contained an 1,800-word diatribe and multiple photos of him aiming handguns at the camera, at 9:01 Monday morning. That was nearly two hours after he had killed two students in a dormitory and minutes before he stormed a classroom building and killed 30 more people before turning a gun on himself.

He sent his parcel to NBC in New York, which made copies of the material before turning it over to authorities.

These stories out to be subjected to complete media blackouts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


Iraq may hold twice as much oil (Ed Crooks, April 18 2007, Financial Times)

Iraq could hold almost twice as much oil in its reserves as had been thought, according to the most comprehensive independent study of its resources since the US-led invasion in 2003.

The potential presence of a further 100bn barrels in the western desert highlights the opportunity for Iraq to be one of the world’s biggest oil suppliers, and its attractions for international oil companies – if the conflict in the country can be resolved.

If confirmed, it would raise Iraq from the world’s third largest source of oil reserves with 116bn barrels to second place, behind Saudi Arabia and overtaking Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Dow Jones surges to all-time high as sub-prime fears ease (Stephen Foley, 19 April 2007, Independent)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the most visible measure of the American stock market and a potent symbol of the perceived health of the US economy, has surged to a new all-time high.

The index settled last night at 12,803.84, a 31-point gain on a day when heavyweight banking stocks were in favour. Companies such as JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, some of the biggest financial institutions in the US, have been under the cloud of a fading housing market for the past six weeks, but investors believed yesterday they could contain any economic fallout from rising arrears among lower-income homeowners.

The Dow's rebound took it above the previous all-time high, set on 20 February, of 12,786.64. By last week, it had clawed back all of the ground lost during the bout of stock market turmoil in the last days of February and early March, when fears of recession in the US and overheating equity prices in Asia sent shares into a dive. The Dow lost more than 400 points on 27 February, its worst fall since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Hernandez leaves game with tightness in pitching arm (Associated Press, 4/19/07)

Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez left Wednesday night's start against Minnesota with tightness in his right pitching elbow after he got just one out and allowed his first two runs of the season.

The Mariners announced the 21-year-old phenom left "for precautionary reasons" and would be reevaluated tomorrow.

George oughtn't let Joe Torre do the same to Phil Hughes.

April 18, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 PM


Bush's court delivers US abortion ban (Andrew Gumbel, 19 April 2007, Independent uk)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 PM


Democrats Wary Of Tightening Laws: Split With Party Conservatives Feared (Jonathan Weisman and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, 4/18/07, Washington Post)

The largest mass shooting in U.S. history forced reluctant Democratic leaders in Congress yesterday to confront an issue that divides their party and holds considerable political peril: gun control. [...]

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) boasts of a favorable rating from the National Rifle Association, which lobbies against gun control, and House Democratic leaders are in no rush to jeopardize conservative freshmen elected from Republican-leaning districts in Indiana, North Carolina and Kansas.

If Democrats didn't sell their soul for those seats, they at least hocked it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


Robert Dallek on Nixon and Kissinger (Scott Shane, April 18, 2007, NY Times)

Robert Dallek sat in the National Archives day after day, mining the 20,000 pages of Henry Kissinger's telephone transcripts for historical gold. And every so often, amid the blur of bureaucratic tedium, a little nugget would glitter. One was the Nixon-Kissinger phone call reacting to news of the 1973 coup in Chile that overthrew Salvador Allende, whose Socialist government they had worked covertly to undermine through the CIA.

Kissinger grumbled to the president that American newspapers, "instead of celebrating," were "bleeding because a pro-Communist government has been overthrown."

"Isn't that something?" Nixon remarked.

"In the Eisenhower period, we would be heroes," Kissinger said.

"Well, we didn't - as you know - our hand doesn't show on this one," the president said.

This brilliant, devious duo is glimpsed in a moment of gloating camaraderie, even as Watergate was bringing the presidency down around them. History, Dallek said, resides in such details.

You pretty much have to be an intellectual to think thatv the quirks of two men have any historical significance whatsoever when compared to the liberation of a key ally from the nightmare of Communism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


In a Major Step, Saudi Arabia Agrees to Write Off 80 Percent of Iraqi Debt (Steven Mufson and Robin Wright, 4/18/07, Washington Post)

Saudi Arabia has agreed to forgive 80 percent of the more than $15 billion that Iraq owes the kingdom, Iraqi and Saudi officials said yesterday, a major step given Saudi reluctance to provide financial assistance to the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

But Iraqi Finance Minister Bayan Jabr said in an interview that Russia was holding out on debt forgiveness until talks begin on concessions that Russian oil and gas companies had under Saddam Hussein. Russian Embassy officials in Washington declined to comment late yesterday. [...]

The Bush administration wants to make debt restructuring for Iraq a centerpiece of an "international compact" at a meeting of Iraq's neighbors and international aid organizations to be held May 3 and 4 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, diplomatic sources said. So far 52 countries, including the Paris Club of creditor nations, have canceled between 80 percent and 100 percent of Iraq's debts, Jabr said.

it's odious debt--we should just cancel it for the Russians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


The American Conservative Crackup: Why I quit Pat Buchanan’s magazine (Alexander Konetzki, May 2007, Washington Monthly)

At this point, I should mention that I’m a progressive. I didn’t even know TAC existed until a former colleague encouraged me to apply for an assistant editor position at the magazine last November, suggesting that it might be a good first step toward a career in journalism.

This wasn’t as ludicrous a suggestion as it might sound; TAC is like no other publication in the conservative universe. To provide a right-wing counterweight to the neoconservative voices dominating U.S. foreign policy after 9/11, the magazine was founded in 2002 by leading paleoconservative Pat Buchanan, former New York Post editorial page editor Scott McConnell, and the notorious Taki Theodoracopulos, a high-society columnist for London’s Spectator and heir to a large Greek shipping fortune.(In late March, millionaire California software developer and pro-immigration activist Ron Unz took over as publisher.) From its inaugural issue, dated October 7, 2002, it established itself as the only conservative publication to oppose the Iraq War. “What magazine published the most scathing attacks on President Bush and his Iraq invasion?” asked the Washington Post’s Peter Carlson in 2004. “If you guessed the ‘Nation’ or ‘Mother Jones’ or the ‘Progressive,’ you may be right ... But the correct answer just might be the ‘American Conservative.’”

This opposition to messianism in U.S. foreign policy, I discovered, was just one of many political views espoused by the magazine that most people would never associate with the contemporary right. Over the past few years, TAC has decried the growing American wealth gap, the Bush administration’s consolidation of power in the executive branch, and even the mistreatment of animals on America’s factory farms. Bush, Cheney, the Republican Congress, the Fox News Channel—these are not true conservatives, TAC’s editors were saying. We are.

An unlikely trio of editors, of which I was one, put the magazine together every two weeks in a small, drab Rosslyn office.We made an unlikely editorial team. TAC’s editor, Scott McConnell, is an heir to the Avon fortune whose stepfather played Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove. He has veto power over just about every aspect of the editorial process, but seldom wields it, preferring to spend most days browsing newspapers and the blogs of the American Prospect’s Matthew Yglesias and the New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons. Scott is involved in the production cycle mostly by brainstorming feature pieces and writing short, snarky news items. He is skeptical of government, but also of religion. He advocates reduced immigration, but thinks aggressive environmental regulation to curb global warming might be a good idea. Each one of his conservative views seems to be countered by a liberal one. In fact, he strongly endorsed John Kerry in 2004 and may yet support Barack Obama if he faces a hawkish Republican in 2008.

Mr. Konetzki misses his own point. Scott McConnell too is a progressive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


Court Abortion Verdict Raises Religion Question (Richard Allen Greene, April 18, 2007, Politico)

The decision was also notable for the way the nine justices split on the question -- 5-4, with the Court's five Catholic justices forming the majority.

Never before has the court had five Catholic justices, and their joining together in a decision to limit abortion, of all hot-button issues, is likely to spark discussion about the role of religion in forming social policy.

The Left's support for immigration can not withstand its realization that we're importing the religious.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:37 PM


Guns and Abortion: How the right keeps winning on both (Jacob Weisberg, April 18, 2007, Slate)

What explains the success of Republicans in regulating abortion, where only a slender majority of the country agrees with them, while preventing the regulation of guns, where a much larger majority disagrees? Of course, pro-gun activists have the largest possible advantage in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms (and never mind the part about "well regulated"). Roe v. Wade discovered a constitutional right to abortion in the emanations from penumbras, but it has the political disadvantage of being neither explicit nor persuasive.

Only his general unfunniness indicates to the reader that he's not engaged in satire there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Chimps More Evolved Than Humans? (Larry O'Hanlon, 4/16/07, Discovery News)

A comparison of human and chimpanzee genes has revealed a startling possibility: chimps may have evolved more than humans in the 6 or 7 million years since both diverged from a common ancestor.

A study comparing human and chimp genes that appear to have evolved since we parted ways shows that humans have about 154 such genes and our nearest primate relative a whopping 233.

This implies that chimps have undergone more evolutionary changes than humans over the same period of time. [...]

The "bottom line is that this study underlines the risks of making generalizations about human evolution," said Ajit Varki, a professor of cellular and molecular medicine at the University of California at San Diego.

"Humans only emerged once, after many complex stages of hominid evolution, and there is no reason to assume that the most logical explanations (for our evolution) will actually turn out to be right," he added. "And the final answers are likely to be far more complex than we currently think they are."

Because the designers think they're funny that way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Breaux No-Go Leaves La. Democrats in Bind (Chris Cillizza, April 18, 2007, Washington Post)

Former senator John Breaux's decision not to run for governor in November left Louisiana Democrats scrambling for a strong candidate for the seat being vacated by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). [...]

On Monday, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu -- one of the most often mentioned Democratic replacements -- said he will run for reelection to his current post, removing himself from consideration. [...]

Rep. Bobby Jindal (R), who narrowly lost to Blanco in 2003, is viewed as the race's front-runner, and he has more than $5 million in reserve for the race.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Fool Me Twice: Iraq isn't the first war launched on false pretenses. (Eric Rauchway, 4/18/07, New Republic)

Suppose--hypothetically--that upon being attacked by a set of dangerous, swarthy foreigners who want to take over the world, the United States retaliated against a completely different set of dangerous, swarthy foreigners and found itself stuck in a dirty war with no exit and endlessly ramifying bad consequences as far as anyone could foresee. You might think we're talking tediously about Iraq again, but we're not: It's something we've done before. Then, as now, American leaders systematically misled the American people to justify the misdirected intervention: But as Ann Hagedorn notes in her new, smart, and well-told Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919, the people, the press, and their prejudices had to help, too.

Early in 1917, the German military took their last gamble of World War I. Believing that their U-boats could sink American supply ships fast enough to choke the Allies into suing for peace before the antagonized United States could mobilize for war, they set their submarines to attack U.S. ships. In mid-March they sank three merchantmen, and in early April President Woodrow Wilson got a congressional declaration of war. Within a year the U.S. Army, before the war a negligible force of around 100,000 men, swelled into a force of more than a million that, almost by its mere appearance in France, sealed the fate of the Central Powers.

But he American response to the German threat went awry in response to Russia, which had fought with the Allies against the Central Powers, but signed a separate peace with Germany after the Bolshevik Revolution in the autumn of 1917. A few months later, a coalition of allies willing to change the Bolshevik regime invaded Russia. Around 15,000 U.S. soldiers went along.

The expedition didn't lack justifications--if anything, it had too many.

The funny thing is, from the first few sentences you'd assume he was talking about WWII.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Cuban Rice and Vegetables (NewsOK, 4/18/07)

1 (10.5 oz) can vegetarian vegetable soup
½ cup salsa, any heat level
½ cup canned corn, drained (no added salt)
½ cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 ½ cups uncooked long-grain rice


Heat the soup + 1 can water, the salsa, corn, and black beans to a boil in a large covered saucepan. Stir in the rice, return to a boil, stir again, reduce to medium-low heat and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


Blackberry Spinach Salad (Walter Husbands, NewsOK)

4 cups baby spinach

2 cups fresh blackberries

2 ounces crumbled feta cheese

3 ounces grape tomatoes, halved

½ small red onion, sliced

3 tablespoons chopped walnuts

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Ground black pepper

Clean and rinse the spinach and blackberries. Place the spinach, blackberries, feta cheese, tomatoes, onion and walnuts in a large salad bowl and toss to coat.

Blend together the vinegar, sugar and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle the salad with the balsamic vinegar mixture and season with black pepper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:11 PM


THE BOYS OF SUMMER: Who will rule NY this baseball season? (C.J. SULLIVAN & DAVE HOLLANDER, 4/18/07, NY Press)

SULLIVAN: I am going with the Mets owning NYC in 2007. They look so damn good playing baseball, and they look like they are having fun doing it. Watching Jose Reyes hit a triple and running the bases is seeing joy come to life. The Mets are now New York’s team. The city just doesn’t know it yet.

Across town, the chickens have come home to roost for the Yankees. Spoiled Yankee fans boo A-Rod even though he hits and hits for them. A-Rod is treated like some no-hit busher. The man is about to become the youngest player ever to reach 500 home runs and still Yankee fans hate him. They are like Prince’s mother: never satisfied. The fans in the Bronx lack class and patience.

The spoils of a fat and rich empire weigh down the Yankees. It has happened to them before and it is happening again. The whole world is against them. Steinbrenner is in his last days and the 4 train is about to go off the track. Jeter, Torre and the rest should get it while the getting is good. It’s about to get real ugly in the Bronx.

The Mets are on the ascent. They have it all, and they do it with a mix of youth and age—which is just beautiful to watch. New York’s Latin population is fast getting behind Los Mets, and it looks like the 7 train is the place to be this year.

Prediction: Mets make it to the World Series; Yankees don’t even make it to the playoffs. I never thought I would be writing that in 2007.

HOLLANDER: The Yankees are a bunch of nappy-headed hos! There, I said it.

...there's nothing quite like talking baseball with the Pinestripe patrol....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:51 PM


Former GOP congressman says he's becoming a Democrat (The Associated Press, 04/16/2007)

Maverick former GOP Rep. Pete McCloskey, who represented Northern California in Congress from 1967 to 1982 and ran unsuccessfully again last year, has announced that he's switching party registration and becoming a Democrat. [...]

"I finally concluded that it was a fraud for me to remain a member of this modern Republican Party," wrote McCloskey, who farms with his wife Helen in Yolo County.

Considering that Ronald Reagan created the modern Republican Party, it took long enough for Mr. McCloskey to end his fraud.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Ségolène Royal's new message: Vote for me because I am a woman (Elaine Sciolino, April 18, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

At an outdoor rally just days before the French are to cast their ballots for president, Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate, came with a special message.

"I want to address myself to the women," Royal declared in the town of Achicourt in northern France on Sunday. "I need the women's vote." [...]

While Royal's plea is revolutionary, it could backfire. The wooing of women voters as women is alien to republican France, where all citizens - and voters - are supposed to be treated as equals and where gender, race, ethnicity and religion are supposed to be ignored.

One assumes that Segolene is French for "don't take me seriously."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:24 PM


Rod Paige Warns of a 'Death Grip' by Unions (IRA STOLL, April 18, 2007, NY Sun)

President Bush's first-term education secretary, Rod Paige, is sitting in his office on the 75th floor of the Empire State Building, the leather of his black cowboy boots creaking beneath the cuffs of his pinstriped suit, and talking about the "death grip," the "stranglehold," that teachers' unions have on public education in America.

His new book is titled "The War Against Hope: How Teachers' Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education." The unions, he writes, are "arrogant" and "destructive." They defend incompetent teachers and oppose merit pay for teachers who excel. "No special interest is more destructive than the teachers' unions, as they oppose nearly every meaningful reform," he writes.

...for Republicans, public education ought to educate children. For Democrats it's a job program.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


Big Foot, Unicorns, and Pro-Trade Democrats: Are they fantasies after all? (Daniel Ikenson, 4/18/07, National Review)

Since last November’s elections, Democratic leaders have been asserting that, despite the hostile rhetoric of their rank and file, they view trade openness and engagement as indispensable to U.S. economic and security objectives. That with some accommodation of Democratic priorities on labor and environmental issues, the administration and Congress can work together to advance a bipartisan trade agenda.

The credibility of those assertions is about to be tested. The recently concluded but yet-to-be ratified U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement will reveal whether the Democratic congressional leadership can be trusted to continue the time-tested tradition of promoting economic growth through liberalized trade.

South Korea is one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. exports, the seventh-largest U.S. trade partner, and the world’s tenth-largest economy. Its citizens enjoy a per-capita income of $24,000, placing them among the world’s richest. A free-trade agreement would increase U.S. national income by an estimated $17 billion to $43 billion per year.

But already opposition is building among Democrats, despite the fact that labor and the environment are virtual non-issues. And it’s not just the boisterous rank and file agitating. The leadership is more than complicit here.

Of course, the far Right brought a lot of this on by its hysteria over steel tariffs on the one hand and the Dubai ports deal on the other.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Howard can make history with Indian alliance: The Prime Minister has good reasons to cement an important new strategic and economic relationship with the world's largest democracy (Greg Sheridan, April 19, 2007, The Australian)

THE proposed four-way strategic dialogue involving the US, Japan, India and Australia, which caused such a furore when it was first revealed in The Australian while John Howard was in Tokyo, is set to go ahead after all.
It is just one of a series of moves the Howard Government might make that, taken together, could provide an inestimably beneficial strategic transformation in the Australia-India relationship.

India is as big a challenge and opportunity for Australia as China has recently been, and as Japan has been for the past 50 years. India's economy is just about growing as fast as China's, but its demographic profile is conducive to its growing fast for much longer than China, because its population is so much younger.

Anyone who loves freedom has a stake in the success of the Indian development model: to show that a giant, poor country can achieve economic development and poverty reduction while remaining a liberal, secular democracy. India's credentials in all this are impeccable. Though an overwhelmingly Hindu country, India has a Sikh Prime Minister and a Muslim President; you can't do much better than that.

One thing the Indian relationship has lacked in Australian politics is a single-minded champion at the most senior level.

Fortunately, they've found that leader in W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Economist of the Empire: a review of Prophet of Innovation by Thomas McCraw (ANGUS BURGIN, April 18, 2007, NY Sun)

Those who write about Schumpeter rarely resist the temptation to compare his abundant charisma — both intellectual and interpersonal — to the force of a rushing wind, but it remains a challenge to write a narrative worthy of the metaphor. Mr. McCraw's prose successfully captures the heroic energy of his subject's life and thought. He does so by embracing, rather than attempting to tame or conceal, the relentlessly paradoxical quality of Schumpeter's ideas.

Like his contemporary Frank Knight at the University of Chicago, the other great center of American economic thought in the decades following World War I, Schumpeter abhorred the dogmatism of economic "schools" and the corresponding pretension that simple solutions could be found for the economic problems of the modern world. His thought, like his life, remained suspended between apparently contradictory poles.

Schumpeter championed the innovation, productivity, and material abundance engendered by capitalist economies, but remained deeply pessimistic about the instability, moral skepticism, and insatiable desires they inspired. He extolled the roughedged entrepreneur who generated new ideas and applied unyielding energy in the pursuit of their adoption, while at the same time admiring (and imitating) the aristocratic mien and noble disinterest of the disappearing European elite. Schumpeter's students recall that he would take over an hour to assemble his exquisitely tailored outfits each morning before his lectures on the benefits of capitalism's creative destruction. He admired the modern world's spectacular pace of change even as he mourned the very qualities these changes destroyed.

Perhaps John Kenneth Galbraith had this paradox in mind when he called Schumpeter "the most sophisticated conservative of this century." Schumpeter harnessed the two central concepts of modern conservatism — embracement of the dynamic change enabled by the free market economy, and suspicion of its cultural effects — in a social analysis that did not disguise or pervert its ironical nature. That he did so while transcending a range of disciplines with a mix of massive erudition and academic daring makes his achievement all the more striking, and inimitable, today.

That ambivalence about markets is vital to conservatism and why Adam Smith tried, unsuccessfully, to come up with a rational ground for morality to undergird capitalism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:24 AM


The Sources of George Kennan's Conduct: a review of George Kennan: A Study of Character by John Lukacs (CARL ROLLYSON, April 18, 2007, NY Sun)

Profound respect for Kennan the man and the writer is writ large on every page of this crystalline book, which is a kind of throwback to the 18th century, when the term "character" meant a good deal more than it does today. Life may be unpredictable and ever changing, but character "changes hardly or not at all," Mr. Lukacs asserts. "And by ‘character' I mean his conscious decisions, choices, acts and words, but nothing of his — socalled — subconscious; that is, no attribution of psychoanalytic categories, no ham-handed projections or propositions of secret or hidden motives."

Mr. Kennan's character consisted of certain lifelong principles: Liberal democracies should be viewed with as much concern as dictatorships; the major defining event of the 20th century was World War I, not the Russian Revolution; diplomacy is nearly always a better course of action than intervening in the internal affairs of other nations.

What were the practical consequences of Mr. Kennan's principles? He objected, for example, to much of what passed for American anti-Communism because it was hysterical and ignorant. Stalin should be viewed as a Russian tyrant who had certain national goals, not as an international revolutionary who wanted to take over the world. When Kennan argued that Soviet communism had to be contained, he viewed the USSR as pursuing tsarist goals: dominating Eastern and Central Europe. In the long run — as Kennan predicted as early as the 1940s — the Soviets would not be able to hold onto Eastern Europe, let alone the rest of the world. So much of the American anti-communist talk was puerile, he concluded, especially when coupled with "national self-adulation."

He pretty much understood their weakness but underestimated our strength. The result was containment/Cold War, the worst of the three options available.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


To much of the Muslim world, American culture is the culprit (Bruce Ramsey, 4/18/07, Seattle Times)

"Most Muslims did not view it as a torture story at all," writes Dinesh D'Souza in his book, "The Enemy at Home." To the Muslims, Abu Ghraib was a story of sexual perversion. D'Souza quotes a Muslim businessman in Turkey: "What the female American soldier in uniform did to the Arab man, strip him of his manhood and pull him on a leash, this is what America wants to do to the Muslim world."

Before we say: Nonsense! — we might consider D'Souza's argument. His book makes other claims I set aside, but on the 9/11 question — Why do they hate us? — he argues plausibly that their objection is our spreading of an immoral culture.

We like American culture. We may criticize it, but it is ours and we resent it when others pick at it. When we see that much of the world is drawn to our ways, we think it's good. There is a thought, often not expressed, of an American world — which, as you might expect, may be unwelcome. And because America by global standards has a liberal culture, the strongest resistance is from the world's conservatives. Particularly the Muslims.

There's a failure here to differentiate the culture from the mass media. Those who believe in the culture are just as offended, though sadly not as resistant.

April 17, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 PM


Beyond the Veil (Dalia Mogahed, Zsolt Nyiri, April 2007, Foreign Policy)

When four British-born Muslims blew themselves up on the London transit system on July 7, 2005, many Britons were convinced that their country’s model of assimilation had failed. The attacks, coupled with a war on terror that seems to reveal an ever-widening gulf between Islam and the West, sparked talk of a crisis of integration, seen most clearly in the acute alienation of the country’s Muslim youth.

But for all the talk of crisis, a new Gallup World Poll finds that more binds the British majority with its religious minority than not. The greatest challenge of all may be in moving beyond minor, symbolic controversies in order to pave a path toward a shared future. [...]

[O]ur poll found that Muslims and the public have remarkably similar views on what it means to integrate. The importance of mastering English, finding a job, getting a better education, and participating in politics are values agreed upon by Muslims and the public alike. Perhaps even more surprising: A majority in each group also agrees that reducing the fervor of one’s religious practice isn’t necessary to blend in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 PM


Sliming Wolfowitz: The World Bank president did nothing wrong. (Christopher Hitchens, April 17, 2007, Slate)

"We know no spectacle so ridiculous," wrote Macaulay about the vilification of Lord Byron, "as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality." Change the word "ridiculous" to "contemptible," and the words "British public" to "American press," and you have some sense of the eagerness for prurience, the readiness for slander, and the utter want of fact-checking that have characterized Paul Wolfowitz and Shaha Riza as if they were not only the equivalent of Byron seducing his half-sister, but as if they were financing their shameless lasciviousness out of the public purse and the begging bowls of the wretched of the earth.

I ought probably to say at once that I know both Wolfowitz and Riza slightly, and have known the latter for a number of years. Anyone in Washington who cares about democracy in the Muslim world is familiar with her work, at various institutions, in supporting civil-society activists in the Palestinian territories, in Iran, in the Gulf, and elsewhere. The relationship between the two of them is none of my damn business (or yours), but it has always been very discreet, even at times when Wolfowitz, regularly caricatured as a slave of the Israeli lobby, might perhaps have benefited from a strategic leak about his Arab and Muslim companion.

It is scarcely Riza's fault that she was working in a senior position at the World Bank when Wolfowitz was gazetted as its president. And quite frankly, if I were he, or indeed she, I would have challenged anyone to make anything of it. Of very few other people working there could it so obviously be said that she held her post as of right, and on merit. But we all think we know about "the appearance of a conflict of interest," and so I would like you to read what the general counsel to the bank, Robert Danino, wrote to Wolfowitz's lawyers on May 27, 2005.

Like Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Wolfowitz's sin is not anything he did, but that he's become a target of Bush Derangement Syndrome. One hopes both will refuse to quit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 PM


Simply Lewis: Reflections on a Master Apologist After 60 Years (N. T. Wright, march 2007, Toustone)

There are two constant powerful refrains throughout Mere Christianity. First, faith matters more than feelings; faithfulness to the high and hard standards of Christian behavior matters more than doing what you feel like at the time. Lewis was swimming against a strong tide of popular romantic existentialism, a tide running even more strongly in our own day.

He was not, of course, opposed to feelings; but he knew, and it comes as a relief to our generation to be reminded, that if you go with the flow of feelings you will be inconsistent, unfaithful, lacking in all integrity. To realize that we don’t have to float out to sea on that strong tide, but that we can and must swim against it, is challenging but also liberating.

Second, you can understand falsehood from the standpoint of truth but not the other way around, just as someone who knows light can understand darkness but not vice versa: Thus you can understand sexual perversion once you know the norm; “good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either”; “virtue brings light; indulgence brings fog.” (Incidentally, I don’t know whether it’s Lewis or his republishers, but I am puzzled that such a great writer should have been so indiscriminate and seemingly muddled with his use of the colon and semi-colon.)

So to the four different sections of the book. I rate the third (“Christian Behaviour”) as the finest; the first and last (“Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe” with its moral argument for God, and “Beyond Personality,” the closing pieces on the Trinity and on regeneration) as fascinating though in some ways problematic; and the second (“What Christians Believe”) as, worryingly, the most deeply flawed. [...]

The third part of the book, titled “Christian Behaviour,” is the most professional, and there is a reason for that. As well as teaching English literature, Lewis had at one stage taught philosophy. He knew his way round the classic discussions of the virtues and vices and how they operate. He also submitted himself to regular, serious spiritual direction, and as well as knowing the intellectual framework of behavior, both classical and Christian, he was deeply alert to the nuances of motivation and action, able to articulate moods and behavior patterns that for most people, in his day and ours, remain a mystery.

I suspect that one of the great appeals of his book, then and now, is that it gives one a grammar of everyday morality, enabling one to understand and speak a highly useful and indeed mellifluous language most of us didn’t know existed. Some of his moral discussions are small classics.

He is superb on generosity. He sticks a small but sharp pin into the system of usury on which the entire modern world is based. He is fascinating and fresh on sex (though of course even more deeply unfashionable today than then); and his reflections on marriage, despite his bachelor disclaimers, are worth pondering deeply (especially his final comments about it being important for the man to be in charge of what he calls the couple’s “foreign policy”).

He is clear and challenging on forgiveness, spot on in his analysis of pride and its centrality, and shrewd and helpful on the fact that charity is not an emotion but a determination to act in a particular way, and that to our surprise we find that when, without any feeling of love towards someone, we act as if we loved them, we discover that the feelings bubble up unbidden, so that we end by feeling in reality what before we had merely determined to do.

At this point, of course, we come up against Lewis’s implied soteriology, and I suspect that others have challenged him on this point. Several times he insists, effectively, on the priority of grace: We can’t save ourselves, but God does it, takes the initiative, rescues those who couldn’t rescue themselves. But equally often he speaks as though it’s really a matter, as with Aristotle, of our becoming good by gradually learning to do good things, and with Jesus coming alongside, and indeed inside, to help us as we do so. Salvation, and behavior, are caught by infection, by our being in Christ and his being in us.

I suspect that Lewis never really worked all this out; and I suspect, too, that the outsider looking in doesn’t need to, either. I know that’s heresy in some circles, but I think it’s important that we are justified by faith: not by believing in justification by faith, but by believing in Jesus Christ. Obviously a clear understanding of justification would help a great deal, but I don’t myself regard that as the first thing to explain to a potential convert. Sufficient to draw them to Jesus.

-AUDIO LECTURE: Mere Christianity (Peter Kreeft, Third Presbyterian Church - 3/25/04)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


Run, Fred, Run (Cal Thomas, 4/17/07, Real Clear Politics)

I have no idea whether Fred Thompson, former senator from Tennessee, will run for the Republican nomination for president, but he should.

He has Ronald Reagan's communication skills and speaks plainly in ways most people can understand. Anyone who has listened to him substitute for Paul Harvey on ABC News Radio senses that, in this, he follows in Reagan's footsteps. Radio is an intimate medium. People who are able to connect with a radio audience often can connect on TV and in person. Thompson, the actor, plays other people. On radio and in news interviews, he "plays" himself.

Thompson conveys Middle American, common sense values. When he is asked a question, he doesn't sound as if he's giving a poll-tested pabulum answer. Agree or not, his statements spring from conviction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


A dose of democracy for Pakistan (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 4/17/07, Asia Times)

Al-Qaeda's resurgence and its new modus operandi through home-grown militant groups in the Muslim world has gone a long way toward prompting Washington to revise its approach to the "war on terror". In this, the promotion of democracy and social reform plays a significant part in confronting al-Qaeda.

This is especially true in frontline "war on terror" states such as Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are ruled by virtual dictatorships.

Washington has engaged in backchannel diplomacy with these countries in an attempt to promote more representative government, but in the case of Saudi Arabia with limited success. For instance, this year several advocates of a constitutional monarchy have been arrested by the General Intelligence Services (al-Mahabith al-Amma). These include prominent lawyers and academics.

With regard to Pakistan, month-long mediation by the US has resulted in former prime minister Benazir Bhutto apparently agreeing to share power with President General Pervez Musharraf before or after presidential elections this year. This was done last Friday in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the residence of a Pakistani tycoon and in the presence of a US State Department official.

Secularists probably can't win and govern democratically, but they do have greater incentive to kill Islamicists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Round One: The battle for France (Jane Kramer April 23, 2007, The New Yorker)

Late one night toward the end of March, after a day spent listening to too many Frenchmen talk politics, I called room service at my Paris hotel, hoping for a sandwich. “We have ham and Emmental, on toast,” the waiter on the phone told me. “Good,” I said, “and could you grill the sandwich?” “No, Madame. The menu says ham and cheese; if we grill the sandwich, that would be more like a croque-monsieur.” “Agreed,” I said. “Make it more like a croque-monsieur.” “Alas,” he said, “that is not possible. A ham-and-cheese sandwich is never grilled, only when the menu says ‘croque-monsieur,’ and it does not say ‘croque-monsieur.’ ” It occurred to me then that I was lost in a very French conversation, and never mind that the waiter came from Senegal. He was French now, and our conversation was no different, really, from the ones I’d been having all day with those stock characters from the country’s ongoing campaign commedia—the pundits, the philosophes, and the pols.

The French are often accused of being trapped in their Cartesian categories. A cold sandwich cannot morph into a hot sandwich without considerable mental accommodation on the part of the person putting it together. In politics, the left cannot creep toward the center, let alone the right, without a deep, if not intolerable, sense of ideological betrayal. The right rarely even considers the possibility of creeping. Change, on the right, is more a matter of cosmetic surgery. For most of the French, the “center”—call it a third way or Clinton’s way or Blair’s way or simply a free-market, social-democratic consensus—has been a contradiction in terms, perhaps because they remain so deeply devoted to the protective and protectionist state, l’État protecteur, that both the left and the right have helped create. The state has been reified, even deified; it carries the imprimatur of a historic compromise with reality.

Because Rationalism requires that one not accept reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Classic monkey business (BOB BROCKIE, 4/17/07, Stuff)

They say that given a hundred typewriters and enough time, a hundred monkeys will write Shakespeare's complete works.

To test this idea, a team at the University of Plymouth, England, got a (PndStlg)2000 grant from the British Arts Council, shut six Sulawesi crested macaque monkeys with a computer keyboard in an enclosure at a Devon zoo for a month, and filmed what happened.

The alpha male bashed hell out of the computer with a stone and the other monkeys did little else but urinate and defecate on the keyboard. Nevertheless, the monkeys did produce the equivalent of five pages of type with a predilection for the letter S. One researcher said that proved the monkeys were not hitting the keyboard at random, so were part of the way towards literacy. Defending the expenditure, a lecturer said the filmed experiment made very stimulating and fascinating viewing and was cheaper to produce than reality TV, but there was no sign of Shakespeare.

No one truly believes in infinity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Rudy Giuliani: Lifelong Liberal (George J. Marlin, April 16, 2007 , Politico)

Some Republicans and conservatives are now claiming that Rudy has changed and really become more conservative, and they cite as an example his abandonment of his former vehement opposition to school vouchers. But when Rudy Crew, former New York City Public Schools chancellor, asked Giuliani about this policy shift, the mayor said, "Don't worry about it. It's just a political thing, a campaign thing. I'm not going to do anything. Don't take it seriously." This particular rightward shift was simply a ploy to enhance Giuliani's 2000 U.S. Senate candidacy.

Contrary to what we've been hearing and reading, Rudy Giuliani is today what he has always been: a liberal. Conservatives should take stories of his Damascus Road-like conversion with a grain of salt. Rudy, like Hillary, is campaigning for the presidency in order to implement lifelong leftist beliefs.

Fortunately, he's so undisciplined and condescending that he can't keep his contempt for conservatism hidden. His accidental honesty is deadly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM

On Tuesday April 17th from 12pm until 8pm participating Ben & Jerry’s scoop shops around the world will be hosting Ben & Jerry’s Annual Free Cone Day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


Muqtada and Maliki as united as ever (Sami Moubayed, 4/17/07, Asia Times)

Significantly, though, Muqtada did not withdraw his 30 deputies from the 275-seat Parliament. Had he done that, it would automatically have brought down not only the Maliki cabinet but the entire Iran-backed United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) that heads Parliament and in which the Sadrists are a leading group.

Muqtada and Maliki apparently want the world to believe that they are no longer friends. They have not become enemies, however; at least not yet.

One of Maliki's advisors downplayed Muqtada's decision, saying that Muqtada was only practicing his "democratic right". She added, in what might explain why this break is not permanent, "Despite the difference in our views [with the Sadrists], our national vision is the same - only the methods of achieving it are different. We need to have real opposition from outside the government. This is a great beginning. The prime minister needs real opposition that can act as a watchdog inside Parliament."

What's on display is the wisdom of our spiriting Mookie to Iran. This way he's untainted by the Surge and a return to a more active anti-Sunni militia a viable option as it fails.

April 16, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


Back to the Drawing Board: Those mesmerizing new UPS ads (Seth Stevenson, 4/16/07, Slate)

These ads are mesmerizing. It's partly all that white space. (An old advertising trick. Think of those full-page newspaper ads that luxuriate in acres of blank newsprint. Or recall the seamless, white-background look of Apple's "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" campaign.) There's also something gripping in observing the skill of this dry-erase wizard who can transform, with a few effortless marker strokes, a small UPS van into a giant 18-wheeler complete with mudflaps.

But more than the eye-catching set design or those killer whiteboard chops, I think it's the power of narrative that holds us entranced.

The Wife and I saw one of them and were bewildered that some suit had approved them. To begin with, the guy looks like he ought to selling gelatto outside a stadium where cops are clubbing soccer fans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Presidential races tighten on both sides (CNN, 4/16/07)

Sen. John McCain has slashed Rudy Giuliani's double-digit lead by 10 points, but the GOP picture gets muddier if former Sen. Fred Thompson or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich enters the race, according to a CNN poll gauging the popularity of 2008 presidential hopefuls.

Giuliani, the former New York mayor, had a healthy 16-point lead over the Arizona senator last month, but that has dwindled to six points -- that is, if either Thompson or Gingrich enters the race.

Should they both toss their hats in the ring, Giuliani's lead over McCain drops to three points, 27 percent to 24 percent.

The Mayor has basically partial-birth abortioned his own candidacy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


France ‘was seconds’ from downing Israeli jet (First Post, 4/16/07)

France and Israel are on a collision course in south Lebanon following incidents involving Israeli warplanes over- flying the positions of the French military contingent serving with the UN peacekeeping force there.

In the most serious confrontation, French troops were said by sources in Paris to have been "just two seconds" from launching an anti- aircraft missile at two Israeli F-15 fighters carrying out mock low-level attack runs over one outpost.

As this was happening, a pair of Israeli reconnaissance aircraft circled over the headquarters of the French battalion in the Jabal Maroun area, possibly taking aerial photographs there.

...on how long it takes Israel to annihilate France? An hour?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:43 PM


Swedish chickens challenge Darwin (The Local, 16th April 2007)

Darwin's theory of evolution has been dealt a stinging blow by a group of Swedish-Norwegian researchers. The group, led by Professor Per Jensen from Linköping University, has launched a challenge to Darwin's notion that behaviour cannot be inherited.

In a study published by scientific journal PLoS ONE, the group found that the young of domestic hens exposed to high levels of stress displayed similar behavioral anomalies despite growing up in a stress free environment.

Furthermore, genetic modifications in the young chickens' brains were similar to those developed by their parents as a result of stress.

Per Jensen is keen to stress that the results do not mean that Darwin was wrong.

Of course that doesn't make him wrong, Darwin died a Lamarckian. It is just more evidence that Darwinism is wrong, making the score Googleplex to 0.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


'Crazed Hare' Attacks Austrian Couple (Der Spiegel, 4/16/07)

Traditionally, rabbits and hares are better known as lovers, not fighters. On Monday, however, a hare in Linz, Austria broke the mold, attacking an elderly woman and her husband, not to mention the police officers who were called to the scene.

In a scene eerily reminiscent of the attack of the "most foul, cruel, and bad tempered" rabbit in the cult movie "Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail," the Linz hare assaulted a 74-year-old woman who was hanging laundry in her garden early Monday morning. The animal, described as a "crazed hare" in a statement by Linz police department, bit the woman's foot, causing her to fall.

The unidentified woman, still under attack by the rampant hare, was eventually able to escape into her home, where her husband called the police before going outside to attempt to shoo the bunny away.

When police arrived on the scene, they found the 78-year-old man fighting the hare off with a stick -- and losing. Police asked the man to go inside. When the hare refused to give up the fight, the police were forced to shoot and kill the animal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


Sweden's right tempers its love for the EU: The Swedish centre-right has traditionally looked positively on the EU as a champion of the free market. But now an increasing volume of regulation from Brussels has led some to take a more critical approach (Nima Sanandaji, 4/16/07, The Local)

Ever since Sweden started debate whether to enter the European Union, the Swedish centre-right has taken a very positive stance towards the EU.

But as an opinion article recently printed in Expressen shows, the younger generation of centre-right thinkers and activists are less ideological and more pragmatic when it comes to scrutinizing EU policies.

The European Union was initially focused on creating free movement of people, goods and services between the member states. The entry of the eastern European member states into the union brought on important and successful free-market reforms.

The notion of EU as a free-market oriented project has coloured the view of earlier generations of centre-right politicians. In fact, one of the main reasons for Swedish centre-right parties' support for EU membership was the hope that harmonization of policies within the union would nudge Sweden towards the middle grounds of European politics, leading to lower taxes and a reduction in the size of the state.

But EU policies have changed as time has passed. The regulatory burden has increased and created administrative costs for European companies that amount to hundreds of billions of euros annually. The union has increasingly been associated with failing farm subsidies and bureaucracy. At the same time politicians are stressing that the union ought to increase its powers of regulation, implement union-wide social policies and collect taxes.

The changing reality of EU politics has started to make an impression on a new generation of free-market supporters, and as a consequence hard core ideological supporters of the union are no longer as common.

Other than freer trade it offers nothing--and it's not necessary for freer trade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


Breaux's exit leaves the Democrats with questions (Doug Simpson, 4/15/07, The Associated Press)

First Kathleen Blanco, now John Breaux.

Two big names in Democratic politics have flirted with — then declined to enter — the Louisiana gubernatorial race. Blanco, the incumbent, bowed out last month. Breaux stepped aside Friday, before his campaign ever got started. [...]

Republican U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal holds big leads in early polls. His campaign said the Kenner Republican has raised more than $5 million.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Shock versus comedic value on 'Martin Lawrence Presents' (PAUL BROWNFIELD, 4/16/07, LA Times)

THERE'S an episode of "Seinfeld" in which Jerry believes his dentist has converted to Judaism for the jokes. Concerned, Jerry tells the dentist's priest.

"And this offends you as a Jewish person?" the priest asks.

"No," Jerry says, "it offends me as a comedian."

The lesser offense of Don Imus' put-down of the Rutgers women's basketball team is nevertheless worth reviewing as a textbook violation of comedic rules — rules that good comics can hear like dogs sensing a whistle beyond the frequency of human ears.

"He broke two rules of comedy," Bill Maher said of Imus on HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher" Friday night. "It wasn't true, and he picked on not the powerful but the weak."

That about summed it up, though even Maher ("I appreciate you taking the time to join us," he said to satellite guest and Imus confessor Rev. Al Sharpton. "I know this is your busy season") couldn't resist digging at what he saw as hypocrisy all around.

To that end, much was being made in the gab-o-sphere last week of the double standard that had Imus publicly flayed for using the same rough street talk that permeates contemporary black entertainment culture, most notably the language of hip-hop.

But the rules of engagement when it comes to ethnic humor have always been fairly clear: If you're black, upon you is bestowed more authority to tell a joke about other blacks. Ditto if you're Jewish, Latino, Asian.

Is it really so hard to adhere to or remember this? I happen to think the double standard works and, beyond this, has a shared, cathartic value (and as a Jew, I take advantage, enjoying Jewish jokes with Jewish relatives and friends while remaining comparatively mum around outsiders).

Like Jerry with his dentist, outsiders who tell Jewish jokes in my presence run the risk of offending my comedic sensibilities as much as my Jewish identity. But Jackie Mason can make me smile.

The point being made here is one of the key clues to why liberals can't do humor anymore. Humor makes us feel superior to others, so there's really no need to target the weak. It's gratuitous. Of course, we must note the quintessentially American irony that these weaklings just got one of the most powerful men in the media fired. Which is why everyone ought to be fair game in a democracy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Where have whistlers gone? (DAN VIERRIA, 4/16/07, Sacramento Bee)

Whistling is deader than coonskin caps and drive-in theaters, especially among the young.

“You don’t hear much whistling anymore,” says Sacramento Kings owner Gavin Maloof, who mastered the two-finger whistle back in grade school.

Maloof’s celebrated courtside whistle rises above the Arco Arena din, a shock-and-awe thunderclap of shot-altering intensity. Impressive.

But whistling these days is mostly reserved for teakettles. Even locomotives don’t whistle anymore – they have horns.

So, what’s up with whistling, once the unofficial American pastime? Where’s the kid, hands stuffed in pockets, whistling his way to school?

Today, kids are more apt to hitch a ride to school, ear buds stuffed in each ear.

Our kids are sure hellbent on learning to whistle. Maybe it's a California thing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


Tax Returns Rise for Immigrants in U.S. Illegally (NINA BERNSTEIN, 4/16/07, NY Times)

With the tax deadline approaching, illegal immigrants are sending in federal returns in what appear to be record numbers despite fears heightened by recent immigration raids around the country.

The increase in filings comes amid talk of an immigration overhaul, with some proposals introduced in Congress linking amnesty to the payment of taxes. Many illegal immigrants showing up at tax preparation offices around the country say they hope that filing a return will create a paper trail that could lead to citizenship one day.

In Raleigh, N.C., a tax preparer found 350 immigrants waiting outside his office at 7 a.m., including one dragging a suitcase that held $14,000 in cash for back taxes. In Baltimore, a community agency offering free tax help that was deserted the day after 69 people were rounded up in immigration raids elsewhere in the city was crowded again within 24 hours.

And a help center in Queens did record business among illegal immigrants like Dionicio Quinde Lima, who has worked in construction strictly off the books since he arrived from Ecuador three years ago, but was eager to join the fold of United States taxpayers last week.

“I feel it’s my responsibility to pay,” said Mr. Lima, 39, clutching a $202 money order for the Internal Revenue Service. “And if it helps me get papers, fine. The most important would be a permit to travel back and forth to see my family.”

Nothing was more eye-opening as regards immigration than to see the paycheck stubs of fellow employees with SS taxes withheld, even though everyone knew they were "illegals" and there was no prospect of their ever collecting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


The nightmare Bush dreads most (Dilip Hiro, 4/17/067, Asia Times)

Though only in his early thirties and only a hojatalislam ("proof of Islam") - one rank below an ayatollah in the Shi'ite religious hierarchy - Muqtada al-Sadr has pursued a political strategy no other Iraqi politician can match.

The sources of his ever-expanding appeal are: his pedigree, his fierce nationalism, his shrewd sense of when to confront the occupying power and when to lie low and his adherence to the hierarchical order of the Shi'ite sect, topped by a grand ayatollah - at present 73-year-old Ali Sistani, whose opinion or decree must be accepted by all those below him. (For his part, Sistani does not criticize any Shi'ite leader.)

Muqtada's father, grand ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and two elder brothers were assassinated outside a mosque in Najaf in February 1999 by the henchmen of president Saddam Hussein. The grand ayatollah had defied Saddam by issuing a religious decree calling on Shi'ites to attend Friday prayers in mosques. The Iraqi dictator, paranoid about large Shi'ite gatherings, feared these would suddenly turn violently anti-regime.

Muqtada then went underground - just as he did recently in the face of the Bush administration's "surge" plan - resurfacing only after the Ba'athist regime fell in April 2003; and Saddam City, the vast slum of Baghdad, with nearly 2 million Shi'ite residents, was renamed Sadr City. As the surviving son of the martyred family of a grand ayatollah, Muqtada was lauded by most Shi'ites.

While welcoming the demise of the Ba'athist regime, Muqtada consistently opposed the continuing occupation of his country by Anglo-American forces. When L Paul Bremer, the American viceroy in Iraq, banned his magazine al-Hawza al Natiqa ("The Vocal Seminary") in April 2004 and American soldiers fired on his followers protesting peacefully against the publication's closure, Muqtada called for "armed resistance" to the occupiers.

Uprisings spread from Sadr City to the southern Iraqi holy cities of Najaf and Karbala as well as four other cities to the south. More than 540 civilians died in the resulting battles and skirmishes. Since the American forces were then also battling Sunni insurgents in Fallujah, Bremer let the ban on the magazine lapse and dropped his plan to arrest Muqtada.

Later, Muqtada fell in line with the wishes of Sistani to see all Shi'ite religious groups gather under one umbrella to contest parliamentary election. His faction allied with two other Shi'ite religious parties - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and al-Da'awa al-Islamiya (the Islamic Call) - to form the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

By so doing, in the face of American hostility, Muqtada gave protective political cover to his faction and its armed wing, the Mehdi Army.

If nothing else, we've given him the sort of credibility that a nation's first great leader requires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


The away team: In Dice-K's new town, Japanese media find a friendly atmosphere (Bella English, April 16, 2007, Boston Globe)

They love Boston's clam chowder.

But the weather stinks.

They actually find Bostonians friendly.

They say the city isn't that expensive.

They're in awe of Red Sox fans.

They're partial to Jason Varitek, since he's catching for Dice-K. And Curt Schilling, since he's keeping an eye out for the young pitcher.

The sushi at Fenway? Not bad at all.

And they loved the souvenirs, lugging home bags of Red Sox T-shirts, caps , and sweatshirts.

They're the Japanese media who swarmed into town to record every pitch, glitch , and twitch of Dice-K. (Yep, they call him Dice-K, too . )

More than 170 Japanese reporters, photographers, cameramen , and crew poured into Fenway Park for the home opener series against the Seattle Mariners. And though the weather was hostile and Daisuke Matsuzaka only fair in his debut, the media seemed overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received, from a cab driver who returned a $4,000 camera left by a TV reporter to the waiters at Legal Sea Foods who wore headbands that said, in Japanese, "If it isn't fresh, no dice."

Once you've been to Red Sox Nation why would you go back to the Land of the Setting Sun?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Yanks will see Sox’ best: Rainout alters rotation (Michael Silverman, 4/16/07, Boston Herald)

Because of the rainout against the Los Angeles Angels, the second in four days, the Red Sox re-jiggered their pitching rotation again, and the result is Curt Schilling on Friday in the series opener against New York, Josh Beckett in Game 2 on Saturday and Daisuke Matsuzaka in the Sunday finale.

The Yankees rotation is in much more disarray, especially health-wise, after starters Mike Mussina (hamstring) and Carl Pavano (forearm) were placed on the disabled list yesterday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Reyes's Plate Discipline Getting Better and Better (TIM MARCHMAN, April 16, 2007, NY Sun)

The great frustration of April baseball is that it's almost impossible to tell what's real. If the Atlanta Braves win seven of their first eight games, does it mean that we should reevaluate how good they are? If the Yankees see three-fifths of their rotation join the disabled list before the season's third week, should we quickly knock them back of the Red Sox? In both cases, probably not, but then it's not hard to imagine an October in which we see the Braves hoisting a trophy in their locker room or bitter Yankees talking about how the season started off wrong and never quite got right. It's not good to make too much of what happens during a short stretch of baseball, but neither is it good to treat the season's first few weeks as if they're entirely random and tell us nothing.

All of this brings us around to Jose Reyes. Watching him grow, watching baseball talent become baseball skill, has been the most delightful experience in New York baseball in the last two years. Take Friday's 3–2 win over Washington. Reyes led off with a single on a 2–2 count, advanced on a ground out, took a base on a wild pitch, and scored on a second ground out. There's nothing especially remarkable about this sequence, except the vast array of opportunities for out-making it would present most 23-year-old players. Waiting for the right pitch on the right count, twice taking bases on balls hit on the ground, and being able to tell the difference between the sort of wild pitch that will allow you to move to third and the sort that will get you pegged out there — a great deal of maturity went into that one, decisive run, and there's no doubt it's real.

Still, Reyes enters play today having already drawn eight walks on the year. For a player who drew 27 in 161 games just two years ago, it's a remarkable achievement. Reyes is on pace to draw 118 walks, and while he almost certainly won't reach that mark, you don't have to attribute more significance to two weeks' worth of baseball than they can bear to easily envision him drawing 75 free passes this year. That would be half again as many as he drew last year in a season in which he doubled the previous year's total and would basically make the difference between his being a star player and his being an MVP-class player.

But everyone knew the Braves were the best team in the East, the Yankees weren't a playoff team, and Jose would emerge as the best player in baseball. What'll be interesting are the surprises--can the Reds, Brewers, Pirates take a step up? The young Devil Rays and D'backs? and just how monstrous a year will A-rod put up before telling Yankee fans to kiss his Silver Bat goodbye?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Swedish Castro broadcast 'too positive' about dictator (The Local, 16th April 2007)

An evening of documentaries on Sweden's SVT television channel about Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has been condemned by regulators as being too positive about the veteran Communist leader.

The four-hour theme evening on December 2nd consisted of three documentaries, including Oliver Stone's Comandante, and a ten-minute studio debate between a former senior member of the Left Party and a Cuban writer.

In a ruling released on Monday, the Swedish Broadcasting Commission said that the evening broke the requirement for television productions to be politically balanced.

One assumes the BBC and PBS will be showing it shortly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:03 AM


Why 100 Pitches Don’t Go as Far as They Used To (JOE SHEEHAN, 4/15/07, NY Times)

A key change now is that power is spread throughout the lineup. Whereas the game used to be divided into hitters’ positions and fielders’ positions, teams get power from seven, eight or nine lineup spots.

Consider the change that has occurred since the start of Blyleven’s career. In 1970, when he made his debut with the Minnesota Twins, the American League’s second basemen had a slugging percentage of .332; the catchers .391; the shortstops .347. The league averages at those spots last year were .395, .417 and .412.

There are no longer breaks in the lineup. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, maybe half the hitters in any given lineup could hurt you with their power. Now, any player in most lineups can hit a ball a long way if you let him.

Pitchers can’t let up at any point in the game, lest their less-than-best offering end up on some bleacher creature’s nightstand. The pennant-winning Detroit Tigers of 2006 had eight hitters with at least 13 home runs and at least a .437 slugging average — while playing in a pitchers’ park.

If pitchers are having to use more pitches to get the same number of hitters out, that would explain why they face fewer batters, throw fewer innings and complete fewer games. If the average effort per pitch is higher, because pitchers live in constant fear of the long ball, that would be an argument in favor of not only fewer innings, but fewer pitches. With so few weak hitters in the game, there are no soft touches. Pitchers may be working just as hard as they did 40 years ago, but they are seeing fewer hitters simply because pitching is that much harder now.

...a pitcher like Ted Lilly could win a Cy Young in the NL this year, being used to having to face the AL East, and Andy pettite, who's steep decline was covered by switching to the NL Central, is unlikely to keep his ERA under 5 this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Cracks in the Iran nuclear stalemate (Kaveh L Afrasiabi

The positive signs registering on the radars of both sides are as follows: Ali Larijani, Iran's nuclear negotiator, made an encouraging statement last week about interesting proposals on the table, and this was immediately reciprocated by the US's point man on Iran, Nicholas Burns, who stepped down a couple of notches from his usual stern messages to Iran and encouraged it to be more "positive".

What is more, at a talk at Harvard University, Burns stated that the idea of putting Iran's centrifuges on "standby" had been "influential" with policymakers in Washington, adding, however, that the US was more interested in the "cold standby" as opposed to "hot standby" that would allow the centrifuges to spin dry.

Hot or cold standby? The differences between the two sides may be narrowing to this question, in light of certain hints from Iran that it may be inclined to adopt the "hot standby" option.

Staying "hot" with a system that can't produce the weapons they want allows them to save face at no cost to us, but the deal needs to be with the Khameneist Larinjari, not Mahmood, and W has to play it up that way.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Waiting for Manny: Boston’s mystery man (Ben McGrath, April 23, 2007 , The New Yorker)

In the winter of 2000, Ramirez became eligible to file for free agency, and his agent at the time, Jeff Moorad, allowed cameras to film the negotiation process. The video, which aired on ESPN that December, shows Moorad fielding inquiries from the Indians, the Yankees, and the Mariners, before the Red Sox enter the picture. “I’m one of those guys that don’t talk a lot,” Ramirez warns Boston’s general manager, Dan Duquette. “I just go and try to play the game.” Toward the end, with Boston emerging as the front-runner, Moorad adds an unusual request. “I want you to think on the way up about how you would add to your clubhouse payroll a new clubby, who would be coming over from Cleveland,” he tells Duquette.

The clubby’s name was Frank Mancini. He mixed Ramirez’s protein shakes, advised him to eat sushi, and, most important, set the pitching machine so that it would issue sliders, low and away—a routine he picked up from the Indians’ slugger Albert Belle, who believed that these were the toughest of all pitches to hit. Ramirez spent as much as a half hour every day hitting nothing but hard sliders on the rail, attempting to drive them to the opposite field, and came to see Mancini as yet another kind of lucky charm. The Red Sox, in the end, were willing to oblige his unusual request, but Lucky Charm declined the offer (“Manny, I love you like a brother, but I can’t do that”), preferring to stay at home with his family. Mancini cautioned Ramirez, “Boston is a lot harder place to play than Cleveland,” but Ramirez signed with the Sox: eight years for a hundred and sixty million dollars, the second-largest contract, after Alex Rodriguez’s, in baseball history. During his inaugural appearance in Boston, Ramirez draped his arm around a Red Sox clubhouse attendant. “You and me are going to be friends,” he said.

Duquette had been following Ramirez’s career since high school, but he now concedes that he had no idea “exactly how unique” his new left fielder was. “When Manny first came to the Red Sox, he would stand in the batter’s box, and the umpire would call ball four, and he would get back in the batter’s box,” Duquette, who is now the president of the fledgling Israel Baseball League, told me. “He did this in his first series at Fenway Park and again on his first road trip.” After the third such incident, Duquette ventured down into the locker room. “I said, ‘Manny, let me ask you something. I was just wondering why you get back in the batter’s box after ball four.’ He said, ‘I don’t keep track of the balls.’ He said, ‘I don’t keep track of the strikes, either, until I got two.’ Then he said, ‘Duke, I’m up there looking for a pitch I can hit. If I don’t get it, I wait for the umpire to tell me to go to first. Isn’t that what you’re paying me to do?’ ”

Duquette was fired after Ramirez’s first season in Boston, when a new ownership group took over the club. Bill James, a senior adviser who was brought in by the new regime, conducted a couple of studies to try to measure, among other things, the effect of Ramirez’s quirks—his tendency to glare at badly hit balls without running to first, his sporadic inability in the field to follow the arc of a fly ball. In 2003, James identified fifty-three instances in which Red Sox players had demonstrated a game-altering failure to hustle; twenty-nine of them involved Ramirez. He also concluded that Ramirez was the team’s second-sloppiest fielder. (A Times column last month underscored this point, quoting an analyst who said, “Manny is at the far end of the as-bad-as-you-can-get-in-the-field spectrum.”) In theory, playing defense and hustling are also things that he is paid to do, and in the fall of 2003 the new management, convinced that Ramirez’s twenty-million-dollar salary was an albatross, placed their best hitter on irrevocable waivers, asking nothing in return for any team’s willingness simply to take him (and his contract) off their hands.

There were no takers, and the next spring, according to the writer Seth Mnookin, Ramirez let the Sox ownership know that he felt angry and insulted. Thus began the semiannual “rite of passage,” as the Sox C.E.O., Larry Lucchino, calls it, in which Ramirez pleads to be shipped out of Boston—a city where, as his former teammate Johnny Damon once said, “Manny could be Mayor.”

The local obsession with the Red Sox is such that David Wells, the former Yankee and Red Sox pitcher, and a night owl, likes to call Boston Picturetown, rather than Beantown, because of all the fans with cell-phone cameras in restaurants and bars, ready for deployment like civilian paparazzi. (One well-travelled series of candid shots, posted on the Web, shows a smiling Ramirez wearing a boater and a football jersey, first at a bar and then, evidently having been talked into visiting a collegiate apartment, dancing with young women, one in her pajamas.) In a famous incident in August of 2003, Ramirez called in sick during a big series against the Yankees, only to be accused by someone at the Ritz-Carlton of having a post-game cocktail with the Yankees’ Enrique Wilson, another Santo Domingo native. Ramirez, who was publicly excoriated and even benched for this affront, lives in the Ritz, with his wife, Juliana, a Brazilian whom he met at a gym in 2001, and their two sons, Manny, Jr., who is four, and Lucas, who is one. (The other Manny, Jr., who is eleven, lives in Florida with his mother.) His defenders maintain that the Wilson visit was social but not libational.

The Red Sox management believe that Ramirez does not dislike Boston per se. “If he was really upset about it, he wouldn’t live in the Ritz-Carlton, in the middle of the city,” one executive told me. Since his arrival in town, Ramirez has expressed interest, at one time or another, in playing for more than a dozen different teams, including the Yankees and the Mets. According to a Sox official, he even once requested a trade to Pawtucket, the team’s AAA affiliate in Rhode Island—a transaction that the chamber of commerce in that city of seventy-three thousand would no doubt welcome. Lately, he has favored Anaheim and Seattle as alternatives, though for several years he told friends that he regretted leaving the relatively anonymous comfort of Cleveland and wished he could return.

Ray Negron, a special adviser to George Steinbrenner who previously worked in Cleveland as a mentor to the team’s Hispanic players, is familiar with Ramirez’s moods and vulnerability. “I remember one time he was hurt and feeling sorry for himself,” Negron said. “And I knew I was going to be in the car with him for half an hour, so I made him listen to Frank Sinatra’s rendition of ‘That’s Life’—did you ever hear the words?—and he caught it. He understood what I was trying to say to him.” Ramirez, ordinarily a hip-hop man, walked around humming Sinatra for days.

Clinical explanations for Ramirez’s unpredictable behavior vary. Steve Mandl once suggested that Ramirez suffers from attention-deficit disorder—a diagnosis that Dan Duquette disputes, arguing that he “did a lot of due diligence” before signing Ramirez, and that, if anything, Ramirez’s approach to batting suggested an essential undistractibility. Popular diagnoses abound—“If we didn’t have Manny to talk about, who would we talk about?” Duquette says—and tend toward the faintly condescending, clichés about Ramirez as man-child (“He’s great with kids”) or idiot savant or holy fool.

Negron, for one, thinks Ramirez is misunderstood in Boston. He compared him with Joe DiMaggio. “Manny’s more emotionally reachable than Joe was, O.K.?” he said. “They should be fair about this. I got to know Joe DiMaggio, and I was very close to Billy Martin, who knew everything about Joe DiMaggio. You know the difference? Manny’s probably a better hitter.” He went on, “I came up with the craziness of the Yankees in the seventies—the ‘Bronx Zoo,’ and Sparky Lyle and all of them sitting on cakes without clothes on. Manny was mild compared to what I had been used to.” In Cleveland, I pointed out, Ramirez used to walk into the video room naked to study tapes of pitchers. “Do you understand why I would see that as normal?” Negron said. “He wasn’t sitting on a birthday cake.”

If only the whackjob weren't the best right-handed hitter ever, you could be done with him....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Hamas Calling for Peace (Robert Novak, 4/16/07, Real Clear Politics)

I arrived in Jerusalem again April 3, two weeks after Hamas brought the more moderate opposition Fatah party into a new National Unity government. The Los Angeles Times had just run a remarkable op-ed column by political independent Salam Fayyad, finance minister in the new government who lived in Washington for 20 years, served as a World Bank official and is well respected in the West. He wrote that the Palestine Liberation Organization's 1993 acceptance of Israel and disavowal of violence is "a crystal-clear and binding agreement" that "no Palestinian government has the authority to revoke." He added that the unity government's platform "explicitly" pledges to honor all PLO commitments.

Over dinner in a Ramallah restaurant April 4, Fayyad told me he offered his column simultaneously to several major American newspapers to get this story out quickly. But do his Hamas colleagues accept his reasoning? Fayyad made clear he was not flying solo.

Just before my trip ended, the Palestinian Authority at long last put me in touch with an official who was no low-level bureaucrat. Nasser al-Shaer was deputy prime minister in the all-Hamas regime last Aug. 19 when he was seized in an Israeli raid on his home in Ramallah and held for a month without charges or evidence.

In his ministry office April 7, he looked nothing like the shirt-sleeved, tie-less Shaer photographed when he was released last Sept. 27. Holder of a doctorate from England's University of Manchester, he was dressed in a stylish suit. More telling than his appearance was what he said.

When I asked whether Hamas agreed with Fayyad's formulation, Shaer said it did not matter: "We are talking about the government, not groups." He said Hamas was no more relevant to Palestinian policy than the views of extremist anti-Palestinian Israeli Cabinet member Avigdor Lieberman are to Israeli policy. Unexpectedly, Shaer expressed dismay that "previous attempts at peace were ruined by suicide bombers. Now, we look forward to a sustained peace."

While avoiding Israel-bashing, Shaer conjectured: "I don't think the Israeli government wants a two-state solution. Without pressure from the president of the United States, nothing is going to happen." That sounded like a plea for help from George W. Bush. But will he hear it if Elliott Abrams does not listen?

Except that Hamas is the more legitimate repository of the general Palestinian will, at least until the Israelis release Marwan Barghouti.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM



'LES Anglo-Saxons," argues Andrew Roberts, were united by the English language and by the Common Law. Still more links were listed by Winston Churchill in 1943: "Common conceptions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice and above all a love of personal freedom . . . these are the common conceptions on both sides of the ocean among the English-speaking peoples."

Roberts has built "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900" around four great ideological challenges to the dominance of the English-speaking world and its liberal values: Prussian militarism in 1914, Nazi-Fascist aggression in 1939, Soviet Communist aggression in the Cold War and the Islamist jihad against the West today. He tells the story of how these conflicts were begun and (with the exception of the last) resolved.

Roberts' message is essentially optimistic. The first three challenges, he points out, were formidable; all seemed, at times, to be within reach of their goals; all benefited initially from a reluctance of their intended victims to take them seriously, but all eventually lost because "les Anglo-Saxons," once aroused, were powerful and determined enough to crush them.

The fundamental insight of the Long War/End of History metaphors is that none of these Rationalist enemies were formidable and, because it afflicts developmentally backwards societies, Islamicism is the least of them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

FLY SHAGGER (via The Other Brother):

PODCAST: Baseball Science (Scientific American, April 04, 2007: Science Talk)

In this episode, former big league pitcher Dr. Dave Baldwin talks about his run-in with Ted Williams, his life in science, the physics of the gyroball versus the slider, and how he finally made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Plus we'll test your knowledge about some baseball science. Websites mentioned on this episode include




April 15, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 PM


Johnny Hart: Not Caving In: The cartoon characters of "B.C." reflect their imaginative creator, Johnny Hart. Especially his unapologetic faith in God. (Joe Maxwell, Christianity Today)

Editor's Note: Cartoonist Johnny Hart, a devoted Christian whose award-winning B.C. comic strip appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers worldwide, died on April 7 at age 76. Today's Christian interviewed Hart in 1997. [...]

Hart believes the Lord put him into the cartooning world for a reason. Every prudent chance he gets, he takes advantage of it.

On Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter—and many days between—Hart's characters offer messages reflecting the cartoonist's own firm belief in the gospel message. "I find myself trying to put the gospel into practically every strip I create without being obvious about it," he says.

Hart says he wants to create a "spasm" in his reader, putting a new twist on an old truth. He's been creating nationwide twitches for years now, and his peers often have paid him homage:

—Best Humor Strip in America, six times (The National Cartoonist Society)

—The Reuben—Cartoonist of the Year (The National Cartoonist Society)

—The Yellow Kid Award for Best Cartoonist (The International Congress of Comics)

—Best Cartoonist of the Year (France's highest cartooning award)

—The Sam Adamson Award, twice (Sweden's international award for graphic artists)

—The Elsie Segar Award (King Features Syndicate).

In many ways, Hart is a preacher, only his congregation absorbs his message via America's mainstream newspapers as he brings light into the often dark daily news. People who don't read the Bible or attend church services often do read Johnny's comics.

He was gratified when a woman wrote to say that a "Wizard of Id" strip kept her from committing suicide. "The strip had no real mind-jarring message," says Hart, "so I just knew that [it was] God [who] had used it to reach that precious soul."

B.C. vs. The Times

Johnny's work stirs more than a love for life. For some, Johnny's bent has become too religious and/or political. While other cartoonists' characters get away with blatant statements reflecting non-Christian views, over the past few years a different standard has been applied by some newspaper editors to Johnny's cartoon figures.

For four years now, The Los Angeles Times has refused to run certain "B.C." strips containing witty Christian messages during holiday seasons. In March 1996, when the Times refused to run his Palm Sunday strip, a national uproar ensued, reaching even the Washington, D.C., talk show circuit. The strip had Wiley—a brooding, poet-wannabe in B.C.'s cast of characters—sitting against a tree, tablet in hand, writing a poem entitled "The Suffering Prince":

Picture yourself tied to a tree,
condemned of the sins of eternity.
Then picture a spear, parting the air,
seeking your heart to cut your despair.
Suddenly—a knight, in armor of white,
stands in the gap betwixt you and its flight,
And shedding his 'armor of God' for you—
bears the lance that runs him through.
His heart has been pierced that yours may beat,
and the blood of his corpse washes your feet.
Picture yourself in raiment white,
cleansed by the blood of the lifeless knight.
Never to mourn,
the prince who was downed,
For he is not lost! It is you who are found.

Spokeswoman Gloria Lopez of the Times says Mr. Hart's strip isn't the only one that has been pulled. Other examples of edited strips she cited include "Doonesbury" and "The Far Side." Says Ms. Lopez: "The bottom line is the editors reserve the right to edit."

Johnny believes such treatment is symptomatic of the battle for America's soul, and he likes the idea that his recent flaps with the Times "have gotten Christians up in arms. That's what they all need."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


Who Are Dan Le Sac and Scroobious Pip? (WXPN: All About the Music Blog, 4/13/07)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM

THE OIL CURSE via Gene Brown):

It's the Oil, Stupid (Victor Davis Hanson, 4/12/07, Real Clear Politics)

It is usually silly to offer a single solution to complex problems. But it's hard not to when looking at the serial savagery in Iran and the Arab world.

Oil -- the huge profits it provides and the insidious influence it gives those selling it -- explains most of the world's worries over the Middle East. [...]

When nations acquire collective wealth gradually through their own industry, a middle class can arise. But in the Middle East, a few tribal and religious sects with oil are fabulously wealthy; most everyone else is abjectly poor. Illegitimate monarchies and jittery dictatorships -- always in fear of coups, terrorists and revolutions -- depend upon oil-needy foreigners, trading scarce oil and endless petrodollars for export goods and protection.

If the United States could curb its voracious purchases of foreign oil by using conservation, additional petroleum production, nuclear power, alternate fuels, coal gasification and new technologies, the world price might return to below $40 a barrel.

That decline would dry up the oil profits of those in the Middle East who now so desperately use them to ensure that their own problems must also be the world's.

-TELEVISION: Addicted to Oil (Thomas L. Friedman, Discovery Channel)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Imagine the Worst: In 1984, Mother Jones asked writers and artists to imagine what another four years would be like under Ronald Reagan. (Kurt Vonnegut, October 01 , 1983, Mother Jones)

If Ronald Reagan gets re-elected, which I think will happen, he will continue to be an actor who pretends to steer the United States of America. He will go on spinning a great ship's wheel this way and that, although it is connected to nothing but the floor of the set. He will go on issuing orders to a nonexistent engine room, "Full speed ahead" or "Half speed ahead" or whatever, which will, then as now, be solemnly reported on the front page of The New York Times.

His compass might as well be a bowl of goldfish and his barometer a cuckoo clock, for the real power in this country now resides entirely elsewhere, in the hands of anarchist money managers and militarists and so on. [...]

As for militarist anarchy: Nobody, obviously, can prevent the Pentagon from spending our children's and grandchildren's money however it likes—no matter how foolishly or wastefully or crookedly. No braking mechanism exists. I remember The Atlantic reporting years ago that getting officers of the Army Corps of Engineers to testify before Congress about where all the money was going was like "rounding up the Vietcong for an appearance on the Lawrence Welk Show." Things have gotten a lot worse since then, and Caspar Willard Weinberger, who can't act for sour apples, has a little steering wheel all his own. He grabs for the emergency brake, which comes off in his hand, and the gorilla in the rumble seat wraps it around his neck, and so on.

It goes without saying that this uncontrolled militarism, based as it is on the powerlessness of the presidency, is not only ruinous financially for our heirs but bloody as well.

Poor guy just died, do you have to humiliate his ghost by reprinting such obvious inanity?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


A's No. 9 hitter stuns Rivera, Yankees with three-run walkoff HR (CBS SportsLine.com, April 15, 2007)

With one stunning swing against Mariano Rivera, Marco Scutaro gave the Oakland Athletics their first series victory of the season.

Scutaro hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning, rallying the A's to a 5-4 win over the New York Yankees on Sunday.

Yankees' Mussina (hamstring), Pavano (forearm) on DL (CBS SportsLine.com, 4/15/07)
Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano joined fellow New York Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list Sunday, further depleting the Bronx Bombers' already taxed pitching staff.

Roger's going to get at least a million dollars a start.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:00 PM


As US tax rates drop, government's reach grows: Study: 1 in 2 Americans now receives income from government programs. (Mark Trumbull, 4/16/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Slightly over half of all Americans – 52.6 percent – now receive significant income from government programs, according to an analysis by Gary Shilling, an economist in Springfield, N.J. That's up from 49.4 percent in 2000 and far above the 28.3 percent of Americans in 1950. If the trend continues, the percentage could rise within ten years to pass 55 percent, where it stood in 1980 on the eve of President's Reagan's move to scale back the size of government.

That two-decade shrink-the-government trend now appears over, if for no other reason than demographics. The aging baby-boomer generation is poised to receive big payments from Social Security and government healthcare programs.

Speaking of people who ought to lose the franchise....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Still anxious after all these years: New 'Larry Sanders' DVD set brings back Garry Shandling in all his unnerving glory (Mark Feeney, April 15, 2007, Boston Globe)

"Larry Sanders," you might say then, was the "The Birth of a Nation" of the cable series. That's a compliment big enough to assuage the insecurity of even a Larry. In fairness, he has every reason to feel insecure. Larry's show is his life, and he knows all too well he's never more than one bad ratings book away from being canceled -- or, worse, replaced. The only reason he behaves decently, and he usually does, sort of, is because it's part of his job description: lovable TV host, benign boss, (theoretically) functioning human being.

Shandling, who created the series with Dennis Klein and wrote several episodes, didn't exactly sugarcoat his character. If Larry were any more self-involved, he'd be twins. Yet his considerable personal shortcomings are as nothing compared to those of his second banana. As played with oblivious perfection by Jeffrey Tambor , Hank Kingsley is Ed McMahon as Malvolio , all booming voice and empty grin. He's obtuse, oafish, oleaginously lovable.

In contrast, there's nothing empty about the grin of Artie , the other main supporting character, who's the show's producer. It's the grin of a great white shark, sinking his teeth into the flesh of anyone who dares in any way afflict Larry. Rip Torn, all glorious alpha male strut, revels in the part.

Tambor and Torn set the standard for a remarkable cast. Jeremy Piven , who played a writer on the show for several seasons, says in an interview on the box set that membership in the "Sanders" cast felt like being the seventh or eighth man on the Chicago Bulls bench. Air Shandling? It's not that much of a stretch. The teamwork was of that high a caliber.

The greatest sitcoms have all been group efforts. Confined in both duration and location, the genre always risks becoming a rep company production of "No Exit. " Sitcoms require that actors play well together -- or else they don't play at all. "I Love Lucy" could just as easily been called "...and Ricky and Ethel and Fred. " The titles of her subsequent shows indicate why they were so much less successful. "The Lucy Show " and "Here's Lucy " were about a her, not a them. The interplay among Mary , Rhoda , Lou , Ted , et al. on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" set a standard for ensemble that remains unmatched. And "Seinfeld " with just Jerry wouldn't have lasted a season.

"Larry Sanders" is, in some ways, the anti-"Seinfeld." (Seinfeld, who twice appeared on the show, gets the final celebrity guest visit on the box set, a walk with Shandling in Central Park.) Both shows are about a Jewish comedian playing a Jewish comedian -- only one's in LA, the other New York. Both have a maddening bald sidekick -- Larry's is tall, Jerry's short. One show was cable, the other network. And one has been a blessing for its cast, while the other turned out to be cursed.

"Blessing" may be a bit strong. But part of the "Seinfeld" mystique has been how difficult it's proven for cast members to meet with subsequent success. There is no DVD box for "The Michael Richards Show ." "Larry Sanders" alums have fared notably better.

Tambor earned raves for his dual role on "Arrested Development. " Torn resumed his busy movie career, memorably swaggering his way through everything from "Men in Black" to "Marie Antoinette. " Piven has his own HBO hit, "Entourage. " "24 " has been home to both Penny Johnson (Larry's assistant, Beverly ), playing Dennis Haysbert's wife, and Mary-Lynn Rajskub (assistant booker Mary Lou), as Chloe Martin . Jon Stewart , who Larry feared would take his job, took over "The Daily Show" instead. And Sarah Silverman (who briefly played a writer) and Janeane Garofalo (Paula, the talent booker) have done rather well, too.

The greatest sitcoms have also been about the highly permeable membrane between star and character. Lucy always played a Lucy. Everyone knew that the woman who could turn the world on with her smile wasn't Mary Richards but Mary Tyler Moore. Jerry Seinfeld took an ax to any idea of a characterological fourth wall, naming his character Jerry Seinfeld . Shandling didn't go quite that far, but Garry/Larry have a lot more in common than just the rhyme.

Coincidence or no, all four shows touched on show biz. (Just ask Ron Burgundy if local news in the '70s wasn't a form of entertainment.) Ricky Ricardo was a bandleader. Mary was a TV news producer. Jerry was a stand-up comic. And Larry, well, Larry had more show-biz oomph than the rest of them put together.

Oomph will take a main character only so far, though. What may have been the show's real genius (there's that word again) was recognizing that show biz was a setting and point of departure rather than an end unto itself. "No flipping!," Larry's catchphrase, urged viewers not to change channels during a commercial break. The real meaning, perhaps, was as a pledge that the Larry viewers saw behind the desk would be the same one they got to see backstage. He was just as funny, just as awful, just as human. It's not everyone who can turn the world on with his grimace.

Ronald McDonald can.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


Dems facing a rap: Hil & Obama got help from foul musicians (HELEN KENNEDY, 4/15/07, NY DAILY NEWS)

Leading Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may have a "ho" problem of their own.

When Clinton visits Rutgers University tomorrow to show solidarity with the athletes slimed by fired shock jock Don Imus, she is likely to face questions about her soiree two weeks ago at the lavish Miami home of hip-hop mogul Timbaland.

Born Timothy Mosley, Timbaland is a composer and producer who made his millions with a revolutionary new sound - and by peppering his lyrics with terms like "bitch," "ho" and "n----." His latest, "Give it to Me" is Billboard's No. 1 this week.

The fund-raiser brought in about $800,000 for Clinton's campaign on the crucial last day of the first fund-raising period.

Obama made headlines in November when he invited controversial rapper Ludacris (real name Chris Bridges) to his Chicago office to discuss the singer's new AIDS awareness campaign.

The rapper's lyrics are so offensive that he's been dressed down by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, and Pepsi dropped him from an ad campaign after Fox News host Bill O'Reilly lambasted him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:42 PM


So far, Sox are leading arms race (Providence Journal, April 15, 2007)

This is getting monotonous. And Red Sox fans would love to see it continue as long as possible.

The team’s starting pitching, expected to be an area of strength, is living up to its billing. Ten games into the season, there are positives everywhere.

Yesterday, it was Curt Schilling’s turn. He went eight excellent innings, allowing only four hits as he led Boston to an 8-0 triumph over Anaheim. That meant he was just keeping up with his fellow starters.

Friday night, Tim Wakefield went seven innings, giving up just one run and five hits. Before that, Daisuke Matsuzaka turned in what will be recorded as a quality start, allowing three runs and eight hits over seven innings. The previous day might have been the best of all as Josh Beckett went seven outstanding innings, yielding only two hits and one run, with no walks and eight strikeouts.

That adds up to a four-game stretch in which the Boston starters have gone 29 innings and allowed only five runs as the Sox have outscored their opponents, 32-7.

It’s a trend Boston fans could live with all season. Starting pitchers simply do not put up those kind of numbers very often. Not any more.

They still have some hitting weaknesses, but the pitching is even better than anticipated, including Devern Hansack and John Lester obviously major league ready but in the minors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


Playing Along With Imus (SAM TANENHAUS, 4/15/07, NY Times Book Review)

Mr. Imus’s enthusiasm was unexpectedly long-lived. Months after his first mention of the book he was still obsessing, daily it seemed, about minutiae of the Chambers-Alger Hiss espionage confrontation, while his sidekicks histrionically greeted his recountings with a chorus of groans and protests of the “not-again” variety.

All this, I knew, was “good” for me — even the groaning. I was transcending the role of mere author and had become a bit player in the daily Imus comedy routine. I enjoyed all this, but knew it wouldn’t last. I had listened closely enough to the show to realize that Mr. Imus was capricious, and regulars on the program often became the butt of jokes or abuse, some of it quite cruel.

It was the price of admission. For all his self-assuredness, Mr. Imus often seemed perplexed by those who came from outside his own world. He had successfully remade himself into a quasi-establishment figure, but his roots were in the shock-jockery of the 1970s and 1980s.

This accounted, I suspect, for the elaborate courtesies he showed new guests. When I began to get the occasional live phone call, I was treated with deference. Mr. Imus’s second banana, Charles McCord, addressed me, with almost grave formality, as “Mr. Tanenhaus,” and the tone of respect was even more obvious to me when his guest was a woman, as though Mr. Imus wanted to atone for the lewdly misogynist fare he and his crew so often indulged in.

On the one occasion when I was invited into the studio for a full-fledged interview, Mr. Imus diffidently showed off the rare first editions of literary classics arranged in his office and modestly accepted my praise of the accomplished photographs he had taken.

The interview itself was a surprisingly sober affair of the C-Span variety: a direct, matter-of-fact, carefully paced tour through Chambers’s life. Mr. Imus had thoroughly mastered the material; he told me he was an admirer of the “Booknotes” interviews Brian Lamb was then doing on C-Span. A few minutes into the session I realized the only expectation of cheap laughs had been my own: the humorous “material” I’d worked up, but mercifully was spared from testing out.

By now, I was tuning in regularly. It had become part of my routine: waking up each morning to WFAN and the frisson of hearing my name broadcast on the radio. Of course, I was hearing other things, too, and they were disturbing at times: slurs against black athletes, an “impersonation” of Clarence Thomas that didn’t sound like him at all (unlike the impersonations of white figures), but instead drew on the stalest of the “here come de judge” grotesqueries of a previous era; the almost continual soundtrack of leering sexual comments.

Today, in the harsh light of Mr. Imus’s disgrace, it is hard to explain why none of this bothered me very much. But the truth is I tuned it out.

Much as I like Mr. Tannenhaus's work, including at the Times. that's just a lie. It doesn't bother listeners because the show is a comedy and comedy always crosses the line sometimes. You either accept the occasional transgression or end up a humorless git--like all of the PC Left these days.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Can France's next leader lead?: French voters are looking for direction, but the candidates are no more inspiring than Jacques Chirac (Charles A. Kupchan, April 15, 2007, LA Times)

The EU has been stumbling ever since the French voted down the proposed European Constitution in a referendum in 2005. That rejection effectively constituted a vote of no confidence in Chirac, who had backed it staunchly. The government was enfeebled, which in turn left the EU without the French vision and leadership it sorely needs to guide it out of its doldrums.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Fewer keeping the nation afloat: The income tax bites a shrinking proportion of Americans. That means fewer workers have a stake in the system and its future. (Kathy M. Kristof and Jonathan Peterson, April 15, 2007, LA Times)

An estimated 50 million Americans won't pay any federal income tax this year. That's nearly a third of all adults, up from 18% in 1980.

To many, the shrinking tax base is not a big deal. Most of the people who don't owe Uncle Sam are of modest means. They don't pay because Congress approved tax credits aimed at helping working families and sought to encourage homeownership by making mortgage interest deductible.

But then there are people like Carpenter. She's not rich, making about $58,000 a year working at the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Commerce. She rents a small apartment in Los Angeles for $1,100 a month, so she doesn't have a mortgage she can use for a deduction.

"I don't think it's fair," said Carpenter, 61. "But we thrifty people don't get much sympathy."

Few would begrudge tax breaks for those who struggle to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads. But at the same time, some fear that the tax-free zone has grown too big and that too many working Americans no longer have a stake in the tax system or efforts to improve it.

"Many people would think if you are a citizen, you ought to have skin in the game, and we have more and more people with no skin in the game," said Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan, conservative-leaning research group. "From a social perspective, we ought to be concerned about that."

It would obviously be better to have everyone pay into the system (preferably via consumption tax), so they have a vested interest in holding down how much it spends (we spend). However, if compassionate cant prevents that solution, the next best is to simply predicate the franchise on tax-paying. If you don't pay in or receive more than you pay in you oughtn't have a vote.

Soak the rest of us: For decades, the American tax burden has been shifting away from the rich. Now, two economists say, it could be at the brink of a historic tipping point (Christopher Shea, April 15, 2007, Boston Globe)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Among Catholic priests, Vietnamese are the new Irish: The refugee influx and a culture that exalts the vocation boost dwindling clerical ranks -- with a certain fervor (David Haldane and Mai Tran, April 15, 2007, LA Times)

"Vietnamese priests are filling the gap," said Ryan Lilyengren, a spokesman for the Diocese of Orange. "People are calling them the new Irish."

Though Asians are only 1% of the estimated 77 million U.S. Catholics, they account for 12% of Catholic seminary students, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. In places such as Orange County, home to the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam, that has translated into major change: Of 181 diocesan priests, Lilyengren said, almost 28% are Asian, predominantly Vietnamese.

The influx of Vietnamese clergy comes as the number of priests nationwide has dropped nearly 30% in three decades, from 58,900 in 1975 to about 41,700 last year.

Vietnamese immigrants are stepping in, experts say, for a number of reasons. They come from a culture steeped in religious values that bestows high status on the clergy. They also grew up in a poor country where entering the priesthood was an economic step up. And many lived through political and religious repression when they weren't allowed to practice their faith, let alone become priests.

"Under the Communists we couldn't go to seminary," Vu said, "[so] we have a desire to become priests."

People talk about us being a debtor nation? How would we ever repay our debt to such peoples?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Divided Iraq has two spy agencies: Shiite officials wary of the CIA-funded, Sunni-led official intelligence service have set up a parallel organization (Ned Parker, April 15, 2007, LA Times)

Suspicious of Iraq's CIA-funded national intelligence agency, members of the Iraqi government have erected a "shadow" secret service that critics say is driven by a Shiite Muslim agenda and has left the country with dueling spy agencies.

The minister of state for national security, a Shiite named Sherwan Waili, has built a spy service boasting an estimated 1,200 intelligence agents out of a second-tier ministry with a minimal staff and meager budget, Western officials say.

"He has representatives in every province," a Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "At the moment, it's a slightly shady parallel organization."

Shiite officials say the minister is providing information on Al Qaeda and former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party that isn't being supplied by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, or INIS, Iraq's primary spy service.

The INIS was established in the spring of 2004 by the U.S.-led provisional authority and has been under the command of Gen. Mohammed Shahwani, a Sunni Arab involved in a CIA-backed coup plot against Hussein a decade ago. For the last three years, the agency has been funded by the CIA, U.S. military and Iraqi officials say.

The service reports directly to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, but coreligionists in his government distrust the agency, which has agents from the Hussein era. For most of 2005 and the first part of 2006, Shahwani said, he was banned from Cabinet meetings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 AM


New Booz Allen Hamilton Study Finds Consumers Are Taking More Responsibility for Health-Care Decisions, but Physicians Face Increasing Competition (BUSINESS WIRE, 4/14/07)

As consumers take on greater cost responsibility in their health-care, they are beginning to act like true retail customers. A new study by the management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found that many health-care consumers are shopping for products and services, and expecting competition among providers and suppliers--but they still lack the information they need to make informed choices in critical areas. In many cases, consumers expect physicians to provide information on cost and quality. However, physicians are often unwilling or unable to assume that role and unaware of other changes needed in the traditional physician-patient relationship. The gap between emerging patient needs and what providers are supplying has opened up a need for new trusted sources of health-care information.

Booz Allen commissioned a Harris Interactive poll of almost 3,000 consumers and 600 physicians in the U.S. to examine how the transition to a retail market in health-care is impacting decision-making and influencing behavior. Consumers surveyed included individuals enrolled in traditional health plans, as well as patients with greater cost responsibility enrolled in high deductible health plans (both those with and without associated savings vehicles like Health Savings Accounts and Health Reimbursement Arrangements). Key findings of the study include:

Consumers with greater cost responsibility are more aware of cost and quality differences, but are only beginning to act upon this information to “shop” for value. These consumers are more likely to substitute lower-cost options for products or services; nearly 40 percent reported being very or extremely likely to use a primary care doctor instead of a specialist for advice and treatment, or to change prescription drugs to secure a lower price. In fact, 68 percent were willing to switch from a branded prescription drug to a generic to save money, and 34 percent would change from one branded drug to another for the same purpose.

Although only a minority of consumers in this group appear to be active in managing their health-care costs, they are clearly more active than consumers with traditional health plans.

Company Launches Health Savings Account Website (InsideIndianaBusiness.com Report, 4/11/2007)
A new Web site, www.HSAcenter.com, offers consumers a convenient, one-stop location to find comprehensive, straightforward information on health savings accounts (HSAs) and how they work.

Among its features are an extensive question-and-answer section and five key questions that help individuals determine if an HSA is the right choice for them and their families.

Launched by UnitedHealthcare's Golden Rule Insurance Company, an HSA pioneer and leader in the individual and family health insurance market, www.HSAcenter.com provides consumer-friendly information presented in multiple formats including text, video, flash and audio. Additional and updated content, including an HSA calculator, will be added on a regular basis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Battle over the banlieues (David Rieff, April 14, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

For many observers, both inside and outside the country, the future of France is at stake in this election. Sarkozy's supporters, who include a number of prominent intellectuals (unlike in almost every other rich country, their role continues to be significant in France),...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Just Feist. Just Wait. (JON PARELES, 4/15/07, NY Times)

ON the way to the video shoot for a song named “1 2 3 4,” Leslie Feist called her father on her cellphone, urging him to drop by the studio. “I’m going to dance like in ‘Fame,’ ” bubbled Feist, a petite 31-year-old brunette who uses her last name for her solo recording career. “I’m going to be carried around on the shoulders of 50 people, like Madonna in ‘Material Girl,’ only minus the pearls and the back muscles.”

She wasn’t exaggerating. “1 2 3 4,” which appears on her new album, “The Reminder” (Cherry Tree/Interscope), is an easy-swinging tune, almost like a nursery rhyme, that grows into a mass chorus. Tucked into it are lyrics that celebrate the intensity of teenage bonds and feelings: “Money can’t buy you back the love that you had then.” The video clip, to be completed in just two days of rehearsals and one of shooting, would be a big live production number: an uninterrupted, uneditable one-camera take.

Four dozen dancers in color-coordinated thrift-store clothes surrounded Feist, raising her overhead and, at one point, flipping her. The camera swooped around, amid and above them, revealing geometric patterns like a Busby Berkeley sequence. Feist had traded her usual T-shirt and jeans for a flashy blue-sequined pantsuit and pointy golden high heels, which pinched her feet. “It’s not the most pleasant sensation,” she said after dancing in them through take after take. “But it’s for the razzle-dazzle.”

What’s a nice indie-rocker doing in a scene like this? Courting a potential mainstream audience while offering something as substantial as it is catchy.

Feist’s third album of new material, “The Reminder” is due for release May 1. It’s the album that should transform her from the darling of the indie-rock circuit to a full-fledged star, and do it without compromises. “The Reminder” is a modestly scaled but quietly profound pop gem: sometimes intimate, sometimes exuberant, filled with love songs and hints of mystery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


In Iran, Feeling the Heat (Jim Hoagland, April 15, 2007, Washington Post)

Dying from cancer a quarter-century ago, the deposed shah of Iran pressed on me a fundamental point about his nation that has become even more vivid over the past two weeks. What the shah said, and almost said, then sheds light on the current confrontation between Iran and the world's great powers.

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi died weeks after our 1980 conversation in Cairo. It has taken the ayatollahs and other Islamic radicals who followed him to reveal how far backward, and forward, stretched the deeper meanings of the words he spoke, which had to be condensed into a conventional news story on that May day.

Iran is after all a place where reality usually comes not in words but in meaningful details that underlie -- and often belie -- the words. Fooling foreigners and adversaries is an ancient Persian art form. Saying exactly what you mean is a crude and dangerous way to talk, or to negotiate.

Such a telling detail lay beneath the shah's descriptions to me of how, in his opinion, the British and American governments deliberately helped Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini bring down his regime in 1979. His bitter Anglophobia came to mind again the other day as I watched film of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blustering his way through the histrionic release of 15 British military captives and then, in the days that followed, defying the world anew over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The detail was that the shah blamed London much more than he blamed Washington for his fate. The Americans had been children playing at complicated games of power and espionage, while imperial Britain purposely mounted the plot to win favor with the ayatollahs.

Unlike Western anti-Semitism, Iranian Anglophobia is at least based on actual meddling by powerful external forces.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


How Scargill begged the Kremlin to fund miners' fight with Thatcher (JASON LEWIS, 14th April 2007, Daily Mail)

Secret papers unearthed in a Moscow archive reveal how union boss Arthur Scargill tried to secure cash from the Soviet government at the height of the miners' strike.

The documents shed new light on the lengths he was prepared to go to to try to win his fight over pit closures.

Uncovered in the Communist Party vaults, the papers are the Russian account of one of the most contentious episodes of the bitter year-long dispute.

Mr Scargill, who is now retired but led the National Union of Mineworkers during the strike in 1984, has previously been accused of securing a secret slush fund from Russia and Colonel Gaddafi's Libya after Margaret Thatcher's Government froze his union's funds.

He has long disputed the claims. But the Russian documents show how he discussed ways Soviet money could be smuggled into Britain.

The papers make it clear that the money was signed off by the Russian authorities but it is unclear whether funds were ever transferred into the designated offshore accounts or if cash ever reached the NUM, its leaders or the striking miners.

Reagan and Thatcher don't get enough credit for breaking the unions, not least because it fed into Paul Volcker's war on inflation.

April 14, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 PM


Entertainer Don Ho Dead at 76 (Fox News, April 14, 2007)

Legendary crooner Don Ho, known for his raspberry-tinted sunglasses and catchy signature tune "Tiny Bubbles," has died, his publicist said. He was 76.

Publicist Donna Jung said the singer died Saturday morning of heart failure. He had suffered with heart problems for the past several years, and had a pacemaker installed last fall. In 2005, he underwent an experimental stem cell procedure on his ailing heart in Thailand in 2005.

Ho entertained Hollywood's biggest stars and thousands of tourists for four decades. For many, no trip to Hawaii was complete without seeing his Waikiki show — a mix of songs, jokes, double entendres, Hawaii history and audience participation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Rebus author calls on Sir Sean to return and fight for independence on the 'home front' (The Scotsman, 4/14/07)

Ian Rankin, the best-selling author, last night threw down the gauntlet to the Hollywood legend and challenged Sir Sean to return to Scotland to fight for independence.

Rankin suggested there was no obstacle to the Edinburgh-born Bond star abandoning his life in the sunny Bahamas.

During a recent visit to New York, Sir Sean spoke of his desire to return, saying: "Like a lot of Scots abroad, I look forward to coming home to an independent Scotland."

But Rankin last night questioned why Sir Sean had not chosen to return sooner.

The 46-year-old Rebus author told The Scotsman: "He's said that many times and it would be nice if he did come back.

"Maybe he should come back before we have independence and he should fight for it from the home front, as it were."

He's got a point.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


Japan takes step toward amendment (Bruce Wallace, April 14, 2007, LA Times)

The Japanese government took a historic step Friday toward revising the country's pacifist constitution, winning parliament's endorsement of procedures for a national referendum necessary to make changes to its postwar charter. [...]

Rewriting the constitution is a central goal of Abe's government, which wants to shuck off what it sees as a foreign constitution that imposed non-Japanese values on a defeated country. In particular, it wants to change Article 9, the pacifist clause that renounces Japan's right to wage war or use force to settle disputes. The main parties agree that restrictions in Article 9 should be loosened, but differ over the conditions under which the use of force should be allowed.

Critics say the referendum bill has exposed illiberal tendencies in the Abe government. The law would ban public servants and teachers from participating in campaigns on either side of the referendum question.

Opponents say those restrictions run counter to the constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and academic freedom.

"Conservative politicians hate the teachers union and the public servants union because they are supporters of the current constitution," said Sayo Saruta, with the Japan Bar Assn.

Civil service reform was supposed to make it less political, not more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Drug use rearrests up after Prop. 36: A UCLA study raises questions about the effectiveness of the law mandating treatment instead of jail time. (Megan Garvey and Jack Leonard, April 14, 2007, LA Times)

Convicted drug users in California are more likely to be arrested on new drug charges since Proposition 36 took effect than before voters approved the landmark law mandating drug treatment rather than incarceration, according a long-awaited study released Friday.

The state-funded study, conducted by UCLA researchers who have pored over four years of drug-related court cases, raises new questions about the effectiveness of Proposition 36 at a time when lawmakers and courts are discussing stricter requirements for defendants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


A Step Backward for Pope Benedict? (Jeff Israely, 4/13/07, TIME)

Eighteen months ago, one Rome-based progressive cleric had said he was "surprised to see that [Benedict] seems to be open to hear new ideas." But today, the same priest is disappointed. There has been no sign of any of the hoped-for reforms: overturning the ban on communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, reconsidering the celibacy requirement for priests, allowing gays in seminaries, or a softening of the condom ban to allow for distribution in AIDS-ravaged Africa. The release last month of the Pope's final document on what had seemed to be a convivial and intellectually open October 2005 bishops' meeting on the Eucharist is a good example of the Pontiff's approach. According to a senior Church official who participated: "He took all that debate of the Synod, and then gave us a document that simply defends the status quo." This same official acknowledges a bit of past excessive optimism on Benedict: "People were hoping that with his intellectual acumen and understanding of theology, he'd be in a position to make some of these changes. Unfortunately, at this point, I don't think we'll see any of them."

You pretty much have to be an intellectual to believe that the answer to that equation is discarding morality.

April 13, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Lebanon Marks Civil War Anniversary (AP, 4/13/07)

Lebanon marks the anniversary of its civil war this week, a conflict that began three decades ago under circumstances that, to some, are starkly reminiscent of the political divisions and sectarian violence seen today.

On April 13, 1975, an ambush by Christian gunmen of a busload of Palestinians sparked a civil war that lasted 15 years, killed 150,000 people and caused $25 billion in damage.

Marking this year's anniversary, the rusted bullet-scarred bus was displayed at a former crossing point on the line that separated Beirut's Christian and Muslim sectors during the war.

After thirty divisive years, how about dividing it into its constituent parts? As in Iraq, there's little chance of folks accepting Shi'a rule, so just let them have their own state.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


Pelosi and Diplomacy (The Nation, April 30, 2007)

Once upon a time, Republicans believed in diplomacy. They spoke with enemies. Recall Richard Nixon: As President, he negotiated with the Soviets, the Chinese and the North Vietnamese, who were shooting at US troops at the time. Nowadays, the Bush Administration too often dismisses diplomacy and, when it does, is cheered on by neoconservatives and conservatives who misguidedly equate communication with weakness. The recent hullabaloo about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria is illustrative.

Democrats are the new Nixon. It's certainly true that, in the interests of stability, he wanted to prop up the USSR, just as they're seeking to salvage Sunni dictatorships. It's just odd to think that a badge of honor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


One of Britain's greatest WW2 flying aces dies after one last flight with his wife (Daily Mail, 13th April 2007)

Aviation historians have been paying tribute to one of Britain's most decorated Second World War fighter pilots who died shortly after his last flight with his wife.

Squadron Leader Neville Duke, 85, flew 485 operational sorties during the war and achieved 28 air combat victories, including seven aircraft shot down in seven days, to become the most successful pilot in the Mediterranean theatre of war.

Sqdn Ldr Duke, from Lymington, Hants, was flying his aircraft G-Zero with his wife Gwen, 86, when he landed at Popham airfield in Coxford Down, Winchester, on Saturday afternoon and collapsed a short time later.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:54 PM


Junor v. Writer (not me) (John Fay, April 13, 2007, Reds Insider)

Ken Griffey Jr. got into a bit of a confrontation with a writer in the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley. Griffey was talking to a Nike rep. Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Light, came up and asked for a few minutes. Bissinger is working on something for the New York Times.

Griffey said he was having a conversation. Bissinger said he only had 20 minutes. Griffey basically said too bad. Bissinger said "you're not worth it" or words to that effect and walked away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


The Power of the Gatekeepers: The difficulty of converting to Judaism in Israel (EVAN R. GOLDSTEIN, April 13, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Last year approximately 2,500 immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union began their conversions to Judaism. The official Orthodox framework--the only one recognized by Israeli law--typically takes about 10 months and involves studying Jewish law and thought, navigating an intricate bureaucracy, and adopting an Orthodox lifestyle, including strict adherence to kosher dietary laws and observance of Jewish holidays. The process culminates in a visit to the beit din, or rabbinical court, where the potential convert's knowledge of Jewish history and practice is probed.

It turns out that of the roughly 2,500 Russians who began their conversions last year only about 940 successfully completed the process. This sparse result has triggered the latest battle in the long-running war over conversion in Israel. In the last decade of the 20th century, a wave of some one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived in Israel. Though one-third were not recognized as Jewish according to rabbinic law, primarily because their mothers are not Jewish, all were granted Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, which has a more expansive definition of who is a Jew and thus entitled to live in Israel.

For the roughly 300,000 Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union who are not recognized as Jews by the chief rabbinate, a state-financed academy was created to ease their path to conversion. [...]

For its part, the Orthodox rabbinate defends its strict interpretation of Jewish law, arguing that conversion is not a casual decision. It says that the Russians are free to live as citizens of Israel even if they are not Jewish by Orthodox criteria, but otherwise consider themselves Jews.

But they are not accorded the same rights as citizens. In an arrangement that dates back to the earliest days of the Jewish state, matters of marriage, divorce and burial are governed by Orthodox religious authorities. Therefore Israelis who are not Jewish according to Orthodox standards are unable to have an official Jewish wedding ceremony or be buried in some Jewish cemeteries there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


The Kosovo Conundrum (Peter Beinart, 4/12/07, TIME)

Remember Kosovo? It was fought without U.N. approval against a dictator, Slobodan Milosevic, who, while slaughtering his own people, posed no direct threat to the U.S. Had NATO's campaign failed, it would have been Clinton and Blair who looked like reckless ideologues. But it worked. And Blair made it the centerpiece of a new foreign policy creed, which he called the "doctrine of international community."

That vision, which Clinton largely shared, summed up Democratic foreign policy at the turn of the millennium. In a globalized world, bad things that happen in other countries spread more quickly to our shores. Genocides spawn refugees, who destabilize their neighbors. Corruption sparks financial meltdowns, which rock the world economy. Pandemics hopscotch across the globe. Blair's answer was for Britain and the U.S., working through international institutions, to intervene more aggressively in the domestic affairs of other nations: to strengthen their financial and public-health systems, to push them toward capitalism and democracy, and in cases of extreme neglect and abuse, to take over the nation-building process by force.

For much of the democratic foreign policy establishment, that's still the prism--look at Obama's push for U.N. or even NATO intervention in Darfur, or Edwards' tough talk about Vladimir Putin's rollback of democracy in Russia. Blairism, at its heart, is optimistic. It assumes that the U.S., working with its allies, can make other countries freer, healthier and richer. It assumes those countries will generally want our help. Above all, it assumes that the key to U.S. security is building a world that looks more like us. Blairism may be less militaristic than neoconservatism, but it's still a missionary creed.

Grass-roots Democrats, however--the people who will actually vote for Clinton, Edwards or Obama--are not in a missionary mood. In a June 2006 German Marshall Fund survey, only 35% of Democrats, compared with 64% of Republicans, said the U.S. should "help establish democracy in other countries."

You can sell isolationism for brief periods of time in America, especially in the immediate wake of foreign adventures, but the leadership's trips abroad to meet with authoritarian leaders who actively suppress the democratic aspirations of their people is a tad too reactionary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


Iranian Parliament Ready for Talks with Nancy Pelosi (Fars News Agency, 4/13/07)

Vice Chairman of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission here on Friday voiced preparedness to attend talks with the US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

Speaking to FNA, Mohammad Nabi Roudaki said, "We are ready to attend parliamentary talks with the speaker of the US Congress, Nancy Pelosi."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 PM


Rudy's Big Apple Baggage (Kimberley Strassel, 4/13/07, Real Clear Politics)

Here's a little nugget from the past, a tale that may offer some insights into the next stage of the GOP presidential race, and the fortunes of front-runner Rudy Giuliani:

The date is the mid-1990s, and Republicans have swept Congress with their Contract with America. A top promise is greater fiscal responsibility, and a crucial element of that is a vow to pass a line-item veto and give the president the power to weed out pork. In 1996 Republicans are as good as their word, and grant the opposition's Bill Clinton a broad new power to strip wasteful spending.

Mr. Clinton is enthusiastic, and in August 1997 uses his tool for the first time to strike down a special-interest provision tucked in a bill. That provision gives New York hospitals a unique right to bilk extra Medicaid money, and the veto is expected to save federal taxpayers at least $200 million. Quicker than a Big Apple pol can say "pork," New York officials sue, challenging the line item veto's constitutionality. That suit, Clinton v. City of New York, goes all the way to the Supremes, which in 1998 put the kibosh on veto authority.

The kicker? The guy who brought the suit and won--or, rather, the guy who helped stall one of the more powerful tools for reining in government spending--was none other than former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

That's a story largely lost to history, but don't be surprised if it, and other Giuliani-in-the-City financial tales, start to figure more prominently in this race.

He's far enough to Hillary's Left on social issues that it's not likely to ever get to fiscal issues. He can't win GOP primaries and he's being replaced by Fred Thompson as the not-McCain candidate. So why even bother to run?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 PM


Fouad Ajami: Middle East scholar or Shiite partisan? (Henry Bowles, 04/13/2007, Foreign Policy)

Fouad Ajami, unenthused as he must be at the prospect of conceding that he erred in fervently supporting the Iraq War, is a tad more invested in the surge than is your average academic. So, naturally, at a time when even the hint of optimism on Iraq is duly punished in the media, Ajami departed Washington for Baghdad to assess the situation for himself. His conclusions, published at great length in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, did nothing to lay to rest the long-standing criticism that Ajami reeks of Shiite nationalism.

It's kind of refreshing to see someone express contempt of the Shi'a majority in Iraq so openly. The Realists liked it so much better when Saddam had his foot on their throats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Little headway made on House ethics rules (Associated Press, 4/13/07)

Democratic-led efforts to overhaul the House's oft-criticized ethics enforcement system have stumbled over a familiar obstacle: lawmakers afraid of outside scrutiny.

The promise to end the "culture of corruption" they said developed in Washington under Republican rule helped propel Democrats into the majority in November elections. But after a promising start, lawmakers appear to be backing off a proposal for an independent entity to investigate ethics charges.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


India has China in its range (Siddharth Srivastava, 4/14/07, Asia Times)

Even as India celebrates the successful test-firing on Thursday of its home-grown Agni-III intermediate-range ballistic missile - capable of delivering a 1.5-tonne nuclear or conventional payload over much of Asia - officials admit that the test had the tacit approval of the United States.

The US is striving to build India as a strategic counterweight to China, along with Japan and Australia. [...]

India, of course, has traditional rival Pakistan already covered via its Agni-I (700-800km range) and Agni-II (2,000km-plus range) missiles that are now being inducted into the armed forces. As per the agreed norms, New Delhi informed Islamabad about Agni-III prior to the test.

Never underestimate how handy it is to have allies more willing than you to use nukes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


France: A nation in crisis?: The banlieues are in revolt ... unemployment is high ... the universities are failing ... real incomes have been falling for years ... and the young are leaving in their droves. So is the 'French Model' doomed? And will any of the Presidential candidates dare address the problem? (John Lichfield 13 April 2007, Independent)

Should France therefore not be more "market-oriented" in its economic policy, as M. Sarkozy has suggested: more like Tony Blair's Britain?

"Non, non, non," say Yves and his friends. They are attracted to London jobs but appalled at the suggestion that France should be more like Britain. There is "too much poverty" in Britain, they say. The hospitals are "falling apart". "Workers have no rights." The trains are falling off the tracks.

French gloom about Britain is outdone only by obsessive British gloom about France. After 10 years of living and writing about France - 10 years of great pleasure and interest - I sometimes catch myself wanting to suppress the negative and stress the positive. I know that the gloom will be enthusiastically covered elsewhere. I will therefore allow an Australian friend, who has been living in Paris for nearly two decades, to "speak up for France".

John Baxter, a much-praised film biographer and writer living in Paris, says: "I was brought up in Australia, where everything was homogenised, where everything worked efficiently but everything was, in a sense, fake, based on an idealised view of what Britain might once have been and probably never was. That's why I love France."

"I love the fact that here is a country which has so many different kinds of cheese that no one can agree how many there are and so many different types of wine that nobody can remember all their names. The French don't want to lose all that and neither do I."

Sure, the country's in the crapper, but it's got lots of cheeses?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


N.J. governor might not have had seat belt on: Corzine won't walk normally for months; injuries not life-threatening (AP, 4/13/07)

In critical condition but expected to recover, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine apparently was not wearing a seatbelt when the car he was in crashed Thursday, despite a state law requiring it for front-seat passengers, a spokesman said Friday.

Of course, if the seat just faced the rear he'd be fine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


As Imus' career dissolves, let's look at the kettle that's calling the pot black (Jimmie Walker, 4/12/07, JewishWorldReview.com)

Don Imus is the Grand Daddy of shock jocks: Mancow, Opie and Anthony, Howard Stern, and many others. His comments about the Rutger's women's basketball team, were a shock jock morning show comment. Some thought them funny. Others, didn't.

But the race police ( Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) were on the prowl and they pounced. They made an incident that no one would've otherwise noticed into a national event.

Now, Imus is a shock jock. And shock jocks, well, "shock". Was there an intent to attack the black race, women, or to attack the achievements of the Women's basketball team? NO. Do so and you're giving Imus way too much credit. Are these Shock Jocks racist and sexist? No, they're … shock jocks. This is what morning shock jocks do. Are we going to get rid of Shock Jocks? No. Like roaches, shock jocks will be with us forever.

But the race police have made this a bigger issue than the Iraq war.

Strangely enough, the Revs retain their radio and newspaper gigs despite their race-baiting and anti-Semitism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Sibelius - A hostage to history: Sibelius was once the world's favourite composer but, thanks to German fascist admirers, his star waned after his death. Fifty years later, it's time to rediscover his genius (Jessica Duchen, 09 April 2007, Independent)

Jean Sibelius, Finland's finest export, along with cranberry vodka and the Moomins, died in 1957 at the age of 91. In 1935 he was identified as the most popular classical composer of all, ahead of Beethoven, in a poll by the New York Philharmonic Society. But, on the 50th anniversary of his death, he is receiving scant attention in British concert halls, even though he was as fine a composer as the more popular likes of Shostakovich and Mahler.

He is set apart from his rivals by his conciseness and originality of voice, a combination of the translucent and the transcendental. Each of his seven symphonies is unique in structure, unpredictable, even startling; tautly written and organic in their use of motifs, they possess a sense of austere wonder; personal yet universal. At the time of their composition, they represented a radical departure from the symphonies of the past. Beside them, Mahler can seem self-indulgent, while Shostakovich can never be divorced from his fearsome Soviet context.

But the mysteries of Sibelius run deeper than his relative neglect. For the last 30 years of his life, he produced next to nothing. He worked on an eighth symphony, declaring several times that it would be his greatest work, but it never materialised. Eventually, said Sibelius's wife Aino, there was a bonfire at the family home. Her husband had consigned the eighth symphony to the flames. [...]

The death blow was delivered after the war by the German philosopher, sociologist and musical theorist Theodor Adorno. Certain critics, notably Olin Downes in New York, had used Sibelius to berate composers such as Schoenberg and Stravinsky; Adorno, consequently, bore Sibelius a grudge for his very popularity, so was keen to associate him with Nazi ideology. "Sibelius's supporters scream in chorus: 'nature is all, nature is all'. Great Pan, and where necessary blood and earth, step up into the picture," he blustered, evoking the Nazis' blut und boden slogans.

Nothing could have been further from the truth, as revealed in Erik Tawaststjerna's definitive five-volume biography of Sibelius: in his diary the composer lambasted anti-Semitism and declared the Nazis' race laws "the most complete hogwash". But the damage had been done.

Adorno was an influential thinker, and contributed greatly to the prevailing post-war aesthetic in which critics condemned new music that seemed "conservative", and failed to toe the line of the 12-tone system.

Like it's a bad thing...

-Sibelius' Symphony No 2 (BBC, Radio 3)
-Sibelius -Tapiola (BBC, Radio 3)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Libya transforms under Khadafy's watchful eye: Brother Leader keeps tight grip on reins of power while political and social changes propel nation into 21st century (Dan Morrison, 4/12/07, SF Chronicle)

Led by Khadafy's modernizing son, Seif al-Islam Khadafy, reformers in the government have ambitious plans to propel Libya into the 21st century -- but without opening the door to freedoms that might threaten Brother Leader's hold on power.

The reformers -- and the consultants they have hired from the Monitor Group of Cambridge, Mass., to formulate and help implement changes -- seem to have decided the only way to succeed is by convincing Khadafy that plans to remake the country were all his idea in the first place.

"We may hear talk of changes, and change would be good,'' said an engineering student walking on Tripoli's seaside promenade. The student, speaking on condition of anonymity like all the Libyans interviewed for this article, looked out at the Mediterranean and shrugged. "But the Leader is still the Leader -- in all his wisdom.''

In a feat of political jiujitsu, the reformers are trying to tear down huge swaths of Khadafy's socialist state while using his own manifesto -- a melange of socialist and utopian homilies known as the Green Book -- as part of their justification.

"You have to frame it in a way that the Leader wasn't wrong, it's just that his policies were poorly implemented,'' said a person familiar with the effort. It's a bold strategy, as if Chinese free-marketers had claimed the Beijing stock exchange flowed from the wisdom of Chairman Mao.

With a population of just 5.6 million and giant stores of oil and natural gas, Libya can modernize faster and with less pain than Eastern Europe did in the 1990s, becoming "the Norway of North Africa,'' said an economic official who asked not to be identified because the plans had not yet been enacted.

The new economic strategy calls for cutting hundreds of thousands of government jobs, retraining armies of managers and recruiting Libyan expatriates. Laid-off workers would get three years' severance, retraining and access to business loans. Hospitals and public sector industries would all be managed by foreigners or foreign-trained Libyans -- an acknowledgment of Libya's gap in expertise and standards, the official said.

Foreign investment would be encouraged, "not because we need the money, but because it brings a better business culture," he said. "It raises the bar -- that is priceless.''

If you can make Anglicization seem organic it's all to the good.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Majority views become academic: For some intellectuals, democracy means no debate (Gregory Melleuish, April 11, 2007, The Australian)

The great thing about democracy is that not only is it a good thing but it is difficult to pin a specific meaning on it. Most people would associate it with our system of government, with the fact that we elect our members of parliament and through them the government of the day. In a democracy, it is the majority that rules.

There is often disagreement as to what democracy involves. For example, many people would say the system of checks and balances in our political system, of having two houses of parliament and an independent judiciary, is democratic in nature, whereas in fact such checks and balances are largely derived from our liberal heritage. This is why Australia is usually referred to as a liberal democracy.

So when someone claims there is an attack on democracy in Australia, what they mean depends on how they use the word. For Niall Lucy and Steve Mickler in The War on Democracy, democracy does not mean our system of government or even the rule of the "so-called majority". "What's democratic about that?" they ask. Rather, democracy is about minorities, in particular those minorities that advance the cause of social progress.

Democracy is an ideal to be invoked whenever a new cause comes along: to attack democracy is to attack the fashionable cause of the moment. Democracy can never be realised because there is always a new left-wing cause waiting in the wings.

One of the many liberal criticisms of democracy that have been made over the years is that democratic institutions do not sufficiently protect minorities. To make minorities the central feature of democracy is, to put it mildly, bizarre.

And tolerance or multiculturalism, as preached by the Left, is nothing but the notion that every minority is entitled to follow its own cause, no matter how repellent to the majority. It is the war of freedom against republican liberty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Rudy's Abortion Deal-Breaker (Doug Bandow 4/13/2007, American Spectator)

Perhaps it is inevitable that a man who became a national icon also ended up politically tone deaf. He began to believe his press clipplings, sycophants surrounded him, drowning out any criticism, and the rush of White House staff wannabees left him convinced that the bandwagon could not run off-course. Rudy Giuliani obviously doesn't get it, but his support for taxpayer-paid abortions could --and certainly should--prove to be the deal- breaker for pro-life conservatives. [...]

Of course, the unsavory private life -- the tacky public announcement of his planned divorce, unseemly court fight over bringing his mistress into the city-provided mayoral residence, and estrangement from his kids -- left a nasty taste. Good policy should still be trump, but then there was Giuliani's support for abortion. It's a difficult and complex issue, but supporting abortion is different from, say, backing higher dairy subsidies.

Not that he favors much of any conservative policies either.

April 12, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


Don Imus: the good-natured racist: The shock jock was only mimicking rappers and comedians who make millions at the expense of black women (Constance L. Rice, 4/11/07, LA Times)

Firing Imus for racist riffs would be like firing Liberace for flamboyance. It's what he does.

More to the point, Imus should only be fired when the black artists who make millions of dollars rapping about black bitches and hos lose their recording contracts. Black leaders should denounce Imus and boycott him and call for his head only after they do the same for the misogynist artists with whom they have shared stages, magazine covers and awards shows.

The truth is, Imus' remarks mimic those of the original gurus of black female denigration: black men with no class. He is only repeating what he's heard and being honest about the way many men — of all races — judge women.

Just as black comedians who make mean jokes about Asians and Latinos don't see themselves as racists, I'm sure that Imus doesn't see himself as a racist either. He reveres blues artists such as B.B. King and Ray Charles. He praises American icons such as Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. He clearly likes former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford and has interviewed Sharpton a few times. He treated Lani Guinier with uncharacteristic respect during her guest appearance to discuss her latest book.

His sympathy for the Katrina victims came through. And after the James Byrd dragging-lynching in Texas in 1998, Imus did not joke. In serious tones that couldn't hide his sorrow or disgust, he quietly remarked that it was unwise for black people to ever trust whites.

After listening to him for 10 years, I've concluded that Imus is not a malevolent racist. He is a good-natured racist. And the streak of decency running down his self-centered, mean persona is sometimes pretty wide.

Imus and company are jocular misanthropes who say what a lot of folk only dare to think.

Just imagine the reaction from the PC community if NBC and CBS actually banned black performers -- comedians, actors, musicians -- whose work objectifies black women and uses offensive epithets? ABC would certainly get the Grammys.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Two more signs of Thompson rising (BILL THEOBALD, 4/12/07, Gannett News Service)

Two surveys released today show actor and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson's star continuing to rise as a possible Republican presidential candidate.

Thompson finished second in a national poll released today by the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg. He was favored by 15 percent of those surveyed, behind former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who was chosen by 29 percent. Arizona Sen. John McCain was third with 12 percent. [...]

Meanwhile, a poll of political insiders by National Journal, a political publication, found that Thompson was considered by both Democrats and Republicans as the person who "will emerge as a strong contender for president."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:06 PM


Intellectuals, society and the left (Eric Hobsbawm, New Statesman)

There is now a large body of intellectuals, who are critical of capitalist society. A mass of dissenting radicals appeared in and around the universities in the 1960s. This may or may not be permanent, and it is not without precedent. But in the developed capitalist countries, till recently, most student movements were on the political right, if they existed at all.

The quickest way of defining intellectuals is: people who have successfully undergone the required level of schooling. They have been ground down between the same millstones.

Nonetheless, their social origin and form of training remain relevant. It is important to know whether a person or group belongs to the first generation to have received higher education or not; whether they passed through an established set or transformed one; whether they belong to the diminishing group of the individually or collectively self-educated.

Whatever the nature of intellectuals one point about them now is of considerable practical importance—their sheer size as a social group. The proportion of students in West Germany in the l970s was, relative to the total population, about 30 times greater than in the Germany of the 1870s. Quite small groups of intellectuals can play a very significant part in the politics of their countries. But we are today dealing, in Britain as elsewhere, with a very substantial mass of people, though not necessarily a homogeneous one.

Intellectuals may attach themselves to wider political and social movements such as the labour movement. They may also form movements on their own, though they often claim only to be keeping the place warm until the masses themselves go into action. The British Labour and Communist parties grew up as basically proletarian bodies with a small number of intellectuals attached. The social democratic party or parties of tsarist Russia were overwhelmingly composed of intellectuals who claimed to—and, in fact, did—represent the workers. It does not follow that every group of marxist intellectuals does.

Broadly speaking, the more developed the class organisation of the manual workers, the greater what the French call its ouvrierisme—ie, its suspicion of people who are not manual workers. An obvious example is the most purely proletarian organisation, the unions. In the major western industrial countries—Britain, the us, West Germany and France—it is still inconceivable that a man of non-working class origin could head a major union of manual workers.

During the past few years, and especially since 1968, groups of intellectuals have played an unusually prominent part in the political and social movements of their nations.

Perhaps we can best define it in the negative. Here's how Richard Hofstadter defined anti-intellectualism, that classic bent of the American mind: "The common strain that binds together the attitudes and ideas which I call anti-intellectual is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life."

Or, we might just use Michael Oakeshott's description of Rationalism, wich is really just another term for Intellectualism:

There are some minds which give us the sense that they have passed through an elaborate education which was designed to initiate them into the traditions and achievements of their civilization; the immediate impression we have of them is an impression of cultivation, of the enjoyment of an inheritance. But this is not so with the mind of the Rationalist, which impresses us as, at best, a finely tempered, neutral instrument, as a well-trained rather than as an educated mind. Intellectually, his ambition is not so much to share the experience of the race as to be demonstrably a self-made man. And this gives to his intellectual and practical activities an almost preternatural deliberateness and self-consciousness, depriving them of any element of passivity, removing from them all sense of rhythm and continuity and dissolving them into a succession of climacterics, each to be surmounted by a tour de raison. His mind has no atmosphere, no changes of season and temperature; his intellectual processes, so far as possible, are insulated from all external influence and go on in the void. And having cut himself off from the traditional knowledge of his society, and denied the value of any education more extensive than a training in a technique of analysis, he is apt to attribute to mankind a necessary inexperience in all the critical moments of life, and if he were more self-critical he might begin to wonder how the race had ever succeeded in surviving. With an almost poetic fancy, he strives to live each day as if it were his first, and he believes that to form a habit is to fail. And if, with as yet no thought of analysis, we glance below the surface, we may, perhaps, see in the temperament, if not in the character, of the Rationalist, a deep distrust of time, an impatient hunger for eternity and an irritable nervousness in the face of everything topical and transitory.

Now, of all worlds, the world of politics might seem the least amenable to rationalist treatment--politics, always so deeply veined with both the traditional, the circumstantial and the transitory. And, indeed, some convinced Rationalists have admitted defeat here: Clemenceau, intellectually a child of the modern Rationalist tradition (in his treatment of morals and religion, for example), was anything but a Rationalist in politics. But not all have admitted defeat. If we except religion, the greatest apparent victories of Rationalism have been in politics: it is not to be expected that whoever is prepared to carry his rationalism into the conduct of life will hesitate to carry it into the conduct of public affairs.

But what is important to observe in such a man (for it is characteristic) is not the decisions and actions he is inspired to make, but the source of his inspiration, his idea (and with him it will be a deliberate and conscious idea) of political activity. He believes, of course, in the open mind, the mind free from prejudice and its relic, habit. He believes that the unhindered human 'reason' (if only it can be brought to bear) is an infallible guide in political activity. Further, he believes in argument as the technique and operation of reason'; the truth of an opinion and the 'rational' ground (not the use) of an institution is all that matters to him. Consequently, much of his political activity consists in bringing the social, political, legal and institutional inheritance of his society before the tribunal of his intellect; and the rest is rational administration, 'reason' exercising an uncontrolled jurisdiction over the circumstances of the case. To the Rationalist, nothing is of value merely because it exists (and certainly not because it has existed for many generations), familiarity has no worth, and nothing is to be left standing for want of scrutiny. And his disposition makes both destruction and creation easier for him to understand and engage in, than acceptance or reform. To patch up, to repair (that is, to do anything which requires a patient knowledge of the material), he regards as waste of time: and he always prefers the invention of a new device to making use of a current and well-tried expedient. He does not recognize change unless it is a self-consciously induced change, and consequently he falls easily into the error of identifying the customary and the traditional with the changeless. This is aptly illustrated by the rationalist attitude towards a tradition of ideas. There is, of course, no question either of retaining or improving such a tradition, for both these involve an attitude of submission. It must be destroyed. And to fill its place the Rationalist puts something of his own making--an ideology, the formalized abridgment of the supposed substratum of rational truth contained in the tradition.

Either way, it's easy to see why we Americans hate them so and how that saved us from the Enlightenment.

Here's a funny bit where a man of the Left is confronted with the Intellectual in action, A silent springtime for Hitler? (Alex Beam, April 10, 2007, Boston Globe)

[I] am reading the important book, "How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment and Nation in the Third Reich."

I know what you are thinking. I have fallen for a hoax. No one in their right mind would research and publish a book stating, "The Nazis created nature preserves, championed sustainable forestry, curbed air pollution, and designed the autobahn highway network as a way of bringing Germans closer to nature." Or: "The Nazis did in fact impact the landscape in ways far out of proportion to the short twelve years they were in power."

But in fact, three professors -- Franz-Josef Bruggemeier of Freiburg University, Mark Cioc from the University of California/Santa Cruz, and the University of Maryland's Thomas Zeller -- have done just that.

It is undeniably true that Adolf and his crew were A-number-one landscape-impacters. London got plenty impacted by the Nazis' environmental outreach program, as did cities like Leningrad, Stalingrad, Dresden, and Berlin. According to this book, the Nazis had big plans for spreading their green ideology eastward into Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. "In the vast territories conquered in the east . . . they saw the opportunity to create a better, greener, future, combining racist and environmental thinking," the authors write. How sad that the eastern European Jews didn't go along with the program! What soreheads.

It's incredible that anyone would actually publish sentences like these: "The Nazis, however, were not interested in turning Germany into a tree farm"; "World War II was the opportunity that many modernist landscape architects had been waiting for"; or, "In the end, everyone . . . agreed that it was the wrong moment to embark on any projects with organic farming."

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

To be fair, I did learn a lot. I already knew that Hitler was a vegetarian with a taste for nonalcoholic beer, but I didn't know that SS boss Heinrich Himmler also eschewed meat or that Hermann Goering had a "sincere interest in forest conservation." Nazi party secretary Rudolf Hess was a devotee of organic gardening. Did you know that there was an organic herb garden at Dachau? Marvelous! It's depressing how many historians insist on dwelling on the negatives.

Co-author Zeller directed me to some reviews. " 'How Green Were the Nazis?' is a must for those who want to be introduced to the controversial relationship of Hitler's regime with the natural world," says the website Humanities and Social Services Online. Striking a more realistic note, another reviewer comments that "the articles collected here provide little evidence that the Nazis were, in fact, sincere environmentalists."

Note how easy it is to excuse Hitler when your idea of environmentalism matters more than the reality of Nazism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:58 PM


Upheaval in the north: The kingdom is looking anything but united as it heads toward regional and local elections. This article looks at the resurgence of Scottish nationalism; others consider Wales and England (The Economist, 4/12/07)

"THERE are just 30 days to save devolution,” proclaimed Jack McConnell this week. Scotland's first minister was firing Labour's opening shots in the campaign leading up to elections for the Scottish Parliament on May 3rd. By awkward coincidence, these fall two days after the 300th anniversary of the formal union between Scotland and England. Mr McConnell has every right to sound alarmed.

Most recent opinion polls have given the Scottish National Party (SNP), which seeks independence from Britain, a hefty lead over Labour. Those who were squelched years ago for giving warning that devolution was less a solution to separatist sentiment than a fast track to secession are laughing up their sleeves. Is the union, in fact, in peril, with Scotland the first of the four nations that make up the United Kingdom to walk free?

The very incoherence of the question answers it. Nations are ethnic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM


France's chance: After a quarter-century of drift Nicolas Sarkozy offers the best hope of reform (The Economist, 4/12/07)

France is the euro zone's second-biggest member and home to ten of Europe's 50 biggest companies. But it is deeply troubled. It has the slowest-growing large economy in Europe, a state that soaks up half of GDP, the fastest-rising public debt in western Europe over the past ten years and, above all, entrenched high unemployment. Over the past 25 years French GDP per person has declined from seventh-highest in the world to 17th. The smouldering mood of the suburbs (banlieues), home to many jobless youths from ethnic minorities, blazed into riots in 2005 and lay behind new trouble that flared recently at a Paris railway station. The disenchantment of voters is reflected not only in opinion polls but also in their rejection of the European Union constitution in 2005. Tellingly, they have not re-elected an incumbent government for a quarter-century.

The most urgent cure for all these ills is to get the economy growing faster. That requires radical liberalisation of labour and product markets, more competition and less protection, lower taxes and cuts in public spending, plus a shake-up of the coddled public services. None of these things was seriously tackled in the past 26 years, under the presidencies of François Mitterrand, from the left, and Jacques Chirac, from the right. This was a time when other European countries, such as Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Nordics, transformed themselves for the better, and still largely retained their cherished social models and welfare systems. Here lies the biggest challenge for the next French president.

Odd not to count the two centuries during which they eagerly followed the French model into this mess, only the 25 since even they realized the Anglo-American model is the only way out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


The Film P.B.S. Doesn't Want you to See (Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., April 11, 2007, Townhall)

As it happens, I was involved in making a film for the "America at a Crossroads" series that also focused on, among others, several American Muslims. Unlike Mr. MacNeil's, however, this 52-minute documentary entitled "Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Muslim Center," was selected through the competitive process and was originally designated by CPB to be aired in the first Crossroads increment.

Also unlike Mr. MacNeil's film, "Islam vs. Islamists" focuses on the courageous Muslims in the United States, Canada and Western Europe who are challenging the power structure in virtually every democracy that has been established largely with Saudi money to advance worldwide the insidious ideology known as Islamofascism. In fact, thanks to the MacNeil-Lehrer film, the PBS audience will shortly be treated to an apparently fawning portrait of one of the most worrisome manifestations of that Saudi-backed organizational infrastructure in America: the Muslim Student Association (MSA). The MSA's efforts to recruit and radicalize students and suppress dissenting views on American campuses is a matter of record and alarming in the extreme.

In an exchange with me aired on National Public Radio last week, however, Robert MacNeil explained why he and his team had refused to air "Islam vs. Islamists," describing it as "alarmist" and "extremely one-sided." In other words, a documentary that compellingly portrays what happens to moderate Muslims when they dare to speak up for and participate in democracy, thus defying the Islamists and their champions, is not fit for public airwaves – even in a series specifically created to bring alternative perspectives to their audience.

The MacNeil criticism was merely the latest of myriad efforts over the past year made by WETA and PBS to suppress the message of "Islam vs. Islamists." These included: insisting that yours truly be removed as one of the film's executive producers; allowing a series producer with family ties to a British Islamist to insist on sweeping changes to its "structure and context," changes that would have assured more favorable treatment of those who are portrayed vilifying and, in some cases, threatening our anti-Islamist protagonists; and hiring as an advisor to help select the final films an avowed admirer of the Nation of Islam – an organization whose receipt of a million dollars from the Saudis to open black Wahhabi mosques is a feature of our documentary. The gravity of this conflict of interest was underscored when the latter showed an early version of our film to Nation of Islam representatives, an action that seemed scarcely to trouble those responsible for the "Crossroads" series at WETA and PBS.

At this writing, the question of whether PBS will get away with suppressing this film remains an open one.

...no differences of opinion are allowed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:34 PM


Twins 5, Yankees 1 (AP, 4/12/07)

Mike Mussina's injury unsettled a shaky Yankees rotation even further for the moment. [...]

Nineteen-game winner Chien-Ming Wang already is on the disabled list with a strained right hamstring, pitching prospects Jeff Karstens and Humberto Sanchez are also out, and fifth starter Darrell Rasner left his first outing early because of a blister. Oh, and left fielder Hideki Matsui has a strained left hamstring, too, which sent him to the DL on Sunday.

Manager Joe Torre said Mussina probably will miss his next start, Tuesday against Cleveland, but wasn't ready to deactivate the 38-year-old just yet.

Still, it didn't sound good.

"As soon as I heard hamstring," Torre said, "I knew we had a problem."

This Yankee season has always been dependent on getting Phil Hughes and Roger Clemens 55-60 starts. They go to Oakland this weekend to face the worst hitting team in the AL in one of the best pitchers' parks, far from the NYC hype machine--it's the perfect place for the younster's major league debut.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:16 PM


The Revolutionary Postman (Stefan Simons, 4/12/07, Der Spiegel)

Charming, modest, eloquent: Olivier Besancenot is the presidential candidate that every French mother would love to have as a son-in-law. With his likeable appearance in jeans and a black t-shirt and his unaffected manner there is little to indicate that the lanky 33-year-old is the leader of the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR).

Campaigning in the northern French town of Lille, Besancenot musters around 2,000 supporters -- mostly young people, many of them students wearing Palestinian scarves, but also a few gray-haired comrades who hope their youthful leader can free them from the fate of being just another factious fringe group. This may not be a false hope: Besancenot can mix up anti-capitalist slogans with bourgeois arguments. "Our purchasing power is sinking, while profits are exploding. When will there be a fair distribution of wealth?" Or: "The rulers of the world are bleeding the Third World to death. When will there be a world without war and poverty?"

It is ten days before the first round of voting and the leading candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy of the conservative Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and Ségolène Royal of the Socialist Party (PS), are continuing with their predictable and hugely expensive campaigns, always in the firm grip of PR advisers and communications strategists. Meanwhile Besancenot is making an impression with his almost naïve seriousness. This is partly due to his role as political outsider and also because the Trotskyite's political convictions overlap with his own background.

The rebel leader is a postman by profession, who delivers letters and packages in Neuilly-sur-Seine, on the outskirts of Paris. "He embodies all the best qualities that citizens would like to see in a revolutionary of the 21st century," writes the essayist Alain Duhamel. "Even his greatest foes from the bourgeois camp wouldn't hesitate to pick him up if he was hitchhiking."

So is he a postal worker or the Hitcher?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:57 AM


Is Climatology a Science? (Robert Tracinski, 4/12/07, Real Clear Politics)

I don't mean to ask whether the climate is being studied using scientific methods and theories. Here's what I mean: is climatology a complete, developed, mature science? Is it the kind of science that is capable of making accurate, reliable predictions? Is the field of climatology, in its current state, capable of producing "settled science" on any broad conclusion?

I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when the New York Times reported that some scientists were balking at Gore's exaggerations of the scientific certainty of climatology, with one of them commenting that "Hardly a week goes by without a new research paper that questions part or even some basics of climate change theory." If the basics of climatology are still up for debate, how can we rely on the kind of complex predictions -- not only about continued global warming, but about its effect on the weather of specific regions -- that are still being pumped out by the United Nations?

Writing in Newsweek recently, MIT Professor of Meteorology Richard Lindzen detailed the uncertainties and the enormous gaps in the evidence for claims about human-caused global warming and concluded, "Climate modelers assume the cause must be greenhouse-gas emissions because they have no other explanation. This is a poor substitute for evidence."

Those who claim the authority of science for speculations about human-caused, catastrophic global warming are abusing the reputation earned by established, mature sciences. They are attempting to steal that reputation on behalf of a premature hypothesis put forward by practitioners of a science still in its infancy.

There are many historical examples of the difference between a science in its infancy and a mature science. Before Darwin and Mendel, biology lacked an overarching theory to explain the relationship of species to one another and to extinct species from earlier eras.

ERNST MAYR: WHAT EVOLUTION IS (Introduction by Jared Diamond, 10.31.01, The Edge)
EDGE: To what extent has the study of evolutionary biology been the study of ideas about evolutionary biology? Is evolution the evolution of ideas, or is it a fact?

ERNST MAYR: That's a very good question. Because of the historically entrenched resistance to the thought of evolution, documented by modern-day creationism, evolutionists have been forced into defending evolution and trying to prove that it is a fact and not a theory. Certainly the explanation of evolution and the search for its underlying ideas has been somewhat neglected, and my new book, the title of which is What Evolution Is, is precisely attempting to rectify that situation. It attempts to explain evolution. As I say in the first section of the book, I don't need to prove it again, evolution is so clearly a fact that you need to be committed to something like a belief in the supernatural if you are at all in disagreement with evolution. It is a fact and we don't need to prove it anymore. Nonetheless we must explain why it happened and how it happens.

One of the surprising things that I discovered in my work on the philosophy of biology is that when it comes to the physical sciences, any new theory is based on a law, on a natural law. Yet as several leading philosophers have stated, and I agree with them, there are no laws in biology like those of physics. Biologists often use the word law, but for something to be a law, it has to have no exceptions. A law must be beyond space and time, and therefore it cannot be specific. Every general truth in biology though is specific. Biological "laws" are restricted to certain parts of the living world, or certain localized situations, and they are restricted in time. So we can say that their are no laws in biology, except in functional biology which, as I claim, is much closer to the physical sciences, than the historical science of evolution.

In fact, Climatology is identical to Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


The McCain Divorce (The Editors, 4/12/07, National Review)

The Republican presidential field has recently been rocked by yet another divorce: The mainstream media have dumped Sen. John McCain. [...]

We have had many differences with Senator McCain over the years, but can only brim with admiration for the clarion voice he has sounded at this critical juncture in the war. The media are almost ready to pronounce his presidential candidacy dead. It has indeed been sagging (for many reasons), but there is an element of malice in the media’s predictions. Surely Republican primary voters won’t find McCain’s leadership on Iraq as strange and irksome as the press does. How often do media hand-wringers lament that politicians’ won’t buck the polls and make unpopular stands on principle? Sen. John McCain is doing just that, and all the press can bring itself to do is carp.

One ought not write a column in which you come off looking worse than your target. It's amusing enough to watch the MSM realize that Maverick is a conservative, even funnier to watch the Right bat their eyes at him after the Mayor imploded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Potential organ donor was wrongly declared brain-dead: The error raises concerns about the medical care of those who have promised their organs for transplants (Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber, April 12, 2007, LA Times)

A man whose family agreed to donate his organs for transplant upon his death was wrongly declared brain-dead by two doctors at a Fresno hospital, records and interviews show.

Only after the man's 26-year-old daughter and a nurse became suspicious was a third doctor, a neurosurgeon, brought in. He determined that John Foster, 47, was not brain-dead, a condition that would have cleared the way for his organs to be removed, records of the Feb. 21 incident show.

"It kind of blew my mind," said the daughter, Melanie Sanchez, "like they were waiting like vultures, waiting for someone to die so they could scoop them up."

When yoiu give folks with a vested interest the power to kill you, they do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


China union drives harder bargains: The sole workers' group is newly aggressive on wages and conditions, worrying foreign firms (Evelyn Iritani, April 12, 2007, LA Times)

China's government-backed trade union, long considered a paper tiger, is growing real fangs — delighting worker advocates but making foreign executives sweat.

Dismissed for years as a Communist Party mouthpiece and organizer of holiday parties, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions has started playing hardball, pushing for tougher labor protections and launching an aggressive campaign to organize foreign companies that have benefited from the country's large, low-cost labor pool.

The federation recently took on some of America's biggest fast-food franchises, accusing McDonald's Corp. and Yum Brands Inc., owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, of underpaying teenagers in their outlets in Guangdong province, where the union has been trying to set up branches. Provincial officials cleared the companies this week, but the dispute made big headlines and highlighted the union's activism. [...]

By teaching workers their legal rights, such as the minimum wage and overtime pay, the union is having a positive effect on wages and working conditions in places like Guangdong, said Chang Hee Lee, an industrial relations expert in China.

In the past, union representatives were chosen by company management and signed off on wage contracts without consulting employees. But Lee recounted a recent visit to a small food-processing plant where the employees had persuaded the union to hold an election for a workers' representative to negotiate on their behalf.

"This emboldens workers," he said. "They say, 'Yes, I have bargaining power.' "

No cheap labor? No jobs.

Poor Romania Imports Poorer Workers: Now that they're residents of an EU member country, low paid workers are leaving the Balkan nation in search of higher wages (Matthew Brunwasser, 4/12/07, Business Week)

To get around the chronic labor shortages hampering this traditional textile center and in other industries across Romania, Sorin Nicolescu, who runs a clothing factory, came up with an original solution: import 800 workers from China.

"The explanation is very simple," said Mr. Nicolescu, general manager of a Swiss concern, the Wear Company. "We don't have any Romanian workers because they have all left to work" in Western and Central Europe. [...]

Romania, a nation of 21.6 million (and declining 0.2 percent annually)...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Standing up to the west (Leader, April 12, 2007, The Guardian)

The Russians counter that the radar would not only to detect any missile within a range of 4,500 kilometres (that covers all of European Russia) but also direct any western missile, whether it has a warhead or not, on to a target in that range. The existence of an "attack" radar on Russia's border changes the strategic balance of nuclear forces negotiated since the Soviet Union signed the now defunct ABM treaty in 1972. Mikhail Gorbachev dismantled a Russian radar of this nature in Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia, for the same reason.

Whoever is right on detail, the outline is clear. The west, through Nato, has stepped into the vacuum created by the withdrawal of Russian forces since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For the countries of eastern Europe and the Baltic states, membership of Nato is the gold standard of independence - and an insurance policy against Russian occupation. But Russia's retreat has not been rewarded by a new era of international cooperation. The west won the cold War and advanced eastwards in time honoured fashion. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia had 2,400 missiles. In five year's time, it will have reduced this to 300. A Russian rocket force of this size is vulnerable to a defence shield which runs from one border to another, given the installation of a radar off the coast of Alaska. Russia is right to think the balance of strategic nuclear forces is changing, and a new arms race has already started.

Anyone remember that Swedish woman marathoner in the '84 Olympics, who was so dehydrated she stumbled the final portion of the race like a rag doll?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Kurt Vonnegut, who wrote "Slaughterhouse-Five," dies at age 84 (Cristian Salazar, 4/12/07, The Associated Press)

The author of at least 19 novels, many of them best-sellers, and dozens of short stories, essays and plays, Mr. Vonnegut relished the role of a social critic. His experience as a prisoner of war in the 1940s in Germany was the basis for "Slaughterhouse-Five," which was published while the United States waged war in Vietnam.

"Slaughterhouse-Five" is listed 18th on Modern Library's list of 100 best novels.

"There was never a kinder and, at the same time, wittier writer to be with personally," said author Tom Wolfe, a friend of Vonnegut's. " He's the closest thing we had to a Voltaire. He could be extremely funny, but there was a vein of iron always underneath it."

An obscure science-fiction writer for two decades before earning mainstream acclaim in 1969 with "Slaughterhouse-Five," Mr. Vonnegut was an American original, often compared to Mark Twain for a vision that combined social criticism, wildly black humor and a call to basic human decency. He was, novelist Jay MacInerny once said, "a satirist with a heart, a moralist with a whoopee cushion."

Mr. Vonnegut lectured regularly, exhorting audiences to think for themselves and delighting in barbed commentary against the institutions he believed were dehumanizing people.

"I will say anything to be funny, often in the most horrible situations," Mr. Vonnegut, whose watery, heavy-lidded eyes and unruly hair made him seem to be in existential pain, once told a gathering of psychiatrists.

A self-described religious skeptic and freethinking humanist, Mr. Vonnegut used protagonists such as Billy Pilgrim and Eliot Rosewater as transparent vehicles for his points of view. He filled his novels with satirical commentary and drawings that were only loosely connected to the plot.

"My motives are political," he once told Playboy magazine. "I agree with Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini that the writer should serve his society. ... Mainly, I think they should be — and biologically have to be — agents of change."

He was the classic case of the author with one good novel in him who just rewrites it endlessly. His central idea was deeply silly: I had a bad experience during WWII, therefore war can serve no decent end. He illustrates the way in which art, which once sought to teach universal truths, has become a vehicle for the self. The subject of his novels is himself.

Ironically, for all his later political correctness his best work is an early politically incorrect one

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Stem Cell Bill Easily Clears Senate But Lacks Votes to Override a Veto (Rick Weiss, April 12, 2007, Washington Post)

For the second time in nine months, the Senate yesterday passed a bill that would loosen President Bush's restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research -- but once again fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a promised veto.

Nineteen Republicans joined 44 Democrats and independents to pass, 63 to 34, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which would allow federally funded studies of stem cells isolated from embryos slated for disposal at fertility clinics.

One hopes that Democrats have given the President one of those safewords, so he knows when to stop beating them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 AM


Felix Hernandez: King for a day (Larry Stone, 4/12/07, Seattle Times)

With stuff that Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek called "electric," Hernandez extended his season-opening scoreless streak to 17 innings, during which he has yielded just four hits.

Contrasted with Matsuzaka's solid but unspectacular effort in his Fenway unveiling (seven innings, eight hits, three runs), Mariners outfielder Jose Guillen could come to just one conclusion: Felix was, and is, the superior pitcher.

"You can see the big difference between those two guys," he said. "To me, there's no comparison right there. If you know baseball, and saw what was there today, you don't even need to ask that question. That was a great lineup they had on the other side."

But Hernandez toyed with it most of the night — with plenty of help from his defense.

Where Dice-K has the stuff of a Greg Maddux, the King has that of Roger Clemens. That the owners of the Mariners are leaving the latter -- who's just 21 -- in the hands of a manager and GM who are trying to save their jobs is criminal.

Pastime Becomes a Global Phenomenon: From Boston to Japan, Fans Watch Live as Hernandez Upstages Matsuzaka : Mariners 3, Red Sox 0 (Dave Sheinin, 4/12/07, Washington Post)

At Fenway Park on Wednesday night, they crammed into every forest green nook and cranny, huddled in their parkas and clutching cups of hot chocolate. In Japan, where it was Thursday morning, they tuned in over breakfast to glimpse a national icon. Anywhere baseball is loved, fans paid attention to the Boston debut of Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka. And when it was over, they shuffled home or went off to work or slouched to the corner bar talking about Felix Hernandez.

Matsuzaka was good in the Red Sox' 3-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners, good enough to see why a team would pay $103.1 million for six years of his services, good enough to see why he is a cultural treasure in Japan and a source of endless fascination in Boston. On a night that radiated with playoff-worthy buzz, he retired countryman Ichiro Suzuki four times and delivered seven effective if unspectacular innings, satisfying a sellout crowd of 36,630.

But where Matsuzaka was merely good, Hernandez was brilliant. [...]

The moments leading up to Matsuzaka's first pitch carried all the electricity of a late-October playoff game. In Japan, the anticipation for his duel with Ichiro, who led off the game for the Mariners, was treated on the level of an Ali-Frazier fight. The Sankei Sports daily newspaper planned to have four full pages of coverage, according to senior baseball writer Gaku Tashiro.

Dice-K, somewhat predictably, seemed to lapse in concentration a bit after retiring Ichiro.

April 11, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Iraq in the Balance: In Washington, panic. In Baghdad, cautious optimism (FOUAD AJAMI, April 11, 2007, Opinion Journal)

A traveler who moves between Baghdad and Washington is struck by the gloomy despair in Washington and the cautious sense of optimism in Baghdad. Baghdad has not been prettified; its streets remain a sore to the eye, its government still hunkered down in the Green Zone, and violence is never far. But the sense of deliverance, and the hopes invested in this new security plan, are palpable. I crisscrossed the city--always with armed protection--making my way to Sunni and Shia politicians and clerics alike. The Sunni and Shia versions of political things--of reality itself--remain at odds. But there can be discerned, through the acrimony, the emergence of a fragile consensus.

Some months back, the Bush administration had called into question both the intentions and capabilities of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. But this modest and earnest man, born in 1950, a child of the Shia mainstream in the Middle Euphrates, has come into his own. He had not been a figure of the American regency in Baghdad. Steeped entirely in the Arabic language and culture, he had a been a stranger to the Americans; fate cast him on the scene when the Americans pushed aside Mr. Maliki's colleague in the Daawa Party, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari.

There had been rumors that the Americans could strike again in their search for a leader who would give the American presence better cover. There had been steady talk that the old CIA standby, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, could make his way back to power. Mr. Allawi himself had fed these speculations, but this is fantasy. Mr. Allawi circles Arab capitals and is rarely at home in his country. Mr. Maliki meanwhile has settled into his role.

In retrospect, the defining moment for Mr. Maliki had been those early hours of Dec. 30, when Saddam Hussein was sent to the gallows. He had not flinched, the decision was his, and he assumed it. Beyond the sound and fury of the controversy that greeted the execution, Mr. Maliki had taken the execution as a warrant for a new accommodation with the Sunni political class. A lifelong opponent of the Baath, he had come to the judgment that the back of the apparatus of the old regime had been broken, and that the time had come for an olive branch to those ready to accept the new political rules. [...]

In the long scheme of history, the Shia Arabs had never governed--and Mr. Maliki and the coalition arrayed around him know their isolation in the region. This Iraqi state of which they had become the principal inheritors will have to make its way in a hostile regional landscape. Set aside Turkey's Islamist government, with its avowedly Sunni mindset and its sense of itself as a claimant to an older Ottoman tradition; the Arab order of power is yet to make room for this Iraqi state. Mr. Maliki's first trip beyond Iraq's borders had been to Saudi Arabia. He had meant that visit as a message that Iraq's "Arab identity" will trump all other orientations. It had been a message that the Arab world's Shia stepchildren were ready to come into the fold. But a huge historical contest had erupted in Baghdad, the seat of the Abbasid caliphate had fallen to new Shia inheritors, and the custodians of Arab power were not yet ready for this new history.

For one, the "Sunni street"--the Islamists, the pan-Arabists who hid their anti-Shia animus underneath a secular cover, the intellectual class that had been invested in the ideology of the Baath party--remained unalterably opposed to this new Iraq. The Shia could offer the Arab rulers the promise that their new state would refrain from regional adventures, but it would not be easy for these rulers to come to this accommodation.

A worldly Shia cleric, the legislator Humam Hamoudi who had headed the constitutional drafting committee, told me that he had laid out to interlocutors from the House of Saud the case that this new Iraqi state would be a better neighbor than the Sunni-based state of Saddam Hussein had been. "We would not be given to military adventures beyond our borders, what wealth we have at our disposal would have to go to repairing our homeland, for you we would be easier to fend off for we are Shiites and would be cognizant and respectful of the differences between us," Mr. Hamoudi had said. "You had a fellow Sunni in Baghdad for more than three decades, and look what terrible harvest, what wreckage, he left behind." This sort of appeal is yet to be heard, for this change in Baghdad is a break with a long millennium of Sunni Arab primacy.

The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad. The great flight from Baghdad to Jordan, to Syria, to other Arab destinations, has been the flight of Baghdad's Sunni middle-class. It is they who had the means of escape, and the savings.

Whole mixed districts in the city--Rasafa, Karkh--have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts. This was the tragic logic of the campaign of terror waged by the Baathists and the jihadists against the Shia; this was what played out in the terrible year that followed the attack on the Askariya shrine of Samarra in February 2006. Possessed of an old notion of their own dominion, and of Shia passivity and quiescence, the Sunni Arabs waged a war they were destined to lose.

No one knows with any precision the sectarian composition of today's Baghdad, but there are estimates that the Sunnis may now account for 15% of the city's population. Behind closed doors, Sunni leaders speak of the great calamity that befell their community.

And if that 15% can't accept the political rules they'll have to go too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 PM


Why So Gloomy? (Richard S. Lindzen, 4/16/07, Newsweek)

Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true. What of it? Recently many people have said that the earth is facing a crisis requiring urgent action. This statement has nothing to do with science. There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we've seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe. What most commentators—and many scientists—seem to miss is that the only thing we can say with certainly about climate is that it changes. The earth is always warming or cooling by as much as a few tenths of a degree a year; periods of constant average temperatures are rare. Looking back on the earth's climate history, it's apparent that there's no such thing as an optimal temperature—a climate at which everything is just right. The current alarm rests on the false assumption not only that we live in a perfect world, temperaturewise, but also that our warming forecasts for the year 2040 are somehow more reliable than the weatherman's forecast for next week.

A warmer climate could prove to be more beneficial than the one we have now. Much of the alarm over climate change is based on ignorance of what is normal for weather and climate. There is no evidence, for instance, that extreme weather events are increasing in any systematic way, according to scientists at the U.S. National Hurricane Center, the World Meteorological Organization and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which released the second part of this year's report earlier this month). Indeed, meteorological theory holds that, outside the tropics, weather in a warming world should be less variable, which might be a good thing.

We're supposed to get 8-10" of snow tomorrow. Even the birkenstocked burghers of Hanover are ready to tar and feather Al Gore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Sarkozy and Chirac deny reports of secret deal (The Associated Press, April 11, 2007)

Leading French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and the office of President Jacques Chirac both denied a news report on Wednesday alleging that the two men had struck a deal to protect Chirac from prosecution once his judicial immunity runs out next month. [...]

Chirac has been protected by presidential immunity during his 12 years in power. Once he leaves office, long-dormant investigations of scandals in his political past could be revived. The most threatening one is a fake jobs affair at his former political party.

The nice thing about such deals is, so long as both men are sufficiently cynical pols they needn't be explicit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Questions on Schiavo Bedevil Giuliani (RYAN SAGER, April 11, 2007, NY Sun)

Responding to Mr. Giuliani's comments yesterday, political observers appeared both surprised by his position and confused by his lack of preparation.

"My first thought was, he didn't seem ready for the question," the president of American Values and a former Republican presidential candidate, Gary Bauer, said. "It sounded like he was thinking about his answer as the question was asked.

"I'm happy any time a competitor for the nomination tilts toward the pro-life side," Mr. Bauer said. But he added: "When you put all of it together with his other opinions on life, to be charitable, it seems confused at best."

"That's amateur hour 101," A Republican pollster, Tony Fabrizio, said. "How do you send a guy to the state, and the county, where this took place and expect you're not going to get a question?"

As for the candidate himself, Mr. Fabrizio asked: "How do you, on something like this, on something that was important to the rank and file, not know what your position was? And then how do you try to straddle it?"

Mr. Giuliani was always expected to walk a tough road as a pro-choice candidate in a prolife party. But a comment last week — during the same swing through Florida — that abortion must be funded with taxpayer dollars because it's "a constitutional right" has made the road even tougher.

If Mr. Giuliani expects to win over pro-life voters by siding with them in the Schiavo matter, he's likely to have another thing coming. "He's not going to make anybody happy," Mr. Fabrizio said. "It only probably makes them more angry. … You'll do anything to keep people alive, but you'll abort fetuses?"

That's the problem in a nutshell--he gives off the sense that he'd personally rip a fetus from the womb and eat it if it would prolong his life a day. Hillary's politics may be the same, but she seems so sorrowful about the whole matter....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Airlines plan more legroom - but you'll fly back to front (GWYNETH REES,11th April 2007, Daily Mail)

Airlines may have finally found a way to grant economy passengers their greatest wish - more leg-room. But there is a catch.

Under a new seat formation being considered by ten carriers, some passengers will have to face backwards.

Which ought to be mandated just for safety reasons, in cars as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Alton Brown wins Peabody Award (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 11, 2007)

Alton Brown, star of the Food Network series "Good Eats," has won a Peabody Award for his "goofy, tirelessly inventive series" that educates viewers about food, science, history and culture.

Administered by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia, the Peabody recognizes distinguished achievement and meritorious public service in the electronic media.

Not only is it the best show on television -- what with Solid Gold being cancelled -- but his cookbook is invaluable, informative and funny too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Vitamin sweet? ‘Healthy’ treats now packed with fiber, minerals and more (Lauren Beckham Falcone, March 29, 2007, Boston Herald)

From the reported antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate to the “cookie diet” to cholesterol-lowering cupcakes to 100-calorie packs of doughnuts, getting skinny can be pretty sweet these days.

“You can eat something that tastes good and is enjoyable,” said Carol Forman Helerstein, Zone Chef-certified licensed clinical nutritionist. Zone Chefs recently introduced a “snack-bar menu” including fiber/protein/potassium-filled cupcakes and doughnuts that lower cholesterol by adhering to the Zone’s 30 percent protein, 30 percent fat, 40 percent carb plan.

Available at www.zonechefs.com, 12 cupcakes cost $20 and eight doughnuts are $15. There are also Right Direction Cookies, which lower cholesterol by including solublefiber and plant sterols (14 for $15 at www.rightdirectioncookies.com).

Even potato chips have gotten into the act - McCain’s Rustic Oven Chips, available at national grocery chains, not only are low in fat, sugar and salt but also retain the original fiber of the whole potato because the chip includes the potato skin.

The Boy brought home a fruit smoothie recipe that could hardly be easier: one cup OJ, one cup yogurt, 1 banana, one fistfull of frozen fruit, blend. Suddenly the kids are begging for the Vitamin C and Calcium you couldn't force down their throats with a plumber's helper a month ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Don Imus, Suspended, Still Talking (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 4/11/07, NY Times)

Don Imus was suspended. But it looked as though NBC had suspended the suspension. This scandal-harried radio host and MSNBC star was free to appear on “Today” yesterday and explain himself again and again: His interview with Matt Lauer and his debate with the Rev. Al Sharpton, their second, were shown simultaneously on the MSNBC show “Imus in the Morning.”

The Rutgers University basketball players, fresh from a Rocky-like rise to the N.C.A.A. women’s championship game, held a news conference to explain that the slur-heard-round-the-world robbed them of their “moment.”

Mr. Imus’s moment keeps going into overtime.

NBC said Mr. Imus’s two-week timeout would begin next Monday to allow Mr. Imus to hold a call-in pledge drive for several of his charities for sick children. The radiothon begins on Thursday, leaving Mr. Imus more time to lobby to keep his job — and receive testimonials from longtime guests like the Newsweek columnist Howard Fineman and comrades in political incorrectitude like the comedian Bill Maher.

The network had time to showcase its disgraced star and wring every last drop of attention from the latest ado about verbal insensitivity.

Meanwhile, for Senator Obama it's "Mau-Mau or Else," Obama's silence on Imus alarms some blacks: Candidate faces first test on handling issues of race (Rick Klein and Joseph Williams, Globe Staff | April 11, 2007, Boston Globe)
Not until Monday evening, five days after Imus's comments were uttered and hours after CBS Radio and MSNBC announced a two-week suspension for the radio host, did Obama weigh in, saying in a statement: "The comments of Don Imus were divisive, hurtful, and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds." Obama did not address whether he thought Imus should be taken off the air.

The episode is the first test of how Obama -- who is of mixed-race background -- is handling the contentious issue of race in his presidential campaign. Even as polls have shown other Democrats attracting a large share of the black vote, Obama has steered clear of the kind of activism symbolized by Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who were both highly visible in the Imus episode but whose aggressiveness on race issues has alienated some white voters in the past.

But with Obama battling other Democrats -- most notably Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York -- for the support of black voters, the candidate's reticence on the Imus issue set off alarms yesterday among some black activists who are anxious to see him more forcefully push for racial justice.

Nothing will get him in good with the Left like a demonstration of humorlessness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


A Mosque Raid Sets Off Sunnis in Iraq’s Capital (ALISSA J. RUBIN, 4/11/07, NY Times)

The confrontation in Fadhil pit Iraqi security forces, backed by American soldiers, against armed militants backed by local residents.

The largely Sunni Arab neighborhood of Fadhil is on the predominantly Shiite eastern side of Baghdad. Shiite militias had tried to dominate the neighborhood and surrounding area starting more than a year ago.

In response, residents of Fadhil organized a local guard patrol. But insurgents came into the area and, following a pattern seen throughout Sunni Arab areas of Baghdad, the neighborhood patrol gradually merged with the insurgency.

Now many people, including most journalists, avoid the Fadhil area because they fear the Sunni insurgents operating there. The residents contacted for this article were reached by phone, both because the neighborhood is dangerous and because areas of fighting are routinely sealed off by the military.

Fighting began Tuesday just past dawn, when the Iraqis and the Americans cordoned off part of the neighborhood and began searching for militants, according to local residents and the American military in a written statement.

Meanwhile, the surge went off without a hitch in Sadr City.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Have they hit on something vs. Ichiro? (Gordon Edes, April 11, 2007, Boston Globe)

Do the Red Sox have Ichiro Suzuki's number, even without Daisuke Matsuzaka?

The question goes beyond Ichiro's three-strikeout game yesterday against Josh Beckett, which was only the fifth time in his big-league career he has whiffed three times in a game (Tim Hudson is the only other pitcher to get him three times, and he didn't do it in consecutive at-bats as Beckett did).

This was Ichiro's 51st game against the Sox. Until yesterday, he had struck out as many as two times in a game only once before against Boston. That was last Sept. 14, when Curt Schilling and Jonathan Papelbon each got him once.

In that four-game set, Ichiro had just one hit in 16 trips, a startling departure from his overall performance against the Sox. Ichiro began his career by hitting safely in the first 20 games he played against the Sox. The numbers dazzled: .458 (38 for 83), 18 runs, 18 RBIs, 8 BBs, 9 extra-base hits, and 15 stolen bases.

Since then, however, the Sox have handled Ichiro, who has more hits than any other big leaguer since 2001 (1,358). In 31 games, including yesterday's 0 for 3, Ichiro is batting just .268 (34 for 127) against the Sox, with 17 runs, just 9 RBIs, 4 extra-base hits, and 13 strikeouts.

One Sox pitcher said yesterday that they have adopted a successful strategy of pitching Ichiro, and the results prove it.

No one could have hit Josh Beckett, but you couldn't help noticing that the tape they showed of Dice-K pitching to Ichiro in Japan featured a strikout on a fastball high and away that was identical to the first time he was wrung up yesterday.

Matsuzaka Ready To Give Ichiro A Taste of Home (Dave Sheinin, 4/11/07, Washington Post)

Daisuke Matsuzaka was an 18-year-old phenom, fresh out of high school, pitching for the Seibu Lions of Japan's Pacific League early in the 1999 season, when he accomplished something so personally fulfilling he was moved to declare afterward, "My confidence became conviction today." What had Matsuzaka done? He had struck out Japan's best hitter -- a slashing, speedy superstar for the Orix Blue Wave who would leave Japan for the United States a year later with six batting titles and a .353 career average -- not once, not twice, but three consecutive times.

The hitter, of course, was Ichiro Suzuki, and on Wednesday night, halfway around the globe, they will meet again -- a confrontation that, in Japan, carries all the buzz of an Ali-Frazier fight. Matsuzaka, now 26, will be making his Fenway Park debut for the Boston Red Sox, the team that spent $103.1 million this winter to get him. The first batter he faces will be Suzuki, 33, the Seattle Mariners' center fielder and leadoff hitter.

One almost has to pity those so unfortunate as to not live in the Nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Russia threatening new cold war over missile defence: Kremlin accuses US of deception on east European interceptor bases (Luke Harding, April 11, 2007, The Guardian)

Russia is preparing its own military response to the US's controversial plans to build a new missile defence system in eastern Europe, according to Kremlin officials, in a move likely to increase fears of a cold war-style arms race.

The Kremlin is considering active counter-measures in response to Washington's decision to base interceptor missiles and radar installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move Russia says will change "the world's strategic stability".

With their declining population, falling life expectancies and a GDP per capita of 12k, they're about as much of a threat as Grenada was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Forget Pelosi. What about Syria? (Robert Malley, April 11, 2007, LA Times)

UNDERTAKING HER first major diplomatic foray, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got an earful. As she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, she came under immediate, stinging attack. The White House condemned her encounter as counterproductive, asserting that it undermined U.S. policy aimed at marginalizing a so-called pariah regime.

The charge is, on its face, absurd. The European Union's top diplomatic envoy just visited Syria.

Mr. Malley seems confused about which country he lives in too, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


In a switch, charters near Locke approved: The L.A. school board overturns an earlier vote and allows Green Dot to open new campuses (Joel Rubin, 4/11/07, LA Times)

After rejecting plans last month by a leading charter organization to reform one of the city's worst high schools, a bitterly divided Los Angeles Board of Education reversed itself Tuesday at a chaotic and heated meeting.

Board member Jon Lauritzen had joined two other board members to vote down a proposal by Green Dot Public Schools to open several new charter campuses near Locke High in South Los Angeles. On Tuesday, Lauritzen called for a reconsideration of that vote and succeeded in overturning that controversial — and potentially illegal — decision.

The March 29 rejection of Green Dot was widely thought to have violated state laws that spell out when a board can deny a charter application. In the days after the vote, Lauritzen, who is locked in a close run-off election race, and the other board members who opposed the idea, came under intense criticism by many who said they were obstructing reform at one of the district's schools that need it most.

It's one thing to serve the Union and shaft the kids, quite another to go to prison for it...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


Stem cells shown to rein in Type 1 diabetes: Researchers say the experimental treatment left most patients 'absolutely medication-free' for months -- even years (Karen Kaplan, 4/11/07, LA Times)

Researchers have demonstrated for the first time that the progression of Type 1 diabetes can be halted — and possibly reversed — by a stem-cell transplant that preserves the body's diminishing ability to make insulin, according to a study published today. [...]

The stem-cell approach mirrors the bone marrow transplants used to treat patients with certain cancers and blood diseases.

Bone marrow contains hematopoietic stem cells, which are able to build all of the elements of the immune system. The idea is to wipe out the faulty immune system and replace it with a new one that functions properly.

In the study, 15 Brazilian patients were treated within a few months of their diagnoses, before their immune systems had the chance to eradicate all of their insulin-producing cells. The researchers hoped to preserve enough beta cells to make insulin injections unnecessary.

The study was conducted in Brazil because of Voltarelli's interest in the experiment. It was funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and other sources.

The patients, ages 14 to 31, were treated with drugs and hormones that prompted the body to produce hematopoietic stem cells and send them from the bone marrow into the bloodstream, from which a machine then extracted them.

About two weeks later, the patients checked into the hospital and received chemotherapy and other drugs to kill off their immune systems over a period of five days. Side effects for most patients included nausea, vomiting and hair loss.

After a day of rest, they were infused with their own hematopoietic stem cells, which took about eight to 12 days to establish new immune systems. While the patients were without functioning immune systems, they were given antibiotics to protect them from possible infections.

The treatment had no effect on the first patient, whose disease had progressed so that his blood was dangerously acidic. He also took steroids to help him tolerate some of the drugs.

After the patient's poor results, the researchers modified the study's protocol to exclude patients with his condition, called diabetic ketoacidosis, and to remove the steroids from the drug regimen.

Of the remaining 14 patients, 12 were able to stop taking insulin shortly after their transplants. Five patients have not needed insulin injections for at least 23 months, and two have been insulin-free for more than a year and a half.

Guess how many paragraphs you have to go before they reveal the type of stem cells used?

Not that the Party of Death reads that far, Senate Revisits Debate On Stem Cell Research (Rick Weiss, 4/11/07, Washington Post )

Launching an emotional political and ethical drama that is widely expected to climax with the second veto of George W. Bush's presidency, the Senate yesterday began a two-day debate over the use of taxpayer dollars for embryonic stem cell research.

Of course, it's not a question of what's effective but of who's human.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


A Talk with Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim: The once-jailed economic reformer is readying a political comeback, and thinks Malaysia must wake up to the challenges ahead (Business Week, 4/10/07)

In July, Asia will mark the 10th anniversary of a region-wide financial crisis that started in Thailand. Back then, Anwar Ibrahim served as Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister and was considered one of the most promising and reform-minded leaders in Asia. A year later, Anwar challenged Malaysia's then-strong man, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, to hasten reform—and was sacked, and then convicted on corruption and sodomy charges. He spent six years in jail for his efforts.

Since his release two years ago, Anwar has been on the global lecture circuit, but he intends to attempt a political comeback as an opposition leader in Malaysia's next general election, expected in 2009. At the moment, he has an uneasy but civil relationship with current Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Anwar recently spoke to BusinessWeek's Assif Shameen about the changing economic dynamics in the region, the rise of China and India, and his own political ambitions. Edited excerpts from their conversation follow...

MORE (via Jim Hamlen):
The Exorcist: An Indonesian man seeks "to create an Islam that will make people smile." (BRET STEPHENS, April 10, 2007, Opinion Journal)

It is against this backdrop--compounded by the appointment of two PKS sympathizers to the Muhammadiyah's 13-member Central Board--that Mr. Mulkhan and a handful of allies have decided to fight back. As vice secretary of the Muhammadiyah, he had already revoked its longstanding practice of requiring new members to abandon local Islamic traditions that were at variance with organizational dogma. At his behest, too, the Muhammadiyah had issued an official finding that Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism were theologically legitimate faiths, worthy of the organization's respect. "This wasn't just about my personal beliefs but about the organization's future," he explains. "We needed to stop fighting everyone and start getting along with everyone."

Now Mr. Mulkhan is in the midst of carrying out his most ambitious reform. Later this month, a Mohammadiyah congress is set to implement a decree he helped engineer banning the PKS from its activities. The ostensible motive is to distance the Muhammadiyah from parties of any kind whose "primary goal is the acquisition of political power for themselves."

The larger issue, however, concerns Islam's identity and reputation in Indonesia, both of which, he believes, the PKS and its fellow travelers are bringing into global disrepute. Whether the Muhammadiyah and its millions of members will stand as a bulwark against it will rest in no small part on the outcome of the congress--and on whether people like Mr. Mulkhan will be able to maintain the support and resources they need to keep the organization out of the radicals' grip.

April 10, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:37 PM


Through a Lens, Darkly: A 40-year radio veteran with close to three million die-hard fans, Don Imus looks as if he's been to hell and back. He has. Spending a week with the merciless shock jock, the author discovers what makes him tick—and explode (Buzz Bissinger, February 2006, Vanity Fair)

During the week I spend with the legendary radio host listened to by millions on his nationally syndicated show, Imus in the Morning, my reactions to him swirl round and round in a game of emotional roulette.

After nearly 40 years in radio, he is still making waves. The way he did in the late 60s at an AM radio station in Sacramento when, still developing his persona of flamboyant outrageousness, he called up a local McDonald's posing as the sergeant of something called the International Guard and ordered 1,200 hamburgers for his soldiers, to go. The way he did in the 70s when he took New York by storm on WNBC, and Life magazine called him the "country's most outrageous disc jockey." The way he did in the 80s when he developed twin dependencies on vodka and cocaine and lived in such debauchery that a close friend worried he would have the same tragic demise as John Belushi. The way he did in the early 90s when his radio show moved from shock-jock shtick to substance and began to wield such influence that some political pundits credited him with a pivotal role in guest Bill Clinton's victory in the New York presidential primary. The way he did several years later, in 1996, at the annual Radio & Television Correspondents' Association dinner, when he delivered tasteless remarks about President Clinton's alleged extramarital affairs while the president and Hillary sat only a few feet away. The way he did in 2004 when remarks he made on the air caused a prominent physician to sue him for defamation.

He has taken off his cowboy hat in the stretch limo, revealing a thin cloak of gray and white hair that looks like an Elizabethan wig. He's wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans, a soft blue shirt, a finely tailored Joseph Abboud jacket, and a western-style belt buckle big enough to be a breastplate. He's not wearing a gun on his hip, because he's not licensed to carry a gun in New Jersey. But when we get back to his office in Queens, one of his first acts will be to strap on a .40-caliber Glock, since he is licensed in New York. Like many celebrities, he worries about being accosted. But given where we are when he packs heat, inside the studios of WFAN radio, his flagship station, I am not sure whom he thinks he might have to shoot.

He's seated in the corner of the limo and appears pale and frail and sucked dry. At 65 he looks 10 years older. He's been a mine worker, a window dresser, a failed singer, a New York shock jock on the meteoric way up and then down, an alcoholic, a cocaine user, a rehabbed newlywed at 54, a new father near 60, and he's still the powerful Pied Piper to such members of the media elite as Tim Russert, Andrea Mitchell, and Tom Brokaw, and to such members of the political establishment as Senators Joe Biden, John McCain, and Chris Dodd.

"I don't feel well," he says in the limo. It's something he says a lot during the week, just as he groans a lot and sighs a lot and has coughing fits and screams that his ears hurt and utters "Oh, man" and "Oh, shit." He often sighs when he walks, as if this were his final step, and his body has been to hell and back, damaged beyond the considerable toll taken by the booze and the drugs and the smoking—a mining accident when he was a young man that broke both his legs, a collapsed lung, a terrible fall from a horse that collapsed his other lung and broke his ribs, collarbone, and shoulder and almost killed him, a rotator cuff torn after pulling off a saddle (it still hasn't healed), a little emphysema (he needs oxygen at night when he sleeps in the high altitude of New Mexico), difficulty hearing from years of spinning rock 'n' roll and wearing headphones.

He looks tired, perhaps from getting up at 4:30 in the morning for nearly 40 years and doing the morning drive time on the radio with energy and focus. The voice, once a manic rat-a-tat as sharp and syncopated as an extended Buddy Rich drumroll, is softer now and sometimes garbled. His eyes seem squeezed, compressed.

Minutes earlier he finished his radio show, carried by roughly 90 stations around the country, along with the MSNBC simulcast. It has at least 2.75 million individual listeners a week, according to the latest survey by Talkers magazine, which covers the talk-radio industry. It ranks Imus 13th nationally, significantly behind Rush Limbaugh (13.75 million), Sean Hannity (12.5 million), and Howard Stern (7.75 million). Regardless of ranking, what continues to separate Imus from his competitors is the influence and impact of the show, often a source of news because of revelations made by high-echelon politicians craving air time. His audience base is considered to be loyal, affluent, and coveted by advertisers. The show that Monday had its usual array of diverse guests calling in, among them Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas, NBC White House correspondent David Gregory, and author Doris Kearns Goodwin, promoting her latest book, Team of Rivals, about Abraham Lincoln. "Who gives a [****]?" he said of Goodwin's book off the air. "Just what we need, another Lincoln book." But he deftly showed interest and appreciation when she came on the air, leading me to assume that—beyond his general fondness for Goodwin, a regular guest—there must have been something about the book he had responded to.

"How much of Doris's book did you get through?" I ask him in the limo.

"The Lincoln book?"

"How much did you get through?"

"None of it."

"None of it?"

"No. I didn't read a page of it. Why?"

"When you were interviewing her, it sounded like you had read some of it."

"I didn't tell her I read it. I know about Lincoln."

"You sounded very informed."

"I am informed."

"I know you're informed. I thought you'd read it."


He has no qualms about saying this, just as he has no qualms about saying almost anything.

He's said offensive things for a living for 40 years now. It's not apparent why his most recent trangression should stand out nor what basis his employers could have for suspending him. They pay him to say such things because they want the audience it brings. Why not suspend themselves?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 PM


Cheeta the Tarzan chimp star turns 75 (Daily Mail, 11th April 2007)

Cheeta the chimpanzee, the animal star of 12 Tarzan films in the Thirties and Forties, celebrated his 75th birthday yesterday.

Officially the world's oldest chimp, Cheeta, who was 'discovered' by an animal trainer on a trip to Africa in the 1930s, is said to be in excellent shape at a primate centre in Palm Springs, California.

After the devastating Syracuse loss to Indiana in the 1987 NCAA finals -- for which I had a Boz haircut dyed Orange & Blue and for which Jim Boeheim must one day rot in Hell -- I straggled back to the hotel just in time to see Maureen O'Sullivan on David Letterman. The host's jaw dropped to his desk as this elderly and elegant woman told him how you can sometimes see the chain around Cheeta's ankle in old publicity stills, which was there to restrain him from trying to rape Johnny Weismuller, upon whom he had a violent cross-species gay crush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


Charters on the Coast (New York Sun Editorial, April 6, 2007)

If the recent budget battle in Albany in which the teachers union and its allied lawmakers killed a proposed tax deduction for private or parochial school tuition and imposed mandatory unionization on charter schools that grow larger than 250 students in the first two years wasn't enough for you, consider California. There, the Los Angeles Times reports, the school board rejected an application by a charter school operator, Green Dot, to open eight new schools. The Times quoted a school board member who represents Watts, a poor Los Angeles neighborhood, Mike Lansing, as saying, "It's really disappointing that we keep talking about wanting to do what's best for children first, when without a doubt that vote was about a teachers union and three board members not having the backbone to stand up and do the right thing for kids over their ties to the union." The Times account of the school board meeting goes on to say, "Parents and students from the impoverished, gang-ridden community also implored the board to approve the charters, saying they were desperate for an alternative to the low-performing, often unsafe district middle and high schools in the area."

The blogger Mickey Kaus wrote, "If teachers' unions have lost the liberal LAT, they're in trouble, no?" Not in so much trouble that they lost the vote. Lance Izumi of the free-market Pacific Research Institute summed it up: "Despite Green Dot's promising results, the school board decided to side with the United Teachers of Los Angeles, a vociferous critic of charter schools…The union had contributed a total of $1 million to two anti-Green Dot board members in their recent re-election bids, virtually the entirety of their campaign war chests." The irony is that charter schools were championed by the late president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, who saw them as a way to improve public education while avoiding private school vouchers. What would Shanker think of the AFT affiliates in New York and Los Angeles blocking the expansion of successful charter programs in both New York (with a cap on the number of new charters, notwithstanding that two of the charters were granted to the union itself ) and in the nation's second largest city, Los Angeles?

One doubts he'd be overly surprised.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


A lifesaver for the self-employed (Travis E. Poling, 4/09/07, Express-News)

Music-store owner Scott Hillje was concerned for his 11-year-old son last year when he fell at the school playground and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Unlike many self-employed people, Hillje wasn't worrying about how he was going to pay the medical bills.

Every month, $500 is automatically deducted from Hillje's account to go to HSA Bank. From that account, he pays a premium for a family health plan with a high deductible, while the remainder awaits spending on medical needs and grows from year to year if there is anything left at the end of the year.

While Americans and the medical community have been a little slow to take up the idea of a health savings account, or HSA, as a way to control medical costs, flexibility and tax-friendly changes to how HSAs work are getting people's attention.

More Workers Enrolled in HSA-Eligible Health Plans (Business & Legal Reports, 4/10/07)
The number of Americans covered by high-deductible health plans that are offered in conjunction with health savings accounts (HSAs) rose 43 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), an industry group.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Misled civil rights fools fight for fiends (Piers Akerman, April 10, 2007, The Daily Telegraph)

IN another outstanding victory for the civil rights lobby, two HIV-positive men in Victoria and South Australia were permitted to run wild by health officials, passing on their infection to as many sexual partners as they could, because their right to privacy was deemed paramount.

What is apparent from the court appearances of both men is that senior health authorities in Victoria and SA made a value judgment between the lethal activities of their clients and the risk they posed to the community and appear to have preferred to protect the men's privacy even though their behaviour risked the health of their sexual conquests, possibly numbering more than 100.

It's hardly newsworthy that the highest value of the Left is the right to kill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


Arrests made as trouble flares outside Old Trafford (Daily Mail, 10th April 2007)

The violent clashes that have already marred the Champions League quarter-final between Manchester United and Roma threatened to return tonight amid ugly scenes outside Old Trafford.

A number of arrests were made following clashes between supporters and police in the build-up to the second-leg tie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


Bloggers debate need for code of conduct (Brad Stone, April 9, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

Is it too late to bring civility to the Web?

There's something disgraceful to all of us just in having to ask the question, nevermind the answer being so uncertain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


Hospital 'bans hot cross buns at Easter to avoid offending non-Christians' (JAMES MILLS, 10th April 2007, Daily Mail)

Kitchen staff at Poole Hospital in Dorset claim they were banned from handing out the traditional Easter treats of hot crossed buns in case they upset non-Christians

It is hard to imagine anyone being offended by a hot cross bun.

But kitchen staff at Poole Hospital in Dorset claim they were banned from handing out the traditional Easter treats in case they upset non-Christians.

The decision left patients bemused and disappointed and prompted an angry backlash from staff in the catering department.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


He really can do it....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


Subject: The University of Illinois at Chicago needs your help with a
research project, please!


Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Department of
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In appreciation for you participation, you can receive an advanced copy
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Please click on the following link to participate:


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Department of Communication
University of Illinois at Chicago

P.S. Please forward this survey invitation to as many people as you can
who may have interest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Time for A Bargain On the War (David S. Broder, April 10, 2007, Washington Post)

In the continuing battle between the Democratic Congress and the Bush administration over policy in Iraq, logic is on the Democrats' side, but the crucial political leverage belongs to the president. It behooves the realists in both camps to recognize what the troops and the country have at stake -- and negotiate a compromise.

Even for a self-absorbed Beltway pundit it's startling who he leaves out of this proposal, which essentially calls for negotiating with himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


Fix the AMT (But Not Yet): The looming Alternative Minimum Tax catastrophe, and why the Democrats shouldn't try to prevent it. (Daniel Gross, April 10, 2007, Slate)

[T]o fix the AMT satisfactorily, Pear writes, Democrats would have to either jack up tax rates on high earners or eliminate popular deductions, which would effectively raise taxes on many taxpayers.

In either case, Republicans would have a carnival, attacking the Democrats as tax-lovers. The Republicans' main argument against Democrats is that they'll raise taxes by letting the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010. Fix the AMT now and it will simply allow Republicans to argue that the Democrats are raising taxes in 2007 and 2008, too. What's more, fixing the AMT permanently provides all the drawbacks of responsible tax cutting with none of the benefits. The point of fixing the AMT is to shield millions of Americans from future tax increases. But Americans, who are instant-gratification addicts, would sooner vote for somebody who cuts taxes by $1,000 today than for someone who spares them a tax hike of $2,000 tomorrow. The last time Democrats with a narrow majority in Congress raised taxes on high earners to improve the nation's fiscal picture was 1993. The following year, they were unceremoniously booted into the wilderness, whence they wandered for a dozen years.

The alternative is to let the long-dreaded AMT explosion take place next year. Sit back and wait for President Bush to propose a solution. (He won't.) Or propose a permanent fix but make it conditional on proposals that would be anathema to Bush—like restoring the estate tax.

A year from now, 20 million additional people, including me and probably most of my colleagues, co-workers, co-commuters, and neighbors, will find themselves suddenly hit by the AMT.

Letting a crisis develop would be irresponsible. But it would help clarify issues and force action. Policy wonks on the left, center, and right all know that simply patching the AMT year after year forestalls a larger debate about tax rates, deductions, and entitlements.

Would Democrats suffer political backlash? Probably not. The AMT's victims will be concentrated in states in which Republicans are not likely to be all that competitive in 2008.

So he's not only advocating that they behave irresponsibly but that they screw over their own constuencies. And what would be the most likely result? Even Blue Staters would be demanding tax cuts. In the first instance Democrats demonstrate themselves incapable of governing, in the secoind they demonstrate why it is undesirable to have a party of their ideology try to. Yet we're the Stupid Party....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


GET REAL, RUDY (JOHN PODHORETZ, April 10, 2007, NY Post)

DEAR Rudy Giuliani,

I'm writing this open letter to you because I'm worried you're blowing it.

I still think you stand the best chance among the candidates in the Republican field of winning the general election in 2008, and I think you have it in you to be a great president.

But something strange is going on with your candidacy - something that doesn't reflect the conduct and behavior of the Mayor Giuliani whose ferocious competence and clarity are what have led me to advocate your nomination for more than a year now. [...]

As a presidential candidate, you seem to be winging it these days - giving off-the-cuff, ill-considered answers to delicate questions. If you keep winging it this way, you're going to fly off a cliff.

For example, the answer to your pro-choice difficulty with social conservatives on the matter of abortion isn't to blather about how much you "hate it" and then ruminate on whether the government should be responsible for helping pay for one. That's what you did last week, and you must never, ever do anything like it again - if, that is, you actually want to become president.

The answer to dealing with the abortion question is to do what you did as mayor - to master the issue the way you mastered the weird particulars of zoning law in Manhattan.

By which I mean, all the jurisprudence. All the arguments. The history of legislation on the matter. The history of court rulings. Immerse yourself in it and then argue your point from a position of strength, rather than relative ignorance.

The same is true on issue after issue.

So passes another great neocon hope for a pro-death Republican nominee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


In many business schools, the bottom line is in English (Doreen Carvajal, April 10, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

When economics students returned this winter to the elite École Normale Supérieure here, a simple one-page petition was posted along the corridors demanding an unlikely privilege: French as a teaching language.

"We understand that economics is a discipline, like most scientific fields, where the research is published in English," the petition read, in apologetic tones. But it declared that it is "unacceptable" for a native French professor to teach standard courses to French-speaking students in the adopted tongue of English.

Bienvenue, or make that welcome, to the shifting universe of academia, where English is becoming as commonplace as creeping ivy and mortarboards. In the last five years, the world's top business schools and universities have been pushing to make English the teaching tongue in a calculated strategy to raise revenues, overcome declining birthrates and respond to globalization.

Business universities are driving the trend, but English is spreading to the undergraduate level, with some South Korean universities offering up to 30 percent of their courses in the language.

All you have to do is listen to our own nativists rave about Spanish intruding on their lives and you can see why the world hates us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Howls of protest as web gurus attempt to banish bad behaviour from blogosphere: Opinion divided over code of conduct meant to rid postings of offensive and abusive comments (Ed Pilkington, April 10, 2007, The Guardian)

Perhaps it was inevitable. When two leading internet pioneers came together this week to propose a set of guidelines that would filter out offensive and abusive comments from blogs, they were met by a torrent of offensive and abusive comments.

Images of excrement were abundant amid the reaction yesterday to the proposed "bloggers' code of conduct". The anonymous blogger bynkii (motto: because misanthropy is fun) likened the idea to "troll faeces, specifically designed to create a special group of self-satisfied, smug, condescending dingalings looking down their noses". The new media site 910am described it as "weapons of mass stupidity" and carried the health warning "do not read on a full stomach".

The text that has got the collective bowels moving of these and many other bloggers is a draft set of rules on introducing the concept of civility to the blogosphere. It is the combined work of Tim O'Reilly, inventor of the phrase Web 2.0 to describe the next generation of interactive communications, and Jimmy Wales, founder of the communal encyclopaedia Wikipedia.

They have posted a seven-point programme that would attempt, they say, to address the plethora of abusive comments on the web, while preserving the free spirit of the medium. Point one of the code is that anyone signing up to it would commit themselves to a "civility enforced" standard to remove unacceptable comments from their blog.

What the whackos seem not to get is that no one is asking them to stop being [insert favorite expletive here]'s, just telling them they can't implicate those who aren't in their [insert favorite expletive here]iness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Mariners Notebook: Felix, Dice-K to clash: M's top starter excited to face Japanese star (JOHN HICKEY, 4/10/07, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)

Felix Hernandez was under scrutiny Opening Day as just the seventh pitcher in nearly a century to start the season opener before his 21st birthday.

Hernandez turned 21 on Sunday, but he'll still be under the spotlight for his next start Wednesday in Boston. And not because of his age.

He'll be compared with the Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will be making his first Fenway Park start.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Maoists face up to political reality (Dhruba Adhikary, 4/11/07, Asia Times)

That Nepal should now opt for a federal system and offer autonomy to provinces formed on an ethnic basis and on regional aspirations are issues that, if not tackled conscientiously, could lead to the disintegration of the country.

Many blame the Maoists for issuing slogans that sound catchy but are unhelpful in preserving Nepal's unity in the face of its ethnic diversity. King Gyanendra, who is currently a "suspended" head of state under an interim charter enacted on January 15, has to take his share of the blame. Had he agreed to restore the democratic rights of the people he snatched through a coup in February 2005, last April's uprising would not have gone so far and created room for new demands. These included the abolition of the monarchy, removal of Nepal's identity as the world's only Hindu country, and insertion of a legal provision requiring the state to transform itself from its unitary character to a federal structure.

"It is still debatable whether Parliament had the mandate to declare Nepal a secular state," Devendra Raj Panday told the Kathmandu Post newspaper. He was alluding to a declaration the interim parliament adopted last May 18. Panday, a former minister, currently leads a citizens' movement that monitors the activities (or lack of them) of the political parties. Panday's view broadly represents opinions of those who are keen to see Nepal as a republic, but are in favor retaining the country's Hindu identity. They cite a 2001 census indicating that more than 80% of the population follow the Hindu religion.

One other issue that the controversial declaration included (and subsequently incorporated in the interim charter) relates to the government's proposal to liberalize citizenship laws, thereby opening the door for millions of Indian migrants to qualify for Nepali citizenship. It is a belief that Koirala agreed to back the proposition to drop Nepal's Hindu identity on the suggestion of a powerful Western lobby, and listed the subject of liberalized citizenship laws at the behest of India. Two of India's most populous states, Bihar and Uttar Pradhesh, share a porous border with Nepal.

This is what secular/rationalist states do: devolve into their constituent ethnic components.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Pleasing Potato Pizza (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 10, 2007)

3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 tube (10 ounces) refrigerated pizza crust

1/4 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound sliced bacon, diced

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Sour cream (optional)

Lightly boil potatoes until very tender, about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, unroll the pizza crust onto an ungreased 14-inch pizza pan; flatten dough and build up edges slightly. Prick dough several times with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Drain potatoes, then mash with milk and salt until smooth. Spread over crust. In a skillet, partially cook the bacon over medium heat. Add onion and red pepper; cook until bacon is crisp and vegetables are tender. Sprinkle over potatoes. Top with cheeses. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream if desired.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Fred Thompson Gets Newspaper Endorsement (WHBQ FOX13 myfoxmemphis.com, 4/09/07)

Former Republican U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson has not yet said if he is a presidential candidate, but a Chattanooga editorial page has joined a "draft Fred" movement with an endorsement of the actor and attorney 19 months before the election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Born again ... and born to win with God on his side (CLAIRE SMITH, 4/10/07, scotsman.com)

BEFORE the start of the competition he was ranked 56th in the world, had never won a Major and was given odds of 200-1.

However, Zach Johnson, the 31-year-old golfer from Iowa who blasted his way to a resounding victory at the US Masters at Augusta on Easter Sunday, was convinced God was on his side.

Not only did the little-known Johnson beat strong favourite and world No 1 Tiger Woods into second place, he was also the first Masters winner since 1991 not to come out of the final group.

So, as Woods was heard to ask his caddie as his ball landed in a bunker on the 17th: "What the hell happened?"

Johnson, whose world ranking shot up to 15th after winning the tournament, told sports commentators: "This being Easter, Jesus was with me every step. I felt him. It was awesome.

"Today was a day of perseverance and patience, I guess. I just feel very blessed and very honoured."

Johnson's religious conviction reflects a strong evangelical undercurrent in the world of top-flight US golf.

We're like another species to them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Iran's nuclear claims raise fear, skepticism: U.S. is concerned. But experts doubt Tehran can now enrich uranium on an industrial scale (Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi, April 10, 2007, LA Times)

[I]ran's claim, including an assertion that it had fed gaseous uranium into 3,000 centrifuges to begin purifying nuclear material on an industrial scale, was quickly disputed by many experts and officials.

Independent experts largely portrayed the Iranian claim as a political statement designed to bolster both its international and domestic stature, rather than an indication that Tehran has reached a significant new milestone in its nuclear program.

Hard on the heels of being forced to hand over the British sailors, Mahmood is showing hiw weakness by making such ludicrous claims. They reveal a man desperately trying to shore up support at home.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


It's the Culture, Stupid (Dinesh D'Souza, April 9, 2007, Townhall)

Both the Europeans and the Muslims, of course, are only seeing one side of America. They are reacting not so much to "America" as to projections of American policy and American culture across the globe. We in the U.S. know that there is a difference between American popular culture and the way that Americans actually live. But foreigners cannot be expected to know this. The America that they see in the movies and on television is often the only America they know.

We have heard a great deal from critics of globalization about how the United States is corrupting the world with its multinational corporations and its trade practices. But world opinion surveys by the Pew Research Center and other groups show that non-Western peoples are generally pleased with American products. In fact, the people of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East want more American companies, more American technology, and more free trade. Their objection is not to McDonalds or Microsoft but to America's cultural values as transmitted through movies, television and music.

Huge majorities of more than 80 percent of people in Indonesia, Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, Egypt, and Turkey say they want to protect their values from foreign assault. The Pew study concludes that there is a "widespread sense" that American values, often presented as the values of modernity itself, "represent a major threat to people's traditional way of life." These sentiments are felt very keenly in the Muslim world. As an Iranian from Neishapour told journalist Afshin Molavi, "People say we want freedom. You know what these foreign-inspired people want? They want the freedom to gamble and drink and bring vice to our Muslim land. This is the kind of freedom they want."

Muslim critics of American culture are quick to concede its fascination and attraction, especially to the young. Some time ago I saw an interview with a Muslim sheikh on television. The interviewer told the sheikh, "I find it curious and hypocritical that you are so anti-American, considering that two of your sons are living and studying in America." The sheikh replied, "But this is not hypocritical at all. I concede that American culture is appealing. If you put a young man into a hotel room and give him dozens of pornography tapes, he is likely to find those appealing as well. What America appeals to is everything that is low and disgusting in human nature."

There seems to be a growing belief in traditional cultures that America is materially prosperous but culturally decadent. It is technologically sophisticated but morally depraved. As former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto puts it, "Within the Muslim world, there is a reaction against the sexual overtones that come across in American mass culture. America is viewed through this prism as an immoral society." In his book The Crisis of Islam, Bernard Lewis rehearses what he calls the "standard litany of American offenses recited in the lands of Islam" and ends with this one: "Yet the most powerful accusation of all is the degeneracy and debauchery of the American way of life."

As these observations suggest, the main source of Muslim rage is not American foreign policy but American popular culture as it is projected around the world.

That rage is certainly justified, but it's important to note that al Qaeda didn't target Hollywood but Washington & NYC.

April 9, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


Wave of Saudi youths challenge kingdom's conservative sway: Saudi Arabia's rulers are allowing young people to push social boundaries – a little. (Dan Murphy , 4/10/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

In Saudi Arabia, the young are findings more ways around the conservative regulation of public life. From dating to listening to music, they are testing the strict hold of religion on a kingdom ruled by the Koran and the same family for decades. Indeed, with more than 70 percent of its citizens under 30, the oil-rich country is being forced to find more room for freedoms than outsiders typically expect from this monarchy. While the young people aren't likely to lead a revolution on the scale that America saw in the 1960s, the urge for greater independence is coming under the rule of reform-minded King Abdullah, who many say is giving some license for Saudis seeking change.

"Look, of course this is still a very, very conservative place, and half of the time all I think about is leaving," says Ibrahim, a 23-year-old hipster in baggy jeans, a goatee, and a T-shirt. "But it's a lot better than a few years ago. Just look around."

Neither the Wahabbists nor the Shi'a extremists can establish or maintain their hold in the face of an enormous cohort of young people, but a civil war within Islam would get rid of a whole mess of them...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


Where are the Iranian Reformists? (Manal Lutfi, 4/09/07, Asharq Alawsat)

In Iran, the reformists have learnt three lessons from their defeat in the last presidential and parliamentary elections; firstly, not to boycott an election again; secondly, to be stronger in their confrontations and to avoid taking the middle ground when it comes to public demands; and thirdly, to unite and limit the number of their intellectual and organizational differences.

This is what the reformists tell themselves in preparation for a return to the political arena. Everyday there are debates between reformist politicians in Iran for the sake of forming a major coalition that unifies their various branches. The coalition will not necessarily comprise of all reformist trends as there are those that have stated that they are unaware of these efforts and not interested in joining them. One such example is the Etemad-e-Melli party [National Trust Party], led by former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi, who told Asharq Al Awsat that he had never heard of any efforts by some reformist parties to form such a coalition. However, Ebrahim Yazdi, the leader of the Freedom Movement Party and an active player in the formation of the new coalition, told Asharq Al Awsat that the reformist currents presented the idea to Karroubi, who refused to take part.

The idea of forming the new coalition stemmed from the growing concern within the reformist movement over losing its popular base, especially as communication has become difficult between the reformists and a wide section of society because a number of their newspapers and websites have been closed down. The reformists also feel the danger posed by the fact that they did not win the majority of votes in any election held recently in Iran. Since Khatami’s victory in the 2000 presidential election, the reformists have not been successful in elections. In the 2005 presidential election, conservative candidate Ahmadinejad emerged most successful, followed by pragmatist candidate and Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, Hashemi Rafsanjani. Meanwhile, reformist candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mustafa Moeen came out third and fifth respectively, in the first run of the election. In the last December election for the Assembly of Experts, Rafsanjani-led pragmatists were the most successful by far, with the Karroubi-led reformists taking second place and the Misbah Yazdi-led conservatives in third.

Many prominent reformists do not blame these defeats on the conservatives and the support that they receive from authorities. Rather they blame their conduct during the last presidential election.

It wasn't President Bush's best moment either, when he encouraged them to boycott an election they could easily have won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Dems Face Immigration Hurdle, Too (Ben Smith, April 9, 2007, Politico)

[A] closer look shows that concern about immigration seems to burn almost as brightly for liberal Iowa caucus-goers as it does for the Republicans and conservatives with whom it is traditionally identified. And Democrats are also being forced to address the emotional edge of an issue that has become part of the lives of voters in even the most homogenous parts of the country. Whether any Democrat will attempt to gain an advantage by tapping into these currents within the party, or whether they'll remain unified around proposals to offer illegal immigrants access to citizenship, remains an open question.

"Chicanos from Mexico are a presence in a lot of moderately sized and smaller towns in Iowa and other parts of the Midwest," said Steven Schier, a professor of political science at Carleton College in Minnesota. "That gives it (the immigration issue) an immediacy that it didn't have 10 or 20 years ago."

A University of Iowa poll of 1,290 registered Iowa voters, set to be released this week, found that about 40 percent of Democrats identified immigration as a "very important" issue, with nearly every voter surveyed saying it was either very or somewhat important. About 60 percent of Republicans called the issue "very important."

"It's a surprising number," pollster Dave Redlawsk said of the Democratic total. "The impression out there is that this is more of a Republican issue, and there isn't a Democrat who is running on a hard-core immigration position. But what the poll suggests is that there's broad interest in what's going on with undocumented immigrants."

The poll has another surprise, however. Redlawsk found that a majority of both Iowa's Democrats and Republicans -- given the explicit option in the poll -- would prefer to see what they called "undocumented" immigrants pay fines and learn English but stay in the country. Only about one in five Democrats, and a quarter of Republicans, favored mass deportation.

What is there to be surprised about? The Right minds them for reasons of ethnicity, the Left for reasons of culture, but, this being America, few mind them much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Le Pen's mask slips as he plays the race card against Sarkozy (John Lichfield, 10 April 2007, Independent)

Jean-Marie Le Pen, 78, is the "invisible man" of the French presidential campaign: invisible but ever-present, like a virus.

He began the campaign pretending to be a more mellow, and more tolerant, man. But in his latest broadcast appearance - he seldom appears in public - the veteran far-right leader reverted to his favourite theme: xenophobia.

The front-running, centre-right candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, "comes from an immigrant background," Mr Le Pen told a radio interviewer on Sunday. By comparison, he, Mr Le Pen, was a candidate of the terroir: literally, a candidate rooted in the native earth.

"It's obvious, there's a difference," Mr Le Pen said. "There is a choice there which might be considered fundamental by a certain number of French people".

This is Jean-Marie Le Pen at his most poisonous and his most plausible - and also his most effective.

You have to enjoy the irony of using a hygiene trope to attack a Nazi.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 6:48 PM


The Road to Damascus (Michael Barone, 4/9/07, Creators Syndicate)

"We came in friendship, hope, and determined that the road to Damascus is a road to peace," Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared after her visit to Syria and her meeting with its hereditary dictator Bashir Assad last week. "We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria."

The woman second in line for the presidency (after Vice President Dick Cheney) seemed to believe she was on a Henry Kissinger-like shuttle diplomacy mission from Jerusalem to Damascus. But Henry Kissinger she ain't. Pelosi said she was delivering a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "Israel was ready to engage in peace talks" with Syria. A seeming breakthrough. Not so, said a statement speedily issued by Olmert's office. It said that Olmert had not made "any change in the policies of Israel."

Pelosi said Assad indicated he was ready to "resume the peace process." That wasn't the impression other members of Congress took away from their meeting with him a few days earlier. Syria under Assad pere et fils has steadfastly refused to make peace with Israel, despite diplomatic efforts considerably more assiduous than Pelosi is in a position to undertake. Bill Clinton's first secretary of state, Warren Christopher, traveled the road to Damascus to meet with the elder Assad 22 times. End product: nada. [...]

At the heart of that thinking is this proposition: We're the problem. America, or rather George W. Bush, is the problem. We're not doing enough to get the Israelis and Syrians together; we're not doing enough to address the grievances of the Palestinian people (than whom "nobody is suffering more," according to Barack Obama); we're not doing enough to mollify the dictators who are working against us.

For all their talk about "compassion" and "internationalism," one can't help but notice how liberals consistently ignore the effect that their overhyped "peace overtures" will have on captive (or at least reasonably frightened) populations. For example, it seems doubtful that the Lebanese are particularly enthusiastic about this spectacle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Draft Blogger's Code of Conduct (Tim O'Reilly, 4/08/07, O'Reilly Radar)

We've drafted a code of conduct that will eventually be posted on bloggingcode.org, and created a badge that sites can display if they want to link to that code of conduct. Civility Enforced Badge [...]

Here's the first draft:

We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation. But frankness does not have to mean lack of civility. We present this Blogger Code of Conduct in hopes that it helps create a culture that encourages both personal expression and constructive conversation.

1. We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.

We are committed to the "Civility Enforced" standard: we will not post unacceptable content, and we'll delete comments that contain it.

We define unacceptable content as anything included or linked to that:
- is being used to abuse, harass, stalk, or threaten others
- is libelous, knowingly false, ad-hominem, or misrepresents another person,
- infringes upon a copyright or trademark
- violates an obligation of confidentiality
- violates the privacy of others

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Other than anonymity, that's pretty close to what we do here. But we do reply to trolls so long as they're responsive and polite. We've found they generally get bored if you answer them seriously, particularly because they're incapable of defending their positions. The only stalkers - trolls who just won't go away -- tend to be libertarians, Darwinists, anti-religious, etc. and several seem to truly be mentally ill. I confess to having played with troll comments in the past in order to torture them and I regret it. Better to just delete them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Russia Lags in New Spaceship Design (Vladimir Isachenkov, April 9, 2007, Associated Press)

It looks like a bonanza for the Russian space industries — the planned retirement of the U.S. space shuttle fleet in about three years would make Russia the principal carrier of crews and cargo to the International Space Station, sharply raising its revenues.

But some Russian cosmonauts and space experts are worried. They fear the lead will be short-lived and will slow development of what's really needed — a replacement for the veteran Soyuz spacecraft, the reliable but plodding workhorse of the nation's space program for 40 years.

On the bright side, this does not change the odds of them putting a new man on the moon on the thirtieth anniversary of their first.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


Giuliani Says Nation at War Requires Him (MARC SANTORA, 4/08/07, NY Times)

What are his qualifications for dealing with foreign policy matters? He cited his experience as mayor of an international city, and recalled that he had once kicked Yasir Arafat out of a United Nations celebration at Lincoln Center on the ground that he was a terrorist.

And since leaving office five years ago, Mr. Giuliani said, he has made 90 trips to more than 40 countries. In the last few years, “I have probably been to more foreign lands than any other candidate for president,” he said.

At a house party in New Hampshire, Mr. Giuliani suggested that it was unclear which was farther along, Iran or North Korea, in the development of a nuclear weapons program.

One doubts he meant to side with us and against the Conventional Wisdom that North Korea has already exploded a warhead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


Hezbollah and Al Qaeda (Bilal Y. Saab and Bruce O. Riedel, April 9, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

The assumption that Hezbollah and Al Qaeda have a solid operational or strategic relationship and cooperate on matters pertaining to global jihad can be challenged on the basis of the following four reasons.

One, irreconcilable theological differences: Al Qaeda follows a Manichaean ideology that sees Shiite Muslims as the lowest of the low, even worse than the Jews and the "crusaders." For Al Qaeda, Shiites are rawafidh (rejectionist Muslims) and should be fought like all other infidels. A week before he was killed by a U.S. air strike, the Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, issued a fiery statement accusing Hezbollah of acting as a protective buffer for Israel. Hezbollah, generally reserved in its comments on internal Islamic issues, first commented on Al Qaeda and its ideology soon after the 9/11 attacks when Hassan Nasrallah, the party's secretary general, described it as an "entity trapped in medieval ages and bent on killing innocent Muslims." In June 2006, Nawaf al-Musawi, the director of Hezbollah's external relations office, replied to Zarqawi's allegations by accusing him of being a tool of the United States and Israel against Arab resistance groups and by viewing his criminal acts as solely intended to ignite civil wars and sectarian fighting.

Two, conflicting political strategies: Contrary to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah has accepted the political process and has been legitimately engaged in participatory and competitive politics (notwithstanding of course the controversial nature of its paramilitary wing). While Al Qaeda is bent on destroying Arab regimes and their allies and on replacing them with Taliban-style systems of governance, Hezbollah aims to work within the Lebanese system. As revolutionary as it is, Hezbollah indirectly negotiates and makes deals with its enemies (evidenced in the several prisoner exchanges with Israel over the last decade). In sum, contrary to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah can be engaged.

You'd have to be as obstuse as the "intelligence" services to imagine they were allies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM



The best thing you can say for the Yankee starters at this point is there are still 157 games to go. That might be the worst thing, as well.

"The bottom line is the first week was not good; guilty as charged," GM Brian Cashman said. "I am not happy with it, but I believe it will get better."

Here is how that might happen: Chien-Ming Wang gets healthy to join the rotation in late April, Phil Hughes gets promoted in late May, and Roger Clemens signs and is ready to pitch in late June.

With Cashman and Torre both about to be fired there's zero chance of Hughes staying at AAA into May. Roger, meanwhile, is in such a great bargaining position that he can ask for and get $30 million for four months, but if the Yanks don't sign him soon he's unlikely to want to board a sinking ship.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


The List: The Dogs That Didn’t Bark: Remember when Japan was supposed to overtake the United States and become the world’s economic superpower? Two decades later, the suggestion is laughable. In this week’s List, FP takes a look at this and other famous predictions that never came true. (Foreign Policy, April 2007)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:12 PM


Iran v. Britain: Who Blinked? (Francis Fukuyama, 4/08/07, American Interest)

While commentators like Charles Krauthammer and John Bolton have charged that Britain capitulated to Iran and handed them a humiliating victory in obtaining the release of the 15 British Marines last week (when has Krauthammer ever not cried “Munich!” in response to an act of diplomacy?), it would appear that something more like the opposite is actually the case. But to understand why this is so, we have to look at the larger picture of internal Iranian politics against which the crisis played out.

Our Iranian problem is actually a problem with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC, or in Persian Pasdaran) and allied institutions like the Basij militia. These are the “power” agencies that serve as the political base for the conservatives inside Iran. In return for its support, political leaders like ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have allowed the IRGC to grow into a semi-autonomous state-within-a-state. Today it is a large and sprawling enterprise, that controls its own intelligence agency, manufacturing base, and import-export companies, much like the Russian FSB or the Chinese military. Since coming to power, the current Ahmedinejad regime has awarded IRGC-affiliated companies billions in no-bid contracts, increasing the already great perception among the Iranian public of its corruption. [...]

Clearly, whoever was responsible for the decision to take the British Marines prisoner was hoping rekindle some of the fervor of the 1979 revolution, and use that to force the rest of the leadership into a confrontation with Britain and America. Hence the televised “confessions” that hearkened back to the taking of hostages in the American Embassy (the “nest of spies”), and the rallies against foreign embassies. But the gambit didn’t work, and there was clearly a behind-the-scenes power struggle between different parts of the regime. Ahmedinejad was supposed to give a major speech to a huge rally in Teheran, which he cancelled at the last moment, and when he did speak, it was to announce that the captives would soon be released. The IRGC prisoners in Iraq were released, but Britain did not apologize or admit wrong-doing in return. So it would appear that it was the Iranians who blinked first, before the incident could spiral into a genuine 1979-style hostage crisis.

He's still a tad sketchy on Khamenei, but as close as either Neocons or Realists get to accurate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


The Cooling World (Newsweek, April 28, 1975) (via Dennis Dutton)

Here is the text of Newsweek’s 1975 story on the trend toward global cooling. It may look foolish today, but in fact world temperatures had been falling since about 1940. It was around 1979 that they reversed direction and resumed the general rise that had begun in the 1880s, bringing us today back to around 1940 levels.

Mr. Dutton seems blissfully unaware that the "but" just compounds the foolishness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Bushism of the Day (Jacob Weisberg, April 9, 2007, Slate)

"Suiciders are willing to kill innocent life in order to send the projection that this is an impossible mission."

I don't get it. How did he misspeak here?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:28 PM


Europe's Problems Color U.S. Plans to Curb Carbon Gases (Steven Mufson, 4/09/07, Washington Post)

As U.S. lawmakers work on the details of their greenhouse-gas legislation, they are looking carefully at Europe's experience. Five Senate proposals all use the same basic approach, known as "cap and trade," that Europe has used for the past two years. But what the snappy name "cap and trade" means is that the market will put a price on something that's always been free: the right of a factory to emit carbon gases. That could affect the cost of everything from windowpanes to airline tickets to electricity.

Europe has already hit a few bumps with its program. There's the Dutch silicon carbide maker that calls itself the greenest such plant in the world, but now can't afford to run full-time; the French cement workers who fear they're going to lose jobs to Morocco, which doesn't have to meet the European guidelines; and the German homeowners who pay 25 percent more for electricity than they did before -- even as their utility companies earn record profits.

Do they call it Gorenomics?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:25 PM


Yankees' Bench Shows Disregard for Depth (STEVEN GOLDMAN, April 9, 2007, NY Sun)

Alex Rodriguez can't do it alone. For some, this will be a stunning statement, given that it implies he was doing "it" at all — it being the dirty business of winning ballgames. Now, Rodriguez hasn't always deigned to immerse himself in that business, particularly last year, and even in the first few games of the 2007 season when he was stranding runners with his usual style. It was only on Saturday that the old MVP form reasserted itself, with two home runs, including a walk-off grand slam.

What's less certain is how long the MVP form will stay, and even if it does, if the Yankees have given themselves the offensive and pitching depth to sustain a long run of winning. On paper, the Yankees are solid and should score liberally while maintaining decent if unspectacular pitching. Already, though, this whole equation has been thrown into question by injuries to Chien-Ming Wang, Hideki Matsui, and Johnny Damon, as well as poor performances by all of the starting pitchers in the first games of the season.

While it's too early to be truly concerned with the Yankees' 2–3 record, the sight of Miguel Cairo starting in left field should be of great concern. For all of Brian Cashman's manifold strengths as general manager, when it comes to the major league bench he has always had a cavalier attitude bordering on neglect.

The bench is obviously a liability for a team this old, but the fact their only major league quality starting pitcher is at AAA and the only reliever is an arm-weary closer has to a bigger worry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


Soldier’s Captors Say They Gave List of Demands to Israel (JENNIFER MEDINA, 4/09/07, NY Times)

Hamas militants involved in seizing an Israeli soldier whom they have held captive for 10 months said over the weekend that they had sent Israeli officials, through Egyptian mediators, a list of Palestinian prisoners they would demand released in exchange for freeing him. [...]

The list of about 450 names, according to the news reports, included Marwan Barghouti, a grass-roots leader of the Fatah faction and former leader of the Tanzim, a Fatah militia, in the West Bank. He was sentenced in 2002 to five life sentences for his role in the deaths of four Israelis and a foreigner. The list also reportedly included Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who is accused of coordinating the assassination of an Israeli tourism minister in 2001.

The Palestinian Authority information minister, Mustafa Barghouti, a distant relation of Marwan Barghouti, said on Saturday that “practical measures” to begin a prisoner exchange with Israel had begun.

“The Palestinians have done all they can regarding this case, and the ball is now in the Israeli court,” Mustafa Barghouti said. “Israel will now decide how quick the prisoners and Shalit will return home. If the Israeli government is serious in its intentions, it must seize the opportunity to end this chapter.”

The reality is that the Israelis need Barghouti to lead Palestine just as much as the Palestinians do, which is why it's often rumored that his arrest was just a Mossad operation to give him street cred. While false, it reveals the deeper truth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


It's Time to Fight Population Growth, Which Exacerbates Global Warming and Sprawl (Katha Pollitt, April 9, 2007, The Nation)

If fears of population implosion result in paid parental leave, improved childcare and more support for mothers' careers, it won't be the first time a government has done the right thing for the wrong reason. But isn't it weird to promote population growth while we wring our hands over global warming, environmental damage, species loss and suburban sprawl? The United Nations projects that in 2050 the world's population will reach 9.2 billion! When we think of overpopulation the usual image is of some teeming Third World slum, and indeed most population growth will come in the developing world. But actually it's the developed world that's doing the earth in. Every American uses as much energy as forty-eight Bangladeshis, and as many resources as an African village. Europeans and Japanese aren't far behind. What feels right for a nation or an ethnicity -- we need more Russians! more Italians! more Scots! -- might be wrong for the human race, to say nothing of polar bears.

For decades experts have argued that heavyhanded fertility-control schemes were unwarranted and that modernization -- better healthcare, women's rights, voluntary contraception -- would cause birthrates to fall naturally. And so they have! It worked! We should be cheering.

And they wonder that their ideologies always lead to mass muder?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:40 PM


How mad can you get at David Sedaris? (Tom Walker, 04/08/2007, Denver Post)

[D]avid Sedaris, the darling of the National Public Radio set and author of several books of essays and the wildly popular "Dress Your Family in Cordurory and Denim" and "Me Talk Pretty One Day," is in hot water for taking some - ahem - liberties in his work.

In a recent article in The New Republic magazine, Alex Heard wrote that Sedaris exaggerated - even totally made up - some events in his essays. [...]

But how angry should the reader be with Sedaris? He is a humorist, after all, and we have always given humorists more rope. Hyperbole is their metier. Shaping the material to comic effect is what they do.

The myth, of course, is that less of the "journalists'" stuff is made up than the humorists'.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Yo-Yo Ma weighs in on cultural exchange (Miami Herald, 4/09/07)

The notion of cultural purity is a dead end, said famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who was born in Paris to Chinese parents and came to the United States as a child prodigy, reports The Associated Press.

Ma's internationally recruited Silk Road Ensemble involves instruments such as Indian sitars, Islamic ouds, and Chinese erhu, suona and pipa and has filled museums with works from Azerbaijan, Iran, Mongolia and Uzbekistan.

''I have this theory that I share with [Art Institute of Chicago president] Jim Cuno,'' Ma told The Associated Press. ``It's that nothing great was ever produced in isolation.'

...and Joshua Redman can still kick his butt...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Zach Johnson no ordinary winner: The Iowa City native calls himself a 'normal guy,' stuns Woods for his first major title. His one-over 289 ties mark for highest score by Masters champion (Chris Dufresne, April 9, 2007, LA Times)

Zach Johnson made his own history Sunday and put Tiger Woods' history on hold.

Johnson compared it, biblically, to David's famous bump and run.

"As they say, the giant's got to fall at some point," he said.

With 1 Round Left, It's All Over: Everyone in Field On Wrong Side Of Par at Augusta (Leonard Shapiro, 4/08/07, Washington Post)

The wind was up, temperatures dipped into the 40s and scores continued to soar above par during the calamitous third round of the 71st Masters. Welcome to golf's newest reality show: "Survivor: Augusta National."

Even Tiger Woods, the most resourceful player in the modern game, eventually succumbed. After crafting 16 holes of mostly brilliant play, the No. 1 player in the world bogeyed his final two holes for the second time this week in what he later described as "one of the hardest rounds I think I've ever played here."

But in the end, it didn't matter. All Woods had to do was wait about 90 minutes after his third round had ended, and almost everyone ahead of him had backed up to about where he wanted them. He will enter Sunday's final round only a shot off the 54-hole lead held by Australian Stuart Appleby, who made triple bogey at the 17th hole yet still shot 73 for a 2-over total of 218.

A Mother's Words of Wisdom (Thomas Boswell, April 8, 2007, Washington Post)
We've gone from green jackets to straitjackets at the Masters. Why interview the winner in Butler Cabin? Just rent a rubber room. On Saturday, as the field scoring average soared to 77.35, this Masters went through the looking glass into golf as farce, where what matters most is luck. And even that's not enough. So cross your fingers for a Sunday that makes any sense at all.

For a symbol of this Masters that has suddenly and accidentally gone insane, we take you into the gallery beside the second fairway at Augusta National. There, Kultida Woods, mother of the Tiger, sat with her hands in white socks for makeshift mittens. Bundled up against the chill on a 48-degree afternoon with a stiff gusting wind, she drank straight from the bottle -- Robitussin, that is. Down on the green, her son laboriously studied a 35-foot birdie putt while his galleries shivered, some in blankets.

"Just make your par," muttered Tida, "and get the hell out of here."

Five Young Players To Watch (TONY DEAR, April 4, 2007, NY Sun)

Adam Scott, 26

Scott comes into the Masters brimming with confidence following his win at the Shell Houston Open last weekend. On a course set up to mimic the challenge of Augusta National -- fast greens, inch and a half long rough, shaved slopes, etc. -- Scott shot a four round total of 271 (17 under par) to hold off the challenge of countryman Stuart Appleby. Striking the ball better than he has all year, the Aussie averaged 302 yards off the tee and hit almost 86% of greens in regulation during the final 36 holes, not one of which did he bogey. Scott has played in the last five Masters and made the cut four times, with the tie for ninth he recorded in his debut still his best finish. In 18 rounds at Augusta, he has never broken 70, and his scoring average of 73.17 needs considerable improvement if he is to contend. But after last week's showing and on a course that, theoretically, should suit him down to the ground, he must rank among the favorites. [...]

Charles Howell III, 27

After miserable opening rounds of 80 and 84 a year ago, the Augusta native comes back to the course he first played as a 10-year-old with a lot to prove. Last year he arrived having finished no higher than T-33rd in his first nine starts, but this year he already has a win, two seconds, and two more top-10s under his belt. He thus arrives at Augusta National ranked no. 15 in the world and better prepared mentally than he ever has been. Despite his remarkably slender frame, Howell has become something of a wayward bomber in the Tiger Woods, Vijay Singhmold with an average drive of 300.7 yards (up 12 yards since 2004 and 9th on Tour) that finds the fairway just 53.61% of the time (170th). Missing the short grass that often probably won't hurt him at Augusta as much as it would at the U.S. Open, and his length off the tee will certainly help. Perhaps more significant is the improvement he has made to his putting -- up from 185th to 33rd in the rankings.

via Jeff Mann:

1)Choose 3 players, lowest aggregate wins.

2)If one of your players misses the cut, you're out.

3)No duplicate threesomes, in case of a duplicate, the entry post with the earlier time stamp is official, later entries are out.

4) One entry per person.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Patterns of War Shift in Iraq Amid U.S. Buildup (ALISSA J. RUBIN and EDWARD WONG, 4/09/07, NY Times)

Nearly two months into the new security push in Baghdad, there has been some success in reducing the number of death squad victims found crumpled in the streets each day. [...]

The American military believes that much of the drop in executions has come because of decreased activity by Shiite militias and death squads, especially the powerful Mahdi Army militia that claims allegiance to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Many militia leaders have been detained in raids by the American military, according to the Iraqi government, and despite some major car bomb attacks on Shiite areas, the militias appear to have decided to refrain from carrying out revenge killings.

“The cycle of violence is not as predictable,” a senior American military official said. “Iraqi people are showing restraint, and the ability of death squads to retaliate is being circumscribed.”

The Shi'ites, not the Iraqis. Note that over the weekend Mookie was even forced to mouth off about the U.S. because it's become so obvious he's collaborating with the surge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


For Thompson, Delay Is Costly Money (CHRISTOPHER COOPER, April 9, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

If Fred Thompson decides to run for president, he will have some powerful supporters: The self-described "Tennessee Mafia," a group of Republican politicians from his home state well-versed in the craft of national campaigns. What the actor and former senator may lack is the financial juice that fired the group for more than a quarter century, driving local and national campaigns with astonishing amounts of cash.

"Mafia" members include Howard Baker, a former Republican senator, ambassador and White House chief of staff, who himself ran for president in 1980; Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former two-term Tennessee governor who ran for president in 1996 and 2000; and Bill Frist, the former Senate Republican majority leader, who considered, then rejected his own run for the White House for 2008.

Egged on by a campaign to draft him and buoyed by polls that suggest he would be a serious contender even though he hasn't declared, the conservative and blunt-spoken Mr. Thompson has said he is considering jumping in and may make a decision as early as next month. But in a presidential campaign that is likely to be the most expensive yet -- three candidates have already banked over $20 million in donations -- dithering would seem to be a liability.

They had money, what good did it do them?

Every primary election season has a period of buyers' remorse, when parties turn on their inevitable candidate because he can't possibly measure up to their ideal. It's come early this time, perhaps because of media saturation. But there's only room for one alternative and Mr. Thompson will have little trouble replacing Rudy Giuliani and Mitt romney as the repository of McCain angst. Money takes care of itself.

President-elect Thompson and our next terrorist attack (Bruce Walker, April 9, 2007, Enter Stage Right)

Anyone really watching the development of politics in America today must see that Fred Thompson is really President-Elect Fred Thompson. I say that as someone who thinks Rudy Giuliani would make a great wartime president and who would also do many of the good things for America that he was able to do for New York.

The reality, however, is that even the shadow candidacy of Thompson is casting a huge shadow indeed. The online Sean Hannity poll showed Thompson getting, as an unannounced candidate, more votes that all other Republican candidates combined. Fred Thompson, as an unannounced candidate, is winning every straw poll in the South. Fred Thompson, who will soon be visiting with Republican members of Congress to discuss his possible candidacy, has been overwhelmed by senators and congressman who want to talk with him (probably because he is the best chance Republicans have of re-taking Congress.)

Fred ThompsonWill he win the general election? Fred Thompson is likeable, persuasive and savvy man. Thompson is a conservative on every major issue of the day. Democrats will nominate a Leftist, not a centrist, as their nominee. When is the last time a Leftist defeated a conservative in a presidential election? Try 1916, when Woodrow Wilson – using the Ku Klux Klan Leftist South eked by Charles Evans Hughes. That was not just the last time but the only time.

One might cite LBJ over AUH2O, but it has never happened in the absence of a third party candidate or an incumbent running. That's why the only way that Maverick could lose to Hillary is if a serious Rightist ran in the general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


President Renewing Efforts on Immigration: Plan for Overhaul Faces Battle in Divided Congress (Jonathan Weisman, April 9, 2007, Washington Post)

President Bush will relaunch his push for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws today in Arizona, with a fresh speech on the border and a new congressional leadership that is friendlier to his views, but with the same dynamics that scuttled his last attempt: a cooperative Senate but bipartisan opposition in the House.

In contrast to her approach to other controversial issues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has told the White House that she cannot pass a bill with Democratic votes alone, nor will she seek to enforce party discipline on the issue.

...that the GOP is not unlikely to squander. She's handing them a chance to score a win on the single biggest issue for electoral politics over the next several decades. If amnesty were to pass only after a Democrat became president with a Democrat Congress the GOP would be stuck in the wilderness for awhile.

A more adept party would take advantage of the degree to which the Democrats consistently shaft the voting blocs that they believe have no other option, Democrats' Cause Is Tempered by Political Realities (Juliet Eilperin and Michael Grunwald, 4/09/07, Washington Post)

ith housing -- as with higher-profile issues such as global warming and Iraq -- the new congressional leaders are trying to balance their ideas of what is desirable with their assessments of what is fiscally and politically possible during the Bush administration. So they are pushing low-cost measures that many Republicans can support, while promising their liberal base they will do more later.

"Everything we do is a political calculation; we're constantly thinking about what can become law," said Frank, the acerbic new chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. "We're interested in getting practical results."

On the Katrina bill, that meant making deals beyond the Democrats' liberal constituencies -- and the sponsors' own inclinations. Republicans were allowed to offer amendments, and one barring felons from public housing passed over the opposition of Democratic leaders. Similarly, in an effort to ensure bipartisan support and a presidential signature, Frank quietly killed three Democratic amendments that would have subsidized tens of thousands of families who lost homes in Katrina, although he relented on one of them. And he berated one activist who urged him to do more.

Still, housing activists are delighted to have like-minded "housers" in charge. They finally get to meet with leadership and provide wish lists to staff. And they have serious wishes: Over the past two decades, as the population has increased and rents have skyrocketed, the number of federally assisted apartments has not budged. Only 1 in 4 families eligible for subsidies receives them, and half of all "working poor" families spend more than half their income on rent. Despite the rising rate of homeownership, advocates say the price for decent shelter is still the primary obstacle to the American dream, more burdensome than the costs of health insurance, gasoline or taxes.

But after years of battling their enemies, some progressives are concerned their friends will take them for granted.

"The big question is whether the Democrats are really committed to change, or whether they're just making political statements," said Barbara Sard, a housing activist with the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

By peeling off Hispanics and blacks, Republicans could force Democrats to actually do the bidding of Progressives and the like, completely alienating them from America in general.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Pumpkin Seed Pesto Pasta (The Associated Press, April 9, 2007)

12 ounces whole wheat pasta spirals

1 cup raw pumpkin seeds

3 ounces (about 3 loosely packed cups) fresh cilantro, stems trimmed

4-ounce piece of Parmesan cheese (or about 1 cup grated), cut into small pieces

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, place the pumpkin seeds in a small skillet over medium heat. Toast the seeds, stirring frequently, until they are lightly browned and puffed up, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer the seeds to a food processor. Add the cilantro, cheese, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse until all ingredients are finely ground. Then, with the processor on, drizzle in olive oil until desired consistency is reached. Set aside.

Drain the pasta and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the pesto and toss well to coat. The heat of the pasta will melt the cheese and the pesto will coat the pasta. Adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Three Who Made a Revolution: a review of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World By John O'Sullivan (Lee Edwards, March 2007, The American Spectator)

OTHER WRITERS HAVE NOTED the timely emergence of an American president, a Polish pope, and a British prime minister in the late 1970s and early 1980s and their critical role in leading the West to a peaceful resolution of the Cold War. But it has remained for the Anglo-American journalist and editor John O'Sullivan to write the definitive history of how Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher worked together, openly and not so openly, to bring about what most experts agreed was impossible -- the swift dissolution of the Soviet Union and Marxism-Leninism.

To write such a multi-faceted story, you would want a polymath: an American familiar with Reagan's special genius for combining principle and pragmatism, a Brit who could explain how Thatcher became the first woman prime minister in British history, and a Roman Catholic who understood why the Soviets were so worried about the impact of a Polish pope on their empire. You would seek someone with a keen historical sense and a flair for biography -- and the ability to integrate smoothly the myriad accomplishments of three major figures of our times. If this paragon also had a smooth, accessible writing style, that would be a heaven-sent bonus. It would be impossible, of course, to find someone who could do all of the above-unless you could persuade John O'Sullivan to write The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister, his first but not I hope last book.

O'Sullivan begins his admirable study by making the arresting point that the times seemed to have by-passed Reagan, Thatcher, and Karol Wojtyla, who embodied such seemingly "fading" virtues as faith, self-reliance, and patriotism. But the unexpected death of the Italian John Paul I led to the election of the Polish John Paul II in 1978; Jimmy Carter's monumental ineptitude at home and abroad prepared the way for a conservative alternative in Reagan in 1980; and Britain's accelerating economic decline coupled with a series of often violent strikes in the winter of 1978-79 brought the country to the edge of anarchy. Thatcher offered a strong purgative -- economic liberty, traditional Christian values, patriotism, and a strong attachment to the United States and like-minded nations -- and in May 1979 was elected prime minister.

In the ensuing chapters, O'Sullivan deftly traces the interactive careers of the three leaders.

Loathe as we conservatives are to admit it, there's a fourth figure who belongs in the pantheon of those who saved the West: Paul Volcker. Until inflation was vanquished it would have been terribly difficult to get even reasonably decent societies to stop living only in the moment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


PM hopes 'human dividend' will pay (Sid Marris and Patricia Karvelas, April 09, 2007, The Australian)

THE "human dividend" of having a job and enjoying the benefits of a strong economy and a stable society is emerging as the focus of the Coalition's re-election message.

John Howard is determined to hammer home that message by first dragging the political spotlight back to what he believes is the Coalition's core strength, economic management.

And despite the mounting campaign against the Government's controversial industrial relations regime, the Howard Government will take Work Choices to the federal election fundamentally unaltered.

"Managing the economy well is not an end in itself. Strong economic growth is never a virtue in its own right," he says in his weekly radio message today.

"All the reforms of the past decade - balancing the budget, paying off Labor's $96 billion debt, generational tax reform, industrial relations and waterfront reform and so forth - have only been justified because of the immense human dividend they have helped deliver."

Indeed, it's easy enough to be so staggered by America's household net worth of $55 trillion that you ignore the fact that such a number does not include our human capital. Not only are places like China and Europe not catching up, we're widening our lead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Summer in Berlin (James Bowman, 4/9/2007, American Spectator)

"Posters were being put up in cities and towns across Germany yesterday," reported the Times of London the other week, "urging women to make use of the Baby-Klappe, with the slogan 'Before babies land in the rubbish bin...'" The Baby-Klappe is a hatch installed in German hospitals to allow women to deposit unwanted babies anonymously. It is hoped that it will halt a spate of at least 23 child murders so far this year. Typical is Susanne H. from Baiersdorf in Bavaria who strangled her newborn baby daughter and put the body in her freezer because, she said, her boyfriend "threatened to throw me out if I concealed another pregnancy from him." German fertility rates, like those across Europe, suggest that there is also a larger, cultural sense in which children are not wanted there.

Fortuitously, along comes Andreas Dresen's Summer in Berlin (Sommer vorm Balkon) to give us some insight into the state of the sexual culture where people seem to have lost the will to reproduce. Not, I hasten to add, that that is the film's purpose. It's really a female buddy picture before it is anything else, in which the friendship between Nike (Nadja Uhl) and Katrin (Inka Friedrich) is threatened when they compete for the attentions of Ronald (Andreas Schmidt). But the overwhelming sense of this movie is of hopelessness and limited options.

That ought to be the official motto of the EU: "Hopelessness and Limited Options!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


U.S. Democrats seek to lead the way in tax overhaul (Edmund L. Andrews, April 9, 2007, USA Today)

House Democratic leaders, in an effort to upstage Republicans on the issue of tax cuts, are preparing legislation that would permanently shield all but the very richest taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax, which is likely to affect tens of millions of families as early as next year if it is left unchanged.

The effort, which lawmakers emphasize is still in its early stages, would exempt millions of people from the tax but would have to come up with a way to offset an enormous loss of revenue in the next decade. Measured in dollars, it would be far bigger than Democratic initiatives to provide money for children's health care, education or any other spending program.

The GOP can totally discombobulate the Democrats by helping with the tax cut but bottling up the off-sets. His legacy is already pretty astounding, but one more massive tax cut on W's watch would really gild the lilly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Sir Sean would quit Bahamas for an independent Scottish nation (KARIN GOODWIN, 4/09/07, The Scotsman)

SIR Sean Connery has said he will return to his native Scotland if it is granted independence.

The high profile supporter of the Scottish National Party (SNP) was born in Edinburgh's Fountainbridge but left Scotland more than half a century ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Dangers of Accommodation of Religion Based on Religious Status, As Opposed to Religiously Motivated Practice, And the Duty of Religious Individuals to Obey the Law (MARCI HAMILTON, Apr. 05, 2007, FindLaw)

Even now, decades later, we are still reaping the harvest from the Supreme Court's unfortunate 1972 decision in Wisconsin v. Yoder, which held that the Free Exercise Clause required that the Amish be permitted to avoid Wisconsin's neutral, generally applicable compulsory education law so that their children could be educated in farming. That case is the odd duck in First Amendment law, in that it held that a religious group could overcome the force of law simply by reason of asserting its religious beliefs. Yet some cling to it as if it were typical of the Supreme Court's view of the matter.

In fact, most other Supreme Court precedents, in sharp contrast, tend to follow the contrary principle espoused in the Court's 1971 decision in Gillette v. United States, and reiterated in its 1990 decision in Employment Div. v. Smith. Gillette said, and Smith quoted Gillette to the effect that, the Court's "cases do not at their farthest reach support the proposition that a stance of conscientious opposition relieves an objector from any colliding duty fixed by a democratic government."

That their principles were only discovered in the Constitution in the 60s and 70s is fatal to the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Revisiting US involvement in the Second World War (David T. Pyne, 4/6/2007, Enter Stage Right)

It is my contention that many of the assumptions we have been taught by Liberal Establishment historians about US involvement in the Second World War are incorrect. Specifically fourteen points present themselves: [...]

3. The Soviet Union, not Nazi Germany, represented the greater threat to Western civilization and to US/UK national security. Due to the fact that the Soviet Union was a co-aggressor with Nazi Germany that invaded Poland and started the war, the Allies should have considered declaring war on the USSR as well or at the very least not allying with the Evil Soviet Empire and providing it with massive military aid enabling it to conquer the eastern half of Europe and most of Asia as they ended up doing. During the period from 1939-1940, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin invaded and/or annexed parts or the whole of six countries to the USSR the same number as was invaded by Hitler during the same period. Furthermore, at the time of the formation of the Grand Alliance between the US & UK on the one hand and the USSR on the other, Stalin had killed up to one-hundred times as many innocents as had Hitler. Thus, contrary to popular perception, Stalin, not Hitler was the greater evil at the time. Hitler having declared war on the United States on December 11, 1941, instead of allying with the Soviets the Allies should have signed a non-aggression pact with Stalin and raced the Soviets to overrun as much of Europe as possible in order to liberate the captive nations from totalitarian control, not merely hand them over from one murderous totalitarian occupying power to another. [...]

5. The war could have been ended far sooner had the Allies not insisted on unconditional surrender, the prolongation of the war that benefited no one but Stalin and had they not refused to support the anti-Hitler resistance which included a great many of the top Field Marshals and senior generals of the German Army.

6. FDR's and Truman's insistence in prolonging the Pacific War long enough to allow the Soviets to intervene armed with US tanks, planes and artillery provided to them for the purpose and occupy Japanese-controlled territories in northern Japan, northern Korea and northern China was one of the main reasons that the Communists were able to seize control of mainland China. This disastrous policy led to the loss of 450 million (now 1.3 billion) Chinese to Communist control and to the Korean and Vietnamese wars which cost the lives of nearly 100,000 Americans.

7. The Yalta agreement at which Churchill and FDR agreed to surrender 140 million eastern Europeans in nearly a dozen countries to Soviet control represented the greatest appeasement of evil mass murdering dictators and the greatest betrayal of freedom in world history, dwarfing the transfer of 3.5 million Sudeten Germans to Germany under the terms of the Munich Pact.

8. Operation Keelhaul--the forcible transfer of 2-6 million anti-Communist freedom fighters and their families to be killed at the hands of Stalin and his henchmen--was another great betrayal of freedom and war crime committed by Allied leaders including Churchill, Truman and Eisenhower.

Bottom line: Letting Hitler and Stalin fight it out would likely have led to a better outcome than helping Stalin win. We could always have just fought the winner, in the unlikely event there was one.

April 8, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 PM


Papelbon, Sox overpower the Rangers (Amalie Benjamin, April 9, 2007, Boston Globe)

"We had a little bit more of an idea what to expect this time around," manager Terry Francona said after Papelbon finished off the 3-2 sweep-averting win. "But he was devastating. And we needed every bit of that, or we're either still playing, or we lose."

Papelbon was back, not as the starter he had attempted to be in spring training, but the closer, the dominant one with the 0.92 ERA last season, the one whose stare underneath the slightly curved brim of his hat was followed immediately by strikeouts and saves. In this case, against Young, it was followed by a 94-mile-per-hour fastball for a swing-and-miss, one just out of the strike zone, and a 96-m.p.h. fastball for a swing-and-miss.

Oh, and then a 97-m.p.h. fastball taken for a strike that found catcher Jason Varitek's glove, leaving Young motionless.

That just made the popup to third base by Mark Teixeira all the more inevitable, getting the Sox out of the inning in front of 28,347 at Rangers Ballpark. Then Papelbon completed the five-out appearance with a dominating ninth inning that featured strikeouts of Hank Blalock and Brad Wilkerson. And that was all before he said the words that should continue to inspire fear in opposing batters: "Every year, every pitch, every inning I get more and more confident."

"You just can't understand how unbelievable that is," Schilling said. "You just can't. Until you're on the mound, you cannot understand that there aren't very many guys in the history of the game that can do that."

A game that requires this.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 PM


Terminator to attend Tory conference (Nigel Morris, 09 April 2007, Independent)

Arnold Schwarzenegger is to exchange Sunset Boulevard for the Golden Mile as a guest of honour at this year's Conservative Party conference in Blackpool.

The Austrian-born actor, best known as the Terminator before becoming the Republican governor of California four years ago, will also deliver a keynote address to the Tory faithful.

He was invited in recognition of his environmental track record in California, which has become the first US state to impose a cap on carbon dioxide emissions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Matsui placed on 15-day disabled list (Bryan Hoch, 4/08/07, MLB.com)

The Yankees placed Hideki Matsui on the 15-day disabled list on Sunday, one day after the outfielder strained his left hamstring while running out a ground ball.

The assignment is the second in less than a year for Matsui, who missed four months last season with a broken left wrist. He strained the hamstring in the second inning of Saturday's game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Aged stars, bad defense and only two major league pitchers (Hughes & Rivera) is not a recipe for success.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 PM


'Britain 'is suffering an exodus of skilled staff' (Daily Mail, 8th April 2007)

The UK is in the grip of a serious 'brain drain', a leading academic has warned.

Well-educated professionals and managers are leaving the country in droves, according to John Salt, an expert on migration from University College London.

In their place, low-skilled workers from Eastern Europe are flooding in - leading to a 'de-skilling' of the workforce.

Professor Salt's findings will fuel concerns over Labour's opendoor immigration policies.

According to official figures, between 2000 and 2005 a net total of 272,000 Britons emigrated...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:09 PM


McCann, Francoeur rally Braves past Mets (Charles Odum, 4/08/07, AP)

Kelly Johnson hit the first pitch from Hernandez about six rows deep into the right-field seats for his second homer.

The Mets answered when Shawn Green and Ramon Castro hit back-to-back home runs in the second inning for a 2-1 lead that held until the eighth.

Atlanta's Kyle Davies, making his first start of the season, didn't allow another run. He gave up four hits and two runs in 6 2-3 innings. Davies matched his career high with eight strikeouts and walked three.

Davies, recalled from Triple-A Richmond on Wednesday, was removed from the game with two outs in the seventh after giving up a single to Moises Alou and a walk to pinch-hitter Julio Franco. Chad Paronto ended the inning when Jose Reyes popped out.

A great series in which the Mets got better starting pitching than they can expect generally but still got outpitched. Omar Minaya is going to have to use some of the talent in that farm system to acquire help at some point. They still need a real second baseman and a starter or two just to be the best team inthe division.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM


Hero's tale is 'too positive' for the BBC (Chris Hastings, 7/04/07, Sunday Telegraph)

Amid the deaths and the grim daily struggle bravely borne by Britain's forces in southern Iraq, one tale of heroism stands out.

Private Johnson Beharry's courage in rescuing an ambushed foot patrol then, in a second act, saving his vehicle's crew despite his own terrible injuries earned him a Victoria Cross.

For the BBC, however, his story is "too positive" about the conflict.

The corporation has cancelled the commission for a 90-minute drama about Britain's youngest surviving Victoria Cross hero because it feared it would alienate members of the audience opposed to the war in Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


'B.C.' creator Johnny Hart dies (Press & Sun Bulletin, 4/08/07)

Johnny Hart, an Endicott native whose collection of cartoon cave-dwellers amused and sometimes irritated newspaper readers for almost 50 years, died at his Nineveh home on Saturday. He was 76.

Hart is survived by his wife Bobby, and two daughters. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

Hart's B.C. comic strip was launched in 1958 and eventually appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers worldwide with an audience of 100 million. He lent his characters to promote many local agencies and activities, including the Broome Dusters hockey team, BC Transit, Broome County Parks and the professional golf tournament which became the B.C. Open.

B.C. participated in the nation's space program. In 1972, Hart received a public service award from NASA for outstanding contributions.

Later in his career, some of Hart's cartoons addressed religious themes -- a reflection of his own deepening Christian faith -- which dismayed some readers and delighted others.

Easter comic strip creates an uproar (Christian Century, May 2, 2001)
Cartoonist Johnny Hart, a popular comic-strip creator who is also a conservative Christian, typically raises religious themes in his caveman strip B.C. at Christmas and Eastertime. This season Hart sparked an outcry from some Jewish organizations for, they say, implying that Christianity replaced Judaism.

One paper, the Los Angeles Times, dropped the strip on April 9 following a God-talk comic strip that ran on Palm Sunday. A Times spokesperson, however, said the decision was made weeks earlier and based on "a lot of factors." The Times and other newspapers have in the past simply left out strips that editors felt would rankle too many readers.

The April 15 comic strip by Hart shows several panels in which the seven last words of Jesus Christ appear above a lit seven-branch menorah. In the next-to-last frame, the words "It is finished" appear above the menorah's last remaining flame. By the last frame, all seven candles on the menorah have been extinguished, and the menorah has become a cross.

Some critics say the cartoon advocates "replacement theology"--the idea that Christianity has supplanted Judaism. "This is insensitive and offensive because what it proclaims is that Judaism is finished and Christianity has taken over," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. [...]

But Hart, an evangelical Christian who lives in Endicott, New York, said that he only intended to "pay tribute" to Jews and Christians. "I sincerely apologize if I have offended any readers, and I also sincerely hope that this cartoon will generate increased interest in religious awareness," he said.

If you never offended Abe Foxman you never said anything important.

Hogan's Interviews: Johnny Hart (Rick Marschall, Hogan's Alley)
'B.C.' Cartoonist Johnny Hart dies at 76 (Usa Today, 4/09/07)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


The boulevard of broken dreams: It is the epitome of romance and style. But Paris is in the grip of an unprecedented 'flight of the young', with the disenchanted looking to London and New York for a new life. On the eve of the French elections a generation of young Parisiens, frozen out economically and racially, are turning their back on the city (Andrew Hussey, April 8, 2007, The Observer)

The simple fact is that, in the past few years, young people have been leaving France in unprecedented numbers. More worrying still is that although depopulation was a worry in the French countryside in the Sixties, it now has become a specifically urban phenomenon. Nor is it confined to Paris: Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux and Marseille can all report an exodus of young people towards les pays Anglo-Saxons (the United States and the UK). This fact was acknowledged by politician Nicolas Sarkozy when he made his flying visit to London last month to visit the French community there - at 400,000 people this is (as the newspaper Le Parisien helpfully pointed out) equivalent to one of the largest French cities. [...]

[N]ovelist Virginie Despentes, the voice of youthful feminist dissent in France, states that she won't vote for any of the 'fakers and frauds on offer. Better to leave France for good.' In the same cynical vein, Marc Weitzmann - one of the most influential figures on French youth in the past decade, a novelist and former editor of rock magazine Les Inrockuptibles - has claimed Sarkozy as the only choice. In a recent interview, Weitzmann declared that the intellectual left was dead in France, strangled by middle-class and middle-aged functionaries who despised youth and sought only to enhance their pension plans. 'There is no other choice,' says Weitzmann, a former avant-gardist and supporter of such radicals as philosopher Guy Debord and novelist Michel Houellebecq, 'Sarkozy does what all politicians do, only he does it better than most of them.'

Following Weitzmann, Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, probably the most fashionable and dashingly youthful philosopher (he's in his early thirties) on the Left Bank, writes of 'democratic nihilism' and describes France as a 'failed state'. Didier Lestrade, founder of the Aids campaign group Act-Up, puts the angry voice of the French clearly: 'We're sick of voting against things. When are we going to have someone that we can vote for?'

The politicians themselves are watching the arguments among young people with a degree of caution. More to the point, after the fiasco in 2002, when Le Pen terrified the French nation (and the rest of the world) by making it to the second round of the elections, largely because of voter apathy in the first, the big political parties are eager to court young first-time voters as insurance against such variables.

The emigration of so many young people is seen most threateningly in the press as the victory of Anglo-American capitalism (most French youngsters dream of London or New York) over the French socialist model. But there is more at stake than money and jobs. Racism, poor housing and the stagnant nature of French society are also, damagingly for the present government, all cited by the present generation of young people as reasons to get away.

Perhaps you oughtn't be writing the piece if you don't get that those are just the inevitable products of the French model?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Lessons of heart disease, learned and ignored (Gina Kolata, April 8, 2007, NY Times)

What few patients realize, Dr. Antman said, is that a serious heart attack is as much of an emergency as being shot.

"We deal with it as if it is a gunshot wound to the heart," Dr. Antman said.

Cardiologists call it the golden hour, that window of time when they have a chance to save most of the heart muscle when an artery is blocked.

But that urgency, cardiologists say, has been one of the most difficult messages to get across, in part because people often deny or fail to appreciate the symptoms of a heart attack. The popular image of a heart attack is all wrong.

It's the Hollywood heart attack, said Dr. Eric Peterson, a cardiologist and heart disease researcher at Duke University.

"That's the man clutching his chest, grimacing in pain and going down," Dr. Peterson said. "That's what people imagine a heart attack is like. What they don't imagine is that it's not so much pain as pressure, a feeling of heaviness, shortness of breath."

Most patients describe something like Mr. Orr's symptoms -- discomfort in the chest that may, or may not, radiate into the arms or neck, the back, the jaw, or the stomach. Many also have nausea or shortness of breath. Or they break out in a cold sweat, or have a feeling of anxiety or impending doom, or have blue lips or hands or feet, or feel a sudden exhaustion.

But symptoms often are less distinctive in elderly patients, especially women. Their only sign may be a sudden feeling of exhaustion just walking across a room. Some say they broke out in a sweat. Afterward, they may recall a feeling of pressure in their chest or pain radiating from their chest but at the time, they say, they paid little attention.

Patients with diabetes might have no obvious symptoms at all other than sudden, extreme fatigue. It's not clear why diabetics often have these so-called silent heart attacks -- one hypothesis attributes it to damage diabetes can cause to nerves that carry pain signals.

"I say to patients, 'Be alert to the possibility that you may be short of breath,' " Dr. Antman said. "Every day you walk down your driveway to go to your mailbox. If you discover one day that you can only walk halfway there, you are so fatigued that you can't walk another foot, I want to hear about that. You might be having a heart attack."

Other times, said Dr. George Sopko, a cardiologist at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, symptoms like pressure in the chest come and go. That is because a blood clot blocking an artery is breaking up a bit, reforming, breaking and reforming. It was what happened to Mr. Orr when he was at the gym and meeting his friend afterward.

"It's a pre-heart attack," Dr. Sopko said. A blood vessel is on its way to being completely blocked. "You need to call 911."

But most people -- often hoping it is not a heart attack, wondering if their symptoms will fade, not wanting to be alarmist -- hesitate far too long before calling for help.

"The single biggest delay is from the onset of symptoms and calling 911," said Dr. Bernard Gersh, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic. "The average time is 111 minutes, and it hasn't changed in 10 years."

'Time Is Muscle'

At least half of all patients never call an ambulance. Instead, in the throes of a heart attack, they drive themselves to the emergency room or are driven there by a friend or family member. Or they take a taxi. Or they walk.

Patients often say they were embarrassed by the thought of an ambulance arriving at their door.

"Calling 911 seems like such a project," Mr. Orr said. "I reserve it for car accidents and exploding appliances. I feel like if I can walk and talk and breathe I should just get here."

It is an understandable response, but one that can be fatal, cardiologists say.

"If you come to the hospital unannounced or if you drive yourself there, you're burning time," Dr. Antman said. "And time is muscle," he added, meaning that heart muscle is dying as the minutes tick away.

There may be false alarms, Dr. Sopko said.

"But it is better to be checked out and find out it's not a problem than to have a problem and not have the therapy," he said.

Calling an ambulance promptly is only part of the issue, heart researchers say. There also is the question of how, or even whether, the patient gets either of two types of treatment to open the blocked arteries, known as reperfusion therapy.

One is to open arteries with a clot-dissolving drug like tPA, for tissue plasminogen activator.

"These have been breakthrough therapies," said Dr. Joseph P. Ornato, a cardiologist and emergency medicine specialist who is medical director for the City of Richmond, Va. "But the hooker is that even the best of the clot buster drugs typically only open up 60 to 70 percent of blocked arteries -- nowhere close to 100 percent."

The drugs also make patients vulnerable to bleeding, Dr. Ornato said.

One in 200 patients bleeds into the brain, having a stroke from the treatment meant to save the heart.

The other way is with angioplasty, the procedure Mr. Orr got. Cardiologists say it is the preferred method under ideal circumstances.

Stents have recently been questioned for those who are just having symptoms like shortness of breath. In those cases, drugs often work as well as stents. But during a heart attack or in the early hours afterward, stents are the best way to open arteries and prevent damage. That, though, requires a cardiac catheterization laboratory, practiced doctors and staff on call 24 hours a day. The result is that few get this treatment.

"We now are seeing really phenomenal results in experienced hands," Dr. Ornato said. "We can open 95 to 96 percent of arteries, and bleeding in the brain is virtually unheard of. It's a safer route if it is done by very experienced people and if it is done promptly. Those are big ifs."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


The Anxious Search: Are We Alone? (Tom Bethell, April 2007, The American Spectator)

Second Story Books in Bethesda has a good selection of out-of-print science books and I drop by from time to time. I was surprised to find recently that they had a whole shelf of books about the search for extraterrestrial life. Here are just some of the titles, all published in the 1990s:

We Are Not Alone (1993), Are We Alone? (1995) Are We Alone in the Cosmos? (1999), Is Anyone Out There? (1992), Extraterrestrials: Where Are They? (1995), A Brief History of Life on Other Worlds (1998), The Hunt for Life on Mars (1997), After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life (1997), Beyond Star Trek (1997). I could add half a dozen more, and others have appeared since, including Rare Earth (2000), Where Is Everybody? (2002), and on and on. Since 1981, four books have been published with the title Are We Alone?

So what's this all about? The novelist Michael Crichton commented on one aspect of this comedy in an entertaining and instructive lecture at Caltech in 2003 -- "Aliens Cause Global Warming." There is "not a single shred of evidence for any other life forms and in 40 years none has been discovered. SETI is a religion," he said. Then he gave us a brief tour of nuclear winter, second-hand smoke, and finally global warming, wherein science always defers to politics. We are seeing a "loosening of the definition of what constitutes legitimate scientific procedure," he concluded.

But Crichton skirted what for me is the most interesting question: Why have we invested so much hope in SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? [...]

Some of us want to believe in extraterrestrials because an article of our secular faith holds that there is nothing exceptional about human life. This is dogma, lacking any justification, but it has already been codified as the Mediocrity Principle. The Earth, life, mankind, and civilization are humdrum, routine developments; nothing out of the ordinary about them. And if that is so, we should expect to find such life all over the Galaxy.

Some scientists and philosophers go further, and take pleasure in denigrating the human race. They jeer at the rest of us for ever having considered ourselves to be important in the cosmic scheme. A little lower than the angels, indeed! Some of us still vainly place ourselves at the center of the universe without realizing that Science dethroned us long ago.

The longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer -- he worked on the San Francisco docks for 25 years -- noted that intellectuals of the past century had done all in their power "to denude the human entity of its uniqueness"; to demonstrate that we are "not essentially distinct from other forms of life." He contrasted Pascal's comment that "the firmament, the stars, the earth are not equal in value to the lowest human being," with that of "the humanitarian" Bertrand Russell: "the stars, the wind in waste places mean more to me than even the human beings I love best." Somehow, we take that as a sign of our maturity.

The fact that rigorous science/reason tended to undermine secularism made the rise of bogus science inevitable. Science was just an end and when scientific means came into conflict with that end they had to be disposed of.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


More Than an Easter in Common (DEMETRIOS, 4/08/07, NY Times)

[I] would like to point out a remarkable occurrence in the history of the long walk toward Christian unity: the visit last November of Pope Benedict XVI, the 264th successor of St. Peter the Apostle, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in Istanbul, at the invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the 270th successor of St. Andrew the Apostle and spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians. [...]

The patriarch and the pope clarified, in a common declaration, that our churches share much in terms of our commitment to safeguard human rights and religious freedom, to protect our natural environment from human harm and to advocate for justice and peace -- especially as we are mindful of those who live with poverty, threats of terrorism, war and disease. Because the world's Christian population stands at nearly 33 percent, or 2.1 billion people, our work to alleviate dire conditions is of global significance.

Our common celebration of Easter this year raises two hopeful perspectives for us to consider: first, the steps that we are taking toward the reconciliation of the churches; and second, the rediscovery of the holy and the sacred in human life and, ultimately, the discovery of the transcendent. Here are two things worth not only considering, but seriously pursuing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


TV interview 'tipped off' Iran about ship's intelligence role (Jamie Doward and Andrew Wander, April 8, 2007, The Observer)

Iranian intelligence officers told the 15 British captives they first became suspicious about their activities after watching an interview with one of them on British television. [...]

On 13 March - 10 days before the 15 were seized - Channel 5 broadcast an interview with Captain Chris Air, one of the captured Royal Marines, in which he stated that his crew's role was to liaise with Iraqi vessels to 'let them know we are here to protect them, protect their fishing and to stop any terrorism or any piracy in the area'.

The Iranian interrogators told their captives, who were seized while travelling in two dinghies during a patrol, that this had alerted them to Cornwall's role.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


House of Saddam comes tumbling down (AFP, 7 April 2007)

Four years after Saddam Hussein's ouster, Iraq's new judiciary is dismantling piece by piece the remnants of the dictator's ruthless regime built up over a quarter of a century.

The executed president's inner circle of family members and many of his cronies -- mostly Sunni Arabs from the Tikrit region of northern Iraq -- have been hunted down and are being sent to the gallows one by one.

Former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, like Saddam convicted for crimes against humanity over the killing of 148 Shiites in the 1980s, was hanged last month on the anniversary of the start of the 2003 invasion. [...]

And Iraq's Shiite-led government is determined to continue chasing Saddam's remaining aides.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM


Build antimissile shield together: Russian lawmaker (Breitbart, Apr 7, 2007)

A senior Russian lawmaker called Saturday for Russia to be included in US plans to build a missile defence system in Europe, warning Moscow will otherwise view the antimissile shield as a threat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Four States Report Romney Never Got Hunting Licenses (Glen Johnson, April 8, 2007, Associated Press)

Officials in the four states where Mitt Romney has lived say the Republican presidential contender, who calls himself a lifelong hunter, never took out a license.

Romney says that is because he seldom has hunted where he needed one.

Questions about his hunting activities trailed Romney last week after he remarked at a campaign stop that he has been a hunter nearly all his life. The next day, his campaign said Romney had gone hunting just twice -- once as a teenager in Idaho and last year with GOP donors in Georgia.

There's a reason the GOP always nominates the next in line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


Military families show contempt for Hodes at Concord gathering (The Associated Press, Apr. 8, 2007)

Families with loved ones serving in Iraq lashed out at U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, questioning how he can claim to support American troops while backing a deadline for bringing them home. [...]

He spent one hour Saturday meeting with military families, many of whom became angry when he tried to explain his position.

One woman stormed out of the session after Hodes said he didn't know whether the spending bill would have passed without the millions of dollars in unrelated spending for pet projects it included.

"I'm done," said Gerry Duncan of Nashua, whose husband was injured in Afghanistan.

Another woman whose nephew served two tours in Iraq said Congress should remain in session until funding is resolved.

"While they're serving this nation in harm's way 24-7, you get to take vacation," Gail Giarrusso of Stratham said.

"You should be in Washington until this is resolved, until they have the support they deserve while they're at war. You should not be paid until this is resolved."

And Democrats wonder that people don't trust them with the country's security?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Justice makes a majority in court's 5-4 decisions this term (MARK SHERMAN, The Associated Press)

Justice Anthony Kennedy has become the object of his colleagues' attention on a Supreme Court with four reliably conservative votes and four dependably liberal.

Six cases before the Supreme Court this term have come down to 5-4 votes. Kennedy, alone, was in the majority every time.

Two cases last week - including one the court turned down - highlighted his pivotal role in shaping just about any matter of consequence before the justices.

It is his vote that could decide pending cases on abortion and school integration, as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Envy: Research suggests giving preferential treatment to a few generates demand from everyone (Robert Weisman, April 8, 2007, Boston Globe)

Envy is a powerful force in the human psyche -- and a tool to be exploited in marketing.

While marketers have long been aware that consumers clamor for products endorsed by celebrities or people with whom they identify, new research suggests businesses can stoke the enthusiasm of some potential customers by giving preferential treatment to others.

The promise and perils of this slight-the-customer approach are explored in a recent Journal of Marketing Research article titled "How to Attract Customers by Giving Them the Short End of the Stick."

It draws on a half dozen experiments conducted at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, where student volunteers from the master of business administration program were presented with a range of products and scenarios. The authors conclude that, under the right circumstances, "consumers judge the same offer to be more attractive when a seller offers a better price or more benefits to another group than when the seller treats everyone equally."

Which is why giving blacks a package that included O'Neill accounts, HSAs, education vouchers and personalized SS would be good politics for the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Afghans pin hopes on a new economy: Money at center of post-Taliban world (Farah Stockman, April 8, 2007, Boston Globe)

As a competitive economy awakens in one of the world's poorest countries, the residents of Kabul are jockeying to get ahead in a city flush with cash from US soldiers, foreign aid workers, new investors, parliamentarians, and drug traffickers.

Some have already made fortunes catering to the emerging desires of this nation of 31 million people. Ehsanullah Bayat, a US-trained Afghan engineer, is one of the nation's richest men after starting the first cellphone company here in 2001, and a radio and television station. The inventors of Super Cola, a local soda, hold their own here against Coke.

But most Afghans are trying to climb a far more modest ladder of success.

"For those people who have a job, like a shop, or who have a small amount of capital, things are good and getting better," said Mohammad Nadir, who sells home made yogurt and other groceries at a shop his father opened the day he was born, 26 years ago. "But the poor stay poor. The government is not able to help them."

Costs have skyrocketed, Nadir said. During the Taliban years, his family paid $5 in monthly rent for the shop. Now they pay $200. That leaves about $500 per month in profit.

"Good money," he said. But he'd like to make more.

Competition isn't a bad thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 AM


Clinton aims to exploit big gender advantage: Her base among women is called 'more enthusiastic' than what other candidates have (STEPHEN BRAUN, 4/07/07, Los Angeles Times)

A gender gap is growing in the Democratic presidential race, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., aims to widen it into a chasm.

Armed with mounting evidence that women are providing her a strong foundation in the crucial early months in the run-up to next year's primaries, Clinton's campaign is trying to organize almost every aspect of the Democratic women's voting bloc -- including lining up the support of feminist elites and stoking excitement in teenage political neophytes. [...]

In contrast to the broader electorate, where, in 2006, women accounted for 51 percent of votes cast, women represent as much as 60 percent of registered voters in early Democratic primary and caucus states. And early surveys show Clinton ahead of her male rivals among women in every early primary and caucus state.

Nationally, a Zogby survey in late March found that Clinton outstripped her competitors, leading with 42 percent of likely primary voters among Democratic women, compared with 19 percent for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and 15 percent for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Such a strategy wins the nomination at the cost of the general election, since married women are conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Musica Angelica tackles Bach's 'Passion'
(Mark Swed, March 22, 2007, LA Times)

THREE hours into Bach's miraculous "St. Matthew Passion," after a buildup no amount of treachery, anguish and gore on the silver screen could possibly equal, Jesus dies on the cross. This is a musically minor moment in a work regarded by some as the greatest spiritual document in the canon of Christian art. "And he passed away" ("und verschied"), a narrator sings in matter-of-fact recitative.

Shortly after that comes a bass aria of surpassingly sweet beauty. The text speaks of bounteous love and peace and rest, a hard day's intoxicatingly soft night. For all its Christian symbolism, Bach's score here seems quasi-Buddhist. Life is suffering. Death is the end of struggle.

That was certainly the message that came through Tuesday night at First United Methodist Church in Pasadena, where "St. Matthew" became a battle of the bands, Baroque style. The forces were Musica Angelica and Orchester Wiener Akademie. The former is Los Angeles' period instrument ensemble. The latter is a Baroque group from Vienna. Martin Haselb-ck directs both.

The two groups are presenting the Passion on a tour that began in Mexico City last week and is to wend its way to Europe via Savannah, Ga., and New York City. The soloists will be mostly the same, the choruses different. The orchestras take turns accompanying arias and come together for the big choruses.

Bach built the competition into the score, since the chorus is often divided antiphonally for dramatic effect. Nor is it unseemly to think of Bach as competitive. He had to compete for jobs. He asked for athletic virtuosity from his performers. He expected his listeners to be trained in mental gymnastics, what with his mind-boggling counterpoint and extraordinary harmonic and rhythmic invention. Struggle in Bach is always glory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 AM


Keeping the faith (Russell Shorto, April 7, 2007 , International Herald Tribune)

Throughout the Nazi experience, his father guided him to see it as an outgrowth of modern godlessness. The effect was to reinforce the idea of the church as a bulwark against darkness -- against secularism and rationality run amok.

Returning to the seminary immediately after the war, Ratzinger became deeply influenced by the philosophy of personalism, which saw the basis of reality not in bloodless science but in the individual human being and whose adherents would come to include Vaclav Havel and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He looked, too, to the German philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger as guides, for their inquiries into "pure being" allowed for a more human understanding of the world than the scientific materialism that was rapidly winning acceptance in Western culture. But all of this was mere supplement to Catholic theology. "Dogma" wasn't a dirty word -- it was the ground. "Dogma was conceived not as an external shackle but as the living source that made knowledge of the truth possible in the first place," he wrote in his memoirs. Ratzinger rose rapidly through the ranks of Bavaria's intensely rigorous Catholic institutions, holding the chairmanship in dogma at the University of Regensburg from 1969 to 1976, until he was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising and his career focus shifted toward Rome.

So the occasion of the speech that Benedict made at the University of Regensburg last September -- the speech that caromed around the world and caused protests in the Middle East and attacks on Christians and churches in Iraq, Somalia and the West Bank for his seeming to say that Islam is a religion of violence -- marked a homecoming, albeit an incendiary one.

The speech was a setback for relations between Islam and the West (by most accounts the pope regained some ground on his subsequent trip to Turkey last November), yet it also laid bare the foundation of the pontificate Benedict would pursue and so in a sense marked the real beginning of the post-John Paul II era in the Catholic Church. Today, as he approaches the second anniversary of his papacy (April 19) and his 80th birthday (April 16), it seems clear that Joseph Ratzinger's lifelong agenda -- rooted in Bavarian Catholicism and his experience of Nazism -- has been updated, and he is now trying to bring it to bear on the post-9/11 world.

As it routinely does with journalists, the Vatican declined requests for a papal interview for this article, but Benedict has made his objectives clear in a variety of ways. Compared with his predecessor, who was elected pope at the age of 58, he knows he has a limited time and has been rather direct in advancing his theme. The poles of his papacy might be seen in the subjects of two books by him just being released in the United States. One is about Jesus. The other is titled "Europe Today and Tomorrow." Benedict is one of the most intellectual men ever to serve as pope -- and surely one of the most intellectual of current world leaders -- and he has pinpointed the problem of the age, as well as its solution, at the level of philosophy. His argument, elaborated in the years leading up to his election and continuing through his daily speeches and pronouncements, reduces to something like this: Secularism may be one of the great developments in history, but the secularism that holds sway in much of the West -- that is, in Western Europe -- is flawed; it has a bug in its programming. The mistaken conviction that reason and faith are two distinct realms has weakened Europe and has brought it to the verge of catastrophic collapse. As he said in a speech in 2004: "There exist pathologies in religion that are extremely dangerous and that make it necessary to see the divine light of reason as a 'controlling organ.' . . . However . . . there are also pathologies of reason . . . there is a hubris of reason that is no less dangerous." If you seek a way out of the vast post-9/11 quagmire (Baghdad bomb blasts, Iranian nukes, Danish cartoons, ever-more-bizarre airport security measures and the looming mayhem they are meant to stop), and for that matter if you believe in Europe and "the West" (the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, the whole heritage of 2,500 years of history), then now, Benedict in effect argues, the Catholic Church must be heeded. Because its tradition was filtered through the Enlightenment, the thinking goes, the church can provide a bridge between godless rationality and religious fundamentalism. [...]

Talking about the speech, the Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the American Jesuit journal America, who, interestingly, was fired from that post by then-Cardinal Ratzinger for allowing too broad a range of ideas in its pages, told me: "The Regensburg address was not about Islam. The pope's primary target is Europe. He sees a great need for it to get back to its Christian roots. That is his main goal, and if he accomplishes it, it would trump John Paul II's achievement in helping bring down Communism."

Then again, what nobody knows -- as I learned in travels through traditionally Catholic parts of Europe over the fall and winter -- is whether it is too late. As one retired archbishop said to me, speaking on condition of anonymity, "There are European bishops who feel you can't talk about a Christian Europe anymore without insulting people's intelligence." [...]

It happened that on successive days in May 2004, Cardinal Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Marcello Pera, then president of the Italian Senate, who was also once a philosopher at the University of Pisa, gave speeches on the topic of European identity on each other's turf in Rome, the churchman in the Italian Senate and the senator at the Pontifical Lateran University. Ratzinger's theme was "the spiritual roots of Europe," and he criticized a culture that gave value and protection to other religions -- notably Judaism and Islam -- but that denied the same to Christianity. With his trademark bite, he identified "a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological."

Though Pera is a nonbeliever, both men were struck by the fact that the two speeches overlapped a good deal. "It got a lot of people thinking," Pera told me.

Pera and Ratzinger eventually published a book together called "Without Roots," which criticized the secular European mind-set and concluded that European secularism is disastrously misguided. "I began to realize that if we cannot recognize the fact that Christianity shaped our culture, then we lose our identity," Pera said. "And then how can we have a dialogue with other civilizations? That's exactly what has happened with Islam. Europe is losing its soul. Not only are we no longer Christian; we're anti-Christian. So we don't know who we are."

Ratzinger, meanwhile, scathingly compared contemporary Europe with resurgent Islam. Islam today, he wrote at the time in an essay that is part of the book on Europe that was just released, "is capable of offering a valid spiritual basis for the life of the peoples, a basis that seems to have slipped out of the hands of old Europe, which thus, notwithstanding its continued political and economic power, is increasingly viewed as a declining culture condemned to fade away." At the Mass following the death of John Paul II, it was Ratzinger who gave the homily to his fellow cardinals, which amounted to a restating of his theme: "We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one's own ego and one's own desires." The "dictatorship of relativism" trope sharpened -- not to say hardened -- the church's position vis-à-vis secular European culture and may have been what swept him into office.

Senator Pera exemplifies a species that virtually doesn't exist in the U.S.: a politician who publicly professes his lack of religious faith and who is a conservative to boot.

Indeed, in reading Without Roots, Senator Pera comes across as a tragic figure, in the mold of Albert Camus or George Orwell. He understands why faith is necessary, but because he can't derive it rationally he can't accept it. The problem with this false dilemma is obvious enough, that such men accept Reason on faith but not Faith on faith. Bad enough that this ultimately renders them incoherent; worse, it leaves them serving the very evil they've recognized. It is especially hard to hold out any hope for a Europe where even such decent men are so misguided.

April 7, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 PM


Pardon my French : With the elections in France just two weeks away, a quirk of the language seems to capture the front-runner's dilemma -- and the country's (Geoffrey Wheatcroft, April 8, 2007, Boston Globe)

These elections in France are turning, to a striking degree, around the question of identity, which has to do with ethnicity -- and that in turn has to do with class. One could almost say that Sarkozy wants France to decide with whom it should tutoyer, and with what meaning.

Why would it be striking for elections in France to turn on the issues surrounding the French model: the Racism/Nationalism that followed from Rationalism?

Posted by David Cohen at 10:27 PM


Guantanamo, Cuba Celebrates Passover (Chaplines, JWB, Summer 2005)

When the U. S. Navy requested a rabbi to lead Passover Seders at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, JWB Jewish Chaplains Council Director Rabbi David Lapp answered the call. All the activ