September 30, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


The GM-UAW contract: Pace car for the U.S.?: If approved, this deal sets big tasks for GM and the UAW that can help the US stay competitive and healthy. (CS Monitor, 10/01/07)

For the UAW, the task ahead is to run a new type of healthcare enterprise, called a "voluntary employee beneficiary association"(VEBA). GM's initial contribution of $30 billion to VEBA will keep it going for a while. But some VEBAs in other industries have failed. The UAW must show that a consumer-driven healthcare system can work by restraining costs, such as providing incentives for preventive healthcare.

Any success with this type of private healthcare could alter the debate over government versus private systems. The current dispute over increased federal funding for children's health in Washington would take the US further toward government-run care. But major Democratic presidential candidates have shifted to emphasizing private systems.

Rare enough for the mainstream to get the implications of either SHIP or the UAW VEBA right, nevermind both.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:42 PM


Florida 8, NY Mets 1 (AP, 9/30/07)

The collapse is complete. When the New York Mets needed a big game, Tom Glavine pitched one of his worst.

After blowing a big September lead in the NL East, the Mets missed the playoffs Sunday when Glavine was tagged for seven runs during the first inning of a season-ending 8-1 loss to the Florida Marlins.

New York's loss coupled with Philadelphia's 6-1 win over Washington gave the division title to the Phillies and sent the stunned Mets home for the winter wondering how they squandered a seven-game cushion over the final 18 days of an excruciating season.

Now, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and the rest of this talented team will forever be remembered alongside the 1964 Phillies and other famous failures for skidding to one of baseball's most monumental collapses.

They didn't so much collapse as settle at the level appropriate to their pitching staff. Omar Minaya has to carry the bag for their record.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM

60-40 NATION:

Local Democrats in West fear impact of unpopular ticket leader
: Party officials in the Rocky Mountain region worry their congressional candidates' chances may be hurt by unfavorable presidential hopefuls, such as Hillary Clinton. (Noam N. Levey, 9/30/07, Los Angeles Times)

[A]s he prepares to run for a fifth term next year, [Max] Baucus is entering treacherous territory. Despite recent gains by Democrats in the Rocky Mountain West, party officials across the region are increasingly anxious that their congressional candidates may get dragged under by Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign.

The New York senator and Democratic front-runner was by a wide margin the most unpopular of 13 potential presidential candidates in Montana, according to a June survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research for the Billings Gazette; 61% said they would not consider voting for her, compared with 49% who would not vote for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and 45% who would not vote for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. The most unpopular Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, was rejected by 51%.

The GOP basically starts with a natural 30 states and 60 Senators.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


After losses, Palestinian zeal for intifadah flags:
Many are asking whether revolt has helped them (Mohammed Daraghmeh, September 30, 2007, Associated Press)

[T]he vastly outgunned Palestinians have been exhausted by the armed confrontation. A total of 4,453 Palestinians have been killed, along with 1,114 Israelis.

Israel has built a West Bank barrier, which it says was designed to keep out attacks. But the enclosure dips into the West Bank at various points, putting 8.5 percent of the territory on the Israeli side. In Palestinian eyes, it is a thinly veiled land grab.

Israel has reoccupied West Bank towns and cities, sharply restricted Palestinian movement within the West Bank, and banned traffic between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian dependence on foreign aid has grown, and most Gazans survive on less than $2 a day.

The number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, meanwhile, has soared, from about 1,650 to 11,000.

"Everything came to a standstill for seven years," said Adnan Attari, a 30-year-old merchant from a village near the West Bank town of Ramallah. "We didn't move forward but backward."

But the lack of commemoration reflects more than the uprising's setbacks. With the Hamas and Fatah factions locked in a battle for power, Palestinians are more concerned about their internal security than their conflict with Israel, polls show.

Which is exactly what treating them like a state and forcing elections was supposed to do. Now Israel and the US just have to allow the internal political process to play out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 AM


China Communist elder issues bold call for democracy (Chris Buckley, September 30, 2007, Reuters)

In a bold jab before a key meeting of China's Communists, a 90-year-old former secretary to Mao Zedong has urged the Party to embrace democracy, saying that only political freedom can end instability and corruption.

Li Rui issued his demand for citizens' rights and legal shackles on Party power in a Beijing magazine, China Across the Ages (Yanhuang Chunqiu), just over two weeks before President Hu Jintao opens the 17th Party Congress, which is set to give him five more years in power.

Hu cautiously has signaled modest political adjustments under strict one-party limits. But in a sign that liberal reformers may feel emboldened to press for bigger steps, Li argued that tinkering was not enough.

In the October edition of the outspoken magazine, Li said his country could be dragged back into past decades of chaos unless long-delayed democratization catches up with three decades of market reforms, ending the Party's "privileged status."

"I believe that reforming our Party is the crux that will decide the success or failure of all of China's reforms," wrote Li.

Ferment in Hong Kong, Burma, Taiwan, and the PRC provides a perfect opportunity to give the whole region a good hard shake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


Backpacker turns activist, with boost from Facebook (David Fox, September 30, 2007, Reuters)

A chance encounter in a Burman coffee shop turned Canadian backpacker Alex Bookbinder into a political activist at the forefront of an Internet campaign that has attracted tens of thousands of supporters.

Bookbinder, 19, is the creator of the "Support the Monks' Protest in Burma" campaign on the Internet social networking site Facebook.

The campaign seeks to draw attention to the violent crackdown by Burma's military rulers against prodemocracy protests led by the country's revered Buddhist monks. It has attracted nearly 140,000 members since being launched on Sept. 19, and thousands more are joining each day.

"I'm overwhelmed by the response," Bookbinder said in an interview conducted, appropriately, over the Internet.

Gotta turn that attention to a single achievable purpose though, like demanding a US boycott of the Beijing Olympics if China doesn't help isolate the junta.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Taiwan Party Asserts Separate Identity (ANNIE HUANG, 9/30/07, AP)

Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party passed a resolution Sunday asserting the island's separate identity from rival China and calling for a referendum on Taiwan's sovereignty.

The resolution for a "normal country" — passed after heated debate at a boisterous party congress — calls for general use of "Taiwan" as the island's name, without specifically abolishing its current formal name, the Republic of China. It also calls for the enactment of a new constitution, but gives no specific deadline for either that or the referendum.

The resolution, which passed 250-73, could rile China, which has repeatedly threatened war if Taiwan formalizes its de facto independence.

"We should rectify our name to Taiwan and enact a new constitution as soon as possible," the resolution says. "A public referendum should be held at an appropriate time to underscore Taiwan as a sovereign state."

Taiwan can probably defeat China even without our help, which they'll get anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


UN Envoy Meets With Suu Kyi, Junta (AP, 9/30/07)

A U.N. envoy met Sunday with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after meeting with Myanmar's military rulers as he sought a peaceful solution to the government's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

The separate talks occurred as thousands of troops locked down Myanmar's largest cities Sunday. Scores of people were arrested overnight, further weakening an uprising that sought to end 45 years of military dictatorship.

Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N.'s special envoy to Myanmar, went to the remote bunker-like capital Naypyitaw on Saturday to meet with the junta and stayed overnight, foreign Asian diplomats said.

On Sunday, he returned to Yangon and was whisked to the State Guest House to meet Suu Kyi, who was brought out of house arrest to see the U.N. envoy in what appeared to be an unexpected concession by the junta.

Burma protesters call for help from outside world (Denis D. Gray, 9/30/07, Associated Press)
Watching soldiers firing their guns and beating determined protesters with clubs in the streets of Burma, a distraught man decried the violent crackdown and pleaded for American intervention.

With the streets mostly quiet yesterday after the military's brutal suppression of three days of demonstrations, many protesters were losing hope and falling back on such familiar pleas for help from the outside world.

It's a call made every time the prodemocracy movement has dared stand up against Burma's 45 years of harsh military rule, only to be crushed.

Some of those challenging the regime in the most forceful demonstrations in nearly two decades still hope such help - even in the form of US bombing - may arrive.

About 300 protesters marched down a street in the Chinatown section of Burma's main city, Rangoon, yesterday, waving the peacock-emblazoned flags of the democracy movement. They dispersed when soldiers arrived.

Aung San Suu Kyi has tremendous moral cache which she has to use to put pressure on the West if this rebellion is to go any further.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Bond star Lois Maxwell dies at 80 (BBC, 9/30/07)

Actress Lois Maxwell, who starred as Miss Moneypenny in a string of James Bond movies, has died aged 80.

Maxwell starred alongside Sir Sean Connery in Bond's first movie outing, Dr No, in 1962.

She played the role until 1985's A View To A Kill with Sir Roger Moore, who told the BBC she had been a "great asset" to the early Bond movies. [...]

She appeared in more movies than any of the actors who played the lead role in the spy series, including Sir Sean Connery and Sir Roger Moore.

Only Desmond Llewelyn, who played gadget man Q 17 times before his death in 1999, starred in more films.

[Said Roger Moore,] "I think it was a great disappointment to her that she had not been promoted to play M. She would have been a wonderful M."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


9/11 Is Over (THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, 9/30/07, NY Times)

You may think Guantánamo Bay is a prison camp in Cuba for Al Qaeda terrorists. A lot of the world thinks it’s a place we send visitors who don’t give the right answers at immigration. I will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling Guantánamo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor Cubans. Guantánamo Bay is the anti-Statue of Liberty.

...was that it denied bloggers a target rich environment. For instance, Mr. Friedman's insistence that we ought to govern ourselves in order to please our enemies can't help but remind one of a German Jew in the '30s who thought he could act in a way that the Nazis would like him.

Posted by Matt Murphy at 8:36 AM


Underdogs deliver multiple hard-to-believe moments (Pat Forde, 9/29/07,

Underdog campuses were fired up all over America on Insanity Saturday. They were also fired up in Auburn, Ala. And in Manhattan, Kan. And College Park, Md. And Tampa, Fla., too.

The students in those locales had reason to party after their teams upset top-10 teams this weekend. Down went No. 3 Oklahoma to Colorado, No. 4 Florida to Auburn, No. 7 Texas to Kansas State, No. 10 Rutgers to Maryland, and on Friday, No. 5 West Virginia to South Florida.

Throw in upset losses by No. 13 Clemson and No. 21 Penn State and even first-half deficits for big dogs USC and LSU against Washington and Tulane, respectively, and you have Insanity Saturday.

Just that fast, the college football landscape shifted seismically beneath our feet.

Just that fast, the Red River Shootout game Saturday between Oklahoma and Texas was dropped to undercard status. For the first time in years, it's not the marquee game in the Big 12. And for the first time in years, the league's maligned North looks more compelling than the South. If you can believe it, the biggest game in that league next week might be unbeaten Kansas at 3-1 Kansas State -- either that or 4-1 Nebraska at unbeaten Missouri.

Just that fast, the upcoming LSU-Florida showdown Saturday in Baton Rouge lost half its helium when the Gators were shocked in The Swamp by an Auburn team that had lost at home to South Florida and Mississippi State on consecutive weekends.

Just that fast, the three Big East teams that began the season in the Top 25 all have at least one loss. Louisville went down first, then West Virginia, now Rutgers. Suddenly South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati are the unbeaten teams in the Big East. Honk if you foresaw that in August.

Just that fast, Illinois is 4-1 and tied for first in the Big Ten at 2-0. That's the same Illinois that went 2-10 last year, with only one victory over I-A competition.

Just that fast, we have an ACC plot twist that leaves Virginia and Boston College well out in front in their respective divisions at 3-0 in league play. Virginia was left for dead after a Week 1 blowout loss to Wyoming. Boston College was picked last in its division by at least one preseason magazine.

And just that fast, USC and LSU put that much more distance between themselves and what's left of the pack.

September 29, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Tylenol Tampering Case Unsolved at 25 (DON BABWIN, 9/28/07, AP)

Helen Jensen can still picture the bottle of Tylenol perched in the medicine cabinet. She feels the receipt she pulled from the wastebasket. She hears the pills she poured onto the kitchen table.

And she recalls the absolute certainty, even before she finished counting, that pills from the bottle in her hand killed the 27-year-old man who lived there, as well as two of his relatives.

"Six capsules were missing, and there were three people dead," she recalled thinking.

It has been exactly 25 years since Jensen, then a nurse for the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights who accompanied investigators to the home, played her role in a story that sent shock waves all over the country.

In a space of three days beginning Sept. 29, 1982, seven people who took cyanide-laced Tylenol in Chicago and four suburbs died. That triggered a national scare that prompted an untold number of people to throw medicine away and stores nationwide to pull Tylenol from their shelves.

If the scare has faded from memory, pushed aside by terrorist attacks and natural disasters, reminders of what happened are as close as the drug store and the corner market.

"Every time you open a bottle or package (of medicine, food or drink) that has tamper evidence features, a band around the lid or an interior seal, it is because of the Tylenol case," said Pan Demetrakakes, executive editor of Food & Drug Packaging magazine.

Jeffrey Leebaw, a spokesman for Tylenol maker Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, N.J., declined to comment Friday.

For those who lost loved ones or investigated the case, pain, anger and frustration remain. Part of the reason is that nobody was ever charged, much less convicted of the crime.

While the incident might never have been repeated, it makes good marketing sense to be seen to be making it hard for it to happen to your product.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


George W Bush to meet Dalai Lama in US first (Richard Spencer, 29/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

President George W Bush is to become the first American president to meet the Dalai Lama in a gesture of recognition for the religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism that risks infuriating the Chinese government.

Mr Bush will meet the Dalai next month at a ceremony in front of the symbol of American democracy, the Capitol building, where the Tibetan leader will be presented with the Congressional Gold Medal.

The Chinese government reacts with fury to any gesture of recognition given to the Dalai who fled the country into exile in 1959 and whom it regularly accuses of trying to "split" Tibet from the rest of China.

Rising up for freedom (The Ottawa Citizen, September 29, 2007)
The battle between freedom and bondage has its moments of clarity, when walls come down, when people rise up, when the world can't look away. This week in Burma has been one of those moments.

The Burmese regime depends on the support of China and, to a lesser extent, India. China is in an awkward position: it is itself an anti-democratic regime, and it put down a major uprising in the same era as the 8888 Revolution and the Suu Kyi election. The parallels are obvious. Besides, China benefits from a cozy economic relationship with Burma.

But as the host of the Beijing Olympics -- which will open next Aug. 8, the 20th anniversary of the 8888 uprising -- China has to at least appear to be concerned about this crisis in its neighbourhood. And while China publicly insists that Burma is not a threat to international security, the health, refugee and drug crises on Burma's borders should worry all its neighbours.

The Chinese government has begun to acknowledge its international responsibilities, and to be held to account for enabling the likes of North Korea and Sudan. The uprising in Burma will be a test of China's ability to pick the right side in global affairs. It should also be a test for democratic India, which has been engaging in a dangerous rapprochement with Burma.

The violence in Burma must end, but a return to the status quo ante would not be any kind of resolution. The people would still be poor and unfree. Democratization must come to Burma, and all nations must work toward that goal.

In securing the Olympics the Chinese handed us a sword which it would be shameful not to use against these regimes on behalf of their peoples.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


The UAW's Awakening: A union shows a new awareness of global competition. (Opinion Journal, September 29, 2007)

This week's deal between General Motors and the United Auto Workers is being hailed as a new era for Detroit, and for once that advertising may be justified. The UAW in particular made historic concessions that show a new awareness of global competition. What's less encouraging is how much this reality-based compromise still contrasts with the policies that unions and their political friends are promoting in the unreal world of Washington, D.C. [...]

In what seems to be the most creative stroke, GM will pay some $35 billion toward a new health-care trust fund to be administered by the union. That's a big initial cash flow, but it means the company can divest itself of some $50 billion in long-term liabilities, which would only have grown as health-care costs rose and retirees lived longer. Investors loved it, driving up GM stock by around 7% for the week.

The UAW now gains ownership of its members' health-care resources, in effect becoming a financial manager of a giant Health Savings Account for auto workers.

Indeed, you have to wonder if EJ Dionne even understood that he was praising the Ownership Society yesterday

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Father Dobbs: Assaulting CNN audiences with bossy harangues, Lou Dobbs has remained unruffled by conflict and become a major weight on public opinion (James Wolcott, September 28, 2007, Vanity Fair)

If Lou Dobbs were any more full of himself, the tub would overflow. In the autumn resplendence of his telecasting career, Dobbs's self-regard, never meek or slender, has ripened into the pompatus of love. I am Lou, hear me moo, in numbers too big to eschew. It isn't just that the ratings for CNN's starship enterprise Lou Dobbs Tonight have been climbing while those of other cable news shows are being intubated, but that his force of personality and power of persuasion have elevated him to the status of a major public-opinion shaper—a heavy-lumber political slugger. If he were a Robert Ludlum hero, this chapter of his life could be called "The Dobbs Supremacy." It was Dobbs more than any other tongue flapper who put the kibosh on the Dubai-ports deal by flogging it as a risk to national security and economic sovereignty, not to mention a rude slap in the honest face of every hardworking American, which leaves out a few people I happen to know, including me. "For fifteen evenings," Ken Auletta wrote in The New Yorker, "Dobbs spoke about 'the outrage' of allowing a Middle Eastern country 'with ties to the September 11 terrorists' to operate six American ports. Dobbs certainly was not the only person to raise questions, but the resulting furor eventually prompted Dubai to abandon the plan." The scuttling of the Dubai-ports deal was a warm-up bout to Dobbs's biggest feat of strength so far, his duel in the dust with the comprehensive immigration reform bill that was the darling dream baby of President Bush—his last big domestic achievement before returning to Crawford, Texas, to enter that long night of the iguana. As we know, the bill croaked after one of those cloture votes that lend such cliff-hanging suspense to the legislative process. Although the conservative bloggers and talk-radio caterwaulers, tweaking their nipples and twirling their jockstraps, indulged in yet another orgy of triumphalism as they inflated the magnitude of their heroic role in murdering this bill in its cradle (overcome with vapors, National Review Online contributor Mark Krikorian compared the bill's defeat to General Washington's staunch performance at the Battle of Monmouth, in 1778), it was the anti-Establishment establishmentarians of the mainstream media, in the persons of Dobbs and MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan, who were the true picadors, pricking this bipartisan package as an "amnesty" bill to the frustration of its advocates and drawing first blood. "Pitchfork Pat" Buchanan's nativism has always been a niche product, however. Dobbs commands a higher, wider seat of authority, no pun intended. Presiding over the recurring segment "Broken Borders" (cue night-vision footage of Mexicans climbing over and under fences, crossing ravines, running in a crouch), Dobbs has been the chief architect in constructing the ominous, dystopian specter of illegal immigration as home invasion on an epic scale, tracking crime, disease, and rampant illiteracy across our clean floors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Amazing night sets today's stage (Mark Newman, 9/29/07,

Now what?

People around Major League Baseball are still recovering from the most unbelievable final Friday of any regular season. Did you see that? Of course you did. You saw everything. You were locked in like it was a Halo 3 all-nighter. Your head was spinning like Brandon Webb's breaking ball from trying to watch up to a dozen games at once.

Mets' meltdown almost complete (Toronto Star, Sep 29, 2007)
The New York Mets' meltdown reached the absurd last night. Out of first place and nearly out of time, they're going to need help just to make the playoffs. All-star third baseman David Wright forgot he had an easy force play, Oliver Perez hit a pair of batters with the bases loaded and the Mets stumbled out of the NL East lead with a 7-4 loss to the last-place Florida Marlins. New York has lost five straight and 11 of 15 to fall one game back of surging Philadelphia, which beat Washington 6-0. The Mets' eighth straight home loss dropped them out of first place for the first time since May 15. Everything looked rosy for the Amazin's when they held a seven-game lead on Sept. 12 with 17 games left, but it's been mostly downhill from there. They're on the brink now of an unthinkable collapse: No major league team has blown such a big lead in such a short time at the end of a season.

Bubbling over: Red Sox clinch first division title in 12 years (Gordon Edes, September 29, 2007, Boston Globe)
Theo Epstein trusted that the Red Sox would hold up their end of a championship bargain, but thought it was a good idea to send a text message to Kevin Millar, exhorting the former Sox partymeister to help put an end last night to Yankee aspirations in Baltimore.

"I told him, 'You own [Yankees pitcher Mike] Mussina. I said, 'You owe us one,' " Epstein said. "You've got to win at least one game for us singlehandedly. And tell [Orioles manager Dave] Trembley I don't want to see [Triple A] Ottawa out there."

"He wrote back, 'We'll see what we can do. I'll do my best for you.' "

It was the prelude to a made-for-TV experience. The Red Sox, whose 5-2 win over the Minnesota Twins ended at 9:39 p.m., became champions of the American League East an hour and 17 minutes later, at 10:56, when Millar and the Orioles beat the Yankees, 10-9, in 10 innings, a comeback win the Sox watched from inside their clubhouse while several thousand fans watched on the Fenway Park video scoreboard.

Millar did his part, getting hit by a pitch by Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the ninth, when the Orioles rallied from three runs down to tie the score on a bases-loaded triple by former Sox outfielder Jay Payton. A third ex-Sox player, Chad Bradford, was the winning pitcher after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the 10th, and Melvin Mora dropped a two-out squeeze bunt to bring home the winning run after Millar looked at a called third strike.

Naturally, the irrepressible Millar was heard from in the midst of a wild Sox celebration that reached its apex when Alex Cora took command of the Fenway Park sound system, blasting "Sweet Caroline" while Jonathan Papelbon, wearing sliding shorts and a T-shirt, did a mad Irish jig on the mound.

"He texted me back and said, 'I told you I'd come through for you,' " Epstein said. "He said, 'I'm still sitting on that changeup, by the way. Congratulations.' "

How can the two NY teams spend $600 million and not at least accidentally acquire a worthwhile pitcher between them?

NL Notes: Philadelphia Phillies (Houston Chronicle, 9/29/07)

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins got his 706th at-bat Friday to set the single-season major league record. Rollins flied out off the Nationals' Tim Redding in the third inning to break the mark set in 1980 by Willie Wilson of the Royals.

Biggio will put on catcher's mask one more time (BRIAN McTAGGART, 9/29/07, Houston Chronicle
For the first time since Oct. 5, 1991, Craig Biggio will catch in a game tonight as the Astros host the Atlanta Braves. Biggio is scheduled to catch one or two innings before moving to his normal position of second base.

September 28, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


Professor Norman Cohn: Historian and linguist of rare erudition whose masterpiece was 'The Pursuit of the Millennium' (Independent, 29 September 2007)

Norman Cohn wrote three great histories, each thematically related to the other. His first book, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957), showed how apocalyptic beliefs fuelled medieval heresies and, in the 20th century, Nazi and Communist orthodoxies. His second, Warrant for Genocide (1967), exposed that arsenal for anti-Semites The Protocol of the Elders of Zion for the forgery that it was. His third, Europe's Inner Demons (1976), showed how the idea of the satanic pact was at the heart of the European witch-craze. In 1948 the great Annales scholar Lucien Febvre had written his (then) startling essay, "Witchcraft: nonsense or a mental revolution?" Cohn's published writings would provide the most satisfying answer to that question.

But first the nonsense had to be got out of the way. Not just the history – Nazi reliance on a dodgy document. But the historiography: credulous readers' reliance on Margaret Murray's fiction of witchcraft as Christianity's ancient religious rival. Cohn, the most modest and gentle of men, swept her 1921 romance The Witch-Cult in Western Europe into the dustbin. His weapons were, as in all his inquiries, patience, scrupulous testing of evidence and empathy into minds of very different cultures, all backed with formidable linguistic skills.

It was as a linguist, not a historian, that he had begun his academic career. [...]

Cohn was as accessible as he was erudite. Generations of undergraduates thrilled to The Pursuit of the Millennium. Scholars continue to raid his works for fresh insights. In the current Journal of Ecclesiastical History there is a review of a new French book on witchcraft, which grapples with the great question: where was the link between witchcraft as attested in early medieval folklore and the apparently sudden and unprecedented emergence, at some point after 1400, of a belief in a conspiracy between witches and the devil? The reviewer likes the book, but his final message is: go back to Cohn!

Sometimes the very boldness of the presentation leads to a failure in his readers to appreciate the subtleties behind it. Cohn never said – although he has been credited with saying it – that millenarianism inevitably produces revolutions. But his brilliant evocations of John of Leyden's reign of terror in Munster – and those flagellants who seem to have walked straight out of The Seventh Seal – once encountered by the reader stay in the mind. Cohn intended them to do so, but not at the price of failing to realise that millenarian speculations could have stabilising effects as well as destabilising ones.

He was particularly sensitive to the power of belief in a Last World Emperor as a secular companion figure to the Angelic Pope. There are 31 entries on the Emperor cult in The Pursuit of the Millennium index, which will surprise only those who accept a simplified reading of the Cohn thesis.

Norman Cohn, Historian, Dies at 92 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 8/27/07, NY Times)
In highly detailed, laboriously researched studies that depended on his knowledge of many ancient languages, Mr. Cohn reached far back into history to illuminate subjects of compelling current interest from totalitarianism to anti-Semitism to repression of minorities.

His gift for seeing old stories with new eyes shone in his book on the development and interpretation of the biblical story of Noah, “Noah’s Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought.” His crisp writing drew praise.

He was an unusual historian in that as a student he did not study history, but was trained as a linguist; he then put his knowledge of medieval Latin, Greek, Old French and High and Low German to work in his famously meticulous research. He also brought passion to his search for the roots of hatred: he had lost relatives in the Holocaust.

The Times Literary Supplement included his seminal 1957 book, “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages,” in a 1995 list of the 100 nonfiction works with the greatest influence on how postwar Europeans perceive themselves. Other books on the list were by Camus, Sartre and Foucault.

Beginning with the Crusades and concluding with 16th-century Anabaptists, Mr. Cohn showed in this book how the desire of the poor to improve their lot merged with prophecies of a final struggle between Christ and Antichrist, to be followed by the emergence of a new paradise.

“In situations of mass disorientation and anxiety, traditional beliefs about a future golden age or messianic kingdom came to serve as vehicles for social aspirations and animosities,” he wrote.

This vision, he suggested, passed among cultures and languages and from religious to secular discourse without losing its coherence or power to jolt the downtrodden to rise up. Messianic leaders like Stalin and Hitler appealed to the deep, biblically inspired belief that after intense struggle history would end, and an elect of believers would inherit paradise.

“The old religious idiom has been replaced by a secular one, and this tends to obscure what otherwise would be obvious,” he wrote. “For it is the simple truth that, stripped of their original supernatural sanction, revolutionary millenarianism and mystical anarchism are with us still.”

Mr. Cohn’s theory emerged from a decade of research into millennial movements like the Flagellants who massacred the Jews of Frankfurt in 1349, the 16th-century Anabaptist theocracy of Münster, Germany, and the Ranters of the English Civil War.

Anthony Storr, a psychoanalyst who has written on historical figures, once called Mr. Cohn “the historian of important parts of history that other historians do not reach.”

Norman Cohn (Paul Lay, August 9, 2007, The Guardian)
-ARCHIVES: Norman Cohn - The New York Review of Books

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:49 PM


The Brewers have lost the last 21 games in which Chris Capuano, their starter tonight, has appeared.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


Radical Syrian cleric 'shot dead' (BBC, 9/28/07)

A Syrian cleric suspected of recruiting foreign militants to fight in Iraq has been shot dead in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, his aides have said.

Sheikh Mahmoud Abu al-Qaqaa was shot several times by a gunman as he left the Imam Mosque after Friday prayers. [...]

After the shooting, one aide to the cleric told the Associated Press that "terrorists" had killed the sheikh, whose real name was Mahmoud al-Aghassi, for his "nationalist positions".

The one who carried out the assassination was a prisoner of the American forces in Iraq and had been released some time ago
Sheikh Samir Abu Khashbeh

Another aide, Sheikh Samir Abu Khashbeh, said the gunman had told him that he had killed the cleric "because he was an agent of the Americans".

"The one who carried out the assassination was a prisoner of the American forces in Iraq and had been released some time ago," Abu Khashbeh said. "He is known to us."

It's not terrorism when we do it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


Iran invites Bush to speak at university (NASSER KARIMI, 9/28/07, Associated Press)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited President Bush to speak at an Iranian university if the American leader ever traveled to the Islamic Republic, state-run television reported Friday.

Ahmadinejad caused an uproar during his visit to New York this week when he spoke at Columbia University. He faced tough questioning and the university's president introduced him by saying Ahmadinejad exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."

"If their president plans to travel to Iran, we will allow him to make a speech" at a university, Ahmadinejad told state TV earlier this week before leaving New York to travel to South America. He was in New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

...this would be the ideal capstone to W's presidency. He could almost give the same speech, though Iran is much further advanced towards the End than Russia was, Ronald Reagan at Moscow State University (May 31, 1988)
Before I left Washington, I received many heartfelt letters and telegrams asking me to carry here a simple message, perhaps, but also some of the most important business of this summit. It is a message of peace and goodwill and hope for a growing friendship and closeness between our two peoples.

First, I want to take a little time to talk to you much as I would to any group of university students in the United States. I want to talk not just of the realities of today, but of the possibilities of tomorrow.

You know, one of the first contacts between your country and mine took place between Russian and American explorers. The Americans were members of Cook's last voyage on an expedition searching for an Arctic passage; on the island of Unalaska, they came upon the Russians, who took them in, and together, with the native inhabitants, held a prayer service on the ice.

The explorers of the modern era are the entrepreneurs, men with vision, with the courage to take risks and faith enough to brave the unknown. These entrepreneurs and their small enterprises are responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States. They are the prime movers of the technological revolution. In fact, one of the largest personal computer firms in the United States was started by two college students, no older than you, in the garage behind their home.

Some people, even in my own country, look at the riot of experiment that is the free market and see only waste. What of all the entrepreneurs that fail? Well, many do, particularly the successful ones. Often several times. And if you ask them the secret of their success, they'll tell you it's all that they learned in their struggles along the way — yes, it's what they learned from failing. Like an athlete in competition, or a scholar in pursuit of the truth, experience is the greatest teacher.

We are seeing the power of economic freedom spreading around the world — places such as the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have vaulted into the technological era, barely pausing in the industrial age along the way. Low-tax agricultural policies in the sub-continent mean that in some years India is now a net exporter of food. Perhaps most exciting are the winds of change that are blowing over the People's republic of China, where one-quarter of the world's population is now getting its first taste of economic freedom.

At the same time, the growth of democracy has become one of the most powerful political movements of our age. In Latin America in the 1970's, only a third of the population lived under democratic government. Today over 90 percent does. In the Philippines, in the Republic of Korea, free, contested, democratic elections are the order of the day. Throughout the world, free markets are the model for growth. Democracy is the standard by which governments are measured.

We Americans make no secret of our belief in freedom. In fact, it's something of a national pastime. Every four years the American people choose a new president, and 1988 is one of those years. At one point there were 13 major candidates running in the two major parties, not to mention all the others, including the Socialist and Libertarian candidates — all trying to get my job.

About 1,000 local television stations, 8,500 radio stations, and 1,700 daily newspapers, each one an independent, private enterprise, fiercely independent of the government, report on the candidates, grill them in interviews, and bring them together for debates. In the end, the people vote — they decide who will be the next president.

But freedom doesn't begin or end with elections. Go to any American town, to take just an example, and you'll see dozens of synagogues and mosques — and you'll see families of every conceivable nationality, worshipping together.

Go into any schoolroom, and there you will see children being taught the Declaration of Independence, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights — among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that no government can justly deny — the guarantees in their Constitution for freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.

Go into any courtroom and there will preside an independent judge, beholden to no government power. There every defendant has the right to a trial by a jury of his peers, usually 12 men and women — common citizens, they are the ones, the only ones, who weigh the evidence and decide on guilt or innocence. In that court, the accused is innocent until proven guilty, and the word of a policeman, or any official, has no greater legal standing than the word of the accused.

Go to any university campus, and there you'll find an open, sometimes heated discussion of the problems in American society and what can be done to correct them. Turn on the television, and you'll see the legislature conducting the business of government right there before the camera, debating and voting on the legislation that will become the law of the land. March in any demonstrations, and there are many of them — the people's right of assembly is guaranteed in the Constitution and protected by the police.

But freedom is more even than this: Freedom is the right to question, and change the established way of doing things. It is the continuing revolution of the marketplace. It is the understanding that allows us to recognize shortcomings and seek solutions. It is the right to put forth an idea, scoffed at by the experts, and watch it catch fire among the people. It is the right to stick - to dream - to follow your dream, or stick to your conscience, even if you're the only one in a sea of doubters.

Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority of government has a monopoly on the truth, but that every individual life is infinitely precious, that every one of us put on this world has been put there for a reason and has something to offer.

America is a nation made up of hundreds of nationalities. Our ties to you are more than ones of good feeling; they're ties of kinship. In America, you'll find Russians, Armenians, Ukrainians, peoples from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They come from every part of this vast continent, from every continent, to live in harmony, seeking a place where each cultural heritage is respected, each is valued for its diverse strengths and beauties and the richness it brings to our lives.

Recently, a few individuals and families have been allowed to visit relatives in the West. We can only hope that it won't be long before all are allowed to do so, and Ukrainian-Americans, Baltic-Americans, Armenian-Americans, can freely visit their homelands, just as this Irish-American visits his.

Freedom, it has been said, makes people selfish and materialistic, but Americans are one of the most religious peoples on Earth. Because they know that liberty, just as life itself, is not earned, but a gift from God, they seek to share that gift with the world. "Reason and experience," said George Washington in his farewell address, "both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. And it is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government."

Democracy is less a system of government than it is a system to keep government limited, unintrusive: A system of constraints on power to keep politics and government secondary to the important things in life, the true sources of value found only in family and faith.

I have often said, nations do not distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. If this globe is to live in peace and prosper, if it is to embrace all the possibilities of the technological revolution, then nations must renounce, once and for all, the right to an expansionist foreign policy. Peace between nations must be an enduring goal — not a tactical stage in a continuing conflict.

I've been told that there's a popular song in your country — perhaps you know it — whose evocative refrain asks the question, "Do the Russians want a war?" In answer it says, "Go ask that silence lingering in the air, above the birch and poplar there; beneath those trees the soldiers lie. Go ask my mother, ask my wife; then you will have to ask no more, 'Do the Russians want a war?'"

But what of your one-time allies? What of those who embraced you on the Elbe? What if we were to ask the watery graves of the Pacific, or the European battlefields where America's fallen were buried far from home? What if we were to ask their mothers, sisters, and sons, do Americans want war? Ask us, too, and you'll find the same answer, the same longing in every heart. People do not make wars, governments do — and no mother would ever willingly sacrifice her sons for territorial gain, for economic advantage, for ideology. A people free to choose will always choose peace.

Americans seek always to make friends of old antagonists. After a colonial revolution with Britain we have cemented for all ages the ties of kinship between our nations. After a terrible civil war between North and South, we healed our wounds and found true unity as a nation. We fought two world wars in my lifetime against Germany and one with Japan, but now the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan are two of our closest allies and friends.

Some people point to the trade disputes between us as a sign of strain, but they're the frictions of all families, and the family of free nations is a big and vital and sometimes boisterous one. I can tell you that nothing would please my heart more than in my lifetime to see American and Soviet diplomats grappling with the problem of trade disputes between America and a growing, exuberant, exporting Soviet Union that had opened up to economic freedom and growth.

Is this just a dream? Perhaps. But it is a dream that is our responsibility to have come true.

Your generation is living in one of the most exciting, hopeful times in Soviet history. It is a time when the first breath of freedom stirs the air and the heart beats to the accelerated rhythm of hope, when the accumulated spiritual energies of a long silence yearn to break free.

We do not know what the conclusion of this journey will be, but we're hopeful that the promise of reform will be fulfilled. In this Moscow spring, this May 1988, we may be allowed that hope — that freedom, like the fresh green sapling planted over Tolstoy's grave, will blossom forth at least in the rich fertile soil of your people and culture. We may be allowed to hope that the marvelous sound of a new openness will keep rising through, ringing through, leading to a new world of reconciliation, friendship, and peace.

Thank you all very much and da blagoslovit vas gospod! God bless you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


CHAPTER ONE: ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’ By NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB

Before the discovery of Australia, people in the old world were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence. The sighting of the first black swan might have been an interesting surprise for a few ornithologists (and others extremely concerned with the coloring of birds), but that is not where the significance of the story lies. It illustrates a severe limitation to our learning from observations or experience and the fragility of our knowledge. One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millennia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird.

I push one step beyond this philosophical-logical question into an empirical reality, and one that has obsessed me since childhood. What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes.

First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability. A small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives. Ever since we left the Pleistocene, some ten millennia ago, the effect of these Black Swans has been increasing. It started accelerating during the industrial revolution, as the world started getting more complicated, while ordinary events, the ones we study and discuss and try to predict from reading the newspapers, have become increasingly inconsequential.

Just imagine how little your understanding of the world on the eve of the events of 1914 would have helped you guess what was to happen next. (Don't cheat by using the explanations drilled into your cranium by your dull high school teacher). How about the rise of Hitler and the subsequent war? How about the precipitous demise of the Soviet bloc? How about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism? How about the spread of the Internet? How about the market crash of 1987 (and the more unexpected recovery)? Fads, epidemics, fashion, ideas, the emergence of art genres and schools. All follow these Black Swan dynamics. Literally, just about everything of significance around you might qualify.

This combination of low predictability and large impact makes the Black Swan a great puzzle; but that is not yet the core concern of this book. Add to this phenomenon the fact that we tend to act as if it does not exist! I don't mean just you, your cousin Joey, and me, but almost all "social scientists" who, for over a century, have operated under the false belief that their tools could measure uncertainty. For the applications of the sciences of uncertainty to real-world problems has had ridiculous effects; I have been privileged to see it in finance and economics. Go ask your portfolio manager for his definition of "risk," and odds are that he will supply you with a measure that excludes the possibility of the Black Swan-hence one that has no better predictive value for assessing the total risks than astrology (we will see how they dress up the intellectual fraud with mathematics). This problem is endemic in social matters.

The central idea of this book concerns our blindness with respect to randomness, particularly the large deviations: Why do we, scientists or nonscientists, hotshots or regular Joes, tend to see the pennies instead of the dollars? Why do we keep focusing on the minutiae, not the possible significant large events, in spite of the obvious evidence of their huge influence? And, if you follow my argument, why does reading the newspaper actually decrease your knowledge of the world?

It is easy to see that life is the cumulative effect of a handful of significant shocks. It is not so hard to identify the role of Black Swans, from your armchair (or bar stool). Go through the following exercise. Look into your own existence. Count the significant events, the technological changes, and the inventions that have taken place in our environment since you were born and compare them to what was expected before their advent. How many of them came on a schedule? Look into your own personal life, to your choice of profession, say, or meeting your mate, your exile from your country of origin, the betrayals you faced, your sudden enrichment or impoverishment. How often did these things occur according to plan?

Black Swan logic makes what you don't know far more relevant than what you do know. Consider that many Black Swans can be caused and exacerbated by their being unexpected.

Think of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001: had the risk been reasonably conceivable on September 10, it would not have happened. If such a possibility were deemed worthy of attention, fighter planes would have circled the sky above the twin towers, airplanes would have had locked bulletproof doors, and the attack would not have taken place, period. Something else might have taken place. What? I don't know. Isn't it strange to see an event happening precisely because it was not supposed to happen? What kind of defense do we have against that? Whatever you come to know (that New York is an easy terrorist target, for instance) may become inconsequential if your enemy knows that you know it. It may be odd to realize that, in such a strategic game, what you know can be truly inconsequential.

This is so silly on so many levels that you can hardly pick it all apart, but let's try:

(1) There are doves and ravens, Caucasians and Negroes, white sheep and black sheep, yet it is outside the realm of expectations that there are black swans to match our white ones? No, Mr. Taleb's central metaphor actually disproves his entire case (we need hardly point out that the fact of black swans has no impact whatsoever). It would be somewhat more accurate to say that if one considers a flock of white swans in the abstract, to the exclusion of all other human knowledge, then a black swan will be surprising. This makes for the perfect ivory tower intellectual exercise, but has nothing to do with human life as it is lived.

(2) As if black swans weren't trivial enough in their own right, the notion that it is the fact that the "significant shocks" in your life may not occur on precisely the schedule you imagined ahead of time that makes them "shocks" is truly inane. Remember the old apocryphal tale about the college president who addresses the incoming class and tells them to look at the student to the left and to the right and recognize that one of the three of you won't finish. Well, he could also tell you that most of you will marry, most have kids, most lose jobs, most move several times, all lose loved ones, many divorce, etc., etc., etc. Is the utter predictability of these life events really outweighed by the shock effect of their not happening at precisely predictable times? Is it not instead the case that the generally predictable and easily anticipated is just shocking to each of us in the particular?

(3) Not only was a terrorist attack along the lines of 9-11 predictable, but was frequently predicted, a staple of fiction, and had even been attempted already. In fact, the most shocking thing about 9-11 in retrospect is just how few people died. Cast yourself back to that day or to discussions of the earlier truck bomb attack and the casualty estimates were in the tens of thousands. It does not in any way cheapen the loss of life to note that we got off pretty easy compared to what we expected.

This raises a set of questions quite different from the ones the author intends:

Examining our actual losses to terrorism(*)--rather than our emotional reactions--might we not say that our level of preparation was reasonable? Mr. Taleb suggests that if we were serious about the risks we'd have hardened the doors of cockpits and, thus, prevented any attacks on 9-11. It's worth noting, first off, that there hadn't been a successful hijacking of an American flight in twenty years, so existing precautions had worked rather well. But, even if we fall with him into the trap of believing that by taking discrete actions we've anticipated the unexpected, we have to ask why he'd stop there. Given that terrorists have more typically attacked with car bombs, truck bombs, explosive belts, etc., what are the similarly basic steps he'd take to protect against the entirely predictable threat of common motor vehicles and ordinary pedestrians? Obviously if he proposed banning motor vehicles we'd grant that he takes the threat of their being used as weapons seriously and following where black swan logic leads him. However, isn't that the problem with the black swan, that it becomes the be all and end all of existence? The existence of the black swan, in this way of thinking, clouds the mind to the far greater prevalence of white swans. One becomes so focussed on a risk that it can never be assessed in relation to the benefits that accrue from treating it as an outlier.

It would be useful here to consider the black swan that never honked. For forty years people anticipated, with various degrees of hysteria, the possibility or even likelihood that the United States and the USSR would engage in a thermonuclear exchange of some intensity or another. And yet, at no time during those years was anyone even minimally prepared for the event. Sure, preparing even inadequately would have required trillions of dollars and untold man hours and material and so on. In retrospect, we have to be thankful that the black swan was largely ignored, because as it turned out, the damage we'd have done ourselves by taking it would have been catastrophic in its own right. It would have made us the sort of military resource-sink that Paul Kennedy fretted about in Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. Instead we mostly went about our lives and the swans kept coming up white.

They usually do. When they don't, we figure out how to deal with the black one, often with little difficulty.

(*) Indeed, does 9-11 even meet the second part of Mr. Taleb's tripartite test? The US economy didn't skip a beat. We fought two rather desultory wars in the Middle East at minimal cost. They're building at the WTC site. The skies are filled with planes. Cory Lidle was able to fly a plane into a NYC building without anyone batting an eyelash. Etc. Where is the extreme impact?

Likewise, we're rebuilding New Orleans, despite Katrina, and the Pacific Rim is populated again. What long term impact do these swans really have?

Here are two really easily imagined black swans that we're all willfully ignoring and it's worth thinking about what you'd do to avoid them: a major earthquake in Los Angeles and a bit of space debris crashing into the Earth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Myanmar intensifies efforts to break up protests
: Soldiers club and drag away activists, occupy Buddhist monasteries and cut the Internet. (Associated Press, September 28, 2007)

Soldiers clubbed and dragged away activists while firing tear gas and warning shots to break up demonstrations Friday before they could grow, and the government cut Internet access, raising fears that a deadly crackdown was set to intensify.

Troops also occupied Buddhist monasteries in a bid to clear the streets of Myanmar's revered monks, who have spearheaded the demonstrations.

The government said 10 people have been killed since the violence began earlier this week, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he believed the loss of life in Myanmar was "far greater" than is being reported. Dissident groups have put the number as high as 200, although that number could not be verified.

Witnesses said security forces aggressively broke up a rally of about 2,000 people near the Sule Pagoda in the largest city, Yangon. About 20 trucks packed with soldiers arrived and announced over loudspeakers, "We give you 10 minutes to move out from the road. Otherwise we will fire."

A group of about 10 people broke away from the main crowd and rushed toward a line of soldiers, who were dressed in green uniforms with red bandanas around their necks, holding shields and automatic weapons. The people were beaten up, and five were seen being hauled away in a truck.

Soldiers dispersed the other protesters, beating them with clubs and firing shots in the air.

"People in this country are gentle and calm. (But) people are very angry now and they dare to do anything," said a shopkeeper, who witnessed the clash and did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.

Burma's Revolt of The Spirit (Michael Gerson, September 28, 2007, Washington Post)

The great virtue of Buddhism is serene courage in the face of inevitable affliction. That courage is on display now in Burma -- a nation caught upon the wheel of suffering.

The sight of young, barefoot monks in cinnamon robes quietly marching for democracy, amid crowds carrying banners reading "love and kindness," is already a symbol of conscience for a young century. On closer examination, these protests have also shown that nonviolence need not be tame or toothless. The upside-down bowls carried by some of the monks signal that they will not accept alms from the leaders of the regime, denying them the ability to atone for bad deeds or to honor their ancestors. These chanting monks are playing spiritual hardball.

Once again -- as in the American civil rights struggle and the end of communism in Eastern Europe -- religion is proving to be an uncontrollable force in an oppressive society. Religious dissidents have the ability not only to organize opposition to tyrants but also to shame them. Political revolutions often begin as revolutions of the spirit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


REVIEW: of 'Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life ' by Robert B. Reich: The former Labor secretary discusses how capitalism on steroids shapes our lives today. (Terry Burnham, 9/28/07, LA Times)

Reich, a former secretary of Labor for the Clinton administration and now a professor at UC Berkeley, identifies human nature as a central cause for these woes. Borrowing a line from the comic strip "Pogo," he writes that "we have met the enemy and it is us." Throughout the book, he laments the decline in unionization and the increased variability of income in the United States. Finding the culprit in our greed, he writes, "consumers get great deals largely because workers get shafted."

Reich's view that our own human nature lies at the root of modern woes stands in refreshing contrast to standard left-right rhetoric. On the left, liberals assert a benign and blank-slate human nature manipulated by evil corporations. The right is even sillier, particularly when it propagates the hyper-rational view of neoclassical economics. For example, Nobel laureate Gary Becker published a famous academic article arguing that heroin addicts "maximize utility" when they inject themselves. Reich, however, threads an important distinction between leftist human innocence and libertarian human infallibility. As he notes in the book's strongest chapter, we are "of two minds" about modernity.

Other aspects of "Supercapitalism" are less satisfying. These include bad history, bad politics, bad economics and bad policy.

Imagine being in the economics seminar where Professor Reich tries explaining the difference between a worker and a consumer? Henry Ford had figured out there was none 80 years ago, which is where we got the weekend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Capitalism does work (Chan Akya, 9/29/07, Asia Times)

The most recent episode in US financial markets will be mulled and studied for a long time after all Asian banks - commercial and central - fess up to their losses. While the average Western newspaper appears to blame Wall Street investment banks for the mess, they are barking up the wrong tree as usual. It is not the rapacious capitalists on Wall Street who are to blame, but rather the currency-manipulating Asian central banks. The fault lines of the current crisis thus lie in the antiquated policies of Asian central banks that defy the basic principles of capitalism or even enlightened self-interest.

By stoutly defending their currency pegs to the US dollar well past the intended turnaround in current-account surpluses at the end of the 1990s, Asian economies in effect assumed a subsidiary role to US requirements. A ready supply of investments from Asia meant that pretty much "acceptable" security could be sold down, often well below the returns that prudent economic agents would demand.

Asian central banks invested primarily in debt, and were bound by historically inspired mandates of asset quality that relied much on the rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's and Moody's. Profit-seeking agents (or normal human beings to you and me), in this case Wall Street bankers, rightly then provided the service of combining the willing lender with those that America's own banks would not touch with a barge pole, namely the subprime borrowers. Long considered too risky by mainline banks, the borrowers suddenly presented other market folks with exactly the right opportunity, namely the generation of new mortgages, securities on which could be sold to Asian (and European) banks.

I am under no illusion that it was Asia's voracious appetite for such debt instruments that lies at the heart of the mess. Look at the deal that the average burger-flipper in America's heartland got: with a minimum-wage job or two, you could qualify for a largish mortgage that could buy the house of your dreams. True, you had to make mortgage payments (which the government deemed tax-deductible, in yet another assault on the free market) but there was always the chance of selling your house to the next chap for a big profit. The stories of many such new millionaires inspired millions to join the grand scheme. As market returns always fall when trades get crowded, so too did this little scam end, with house prices tumbling across the United States and people facing foreclosure.

Two pretty basic realities make this a phenomena that won't end anytime soon: (1) much of the world's population lives in countries with fairly dismal futures, so it makes good economic sense for them to invest their money in America, not at home; (2) even setting aside the brighter future generally in America, when you consider only the housing market you bump up against the fact that we need to find places for another 200 million people to live over the next 40 years and borrow the money to build and buy those homes. It's a win/win situation and those are more impervious to change than the valetudinarians care to recognize.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


US Iraq strike 'kills senior al-Qaida leader' (Fred Attewill and agencies, September 28, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Brigadier General Joseph Anderson said Abu Usama al Tunisi had been instrumental in bringing foreign fighters into Iraq.

"Abu Usama al-Tunisi was one of the most senior leaders ... the emir of foreign terrorists in Iraq and part of the inner leadership circle," he said.

Brig Gen Anderson also described al-Tunisi, a Tunisian, as a close associate of and likely successor to Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian believed to head al-Qaida in Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Spending, construction both rise (MARTIN CRUTSINGER, AP)

Consumers shrugged off a rash of bad news to spend more than expected in August while a key measure of inflation eased to the slowest pace in 3 1/2 years. Construction activity also rose above expectations.

The Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending rose by 0.6 percent in August, the best showing in four months and better than the 0.4 percent increase that had been expected. Incomes rose by 0.3 percent, slightly lower than had been expected.

A closely watched gauge of inflation was up just 1.8 percent in August, compared to the same period a year ago, the smallest increase since a similar rise in February 2004.

...but America has a steel throat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Hired Gun Fetish (Paul Krugman, 9/28/07, Der Spiegel)

Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it's a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we've learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming - giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take - went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as "useless and dangerous" more than four centuries ago.

Private Security Contractors and the American Tradition (Michael Waller, 9/28/07, Real Clear Politics)
In the wake of the recent shooting deaths of 11 Iraqis in Baghdad, many critics are now claiming that allowing private contractors to operate in Iraq is inconsistent with American tradition. This is demonstrably untrue.

Private security contractors, or PSCs, have been part of building the civilization that became the United States for 400 years. They are a founding part of the American entrepreneurial tradition of risk-taking and civic duty.

The first PSC on our shores was little more popular than his descendants today. Captain John Smith, a professional soldier who was paid to protect the interests of the Virginia Company of London in 1607, was accused of conspiring to subvert legal authority and locked in irons during the voyage to America, only to be exonerated and made chief of the expedition that founded the colony at Jamestown.

A few years later, English refugees seeking freedom of worship set off for America to establish their own shining city. They contracted the services of Captain Myles Standish to defend them, loaded a small arsenal of weapons in the lower hold, and sailed the Mayflower to make history at Plymouth Colony.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 AM


Defecting Iranian official gave info before alleged Syrian foray (, Sep 28, 2007)

Iranian former deputy defense minister Ali Rheze Asgari supplied intelligence sources in the West with information regarding the sites that Israeli jets allegedly attacked on September 6, the Kuweiti Al Jareeda reported Friday. [...]

In related news, the Saudi paper Al Watan reported Friday that American jets were hovering in Iraqi airspace close to the Syrian border during the raid. Reportedly, the USAF jets were meant to give aerial backup to Israel in case IAF warplanes would come to any harm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


New citizenship test is unveiled: The 100 questions are more abstract, relying less on rote memory. Some say they're also harder. (Nicole Gaouette, 9/28/07, Los Angeles Times)

The Bush administration unveiled a revamped citizenship test Thursday intended to promote assimilation and patriotism -- a redesign some critics contend erects a higher hurdle for immigrants who want to become citizens.

The 100 new civics questions -- which test knowledge of American government, history and civics and take effect Oct. 1, 2008 -- will require less rote memorization and are meant to focus more on fostering identification with American values.

For example, applicants may currently be asked, "What country did we fight during the Revolutionary War?" But starting next year, applicants could be asked to explain why the colonists fought the British. They may also have to describe what the "rule of law" is and outline one constitutional amendment concerning the right to vote. (Applicants are asked 10 questions and must answer at least six correctly to pass.)

"This is a naturalization test which genuinely captures the applicant's knowledge of what it is he's about ready to be, a United States citizen," said Emilio T. Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. "It's no longer a test about how many stars are on the flag or how many stripes; it's a test that genuinely talks about those things that make America what it is."

All voters ought to have to pass a test and be net taxpayers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Why No Outrage From Washington: To fend off fiascos like last year's failed Dubai Ports World deal, the emirate called in the big guns: The lobbyists (Business Week, 9/27/07)

Dubai and the United Arab Emirates—the loose federation of states to which Dubai belongs—also learned a hard lesson from the collapse of the earlier bid. And over the past 18 months they've launched a multimillion-dollar lobbying push to boost their image in the states and prevent another fiasco.

Those efforts went into overdrive in the days leading up to the NASDAQ deal, as a handful of Washington lobbyists led by George Salem, a senior adviser to the law firm DLA Piper and a past president of the National Association of Arab Americans, scrambled to ensure a smoother reception. Dubai executives believe that a big reason the ports deal ran aground was that they didn't give lawmakers advance warning or explain their perspective on the deal early enough. So this time, they made sure they got to key members of the Administration and Congress before the news broke and attitudes hardened.

In the days before the deal was disclosed, for example, a high-ranking Dubai official flew to Washington for a series of confidential briefings. And as soon as the markets closed on Sept. 19, Salem and his team hit the phones. According to a Capitol Hill source, NASDAQ Chief Executive Robert Greifeld personally called Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had been a ringleader in the fight over the ports deal. The basic message, says one Dubai lobbyist: This deal is good for U.S. financial markets because it will give NASDAQ access to rich Mideast pockets. To counter terrorism fears, the lobbyists argue that the UAE and Dubai are among America's strongest allies in the region. All told, they rang up some 120 Beltway power players in the first 24 hours.

The rapid-fire round of diplomacy came against a backdrop of intense effort to bolster ties to Washington. Dubai alone has paid more than $3 million to three different lobbying firms, which have spent much of the past year talking up the tiny nation in meetings with aides to everyone from Barack Obama (D-Ill.) to Vice-President Dick Cheney. And earlier this year, the UAE budgeted an additional $5 million to lobbying firm Harbour Group to launch a new body, the U.S.-Emirates Alliance, to help shape public opinion. The alliance has quietly contributed more than $100,000 to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a foreign policy think tank, to support Mideast programs—though Jon B. Alterman, who heads the center's Middle East research, says its programs aren't influenced by funding. The alliance has also sent Reem Al-Hashimy, the UAE's Boston University-educated deputy chief of mission, to a dozen U.S. cities since July to meet with civic and business leaders.

Such moves appear to be working.

Just slip Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs and a few other talk show hosts some money and there's no one to whip up the wahoos.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


NL could face 4 days of playoff tiebreakers: 5 teams could end with same record (From wire reports, September 28, 2007)

Here's a scenario that could mess up baseball's postseason schedule: Imagine if the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies and San Diego Padres finish with the same record.

That would create ties in the National League East, National League West and wild-card race, necessitating four days of tiebreaker games to determine postseason berths.

The Devil Rays would have won 90 in the NL.

The Mystical Collapse of a Bullpen (TIM MARCHMAN, September 28, 2007, NY Sun)

For the Mets and their fans, the last two weeks have been less like a late season collapse and more like a mystical experience in which science and religion have converged and become one. Many baseball teams have lost a lead down the stretch, but few, if any, have become the center of a temporal dislocation in which the precise same thing happens at the precise same moment, every single day. Were a theologian and a quantum physicist inclined, they could no doubt plumb the mysteries of reason and faith simply by examining these two weeks minutely; those of us who do not contemplate the meaning of existence for a living can just stare on in horror.

The full blame for the disaster rests with the Mets' bullpen, and with the men who run it. This doesn't mean that the starting pitchers or position players have played perfectly, but they've given the bullpen lead after lead only to see them squandered. It takes more than the odd booted ball, vacuous base running play, or lousy start to sink a team as the Mets have been sunk. It takes the full force of a relief corps that has, from top to bottom, simply imploded.

Between the beginning of the series against the Phillies and the start of last night's game, the Mets' seven key relievers threw 41.1 innings, in which they gave up 30 earned runs for a 6.54 ERA. This is actually the kindest possible light in which to put their struggles, because this doesn't count unearned runs (usually at least as much the fault of the pitcher as they are of the defense) or inherited runners who have been allowed to score. Nor does it account for the soul-deadening timing displayed by Mets relievers, who have managed to give up their runs just when they counted most

Teams with five inning starters always kill their bullpens.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Democracy Debate Transforms Hong Kong Election Contest (JONATHAN CHENG, September 28, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

A by-election for a Hong Kong legislative seat is turning into a face-off between two well-known former government officials who represent different approaches toward shaping this former British colony's political future.

In 2003, Regina Ip's unflinching support for an antitreason law as secretary for security made her a symbol of fears that China would curtail Hong Kong's political freedom. Yesterday, she announced plans to contest a vacant legislative seat -- and work with Beijing to bring democratic ideals to Hong Kong.

"Democracy is the only way forward for Hong Kong," Mrs. Ip said.

That pits Mrs. Ip, 57 years old, against her former boss, Anson Chan, once Hong Kong's second-ranking official and one of the city's more popular political figures. In recent months, she, too, has been burnishing her credentials as a champion of democracy. Mrs. Chan, 67, announced her candidacy for the vacant seat earlier this month, vowing to put pressure on the government to introduce direct elections by 2012.

While the two candidates seem to espouse the same goals, their approaches differ sharply. Mrs. Ip, running as the establishment candidate, boasts support from the two major Beijing- and business-backed political parties, the chairmen of which flanked her as she announced her entry into elected politics. Her track record supporting Beijing's policies in Hong Kong is expected to make her a more acceptable candidate to China.

Mrs. Chan has taken a more confrontational approach and courted the support of pro-democracy politicians who have openly criticized Beijing's policies and its influence over Hong Kong affairs, although she promises to act as a "bridge" to China. She is predicted to win a primary election set up by the pro-democratic camp that would then make her its approved candidate.

The contest is a new twist in the long-running battle over the lack of full direct elections in Hong Kong, which has separate political, legal and financial systems from the rest of China.

What matters is that they have to espouse the same goals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


Iraq rejects Turkish demands in anti-terror deal (The Associated Press, September 28, 2007)

Iraq refused to accept a key Turkish demand to send its troops into the neighboring country in pursuit of fleeing separatist Kurdish rebels, officials said Friday.

Both sides, however, signed a counterterrorism pact as a first step of cooperation on the issue. In Iraq, Kurdish authorities signaled they might agree to the deal after Ankara's demand to send troops into northern Iraq in pursuit of PKK rebels was dropped.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


McCain Refreshes a Plan for League of Democracies (NICHOLAS WAPSHOTT, September 28, 2007, NY Sun)

In a week in which the U.N. Security Council once again demonstrated its impotence by failing to halt the massacre of monks in Burma and the U.N. General Assembly became a pretext for a strutting performance by the Iranian president, Senator McCain refreshed his ideas for a more effective international body: what he calls "the League of Democracies." [...]

To Mr. McCain, the days of the United Nations as anything other than a refugee and humanitarian emergency organization are numbered. "There are some things they do very well," he said, but he went on to deride "the so-called U.N. Human Rights Commission," which he said is made up of regimes that perpetrate some of the most flagrant human rights abuses in the world.

He told members of the Hudson Institute meeting at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York yesterday that he believes the only reason the United Nations has any value at all — as the gambler said when explaining why he played in a poker school, knowing it was crooked — "because it is the only game in town."

Instead, he told a questioner, America should champion a new League of Democracies, a notion he first proposed earlier this year in a little-noticed address to members of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He described his League of Democracies as "like-minded nations working together in the cause of peace."

"It could act where the U.N. fails to act, to relieve human suffering in places like Darfur. It could join to fight the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and fashion better policies to confront the crisis of our environment," he told the Hoover audience. "It could bring concerted pressure to bear on tyrants in Burma or Zimbabwe, with or without Moscow's and Beijing's approval. It could unite to impose sanctions on Iran and thwart its nuclear ambitions. It could provide support to struggling democracies in Ukraine and Serbia and help countries like Thailand back on the path to democracy."

"This League of Democracies would not supplant the United Nations or other international organizations," he said. "It would complement them. But it would be the one organization where the world's democracies could come together to discuss problems and solutions on the basis of shared principles and a common vision of the future."

Mr. McCain has promised that if he is elected president, within his first year he will call a summit of the world's democracies "to seek the views of my democratic counterparts and begin exploring the practical steps necessary to realize this vision."

And he's just petulant enough to do it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Free will is not an illusion: The Enlightenment idea of conscious, freely acting individuals is worth defending against those who would reduce freedom to neuroscience. (This article is an edited version of a talk given by Raymond Tallis at a dinner held by the Manifesto Club in London on 13 September 2007)

Particularly in the century that has passed, there has been a counter-Enlightenment denial of the centrality of individual consciousness in human affairs. We do not walk, we sleepwalk; we do not act, we react, scarcely aware of that to which we are reacting.

Humanist intellectuals have argued that, far from being ‘independent points of departure’, we are in the grip of forces that are largely hidden from us. The historical unconscious of Marxists and their descendents; the psychological unconscious of Freudian and a dozen other psycho-analytical and deep psychological theorists; the social unconscious of various schools of sociology and anthropology; the linguistic unconscious of post-Saussurean schools of thought (structuralist, post-structuralist, and deconstructionist) – these are just some of the tributaries to the great river of anti-humanist pessimism that has flown through the collective conscious of academe in recent history. As for selves, they are either opaque at their heart, or misread themselves, or are fictions, overlooking that in reality, they are dissolved in a sea of symbols, of unchosen customs and practices, of unconscious habits.

From a huge variety of backgrounds, academics and popular writers tell the same monotonous story: we do not know what we are doing, we do not know why we are doing it, and disaster is waiting to happen. Civilisations, which are based upon the notion of humans as rational agents, are in fact pathological: rationality is an illusion, or unnatural and unbearable, and rational planning will lead to unforeseen consequences. All civilisation – usually referred to as ‘a veneer’ and a thin one at that – is headed for destruction.

While most of the counter-Enlightenment thought I have alluded to arises from the humanities, which seem to take pride in being anti-humanity, there is an increasingly prominent input from the very hope of the Enlightenment – the sciences. This is not perhaps as surprising as it sounds. Science has always been committed to identifying the general patterns of causation in the universe. Its standpoint is fundamentally materialist. The laws of nature are a secular version of moira, fate. Laplace, who completed the formalisation of Newton’s mechanistic universe, though he did so without Newton’s God, argued that a combination of the knowledge of the initial conditions and of the laws that governed the behaviour of the mechanical particles would enable every event in the universe, including human actions, to be predictable. As Einstein said in his address to the Spinoza Society in 1932: ‘Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion.’ However, a recent spin on scientific determinism has brought it nearer home. Neuroscience has been invoked in support of kulturpessimismus.

There is now a significant population of neuroscientists, along with philosophers and others, who accept not only their findings but also the interpretations they place on them, who argue that because of advances in brain science ‘we now know’ that free will is an illusion. The attacks on free will from this direction are particularly powerful because they encompass both material and cultural determinism; for the brain is not only a piece of matter causally wired into the material world, it is also brain-washed in a laundry made of a collective of other brains. This is a powerful double whammy for our notions of freedom and of the self as an independent point of departure.

There are several strands of thought woven into neuro-determinism. The first is that we are essentially our brains: our consciousness, our belief in ourselves as free agents, and so on, is neural activity in certain parts of the brain. Secondly, these brains have evolved in such a way as to maximise the likelihood of our genetic material being able to replicate. Brains are about somatic survival to the point where genetic replication is possible. This is not something on our conscious agenda but it is the true and only business of the brain. Thirdly, for a brain to work effectively, it is not necessary for us to be aware of what it is doing. Cognitive psychologists have, over the last few decades, particularly since the advent of neuro-imaging which reveals activity in the living brain, shown how we are unconscious of many things that influence what is going on in our brain and, it is inferred, the perceptions we form and the decisions we make. Our consciousness has, it seems, a huge black hole at its centre. What price freedom, then, which at the very least depends on consciousness?

Another strand of the neuro-determinism story underlines how, given that nerve impulses are material events, our consciousness, even at its most self-conscious and deliberative, is wired into the material world: it is simply part of a boundless causal nexus that stretches from the Big Bang at the beginning of time to the Big Crunch at the end. Another strand notes that there is no privileged place within the nervous system corresponding to the freedom of the will, or even a point of initiation or a new departure. There are inputs of activity, throughputs of activity, and outputs activity but no points corresponding to where, say, action could be considered as starting. The brain, the body, our life – these are just conduits, like any other loci in the universe, for causes as inputs and effects as outputs.

Colin Blakemore, an eminent neuroscientist, captures all of these views in the claim: ‘The human brain is a machine which alone accounts for all our actions, our most private thoughts, our beliefs… All our actions are products of the activity of our brains. It makes no sense (in scientific terms) to try to distinguish sharply between acts that result from conscious attention and those that result from our reflexes or are caused by disease or damage to the brain.’

These very general arguments have been supplemented by millions of specific observations, the greater bulk of which may be summarised in two lines as follows: that experiments, and natural disasters such as head injuries, have shown that holes in the brain are closely correlated with holes in the mind and in our capabilities. In summary, you are the activity in your brain; your brain has evolved to optimise the chances of survival; and the brain is wired biologically, materially, causally into the biosphere, the material world, and the causal nexus. We now have a neuro-Laplacean universe in which the laws of nature operate undeflected by agency through your life. Or, as former CIA boss George Tenet said about finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: ‘It’s a slam dunk.’

I choose my words carefully. Tenet’s slam dunk was self-evident and wrong. Neuro-determinism, though seemingly self-evident, is also wrong.

Mr. Tallis is, of course, actually arguing against the Enlightenment, as he recognizes between the lines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Hamas To Accept Anything Accepted By Palestinians In A Pblebiscite (Khalid Mish’al & Zafarul-Islam Khan, 28 September, 2007, Milli Gazette)

In an exclusive interview with the Delhi-based The Milli Gazette, Hamas supremo Khalid Mish’al said that “things are moving in our favour. It is true that we are badly suffering. The siege is harsh. But the fact remains that Israel too is no longer able to settle things against us.”

The interview was conducted with the Hamas leader in Damascus by the Gazette editor Zafarul-Islam Khan. The full text will appear in the 1 October issue of the paper. [...]

Mish’al rejected that Hamas is ready to accept Oslo. “[Hamas] adheres to all the rights of the Palestinian people. It adheres to Jerusalem, right to return, liberation of the Palestinian land. Hamas rejects the legality of occupation. These are permanent positions of Hamas Movement.” Yet, he indicated that Hamas position is not rigid. It is ready to accept a common minimum programme acceptable to all Palestinians. “We felt that it is beneficial that Palestinians of all political and ideological hues should meet and subscribe to a common programme. We agreed on a common denominator acceptable to all Palestinian factions… [they] all agree on the following: to establish the Palestinian state within the areas of 1967 on the borders prevailing on the 4th of June 1967 including Jerusalem, right to return - not right to return to the Palestinian State as some in the region explain it but the right to return to the towns and villages taken away from the Palestinian people.”

He hastened to say that this common minimum programme to some is “their final aim” but it is not the final aim of Hamas. “Our stand in Hamas is that we will offer truce to Israel instead of recognition. This is the perspective of Hamas. It has not changed. We support a state within the 1967 borders including Jerusalem, right of return [of the refugees], no [Israeli] settlements in our territory, total sovereignty of all 1967 lands. In return we offer only truce instead of recognition of Israel. There are rights of the Palestinian people which must be taken into account,” said explaining the position of Hamas.

He said that any other solution will be unacceptable even if agreed to by the Palestinian Authority. But, he added. “We accept what the Palestinian people accept. We have accepted the democratic game and we accept the democratic results. We have faith in our people to whom belong the rights and options.”

The discipline of democracy is harsh on the dreams of ideologues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


President who can't see history: The botched invasion of Iraq has no credible parallels at all with the Korean War, Mr Bush (Ian Buruma, 9/28/07, The Australian)

Bush is right to claim that people in the Middle East would like to be as prosperous and free as the South Koreans, but his notion that the war in Iraq is simply a continuation of US policies in Asia could not be more mistaken. In Asia, as in the Middle East, US strategy was to prop up dictators against communism until their own people toppled them. In the Middle East today, it is reckless and radical: invading a country, wrecking its institutions and expecting that freedom will grow in the ensuing state of anarchy.

To confuse these different enterprises and pretend that they are the same is not only wrong but dangerous and deeply disappointing to those of us who still regard the US as a force for good.

Mr. Buruma is right that Iraq isn't comparable to Korea, but for the wrong reasons. George H. W. Bush's Iraq War, which liberated Kuwait and Kurdistan but left a totalitarian dictatorship in power in Baghdad more closely resembles the Korean War. What W did was, essentially, topple the North and liberate the whole country. Which we should now do for the Koreans as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Clinton talks ‘baby bonds’ (Athena Jones, 9/28/07, NBC: First Read)

Every baby born in America should receive money that can later be used to pay for college, Clinton told the crowd at the Congressional Black Caucus annual legislative conference in Washington on Friday.

"I like the idea of giving every baby born in America a $5,000 account that will grow over time, so when that young person turns 18, if they have finished high school they will be able to access it to go to college," Clinton said, calling it one way to give young people a chance to save money tax free.

Too little money, for too small a purpose, in too conservative an investment instrument. She should go at least as far as Paul O'Neill, A new idea for Social Security (Paul O'Neill, February 23, 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
If we decided as a society that we were going to put $2,000 a year into a savings account from the day each child was born until he or she reached age 18 -- and if we assume a 6 percent annual interest rate -- each child would have $65,520 at age 18. (The worst return for a 25-year investor in the stock market from 1929 before the crash to 2004 was an average of 6 percent a year.) With no further contributions, again with a 6 percent interest rate, those savings would grow to $1,013,326 at age 65.

If we began to do this now, the first-year cost would be $8 billion; that is $2,000 times the roughly 4 million children born each year. The second year would cost $16 billion and so on until we were contributing $2,000 per year to a savings account for every child from birth until age 18. When fully implemented, the cost would be $144 billion per year. To put this $144 billion per year into context, this year's combined spending for Social Security and Medicare will exceed $750 billion.

What this plan would do is "pre-fund" for the needs of old age. It solves the long-term financing problem for both Social Security and Medicare, allowing for the gradual replacement of programs like Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid and food stamps and housing aid for those over age 65. To make this work, the savings account money would need to be invested -- my suggestion would be through so-called index funds. The administrative costs would be practically nothing because there's no need for a huge separate tax collection bureaucracy; the money would come from the general revenues of the U.S. government.

Likewise, if he's serious here, let's see EJ Dionne get on the Ownership Society bandwagon, Detroit's Creative Bargain (E. J. Dionne, 9/28/07, Real Clear Politics)
The General Motors contract with the United Auto Workers shows how companies and workers can come together when both understand the economic threat facing American manufacturing, and when workers have a place at the table to protect their most important interests. [...]

The UAW is taking a risk, since health care costs could rise faster than the trust fund grows, and since the contract includes fewer protections for non-production workers. But the bigger risk was GM going under or moving yet more jobs overseas. The lesson of The New Treaty of Detroit is that in the face of globalization's challenges, risks and rewards can be shared if there's a will to negotiate them.

Now it's the turn of Democratic candidates to explain how they will be as creative as GM and the UAW.

I don't recall him embracing W's similarly creative solutions.

September 27, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 PM


Learning From Bush's Mistakes: How a prewar conversation can help us pick the next president. (Fred Kaplan, Sept. 27, 2007, Slate)

The crucial exchange, in this respect, comes toward the end of the conversation, when the two leaders are discussing the magnitude of changing Saddam Hussein's regime by force.

AZNAR: The only thing that worries me about you is your optimism.

BUSH: I'm an optimist because I believe that I'm right. I'm a person at peace with myself. It was our turn to face a serious threat to peace.

Here, in three sentences, is the first lesson on how to assess the current crop of presidential candidates: Don't pick anyone who utters, or seems capable of believing, those three sentences.

Hardly surprising that Mr. Kaplan's perfect president--a pessimist who doesn't believe in what he's doing; is at odds with himself; and wants to dodge responsibility for dealing decisively with the evil of his age--is Richard Nixon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


Defiance, fear and brutality as the junta turns on the people: It was a day of terror and confusion, with hundreds of monks rounded up by military police and at least nine people killed. But still the protests continue. (Rosalind Russell reports from Rangoon, 28 September 2007, Independent)

I was half a mile from the Sule pagoda when I saw the people running, fear and panic written on their faces. Drivers were making hasty U-turns and speeding back on the wrong side of the street. The driver of my battered Toyota taxi refused to go any further, so I stepped out into the hot, humid street.

Stallholders were hurriedly bundling away their vegetables, DVDs and rails of childrens' clothes. Two boys, postcard-sellers, aged no more than eight or nine, ran up to me, still clutching their gaudy pictures of tourist scenes. "Madam it is dangerous for you," one said, offering to lead me away to safety.

Rounding the corner of Rangoon's main avenue, the gleaming temple can be seen at the other end.

But we met a cloud of tear gas. Crowds were retreating, scurrying from the golden stupa towards us, and lines of soldiers were advancing towards them. The crackle of gunfire came then, the sound was unmistakable. That's when I darted into a doorway, joining a group of people watching the drama of this bloody crackdown from the sanctuary of a five-star hotel lobby.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 PM


-AUDIO: Augie March performs in the Current studio (Steve Seel, September 27, 2007, Minnesota Public Radio: The Current)

-BAND SITE: Augie March
-MYSPACE: Augie March
-WIKIPEDIA: Augie March
-REVIEW: of Augie March: Moo, You Bloody Choir (Dan Raper, PopMatters)
-REVIEW: of Moo (Jeff Swindoll, Monsters & Critics)
-REVIEW: of Augie March: Moo, You Bloody Choir (Jeff Tangari, Pitchfork)
-REVIEW: of Moo (Derek Miller, Stylus)
-REVIEW: of Augie March: Strange Bird (Zeth Lundy, PopMatters)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Haiti's President Says Nation No Longer Deserves Failed State Stigma: Haitian President Rene Preval told the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday the Caribbean country is on its way to escaping the stigma of being labeled a failed state because of its recent economic and security gains. Mr. Preval got a show of political support from senior U.S., European and Latin American diplomats on the sidelines of the U.N. debate. (David Gollust, 9/26/07, VOA News)

Delivering his country's policy speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Preval said Haiti has all too often been on the U.N.'s agenda because of chronic problems. But, he said the unwelcome characterization of the country as a failed state no longer applies.

"Haiti is on the way to bidding farewell to that state slowly, patiently, but with determination," he said. "Organized armed gangs who are responsible for violence directed against innocent populations have been dismantled. And there is no longer any no-go zone for peaceful citizens in any area of our territory. The governance of our economy has greatly improved. The money printer was put away, and this has reduced inflation below the 10 percent line, which had been rampant for a number of years, and just a few months ago had reached the dizzying heights of 40 percent."

The threshold for improving Haiti is admittedly pretty low, but considering the far Right's hysteria over W's intervention there, it's gone rather well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Economics at the root of Myanmar protests (Asia Times, 9/28/07)

The first sign of the protests now escalating in Myanmar occurred in a rare display of public outrage over economic conditions in February. A small group calling itself the Myanmar Development Committee called on the military rulers to address consumer prices, health care, education, and the poor electricity infrastructure.

Normally unseen in Myanmar, the protest was broken up in 30 minutes. Likely in response to the protests, the ruling military junta appointed Brigadier-General Than Han of the Myanmar

police to handle civil unrest in Yangon.

On August 15, the government made significant cuts to national fuel subsidies, which had an immediate effect of increasing the price of diesel fuel by a reported 100%, causing a fivefold increase in the price of compressed natural gas, and placing additional inflationary pressure on an economy already facing estimated inflation levels of 17.7% in 2005 and 21.4% in 2006.

Similarly to the event in February, people took to the streets in a rare display of public anger.

Rotten regimes end up being destroyed by a virtuous cycle: you can't have a competitive economy in the global marketplace without making market-oriented reforms and if you aren't successful your people eventually get rebellious; once you get your economy right and start making your citizens affluent they start demanding a say in how they're governed; once you've got a market economy and a political democracy you become just another success story for those living under rotten regimes to compare themselves to unfavorably--as, for instance, the PRC to Taiwan, North Korea to South and France to England.

The saffron revolution: If the world acts in concert, the violence should be the last spasm of a vicious regime in its death throes (the Economist, 9/27/07)

here are two reasons why China might now see its own interests as best served by assisting a peaceful transition in Myanmar. The first is that China wants stability on its borders, and it is becoming obvious that the junta cannot provide it. The generals' economic mismanagement has helped reduce a country blessed with rich resources to crippling poverty. Fleeing economic misery as much as political oppression, up to 2m migrants from Myanmar are in Thailand. And it was an economic grievance—a big, abrupt rise in fuel prices—that sparked the present unrest. [...]

China must also be wondering nervously how all this will affect next year's Olympic games in Beijing. Already, protests about China's support for the government of Sudan, larded with comparisons to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, have shown that its foreign policy as well as its human-rights record at home is under scrutiny. Myanmar is justifiably a popular cause in the West. If China proves actively obstructive to international efforts to bring the junta to book, it may provoke calls for a boycott of the games.

On the brink: How Myanmar's people rose up against its regime—and the regime rose up against its people (the Economist, 9/27/07)
If there are any cracks in the junta's unity, nobody outside knows about them. General Than Shwe, the 74-year-old paramount leader, is rumoured to be gravely ill but it is assumed that, when he goes, his replacement will be just as thuggish. Taking account both of the expanded army and of the sizeable ethnic militias, Myanmar is one of the world's most militarised countries, notes Martin Smith, a writer on the place. The junta's leaders, pointing to the country's chaotic period of parliamentary democracy between independence in 1948 and the military takeover in 1962, sincerely believe the army is the only institution capable of holding Myanmar together. They are determined to cling to power whatever the cost.

It is just possible, however, that the regime may match violence with concessions. Earlier this month, it wrapped up, after 14 years, a national convention to draft the guidelines for a new and supposedly democratic constitution. In fact, the new charter would leave the army in charge and political rights severely curtailed. But its precise wording has not yet been decided and the next steps towards implementing it are uncertain. This leaves scope for promises of progress, in the hope that this will weaken the protests.

A bloody dawn?

Few demonstrators would trust such promises. But, combined with a stranglehold on the monasteries, and other repressive measures aimed at whittling down the numbers of protesters, they might be enough to show, once again, that resistance is futile. Back in 1988, at the peak of the protests, even as soldiers were mowing down the crowds, many Burmese felt sure the rotten regime was ready to collapse under the unstoppable force of “people power”, as the Marcos regime in the Philippines had two years earlier.

Even if the regime does crumble and the junta stuffs its bags with gemstones and heads for exile, Myanmar's troubles would still be daunting. Many of the ethnic minorities continue to distrust the majority “Burmans”, even including the democrats. And the NLD has been gutted by years of oppression. Miss Suu Kyi, inspiring figure though she is, is an untested leader who has perforce been woefully out of touch with events.

As in 1988 and 1990 the Burmese people have shown they want to choose their own leaders. In the past they did not fully reckon on the ruthlessness of the people they were up against. One day, as with all tyrannies, Myanmar's will fall. But much blood may flow before that day dawns.

Burma's Dictators and the Fear of Purgatory (Jürgen Kremb, 9/27/07, Der Spiegel)
Since 1962, Burma has been ruled by brutal generals who have sought the salvation of the country in "the Burmese path to Socialism." Yet in no other country in East and Southeast Asia is spiritual and superstitious belief so much a part of everyday life. After the closed-off Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, Burma is probably the most Buddhist country in the world.

At least once in his life, each man must spend weeks if not months in a monastery. Burma expert Bertil Lintner believes that out of the 53 million population, more than 400,000 men are currently saffron-clad monks, equalling the number of soldiers. Other estimates put the number of monks at as high as 800,000.

But faith is not just a thing for the ordinary people. The otherwise unscrupulous military regime seeks the blessings of the gods, Buddha and the 36 "Nats," as Burma's own spirits are called.

Burma's hour of need (Sholto Byrnes, 27 September 2007, New Statesman)
President Bush has announced new sanctions. Gordon Brown has written to the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, calling for "concerted international action" to discourage the regime from perpetrating violence on its citizens, and has urged the Security Council to meet immediately. These fine words may not be enough. The global community has offered an abundance of sympathy for Burma over the years - and precious little in the way of real help. As Desmond Tutu wrote in our special issue: "Protracted hand-wringing, the counter economic interests of some countries, and an absence of courage and vision over the years, have meant that there has been no coherent international government strategy on how to tackle Burma's intransigent rulers."

Some believe the regime must be isolated, starved of trade until it collapses. Others think the international community must swallow its repugnance for the generals and encourage reform through engagement with the outside world. The key is China, not only the regional superpower but also one of Burma's biggest trading partners and a major supporter of the junta. Only in January, China used its UN Security Council veto to block criticism of the regime. China's interest in democracy is minimal. What is definitely in its interests, however, is a stable Burma. The military has kept a lid on Burma's internal ethnic tensions through brutal suppression. If China suspects that, in the long term, the courage and defiance of the freedom movement must overwhelm a government that can only maintain its position through violence - displays of which Beijing most certainly wishes to avoid in the run-up to its Olympics - it could play an invaluable role in the future of a country that has suffered so grievously for so long.

Burmese Blood on China's Hands (Der Spiegel, 9/27/07)
The situation in Burma seems to be getting more serious by the day. Violence on Thursday continued to escalate with government security forces firing on protesters in Yangon. There are reports that a number of people have been killed, including a Japanese journalist.

Meanwhile, the international community is continuing to call for restraint with China on Thursday finally breaking its silence and urging all parties to exercise self-control. China is Burma's closest large ally and has close economic relations with the military dictatorship.

But for many observers, China's comments have come too late. Both the US and the European Union are boosting sanctions against the Burmese military junta, but China is unlikely to support similar measures at the United Nations.

German commentators are concerned about the developments in Burma and agree that China is the only international actor that can put a stop to the violence.

Destructive engagement: The outside world shares responsibility for the unfolding tragedy in Myanmar (The Economist, 9/27/07)
[I]solation has never really been on the cards. Any gap is eagerly filled by Myanmar's neighbours—not just China, but also India and Thailand and other members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Even in the Western camp there have been differences in approach between the three most important members, America, the EU and Japan.

American leaders have insisted the junta honour the 1990 election result and step aside. To this end, they have imposed wide-ranging sanctions. The most important of these block foreign aid and lending to Myanmar by the World Bank, IMF and Asian Development Bank. Official aid flows to Myanmar are among the lowest of any poor country in the world—around $2.50 a head each year, compared with, for example, $63 in next-door Laos.

The EU has been more equivocal, demanding greater respect for human rights and a transition to civilian democracy, but appearing to accept fresh elections as the way to get there. Its sanctions have been correspondingly milder. Japan has been softer still. Burma's biggest aid donor until 1988, it has continued to provide small-scale help, apparently hoping to retain a smidgen of influence.

These days, however, if any countries can sway the junta they are the regional ones: ASEAN, especially Thailand; India; and above all China. When ASEAN controversially admitted Myanmar in 1997, on the organisation's 30th anniversary, it said membership would be an engine for positive change through “constructive engagement”. ASEAN's culturally sympathetic but fast-growing founder members would show Myanmar the way. This was guff.

Viewed most cynically, Myanmar's accession was part of a bid by ASEAN members to secure access to the country's rich resources: timber, oil, gas and minerals. Using more sophisticated (but no less cynical) geopolitical arguments, ASEAN diplomats justified admitting the unsavoury bunch as a way to prevent Myanmar becoming an arena in which China and India would vie for influence.

But this is happening anyway. China had a head start, and is maintaining its lead comfortably. Itself responsible for quelling an uprising with a massacre in 1989, China's government had few qualms about expanding ties with Myanmar during the 1990s. It supplied weaponry, including multiple-rocket launchers, fighter aircraft and guided-missile attack craft.

Western and Indian analysts worry that China sees Myanmar as part of its so-called “string of pearls” policy of building naval and intelligence bases around the Indian Ocean. There were reports that China was delivering signals equipment for monitoring stations on various coastal sites, and had a permanent presence on Great Coco Island (see map). Such talk has fuelled Indian paranoia, though Western analysts dismiss it.

The role of the sons of Lord Buddha: Academic Maung Zarni explains the role of the Buddhist monks in the Burma uprising and explains how for years foreign countries have helped propped up the brutal military regime (New Statesman, 9/27/07)
In Burmese politics since independence from Britain in 1948 soldiers, monks and student activists have been the three most important elite categories. Over the past 45 years monks and student activists have continued to enjoy respect and influence in Burmese society because they are seen as a collective conscience of society. The soldiers have become the object of popular, if concealed hatred, disgust and fear, owing to the latter’s deeply paternalistic, incompetent and corrupt rule.

The world must act for Burma: Zoya Phan, who spent 10 years in a Thai refugee camp after the Burmese military attacked her village, explains the emergence of the democracy movement and calls on the world to act (Zoya Phan, 27 September 2007, New Statesman)
The regime, increasingly out of touch in its new capital, Nay-Pyi-Daw, miscalculated the mood of the people. They also failed to realise the extent to which democracy activists have developed networks to circumvent controls on the flow of information, and were able to get news out to the international community.

Nor did they anticipate the level of organisation that the monks alliance had built, how they had learnt from previous uprisings. The leadership has remained largely anonymous and under cover, stopping the regime from ‘beheading’ the movement by imprisoning the organisers.

This, combined with an international community that finally seems willing to take on the regime with UN action and targeted sanctions, gives Burmese exiles like myself hope that our suffering may soon be over. But much still depends on how the international community responds. They must translate words into action, providing maximum support to those risking their lives on the streets of Burma.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


No link between vaccine mercury, neurological woes, study says (Alicia Chang, September 27, 2007, Associated Press)

A mercury-based preservative once used in many vaccines does not raise the risk of neurological problems in children, concludes a large federal study that researchers say should reassure parents about the safety of shots their children received a decade or more ago.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


Jobless Claims Make Surprise Fall (Reuters, September 27, 2007)

The number of laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in seven weeks, an unexpected sign of improvement for the jobs market. [...]

The four-week average for claims, which smooths out some of the volatility, also showed an improvement, falling to 320,750 from 324,250 the previous week.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Clinton backs off support for torture (Ben Smith, Sep 27, 2007, Politico)

Senator Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) ended her support for legalized torture at a debate in New Hampshire Wednesday night, splitting with her husband – and with her own recent stance on the charged issue.

"Senator Clinton, this is the number three man in Al Qaeda. We know there's a bomb about to go off, and we have three days, and we know this guy knows where it is. Should there be a presidential exception to allow torture in that kind of situation?" moderator Tim Russert of NBC asked during the debate held at Dartmouth College.

"As a matter of policy it cannot be American policy, period," Clinton responded, seconding the clear positions of Senators Barack Obama (Ill.)and Joe Biden (Del.).

But in a pair of interviews with the New York Daily News last October, Clinton outlined the same narrow exception that Russert described, and which had also been floated by former President Bill Clinton in an interview last year with National Public Radio.

Doesn't make political sense to diverge from the vast majority of the public, especially when national security is inevitably going to be her weak spot. And it's hard to make the moral argument when your husband--a former president--disagrees.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


British Airways Can't Save Airbus (Lionel Laurent, 09.27.07, Forbes)

Airbus' notoriously delay-stricken super-jumbo A380 got a new customer for the first time in two years on Thursday, after British Airways snapped up 12 of the planes in a deal worth nearly $4 billion. But the good news will not dispel worries over profitability at the European plane-maker, as well as the ascendancy of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. [...]

"It consolidates the 787's position as the future transatlantic plane of choice," said Doug McVitie, Managing Director of consultancy firm Arran Aerospace.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


GOP can win with health care, Rove says (Jack Markowitz, September 27, 2007, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

[A]mericans who want no more government intrusion in their lives can still win the health care debate, says Rove.

Politically, what he said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece was that Republicans can win it if they stand up for that old winner, competition. The free market. In health care, it would unleash greater access, lower costs, more innovation.

First, says Rove, level the tax playing field. If you get health insurance through your job, recognize that you're getting a tax break on that "income." Shouldn't we give the same break to any small-business worker, farmer or self-employed person who buys his or her own insurance?

A related idea: pay routine health costs, such as doctor visits, out of tax-free savings. And use high-deductible insurance for the really big bills: a hospital stay, cancer or heart attack. Rove says 4.5 million families have set up Health Savings Accounts in the past three years, but some Democrats don't like them. Because they liberate the insured from government control.

Healthcare startup thinking big: Company plans to hire 200 workers in Springs during the next 5 years (WAYNE HEILMAN, September 27, 2007, THE GAZETTE)
A Colorado Springs-based startup company hopes to benefit from the growth of a new type of account that helps workers save for health expenses.

Ron Diegelman, president of My-HealthFunds Inc., said he thinks health savings accounts will “catch on like 401k plans did” during the 1980s. [...]

“They are a high-growth company headquartered here. They have so much growth potential,” EDC President Mike Kazmierski said about My-HealthFunds. “If you talk about cutting health care costs, they are in the sweet spot for the entire country.”

Health savings accounts are designed to be used with highdeductible health plans — averaging about $3,500 per family compared with a $250 deductible for traditional health plans. High-deductible plans typically carry much lower monthly premiums.

Employers typically put those premium savings savings into workers’ health savings accounts to pay for deductibles, if needed, Diegelman said. Even after making that contribution, employers can save up to 22 percent on health care spending, he said.

“For a 200-employee company that could mean between $200,000 and $300,000,” Diegelman said. “We target companies with between 100 and 500 employees because they are struggling the most with health care costs and can feel the most benefit from this.”

Workers and their employers put an average of about $4,000 a year into such accounts. The accounts are exempt from federal income taxes and unspent funds can be rolled over into the following year.

There are decades of political benefit for the GOP in being seen as the party that gave us HSAs against the wishes of the Democrats/

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Congressman John Dingell Proposes 50-cent Gas Tax Hike to Fight Global Warming (Fox News, September 27, 2007)

Dealing with global warming will be painful, says one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress. To back up his claim he is proposing a recipe many people won't like — a 50-cent gasoline tax, a carbon tax and scaling back tax breaks for some home owners.

"I'm trying to have everybody understand that this is going to cost and that it's going to have a measure of pain that you're not going to like," Rep. John Dingell, who is marking his 52nd year in Congress, said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Dingell will offer a "discussion draft" outlining his tax proposals on Thursday, the same day that President Bush holds a two-day conference to discuss voluntary efforts to combat climate change.

But Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that will craft climate legislation, is making it clear that he believes tackling global warming will require a lot more if it is to be taken seriously.

All you have to do is listen to the reactions to see no one takes it seriously. However, gasoline and carbon taxes offset by income tax cuts would be economically, as well as environmentally, sensible.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Cuban recipes: BEEF PICADILLO (Robin Rombach, September 27, 2007, Post-Gazette)

Picadillo is a spicy, but not hot, ground meat dish that falls somewhere between hash and minced meat. In Cuba, it is often served over rice, with beans and plantains or used as a filling for empanadas. [...]

* 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
* 3/4 cup diced onion
* 3/4 cup chopped bell pepper
* 1 tablespoon minced garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
* 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
* 2/3 cup tomato sauce
* 1/3 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, sliced
* 1/3 cup raisins
* 1 1/2 tablespoons brine-packed capers, drained
* 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar or dry sherry
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
* 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* Salt to taste

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and bell pepper and saute until the onion is translucent and softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.

Add the beef and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, olives, raisins, capers, vinegar, cumin, oregano, sugar and salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the mixture's consistency is like that of a sloppy joe. Serve hot or use as a filling.

With rice, serves 4 to 6.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Securing the Future (JAMES LILLEY, September 27, 2007, NY Sun)

For more than 50 years, America's political and economic commitment to Asia has contributed to the region's stability and prosperity. Nowhere has our engagement been more positive than with the Republic of Korea. Since the Korean War, the world has witnessed Korea's dramatic rise from war-torn economy to a vibrant democracy supported by a world-class economy. The KORUS FTA will strengthen America's relationship with a longtime ally and enhance our presence and influence in the region.

In dollar terms, the scale of this agreement is enormous. With two-way trade totaling $78 billion last year, Korea is our seventh-largest trading partner. The KORUS FTA will effectively become the third largest free trade area in the world — exceeded only by the European Union and NAFTA — and sets high new benchmarks for bilateral trade agreements.

Under the KORUS FTA, nearly 95% of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial goods will become duty-free in three years, and two-thirds of all U.S. agricultural exports will enter Korea duty-free immediately. The agreement also gives important new market access, rights, and protections to American investors and service industries.

Only his allies understand W less well than his foes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Mets' NL East lead down to a game: New York blows five-run edge in third consecutive loss to Nationals (Associated Press, 9/27/067)

With their pitching staff in tatters, the free-falling New York Mets blew a five-run lead Wednesday night and lost again to Washington.

Now they're in danger of blowing the whole NL East race.

It's a bad time of year for the massive holes in the Mets pitching staff to have shown up. And they're ridiculously fortunate that the ancient Moises Alou is red hot right now. Were he on the DL, as they'd every reason to expect he would be by now, they'd have already squandered the lead.

Gutsy Mr. Metsie: Of What Indestructible Alloy Could Willie Randolph’s Innards Be Made? As His Team Stumbles Forward, the Mets Manager Merely Smiles: ‘It’s a Little Bit Stressful,’ He Says, ‘But I Kinda Like the Stress’ (John Koblin, September 25, 2007, NY Observer)

On Sunday, Sept. 23, Willie Randolph was standing alone in the visitors dugout on another unbearably muggy Miami morning—already 85 degrees, with 75 percent humidity. The New York beat reporters had just finished their 155th pregame briefing of the season in which, once again, they battered Randolph with questions about injuries and pitching problems.

Nine days earlier Randolph’s Mets were 6.5 games ahead of the Phillies. After a series of agonizing losses, the lead had withered away to 1.5 games.

Randolph, in his third year managing the Mets, was weathering the biggest crisis of his tenure.

“It’s nerve-wracking at times,” he told The Observer, the bags under his eyes more visible than ever.

He finished tearing off a label on a water bottle that he’d been picking at for the previous few minutes.

“It’s a little bit stressful,” he said. “But in a weird kinda way, I kinda like the stress. It’s always been like that in my career—as a player, as a coach. It’s like an adrenaline rush, really.”

During the slump, Randolph has appeared on TV and in the clubhouse as unflappable and even-tempered—even at the risk of looking like a “lifeless chump,” as a Daily News columnist put it. I asked if he had made any adjustments in the clubhouse during this slump—challenged players, or tried to tweak anything to force the team out of it.

“No,” he said. “I’ve been pretty consistent. I don’t think you have to change anything—you know who you are, you know how to handle it, and you know that you have to prepare yourself to get your players ready to play.

“For me, I don’t want to change anything,” he continued. “I just have to be myself, really. And that’s really all I have.”

The question now is whether that’s enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Is GM's Health Plan Contagious?: The UAW's deal to assume retiree benefits may become a model for others. But it's not an easy path (David Welch and Nanette Byrnes , 9/27/07, Business Week)

Soaring health-care costs have prompted companies and unions in a slew of troubled industries to set up the trusts. The latest, and by far the largest, is the tentative deal between General Motors and the UAW that would create a roughly $35 billion trust—$16 billion less than current liabilities—to fund and administer benefits for the company's retirees and dependents. But others, including Ford (F) and Chrysler, are expected to follow. "This [will] set a precedent," says Sean McAlinden, chief economist at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. "There will be other funds like this created."

For employers with aging workers and lots of retirees, a VEBA may be the only way, short of an elusive national health-care plan, to strip crushing liabilities from their books. While GM will take a big one-time hit, the ongoing drain of retiree health care, which now costs $1,400 per car, will finally end. For unions, a trust can provide an opportunity to safeguard members from losing benefits in the event of a corporate bankruptcy. [...]

Government employers are also interested in VEBAs—about 80% have retiree health plans. Paying those benefits out of ever-tighter budgets looks perilous (especially in the wake of a new accounting rule requiring health liabilities to be valued accurately). So many are now using VEBAs to help employees save for medical costs tax-free. "Public employers are saying 'Uh-oh, we need to do something about this,' " says Mark Wilkerson, senior consultant with VEBA Service Group, a Spokane (Wash.)-based benefit consultancy that has worked on such trusts with governments in Washington and Montana.

Still, few expect public employees to let their employers off the hook by accepting a proposal like GM's, which funds only 70% of the long-term promise.

Their employers are us and there's no reason we should ask them to accept when we can just dictate terms.

September 26, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


Katie’s World (Peter Wehner, 9.26.2007, Commentary)

At her National Press Club event yesterday, we heard this from CBS News anchor Katie Couric:

The whole culture of wearing flags on our lapel and saying “we” when referring to the United States and, even the “shock and awe” of the initial stages, it was just too jubilant and just a little uncomfortable. And I remember feeling, when I was anchoring the “Today” show, this inevitable march towards war and kind of feeling like, “Will anybody put the brakes on this?” And is this really being properly challenged by the right people? And I think, at the time, anyone who questioned the administration was considered unpatriotic and it was a very difficult position to be in.

There is a lot to unpack in these few sentences. For one thing, Couric’s aversion to using the word “we” when referring to her own country is both weird and revealing. After all, she is part of the United States, a citizen of America, and so she is part of “we.” Hers is an example of a certain journalistic sensibility that feels as if members of the media are compromising their objectivity by referring to their country as if they were a part of it. And I suppose in The World According To Katie, it would be a gross violation of journalistic ethics to hope for America to prevail in a war to depose Saddam Hussein and bring liberty to his broken land. Hence, I suppose, her discomfort with how well the initial stages of the Iraq war went.

This is unfortunate enough stuff from the media, but it seems even worse that Nancy Pelosi thinks only Republicans are at war.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 PM


Romney slips in new NH poll (Domenico Montanaro, September 26, 2007, NBC First Look)

Romney slipped, Giuliani is now within the margin of error for the top spot and McCain has gained ground in the new Granite State poll out tonight, which was conducted by the University of New Hampshire and sponsored by CNN/WMUR. [...]

Romney's support dropped 10 percentage points since last month when he held a 14-point lead.

The more the party sees of Mitt and the Mayor the better Maverick looks.

MORE (via Bryan Francoeur):
Giuliani fundraiser costs $9.11 per person (AP, 9/26/07)

A spokeswoman for Rudy Giuliani says it is unfortunate that a supporter throwing a party that aims to raise $9.11 per person for the Republican's presidential campaign is asking for that amount.

9-11 is all the Mayor had going for him and he'll even manage to make referring to it make your flesh crawl by the time he's done.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


Labour's new crime drive: zero tolerance: Review of self-defence laws and money for neighbourhood patrols (Patrick Wintour and Alan Travis, September 27, 2007, The Guardian)

Labour will today launch a new "zero tolerance" criminal justice drive, including an urgent review of the law of self-defence to ensure it backs "have-a-go heroes".

The moves by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, and Jack Straw, the justice secretary, are designed to outflank the Tories' renewed push on law and order based on David Cameron's claim that British society is "broken".

Amid concerns from some Labour strategists that the party has ceded too much ground on crime, the home secretary will also announce a new fund worth tens of millions of pounds to support neighbourhood patrol teams, including the issuing of mobile fingerprint machines to officers who will target low-level crime in every community.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


Burma: Inside the saffron revolution: Death, confusion and worldwide outrage as the crackdown begins (Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent and Peter Popham in Bangkok, 27 September 2007, Independent)

The inevitable happened sometime before noon.

Close to the Shwedagon pagoda, the golden gleaming monument in central Rangoon that has been the focus of protest for nine days, at least 10 monks were beaten up by police as thousands once again defied the authorities and tried to enter the holy shrine. Next, the police fired tear gas at them, and scores of the men in saffron robes were arrested and dragged away. From then on things only got worse.

By last night up to eight monks and civilians had, according to differing reports, been killed as the military regime finally resorted to violence to put down the soaring challenge to its rule. [...]

Despite the calls for restraint, yesterday's violent turn of events was, many believed, bound to happen. If anything they appeared all the more awful because of the slow, sliding inevitability. Overnight the authorities had moved in to arrest key democracy activists, among them a Burmese comedian called Zaganar and U Win Naing, a veteran opposition member. The comedian had been part of a group providing food and supplies to the monks.

But if anything there was even more defiance and determination as the demonstrators marched for the ninth successive day – once again with at least 100,000 people taking to the streets. In Mandalay, at least 10,000 people marched and reports from the city of Sitwe, on Burma's western seaboard, also suggested 10,000 people turned out to protest.

"They are marching down the streets, with the monks in the middle and ordinary people either side. They are shielding them, forming a human chain," said one observer in Rangoon. are enough ready to give their lives to shame the West into action?

Bloodshed in Burma as soldiers open fire (Exclusive report by Graeme Jenkins in Rangoon, 27/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

When the trucks carrying soldiers passed through the crowd, people applauded and shouted "hero!" in mockery. [...]

All day, gunfire crackled over Rangoon and tear gas hung over the city's holiest Buddhist sites. Despite the presence of soldiers outside the main monasteries, tens of thousands of monks and their supporters marched through the city. Tens of thousands more milled about on the crowded pavements offering tacit support.

Similar peaceful protests took place elsewhere in the country including Mandalay and Sittwe.

The Sule Pagoda in Rangoon, the scene of a massacre during similar demonstrations in 1988, was the main focus for yesterday's protests.

Soldiers armed with automatic weapons were lined up along the roads leading to the huge gold dome which sits at an intersection in the city centre. From a nearby rooftop long processions of protesters could be seen approaching from the north.

The red robes of the monks made a broad stripe down the middle of their mostly white-shirted supporters, walking at their side to offer symbolic protection against the bullets. Bystanders bowed down at the monks' feet.

The protesters passed under the noses of the soldiers guarding the pagoda.

A witness described how one monk stood alone in the open space before the troops and persuaded some followers to sit with him on the ground, in open contempt of the guns.

Others played cat and mouse, dashing from one side of the road to the other across the line of fire.

Later, another large group of protesters approached the pagoda from the south and advanced to within 30 yards of the soldiers.

No one here doubts that a massacre could happen at any moment. But in their anger, and their love for the monks, thousands of people have overcome all fear.

Burma's internet ban fails to halt bloggers (Daily Telegraph, 27/09/2007)
Despite an almost total internet ban, Burmese citizens are breaking through the junta's censorship to tell the outside world of their plight.

Scores of photographs and videos have streamed out of the country, with internet users finding ways of circumventing blocks on news and email sites.

The role of the bloggers and "citizen journalists" has been crucial, with only a handful of Western journalists managing to remain undercover within the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


Korean migration to U.S. honored with nat’l shrine image dedication (Sherri A. Watkins and Gretchen R. Crowe, 9/26/2007, Catholic News Service)

Commemorating 100 years of their ancestors' migration, Korean-American Catholic pilgrims filled the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the Sept. 22 dedication of two bas-reliefs that symbolize the permanence of their place in the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk of Seoul, South Korea, joined Archbishop Wuerl, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington Va., and Msgr. Walter Rossi, basilica rector, along with nearly 50 priest concelebrants for the afternoon Mass.

"It is significant that the Korean immigrants have endeavored to dedicate these art pieces here in this most American church," said Cardinal Cheong. "I understand this as a sign of the fact that Korean-Americans are no longer outsiders but have become active members of the American Catholic Church." [...]

Korean-American Catholics contributed to the sculpture project, which took four years and cost about $1 million. A gift to the national shrine, the bas-reliefs symbolize the faith and love of the Korean Catholic family and serve as a sign of gratitude for the heroic examples of faith witnessed by their ancestors and passed down to them.

During the Mass, a prayer was offered for the Korean Martyrs who gave their lives for the Catholic Church, which was established in overwhelmingly Buddhist Korea in 1784.

The tradition of martyrdom began almost immediately and claimed more than 10,000 lives over the next 100 years. In 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized 103 martyrs in Seoul.

In 2002, Father Lee petitioned the shrine's rector for a place where Mary could be honored by Koreans.

The following year, with the initiative of the North American Conference of Priests for Korean Ministry, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops proclaimed Sept. 23, 2003, to be Korean-American Catholic Day to commemorate the centenary of Korean immigration to the U.S. The proclamation came during a Mass attended by nearly 6,000 Korean-American Catholics.

America, it's just one pack of freeloaders after another...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 PM


Iraqi oil exports to north rise: Attacks fall sharply on oil pipeline to Turkey thanks to new security measures. (Leslie Sabbagh and Tom A. Peter, 9/27/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

Iraq's state oil company now has 15 million barrels of crude for sale at the Turkish port of Ceyhan this month, the biggest amount at least since the war began. And foreign oil investors are taking notice.

When measured against Iraq's vast oil reserves (the world's second largest), the precious crude flowing north these days is modest. But the ability to sell – and generate revenues for the nation – is directly connected to the ability to secure the pipelines. In the first three months of this year, the pipeline from the central Iraqi refinery at Bayji (one of three in Iraq) suffered 30 attacks that caused "significant" financial loses, Iraqi officials say. But in the past six months, there have been fewer than 10 attacks.

A--the eagerness of the Left and far Right to surrender.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


Bush's fiscal legacy: bigger debt (Peter Grier, 9/27/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

During his time in office, federal debt held by the public – Washington's equivalent of a credit-card balance – will have increased by more than 50 percent, to about $5.5 trillion. Uncle Sam will be paying interest on that sum for years to come.

Much of that borrowed money paid for military expenses after the 9/11 attacks – spending unanticipated when Mr. Bush took office. Measured against the size of the US economy, the public debt isn't far outside historical norms.

Except that it obviously shouldn't be measured against historic norms but against similar periods of world war. For example, British debt hit 250% of GDP by the time they'd defeated Napoleon and American debt was 150% of GDP by the time WWII ended. Or, consider that American household net worth under President Bush has hit $55 trillion--that number coming after debt (government and consumer) is deducted.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


The Man in the Irony Mask: Like Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat, Stephen Colbert so completely inhabits his creation—the arch-conservative blowhard host of The Colbert Report, his Daily Show spin-off hit—that he rarely breaks character. As Colbert's new book, I Am America (And So Can You!), is published, Vanity Fair gets a revealing interview with the real thing: a master comedian, forever altered by family tragedy. (Seth Mnookin, October 2007, Vanity Fair)

The show's set is designed to emphasize the notion of Colbert as the supreme master of this self-created, enthusiastically narcissistic universe. Behind his desk, a faint, almost subliminal outline of a star frames Colbert's head. A series of lines that bisect a ring of concentric circles on the floor converge where Colbert is seated, as if he were a black hole toward which all matter and energy are drawn. His anchor desk is shaped like a giant C, and the colbert report is plastered on more than a dozen places on the set.

The Report (pronounced with a soft t, as is Colbert) debuted in the fall of 2005 as a spin-off of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, the critical and popular success that's often referred to by its host, Jon Stewart, as a "fake news" show. Stewart has turned The Daily Show into a cultural touchstone in the eight years he's been there, and has become such an icon that he hosted the Academy Awards in 2006. But The Colbert Report couldn't take a page from its forebearer's playbook. Stewart plays himself on TV—a smart, witty, liberal Jew who's alternately amused and enraged by the political realities of our time—and a large part of The Daily Show's popularity stems from his personal appeal.

Colbert's character, which grew out of his role as the most noxious and ill-informed of Stewart's on-air correspondents, is most definitely not the type of guy you'd want to share a beer with after work. If Colbert's show were to succeed, it would need its fans to embrace the type of grating know-it-all they would normally disdain. One of the ways the show attempted to do this was by having its audience affect the mob mentality from which Colbert's character drew his power. That way, viewers weren't just in on the joke, they were part of it.

"This show is not about me," Colbert explained his first night on the air. "No, this program is dedicated to you, the heroes.… On this show your voice will be heard, in the form of my voice." Colbert went on to define the show's ruling ethos as "truthiness," an almost Nietzschean philosophy inspired by President Bush's faith in those that "know with their heart" as opposed to those who "think with their head." If one part of the subtext here was how terrifying "truthiness" was in a world leader, another was that having the will to bend reality to reflect your every desire actually sounded pretty cool—as Colbert's id-driven character promised to demonstrate night after night.

This conceit has worked far better than anyone expected. Almost immediately, the Report attracted an audience of more than a million viewers a night.

...but the face beneath.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


The 35-Year Plan for Soul Superstardom: Sharon Jones, Darondo, and other soul sensations hit it big after decades on the outskirts (Indrani Sen, September 25th, 2007, Village Voice)

Sharon Jones always knew she was put on this earth to sing soul music. But she soon realized she'd never be a star. "In the '80s, they told me I needed to bleach my skin," she recalls. "They told me I was too dark-skinned, too fat, too short. And once I passed twentysomething, I was too old."

Still, Jones, who was born in Augusta, Georgia, and now lives in Far Rockaway, sang where she could—her church choir, talent shows, wedding gigs. She picked up session work here and there and worked as a correction officer on Rikers Island. " 'God gave me a gift, and one day people are going to accept me for that gift'—that's what I put in my head," Jones recalls. "And it took another 20-something years to happen."

Now, at the age of 51, Jones has finally found her place: up onstage in a shimmery dress, singing her heart out. A tiny black woman with a mischievous sense of humor and a deep, expressive voice, Jones has toured the world with her band, the Dap-Kings, delivering their pure pre-Parliament funk to eager crowds of sweating, dancing fans. "I don't feel embarrassed because I can't dance like Beyoncé or what's-her-name, Shakira," Jones says, giggling and shimmying in her seat at Daptone Records, the Brooklyn soul label that has nurtured her career. "I'm just so glad I can sing something and get on that stage and jump around."

Jones has toured with Lou Reed, and appears in the upcoming Denzel Washington movie The Great Debaters. British soul ingénue Amy Winehouse borrowed the Dap-Kings to record her breakthrough, Back to Black. And in October, Daptone is releasing Sharon's third album, 100 Days, 100 Nights, a collection of gospel-tinged soul laments that she'll celebrate with a date at the Apollo Theater.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


First came the legend, then the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe (WALTRINA STOVALL, September 26, 2007, The Dallas Morning News)

If you've been in touch with the outside world during the past 20 years – have received any mail more personal than a utility bill or a flier addressed to "Current Resident" – you know that what the woman found was that the charge for the cookie recipe was not $2.50, as she expected. It was a whopping $250.

Incensed, she had 1,000 copies of the recipe made. She began mailing it to friends, relatives and casual acquaintances. She handed it out at a day spa and to people she bumped into at crowded cocktail parties. The daughter took it for show and tell at her exclusive girls' school.

Recipients were asked to pass the recipe on because the greedy store must be stopped from charging an unconscionable amount for a cookie recipe.

The story began circulating in the late '80s and spread quickly.

Although Neiman's denied the story – in fact, the company said it had never served cookies in its restaurants – it kept gaining momentum. Finally, with the help of the Internet and e-mail, it became The Urban Legend That Would Not Die.

Inquiries about the costly recipe kept coming in until, finally, the store tasked its bakers to come up with a recipe worthy of the NM reputation. It was perfected in 1995 by Kevin Garvin and is on the company Web site, Free. It also is in the Neiman Marcus Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $45) by Mr. Garvin and John Harrisson. [...]

½ cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso coffee powder

1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 F. Cream the butter with the sugars until fluffy using an electric mixer on medium speed (approximately 30 seconds).

Beat in the egg and vanilla extract for another 30 seconds.

In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and baking soda and beat into the butter at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in the espresso coffee powder and the chocolate chips.

Using a 1-ounce scoop or 2-tablespoon measure, drop cookies onto a greased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread out into a 2-inch circle.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until nicely browned around the edges. Bake a little longer for a crispy cookie.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Gordon Brown and his ‘copycat’ speech (Times of London, 9/26/07)

Gordon Brown was accused tonight of rehashing old phrases from Bill Clinton and Al Gore without attribution in his first speech to a Labour conference as Prime Minister.

An analysis by The Times has found strong similarities in both words and structure between Monday’s address and speeches made by the two Americans – both clients of Mr Brown’s close adviser Bob Shrum.

It suggests that Mr Brown’s recent attempts to appeal as a prime minister who rejects spin have been crafted, at least in part, by one of America’s highest paid political advertising and speech consultants.

The study by The Times Online’s Comment Central shows a marked similarity between parts of Mr Brown’s speech and big set-piece speeches of Democrat leaders.

...which would have been a tad too incestuous.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:38 PM


House Panel Approves a Trade Pact With Peru (STEVEN R. WEISMAN, 9/26/07, NY Times)

A trade pact between the United States and Peru won bipartisan support in a crucial Congressional committee Tuesday, signaling that some Democrats will be receptive to new trade deals as long as they call on other nations to adhere to international labor and environmental standards.

The action, a voice vote in the House Ways and Means Committee, clears the way for approval of the Peru deal by Congress this fall, with most Republicans and perhaps a minority of the Democrats supporting it, Congressional aides said. The Senate Finance Committee approved the pact on Friday.

The vote Tuesday was a victory for the Bush administration and Representative Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the Ways and Means panel.

...that the midterm election mattered.

House condemns's Petraeus ad (ANDREW TAYLOR, 9/26/07, Associated Press)

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted to condemn the liberal advocacy group for a recent advertisement attacking the top U.S. general in Iraq.

By a 341-79 vote, the House passed a resolution praising the patriotism Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and condemning a ad that referred to Petraeus as "General Betray Us."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


How good can 'The Kid' get?: The Kid, we no doubt all agree, is good. No, make that great. So, about the only questions left are how much better can he get and what is he hoping for next? (SCOTT MORRISON | Sep 26, 2007, MacLeans)

Two years into his professional career, [Sidney] Crosby has lived up to the hype and the expectations and perhaps even exceeded both. After scoring 102 points in his rookie season, he was even better in his second. He finished with 120 points to win the scoring title, all the while helping his team improve by 47 points - the fourth biggest turnaround in National Hockey League history - and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. He was named a First Team All-Star and, in addition to winning the Art Ross Trophy for scoring, he also won the Hart Trophy, as most valuable player as selected by the media, and the Lester B. Pearson award, as the MVP as selected by his peers.

Now the perspective. He became the youngest player (at 19 years, eight months, younger even than Crosby admirer Wayne Gretzky was when he won his first a few months past his 20th birthday) to reach 200 points. He is the youngest player – in any professional sport - to win a scoring title. After the season, he became the youngest player to ever be named a full-time captain. He also is one of just five players to record 100 points in each of their first two seasons in the NHL. Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were 41-10-9 in games in which he earned a point, 6-13-0 in games he didn't. In fact, it is likely there would no longer even be a team in Pittsburgh, with a new arena in the works, if not for Crosby.

All that accomplished before his 20th birthday, which makes one wonder just how much better can the future get because the present is already pretty darn good.

Gretzky says he thinks the kid may be better than him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:24 PM


Towns Rethink Laws Against Illegal Immigrants (KEN BELSON and JILL P. CAPUZZO, 9/26/07, NY Times)

RIVERSIDE, N.J., Sept. 25 — A little more than a year ago, the Township Committee in this faded factory town became the first municipality in New Jersey to enact legislation penalizing anyone who employed or rented to an illegal immigrant.

Within months, hundreds, if not thousands, of recent immigrants from Brazil and other Latin American countries had fled. The noise, crowding and traffic that had accompanied their arrival over the past decade abated.

The law had worked. Perhaps, some said, too well.

With the departure of so many people, the local economy suffered. Hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed. Once-boarded-up storefronts downtown were boarded up again.

Meanwhile, the town was hit with two lawsuits challenging the law. Legal bills began to pile up, straining the town’s already tight budget. Suddenly, many people — including some who originally favored the law — started having second thoughts.

So last week, the town rescinded the ordinance, joining a small but growing list of municipalities nationwide that have begun rethinking such laws as their legal and economic consequences have become clearer.

“I don’t think people knew there would be such an economic burden,” said Mayor George Conard, who voted for the original ordinance. “A lot of people did not look three years out.”

Only the sorts of folks who hate immigrants didn't anticipate the effects. Of course, Tom Tankredo would rather shutter the country than accept immigrants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


Dartmouth Debate: Gunning for Clinton (SETH GITELL, September 26, 2007, NY Sun)

When Senator Clinton strides onto the Dartmouth Green tonight for a Democratic presidential debate, she will do so with a bullseye on her back.

Until very recently, Senator Obama's cache of support among liberal activists made him the focus of criticisms at presidential debates. Think of the three-way pounding Mr. Obama took at the AFL-CIO forum at Chicago's Soldier Field for suggesting that America take military action in Pakistan without the approval of that country's president. Tonight will be different. Liberals will likely turn their sights on Mrs. Clinton.

Some four months ahead of the first presidential primary, Mrs. Clinton stands on top in the polls in New Hampshire. A recent Franklin Pierce College/ WBZ survey had her leading Mr. Obama, 36% to 18%; a Rasmusen poll found her lead to be even greater, 40% to17%. Washington Post reporter Dan Balz captured the prevailing sentiment in a blog entry yesterday: "She now sits atop the Democratic field, in a tier by herself."

While the debate will be broadcast nationally on MSNBC, it will air locally on New Hampshire Public Radio and New England Cable News, a regional 24-hour news network reaching 360,000 of New Hampshire's households. The heavily watched Boston Red Sox will play early, at 5 p.m., permitting those who want to see the debate, to do so.

Downtown Hanover has been a zoo for a couple days now, with Security riding around on Segways, network satellite trucks lining the Green, and reporters doing their stand-up shots with Baker Library in the background. Meanwhile, no one can get a ticket nor figure out why which profs got one and there's a massive lawn-sign battle going on, with Senator Obama seemingly in the lead. If you don't have a dog in the fight it's rather amusing.

Debate-related frenzy consumes campus (Jennifer Gaudette, 9/26/07, The Dartmouth

Campus life will likely be disrupted for the first day of classes, as the Green is taken over by the Campaign Visibility Area, also known as the “free speech zone” — the only area where ralliers are allowed to demonstrate or display signs. Also surrounding the Green will be several television network satellite trucks, many of which arrived Tuesday, and the news program “MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews,” which will run from 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM from the Green. Matthews will also be joining the post-debate discussion hosted by Keith Olbermann, who will broadcast from Secaucus, N.J.

Olbermann and Matthews will be just two of about 300 credentialed media swarming the campus, whicih will also be covered by Secret Service agents and blanked by over 100 student volunteers, as Spaulding Auditorium is transformed into the set of the nationally televised debate.

Director of Dartmouth Media Relations Roland Adams said students can count on noticing the media-fueled commotion.

“Any time we host an event of this magnitude, students and others are going to be aware that we have a lot of visitors here and a lot of them are media,” Adams said.

Adams was not concerned about the impact of such an event on campus, noting that Dartmouth has hosted presidential candidate debates many times before, in 1984, 1988 and 2004. The College also hosted a “New Hampshire Town Meeting” held in 1999 that was attended by both Republican and Democratic candidates.

Hanover Police Chief Nicholas Giaccone said he was confident that the town would be able to handle the flood of visitors.

“We handle more traffic for Homecoming night when the streets are blocked, so we don’t anticipate any problems,” Giaccone said.

Hard Work Behind the Stage: College Strives to Prepare For Tonight's Debate (Peter Jamison, 9/26/07, Valley News)
For a sign that big things were afoot yesterday at Dartmouth, one needed look no farther than campus security officer Teddy Willey. If you saw him up close, however, chances are you were looking up: Willey was standing on a Segway Personal Transporter.

Through a deal secured by Dartmouth sophomore Beau Trudel, who has worked two summers at Segway, the company loaned two transporters -- motorized chariots that bestow upon riders a peculiar resemblance to wheeled robots -- to college officials for the event.

Willey, who ordinarily works on Dartmouth Safety and Security bike patrol, beamed from his idling Segway in front of the Hopkins Center, which houses Spaulding Auditorium.

“It's going to be a nightmare tomorrow getting around,” he said. “So this” -- Willey paused to show off a pirouette -- “is nice.”

The debate runs from 9 to 11 p.m. before a live audience of about 700. But the logistical complexities of hosting a spate of high-profile politicians on a small college campus will cast a shadow well beyond the Hopkins Center.

College officials expect about 300 journalists to be on hand tomorrow. Parking near the auditorium will be prohibited to members of the public. Willey said that about 35 security officers will be deployed on campus tomorrow -- Willey himself anticipates working from 7 a.m. to 2 or 3 in the morning -- in addition to Hanover Police Department officers and a Secret Service complement for some of the candidates.

One might expect students to be a bit put out at so much hubbub on the first day of class, but those interviewed yesterday said the debate buzz has only added to the thrill of starting the fall term. No classes have been canceled as a result of the activity, Haas said.

Lauren Lesser, a sophomore, said, “It's a lot of excitement in the air, on top of the usual starting-school excitement.” From her bench on the green, she could see an MSNBC crew setting up the stage for tomorrow night's episode of Chris Matthews’ Hardball. Like most students, Lesser didn't get a ticket into the auditorium but plans to watch with others from Leede Arena.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


Freedom for Burma: China is propping up another despotic regime (JODY WILLIAMS, September 26, 2007, Opinion Journal)

China's relationship with Burma is the closest of any it has in Southeast Asia. It views that nation as a strategic ally, coveting the potential use of its ports on the Indian Ocean and easier access to oil from Africa and the Middle East. China has provided economic support key to keeping the dismal economy afloat, and has built roads, bridges, airport facilities, power stations, factories and telecommunications networks. It has also modernized Burma's army, including an infusion of weaponry valued at over $1.4 billion when the junta took power. [...]

Against this backdrop, and for nearly two decades, Ms. Suu Kyi and other activists have repeatedly called for international support to bring the military to the negotiating table and begin the transfer of power that should have taken place after the NLD's 1990 electoral victory. Tragically, Ms. Suu Kyi-- known to millions simply as "The Lady"--has spent 12 of the past 18 years as a political prisoner. Her most recent house arrest began in May 2003 after her convoy was attacked while she was traveling around Burma speaking at large public rallies.

Just a few months before her arrest I managed to enter Burma and meet with Ms. Suu Kyi in her Rangoon home, to discuss what the international community should do to help her people. She was quite clear that her party's call for the strengthening of economic sanctions against the military junta remained unchanged; that all investment in Burma should cease; and that tourists should not spend their money or provide some sense of legitimacy to the regime by visiting her country until democracy is established.

Unfortunately, the international community in general--and China in particular--has largely ignored her call for support.

The most recent protests against the regime began in mid-August, after the government doubled fuel prices. They quickly grew into mass, nonviolent protests for freedom and democracy. By the end of August, thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns had begun to join the protests, even as the junta cracked down and arrested untold numbers of protesters and activists.

Less known is that, on Sept. 18, as the protests grew in numbers, Burmese activists (many now in hiding because of the crackdown) managed to deliver a letter to the government of China. Along with protesters outside Chinese embassies and consulates in 15 cities in 10 countries around the world, they asked that Beijing publicly end its support for the junta and instead help achieve reconciliation and democratization in Burma.

If China won't change its policies toward Burma on its own, it must be pressured to do so. Just as there has been public outrage over Beijing's support for the Sudanese government and its ongoing war in Darfur, there should be similar outrage at its involvement with Burmese military junta.

While it's not easy to get folks to help the Burmese just because it's morally right to do so, the fact that it will cripple China strategically makes it an easier sell, kind of like "Saddam's WMD."

Burma hits new low in corruption (BBC, 9/26/07)

Burma and Somalia have been jointly ranked by Transparency International as the world's most corrupt countries.

The index is based on perceptions of public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories.

Saffron revolution (Sian Powell, September 27, 2007, The Australian)
A democracy activist in Rangoon says protesters want to encourage political change and avoid bloodshed.

"Definitely there are a lot of people who are very moved and who are very emotional," she says. Still, she adds, the people of Burma are worried about the consequences of the uprising, consequences that could easily involve mass arrests, assault and slaughter.

"But this is a time which is very critical, and they will understand that this is the case and they will need to do something."

Resting its back against the might of China to the north, the SPDC regime has long ignored the polemic from notables such as one-time Czech president Vaclav Havel, South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, and more recently US first lady Laura Bush.

For years Russia and China have staunchly resisted any efforts to discuss Burma in the Security Council. Now, though, it appears China -- mindful of its international image and sensitive to criticism as the 2008 Beijing Olympics loom nearer -- has advised the Burma regime to refrain from the brutal oppression at which it has become so adept.

Refusing to accept alms from anyone in the military and thereby imperilling soldiers' important religious observances, the rebel monks set the scene for a showdown. There are more than 400,000 monks in Burma, and only a small percentage have marched through the streets, but many senior abbots have so far declined to block their efforts.

Yesterday, the regime declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Rangoon and Mandalay, and used truck-mounted loudspeakers to warn that meetings of more than five people were illegal. Burma's Religious Affairs Minister, Brigadier-General Thura Myint Maung, has publicly accused the monks of being manipulated by the Government's domestic and foreign enemies, and warned that if senior abbots failed to restrain their disciples, the Government would act.

Burma has groaned under a military dictatorship since 1962 and the last big uprising, in 1988, was swiftly and brutally crushed, leaving as many as 3000 people dead.

Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy news magazine based in northern Thailand's Chiang Mai, was a student dissident in the famous 1988 protests. He was imprisoned in Rangoon's notorious Insein jail and tortured. He finally fled to Thailand.

"The monks have been on the streets again; I think it's the moment of truth," Zaw says. The sheer size of the protests amazes him; the crowds of monks, nuns and civilians willing to brave the worst the junta can bowl up, from indiscriminate killings to long terms in prison.

Monks vs. Police in Burma (With foreign journalists locked out of the country by Burma's military government, this dispatch was written by TIME staff based on eyewitness reports, 9/26/07)
The battle for Shwedagon began in ferocious noonday heat. The authorities had locked the gates of the pagoda, Rangoon's most famous landmark, by mid-morning to prevent the monks who had led the weeklong demonstrations against Burma's military rulers from gathering. Police and soldiers guarded the entrances. The eastern gate of Shwedagon is where thousands of monks would otherwise exit to start their march into downtown Rangoon. But today, hundreds of soldiers and riot police blocked their way.

By 12:30 p.m., hundreds of monks, students, and other Rangoon residents approached the police, stood in the road and began to pray. Then the soldiers and police began pulling monks from the crowd, targeting the leaders, striking both monks and ordinary people with canes. Several smoke bombs exploded and the riot police charged. The monks and others fought back with sticks and rocks. Many others ran, perhaps four or five of them bleeding from minor head wounds. A car was set alight — by the soldiers, some protesters claimed — and then there was the unmistakable crack of live ammunition: the soldiers were shooting into the air.

"They are not Buddhists," cried one student, who clutched half a brick in his hand, running from the smoke. "They are not humans. We were praying peacefully and they beat us. They beat the monks, even the old ones." An 80-year old monk stood with the student, bleeding from a baton gash on his shaven head.

However, after this confrontation, the monks regrouped and surged forward again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Tebbit praises PM's Thatcher move (BBC, 9/26/07)

Lord Tebbit has said Gordon Brown's move to be seen as "heir to Thatcher" shows his "political nous".

...that none of the presidential candidates have sense enough to similarly cast themselves as heirs of Thatcher/Clinton/Blair/Bush.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM

165 TO 1:

165 'militants' killed in Afghan battles (Fred Attewill and agencies, September 26, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

More than 165 Taliban militants have been killed in fierce fighting with coalition forces in southern Afghanistan over the past 24 hours, Nato said today.

The fighters died in two separate clashes after they attacked Nato-led troops armed with machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars. [...]

Nato said more than 100 Taliban fighters were killed while one coalition soldier was killed and four were wounded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


The Real Che Was No T-Shirt Idol, As Cuban-American Author Finds (INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY, 7/10/2007)

Cuban-American author Humberto Fontova researched the man behind the image, exploring why pop culture seems so enamored of Che Guevara. Speaking to dozens of Cubans who knew and fought with Guevara (1928-1967), Fontova pieced together a very different picture of Guevara for his book, "Exposing The Real Che Guevara and the Useful Idiots Who Idolize Him."

We spoke with Fontova about the real Che, one of history's most undeservedly idolized mass murderers. [...]

IBD: You mention that the regime imprisoned people. What kinds of figures are you talking about?

Fontova: Cuba in 1961 had 6.3 million people. According to Freedom House, 500,000 Cubans have passed through Cuba's prison systems, proportionately more than went through Stalin's Gulag. At one time in 1961, 350,000 Cubans (were) jailed for political crimes and 1 out of 18 Cubans was a political prisoner. These were people who were overheard talking badly against regime. It's very difficult for people to visualize what a totalitarian regime is — after all, doesn't Latin America always have dictatorship?. Yeah, but Latin America does not have totalitarian Stalinist dictatorships, except in Cuba.

IBD: How did Che create this?

Fontova: It wasn't two weeks after Castro entered Havana that Soviet agents entered. Che was the main conduit with Soviet intelligence agencies.

The Cuban regime executed more people proportionately in its first three years in power than Hitler did in six. Think about that execution rate and then think about that slogan associated with Che — "resist oppression." The ironies are so rich, comparing what Cuban-Americans read and what they experienced.

IBD: Guevara bragged from the podium of the United Nations that "we do executions."

Fontova: And he said "we will continue to do executions" in 1964. According to the Black Book of Communism, published in Paris, 14,000 men and boys were executed in Cuba by that stage, that would be the equivalent of 3 million executions in the U.S., and yet that man who carried them out was hailed by Jesse Jackson, who wrote a book condemning capital punishment.

IBD: Speaking of communist chic, Cameron Diaz got into trouble for toting a Mao bag in Peru, where people knew Maoist terror.

Fontova: But you will notice that Cameron Diaz apologized, so I attribute 80% of the Che paraphernalia seen on people to ignorance. Especially when I am in a generous mood. I hate to think people are that dumb. With ignorance, it's different, they just don't know.

Podcast of Interview

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Mission accomplished: With most Sunni factions now seeking a deal, the big questions in Iraq have been resolved positively. The country remains one, it has embraced democracy and avoided all-out civil war. What violence remains is largely local and criminal (Bartle Bull, October 2007, Prospect)

Understanding this expensive victory is a matter of understanding the remaining violence. Now that Iraq's big questions have been resolved—break-up? No. Shia victory? Yes. Will violence make the Americans go home? No. Do Iraqis like voting? Yes. Do they like Iraq? Yes—Iraq's violence has largely become local and criminal. The biggest fact about Iraq today is that the violence, while tragic, has ceased being political, and is therefore no longer nearly as important as it was.

Some of the violence—that paid for by foreigners or motivated by Islam's crazed fringes—will not recede in a hurry. Iraq has a lot of Islam and long, soft borders. But the rest of Iraq's violence is local: factionalism, revenge cycles, crime, power plays. It will largely cease once Iraq has had a few more years to build up its security apparatus.

There have been four main sources of political violence in Iraq since the invasion. The "insurgency," which means the Sunni violence, comprised three of these four elements: Baathists, Sunni religious fundamentalists (whom we will call Wahhabis after the most important of their closely related strains), and Sunni tribes. (The fourth source of violence is Shia, about which more later.) Baathism, modelled from its birth in the 1940s on German national socialism, is a secular movement. Wahhabism, fighting for a return to the pure days of Islam in the 7th century, is the opposite. It was clear from the beginning that these two tendencies, which today are fighting each other in much of Sunni Iraq, would not get along forever.

Equally clear was that neither could win in their battle for Iraq. The Baathists wanted a return to the privileges they enjoyed under Saddam. The Wahhabis wanted a return to the days of the prophet. Neither was going to happen; for the 85 per cent of the country that is not Sunni Arab, these forms of Sunni Arab totalitarianism were the ultimate non-starter. Sunni power was broken by the invasion: Iraq, finally recognising a group three times as numerous as the Sunnis, had become a Shia country; Baghdad, the dowager capital of Islam, is today a Shia city for the first time since 1534.

All this was foreseen in the first phase of the violence, from the insurgency's start in spring 2004 until the Samarra mosque bombing in February 2006. The Baathists, thugs but rational actors, would eventually give up and sit down to bargain for as much as they could get from the mess they had made. And the Wahhabis, answering to a higher power and mostly foreigners anyway, would keep blowing themselves up. All sides acknowledge that this is what is happening today: the Wahhabis continue to cross the border in search of their 72 virgins in paradise, and the Baathists are negotiating with the Shias and the Americans to come inside the tent.

A third element of the Sunni violence was tribal. This was particularly prevalent in Anbar province in western Iraq, where Sunni tribes have traditionally prospered from banditry on the Damascus road and where even Saddam was not fully in control. Fighting outsiders is an old habit in Iraq's Sunni bandit country. So is making money. Thus the Sunni tribes, like the Baathists, have done precisely what non-ideological observers predicted at the beginning of the violence. Once the victory of the Shias and the resolve of the US administration became clear, the Sunni tribes decided their interest lay in milking what they could from the new dispensation. Thus it is that Anbar today is one of the safer places in Iraq. (Until the pacification of Anbar, about 80 per cent of Iraq's violence happened in four of its 18 provinces: Anbar, Salah ad Din, Nineveh and Baghdad. In nine of the 18 provinces, there is basically no violence.) The importance of the achievement in Anbar cannot be overemphasised: pacifying the heartland of the Sunni insurgency was considered unachievable as recently as this spring. (The assassination in September of Abu Risha—head of the "Anbar Awakening," an organisation of 25 Sunni tribes fighting al Qaeda in Anbar—while unfortunate, will not be material.)

It was always clear that Iraq's Sunni tribes would eventually take up arms against the Saudis, Jordanians and Syrians in their midst who were banning smoking, killing whisky vendors, executing sheikhs of ancient tribes and forcibly marrying local girls to "emirs" of the soi-disant "Islamic state of Iraq." Of course, Anbar's tribal leaders and Baathists could be bought off either directly or by the indirect promise of owning a chunk of what will be a very rich country now that the basic question of who owns Baghdad has been resolved. At least 14,000 Anbari young men have joined the state security services since the surge began in February and the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, started reaching out to the chiefs.

The tribes and the Baathists also noticed what happened in Fallujah and Ramadi: when those cities ran out of control, America doubled up. In November 2004, the marines surrounded Fallujah, killed every insurgent (and plenty of civilians), started rebuilding the place and left an effective security cordon around it. Ramadi, on a smaller scale, was next. Now the insurgency has decamped to other provinces, where it does not want to be. Beating them there will be even easier, as is proving to be the case in Diyala.

The Sunni insurgents have recognised that there is little point fighting a strong and increasingly skilled enemy—the US—that is on the right side of Iraq's historical destiny and which—unlike the British in Basra—responds to setbacks by trying harder. (That is essentially the Petraeus doctrine: more resources more intelligently applied further forward.) There is even less point doing so when you are a discredited minority, as the Sunnis are after 35 years of Baathism followed by their disastrous insurgency, and the enemy is in fact your main guarantor of a fair place at the national table.

Iraq's Sunnis would not be needing the help of the US today had the Sunni leadership not made a historic miscalculation back in 2004. Saddam, a rational man, made an understandable but fatal misjudgement about the people he was up against, and paid for it with his throne and his neck. His Sunni supporters did not learn from this. Thinking they were dealing with the post-Vietnam America of Carter, Reagan and Clinton, they took up arms to prevent the Americans from delivering on their promise of an Iraq that could freely choose its leaders. The habit of centuries of overlordship also fed the Sunni miscalculation: to them, Shia control was unthinkable and so the insurgency was sure to succeed.

By the second half of 2004, the insurgency had had six months to show what it was capable of, and it became clear that its goal could not be the military defeat of the Americans. The Sunnis were now fighting not for a military victory but a political one, to win in the US congress and the newsrooms of CNN and the New York Times the war they could not win in the alleys and date palm groves of Mesopotamia.

With regard to violence against their fellow Iraqis, the Sunni strategy revealed itself quickly to be an effort to provoke the Shias into full-fledged communal violence and civil war. Such a conflagration would be so hot that even Bush's Americans would run for home. The key moment in this strategy was the bombing of the Shia mosque in Samarra. Until then, the Shias had shown great restraint at the stream of Sunni provocations. Shia cells targeted Wahhabis and Baathists, but mostly left the Sunni populace alone. Under the steadying influence of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, their religious leader, the Shias endured mass slaughters in markets, buses and schools throughout 2004, 2005 and early 2006 without large-scale retaliation. As the main beneficiaries from the new Iraq, the Shias could only lose from a prolonged civil war.

The Samarra bombing seemed briefly to be the final straw. The Shia death squads, most associated with the young cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army, long chafing under Sistani's restraining hand, were let slip. Neighbourhood cleansing began in much of Baghdad and went on for a year until Petraeus's surge began in February. It continues in many places where his troops are not present.

The world held its breath after Samarra: here, we thought, comes the cataclysm, the civil war that many had feared and that others had sought for three years. But it never happened. The Shia backlash in parts of Baghdad was vicious, and the Sunnis were more or less kicked out of much of the city. But over 18 months later, it is clear that the Shias were too sensible to go all the way. It was never a civil war: no battle lines or uniforms, no secession, no attempt to seize power or impose constitutional change, no parallel governments, not even any public leaders or aims. The Sunnis rolled the dice, launched the battle of Baghdad and lost. Now they are begging for an accommodation with Shia Iraq.

...are those who hate the Shi'a.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


The Perfect Pooch for You (Jennifer Viegas, 9/26/07, Discovery News)

The new study — one of the first to apply methods used to analyze human relationships to human/dog pairs — also reveals clues as to what makes the best pooch-to-person match.

One surprising find is that a dog's personality helps shape the relationship more than the person's does.

Lead author Lisa Cavanaugh explained to Discovery News that "unlike human relationships, the partner's personality — in our case the canine personality — contributes measurably to relationship satisfaction" while the person's character seems to take a backseat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Will Bush veto his own priority?: The president once sang the praises of expanding children's insurance; his tone has changed now that Democrats are sending him a bill. (Ronald Brownstein, September 26, 2007, LA Times)

The tragedy in Washington's escalating confrontation on children's healthcare is that the legislation Congress is on track to approve this week with substantial bipartisan support advances precisely the goal President Bush claims as his priority.

Bush says he wants the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a state-federal partnership up for renewal this year, to more narrowly target the poorest children. He's threatened to veto the bill Congress is completing because he charges it directs too much aid toward middle-income families and would prompt too many of them to drop private insurance and enroll in SCHIP.

If Mr. Brownstein thinks that increasing dependence on the Second Way is a W priority he hasn't learned anything the past 8 years. Consider only that he'd support a bill, and Democrats oppose, that gave these kids HSAs and it becomes clear that the central issue isn't healthcare for kids but whether the state or the poor should be empowered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Teenagers Held for Pro-Independence Slogans (KEITH BRADSHER, 9/26/07, NY Times)

Eight boys ages 14 and 15 have been detained in the Tibetan town of Xiahe since Sept. 7 for writing graffiti and distributing pamphlets praising the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader, and for calling for independence from China, according to Human Rights in China, which called for their release.

Time for the Dalai Lama to return home.

China makes contingency plans for junta's fall (David Lague, September 26, 2007, NY Times)

As China publicly calls for stability and reconciliation in Myanmar, it is also preparing for the possibility that the current protests could lead to the downfall of the military junta leading its resource-rich neighbor, political experts said on Wednesday.

Although China is Myanmar's most important trading partner, investor and strategic ally, Beijing has also maintained discreet links with opponents of its military rulers and tolerates the activity of some of exiled critics on Chinese soil, these experts said.

And as Myanmar's strongest international supporter, China wants to avoid any damage to its reputation from Myanmar's handling of political dissent, particularly with the approach of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The PRC needs to plan for its own fall, which could easily follow a Chinese Chernobyl, China warns of catastrophe from Three Gorges Dam (Reuters, 9/26/07)
China's huge Three Gorges Dam hydro-power project could spark "catastrophe" unless accumulating environmental threats are quickly defused, senior officials and experts have warned, according to state media.

The dam in southwest China, the world's biggest hydro-electric project, has begun generating electricity and has served as a barrier against seasonal flooding threatening lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Xinhua news agency reported late on Tuesday, citing a forum of experts and officials.

But even senior dam officials who have often defended the project as an engineering wonder and ecological boon now warned that areas around the dam were paying a heavy, potentially calamitous environmental cost.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Calling Rudy: For Mr. Giuliani, it's more than his wife that's on the line (Online Journal, September 26, 2007)

This was no emergency call. His cell phone rang in his pocket during his speech, which is itself unusual; most public officials turn theirs off during events, if only out of courtesy for the audience. [...]

"That was just weird," one NRA audience member told the New York Post about the phone interruption. Mr. Giuliani doesn't need more weird.

It does demonstrate exactly how little he cares about the audiences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Iranians angered by treatment of leader (The Associated Press, September 25, 2007)

Many Iranians reacted angrily Tuesday to the combative introduction of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by the president of Columbia University, calling it "shameful" and saying the harsh words only added to their image of the United States as a bully.

In a part of the world where the tradition of hospitality outweighs personal opinions toward a person, many here thought Lee Bollinger's aggressive tone before Ahmadinejad's appearance - including saying that he exhibited the signs of a "petty and cruel dictator" - was over the top.

The danger of holding a people in contempt is that you assume they're contemptuous of themselves as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Moment of truth for Myanmar's military (Brian McCartan, 9/26/07, Asia Times)

Myanmar's military has made good on its threat to use force against mounting demonstrations that have now involved more than 100,000 people in the old capital Yangon, increasingly resembling the mass pro-democracy movement on which soldiers tragically opened fire in 1988.

Troops outside Sule Pagoda opened fire at 2pm on Wednesday on Buddhist monks marching to the shrine. Reports conflict, but at least one monk was killed and another two either injured or killed. Other preliminary reports say that another three monks were shot and killed in Ahlone, a suburb of Yangon.

Riot police also beat monks and protesters with batons, fired tear gas into crowds and let off warning shots over the heads of protesters, symbolically in front of Yangon's famed Shwedagon Pagoda. Dozens of protesters were reportedly arrested and dragged away into military trucks.

Should the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) call on the army for further deadly action against protesters, the moment of truth will have come. Only with a split and revolt in the army will the monks and their swelling civilian supporters achieve their apparent goal of unseating the military dictatorship.

Brown urges UN meeting on Burma (BBC, 9/26/07)0
Gordon Brown has called for a UN security council meeting on Wednesday on the crisis in Burma, saying that "the whole world is now watching".

The comments come amid reports that police have beaten and arrested demonstrators and have fired warning shots on the ninth day of protests.

The prime minister said: "The EU is going to look at a whole range of sanctions that could be imposed."

Mr Brown said the Burmese authorities would be "held to account".

The account a military understands is if you destroy their might.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Spain's "Downing Street Memo": Bush was Set on Attacking Iraq (Middle East Online, September 26, 2007)

Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, Washington unsuccessfully lobbied the 15 members of the UN Security Council for a second resolution paving the way for military action against Iraq if Saddam Hussein failed to comply with demands to disarm.

But during the meeting with Aznar, Bush made it clear the US would invade Iraq by the end of March 2003 whether or not there was a UN resolution to authorize it, El Pais reported.

"We have to get rid of Saddam. There are two weeks left. In two weeks we will be ready militarily. We will be in Baghdad at the end of March," Bush said in the transcript which was translated into Spanish by the newspaper. say that no diplomatic resolution to the crIraq War was possible, though it's close. Had Saddam accepted the enforcement of all prior UN resolutions, there'd have been no need for war. This is the case, of course, because the resolutions themselves required regime change.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Osama bin Laden's recent video a fake, says son (Rediff, September 26, 2007)

Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden's recently released video, in which he urged Americans to convert to Islam, has reportedly been branded as a 'fake' by his son in Britain.

According to 27-year-old Omar bin Laden's former British wife Jane Felix-Browne, her husband had told her, "that's not my dad."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Swedish journalists 'more left-wing than public' (The Local, 26th September 2007)

Swedish journalists' views diverge wildly from those of their readers, with the average journalist well to the left of the public as a whole, according to a new survey. While normal Swedes want tax cuts and favour retaining nuclear power, Swedish journalists reject both ideas.

The findings are presented in a book published on Wednesday by researchers at Gothenburg University. The book, 'Den Svenska Journalistkåren' ('The Swedish Press Corps'), is based on the results of a number of research projects.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Saudi Religious Police Attacked by Girls (Sultan al-Kholaif, 9/24/07, Asharq Al-Awsat)

Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the Eastern province Dr. Mohamed bin Marshood al-Marshood, told Asharq Al Awsat that two of the Commission's employees were verbally insulted and attacked by two inappropriately-dressed females, in the old market in Prince Bandar street, an area usually crowded with shoppers during the month of Ramadan.

According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to "politely" advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing.

Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them.

September 25, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 PM


Myanmar monks chant democracy, troops move in (Reuters, 9/26/07)

Chanting “democracy, democracy”, thousands of monks marched through the heart of Myanmar’s main city on Tuesday in defiance of a threat by the ruling generals to send in troops to end the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years.

“The streets are lined with people clapping and cheering them on,” a witness said. There were no signs of soldiers around the Sule pagoda in central Yangon, the destination of a week of marches by the deeply revered maroon-robed monks.

However, one Yangon-based diplomat said five army trucks, each capable of carrying up to 50 soldiers, lurked less than a kilometre away from the pagoda and City Hall next door. That area was the scene of the worst bloodshed during a crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy protests in 1988 in which up to 3,000 people are thought to have been killed.

“The people are not afraid,” another witness said. “They are helping the monks and offering them drinking water.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 PM


Germans reveal bomb details (RANDALL MIKKELSEN, 9/26/07, The Scotsman)

FUSES intended for use in a suspected plot to bomb US installations in Germany came from Syria through Turkey, the German interior minister said yesterday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 PM


Cuba walks out at UN as Bush attacks dictatorships (David Usborne, 26 September 2007, Independent)

President George Bush has criticised a series of countries at the United Nations for denying their citizens basic political freedoms, prompting the delegation of Cuba to walk out of the General Assembly calling him a "criminal" and his address an "infamous tirade".

Urging member nations of the UN to join what he called a "mission of liberation", Mr Bush pointed a finger at countries that included not just Cuba, but also Burma, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Iran. "When whole societies are cut off from the prosperity of the global economy, we are all worse off," he said.

He had barely finished speaking of Cuba when its delegation rose from its seats in protest. Referring to the long illness of Fidel Castro, who in past years has attended the assembly, Mr Bush said , "the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end. The Cuban people are ready for their freedom".

The UN would be worthwhile if they refused the Cuba readmittance to the the General Assembly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 PM


Seeds of Anti-Semitism (Michael Gerson, September 21, 2007, Washington Post)

Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago] have argued that the "Israeli government and pro-Israel groups" have shaped President Bush's "grand scheme for reordering the Middle East."

In fact, Israeli officials have been consistently skeptical about the main policy innovation of the Bush era: the democracy agenda. One senior Bush administration official recently told me, "The Israelis are generally convinced that Arab cultures are particularly resistant to democracy; that democracy is likely to lead to victories by the Muslim Brotherhood."

A friend recalls visiting a prominent Israeli general in 2003 and making the case for democracy promotion. "What is the alternative?" the American asked. "Propping up the next generation of Mubaraks, Assads and the House of Saud for the next 25 years?" The general responded: "Why not?"

President Bush's emphasis on democracy has been driven not by outside pressure but by a strategic insight. He is convinced that the status quo of tyranny, stagnation and extremism in the Middle East is not sustainable -- that the rage and ideologies it produces will cause increasing carnage in the world. The eventual solution to this problem, in his view, is the proliferation of hopeful, representative societies in the Middle East.

This argument is debatable. But it is at least as likely as Walt and Mearsheimer's naive belief that "the U.S. has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel" -- the equivalent of arguing that Britain had a Nazi problem in the 1930s because it was so closely allied with Czechoslovakia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


Peter Bjorn and John perform in the Current studio (Mark Wheat, Minnesota Public Radio, September 24, 2007, The Current)

The gentlemen stopped by The Current studios before their First Ave gig and played a few live songs including an acoustic version of their "anthem."

Songs performed: "Paris 2004," "Let's Call It Off," and "Young Folks."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:05 PM


Iranian University Chancellors Ask Bollinger 10 Questions (Fars News Agency, 9/25/07)

Seven chancellors and presidents of Iranian universities and research centers, in a letter addressed to their counterpart in the US Colombia University, denounced Lee Bollinger's insulting words against the Iranian nation and president and invited him to provide responses for 10 questions of the Iranian academicians and intellectuals.

Mr. Lee Bollinger
Columbia University President

We, the professors and heads of universities and research institutions in Tehran , hereby announce our displeasure and protest at your impolite remarks prior to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent speech at Columbia University.

We would like to inform you that President Ahmadinejad was elected directly by the Iranian people through an enthusiastic two-round poll in which almost all of the country's political parties and groups participated. To assess the quality and nature of these elections you may refer to US news reports on the poll dated June 2005.

Your insult, in a scholarly atmosphere, to the president of a country with a population of 72 million and a recorded history of 7,000 years of civilization and culture is deeply shameful.

Your comments, filled with hate and disgust, may well have been influenced by extreme pressure from the media, but it is regrettable that media policy-makers can determine the stance a university president adopts in his speech.

It's not just that Mr. Bollinger was rude but that he betrayed such obvious contempt for the Iranian people. Imagine how outraged Americans would be if a foreigner invited one of our leaders to a speaking engagement and then treated him similarly? There was no reason to invite him, but having done so there was no reason not to extend basic courtesy.

Bollinger Forgot to Stand Up for the U.S. (Ed Koch, 9/25/07, Real Clear Politics)

President Lee C. Bollinger of Columbia University and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran met Monday on a field of rhetorical battle at Columbia.

Bollinger opened the proceedings, to which he had invited Ahmadinejad, by presenting a series of sharply-worded questions. Bollinger, normally a genial, soft spoken man who is always courteous and deferential to his guests, was in a totally different mode. His voice was hectoring and bullying. He included in his litany of questions provocative and insulting statements about his guest.

Bollinger's change of style was, I believe, to blunt the enormous criticism that ensued following Columbia's invitation to Ahmadinejad to speak there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:01 PM


Cajun Meatloaf (Seattle PI, 9/25/07)

1 pound ground beef

1/2 pound andouille sausage, casings removed, crumbled

1/2 cup chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 cup dried bread crumbs

1/2 cup whole milk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/4 cup ketchup

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco or other hot-pepper sauce

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. Turn the mixture into a lightly sprayed or oiled 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and gently pat down.

Bake until the loaf is firm and the top is lightly browned, about an hour. Let stand in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Remove the loaf from the pan and slice to serve.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Deep-voiced men 'have more kids' (BBC, 9/25/07)

Males who hit the lower notes as they talked had about two more children on average than squeaky speakers.

It fits with observations that women find baritones more attractive, the team reports in Biology Letters.

Bigger hat sizes too.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:01 PM


Sex changes and a draconian legal code: gay life in Iran (Robert Tait, September 25, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Iran has between 15,000 and 20,000 transsexuals, according to official statistics, although unofficial estimates put the figure at up to 150,000. Iran carries out more gender change operations than any other country in the world besides Thailand.

Sex changes have been legal since the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution passed a fatwa authorising them nearly 25 years ago. While homosexuality is considered a sin, transsexuality is categorised as an illness subject to cure.

The government seeks to keep its approval quiet in line with its strait-laced stance on sexuality, but state support has actually increased since Mr Ahmadinejad took office in 2005.

His government has begun providing grants of £2,250 for operations and further funding for hormone therapy. It is also proposing loans of up to £2,750 to allow those undergoing surgery to start their own businesses.

Maryam Khatoon Molkara, leader of the country's main transsexual organisation, said some of those undergoing operations were gay rather than out-and-out transsexuals.

"In Iran, transsexuals are part of the homosexual family. Is it possible that a phenomenon exists in the world but not in Iran?"she told the Guardian.

"Transsexuality is a real disaster. It's a one-way street. But if somebody wants to study, have a future and live like others they should go through this surgery."

You'd think, if nothing else, the clerics would have more respect for God's handiwork.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Song of the Day: For Stars, An Impersonal Message Gets 'Personal': Stars' members make fizzy pop that plays out alongside dark snapshots of relationships in distress. (Stephen Thompson, September 24, 2007,

Opening with the text of Campbell's blandly clinical, notably impersonal personals ad ("Wanted: single F / Under 33 / Must enjoy the sun / Must enjoy the sea"), "Personal" unfolds as a revealing exchange between strangers. Millan's nakedly revealing replies tend to say more in six words ("28 and bored / Grieving over loss") than Campbell's anonymous cad says in two verses; her guarded expectations surge to the surface with a similarly powerful economy of phrasing: "Your voice, it sounded kind / I hope that you like me."

The message here, housed in an uncommonly sensitive piano-and-guitar arrangement, isn't as ambiguous as it may seem. For all its innocuous vagueness, Campbell's ad still leads Millan to the same pitfalls that make real-time relationships scary: judgment, insecurity, risk. In "Personal," Campbell and Millan never meet, but they don't have to in order for her hurt to feel real. With punishing efficiency, the song captures the harshest downside of the personals, examining the way they can distill relationships down to Cliffs Notes that let users skip directly from anxiety and doubt to rejection and despair.

That one's gonna leave a mark....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:23 AM


Call Him an Oddball if You Must, but Do Call (CLYDE HABERMAN, 9/25/07, NY Times)

New Yorkers are well acquainted with at least one other version. That would be Rudy the loopy. The weirdness factor, as some have called it, is as much a part of the Giuliani package as 9/11, banished squeegee men and shuttered porn parlors.

Non-New Yorkers got a taste of it the other day when Mr. Giuliani interrupted his speech — a very important speech — to the National Rifle Association in Washington. His cellphone rang. It was his wife, Judith. Smack in the middle of his talk, he whipped out the phone. [...]

The cellphone routine was not Mr. Giuliani’s sole icky moment last week.

While rattling the cup in London, he told reporters that he was “probably one of the four or five best-known Americans in the world.” Oh? And who, someone asked, also makes that rarefied list? “Bill Clinton, Hillary,” he replied before aides hustled him away.

Offhand, we can think of any number of Americans who might be more famous worldwide. President Bush, anyone? How about Muhammad Ali, Madonna, Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey?

The real revelation was Mr. Giuliani’s sense of his own importance. It was on display again in his N.R.A. speech. Freshly returned from London, he told the audience, “It’s nice to be here in England.” Then, seeing an American flag, he said, “Ah, America.”

He meant it as a joke about the mental scrambling that the rigors of campaigning can cause. But the underlying assumption was that people were so focused on him that they knew his travel schedule by heart. Many in the audience didn’t get it.

They found it weird, just as some New Yorkers did when Mr. Giuliani used to begin speeches with raspy imitations of Marlon Brando as Don Corleone — as if everyone knew “The Godfather” as well as he did. Often enough, people wondered if he had a sore throat.

The weirdness factor has a long history.

It kicked in hard several times with the mayor’s cross-dressing skits, including one time when he squealed in delight as Donald Trump nuzzled his fake breasts. It turned up in 1999 when he joked to a black audience, of all groups, about the hard time he had getting a New York taxi to stop for him.

It emerged when he told reporters that he was leaving his wife — his second wife — before he bothered to tell her. It resurfaced a few months ago when wife No. 3 allowed that this was her third marriage and not her second, as she had let everyone believe for years.

Other incidents could be cited, up to and including the eeeww-inducing cellphone schmooze at the lectern.

The Mayor's brief front-runner status was completely dependent on no one knowing anything about him but what they saw on 9-11.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Run, Al, Run: If Gore wins the Nobel Peace Prize, will he run for president? (Christopher Hitchens, Sept. 24, 2007, Slate)

[I]f I am right, the former vice president will then complete a year in which An Inconvenient Truth has been awarded an Oscar and he has authored a best seller. Roll it round your tongue again: an Oscar, a best seller, and a Nobel Prize in the space of 12 months or so. Not bad. And meanwhile, the field of Democratic candidates looks—how shall one put it?—a trifle etiolated. Sen. Clinton may have succeeded in getting people to call her "Hillary" and to have made them feel resigned to her front-runnership, but what kind of achievement is that? Sen. Obama cannot possibly believe, and doesn't even act as if he believes, that he can be elected president of the United States next year. John Edwards is a good man who is in politics for good reasons, but there is something about his populism that doesn't quite—what's the word?—translate.

Apart from the awards, not only could Gore claim that he had been a fairly effective senator and a reasonably competent vice president, he could also present himself in zeitgeist terms as the candidate who was on the right side of the two great overarching questions: the climate crisis and the war in Mesopotamia. Should I add that, whether or not he really won the Electoral College in 2000, he did manage to collect the majority of the popular vote? Several people, some of them well-informed, have been saying to me that Gore will wait until the Nobel committee's announcement before he makes up his mind. Should he make up his mind to run, he could alter the entire equation.

Should he make up his mind not to run, he would retrospectively abolish all the credit he has acquired so far. It would mean in effect that he never had the stuff to do the job and that those who worked and voted for him were wasting their time. Given his age and his stature, can he really want that to be the conclusion that history draws?

I am only guessing here, but I think that when Gore wakes up early and upset, he isn't whimpering about the time that the Supreme Court finally ruled against him in 2000. He is whimpering about the time in 1992 when he left the field open to Bill Clinton, a man he secretly despised. Can he really stand to watch yet another Clinton walk away with a nomination that could have been, or could still be, his? To move, then, from a consideration of elevated politics to a reflection upon the baser motives, we have to ask if Gore can possibly be content to be a "citizen" when he could still be a contender.

And if we accept him at face value and believe that he's personally affronted by the influence of special interests and the lack of concern for the environment displayed by both parties, doesn't he have to run as a Green or Independent?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


President Bush Addresses The United Nations General Assembly (George W. Bush, The United Nations Headquarters, New York, New York, 9/25/07)

Mr. Secretary General, Mr. President, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen: Thank you for the opportunity to address the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Sixty years ago, representatives from 16 nations gathered to begin deliberations on a new international bill of rights. The document they produced is called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- and it stands as a landmark achievement in the history of human liberty. It opens by recognizing "the inherent dignity" and the "equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" as "the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world." And as we gather for this 62nd General Assembly, the standards of the Declaration must guide our work in this world.

Achieving the promise of the Declaration requires confronting long-term threats; it also requires answering the immediate needs of today. The nations in this chamber have our differences, yet there are some areas where we can all agree. When innocent people are trapped in a life of murder and fear, the Declaration is not being upheld. When millions of children starve to death or perish from a mosquito bite, we're not doing our duty in the world. When whole societies are cut off from the prosperity of the global economy, we're all worse off. Changing these underlying conditions is what the Declaration calls the work of "larger freedom" -- and it must be the work of every nation in this assembly.

This great institution must work for great purposes -- to free people from tyranny and violence, hunger and disease, illiteracy and ignorance, and poverty and despair. Every member of the United Nations must join in this mission of liberation.

First, the mission of the United Nations requires liberating people from tyranny and violence. The first article of the Universal Declaration begins, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." The truth is denied by terrorists and extremists who kill the innocent with the aim of imposing their hateful vision on humanity. The followers of this violent ideology are a threat to civilized people everywhere. All civilized nations must work together to stop them -- by sharing intelligence about their networks, and choking their -- off their finances, and bringing to justice their operatives.

In the long run, the best way to defeat extremists is to defeat their dark ideology with a more hopeful vision -- the vision of liberty that founded this body. The United States salutes the nations that have recently taken strides toward liberty -- including Ukraine and Georgia and Kyrgyzstan and Mauritania and Liberia, Sierra Leone and Morocco. The Palestinian Territories have moderate leaders, mainstream leaders that are working to build free institutions that fight terror, and enforce the law, and respond to the needs of their people. The international community must support these leaders, so that we can advance the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.

Brave citizens in Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iraq have made the choice for democracy -- yet the extremists have responded by targeting them for murder. This is not a show of strength -- it is evidence of fear. And the extremists are doing everything in their power to bring down these young democracies. The people of Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iraq have asked for our help. And every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand with them.

Every civilized nation also has a responsibility to stand up for the people suffering under dictatorship. In Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear. Basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and worship are severely restricted. Ethnic minorities are persecuted. Forced child labor, human trafficking, and rape are common. The regime is holding more than 1,000 political prisoners -- including Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party was elected overwhelmingly by the Burmese people in 1990.

The ruling junta remains unyielding, yet the people's desire for freedom is unmistakable. This morning, I'm announcing a series of steps to help bring peaceful change to Burma. The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers. We will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members. We'll continue to support the efforts of humanitarian groups working to alleviate suffering in Burma. And I urge the United Nations and all nations to use their diplomatic and economic leverage to help the Burmese people reclaim their freedom.

In Cuba, the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end. The Cuban people are ready for their freedom. And as that nation enters a period of transition, the United Nations must insist on free speech, free assembly, and ultimately, free and competitive elections.

In Zimbabwe, ordinary citizens suffer under a tyrannical regime. The government has cracked down on peaceful calls for reform, and forced millions to flee their homeland. The behavior of the Mugabe regime is an assault on its people -- and an affront to the principles of the Universal Declaration. The United Nations must insist on change in Harare -- and must insist for the freedom of the people of Zimbabwe.

In Sudan, innocent civilians are suffering repression -- and in the Darfur region, many are losing their lives to genocide. America has responded with tough sanctions against those responsible for the violence. We've provided more than $2 billion in humanitarian and peacekeeping aid. I look forward to attending a Security Council meeting that will focus on Darfur, chaired by the French President. I appreciate France's leadership in helping to stabilize Sudan's neighbors. And the United Nations must answer this challenge to conscience, and live up to its promise to promptly deploy peacekeeping forces to Darfur.

Second, the mission of the United Nations requires liberating people from hunger and disease. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration states: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food and clothing and housing and medical care." Around the world, the United Nations is carrying out noble efforts to live up to these words.

Feeding the hungry has long been a special calling for my nation. Today, more than half the world's food assistance comes from America. We send emergency food stocks to starving people from camps in Sudan to slums in -- around the world. I've proposed an innovative initiative to alleviate hunger under which America would purchase the crops of local farmers in Africa and elsewhere, rather than shipping in food from the developed world. This would help build up local agriculture and break the cycle of famine in the developing world -- and I urge our United States Congress to support this initiative.

Many in this hall are bringing the spirit of generosity to fighting HIV/AIDS and malaria. Five years ago, in Sub-Saharan Africa, an AIDS diagnosis was widely considered a death sentence, and fewer than 50,000 people infected with the virus were receiving treatment. The world responded by creating the Global Fund, which is working with governments and the private sector to fight the disease around the world. The United States decided to take these steps a little further by launching the $15 billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Since 2003, this effort has helped bring cutting-edge medicines to more than a million people in sub-Sahara Africa. It's a good start. So earlier this year, I proposed to double our initial commitment to $30 billion. By coming together, the world can turn the tide against HIV/AIDS -- once and for all.

Malaria is another common killer. In some countries, malaria takes as many lives as HIV/AIDS -- the vast majority of them children under the age of five years old. Every one of these deaths is unnecessary, because the disease is preventable and treatable. The world knows what it takes to stop malaria -- bed nets and indoor spraying and medicine to treat the disease. Two years ago, America launched a $1.2 billion malaria initiative. Other nations and the private sector are making vital contributions, as well. I call on every member state to maintain its focus, find new ways to join this cause, and bring us closer to the day when malaria deaths are no more.

Third, the mission of the United Nations requires liberating people from the chains of illiteracy and ignorance. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration states: "Everyone has the right to education." And when nations make the investments needed to educate their people, the whole world benefits. Better education unleashes the talent and potential of its citizens, and adds to the prosperity of all of us. Better education promotes better health and greater independence. Better education increases the strength of democracy, and weakens the appeal of violent ideologies. So the United States is joining with nations around the world to help them provide a better education for their people.

A good education starts with good teachers. In partnership with other nations, America has helped train more than 600,000 teachers and administrators. A good education requires good textbooks. So in partnership with other nations, America has distributed tens of millions of textbooks. A good education requires access to good schools. So in partnership with other nations, America is helping nations raise standards in their schools at home, and providing scholarships to help students come to schools in the United States. In all our education efforts, our nation is working to expand access for women and girls, so that the opportunity to get a decent education is open to all.

Finally, the mission of the United Nations requires liberating people from poverty and despair. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration states: "Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, [and] to just and favorable conditions of work." In the 21st century, this requires ensuring that people in poor countries have the same opportunity to benefit from the global economy that citizens of wealthy countries have.

The United Nations provides vital economic assistance designed to help developing nations grow their economies and reach their potential. The United States agrees with that position; we've dramatically increased our own development assistance -- and we're delivering that aid in innovative ways. We started the Millennium Challenge Account to reward nations that govern justly, fight corruption, invest in their people, and promote economic freedom. With this aid, we're reaching out to developing nations in partnership, not paternalism. And we're ensuring that our aid dollars reach those who need them -- and achieve results.

In the long run, the best way to lift people out of poverty is through trade and investment. A nation that is open and trading with the world will create economic rewards that far exceed anything they could get through foreign aid. During the 1990s, developing nations that significantly lowered tariffs saw their per capita income grow about three times faster than other developing countries. Open markets ignite growth, encourage investment, increase transparency, strengthen the rule of law, and help countries help themselves.

The international community now has an historic chance to open markets around the world by concluding a successful Doha Round of trade talks. A successful Doha outcome would mean real and substantial openings in agriculture, goods, and services -- and real and substantial reductions in trade-distorting subsidies. The world's largest trading nations, including major developing countries, have a special responsibility to make the tough political decisions to reduce trade barriers. America has the will and flexibility to make those necessary decisions. Our negotiators are demonstrating that spirit in Geneva. I urge other leaders to direct their negotiators to do the same. And I'm optimistic that we can reach a good Doha agreement -- and seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

In the meantime, America will continue to pursue agreements that open trade and investment wherever we can. We recently signed free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. These agreements embody the values of open markets -- transparent and fair regulation, respect for private property, and resolving disputes under international law rules. These are good agreements, and they're now ready for a congressional vote, and I urge the Congress to approve them as soon as possible.

As America works with the United Nations to alleviate immediate needs, we're also coming together to address longer-term challenges. Together, we're preparing for pandemics that could cause death and suffering on a global scale. Together, we're working to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Together, we're confronting the challenges of energy security, and environmental quality, and climate change. I appreciate the discussions on climate change led by the Secretary General last night. I look forward to further discussions at the meeting of major economies in Washington later this week.

The goals I've outlined today cannot be achieved overnight -- and they cannot be achieved without reform in this vital institution. The United States is committed to a strong and vibrant United Nations. Yet the American people are disappointed by the failures of the Human Rights Council. This body has been silent on repression by regimes from Havana to Caracas to Pyongyang and Tehran -- while focusing its criticism excessively on Israel. To be credible on human rights in the world, the United Nations must reform its own Human Rights Council.

Some have also called for reform to the structure of the Security Council, including an expansion of its membership. The United States is open to this prospect. We believe that Japan is well-qualified for permanent membership on the Security Council, and that other nations should be considered, as well. The United States will listen to all good ideas, and we will support changes to the Security Council as part of broader U.N. reform. And in all we do, I call on member states to work for an institution that adheres to strict ethical standards, and lives up to the high principles of the Universal Declaration.

With the commitment and courage of this chamber, we can build a world where people are free to speak, assemble, and worship as they wish; a world where children in every nation grow up healthy, get a decent education, and look to the future with hope; a world where opportunity crosses every border. America will lead toward this vision where all are created equal, and free to pursue their dreams. This is the founding conviction of my country. It is the promise that established this body. And with our determination, it can be the future of our world.

Thank you, and God bless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Pelosi faults GOP in Iraq war: Says efforts to chart new course were blocked (Scott Helman, September 25, 2007, Boston Globe)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed frustration yesterday at the public perception that Democrats in Congress had failed to end the war in Iraq, saying the blame lies with congressional Republicans who have blocked all efforts to chart a new course. [...]

"We have to make it very clear to the American people that it was George Bush's war [but] it is now the Republicans in Congress's war," she said.

The idea that the Reformation of the Middle East is fundamentally a project of George W. Bush and the faith-based Party seems fairly unobjectionable, though it requires a rather sketchy understanding of republican government to think of these as Republican wars rather than American wars. At any rate, does anyone expect the media and the Left to respond to her comments with the same fury they directed at Bob Dole when he referred to the "Democrat wars" of the Twentieth century?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Slacker Finds His Calling, and It’s a Devil of a Job (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 9/25/07, NY Times)

When Sam Oliver dropped out of college after one month, his parents were supportive. “We’re very proud of him for trying,” his mother says on the first episode of “Reaper,” on the CW network tonight. “It’s just that college made him sleepy.”

Sam (Bret Harrison) lives with his parents and works at a Home Depot-like megastore called the Work Bench. He has few prospects and even less ambition, which suits his best friend and fellow loser, Sock Wysocki (Tyler Labine), just fine. The universe has plans for Sam, however, and those include sending evildoers to perdition.

It turns out that the Devil makes him do it.

“Reaper” is a hybrid of the movie “Clerks” and NBC’s hit series “Heroes,” and, like “Chuck” on NBC, it defies all the cautionary rules against crossbreeding. Comedy is hard to sustain in an hourlong episode, but “Reaper” mixes supernatural derring-do with deadpan slacker humor. It works, in large part thanks to Mr. Labine, who steals every scene he is in as a Seth Rogen-like sidekick.

Has anyone ever even heard of something called the CW network?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Indiana gets OK for novel health plan (Daniel C. Vock, 9/26/07,

In a novel plan, low-income adults in Indiana who can’t afford health insurance will be able to tap into as much as $300,000 in coverage by contributing to health savings accounts.

The plan, which won federal approval last week, will make Indiana the 13th state to cover childless adults under Medicaid, a federal-state program created in 1965 primarily to cover families and the elderly, blind and disabled. Even more unique is the plan’s requirement that poor applicants pay into a health savings account before getting access to taxpayer-funded medical care. [...]

Advocates for the poor are critical of Indiana’s attempt to use health savings accounts to put Medicaid patients in control of their own medical spending.

Because Welfare should make the poor dependents of the State, not give them control of their lives.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


10 Brilliant Complete Movies Online (List Universe)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Beijing Furious with Berlin over Dalai Lama Visit (Andreas Lorenz, 9/25/07, Der Spiegel)

Relations between China and Germany are the worst they have been in years after Chancellor Angela Merkel received the Dalai Lama in the chancellery last Sunday.

The visit "grossly interferes with the internal affairs of China," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu announced during a routine press conference in Beijing on Monday.

An ideal moment for other leaders from the Axis of Good to meet with the Dalai Lama as well and for him to call upon Tibetan monks to imitate Burmese.

Myanmar: Time for Urgent Action (Crisis Group, 25 September 2007)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should hold urgent talks with the foreign ministers of China, India and Singapore, the current ASEAN chair, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly and lead a joint attempt to encourage peaceful dialogue in Myanmar/Burma. China, India, and ASEAN should back Ban Ki-moon’s call on the authorities in Myanmar to exercise restraint in the face of growing peaceful protests and put their full weight behind UN efforts to find a solution to the country’s political crisis.

“The regime has a long history of violent reactions to peaceful demonstrations,” said Gareth Evans, President of the International Crisis Group. “If serious loss of life is to be averted, those UN members with influence over the government are going to have to come together fast.”

Only China, India, and, to a lesser degree, ASEAN have any influence on the military regime.

Bet the capacity of our military to strike at their military with impunity would have some influence? That is, if you're serious about it being "urgent"?
Brown calls for immediate action on Burma (Deborah Summers and Hélène Mulholland, September 25, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)
Gordon Brown today called for "immediate international action" to stave off a threatened military crackdown on protesters in Burma.

The prime minister called on the ruling junta in Rangoon to "exercise restraint" in its response to demonstrations which have brought tens of thousands of monks on to the streets, demanding democracy.

The foreign secretary, David Miliband, also told delegates at the Labour party conference in Bournemouth that countries like Burma should play by "global rules".

Our rules.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


The light's on, but is anybody home?: An extraordinary brain study concludes that a woman in a vegetative state is aware of herself. It's a dangerous claim that could throw families and physicians into turmoil. (Robert Burton, Sept. 25, 2007, Salon)

In a recent article in the Archives of Neurology, a team of British and Belgian neuroscientists describe a clinically unconscious accident victim who can, on command, imagine herself playing tennis and walking around her house. By showing that her functional brain imaging studies (fMRI) are indistinguishable from those of healthy volunteers performing the same mental tasks, the researchers claim that the young woman's fMRI "confirmed beyond any doubt that she was consciously aware of herself and her surroundings, and was willfully following instructions given to her, despite her diagnosis of a vegetative state."

Their extraordinary conclusions are beyond provocative; they raise profound questions about the very notion of consciousness. What's more, they could throw thousands of families and doctors into utter turmoil. As with the Terri Schiavo controversy, patient advocacy groups, self-serving lawyers and politicians with personal agendas could use the study's stamp of certainty as a given.

Which takes into consideration everyone but the proposed victim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


Outsourcing Works, So India Is Exporting Jobs (ANAND GIRIDHARADAS, 9/25/07, NY Times)

India is outsourcing outsourcing.

One of the constants of the global economy has been companies moving their tasks — and jobs — to India. But rising wages and a stronger currency here, demands for workers who speak languages other than English, and competition from countries looking to emulate India’s success as a back office — including China, Morocco and Mexico — are challenging that model.

Many executives here acknowledge that outsourcing, having rained most heavily on India, will increasingly sprinkle tasks around the globe. Or, as Ashok Vemuri, an Infosys senior vice president, put it, the future of outsourcing is “to take the work from any part of the world and do it in any part of the world.”

To fight on the shifting terrain, and to beat back emerging rivals, Indian companies are hiring workers and opening offices in developing countries themselves, before their clients do.

One of the great delusions of those who think China has a future is that it can retain the easy jobs we hired them to do cheap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 AM


India in pact with US to upgrade public transport (Express News Service, September 25, 2007)

In a bid to boost the urban transport infrastructure, the Government on Monday signed an agreement with the United States for sharing latest knowhow and systems on public transport. This comes in the wake of Urban Development Ministry putting the urban transport policy as a key element in the building of urban infrastructure.

The new memorandum of cooperation with the US will span the fields of public transport, inter-modal transportation, safety in transport, transport for persons with disabilities, Intelligent Transportation Systems, Traffic Information Centre, capacity building and training in public transportation and other fields of mutual interest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Dave Brubeck keeps the flame alive: Performing At Age 86 (Adam Tanner, 9/25/07, Reuters)

With his 1950s preppy appearance of khaki pants, jacket and tie and horn-rimmed glasses, Brubeck has long served as a jazz ambassador, popularizing concerts on college campuses but also playing black clubs in the then-segregated South.

Brubeck's huge popularity opened doors to befriend Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong and meet world figures like Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. He attended one of the more unlikely White House dinners when Richard Nixon hosted Duke Ellington on his 70th birthday in 1969.

"That was one of the few times I admired Nixon," he said. "But he didn't like my playing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


OT Israel: Constitutional Monarchy? (Jordan J. Ballor , September 21. 2007, Acton: PowerBlog)

[How should we] characterize the rule of the kings in Old Testament Israel. Clearly it’s a monarchy, but what sort?

We see the protection of private property, and a king who is subject to the rule of law and is specifically held accountable to Torah, when necessary by its public expositors the prophets. Calvin noted the intimate relationship between the prophets and Torah. Speaking about understanding the prophetic books, he writes, “the shortest way of treating this subject is to trace the Prophets to the Law, from which they derived their doctrine, like streams from a fountain; for they placed it before them as their rule, so that they may be justly held and declared to be its interpreters, who utter nothing but what is connected with the Law.”

While the prophets lacked the direct relationship with the executive power such that they could enforce Torah adherence, they certainly represented the divine perspective on Torah violation and its consequences (no doubt they were strict constructionists). In that sense they functioned as a sort of judicial check on the monarch’s power, similar to the way our Supreme Court is supposed to function.

If we view Torah as a sort of constitution, then in OT Israel we have an ancient kind of constitutional, and therefore limited, monarchy.

Separation extremists/secularists fail to recognize that America is likewise derived from the same sort of holy constitution that precedes the U.S. Constitution:
Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

John Adams: "You have Rights antecedent to all Earthly Governments; Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by Human Laws; Right derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe."

Thomas Jefferson: "The God that gave us Life, gave us Liberty at the same time; the hand of Force may Destroy, but it cannot Disjoin them."

This Foundation is important not just to our understanding of our own government, but in its universality to what sort of regimes we can tolerate abroad. We accept the possibility that various forms may vindicate men's God-given rights and provide them with liberty, but any form which fails to do so and/or is non-consensual is, by definition, illegitimate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Over 1,00,000 protest against ruling generals on Myanmar streets (Agence France Presse, September 25, 2007)

More than 1,00,000 people flooded the streets of Myanmar’s biggest city on Monday, joining Buddhist monks in the strongest show of dissent against the ruling generals in nearly two decades.

In swelling tides of humanity, two major marches snaked their way through the nation’s commercial capital led by robed monks chanting prayers of peace and compassion, witnesses said.

Some of the people marched under a banner reading: “This is a peaceful mass movement.” Others had tears in their eyes. The generals have normally been tough on dissent, and their 1988 crackdown left hundreds dead. But Monday’s rally was the latest in more than a month of growing demonstrations against the junta since a massive fuel price hike triggered public anger.

Which has to scare the bejeebies out of Ahmedinejad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Will Quran limit growth of Muslim nations? (Samuel Gregg, 9/25/07, Detroit News)

Christianity once had a usury issue. Christianity began resolving this matter in the medieval period.

Scholastic theologians established that, under certain conditions (such as free exchange economies), money was not simply a means of exchange, but also "capital": that is, a productive good whose owners could legitimately charge others for its use.

Not all interest-charging, the scholastics concluded, constituted usury. [...]

A graver question is whether Islam's money problem is symptomatic of what some regard as Islam's apparent inability to generate the foundations any free society requires.

The West's resolution of its usury question showed that it could settle conflicts about an economic issue in ways consistent with its dominant moral traditions -- a process that gave rise to new conceptual possibilities for economic creativity. Likewise, medieval debates about the state's powers provided important intellectual foundations for concepts of rule of law and constitutionally limited government.

The importance of the moral tradition was evident in the fact that usury laws were retained, with usury understood as not just charging interest whatsoever but charging an unjust rate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Men more intelligent and more stupid than women: study (Press Trust Of India, September 25, 2007)

[T]he study carried out by scientists in the United Kingdom has revealed that men are actually more intelligent than the fairer sex but they are more stupid as well, the Daily Mail reported on Monday. [...]

The researchers came to the conclusion after measuring the intelligence of over 2,500 brothers and sisters by testing them on science, maths, English and mechanical abilities — they found a disproportionate number of men in both the top two per cent and the bottom two per cent.

According to the findings, there were twice as many men as women in the smartest group. But there were also twice as many men among the dunces.

...will be bothered by the notion that dumb guys are even dumber than women.

September 24, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


If It’s Hip, Fast and Furious, Is It Cricket? (SOMINI SENGUPTA, 9/25/07, NY Times)

Its members played fast and furious. They danced victoriously on the cricket pitch. At news conferences, they spoke Hinglish, a mongrel of Hindi and English that has become the lingua franca of the young small-town Indian.

The captain, a long-haired 26-year-old wicketkeeper named Mahendra Singh Dhoni, boldly told his teammates to shake off the burden of history, and they did.

Fans and pundits seized on the team’s success in the first tournament of Twenty20, a radically compressed new cricket format, to celebrate the ascendance of a brash and confident new generation, rising from far-flung small-town India, free of pedigree and custom.

“The young and the restless,” is how Rajdeep Sardesai, the son of a professional cricketer and editor in chief of CNN-IBN, a news channel, described the new face of Indian cricket. One of its gifts to the nation, he and other cricket watchers say, is to present, for the first time, a powerfully athletic presence on the pitch. Athleticism has never been associated with Indian cricket, nor with Indians in general, and that has been a chip on the shoulder of Indian manhood.

Indian cricket’s new face — and physique — emerged in the inaugural world tournament of Twenty20, which ended Monday in Johannesburg.

Where gentleman players once distinguished themselves in white trousers and knit vests, Twenty20 was accompanied by cheerleaders wearing what resembled sports bras. Restraint was out. Music was in. The games, 27 in all, involving 12 countries, each took about three hours, in sharp contrast to the customary five-day test match.

Think of Twenty20 as cricket on Red Bull. Or as the historian Mukul Kesavan put it, “kamikaze cricket.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Bush to impose new sanctions on Myanmar (BEN FELLER, 9/24/07, Associated Press)

President Bush on Tuesday will announce additional sanctions against the military dictatorship in Myanmar to support the push for democracy in that Asian country, the White House said Monday.

Bush, in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly, will announce financial sanctions against key members of the regime and those who provide them financial aid, said Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


A restless Sarkozy vows to lead Europe into a new era (Elaine Sciolino and Alison Smale, September 23, 2007, NY Times)

He stumbled twice on the word "multilateralism," laughing at himself the second time and turning to his national security adviser, Jean-David Levitte, to finish the word for him.

Just another term facing extinction...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:19 AM


Why Does Everyone Bow Down to the Health Insurance Industry? (Barbara Ehrenreich, September 24, 2007, AlterNet)

Bow your heads and raise the white flags. After facing down the Third Reich, the Japanese Empire, the U.S.S.R., Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, the United States has met an enemy it dares not confront -- the American private health insurance industry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Record numbers join Burmese protests (Ian MacKinnon, September 24, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

As many as 100,000 demonstrators protesting against the Burmese military regime took to the streets of Rangoon today in the biggest show of dissent in almost two decades.

Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and pink-robed nuns led the marchers, who snaked for several kilometres through the former capital, slowing traffic to a crawl and prompting the closures of shops and schools.

The monks carried flags and banners proclaiming the peaceful nature of the demonstration. Flanking them were even greater numbers of people clapping and chanting, in what many described as a carnival atmosphere.

The mood of elation in the ranks, which swelled to unprecedented numbers on the sixth straight day of marches sparked by fuel price rises, reflected surprise that the generals have shown restraint and not crushed the anti-government movement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Gay football World Cup kicks off (Daniel Schweimler, 9/24/07, BBC News)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Desert Storm: Understanding the capricious God of the Psalms: a review of The Book of Psalms translated by Robert Alter (James Wood October 1, 2007, The New Yorker)

Alter’s translation is especially helpful in these cases, because he is determined to remind his readers that they are reading ancient texts with hybrid origins, not Christian prayers with dedicated destinations. The Psalms (like the Book of Job) were relentlessly Christianized by the King James translators. Nefesh, meaning “life breath” and, by extension, “life,” was translated by Jerome in the Latin Vulgate as anima and then as “soul” in the K.J.V., even though, as Alter points out, soul “strongly suggests a body-soul split—with implications of an afterlife—that is alien to the Hebrew Bible and to Psalms in particular.” The ancient Hebrew word for the shadowy underworld where the dead go, Sheol, was Christianized as “Hell,” even though there is no such concept in the Hebrew Bible. Alter prefers the words “victory” and “rescue” as translations of yeshu‘ah, and eschews the Christian version, which is the heavily loaded “salvation.” And so on. Stripping his English of these artificial cleansers, Alter takes us back to the essence of the meaning. Suddenly, in a world without Heaven, Hell, the soul, and eternal salvation or redemption, the theological stakes seem more local and temporal: “So teach us to number our days.” Psalm 23, again, is greatly refreshed by translation. Everything is clearer, seeming to have been rinsed not in the baptismal water of the New Testament but in the life-giving water of the desert. Verse 3 of the K.J.V. has “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Alter offers “my life He brings back. / He leads me on pathways of justice / for His name’s sake.” God saves not our souls but our lives, in Alter’s version. And instead of God anointing our heads with oil, as in the K.J.V., in Alter’s English “You moisten my head with oil.” A footnote points out that the Hebrew verb is not one used for anointment, “and its associations are sensual rather than sacramental.” By its end, the psalm is no longer an extended Christian analogy (Christ as the Good Shepherd, anointing his flock) but the giving of thanks by a vulnerable tribe to a deity for its protection. The K.J.V. has the last half line of the psalm as “and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Alter slaps a term limit on the eternal, and suggests “And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD / for many long days.” Again, a footnote anchors the decision: “The viewpoint of the poem is in and of the here and now and is in no way eschatological. The speaker hopes for a happy fate all his born days.”

But Alter is musically and poetically sensitive, too, and when the King James translators get something right he lets it be. Psalm 137, my favorite in the book, was written during or after the Babylonian exile of the sixth century B.C.E., when Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians and the Judeans deported. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion,” as the K.J.V. has it. The psalmist goes on to say that their captors taunted them: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” But the exiles had hung their harps on trees rather than “sing the LORD’s song in a strange land.” It is an exceptionally beautiful and complex lament, in which the poet pledges never to forget Jerusalem (“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning”) even as he claims to find it impossible to sing of Jerusalem while in exile. And, in a further twist, the psalm itself represents just such a song of Jerusalem, a remembrance. These paradoxes combine in an electrifying moment in verse 7, when the poet reminds his readers of the awful day when the Babylonians, the enemies of the Jews, razed Jerusalem to the ground:

Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

A few months ago, I was reading this psalm, in the King James Version, and wondering about the powerful repetition of “Rase it, rase it,” and as I said the words out loud I was struck by the genius of the Jacobean translators, who knew, working in the age of Shakespeare, a thing or two about puns and double meanings. “Raze it, raze it” is also, in English, “Raise it, raise it.” It is inconceivable that the seventeenth-century translators did not intuit this doubleness, which is what the poem is about, anyway: even as we remind ourselves that Jerusalem was razed, we are raising it up. Even as we refuse to sing a song of Zion, we are singing a song of Zion. Even as we stay silent, we are making music. There is a splendid anthem by William Byrd, written in the fifteen-eighties, which sets to music a Latin text, later translated into English: “Bow thine ear, O Lord, and hear us: let thine anger cease from us. Sion is wasted and brought low, Jerusalem desolate and void.” The anthem proceeds by repeating a downward series of five notes, and this series creates a falling, dirgelike effect, as it is taken up by all five parts. (The five notes are attached to the words “Bow thine ear, O Lord.”) But when the music reaches the word “Jerusalem” the soprano part lunges upward, an interval of a perfect fifth between “Je” and “rusalem.” The anthem goes down and up at the same time, exactly as the psalm both laments the loss of Jerusalem and finds Jerusalem impossible to lose.

The translator of the Anchor Bible edition of the Psalms exchanges “Rase it, rase it” for the simpler, more brutal “Strip her, strip her,” but Alter, without explaining why, retains “Raze it, raze it, / to its foundation.” I can’t be sure, but I have an idea that this fine literary scholar, with one ear perfectly cocked for English poetry and the other for Hebrew poetry, instinctively understood the verbal power of “Raze it, raze it.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


National extinction and natural law (Spengler, 9/25/07, Asia Times)

National Geographic made headlines last week out of my favorite object lesson in human frailty, namely the extinction of half the world's languages by the end of the century (some other estimates are even more alarming). But it is not just the Nivkh of the Siberian tundra or the Kapayo of the Amazon rain forest who will disappear. At present fertility rates so will the Russians, Japanese, Germans and Italians, not to mention the Persians.

The death of a culture is an uncanny event, for it erases not only the future but also the past, that is, the hopes and fears, the sweat and sacrifice of countless generations whose lives no longer can be remembered, for no living being will sing their songs or tell their stories.

When nations go willingly into that dark night, what should we conclude about human nature? Unlike extinctions of the past, today's cultures are dying of their own apathy rather than by the swords of their enemies. People of dying cultures kill themselves at a frightful rate, as in the case of Brazil's Guarani Indians, who after their displacement from traditional life have the world's highest suicide rate. I long have argued, for that matter, that the Arab suicide bomber is the spiritual cousin of the despondent aboriginal of the Amazon rain forest (Live and let die, Asia Times Online, April 13, 2002).

What was most interesting about the hysteria over dying languages last week was how unDarwinian it was. After all, these peoples aren't going to stop speaking altogether or disappear entirely from the Earth--their inferior languages are simply being replaced by our superior one, just as the process of globalization (The End of History) has seen their inferior cultures replaced by ours. Just as we made the Germans, French, Russians, Italians, Persians, etc. into liberal protestant capitalist democrats, so too are they being made English-Speaking. What could be more Natural?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Nerds After Our Hearts, and Maybe Even Our Respect (ALESSANDRA STANLEY, 9/24/07, NY Times)

“Chuck,” a very funny new comedy on NBC tonight about a computer salesman inadvertently turned secret agent, could not have happened without Bill Gates and Sergey Brin. Or Steve Wozniak, Konrad Zuse, Alan Turing and any of those other smart, spindly men in glasses and short-sleeve shirts who developed the first computers and made it possible for brainy nerds to become billionaire tycoons. [...]

Chuck (Zachary Levi) leads “the nerd herd,” a team of computer technicians who work for a discount megastore called Buy More and make house calls in a red-and-white nerd-herd mobile. He’s not unattractive; he’s certainly less repulsive than his short, hairy and unctuous best friend, Morgan (Joshua Gomez). But Chuck hasn’t had a girlfriend since his college love dumped him for his handsome, athletic roommate. He spends his free time moping and playing computer games.

By the end of the first episode Chuck has stumbled on the most top secret of secrets in the national intelligence community, gone on a date with a gorgeous blond spy and defused a bomb by sending it a computer virus attached to the Web site of a Serbian porn star.

The series is part spy spoof, part workplace comedy, and it is a genuinely engaging homage to the nerd hero.

It is funny, though completely dependent on Chuck's goofy likability and his comic interplay with Morgan in particular. It's a series you can easily see running out of steam after a handful of episodes and it seems to have been named by an executive who doesn't want it to last that long.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Tall, majestic, hardy – the British beechis the king of the forest, argues our leading naturalist (Richard Mabey, Rob Sharp, 24 September 2007, Independent)

The most striking piece of trivia about the Queen beech, a gnarled, knotted old tree in an ancient Hertfordshire woodland, is that it was once a character in a Harry Potter film. The landmark at Frithsden Beeches, just outside London, took a turn as the sometimes violent Whomping Willow in The Prisoner of Azkaban. You can see why the film-makers were struck by it: it looks good for a 350-year-old. Regal limbs creep out from its centre; it has the grandeur of a seen-it-all veteran that has lived since before the Great Fire of London, and taken in plenty more besides.

If one could pick the ideal companion with which to encounter this majestic and spooky scene, it would surely be Richard Mabey. Softly-spoken, intense and erudite, he is one of the "wild bunch" of lyrical writers currently riding a wave of interest in man's relationship with the landscape. His drinking buddies include Crow Country scribe Mark Cocker and Cambridge University don Robert Macfarlane, author of the recent hit The Wild Places. Among his peers, Mabey's name is uttered with a hushed reverence. In the world of the green-fingered literary gurus, he is king.

The beech is Mabey's favourite tree. He spent much of his childhood playing in the beech woods of the Chilterns, and once owned a beech wood himself. He admires the tree's amazing ability to respond to catastrophe. Today, beech woods criss-cross southern England, from Burnham Beeches to the New Forest and the Chilterns.

Unlike the high-profile oak, Mabey calls beeches the "workhorses of the forest". They provide firewood and furniture, and epitomise nature's capacity to respond to change. They also play host to many organisms, from hawks in their branches to toadstools on the ground. The Wild Wood in The Wind in the Willows is, inevitably, a beech wood.

All this is chronicled in Mabey's eagerly-awaited new book, Beechcombings, the Narratives of Trees. Released next month, it describes the beech's characteristics, habitat and mythology, and explores what we, as humans, can learn from the world of trees.

Most people, of course, take beeches for granted. They are viewed as biological barriers to motorway construction. But throughout history, natural selection has provided them with a long-standing ability to adapt to day-to-day environments (an adaptability that makes humans look like sallow, spluttering wrecks in comparison).

Yet, while the whomping capability of trees is imaginary, the chainsaw is a reality.

Beechcombings: The Narratives of Trees: 'I see the tree through a mist, astonished I could be so moved' (Richard Mabey, 24 September 2007, Independent)

Back in Burnham, I'm looking at a spectacularly tilted beech, a high-wire balancing act. It's sloping away from me at an almost impossible angle, about 40 degrees to the vertical – as far as it could go, I'd say, without collapsing under its own weight. Hard to guess how it got into this position. First tilted in a gale maybe, then slowly sinking as it tried to grow itself back to uprightness. The whole core of the tree is missing, maybe discarded as useless ballast, so that the trunk is like a trough. The rims of the trough are massive tension-wood muscles, hauling it back. There is a twisting mesh of crooked branches at the top end pulling it the other way, down towards the ground, so the tree has responded with flaring root hawsers and a long single branch, both growing against the direction of the tilt. The trunk has become a lever, perfectly balancing weight with muscular tension.

I try it myself. I lean forward at the same angle as the tree, imagining my feet pinned down by straps, and trying to pick up a huge weight with my hands. It's a ludicrous posture, and I know it would break my back if I tried it for real. Unless I had tension wood up my spine, doing the pulling.

Burnham is full of humanoid trees like this Weightlifters' beech. A League of Health and Beauty tree, doing an elegant midriff twist. A Stilt-walkers' tree. A beech with a wooden Zimmer frame. All of them are exercised, like us, with the business of keeping a rather disorderly mass of tissue upright in a turbulent world. You are beyond anthropomorphism in Burnham, into a place of more mutual metaphors.

But a few of the pollards have picked up names because of another kind of human association. Gray's beech, supposedly the subject of one of the final stanzas of Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", went down in the 1930s. The remains of a tree called Jenny Lind, on whose roots the Swedish Nightingale used to perch when she was staying at East Burnham Cottage, is surrounded by a safety fence. Mendelssohn's tree, whose dappled shade is said to have inspired him while he was writing the incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, had its top blown off in the gale of January 1990.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


What Is Iraq Costing You? (Larry Beinhart, September 24, 2007, AlterNet)

The War in Iraq has cost about $453,000,000,000 (four hundred and fifty-three billion dollars) to date.

That's pretty hard to grasp. Especially on my income and probably on yours.

Mr. Beinhart's math must be worse than mine or he'd presumably not be arguing that a total of less than 1/28th of one year's GDP is too high a price to pay for liberating the Iraqis from a genocidal tyrant. Indeed, the war was so inexpensive that it raises questions about how we can justify tolerating other evil regimes--like Burma's, Cuba's, Zimbabwe's, Syria's, etc..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 AM


Romney keeps distance from Bush: Unlike other GOP hopefuls, he offers no words of support for the president. It's a risky strategy. (Cathleen Decker, September 24, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney stepped further Sunday down a potentially treacherous path -- distancing himself from a Republican president who, though generally unpopular, retains the overwhelming support of most of those who will vote in the party's primaries.

In a nationally broadcast television ad and in comments Sunday at Chapman University in Orange, Romney implicitly suggested that the party had gone off course in the years President Bush had been in office and when Republicans controlled Congress.

When one questioner from the Chapman audience described Bush as "one of the most divisive presidents that we've had in a long, long time," the president got no words of support from Romney.

"In Washington, somehow we seem broken," the former Massachusetts governor said. "Washington is a mess."

In the ad, Romney strikes the same note.

"It's time for Republicans to start acting like Republicans," he says, echoing remarks from recent campaign events. "It's time for a change, and change begins with us."

While Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment was that you should never badmouth another Republican, Mr. Romney's ad--which ran in NH during the Patriot's game yesterday -- sells out the entire Party and the Commander-in Chief.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


The AOL Full CD Listening Party is currently making the previously-mentioned disc 100 Days, 100 Nights, by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, available.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Head Size and IQ: Is There a Link? (Jennifer Viegas, Sept. 24, 2007, Discovery News)

Big-headed people could be brainier too, according to a new analysis of a 1939 study comparing head size and intelligence in a group of male prisoners.

September 23, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


Land of the rising geriatrics: In any other country, 100th birthdays are a cause for celebration. Not so in Japan, where extraordinary life expectancy is creating a timebomb for the nation's health and social security systems. (Jeremy Laurance, 24 September 2007, Independent)

Japan is facing an ageing crisis as its elderly population grows. It is the fastest ageing society in the world and one in five Japanese people is over 65. By 2015, that proportion will have grown to a quarter – 33.8 million people – and it is projected to rise to 40 per cent by 2055. At the same time, the birth rate is falling because of the same social pressures facing western nations – later marriages, more women going to work and the trend for having smaller families. In 1949, Japanese women had an average of 4.32 children in their lifetime but this had halved by 1971. The birth rate has plunged further to 1.26 today, well below the replacement rate. As a result, Japan's population is projected to fall from its current 127 million to 90 million by 2055.

No country in the world has faced a challenge on this scale. As its elderly population grows, medical and pensions costs are surging but the number in the labour force who pay taxes to support the country's welfare system is falling. Thanks to Japan's long economic recession, which began with a stock market crash in 1989, the government debt is already the highest among developed nations. Today, there are three people of working age to support each person 65 but that number will have fallen to 1.2 by 2055.

Ed Wright, the First Secretary for Science and Health at the British Embassy in Tokyo, said: "It's a tough time to be 50 in Japan. People sold themselves to their companies in the 1970s in anticipation of a comfortable retirement. Now they have fears about job security, house prices which are worth a quarter of what they were. The stock market, which peaked at 40,000 points in 1989, now stands at 16,000, having been down to 7,000. They also worry about health insurance."

The ageing juggernaut about to hit Japan is heading down the tracks in all developed countries, and threatens social and economic meltdown on a global scale. That is why the world is watching closely to see how the Japanese cope. The government has responded on three fronts – with a new insurance scheme for the elderly, a strategy to stem the rise of obesity and other lifestyle diseases, and the introduction of hefty patient contributions to curb demand for healthcare. Will it be enough? [...]

The government is struggling to tackle a triple threat from the growing number of elderly, the incursion of western lifestyles and the increasing demands on the health system – with mixed results. In 2000, a long-term care insurance scheme was launched to which everyone over 40 is required to contribute an average of £20 a month. The fund is used to pay for care for the elderly, whose needs are ranked on a scale, either in their own homes or in care homes such as the one occupied by Mrs Matsumara. But the scheme has already run into difficulty as demand has vastly exceeded supply. Hence, the premium has been raised 40 per cent in five years and elderly applicants have been re-classified to a lower dependency level in order to reduce their benefits. The changes have raised doubts about the viability of the scheme and heightened the sense of insecurity about the future.

Dr Testuro Ichida, the head physician at his privately-run Ichida Hospital, said: "Many of us in the field feel the long-term care system is collapsing. There is not enough to pay decent wages to care assistants. We already have four patients over 100 in our hospital, and there will be many more."

In a further effort to restrain costs, the government has announced that, from next year, health insurers will be required to offer medical checks to anyone over 40. The aim is to reduce the burden of chronic diseases such as diabetes, which affects almost 20 million Japanese. A target to reduce diabetes by 25 per cent by 2015 has been set. In Britain, such a scheme would be unlikely to change people's behaviour on the scale required but in the more conformist society of Japan, it is already paying dividends. Staff health checks introduced by the car-maker Mitsubishi are claimed to have reduced risk factors by 30 per cent after lifestyle problems were identified.

On a third front, the government has massively increased the level of patient contributions – called "co-payments" – to the costs of healthcare. is that the growing majority of consumers won't dun themselves ever more for the services when they can just tax the providers more heavily.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:07 AM


Death of an Innocent: How Christopher McCandless lost his way in the wilds (Jon Krakauer, January 1993, Outside magazine)

James Gallien had driven five miles out of Fairbanks when he spotted the hitchhiker standing in the snow beside the road, thumb raised high, shivering in the gray Alaskan dawn. A rifle protruded from the young man's pack, but he looked friendly enough; a hitchhiker with a Remington semiautomatic isn't the sort of thing that gives motorists pause in the 49th state. Gallien steered his four-by-four onto the shoulder and told him to climb in.

The hitchhiker introduced himself as Alex. "Alex?" Gallien responded, fishing for a last name.

"Just Alex," the young man replied, pointedly rejecting the bait. He explained that he wanted a ride as far as the edge of Denali National Park, where he intended to walk deep into the bush and "live off the land for a few months." Alex's backpack appeared to weigh only 25 or 30 pounds, which struck Gallien, an accomplished outdoorsman, as an improbably light load for a three-month sojourn in the backcountry, especially so early in the spring. Immediately Gallien began to wonder if he'd picked up one of those crackpots from the Lower 48 who come north to live out their ill-considered Jack London fantasies. Alaska has long been a magnet for unbalanced souls, often outfitted with little more than innocence and desire, who hope to find their footing in the unsullied enormity of the Last Frontier. The bush, however, is a harsh place and cares nothing for hope or longing. More than a few such dreamers have met predictably unpleasant ends.

As they got to talking during the three-hour drive, though, Alex didn't strike Gallien as your typical misfit. He was congenial, seemed well educated, and peppered Gallien with sensible questions about "what kind of small game lived in the country, what kind of berries he could eat, that kind of thing."

Still, Gallien was concerned: Alex's gear seemed excessively slight for the rugged conditions of the interior bush, which in April still lay buried under the winter snowpack. He admitted that the only food in his pack was a ten-pound bag of rice. He had no compass; the only navigational aid in his possession was a tattered road map he'd scrounged at a gas station, and when they arrived where Alex asked to be dropped off, he left the map in Gallien's truck, along with his watch, his comb, and all his money, which amounted to 85 cents. "I don't want to know what time it is," Alex declared cheerfully. "I don't want to know what day it is, or where I am. None of that matters."

During the drive south toward the mountains, Gallien had tried repeatedly to dissuade Alex from his plan, to no avail. He even offered to drive Alex all the way to Anchorage so he could at least buy the kid some decent gear. "No, thanks anyway," Alex replied. "I'll be fine with what I've got." When Gallien asked whether his parents or some friend knew what he was up to--anyone who could sound the alarm if he got into trouble and was overdue--Alex answered calmly that, no, nobody knew of his plans, that in fact he hadn't spoken to his family in nearly three years. "I'm absolutely positive," he assured Gallien, "I won't run into anything I can't deal with on my own."

"There was just no talking the guy out of it," Gallien recalls. "He was determined. He couldn't wait to head out there and get started." So Gallien drove Alex to the head of the Stampede Trail, an old mining track that begins ten miles west of the town of Healy, convinced him to accept a tuna melt and a pair of rubber boots to keep his feet dry, and wished him good luck. Alex pulled a camera from his backpack and asked Gallien to snap a picture of him. Then, smiling broadly, he disappeared down the snow-covered trail. The date was Tuesday, April 28, 1992.

More than four months passed before Gallien heard anything more of the hitchhiker. His real name turned out to be Christopher J. McCandless. He was the product of a happy family from an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C. And although he wasn't burdened with a surfeit of common sense and possessed a streak of stubborn idealism that did not readily mesh with the realities of modern life, he was no psychopath. McCandless was in fact an honors graduate of Emory University, an accomplished athlete, and a veteran of several solo excursions into wild, inhospitable terrain.

An extremely intense young man, McCandless had been captivated by the writing of Leo Tolstoy. He particularly admired the fact that the great novelist had forsaken a life of wealth and privilege to wander among the destitute. For several years he had been emulating the count's asceticism and moral rigor to a degree that astonished and occasionally alarmed those who knew him well. When he took leave of James Gallien, McCandless entertained no illusions that he was trekking into Club Med; peril, adversity, and Tolstoyan renunciation were what he was seeking. And that is precisely what he found on the Stampede Trail, in spades.

For most of 16 weeks McCandless more than held his own. Indeed, were it not for one or two innocent and seemingly insignificant blunders he would have walked out of the Alaskan woods in July or August as anonymously as he walked into them in April. Instead, the name of Chris McCandless has become the stuff of tabloid headlines, and his bewildered family is left clutching the shards of a fierce and painful love.

On the northern margin of the Alaska Range, just before the hulking escarpments of Denali and its satellites surrender to the low Kantishna plain, a series of lesser ridges known as the Outer Ranges sprawls across the flats like a rumpled blanket on an unmade bed. Between the flinty crests of the two outermost Outer Ranges runs an east-west trough, maybe five miles across, carpeted in a boggy amalgam of muskeg, alder thickets, and scrawny spruce. Meandering through this tangled, rolling bottomland is the Stampede Trail, the route Chris McCandless followed into the wilderness.

Twenty or so miles due west of Healy, not far from the boundary of Denali National Park, a derelict bus--a blue and white, 1940s-vintage International from the Fairbanks City Transit System--rusts incongruously in the fireweed beside the Stampede Trail. Many winters ago the bus was fitted with bedding and a crude barrel stove, then skidded into the bush by enterprising hunters to serve as a backcountry shelter. These days it isn't unusual for nine or ten months to pass without the bus seeing a human visitor, but on September 6, 1992, six people in three separate parties happened to visit it on the same afternoon, including Ken Thompson, Gordon Samel, and Ferdie Swanson, moose hunters who drove in on all-terrain vehicles.

When they arrived at the bus, says Thompson, they found "a guy and a girl from Anchorage standing 50 feet away, looking kinda spooked. A real bad smell was coming from inside the bus, and there was this weird note tacked by the door." The note, written in neat block letters on a page torn from a novel by Gogol, read: "S.O.S. I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out of here. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless. August?"

The Anchorage couple had been too upset by the implications of the note to examine the bus's interior, so Thompson and Samel steeled themselves to take a look. A peek through a window revealed a .22-caliber rifle, a box of shells, some books and clothing, a backpack, and, on a makeshift bunk in the rear of the vehicle, a blue sleeping bag that appeared to have something or someone inside it.

"It was hard to be absolutely sure," says Samel. "I stood on a stump, reached through a back window, and gave the bag a shake. There was definitely something in it, but whatever it was didn't weigh much. It wasn't until I walked around to the other side and saw a head sticking out that I knew for certain what it was." Chris McCandless had been dead for some two and a half weeks. [...]

When news of McCandless's fate came to light, most Alaskans were quick to dismiss him as a nut case. According to the conventional wisdom he was simply one more dreamy, half-cocked greenhorn who went into the bush expecting to find answers to all his problems and instead found nothing but mosquitoes and a lonely death.

Dozens of marginal characters have gone into the Alaskan backcountry over the years, never to reappear. A few have lodged firmly in the state's collective memory. There is, for example, the sad tale of John Mallon Waterman, a visionary climber much celebrated for making one of the most astonishing first ascents in the history of North American mountaineering--an extremely dangerous 145-day solo climb of Mount Hunter's Southeast Spur. Upon completing this epic deed in 1979, though, he found that instead of putting his demons to rest, success merely agitated them.

In the years that followed, Waterman's mind unraveled. He took to prancing around Fairbanks in a black cape and announced he was running for president under the banner of the Feed the Starving Party, the main priority of which was to ensure that nobody on the planet died of hunger. To publicize his campaign he laid plans to make a solo ascent of Denali, in winter, with a minimum of food.

After his first attempt on the mountain was aborted prematurely, Waterman committed himself to the Anchorage Psychiatric Institute but checked out after two weeks, convinced that there was a conspiracy afoot to put him away permanently. Then, in the winter of 1981, he launched another solo attempt on Denali. He was last placed on the upper Ruth Glacier, heading unroped through the middle of a deadly crevasse field en route to the mountain's difficult East Buttress, carrying neither sleeping bag nor tent. He was never seen after that, but a note was later found atop some of his gear in a nearby shelter. It read, "3-13-81 My last kiss 1:42 PM."

Perhaps inevitably, parallels have been drawn between John Waterman and Chris McCandless. Comparisons have also been made between McCandless and Carl McCunn, a likable, absentminded Texan who in 1981 paid a bush pilot to drop him at a lake deep in the Brooks Range to photograph wildlife. He flew in with 500 rolls of film and 1,400 pounds of provisions but forgot to arrange for the pilot to pick him up again. Nobody realized he was missing until state troopers came across his body a year later, lying beside a 100-page diary that documented his demise. Rather than starve, McCunn had reclined in his tent and shot himself in the head.

There are similarities among Waterman, McCunn, and McCandless, most notably a certain dreaminess and a paucity of common sense. But unlike Waterman, McCandless was not mentally unbalanced. And unlike McCunn, he didn't go into the bush assuming that someone would magically appear to bring him out again before he came to grief.

McCandless doesn't really conform to the common bush-casualty stereotype: He wasn't a kook, he wasn't an outcast, and although he was rash and incautious to the point of foolhardiness, he was hardly incompetent or he would never have lasted 113 days.

In what sens is someone so foolhardy as to make his own death at least not unlikely not a kook?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


The Public Editor: Betraying Its Own Best Interests (CLARK HOYT, 9/23/07, NY Times)

FOR nearly two weeks, The New York Times has been defending a political advertisement that critics say was an unfair shot at the American commander in Iraq.

But I think the ad violated The Times’s own written standards, and the paper now says that the advertiser got a price break it was not entitled to. [...]

Did get favored treatment from The Times? And was the ad outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse?

The answer to the first question is that paid what is known in the newspaper industry as a standby rate of $64,575 that it should not have received under Times policies. The group should have paid $142,083. The Times had maintained for a week that the standby rate was appropriate, but a company spokeswoman told me late Thursday afternoon that an advertising sales representative made a mistake.

The answer to the second question is that the ad appears to fly in the face of an internal advertising acceptability manual that says, “We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature.” Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the ad, said that, while it was “rough,” he regarded it as a comment on a public official’s management of his office and therefore acceptable speech for The Times to print.

By the end of last week the ad appeared to have backfired on both and fellow opponents of the war in Iraq — and on The Times. It gave the Bush administration and its allies an opportunity to change the subject from questions about an unpopular war to defense of a respected general with nine rows of ribbons on his chest, including a Bronze Star with a V for valor. And it gave fresh ammunition to a cottage industry that loves to bash The Times as a bastion of the “liberal media.” [...]

For me, two values collided here: the right of free speech — even if it’s abusive speech — and a strong personal revulsion toward the name-calling and personal attacks that now pass for political dialogue, obscuring rather than illuminating important policy issues. For The Times, there is another value: the protection of its brand as a newspaper that sets a high standard for civility.

Has he ever read their editorial page?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


The Day Louis Armstrong Made Noise (DAVID MARGOLICK, 9/23/07, NY Times)

With the connivance of the bell captain, [Larry Lubenow] snuck into Mr. Armstrong’s suite with a room service lobster dinner. And Mr. Armstrong, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, agreed to talk. Mr. Lubenow stuck initially to his editor’s script, asking Mr. Armstrong to name his favorite musician. (Bing Crosby, it turned out.) But soon he brought up Little Rock, and he could not believe what he heard. “It’s getting almost so bad a colored man hasn’t got any country,” a furious Mr. Armstrong told him. President Eisenhower, he charged, was “two faced,” and had “no guts.” For Governor Faubus, he used a double-barreled hyphenated expletive, utterly unfit for print. The two settled on something safer: “uneducated plow boy.” The euphemism, Mr. Lubenow says, was far more his than Mr. Armstrong’s.

Mr. Armstrong bitterly recounted some of his experiences touring in the Jim Crow South. He then sang the opening bar of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” inserting obscenities into the lyrics and prompting Velma Middleton, the vocalist who toured with Mr. Armstrong and who had joined them in the room, to hush him up.

Mr. Armstrong had been contemplating a good-will tour to the Soviet Union for the State Department. “They ain’t so cold but what we couldn’t bruise them with happy music,” he had said. Now, though, he confessed to having second thoughts. “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell,” he said, offering further choice words about the secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. “The people over there ask me what’s wrong with my country. What am I supposed to say?”

Mr. Lubenow, who came from a small North Dakota farming community, was shocked by what he heard, but he also knew he had a story; he skipped the concert and went back to the paper to write it up. It was too late to get it in his own paper; nor would the Associated Press editor in Minneapolis, dubious that Mr. Armstrong could have said such things, put it on the national wire, at least until Mr. Lubenow could prove he hadn’t made it all up. So the next morning Mr. Lubenow returned to the Dakota Hotel and, as Mr. Armstrong shaved, had the Herald photographer take their picture together. Then Mr. Lubenow showed Mr. Armstrong what he’d written. “Don’t take nothing out of that story,” Mr. Armstrong declared. “That’s just what I said, and still say.” He then wrote “solid” on the bottom of the yellow copy paper, and signed his name.

The article ran all over the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


When Harry Met Sal: The birth of the man-crush romantic comedy (Justin Shubow, 9/21/07, National Review)

As movie genres go, the romantic comedy should be dead. Born in the fast-talking screwball comedies of the 1930s, the simple formula of “meet-lose-get” has been followed in so many films, and in so many permutations, that its possibilities should be exhausted. Hollywood has even strip-mined the genre’s name, with “rom com” being the stubby remains. But new life has recently come from surprising sources: Superbad and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, two movies that, while middling in themselves, should be seen as following and expanding upon an innovative precedent first set by Wedding Crashers, that of the man-crush romantic comedy.

Although it seems to have gone unnoticed, the secret to Wedding Crashers success was that it was a romantic comedy in which the two buddies are the real couple. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey, divorce mediators by day who are the ultimate pick-up-artist team on the wedding circuit. They are such best friends that every year for John’s birthday, Jeremy brings over his sleeping bag for a mini slumber party. But when John discovers that Jeremy is dating a woman behind his back, the friends fight and break up, with John going so far as to call Jeremy a hillbilly and white trash, the same exact insults they heard from a divorcing couple at the beginning of the movie.

Attempting to patch things up, Jeremy shows up unannounced with his sleeping bag on John’s birthday. He confesses, “I miss seeing ya’…You know I love you.” But though that bold move fails, John later succeeds with his own grand gesture when he makes a surprise entrance at Jeremy’s wedding. Happily reunited, the pair return to their wedding-crashing ways at the end of the movie, though now with their female love-interests in tow.

Seen in this light, the arc of their friendship is straight out of a romantic comedy: the courtship/relationship, the breakup, and the grand gesture leading to permanent reconciliation.

This doesn't seem an especially new phenomenon. All buddy flicks are in good part romances, but none moreso than Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid. There, not only is the relationship between the two magnetic leads far too strong for a competing one of either with any woman to be plausible, but the female lead is such a cipher that no viewer can be more attracted to her than to the men. You have to go back to the Myrna Loys and Katherine Hepburns of the world to find leading leaders who had enough character--rather than the mere good looks of most modern actresses--to present serious rivals to male bonding.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


In Swing Districts, Democratic Enthusiasm Is Harder to Come By (Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray, September 23, 2007, Washington Post)

Conventional wisdom dictates that Democratic voters are thrilled with their choices for president, bursting at the seams to rally behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) or whoever gets the party's nod next year.

A recent survey by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, however, showed Clinton and Obama trailing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) in the 31 Democratic-held House districts regarded as most imperiled in 2008, and even potentially serving as a drag on those lawmakers' reelection chances.

The poll was conducted in August but has not been previously reported. It paints a "sobering picture" for Democrats, according to a memo by Lake and Daniel Gotoff that accompanies the poll report.

Giuliani takes 49 percent to Clinton's 39 percent, while the former mayor's lead over Obama is far smaller, 41 percent to 40 percent. "Despite Obama's relative advantage over Clinton, both candidates are significantly underperforming against the generic Democratic edge in the presidential and even against party identification," Lake and Gotoff wrote.

The news gets worse for Obama and Clinton as one delves deeper into the survey.

While the average lead of Democratic House members stands at 19 percentage points in the 31 vulnerable districts -- all but two of which are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's incumbent-protection program known as Frontline -- that number sinks considerably when the lawmakers are linked to either front-runner.

Obama finds 'beer voters' hard to tap John McCormick, September 23, 2007 , Chicago Tribune)
A former Harvard Law Review president and constitutional law lecturer at the University of Chicago, Obama can sometimes seem professorial. It is one of the reasons he sometimes fails to connect with working-class voters.

Pollsters call Bren and those like her "beer-track" voters, while those with higher incomes and more education are dubbed "wine-track" voters. The first group tends to care more about pocketbook issues. The second places greater value on more global matters.

Wine-track voters can provide money, votes and other important resources for a campaign, but it is the beer-track voters who have proved critical for winning the Democratic nomination.

Intellectual liberals with outsider messages who fail to connect with this demographic group have often failed. Think Bill Bradley in 2000 and Howard Dean in 2004.

So far, Obama has done well attracting the Chardonnay crowd, but he has had less success winning over Joe Sixpack.

...he'd have the Democrats nominate a liberal woman from New York or a black Senator.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


North Korean Official Meets Syrian Delegation (AP, 9/23/07)

Kim Yong Nam, head of the North's rubber-stamp legislature and titular head of state, had ''a friendly talk'' with the Syrian delegation, led by Saaeed Eleia Dawood, director of the organizational department of Syria's Baath Arab Socialist Party, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported.

...that's called a target rich environment.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Frustrations Drive Saudi Youth to the Graffiti Wall: Young Men Protest Cultural Strictures (Faiza Saleh Ambah, 9/23/07, Washington Post)

Like many of his generation, Alwani, a slight 20-year-old with an Afro tinted volcano red, is buffeted between the Western culture piped into his life via satellite television and the Internet and the strict religious culture prevalent around him.

"I want graffiti walls like they have in the West. We need soccer fields and basketball courts in every neighborhood," said Alwani, who prefers low-riding jeans to the traditional white robe commonly worn here. "And I want to dress the way I want without people making fun of me."

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy and one of the world's most socially repressive societies, also has one of the world's youngest populations, with more than 50 percent of its 22 million citizens younger than 21.

A strict form of Islam implemented by powerful clerics forces stores to close during the five daily prayers and forbids unrelated men and women to mingle in public. The result is that cinemas and theaters are banned, public schools are segregated beginning in first grade, women are not allowed to drive, and single men without female family members cannot enter most shopping malls.

Abo-Umara, the municipality official and a father of four, was criticized by colleagues for turning Alwani into a local celebrity instead of making an example out of him for vandals who have cost the city close to $1 million in graffiti cleanup.

But Abo-Umara, 45, said young men like Alwani should not be held accountable until officials are sure they've done right by local youth.

"What have we done for young people? Have we asked them what they need or want?" said Abo-Umara, wearing a flowing white head scarf and long robe. "Until I talk to them and find out why they are scribbling all over Jiddah and do my part in offering them the services we're supposed to provide, then I can't punish or criticize them."

True to his word, Abo-Umara held a two-day workshop called "What Do Youth Want From Jiddah?" in July, shortly after his meeting with Alwani. More than 200 young men and women attended, on separate days, and their list of demands included cinemas, public libraries, and music and art centers.

The young women asked for private beaches for women and girls, for at least widows and divorced women to be permitted to drive, and for boys who harass them to be fined.

Both groups requested sports facilities, of which there are very few in Saudi Arabia.

Abo-Umara was able to implement one demand immediately: walls dedicated to graffiti.

Al Qaeda isn't wrong that their enemy is the penetration of their lands by our culture. They're just wrong to think they can resist it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Falling German birthrate dispels baby miracle myth (Nicholas Kulish, September 23, 2007, IHT)

A United Nations report this year called this global aging "a process without parallel in the history of humanity" and predicted that people older than 60 would outnumber those under 15 for the first time in 2047. The twin forces of rising life expectancy and falling birthrates have accelerated the process.

Although the German government has begun to address the issue, it was particularly slow out of the blocks in dealing with its low birthrate, and, since 2003, the contraction of its population, in that first year by just 5,000 people, but in 2006 by 130,000. The German population stands at 82.4 million people. [...]

According to European Union statistics, the crude birthrate - defined as births per thousand inhabitants - has declined in Germany in each of the last nine years, from 9.9 in 1997 to 8.2 in 2006. Even after factoring in immigration, the German population is experiencing "exponential negative growth," Klingholz said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Welcome or Not, Orthodoxy Is Back in Russia’s Public Schools (CLIFFORD J. LEVY, 9/23/07, NY Times)

Nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the return of religion to public life, localities in Russia are increasingly decreeing that to receive a proper public school education, children should be steeped in the ways of the Russian Orthodox Church, including its traditions, liturgy and historic figures.

The lessons are typically introduced at the urging of church leaders, who say the enforced atheism of Communism left Russians out of touch with a faith that was once at the core of their identity.

The new curriculum reflects the nation’s continuing struggle to define what it means to be Russian in the post-Communist era and what role religion should play after being brutally suppressed under Soviet rule. Yet the drive by a revitalized church to weave its tenets into the education system has prompted a backlash, and not only from the remains of the Communist Party.

Opponents assert that the Russian Orthodox leadership is weakening the constitutional separation of church and state by proselytizing in public schools. They say Russia is a multiethnic, pluralistic nation and risks alienating its large Muslim minority if Russian Orthodoxy takes on the trappings of a state religion.

The church calls those accusations unfounded, maintaining that the courses are cultural, not religious.

In Ms. Donshina’s class at least, the children seem to have their own understanding of a primary theme of the course. “One has to love God,” said Kristina Posobilova. “We should believe in God only.”

The dispute came to a head recently when 10 prominent Russian scientists, including two Nobel laureates, sent a letter to President Vladimir V. Putin, protesting what they termed the “growing clericalization” of Russian society. In addition to criticizing religious teachings in public schools, the scientists attacked church efforts to obtain recognition of degrees in theology, and the presence of Russian Orthodox chaplains in the military.

Note that the scientists would disapprove of America as well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Israelis seized nuclear material in Syrian raid (Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter, 9/23/07, Times of London)

Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusalem.

The attack was launched with American approval on September 6 after Washington was shown evidence the material was nuclear related, the well-placed sources say.

They confirmed that samples taken from Syria for testing had been identified as North Korean. [...]

Diplomats in North Korea and China believe a number of North Koreans were killed in the strike, based on reports reaching Asian governments about conversations between Chinese and North Korean officials.

Syrian officials flew to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, last week, reinforcing the view that the two nations were coordinating their response.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


Operation Groundhog Day: the final assault on a stubborn enemy: 'If Operation Palk Wahel fails, many other things will fail.' (Raymond Whitaker, 23 September 2007, Independent)

British forces are spearheading an offensive this weekend aimed at driving the Taliban out of a strategically vital area of southern Afghanistan. The battle could also decide whether other Nato members are willing to continue fighting in the country.

Some 2,000 British troops, including Gurkhas, are taking part in Operation Palk Wahel ("sledgehammer blow") in Helmand province, the largest for several months. The assault began on Wednesday with a bridge being thrown across the Helmand river to get at Taliban strongholds close to the Kajaki dam, which could supply hydro-electricity and irrigation water to a large area of southern Afghanistan if it is restored. Another 500 American, Estonian, Czech, Danish and Afghan soldiers have joined the offensive, supported by helicopters, attack aircraft and the first large-scale use of Warrior armoured vehicles.

Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Eaton, the spokesman for Task Force Helmand, told The Independent on Sunday that Palk Wahel continued a series of operations since early summer which aimed to free areas from Taliban interference, supply security and create the conditions for governance and development. But Christopher Langton, an Afghanistan expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the latest offensive was the most significant.

"With winter approaching, there are only another three to four weeks to secure the area," said Mr Langton, a retired colonel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


A Resilient Leader Trumpets Brazil’s Potential in Agriculture and Biofuels (ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, 9/23/07, NY Times)

Fresh from a trip to Europe, where he stirred interest in Brazil’s sugar-based ethanol fuel and won billions of dollars in investment pledges, Mr. da Silva was instead focused on the economy.

Exports of Brazil’s raw commodities like soybeans and iron ore are booming as a result of high global prices and insatiable demand from Asia. In one sign of Brazil’s economic health, as the subprime credit crisis was roiling the United States a few weeks ago, Brazil’s bonds were raised to just below investment grade.

He said that Latin America as a whole was at a critical moment, when it needed to seize the opportunity to shore up its economies, notorious for mismanagement and corruption.

At the same time, he shrugged off suggestions that he should seek to be a hemispheric force and a stronger counterweight to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who has aggressively seized the spotlight in the region with his energy deal-making and political maneuvering in favor of left-wing candidates.

“We in Latin America are not trying to look for a leader,” Mr. da Silva said. “We don’t need a leader. What we need to do is build political harmony because South America and Latin America need to learn the lesson of the 20th century. We had the opportunity to grow, we had the opportunity to develop ourselves, and we lost that opportunity. So we still continue to be poor countries.

“What I want is to govern my country well.”

As Mr. da Silva heads to New York on Sunday for a United Nations meeting, he is relentlessly pitching Brazil’s agricultural potential and energy experience, especially in ethanol, which Brazil makes from sugar cane, a source more efficient than corn.

With ample arable land that is the envy of the world, and a 20-year head start on developing a biofuels industry, Brazil is the only country exporting ethanol in any significant quantities.

Mr. da Silva predicted that within 15 years a global biofuels industry would be developed, with the commodity being shipped around the world on tankers for a global price.

“I believe that the world will yield to biofuels,” he said.

He found a receptive audience recently in Sweden, where he rode in an all-ethanol-powered bus in Stockholm, one of 600 buses, he said, that the Swedish government had retrofitted for use with biofuels. Sweden wants every new car on the road to run on renewable fuels by 2020. The European Union has recommended its countries add 5.7 percent ethanol to the gasoline supply by 2010.

“We will democratize energy access,” he said. “Instead of 10 countries producing oil, we could have 120 countries producing biofuels.”

In other words, provide a counterweight to VZ, no?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Dissident reveals his hand in Burma protests (Anuj Chopra in Ragoon and Colin Freeman, 23/09/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

A pro-democracy leader who tops the "wanted" list of Burma's military rulers has revealed to The Sunday Telegraph how his movement has helped orchestrate the escalating street protests against the country's dictatorship.

In a rare interview granted while on the run from the secret police, a veteran of the "1988 generation" – the student group whose last rebellion was brutally crushed – said his members had been secretly liaising with the Buddhist monks who have taken to the streets in recent days.

While the monks have so far been the public face of the protest – the biggest and boldest in more than a decade – the campaigner's comments are the first public confirmation that the two groups are working to form a joint challenge to the regime.

During a secret meeting in Burma's former capital, Rangoon, the activist, speaking under the pseudonym of "Mr Saw", told of his hopes that, this time, the country's generals might lose their nerve rather than respond with force.

Up to 3,000 people died in the suppression of the 1988 uprising, but such is the dire state of Burma's economy now that many of its 53 million people feel they have little left to lose.

Suu Kyi lends support as thousands march in Burmese capital: Burgeoning alliance of protesting monks and civilians poses biggest challenge to military regime in 20 years (Andrew Buncombe, 23 September 2007, Independent)
Burma's imprisoned democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, made a rare public appearance yesterday when thousands of Burmese monks, marching in protest against the military regime, passed the Rangoon property where she is under house arrest.

Ms Suu Kyi, hardly seen during her most recent term of confinement, which began four years ago, came to her gate and greeted the monks. She looked "fit and well", according to one protester who saw her. "The monks just walked past, chanting holy scriptures peacefully," one young man who had been following the procession told Reuters. "I saw 'Auntie Suu' inside the compound."

In the Burmese city of Mandalay, meanwhile, between 5,000 and 10,000 people marched in the largest of the protests that have electrified Burma over the past five days.

The alliance of Ms Suu Kyi and the Buddhist clergy could be crucial as the Burmese regime confronts its most sustained challenge in two decades.

"Aung San Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since 30 May 2003, when her convoy was attacked by [government-sponsored] thugs," said Mark Farmaner, of Burma Campaign UK. "By visiting her the monks are putting their spiritual authority behind the democracy movement. It is a strong message of unity."

Burma poised for junta to strike (MICHAEL CASEY, 9/23/07, Scotland on Sunday)
THE crunch may come as early as this evening. At 8pm, across the troubled country still known to most as Burma, citizens have been urged to pray outside their homes in support of the monks peacefully challenging the brutal military junta which has been in power for more than 40 years.

If they turn out in their thousands, the junta in Myanmar will know that the rebelling monks have the wider community behind them. The dilemma for the ruling elite will be whether to allow the protests to continue to escalate - revealing the leadership's weakness - or whether to revert to type.

Aung Zaw, a Myanmarese editor of a current affairs magazine safely published in neighbouring Thailand, expects the latter as the military leadership has always resolved such challenges by force.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Fans in a Froth for the Mug in Which Bernie Brewer Bathed (VINCENT M. MALLOZZI, 9/23/07, NY Times)

The controversy over Bernie Brewer’s beer mug has come to a head in Milwaukee.

Todd Achtner, a lifelong Brewers fan, is leading an online charge to bring back the beer barrel, mug and chalet belonging to Bernie Brewer. They were a fixture at County Stadium but did not move with the team to Miller Park in 2001.

“It’s a tradition that fans love and want back at the ballpark,” said Achtner, a 27-year-old security guard from Appleton, Wis. “Bernie Brewer’s old routine was one of the best home run celebrations ever.”

Through Friday, the petition had 260 signatures on the Web site The Brewers’ front office is aware of it.

“We’re considering the possibility of bringing back Bernie’s beer mug, but we haven’t made any determinations yet,” said Rick Schlesinger, the executive vice president for business operations with the Brewers. “Quite frankly, we have a lot of other projects that have a higher priority.”

When The Wife was in med school in Chicago I coaxed her up to County Stadium for a game on the basis of four attractions: the classic A&W drive-in that's halfway between the two cities; the brewery tours; Bernie Brewer; & the sausage race. Unfortunately, Pabst Brewery was closed, there was no race, and the Brewers were so bad no one hit a homerun. Only the rootbeer float and the tiny mugs got me off the hook.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Velvet Revolutionary: TO THE CASTLE AND BACK By Vaclav Havel. Translated by Paul Wilson (Paul Berman, NY Times Book Review)

[M]ostly the flickering anecdotes and commentaries illuminate the implausible incongruities that make up Havel’s strange and appealing personality. Self-effacement is his first instinct. He insists that he has never entertained political ambitions. And yet, as if to show that his modesty is never false, and that self-effacement is not his only instinct, he goes on to remark that most of the historic statements and documents of the anti-Communist dissident movement in his corner of the world were written by himself, and that his rise to leadership followed simply from his superior talent for cool and orderly thinking. He began as a playwright and a man of the arts, and his earliest friends in the non-Communist West, back in cold war times, leaned in pacifist and anticapitalist directions, artsy-style. Yet those were not his own leanings. He never doubted, for instance, that military action was a good idea against the Serbian nationalism of Slobodan Milosevic.

He worries about what he calls “the old European disease, which is the tendency to make compromises with evil, to close one’s eyes to dictatorship, to practice a politics of appeasement.” He disapproves of every single aspect of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq crisis, except for the part about getting rid of Saddam Hussein, which Havel still thinks was a legitimate thing to do. His sense of right and wrong on the largest of political questions seems to be absolute, as if based on religious convictions — possibly on Christianity in some vague fashion, to judge by some of his remarks. He invokes a philosophical God called Being. Yet he never clarifies or explains these religious and philosophical hints — not in this book, nor in any of his other writings translated into English, nor in his interviews. Ten years ago I had the opportunity to interview Havel, and I did my best to get him to plumb the depths of Being for my benefit and the world’s. He plumbed the depths of NATO instead, and in “To the Castle and Back” he still natters on about NATO, and he still leaves an impression that Being undergirds his faith in it. Even his political ideals are hard to define, beyond the fundamentals of liberal democracy. Post-Communist society disappoints him. He would like to move along to a post-post-Communism. Yet he says nothing at all, not in this book, anyway, about the possible shapes that a new and better post-post society might take.

He is inscrutable, and this may be his genius.

Address by Vaclav Havel President of the Czech Republic to the Senate and the House of Commons of the Parliament of Canada (Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 29 April 1999)
[T]here is a value which ranks higher than the State. This value is humanity. The State, as is well known, is here to serve the people, not the other way round. If a person serves his or her state such service should go only as far as is necessary for the state to do a good service to all its citizens. Human rights rank above the rights of states. Human liberties constitute a higher value than State sovereignty. In terms of international law, the provisions that protect the unique human being should take precedence over the provisions that protect the State.

If, in the world of today, our fates are merged into one single destiny, and if every one of us is responsible for the future of all, nobody - not even the State - should be allowed to restrict the right of the people to exercise this responsibility. I think that the foreign policies of individual states should gradually sever the category that has, until now, most often constituted their axis, that is, the category of "interests", "our national interests" or "the foreign policy interests of our state". The category of "interests" tends to divide rather than to bring us together. It is true that each of us has some specific interests. This is entirely natural and there is no reason why we should abandon our legitimate concerns. But there is something that ranks higher than our interests: it is the principles that we espouse. Principles unite us rather than divide us. Moreover, they are the yardstick for measuring the legitimacy or illegitimacy of our interests. I do not think it is valid when various state doctrines say that it is in the interest of the state to uphold such and such a principle. Principles must be respected and upheld for their own sake - so to speak, as a matter of principle - and interests should be derived from them. [...]

Dear friends,

Many times in the past, I have pondered on the question of why humanity has the prerogative to any rights at all. Inevitably, I have always come to the conclusion that human rights, human liberties and human dignity have their deepest roots outside of this earthly world. They become what they are only because, under certain circumstances, they can mean to humanity a value that people place - without being forced to - higher than even their own lives. Thus, these notions have meaning only against the background of the infinite and of eternity. It is my profound conviction that the true worth of all our actions - whether or not they are in harmony with our conscience, the ambassador of eternity in our soul - is finally tested somewhere beyond our sight. If we did not sense this, or subconsciously surmise it, certain things could never get done.

Let me conclude my remarks on the State and on the role it will probably play in the future with the following statement: While the State is a human creation, humanity is a creation of God.

There seems at least a possibility that Mr. Havel escaped the intellectual trap that ensnared Orwell & Camus.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Bacon Improvement: A simple glaze of brown sugar and orange juice can take this breakfast favorite to sublime heights. (Adam Ried, September 23, 2007, Boston Globe)

Bacon may just be as good as it gets. It's rich, meaty, fatty, smoky, and faintly sweet - in short, right on the doorstep of decadence. With a profile like that, is there room for improvement? Surprisingly, yes. All it takes is a bit of brown sugar, a few drops of orange juice, and a turn in the oven. This magical combination yields lacquered bacon, a.k.a. glazed or candied or sugared bacon, an unexpected case of gilding the lily. [...]


1 pound bacon
3 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons orange juice

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set a large wire rack in the pan. Arrange the bacon slices on the rack and roast until the bacon renders some of its fat and the slices shrink significantly, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the brown sugar and orange juice. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven. Using a pastry brush, lightly swab the slices with about half of the brown sugar mixture, return to the oven, and continue roasting until the sugar mixture adheres to the bacon and appears glossy, about 8 minutes. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven and use tongs to turn over the slices. Lightly brush the slices with the remaining sugar mixture, return to the oven, and continue roasting until the sugar mixture adheres to the bacon and appears glossy, about 8 minutes longer. Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven, transfer the bacon slices to a serving plate, and serve hot.


Spicy Chili Lacquered Bacon Add 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and a pinch of cayenne to the brown sugar and orange juice mixture.

September 22, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Helped by Generics, Inflation of Drug Costs Slows (Stephanie Saul, 9/21/2007, NY Times)

As overall health care costs continue to rise sharply, prescription drugs have emerged as a surprising exception.

Annual inflation in drug costs is at the lowest rate in the three decades since the Labor Department began using its current method of tracking prescription prices. The rate over the last 12 months is 1 percent, according to the government’s latest data, released Wednesday.

“The way the index is going, it looks like drug price increases are not going to be very painful this year,” said Daniel H. Ginsburg, a supervisory economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where he is involved in compiling the Consumer Price Index.

As recently as 2005, inflation in drug prices was running at an annual rate of 4.4 percent.

Economists say the slowdown has come about because more people are turning to generics and because generic versions of some of the most common drugs have recently come on the market.

In the past year and a half alone, generic equivalents have become available for the cholesterol treatment Zocor, the sleeping pill Ambien and the blood pressure drug Norvasc.

Another factor could be the so-called Wal-Mart effect. Last fall, Wal-Mart began offering many generic prescriptions at $4 a month. Target quickly announced a similar plan, and Kmart expanded its program, which offers a 90-day supply of generic drugs for $15. Other retailers have followed with their variations. Publix, a grocery store chain with 684 pharmacies in five states in the Southeast, announced last month that it would not charge for prescriptions for seven commonly used antibiotics.

While they claim to want to make healthcare more affordable, if there's anything the Left hates it's markets generally and supermarkets, like Walmart, specifically. Thus, as so often, their ideologies and pathologies put them at war with reality.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Strange parade in a strange land (Matthew Collin, 9/22/07, BBC News)

The tiny region of South Ossetia on the border with Russia has been struggling to break away from Georgia since the fall of the Soviet Union. South Ossetian separatists have been celebrating what they call "independence day" this week in their capital, Tskhinvali. [...]

[S]outh Ossetia is a strange place. This tiny, impoverished region claims that it's independent. But it actually wants to join the Russian Federation, while the rest of the world still recognises it as being part of Georgia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Burma anti-junta protests spread (BBC, 9/22/07)

Thousands of monks have taken to the streets of Burma in a sixth day of anti-military government protests.

Two thousand monks went on the march in Mandalay, while at least 1,000 rallied in Rangoon. Protests were also taking place in five townships across Burma.

It comes a day after the leaders of the demonstrations vowed to continue until the military government collapsed.

Suu Kyi greets Burma protesters (BBC, 9/22/07)
Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has greeted Buddhist monks protesting against the military junta.

Apparently unable to hold her tears, Aung San Suu Kyi came out of the house she has been detained in since 2003 as the monks were let through a roadblock. [...]

Ms Suu Kyi has spent 11 of the last 18 years in detention.

In 1990 her party won national elections, but these were annulled by the army and she was never allowed to take office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


To 'Save the Children' Capitalism is the Answer (Rich Lowry, 9/22/07, Real Clear Politics)

It is no coincidence that as UNICEF was reporting the drop in child mortality, the World Bank was reporting global poverty rates had fallen as part of an extraordinary worldwide economic boom. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson calls it "far and away the strongest global economy I've seen in my business lifetime."

The global economy is growing at a 5 percent clip, higher than the 3 percent of the period from 1960 to 1980 and the 4.7 percent from 1960 to 1980. As U.S. News & World Report points out, "Gross global product is three times as big as it was in 1970 so the global economy is not only growing faster, but there's more to grow.

In a worldwide instance of trickle-down economics, the growth is diminishing the ranks of the poor. According to the World Bank, developing countries have averaged 3.9 percent growth since 2000, contributing "to rapidly falling poverty rates in all developing regions over the past few years." In 1990, 1.25 billion people lived on less than $1 a day. In 2004, less than a billion did, even though world population increased 20 percent in the interim.

When a developing country gets richer, it means that people living there are less likely to be malnourished and - as infrastructure improves - more likely to have access to clean water and to sanitation. This is a boon to health.

...pretty nearly the whole world is America in the '90s.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


The World Comes to Georgia, and an Old Church Adapts (WARREN ST. JOHN, 9/22/07, NY Times)

When the Rev. Phil Kitchin steps into the pulpit of the Clarkston International Bible Church on Sunday mornings, he stands eye to eye with the changing face of America. In the pews before him, alongside white-haired Southern women in their Sunday best, sit immigrants from the Philippines and Togo, refugees from war-scarred Liberia, Ethiopia and Sudan, even a convert from Afghanistan.

“Jesus said heaven is a place for people of all nations,” Mr. Kitchin likes to say. “So if you don’t like Clarkston, you won’t like heaven.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once noted that 11 a.m. on Sunday was the beginning of the most segregated hour of the week in America, and for the better part of 120 years, that certainly applied to this church. From 1883 until a few years ago, anyone on the pulpit would have gazed out at a congregation that was exclusively white. The church is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, a group that in 1995 renounced its racist past.

But an influx of immigrants and refugees transformed this town in a little over a decade, and in the process sparked a battle within this church over its identity and its faithfulness to the Bible, one that led it to change not just its name but its mission.

The Clarkston International Bible Church, which sits along an active freight rail line down the road from the former Ku Klux Klan bastion of Stone Mountain, is now home to parishioners from more than 15 countries. The church also houses congregations of Ethiopians, Sudanese, Liberians and French West Africans who worship separately, according to their own traditions. The church’s Sunday potluck lunch features African stews and Asian vegetable dishes alongside hot dogs, sweet tea and homemade cherry pie.

The transformation of what was long known as the Clarkston Baptist Church speaks to a broader change among other American churches. Many evangelical Christians who have long believed in spreading their religion in faraway lands have found that immigrants offer an opportunity for church work within one’s own community. And many immigrants and refugees are drawn by the warm welcome they get from the parishioners, which can stand in stark contrast to the more competitive and alienating nature of workaday America.

Indeed, evangelical churches have begun to stand out as rare centers of ethnic mixing in a country that researchers say has become more culturally fragmented, in part because of immigration.

Bush holds the record on Hispanic federal judges: Latino advocacy groups are pleased; DNC stays mum (KEN HERMAN, 9/21/07, Cox News Service)
President Bush has had more Hispanics confirmed for federal judgeships than any president in U.S. history, a record that earns him praise from Hispanic organizations but is downplayed by the Democratic National Committee.

Of the 282 Bush judicial appointees confirmed by the Senate, 27 — almost 10 percent — have been Hispanics. President Clinton held the previous record, having appointed 23 Hispanics (just over 6 percent of his 367 appointees) who won confirmation.

On New England's dairy farms, foreign workers find a home (Jenna Russell, September 22, 2007, Boston Globe)
It looks like the quintessential Vermont dairy farm, like a page out of a storybook, with its red barns, rolling green fields, and black-and-white cows. And this farm is also typical in another way: Inside the barns, the men milking cows are from Mexico and Guatemala.

Some have documents that allow them to work in this country. Others do not, said the farmer who employs them. Legal or not, he said, they have improved his life.

"Before, labor was the biggest headache we had," said the farmer, who spoke on the condition that his name and location not be published to protect the farm from investigation by immigration authorities. "Now our life is so much better."

The dairy farms that define the northern New England countryside have come to depend on foreign workers in the past five to 10 years. Farmers say they have faced a crippling shortage of Americans willing to do the physically demanding, round-the-clock job of milking cows and cleaning barns. To fill the burgeoning gap, many farms have hired workers from Mexico and Central America, who often speak little English and lack proper documents but show up on time, learn quickly, and work tirelessly, farmers say.

The nation that nativists are trying to "preserve" exists only in their heads. It's not America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Surprise: 'Toxic' Mortgages Are the Best: A new study from professors at Columbia and NYU finds that the "optimal" mortgage in a perfect world is an option ARM (Peter Coy, 99/21/07, Business Week)

[A]ccording to a new study by professors from Columbia and New York universities, the "optimal" mortgage in a perfect world is precisely that kind of loan—an adjustable-rate mortgage with an option for negative amortization and a ban (or at least severe restriction) on prepayment.

Crazy? Not as crazy as you might think. The key, according to professors Tomasz Piskorski of Columbia Business School and Alexei Tchistyi of New York University's Stern School of Business, is that this kind of mortgage is optimal only in a perfect world—namely, one in which borrowers are fully rational and always do what's in their own best interest. [...]

[H]ere's a quick, intuitive feel for the three parts of the concept:

• The option to pay less than the minimum monthly interest owed on the loan is valuable for people with good self-control whose income fluctuates a lot. They can pay just a little in lean months and catch up in fat months. It's good for lenders, too, because they don't have to foreclose on people who fall behind, which is an expensive process. People with steady incomes don't need this feature, but having it doesn't hurt them.

• The fact that the loan is an ARM—namely, its rate fluctuates with market interest rates—is especially valuable to lenders. This is a subtler notion, but the idea is that if there are going to be a certain number of defaults in a pool of mortgages because of random bits of bad luck like a job loss or a divorce, the lender would prefer that they be concentrated during periods of high interest rates. Why? Because when market interest rates are high, the lender that forecloses and gets back (most of) its money can redeploy the cash in high-yielding alternatives. The lender would prefer not to foreclose and get its money back when rates are low and other options are unattractive. An ARM loan achieves what the lender wants. Borrowers, meanwhile, are neutral about whether they default in periods of high or low market interest rates.

• Finally, the economists say the optimal loan contract would outright ban getting a new loan from a different lender. There are no such bans. But they say that the prepayment penalties that are common in subprime loans are a good second best. How could that be? Because lenders will offer more favorable terms if they know that they'll be able to hang onto the loan long enough for it to be profitable. If they fear that the borrower will refinance at the drop of a hat, they'll give less favorable terms.

One neat twist is that the paper demonstrates that an interest-only loan coupled with a home equity line of credit is also optimal because it's the functional equivalent of an option ARM. Think about why: Someone with an IO loan and a line of credit is equally able to tap into home equity (i.e., add to the principal owed) from month to month.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


What does Osama want? (Victor Davis Hanson, September 22, 2007, Washington Times)

The truth is that bin Laden and al Qaeda want power for themselves, and use religious grievances and shifting political demands to try to achieve it.

In their worldview, Islam's chance for a renewed united Muslim caliphate was shattered into impotent warring nations by sneaky 19th century European colonists. They now want to reunite modern Arab nations into an Islamic empire run by the likes of bin Laden and his sidekick, Ayman al-Zawahri. [...]

Bin Laden's problem then is not really tiny Israel or global warming or mortgage interest rates, but an all-powerful and free West led by the United States. It alone has the military and economic power to stop radical Islamists. Plus, we bring the more powerful message of political freedom. And American popular culture, with its informality and egalitarianism, is sweeping the globe, seducing far more adherents than does rote memorization of the Koran.

So, despite bin Laden's bragging, America remains the big stumbling block, the stronger horse. The United States alone ensures that bin Laden stays a sick man babbling in a cave — and not a Muslim caliph in flowing robes, with billions of dollars in oil under his feet and weapons merchants lined up at his palace door.

Heck, even Ethiopia had little trouble toppling an Islamist government they didn't approve of. The reality is that the one end the al Qaedists can never achieve is sovereign governance. People who can't show their faces in public can't wield national power.

September 21, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 PM


'We need a new metaphor' (JACKIE McGLONE, 9/22/07, The Scotsman)

RUMOURS HAVE BEEN RIFE IN THE chattering classes over the last five years as to why it was taking Yann Martel, author of the international bestseller Life of Pi, so long to produce his next novel. There were whispers about a severe case of writer's block, as well as murmurings about a doomed love affair.

None of these tales about the Canadian writer - who won the 2002 Man Booker prize for his dazzling magical realist novel about an Indian boy stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger - were true, even the ones about him having made so much money from the sale of the film rights that he need never write another word again.

Martel had indeed fallen in love - of which more later - but he was also taking all the time he needed to write his next book, his fourth work of fiction. It promises to be just as unusual as the lyrical Life of Pi, which, after being published in more than 40 countries, has sold six million copies and now ranks as a modern classic.

"Certainly this new book will be very different, since it combines both fiction and non-fiction in one volume," says Martel, 44, when we meet over afternoon tea in Edinburgh before his sell-out event at the International Book Festival, where he launched a gorgeously illustrated edition of Life of Pi.

He had already embarked on his next novel, an allegory on the Holocaust, when he won the Booker, a seismic event that changed his life and which led to him spending two years globetrotting to promote it. "My writing life was interrupted, but I didn't mind," explains Martel. "I really enjoyed the ride; it was a wonderful vacation. I got to stay in nice hotels and I got to meet my readers and to hear what the book has meant to them - such as the Swiss woman who insisted that Life of Pi was actually a metaphor for marriage and the Canadian man who told me it was really a novel about stamp collecting. But I was always thinking about my writing, about my next novel.

His explanation of the plot always did sound interesting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 PM


French ministers study British government (Henry Samuel, 22/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

After years of spurning British political methods as incompatible with the French social model, Gallic ministers are flocking to London to seek inspiration on how to modernise their government.

At least six French ministers have crossed the channel since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president in May.

The most recent was Eric Besson, the state secretary for prospectives and evaluation of public policies, who spent two days this week observing Gordon Brown's strategy unit and the national audit office.

"When you decide to get inspiration from good practice in foreign countries, the British example springs to mind," he told Le Figaro upon his return.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Thatcher's call for tax cuts rocks Cameron (Ben Russell, 22 September 2007, Independent)

David Cameron is facing renewed pressure over his economic policy as it emerged that Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven has called for tax cuts.

According to a blog on The Spectator magazine's website by its political editor, Fraser Nelson, the former prime minister told him "a few months ago" that "you can't have stability without tax cuts".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


Doors to open on scandalous Victorian trial (SHÂN ROSS, 9/22/07,

In the 1857 Edinburgh trial, Miss Smith, 22, the product of a Swiss finishing school, was accused of murdering working-class Emile l'Angelier after he threatened to show her father hundreds of passionate love letters written during their secret two-year relationship, after her family found her a wealthy suitor. She continued the relationship for six weeks before l'Angelier was found dead in March 1857.

L'Angelier kept diaries recording passionate visits from "Mimi", but entries began to appear saying he had fallen ill after she made him drinks of cocoa. The prosecution focused on Miss Smith buying arsenic several times, but her defence claimed it was for cosmetic purposes.

Suspicion then fell on l'Angelier, who had boasted of taking small doses of arsenic for health reasons, as being a manipulative blackmailer who tried to fake his poisoning on 22 March, 1857. Some believe the pretence went wrong when the friend who was meant to find him in time was delayed.

After the trial, Miss Smith moved to London and then to the US.

One of the cases covered in Rick Geary's great Treasury of Victorian Murder:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Study: Catalina Bison Aren't Purebred (ALICIA CHANG, 9/21/07, AP)

Long thought to be purebred, the wild bison of Santa Catalina Island in fact have a little bit of cow in them, the first DNA analysis of the animals found. Nearly half of the 98 American bison shipped off the island in 2004 have cattle genes that were passed on through the mother. Catalina bison were believed to be purer than those on the mainland because they lived in isolation on the island since the 1920s.

"We were surprised because there's nothing cattle about them. They look like bison," said biologist Dennis Hedgecock of the University of Southern California, who co-authored the study.

They're totally different fat brown herd animals that stand around munching grass....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Fighting Leads to Deaths in Southern Afghanistan (KIRK SEMPLE, September 21, 2007, NY Times)

About 40 Taliban fighters and at least four civilians have been killed in fierce clashes in southern Afghanistan...

In Helmand Province today, a combined team of Afghan and NATO security forces encountered a Taliban hideout and called in an airstrike that killed about 40 insurgents, military officials said. On Wednesday, NATO forces killed “more than three dozen insurgents” during a 14-hour gunbattle in western Uruzgan Province, the NATO command said. The military’s reported death tolls were not immediately verifiable.

...when the kill ratio is 0-40?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:35 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM

SAT & B. & E. (via The Mother Judd):

School cheating scandal divides N.H. town: Criminal charges too harsh, some say (Sarah Schweitzer, September 19, 2007, Boston Globe)

HANOVER, N.H. - Academics is serious business in this well-to-do town, where life revolves around Dartmouth College. Ivy League credentials rank alongside Subaru wagons and restored farmhouses as status symbols, and high school students are expected to excel and land acceptances to prestigious universities.

So, as final exams loomed and pressure built last June at Hanover High School, some students hatched a scheme for acing the tests: One evening after school was out, a group of students entered the school building, authorities say. While some stood sentry in hallways, others entered a classroom and used stolen keys to break into a teacher's filing cabinet and steal exams for advanced math honors, advanced math, Algebra II, and calculus. Five days later, another group stole chemistry finals. In total, some 50 students are suspected of participating in the thefts, either helping to plan them or receiving answers from stolen exams.

Rather than issuing suspensions or grade demotions, school officials notified police. And after a seven-week investigation, the police prosecutor handling the case brought criminal charges against nine students. Last week, the prosecutor notified the nine students' parents that if they chose to take the cases to trial, he could raise misdemeanor charges to felonies, which carry possible prison terms of 3 1/2 to seven years.

Parents of the accused are furious and frantically trying to reduce charges to violations that carry no criminal penalties, penalties they say could harm their children's chances of attending college or securing employment. The scandal has divided the community, with some residents laying blame squarely on the nine accused students - dubbed "the Notorious Nine" - while others have questioned whether the intense competitiveness of 750-student Hanover High forced students into positions of having to cheat.

Some have also questioned the motives of police, suggesting they are using the incident to show that children of privilege - the parents of the accused include a physician, a business school professor, a hospital president, and a columnist at a local newspaper - are not above the law.

Note that the counterargument is essentially that they are above the law and that the criminality is just a product of the "highly competitive academic environment." You don't hear a whole lot of sympathy for them though, outside of the parents of kids who are involved.

Reading, writing, and cheating (Joan Vennochi, September 20, 2007, Boston Globe)

[T]hose parents who are angry that school administrators in Hanover turned a case of breaking and entering over to police also seem extreme in their defense of their children's alleged wrongdoing.

As Superintendent of Schools Wayne Gersen told the Globe, "We have never called the police for a cheating incident. But there is never a time when we would not call the police when someone breaks into our building."

The parents are trying to get the charges reduced to violations that carry no criminal penalties. Such penalties could jeopardize their child's chances of attending college or getting hired for a job.

"What's frightening as a parent is that a 17-year-old makes one little mistake and he's going to have a potential prison sentence," said Jim Kenyon, a columnist for The Valley News based in Lebanon, N.H.

As the mother of two teenagers, I agree. The prospect of jail and a promising future derailed is frightening. But it is also scary to hear a parent equate an allegation of breaking and entering into a school for the purpose of stealing exams as "one little mistake." This is, at minimum, a very big mistake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Lost at Sea (ROBERT D. KAPLAN, 9/21/07, NY Times)

The military trend that is hiding in plain sight is the loss of the Pacific Ocean as an American lake after 60 years of near-total dominance. A few years down the road, according to the security analysts at the private policy group Strategic Forecasting, Americans will not to the same extent be the prime deliverers of disaster relief in a place like the Indonesian archipelago, as we were in 2005. Our ships will share the waters (and the prestige) with new “big decks” from Australia, Japan and South Korea.

Then there is China, whose production and acquisition of submarines is now five times that of America’s. Many military analysts feel it is mounting a quantitative advantage in naval technology that could erode our qualitative one.

So we're getting help from our allies--to whom, in that region, you have to add India, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philipines, etc. (maybe even Vietnam in the not too distant future)--and the Chinese are responding with the old Soviet tactic of wasting tons of money on lots of crap to try and counterbalance the quality of our force? And this is a worry?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:27 PM


Mattel apologizes to China over recall (Associated Press, September 21, 2007)

U.S.-based toy giant Mattel Inc. issued an extraordinary apology to China today over the recall of Chinese-made toys, taking the blame for design flaws and saying it had recalled more lead-tainted toys than justified.

The gesture by Thomas A. Debrowski, Mattel's executive vice president for worldwide operations, came in a meeting with Chinese product safety chief Li Changjiang, at which Li upbraided the company for maintaining weak safety controls.

...the Step-n-fetchit doll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:20 PM


A Song for Hitler: The sordid murder of Horst Wessel, a young Nazi storm troop leader in Berlin in early 1930, might have passed almost unnoticed. Just one more death amid the chaotic political violence that marked the years before the Nazi seizure of power. However, in the hands of the propaganda genius Joseph Goebbels, Wessel’s killing became emblematic of the Nazi struggle to ‘save’ Germany from Communism, and Wessel himself – thanks to a few lines of doggerel he had written – the leading martyr of Hitler’s movement. On the centenary of Wessel’s birth Nigel Jones recalls his death and the black legend that sprang from it. (Nigel Jones, October 2007, History Today)

There is no doubt that Wessel – like his later mentor Goebbels – was one of those radical Nazis who took the word ‘Socialist’ in the party’s name seriously. ‘The parties of the right … called us National Bolsheviks or National Marxists because of our socialist posture’, Wessel wrote:

... They were correct, for the National Socialists in general had more sympathy for the [Communist] Red Front Fighters’ League than for the [Conservative] Stahlhelm. … In the red camp there were just as many – perhaps even more, fanatical idealists ripe for martyrdom than on the other side. Added to that was the whole shocking realization of the unbelievable delusion and abuse of the entire working class. And that’s how I became a socialist.

Aware that the son of a pastor might lack proletarian credentials, he refused to practice law and earned his living as a labourer and taxi driver; determined to live in the same conditions as the men of Sturm 5, the Berlin branch of the SA that he swiftly rose to command. Wessel, who clearly had charisma, intellgence and courage, relished a challenge, and in basing himself in the Friederichshain quarter, a Communist bastion with a population of some 350,000, he was provocatively pushing his head into the Communist lion’s jaws.

The brawling Nazis and Communists in late 1920s Berlin had, despite their bitter and bloody battles, a grudging mutual respect born of their shared working-class origins, and aped each other’s uniforms, organization, propaganda and militarized mindset.

Ever since the bloody suppression of the Spartacist revolts in 1919 – with the Freikorps’ murder of the KPD’s founding leaders Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg – Berlin had been considered a Red citadel. The vast working-class quarters in the east, such as Friederichshain and Wedding, with their ill-lit, swarming tenement blocks, smoking factories and subterranean drinking dens, were Communist strongholds. Any attempt by the Nazis to break this iron grip was fiercely – and violently – resisted in the same way as Al Capone saw off the attempts to encroach on his territory by the Bugs Moran gang in contemporary Chicago.

Even in Weimar Germany’s most prosperous and ‘peaceful’ period of 1924-30 around thirty Nazis and ninety Communists were killed in political violence; along with twenty-six Stahlhelm nationalists; and eighteen Reichsbanner socialists. Far left and extreme right infiltrated each other’s meetings; attacked each other’s marches; disrupted each other’s funerals and routinely trashed the bars where their members met. All the time, however, another battle – one for hearts and minds – was in progress as the two sides struggled to win over and convert Communists to Nazis and vice versa. [...]

Returning from Vienna in early 1929, Wessel continued his work in Berlin and in March wrote the words of the song that would later bear his name. In August he led his men in a parade at the annual Parteitag or national rally at Nuremberg. After returning to the capital, Wessel was passing the Café Mexico off Alexanderplatz, in the heart of east Berlin one night, when he saw a young woman being attacked. He intervened to save her and soon discovered that the girl, Erna Jaenicke, was a prostitute, and that the man assailing her had been a client who had turned nasty.

Wessel fell in love with Erna and in September rented a small room at 62 Grosse Frankfurter Strasse where they could live together. His choice of landlady might seem strange. Elizabeth Salm’s recently deceased husband had been a Communist militant and she had shared his political leanings. But given the intimacy with which Communists and Nazis frequented the same shops and streets such domestic arrangements were not uncommon. Neither Wessel’s mother and sister, nor his party bosses, approved his choice of lover, especially as Horst’s party work appeared to slacken off the more he enjoyed the delights of home life with Erna, who, he claimed, had given up her former profession. [...]

Meanwhile, Wessel’s unhappy relationship with his landlady was reaching crisis point. Frau Salm, herself only a tenant, was worried that she would lose her lodgings if Wessel continued to hold political meetings in the flat, or if Erna reverted to her old profession and used the place for immoral purposes. There were also squabbles over the kitchen, which Wessel, Erna and Frau Salm shared – and the rent, which, Salm claimed, was in arrears. By mid-January, she had had enough of her troublesome tenants and decided that they needed to be taught a lesson.

Her thoughts turned to her late husband’s old comrades in the local 2 Bereitschaft [‘Readiness-squad’] of the Red Front Fighters’ League. Despite a minor clash over her insistence on giving Herr Salm a Christian, rather than a Marxist, funeral, the party was the only organization ruthless and strong enough to give Wessel the drubbing she felt he deserved. At The Bear, Salm outlined her problem to Erwin Ruckert, the twenty-six-year-old leader of the 2 Bereitschaft. Learning that Wessel was alone in the apartment with Erna, Ruckert swiftly summoned reinforcements from the nearby 3 Bereitschaft. Ruckert and his deputy, a thirty-one-year-old tattooed thug and career criminal with sixteen convictions for violence and pimping, named ‘Ali’ (Albrecht) Hohler, led a dozen Communists off to Wessel’s home to administer what one of their number, Max Jambrowski, assured Salm would be a good ‘Proletarian hiding’.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM


Meanwhile, the Mayor is reduced to not just a stunt but a recycled one to make it seem like he's a normal married guy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Another Democratic Iraq amendment goes down (The Crypt, 9/21/07)

The Senate will adjourn for the weekend after a long week of tense debate over Iraq in which Democrats failed to move the ball and Republicans decided to stick with the White House in backing an unpopular war. they can still only lose 52 weeks a year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


'The Surge Was Absolutely Necessary': An Interview with Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie (Urs Gehriger | 21 Sep 2007, World Politics Review)

Next week will be a crucial moment for Iraq. General Petraeus will be providing the Congress in Washington an assessment of the effects of the "surge." What will his report look like?

The general trend will be positive. In military terms, the progress is palpable. Thanks to the additional 30,000 troops, the security situation of the population has improved in the last few months in many parts of the country. There is also positive news concerning the economy. A lot of money that we have taken in as revenue has not yet been spent. Purchasing power has increased. But we are still facing major challenges.

Your government is the target of harsh criticisms. The De-Baathification Law has yet to be modified and the plan for the distribution of oil revenues is constantly being put off. What is holding things up?

I think it has to do with fear. Every part of Iraqi society has justifiable fears about the uncertainty that any possible change represents for it. People have built up psychological barriers.

But you also bear responsibility. Iraqi security forces are evidently not fulfilling the demands made by the U.S.A.

Let's look back at how things were three years ago. In June 2004, we had no army, no police force, no border controls. Now we have ten divisions, 250,000 soldiers, and the same number of police. This has happened quickly. It is to be expected that the process has not been without problems. We recruit, train, and arm our troops, while terrorists are attacking us and neighboring countries are plotting against us. It is as if one had to tie one's shoes while constantly being shot at. One of the most important problems is the infiltration of our security forces by terrorists and religious militias. An additional problem is the composition of the troops. Some divisions are exclusively Kurdish, others exclusively Shia. We have to find a balance between the different groups also in the military.

When will you have gotten there? When will the Iraqi troops be capable of controlling the country themselves, so that the U.S. troops can begin the withdrawal?

Thanks to the "surge," we have made important progress. The number of terrorist attacks fell significantly, the number of terrorists captured or killed increased, we have discovered more weapons caches than ever before. We are doing this hand in hand with American troops. We cannot yet do it alone. We will still need their help for some time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:25 AM


Protesters give McCain best line at NRA gathering (Christi Parsons, 9/20/07, The Swamp)

Anti-war protesters barged into a speech Sen. John McCain was giving at the Capital Hilton this morning, but the interruption ended up giving McCain the high moment of his address to the National Rifle Association.

McCain was right in the middle of talking about the war in Iraq and how he and fellow Republicans are fighting to keep Democrats in Congress from forcing a change in strategy.

Suddenly, a young woman in a t-shirt reading "Troops Home Now" waded into the middle of the gun rights group, shouting "Bring the troops home!" and forcing McCain to stop speaking while she addressed the television cameras.

After a few seconds of camera time, a woman got up from her table at the NRA breakfast, wrapped the protester in an embrace and pushed her out of the limelight. A second protester was also lead out first by NRA members and then by security guards.

As the protesters left the room, McCain leaned into the microphone for the most emphatic thing he said all morning.

"Well, my friends, we beat you yesterday," he said. "We'll beat you today . . . And we'll beat you tomorrow!"

The crowd rose in an enthusiastic standing ovation, setting aside for the moment any past differences they may be holding against McCain.

The Deranged Left is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Referee Forced to Check Gender of Female Soccer Player (Short News, 9/21/07)

The referee in a Ghana v. South Africa women's Olympic soccer qualifier has been forced to carry out an inspection in the South African dressing room after allegations were made by the Ghanan camp that one of the strikers was male.

If any of the players had one they'd play a sport where you throw overhand, not soccer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


US questions India-Iran ties: Relations could imperil nuclear energy agreement (Rama Lakshmi, September 21, 2007, The Washington Post)

India's longstanding ties with Iran appear to be threatening the beleaguered nuclear energy deal between Washington and New Delhi and, more broadly, their growing strategic alliance. [...]

On Wednesday, reacting to Boucher's statement, India's defense minister, A.K. Antony, said India's relations with the United States and Iran were independent of each other. "India has very friendly relations with Iran. It will continue to do so," he said.

Two weeks ago, Antony informed Parliament that the Indian Navy was training five Iranian sailors in its facilities. India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, recently said that Iran had "every right to pursue its nuclear program for peaceful purposes" and that India favors a "noninterventionist policy in Iran."

Such a policy would run contrary to the hopes of the Bush administration. The legislation that made the US-India nuclear deal possible contains a nonbinding provision stating that India should work with the United States to dissuade Iran from developing its nuclear program and help contain it.

Iran's deputy foreign minister, Mehdi Safari, traveled to New Delhi last week to brief the Indian government about developments related to nuclear issues in Tehran.

Israel to launch satellite in Indian spacecraft (Rediff News, September 21, 2007)
The satellite, developed and manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries, will be the first from that country with Synthetic Aperture Radar capabilities, which will permit the cameras to take pictures under the cloudiest, most foggy conditions.

The Post reports that this will be the first time Israel launches a satellite piggybacking on Indian facilities, in keeping with a decision made three years ago during a visit to India by Israel's then defense ministry director-general Amos Yaron.

The 300-kilogram satellite will be taken into space aboard India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in what industry experts say is a further step in India's attempt to grab a slice of the $2.5 billion global launch market. As with outsourcing, an attraction India offers for potential customers in this market is that it charges considerably less than space-capable Western nations.

Officials in India and Israel have declined to provide the date and time of the launch.

Instead of dividing India and the U.S., the alliance will draw together the U.S. and Iran over the next few years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Why Can't the U.S. Have the Debate about Naomi Klein's Book That Europe Has? (Jan Frel, 9/21/07, AlterNet)

Frel: It's often times the case that books that make powerful and damning claims with complete accuracy still don't break into public debate or hit the audience that ought to confront them. Isn't there something else that prevents radical interpretations of society and economics and buried history from reaching public debate?

Klein: I think that's true -- it's certainly true in this country. I wasn't talking about the problem my book would have getting into the mainstream, it's more about the debates around it. My books do get into the mainstream -- outside the US. That doesn't mean they aren't contested, but in Canada for example, The Shock Doctrine is already at #3 on Amazon. [Currently at #43 in the U.S.]

Another book I did, No Logo was a mainstream book, in most of the countries where it was published, except for the US. In the U.S. it never was. The context I talked about the need for support for my arguments is in cases where my book is being debated and argued. So in the U.S., I totally agree that having solid footnotes are no guarantee that you can start a mainstream debate. I don't have any confidence that this book will be in the mainstream debate in the United States.

Frel: A lot of what you're taking on in The Shock Doctrine, is a concept that is fused in deep into a big part of the American psyche -- that "the free market" and "free enterprise," which we don't typically debate or condemn in the mainstream but are to blame for a lot of the things the public does discern as problems, like our health care system. But how do you get people to see that they are being screwed by their own dominant economic beliefs?

Klein: It's actually not that hard. The hard part is getting past the media wall.

Frel: At your U.S. book launch on Monday you talked about getting past the "intellectual police lines" that prevent discussion.

Klein: That's a different kind of situation. In Britain, it's a mainstream book, being debated on the BBC, the Times of London, the Guardian and so on. It's being dismissed in part -- part of the discussion is an attempt to dismiss it. When I was talking about "intellectual police lines" it was in reference to the kinds of questions I was getting from mainstream journalists in Europe and in Canada. But in the U.S., I would say that's not this is not really the issue -- it's whether you get access at all.

Frel: Do you think that it's because in the States, there isn't really any debate about alternatives to our economic system in any form? In Europe, where your book has already been released, there is at least the residue of a public debate that is willing to debate fundamental questions on economic systems and the social contract.

Klein: In most parts of the world, it's easier to even identify the radical policies of capitalism as contested territory, as something to debate. Whereas in the United States, these policies are the air we breathe; they are invisible almost because they are so hegemonic. For example, when I talk about privatization in Canada, people understand what that means -- it's about the drive to privatize our health care system and our education system, and there is a very clear grasp in the public mind about what the public sphere actually is. People understand there that this is something to defend against -- that there is something to privatize, while in the U.S., the agenda to privatize has succeeded so fully that these ideas seem more abstract because the idea of the public sphere is almost abstract.

When I'm talking about these ideas in France or the U.K., people know what "public" is. There are large parts of their life that exist within a non-market space.

At the point where you're sitting around complaining about the media conspiracy that keeps Americans from paying attention to intellectuals the way pre-Sarkozy France did, you're more or less a Monty Python skit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Israel, U.S. Shared Data On Suspected Nuclear Site: Bush Was Told of North Korean Presence in Syria, Sources Say (Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright, September 21, 2007, Washington Post)

Israel's decision to attack Syria on Sept. 6, bombing a suspected nuclear site set up in apparent collaboration with North Korea, came after Israel shared intelligence with President Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, U.S. government sources said.

The Bush administration has not commented on the Israeli raid or the underlying intelligence. Although the administration was deeply troubled by Israel's assertion that North Korea was assisting the nuclear ambitions of a country closely linked with Iran, sources said, the White House opted against an immediate response because of concerns it would undermine long-running negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

Ultimately, however, the United States is believed to have provided Israel with some corroboration of the original intelligence before Israel proceeded with the raid, which hit the Syrian facility in the dead of night to minimize possible casualties, the sources said.

Memo to Senator Obama: the tail wags the dog.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


France is now more gung-ho than America: As he threatens war on Iran, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner is living up to spiked’s warning that he is ‘the most dangerous man in Europe’ (David Chandler, 9/18/07, spiked))

[T]he foreign policy pronouncements of the new French government of Kouchner and Sarkozy have striking parallels to that of Blair and his foreign minister Robin Cook’s incoming Labour government in 1997. Kouchner, like Blair before him, is able to make grand statements of foreign policy mission in the knowledge that responsibility will have to be taken by someone else – the United States. [...]

Like Blair’s approach to the Kosovo crisis in 1999, this activist foreign policy depends on the fact that the US has already talked up the threat and is the only country with the capacity to carry out the threats that are made by others.

Over Kosovo, the Blair government was free to up the stakes against Belgrade - calling for intervention and, once the war had started, calling for ground troops - because there was little to lose. Blair could sound principled and take the world stage knowing that final policy responsibility would rest with Washington, and if intervention failed to meet the high moral aspirations then the US could always be blamed for policy failings. For many commentators, the biggest success of the Blair government was the 1999 Kosovo war, where Blair could bask in the reflective glory of the US bombing campaign.

Kouchner’s confidence in taking a warlike stance over Iran stems from irresponsibility rather than responsibility. Free from any final decision-making - or any substantial military role if there is a conflict - Kouchner’s warmongering rhetoric can only increase the tensions in the region, further destabilising the relationship between the US and Tehran. Rather than a moral or ethical stand, Kouchner’s position seems both craven and parasitical, both exploiting the US position and willing to risk thousands more lives in a region already torn apart by Western grandstanding.

If all Sarko's France does is provide the same cover for the Crusader State that Thatcher/Blair's Britain has, it will be playing a useful role internationally...for once.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Hedging on Race (EDWARD BLUM, September 21, 2007, NY Sun)

Just when you think there can't be any innovative ways left to play the race card, someone pulls an ace from their sleeve. A recently-formed consortium of investment professionals who are minorities and women is now claiming that if Congress increases the taxes on hedge-fund operators, which it is presently considering, it will adversely affect — yep, you got it — women and minorities.

In 40 years, civil rights goals have gone from integrating lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C., to sheltering hedge-fund operators from tax increases in Greenwich, Conn. [...]

This race-gender tactic is repellent. Reasonable people can have a reasonable debate about whether Congress should raise taxes on "carried interest," a slice of the profits that go to the managers of these pooled funds. Persuasive arguments have been offered by those who want to maintain the current system and those who don't. But it is simply ludicrous — pathetic, really — to claim that women- and minority-owned investment firms will suffer more than their similarly-situated counterparts if taxes are raised.

All small firms may suffer, or not, if saddled with higher taxes, regardless of the race or gender of its principals. This kind of "disparate impact" rationale has been fought tooth and nail by business interests in their employment practices for over three decades.

Some observers speculate there are two reasons behind the formation of the Access to Capital Coalition. The first is to peel away black and Hispanic members of Congress who have been vocal in supporting legislation to end the lower rate. Specifically targeted is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel, an African-American who sponsored legislation, along with 22 other Democrats, to raise this tax.

The other reason is to give cover to Democrats in the Senate like Charles Schumer and Christopher Dodd whose constituents and donors greatly benefit from the status quo.

Whatever the reasons, it is sad that this race ploy is being embraced by the very investment firms that should know better — the same ones, in fact, that have had it played against them for years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


China appoints pro-Vatican bishop (Peter Walker, September 21, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

China took a significant step towards improving its traditionally turbulent links with the Vatican today with the consecration of a new bishop of Beijing who is widely believed to have the formal support of the Pope. [...]

Bishop Li made no reference to the Vatican or Pope Benedict at today's ceremony, vowing instead to lead the Beijing diocese "in adhering to the nation's constitution, maintaining national unification and social stability".

However, unlike his predecessor - the fiercely anti-Vatican Fu Tieshan, who died in April - Bishop Li is known to have the approval of papal officials, who praised his appointment when it was announced.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Chinese dissident urges boycott of Olympics (Bill Gertz, September 21, 2007, Washington Times)

A leading Chinese dissident called on Congress yesterday to lead an international boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics because of China's human rights abuses and support for rogue regimes.

Gao Zhisheng, a lawyer under house arrest in China, wrote in a Sept. 13 letter to Congress made public yesterday that "more and more Chinese people are speaking out against the coming Olympic Games in China, which they often refer to as 'the bloody Olympics,' and 'the handcuff Olympics.' "

Given the trouble the GOP candidates have had identifying themselves with the Religious Right, you'd think a Mike Huckabee might take up this issue.

September 20, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


Jazz Sessions: The Sumptuous Voice of Diana Krall (Marian McPartland, 9/20/07,

Canadian pianist, singer and songwriter Diana Krall grew up in a town called Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Both her father, who collected jazz records and played a bit of stride piano, and her mother (also a pianist) encouraged her interest in jazz and exposed her to all of the great players. She began studying the piano at age 4 and had several small jazz groups while in high school. When she was 17, she played at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival and won a scholarship to Boston's Berklee School of Music.

The legendary bassist Ray Brown had heard Krall in Canada, and he encouraged her to move to Los Angeles to study with him. While there, she also began studying with Jimmy Rowles, who encouraged her to sing as well as play piano.

In 1990, Krall moved to New York and began performing regularly with her own trio. Three years later, she recorded her first album. In 1994, she signed with GRP records, beginning a long association with producer Tommy LiPuma, who produced the 1995 release Only Trust Your Heart. It featured an all-star group backing Krall, including her mentor Brown, bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.

Each of Krall's subsequent recordings has met with critical acclaim and commercial success, including When I Look in Your Eyes, which won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 PM


Confusion reigns as timelord Chavez turns back clocks in Venezuela (David Usborne 21 September 2007, Independent)

"Welcome to Caracas and thank you for flying Chavez Air. The time is... (pause, chuckle, clearing of throat)... the time is... We are not quite sure. Please move your watches half an hour forward. Actually, no, sorry, move them half an hour back. Thank you."

So far President Hugo Chavez has not named an airline after himself. This could, however, be the scene on board airliners arriving in the Venezuelan capital next Monday, when, in theory at least, the country will have adopted a new time zone. Whether it will actually happen is still a matter of confused conjecture.

News that Mr Chavez was pondering the time shift first surfaced at the end of August. Only now is he telling his citizens to be ready for the one-off shift on Monday, meaning that they must put their clocks back by 30 minutes at midnight on Sunday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 PM


NPR Live Concert Series: The Apples in Stereo in Concert (, September 19, 2007)

The Apples in Stereo first emerged in the early '90s as part of the Elephant 6 collective, a group of musicians with a shared love of lo-fi, neo-psychedelic rock. Fifteen years later, the collective has disbanded, and flagship bands like Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel have stopped releasing new work. But The Apples in Stereo's members play on, returning with one of 2007's most inspired and ambitious recordings. The band showcased selections from New Magnetic Wonder in a full concert, webcast live on Sept. 19, 2007.

SXSW Sessions: The Apples in Stereo (Recorded Live on March 15, 2007, Presented by KEXP)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


India's innings: A new form of cricket sparks a fight over a lucrative market in India (The Economist, 9/20/07)

SNEERING cricket purists call it “hit and giggle”. But “Twenty20”, a new three-hour version of the elegant and at times seemingly interminable game, is serious business. In South Africa the inaugural Twenty20 world tournament, at which the top 12 cricket-playing countries are represented, is playing to sell-out crowds. It is accompanied by American-style razzmatazz previously unseen in cricket: feverish commentary, drumming dance music, scantily clad cheerleaders and all. And away from the stadiums, another contest is raging—to bring Twenty20 cricket to India, the world's biggest cricket market.

On September 13th the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which claims a monopoly on the game in the country, unveiled plans for a Twenty20 cricket league, the India Premier League (IPL). Modelled on England's football league, it will involve eight teams, based in big cities and privately owned through a franchise agreement with the BCCI. This was the BCCI's response to the formation of a rebel Twenty20 league, the India Cricket League (ICL), by the Essel Group, an Indian conglomerate, earlier this year.

There is much to fight over. Cricket is the single shared passion of over a billion people in India, and another 350m across South Asia. Games between India's and Pakistan's national teams draw 400m television viewers in India alone. This brings in vast revenues. In 2005 the BCCI generated around $50m, mostly from broadcasting rights. This year it will turn over some $300m. And that is before it feels the effects of Twenty20, which could be seismic.

The new format is a revolution in brevity, designed for television.

Three hours only gets you to the 6th inning of a Yankees/Sox game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


Democrats Throw Their Base Under the Bus; Cave to Wing-Nuts on MoveOn Resolution (Joshua Holland, AlterNet)

On the eve of the Petraeus hearings, I wrote that if the Democrats didn't call out the general on his partisan, politically motivated spin of the events unfolding in Iraq, they would prove their irrelevance on the issue of the ongoing occupation once and for all.

In the end, it was much worse than that. Today, Senate Democrats took the time to join their Republican colleagues in condemning an ad produced by that -- accurately -- pointed out Petraeus' previous spin about progress in Iraq and warned that the general would "Betray Us." The resolution passed by a vote of 72-25. [...]

The fact that 25 Democratic Senators voted for the resolution is an indication of how deeply disconnected they are from the values that most Americans share. After all, polls taken after General Petraeus' testimony revealed that his show had barely changed public opinion on Iraq. Before he testified, a majority expected him to paint a rosier picture than reality -- to lie before Congress about the effectiveness of the surge, just as the MoveOn ad accused him of doing.

Tactically, rolling over on this one was profoundly stupid. In condemning MoveOn, Senate democrats effectively condemned themselves -- Democrats and MoveOn will be tied together by Republicans at every opportunity. MoveOn rolled out a new ad attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the McConnell campaign responded by saying, " is an extremist organization that advocated pacifism in response to 9/11, ran ads on its website equating George W. Bush to Hitler, and most recently called our commander on the ground in Iraq, General David Petraeus, a traitor in a newspaper advertisement ... That ad and this group's actions were condemned today in a bipartisan 72-25 vote in the U.S. Senate."

Democrats just helped the Right marginalize the largest progressive grassroots organization in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:45 PM


The Teenage Prayers perform in the Current studio (Jill Riley, Minnesota Public Radio, September 20, 2007, The Current)

With musical influences such as David Bowie, Solomon Burke, Iggy Pop, Otis Redding, and the Clark sisters, you realize their sound is most definitely soulful rock. The Teenage Prayers formed in New York City in 2001 and their style quickly caught the ear of Solomon Burke who produced the final track on their debut record, Ten Songs.

For their follow-up record, the band enlisted the help of the legendary founder of the Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn.

Songs performed: "No Sex," "Center of the World," "Is My Living in Vain?" (Cark Sisters Cover) and "Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)" (Solomon Burke Cover - Web Exclusive)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:19 PM


The silence of Sibelius: Why did Sibelius produce nothing in his last 30 years? On the 50th anniversary of the great composer's death, Tom Service travels to Finland to unravel one of classical music's biggest mysteries (Tom Service, September 20, 2007, Guardian)

In Jean Sibelius's house, about half an hour north of Helsinki and within sight of haunting Lake Tuusula, there is a massive green fireplace, the height of the dining room. Every brick has been carefully glazed, reflecting the light that streams in through the front windows like an evergreen glimpsed in a wintry woodland. For any visitor to Ainola today - the house is named after Sibelius's wife, Aino - the fireplace is a colourful interloper in an interior otherwise completely made of pine.

Such is the clarity of the design of the house, the restrained chic of the textiles, even the crockery, that Ainola feels strangely contemporary. You half expect Sibelius himself to come out from his office and greet you, then sit down at his piano and wave you to a seat. Everything in the house has been left almost as it was when he died, 50 years ago today: his white suit, in which he was often photographed in the last years of his life, hangs from the door of his study; his pens lie on his desk; and the phonograph sits in the library, where he spent much of his last years listening to recordings of his music by conductors such as Thomas Beecham and Leopold Stokowski.

But that fireplace holds the secret to one of the great mysteries in the history of music. For the last 30 years of his life, Sibelius - the father of Finnish music and, at that time, the most famous Finn alive, celebrated the world over with performances of his orchestral music, and one of the few living composers to be almost universally loved - did not produce any major works. It's a creative silence all but unparalleled in music. How can it be explained?

In fact, that silence may not have been as total as we think. Sibelius premiered seven symphonies in his lifetime, pieces that are among the most popular yet misunderstood of any composer, the last coming in 1924. But there was another. An Eighth Symphony was promised to Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in the early 1930s, and its British premiere was even announced for 1933. The piece never appeared, despite letters Sibelius wrote to his friends discussing its structure. In 1933, he told Georg Schneevoigt, the conductor who was supposed to lead the symphony's world premiere in Helsinki: "You have no idea how brilliant it is." Later that year, he explained to a journalist that the Eighth "will be the reckoning of my whole existence - 68 years. It will probably be my last. Eight symphonies and 100 songs. It has to be enough." But all that remains of it today is one sheet of paper, a first page with a key signature and a list of instruments - but not a single note.

Yet the work did exist. It's just that Sibelius, probably some time in 1945, held a "burning party" at Ainola, in which he destroyed the manuscripts, sketches and finished copies of pieces he was working on - including everything to do with the new symphony. Only the inside of the fireplace at Ainola has any direct experience of what the symphony contained: a musical enigma that for decades has obsessed Sibelius scholars, who have tried vainly to look for traces of the score wherever he travelled; it has even inspired a novel, William Trotter's second world war thriller, Winter Fire. According to Aino, Sibelius was a happier man after he had burnt these scores, as if this act of seemingly incomprehensible creative vandalism had somehow released his spirit.

However, the real explanation for that 30-year silence at Ainola is more surprising - and more revealing - than the fruits of any hunt for the lost Eighth could ever be. And it is staring you in the face, or at least it is to anyone familiar with Sibelius's final works. Once you understand those shattering, unprecedented pieces, then the silence strikes you as not just understandable - but inevitable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


The Myth of Stagnant Wages (James Pethokoukis, 9/20/07, US News)

If the standard of living of the average American really had not improved for more than three decades, wouldn't there have been a tremendous political backlash by now? Wouldn't the Democratic Party have fully mutated into a full-scale social democratic party—nationalized healthcare, a return to superhigh tax rates—rather than moving right over the past three decades? Would centrist or right-wing candidates (Reagan I, Reagan II, Bush I, Clinton II, Bush I, Bush II) have won six of the past seven elections? I think not. Anyway, here are the real numbers:

1) According to the Labor Department, median weekly earnings in the second quarter were a full 2 percent higher than they were in the second quarter of 2006. What's more, economist Brian Wesbury of First Trust Advisors points out that earnings for workers at the 10th percentile of earners (where 90 percent of workers earn more than they do) rose 1.1 percent faster than inflation as measured by the consumer price index. Workers at the 25th percentile enjoyed wage gains of 2.3 percent above inflation, the fastest increase for any point along the income distribution, even faster than for those at the 75th percentile and 90th percentile.

2) Men who go to college are making more than they did in 1973. Men who don't have any college make less. That's according to data from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. But those numbers are all adjusted for inflation, and many economists think government numbers overstate inflation. If so, then all Americans, on average, are substantially wealthier than they were back then. Here is what Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon E-mailed me earlier this year:

The correct statement is that correcting the upward bias of the official CPI adds more than 1 percent per year to official estimates of the growth in median and mean wages. Cumulatively since 1977, my best estimate of the upward bias in the CPI cumulates to 38 percent between 1977 and 2006. Thus, if someone came along and said the male median wage adjusted for CPI inflation has been stagnant since 1977, I would translate this into a true 38 percent increase. [...]

5) All these wage data ignore that benefits are an important part of compensation and have been rising faster than inflation for some time. Why does access to our increasingly technologically sophisticated healthcare system not count as improving our standard of living?

Go tell your grandmother how much harder you have it than she did when she was young and the mark her slap leaves on your cheek may be permanent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


The Next Iranian Revolution: How armed exiles are working to topple Tehran's Islamic Government (Michael J. Totten, October 2007, Reason)

Opposition to the regime is widespread, deep, and open—an unthinkable situation in Saddam’s Iraq. It’s impossible for the Iranian government to crack down on everyone. The police don’t even try anymore.

“You can complain about the government,” Mohtadi said. “You can insult them. But America is a red line. Khomeini himself is a red line. The Israelis are a red line, absolutely.” Iranians can’t buck the party line on certain topics, but they are brave enough, or just barely free enough, to protest the government to its face. “When [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad spoke to students,” Mohtadi pointed out, “hundreds of students stood up and called him a fascist and burned his picture.”

Iran’s Genocide of Islam
Sealing the rugged Iran-Iraq border is all but impossible in the north, where like-minded Kurds live on both sides of it. People, as well as goods, cross every hour. Alcohol is smuggled into Iran. Gasoline and drugs are smuggled out. Komala’s location in the area makes it the perfect place for a vast, sprawling safe house. Activists, underground party members, and dissidents from Iran—the Persian heartland as well as from Iranian Kurdistan—slip through the mountains to visit every day.

I’ve stood on the border myself and contemplated walking undetected into Iran. Komala leaders even offered to take me across and embed me themselves. “We can get you inside Iran and leave you for weeks, if you want, among our supporters and among our people,” Mohtadi said. “It is very easy.”

If I were caught in Iran without a visa or an entry stamp in my passport, I would almost surely be jailed as a spy. Tempting as the offer was, I had to pass. Anyway, I could speak to Iranian dissidents, if not necessarily ordinary Iranians, in the Komala camp just as easily as I could have inside Iran. As it happened, a famous Persian writer and dissident had arrived there just before I did.

Kianoosh Sanjari is a member of the United Student Front in Tehran. At 23, he has been imprisoned and tortured many times. His last arrest was on October 7, 2006, after he wrote about clashes between the Revolutionary Guards and supporters of the liberal cleric Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi. Charged with “acting against state security” and “propaganda against the system,” he was released on $100,000 bail last December. Some months later, he fled to Iraq and moved to the Komala camp.

Unlike most Iranian visitors who use Komala as a safe house, Sanjari didn’t bother remaining anonymous. He told me his real name and said I could publish his picture. If you can read Farsi, you can read his blog at “I’m just now coming out of Iran,” he said. “It’s a hell there. I know the sufferings. I am inclined to accept any tactic that helps overthrow this regime.”

“Does that include an American invasion of Iran?” I asked.

“Maybe intellectuals who just talk about things are not in favor of that kind of military attack,” he said. “But I have spoken to people in taxis, in public places. They are praying for an external outside power to do something for them and get rid of the mullahs. Personally, it’s not acceptable for me if the United States crosses the Iranian border. I like the independence of Iran and respect the independence of my country. But my generation doesn’t care about this.”

Sanjari has fierce and intimidating eyes, the eyes not of a fanatic but of a deadly serious person who is not to be messed with. He spoke slowly and with great force. “They repress people in the name of religion,” he said. “They torture people in the name of religion. They kill people in the name of religion. The young generation now wants to distance themselves from religion itself.”

Islamists seem to fail wherever they succeed. Perhaps Islamic law looks good on paper to Muslims who live in oppressive secular states, but few seem to think so after they actually have to put up with it.

More than 100,000 Algerians were killed during the 1990s in a horrific civil war between religious insurgents and the secular police state. As a consequence, Islamists are more hated now in Algeria than at any time since they rose up. Al Qaeda is trying to reignite the war there, and it is failing spectacularly.

Iraqis are turning against Al Qaeda faster and harder than Iranians turned against the Islamic Republic. Harsh as the Islamic Republic may be, Al Qaeda is worse by an order of magnitude. Its now infamous warnings to street vendors in Iraq’s Anbar Province not to place cucumbers next to tomatoes in the market because the vegetables are “different genders” is one of myriad reasons why most Sunni Arab tribes in that region recently flipped to the side of the hated Americans.

Islamist law is so widely detested and flouted in Iran that it’s a wonder the regime even bothers to keep up the pretense. In June 2005 Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair that every person he visited there, with the exception of one single imam, offered him alcohol, which is banned.

Everyone I met at the Komala compound said the Iranian regime itself wallows deep in the post-ideological torpor that inevitably follows radical revolutions. Except for the most fanatic officials, the government cares only about money and power. “Followers of the regime are not ideological anymore,” Sanjari said. “They are bribed by the government. They will no longer support it in the case that it is overthrown. Even among the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guards, there are so many people dissatisfied with the policies of the regime. Fortunately there aren’t religious conflicts between Shias, Sunnis, and different nationalities.”

Mohtadi concurred. “The next revolution and government will be explicitly anti-religious,” he said.

The Iranian writer Reza Zarabi says the regime has all but destroyed religion itself. “The name Iran, which used to be equated with such things as luxury, fine wine, and the arts, has become synonymous with terrorism,” he wrote. “When the Islamic Republic government of Iran finally meets its demise, they will have many symbols and slogans as testaments of their rule, yet the most profound will be their genocide of Islam, the black stain that they have put on this faith for many generations to come.”

It’s certainly possible to be overoptimistic. Iranian dissidents have been predicting an imminent revolution for several years running. Michael Hirsh wrote recently in Newsweek that women in Tehran have “gone defiantly chic” in style and that the men are looking “less and less menacing and more and more metrosexual,” which makes the place sound more like freewheeling Beirut than an Islamist theocracy. But the state, he added, could still endure for some time. “It is an old, familiar umbrella of oppression that now stays just distant enough to be tolerated, even if it is little loved,” he wrote. “The success of this oppressive but subtly effective system should give the regime-change advocates in Washington some pause.”

Whom to believe? Hirsh’s analysis has been the correct one so far, but Iran is notoriously unpredictable even for those who are supposed to be experts. The 1979 Revolution shocked even CIA agents who lived in Iran while it was brewing. They insisted the Shah was firmly entrenched and could not possibly fall.

The Middle East is so rife with conflict, factions, murky alliances, foreign interventions, multisided civil wars, and wild-card variables that trying to predict its future is like trying to forecast the weather on a particular day three years in advance. There’s a reason the phrase shifting sands has become a cliché.

If the Islamic Republic is overthrown, almost anything might happen. Iran could become a modern liberal democracy, as most Eastern European states did after the fall of the Soviet Empire. It could revert to a milder form of authoritarian rule, as Russia has. It could, like Iraq, face chronic instability and insurgent attacks. Or its various “nationalities” could tear the country to pieces and go the way of the Yugoslavs. Optimists like Sanjari and Mohtadi may have a better sense of what to expect than those of us in the West, but still they do not know.

The only thing that seems likely is that a showdown of some kind is coming, either between factions in Iran or between Iran and the rest of the world. Predictions of the regime’s imminent demise have been staples of Iranian expat and activist discourse for years, so it’s hard to take the latest predictions seriously. But authoritarian regimes increasingly seem to have limited shelf lives. As Francis Fukuyama’s flawed but compelling book The End of History points out, there has been a worldwide explosion of liberal democracies since the 18th century, from three in 1790 to 36 in 1960 to 61 in 1990. (In 2006 Freedom House classified 148 nations as free or partly free.) History isn’t over and never will be, but it hasn’t been kind to dictatorships lately.

The Iranian state is soft and vulnerable compared with the worst abusers out there, and it constantly faces resistance from citizens. Something will give.

The very softness makes it unlikely that the successor will be actually anti-religious and if Ayatollah Khhamenei and Rafsanjani lead an economic liberalization they could even preserve the Islamic Republic. But the region has hardly been characterized by the moderation of its revolutions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


Is GOP Determined to Avoid Minority Voters? (Carl Leubsdorf, 9/20/07, Real Clear Politics)

Not only is the GOP field all white and male – in a year that Democratic contenders include an African-American senator, a Hispanic governor and a woman – but its candidates seem determined to avoid many of the nation's more diverse groups.

So far, most Republicans have bypassed three chances to woo the fastest-growing, most tempting minority, Hispanics. They also turned down a chance to appear before a leading group of gays and lesbians and have avoided some unions, where Republicans poll a significant minority.

And next week, the top GOP hopefuls will pass up a debate designed to spotlight issues of special interest to African-Americans.

Their actions defy warnings that their party needs to expand its share of minority votes or doom itself to minority status. After 2000, President Bush's strategists said he'd lose in 2004 unless he increased his share of the Hispanic vote to 40 percent.

He did – and he won.

Last year, after most leading Republicans denounced his immigration plan providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here, the party's share of the Hispanic vote dropped sharply.

Compounding the GOP's problem with its wahoo wing is that the natural successor to President Bush and the one guy in the Party likely to appeal even more to Latinos is not running for dynastic reasons. But adding Jeb to the ticket in '08 and running on his own will begin to heal some of these self-inflicted wounds.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:43 PM


Source: Syria Has Nuclear Program (BENNY AVNI, September 19, 2007, NY Sun)

Recent reports of cooperation between Syria and North Korea on weapons development, including in the nuclear field, are chilling earlier enthusiasm in Washington about the prospect of North Korean disarmament through diplomacy.

A person identifying himself as a former Syrian military officer who has had access to sensitive military information in Damascus confirmed to The New York Sun yesterday that Syria has been working on a clandestine nuclear program at least since 1986. The former officer added that many North Korean nationals are in Syria in relation to that program. Syrian and North Korean officials have dismissed reports in several press outlets claiming that the target of a September 6 Israeli air raid over Syria was a nascent Syrian nuclear program heavily aided by North Korea.

If Israel indeed hit a target related to such a program, and if, as the Washington Post first reported, the air raid was scheduled several days after a suspicious North Korean delivery arrived in Syria, this would put Pyongyang, which of late has promised to verifiably disarm its nuclear program, in an awkward position. It also may explain the abrupt suspension of a meeting in Beijing, scheduled for today, of six countries involved in the North Korean disarmament diplomacy.

"The North Koreans don't want to be in the glare in Beijing, explaining what they are doing in Syria," a former American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said. Mr. Bolton, who has led the charge against an inclination by some in the State Department to invest enough trust in Pyongyang to offer it incentives in exchange for disarmament, warned about ties between the regimes of Kim Jong-Il and President al-Assad as long as four years ago.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


An up-and-coming force in Libyan politics (Elisabeth Rosenthal, September 20, 2007, IHT)

The thin man with a shaved head smiled slightly as he made his way to a podium erected amid Greek ruins, a serious presence in a boisterous crowd that gathered last week to celebrate plans for an eco-development region near the town of Cyrene, in the deserts of Eastern Libya.

In a skull cap and long white tunic with a gold-trimmed vest, he talked slowly, deliberately - even a bit nervously - presenting data in English about desertification, oil supplies and carbon emissions. He corrected even the smallest grammatical errors in the printed speech he was reading.

"Climate change is a global problem, but global solutions start with local solutions," he said in faintly accented English. "We must build societies in a way that allow us to reduce greenhouse gases. The day will come when oil will run out and if we wait for that it will be too late."

The man - part scholar, part monk, part model, part policy wonk - was Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, the powerful 33-year-old son of Libya's extroverted and impulsive president, Muammar el-Qaddafi. He is, in short, the un-Qaddafi. [...]

He emerged on the world stage in 2000, when he helped negotiate the release of hostages taken by Islamic terrorists at a Philippine diving resort. He has spoken out against Libya's Revolutionary Committees, which exist in schools, businesses and offices to enforce political orthodoxy.

Perhaps as a sign of his growing importance, his security detail has greatly increased in the past year, say those who know him.

"He doesn't have an official position but it's clear he has influence and power - Saif is right in the heart of it all," said Rajeev Singh-Molares of the business consultancy the Monitor Group in London. He has advised Qaddafi for three years, working on a strategy for Libya's economic development. Michael Porter, a professor at Harvard Business School, also talks with Qaddafi.

Westerners who have worked with him say he is smart, well-read and quick to pick up the telephone to call the prime minister or his father. But "he understands that there are red lines that he cannot cross," said an associate who asked to speak anonymously about the political forces within Libya.

The Qaddafi Foundation he runs "was certainly helpful in the nurses' case," said Richard Roberts, who led a group of Nobel Prize winners in petitioning Libya for their release. "At this point one would like to believe the best about them."

Qaddafi has recently made some extraordinary admissions: He said the medics were tortured with electricity while in prison and that the infection of children with AIDS in Benghazi resulted from poor sanitary conditions at the city's hospital and was not - as his father and the prosecutors contended - a plot by the nurses to infect them.

Also this year, in a televised speech, he said that Libya should adopt a proper constitution that would guarantee freedom of the press. Qaddafi has opened two private newspapers in Libya and this summer he addressed a gathering of more than 100,000 young Libyans.

He is the president's second-born son, the first child of his second wife, Safiyya. His siblings are Muhammad, a businessman; Saadi, a professional soccer player; and Aysha, his sister, who is a lawyer.

Qaddafi is, experts say, clearly an emerging force for liberalization.

Time for Gamal Mubarak to step up to the plate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:25 PM

SO HELP YOU, YOU? (via Matt Murphy):

Nebraska State Senator Sues God (NATE JENKINS, 9/17/07, AP)

The defendant in a state senator's lawsuit is accused of causing untold death and horror and threatening to cause more still. He can be sued in Douglas County, the legislator claims, because He's everywhere.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers sued God last week. Angered by another lawsuit he considers frivolous, Chambers says he's trying to make the point that anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody.

Chambers says in his lawsuit that God has made terroristic threats against the senator and his constituents, inspired fear and caused "widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants."

The Omaha senator, who skips morning prayers during the legislative session and often criticizes Christians, also says God has caused "fearsome floods ... horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes."

He's seeking a permanent injunction against the Almighty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


Deaf Indie Elephants has posted The National’s performance at Austin City Limits 2007.

And here they are on The Current, The National perform in the Current studio (Steve Seel, Minnesota Public Radio, September 20, 2007, The Current)

Before their show at the Fine Line Music Cafe, they spoke with Steve Seel about how politics fits, or doesn't, into their music as well as their experience at Austin City Limits and at the David Letterman show.

Songs performed: "Racing Like a Pro," "Apartment Story," and "Fake Empire."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


Sony's Plan to Cut PS3 Costs: By letting Toshiba make the game console's chip, Sony can focus on core operations—and boosting PlayStation sales (Kenji Hall, 9/19/07, Business Week)

In the video-game industry, it's the oldest trick in the book. To keep a console from collecting dust on store shelves, game console makers will periodically cut prices and watch as buyers flock. Since the PlayStation 3's global launch last November, Sony (SNE) has already dropped the price of its two models, originally $599 and $499, by $100 apiece. But with PS3 sales growing at a slower-than-expected pace and trailing Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii, Sony could be mulling over another price reduction in the coming weeks. Some observers think an announcement might come as soon as this week's Tokyo Game Show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Petrol Rationing - Bumpy Ride (Kimia Sanati, 9/20/07, IPS)

Two months after the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began rationing petrol to ‘’vaccinate’’ itself against possible sanctions, critics say the plan has failed to cut down gasoline consumption. Instead it has hurt the agriculture, tourism, transportation and other sectors of the economy. [...]

Extra rations for various government organisations, groups of individuals with special needs and some businesses, as well as a bonus 100 lt ‘summer travelling ration’ allocated by the government have reversed the initial drop in consumption. Gasoline consumers under 45 different categories are now receiving additional gasoline rations, a member of Parliament Economic Committee was quoted by the ‘Aftab Yazd’ daily as saying.

"During the early stages of the implementation of the plan, traffic was reduced, gasoline consumption went down, there was less pollution and people accepted to learn to change their fuel consumption patterns... but creation of extra rations has destroyed all the initial achievements," the hard line ‘Jomhuri Eslami’ daily wrote.

In c ase you wondered why Khamenei is shoving Rafsanjani down their throats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:54 AM


Unemployment Claims Make Surprise Drop (MARTIN CRUTSINGER, 9/20/07, AP)

The number of laid-off workers filing claims for unemployment benefits fell to the lowest level in seven weeks, an unexpected sign of improvement for the jobs market. [...]

The four-week average for claims, which smooths out some of the volatility, also showed an improvement, falling to 320,750 from 324,250 the previous week.

Do such minor fluctuations really matter anyway in a full-employment economy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


A Reunion of Giants, 50 Years On (FRED KAPLAN, 9/20/07, NY Times)

Sonny Rollins’s concert at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night was billed as the 50th anniversary of his first performance there. More significant, it was the first time since 1958 — nearly a 50th anniversary — that he’s played with Roy Haynes. The greatest living tenor saxophone player, teamed again with arguably the greatest living drummer — now that’s historic.

The concert’s first half, when the two were joined by the young bassist Christian McBride, lived up to the fanfare, in unexpected ways. The high points of Mr. Rollins’s concerts are usually the extended solos: sinuous improvisations, going on for dozens of choruses, no two alike, in which he explores every chord, theme or counterpoint a song seems to offer, then taps some uncharted crevice and digs or soars on to blow more. This set wasn’t like that. Perhaps because he was playing with peers (a rarity in recent decades), he held back, simmered where he usually boiled, and played as one of three equals.

The unlikely highlight was “Some Enchanted Evening,” which Mr. Rollins opened by reciting the melody with his lush and husky tone, while Mr. Haynes flapped brushes in triple time, and Mr. McBride plucked whole notes that anchored the chords without confining his band mates. When they got to the part where most musicians take solos, Mr. Rollins instead tossed out a fragment of the melody, then Mr. Haynes filled in the rest, and on the interplay went, bar after bar, the two sometimes overlapping, sometimes not.

It felt like an ambling, elegant conversation between old friends, which in fact it was. It set off a goose-bump sensation, a shared intimacy one rarely encounters in a jazz concert. And the full house gave it the night’s lustiest applause.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Most Down-to-Earth Presidential Candidates (David A. Andelman, 09.18.07, Forbes)

Fred Thompson has spent the last five years of his public life cultivating an image of an avuncular, low-key leader of a group of high-energy public prosecutors as the Manhattan district attorney on NBC's Law & Order.

So it's perhaps not too surprising that the newest declared Republican candidate has emerged as the most "down-to-earth" among 15 that are tracked in the September edition of our presidential poll, the Forbes '08 Tracker.

A close second in this category is U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Perhaps not surprisingly, Thompson and Obama also came in first and second as the most appealing candidates--the broadest measure of voter interest and the closest to a conventional political poll. In terms of down-to-earth, 20% of those polled in our sample identified Thompson with this trait, and 19% attributed it to Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 AM


Netanyahu 'admits Israeli strike' (BBC, 9/20/07)

The Israeli opposition leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, has made the first apparent admission of Israel's involvement in an alleged air strike against Syria.

In a live interview on Israeli TV, Mr Netanyahu said he had congratulated Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the raid.

"I was a partner in the issue from the start, and I gave my backing," he said.

His resemblance to Newt Gingrich just now occurs to me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Bin Laden video to declare war on Musharraf: site (Reuters, 9/20/07)

An Islamist Web site said on Thursday it would carry a new video from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in which he declares war on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani army.

The biggest challenge in Pakistan is getting them to fight al Qaeda--giving them no choice in the matter is extremely helpful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Lack of Women in Eastern Germany Feeds Neo-Nazis: A new study has found that many more women are leaving economically moribund Eastern Germany. The result is a new, frustrated and largely male underclass. And many of them find succor in the neo-Nazi scene. (Der Spiegel, 9/20/07)

The problem has been well known for years: Ever since the mid-1990s, young Eastern Germans have been fleeing the region due to a lack of economic opportunity, hoping to find jobs in the western part of the country. Some 1.5 million have already left the region -- roughly 10 percent of the population of East Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. Even worse, most of those who leave are under 35 and many of them have above average education or training.

But according to a new study released by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, there is another problem that accompanies the migration. Since 1991, more than two-thirds of all those who have left Eastern Germany have been women. The result is that in many towns in the region, there are simply not enough to go around -- some places are missing up to 25 percent of their young women. Even worse, the young men who stay behind are often poorly educated, unemployed and frustrated -- perfect fodder for neo-Nazi groups looking for members.

Hoffer again: "A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business." Hardly surprising that men who can't find women find their own lives meaningless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


The French Revolution: As President Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the role of Europe's most dynamic leader, smashing taboos has stripped away paralyzing French hypocrisy. (Roger Cohen, 9/19/07, Der Spiegel)

The French Revolution of 2007 has not seen heads roll but has involved the destruction of 10 taboos as President Nicolas Sarkozy assumes the role of Europe's most dynamic leader.


Enthusiasm for the United States was unacceptable for a French political leader because it was always interpreted as an embrace of "Wild West" capitalism, "Anglo-Saxon" hegemony and vulgarity. De rigueur attitudes held sway: patronizing contempt in Paris met macho derision in Washington. Communication suffered. Sarko's New Hampshire vacation, enthused American dreaming, iPod-accompanied jogging and in-your-face style cleared the air. [...]


To run France, you had to be cultured. Mitterrand's bookish references and Delphic utterances ("A president must know how to be bored") positioned him as too clever to contest. Chirac had a recherché passion for Japan. Culture - like cows but on a different level - connected the president to the Gallic eternal. Sarko, an American movie buff, is more at home with Johnny Hallyday than Jean-Paul Sartre.

An Anglo-American contempt for intellectuals could have saved them from the Enlightenment in the first place.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Belgium (Almost) Auctioned on eBay: The political problems in Belgium are mounting, as are the frustrations of the country's 10 million citizens. One man decided it was time to sell the country -- debt and royalty included. (der Spiegel, 9/19/07)

Getting rid of old stuff -- no matter how run down, shabby or broken -- has never been easier. Just advertise it on eBay and before long the bids add up, the auction comes to an end, and your junk has a proud new owner.

But what do you do if the broken object happens to be a European country like Belgium? Apparently, that too can be sold on the Internet auction site. After 100 days of watching his country fail time and again to set up a government following June 10 elections, teacher Gerrit Six decided to put Belgium up for sale.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


NATO Rapid Reaction Force to Be Eliminated (Der Spiegel, 9/19/07)

It was supposed to be the cornerstone of NATO's conversion from a Cold War necessity to a rapid-reaction, anti-terror force. The alliance even declared the NATO Response Force (NRF) -- 25,000 fully equipped troops ready for deployment at a moment's notice -- to be fully ready to go in November of last year.

But now, the NRF may be facing a premature end. It turns out that, despite General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's repeated expressions of confidence (as early as April 2005 he said, "the primary challenge at this point is no longer in setting up the NRF. The challenge is to figure out when and where to use it."), it proved difficult to get NATO member countries to contribute the troop numbers and materiel they had pledged.

...other than Atlanticists, who no one takes seriously either?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Shaky Allies in Anbar (David Ignatius, September 20, 2007, Washington Post)

What finally happened in Anbar was that Sunni tribal leaders -- tough guys who have guns and know how to use them -- began standing up to the al-Qaeda thugs who were marrying their women and blocking their smuggling routes. The initial American response in mid-2006, I'm told, was ho-hum. More warlords. But Green Zone officials began to realize this was the real deal, and a virtuous cycle began. The tragedy is that it could have happened much earlier.

The American plan now, apparently, is to extend the Anbar model and create "bottom-up" solutions throughout Iraq. For example, I'm told that U.S. commanders met recently with the Shiite political organization known as the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and gave a green light for its Badr Organization militia to control security in Nasiriyah and some other areas in southern Iraq and thereby check the power of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. We're interposing ourselves here in an intra-Shiite battle we barely understand.

These local deals may make sense as short-term methods for stabilizing the country. But we shouldn't confuse these tactical alliances with nation-building. Over time, they will break Iraq apart rather than pull it together. Work with tribal and militia leaders, but don't forget who they are.

It was fine to use the USSR, immoral to leave it standing afterwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Advantage: Harper (National Post, September 20, 2007)

Put whatever spin you wish on Monday's byelection results, the biggest losers were Stephane Dion and his Liberals. Like the esteemed columnists who appeared on this page yesterday, we've crunched the numbers, too. We know the Bloc Quebecois lost a larger share of its 2006 general election vote than did Mr. Dion's party in the three Quebec votes. But at least the Bloc managed to hang on to one of their two seats. The Liberals, by contrast, lost Outremont, the only seat of the three that they held before election night -- and, formerly, one of their safest ridings in the country -- even though Mr. Dion handpicked the candidate. Not only did the Tories pick up a seat on Monday, they've bolstered their emerging status as the go-to federalist party in Quebec.

More importantly, Mr. Dion's disastrous byelection showing has left the Liberals fighting amongst themselves over who is to blame. There are plenty of whispers behind the leader's back that he just does not have the stuff to reverse Liberal fortunes. Meanwhile, his staunchest backers are pointing fingers at deputy leader Michael Ignatieff and his followers, accusing them of actually working against Jocelyn Coulon, their own party's candidate in the Montreal riding of Outremont. Their theory holds that the Ignatieff forces sabotaged Mr. Coulon so that his loss (to the NDP, as it turned out) would embarrass Mr. Dion, who would then feel pressure to resign in favour of Mr. Ignatieff, the man Mr. Dion bested at the Liberal leadership convention last December.

Whether any or all of this is true (and we have no idea), it has engulfed the Liberals in internecine battles, all of which plays into Stephen Harper's hands.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


The Man Behind a Spy Left Out in the Cold (MARGY ROCHLIN, 9/20/07, NY Times)

“Most spy skills are criminal skills,” Mr. Nix said recently, sitting in his tiny, almost heartbreakingly drab office in Glendale, Calif. “You’re just doing them under the umbrella of an official agency. You’re going to other countries and breaking their laws. You’re a burglar, a thief and a con artist — just to hopefully good ends.”

In the case of “Burn Notice,” viewers don’t know the ethical extent of our hero’s cloak-and-daggery; they just know he liked his job and wants it back. Using his secret-agent arsenal to help desperate clients, he is aided, or distracted, by a willful, Irish Republican Army-trained ex-girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar); a former military intel buddy who’s also an F.B.I. informant (Bruce Campbell); and a hectoring mother (Sharon Gless) who keeps his cellphone ringing.

The television critic Alessandra Stanley, while noting that in real life a burn notice is serious business, wrote in The New York Times that the show was “cheerfully insouciant about the world’s trouble spots but takes its hero’s inner child to heart.” The generally positive notices have been reflected in the ratings: The series has won its Thursday-night basic-cable time slot every week, and USA has already ordered a second season.

Mr. Nix, 36, who makes a living writing feature films but has not had a script produced, came up with the idea for “Burn Notice,” his first television gig, through conversations with an international security expert named Michael Wilson.

Mr. Nix said Mr. Wilson would “say things, like, ‘If you’re going to get into a big fight, it’s a good idea to get into a fight in bathrooms — there’s a lot of hard surfaces,’ and I’d think, ‘O.K., when am I going to use that?’ ” From this, one of the comic elements of “Burn Notice” was born: In voice-over, Westen offers deadpan tips — say, how to make your own flash grenade by, among other things, putting aluminum foil through a coffee grinder — as if ordinary viewers might often find themselves outnumbered by heavily armed opponents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Autonomy games: Tensions with the regions ahead of next March's general election in Spain (The Economist, 9/20/07)

POLITICIANS can be more loved when they give up power than when they have it. This seems true of Josu Jon Imaz, leader of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). His decision to quit has provoked laments all round, including from the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Mr Imaz's party won only 1.6% of the vote in the 2004 general election. But, like the Basque country, the PNV punches above its weight. It has dominated Basque politics for 30 years, leading every regional government since 1980, including that of the current premier, Juan José Ibarretxe. And it runs a region that has more autonomy than just about any other in Europe. [...]

The Basque country is, as ever, being watched intently in Catalonia, which is both bigger and stronger. With a population of 7.1m, Catalonia is home to almost one in six Spaniards. It has plenty of sovereigntists of its own, a few of whom burnt pictures of King Juan Carlos when he visited Barcelona recently. Catalans were also irritated when the Madrid parliament voted this week to bar sub-national sports teams from international competitions.

In Catalonia Mr Zapatero has, at least, done his homework by securing a new autonomy deal that Catalans approved in a referendum last year. He hopes that the new deal has sorted out Catalonia for a generation—and that if a moderate wins the PNV leadership, a similar deal might even work with the Basques. Yet the sovereigntists are now getting noisier in Catalonia, ahead of next March's general election. Spain's regional tensions seem likely to continue for a while yet.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


West should not miss chance to end atomic row: Iran (Reuters, 9/20/07)

Iran is testing Western intentions by working with the U.N. atomic watchdog to resolve a nuclear row but the opportunity for such cooperation may not be repeated, a senior Iranian official said on Thursday. [...]

"Iran has provided the agency and the West with a very important opportunity. If their intention is to cooperate and resolve the nuclear problem, Iran has expressed its readiness," Aghazadeh said, Fars reported.

"This is an exceptional opportunity and it is not clear if this will be provided (by Iran) again," he added, speaking to reporters on returning from Vienna, where the IAEA is based.

"This political decision (to cooperate with the IAEA) was taken by Iran to test the agency and the West and, definitely, our intention and decision and the country's political will is to resolve these issues. Iran will resolve them."

There's never been an opportunity with Iran we haven't missed.

September 19, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


NBC to Offer a Free Video Download Service (BILL CARTER, September 19, 2007, NY Times)

NBC Universal, acknowledging that viewers are increasingly moving away from traditional television viewing, announced plans today for a service that will make popular NBC programs available to download free to personal computers and other devices.

The programs, including “Heroes” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” will be offered for a week immediately after their initial broadcasts. Commercials will be embedded in the programs and viewers will not be able to skip through them.

They had the whole season of Heroes online and I was able to catch-up this Summer. What's the point of thwarting viewership?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 PM

BY WARMING, WE MEAN A NEW ICE AGE... (via Glenn Dryfoos)

Southland feels early chill of early storm (Ari Bloomekatz, 9/19/07, Los Angeles Times)

Cooler weather and high winds moved into Southern California today in advance of a storm that could bring snow to the mountains and the first rain to Los Angeles in about 150 days.

Meteorologists said the unstable weather system coming from British Columbia was the Southland's first winter storm, arriving months ahead of schedule and sending temperatures eight to 15 degrees below normal. [...]

"The storm is pretty unusual. It's pretty much our first winter storm of the season and it's barely fall," said weather service meteorologist Edan Lindaman. "Typically, we don't see storms like this until into early April."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


Female circumcision focus of ferocious debate in Egypt (Michael Slackman, September 19, 2007, NY Times)

Circumcision, as supporters call it, or female genital mutilation, as opponents refer to it, was suddenly a ferocious focus of debate in Egypt this summer. A nationwide campaign to stop the practice has become one of the most powerful social movements in Egypt in decades, uniting an unlikely alliance of government forces, official religious leaders and street-level activists.

Although Egypt's Health Ministry ordered an end to the practice in 1996, it allowed exceptions in cases of emergency, a loophole critics describe as so wide that it effectively rendered the ban meaningless.

Ah, that old feminist standby: the emergency exception.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 PM


Buddhist monk rally steps up pressure on Burma's junta (Jonathan Watts, September 20, 2007, The Guardian)

More than 2,000 Buddhist monks took to the streets of Burma again yesterday in the most sustained and widespread protest against the military junta for more than 10 years. The authorities made a rare admission that security forces had fired tear gas and warning shots to quell the unrest, which has spread across several cities over the past month.

The situation has prompted one exile group to urge China to use its influence to prevent violence.

Even non-violent revolution depends on violence, though submission to it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


The Israel Lobby and the Second Holocaust Debate: An emblematic error in a controversial book (Ron Rosenbaum, Sept. 19, 2007, Slate)

To me, the real problem is not whether The Israel Lobby pleases this Grand Kleagle or that, or the one-sidedness of its depiction of Israel and its supporters, so much as the profound failure of the moral imagination that the book reflects. A failure to connect with the historical experience of Jews that motivates their support of Israel. A failure to empathize with the real danger the 6 million Jews of Israel face: the threat of a second Holocaust.

It is in this light that I'd like to take up what I regard as an emblematic error in the book that involves its allusion to me and my views on the second Holocaust question, an error that I believe is a window into that failure of the moral imagination.

In fairness to the authors, the creation of Israel made a second Holocaust easier. Translocating world Jewry to Florida -- or throughout the US-- would have made it less likely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


For Every Species, a Barcode Under New Project (Benjamin Yeh, 9/19/07, AFP)

A group of Canadian scientists is working on an ambitious project to create a global database of up to half a million of the world's species using DNA barcoding technology.

What's the difference between DNA and a barcode, other than the reader?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 PM


Senate Blocks Bill on Iraq Combat Tours (ANNE FLAHERTY, 9/19/07, AP)

The Senate blocked legislation Wednesday that would have regulated the amount of time troops spent in combat, a blow for Democrats struggling to challenge President Bush's Iraq policies.

The 56-44 vote was four votes short of reaching the 60 needed to cut off debate. It was the second time in as many months that the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., was sidetracked. In July, a similar measure fell four votes short of advancing.

At some point they're enabling the mitchslappings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


In seeking economic reform, Sarkozy urges French to 'change mentalities' (Katrin Bennhold, September 19, 2007, NY Times)

President Nicolas Sarkozy, trying to overhaul labor markets, pensions and the tax system, promised Wednesday a "revolution" within the state itself.

The president's message, in a speech to civil servants in the western city of Nantes, was two-fold: In the global economy of the 21st century, a strong French state is as important as ever - but it will have to be a more nimble institution that minimizes abuse and gives taxpayers value for money.

Sarkozy vowed to cut the number of civil servants radically and proposed that some state employees be hired without the perks traditionally associated with jobs in the public sector. He plans to do away with pay scales and introduce performance reviews and merit-based pay. [...]

"What I am proposing to you is a cultural revolution, a revolution to change mentalities," Sarkozy said.

Merit is a dagger aimed at the heart of egalitarianism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


The death of relativism: The film A Mighty Heart goes too far in likening my son's murderers to the Guantánamo regime (Judea Pearl, September 19, 2007, The Guardian)

I used to believe that the world essentially divided into two types of people: those who were broadly tolerant, and those who felt threatened by differences. If only the former ruled the earth, I reasoned, the world might know some measure of peace. But there was a problem with my theory, and it was never clearer than in a conversation I had with a Pakistani friend who told me that he loathed people like George Bush who insisted on dividing the world into "us" and "them". My friend did not realise that he was in fact falling straight into the camp of people he loathed.

This is a political version of a famous paradox formulated by Bertrand Russell. The stronger you insist on the necessity of tolerance, the more intolerant you become toward those who disagree. The moral lesson is that there is no such thing as unqualified tolerance; ultimately, one must be able to expound intolerance of certain ideologies without surrendering the moral high ground normally linked to tolerance.

Which brings me to my son, Daniel Pearl. Thanks to the release of A Mighty Heart, the Angelina Jolie movie which premieres in the UK this week, Danny's legacy is once again receiving attention. Of course, no movie could ever capture exactly that magical combination of humour and integrity, gentleness and resilience, that made Danny admired by so many. Still, traces of these qualities are certainly evident in A Mighty Heart, and viewers will leave the cinema inspired by them.

At the same time, I am worried that the film falls into a trap Russell would have recognised: the paradox of moral equivalence, of seeking to extend the logic of tolerance a step too far. You can see traces of this logic in the film's comparison of Danny's abduction with Guantánamo (it opens with pictures from the prison) and of al-Qaida militants with CIA agents. You can also see it in the comments of the movie's director, Michael Winterbottom, who wrote in the Washington Post that A Mighty Heart and his previous film, The Road to Guantanamo, were very similar: "There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this."

Drawing a comparison between Danny's murder and the detention of suspects in Guantánamo is precisely what the killers wanted, as expressed in both their emails and the murder video.

...what's the difference between Daniel Pearl and Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, eh, Mr. Winterbottom?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


NOT THAT KIND OF PIE (Emily Fleischaker, 9/19/07, Bon Appetit Blog)

The first frito pie of my life was 14 years ago and came from Woolworth's, a famous but since-departed general store on the Southwest corner of the Santa Fe Plaza—a store that may or may not have invented the southwestern delicacy. The woman behind the lunch counter at Woolworth's had a classic pie presentation, one that required minimal assembly:

1. Open a bag of fritos
2. Dump in chili, onions, cheese
3. Provide fork

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


The Ludlum conspiracy: The real mystery about Robert Ludlum is how he has managed to write no fewer than 12 new bestsellers in the six years since his death (Rob Sharp, September 15, 2007, The Age)

MYSTERY. Conspiracy. Identity. If a book were to tell the story of Robert Ludlum, these would be its themes. A successful actor and theatre producer who turned his hand to popular fiction, Ludlum practically cornered the market in dense, paranoid, meticulously researched thrillers for 30 years.

By the time of his death in 2001, he had sold 210 million books - a figure only exceeded by J.K. Rowling. One of the hottest properties at the cinema box office in the past couple of months has been The Bourne Ultimatum, the third instalment of a $US500 million-grossing movie franchise based on Ludlum's best-known character, starring Matt Damon as an amnesiac spy.

Yet for all the sales figures and superlatives, it is somehow fitting that a novelist who specialised in complex conspiracy theories and international espionage should have left behind a conundrum to baffle even Bourne himself.

In the years since his death, 12 new works bearing his name have hit the bookshelves and beach-towels of the world. None was penned by Ludlum himself - and at least three have not been credited to any other writer.

These include The Bancroft Strategy, published last year, which sold 102,000 copies in hardback alone. Like Bourne, whose life after death underscores the basis of the film trilogy, so, too, has his creator found a new identity in his afterlife.

The truth behind how Ludlum achieved immortality is elusive. During his lifetime, Ludlum surrounded himself with a tight circle of associates - those from the worlds of theatre and publishing, and other authors - who have remained intensely loyal to the memory of the modest-living multi-millionaire.

His estate is similarly evasive about claims that an army of secretive ghost-writers is producing books under the Ludlum name. What is clear is that Ludlum's final wish, for his work to live on beyond his death, has been achieved.

...if you just kept releasing the same Ludlum over and over under different titles?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:51 PM


Israel says deterrent ability recovered after Syria strike (Jean-Luc Renaudie Sun Sep 16, 2007, AFP)

Israel boasted on Sunday it has recovered its "deterrent capability" after an air strike in Syria triggered warnings of retaliation and intense media speculation over the aim of the operation.

"The new situation affects the entire region, including Iran and Syria," military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told parliament's powerful foreign affairs and defence committee, local media reported.

In keeping with an official Israeli wall of silence on the event, Yadlin told lawmakers he would not address the incident directly, but his statements "alluded to the Israeli raid," public radio reported.

He said Israel had now recovered its "deterrent capability" following the 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Anti-Syrian Lawmaker Killed in Lebanon (SCHEHEREZADE FARAMARZI and ZEINA KARAM, 9/19/07, AP)
An anti-Syrian lawmaker who had just returned to Lebanon two days ago from refuge abroad was killed Wednesday along with six other people by a bomb that rocked a Christian neighborhood of the capital, security officials said.

Antoine Ghanem is the eighth prominent anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated since 2005.

Oops, nevermind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:45 PM


the claim (Washington Post, , September 19, 2007)

"You know, you look back over our history, and it doesn't take you long to realize that our people have shed more blood for other people's liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world.''

-- Fred D. Thompson, stump speech in Des Moines, Sept. 7


A grandiose claim that is hard to justify no matter how you define "other people's liberty." [...]

The number of overall U.S. military casualties, while high, is still relatively low in comparison to those of its World War I and World War II allies. In World War II alone, the Soviet Union suffered at least 8 million casualties, or more than 10 times the number of U.S. casualties for all wars combined.

It's possible to imagine a reporter or two who's that alienated from reality, but does everyone at the paper really think the USSR brought liberty to Eastern Europe and the people of Russia? That may be the most heinous claim you'll read in the American media this year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:37 PM


America Is No More (Paul Craig Roberts, 19 September, 2007,

Naïve Americans who think they live in a free society should watch this video filmed by students at a John Kerry speech September 17, Constitution Day, at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

At the conclusion of Kerry’s speech, Andrew Meyer, a 21-year old journalism student was selected by Senator Kerry to ask a question. Meyer held up a copy of BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast’s book, Armed Madhouse, and asked if Kerry was aware that Palast’s investigations determined that Kerry had actually won the election. Why, Meyer asked, had Kerry conceded the election so quickly when there were so many obvious examples of vote fraud? Why, Meyer, went on to ask, was Kerry refusing to consider Bush’s impeachment when Bush was about to initiate another act of military aggression, this time against Iran?

At this point the public’s protectors—the police—decided that Meyer had said too much. They grabbed Meyer and began dragging him off. Meyer said repeatedly, “I have done nothing wrong,” which under our laws he had not. He threatened no one and assaulted no one.

But the police decided that Meyer, an American citizen, had no right to free speech and no constitutional protection. They threw him to the floor and tasered him right in front of Senator Kerry and the large student audience, who captured on video the unquestionable act of police brutality. Meyer was carted off and jailed on a phony charge of “disrupting a public event.”

The question we should all ask is why did a United States Senator just stand there while Gestapo goons violated the constitutional rights of a student participating in a public event, brutalized him in full view of everyone, and then took him off to jail on phony charges? why did they just sit there and tolerate the nitwit? Whatever happened to guys like the NYC hardhats, who'd beat the tar out of such punks themselves, instead of waiting for the cops?

When I worked on the NJ gubernatorial in '85 we didn't have much security and folks would always help us get rid of whackos like this kid. What's become of the Democrats?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


Senate Rejects Expanding Detainee Rights (Jonathan Weisman, September 19, 2007, Washington Post)

A Republican filibuster in the Senate today shot down a bipartisan effort to restore the right of terrorism suspects to contest their detentions and treatment in federal courts, underscoring the Democratic-led Congress's difficulty with terrorism issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:46 PM


Obama Pushes for Higher Investment Taxes (James Pethokoukis , 9/19/07, US News)

[D]an Clifton over at Strategas Research thinks the Dems may be disappointed by the ROT—return on taxes—from higher cap-gains rates. After reviewing the connections between changing cap-gains rates and government revenue during the past five decades, he concludes that higher cap gains could well be a revenue loser for Uncle Sam.

We examined the impact of capital-gains tax rates on investors realizing their gains. As the tax rate increases, investors hold their gains to avoid paying the higher tax. Conversely, lowering the capital-gains tax rate spurs realizations. Interestingly, the 1986 Tax Reform Act increased the capital-gains tax rate from 20 to 28 percent, but investors were given roughly three months before the tax increase was enacted into law. In turn, investors rushed to realize their gains before the higher tax rate kicked in, and capital-gains realizations remained depressed for nearly a decade thereafter with the higher tax rate in place.... Therefore, proposals to raise tax revenue from capital-gains tax increases will be scored as a net revenue gain to pay for new spending, but in reality, the tax revenue may not materialize, which will force tax increases elsewhere to pay for spending.

After 27 years of ranting about how Republican economics benefit the rich the Democrats want to be seen to be doing something, no matter how ineffective, or even counterproductive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:51 AM


Al Qaeda's third defeat (Claude Salhani, September 19, 2007, Washington Times)

The defeat of al Qaeda by Sunni tribesmen in Iraq's Anbar Province and of an al Qaeda-backed militia called Fatah al-Islam in North Lebanon's Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp represents two of the most serious blows to the Islamist movement since the declaration of war on terrorism.

As in Iraq where the Sunnis proved al Qaeda's vulnerability, so too has the Lebanese army shown that domestic resolve can defeat attempts by the Islamists to graft themselves onto other cultures, regardless of their similarities in religion, language or nationality.

What brought about the rejection of the Islamists in Iraq and in Lebanon was their attempted meddling in domestic affairs. In both cases the Islamists miscalculated domestic reaction suffered the consequences of their actions.

...while it can disrupt an existing one, it can never become the regime itself. This, alone, is sufficient to make Islamicism the weakest of the isms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


Jackson criticizes Obama (RODDIE A. BURRIS, 9/18/07, The State)

Jackson sharply criticized presidential hopeful and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama for “acting like he’s white” in what Jackson said has been a tepid response to six black juveniles’ arrest on attempted-murder charges in Jena, La. Jackson, who also lives in Illinois, endorsed Obama in March, according to The Associated Press.

Can you even put a monetary value on Jesse portraying the Senator as his opposite? It has to be worth millions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


The 10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating: Want to do your body a world of good? It's as easy as expanding your grocery list (Jonny Bowden, Ph. D., Men's Health)

Pomegranate juice

A popular drink for decades in the Middle East, pomegranate juice has become widely available only recently in the United States.

Why it's healthy: Israeli scientists discovered that men who downed just 2 ounces of pomegranate juice daily for a year decreased their systolic (top number) blood pressure by 21 percent and significantly improved bloodflow to their hearts. What's more, 4 ounces provides 50 percent of your daily vitamin C needs.

How to drink it: Try 100 percent pomegranate juice from Pom Wonderful. It contains no added sugars, and because it's so powerful, a small glassful is all you need. (For a list of retailers, go to

Back to the pomegranate: Before the juice, before the liqueur, there was the fruit. And it was fabulous. (Regina Schrambling, 9/18/07, LA Times)
Admittedly, pomegranates are intimidating. They are the crabs of the produce aisle, wondrous to eat but a messy hassle to break down to extract that wondrousness. Since they have such a short season, though, the pleasure outweighs the pain. They never get to be a routine.

And the rewards are endless. Pomegranates are tart and crisp, which is the least you expect in fall fruit. But they are also dramatic in a way no apple or pear could ever hope to be. A handful of seeds tossed into a mesclun salad with blue cheese can elevate the whole eating experience, with color, texture, flavor and drama.

The seeds can also make a statement in soups. They're the ultimate seasonal garnish.

The trick is just to flick every seed out without catching any of the exceptionally bitter yellow pith around it. Luckily, the seeds are contained in fairly fat compartments inside each pomegranate and you just have to open the whole thing and prize them out. If you do that over a bowlful of water, the good stuff sinks and the bitter bits float, making it easier to separate the two.

Making juice from fresh pomegranates is also easier than it looks. "Chez Panisse Fruit" by Alice Waters and her team suggests a simple technique: Break open the pomegranate (with a knife if you must) and carefully separate the seeds. Using either an immersion or regular blender, liquefy the seeds and strain the juice through a sieve. "Viola!" as they say on the blogs. Two to three heavy pomegranates should yield a cup of juice.

This is a very different product from what you can buy bottled. It's thinner and naturally tarter. But even the Pom juice will work in most recipes. Most other brands seem to be the pomegranate cousin of cranberry juice cocktail, more grape juice and high-fructose corn syrup than the fruit on the label.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


A Growing Isolationist Trend? (Carlos Alberto Montaner, 9/19/07, Real Clear Politics)

There are two ways in which certain U.S. politicians, Democrat and Republican, most resemble the European ultra-right: their rejection of immigrants and their condemnation of free international trade.

Those causes are defended in France by Jean-Marie Le Pen, in Germany by Peter Malborn, in Italy by Roberto Fiore and in Austria by Jorg Haider, all of whom have been accused by the left of being fascists.

Those causes also bring along a rich electoral booty. They are usually very popular and enjoy the support of an odd combination of conservatives, labor unions and naive members of the middle-class who are frightened by the growing ethnic diversity.

They don't win many elections though, even in nationalist societies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Southern German Towns Become Hub of Jihadism (Roland Ströbele, 17 Sep 2007, World Politics Review)

And once again the trail leads to Neu-Ulm. One of the three presumed members of an Islamic terror group arrested earlier this month in Germany comes from Ulm. The 28-year-old Fritz G. is supposed even to have been the ringleader of the group, which is accused of planning bomb attacks on the Frankfurt Airport and the U.S. military base in Ramstein.

If the accusations should turn out to be true, then they provide renewed evidence that plans for terror attacks have been hatched in Ulm and Neu-Ulm and that it is from here that the terrorists have set out to realize their plans.

Fritz G. has been long known to Bavarian police authorities. The 28-year-old German converted to Islam several years ago and was a frequent visitor to the "Multi-Kultur-Haus" in Neu-Ulm, an Islamic cultural center that was shut down by the authorities in January 2006 on account of Islamist activism. According to investigators, radical "preachers of hate" frequented the Multi-Kultur-Haus, recruiting "holy warriors" for Jihad or collecting funds for the latter.

Incendiary writings, inciting hatred against Christians and Jews, were found among the materials seized by investigators in the Multi-Kultur-Haus.

...the Multi-Kulti House.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Israel Declares Gaza an 'Enemy Entity' (LAURIE COPANS, 9/19/07, AP)

Top Israeli Cabinet ministers declared the Gaza Strip an "enemy entity" on Wednesday, a move likely to cloud Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to the region on a peacemaking mission.

The decision paved the way to cutting off vital supplies of electricity, water and fuel to the coastal territory.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Elvis Presley Poundcake (Contra Costa Times, 09/19/2007)

Makes 2 loaf cakes, 20 servings

3 cups sugar

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

7 eggs, at room temperature

3 cups cake flour, sifted twice

1 cup whipping cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the sugar and butter in bowl of electric mixer; beat on medium speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in 11/2 cups of the flour; add whipping cream. Beat in remaining flour and vanilla.

2. Pour batter into two buttered and floured 81/2-by-41/2-inch loaf pans. Bake until golden and a tester inserted in the center of cakes comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Reckoning With Syria (ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, September 19, 2007, NY Sun)

Recent reports that the regime in Damascus has been developing its nuclear facilities with the assistance of North Korea are only the latest manifestations of Syria's increasing belligerent stance. Despite attempts to "embrace" the regime in Damascus by some in Congress, under the misguided notion that Syria will moderate its behavior in return, that regime remains actively engaged in dangerous and destructive policies that threaten America, our allies, and our interests in the region. Make no mistake. Syria poses a growing threat that must be confronted.

Damascus remains a stalwart supporter for terrorist organizations and activities throughout the region, from Beirut to Baghdad and Jerusalem, and the fact that Syria remains a hub for Hezbollah and Hamas and a gateway for jihadists to infiltrate Iraq. For example, during last summer's war in Lebanon, Hezbollah reportedly received Russian-made anti-tank missiles from Syria and used them to disable several Israeli tanks.

Additionally, Syria has relentlessly pursued a destabilizing conventional and unconventional military buildup, contributing to regional instability. It has reportedly purchased numerous and varied missiles, and seeks short and long-range ballistic missiles as well. As a means to bolster these efforts, in 2005 Iran and Syria declared that they had formed a mutual self-defense pact to confront the "threats" now facing them.

Rather than let Syria suffer from mere paranoia, shouldn't we realize the threat?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Moran should 'retract his remarks' about Israel lobby, Hoyer says (Josephine Hearn, 9/18/07, Politico: The Crypt)

It hardly seems newsworthy anymore. Moran, a Virginia Democrat, got himself in hot water last week telling a Jewish magazine that the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was enormously influential in pushing for war in Iraq. He also said AIPAC’s “ties to certain newspapers and magazines and individuals in the media are substantial and intimidating.”

Mull that not newsworthy bit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Iran Holocaust show sympathetic to Jews (NASSER KARIMI, 9/16/07, Associated Press)

[T]he series titled "Zero Degree Turn" is clearly sympathetic to the Jews' plight during World War II. It shows men, women and children with yellow stars on their clothes being taken forcibly out of their homes and loaded into trucks by Nazi soldiers.

"Where are they taking them?" the horrified hero, a young Iranian diplomat who works at the Iranian Embassy in Paris, asks someone in a crowd of onlookers.

"The Fascists are taking the Jews to the concentration camps," the man says. The hero, named Habib Parsa, then begins giving Iranian passports to Jews to allow them to flee occupied France to then-Palestine.

Though the Habib character is fictional, it is based on a true story of diplomats in the Iranian Embassy in Paris in the 1940s who gave out about 500 Iranian passports for Jews to use to escape.

The show's appearance now may reflect an attempt by Iran's leadership to moderate its image as anti-Semitic and to underline a distinction that Iranian officials often make — that their conflict is with Israel, not with the Jewish people.

About 25,000 Jews live in Iran, the largest Jewish community in the Middle East after Israel. They have one representative in parliament, which is run mostly by Islamic clerics.

The series could not have aired without being condoned by Iran's clerical leadership. The state broadcaster is under the control of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei, who has final say in all matters inside Iran.

Moderate conservatives have been gaining ground in Iran, where there is increasing discontent with the ruling hardliners over rising tensions with the West, a worsening economy and price hikes in basic commodities.

The government even allowed the series to break another taboo in Iran: For the first time, many actresses appear without the state-mandated Islamic dress code. The producers wanted to realistically portray 1940s Paris, and thus avoided the headscarves and head-to-foot robes that all women must normally wear on Iranian TV.

No wonder Iranian culture seems so mysterious to them when they can't even keep their ayatollahs straight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Senate Budget Leaders Would Force Next Congress to Tackle Entitlement Costs (Congressional Quarterly, 9/18/07)

The leaders of the Senate Budget Committee unveiled legislation Tuesday that would require the next Congress to address the long-term budget strain associated with Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs.

The bill would create a 16-member task force that would make recommendations by Dec. 9, 2008, on how to address soaring costs of programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The bill calls for the recommendations to be introduced as legislation in the 111th Congress, and both chambers would have to consider it soon after that Congress convenes in January 2009. Debate would be limited, and the proposal could not be amended. It would require a three-fifths majority vote in both chambers to pass.

The legislation was unveiled Tuesday by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the panel’s ranking Republican. The task force would be charged with looking at all aspects of the budget, including tax policy. “Everything is on the table,” said Conrad, D-N.D.

“We tried to take the politics out the runup to this work,” Conrad said, by putting off the task force’s recommendations until after the 2008 elections.

A commission is the best way to sneak personalized Social Security accounts through Congress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Division Problem: The GOP's Ruinous Immigration Stance (Michael Gerson, September 19, 2007, Washington Post)

It is a strange spectacle. Conservatives are intent on building a more appealing, post-Bush Republican Party. But their most obvious change so far is to reverse remarkable Republican gains among one of the fastest-growing groups of American voters. The renovators seem more like the wrecking crew.

From the beginning of his political career, George W. Bush refused to support amnesty for illegal immigrants. He did, however, take a principled, middle-ground position that also appealed to Latinos -- a proposal that would give legal status to those who want to work in America and return home, while also providing a realistic (but not easy) path to citizenship for those who want to stay.

The political effects were immediate. Bob Dole got about 21 percent of Hispanic votes in 1996. Bush won about 35 percent in 2000. In 2004, Bush ran in the Latino media on the slogan "Nos conocemos," or "We know one another" -- and both he and Republicans in Congress averaged over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote.

The political effects of conservative opposition to immigration reform have been swift as well. Latino support for GOP candidates dropped back to 30 percent in 2006. According to one poll, Latinos under age 30 now prefer a generic Democrat over a Republican for president by 42 points. A harsh, Tancredo-like image of Republicans has solidified in the mainstream Hispanic media. And all of this regression will be even more obvious in the next few months, because more than half of the Hispanic voters in America live in states that are part of the new lineup of early primaries.

I have never seen an issue where the short-term interests of Republican presidential candidates in the primaries were more starkly at odds with the long-term interests of the party itself.

Sure, the Party conventions will get smaller, but they'll be white as driven snow!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Bashar's Bad Judgment: It's chronic (David Schenker, 09/19/2007, Weekly Standard)

In just seven years in power, Bashar has provoked the enmity of all of Syria's neighbors, save Islamist-led Turkey, as well as much of Europe and the United States. This dubious accomplishment was largely achieved due to gratuitous policies like providing Saddam with military materiel on the eve of the U.S. invasion. Bashar also managed to alienate longtime friend Saudi Arabia. Earlier this month, the Saudis evacuated their ambassador to Beirut after learning of a Syrian-directed assassination plot.

Thanks to Bashar, the Asad regime, which comfortably dominated Syria for 30 years, also faces an existential threat from the United Nations-mandated international court prosecuting the murderers of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. UN investigators have already hinted that senior officials in Bashar's regime will be implicated in the crime. This development could shake the foundations of the regime.

While Bashar and his ruling Alawite clique retain hold on power, Syria's regional and international position has declined dramatically under his leadership. This has occurred not because Bashar departed from the problematic policies of his father, but rather, because these policies have been pursued without regard to changing regional and international dynamics. Hafiz Asad was no panacea, but he was cautious. His son Bashar is reckless.

If the careers of everyone from Nero to Saddam teach anything you'd think it would be that, in their own eyes, so long as they're in power they're winning.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Immigrants Are Americans After All (Ruben Navarrette, 9/19/07, Real Clear Politics)

Hispanic Heritage Month only started a few days ago and already it has produced an epiphany.

It came from an unexpected source: a concert by Mexican superstar Luis Miguel on Mexican Independence Day, Sept. 16. Four thousand fans flocked to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for an event that sold out months ago. [...]

Having performed for more than 20 years, Luis Miguel has made millions of dollars and built a vast and incredibly loyal base of fans in both Mexico and the United States. Once, he even recorded a duet with Frank Sinatra.

But in 2004, Luis Miguel released a CD that further endeared him to his fans -- especially those who happen to be Mexicans living in the United States. Titled "Mexico En La Piel" (loosely translated as "Mexico on your skin"), the CD is a mixture of mariachi tunes and silky ballads. The title track is a song about the wonder and beauty one finds in the various states of Mexico, implying that this is how an entire country can stick to you.

I've seen Luis Miguel perform this song in concert twice -- in Las Vegas and in Los Angeles -- and the reaction was the same: a mild form of pandemonium. Members of the crowd cheer, especially when their home state is mentioned. Some people sing along, while others unfurl Mexican flags.

Yikes. I thought to myself, "What would Lou Dobbs say?" And would anyone in the audience really care?

Watching this, I realized that America isn't like the witness protection program. Immigrants come here for economic necessity -- not a new identity. It's an old story. Those from Ireland or Germany or Italy were in no hurry to renounce the homeland. Nor should they have had to for the sake of placating those who were too insecure to grasp the possibility that people could make room in their hearts for more than one country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Kids think no mobile is a sign of being poor (Sarah Womack, 19/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

One in five British children thinks not owning a mobile phone is a sign of being poor, according to research. [...]

The research, commissioned by child poverty campaigners and community service volunteers, records some of the judgments made by children aged seven to 16 about poverty in the UK.

Other findings include that 44 per cent of children think that not being able to afford to go on a school trip is a sign of poverty. Two out of five think not having the correct school uniform makes you poor.

...all we have left at the End of History is comparative poverty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Return Of The Peppered Moths (Paul Taylor, 9/19/07, CrossRhythms)

[Independent Science Editor Steve] Connor writes: "Creationists smelt blood. The story of the peppered moth became a story of how Darwinism itself was flawed - with its best known example being based on fiddled data." He reports Majerus as saying "The peppered moth story is easy to understand, because it involves things that we are familiar with: vision and predation and birds and moths and pollution and camouflage and lunch and death. That is why the anti-evolution lobby attacks the peppered moth story. They are frightened that too many people will be able to understand."

Answers in Genesis has featured information about the peppered moth saga before. This species of moth (biston betularia) exists in two forms-a light variety (typical) and a black variety (carbonaria). The account was that the light coloured variety could be seen more easily on the dark coloured bark of trees in heavily polluted areas. Therefore, birds would more easily eat the light coloured variety in such areas, causing a greater percentage of dark coloured moths. Similarly, in pollution free areas, the light coloured variety would predominate. There is some evidence that such population distributions do indeed occur.

What the Independent article fails to acknowledge is that criticism of the peppered moth experiments did not hinge on whether or not the population observations were correct. It was the experimental methodology and the conclusions that were criticised. If the population distribution evidences are correct, then this is no problem for creationists. After all, we have here an example of moths evolving into... er, moths. This involves a rearrangement of genetic information. It does not involve an increase in genetic information, of the kind that would be required for 'molecules-to-man' evolution.

The important thing here is that the Darwinists failed to understand both the unimportance of the original work -- which even with the fraud did not so much as allege speciation -- and the failure of the rehabilitation attempt to answer the objections -- indeed, it tends to prove them accurate. The continued faith of such folks is indeed dependent on just this sort of lack of understanding of their own ideology.

September 18, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


A nation divided - Belgium's identity crisis (Bruno Waterfield, 18/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

At the core of Belgium's crisis is a democratic deficit hardwired into a federal system that institutionalises divisions between Flanders, in the north of the country, and the southern region of Wallonia.

Belgium's 10.5 million citizens vote along ethnic lines, there are no national political figures in the country's 11 parties and there are five parliaments organised on rigid regional and linguistic lines.

While the Flemish make up the majority, with 60 per cent, political power must shared equally with the Walloons. This means that if half the country's 40 per cent of French speakers, only a fifth of the total population, want to block a government coalition they can.

An opinion poll in August about the disintegration of Belgium, underlined the divide with 45 per cent of Flemish people in favour compared with 20 per cent of Walloons against.

The Flemish sense of grievance is compounded by economic divides and a popular feeling that Walloons are unfairly benefiting. Unemployment among French speakers is 20 per cent, compared to eight per cent among Flemings.

Els De Graef echoes the sentiments of many Flemish nationalists when she accuses the Walloons of being "spongers" and "welfare addicts".

"We have had enough of paying for people who are just sucking at the welfare tit. The Flemish have a work ethic, too many Walloons just expect a free ride," said the Brussels housewife.

There are Flems and Walloons. There are no Belgians.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 PM


First a new regime, then American reform (David R. Sands, September 18, 2007, Washington Times)

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said yesterday that the United States was ready to work with Cubans seeking real economic and political reform, but that he saw little sign to date of change as ailing leader Fidel Castro passes from the scene. [...]

"Unless the regime changes, our policy will not change," the Havana-born Mr. Gutierrez said in the first of a series of programs on the future of post-Castro Cuba at the Heritage Foundation.

But he said the U.S. government is anxious to do business with Cuba once the Castro regime is replaced. He said the United States was already the largest source of food and humanitarian aid to the Cuban people, despite the hostility to the regime.

"The question is not, when will the United States change its [embargo] policy? The real question is, when will Cuba change its policies? ... We are prepared to work with Cuba if there is real reform," he said.

...not just how soon we have normal relations with Cuba after Castro dies, but how quickly we're interknit with them economically, socially and politically. The five decades of Castroism will be truly inexplicable to history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Sarkozy takes first steps toward curtailing special pension regime (Doreen Carvajal and Nicola Clark, September 18, 2007, IHT)

President Nicolas Sarkozy took the first perilous steps Tuesday to rein in generous early retirement benefits of powerful unionized workers with a speech demanding "a new social contract" that could raise their retirement age to 65 from as low as 50. [...]

Sarkozy's first steps are considered a prelude to broader changes in a pension system for all workers with an official retirement age of 60, among the lowest in Europe.

His actions could herald turmoil on France's train tracks since the last government attempt to raise the retirement age for train workers brought a successful three-week transit strike in 1995.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


'Dozens died in Syrian-Iranian chemical weapons experiment' (Jerusalem Post, 9/18/07)

Proof of cooperation between Iran and Syria in the development and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was brought to light Monday in a Jane's Magazine report that dozens of Iranian engineers and 15 Syrian officers were killed in a July 23 accident in Syria.

According to the report, cited by Channel 10, the joint Syrian-Iranian team was attempting to mount a chemical warhead on a scud missile when the explosion occurred, spreading lethal chemical agents, including sarin nerve gas and VX gas.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:47 PM


"Wheel of Time" author, 58 (Bruce Smith, 9/18/07, The Associated Press)

Author Robert Jordan, whose "Wheel of Time" series of fantasy novels sold millions of copies, has died of a rare blood disease, his aide said Monday. He was 58. [...]

Book 11, "Knife of Dreams," came out in 2005; there was also a prequel, "New Spring: The Novel," in 2004. The other titles in the series include "The Great Hunt," "Lord of Chaos" and "The Path of Daggers." Mr. Jordan was working on a 12th volume at the time of his death, Simons said.

He is survived by his wife, Harriet McDougal Rigney.

While your heart goes out to the family, your sympathies have to extend to anyone who kept reading the now officially interminable series.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Partisan bickering won't end the war: How can Americans lecture Iraqis about 'reconciliation' when we can't even manage it at home? (Ronald Brownstein, September 12, 2007, LA Times)

Not for the first time, self-awareness was in short supply across Washington during this week's marathon congressional hearings on Iraq with Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

The one point that drew agreement from Republicans and Democrats alike was that Iraq's political leaders have too often failed to transcend their narrow sectarian interests to forge compromises in the national interest.

Pot, meet kettle.

Here in the U.S., the two parties are doing much the same thing. President Bush and congressional Democrats are each so determined to win the argument over Iraq that they have lost sight of their joint interest in finding a way forward that can attract broad and lasting support from a public disillusioned and dangerously polarized over the war. More than ever, the parties this week structured the debate as if it were an electoral campaign.

It's more than just an election--its a century old fight between a vision of peace through transnationalism vs the American tradition of extending the empire of liberty universally, Defeat at Any Price: Why Petraeus's testimony was a nightmare for the Democrats. (David Gelernter, 09/24/2007, Weekly Standard)
The Democrats were scared for a reason. They worried that Petraeus would impress the country as dispassionate and serious--which he did. He called Bush's troop surge no unqualified success, said that much work remains--but that Iraq has turned a corner; has achieved tangible, important results in its fight against terrorism and inter-sect violence since the surge began. It was a Democratic nightmare.

America's ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, had the harder job of reporting on political progress. He said, too, that much work remained; Iraq's political health is bad in some ways, improving in others. But one fact towers above the rest like the ghost of the World Trade Center: If we stay put until the patient is stable, we face a tough job; if we panic and run, we face catastrophe.

Again this message was bad news for leading Democrats. But their reaction was just what it should've been, given that President Bush is the enemy--and, like the man said, politics ain't beanbag. Surely it's only natural for leading Democrats in Congress and the presidential campaign, and their vicious lap dogs on the web, to hope for the president's policies to fail.

Americans are so accustomed (or inured) to this attitude that they rarely step back and ask, What the hell is going on here?

The issue isn't tactics--doesn't concern the draw-down that the administration has forecast and General Petraeus has now discussed, or how this draw-down should work, or how specific such talk ought to be. The issue is deeper. It's time for Americans to ask some big questions. Do leading Democrats want America to win this war? Have they ever?

Of course not--and not because they are traitors. To leading Democrats such as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Al Gore and John Edwards, America would be better off if she lost. And this has been true from the start.

To rephrase the question: Why did Harry Reid announce months ago that the war was lost when it wasn't, and everyone knew it wasn't? The wish is father to the deed. He was envisioning the world of his dreams.

The Democrats' embrace of defeat is inspired by no base desire to see Americans killed or American resources wasted. But let's be honest about it, and invite the Democrats to be honest too.

Appeasement, pacifism, globalism: Those are the Big Three principles of the Democratic left. Each one has been defended by serious people; all are philosophically plausible, or at least arguable. But they are unpopular (especially the first two) with the U.S. public, and so the Democrats rarely make their views plain. We must infer their ideas from their (usually) guarded public statements.

Globalism and Euro-envy are explicit, sometimes, in Democratic pronouncements--about the sanctity of the United Nations, the importance of global conferences and "multilateralism" (except in cases like North Korea, where the president already is moving multilaterally), the superiority of the Canadian or German health care system, and so forth. The Democrats are not unpatriotic, but their patriotism is directed at a large abstract entity called The International Community or even (aping Bronze Age paganism) the Earth, not at America. Benjamin Disraeli anticipated this worldview long ago when he called Liberals the "Philosophical" and Conservatives the "National" party. Liberals are loyal to philosophical abstractions--and seek harmony with the French and Germans. Conservatives are loyal to their own nation, and seek harmony with its Founders and heroes and guiding principles.

The Democrats don't conceal their globalist ideas, but their appeasement and pacifism are positions they can only hint at.

Mr. Gelernter is close, but obviously the notion that we've liberated the Iraqis and empowered the Shi'a Crescent for nationalist reasons would be incoherent. Conservatives are the religious party and have no real choice--if they are to remain true to Judeo-Christianity and the Founding--but to vindicate the rights with which all Men were endowed by their Creator globally. The secular party, on the other hand, need not worry about the oppression of other "nations" as they seek peace at any cost in their own. This explains the supposed oddity that the nationalist Right loathes George W. Bush and objects to the Reformation of the Islamic World just as passionately as the Left does.

It also explains why mainstream conservatives would cheer this sentiment, Thompson steals the show: A Giuliani-fueled fundraising dinner takes a turn (JOHN FRANK, September 15, 2007, St. Petersburg Times)

Rudy Giuliani's top man in Florida sold out Friday's GOP dinner, but it was White House hopeful Fred Thompson who stole the show.

Stopping in his sixth city on a statewide tour Friday, Thompson struck a bold tone in highlighting his leadership abilities before the eager Pasco Republican crowd at Spartan Manor.

"I live in a nation that shed more blood for the freedom and liberty of other people than all the other nations combined," Thompson said. "I am tired of people feeling that we need to apologize."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


Osirak II?: Israel's silence on Syria speaks volumes. (BRET STEPHENS, September 18, 2007, Opinion Journal)

What's beyond question is that something big went down on Sept. 6. Israeli sources had been telling me for months that their air force was intensively war-gaming attack scenarios against Syria; I assumed this was in anticipation of a second round of fighting with Hezbollah. On the morning of the raid, Israeli combat brigades in the northern Golan Heights went on high alert, reinforced by elite Maglan commando units. Most telling has been Israel's blanket censorship of the story--unprecedented in the experience of even the most veteran Israeli reporters--which has also been extended to its ordinarily hypertalkative politicians. In a country of open secrets, this is, for once, a closed one.

The censorship helps dispose of at least one theory of the case. According to CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Israel's target was a cache of Iranian weapons destined for Hezbollah. But if that were the case, Israel would have every reason to advertise Damascus's ongoing violations of Lebanese sovereignty, particularly on the eve of Lebanon's crucial presidential election. Following the January 2002 Karine-A incident--in which Israeli frogmen intercepted an Iranian weapons shipment bound for Gaza--the government of Ariel Sharon wasted no time inviting reporters to inspect the captured merchandise. Had Orchard had a similar target, with similar results, it's doubtful the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert--which badly needs to erase the blot of last year's failed war--could have resisted turning it into a propaganda coup.

Something similar goes for another theory, this one from British journalist Peter Beaumont of the Observer, that the raid was in fact "a dry run for attack on Iran." Mr. Beaumont is much taken by a report that at least one of the Israeli bombers involved in the raid dropped its fuel tanks in a Turkish field near the Syrian border.

Why Israel apparently chose to route its attack through Turkey is a nice question, given that it means a detour of more than 1,000 miles. Damascus claims the fuel tank was discarded after the planes came under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, which could be true. But if Israel is contemplating an attack on Tehran's nuclear installations--and it is--it makes no sense to advertise the "Turkish corridor" as its likely avenue of attack.

As for the North Korean theory, evidence for it starts with Pyongyang. The raid, said one North Korean foreign ministry official quoted by China's Xinhua news agency, was "little short of wantonly violating the sovereignty of Syria and seriously harassing the regional peace and security." But who asked him, anyway? In August, the North Korean trade minister signed an agreement with Syria on "cooperation in trade and science and technology." Last week, Andrew Semmel, the acting counterproliferation chief at the State Department, confirmed that North Korean technicians of some kind were known to be in Syria, and that Syria was "on the U.S. nuclear watch list." And then there is yesterday's curious news that North Korea has abruptly suspended its participation in the six-party talks, for reasons undeclared.'s a helpful reminder to the Left that no matter who the next president is they can't cut a deal with Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


I.B.M. to Offer Office Software Free in Challenge to Microsoft’s Line (STEVE LOHR, 9/18/07, NY Times)

I.B.M. plans to mount its most ambitious challenge in years to Microsoft’s dominance of personal computer software, by offering free programs for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations.

The company is announcing the desktop software, called I.B.M. Lotus Symphony, at an event today in New York. The programs will be available as free downloads from the I.B.M. Web site.

We're holding out until one of them offers to pay us to use their product.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:15 PM


Fed Cuts Key Interest Rate (Neil Irwin, 9/18/07, Washington Post)

The Federal Reserve cut a key interest rate today, aiming to prevent turbulence in the housing and credit markets from slowing the U.S. economy.

Having hiked rates to artificial heights thanks to irrational exuberance...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:45 AM


Student ...Tasered at Kerry Event (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, September 18, 2007)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM

DIDN'T TAKE LONG... (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Murdoch may ax Wall Street Journal website fee (Thomas S. Mulligan, September 18, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch said today that he was leaning toward dropping the online subscription fee for the Wall Street Journal in a gamble to increase visitor traffic and website advertising revenue.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM


Eritreans Deny American Accusations of Terrorist Ties (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, September 18, 2007, NY Times)

Eritrean officials, responding to American accusations that they have abetted terrorists in the volatile Horn of Africa, defended their actions on Monday and said that while they would like to have better relations with the United States, they had no intention of bowing to American pressure.

Over the weekend, the Eritrean government held a conference for Somali opposition leaders that included some prominent Islamists whom Jendayi E. Frazer, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, has called terrorists.

American officials have threatened to list Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism, accusing it of funneling weapons to Somali insurgents. But on Monday, Eritrean officials denied that they were trying to destabilize Somalia, and said their conference was a legitimate way to rebuild the shattered country.

More than that, said Ali Abdu, Eritrea’s information minister, if Ms. Frazer was trying to make “Eritrea kneel down in front of her,” she had better learn what he called a basic Eritrean fact.

“Eritreans kneel on only two occasions,” he said. “When they pray and when they shoot.”

In the context of Somalia, at least, it is America that has acted like a state sponsor of terrorism, supporting the violent overthrow of a government that had the support of the people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM



8 ounces thick spaghetti

4 cups broccoli florets, cut into bite-size pieces

2/3 cup vegetable broth

1/3 cup reduced-fat peanut butter

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sweet chili sauce

2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half

½ cup shredded carrot

3 green onions, finely chopped

1/3 cup chopped red pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt. Add broccoli to pasta during the last three minutes of cooking; drain well.

Place broth, peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce and garlic in food processor; process until blended.

Toss cooked pasta with remaining vegetables. Drizzle sauce over pasta and vegetables; toss well.

Cover and refrigerate at least four hours or overnight. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Extinction Is at Hand for Paper Airline Tickets (IAN AUSTEN, September 18, 2007, NY Times)

The paper airline ticket will be all but extinct by the end of May, the head of an international airline association said on Monday.

“Put your paper ticket in a museum because in 250-something days it will be out of service,” Giovanni Bisignani, director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, told a news conference in Montreal.

Replacing paper tickets, and the elaborate global system that processed them, with electronic ticketing will save airlines $3 billion annually on the roughly 400 million tickets sold outside of the United States alone.

...but for the obviousness of the Intelligent Design involved in the "extinction."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Wholesale Prices Fall by 1.4 Percent (MARTIN CRUTSINGER, 9/18/07, AP)

Wholesale prices fell in August by the largest amount in 10 months, reflecting a plunge in the price of gasoline and other energy products and the fourth straight month of falling food costs.

The Labor Department said Tuesday that wholesale prices fell by 1.4 percent last month, the best showing since a 1.5 percent fall last October. It was a much bigger decline than the 0.3 percent drop that had been expected and was led by a 6.6 percent plunge in energy costs, the biggest drop in more than four years.

Core inflation, which excludes food and energy, was also well under control, rising by just 0.2 percent. The good price performance should further ease concerns about inflation and give the Federal Reserve the leeway to cut interest rates to guard against the possibility of a recession.

...forget the masses; why do the ultra-rationalists at the Fed behave so irrationally in fighting the imaginary beast of inflation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


The New Hawks of France: It used to be that France would respond with a predictable "non" to any saber-rattling coming out of the US. Now, though, Paris seems eager to lead the way and has taken clear aim at Iran. The bellicosity is making German commentators nervous. (Der Spiegel, 9/18/07)

Sometimes it's not the message, but the messenger who delivers it. After spending much of this decade going head to head with the US over its invasion of Iraq due to nuclear weapons suspicions, France seems to be joining American bellicosity when it comes to those same suspicions about Iran. On French radio on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that it is time to "prepare ourselves for the worst" and indicated that he was talking about a possible war with Iran.

The remarks are simply the most recent indication that France under new President Nicolas Sarkozy is turning his back on the almost reflexive anti-US stance of his predecessor Jacques Chirac. And they have not been universally well-received. On Monday, the UN's head nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei blasted Kouchner, saying that diplomacy is still the best route and warned against "hyping" the issue.

The Crusaders were supposed to become increasingly isolated, not the Craven.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Times to Stop Charging for Parts of Its Web Site (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, 9/18/07, NY Times)

The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night.

The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times and to some students and educators.

In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free. [...]

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

Which leaves only the WS Journal to throw in the towel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Afghans: Taliban Behind Kidnappings Dies (AMIR SHAH, 9/18/07, AP)

U.S. airstrikes targeting a meeting of Taliban leaders killed a high-ranking commander involved in the kidnappings of 23 South Koreans two months ago, Afghan officials said Tuesday. [...]

Mullah Abdullah Jan, the Taliban commander of Qara Bagh district in Ghazni province, was among 12 killed in the strike on a mud-brick housing compound overnight in neighboring Giro district, said Ghazni provincial police chief Gen. Ali Shah Ahmadzai.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


US comic icons gain an Indian flavor (Indrajit Basu, 9/19/07, Asia Times)

Come December or January, Archie and his gang of iconic comic characters, who have "epitomized positive entertainment for kids and teens" in the US and many parts of the world for 60 years, will no longer live in a purely North American environment; they will be joined by Raj Patel, a new kid of Indian descent, who is moving into the small town of Riverdale with his Indian-born parents. According to New York-based publisher Archie Comics, Raj Patel will not be a one-off character. He is here to stay, and "will be assimilated in the group of Archie people just like any other kind of kid".

"The reason for this action [after 60 years] is that we suddenly realized, quite lately, there is a very large Indian population living in the US," said Michael Silberkleit, chairman and publisher of Archie Comic Publications, "and also because we ship millions and million of comics to India. So it is time now for your Indian readers to see an ethnic-Indian character in the Archie group of characters."

But Archie Comics is not the only one. A slew of global media and entertainment firms are rushing to include Indian content in their product portfolios to grab the attention of the fast-growing tribe of Indian audiences, which according to industry sources is increasingly emerging as one of the most influential market segments today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Greek PM Faces New Challenges (ANTHEE CARASSAVA, 9/18/07, TIME)

For decades, power in Greece has gone back and forth between two main political parties dominated by two political dynasties that have divided Greeks, sometimes bitterly so. In recent years, though, and as Greece anchored its interests deeper into the European Union, both parties have found it increasingly difficult to differentiate themselves from each other ideologically.

A canny, cigar-chomping lawyer, Karamanlis retained a consistent lead against the socialists despite a bond-trading scandal and relatively austere economic reforms that his government implemented since taking office nearly four years ago. The catastrophic fires, however, and widespread accusations of what was seen as a slow and inept state response, cast him on a sudden defensive. Facing his biggest test of leadership, Karamanlis ditched the campaign trail to manage the crisis, pushing through a fast compensation plan for victims and vowing to rebuild all burned homes. He then unveiled a flurry of financial incentives, including higher pensions and tax breaks, and threatened to take Greeks on another trip to the polls if his New Democracy party failed to win an outright majority in parliament. That carrot-and-stick strategy, said analysts, put voters at a clear crossroads, weighing Karamanlis' stolid leadership and economic successes against their yearning for a protest vote that could spell a return to socialist rule, or political turmoil. "Ultimately, voters picked the candidate they had the greatest faith in," said Maria Karakliouni of RASS-MARC polling agency.

Even so, Sunday's vote left conservatives with a shrunken parliamentary majority that may leave the new government vulnerable to interests that oppose programs seen essential to keep pace with European Union partners. "Of course we would have wanted a bigger, more comfortable majority," said Kyriakos Mitsotakis, a conservative lawmaker. "But the size of the majority will not affect how effective our government will be." New Democracy held 165 of the 300 seats in the outgoing parliament. Karamanlis, who describes himself a "compassionate conservative," called for an early trip to the ballot box ahead of the August wildfires, seeking a fresh mandate for crucial social and economic changes.

Compassionate conservative government and two indistinguishable parties--such is politics at the End of History.

September 17, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


Margaret Mead in a Pinstriped Suit: Alan Greenspan discovers that human beings are … irrational! (Daniel Gross, Sept. 17, 2007, Slate)

Greenspan also turned to psychology and anthropology for explanations of economic irrationality. The erratic behavior of investors during and after bubbles—excessively exuberant on the upside, unwarrantedly pessimistic and fearful on the downside—continuously confounds economists. In his memoir, Greenspan mounts a spirited defense against critics who charge that he too cavalierly let bubbles inflate on his watch. His response: Bubbles, while "extraordinary human behavior, which is not what we could consider ideal," must be innate. They seem to break out everywhere—again and again. "There's a long history of forgetting bubbles," he writes. "But once that memory is gone, there appears to be an aspect of human nature to get cumulative exuberance." When the bubble inevitably breaks, as reality fails to meet expectations, "the result is a dramatic 180 degree switch from exuberance to fear."

So what should we learn from bubbles, aside from the fact that they can be great for the economy? The phenomenon, he said, "is ever increasingly suggestive that these market economies are run by consumers, mainly by the innate characteristics of human nature."

Looking to human nature also helped Greenspan solve a perplexing economic mystery. Over the last 150 years, it seems that the maximum productivity growth the economy could achieve over a long period of time was 3 percent annually—despite a series of productivity-enhancing innovations, from the steam engine to the Internet. His conclusion? "What ultimately looks to be the case is that's the pace at which human beings operate," he said. People simply can't process new ideas more quickly. "The answer is that the human race, no matter how one defines it, is not smart enough to do better."

The ultimate rationalist seems to have concluded that fear, resistance to change, exuberance, and human limitations play a bigger role than expected in economic development. And he recognized that economists have proven so human—i.e., fallible—in their forecasting because the force actually driving the economy is humans who are prone to act on emotion rather than reason.

A nice illustration of why grown-ups stop believing in libertarianism, which denies human nature just as much Marxism does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


The World According to Univision (LESLIE SANCHEZ, September 16, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Last week, Democrats participated in a Univision-sponsored presidential debate held in south Florida. The candidates used the forum to reach out to Hispanic voters and many Democrats have noted that only one Republican--Sen. John McCain--has agreed to participate in a similar debate for GOP candidates originally scheduled for today. Their aim is to portray Republicans as biased against Hispanics.

But context matters. Faced with an onslaught of biased reporting, Republicans are right to have reservations about Univision. They should, however, engage the network, as it is far too important to be ignored. Late last month, Nielsen began comparing Univision to other broadcast networks in a single viewer sample, and found that it is the most-watched TV network (ahead of Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC) for viewers 18-34.

If their views were presented fairly, it's likely that Republicans would connect with Hispanic voters. That may be why the network's news coverage often downplays issues that make Hispanics dislike Democrats (abortion, same-sex marriage, taxes) and sensationalizes the immigration issue as a way of demonizing Republicans--even those who are not anti-immigrant. [...]

Republicans must engage and demand fairness from Univision, rather than let it propagandize the most conservative segment of the Hispanic population--the 40% who may speak English, but who are "Spanish-dominant" and consume their news in their native language. According to a July 2006 study of previous elections by the New Democratic Network, English-speaking Hispanics are more reliably Democratic, and "the movement towards Bush has come from the Spanish-dominant, as they have gone from 82%-18% Clinton-Dole in 1996 to 52%-48% Kerry-Bush."

They're conservatives until they're corrupted by the native culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 PM


N Korean ship 'linked to Israel's strike on Syria' (Tim Butcher, 17/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

A suspicious North Korean freighter that re-flagged itself as South Korean before off-loading an unknown cargo at the Syrian port of Tartous is at the centre of efforts today to investigate Israel's recent airstrike on Syria.

An Israeli on-line data analyst, Ronen Solomon, found an internet trace for the 1,700-tonne cargo ship, Al Hamed, which showed the vessel started to off-load what Syrian officials categorised as "cement" on Sept 3.

This was three days before Israeli jets attacked a site in the north eastern desert of Syria, not far from its border with Iraq.

Since leaving Tartous, one of Syria's main ports on the Mediterranean, the ship's trace has disappeared and it is not known whether western intelligence agencies are tracking the vessel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 PM


Millions of Britons have 'imaginary' food intolerances after self-diagnosis over internet (FIONA MACRAE, 17th September 2007, Daily Mail)

Up to 12million Britons claim to be intolerant to foods from milk to mustard

Three million Britons are suffering from "imaginary" food intolerances, according to researchers.

Up to 12million claim to be intolerant to foods from milk to mustard - but less than a quarter have had their condition medically diagnosed.

While it is likely that many of the remaining nine million are intolerant to one or more foods, it is estimated that up to three million are simply fussy eaters.

It's doubtful that even many of the ones who have been diagnosed are medically intolerant. People who worry about this stuff want to be told they're allergic and doctors have little incentive to argue with them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Study Sees Rise in Men Not Washing Hands (MARILYNN MARCHIONE, 9/17/07, AP)

The gender gap has widened when it comes to hygiene, according to the latest stakeout by the "hand washing police." One-third of men didn't bother to wash after using the bathroom, compared with 12 percent of women, said the researchers who spy on people in public restrooms. They reported their latest findings Monday at a meeting of infectious disease scientists.

Two years ago, the last time the survey was done, only one-quarter of men didn't wash, compared with 10 percent of women.

...came from our 9th grade Biology teacher, who told us: "You should wash your hands before you go to the bathroom, not after. Your equipment is in your pants and, thus, kept rather clean. But your hands are touching all kinds of stuff, all the time, that is just covered in germs and who-knows-what."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


An Indispensable Irritant to Iran and Its Foes (ELAINE SCIOLINO and WILLIAM J. BROAD, 9//17/07, NY Times)

Late in August, Mohamed ElBaradei put the finishing touches on a nuclear accord negotiated in secret with Iran.

The deal would be divisive and risky, one of the biggest gambles of his 10 years as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran would answer questions about its clandestine nuclear past in exchange for a series of concessions. With no advance notice or media strategy, Dr. ElBaradei ordered the plan released in the evening. And then he waited.

The next day, diplomats from the United States, France, Britain and Germany marched into his office atop a Vienna skyscraper to deliver a joint protest. The deal, they said, amounted to irresponsible meddling that threatened to undermine a United Nations Security Council strategy to punish, not reward, Tehran.

Dr. ElBaradei, an Egyptian-born lawyer, was polite but firm. “If Iran wants to answer questions, what am I supposed to do, tell them it can’t?” he asked.

Then, brandishing one of his characteristic mangled metaphors, he dismissed his critics as “living room coaches who shoot from the hip.”

Almost five years after he stood up to the Bush administration on Iraq and then won the Nobel Peace Prize for his trouble, Dr. ElBaradei now finds himself at the center of the West’s turbulent confrontation with Iran, derided yet relied upon by all sides.

To his critics in the West, he is guilty of serious diplomatic sins — bias toward Iran, recklessness and, above all, a naïve grandiosity that leads him to reach far beyond his station. Over the past year, even before he unveiled his deal with Tehran, Western governments had presented him with a flurry of formal protests over his stewardship of the Iran case.

Even some of his own staff members have become restive, questioning his leadership and what they see as his sympathy for the Iranians, according to diplomats here.

Yet the Iranians also seek to humiliate him and block his inspectors. [...]

In May, after Vice President Dick Cheney warned from an aircraft carrier off Iran’s coast that the United States was ready to use its naval power to keep Iran from “gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region,” Dr. ElBaradei offered a quick response: he declared that Iran had achieved “the knowledge” of enrichment — implying that it was too late for military action or other Western punishment for refusing to stop its atomic efforts.

“The fact of the matter,” he said, “is that one of the purposes of suspension — keeping them from getting the knowledge — has been overtaken by events.”

His remarks outstripped the analyses of his own inspectors, who were reporting technical problems at Natanz, and contributed to suspicions that he was exaggerating Iran’s progress as a political maneuver. Even so, that argument — that Iran has already crossed an important line — is the tacit assumption behind the new accord.

The plan, released Aug. 27, sets a firm timetable for Iran to clear up a half-dozen controversies about past secret activities, while also improving access for I.A.E.A. inspectors.

The diplomats who marched into Dr. ElBaradei’s office the next day shredded the plan point by point.

They expressed dismay that the accord, negotiated with no diplomatic input, omitted any stipulation that Iran suspend enrichment. One envoy noted that the plan forces inspectors to ask questions on only one issue at a time, leaving the most delicate topics until the end.

There was general alarm that the document suggested treating Iran like a “routine” case, instead of a country that had lied repeatedly, and, according to some governments, harbors a secret nuclear-arms program.

Dr. ElBaradei’s response, paraphrased by a Western official, was that “all you are doing is being suspicious; the agency cannot judge Iranian intentions.”

In the days that followed, representatives of other countries hammered Dr. ElBaradei with sharp criticism. But a week later, many governments had begun to believe that their strategy was backfiring. They decided to try to co-opt Dr. ElBaradei rather than isolate him.

The new thinking went like this: he and the Iranians had won this round. Much of the world would consider the agreement on a timetable a step forward. By contrast, Western diplomacy was hopelessly stalled.

On Sept. 7, envoys from the four Western powers again visited Dr. ElBaradei’s office. This time, though, they offered support for his effort to clear up the past, and said they welcomed his renewed support in pressing Iran to suspend enrichment and let inspectors conduct wider inquiries.

“We told the Americans it would do no good to criticize ElBaradei, that it would only make him look even more like a hero,” said one senior European official.

In the interview, Dr. ElBaradei called the shift “a complete change” — a result of his explaining and “standing firm.” He called his accord a sound step toward defusing the Iran confrontation.

“I have no qualm that some people have distrust because of Iran’s past behavior,” he said.

But sanctions alone, he added, would solve nothing. “You need to sit together and talk about it and try to work out mechanisms to build confidence.”

And if the Iranians do not keep their promises, he said: “I told them very openly that it will backfire. Absolutely.”

It's worth reading this whole piece if for no other reason that that upon finishing you can have no better idea how far along Iran is with its nuclear program than when you started. And we're going to second-guess our decision-makers on the basis of knowledge that's this sketchy?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 AM

DRIVE FOR SHOW, GROUNDED, D'OH (via David Hill, The Bronx):

Airbus A380 grounded during air show in Hamburg (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Sep 16, 2007)

The new A380 jumbo jet was grounded by technical problems in front of 150,000 people at an air show in the northern German city of Hamburg on Sunday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Number of left-handers rises sharply (Maria Thompson, 17/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The number of left-handed people has risen dramatically over the past century, a professor has said.

The proportion of left-handers is now 11 per cent, compared to the three per cent it was among people born more than 100 years ago.

Chris McManus, the author of the award-winning book Right Hand, Left Hand, said the rise in the number of left-handed people may be because fewer left-handed youngsters were being forced to use their right hand.

Yet only three left-handed players have caught more than two games in the majors in the modern era. Anybody name one?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Bootsy Collins reissues keep the funk alive (Jeremy Goldmeier, 16 Sep 2007, Paste)

It is safe to say that Bootsy Collins, bassist of Parliament-Funkadelic and funk ambassador extraordinaire, is not of this world.

Perhaps he’s the interplanetary love child of the cosmos and Larry Graham, or just a visitor sent to funkify Earth. Either way, they simply don’t make 'em like Bootsy in this solar system. It’d be easy for us Earthlings to brush off Bootzilla as a caricature in the mold of Flava Flav or David Lee Roth. Except that, unlike those two jesters, Collins has the ridiculous instrumental talent to justify his decadent insanity.

The archive-scouring record label Collector’s Choice aims to prove that fact by reissuing four Bootsy records from his prime, P-funk collective era (mid ‘70s-early ‘80s).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


The Florentine Enigma: A Review of Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power by Ross King (Matthew Simpson, September 17, 2007, First Things)

[T]his tension pervaded Machiavelli’s life and writings. A tireless champion of popular rule and civic humanism seemed to share a body with a most ruthless “Machiavellian,” who believed that the ends justify the means in politics even when the end in question is nothing more than personal ambition. To explain how these two people, the civic humanist and the ruthless power monger, could exist in one man is the challenge for all biographers of Machiavelli, most recently Ross King in his book Machiavelli: Philosopher of Power. The author of the bestselling Renaissance histories Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling, King tries, quite persuasively, to explain Machiavelli’s contradictions by looking at the epoch in which he lived. The Italian Renaissance was an age of contradictions, in which science and superstition, high art and squalor, Christian piety and extraordinary vice, lived side by side on the streets of the great Italian cities. King suggests that we should not expect to find inner coherence in a man who lived in such an incoherent age. “The key to some of [Machiavelli’s] ambiguities,” he writes, “may lie in the nature of the man himself.” [...]

King interprets the contradictions in Machiavelli’s writings as an expression of deeper contradictions in his mind and character, which should be understood in their historical context. This is a useful corrective. Today Machiavelli is too often read as if he were a contemporary professor of political science struggling to produce a coherent theory of democracy, or citizenship, or justice, or some such thing. King is right to note that an ambitious, successful Renaissance statesman like Machiavelli would be unlikely to measure himself by the academic values of systematic coherence and plodding argumentation. So it is foolish to begin by looking for these qualities in his work.

Yet King’s reading is not wholly convincing. While it’s true that Machiavelli was not an academic type, his works reveal an exceptionally lucid and thorough mind. It is impossible to believe King’s suggestion that Machiavelli flitted back and forth between these two radical extremes. In his Discourses, after reviewing policies like Borgia’s, he wrote “these are extremely cruel methods and inimical to every way of life, not only Christian but human, and every man should avoid them and prefer to live as a private citizen rather than as a king with so much damage to other men.” Yet in The Prince, he cheerfully described Borgia’s murders, frauds, and hypocrisy, only pausing to comment, “having reviewed all the actions of the Duke, then, I would not wish to criticize him; rather, he seems to me worthy to be held up as a model.” Some explanation is required here beyond the observation that Machiavelli was complex man living in a complex age.

Perhaps the most plausible interpretation of Machiavelli’s contradictions, one that has circulated since his own time, is that the Discourses present his true opinions on politics while The Prince is a satire intended to expose the tyrant’s secrets. It condemns his anti-democratic enemies by accepting their premises and then pushing them to their horrible but logical conclusion, much as Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” refuted the economic theory of its time by showing that, on these principles, the Irish should solve their financial crisis by eating the children of the poor. This is how Jean-Jacques Rousseau interpreted Machiavelli, saying, “While pretending to teach lessons to kings, he taught great lessons to peoples. Machiavelli’s Prince is the book of republicans.”

Yet this view also has its shortcomings. None of Machiavelli’s surviving private letters indicate that he or his friends thought The Prince was a satire. Furthermore, the hero of the work is Cesare Borgia, and it seems that Machiavelli really did admire him and his unspeakable methods. His diplomatic reports about his meetings with Borgia, which certainly were not intended satirically, were even more fawning than The Prince. Indeed, soon after meeting Borgia for the first time, Machiavelli wrote a breathless essay, the title of which ran in part, “Description of the Methods Adopted by the Duke Valentino When Murdering Vitellozo Vitelli.” The most famous picture of Machiavelli is Santi di Tito’s half-length portrait hanging in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The subject’s expression is alert, knowing, almost smiling, and completely inscrutable.

The easiest way to understand the contradiction is that in Machiavelli's day, in at least the instance he was examining, a tyranny could be perceived to be as effective a form of government as a republic. Not necessarily as "good," in moral terms, but as efficient as a form of government, or moreso, though it's easy enough for us, after five hundred years of subsequent experience with the two forms, to note that republics have rather easily outperformed tyrannies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Deaf Indie Elephants has posted The Arcade Fire show from the Austin City Limits Festival this weekend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Ex-Judge Is Said to Be Pick At Justice: Democrats Likely To Accept Him as Attorney General (Michael Abramowitz and Dan Eggen, 9/17/07, Washington Post)

As a federal judge, Mukasey was best known for his expertise on national security issues, in part because he presided over the trials of "blind sheik" Omar Abdel Rahman and others in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Mukasey lived under heavy federal security for years because of his connection with that case. He also handled the early case against Jose Padilla, who was declared an "enemy combatant" by Bush in 2002. Mukasey ruled that the government had the power to make the declaration but found that Padilla should have access to his lawyers.

As a prominent judge in one of the country's busiest courts, Mukasey was involved in other high-profile cases, including battles between insurance companies and a World Trade Center developer after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He dismissed in 2004 lawsuits against an Italian insurance company for policies held by Holocaust victims.

Baruch Weiss, a partner at the law firm of Arent Fox and a former federal prosecutor in New York who appeared before Mukasey, described him as a very smart, business-like judge who kept things moving quickly in his courtroom and who has a reputation for integrity.

Weiss said Mukasey's appeal to the White House most likely was his independent stature; he is not, as he put it, "someone who would simply be doing the president's bidding."

"He is thoughtful, independent, very much a person of integrity -- he's nobody's plaything," said Paul A. Engelmayer, a Democrat and former supervisor in the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan. "If there is an analogy here, it's to [former FBI director] Louis Freeh -- who obviously bedeviled Clinton. He will not be a tool of the Bushies."

Some of Mukasey's public pronouncements have pleased conservatives. During one 2004 speech, excerpts of which were published by the Wall Street Journal, Mukasey strongly defended the controversial USA Patriot Act antiterrorism law and said its "Orwellian name . . . may very well be the worst thing about the statute."

He also scoffed at complaints from librarians and others that the statute gave the government too much power to spy on ordinary Americans, arguing that the allegations were not supported by evidence.

Mukasey, who was Manhattan's chief federal judge at the time, also defended a wave of terrorism-related immigration arrests by the FBI after the Sept. 11 attacks. "We should keep in mind that any investigation conducted by fallible human beings in the aftermath of an attack is bound to be either over-inclusive or under-inclusive," Mukasey said. "There are consequences both ways. The consequences of over-inclusiveness include condemnations. The consequences of under-inclusiveness include condolences."

In an op-ed article last month for the Journal, Mukasey said that the Padilla case and others underscore the shortcomings of the regular criminal justice system for terrorism defendants, and he advocated some kind of alternative system for handling such cases. That view is likely to raise eyebrows within the Justice Department, where many career attorneys pride themselves on the department's ability to try to convict terrorism suspects under traditional criminal procedures.

Bush To Tap Mukasey for Justice: Schumer Suddenly Turns Guarded (JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN, September 17, 2007, NY Sun)
President Bush's choice of Michael Mukasey, a retired judge from New York who has received the support of Senator Schumer, to be the next attorney general signals that the White House wishes to avoid a Senate confirmation battle.

Still, it is unclear whether Mr. Schumer is willing to shepherd Judge Mukasey through confirmation hearings whose main topic could shape up to be the politicization of the Justice Department during Attorney General Gonzales's tenure.

Mr. Schumer, one of the Senate's fiercest critics of Mr. Gonzales, has long touted Judge Mukasey for a position higher than the district court judgeship he held for 19 years. In 2003, the senator recommended the judge as an eventual successor to Chief Justice Rehnquist on the Supreme Court. Earlier this year, he floated Judge Mukasey's name for the attorney general position.

In a statement issued last night, the senator was somewhat guarded. "For sure we'd want to ascertain his approach on such important and sensitive issues as wiretapping and the appointment of US attorneys, but he's a lot better than some of the other names mentioned and he has the potential to become a consensus nominee," the statement said.

Can't hurt to have an AG with a personal interest in maximum surveillance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Youth courts appeal for cannabis rethink (Ben Farmer, 17/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Judges and magistrates are so worried about the dangers of burgeoning cannabis use among young criminals that nearly every youth court in the country has urged the Government to reclassify it.

Fifty out of the 51 youth courts in England and Wales have written to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, asking her to tighten the laws regarding the drug.

Cannabis had been downgraded to a class C drug in 2004 by the then home secretary, David Blunkett, meaning dealing the drug or possessing it carried less severe penalties.

However, since then youth offending teams (YOTs) claim they have seen cannabis use soar among young offenders.

In a national survey, two thirds of the teams are reported to have found that use of the drug has risen by between a quarter and three quarters. In some areas nine out of 10 young offenders were reported to be using cannabis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Immigration: U.S. Congress stops its work, but churches plow ahead (Catholic News Service, 9/17/07)

Congressional efforts to pass an immigration reform bill may have been shoved onto the "maybe after the 2008 election" list, but around the country a wide range of church-connected efforts continue to try to influence what the general public thinks about immigrants and how they are treated.

In Tennessee a Colombian immigrant who has long served as an interpreter for Spanish speakers in Nashville's courts has self-published a guidebook for immigrants about adjusting to their new home. In another part of the state, churches have been trying to support families affected by immigration raids of trailer parks in the spring.

Elsewhere, church agencies help people legalize their status; religious brothers and sisters pray weekly outside immigrant detention centers; parish activists lobby their members of Congress; and groups across the country are scheduling education programs, rallies and prayer events for immigrants and immigration issues.

Farm needs revive immigration debate: Congress set to take up issue again as labor concerns crop up (MICHELLE MITTELSTADT, 9/17/07, Houston Chronicle)
From the Rio Grande Valley's citrus groves to Washington state apple orchards, growers are warning that agriculture is in increasing distress because of labor shortages brought on in part by stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws.

Congress appears to be paying heed as the growers complain ever more loudly of fruit and vegetable crops rotting in the field, planting plans being scaled back and production moving to Mexico. So, less than three months after the Senate nixed an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy, senators are poised to jump back onto the roller coaster and confront uncomfortable and politically treacherous questions about illegal immigration and U.S. labor needs.

If Christians and farmers aren't the GOP base, who does it think is?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Archivists chronicle Iraqis' pain
: A team studying Hussein-era records finds that each one of the more than 11 million pages is witness to a family's suffering. (Alexandra Zavis, September 17, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

Staring directly at the camera, Zahra Badri begins: "I have not had one good day in my life."

Saddam Hussein's regime imprisoned and killed 23 of the Shiite woman's relatives, including her husband, her son and her pregnant daughter. To save two other sons, she kept them hidden inside her home for more than 20 years.

As Iraq is swept up in new bloodshed, a small team of archivists and videographers has begun the painstaking work of collecting, classifying and preserving evidence of such atrocities. Some of it is newly recorded, a cataloging of terrible memories, but much of it was documented in obsessive and chilling detail by Hussein's vast bureaucracy.

Each one of the more than 11 million yellowing pages and more than 600 hours of footage amassed by the Iraq Memory Foundation is witness to a family's pain, says its founder, Kanan Makiya, a longtime Iraqi exile in the United States and author of "Republic of Fear," the book that brought Hussein's savagery to international attention in 1989.

UnAmerican is not a term to be used lightly, but what better describes Senator Obama's position that such savagery does not warrant American-led regime change?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Musharraf meltdown? (Arnaud de Borchgrave, September 17, 2007, Washington Times)

Some 80,000 Pakistani soldiers manning the nonexistent border between the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Afghanistan have stood down, but no one knows who gave the order or whether they are even taking orders.

Taliban and al Qaeda terror training camps are up and running again with the acquiescence — or impotence — of the Pakistani army. That's the word by satellite phone from this reporter's sources in Miranshah and Wana, the capital towns of North and South Waziristan.

...the sooner we can start bombing it.

September 16, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


Speculation flourishes over Israel's strike on Syria (Conal Urquhart, September 17, 2007, Guardian)

[T]he details of the raid have been leaked to a series of foreign newspapers. According to the leaks, eight Israeli F-15 bombers entered Syrian airspace in the early hours of September 6. They successfully evaded Syrian radar and air defences and attacked a research establishment on the Euphrates river in northern Syria, destroying it completely.

Israeli intelligence believes that North Korea, which has provided missile technology to Syria in the past, has started supplying nuclear materials in recent months. On leaving Syria, the Israeli planes jettisoned their extra fuel tanks over Turkey.

While news of the raid spread rapidly through the Israeli defence, media and political circles, the government insisted on complete silence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 PM


Myanmar monks lead anti-junta protests (MICHAEL CASEY, 9/16/07, Associated Press)

Nearly a month into the worst demonstrations to hit Myanmar in decades, the saffron-robed Buddhist clergy are emerging as the focal point of the anti-government protests. With dozens of pro-democracy activists behind bars or in hiding, most people are counting on monks - who have a role in almost all aspects of society from weddings to funerals - to take the lead in challenging the repressive regime in the mostly Buddhist country.

"Monks are our only hope now as they always have been in Myanmar political history," said Hla Myint, a 75-year-old schoolteacher. "The military rulers can easily crush protests by students and other people. But brutal suppression of monks usually results in negative consequences and further protests."

Much of the talk on the streets of big cities like Yangon is on a Monday deadline set by monks for the regime to apologize for beating hundreds of them two weeks ago as they marched and chanted Buddhist prayers peacefully in Pakokku, a center of Buddhist learning. [...]

A chief abbot at a Yangon monastery said the boycott will have a symbolic importance in the ongoing struggle against the junta.

"In a staunchly Buddhist country, such a boycott is the most severe form of punishment for a Buddhist," said the abbot, who refused to be identified for fear of reprisals. "The boycott brings extreme shame to the ruling junta and should be taken seriously."

Monks in Myanmar, also known as Burma, have historically been at the forefront of protests - first against British colonialism and later military dictatorship. They also played a prominent part in the failed 1988 pro-democracy rebellion that sought an end to military rule, imposed since 1962. The uprising was brutally crushed by the military and thousand were killed.

This time around, the military regime has appeared nervous and indecisive in its dealings with the monks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


The Murder of a CEO: Did East Germany's feared secret police help kill German businessmen? (DAVID CRAWFORD, September 15, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

The terrorists who killed Alfred Herrhausen were professionals. They dressed as construction workers to lay a wire under the pavement of the road along Mr. Herrhausen's usual route to work. They planted a sack of armor-piercing explosives on a parked bicycle by the roadside. An infrared beam shining across the road triggered the explosion just when the limousine, one of three cars in a convoy, sped by.

The operation, from the terrorists' point of view, was flawless: Mr. Herrhausen, the chairman of one of Europe's most powerful companies, Deutsche Bank, was killed in the explosion along that suburban Frankfurt road on Nov. 30, 1989.

But was everything what it seemed?
The Wall Street Journal's David Crawford browses new evidence almost 20 years after the assassination of Deutsche Bank Chairman Alfred Herrhausen.

Within days, the Red Army Faction -- a leftist terrorist group that had traumatized West Germany since 1970 with a series of high-profile crimes and brazen killings of bankers and industrialists -- claimed responsibility for the assassination. An intense manhunt followed. In June 1990, police arrested 10 Red Army Faction members who had fled to East Germany to avoid arrest for other crimes. To the police's surprise, they were willing to talk. Equally confounding to authorities: All had solid alibis. None was charged in the Herrhausen attack.

Now, almost two decades later, German police, prosecutors and other security officials have focused on a new suspect: the East German secret police, known as the Stasi. Long fodder for spy novelists like John le Carré, the shadowy Stasi controlled every aspect of East German life through imprisonment, intimidation and the use of informants -- even placing a spy at one point in the office of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.

According to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the murders of Mr. Herrhausen and others attributed to the Red Army Faction bear striking resemblance to methods and tactics pioneered by a special unit of the Stasi. The unit reported to Stasi boss Erich Mielke and actively sought in the waning years of the communist regime to imitate the Red Army Faction to mask their own attacks against prominent people in Western Germany and destabilize the country.

"The investigation has intensified in recent months," said Frank Wallenta, a spokesman for the Federal Prosecutor. "And we are investigating everything, including leads to the Stasi."

If those leads turn out to be true, it would mean not only rewriting some of the most dramatic episodes of the Cold War, but would likely accelerate a broader soul-searching now under way in Germany about the communist past.

In building a reunified country, many Germans have ignored discussion of the brutal realities of its former communist half. When the former East Germany is discussed, it's often with nostalgia or empathy for brothers hostage to Soviet influence.

That taboo is slowly being broken. Last year's Oscar-winning movie, "The Lives of Others," chronicled in dark detail a Stasi agent's efforts to subvert the lives of ordinary people. Material in the Stasi archives shows that senior leaders had a shoot-to-kill order against those fleeing from East to West -- a controversial order that contradicts East German leaders' claims that they never ordered any shootings.

This story is based on more than a dozen interviews with police, prosecutors and other security officials. Several policemen and prosecutors confirmed that the allegation of extensive Stasi involvement with the Red Army Faction is a key part of the current investigation.

Those who can't face their past are often surprised by it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:04 PM


Bullets fly as villagers tell comrades: Give us grain, not nuclear nonsense (Telegraph of India, 9/17/07)

A dozen villagers from Radhamohanpur, 250km from Calcutta, had come to the “anti-imperialism” meeting around 10am to complain to the CPM leaders against hoarding by ration-shop owners.

They erupted when panchayat chief Pabitra Mondal — who was on the dais trying to convince a crowd of 200 daily wagers about the dangers of the 123 Agreement — tried to shoo them away.

One man jumped on the dais, snatched the microphone and began abusing the assembled CPM leaders. “We’ll teach you a lesson. You can’t give us rice and wheat, instead you talk mumbo-jumbo. We don’t understand the nuclear deal, give us food,” he screamed. “Maar shalader maar (beat them up).”

The words will worry state CPM secretary Biman Bose, who has admitted that the anti-nuclear deal line lacks the force of bread-and-butter issues and will be difficult to sell to an electorate.

Isn't that mumbai jumbo?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


O.J. Simpson arrested in Las Vegas robbery (The Associated Press, September 15, 2007)

Several police officers were seen entering the hotel where Simpson is staying; a security guard said police took Simpson out a side door shortly after.

At least one other person has been arrested and police said earlier Sunday that as many as six people could be arrested in connection with the alleged armed robbery that occurred in a room inside the Palace Station casino-hotel on Thursday.

Simpson, 60, has said he and other people with him were retrieving items that belonged to him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Sex revolution robbed us of fertility (Angela Shanahan, September 15, 2007, The Australian)

[S]tudies done in the late 1990s in Scandinavia, where almost 60per cent of births are ex-nuptial, discovered a much stronger connection between the attitude of the man in a cohabiting relationship, as to whether a formal marriage eventuated, than the attitude of the woman.

Cohabiting men were found to be far more hesitant than women to formalise the relationship. Furthermore, this pattern holds true even in relationships that have already produced children.

Among the childless, men seem to fear that marriage will push them into more of a provider role. They harbour strong doubts about the ultimate value of a relationship -- whether it will be lifelong -- and are less likely than women to yield to normative pressure from parents. What exactly was the word the Pope used: selfish?

This is much more a picture of reluctant youthful grooms being dragged to the altar than of reluctant New Age feminist brides not wanting to be tied down with an uneven share of the household chores and child care, which is what feminist academics claim is the motivator for the new non-marriage relationship.

In fact, it emphasises how little our sexual expectations have changed -- because women still want stability, marriage and children -- but, at the same time, how badly the new sexual norms are treating women.

Who now quotes with approval the original shallow feminist rhetoric, when women thought that armed with the pill they would hold all the cards, that they would not be tied down and would be free to act just like men? The experiences of women such as the one who sent me that letter belie all that propaganda.

Instead, many women are fooled into a series of unfulfilling relationships, becoming empty vessels for sex. Says my correspondent of these relationships: "I thought I was offering myself for marriage." Instead, having given away their most precious asset, their fertility, many women have played right into the hands of men.

The contraceptive pill was the greatest gift ever invented for men, by men. More than 30 years ago it looked like a lovely package of sexual freedom.

But for so many women experiencing a series of partners from their 20s into their 30s and then staring into the infertile 40s, it was like opening a series of empty boxes one inside the other. And there was nothing at the end except an empty box.

The hand that rocks the empty box rules nothing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Gene Savoy, author and explorer dubbed 'the real Indiana Jones,' dies at 80 (The Associated Press, September 16, 2007)

Douglas Eugene "Gene" Savoy, an explorer who discovered more than 40 lost cities in Peru and led long-distance sailing adventures to learn more about ancient cultures, has died. He was 80.

Savoy died of natural causes Tuesday at his Reno home, his family said Saturday.

Dubbed "the real Indiana Jones" by People magazine, Savoy was credited with finding four of Peru's most important archaeological sites, including Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Incas from the Spanish conquistadors. [...]

But the bulk of his books and articles concerned another consuming passion: religion. As founder of a new theology known as "Cosolargy," he established the International Community of Christ, Church of the Second Advent. He taught that the Second Coming of Christ had already become a living reality through a miraculous celestial event.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


France warning of war with Iran (BBC, 9/16/07)

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner says the world should prepare for war over Iran's nuclear programme.

"We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war," Mr Kouchner said in an interview on French TV and radio.

Mr Kouchner said negotiations with Iran should continue "right to the end", but an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose "a real danger for the whole world".

Not that a Democratic president would have any choice anyway, once the Israeli's told him/her to attack or they will, but they also couldn't afford to appear weaker than the French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Raul Castro focuses on small steps: Quality of Cubans' lives tops agenda (Anita Snow, 9/16/07, Associated Press)

With Raúl Castro in charge, Cuba has raised payments to milk and meat producers, is paying off its debts to farmers, and has stopped blocking the import of parts needed to keep vintage cars rumbling along.

Travelers can even bring in DVD players and game consoles, highly coveted by Cubans starved for high-tech entertainment.

Raúl's ailing brother, Fidel, is still showing leadership behind the scenes, and as provisional president, he has only taken small steps. But he's already giving clues to how he might govern once he takes full control - paying special attention to quality-of-life problems, publicly scolding state managers, and acknowledging that salaries don't cover basic needs.

The new Chinese buses on intercity routes are evidence of the Raúl effect. They were in the planning before Fidel got sick, but they have become much more visible since Raúl said in a speech last year that he was sick of hearing bureaucrats' excuses and he wanted results.

To boost food production, lawmakers agreed in June to pay producers 2.5 times more for milk and meat included in the island's heavily subsidized ration program and in meals provided at similarly low-cost workplace cafeterias, schools, hospitals, and community centers. The prices consumers pay will remain the same.

At the same gathering National Assembly members were told that the state had just paid off debts worth $23 million to the small farmers and cooperatives that grow two-thirds of the island's fruits and vegetables, and renegotiated $35 million in other debts.

The change is evident in style, too. Where a Fidel speech could devote hours to communism, his brother's oratory is much more short and direct, and Cubans love his public attacks on government failures.

Et tu, brother?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:27 PM


South Carolinians seem to favor a Southern son (Albert R. Hunt, 9/16/07, Bloomberg News)

Ten miles away, in the heart of the far right of the South Carolina conservative movement, Steve Jones, the president of Bob Jones University, said Thompson, 65, was one of a few Republican candidates who would be welcome on the campus.

The other major contender, Jones said, would be Mitt Romney, although some at the university, a fundamentalist Christian institution, are "having a hard time getting over" his Mormon religion. [...]

Any possibility for a Thompson nomination must include a win in South Carolina.

Thompson, a former U.S. senator and TV actor, needs a respectable showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, likely to be the first tests next January.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


Sonny Rollins Strips for Action (BEN RATLIFF, 9/16/07, NY Times)

SONNY ROLLINS didn’t just influence other saxophone players. He produced a half-century of close listeners. The long, idiosyncratic tenor saxophone solos that he started developing around 50 years ago — bulging sacks of brilliant thematic improvisation, as well as slangy humor and quotations — became a genuine American rhetoric, delirious and ecstatic; audiences reoriented their imagination, and their sense of patience, around them. But his greatest work from the 1950s and ’60s trained many of them to want what he was later unwilling to give.

Some would like him to play small rooms every once in a while, so they could hear his tone better; or to perform into a standing microphone, without a clip-on microphone on his horn; or with no amplification at all. Some want him to play fewer calypsos. Some want him to banish the electric bass from his stage. Perhaps the most abject hope has been that he simplify things and play again the way he often did in the late ’50s and ’60s, with only a bassist and drummer. These fantasy-league visions have never stopped, and he has never paid them much attention.

So when Mr. Rollins, who turned 77 this month, announced this summer that he would play at Carnegie Hall on Sept. 18, and that for part of the concert he would play in a trio with the bassist Christian McBride and the drummer Roy Haynes, all those who watch jazz closely stepped back and took a deep breath.

What’s so special about Sonny Rollins and trios?

When Mr. Rollins decided not to hire a pianist while making the record “Way Out West” in March 1957, jazz shifted a little bit, if mostly in his direction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


With primary near, the Granite State is rockin': Hanging on — for now — to the nation's first presidential primary, residents are in their element. (John M. Glionna, 9/16/07, Los Angeles Times)

Politicking here is like a step back in time -- an old black-and-white photograph compared to the colorful frame grabs that follow in most other states. Candidates like Jimmy Carter, Jack Kemp and Bob Kerrey played checkers with a general store owner, and Gary Hart threw an ax at a woodsman convention.

"New Hampshire brings campaigning to a human scale," recalled Hart, a Democrat who ran for president in 1984. "Voters there know their politics. They've opened doors for dark-horse candidates -- that's the beauty of the state."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for president in 1988, relished New Hampshire's retail politics. "You're in a lot of living rooms and backyards," he said. "I enjoyed that a hell of a lot more than the post-nomination drill -- up and down on planes giving airport speeches."

New Hampshire's tradition of micro-democracy dates to the 1700s, when town hall meetings originated in New England. Today, the state holds 200 elections at the town and school district levels every year, with races for statewide offices, including governor, every two years.

Per capita, New Hampshire boasts more people who have sought or served in office than any other state. Its Constitution requires one state representative for every 3,000 residents -- currently a 400-member House of Representatives. In California, the equivalent would be a 12,000-member Assembly.

"A political culture was born here and has been nurtured over time," said Michael Chaney, president of the New Hampshire Political Library. "Participation in governing has been in our DNA since the beginning."

Websites here monitor not just whether White House hopefuls have visited the state, but where and how often. A higher percentage volunteers for campaigns than anywhere else. School textbooks instruct fourth-graders to "support and cherish this enduring tradition."

On primary day, roughly 70% of the state's 700,000 registered voters usually show up at the polls, a rate that's twice the national average. In 2004, one in four New Hampshire residents said they had met at least one of the candidates in person.

Residents don't get involved just for the money the campaigns bring to the state. According to a 2000 study, the economic effect of that year's primary was $306 million, a small fraction of the state's gross product of $42 billion.

"People say the primary is a cash cow," said Chaney, "but that's not the case. This is just what we do."

It's entirely appropriate for the state that adheres most closely to the Founders' vision to have an outweighted say in the process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Happy to Be Neurotic, at Least Once a Week (SUSAN STEWART, 9/16/07, NY Times)

Thinking up new “Monk” jokes is no easy task after six years. “It’s a contradiction, really, the idea of keeping it ‘fresh.’ There’s such a thing as over-freshness.”

Mr. Shalhoub says the show has “fermented” like a fine wine, a strong cheese — or a marriage. “I like that the writers are letting the characters finish each other’s sentences now.”

Mr. Shalhoub is now an executive producer of “Monk,” even as his performance continues to be the point of the series. “Monk” is a whodunit like “Columbo” or “Murder, She Wrote.” But its characterizations are complex, with emphasis on Monk’s struggles, as his assistant, Natalie (Traylor Howard), and his sometime employer Captain Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) form an ad hoc family.

Mr. Shalhoub calls his acting style “subtlety takes a holiday.” Still, he is practically Shakespearean about the theme — “For a crime to occur, there must be disorder” — and deeply analytical about the details. When Monk studies crime scenes, for instance, he holds his hands before him, fingers splayed. “I’m looking between the fingers, because it actually isolates and cuts the room into slices, looking at parts instead of the whole.”

Mr. Shalhoub has his own back story for his character. “I’ve always thought of Monk as being a virgin. Prior to ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin,’ I thought that.” Monk, he theorizes, was about to consummate his marriage when his wife was killed.

Do female fans find all that misery appealing? “About five years ago I was featured in People magazine’s Sexiest Men issue. I was in the category of ‘Surprisingly Sexy’ or something like that, which is another way of saying ‘Not Sexy,’ along with Donald Rumsfeld and hot guys like that.”

Sexy or not, Monk has netted Mr. Shalhoub five Emmy nominations for best actor in a comedy, and three awards. His excellence seems to be contagious. Just this month Stanley Tucci won an Emmy for his guest spot on “Monk.”

“I think other actors know how hard the Monk role is, and that’s what they respond to in the academy,” said Andy Breckman, the show’s creator. “We get great guest stars, because everyone wants to watch this man work.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


Madonna: I'm an 'ambassador for Judaism' (STEVE WEIZMAN, 9/16/07, Associated Press)

Madonna toasted the Jewish new year with Israeli President Shimon Peres and declared herself an "ambassador for Judaism," local newspapers reported Sunday.

MORE (via Bryan Francoeur):
Madonna and Britney Spears face beheading threat (Yahoo! Music, 9/13/07)

Madonna and Britney Spears have been targeted as the spreaders of "Satanic culture."

The aggressive comments were launched by spokesman and senior leader of Palestinian terror group the Popular Resistance Committees, a group based in the Gaza Strip and responsible for the increase in shootings and bombings in the region.

Hard to decide which idea's crazier.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


'You Have Liberated a People': Iraqis of all sects report progress, not "civil war." (FOUAD AJAMI, September 16, 2007, Opinion Journal)

Four months ago, I had seen the Sunni despondency, their recognition of the tragedy that had befallen them in Baghdad. That despondency had deepened in the intervening period. No Arab cavalry had ridden to their rescue, no brigades had turned up from the Arabian Peninsula or from Jordan, and the Egyptians were far away. Reality in Iraq had not waited on the Arabs. The Sunnis of Iraq must now fully grasp that they are on their own. They had relied on the dictatorship, and on the Baath, and these are now gone; there had, of course, been that brief bet on al Qaeda and on the Arab regimes, and it had come to naught.

The one Baghdad politician with the authority, and the place in the pecking order, who could pull the Sunnis back from the precipice is Vice President Tariq Hashemi. There is a parlor game in the Green Zone, and back in Washington, that focuses on Mr. Hashemi. He is at once in the circle of power, and outside of it, simultaneously a man of authority and of the opposition to this new order. He is a leader of the Islamic Party, and a former colonel in the armed forces. He flirts with the government, promising to stand by it, then steps back form it. His caution is understandable: Three of his siblings have been lost to the terror. He is a man of great polish, his English impeccable. There is an aristocratic bearing to him.

He would not call the government sectarian, "I am a man of this government," he said, when I called on him in a villa that reflected the elegance of the man himself. He questioned the government's "performance" and its skill. He pointed to the isolation of the government in the region as evidence of its inability to rule. "I don't question the right of this government to rule. I know I am in the minority in Parliament, I know that they have the largest bloc in our legislature. But ability is an altogether different matter. A more able government would reach an accommodation with Syria, with the other Arab governments and with Turkey. The Syrians may harbor fantasies about the return of the Baathists to power in Baghdad, but they are eager for the benefits of trade and commerce, and their enmity could be eased."

It is late in the hour for the Sunni Arabs, but the age of the supremacists among them has passed. There is realism in Mr. Hashemi, and a knowledge of the ways of the world. Baghdad's Sunnis need him, if only because their crisis is deeper than that of the Sunnis of the Anbar.

The loss of Iraq to the Persians is a scarecrow. A great, historic question has been raised by Iraq: Can the Shiite Arabs govern, or are they born and eternal oppositionists? [...]

"Historically we are winning." The words were those of Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. This is a scion of Baghdad Shiite aristocracy, at ease with French and English, a man whose odyssey had taken him from Marxism to the Baath, then finally to the Islamism of the Supreme Islamic Council. "We came from under the ashes, and now the new order, this new Iraq, is taking hold. If we were losing, why would the insurgents be joining us?" He had nothing but praise for the effort that had secured the peace of Baghdad: "Petraeus can defend the surge," he said. "He can show the 'red zones' of conflict receding, and the spread of the 'blue zones' of peace. Six months ago, you could not venture into the Anbar, now you can walk its streets in peace. There is a Sunni problem in the country which requires a Shiite initiative. The Sunni problem is power, plain and simple. Sunni society grew addicted to power, and now it has to make this painful adjustment."

Mr. Mahdi was not apologetic about what Iraq offers the United States by way of justification for the blood and treasure and the sacrifice: "Little more than two decades ago, in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution and the Lebanon War of 1982, the American position in this region was exposed and endangered. Look around you today: Everyone seeks American protection and patronage. The line was held in Iraq; perhaps America was overly sanguine about the course of things in Iraq. But that initial optimism now behind us, the war has been an American victory. All in the region are romancing the Americans, even Syria and Iran in their own way."

For the Sunni-ruled states in the region, he counseled an acceptance of the new Iraq. He looked with pride on his country, and on his city. He saw beyond Baghdad's daily grief. "Baghdad is the heart of the Arab world, this was the hothouse of Arab philosophy and science and literature."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Saudi ban drives women to rebel (IAN MATHER, 9/16/07,

A group called the League of Demanders of Women's Right to Drive Cars in Saudi Arabia will present a petition to King Abdullah this week, asking him to "return that which has been stolen from women: the right to free movement through the use of cars, which are the means of transportation today."

The women add: "This is a right that was enjoyed by our mothers and grandmothers in complete freedom."

The exceptionally bold language in a country that uses draconian laws against even the mildest dissent indicates growing self-confidence among Saudi women reformers as the economy slowly opens up to outside influences.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


Bin Laden sidelined as al-Qaeda threat revives (Tim Shipman, 16/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Intelligence officials have told The Sunday Telegraph that bin Laden has not chaired a meeting of al-Qaeda's ruling shura, or council, in more than two years.

Instead, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's nominal number two, is credited with rebuilding the terror network since the Afghan war in 2001. [...]

What forced the re-evaluation was the plot last August to blow up 10 aircraft en route from Britain to the US. "That sent shock waves through the intelligence -agencies of both countries," said Prof Hoffman. "It was incontrovertible evidence that al-Qaeda was back, and that it was prepared to go after hard targets."

A former British intelligence officer said that al-Qaeda under al-Zawahiri's direction had promoted a new generation of leaders to the highest echelons of the shura, a group of about 20 to 30 leaders who govern operations, finance and religious fatwahs.

"The guys on the subs' bench are now in the first XI," he said. "They have stopped using mobile phones to talk to each other, which has made it more difficult to find them."

An American intelligence official told The Washington Post last week: "They do appear to meet with a frequency that enables them to act as an organisation and not just as a loose bunch of guys."

When bin Laden marked the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by releasing two videos, it highlighted the key role of Adam Gadahn, an American widely credited with helping to write the script.

Gadahn, 28, an Islamic convert from California, is the first American charged with treason since 1952 and has appeared in dozens of al-Qaeda videos as "Azzam the American".

But it is al-Zawahiri - who has quadrupled the number of videos produced each year to more than 60 - who is credited with stepping up the propaganda effort.

Target Europe: Three suspected bomb plotters were arrested in Germany last week. After London and Madrid, is al-Qaeda now concentrating on Europe, exploiting its large homegrown population of Muslims and converts? (Jason Burke, September 9, 2007, The Observer)
Fritz Gelowicz is a tall, good-looking 28-year-old with long brown hair and an easy smile. Polite and well-spoken, he paid his rent on time and happily did his share of the cleaning of the communal stairs in the block of flats where he and his wife lived in the southern German city of Neu Ulm.

Yet Europe woke up last week to see his face on front pages across the continent under dramatic headlines about al-Qaeda and a massive and apparently narrowly averted attack near Frankfurt. The trained engineer, who converted to Islam at the age of 16, had been arrested in a holiday home in a bucolic village in the Sauerland, in central western Germany. [...]

The Observer has learnt that senior Islamic militant leaders based in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan have decided to step up attacks in Europe. This summer, European intelligence agencies issued a series of warnings about attacks orchestrated from what one source last week called 'the Grand Central station of jihad': the lawless tribal-run regions on Pakistan's western borders with Afghanistan.

Gelowicz, claim German investigators, trained in a camp in the area and received his final instructions by email from Pakistan. So, reportedly, did the leaders of eight men arrested on terrorism charges in Copenhagen, the Danish capital last week. 'If you imagine western Pakistan as the hub, with lines radiating out from it, it is clear that by the time you get to Denmark or Germany or wherever, those lines have diverged fairly substantially,' said one source. 'But they all originated in the same place.' [...]

Gelowicz's suspected path into jihad is a textbook example of radicalisation. Born in Munich, the son of a doctor and a businessman, he moved to Ulm when young. When his parents divorced - the teenager was badly affected by the split, say school friends - he remained with his father, working for the family business to finance his education, studying business and engineering at a local college.

At around the age of 18, he converted to Islam and is believed to have started spending time at a religious centre - the 'MultiKultur Haus' - the heart of what was known to police as the 'Ulm Islamic scene'. It was run by hardline conservative Muslims steeped in the Wahabi doctrine of the Arabian Gulf and funded by major religious foundations in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait devoted to propagating Wahabism.

Many of the young men attending the centre had family problems or difficulties with drugs. Encouraged to borrow works by radical preachers from the library at the centre, which was shut down in 2005 after more than 30 people connected with it had been deported, and to train in its boxing gym, some, according to reports, were given mobile phones to keep in touch with mentors at the centre even if their parents wanted them to break off contact.

Those running the centre, wittingly or unwittingly, had put together a sophisticated package of radicalisation. Potential recruits were exposed to propaganda, practised a physical and psychologically demanding activity that develops team spirit and were progressively cut off from previous social contacts, including friends and family.

Mosques played a minimal part in the process, with less formal religious spaces, the Islamic centre, and restaurants, cafes and private homes playing a far greater part. By 2004, Gelowicz was on police files as a potential threat and was arrested on at least one occasion.

In 2005, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca, where he is thought to have met German militants who had connections to the militant Islamic Jihad Union Group in Pakistan. Though the connection to an Uzbek group may seem odd, it is explained by the fact that most German Muslims are of Turkish descent. There is therefore a natural cultural link with the Turkish Uzbeks in the same way that British Pakistani radicals have a historic link with Kashmiri militant fighters and North African immigrants in France become involved with Algerian or Moroccan groups.

In March last year, Gelowicz signed on for a year's course in Arabic in Damascus. Syria is seen by European intelligence agencies as a key staging post for young militants. Many use the numerous language schools, often run by religious foundations, in the country as cover before disappearing to Iraq or to Afghanistan and Pakistan via the Yemen or Iran. The French government has tracked dozens of young French Muslims along the route in recent years, arresting many on their return.

According to German intelligence, it is alleged that Gelowicz reached Pakistan and trained in a makeshift camp run by the Islamic Union of Jihad, an Uzbek group which has turned from fighting the repressive Tashkent regime to international jihad. The terrorist infrastructure in the rugged hills along the Afghan border is makeshift but can be effective. Court testimony during the trial of those arrested in Operation Crevice revealed details of bomb instruction sessions in ordinary houses in towns such as Kohat or in remote rural areas.

However, the speed at which instruction has to be carried out to avoid surveillance causes problems for the militants. One key figure in the Crevice case forgot the crucial ratios needed to mix the explosives and had to email a contact in Pakistan for help. That mail was intercepted. And though German officials and politicians have insisted on the alleged dedication of Gelowicz and his co-conspirators - both of whom are alleged to have accompanied him to Pakistan - others have questioned their competence.

'They went out and bought enough hydrogen peroxide to supply a hairdresser for years, they gave interviews to journalists,' said Christoph Reuter, Hamburg-based author of a book on Islamic militancy. 'They are hardly highly-trained professionals.'

U.S. Helped Nab German Suspects (ANDREW PURVIS, 9/14/07, TIME)
American assistance in uncovering the terrorist plot last week to attack U.S. and German targets in Germany was "vital," according to a German official familiar with the investigation. It was National Security Agency surveillance of communications between Germany and Pakistan, along with some help from Pakistani intelligence, that first uncovered the plot last October and "set the ball rolling," the German official told TIME. The investigation culminated last week in the arrests in central Germany of three ringleaders, two German nationals and a Turk, and the revelation that the cell was plotting a "massive" attack, possibly on U.S. targets in Germany. "U.S. intelligence was of utmost importance," said the official, who asked not to be named. "The U.S. was even more prominent in this than they appear to be."

German suspects had deadline for attacks: report (Erik Kirschbaum, Sep 8, 2007, Reuters)
According to surveillance details published in Der Spiegel magazine, the men had been given a two-week deadline for their planned strikes in a late August call from northern Pakistan that was monitored by German police. [...]

According to Der Spiegel, two of the militants mentioned "a disco filled with American sluts" along with airports, nightclubs or a U.S. military base as targets during a July 20 conversation that was bugged by police.

The three suspects were aware they were under close police observation, Der Spiegel said. At one point, one of the suspects got out of a car at a traffic light, calmly walked back to an unmarked police vehicle behind him and slashed its tyres.

The arrests were the culmination of an investigation that began a year ago, when U.S. officials alerted German authorities to e-mails intercepted from Pakistan.

U.S. President George W. Bush was closely following the case, the magazine reported. He asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel about it in June during a G8 summit in Heiligendamm.

The police launched the raid on Tuesday after two local traffic police officers unaware of the investigation stopped two of the suspects in a routine traffic control because their car had its headlights on full beam.

"Oh, they're on the federal police list," said one of the officers after running the names through a police computer in comments that were overheard by the suspects and federal police who had bugged the car.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


The rise of Indian English (Amrit Dhillon, 16/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

It has taken decades of struggle, but more than half a century after the British departed from India, standard English has finally followed.

Young and educated Indians regard the desire to speak English as it is spoken in England as a silly hang-up from a bygone era. Homegrown idiosyncrasies have worked their way into the mainstream to such an extent that only fanatical purists question their usage.

Now Penguin, the quintessentially British publishing house, has put the nearest thing to an official imprimatur on the result by producing a collection of some of the most colourful phrases in use - in effect a dictionary of what might be called "Indlish".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Tim Cope: 'Civilisation feels like death to me': He has ridden 6,000 miles through some of the most remote, rugged places on earth. After three years, Tim Cope's journey in the footsteps of Genghis Khan is about to end... and he is already feeling claustrophobic (Independent, 16 September 2007)

This is a story so epic in scale and so close to the folk legends of middle Europe that it can only start in one way. Once upon a time... there was a young man who could never stay in one place for very long, because he yearned to keep travelling through the open countryside, under a big sky.

He learned to ride a horse and began to travel from the east to the west on a journey of almost ridiculous ambition: to cross the vast Eurasian Steppe, the plain stretching from the mountains of Mongolia to the pastures of Hungary, in the hoof-steps of the warrior emperor Genghis Khan. Without the rape and pillage though, obviously.

Tim Cope set off three years and three months ago. On Saturday the journey will come to an end at last, when he dismounts at the Opusztaszer National Park on the western edge of Genghis's former empire. Afterwards he will come to London, for a gathering at which some of the world's greatest adventurers will acclaim him as one of their kind.

"I don't know how I'll cope exactly," says the 28-year-old, who was baked by 54C sun in the deserts along the way and frozen by winter temperatures of -52C in the mountains. He appeared out of the heat haze and snow storm to astonish people living in the most remote places during the 10,000km (6,200-mile) ride and was often welcomed (but sometimes robbed). The lean, bearded stranger with the faraway look in his eye shared tiny yurt tents with large families, ate camel's head and goat's hoof, got food poisoning and fell in love, but always kept on moving. "This has become my way of life."

Out on the Steppe with only his three horses, a dog and the horizon for company, Cope would ride for four or five days without seeing anyone else. Under the stars, by the light of a fire, he wrote a blog on his laptop and sent home photographs of what he had seen.

The supporters and high-tech sponsors reading his website expected Cope to finish two years ago, but he was in no hurry. A series of arguments with border officials over the horses held him up for six months; his own tempo slowed too: living among people for whom rushing is "almost a sin", he learned to ride, eat, live and think like a nomad.

"I have changed so much," he says. The calmness in his voice is unsettling, but that comes from the nomads too, apparently. "They live out in the open in the toughest conditions I have ever seen, but they never complain. They just get on with it."

Electricity in exchange for the bitchy affluent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Brown: I want Lady Thatcher portrait to hang in No 10 (SIMON WALTERS, 15th September 2007, Daily Mail)

The row surrounding Margaret Thatcher's Downing Street meeting with Gordon Brown has intensified after it was revealed she has accepted his offer to commission a painting of her and for it to go on permanent display in No10.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


'Thermometer' finds voters cool to Hillary (Donald Lambro, September 16, 2007, Washington Times)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has the highest negative ratings of any presidential candidate in the 2008 race, can add another voter designation to her image: the coldest.

The Gallup Poll recently asked voters to rank the candidates on a "feeling thermometer," in which zero was the coldest and 100 was the warmest. The New York senator and Democratic front-runner was the "most polarized" of all the candidates in either party, according to the poll.

"Nearly as many Americans say she leaves them cold as say they feel warmly about her," Gallup said.

The '08 race looks eerily like '88.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Was Israeli raid a dry run for attack on Iran?: Mystery surrounds last week's air foray into Syrian territory. The Observer's Foreign Affairs Editor attempts to unravel the truth behind Operation Orchard and allegations of nuclear subterfuge (Peter Beaumont, September 16, 2007, Observer)

Amid the confusion there were troubling details that chimed uncomfortably with the known facts. Two detachable tanks from an Israeli fighter were found just over the Turkish border. According to Turkish military sources, they belonged to a Raam F15I - the newest generation of Israeli long-range bomber, which has a combat range of over 2,000km when equipped with the drop tanks. This would enable them to reach targets in Iran, leading to speculation that it was an 'operation rehearsal' for a raid on Tehran's nuclear facilities.

Finally, however, at the week's end, the first few tangible details were beginning to emerge about Operation Orchard from a source involved in the Israeli operation.

They were sketchy, but one thing was absolutely clear. Far from being a minor incursion, the Israeli overflight of Syrian airspace through its ally, Turkey, was a far more major affair involving as many as eight aircraft, including Israel's most ultra-modern F-15s and F-16s equipped with Maverick missiles and 500lb bombs. Flying among the Israeli fighters at great height, The Observer can reveal, was an ELINT - an electronic intelligence gathering aircraft.

What was becoming clear by this weekend amid much scepticism, largely from sources connected with the administration of President George Bush, was the nature of the allegation, if not the facts.

In a series of piecemeal leaks from US officials that gave the impression of being co-ordinated, a narrative was laid out that combined nuclear skulduggery and the surviving members of the 'axis of evil': Iran, North Korea and Syria.

It also combined a series of neoconservative foreign policy concerns: that North Korea was not being properly monitored in the deal struck for its nuclear disarmament and was off-loading its material to Iran and Syria, both of which in turn were helping to rearm Hizbollah.

Underlying all the accusations was a suggestion that recalled the bogus intelligence claims that led to the war against Iraq: that the three countries might be collaborating to supply an unconventional weapon to Hizbollah.

It is not only the raid that is odd but also, ironically, the deliberate air of mystery surrounding it, given Israel's past history of bragging about similar raids, including an attack on an Iraqi reactor. It was a secrecy so tight, in fact, that even as the Israeli aircrew climbed into the cockpits of their planes they were not told the nature of the target they were being ordered to attack.

According to an intelligence expert quoted in the Washington Post who spoke to aircrew involved in the raid, the target of the attack, revealed only to the pilots while they were in the air, was a northern Syrian facility that was labelled as an agricultural research centre on the Euphrates river, close to the Turkish border.

According to this version of events, a North Korean ship, officially carrying a cargo of cement, docked three days before the raid in the Syrian port of Tartus. That ship was also alleged to be carrying nuclear equipment.

It is an angle that has been pushed hardest by the neoconservative hawk and former US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. But others have entered the fray, among them the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who, without mentioning Syria by name, suggested to Fox television that the raid was linked to stopping unconventional weapons proliferation.

Most explicit of all was Andrew Semmel, acting deputy assistant Secretary of State for nuclear non-proliferation policy, who, speaking in Rome yesterday, insisted that 'North Koreans were in Syria' and that Damascus may have had contacts with 'secret suppliers' to obtain nuclear equipment.

'There are indicators that they do have something going on there,' he said. 'We do know that there are a number of foreign technicians that have been in Syria. We do know that there may have been contact between Syria and some secret suppliers for nuclear equipment. Whether anything transpired remains to be seen.

'So good foreign policy, good national security policy, would suggest that we pay very close attention to that,' he said. 'We're watching very closely. Obviously, the Israelis were watching very closely.'

Leaving Syria off of the Axis of Evil was an obvious mistake. If its regime survives the Bush presidency it will be one of the President's most significant failures.

September 15, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


U.S. Expands Anbar Model to Iraq Shiites (KIM GAMEL, 9/15/07, AP)

American commanders in southern Iraq say Shiite sheiks are showing interest in joining forces with the U.S. military against extremists, in much the same way that Sunni clansmen in the western part of the country have worked with American forces against al-Qaida.

Sheik Majid Tahir al-Magsousi, the leader of the Migasees tribe here in Wasit province, acknowledged tribal leaders have discussed creating a brigade of young men trained by the Americans to bolster local security as well as help patrol the border with Iran.

He also said last week's assassination of Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, who spearheaded the Sunni uprising against al-Qaida in Anbar province, only made the Shiite tribal leaders more resolute.

Surprised that the contempt of commentators who said Iraqis would fold in the face of that bombing proved unjustified?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:26 PM


Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism (HARRIET RUBIN, 9/15/07, NY Times)

For years, Rand’s message [in “Atlas Shrugged”] was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,” who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as an homage to greed. Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”

But the book attracted a coterie of fans, some of them top corporate executives, who dared not speak of its impact except in private. When they read the book, often as college students, they now say, it gave form and substance to their inchoate thoughts, showing there is no conflict between private ambition and public benefit.

“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas,” said John A. Allison, the chief executive of BB&T, one of the largest banks in the United States.

“It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete,” he said.

Big Sister Is Watching You (Whittaker Chambers, the December 28, 1957, National Review)
In this fiction everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly. This kind of simplifying pattern, of course, gives charm to most primitive storyknown as: The War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In modern dress, it is a class war. Both sides to it are caricatures.

The Children of Light are largely operatic caricatures. Insofar as any of them suggests anything known to the business community, they resemble the occasional curmudgeon millionaire, tales about whose outrageously crude and shrewd eccentricities sometimes provide the lighter moments in boardrooms. Otherwise, the Children of Light are geniuses. One of them is named (the only smile you see will be your own): Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian dAntonio. This electrifying youth is the world's biggest copper tycoon. Another, no less electrifying, is named: Ragnar Danesjold. He becomes a twentieth-century pirate. All Miss Rand's chief heroes are also breathtakingly beautiful. So is her heroine (she is rather fetchingly vice president in charge of management of a transcontinental railroad).

So much radiant energy might seem to serve a eugenic purpose. For, in this story as in Mark Twain's, "all the knights marry the princess" — though without benefit of clergy. Yet from the impromptu and surprisingly gymnastic matings of the heroine and three of the heroes, no children — it suddenly strikes you — ever result. The possibility is never entertained. And, indeed, the strenuously sterile world of Atlas Shrugged is scarcely a place for children. You speculate that, in life, children probably irk the author and may make her uneasy. How could it be otherwise when she admiringly names a banker character (by what seems to me a humorless master-stroke): Midas Mulligan? You may fool some adults; you can't fool little boys and girls with such stuff — not for long. They may not know just what is out of line, but they stir uneasily. The Children of Darkness are caricatures, too; and they are really oozy. But at least they are caricatures of something identifiable. Their archetypes are Left-Liberals, New Dealers, Welfare Statists, One Worlders, or, at any rate, such ogreish semblances of these as may stalk the nightmares of those who think little about people as people, but tend to think a great deal in labels and effigies. (And neither Right nor Left, be it noted in passing, has a monopoly of such dreamers, though the horrors in their nightmares wear radically different masks and labels.)

In Atlas Shrugged, all this debased inhuman riffraff is lumped as "looters." This is a fairly inspired epithet. It enables the author to skewer on one invective word everything and everybody that she fears and hates. This spares her the playguy business of performing one service that her fiction might have performed, namely: that of examining in human depth how so feeble a lot came to exist at all, let alone be powerful enough to be worth hating and fearing. Instead, she bundles them into one undifferentiated damnation.

"Looters" loot because they believe in Robin Hood, and have got a lot of other people believing in him, too. Robin Hood is the author's image of absolute evil — robbing the strong (and hence good) to give to the weak (and hence no good). All "looters" are base, envious, twisted, malignant minds, motivated wholly by greed for power, combined with the lust of the weak to tear down the strong, out of a deepseated hatred of life and secret longing for destruction and death. There happens to be a tiny (repeat: tiny) seed of truth in this. The full clinical diagnosis can be read in the pages of Friedrich Nietzsche. (Here I must break in with an aside. Miss Rand acknowledges a grudging debt to one, and only one, earlier philosopher: Aristotle. I submit that she is indebted, and much more heavily, to Nietzsche. Just as her operatic businessmen are, in fact, Nietzschean supermen, so her ulcerous leftists are Nietzsche's "last men," both deformed in a way to sicken the fastidious recluse of Sils Maria. And much else comes, consciously or not, from the same source.) Happily, in Atlas Shrugged (though not in life), all the Children of Darkness are utterly incompetent.

So the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash. In the end, they troop out of their Rocky Mountain hideaway to repossess the ruins. It is then, in the book's last line, that a character traces in the dirt, over the desolate earth," the Sign of the Dollar, in lieu of the Sign of the Cross, and in token that a suitably prostrate mankind is at last ready, for its sins, to be redeemed from the related evils of religion and social reform (the "mysticism of mind" and the "mysticism of muscle").

That Dollar Sign is not merely provocative, though we sense a sophomoric intent to raise the pious hair on susceptible heads. More importantly, it is meant to seal the fact that mankind is ready to submit abjectly to an elite of technocrats, and their accessories, in a New Order, enlightened and instructed by Miss Rand's ideas that the good life is one which "has resolved personal worth into exchange value," "has left no other nexus between man and man than naked selfinterest, than callous "cash-payment."' The author is explicit, in fact deafening, about these prerequisites. Lest you should be in any doubt after 1,168 pages, she assures you with a final stamp of the foot in a postscript:

And I mean it." But the words quoted above are those of Karl Marx. He, too, admired "naked self-interest" (in its time and place), and for much the same reasons as Miss Rand: because, he believed, it cleared away the cobwebs of religion and led to prodigies of industrial and cognate accomplishment. The overlap is not as incongruous as it looks. Atlas Shrugged can be called a novel only by devaluing the term. It is a massive tract for the times. Its story merely serves Miss Rand to get the customers inside the tent, and as a soapbox for delivering her Message. The Message is the thing. It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism. Upperclassmen might incline to sniff and say that the author has, with vast effort, contrived a simple materialist system, one, intellectually, at about the stage of the oxcart, though without mastering the principle of the wheel. Like any consistent materialism, this one begins by rejecting God, religion, original sin, etc., etc. (This book's aggressive atheism and rather unbuttoned "higher morality," which chiefly outrage some readers, are, in fact, secondary ripples, and result inevitably from its underpinning premises.) Thus, Randian Man, like Marxian Man, is made the center of a godless world.

At that point, in any materialism, the main possibilities open up to Man. 1) His tragic fate becomes, without God, more tragic and much lonelier. In general, the tragedy deepens according to the degree of pessimism or stoicism with which he conducts his "hopeless encounter between human questioning and the silent universe." Or, 2) Man's fate ceases to be tragic at all. Tragedy is bypassed by the pursuit of happiness. Tragedy is henceforth pointless. Henceforth man's fate, without God, is up to him, and to him alone. His happiness, in strict materialist terms, lies with his own workaday hands and ingenious brain. His happiness becomes, in Miss Rand's words, "the moral purpose of his fife."

Here occurs a little rub whose effects are just as observable in a free-enterprise system, which is in practice materialist (whatever else it claims or supposes itself to be), as they would be under an atheist socialism, if one were ever to deliver that material abundance that all promise. The rub is that the pursuit of happiness, as an end in itself, tends automatically, and widely, to be replaced by the pursuit of pleasure, with a consequent general softening of the fibers of will, intelligence, spirit. No doubt, Miss Rand has brooded upon that little rub. Hence in part, I presume, her insistence on man as a heroic being" With productive achievement as his noblest activity." For, if Man's heroism" (some will prefer to say: human dignity") no longer derives from God, or is not a function of that godless integrity which was a root of Nietzsche's anguish, then Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity. So Randian Man, at least in his ruling caste, has to be held "heroic" in order not to be beastly. And this, of course, suits the author's economics and the politics that must arise from them. For politics, of course, arise, though the author of Atlas Shrugged stares stonily past them, as if this book were not what, in fact, it is, essentially — a political book. And here begins mischief. Systems of philosophic materialism, so long as they merely circle outside this world's atmosphere, matter little to most of us. The trouble is that they keep coming down to earth. It is when a system of materialist ideas presumes to give positive answers to real problems of our real life that mischief starts. In an age like ours, in which a highly complex technological society is everywhere in a high state of instability, such answers, however philosophic, translate quickly into political realities. And in the degree to which problems of complexity and instability are most bewildering to masses of men, a temptation sets in to let some species of Big Brother solve and supervise them.

One Big Brother is, of course, a socializing elite (as we know, several cut-rate brands are on the shelves). Miss Rand, as the enemy of any socializing force, calls in a Big Brother of her own contriving to do battle with the other. In the name of free enterprise, therefore, she plumps for a technocratic elite (I find no more inclusive word than technocratic to bracket the industrial-financial-engineering caste she seems to have in mind). When she calls "productive achievement" man's noblest activity," she means, almost exclusively, technological achievement, supervised by such a managerial political bureau. She might object that she means much, much more; and we can freely entertain her objections. But, in sum, that is just what she means. For that is what, in reality, it works out to. And in reality, too, by contrast with fiction, this can only head into a dictatorship, however benign, living and acting beyond good and evil, a law unto itself (as Miss Rand believes it should be), and feeling any restraint on itself as, in practice, criminal, and, in morals, vicious (as Miss Rand clearly feels it to be). Of course, Miss Rand nowhere calls for a dictatorship. I take her to be calling for an aristocracy of talents. We cannot labor here why, in the modern world, the pre-conditions for aristocracy, an organic growth, no longer exist, so that the impulse toward aristocracy always emerges now in the form of dictatorship.

Nor has the author, apparently, brooded on the degree to which, in a wicked world, a materialism of the Right and a materialism of the Left first surprisingly resemble, then, in action, tend to blend each with each, because, while differing at the top in avowed purpose, and possibly in conflict there, at bottom they are much the same thing. The embarrassing similarities between Hitler's National Socialism and Stalin's brand of Communism are familiar. For the world, as seen in materialist view from the Right, scarcely differs from the same world seen in materialist view from the Left. The question becomes chiefly: who is to run that world in whose interests, or perhaps, at best, who can run it more efficiently?

Something of this implication is fixed in the book's dictatorial tone, which is much its most striking feature. Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal. In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked. There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: "To a gas chamber — go!" The same inflexibly self-righteous stance results, too (in the total absence of any saving humor), in odd extravagances of inflection and gesture-that Dollar Sign, for example. At first, we try to tell ourselves that these are just lapses, that this mind has, somehow, mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. Soon we suspect something worse. We suspect that this mind finds, precisely in extravagance, some exalting merit; feels a surging release of power and passion precisely in smashing up the house. A tornado might feel this way, or Carrie Nation.

...anybody read The Traveler, by someone writing under the pseudonym, John Twelve Hawks? To the sort of paranoid ravings about living in a surveillance society that you get from the kooky Right it adds gnostic nonsense about how this isn't even the "real" word that we're living in, but that some walk among us who can "travel" to other realms. There can't be a teen boy who's in the AV Club at school who hasn't read the book five times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:21 PM


Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy? (GARY TAUBES, 9/16/07, NY Times Magazine)

At the center of the H.R.T. story is the science of epidemiology itself and, in particular, a kind of study known as a prospective or cohort study, of which the Nurses’ Health Study is among the most renowned. In these studies, the investigators monitor disease rates and lifestyle factors (diet, physical activity, prescription drug use, exposure to pollutants, etc.) in or between large populations (the 122,000 nurses of the Nurses’ study, for example). They then try to infer conclusions — i.e., hypotheses — about what caused the disease variations observed. Because these studies can generate an enormous number of speculations about the causes or prevention of chronic diseases, they provide the fodder for much of the health news that appears in the media — from the potential benefits of fish oil, fruits and vegetables to the supposed dangers of sedentary lives, trans fats and electromagnetic fields. Because these studies often provide the only available evidence outside the laboratory on critical issues of our well-being, they have come to play a significant role in generating public-health recommendations as well.

The dangerous game being played here, as David Sackett, a retired Oxford University epidemiologist, has observed, is in the presumption of preventive medicine. The goal of the endeavor is to tell those of us who are otherwise in fine health how to remain healthy longer. But this advice comes with the expectation that any prescription given — whether diet or drug or a change in lifestyle — will indeed prevent disease rather than be the agent of our disability or untimely death. With that presumption, how unambiguous does the evidence have to be before any advice is offered?

The catch with observational studies like the Nurses’ Health Study, no matter how well designed and how many tens of thousands of subjects they might include, is that they have a fundamental limitation. They can distinguish associations between two events — that women who take H.R.T. have less heart disease, for instance, than women who don’t. But they cannot inherently determine causation — the conclusion that one event causes the other; that H.R.T. protects against heart disease. As a result, observational studies can only provide what researchers call hypothesis-generating evidence — what a defense attorney would call circumstantial evidence.

Testing these hypotheses in any definitive way requires a randomized-controlled trial — an experiment, not an observational study — and these clinical trials typically provide the flop to the flip-flop rhythm of medical wisdom. Until August 1998, the faith that H.R.T. prevented heart disease was based primarily on observational evidence, from the Nurses’ Health Study most prominently. Since then, the conventional wisdom has been based on clinical trials — first HERS, which tested H.R.T. against a placebo in 2,700 women with heart disease, and then the Women’s Health Initiative, which tested the therapy against a placebo in 16,500 healthy women. When the Women’s Health Initiative concluded in 2002 that H.R.T. caused far more harm than good, the lesson to be learned, wrote Sackett in The Canadian Medical Association Journal, was about the “disastrous inadequacy of lesser evidence” for shaping medical and public-health policy. The contentious wisdom circa mid-2007 — that estrogen benefits women who begin taking it around the time of menopause but not women who begin substantially later — is an attempt to reconcile the discordance between the observational studies and the experimental ones. And it may be right. It may not. The only way to tell for sure would be to do yet another randomized trial, one that now focused exclusively on women given H.R.T. when they begin their menopause.

A Poor Track Record of Prevention

No one questions the value of these epidemiologic studies when they’re used to identify the unexpected side effects of prescription drugs or to study the progression of diseases or their distribution between and within populations. One reason researchers believe that heart disease and many cancers can be prevented is because of observational evidence that the incidence of these diseases differ greatly in different populations and in the same populations over time. Breast cancer is not the scourge among Japanese women that it is among American women, but it takes only two generations in the United States before Japanese-Americans have the same breast cancer rates as any other ethnic group. This tells us that something about the American lifestyle or diet is a cause of breast cancer. Over the last 20 years, some two dozen large studies, the Nurses’ Health Study included, have so far failed to identify what that factor is. They may be inherently incapable of doing so. Nonetheless, we know that such a carcinogenic factor of diet or lifestyle exists, waiting to be identified.

These studies have also been invaluable for identifying predictors of disease — risk factors — and this information can then guide physicians in weighing the risks and benefits of putting a particular patient on a particular drug. The studies have repeatedly confirmed that high blood pressure is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and that obesity is associated with an increased risk of most of our common chronic diseases, but they have not told us what it is that raises blood pressure or causes obesity. Indeed, if you ask the more skeptical epidemiologists in the field what diet and lifestyle factors have been convincingly established as causes of common chronic diseases based on observational studies without clinical trials, you’ll get a very short list: smoking as a cause of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, sun exposure for skin cancer, sexual activity to spread the papilloma virus that causes cervical cancer and perhaps alcohol for a few different cancers as well.

Richard Peto, professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Oxford University, phrases the nature of the conflict this way: “Epidemiology is so beautiful and provides such an important perspective on human life and death, but an incredible amount of rubbish is published,” by which he means the results of observational studies that appear daily in the news media and often become the basis of public-health recommendations about what we should or should not do to promote our continued good health.

In January 2001, the British epidemiologists George Davey Smith and Shah Ebrahim, co-editors of The International Journal of Epidemiology, discussed this issue in an editorial titled “Epidemiology — Is It Time to Call It a Day?” They noted that those few times that a randomized trial had been financed to test a hypothesis supported by results from these large observational studies, the hypothesis either failed the test or, at the very least, the test failed to confirm the hypothesis: antioxidants like vitamins E and C and beta carotene did not prevent heart disease, nor did eating copious fiber protect against colon cancer.

The Nurses’ Health Study is the most influential of these cohort studies, and in the six years since the Davey Smith and Ebrahim editorial, a series of new trials have chipped away at its credibility. The Women’s Health Initiative hormone-therapy trial failed to confirm the proposition that H.R.T. prevented heart disease; a W.H.I. diet trial with 49,000 women failed to confirm the notion that fruits and vegetables protected against heart disease; a 40,000-woman trial failed to confirm that a daily regimen of low-dose aspirin prevented colorectal cancer and heart attacks in women under 65. And this June, yet another clinical trial — this one of 1,000 men and women with a high risk of colon cancer — contradicted the inference from the Nurses’s study that folic acid supplements reduced the risk of colon cancer. Rather, if anything, they appear to increase risk.

The implication of this track record seems hard to avoid. “Even the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the biggest and best of these studies, cannot be used to reliably test small-to-moderate risks or benefits,” says Charles Hennekens, a principal investigator with the Nurses’ study from 1976 to 2001. “None of them can.”

Science can't tell you anything your parents didn't: don't smoke; be sun sensible; practice monogamy; and drink in moderation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


...would an ad campaign for a product called "High Life" be based on removing said product from establishments that are too up-scale.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:03 PM


The Jane Fonda Effect (STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT, 9/16/07, NY Times Magazine)

[T]he big news is that nuclear power may be making a comeback in the United States. There are plans for more than two dozen new reactors on the drawing board and billions of dollars in potential federal loan guarantees. Has fear of a meltdown subsided, or has it merely been replaced by the fear of global warming?

The answer may lie in a 1916 doctoral dissertation by the legendary economist Frank Knight. He made a distinction between two key factors in decision making: risk and uncertainty. The cardinal difference, Knight declared, is that risk — however great — can be measured, whereas uncertainty cannot.

How do people weigh risk versus uncertainty? Consider a famous experiment that illustrates what is known as the Ellsberg Paradox. There are two urns. The first urn, you are told, contains 50 red balls and 50 black balls. The second one also contains 100 red and black balls, but the number of each color is unknown. If your task is to pick a red ball out of either urn, which urn do you choose?

Most people pick the first urn, which suggests that they prefer a measurable risk to an immeasurable uncertainty. (This condition is known to economists as ambiguity aversion.) Could it be that nuclear energy, risks and all, is now seen as preferable to the uncertainties of global warming?

France, which generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity by nuclear power, seems to think so. So do Belgium (56 percent), Sweden (47 percent) and more than a dozen other countries that generate at least one-fourth of their electricity by nuclear power. And who is the world’s single largest producer of nuclear energy?

Improbably enough, that would be . . . the United States. Even though the development of new nuclear plants stalled by the early 1980s, the country’s 104 reactors today produce nearly 20 percent of the electricity the nation consumes. This share has actually grown over the years along with our consumption, since nuclear technology has become more efficient. While the fixed costs of a new nuclear plant are higher than those of a coal or natural-gas plant, the energy is cheaper to create: Exelon, the largest nuclear company in the United States, claims to produce electricity at 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 2.2 cents for coal.

Nuclear enthusiasm may be on the rise, but it can always be dampened by mention of a single word: Chernobyl. The 1986 Ukrainian disaster killed at least a few dozen people directly and exposed millions more to radiation. A new study by the economists Douglas Almond, Lena Edlund and Marten Palme shows that as far away as Sweden, in areas where the wind carried Chernobyl fallout, babies who were in utero at the time later had significantly worse school outcomes than other Swedish children.

But coal, too, has its costs, even beyond the threat of global warming. In the United States, an average of 33 coal miners are killed each year. In China, more than 4,700 coal miners were killed last year alone — a statistic that the Chinese government has trumpeted as a vast improvement.

The accident at Three Mile Island ruined one of the two reactors on the site. The other one, operated by Exelon, continues to quietly churn out electricity for 800,000 customers. Outside the plant’s training center is a small vegetable garden enclosed in chain-link fencing: corn, tomatoes, beets. Its output is monitored to detect radiation. Although the garden was badly in need of watering during a recent visit, the vegetables were otherwise fine.

...the key to successful public policy is replacing hysterias that are harmful with ones that are helpful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


Hispanics and the GOP: How to lose elections in one Lou Dobbs lesson. (Opinion Journal, September 15, 2007)

Between 1996 and 2004, the Republican share of the Hispanic vote doubled to more than 40%, only to fall in last year's midterm election to less than 30%. The most recent polls show Hispanics breaking for Democrats over Republicans by 51% to 21%. What gives?

To understand this remarkable erosion of Latino support for Republicans, look no further than the most recent Presidential debates. While GOP candidates debated the urgency of erecting a fence from California to Texas along the Mexican border, Democrats debated in Spanish on Univision. [...]

Tone matters in politics, and getting people to vote for you is easier when you're not likening them to Islamic terrorists, or implying that Latino men are hard-wired for gang-banging. Unlike blacks, who have hewed to Democrats in large majorities for decades, Latinos are proven swing voters, and Republican energies would be better employed trying to win them over instead of trying to capitalize on ethnic polarization to win GOP primaries.

It's appropriate for the GOP to continue to run against Rum and Rebellion, but it's the party of Romanism now, so running against Latinos makes little sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


The Taliban grow desperate (National Post, September 15, 2007)

The deaths this week of more than 70 Taliban in fighting in Afghanistan points out a truth often overlooked in coverage of the war there: For the past year, the Taliban have been unable to fight conventional military battles.

Whenever the Taliban send their fighters into combat with NATO or Afghan troops, they lose, their commanders are killed or captured and their forces suffer scores of casualties.

The important thing is not just that they can't win battles, but that it makes it impossible for a Talibanesque government ever to arise anywhere, because they can't defend their sovereignty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Why the Hungry Refuse Help (NY Times. 9/15/07)

As many as 1.3 million New Yorkers, about one-quarter of them children, do not have enough to eat. These are precisely the people, many from working families, whom federal food stamps are supposed to help. But bureaucratic hassles imposed by the city may be discouraging hundreds of thousands of eligible New Yorkers from getting the help they need.

A study by the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for the poor, found that of 9,500 recipients surveyed, more than 5,800 had their benefits cut off within 20 months of enrollment. The vast majority remained eligible for food stamps, but, in most cases, they simply did not show up to get their aid renewed. Many said they could not deal with the paperwork and long waits, or get time away from work or children to reapply at a city office.

How's that bureaucratization of pauperism working out?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


When I argue on the side of Zionism, it is because it seems intellectually right to do so (Howard Jacobson, 15 September 2007, Independent)

I take exception, of course, to the idea that a Jew can think and feel only one way about Israel. There are examples in plenty of Jews who think and feel differently from me, as indeed I often think and feel differently from myself. I also take exception to the assumption that a Jew holds the view he does only because he is a Jew. For one thing, it predetermines the argument, making anything a Jew says on the subject suspect. For another, it discounts the possibility, all round, of arguing disinterestedly.

We are not great believers in disinterestedness these days. Following a column in which I said what needed saying about that fanatic of religious disbelief, Richard Dawkins, the musician Brian Eno wrote to this paper to point out that the "venom of my attack" proved that "religion sometimes brings out the worst in people".

But what had religion to do with it? I am not remotely religious. What brought out the venom of my attack – in so far as that's a fair description, which it isn't – was the complacency of Dawkins' prose, his inability, which he mistakes for a virtue, to imagine how another living soul imagines the universe. All of which I could have said exactly as I said it and still been more of an atheist than he is.

In the same way I had neither to be a Jew nor a Zionist to have written the article which upset the person from London W6. That it's Zionism that fires me is a common assumption of people who write in to castigate me. "A good Zionist," was how a reader from Sao Paulo, Brazil, piteously dismissed me in the aftermath of my offending article. In which case, God help Zionism. For I have never actively supported any Zionist body, never given money to Zionism, never wanted to settle in Israel myself, never liked Israeli music, and generally feel uncomfortable in the company of people fired by zeal, whatever their zealotry is about.

When I argue, sometimes, on the side of Zionism it is because it seems to me intellectually right to do so.

That there is no intellectual basis for defending the manner in which Israel was re-established--or America established-- does not make it wrong to do so. It just suggests how little use we have for intellectualism in real life.

Nation building: A comprehensive examination of America's continental expansion: a review of Seizing Destiny: How America Grew From Sea to Shining Sea By Richard Kluger Eric Arnesen, September 15, 2007, Chicago Tribune)

Two forces propelled the new nation's western expansion, Kluger suggests. The first was ideological. Many came to believe it was America's destiny to spill over its boundaries and take possession of the continent. Benjamin Franklin's vision of the nation's "infinitely expansive future . . . based on a vast territorial dominion" was increasingly shared by his fellow colonists in the 18th Century. Fellow founder John Adams suggested in 1776 that the newly federated American states "intended to secure 'the sole, exclusive, undivided and perpetual possession of the Counties, Cities, and Towns on the said Continent, and of all the lands near to it' " that were under the jurisdiction of Great Britain." His son, John Quincy Adams, in 1818 asserted " 'our natural dominion of North America.' " By the early 19th Century, the "emerging creed of continentalism" advanced the notion that the U.S. was "destined -- indeed, entitled -- to spread its dominion across the breadth of North America, perhaps even owning the entirety of it." Americans "were thinking large, grandiose thoughts from the outset," Kluger observes.

The second force was material: Americans' "land hunger," their voracious "appetite for space," their "territorial cravings." Land, for speculation and farming, was from the outset a key for individual economic advancement, and settlers took every opportunity to acquire, legitimately or not, as much of it as they could benefit from. "The land rush began almost from the moment the boundaries of the United States were certified and its existence an internationally acknowledged fact," Kluger argues, for the land "held the promise of economic deliverance for a hard-pressed people in the early hours of their national travail." Aspiring farmers surged forward each time new territory was acquired or officially opened to settlement (and often before) as they sought to turn "the American frontier into a land of abundance."

Grand ambitions were one thing, achieving them another. If Adams coveted much of British North America on the eve of independence, the British found his claim absurd. Kluger devotes considerable (some might say excessive) attention to the fine points of negotiations between the Americans and the British during the Revolution that settled the original boundaries of the new United States, and between the Americans and Napoleon's France in the early 19th Century that resulted in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, a "colossal real-estate deal" that overnight doubled the country's size. After the Civil War, Secretary of State William Seward, "an incessant booster of national expansion and commercial development," negotiated the purchase of Russian America -- Russia's sole American outpost, Alaska, a vast piece of property considered by many of his compatriots to be a "trackless, frozen wasteland" unfit for white colonization. For all of his misgivings about Americans' "territorial aggrandizement," Kluger seems enamored of the skill and vision of men like Franklin, Adams, Thomas Jefferson and, to a lesser extent, Seward.

Yet the nation's boundaries expanded not only by negotiation but by the use of threat and force as well.

September 14, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


'A Wrinkle' Ages Gracefully: Reading Madeleine L'Engle as a child and as an adult. (MEGHAN COX GURDON, September 14, 2007, Opinion Journal)

As a heathen child, I missed entirely the biblical references, the significant mention of Jesus and the way a loving God's sovereignty over the universe is understood even as the characters battle an expanding force of pure evil. Meg's father, at one point, urges her to be courageous in confronting IT. "We were sent here for something," he tells her, echoing Romans 8:28. "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

Clearly, American society wasn't as twitchy about Judeo-Christian content 40-odd years ago. In fact, over the decades "A Wrinkle in Time" has been criticized as insufficiently Christian, a claim that pained its Episcopalian author. The novel is ranked 22nd on the American Library Association's list of the 100 "most frequently challenged" books that agitators seek to ban.

The complaints will sound familiar to anyone who has overheard the controversy about the Harry Potter series (itself No. 7 on the ALA's list). In Ms. L'Engle's most famous work, some have objected to an apparent witch, a clairvoyant and the manner in which Jesus is referred to as merely one of earth's great fighters against darkness, not the Light. In strict religious families, these elements may well interfere with children's religious formation.

But subversion works both ways. For children raised in nonreligious households, as I was, Ms. L'Engle's narrative grit could, it seems, produce years later a kind of pearl. Rereading the book recently, I was amazed at the familiar resonance of the passages whose religious import I had thought eluded me as a child. It will be interesting to see whether Harry Potter leaves a similar spiritual comet-trail in the millions of children who've read his story, now that, with the final book in the series, J.K. Rowling has revealed the wizarding world to be unquestionably Christian--though maybe it's not possible to test the long-term effects of literature the way you can, say, fluoride.

Every book is a product of its time, and so is the way it's read. Ms. L'Engle wrote "A Wrinkle in Time" in the depths of the Cold War, and the horror of totalitarianism is there in her depiction of IT's planet, where Meg's father is imprisoned. In the story, the three children arrive on Camazotz to see endless rows of identical houses, before each of which a small boy stands and bounces a ball in exactly the same rhythm as every other boy. But one child keeps getting it wrong, and when his ball bounces off into the street he's rushed into the house by his terrified mother. Some of my friends were convinced that L'Engle's target was conformist suburbia (there was a lot of scornful talk of that in 1976). But to me, Meg's eventual triumph over IT meant that free people would surely someday be able to push back the creeping menace of communism. A sixth-grader picking up the book today will presumably take away another message altogether.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


France antes up (National Post, September 14, 2007)

For the last year, Canadian politicians have been trying to spread the pain in Afghanistan. While more than two dozen NATO countries have troops in the country, most of these national forces operate under restrictive mandates that preclude them from engaging in offensive combat operations. These include detachments from France, Germany, Italy and Spain, which are concentrated in the north of Afghanistan where the Taliban is weak and security is more assured. And so the Dutch, British, Canadians and Americans -- which aren't limited to passive patrol duty -- largely have been left to clear out Taliban strongholds such as the Helmand and Kandahar provinces on their own.

Fortunately, France's new President, Nikolas Sarkozy, appears to be listening to Canadian concerns. On Friday, France announced that it is relocating six Mirage fighter jets from Tajikistan to Kandahar, where our soldiers are based. Three of the fighter jets will be used to support ground troops, including Canadians, and the other three are geared for surveillance work, which will give Canadian ground commanders more eyes in the air. This may help reduce the number of incidents whereby Canadian soldiers are exposed to roadside bombs planted by the Taliban.

This is a small but important step by France that will help save the lives of NATO soldiers. It entails the commitment of millions of dollars and roughly 300 French personnel, who will be based alongside Canadians in Kandahar.

Certainly more needs to be done, but France deserves credit for this gesture of support.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Support Korean free trade pact (Alan K. Simpson, September 14, 2007, Washington Times)

The Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the United States have much to offer each other. Korea is one of the world's fastest-growing economies and has the 12th largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the world. The nation is already our seventh-largest trading partner, and passage of the FTA will substantially expand U.S. access into the vibrant and modern Korean economy.

A dramatic spike in U.S. foreign direct investment is one surefire result of this agreement. By opening its markets to U.S. investors and affording necessary legal and investment protections for U.S. companies, Korea invites much increased U.S. corporate activity within its markets. For the United States, this means economic growth, as the largest market for U.S. exports is foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies.

With strong protections for U.S. intellectual property rights, strong provisions pushing for greater transparency in Korean markets, the elimination of tariff and nontariff barriers to many U.S. exports and investment, and legal protection against unfair expropriation, the FTA is a guarantee of economic opportunity for many American sectors.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


It's been a while since we asked, but what's on your iPod, night table & Tivo?:


Raymond Burr plays Ironside as much more of a tough guy than I recalled.


The Daughter and I crank this when we go for a walk--music to strut by...

and the Internet Archive has an MP3 collection of an early 60s radio show adapting de Tocqueville's Democracy in America--it's quite earnest and pretty amusing.


For whatever reason, we were inundated with biographies this past Spring and Summer and one oddity: every one was about a basically admirable person--Calvin Coolidge; Condi Rice; Edwin Arlington Robinson; Lafayette; Charlemagne; and de Tocqueville:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


The two sides of KT Tunstall: Scotland's singing enigma, by Leon McDermott, Sunday Herald)

AT THE end of summer 2004, Scottish music looked as if it was about to mount some full-scale takeover of the industry. Three Scottish acts were up for the Mercury Prize. Two of them, Snow Patrol and eventual winners Franz Ferdinand, were on the verge of stratospheric US success. The third, KT Tunstall, was another bright hope who, like the members of the aforementioned bands, had spent a good decade toiling around the country, doing her own thing. But while Snow Patrol played indie dives and Franz Ferdinand made their own art, Tunstall had taken to the streets, busking her way to success, honing her songwriting as shoppers tossed coppers her way. But the moment which made Tunstall in this country was an accident.

Her debut album, Eye To The Telescope, had been well-reviewed and was doing decent enough business. But it needed an extra kick, and it got one. After rapper Nas was forced to pull out, she was offered a slot on Later With Jools Holland. The hip kids had tuned in to see The Futureheads, but it was Tunstall's solo performance of Black Horse And The Cherry Tree which stole the show. It was a catalyst in a chain reaction which propelled the Fifer higher and higher: over four million album sales worldwide, at last count.

In retrospect, Tunstall was an easy sell: a singer-songwriter with enough pop nous to satisfy the Radio 1 schedulers, enough grit for the serious musos who picked up on her via the pages of Mojo and Uncut, and safe enough to reel in the all-important Radio 2 middle market. Eye To The Telescope was a fine album, winsome and folky in places, gutsy and growling in others, and her live shows indicated that - unlike the raft of charisma-free teenagers who were being marketed to the same crowd - she had genuine personality.

However, there are two KT Tunstalls. There's the British version, in which her earthy credibility has an added layer of topsoil thanks to her association with Anstruther's Fence Collective and its genial monarch Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote (whose new album is, coincidentally, also out tomorrow). The American Tunstall is a different beast altogether. There, it wasn't Later, but that show's cackling, day-glo nemesis American Idol which gave Tunstall her break. The UK fell in love with Black Horse And The Cherry Tree thanks to Tunstall's own one-woman-band rendition. The US fell in love when Katherine MacPhee sang the same song - twice - as one of her turns on the popular talent show. All of a sudden, people were ferreting out the original, and it shot up the Billboard chart. Within the year, Tunstall was huge, and she came without the cred-carrying baggage required to make her a hit in her native islands.

In Performance: KT Tunstall: Taking the Long View (David Dye, February 2, 2006, World Cafe)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: KT Tunstall: Eye To The Telescope (Metacritic)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


The Recipe That Keeps on Giving: Yeah, it's just a simple old-fashioned pancake recipe made from seven ingredients. But man, oh, man -- what a recipe! (Ryan D'Agostino, 9/14/07, Esquire)

My brother can walk into any kitchen and cook up something good -- really delicious -- using whatever ingredients he finds. No cookbook, no grocery-store run. Somehow, he comes up with a bouillabaisse or risotto or crème caramel.

I don't have this skill, but I wish I did. So in my wallet, I carry a recipe for pancakes (see above and also below). I have used it countless times to whip up fluffy, sweet flapjacks, and my hosts always react the same way: with surprise, appreciation, and pronouncements of my prowess in the kitchen. [...]

Wallet Pancakes

• 1 1/4 cups flour
• 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 egg
• 1 1/4 cup milk
• 3 tablespoons melted butter

Combine dry. Beat egg. Combine wet. Mix wet into dry. Stir until barely mixed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:07 AM


The guitar skeptic: Pat Metheny talks about the limits of his instrument of choice (WAYNE GABEL, 9/14/07, The Japan Times

For a guy who's routinely credited with revolutionizing the sound of jazz, Pat Metheny sounds surprisingly detached from his mode of musical expression.

"I don't really care about the guitar," he tells The Japan Times by phone from his New York home, ahead of a tour with pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard.

Of course, things aren't quite as simple as that blunt statement makes them out to be. Metheny thinks a lot about his playing, it's just that he doesn't regard himself as a "guitar freak." In his own laid-back way, the 53-year-old Missouri native views the guitar prosaically as a means to an end. That end, however, is pure poetry.

Though best known for a 30-year-plus songwriting partnership with keyboardist Lyle Mays, Metheny's now making news for his recent project with Mehldau, a 37-year-old American who's regarded as one of the most significant talents of his generation. If, as it's often said, Metheny and Mays are the Lennon and McCartney of jazz, then publicists will have to come up with an equally suitable catch phrase for the dynamic duo of Metheny and Mehldau.

The pairing has been hailed by both critics and fans as a perfect fit. To date, their collaboration has yielded two albums that have been compared favorably with the standard-setting 1960s work of guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Bill Evans. "Metheny/Mehldau," released in 2006 by Warner Music Japan, focuses on duets recorded during a 5-day session in December 2005. "Quartet," released this year, is mostly devoted to group pieces recorded during the same period with Grenadier and Ballard, who play in Mehldau's current trio.

I liked his Missouri Sky collaboration with Charlie Haden.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Rafsanjani - the Man to Watch (Kimia Sanati, 9/14/07, IPS)

When Iran’s reformist Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, ‘keeper of the Revolution’s secrets and kingmaker’, was elected as speaker of the powerful Assembly of Experts earlier this month, it signalled a major shift in the country’s tumultuous political scene. [...]

The Council interprets the constitution, screens the legislations made by the parliament for compatibility with the constitution and the Shariah as well as vetting candidates for running in nearly all elections. Through disqualifying a high number of reformist candidates from running in the election, the Council created a hard line majority parliament in 2004. The Council and its speaker Ayatollah Jannati have, therefore, come to be viewed as a main barrier to change and reforms.

Rafsanjani who had served as vice speaker for the 86-member assembly of clerical jurisprudents for many years was proposed for speakership by one of the few reformist members of the very conservative all clerical Assembly. The three jurisprudents who addressed the assembly before the voting all spoke in favour of Jannati, referring to his merits as theologian over Rafsanjani, Mohammad Qouchani, editor of the banned ‘Shargh’ and ‘Ham Mihan’ newspapers wrote in ‘Etemad’, another reformist paper.

Many in the hard line establishment refuse to acknowledge Rafsanjani as a jurisprudent of a high rank and do not use the title of Ayatollah for him. In its coverage of Rafsanjani’s election to speakership of the Assembly, the ‘Iran’ newspaper, a government mouthpiece, used the title of ‘hojjatoleslam’ for him, a notch below the ayatollah rank. [...]

"Rafsanjani has more support now than he has ever had in many years. The once sore relations between Rafsanjani and the reformists have improved considerably since reformists unanimously supported him in his failed attempt to gain presidency in 2005. The man himself has also warmed up to reformists," an analyst in Tehran, requesting anonymity, told IPS.

"On the other hand, conservatives who abandoned him in Ahmadinejad’s favour two years ago are now hugely disillusioned with the president and his power hungry gang of hardliners and have turned to Rafsanjani once again," he said.

"It seems that he has managed to repair his image greatly among the general public as well. When he ran for the Assembly of Experts polls last year he even succeeded in getting a very reassuring vote of confidence from the electorate that had considered him as the symbol of political and economic corruption just a year before," he added.

"This time the electorate cast nearly twice as many votes for him as they did for Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi. They put Rafsanjani in the top place with even nearly 500,000 more votes than the assembly’s then speaker Ayatollah Meshkini. This probably was the reason that Mesbah, who had long been planning to take over the chair of the Assembly to convince Jannati to run against Rafsanjani, instead of running the risk of being defeated by him once again," the analyst said.

As speaker of the Expediency Council, Rafsanjani has repeatedly criticised the Ahmadinejad administration for its failure to implement the country’s economic development plans. On several occasions Rafsanjani has threatened to use the powers invested in him by the Council was conferred on by the Supreme Leader during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency to probe the performance of the government.

Note too how Ayatollah Khamenei's recent tough talk about America creates wiggle room for his man to undercut Mahmoud.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Mourners at Iraqi Sunni Tribal Leader's Funeral Vow Revenge on al-Qaida (VOA News, 14 September 2007)

Sunni Arab mourners in western Iraq have called for revenge against al-Qaida at the funeral of Sunni tribal council leader Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, who was killed in a roadside bomb blast near his home Thursday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Best Research Yet: Two psychologists show that homosexuals should not be discouraged from seeking change. (Tim Stafford, 9/13/2007, Christianity Today)

When Stanton Jones first began to study psychology, homosexuality was a malady, listed and described in the official "diagnostic Bible," the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In 1973, that diagnosis was dropped. Now the American Psychological Association's official website states, "The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable." The website warns that "conversion therapy" is poorly documented and could cause potential harm. The American Psychiatric Association's website adds, "[T]here is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of 'reparative therapy' as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation. The potential risks of 'reparative therapy' are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior."
Related articles and links

What to make, then, of the apparently sincere personal testimonies of people claiming to be ex-gay? Longtime Wheaton College professor of psychology and provost Jones, working with Regent University professor Mark Yarhouse, found an anomalous situation. Professional opinion made unusually absolute statements of the impossibility of change, considering older studies of homosexuals under treatment that showed substantial evidence of change. Critics of the older research noted shortcomings but offered no better evidence in support of the contention that change is impossible, even dangerous.

Jones and Yarhouse address this lack of good evidence in their book, Ex-Gays?: A Continuing Study of Religiously Mediated Sexual Orientation Change in Exodus Participants. By taking a sample of people entering ex-gay programs under the Exodus umbrella and following them with detailed questionnaires over several years, Jones and Yarhouse tested the impact of ex-gay programs on participants—whether they actually experienced change, and whether the attempt to change caused additional distress. Participants are still being followed, but the findings to date clearly upset the professional consensus. A substantial minority of participants showed significant change from homosexual patterns of behavior and thought, and there was no overall evidence of additional mental distress. The change observed was generally modest, perhaps comparable to the results of therapy for alcohol and drug addiction, for troubled marriages, or for personality disorders.

Outside of the strictures of political correctness, why would it be any different than any other psychological pathology?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Crisis of Modern Art: Nicholas Berdiaev’s Prophetic Critique (Heinrich Stammler, Summer 1991, Touchstone)

In 1931 there appeared in the Zeitschrift für Aesthetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft an article entitled “The Historicity of Art.” The author was a young assistant professor of Philosophy, Helmut Kuhn, who later made a name for himself as a Platonist philosopher, aesthetician, and specialist in problems of ethics. In his essay Kuhn was concerned with the question of the degree to which art is either subject to the laws of historical change or exempt by virtue of its intrinsic qualities—thus in some way transcending the perishability of all earthly things.

Paradoxically, the historicity of art becomes manifest in its very origin in a given present. This origin at a distinct point in the flux of history establishes a special relationship of the work of art to the specific situation of that moment. And so, the degree to which art is involved in the institutional life and public concerns of a given age is an indicator of the degree to which the arts are an integrated part of the life of a society. On the other hand, even the degree to which the arts are withdrawn from public concerns reflects a judgment of the time upon itself. Kuhn wished to emphasize that art cannot be regarded from a purely formal-aesthetic, phenomenological point of view; it must be seen, at least in some essential characteristics, as a sign of the times, and therefore expressive of them, either in assertion or denial.

Since the days of the Renaissance, and particularly the great age of European classicism, renewed attempts have been made to determine the specific aesthetic, moral, and even religious properties of a given period by the art forms in which it seemed to express itself. The name of Winkelmann springs to mind, who believed he could define the aesthetic and moral essence of classical antiquity on the basis of the character of its artistic creations. This was a belief that was to have a tremendous influence on the contemporary mind, being shared by authorities such as Goethe, Schiller, Keats, Pushkin and the entire neo-classicism of the age of the Empire, until toward the end of the nineteenth century, when Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Jacob Burckhard, Renan and others shattered this belief beyond all recognition.

From the Middle Ages to the age of impressionism, as long as these varied interpretations were preferred within the framework of an art, which was representational, pictorial, and objective, and for which the aesthetic values of classical antiquity and the Renaissance could be to some degree, tacitly assumed, they were not devoid of a certain plausibility—especially when formulated by ingenious, empathetic, and well-informed critics.

But in view of the jumble of confusing phenomena in the arts of our present, which seem to defy rational description, painting, sculpture, music, even writing, have appeared to break away from all established canons of taste. What began to dawn upon a startled world with cubism, fauvism, futurism, expressionism, abstractism and atonality, was tantamount to all-out iconoclasm, a nihilistic destructiveness. The artists resolutely turned their backs on the natural shapes and contours of the cosmos. All form, the human image included, was ruthlessly subjected to dissection and disintegration. The canons of beauty bequeathed by antiquity and revived and enriched by the Renaissance, were neglected or set aside. The very concept and ideal of beauty was consigned to obsolescence.

But this was not all: Art increasingly became inaccessible. It ceased to be the expression of a consensus regarding what is beautiful, harmonious, well-proportioned and pleasing to the senses. Thus, what we are accustomed to call “modern art” became “unpopular,” a stigma that it has not been able to live down even to our day. It became an art for artists and trendy critics. And art criticism, where it was not dominated by purely commercial interests, tended more and more to turn into a dialogue between “experts.” The general public was excluded from the lucubrations of the connoisseurs. The ordinary art lover saw himself relegated to the benches with the ignoramuses and the philistines.

It could also be said, in more philosophical terms, that art, with its centuries-old Western tradition of striving for ever regenerated visions of beauty, fell out of the platonic trinity of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good. Now, so it seemed, art had divorced itself from the world of meaning, shutting itself up in a realm of an arbitrary formalism devoid of all human content.

In this, art merely followed science.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


A quick history lesson: America is no Rome: The tired analogy of imperial decline and fall (Gerard Baker, 9/14/07, Times of London)

From the moment that America became top nation in the middle of the last century, people have been racing to be contemporary Gibbons, chronicling the decline and fall even as it was supposedly happening. Not the least of the objections to their efforts is that Rome’s domination of the known world lasted about 500 years, and survived more than the odd thrashing or two at the hands of barbarian tribes. In modern America, it’s always the same. Every lost battle or turbulent day on the foreign exchanges and the obituary writers are sharpening their pencils.

The bigger objection is that America is not much of an empire after all. No one pays tribute, no one declares allegiance to Caesar, and what kind of empire is it that owes its foreign subjects a couple of trillion dollars? Still, as Gibbon himself noted in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify the evils, of the present times.” Which brings us back neatly to General Petraeus and the Iraq war. [...]

It is helpful to think about Iraq this way. Imagine if the US had never been there; and that this sectarian strife had broken out in any case – as, one day it surely would, given the hatreds engendered by a thousand years of Muslim history and the efforts of Saddam Hussein.

What would we in the West think about it? What would we think of as our responsibilities? There would be some who would want to wash their hands of it. There would be others who would think that UN resolutions and diplomatic initiatives would be enough to salve our consciences if not to stop the slaughter.

But many of us surely would think we should do something about it – as we did in the Balkans more than a decade ago – and as, infamously, we failed to do in Africa at the same time. And we would know that, for all our high ideals and our soaring rhetoric, there would be only one country with the historical commitment to make massive sacrifices in the defence of the lives and liberty of others, the leadership to mobilise efforts to relieve the suffering and, above all, the economic and military wherewithal to make it happen.

Indeed, rather than think of Iraq in the abstract, if we just consider it alongside the various wars of, particularly, last century, we can see that an eventual sorting of the sects into more coherent consent-based nations was pretty much inevitable and that it is mostly our failure to force that process after WWI, WWII, the Cold War, and phase one of the Gulf War that has delayed the reckoning until now. The problem isn't that our empire is declining--we never had one--but that we didn't smash the remains of the British, French and Ottoman ones thoroughly enough when we had our chances. That's the problem with Democratic calls for withdrawing from the Middle East now. All they would do is leave unsustainable regimes -- Iraq, the Lebanon, Syria, etc. -- in place once again and lay the groundwork for our future interventions. Better to seize the opportunity provided by 9-11 and finish destabilizing the entire region. That's what we do to places that haven't liberalized yet. The only question is: at what pace?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


An amicable divorce? (William Pfaff, September 14, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

August ended with collapse of the negotiations that have been going on since the June 10 national elections on forming a new government. The Flemish Christian Democratic leader, Yves Leterme, returned his mandate to King Albert II, reporting stalemate between the Flemish and French-speaking parties on a program to reconcile Flemish demands for welfare policy changes and increased devolution of power to the regions, with Walloon opposition to both measures.

Sentiment in Flanders favoring Flemish secession and independence reportedly is keener now than it has ever been, and argued with an intensity not previously experienced.

Emotion - linguistic and cultural nationalism - dominates this conflict, as in all divorces. No one knows, if and when the proposed split takes place, whether the advantages of single life will end up being seen as justifying the destruction of Belgium.

Perhaps they will. The Czechs and Slovaks split up in much the same circumstances in 1993, after 92 years of life in common, and seem happy divorcees today.

With America as one of the (to some degree) rare exceptions, studies suggest that ethnic homogeneity is a key determinant of social capital and trust within a society and one of the areas where it has a notorious effect is that ethnic majorities tend to resent what they perceive as the provision of welfare services to minorities.

September 13, 2007

Posted by Ted Welter at 9:07 PM

Turn up your stereo...

The Apples In Stereo are holding a contest to see who can come up with the best version of "Can You Feel It," the opening track from New Magnetic Wonder, the disk they released earlier this year. You can win some software and some shoes (not very exciting), and perhaps even a place on their next disk of outtakes (which would be pretty cool).

Check out The Super Hi-Fi Re-Mix Contest.

And most definitely check out all of New Magnetic Wonder, if you like tight, poppy harmonies with that loud guitar crunch:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM



The New York Times dramatically slashed its normal rates for a full-page advertisement for's ad questioning the integrity of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. [...]

According to Abbe Serphos, director of public relations for the Times, "the open rate for an ad of that size and type is $181,692."

A spokesman for confirmed to The Post that the liberal activist group had paid only $65,000 for the ad - a reduction of more than $116,000 from the stated rate.

A Post reporter who called the Times advertising department yesterday without identifying himself was quoted a price of $167,000 for a full-page black-and-white ad on a Monday.

All that cant about campaign finance goes out the window when the Grey Lady feels like contributing $116k to the Democrats, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:07 PM


Google Criticized for Honoring ‘Anti-Israel' Author on Rosh Hashanah (ELIOT BROWN, September 13, 2007, NY Sun)

The Web search engine Google drew fire today for decorating its home page in a motif that honored a children's author who has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism, Roald Dahl, on the first day of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

Google returned its page to the default logo by 2 p.m. after contributors to Web logs criticized the timing of the decoration, which also coincides with the birthday of Dahl. [...]

A native of Wales, Dahl was accused of anti-Semitism in the 1980s after he wrote a book review for a magazine in which he was highly critical of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, saying he was "anti-Israel," according to press reports.

Lest one think the Left has the monopoly on Political Correctness.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:58 PM


Federal deficit takes sharp dip (The Associated Press, Sep 13, 2007)

The Treasury Department said that the deficit through the first 11 months of this budget year totaled $274.4 billion, down 9.8 percent from the same period a year ago. [...]

The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that when this budget year wraps up on Sept. 30, the deficit will total $158 billion, down by 36.2 percent from last year's $248.2 billion deficit.

The government's books have been helped this year by record flows of tax receipts, which have continued even though economic growth has been reduced by a serious slump in housing.

Congressman Rangel better hurry up and kill the AMT before we stumble back into boom-killing surplus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Hispanics are changing the face of U.S. politics (ANDRES OPPENHEIMER, 9/13/07,

he debate among Democratic hopefuls organized by Univisión and the University of Miami averaged 2.2 million viewers -- an extraordinary audience for a debate that was broadcast in Spanish for an ethnic group that makes up 13 percent of the U.S. population. By comparison, the CNN-YouTube Democratic debate averaged 2.6 million viewers.

What's more, while the average age of viewers of Univisión's debate was 36, the average age of the English-language debates on ABC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC viewers was 61.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


SONG OF THE DAY: The National: Conflicted Enough to 'Start a War' (Kathryn Yu, September 12, 2007,

A lovely tension permeates "Start a War," as Berninger's words suggest an inevitable clash of swords. The line "Walk away now, and you're gonna start a war" sounds like equal parts proclamation, threat and statement of weary resignation, as the song's apparent contradictions are bolstered by Bryan Devendorf's expert drumming, a low rumble that sounds both thundering and restrained. The slow, majestic sway of his bandmates' layered orchestra suggests a denouement — a changed world after the tragic hero is dead and gone — even as the song's momentum continues to build.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Iraqi police: Bomb kills top Sunni sheik cooperating with U.S. against al-Qaida in Iraq (Associated Press, September 13, 2007)

The most prominent figure in a U.S.-backed revolt of Sunni sheiks against al-Qaida in Iraq was killed today by a bomb planted near his home in Anbar province, 10 days after he met with President Bush, police and tribal leaders said.

Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha was leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, also known as the Anbar Awakening -- an alliance of clans backing the Iraqi government and U.S. forces.

Officials said his assassination would be a huge setback for U.S. efforts in Iraq, because it sends a message to others who are cooperating with coalition forces or thinking about cooperating against al-Qaida.

Maybe. But isn't it as likely, or moreso, that al Qaeda violence against other Sunni militants dries up their natural base of support?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Pivotal Battleground (KENNETH BLACKWELL, September 13, 2007, NY Sun)

Earlier this year, Utah's legislature and governor — in the state's rugged western tradition — bucked the powerful teachers' unions and provided parents with true educational choices for their children. [...]

Called the Parents Choice in Education Act, the program was carefully crafted to address the concerns typically associated with previous voucherdriven school choice programs.

Children receive between $500 and $3,000 in scholarships depending on their parents' income. Every child currently in public school can participate. Children attending independent schools will be evaluated according to criteria such as prior qualification for federal lunch programs where lunch is either free or at a reduced cost. Students entering kindergarten this year are immediately eligible, with all students qualifying by 2020.

Non-government schools must meet rigid state standards to participate. The schools must give students nationally approved achievement tests. The results of the testing must then be given to state officials and parents.

The schools must meet important accountability standards and disclose credentials of educators as well as the institution's own accreditation status. Independent auditors also must pour through the school's financial records and report the information to the state. Under the program, vouchers can only be used at non-government schools. Before parents are given access to the scholarship funds, they must actively opt their children out of a conventional public school.

When parents opt their children out of a conventional public school, the state will continue to fund that school — for five years — as if the students never left. Therefore, if a public school loses a significant number of students, it will have a few years to address the root causes of the departures before state funding is shifted.

The program seems to address the most often mentioned concerns of school choice opponents. It provides for non-government school accountability. It continues to fund underperforming government-run public schools and gives those schools five years to get their act together. And, it serves a very real public need — the need for quality enhancing, freedom-expanding competition in the education marketplace.

As it has been useful to test how well the public schools are educating kids in trivia like math and reading, so that the monopoly could be broken, it will be necessary to test how well independent schools are educating them in citizenship, which is the purpose of universal public education.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Trade bridges Shi'ite-Sunni divide (Meena Janardhan, 9/14/07, Asia Times)

While Iran and the United States exchange aggressive statements, the Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have been busy building trade relations with Tehran and charting an economic course with a potential of mending ties in a tough neighborhood.

After an official proposal by Iran, the GCC - which groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - is considering negotiations that may lead to the creation of a free-trade area. [...]

The call for economic engagement comes in the background of a flurry of reciprocal visits by Iranian and GCC leaders over the past year. The effort to bridge the Sunni-Shi'ite divide, especially with a view to stabilizing Iraq, has led the Arab League to call for high-level dialogue between the Arabs and Iran.

We should see if they'll let us join.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


The Iron Lady takes tea at Downing Street (Philip Webster and Jenny Booth, 9/13/07, Times of London)

Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah will welcome an unusual visitor to No 10 this afternoon when Baroness Thatcher returns to take tea with them.

The eye-catching social engagement between the current Labour Prime Minster and the former Tory premier has been arranged for several weeks.

It comes after Mr Brown expressed his admiration for the Iron Lady, describing her as a "conviction politician" like himself - and unlike her successor David Cameron.

Her visit, which has been flagged up to the media, comes on the same day that Mr Cameron was due to launch the report of his Quality of Life policy group, and is likely to take some of the spotlight off Mr Cameron's report.

Until the Tories are willing to at least appear more conservative than the leaders of the Labour Party, they're in trouble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Here's a a href=>podcast (MP3) where the author himself does, Francis Fukuyama, Democracy versus culture (Stewart Brand, June 29th,

Fukuyama is most intrigued by a challenge that comes from his old teacher and continuing friend, Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations. Culture can trump modernization, says Huntington— current radical Islam is an example. Fukuyama agrees that people at the fringe of modernization feel a sense of onslaught, and they can respond as Bolsheviks and Fascists did in the 20th century. “A Hitler or a Bin Laden proclaims, ‘I can tell you who you are.’”

A second challenge to the universalism of liberal democracy is that it does not yet work internationally. Fukuyama agrees, noting that the major current obstacle is America’s overwhelming hegemony. He expects no solution from the UN, but an overlapping set of international institutions could eventually do the job.

A third challenge is the continuing poverty trap for so many in the world. Fukuyama says it takes a national state with the rule of law and time to learn from mistakes before you get economic takeoff. He sees later colonialism, done on the cheap (instead of with the patient institution building that England did in India), as a major source of the world’s current failed and crippled states.

The final challenge that impresses Fukuyama is the possibility that technology may now be accelerating too fast to cure its own problems the way it has done in the past. Climate change could be an example of that. And Fukuyama particularly worries that biotechnology might so transform human nature that it will fragment humanity irreparably.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


After The Last Intellectual: Twenty years ago this fall, Russell Jacoby’s The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe mourned the death of the freelance thinker and examined its fresh corpse. But did we misread Jacoby’s autopsy? (Scott McLemee, September/October 2007, Bookforum)

The Last Intellectuals did not celebrate the cultural life of the 1950s or deplore the excesses that followed. Jacoby was not arguing that there had been a golden age and a sudden fall. Neither was assigning culpability all that high on the book’s agenda. On the contrary, much of the book was devoted to saying quite the opposite. If the writers and critics working in the ’50s did not serve as models for those who came after, that was because the conditions that fostered them—affordable rent, an abundance of magazines open to certain kinds of reviewing and essay writing, and the tendency of society to produce “surplus intellectuals” unable to find employment in well-established institutions— were already disappearing. Or rather, new and altogether more comfortable circumstances were emerging.

The life of the intellectual freelancer had never been easy. It had been the product of a kind of double negation: the refusal of a refusal. Little magazines, avant-garde sects, and other marginal niches had operated by a certain cultural logic—to exclude the influence of institutions established and powerful enough to reproduce their power while excluding outsiders and deviants (racial, sexual, ideological, aesthetic). There is no sense in romanticizing any of this. The existence of such institutions had always been precarious, the cost often more than economic.

Another word for independence, in such conditions, is anomie: a condition of normlessness, of radical uncertainty about the relation between means and ends, even of despair, at times, about the possibility of coming to any solid notion of what “means” and “ends” might be. And this exacts its psychic toll. One can now find any number of nostalgia-infused accounts of the New York Intellectuals—those legendary champions of modernist aesthetics, anti-Stalinist politics, and polemical brilliance. But it might be worth keeping in mind other reminiscences, other stories, like that of the party in Greenwich Village at which two intellectuals got into a shouting match, with one accusing the other of doing nothing but imitating Dostoyevsky. The accused, simmering with rage, pulled out a book of matches and tried to set his own hair on fire, at least until his friends made him stop. The moral: It wasn’t all incisive essay writing and dialectical knife juggling. Bohemia can be fun if you have money; otherwise, it is hard on the nerves. But by the 1950s, something was starting to change. The possibility of being an independent (and/or anomic) intellectual had been deeply conditioned by the necessity, for many such people, of working in marginal circumstances.

Certainly, this did not happen overnight. Bit by bit, though, jobs and chances for publication were opening up, and the effect was bewildering. A sense that the critical edge was disappearing from American intellectual life was already acute by 1954, when Irving Howe published a long essay in Partisan Review called “This Age of Conformity.” It sketches the incipient form of those tendencies that Jacoby would treat as having reached their consummation by the time he was writing The Last Intellectuals:

The kind of society that has been emerging in the West, a society in which bureaucratic controls are imposed upon (but not fundamentally against) an interplay of private interests, has need for intellectuals in a way that earlier, “traditional” capitalism never did. It is a society in which ideology plays an unprecedented part: as social relations become more abstract and elusive, the human object is bound to the state with ideological slogans and abstractions—and for this chore intellectuals are indispensable; no one else can do the job as well. Because industrialism grants large quantities of leisure time without any creative sense of how to employ it, there springs up a vast new industry that must be staffed by intellectuals and quasi-intellectuals: the industry of mass culture. And because the state subsidizes mass education and our uneasy prosperity allows additional millions to gain a “higher” education, many new jobs suddenly become available in the academy: some fall to intellectuals.

Howe knew about this process firsthand. It wasn’t just that he had gone from marginal journals like Commentary and Partisan Review to more mainstream magazines; rather, he’d started out in the 1940s by contributing to esoteric publications of the Trotskyist left, so that even writing literary criticism for such a nonrevolutionary venue as PR must have seemed to him, at times, like embourgeoisement itself.

It hardly seems coincidental that Intellectualism, which Richard Hofstadter correctly noted Americans have always been hostile towards, had its heyday at the height of Communist funding of activities here and died out with the rise of congressional anti-Communist investigations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


In Southern Sudan, Peace Slowly Alters a Way of Life (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 9/12/07, NY Times)

Southern Sudan was home to Africa’s longest-running civil war, a rebellion that began even before Sudan was granted independence in 1956. The rough outlines were that the south, which is mostly Christian and animist, was fighting the north, which is mostly Muslim and Arabic-speaking. A peace deal signed in 2005 is starting to deliver dividends, though much too slowly for most south Sudanese.

Many towns still have no electricity, no cellphone service, few roads and few jobs. Out here, the economy rests on four fuzzy legs.

Panthar’s herd is smaller than the herds of times past. Because more Dinka boys are migrating to other areas and marrying outside the tribe, the typical price for a pretty bride has dropped to 100 cows, from 200. Still, some Dinka have found a way to straddle two worlds, growing up with cows in what is called cattle camp and then going on to become hotel clerks, drivers, journalists and office managers.

Years ago, William Malual left behind the heaps of manure to drive a truck for the United Nations. He said the hardships of cattle camp steeled him for life.

“I will never forget the rain,” he said. “And the heat.”

That skin-crisping heat started to ease up around 4 p.m. With the cows still gone, the camp was quiet. Women sewed baskets. Men slept under trees. The metallic buzz of cicadas sawed on.

By 6 p.m., Panthar’s father had started to pace.

“The boy still has a lot to learn,” he said, recalling a time last October when Panthar got lost with the cows. When he made it home, after surviving off leaves for several days, his father whacked him with a stick.

Finally, at nearly 7, a little head popped out of the low, scratchy trees. Then the sound of clucking. It was Panthar, and the cows.

His father flashed a “well done, son” expression.

Panthar smiled.

“I’m free,” he said, for the evening, anyway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Obama adviser worries Israel supporters (Ben Smith, Sep 12, 2007, Politico)

Brzezinski, 79, stepped into the crossfire this summer when he published an essay in the summer issue of the journal Foreign Policy, defending a controversial new book about the power of the “Israel Lobby” in American politics.

The book’s authors, Harvard’s Stephen Walt and the University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, thanked him for his “incisive defense.”

But the article inserted him into one of the most heated debates in America-Israel politics, a bitter dispute about whether the authors’ claims smacked of bigotry, whether their critics are – as Brzezinski put it — “McCarthyite.”

“It is a tremendous mistake for Barack Obama to select as a foreign policy adviser the one person in public life who has chosen to support a bigoted book,” said Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, one of the most visible critics of the Walt and Mearsheimer volume, titled “The Israel Lobby.”

...given accusations that she's personally antiSemitic and the way the last Clinton Administration sided with Arafat against Israel?

September 12, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 PM


France may rejoin military wing of Nato (John Lichfield, 13 September 2007, Independent)

President Nicolas Sarkozy, a self-proclaimed Gaullist, may be ready to reverse one of the most celebrated actions sanctioned by Charles de Gaulle – France's abrupt exit from the military wing of Nato in 1966. [...]

Since 1966, France has been a member of the Nato alliance but not part of its military high command. Senior French officers have long complained this is an impossible situation. France finds itself taking part on the fringes of Nato operations, without the ability to influence decisions. This, said one diplomat, reduced French forces to the role of harkis – the name given to Algerians who served as auxiliaries with the French army during the Algerian War of Independence from 1954 to 1962.

President Chirac sought to rejoin Nato's military command in 1997 but the US rejected the conditions demanded by France.

...who, when De Gaulle demanded that all American troops leave French soil, asked if that included the ones buried in it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:02 PM


A lesson for Heathrow in building an airport (Clifford Coonan, 13 September 2007, Independent)

Viewed from the air, Beijing's new £3.7bn airport terminal looks like a dragon in the middle of the northern Chinese brush – a startling structure of sweeping glass and steel. [...]

It is the largest covered structure ever built, yet will have taken less than five years to construct when it opens. Throughout, traditional symbols, such as red pillars and gold roofs suggestive of ancient temples, are interwoven with contemporary technology and design. "The airport will give an excellent impression when visitors arrive," said Zhang Zhizhong, general manager of the state-run holding company which runs the airport. It was a "very important non-competition venue" for the Games that would illustrate the "advantages of socialism" to visitors, he added.

Lesson One: Have a Communist Revolution and do away with those interfering citizens....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Karl May and the origins of a German obsession (Michael Kimmelman, September 12, 2007, NY Times)

At powwows — there are dozens every year — thousands of Germans with an American Indian fetish drink firewater, wear turquoise jewelry and run around Baden-Württemberg or Schleswig-Holstein dressed as Comanches and Apaches. There are clubs, magazines, trading cards, school curriculums, stupendously popular German-made Wild West films and outdoor theaters, including one high in the sandstone cliffs above the tiny medieval fortress town of Rathen, in Saxony, where cowboys fight Indians on horseback. A fake Wild West village, Eldorado, recently shot up on the outskirts of Templin, the city where Angela Merkel, the chancellor, grew up.

The cause of this infatuation is a writer named Karl May (1842-1912), virtually unknown in the United States but the most popular author in German history.

A con man and Walter Mitty-like homebody who spent eight years in jail dreaming of Wild West adventures, May (the name is pronounced My) wrote dozens of tall-tale books that have sold more than 100 million copies, maybe twice that many if you count translations from the German. Kaiser Wilhelm II, like May a fantasist who loved to dress up in exotic costumes, adored May's books. So did Einstein and Albert Schweitzer, Kafka and Fritz Lang. Hitler did too.

May's hero was Winnetou, a fictional Apache chief, a household name here. To Germans Winnetou is like Paul Bunyan, Abe Lincoln and Elvis rolled into one. During the World Cup last year, an occasion for the Germans to debate, as they often do, the pitfalls of reviving their nationalist spirit, Der Spiegel, the leading newsmagazine, published an article titled "The Land of Winnetou."

"There are the German poets and thinkers, the German forest, the German 'comfortableness,' German efficiency, the German longing for Italy, and there is Winnetou," it pronounced. "Winnetou is the quintessential German national hero, a paragon of virtue, a nature freak, a romantic, a pacifist at heart, but in a world at war he is the best warrior, alert, strong, sure."

Americans have, of course, pummeled both sets of savages, the Indians and the Krauts, with some regularity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


'Sculpting in Time': Russian filmmaker sought to harrow the soul (Eric David, 9/12/2007, Christianity Today)

Raised in the Russian Orthodox tradition, director Andrei Tarkovsky once told an interviewer, "I consider myself a person of faith, but I do not want to delve into the nuances and problems of my situation, for it is not so straightforward, not so simple, and not so unambiguous." [...]

Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time stands with Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer as one of the best books on filmmaking written by a director. It delves deeply into the spirituality of the filmmaker: "Art should be there to remind man that he is a spiritual being, that he is part of an infinitely larger spirit to which he will return in the end."

s probably best known for Solaris, but Andrei Rublev is more rewarding

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Neanderthal Vanishing Act: Case Closed? (Richard Ingham, 9/12/07, AFP)

Neanderthals, smaller and squatter than Homo sapiens sapiens, as anatomically modern man is called, lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for around 170,000 years. [...]

If climate didn't kill the Neanderthals, what — or who — did?

Two rival theories are out there.

One says that the Neanderthals were slaughtered by modern humans, who had the stone tools and the social smarts to wipe out their rivals for food and habitat.

Another says that Neanderthals and modern Man intermingled and even interbred. If so, the distinct Neanderthal lineage petered out but left an imprint in the human genome that probably survives in us today.

What species are the Dutch?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:12 PM


U.S. seeks pact with Shiite militia: The military is in talks with elements of cleric Sadr's powerful group, which is accused of attacks against soldiers but which holds sway in much of Baghdad and parts of Iraq. (Ned Parker, September 12, 2007, LA Times)

U.S. diplomats and military officers have been in talks with members of the armed movement loyal to Muqtada Sadr, a sharp reversal of policy and a grudging recognition that the radical Shiite cleric holds a dominant position in much of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

The secret dialogue has been going on since at least early 2006, but appeared to yield a tangible result only in the last week -- with relative calm in an area of west Baghdad that has been among the capital's most dangerous sections.

It's really just a matter of making the unofficial alliance official.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


Israel's lobby as scapegoat (The authors of a new title see the Jewish state as the archenemy (Tim Rutten, September 12, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

It's interesting that the authors chose to first float their arguments in the London Review rather than, say, in Foreign Affairs or some other American journal. While I subscribe to the review -- and, in fact, have been invited several times to contribute to it -- it's a melancholy fact that, in recent years, like so much of the European intellectual press, it has become objectively anti-Semitic in its treatment of Israel. And while it's true that the authors have had several invitations to speak about their book in the United States withdrawn, it's also true that this volume arrives under the imprint of what is arguably America's most prestigious publishing house.

Odd that the all-powerful Israel lobby let that happen.

To get a flavor of the professors' argument, here's how they described the lobby's operations inside the U.S. Congress: "Another source of the Lobby's power is its use of pro-Israel congressional staffers. As Morris Amitay, a former head of [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], once admitted, 'there are a lot of guys at the working level up here' -- on Capitol Hill -- 'who happen to be Jewish, who are willing. . . to look at certain issues in terms of their Jewishness. . . . These are all guys who are in a position to make the decision in these areas for those senators. . . . "

The quotation from an AIPAC staff member is an ingenious twist on the old dual-loyalty argument, but at the end of the day, you've still got sour old wine in new skins. [...]

Perhaps most malicious of all, Mearsheimer and Walt go to great lengths in the book to make what they clearly believe is the most immediate case in point -- which is their assertion that the Israel lobby, acting at the Likud's behest, drove the United States into attacking Saddam Hussein. Thus, readers are treated to an explication on the religious affiliations of various Bush administration officials that reads like it was inspired by the Nuremberg Laws. The fact of the matter is, however, that the figure most responsible for pushing the attack on Iraq -- Vice President Dick Cheney -- is not Jewish, nor even ideologically neoconservative. He is a card-carrying member of the petroleum industry elite, however, and names like Halliburton and ExxonMobil never seem to make their way onto these pages.

It's not the Jews, it's the petrocrats!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


The Age Of Political Theology (ADAM KIRSCH, September 12, 2007, NY Sun)

For a brief moment at the end of the Cold War, it was possible to believe in the end of history. With the defeat of communism, the Western world seemed to have arrived at a final, irrevocable belief that liberal democracy was the best form of government. If 1789 ushered in an era of ideological warfare, in which nations fought primarily in order to decide how men should be governed, then 1989 brought that era to an end. Today, however, the very phrase "the end of history," made popular by Francis Fukuyama, seems like a relic of an impossibly naïve moment. For in the post-Cold War euphoria, the political scientists forgot a truth that a novelist, Marcel Proust, enunciated long ago: Not all people living at the same time are occupying the same moment in history.

It took the West 500 years to reach our current consensus that messianic passions should be banished from secular politics. This does not mean that religious values have no role to play in public life. On the contrary, it was only by draining the theological fury from political debate that the West, and especially America, was able to harness the constructive power of faith, to make belief an ally of the secular order. America, to the confusion of many observers in postreligious Europe, is both the most religious society in the West and the most democratic.

Which is to fundamentally misapprehend, as so many do, what Mr. Fukuyama said in The End of History, not to mention the centrality of messianism to the Anglo-American model. First, Fukuyama:
The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an "end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. In the past decade, there have been unmistakable changes in the intellectual climate of the world's two largest communist countries, and the beginnings of significant reform movements in both. But this phenomenon extends beyond high politics and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants' markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores opened in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affair's yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in. the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.

Of course, the evolution will be seen to have ended no later than 1776, not with the Declaration of Independence so much, which, after all, was rather derivative of our English political heritage, but with The Wealth of Nations, which gave economics a coherent basis in accordance with the pre-existing ones for protestantism and democracy.

Second, Messianism, which the Western triumph is entirely dependent upon. What had to be banished was, rather, Utopianism. The latter, which entails the belief that Man can construct a perfect society, lies at the heart of Socialism, Nazism, Communism, and Islamicism--the various isms against which we've fought The Long War. The former, which assumes that Man will make somewhat of a hash of things until He comes, undergirds Christianity, Judaism and Shi'ism. It allows us to live as the "free men" described by Eric 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.
This allows us to clear up the European confusion about why the postreligious have such trouble living as free men, but Anglo-Americans such ease. And, of course, the very fact of Europe's postreligiosity demonstrates that the End of History won't magically benefit everyone. Recognizing how state and society ought to be arranged will avail folks not if they do not maintain the faith that arrangement requires. Adopting the form of the End without the content can only make for a more comfortable death for secular societies. Only the Messianists, fittingly, have a hopeful future to look forward to.

(*) NB: Let us note, in passing, the delicious paradox implicated here, that those who claim to be absolutists on each of these values--libertarians, multiculturalists and egalitarians--are instead nihilists, who would make even an approximate realization of their own ends impossible.

Freedom Fetishists: The cultural contradictions of libertarianism. (KAY S. HYMOWITZ, September 12, 2007, Opinion Journal)

On the one hand, libertarians make a fetish of freedom; it is their totalizing goal. On the other hand, libertarians depend on the family--an institution that, in crucial respects, is unfree--to produce the sort of people best suited to life in a free-market system (not to mention future members of their own movement). The complex, dynamic economy that libertarians have done so much to expand needs highly advanced human capital--that is, individuals of great moral, cognitive and emotional sophistication. Reams of social-science research prove that these qualities are best produced in traditional families with married parents.

Family breakdown, by contrast, limits the accumulation of such human capital. Worse, divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing leave the door wide open for big government. Dysfunctional families create an increased demand for state-funded food, housing and medical subsidies, which libertarians reject on principle. And in courts all over the country, judges who preside over the manifold disputes occasioned by broken families are forced to be more intrusive than the worst mother-in-law: They decide who should have primary custody, who gets a child on Christmas or summer holidays, whether a child should take piano lessons, go to Hebrew school, move to California, or speak to her grandmother on the phone. It is a libertarian's worst nightmare.

A libertarian, according to Brian Doherty, "has to believe" that "the instincts and abilities for liberty . . . are innate," that we possess "an ability to fend for ourselves in the Randian sense and to form spontaneous orders of fellowship and cooperation in the Hayekian sense." But this view of the relationship between the individual and society is profoundly and demonstrably false, especially when applied to the family.

Children do not come into the world respecting private property. They do not emerge from the womb ready to navigate the economic and moral complexities of an "age of abundance." The only way they learn such things is through a long process of intensive socialization--a process that we now know, thanks to the failed experiments begun by the Aquarians and implicitly supported by libertarians, usually requires intact families and decent schools.

Libertarianism did not have to take this unfortunate turn. Ludwig von Mises himself warned that the attempt (of socialists) to undermine the family was a ploy to strengthen the state. Hayek, too, grasped the family's role in upholding the free market. Coming of age in Europe around the time of World War I, he stressed the state's inefficiency but also warned, more generally, of the limits of human reason. "Hayek's economics was rooted in man's ignorance," Mr. Doherty writes; so were his political views, which included both an enthusiasm for freedom and a Burkean respect for customs and institutions.

It is difficult to say why this aspect of libertarianism has faded away, but the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset once provided a partial answer. In Europe and elsewhere, he observed, modern radicals have tended to be of a Marxist, collectivist bent; in America, with its peculiar Lockean legacy and Jeffersonian ideals, radicals have gone to the other extreme, searching for absolute freedom. It is a quest that has left little room for the confining demands of family and other unchosen social bonds.

Libertarians come in many flavors, of course, but they share certain enthusiasms beyond free-market economics. They are often great consumers of science fiction, with an avid interest in space travel. And they have an almost unlimited enthusiasm for biotechnology, especially for advances that might allow us to manipulate our natures and extend our lives. Taken together, these elements constitute what might be called the libertarian dream--the dream of shaping your own meaning, liberated from family, from the past, from tradition, from biology, and perhaps even from the earth itself.

Such utopian ambitions are difficult to satisfy or even contain in the mundane world of American politics. For some time to come, they are likely to make libertarianism the natural home of assorted cranks and crazies, and thus to continue to provide fodder for its at least partly deserved caricature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Sarkozy Faces His First Reform Test: Labor unions will likely strike against proposed pension reforms, but the general public seems to support the new President's push. (Carol Matlack, 9/11/07, Der Spiegel)

If anything, the potential for crippling nationwide strikes looks greater now than ever. The beneficiaries of the pension plans that Sarkozy is targeting are employees of the national rail system, the Paris transit authority, and utilities Electricité de France and Gaz de France. The President can't stop them from walking off the job: France's constitution guarantees the right to strike, and while Sarkozy recently secured legislation to reduce strike-related disruptions by requiring advance notice of walkouts, the law won't take effect until next year.

Yet Sarkozy's move may be shrewder than it looks. Opinion polls show overwhelming support for reform of retirement schemes for railway and utility workers that let them retire as early as age 50 with pensions totaling 70% of their top salaries. In a poll by the CSA survey group in June, 56% of respondents said they wanted these so-called "special regimes" reformed quickly.

That's not surprising: The special plans are holdovers from the days when railway and utility jobs were far more dangerous and dirty than they are now. And they're considerably more generous than the pension benefits enjoyed by most French private-sector workers, who generally can't retire before age 60. Moreover, French taxpayers help foot the bill for this largesse, even as worrisome deficits grow in other government-funded retirement funds.

But wouldn't Sarkozy be forced to back down, in case of a protracted strike? That is what happened in 1995, when public opinion turned against the government even though polls showed most people favored its pension reform proposals.

They're handing him a great opportunity, one Thatcher and Reagan seized but Gingrich fumbled.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Mum (Iceland: The Future of Sound, PBS: Frontline)

Múm couldn't have chosen a more appropriate name. Merely a sound and lacking clear definition, the "word" múm personifies the music the band creates -- music based on the construction and reticulation of sounds.

The four young Icelanders, who met while working on a children's play, have put a new twist on electronic music. Two members of Múm are classically trained musicians, while the other two are skilled with laptops. Mixing the chilly style of Aphex Twin with warmer acoustic instruments, the quartet has set a new standard in electronic music. They won the Best Newcomer award at the Icelandic Music Awards in 1999 along with praise from music critics in Europe and the United States.

With titles that sound like rough English translations, Múm's music is characterized by computerized crackles, playful blips and bleeps with the running theme of water. The combination of melodicas, glockenspiels, accordions, synthesizers and various toy instruments, paired with the childlike voices of twin sisters KristÌn and Gyda, gives the music a feeling of innocence.

-BAND SITE: Mum (Fatcat Records)
-ALBUM SITE: Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy
-ALBUM SITE: Summer Make Good (Fat Cat Records)
-REVIEW ARCHIVE: Summer Make Good (MetaCritic)

Go Go Smear the Poison IvyMúm
"Dancing Behind My Eyelids" (mp3)
from "Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy"
(Fat Cat Records)

More On This Album

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Giuliani's GOP Lead Shrinks in New Poll (Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, September 12, 2007, Washington Post)

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani continues to lead the race for the Republican presidential nomination, but he has seen a dramatic erosion in his support, which now stands at its lowest point of the year, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Giuliani's support dropped from 37 percent in a July poll to 28 percent in the latest survey, and his decline from February has been even more sharp. Then, he had the backing of 53 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and had a better than 2 to 1 advantage over his closest rival.

Former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), who formally entered the race last week after months of exploration, now stands in second place in the GOP field, with 19 percent. That is nearly double the support he received in an April poll taken as he began to express serious interest in running.

But for all the anticipation about his candidacy, Thompson is roughly even with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), whose campaign has had to weather struggles over the Iraq war, immigration and fundraising as well as the resignations of senior staff members. McCain is at 18 percent in the new poll, arresting a slow decline that began late last winter.

The problem for the Mayor is that he's already bumped his head on the ceiling of his support and there is no floor to stop his fall. The GOP just doesn't have enough Party of Death voters for him to win any -- especially of the early -- primaries. He was getting by on the fact that all anyone knew about him nationally was that he had a good day on 9-11. Once his views started to come out he started to sink.

THE TIMES/BLOOMBERG POLL: Giuliani's support is soft in key states: Though the former N.Y. mayor leads the GOP field nationwide, a poll shows him trailing in three early-voting states. (Janet Hook and Peter Wallsten, September 12, 2007, LA Times)

Rudolph W. Giuliani has been well ahead of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination in nationwide polls, but he is far weaker in the crucial states that will cast early votes in the nominating process next year, according to a new Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg poll that underscores how unsettled the GOP race remains.

Among Republican voters, Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, trails Mitt Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he lags behind Fred Thompson in South Carolina.

Which is why he won't run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Fresh From The Garden: Sweet and savory pies usher in summer's end: TOMATO CHEDDAR PIE (ANN LOVEJOY, 9/12/07,THE P-I)

* 3 cups fresh whole-grain bread crumbs (crumbled in food processor)
* 2 cups extra sharp or any cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
* 4 cups sliced ripe tomatoes
* 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, stemmed
* 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, divided use
* 2 teaspoons green peppercorns, drained
* 1 teaspoon stemmed and chopped fresh thyme
* 1/2 teaspoon stemmed and chopped fresh marjoram
* 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a 9-inch pie dish with 2 cups crumbs. Spread evenly with 1 cup cheese; set aside.

Gently toss tomatoes with cilantro, 1/8 teaspoon salt and green peppercorns; set aside.

Gently toss remaining bread crumbs with thyme, marjoram and remaining salt; set aside.

Layer tomato mixture and sweet onion into pie dish, alternating with (and ending with) bread crumb mixture. Top with remaining cheese and bake until hot through (20-25 minutes). Let stand 10 minutes, then serve warm or at room temperature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Indian breads: Flat-out fabulous: A crackle, a poof. Chapatis and puris are easy to make at home. (Sudha Koul, September 12, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

I find a dazzling array of possibilities greets me when I go to India: essential chapatis, luxurious parathas (plain and stuffed), festive puris and elegant nans (just buttered or stuffed). Within these four main categories are a variety of improvisations too numerous to mention. (I am often asked whether pappadums and dosas are breads. I would categorize the former as lentil wafers served with condiments and the latter as crêpes; not the staff of life but, rather, elegant accessories.)

All rotis are unleavened flatbreads, the exception being tandoori nans, which are commercially prepared yeast breads, but even these are always flat, albeit fluffy and light as air. Western-style bakery breads, called double rotis (presumably for the two risings of the dough), and tandoori nans are available only at restaurants and cafes, for the simple reason that hardly any home kitchen in India is equipped with a tandoor, and only a small percentage of yuppie cooks there have Western-type ovens.

Admittedly, in a population base of more than 1 billion, even a small percentage is nothing to sneeze at! But cooking in India typically is a stove-top affair. Of the four main Indian breads, the simplest is the humble chapati, the perfect accompaniment to vegetables, curries and dals (lentils).

Chapatis (Los Angeles Times, September 12, 20070
2 cups chapati flour, plus additional for dusting chapatis

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt together. Stir in three-fourths cup water (or more as necessary), adding it in increments until you achieve a firm, not too soft and certainly not stiff dough. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until you achieve a smooth consistency, then roll it into a log. Set the dough aside, covered with plastic wrap, for about 30 minutes to rest.

2. Divide the roll into 8 portions and dust lightly with flour. Roll each piece of dough between your palms until you achieve a ball with a smooth surface. Flatten the dough balls slightly with three fingers, then dust lightly again with some flour to facilitate rolling.

3. Using a rolling pin, roll out each flattened dough ball into a circle about 7 inches across. Sprinkle a little more flour if required to prevent sticking, then dust off excess flour.

4. Place the rolled out chapatis on a tray, side by side. Cover with cheesecloth or a kitchen towel and set aside.

5. Heat a griddle over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, less if the griddle starts to give off a burning smell. Lower to the heat to low-to-medium heat. Place the chapati on the griddle. Flip the chapati after it changes color (lightly) all over -- this should take a minute or so. Continue toasting for another half minute. Then turn it over. With a small hand towel or paper towel folded like a handkerchief, gently press the outer edges of the chapati down. It should start puffing up. Then press down gently in the middle; it should inflate into a ball.

6. Remove from the griddle. Serve hot off the griddle or stack them, buttered if you like, and wrap in a thick dry cloth napkin or kitchen towel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Cream of Broccoli (Contra Costa Times, 09/12/2007)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons long-grain rice

11/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, heated

1/4 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

2 cups fresh broccoli florets

1. In a soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the rice, hot stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

3. Stir in the broccoli and return to a boil. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes.

4. Let the soup cool slightly, then puree in a food processor or blender. Add a little extra stock or water if the soup is too thick for your taste.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Sweet Potato Chocolate Cake (Contra Costa Times, 09/12/2007)

Makes 1 9-inch round cake; serves 6-8


1 sweet potato

11/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream

11/2 cups confectioners' sugar

11/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon milk or sour cream to soften

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan.

2. Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1-inch chunks. Boil in a pot with just enough water to cover until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, mash with a fork and let cool.

3. Into a bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, vanilla and 2/3 cup of the cooled sweet potato until well-blended.

5. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the oil while slowly adding the sugar. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and continue beating for five minutes.

6. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the sweet potato mixture followed by the flour mixture.

7. Pour the batter into the cake pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire cooling rack.

8. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. In a medium bowl with an electric hand mixer, beat the butter and sour cream. Mix in the sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Beat until smooth 3-4 minutes. Add a little milk or sour cream to adjust the consistency if necessary.

9. Cover the top of the cooled caked with the frosting.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


An Aleppo-style Rosh Hashana, fragrant with cinnamon and spice: Poopa Dweck's new book, "Aromas of Aleppo," offers transporting recipes that take you through the holidays and beyond. (Charles Perry, September 12, 2007, Los Angeles Times)

On Rosh Hashana, Ashkenazi Jews dip apple slices in honey for a "sweet New Year." The Aleppine Jews -- whose ancestors were prominent residents of Aleppo, Syria, for many centuries -- may eat scarlet candied quinces instead, or even translucent shreds of candied spaghetti squash.

That's just the beginning of the unexpected quality of their cuisine. Its roots go back many centuries, and the dishes have both rich historical resonance and a remarkable originality. The rest of an Aleppine Rosh Hashana meal might be leek fritters, spicy tomato soup with kibbeh meatballs, stuffed baby artichokes, Swiss chard with chickpeas and a luscious braised breast of veal.

When you get away from the holidays, the really unfamiliar dishes appear. Okra with prunes, apricots and tamarind. Chicken roasted with spaghetti until it starts to crisp. Eggs scrambled with rhubarb.

But scarcely anything had been written about this distinctive school of cooking before Poopa Dweck's "Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 AM


What can be done to halt the extinction rate of life on earth? (Daily Telegraph)

Planet earth's plants and animals are hurtling towards extinction at an unprecedented rate because of the impact of humans on fragile ecosystems, the World Conservation Union has warned.

One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70 per cent of the world's assessed plants now appear on the widely-recognised Red List of endangered plants and animals.

Human activity causing loss of habitat through urbanisation, agriculture and deforestation combined with climate change are cited as the biggest threat to plants and animals.

What can be done to halt the extinction of so many species?

As the movement declines from mere error to outright slapstick, there's nothing funnier than the adherents' insistence that Man intervene to stop evolution.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


How Poor Are America's Poor? Examining the "Plague" of Poverty in America (Robert E. Rector, 8/28/07, Heritage Foundation)

The following are facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau, taken from various gov­ernment reports:

* Forty-three percent of all poor households actu­ally own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

* Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, in 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

* Only 6 percent of poor households are over­crowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

* The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

* Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 31 percent own two or more cars.

* Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

* Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

* Eighty-nine percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and more than a third have an automatic dishwasher.

As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consump­tion of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher-income children and have average protein intakes 100 percent above recommended levels. Most poor children today are, in fact, supernour­ished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

While the poor are generally well nourished, some poor families do experience temporary food shortages. But even this condition is relatively rare; 89 percent of the poor report their families have "enough" food to eat, while only 2 percent say they "often" do not have enough to eat.

Overall, the typical American defined as poor by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrig­erator, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a microwave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had suf­ficient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.

Of course, the living conditions of the average poor American should not be taken as representing all the poor. There is actually a wide range in living conditions among the poor. For example, a third of poor households have both cellular and landline telephones. A third also have telephone answering machines. At the other extreme, however, approxi­mately one-tenth have no phone at all. Similarly, while the majority of poor households do not expe­rience significant material problems, roughly 30 percent do experience at least one problem such as overcrowding, temporary hunger, or difficulty get­ting medical care.

The remaining poverty in the U.S. can be reduced further, particularly poverty among chil­dren. There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don't work much, and fathers are absent from the home.

In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year—the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year— nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.

Father absence is another major cause of child poverty. Nearly two-thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.5 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost three-quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.

...marriage and 80 hours of work a week. Thus is modern poverty almost completely volitional (except for the deranged).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


From radical Islam leader to disillusioned ex-prisoner (Jane Perlez, September 12, 2007, NY Times)

For four years, Maajid Nawaz, a British Pakistani university student, was imprisoned in Egypt, enduring months of solitary confinement and the screams of those being tortured.

Nawaz left Britain on his fateful trip to Egypt on Sept. 10, 2001, for a year abroad to study Arabic. In April 2002, he was charged and sentenced by the Egyptians for spreading the beliefs of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group that is legal in Britain but banned in Egypt and other countries because it calls for the overthrow of governments in the Muslim world.

Now, more than a year after his return to Britain, Nawaz, 29, has defected from Hizb ut-Tahrir, saying that he learned from scholars he met in jail that the ideology he so fervently espoused runs counter to the true meaning of his religion. [...]

[F]or the past year, he has felt nothing but regret, he said in an interview with The New York Times in a Bayswater Road coffee shop on Tuesday before his BBC appearance.

"I gave talks in Pakistan, Britain and Denmark," he said.

"Wherever I've been I've left people who joined Hizb ut-Tahrir. I have to make amends. What I did was damaging to British society and the world at large." [...]

"I say I haven't lost my religion," he said. "I've lost my ideology."

September 11, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


Board: Charter school can teach Hebrew (MATT SEDENSKY, 9/11/07, Associated Press)

A charter school may resume teaching in Hebrew, three weeks after the lessons were halted over concerns the Jewish faith was seeping into public classrooms, the school board voted Tuesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


Guinness 'may be good for you' after all (Bonnie Malkin, 11/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

The old slogan “Guinness is Good For You” may actually be true, according to new medical research that suggests the stout may help prevent heart attacks.

University researchers in the US claim that drinking a pint of the black stuff each day may be as effective in preventing heart attacks as an aspirin because it can reduce heart clots. [...]

The research concluded that the “antioxidant compounds” found in Guinness are similar to those found in certain fruits and vegetables, making the stout work as well as aspirin in the prevention of heart clots.

The researchers said that the most benefit they saw was from taking 24 fluid ounces of Guinness - just over a pint - at meal times.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:57 PM


MoveOn's McCarthy moment (Peter D. Feaver, September 11, 2007, Boston Globe)

We may be about to witness a McCarthy-Army-Welch moment in the debate over Iraq. This time, the role of McCarthy is played by, a liberal political group that launched its own attack on a respected US Army figure. In yesterday's New York Times, the day that General David Petraeus would give his long-awaited, congressionally mandated report on his military activities in Iraq, ran a full-page advertisement that accused Petraeus of activities befitting a traitor. The advertisement alleges, without evidence, that Petraeus is not going to give his honest, professional assessment of the situation in Iraq but instead will be "cooking the books" to curry favor with the Bush White House. The heart of the advertisement is a juvenile pun on Petraeus's name: General Betray Us?

The ad is vicious, and would garner comment even if it were merely one more primal scream in the coarse blogosphere debate over Iraq. But it is not an angry e-mail or blog entry. It is a deliberate attack on the senior Army commander, in a major daily newspaper, with the intention of destroying as much of his credibility as possible so that his military advice could be more easily rejected by antiwar members of Congress.

The attack was part of an elaborate effort to undermine public support for the Iraq war, and was foreshadowed by an unnamed Democratic senator who told a reporter, "No one wants to call [Petraeus] a liar on national TV . . . The expectation is that the outside groups will do this for us." The effort is funded by powerful special interests, and has all the trappings of a major political campaign.

Petraeus Backs Initial Pullout (Peter Baker and Jonathan Weisman, 9/11/07, Washington Post)
Michael Lerner, an antiwar rabbi, posted on the Internet the transcript of an Aug. 29 conference call with Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) in which Woolsey called on activists to target "the moderate Democrats who are holding up the whole thing," even endorsing primary challenges. "I'd hate to lose the majority, but I'm telling you," she said, "if we don't stand up to our responsibility, maybe that's the lesson to be learned."

Amid division, some Democratic leaders appeared glum. [...]

War opponents have assailed him as a shill for the White House, with the liberal group even taking out a full-page advertisement in the New York Times dubbing him "General Betray Us" and accusing him of "cooking the books." Some analysts have debated the methodology of statistics used to report decreasing violence in Iraq.

A succession of protesters likewise made their antipathy for the general known at various points during the six-hour hearing. "How can you thank him for his service when we're slaughtering Iraqi civilians?" one woman shouted. An irked Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the Armed Services Committee chairman, who ran the hearing, had disrupters removed and arrested.

One after the other, Republicans leapt to Petraeus's defense and called on Democrats to renounce [...]

Democrats, appearing defensive because of the attack on Petraeus, treated him respectfully throughout the hearing.

Given the manner in which Moveon-types consistently do themselves such self-harm as to indicate they are Rovebots, what the Democrats could really use is a blade runner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Victory for Britain's metric martyrs as Eurocrats give up the fight (BENEDICT BROGAN and PAUL SIMS, 11th September 2007, Daily Mail)

Brussels will today give up the fight to make Britain drop pints, pounds and miles.

The right of Britons to use imperial weights and measures will be enshrined in EU law under plans being announced by the European Commission.

Traditional measures will remain legal "until Kingdom come", the Commissioner responsible for the move told the Daily Mail last night.

No issue better captures the resistance of the Anglosphere to the Enlightenment than the defense of traditional and human measurements against rational, intellectual, bureaucratic replacements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Theology Is Stranger Than Fiction: The best film you didn't see last year (Sharon Baker and Crystal Downing, September/October 2007, Books & Culture)

Stranger Than Fiction builds upon an experience reported by many novelists, in which fictional protagonists start taking on lives of their own, behaving in ways that their authors did not originally intend. When Dorothy L. Sayers was asked, in 1936, to explain how she invented her famous fictional detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, she described him as independent from her control almost from the start: "My impression is that I was thinking about writing a detective story, and that he walked in, complete with spats, and applied in an airy don't-care-if-I-get-it way for the job of hero." Tired of his "breeziness" after four novels, she developed "the infanticidal intention of doing away with Peter, that is, of marrying him off and getting rid of him." However, once she created a woman worthy of him, she couldn't follow through with her plan, believing that her new female protagonist deserved a man better than Peter, necessitating five more novels to make him worthy of her.

Stranger Than Fiction is also about an author with infanticidal intentions. Kay Eiffel (played by a stupendous Emma Thompson) is a novelist who always kills off her protagonists. In her current project, Death and Taxes, she plans to do away with an IRS agent named Harold Crick. Problematically, this protagonist (played by Ferrell) overhears her plan.

Of course, we don't know this when the film begins with a voiceover: "This is a story about a man named Harold Crick … and his wristwatch." We soon discover that temporal and mathematical precision seem to control Harold's life—down to the way he counts brushstrokes while cleaning his teeth. In fact, all the characters and the streets in the film are named after famous mathematicians, as though to signal the predictable arithmetic that defines Harold's world.

Not too far into this provocative film, however, we begin to wonder who exactly controls Harold's life: Harold, who programs his watch and obsessively counts all his footsteps, or the narrator, who tells his story? Harold wonders the same thing when he starts to hear the voiceover that we have been hearing—a narration that breaks the convention of film by breaking into his life. We, like Harold, are forced to ask some questions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Bin Laden takes liberties with contents of Guardian video (Ed Pilkington, September 11, 2007, Guardian)

To the long list of crimes committed by Osama bin Laden a new one can now be added: manipulation of the media. In his latest video address, released last Friday, the al-Qaida leader refers to a film made by the Guardian in Iraq and misquotes the contents of the documentary to suit his own dramatic effect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 AM


Lord of War is captured in his underpants (Times of London, 9/11/07)

He was nicknamed the Lord of War, a ruthless Colombian cocaine baron blamed for the death of 1,500 people. His photo appeared alongside Osama bin Laden in the FBI Top 10 Most Wanted.

But yesterday morning Diego Montoya was in plastic handcuffs, after soldiers found him cowering behind a bush dressed only in his T-shirt and underpants.

"I lost," was said to be the laconic comment of one of the world's most wanted drug traffickers.

Montoya was captured by an elite army unit during a pre-dawn raid on a farm where his mother and uncle were staying, in Valle del Cauca province.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


The Man of Steel and the Iron Lady (Janet Albrechtsen, September 12, 2007, The Australian)

[F]or those with an eye to history, the similarities with Thatcher are both dazzling and haunting. Thatcher was the Iron Lady, after all. Howard is our own Man of Steel.

In the late 1970s Britain was described by a Russian trade minister as the sick man of Europe. Trading with Britain was unreliable, the country was too often on strike and goods went undelivered.

As her loyal chancellor of the exchequer Geoffrey Howe would remark, Thatcher dragged Britain out of the "last chance saloon", taking on the unions, the opponents of privatisation and the zealous supporters of welfare. She forced the country to embrace capitalism and free market reforms that allowed Britain to prosper. She took the nation to war in the Falklands and won.

She confronted communism - the great 20th century battle of ideas - and together with Ronald Reagan, won. And yet, by 1990, an ungrateful nation had turned on her.

The Howard Government inherited a country that was in debt to the tune of $96 billion. Net debt today? Zero. Real wages up by 21.5 per cent. Unemployment at 33-year lows. More than two million new jobs. Taxes reduced every year since 2003. Inflation is half that under Labor. And now an ungrateful nation appears to have turned against Howard.

Both Thatcher and Howard were the dominant conservative conviction politicians of their time, challenging entrenched orthodoxies, unwavering in their belief in the power of capitalism and the individual. They challenged political correctness long before it was fashionable to do so.

Both argued for a more balanced teaching of their nation's history. They rebuilt their conservative parties, winning election after election after election, emerging with an increased sense of invincibility. And after 11 1/2 years in the top job both began to look like great leaders from the past, rather than inspiring leaders for the future.

The real test of John Howard's influence will be whether the first government of the opposition to follow him governs as he did, the way that Bill Clinton was essentially a Reaganaut and Tony Blair a Thatcherite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Sarkozy faces unions (The Scotsman, 9/11/07)

Militant leaders yesterday warned of a "major social conflict" if his conservative government goes ahead with its pledge to cut generous pension rights enjoyed by many public-sector workers.

Such a conflict is what France desperately needs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Crimes against wild birds go up (BBC, 9/11/07)

Crimes against wild birds in the UK increased by more than 50% last year, a leading wildlife charity has reported.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said there were 1,109 incidents in 2006, up from 726 in 2005.

Its Birdcrime report says threatened species suffered shooting, poisoning, trapping and nest destruction.

Can't you just picture Al Gore rocking back and forth, banging his head on a wall, and muttering: "I swear it's the DDT...I swear it's the DDT...I swear..."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Ascension of Big East Appears To Be No Fluke (RUSSELL LEVINE, September 11, 2007, NY Sun)

The conference's recent history reads like the rising of the phoenix. It lost three marquee programs, Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech, in 2004 and 2005. Yet today, the Big East is a better overall league than the ACC to which those three schools bolted.

Rutgers's climb to join West Virginia and Louisville in the ranks of the national elite gave the conference some much-needed credibility last season. A nation's best 5-0 mark in bowl games brought even more. The ability of West Virginia and Rutgers to keep their coaches from departing for higher-profile programs this winter sent a message about those schools' longterm commitment to football.

But even the architect of the Big East's resurgence, commissioner Mike Tranghese, knows that only depth can bring his conference the respect of the type the SEC is afforded. Tranghese had to be smiling when South Florida managed to beat Louisville and West Virginia the past two seasons. Those losses hurt the title chances of the conference's marquee teams, but they also proved that the league as a whole was getting better.

Last weekend brought even more good news for the Big East. South Florida staged its most noteworthy upset, winning at Auburn in overtime. It was the second time the Big East has stung the SEC in recent seasons, following West Virginia's upset of Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl.

It used to be harder to be the 2nd best conference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Symbol of hope in Muslim world (Mona Charen, September 11, 2007, Washington Times)

Ahmad Dhani, Indonesia's counterpart to Justin Timberlake, has called his song ("Warriors of Love") a "musical fatwa against religious extremism and violence." The lyrics are derived from the Koran and Hadith. (Sample: "If hatred has already poisoned you/Against those... who worship differently/ Then evil has already gripped your soul/ Then evil's got you in its damning embrace.")

Mr. Dhani is a soldier in the culture war within Islam. With 190 million people, Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country — but its religious culture is far more tolerant and humane than that of Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim lands.

A former president of Indonesia, H.E. Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid (popularly known as Gus Dur) has co-founded an organization, LibforAll (, that aims to contend with the radical Islamists on the extremists' own chosen turf — the true meaning of Islam. Gus Dur denies normative Islam is the faith of the torturers and suicide bombers, of the Taliban and al Qaeda, and of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He finds within Muslim sources the ideas of tolerance, respect for others and humility. Islam is meant to be a "blessing for all the world," he reminds his listeners.

September 10, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


Poll: Giuliani Tumbles, GOP Race Tightens (CBS, 9/10/07)

Rudy Giuliani, after holding the front-runner spot in the race for the Republican presidential nomination for months, has seen his lead nearly evaporate with the entry of former senator and TV star Fred Thompson into the race, a new CBS News/New York Times poll finds.

The poll contains other foreboding signs for the former New York City mayor as well, including indications that Republican primary voters may not buy his argument that running America’s biggest city makes Giuliani fit to occupy the White House.

After seeing his support among Republican primary voters rise to 38 percent in August, Giuliani was backed by only 27 percent of respondents in the most recent survey, narrowing his lead over Thompson to 5 percentage points after holding a 20-point edge last month.

While Thompson, at 22 percent support, is now a close second to Giuliani, he was not the only Republican to seemingly benefit from Giuliani’s fading numbers. Arizona Sen. John McCain, who was written off by some after months of staff upheaval and disappointing fundraising, saw his support increase 6 points since the last survey to 18 percent.

There was never any chance that the Mayor and Mitt could withstand Republican primary voters finding out who they are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 PM


Ian Rankin: Why Rebus could return: After 20 years, the tough Edinburgh detective is about to retire. But his creator Ian Rankin tells Stuart Kelly that might not be the end of the story (Stuart Kelly, 11/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

"The traditional English crime novel is very close to the pastoral, very close to Shakespearean pastoral, where you've got mistaken identities, people running around not knowing what's going on, everything gets chaotic and in the end order is restored. And even the American crime novel, the hardboiled PI novel, comes from a tradition that's basically the Grail Myth."

Nevertheless, he eloquently points out how writers such as P D James and Ruth Rendell have responded to life's "messiness" in creative ways.

His situates his own work accordingly: "The interest in it for me is that the crime novel can be about contemporary urban existence and the problems that exist in the real world, whether it's problems with asylum seekers, drugs, prostitution, people's fears, political shenanigans, corporate mismanagement, all these things. We're taking about the what-ifs".

Will Rebus return? At the start of the interview, Rankin says that he's "not 100 per cent sure" he'll do another Rebus novel. Later, he clarifies this position. "It would depend on two things. Does the theme and the plot need these characters, and do I still have anything interesting to say about Rebus? Are there still parts of his character that I want to explore? I get the feeling in the back of my mind that there's still quite a lot I don't know about him."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


Osama's Vision of the Future: The real message of Bin Laden's bizarre video rant. (Anne Applebaum, Sept. 10, 2007, Slate)

And now, ladies and gentlemen, time for a quiz. Three guesses as to who said this:

And Iraq and Afghanistan and their tragedies; and the reeling of many of you under the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes; and the abject poverty and tragic hunger in Africa; all of this is but one side of the grim face of this global system.

Dennis Kucinich? Naomi "No Logo" Klein? Daniel "Dany the Red" Cohn-Bendit? If you guessed "none of the above," you are either an astute observer of the anti-globalization movement, or you have already read a transcript of Osama Bin Laden's latest video production. If so, you will also know that Bin Laden, after denouncing the "capitalist system," which "seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations," calls for Americans to convert to Islam because, among other things, taxes are lower in Islamic states. It's a genuinely bizarre, almost ridiculous document—and before it is forgotten in the coming debate on Gen. David Petraeus' Iraq report, it's worth spending a few minutes, on the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11, trying to understand what it might mean.

Oughtn't we spend a couple minutes on the fact the ridiculous ranting is indistinguishable from standard "progressive" cant?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Congress' shift on trade (ANDRES OPPENHEIMER, 9/09/07,

Wow! All of a sudden, it looks like the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress will approve pending free-trade agreements with Peru, Panama and -- who knows -- perhaps even Colombia.

If you ask me, Venezuela's narcissist-Leninist leader Hugo Chávez deserves the biggest credit for the congressional U-turn. [...]

[N]ew reports about Chávez's petro-dollar diplomacy -- more than $8 billion in pledges to the region so far this year -- is probably just as big a factor, as it should. At a time when Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua are openly building an anti-American bloc with outside allies such as Iran, many in Washington are no longer looking the other way. Thanks, Hugo!

If the reversed votes are a function of dollar diplomacy it's more likely because corporate interests here are buying them. Which is terrific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:23 PM


Poll shows religion can sway votes for president (AP, September 10, 2007)

One in 4 people in the United States said in a recent poll that they would be less likely to support a presidential candidate who is Mormon, an ominous sign for Republican contender Mitt Romney.

Yet the survey found two groups, atheists and Muslims, were even less likely to win votes.

Sixty-one percent of those questioned said they would be less likely to support a presidential candidate who did not believe in God. Forty-five percent said the same regarding a Muslim contender.

Which is why neither Mitt nor the Mayor can win the nomination.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Muddling militants (The Ottawa Citizen, September 10, 2007)

The absence of Islamist terror attacks in the West, post 9/11, is puzzling. True, we had the transit bombings in London and Madrid, but the body count has been lower than many expected, considering the countless number of "soft" targets available in North America and Europe.

One theory is that al-Qaeda and its affiliates are biding their time, waiting to score a spectacular mass-casualty attack rather than hitting lesser targets on a more frequent basis. A competing theory is that counterterrorism agents are in top form and thus have been able to avert many attacks. A third theory is that the radicals are tied up in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

The arrest last week in Germany of one Fritz Gelowicz, a 28-year-old convert to Islam, suggests another explanation: It could just be that would-be Islamists operating in the West are too socially and intellectually unstable to accomplish their violent goals.

It may seem an odd way to think about it, but consider the possibility that Ramzi Yousef and Mohammed Atta just happened to be, for lack of a better word, geniuses. If true, this would have a few implications. For one thing, it would seem unlikely that geniuses in the field of terrorism are any more common than in any of Man's various other areas of endeavor -- there's arguably reason to suppose them less common -- so it may be that the "success" of al Qaeda is largely dependent on a rather limited resource, Indeed, such geniuses are a vanishing resource, given that we caught the one and the other had to kill himself in order for his plan to work. This does not mean that terrorism isn't a threat, just that it could prove to be so inherently limited a threat that truly spectacular attacks, like those on the WTC, will be rare enough that we can learn to deal with them with some degree of equanimity.

The sorts of attacks that would be truly disruptive and terrorizing for American society would be something like a wave of individual suicide bombers as the Palestinians unleashed on Israel several years ago and the Tamils used in India. That al Qaeda has not been able to mount such attacks is suggestive too. The failure, for instance, jibes with the notion that the bombers in such cases are generally drawn from populations that consider themselves to be occupied by the target of the attacks and, to the extent that they have coherent political objectives, are attempting to get the neighboring power to withdraw its military forces. If this is accurate, both our lack of any Israel/Palestine-style territorial disputes and our physical distance from even the territories where we do have forces stationed appear to make it hard for terrorist organizations to recruit and launch such bombers.

Important as it is then to keep our guard up, a realistic assessment of how great a danger we face from al Qaeda going forward might return the unexpected answer: not particularly much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Confronting His Monster (GROVER NORQUIST, September 10, 2007, NY Sun)

In 1999, Mr. Rangel voted against repealing the AMT beast and slaying it forever. Had that bill become law, the AMT would have been permanently repealed on December 31, 2007 — this year. Instead, Mr. Rangel is forced to deal with a monster of his own creation. The monster has gotten hungry. According to official estimates, failure to restrain the AMT will lead to 27 million taxpayers having to pay this tax. A tax that would be dead, gone and buried this year if not for President Clinton and Mr. Rangel.

The irony is almost poetic. The typical AMT taxpayer lives in a state like Mr. Rangel's New York, Nancy Pelosi's California, and Robert Menendez's New Jersey. They have a jumbo mortgage, sky-high state income taxes, a couple of kids, and a six-figure income. For the most part, these are the inner-suburb-and-urbanite, center-left voters who supported the AMT authors in the first place. It is unlikely that there is a thousand dollar contributor who is not paying the AMT.

Now there is considerable pressure on Mr. Rangel to help these constituents. So, he has been supporting a plan to eliminate the AMT — and raise taxes on everyone else to pay for it. Under the Rangel plan, small businesses and wealthy individuals would pay a "surtax," everyone would pay a higher capital gains rate, and everyone's pension would be taxed in the form of treating "carried interest" capital gains from private equity funds, which defined benefit pension plans increasingly use, as ordinary income. [...]

There is a better way. Senator Grassley, the ranking member on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, has a good way of describing the AMT: It's a mistake. It is not doing what it was intended to do. Instead, thanks to proper care and feeding by zookeepers, the AMT beast is threatening to ensnare tens of millions of American families.

To paraphrase Mr. Grassley, "you don't ‘fix' a mistake, or ‘patch' a mistake — you correct the mistake." In this case, that means a clean kill of the AMT. Revenue losses shouldn't be counted, since the AMT mistake is yielding a windfall of income never intended by policymakers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Confronting ‘The Israel Lobby' (SETH GITELL, September 10, 2007, NY Sun)

[T]he national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, whose new book, "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control," attempts to counter the allegations and claims, errors and hyperbole of "the Israel Lobby" set. Mr. Foxman, who spent his early years in Vilna, Lithuania, hiding from the Nazis with his Roman Catholic nanny, is challenging calumnies that many believed to have been eradicated from polite discussion in America and elsewhere around the world. The book contains highly detailed and well-sourced refutations of the charges of Messrs. Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer, as well as a new account of his involvement in last year's controversy surrounding a speech of historian Tony Judt, from whom Mr. Foxman is demanding an apology for being called a "fascist." The book also contains a powerful foreword by George Shultz, a secretary of state in the Reagan administration.

"A classic anti-Semitic canard about Jews, having disproportionate power and control, that Jews only care about themselves, has now been brought into mainstream America. Until recently these anti-Semitic canards were on the fringes of American society," Mr. Foxman, who at age 67 has helmed the ADL for two decades, told The New York Sun in an interview. "With the advent of the Mearsheimer-Walt article a year ago, aided and abetted by former President Carter, the issue as to whether Jews are loyal, whether Jews control, whether Jews put their interests above everybody else's interest, is now an issue of debate in mainstream circles. That is insidious, sinister, and dangerous." [...]

"The Deadliest Lies," which Mr. Foxman hopes will find its way onto academic reading lists that include the books addressed in his account, provides a litany of errors and illogicalities in the works it disputes. Among the offenses: the "denigration" by Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer of Israel's offer to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000; their "minimization" of Palestinian-Arab terror attacks on Israeli civilians; their account of the demise of Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, the only politician they believe was forced out of office by the "Lobby," in an electoral defeat that Mr. Foxman attributes instead to the power of Chicago's Democratic machine; and numerous examples, omitted from the work of Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer, of American administrations acting in opposition to Israel and its advocates.

Regarding Mr. Carter, Mr. Foxman quotes Kenneth Stein, a former aide to the president, to dispute the former president's assertion that Menachem Begin ever made any commitment during Camp David discussions on settlements in the West Bank, and certainly none involving stopping their growth.

Mr. Shultz goes even further in refuting the idea that any "Israel Lobby" dictates American foreign policy, enumerating America's sale of arms to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan administration and recounting Reagan's decision to visit the Bitburg cemetery. He also cautions against scapegoating. "When we make a wrong decision – even one that is recommended by Israel and supported by American Jewish groups – it is our decision, and one for which we alone are responsible," Mr. Shultz writes. "We act in our own interest. And when we mistakenly conclude from time to time – as we will – that an action or policy is in America's interest, we must take responsibility for the mistake."

In addition to addressing the arguments in a point-by-point fashion, Mr. Foxman's book identifies a possible agenda behind the work of Messrs. Waltand Mearsheimer. "Their goal is to identify and target a scapegoat for what they consider the mistaken decision to invade Iraq," Mr. Foxman writes. "And that scapegoat, unsurprisingly is the Lobby, which, according to Mearsheimer and Walt, drove America into war not to serve the best interests of the United States but to serve their true homeland, Israel."

Because, after all, if my government doesn't agree with me then democracy has failed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Al-Qaida criticizes Hamas (OMAR SINAN, 9/09/07, Associated Press)

An al-Qaida commander who escaped from a U.S. prison in Afghanistan appeared in a new videotape Sunday criticizing Hamas and other Islamic groups that he said prioritized nationalism and electoral politics over jihad, or holy war.

Hamas is focused on the creation of an independent Palestinian state rather than al-Qaida's vision of a worldwide Muslim community ruled by Islamic law. [...]

"We caution some of the Islamic groups, among them Hamas, which are risking the bloods of their sons ... to cleanse and purify their jihad of contemporary jihadi pollutants," said Abu Yahia al-Libi in the 90-minute videotape.

"Patriotism, nationalism, shared unity, the supreme interest and other slogans ... none of these have any space in the religion of Allah the Glorious and the Great," he said, criticizing groups such as Hamas for "abandoning jihad and jumping into the ballot boxes."

They understand that the election of Hamas was a defeat for Islamicism, even if the Administration doesn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


His Toughness Problem—and Ours: a review of World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism
by Norman Podhoretz (Ian Buruma, 9/27/07, NY Review of Books)

In his latest book, Podhoretz refers to the "Vietnam syndrome" as an example of "neo-isolationism" and "pacifist sentiment" that are supposedly rife in "the elite institutions of American culture." [...]

I myself was opposed to the war... [...]

Long before September 11 there were good reasons for wishing to get rid of Saddam Hussein. He was a mass murderer of his own Kurdish and Shiite citizens, as well as a brutal oppressor of all other Iraqis. This was sufficient reason for people with impeccable democratic credentials, such as Václav Havel, Kanan Makiya, and Adam Michnik, to support a war that would topple him.

So what else are we supposed to call folks like Mr. Buruma, who oppose our replacing genocidal tyrants, but isolationist?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:15 AM


The Pavarotti of Pop (WILL FRIEDWALD, September 10, 2007, NY Sun)

At 81, Tony Bennett — the Pavarotti of Pop — has become an icon of everything that's worth preserving in 20th-century musical culture, living proof that one man can dream the impossible dream, take a stand against the barbarians and philistines, and walk through a storm with his head held high. Yet I have to admit that this is the last thing in the world I am thinking about when I listen to Tony Bennett sing: When he is performing, as he did on Saturday night in the first of two concerts at Radio City Music Hall, it's impossible to keep your mind on anything but the music itself and the message that he's flawlessly communicating.

In 2006, Mr. Bennett was the subject of universal media attention because of his 80th birthday as well as a highly successful retrospective album of duets with contemporary stars. In 2007, he has done even better with a limitededition boxed set of 13 classic albums, a new Christmas DVD, a new documentary to be aired Wednesday on PBS's "American Masters" (produced by Clint Eastwood), a new single-disc collection of standards drawn from his vast catalog called "The Ultimate American Songbook," a new book of his paintings, and, quietly, getting married a month before his 81st birthday.

As he showed on Saturday night, Mr. Bennett has set the bar so impossibly high that his only competition is himself: Every time you leave a Tony Bennett performance, you have to be thinking to yourself that this is the absolutely greatest performance of his you've ever seen, or he hasn't done his job.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Lebanon's Agony (Max Rodenbeck, 6/28/07, NY Review of Books)

Take the assassination of Riad Solh. Lebanese schoolbooks describe the Sunni leader at the time of Lebanon's independence from France in 1943 as a national hero. It is true that the National Pact of that year, a founding document of the new nation, owed much to a practical meeting of minds between Solh, by inclination a pan-Arab nationalist, and Bishara Khoury, a Maronite Catholic leader who advocated a more Mediterranean-oriented, Christian-flavored Lebanese republic. Their alliance was institutionalized by the fixing of a 6–5 Christian–Muslim ratio of parliamentary seats, and a division of key powers between a Maronite president (Khoury was the first) and a Sunni prime minister. Other sects, it was understood, would have their share at every rank in government, including the cabinet, under a system known as muhasasa, or apportionment.

That deal brought three decades of uneasy calm and rapidly rising prosperity as Lebanon—an island of relative democratic liberty amid a sea of coup-prone dictatorships—attracted capital and talent from across the region. Yet the ideological seam of Arabism versus Lebanese particularism eventually pulled apart. From the beginning, too, the distribution of powers among Sunnis and Christians chafed what was then the country's third-largest confessional group, the largely rural and marginalized Shia, for whom the topmost allotted post was speaker of parliament. It also annoyed the fourth-largest sect, the Greek Orthodox. Many were attracted to the quixotic vision of Antoun Saadeh, who founded a radically secular and socialist party that sought to incorporate Lebanon within a Greater Syria, along with Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and Kuwait. [...]

But the hardest crack to repair, and the easiest for Syria to exploit, grew out of Hezbollah, and particularly the party's adamant insistence on retaining its growing stock of arms. The Security Council demanded disarmament of all "militias," and most Lebanese would have liked to see Hezbollah tamed. But in a speech in May 2005 the party's soft-spoken and charismatic leader, Hassan Nasrallah, ominously declared that he would "cut off any hand that reaches out to our weapons."

The Shia party's fierce attachment to the notion of perpetual "resistance" sprang partly from its origins in the darkest years of the civil war, when the impoverished Shia suffered more than other sects both because they had no militia, at first, to protect them, and also because they happened to lie in the path of Israel's frequent forays into South Lebanon. There was a strong ideological element, too, as Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah's icy second-in-command and chief intellectual, makes clear in Hizbullah: The Story from Within, his own history of the group.

Qassem exalts the culture of martyrdom in almost fetishistic terms, citing a willingness to die as the ultimate weapon of the weak against the strong. Resistance to Israeli and Western plots to control the region, he declares, should be consecrated as "the foundation block for a society of forbearance that prides itself on its achievements and sacrifices, strengthening such resistance further and responding to it."

This is, in fact, the kind of Spartan society that Hezbollah has created in the zones under its control, which include large swathes of southern Lebanon, the eastern Bekaa Valley, and Beirut's densely populated southern suburbs. Built around a tight network of party-provided services, including television and radio, schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other charities, it is an almost exclusively Shia world. The only element that provides wider appeal, for fellow Arabs and Muslims, is Hezbollah's determination to fight Israel to the bitter end. Hence, again, the attachment to arms, and the impetus to continue attacking Israel even after its abandonment of Lebanese territory.

It is for this reason, too, that Iran remains so closely linked to the protégé that it helped create in the 1980s. As a revolutionary regime that seeks to universalize its ideology, Shia Iran has used Hezbollah's appeal as a successful fighting force to enhance its own legitimacy among Sunnis, who make up 85 percent of the world's Muslims. With the government in Tehran apparently captured by hard-line ideologues following the election victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August 2005, and with Iran facing growing hostility from the West, the usefulness of Hezbollah has only grown.

The facts that Iran and Syria have been allies since the early 1980s and that both supply Hezbollah with arms are obvious reasons for the group to align itself, in local Lebanese politics, with pro-Syrian forces. But there is a broader rationale, as Qassem argues. Lebanon can never be neutral, he asserts. Its geography and politics impose two alternatives, allegiance either to Syria or to Israel. "It is natural of us to choose the former," he concludes.

Once you topple the Ba'ath in Syria and recognize South Lebanon as a separate state, they'll be loyal to themselves.

September 9, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


Bin laden 'virtually impotent' (Press Association, Sep 9, 2007)

Osama bin Laden is "virtually impotent" and does not appear to be triggering a new attack against the US despite the release of a videotape with his first message in a year, President George W Bush's homeland security adviser has said.

"This is about the best he can do," Frances Fragos Townsend said about the fugitive al Qaida leader whose terrorist network is believed to be regrouping in the lawless Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.

"This is a man on a run, from a cave, who's virtually impotent other than these tapes," she said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:08 PM


Taiwan Leader Riles China, U.S. (PETER ENAV, 9/09/07, AP)

With a deafening roar, eight Mirage fighter jets shoot upward from the darkened runway at Taiwan's Hsinchu Air Force Base, armed with a deadly array of missiles and a mission to knock out incoming Chinese warplanes.

It's only a simulation, of course, but the tensions are always real, and lately have ratcheted up over an ambitious political gambit by Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian that has rattled both China and the U.S., Taiwan's closest ally.

At issue is Chen's plan for a public referendum next year on Taiwan seeking entry to the United Nations. Beijing views the referendum as a direct challenge to its claim that Taiwan is part of China.

No one expects war anytime soon, but Chen's move worries U.S. officials enough that they have publicly criticized it.

...they ought to rattle us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Iran Denies Plans to Build Atomic Bomb (NASSER KARIMI, 9/09/07, Associated Press)

Iran's supreme leader on Sunday denied his country had any plans to build atomic weapons, but the president insisted the nuclear program itself was not negotiable.

Speaking to an audience of Revolutionary Guards, the elite military unit that answers directly to him, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a rare direct statement that Iran is not interested in nuclear weapons.

"While the Iranian nation has no atomic bomb and has no plans to create this deadly weapon, it is still a respected nation" for its spiritual and revolutionary values, he told the Guards whose leader he had just replaced.

Iranian Public Ready to Deal on Nuclear Weapons, But Not Uranium Enrichment (World Public Opinion)
A new poll by sponsored by Terror Free Tomorrow and conducted by D3 Systems shows that a slight majority of Iranians (52%) believe their country should develop nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, overwhelming majorities support a deal under which Iran would provide “full inspections and a guarantee not to develop or possess nuclear weapons” in exchange for incentives, including:

• trade and capital investment overall to create more jobs (favored by 80%)
• trade and capital investment in energy refineries to lower the price of gasoline (79%)
• medical, education and humanitarian assistance to Iranian people in need (80%)
• technological assistance for developing peaceful nuclear energy (80%)

A slight majority (51%) would also be willing to offer “full transparency by Iran to assure there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess nuclear weapons” as part of a process of normalizing relations with the United States.

Iranians are not ready to negotiate away their nuclear energy program, however. In the Terror Free Tomorrow (TFT) poll an extraordinarily high 92 percent approves (78% strongly) of Iran’s effort to develop nuclear energy.

Iran says Russia committed to finishing nuclear plant (AFP, 9/07/07)
Iran said on Thursday that Russia remains committed to completing construction of its first nuclear power plant, despite strings of delays and setbacks, state media reported.

"During our latest discussion, Russian officials assured us that they are committed to completing this power plant," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying by the state broadcaster's website.

"We will emphasise this in next month's visit by (President Vladimir) Putin to Tehran," he added without elaborating.

Alleged Israeli flyover of Syria raising questions (Laurie Copans, 9/08/07, Associated Press)
Israel's air force may have been testing an air path to Iran, in case it decides to carry out an attack against that country's nuclear facilities, analysts said.

The corridor of northern Syria where the aircraft allegedly flew over is the closest straight line from the Mediterranean Sea, where Israel has easy access, to Iran. The area is separated from Iran only by Iraqi Kurdistan, a region whose rulers would almost surely allow either Israel or the United States to fly over.

Such a route is far from the safest, as Israel could also reach Iran through the friendly airspace of Turkey or Jordan, if they agreed. Even so, analysts said Israel would want to consider all options.

Israel says it prefers to let the international community confront Iran's nuclear ambitions, but a lone Israeli attack is not out of the question. The country sees Iran, whose president has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction, as an existential threat. Iran insists its nuclear program is for energy, not weapons.

"Of course Israel wants to let the Americans do that," said Ephraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. "But if we are left alone, the Israeli army is preparing to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat - if the political level allows it to - and this could have been a part of that."

The shape of the deal is obvious enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Deluded message of a mass murderer (Paul Wilkinson, 09/09/2007, Daily Telegraph)

By urging the American people to convert to Islam to stop the war in Iraq, bin Laden is showing the same ludicrous misunderstanding of US politics that he displayed in his last video message to the American people, in 2004, when he made a ham-fisted attempt to influence the presidential election.

It is noteworthy that in the latest video, bin Laden is dressed in the manner of a religious leader or guru rather than as a military commander. Hence also his crude attempt to raise the global warming issue and the role of corporations; he inherited a fortune from his father's corporation and has used it to fund mass murder.

There is also an effort to dispel rumours that bin Laden had died or was seriously ill. His beard appears dyed and trimmed, to make him look younger and stronger.

It's an excellent sign that the main reaction to AQ these days is ridicule.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


Britain's Brown faces trade union showdown (AFP, Sep 9, 2007)

Gordon Brown makes his first speech as British prime minister to the annual Trades Union Congress on Monday, facing pressure to reverse reforms which left-wingers say have widened inequalities.

The TUC, which brings together most British unions, is to hold its 139th annual congress in the southern English seaside resort of Brighton.

Brown's predecessor Tony Blair had a strained relationship with the TUC, which wasn't party particularly keen on his presence.

Brown, who spent 10 years at Blair's side as finance minister before Blair stepped down on June 27 this year, is closer to the governing Labour Party's left-wing grassroots, including the unions.

But the new premier could face a rocky ride after TUC general secretary Brendan Barber called on him to address what he says is a widening gap between public sector workers and private sector "fat cats."

As Geoffrey Wheatcroft wrote when he came to power, Tony Blair's defining political characteristic was his hatred of Labour, an advantage that Mr. Brown appears not to share. He has to decide whether he's Al Gore (running against Clintonism) or George W. Bush (embracing Thatcherism/Clintonism and making it his own).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Burmese military junta says prodemocracy activists inciting unrest (Associated Press, September 9, 2007)

RANGOON, Burma - Burma's military junta accused detained prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party of inciting unrest and instigating Buddhist monks to take part in protests over price hikes, state media reported yesterday.

The regime also said that prodemocracy groups outside Burma and foreign media were deliberately spreading false information to destabilize the government, comparing the current situation to mass protests in 1988 when thousands of demonstrators were believed killed by security forces. The junta refers to the country as Myanmar.

"Internal and external destructive elements are inciting a period of civil unrest like the one in 1988," the New Light of Myanmar newspaper said. "It has been found that foreign broadcasting stations are launching political propaganda and exaggerated news reports on the demonstrations with the intent of misleading the public."

So if they continue to call it Burma, did the AP likewise refer to call Cold War Russia the USSR?:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Iranian leaders oscillate between rights and religion (Michael Slackman, September 9, 2007, NY Times)

In fact, both tools remain part of a larger goal: securing the Islamic Republic by remolding people's own definitions of themselves.

In that way, the strategy resembles the failed effort in the Soviet Union to build a national identity - the New Soviet Man - that was based on its own criteria. The Communists used youth camps and raw terror; anyone challenging that identity, which in their case was atheistic, was seen as challenging the state.

Since 1979, the clerics of Iran have tried to forge a new national identity based primarily on a marriage of Shiite Islamic teachings with a revolutionary ideology. Initially, some leaders tried to dilute the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian traditions. But that effort proved impossible and has largely been abandoned.

Other Iranian governments since the 1979 revolution have also tried to adapt to the realities of modernity, but those efforts did not last. President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani tried to open the state-controlled economy, and President Mohammad Khatami tried to ease the strict controls on dress, public behavior and free speech.

Both those efforts have been rolled back. Rather than rest comfortably on the reality that the Islamic Republic and its institutions have survived for nearly three decades, hard-line leaders still seem to be afraid that the system is vulnerable. And so their struggle continues.

"From one president to another, the whole orientation of the country changes," said a prominent political scientist in Tehran who, in the current climate of fear, agreed to speak only if he remained anonymous. "Why? Because we do not have a consensus on who we are or where we are going."

He added: "We can easily conclude that the ideological revolutionary order is an elite occupation, rather than a mass occupation."

What's fascinating is that they have trouble being consistent precisely because they are a republic and democratic results impact what the elites can do. The most noteworthy development of recent years is Ayatollah Khamenei trying to bring Rafsanjani back to power to reform the economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Mastermind of Iraq Yazidi attack killed: U.S. military (Reuters, 9/09/07)

A U.S. air strike killed a senior al Qaeda militant who masterminded truck bombings on Iraq's minority Yazidi community last month that killed more than 400 people, the military said on Sunday.

"On September 3, a coalition air strike killed the terrorist responsible for the planning and conducting of the horrific attack against the Yazidis in northern Iraq on August 14," military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox told a news conference.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


GOP candidates snub Univision (Gebe Martinez, Sep 9, 2007, Politico)

When Fox News and other English-language television networks extended presidential debate invitations earlier this year, Republican and Democratic primary candidates asked for the details.

But when Univision–the Spanish-language network with the top-rated local newscast in 16 media markets–scheduled an historic GOP debate on Latino issues for Sept. 16 in Miami, a week after a similar forum for Democrats, only Arizona Sen. John McCain accepted.

What’s worse, in the eyes of national Hispanic leaders and progressives who are keeping count, this is the third time in recent months that Republican presidential candidates have dissed the fastest-growing part of the electorate by passing up chances to address Latinos’ concerns about the Iraq war, health care, the economy and immigration.

...or is the GOP just so ideologically blind that it wants to alienate Latinos as badly as it has blacks?

His Task: Sell Hispanics on GOP: Immigration Conflict Puts Sen. Martinez in Tough Position (Jose Antonio Vargas, September 9, 2007, Washington Post)

For many in the country's fastest-growing segment of the electorate, Sen. Mel Martinez is the face of the Republican Party.

The Florida senator was handpicked by President Bush to become the first Hispanic chairman of the Republican National Committee, and when Univision announced its plans to sponsor groundbreaking Spanish-language forums for the presidential hopefuls -- one for Democrats, the other for Republicans -- Martinez was thrilled. The largest Spanish-language U.S. television network and the fifth-largest overall, Univision is MTV, ESPN and CNN rolled into one for millions of Latinos.

"I think that to have candidates address the largest minority group in America would be a terrific thing," Martinez said in June, "and to do it on a network that the Hispanic community of America watches would be the right forum."

Sadly, he's not the face of the party.

September 8, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Ban lauds Libyan role in Darfur peace talks (DITH M LEDERER, 9/09/07, Scotland on Sunday)

UN SECRETARY-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday said his goal is to reach a final political settlement to end the four-year conflict in Darfur, as he arrived in the hometown of Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi to discuss upcoming peace negotiations. [...]

The new negotiations follow a UN and African Union conference in Arusha, Tanzania, in early August that brought Darfur rebels together to agree on a common platform for talks, but key rebel leader Abdel Wahid Nur boycotted the meeting and has rejected the proposed negotiations.

Ban said he hoped to use Gaddafi's influence with the rebel movements to ensure that all would attend talks - a proposal seconded by Libya's AU minister, Ali Abdel Salam Treiki.

"We will use our efforts, our contacts with these people, the good relations we have... for the success of this meeting," he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 PM


Eureka! Father and son make hair grow with magic beans (KATE FOSTER, 9/09/07,

FOR years they were on the fringe of science. But now a Scottish father and son's obsession with the health-giving properties of green coffee beans is set to help women suffering the misery of hair loss - and earn them a multi-million-pound fortune.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


US tip-off foiled German bomb plot, reports say (Jess Smee, September 8, 2007, The Guardian)

A tip-off from US intelligence helped to foil the terror bomb plot in Germany, it emerged yesterday.

"The first piece of hard evidence on the bomb plot against American military and airbases in Germany was transmitted to the German authorities from American intelligence officials," Rolf Tophoven, director of the German institute for terrorist research and security policy, said.

US satellite systems picked up on electronic contact between Pakistan and Germany more than 10 months ago, he said. "From then on, the operation progressed with the clandestine support of the US in the background."

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the US officials gave the Germans internet IP addresses - numbers that can help to locate a computer - and parts of names.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Bin Laden Fights to Stay Relevant (ROBERT BAER, 9/07/07, TIME)

One conclusion to draw from the new Osama bin Laden video tape is that the mastermind of 9/11 apparently is worrying about his relevance these days.

And judging by the transcript, he has good reason to worry about it. Among other things, bin Laden maunders about corporations causing global warming and the Democrats failing to get the U.S. out of Iraq. Speculation is already rife that he is wearing a fake beard, since his grey of a few years ago has mysteriously disappeared. It seems he's either lost his mind, or is the victim of a covert action campaign.

The new tape aside, it's hard to imagine that bin Laden is happy about what he's wrought in the last six years since 9/11.

As if the guy they have playing him didn't look ridiculous enough, having him read the NY Times editorial page was real genius.

Leading militant in split with Islamists : Rethink leads Briton to break with group Blair wanted to ban after 7 July (Peter Beaumont, September 9, 2007, Observer)

The departure of Nawaz, whose reasons for quitting have been posted on Hizb ut-Tahrir's British website, has already inspired a furious debate within the group. Although he left two months ago, he has only now made his decision public, and will be interviewed later this week on BBC2's Newsnight programme.

According to Nawaz, who joined the movement when he was 16, he reconsidered his membership during his imprisonment. Insisting he had not abandoned his opposition to the conduct of Arab leaderships or his opposition to the Iraq war, he added that he could no longer agree with its thinking.

Nawaz's defection is a major blow to the movement. Despite being only 29, he was recognised globally for his work in founding new groups abroad.

Equally important is likely to be his reason for leaving Hizb ut-Tahrir, a closely argued rejection based on a revisiting of the key legal argument that has been deployed by Islamists - including al-Qaeda - that Arab governments operating under non-Islamic (kufr) law should be removed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:41 PM


A Potentially Winning Tactic, With a Warning (Walter Pincus, August 27, 2007, Washington Post)

"Throughout the modern history of Iraq, the Sunni tribes have occupied a privileged position in Iraq society and enjoyed wealth, autonomy and political clout," the report said. "To lose those advantages in a system of proportional representation that empowered the Shia, or in a truncated Iraq with a Kurdish autonomous province, would bring shame to a long and prosperous Sunni history."

It also cautioned that the main themes of the U.S. message in Iraq -- "freedom and democracy" -- do not resonate well with the population "because freedom is associated with chaos in Iraq." In addition, the Sunnis "are deathly afraid of being ruled by a Shia government, which they believe will be little more than a puppet of the Shia religious extremists in Iran."

The study identified three tribes in al-Anbar province, all of which initially fought as insurgents against U.S. forces. But more recently, all three tribes -- or "significant parts of them" -- joined the movement against al-Qaeda in Iraq. "This presents a window of opportunity for engagement and influence of the tribes by the coalition," the study stated.

However, the study warned that with two of the tribes, such cooperation "should not be considered as support for, or even acceptance of, coalition activities." Instead, it occurs "for no other purpose but to rid the area of a common enemy, al-Qaeda and its allies." With the third, it cautioned, "the recognized leadership plays both ends of the insurgency, coalition versus the insurgents, against the middle while maintaining a single motive, to force the coalition to leave Iraq."

In short, the study's experts pointed toward what has become a short-term U.S. success, while warning more than a year ago -- as the intelligence community did last week -- that it is all temporary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Morocco conservatives win most assembly seats (Reuters, 9/08/07)

Morocco's conservative Istiqlal party, a member of the kingdom's ruling coalition, won most seats in parliamentary elections, according to provisional results released by the government.

Istiqlal (Independence) won 52 seats including those assigned to a national women's list, ahead of the Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) with 47 seats, Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa told reporters.

The liberal conservative Popular Movement (MP) and the National Rally of Independents (RNI) won 43 and 38 seats respectively, while the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), Istiqlal's main coalition partner, won 36.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


San Francisco hopes to reverse black flight (John Ritter, 8/26/07, USA TODAY)

African-Americans are abandoning this famously progressive city at a rate that has alarmed San Francisco officials, who vow to stop the exodus and develop a strategy to win blacks back to the city. In June, Mayor Gavin Newsom appointed a task force to study how to reverse decades of policies — and neglect — that black leaders say have fueled the flight.

Black flight can alter a city's character. "It's important for a city's future that it be a diverse place, and San Francisco is drifting toward being an upper-middle-class city," says Ed Blakely, director of Katrina recovery for New Orleans.

According to Census estimates, the number of blacks here shrank from 13.4% of the population in 1970 to just 6.5% in 2005 — the biggest percentage decline in any major American city.

...and then wonder where the normal people went?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM

VOTE NEVILLE (via Kevin Whited):

Why We Should Exit Iraq Now (Bill Richardson, September 8, 2007, Washington Post)

I have met and negotiated successfully with many regional leaders, including Saddam Hussein.

As the Democratic race devolves into a question of who'd be more accommodating to dictators...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


The Realignment of America: The native-born are leaving "hip" cities for the heartland. (MICHAEL BARONE, May 8, 2007, Opinion Journal)

It has become a commonplace to say that population has been flowing from the Snow Belt to the Sun Belt, from an industrially ailing East and Midwest to an economically vibrant West and South. But the actual picture of recent growth, as measured by the 2000 Census and the census estimates for 2006, is more complicated. Recently I looked at the census estimates for 50 metropolitan areas with more than one million people in 2006, where 54% of Americans live. (I cheated a bit on definitions, adding Durham to Raleigh and combining San Francisco and San Jose.) What I found is that you can separate them into four different categories, with different degrees and different sources of population growth or decline. And I found some interesting surprises.

Start with the Coastal Megalopolises: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago (on the coast of Lake Michigan), Miami, Washington and Boston. Here is a pattern you don't find in other big cities: Americans moving out and immigrants moving in, in very large numbers, with low overall population growth. Los Angeles, defined by the Census Bureau as Los Angeles and Orange Counties, had a domestic outflow of 6% of 2000 population in six years--balanced by an immigrant inflow of 6%. The numbers are the same for these eight metro areas as a whole.

There are some variations. New York had a domestic outflow of 8% and an immigrant inflow of 6%; San Francisco a whopping domestic outflow of 10% (the bursting of the tech bubble hurt) and an immigrant inflow of 7%. Miami and Washington had domestic outflows of only 2%, overshadowed by immigrant inflows of 8% and 5%, respectively.

This is something few would have predicted 20 years ago. Americans are now moving out of, not into, coastal California and South Florida, and in very large numbers they're moving out of our largest metro areas. They're fleeing hip Boston and San Francisco, and after eight decades of moving to Washington they're moving out. The domestic outflow from these metro areas is 3.9 million people, 650,000 a year. High housing costs, high taxes, a distaste in some cases for the burgeoning immigrant populations--these are driving many Americans elsewhere.

The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo.

Democratic politicians like to decry what they describe as a widening economic gap in the nation. But the part of the nation where it is widening most visibly is their home turf, the place where they win their biggest margins (these metro areas voted 61% for John Kerry) and where, in exquisitely decorated Park Avenue apartments and Beverly Hills mansions with immigrant servants passing the hors d'oeuvres, they raise most of their money.

In the early 80s, Sports Illustrated ran a story that said the combination of the free agency era and the desirability of living in the Sun Belt virtually guaranteed that pro sports teams in those states would dominate their leagues in the future.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM

AND THAT'S BAD? (via Gene Brown):

Learn from the fall of Rome, US warned (Jeremy Grant, August 14 2007, Financial Times)

The US government is on a ‘burning platform’ of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.”

It's easy enough to make fun of this, but, suppose we take it seriously for a moment. Grant that we stand to lose our Empire -- whatever that is -- as Rome did. The interesting question is: has Rome itself ever not had a standard of living that was in say the top 10% of mankind for any appreciable number of years in the past two thousand?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


John M. Olin Online Lecture Library (Intercollegiate Studies Institute)

An impossibly rich collection of conservative lectures, most available as MP3s, including a bunch of Russell Kirk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


Rebus at rest (ALLAN MASSIE, 9/08/07, The Scotsman)

[I]f Ian Rankin is really pensioning Rebus off, then now is the moment to take stock.

The first thing to say is that in the Rebus novels Rankin has not only produced the most sustained body of fiction devoted to modern Edinburgh, but has made it once again a city of the mind as Dickens made London and Chandler Los Angeles. He has changed the way people imagine the city.

It is a poetic vision of the place. And, though it is reinforced by much realistic and topographical detail, it is not ultimately realistic. The real city is less dramatic and less dangerous than the one Rankin portrays. Yet he persuades us otherwise.

Second, he has grasped, as few do, the possibilities of the crime novel, perhaps the only fictional form today that can incorporate all levels of society. In the modern literary novel, social connections are generally horizontal; the crime novel is capable of making vertical connections, of bringing low life and high life convincingly into contact with each other - as, for example, Scott did in The Heart of Midlothian.

Thus the Rebus novels have a richer texture than most literary fiction can aspire to these days. At one point in Exit Music he writes: "For a while now, he'd known the truth - that it wasn't so much the underworld you had to fear as the over world. Maybe that explained why Cafferty had, to all purposes and appearances, gone legit. A few friends in the right places and deals got done, fates decided. Never in his life had Rebus felt like an insider ... the less he felt he belonged, the more he came to mistrust the others around him, with their games of golf and their 'quiet words', their stitch-ups and handshakes, palm-greasing and scratching of backs."

Awareness of the corrupting power of money and influence permeates the saga. This too is a poetic vision. One can't believe that high officials in the First Albannach Bank, which takes the place of the Royal Bank of Scotland in this novel, are as unscrupulous, depraved and contemptible as they are shown to be, but in the course of reading disbelief is suspended.

Rebus himself is a romanticised hero, very much Chandler's "shopsoiled Galahad". There is enough detail to make him credible, even though we know that a policeman who behaved as he does would long ago have been dismissed from the force. Yet he works, as a private detective - the lonely man walking down mean streets - could never work. Rankin has from an early stage persuasively presented us with the edgy and jealous camaraderie of the team. Rebus is a slob, often violent, ready to take the law into his own hands, not above arranging, as happens here, for a nasty act of revenge to be possible, all in the name of his concept of justice. Yet there is a gritty integrity to him which commands our respect, and even affection.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Defender of the Faith? (MARK EDMUNDSON, 9/09/07, NY Times Magazine)

[I]n “Moses and Monotheism” Freud has something truly fresh to say about religion.

About two-thirds of the way into the volume, he makes a point that is simple and rather profound — the sort of point that Freud at his best excels in making. Judaism’s distinction as a faith, he says, comes from its commitment to belief in an invisible God, and from this commitment, many consequential things follow. Freud argues that taking God into the mind enriches the individual immeasurably. The ability to believe in an internal, invisible God vastly improves people’s capacity for abstraction. “The prohibition against making an image of God — the compulsion to worship a God whom one cannot see,” he says, meant that in Judaism “a sensory perception was given second place to what may be called an abstract idea — a triumph of intellectuality over sensuality.”

If people can worship what is not there, they can also reflect on what is not there, or on what is presented to them in symbolic and not immediate terms. So the mental labor of monotheism prepared the Jews — as it would eventually prepare others in the West — to achieve distinction in law, in mathematics, in science and in literary art. It gave them an advantage in all activities that involved making an abstract model of experience, in words or numbers or lines, and working with the abstraction to achieve control over nature or to bring humane order to life. Freud calls this internalizing process an “advance in intellectuality,” and he credits it directly to religion.

reud speculates that one of the strongest human desires is to encounter God — or the gods — directly. We want to see our deities and to know them. Part of the appeal of Greek religion lay in the fact that it offered adherents direct, and often gorgeous, renderings of the immortals — and also, perhaps, the possibility of meeting them on earth. With its panoply of saints, Christianity restored visual intensity to religion; it took a step back from Judaism in the direction of the pagan faiths. And that, Freud says, is one of the reasons it prospered.

Judaism, on the other hand, never let go of the great renunciation. The renunciation, according to Freud, gave the Jews remarkable strength of intellect, which he admired, but it also made them rather proud, for they felt that they, among all peoples, were the ones who could sustain such belief.

Freud’s argument suggests that belief in an unseen God may prepare the ground not only for science and literature and law but also for intense introspection. Someone who can contemplate an invisible God, Freud implies, is in a strong position to take seriously the invisible, but perhaps determining, dynamics of inner life. He is in a better position to know himself. To live well, the modern individual must learn to understand himself in all his singularity. He must be able to pause and consider his own character, his desires, his inhibitions and values, his inner contradictions. And Judaism, with its commitment to one unseen God, opens the way for doing so. It gives us the gift of inwardness.

Freud was aware that there were many modes of introspection abroad in the world, but he of course thought psychoanalysis was by far the best. He said that the poets were there before him as discoverers of the inner life but that they had never been able to make their knowledge about it systematic and accessible. So throughout the Moses book, Freud subtly identifies himself with the prophet and implies that psychoanalysis may be the most consequential heir of the Jewish “advance in intellectuality.” Freud believed that he had suffered for his commitment to psychoanalysis (which did not and does not lack detractors) and clearly looked to Moses as an example of a great figure who had braved resistance to his beliefs, both by Pharaoh in Egypt and by his own people. Moses hung on to his convictions — much as Freud aspired to do.

Though Freud hoped that mankind would pass beyond religion, he surely took inspiration from the story of Moses, a figure with whom he had been fascinated for many years. (He published his first essay on the prophet in 1914.) Freud wanted to lead people, and he wanted to make conceptual innovations that had staying power and strength: for this there could be no higher exemplar than the prophet.

“Moses and Monotheism” indicates that Freud, irreligious as he was, could still find inspiration in a religious figure. Something similar was true about Freud’s predecessor, Nietzsche. Nietzsche is famous for detesting Christianity, and by and large he did. But he did not detest Jesus Christ — whose spontaneity, toughness and freedom of spirit he aspired to emulate. “There has been only one Christian,” he once said, one person who truly lived up to the standards of the Gospel, “and he died on the cross.”

Schopenhauer, to whom both Nietzsche and Freud were deeply indebted, was himself an unbeliever, as well as being an unrelenting pessimist. To Schopenhauer, life was pain, grief, sorrow and little else. Yet he, too, was able to take inspiration from Christianity, affirming as he did that a faith that had a man being tortured on a cross as its central emblem couldn’t be entirely misleading in its overall take on life.

Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud were all at times able to recognize religion as being what Harold Bloom has wisely called it: not the opium of the people but the poetry of the people. They read Scripture as though it were poetry, and they learned from it accordingly. They saw that even if someone does not believe in a transcendent God, religion can still be a source of inspiration and of practical wisdom about how to live in the world. To be sure, it often takes hard intellectual work to find that wisdom. (As the proverb has it, “He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.”) Yet Freud’s late-life turn shows us that there is too much of enduring value in religion — even for nonbelievers — ever to think of abandoning it cold.

Note how Freud accidentally indicts himself and his fellow intellectuals -- like Nietzsche, Darwin, etc. -- in that those who can not contemplate are left in such a weak position to understand the rest.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


Battle Over Board Structure at Dartmouth Raises Passions of Alumni (TAMAR LEWIN, 9/08/07, NY Times)

Even for an Ivy League institution with a long and storied history, it is remarkable that Dartmouth College has created such a stir with a governing fight: full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, furious discussion among conservative bloggers and publications, a new Committee to Save Dartmouth College and charges of power grabs by a “radical minority cabal.”

Cabal or not, it is true that since 2004, four conservative or libertarian candidates have been elected to Dartmouth’s board of trustees after petition drives to get on the ballot to challenge candidates backed by the official alumni association.

Now the college administration is reconsidering the entire trustee structure and in the process has set off a battle over whether alumni will be disenfranchised. The advertisement in The Times ran under the headline: “Q: Who won’t get to vote in New Hampshire? A: Dartmouth College Alumni.”

The showdown over how Dartmouth, in Hanover, N.H., will be governed will probably come this weekend at the board’s annual retreat, when a five-member committee including the college president and the chairman of the board but none of the petition trustees presents recommendations for change.

As with many Ivy League disputes, there is a question of tradition. Since 1891, Dartmouth alumni have elected half the board’s members, giving them an unusual degree of alumni power. Then, too, the board is unusually small, with just 18 members: the New Hampshire governor, the college president, eight trustees appointed by the board, and eight chosen by alumni.

Now there is debate about whether all this democracy is such a good thing.

A pluperfect instance of the Left's opposition to tradition and consensual governance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


Gaza Under Hamas: Quiet, Cut Off and Digging In (STEVEN ERLANGER, 9/08/07, NY Times)

Nearly three months after Hamas conquered the teeming streets of Gaza, a wary calm has taken hold. People stroll at all hours, car theft has practically stopped, even armed police officers are rarely seen.

After 18 months in which gun battles between Hamas and Fatah forces defined street life, Hamas has made it illegal to carry weapons in public or to fire them, even at weddings or funerals.

Tamer al-Bagga, who manages a beachside cafe, said people now patronized his business until “all hours of the night.” In June, people were hiding at home, keeping their children on the floor to avoid bullets. “Now we have security,” he said. “But with the closure, we have no money.” [...]

Hamas insists that it respects the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, and that Hamas will continue to rule here under the political program of the unity government negotiated under Saudi auspices in March and dismissed in June by Mr. Abbas. And Hamas has been careful in its language, talking of fighting American and Israeli agents and “corrupted elements” inside Fatah, but not Fatah itself.

Even at the Soraya, the massive Palestinian security headquarters overrun in the June fighting, Hamas has been openly respectful, leaving the murals of Fatah heroes undisturbed on the outside walls.

But Mr. Youssef also has a tough warning for Fatah and Mr. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Mazen. “We could turn the tables on Abu Mazen in Ramallah if we wanted to, but we hope that in a few months we can talk together and solve our internal problems and find a solution on a new government,” he said.

He asked Mr. Abbas to lift a ban on Fatah politicians’ in Gaza talking to Hamas, though he said some Fatah leaders in Ramallah regularly consulted with Hamas, “trying to repair the damage and find a way to work together.”

The Hamas threats to Fatah are real. The crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, with Israel’s help, is severe. But Fatah is largely unreformed, Mr. Abbas is reported by those close to him to be tired of the pressures of the job and not respected by many in Fatah, and the Palestinian security forces, even they admit, are still too weak to take responsibility over even quiet towns like Jericho from the Israelis.

Even the jailed Fatah figure Marwan Barghouti, whom some see as an Abbas successor, warned that Fatah should quickly hold new internal elections and not underestimate the threat from Hamas in the West Bank.

Mr. Zahar said that Hamas had corruption files on major Fatah figures, some of whom, he said, spied for the United States on Hamas and the Arab world, and that Hamas knew Fatah’s plans for disruption in Gaza.

Refusing to let them get on with normal lives is a deeply strange decision on the part of the West.

MORE (via Mike Daley):
Liberty and Justice for All?: A review of Michael Mandelbaum’s Democracy’s Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World’s Most Popular Form of Government (Bruce S. Thornton, Pajamas Media)

His most important point is that democracy requires “the appropriate mix of skills and values” that makes possible and nurtures self-government and liberty. These “skills and values” cannot “be called into existence by fiat,” particularly in an undemocratic government. They require time to develop and conditions favorable for their development. Mandelbaum’s history of how various nations came to be democratic shows how much chance and accident have figured in democracy’s success, and how much that success depended on preexisting traditions and habits that had grown up over time. Thus the modern spread of democracy has not been the result of its external imposition on a people (as Mandelbaum shows, Germany and Japan are exceptions that prove the rule), but has followed from the economic and military successes of the United States and Great Britain in becoming wealthy and winning three global struggles with the alternatives to democracy. That success in turn inspired an internal desire among other peoples to learn the skills and values that accounted for such global preeminence.

Great Britain and the United States both became wealthy because they embraced free-market economies, and as Mandelbaum writes, “Free markets, the evidence of modern history strongly suggests, make for free men and women.” The free market is “democracy’s constant companion” because the “workings of the free market have instilled the values, habits, and attitudes and have helped create the institutions that democratic governance requires.” The free-market’s respect for private property, itself a form of liberty; its dependence on the rule of law to protect property; its fostering of civil society, Burke’s “little platoons” that act as a buffer between the free individual and the power of the state; the practice in sovereignty that comes from private enterprise and commercial transactions; and the need for trust and compromise in business — all foster and reinforce the liberty and self-rule that lie at the heart of democratic governance.

Societies that are free, self-governing, and prosperous are also peaceful. Trade suffers during wars, and modern warfare is very expensive, so peoples with free-market economies are not so eager for conflict. In addition, free peoples tend to become less warlike and more impatient with war’s costs in blood and treasure, an impatience that can be politically expressed in elections, as we are currently seeing with the war in Iraq. Whereas popular sovereignty absent liberty can incite wars, as happened in the Balkans in the Nineties, the limits on governmental power and the expectations the people hold for their leaders, both created by the institutions and practices that undergird liberty, will also act as a brake on war. So too will three features of political liberty that carry over into interstate relations: a preference for compromise, lengthy decision-making processes, and transparency in government operations. This connection between democracy and peace, however, paradoxically can create more wars, as non-democratic governments, frightened by the desire for freedom and prosperity aroused by the proliferation of successful democracies, can lead dictators and autocrats to start wars as diversions from their failures, as Saddam Hussein did in 1980 and 1990. As Mandelbaum concludes, although the replacement of dictatorships with democracies does not mean the end of war or terrorism, “the progress of democracy has made the world a more peaceful place.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


What the US gained from naval wargames (Rediff, September 08, 2007)

The multi-nation Malabar exercise has helped the United States Navy to develop an excellent understanding with other countries, including India, a US official participating in the naval wargames said on Saturday.

One of the key elements of the exercise is to increase interoperability among the five participating nations -- India, US, Australia, Singapore and Japan -- Commanding Officer of USS Princeton Captain Dave Melin said.

"By conducting the boarding exercise, we were able to team up with our Indian and Australian counterparts and get some excellent training and an excellent understanding of each other," Melin was quoted as saying by the official website of Seventh Fleet of the US Navy. for the Indians to train us to seize nuclear warheads.

Smells like Asian Nato (SUJAN DUTTA, 9/07/07, Telegraph of India)

The acceptance by India of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) proposed by the US in the lead-up to the exercise meant that the navies could draw up “gameplans” to exploit most skill-sets.

For the first time, manoeuvres like air-to-air refuelling have been possible with US aircraft, officers from Indian ships and from an air force maritime strike squadron said. They were on board the USS Kitty Hawk to observe the arrested landings and catapult shots that launch and recover the US Navy’s aircraft.

“The common procedures for this exercise were worked out in four initial planning conferences between the participants. There are so many navies involved that it was important to ensure that the glitches be smoothened out,” an officer explained.

The evolution and implementation of the Nato-based SOPs are not sudden but are a consequence of the 13 episodes of the Malabar series of exercises between the US and Indian navies. The exchanges intensified over the last five years.

The current war games are the second this year but the first in Indian waters involving 24 ships, a nuclear submarine and more than 200 aircraft from five navies.

The SOPs could signal a paradigm shift for the Indian armed forces that have so far evolved their own practices.

Those rules were traditionally influenced by the erstwhile Soviet Russia-led Warsaw Pact. It was logical because it came with the Russian hardware that has equipped the Indian army, navy and air force for decades.

Nato is essentially a military alliance led by the US against the erstwhile Soviet Russia-led Warsaw Pact. Since the end of the Cold War around 1991, Nato has repositioned itself as a coalition in America’s “global war against terror” and has itself shown eagerness to work with Indian forces.

In the current exercise — Malabar 07-02 — those efforts have begun to mature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


They sing of love, betrayal, and death far from home. No wonder tenors die young: I don’t think it matters if you confuse the singer with the song. Their ruined lives are in the script (Howard Jacobson, 08 September 2007, Independent)

"It feels so strange here sometimes," the great Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling complained after a performance, pointing to his chest. "It feels as if my heart were standing still." A few weeks later, it did. Bjorling was 49. Not a bad age for a lyric tenor.

Caruso only made it to 48. "Doro, I can't get my breath," he told his wife, and that was that. The world wept. He'd been weepy himself for some time. Great tenors are meant to be weepy. He'd been weepy in Sorrento, looking across the bay to Naples, then weepy in Naples looking across the bay to Sorrento.

I do the same when I visit Naples or Sorrento, and I'm not a Neapolitan. Nor am I a great tenor, though it's my deepest regret that I am not, for there is no more wonderful thing to be – even if it means you don't live long. I've always believed I have the temperament for it. Being weepy when I visit Sorrento, for example. Or falling into moods of deep depression as Bjorling did. Or eating 30 breakfasts at a sitting like Mario Lanza. It's only in the voice department that I don't quite cut the mustard. (Tactless of me: Lanza could get through three jars of mustard at a sitting, too.)

Doro, as Caruso called her, was Dorothy Park Benjamin, an American woman he'd met in New York. When Caruso asked for her hand in marriage her father told him he objected to Caruso on three grounds – difference in age, difference in nationality, but "principally because of your artistic temperament". A potential father-in-law said the same about me once. He'd caught me reading D H Lawrence whom he confused with T E Lawrence and supposed me to be a pain-seeking homosexual Arabist. He had the details wrong but he was right in principle. Men with artistic temperaments don't make good husbands.

...they'd at least be baritones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Church Expands Its Mission to Immigration Advocacy (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN, 9/08/07, NY Times)

“To see the body of Christ working as one gives you a glimpse of what will be when the Lord returns,” [the Rev. Edwin Mieses] recalled in an interview. “It’s what we’re called to do. It’s why we do this work. To bring forth a positive message with no racial lines, no color lines.”

By the time “Rock the Block” returned this summer, however, Mr. Mieses’s priorities had changed and his spiritual mandate had expanded in an unexpectedly political direction.

As Hazleton has become a national center for opposition to illegal immigrants, as members of Mr. Mieses’s congregation have experienced suspicion merely for being Hispanic, he has begun attending rancorous public meetings and sharing bulletins from his pulpit. In addition to staples like youth ministry and Bible study, his church has begun holding citizenship and English classes for adults.

Given his druthers, Mr. Mieses said, he would have stuck to the moral issues that are traditional for Pentecostal churches, preaching the virtues of sobriety and abstinence, warning against drugs, gangs and Satan. Events have made the tradition untenable, he said. While Mr. Mieses’s church in neighboring West Hazleton is named Buenas Nuevas for the “good news” of the Gospel, much of the news for him and thousands of other Hispanics here has been decidedly bad.

In the summer of 2006, Hazleton enacted an ordinance punishing landlords who rented to illegal immigrants and employers who hired them. The mayor, Louis J. Barletta, blamed illegal immigrants for a variety of crimes, and the CNN anchor Lou Dobbs regularly extolled the crackdown to his national audience. A federal judge struck down the ordinance in July, ruling that it had illegally exceeded federal laws, but the mood here remains tense and fractious.

“We are involved not so much by choice but because we’re forced to be involved,” said Mr. Mieses, 44, who was born in the United States to Dominican parents. “We want to keep the lines of church and politics separate, but we are affected by what has caused fear in our people, fear of being persecuted for being Latinos. I’d rather be encouraging people, inspiring people, but we have to make the Gospel relevant to the world.”

The almost begrudging political awakening of Mr. Mieses and his congregation typifies a national trend among Hispanic Pentecostals.

After decades of attracting members who had been born and raised Roman Catholic, and in the competitive process stimulating a charismatic style of Catholic worship in largely Hispanic parishes, the Pentecostal churches are now engaging in immigrant advocacy in a way long associated with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

September 7, 2007

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 PM


Taking a bite out of Iran (MICHAEL THEODOULOU, 9/08/07, The Scotsman)

HIS sobriquet is the Shark, because of his smooth features, cunning and ambition. The last two attributes helped make Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's 73-year-old former president, one of the Islamic Republic's greatest political survivors.

Yesterday the cleric took another big step in a remarkable career comeback when he was elected leader of an obscure but powerful clerical conclave that has the power to appoint and dismiss the Islamic Republic's supreme leader. The Shark's victory could help tilt Iran away from the confrontational stand favoured by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his hardline allies. [...]

A conservative pragmatist, he is a bitter rival of Mr Ahmadinejad, the firebrand president. He favours accommodation with the West and has made clear he would handle Iran's nuclear issue in a less confrontational manner than the president.

Western diplomats made clear their preference for Mr Rafsanjani in presidential elections two years ago: he was a man with whom they felt the West could do business. But he was trounced by the little-known, back-to-revolutionary- basics anti-western firebrand Ahmadinejad, who promised to give the poor a fairer share of Iran's oil wealth.

Since then the fortunes of the two men have switched. With the economy struggling despite huge oil revenues, Mr Ahmadinejad's allies were defeated heavily in clerical and municipal elections last December. Mr Rafsanjani's star meanwhile has been on the rise.

His success in the assembly marks another defeat for hardliners allied to Mr Ahmadinejad.

Sitting down to talk with him would give the Reform movement reason to turn out in the next election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 PM


Video shows Bin Laden 'in false beard' (Leonard Doyle, 08 September 2007, Independent)

The US government is analysing videotape that appears to show Osama bin Laden in a false beard, marking the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It grows ever harder to pretend he's alive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


Madeleine L’Engle, Children’s Writer, Is Dead (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 9/08/07, NY Times)

Madeleine L’Engle, who in writing more than 60 books, including childhood fables, religious meditations and science fiction, weaved emotional tapestries transcending genre and generation, died Thursday in Connecticut. She was 88.

Her death, of natural causes, was announced today by her publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Ms. L’Engle (pronounced LENG-el) was best known for her children’s classic, “A Wrinkle in Time,” which won the John Newbery Award as the best children’s book of 1963. By 2004, it had sold more than 6 million copies, was in its 67th printing and was still selling 15,000 copies a year.

Her works — poetry, plays, autobiography and books on prayer — were deeply, quixotically personal. But it was in her vivid children’s characters that readers most clearly glimpsed her passionate search for the questions that mattered most. She sometimes spoke of her writing as if she were taking dictation from her subconscious.

“Of course I’m Meg,” Ms. L’Engle said about the beloved protagonist of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

The “St. James Guide to Children’s Writers” called Ms. L’Engle “one of the truly important writers of juvenile fiction in recent decades.” Such accolades did not come from pulling punches: “Wrinkle” is one of the most banned books because of its treatment of the deity. [...]

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

A Wrinkle in Faith: The unique spiritual pilgrimage of Madeleine L'Engle. (Donald Hettinga, May 1, 1998, Books & Culture)

Madeleine L'Engle's journey has taken her to a rather peculiar array of roadside stops. How many Christian writers speak both from the pages of Ms. magazine and Today's Christian Woman, are invited to speak both by the Library of Congress and the Gaithers' Praise Gathering, and serve as writer-in-residence for Victoria magazine and for Regent University?

For L'Engle, the price of writing candidly as a Christian to such diverse audiences has been steep. She has been perceived as too worldly by some conservative Christian audiences and too dogmatically Christian by some secular audiences. But it is L'Engle's Christian critics who have been by far the most vocal.

Ministers preach sermons against her; books and articles denounce her and any Christians who evaluate her work favorably or even evenly; librarians in Christian schools and churches handle her books as though they carried dangerous heresies, sometimes relegating them to back shelves where patrons must ask specifically for them, and sometimes banning them altogether.

One source of the confusion lies in L'Engle's refusal to be pigeonholed, her resistance to using evangelically correct language. Then there is her frequent declaration that her religion is subject to change without notice. And the legalistic amid her audience are given pause by her assertion that she is not a Christian writer but rather "a writer who is struggling to be a Christian."

But if L'Engle's books seem always to be making someone angry, how are we to understand her popularity? Who are those people lining up at book-signings?

The answer, I think, is that the very unpredictability that some readers find unsettling also accounts for L'Engle's appeal.

-INTERVIEW: Allegorical Fantasy: Mortal Dealings with Cosmic Questions (An interview with Madeline L'Engle, June 8, 1979, Christianity Today)
-ESSAY: Supernatural Sagas of Good and Evil: The foolish things of Madeleine L'Engle (Cheryl Forbes, June 8, 1979, Christianity Today)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:26 PM


The GOP and Latino evangelicals: Candidates' immigration views could alienate a natural group of supporters (William McKenzie, 9/04/07, Dallas Morning News)

The defeat has [the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez] wondering whether "the GOP is the party of Jeff Sessions, Tom Tancredo and James Sensenbrenner or the party of George W. Bush and John McCain?" In other words, those like Mr. Tancredo who strongly opposed immigration reform or those like Mr. Bush who strongly favored it.

Right now, Mr. Rodriguez thinks, "xenophobia has triumphed over an appreciation for diversity. They completely abandoned us."

Wow. And, remember, this is a guy who likes Republicans.

He is not alone, either. Mr. Rodriguez says the leaders of all 50 state chapters of his organization believe Latino evangelicals will not turn out for Republicans. "We were divided on global warming, but not on immigration," he says. He thinks Latino evangelicals will likely stay home instead of voting Republican.

Curious about this, I tested out his ideas among other Latino evangelicals. The Rev. Lynn Godsey of Ennis, who's not part of Mr. Rodriguez's coalition, said he agrees that immigration really could hurt Republicans. He's active among Latino Protestants in North Texas, and he claims that John McCain is the only Republican hopeful who looks good to Latino evangelicals in the region.

A third evangelical pastor I contacted shared that view. The Rev. Mark Gonzalez of Dallas says a core of Latino evangelicals will vote Republican. But others will vote Democratic or stay home, he predicted. (Mr. Green's early surveys for the 2008 race confirm what the pastors are saying.)

I usually like to suggest how candidates or officials can head off a coming disaster. This one's hard bec