June 30, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


WALL-E a winner for Pixar (Reuters, June 30, 2008)

Animation giant Pixar hit the box office jackpot once again yesterday as its robot love story WALL-E snagged the No. 1 spot during its first weekend of release across North America.

The movie, bolstered by near-unanimous critical praise, earned an estimated $62.5 million in its first three days, said Pixar's Walt Disney Co parent.

Took the boys this afternoon and Brother Dryfoos--who phoned in his review last week, after taking his son-had this one nailed: while there's much talk of the environmental theme and the saccharine robot love story, the crux of the film is the eternal choice of security or freedom.

Indeed, properly considered, the film is a re-enactment of the Fall and, while you aren't likely to read it in Disney press material, Wall-E is Satan.

(I'll put the rest in the extended entry, just in case the explanation contains spoilers.)

Humankind has been floating around in space for 700 years, but is unbothered by the fact because they are taken care of by machines. They live in lounge chairs, staring into electronic screens, a giant drink in their fists at all time. They have perfect security.

Meanwhile, Wall-E gives Eve, a probe that the human spaceship sends out, the first bit of plant life that he's come across in all those years. When she returns to the ship with this tree of knowledge, the previously indolent and uninterested captain suddenly becomes insatiably curious about Earth and determines to return.

The humans follow through on this exercise in newly rediscovered free will despite the sorry state of Earth when they arrive there. The captain even going so far as to say: "I don't want to survive. I want to live." The film ends with him showing people how they'll farm and raise crops to feed themselves--Cain-like--rather than just accept the bounty that's provided. Thus is Eden forsaken...yet again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


French man with two asses surprises Swedish officials (The Local, 30 Jun 08)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:55 PM


Labour 'too dependent on trade unions' (James Kirkup, 30/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Labour is now unhealthily dependent on the trade unions for money, a former party treasurer has told Gordon Brown.

The warning from Baroness Prosser came as trade union leaders prepared to step up the pressure on ministers for more left-wing policies including increased rights to strike and higher taxes on middle earners.

The key to understanding the Blair years was a too little noticed line in an Atlantic profile by Geoffrey Wheatcroft: "You have to remember," says someone who knows him, "that the great passion in his life is his hatred of the Labour Party"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM


Obama’s Iraq Problem (George Packer July 7, 2008, The New Yorker)

In February, 2007, when Barack Obama declared that he was running for President, violence in Iraq had reached apocalyptic levels, and he based his candidacy, in part, on a bold promise to begin a rapid withdrawal of American forces upon taking office. At the time, this pledge represented conventional thinking among Democrats and was guaranteed to play well with primary voters. But in the year and a half since then two improbable, though not unforeseeable, events have occurred: Obama has won the Democratic nomination, and Iraq, despite myriad crises, has begun to stabilize. With the general election four months away, Obama’s rhetoric on the topic now seems outdated and out of touch, and the nominee-apparent may have a political problem concerning the very issue that did so much to bring him this far.

...Mr. Packer confuses his own panic over Iraq for an "apocalypse" in fact.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


Thirty Years of Light & Glory: The Perils of Providential History John Fea, June 2008, Touchstone)

For Christians who believe in divine providence, the study of history certainly presents a conundrum. As believers, we want to know God’s will for our lives. We spend time in prayer and meditation trying to discern what he is calling us to do in the circumstances of our lives. We often look back on our lives and reflect on the way the Lord has led us.

So if we try to discern providence in our own spiritual lives, what is wrong with trying to do the same thing with the most important events of the past? This is a tough question indeed.

Writers such as Marshall and Manuel must be willing to reconcile their certainty about God’s plan for America with St. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” Books like the Light and the Glory often offer a simple and direct providential reading of American history that assumes an understanding of the secret things of God, things that sinful men cannot fathom outside of the Scriptures.

St. Augustine is helpful here. In Book 20 of The City of God Against the Pagans, he reminds us what Christians can and cannot know about God’s work in the world. We can be confident, from what the Scriptures teach us, in the hope of Christ’s return and final judgment. History will end with the glorious triumph of the Son of God.

But as we live with this hope, we must be cautious about trying to pinpoint the specific plan of God in history. We must avoid trying to interpret what is hidden from us or what is incomprehensible because our understanding is so limited. As Augustine writes,

There are good men who suffer evils and evil men who enjoy good things, which seems unjust, and there are bad men who come to a bad end, and good men who arrive at a good one. Thus, the judgments of God are all the more inscrutable, and His ways past finding out. We do not know, therefore, by what judgment God causes or allows these things to pass.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


LAFF Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army (James Rocchi, Jun 29th 2008, Cinematical)

[H]ellboy II has more than a little heart to it; it's scrappy and self-aware, and never out of touch with what it is. Adapting Mike Mignola's post-superhero retro-styled comic series Hellboy for the second time, writer-director Guillermo del Toro corrects some of the mistakes of the first Hellboy, makes a few mistakes of its own, picks itself up, keeps going. And, on the way, knocks the back of your eyeballs for a loop. [...]

Is Hellboy II all sound and fury, signifying nothing, or, worse, nerdiness? Quite possibly, but it's got the heart that the slick Wanted lacks, the brute you can root for that The Incredible Hulk didn't quite give us, and more geeky slapdash fun than the shiny-fast Iron Man and a better mix of effective story and special effects than Speed Racer -- and if Hellboy II signifies nothing, well, at least there's a hell of a lot of it. Like all sequels, Hellboy II's a bit overstuffed, but I can't also say what you would lose; the fat provides a lot of the flavor. And I never felt transported to another world or invested in the characters past their four-color surfaces, even as del Toro's sights and wonders put me in a lookitthat! state of nerd-vana. And the finale sets up places to go for the series, even if it doesn't conclusively make us crave that; as much as del Toro's the only man for that hypothetical job, I'd rather see him making his own films, which is part of why I'm so unenthused by the prospect of his version of The Hobbit. I don't know if I need a Hellboy III, but Hellboy II feels like a summertime comic-book movie that doesn't want, or need, to be a blockbuster movie and instead simply and sincerely succeeds as a great matinee.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:21 AM


Preparing the Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran. (Seymour M. Hersh, July 7, 2008, The New Yorker)

In recent months, according to the Iranian media, there has been a surge in violence in Iran; it is impossible at this early stage, however, to credit JSOC or C.I.A. activities, or to assess their impact on the Iranian leadership. The Iranian press reports are being carefully monitored by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who has taught strategy at the National War College and now conducts war games centered on Iran for the federal government, think tanks, and universities. The Iranian press “is very open in describing the killings going on inside the country,” Gardiner said. It is, he said, “a controlled press, which makes it more important that it publishes these things. We begin to see inside the government.” He added, “Hardly a day goes by now we don’t see a clash somewhere. There were three or four incidents over a recent weekend, and the Iranians are even naming the Revolutionary Guard officers who have been killed.”

Earlier this year, a militant Ahwazi group claimed to have assassinated a Revolutionary Guard colonel, and the Iranian government acknowledged that an explosion in a cultural center in Shiraz, in the southern part of the country, which killed at least twelve people and injured more than two hundred, had been a terrorist act and not, as it earlier insisted, an accident. It could not be learned whether there has been American involvement in any specific incident in Iran, but, according to Gardiner, the Iranians have begun publicly blaming the U.S., Great Britain, and, more recently, the C.I.A. for some incidents. The agency was involved in a coup in Iran in 1953, and its support for the unpopular regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi—who was overthrown in 1979—was condemned for years by the ruling mullahs in Tehran, to great effect. “This is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the C.I.A.,” Gardiner said. “This is new, and it’s an escalation—a ratcheting up of tensions. It rallies support for the regime and shows the people that there is a continuing threat from the ‘Great Satan.’ ” In Gardiner’s view, the violence, rather than weakening Iran’s religious government, may generate support for it.

Many of the activities may be being carried out by dissidents in Iran, and not by Americans in the field. One problem with “passing money” (to use the term of the person familiar with the Finding) in a covert setting is that it is hard to control where the money goes and whom it benefits. Nonetheless, the former senior intelligence official said, “We’ve got exposure, because of the transfer of our weapons and our communications gear. The Iranians will be able to make the argument that the opposition was inspired by the Americans. How many times have we tried this without asking the right questions? Is the risk worth it?” One possible consequence of these operations would be a violent Iranian crackdown on one of the dissident groups, which could give the Bush Administration a reason to intervene.

A strategy of using ethnic minorities to undermine Iran is flawed, according to Vali Nasr, who teaches international politics at Tufts University and is also a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Just because Lebanon, Iraq, and Pakistan have ethnic problems, it does not mean that Iran is suffering from the same issue,” Nasr told me. “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. The U.S. is overestimating ethnic tension in Iran.” The minority groups that the U.S. is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge, Nasr said. “You can always find some activist groups that will go and kill a policeman, but working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.”

The Administration may have been willing to rely on dissident organizations in Iran even when there was reason to believe that the groups had operated against American interests in the past. The use of Baluchi elements, for example, is problematic, Robert Baer, a former C.I.A. clandestine officer who worked for nearly two decades in South Asia and the Middle East, told me. “The Baluchis are Sunni fundamentalists who hate the regime in Tehran, but you can also describe them as Al Qaeda,” Baer told me. “These are guys who cut off the heads of nonbelievers—in this case, it’s Shiite Iranians. The irony is that we’re once again working with Sunni fundamentalists, just as we did in Afghanistan in the nineteen-eighties.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.

One of the most active and violent anti-regime groups in Iran today is the Jundallah, also known as the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement, which describes itself as a resistance force fighting for the rights of Sunnis in Iran. “This is a vicious Salafi organization whose followers attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists,” Nasr told me. “They are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda and they are also thought to be tied to the drug culture.” The Jundallah took responsibility for the bombing of a busload of Revolutionary Guard soldiers in February, 2007. At least eleven Guard members were killed. According to Baer and to press reports, the Jundallah is among the groups in Iran that are benefitting from U.S. support.

The C.I.A. and Special Operations communities also have long-standing ties to two other dissident groups in Iran: the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, known in the West as the M.E.K., and a Kurdish separatist group, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK.

The M.E.K. has been on the State Department’s terrorist list for more than a decade, yet in recent years the group has received arms and intelligence, directly or indirectly, from the United States. Some of the newly authorized covert funds, the Pentagon consultant told me, may well end up in M.E.K. coffers. “The new task force will work with the M.E.K. The Administration is desperate for results.” He added, “The M.E.K. has no C.P.A. auditing the books, and its leaders are thought to have been lining their pockets for years. If people only knew what the M.E.K. is getting, and how much is going to its bank accounts—and yet it is almost useless for the purposes the Administration intends.”

The Kurdish party, PJAK, which has also been reported to be covertly supported by the United States, has been operating against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for at least three years. (Iran, like Iraq and Turkey, has a Kurdish minority, and PJAK and other groups have sought self-rule in territory that is now part of each of those countries.) In recent weeks, according to Sam Gardiner, the military strategist, there has been a marked increase in the number of PJAK armed engagements with Iranians and terrorist attacks on Iranian targets. In early June, the news agency Fars reported that a dozen PJAK members and four Iranian border guards were killed in a clash near the Iraq border; a similar attack in May killed three Revolutionary Guards and nine PJAK fighters. PJAK has also subjected Turkey, a member of NATO, to repeated terrorist attacks, and reports of American support for the group have been a source of friction between the two governments.

Gardiner also mentioned a trip that the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, made to Tehran in June. After his return, Maliki announced that his government would ban any contact between foreigners and the M.E.K.—a slap at the U.S.’s dealings with the group. Maliki declared that Iraq was not willing to be a staging ground for covert operations against other countries. This was a sign, Gardiner said, of “Maliki’s increasingly choosing the interests of Iraq over the interests of the United States.” In terms of U.S. allegations of Iranian involvement in the killing of American soldiers, he said, “Maliki was unwilling to play the blame-Iran game.” Gardiner added that Pakistan had just agreed to turn over a Jundallah leader to the Iranian government. America’s covert operations, he said, “seem to be harming relations with the governments of both Iraq and Pakistan and could well be strengthening the connection between Tehran and Baghdad.”

...and the point that we're alienating our natural allies to side with the enemy is valid.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM


Anger Over Rape-Murder Case Sparks Riot in China (Jill Drew, 6/29/08, Washington Post)

Thousands of people thronged a police station in southwestern China to protest the alleged coverup of a teenage girl's rape and murder, witnesses and officials reported Sunday. The crowd set fire to a government complex and several police vehicles.

The violence, which began Saturday, was brought under control by authorities at about 2 a.m. Sunday. There were conflicting reports about the number of injuries and arrests as news of the riot spread over the Internet. Pictures and video from the incident were posted on Chinese online discussion forums and Web sites but quickly became inaccessible, apparently as government censors stepped in.

Spasms of public anger against perceived injustices or government corruption occur periodically in China, but this weekend's riot, in the seat of Weng'an County in Guizhou province, was larger and more destructive than usual. The government has been anxious to contain such incidents, especially as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in August, pledging to show the world its prosperous, "harmonious" society, as the ruling Communist Party calls it.

Children as young as 12 began blocking the entrance to the police station sometime after 4:30 p.m. Saturday, said a middle school teacher who witnessed the incident.

...no righteous nor harmonious.

June 29, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 PM


Clark blasts McCain's military service (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 6/29/08, Politico)

Gen. Wesley Clark, acting as a surrogate for Barack Obama’s campaign, invoked John McCain’s military service against him in one of the more personal attacks on the Republican presidential nominee this election cycle. [...]

“I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.”

...still think John Kerry lost because his service to his country was attacked, rather than his disservice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 PM


Principles give way to politics as Obama courts mid-America (Michael Crowley, 6/29/08, The Observer)

During the Democratic primary season, all those eons ago, Barack Obama deployed no more powerful line against Hillary Clinton than his insistence that 'we can't just tell people what they want to hear. We need to tell them what they need to hear'. More than just a catchy couplet, the phrase was a deadly arrow into the heart of Clintonism.

Few things crippled Hillary's campaign like the belief that she would say or do anything to get elected, from supporting the Iraq War to claiming she'd dodged sniper fire at Tuzla. In Obama, Democrats seemed to have found something refreshing: a brave truth-teller unmoored to pollsters such as Mark Penn, someone who had spoken out against Iraq the war and could at last restore integrity and honesty to Washington politics.

But since Obama dispatched Clinton, he has seemed rather more attuned to what the people want to hear or perhaps he has simply traded the wants of a liberal audience for those of a more moderate one.

...that, in America, populist means conservative, the rest of the political calculus is pretty straightforward.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 PM


Spain revels in new spirit of unity as football team heals divisions: Since Franco's death in 1975 Spain has seen the growth of powerful nationalist movements. But, as they take on Germany in the Euro 2008 final, the old divisions are giving way to a new unity (Graham Keeley in Barcelona and Jason Burke, 6/29/08, The Observer)

This evening, from Corunna to Cartagena, from the Pyrenees to the Sierra Nevada, millions will be glued to the television, willing the 11 men wearing red and yellow to victory in the final of the 2008 European championships.

For citizens of most of the nations in this competition, the question of allegiance to the national side is relatively straightforward. The only people doubting the loyalty of France's immigrant population to Les Bleus were the racist right-wing. The Azzurri have had every Italian behind them. The Russians surfed a wave of pent-up patriotic fervour that led to their government organising a flow of tens of millions of pounds to the sport. Spain's opponents, the Germans, have become a much-needed symbol of the benefits of reunification and of a new, proud guilt-free sense of nation. But in Spain - and in the regions of Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia, which each have their own culture, language and fierce claims to autonomy - not everyone sees the match the same way.

When Spain beat Russia 3-0 in the semi-final last week, car horns blared, bars emptied, fireworks exploded. Nothing out of the usual in the Plaza Cibeles in downtown Madrid, but extraordinary in Barcelona, capital of the proud northeast region with its seven million inhabitants.

They won 1-0 and, in related news, you can sit on that bench now...the paint's dry.

Spain Takes European Soccer Title From Germany (BARRY WILNER, 6/29/08, Associated Press)

Big-game flops no more, Spain won the European Championship 1-0 over Germany today for its first major title in 44 years.

Fernando Torres scored in the 33rd minute and the Spaniards never backed down against such a formidable opponent. Their last significant title came in the 1964 Euros at home.

In beating a team that makes a habit of appearing in championship finals, the Spaniards put to rest a reputation for underachieving. Always loaded with talented players, Spain has spent four decades falling short of expectations.

That all changed at these Euros, where the Spaniards swept their first-round games, eliminated World Cup champion Italy in a penalty-kicks shootout in the quarterfinals, then routed Russia 3-0 in the semifinals.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


Canadian Health Care We So Envy Lies In Ruins, Its Architect Admits (DAVID GRATZER, June 25, 2008, Investor's Business Daily)

As this presidential campaign continues, the candidates' comments about health care will continue to include stories of their own experiences and anecdotes of people across the country: the uninsured woman in Ohio, the diabetic in Detroit, the overworked doctor in Orlando, to name a few.

But no one will mention Claude Castonguay — perhaps not surprising because this statesman isn't an American and hasn't held office in over three decades.

Castonguay's evolving view of Canadian health care, however, should weigh heavily on how the candidates think about the issue in this country.

Back in the 1960s, Castonguay chaired a Canadian government committee studying health reform and recommended that his home province of Quebec — then the largest and most affluent in the country — adopt government-administered health care, covering all citizens through tax levies.

The government followed his advice, leading to his modern-day moniker: "the father of Quebec medicare." Even this title seems modest; Castonguay's work triggered a domino effect across the country, until eventually his ideas were implemented from coast to coast.

Four decades later, as the chairman of a government committee reviewing Quebec health care this year, Castonguay concluded that the system is in "crisis."

"We thought we could resolve the system's problems by rationing services or injecting massive amounts of new money into it," says Castonguay. But now he prescribes a radical overhaul: "We are proposing to give a greater role to the private sector so that people can exercise freedom of choice."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


When Ambassadors Had Rhythm (FRED KAPLAN, 6/29/08, NY Times)

HALF a century ago, when America was having problems with its image during the cold war, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the United States representative from Harlem, had an idea. Stop sending symphony orchestras and ballet companies on international tours, he told the State Department. Let the world experience what he called “real Americana”: send out jazz bands instead.

A photography exhibition of those concert tours, titled “Jam Session: America’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World,” is on display at the Meridian International Center in Washington through July 13 and then moves to the Community Council for the Arts in Kinston, N.C. There are nearly 100 photos in the show, many excavated from obscure files in dozens of libraries, then digitally retouched and enlarged by James Hershorn, an archivist at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. There’s Dizzy Gillespie in 1956, charming a snake with his trumpet in Karachi, Pakistan. Louis Armstrong in ’61, surrounded by laughing children outside a hospital in Cairo. Benny Goodman in ’62, blowing his clarinet in Red Square. Duke Ellington in ’63, smoking a hookah at Ctesiphon in Iraq.

The idea behind the State Department tours was to counter Soviet propaganda portraying the United States as culturally barbaric. Powell’s insight was that competing with the Bolshoi would be futile and in any case unimaginative. Better to show off a homegrown art form that the Soviets couldn’t match — and that was livelier besides. Many jazz bands were also racially mixed, a potent symbol in the mid to late ’50s, when segregation in the South was tarnishing the American image.

Jazz was the country’s “Secret Sonic Weapon” (as a 1955 headline in The New York Times put it) in another sense as well. The novelist Ralph Ellison called jazz an artistic counterpart to the American political system. The soloist can play anything he wants as long as he stays within the tempo and the chord changes — just as, in a democracy, the individual can say or do whatever he wants as long as he obeys the law.

As our jazz correspondent, Brother Dryfoos, pointed out the other day, most free form jazz is crap because it's an exercise in freedom without any structure, rendering it meaningless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 AM


Christianity is flourishing in China: The religion, long repressed and often outlawed in the communist nation, appeals to citizens seeking a moral framework amid the chaotic rise of capitalism. (The Chicago Tribune, June 28, 2008)

[I]n a sign of Christianity's growing prominence, in scores of interviews for a joint project of the Tribune and PBS' "Frontline/World," clerical leaders and worshipers from coastal boomtowns to inland villages publicly detailed their religious lives for the first time.

They voiced the belief that the time has come to proclaim their place in Chinese society as the world focuses on China and its hosting of the 2008 Olympics in August. [...]

This rise, driven by evangelical Protestants, reflects a wider spiritual awakening in China. As communism fades into today's free-market reality, many Chinese describe a "crisis of faith" and seek solace from mystical Taoist sects, Bahai temples and Christian megachurches.

Today, the government counts 21 million Catholics and Protestants -- a 50% increase in less than 10 years -- though the underground population is far larger. The World Christian Database's estimate of 70 million Christians amounts to 5% of the population, second only to Buddhists.

At a time when Christianity in Western Europe is dwindling, China's believers are redrawing the world's religious map with a growing community that already exceeds all the Christians in Italy.

And increasing Christian clout in China has the potential to alter relations with the United States and other nations.

But much about the future of faith in China is uncertain, shaped most vividly in bold new evangelical churches such as Zion, where a soft-spoken preacher and his fervent flock do not yet know just how far the Communist Party is prepared to let them grow.

"We think that Christianity is good for Beijing, good for China," Jin said. "But it may take some time before our intention is understood, trusted, even respected by the authorities. We even have to consider the price we may have to pay."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


Pakistan claims control of warlord's former stronghold: Paramilitary forces take positions they had fled months ago in a district that had been used as a staging ground for raids into Peshawar. (Laura King, 6/29/08, Los Angeles Times)

The government moved on Saturday against Bagh and another insurgent leader after armed, bearded militants began staging brazen patrols in Peshawar, a city of more than 3 million people. The insurgents also menaced people in outlying districts of the city, seeking to impose a Taliban-style social code and carrying out a series of abductions.

Bagh's men had also taken control of roads providing access to the famed Khyber Pass, one of the main supply routes for NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan, and had been attacking military convoys. Authorities said Sunday those routes had been re-secured.

The military operation marked an apparent policy change on the part of the Pakistani government, which until now has sought to reach truces with local Taliban commanders. But the government left open the door for the resumption of such talks, even as it warned Bagh's men and other insurgents to stay away.

From our perspective, it's better that they take cities--makes it easier to find and kill them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:23 AM


Your brain lies to you (Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, June 29, 2008, NY Times)

The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer's hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain about the size and shape of a fat man's curled pinkie finger. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don't remember how you learned it.

This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true.

With time, this misremembering gets worse. A false statement from a noncredible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength. This could explain why, during the 2004 presidential campaign, it took weeks for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Senator John Kerry to have an effect on his standing in the polls.

Or maybe it just takes more than one ad to get the truth out?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Israel Approves Prisoner Swap (Reuters, 6/29/08)

The government decision cleared the way for the German-mediated exchange with Hezbollah, possibly within days. Under the deal, Israel would free five Lebanese guerrillas and repatriate the remains of around 10 slain border infiltrators.

To call the prisoners Lebanese, after cutting the deal with Hezbollah, is to engage in a counterproductive fiction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


As the AL lords over the NL, even the lowly Royals are flush (John Shea, June 29, 2008, SF Gate)

The Royals are 13-4 against NL teams and lead the majors in interleague wins, which is why they're not buried in last place in the AL Central. They're 24-40 against the AL.

If the Royals hadn't blown a four-run lead to the Giants on June 20, they would have had an 11-game win streak before Saturday's loss to the Cardinals - of course, all 11 games came in interleague play.

Thursday, AL teams were 8-1 against NL teams, and it would have been a sweep if Kevin Millwood (seven runs yielded in his first two innings) hadn't forgotten his Rangers were supposed to beat the Astros. Plus, the NL caught a break with a rainout in Pittsburgh; the Yankees were leading 3-1.

The AL is 45 games above .500 (141-96 ) in games against the NL, and let's not omit the Twins, who zoomed into contention by beating up on the other league.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM

Hummingbird Cake, a Southern favorite (KIM PIERCE, 6/24/08, The Dallas Morning News )

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

3 large eggs, beaten

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained

2 cups chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts, divided use)

2 cups chopped bananas

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Icing (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with butter; dust the bottom and sides with flour. Set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and stir until well blended. Add the eggs and oil, and stir until the dry ingredients are moistened, taking care not to beat them. Stir in the pineapple and juice, 1 cup of the nuts, the bananas and vanilla.

Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto racks to cool completely.

Spread the icing between the layers, stacking them on a cake plate. Ice the top and sides of cake, and sprinkle remaining nuts over the top. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Icing: Combine 2 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese with 1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, both at room temperature. Add 2 (16-ounce) boxes of powdered sugar, sifted; beat until light and fluffy. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM

BLT Dip (Donna Pierce, 6/24/08, Chicago Tribune)

4 slices bacon

3 green onions, thinly sliced

¼ cup each: mayonnaise, low-fat Greek yogurt

¼ cup arugula, chopped

¼ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered

1. Place the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat; cook, turning, until crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.

2. Combine the onions, mayonnaise, yogurt, arugula, salt and pepper to taste in a food processor; pulse until chunky, about 5 times. Transfer to a medium bowl.

3. Crumble the bacon into the bowl; stir into the mayonnaise mixture. Stir in the tomatoes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


A Win by McCain Could Push a Split Court to Right (Robert Barnes, 6/29/08, Washington Post)

For much of its term, the Supreme Court muted last year's noisy dissents, warmed to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s vision of narrow, incremental decisions and continued a slow but hardly steady move to the right.

But as justices finished their work last week, two overarching truths about the court remained unchanged: It is sharply divided ideologically on some of the most fundamental constitutional questions, and the coming presidential election will determine its future path.

A victory by the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, would probably mean preserving the uneasy but roughly balanced status quo, since the justices who are considered most likely to retire are liberal. A win for his Republican counterpart, John McCain, could mean a fundamental shift to a consistently conservative majority ready to take on past court rulings on abortion rights, affirmative action and other issues important to the right.

...only one would shift the legal system back towards protecting life instead of sanctioning death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


Mongolia votes in key elections (BBC, 6/29/08)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Immigration policy reform has Obama, McCain in agreement (Richard Simon, 6/29/08, Los Angeles Times)

Courting the increasingly influential Latino vote, the rival presidential candidates each pledged Saturday to make overhauling the nation's immigration policies a top priority. [...]

McCain noted that he represents Arizona, "where Spanish was spoken before English," and remembered a fellow Vietnam prisoner of war, Everett Alvarez, "a brave American of Mexican descent."

McCain said that he pushed for overhauling immigration laws when "it wasn't very popular with some in my party."

...Amnesty is actually the main stimulus that will come from this election. Legalizing the millions here already and admitting tens of millions more could drive the Volcker/Reagan expansion for a few more decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Descent of St. Barack (Paul Greenberg, June 28, 2008, Washington Times)

For all its smooth, Internetted aspects, the Obama campaign begins to develop overtones of George McGovern's crack-up in the summer of 1972. Sen. McGovern was the beneficiary that year of the Democrats' newly rigged nominating system, which remains much the same. This year it allowed Barack Obama to cinch his party's nomination even as his rival was sweeping the popular vote in the big states.

George McGovern required only a few torrid weeks back in '72 to go from shining hope to utter incompetent. And now Barack Obama, the Different Kind of Presidential Candidate, has begun his metamorphosis into the same old kind of presidential candidate by backing away from his earlier promise to accept public financing.

Naturally, he claims it wasn't a promise at all but just a possibility, depending on whether John McCain would agree to accept public financing, too, which Mr. McCain did, and on various other escape clauses. We all know the drill by now: When caught in an obvious contradiction, obfuscate.

...who get eviscerated by the process.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


The Sam's Club agenda of the GOP (David Brooks, June 28, 2008, NY Times)

Ross Douthat and my former assistant, Reihan Salam] open the book with a working-class view of recent American history. Douthat and Salam write admiringly about the New Deal. They mention Roosevelt's economic policies, but they also emphasize the New Deal's intense social conservatism. Self-conscious maternalists such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins ensured that New Deal programs were biased in favor of traditional two-parent families.

Liberals write about economic inequality and conservatives about social disruption, but Douthat and Salam write about the interplay between values and economics, and the way virtue and economic security can reinforce each other.

In the 1950s, divorce rates were low and jobs were plentiful, but over the next few decades that broke down. The social revolutions of the 1960s and the economic revolution of the information age have emancipated the well-educated but left the Sam's Club voters feeling insecure.

Gaps are opening between the educated and less educated. Working-class divorce rates remain high, while the mostly upper-middle-class parents of Ivy Leaguers have divorce rates of only 10 percent. Working-class kids are unlikely to complete college, affluent kids usually do.

Liberals have a way to address these inequalities – the creation of a Denmark-style welfare state. Conservatives have offered almost nothing. The GOP has lost contact with its own working-class base. This is the intellectual vacuum that “Grand New Party” seeks to fill.

The heart of the book is the last third, where Douthat and Salam lay out a series of policy ideas to help working-class families cope with economic, health care, neighborhood and family insecurity.

“What all these ideas, from the sober to the speculative, have in common is a vision of working-class independence – from bosses, from bureaucracy, from entrenched interests of all kinds,” Douthat and Salam write. This is not compassionate conservatism (which flattered the mind of the compassionate donor), it's hard-work conservatism, which uses government to increase the odds that self-discipline and effort will pay off.

...we can call it the Ownership Society!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Queen owns a McDonald's (Daily Telegraph, 28/06/2008)

The Queen owns a drive-through McDonald's burger restaurant, the Royal accounts have revealed.

Among Her Majesty's most recent acquisitions was a retail park in Slough - which encompasses a drive-through McDonalds.

The Queen’s Tears (Mark Steyn, September 17, 2001, National Review)

The foreign leader who said it best last week was the Queen, though she didn't really say a word. I have met Her Majesty from time to time (I am one of her Canadian subjects), and to put it at its mildest, for those with a taste for American vernacular politics, she can be a little stiff: The Queen stands on ceremony and she has a lot of ceremony to stand on. But on Thursday, for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, she ordered the Coldstream Guards to play "The Star-Spangled Banner" — the first time a foreign anthem had been played at the ceremony. The following day something even more unprecedented happened: At Britain's memorial service for the war dead of last Tuesday, the first chords of "The Star-Spangled Banner" rumbled up from the great organ at St Paul's Cathedral, and the Queen did something she's never done before — she sang a foreign national anthem, all the words. She doesn't sing her own obviously ("God Save Me"), but she's never sung "La Marseillaise" or anything else, either; her lips never move.

And at that same service she also sang "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic," for the second time in her life — the first was at the funeral of her first prime minister, Winston Churchill. On Friday, she fought back tears. When she ascended the throne, Harry Truman was in the White House. The first president she got to know was Eisenhower, back in the war, when he'd come to the palace to brief her father. She is the head of state of most of the rest of the English-speaking world — Queen of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Belize, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, etc. But she understands something that few other leaders of the West seem to — that today the ultimate guarantor of the peace and liberty of her realms is the United States. If America falls, or is diminished, or retreats in on itself, there is no "free world." That's the meaning of the Queen's "Ich bin ein Amerikaaner" moment.

Don't ask me who else you can count on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


In a Virtual Galaxy, Assembly Is Required (SETH SCHIESEL, 6/28/08, NY Times)

Eve Online is more like a sandbox, where the players have been thrown in with a bunch of tools, like shovels and buckets, and are left to their own devices to create what they will. In Eve’s futuristic setting, miners extract ore from asteroids and refine it into minerals. Industrialists run huge factories to turn the minerals into spaceships, weapons and modules. Financiers provide investment capital, and traders take products to market. Finally, pilots buy the ships and fly them in combat, carving out player-controlled empires among the thousands of solar systems in the Eve galaxy.

Players can enjoy Eve in any of those roles, a diversity of experiences unmatched in any other game. But the most glamorous aspect of the game is participating in the epic wars for territory that can go on for months or years, involving tens of thousands of players. (Unlike those of most games, all of Eve’s more than 200,000 players are in one shared game universe, rather than split up among different copies of the virtual world; on weekends there can be 35,000 players or more online at once.)

For at least two years, the dominant conflict in the game has been between two alliances known as Band of Brothers and Goonswarm. Band of Brothers, known as BOB, is a wealthy, elite (some would say elitist) group that many players simultaneously admire, fear and despise. Goonswarm is a proudly profane group that conducts highly effective psychological warfare alongside its military campaigns. Like the members of BOB, Goons are also simultaneously admired, feared and despised by many Eve players.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


A Skeptical Take on the Economy: Best-selling author Keith McFarland argues against getting overly concerned about the bad economy (Keith McFarland, 6/27/08, Business Week)

It would seem that there really are two Americas, at least two American economies—the real economy and the perceived one. At first glance, the discrepancy can be explained by decreasing home prices and increasing energy costs. Home prices inform the fundamental wealth identity of most Americans, and fuel prices provide a weekly reminder that a fundamental change has taken place.

But there is an even greater discrepancy than the one between the real economy and the perceived, and it cannot be explained solely by the volatility in housing and energy. What really accounts for it is the way most Americans view their own situation and their impression of the economy as a whole.

In November 2007, only 19% of respondents to an Investor's Business Daily/TechnoMetrica Institute of Policy & Politics poll answering the question: "Do you consider yourself to be a part of America's haves or part of America's have-nots?" described themselves as "have-nots." An astounding 75% of the overall sample described themselves as "haves." In a 1988 Gallup survey with similar demographics, only 59% considered themselves "haves."

Even more striking is a Harris Poll that asked: "If you compare your present situation with five years ago, would you say it has improved, stayed about the same, or gotten worse?" A full 82% reported that their situation had improved or held steady. In response to the question: "In the course of the next five years, do you expect your personal situation to improve, stay the same, or get worse?" most people anticipated a bright future. Sixty-two percent expected improvement, with only 7% expecting their situation to get worse.

The truth is our impressions of our own economic well-being are based on actual experience, while our impressions of the national economy are shaped by the Chicken-Little loop of the media. The bad news is: The prognosis is not encouraging. With the increasingly competitive demands of the 24/7 news cycles, the doomsday drumbeat will only intensify. It seems that by today's media standards the traditional tempest in a teacup is unsatisfactory and is yielding to the perpetual quest for the Category 5 hurricane in a thimble.

...they tell me how bad off everyone else is...

June 28, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


Ladies first for Obama (The Economist: Democracy in America, 6/27/08)

This could be an emerging historical irony in this campaign: because the first serious female candidate lost, and Mr Obama needs to gather her female supporters in a seductive yet respectful embrace, women's issues are going to get more play in 2008 than they would have if Mrs Clinton was the nominee.

It's the female party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:11 PM


Rights organization dismisses complaint against Maclean's (Joseph Brean, 6/27/08, National Post)

Brought by Mohamed Elmasry, national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, the complaint was the centrepiece of a three-pronged offense against what he sees as Islamophobia in the national newsweekly, with columnists Mark Steyn and Barbara Amiel the main offenders.

An identical complaint, brought with the help of three Muslim law students who became the public faces of the complaint, was rejected in Ontario on jurisdictional grounds. The third was heard this month by a British Columbia tribunal, which is now deliberating.

Announcing the decision (the CHRC does not publicize dismissals of complaints), Maclean's said in a statement that it "is in keeping with our long-standing position that the article in question, "The Future Belongs to Islam," an excerpt from Mark Steyn's best-selling book America Alone, was a worthy piece of commentary on important geopolitical issues, entirely within the bounds of normal journalistic practice."

"Though gratified by the decision, Maclean's continues to assert that no human rights commission, whether at the federal or provincial level, has the mandate or the expertise to monitor, inquire into, or assess the editorial decisions of the nation's media. And we continue to have grave concerns about a system of complaint and adjudication that allows a media outlet to be pursued in multiple jurisdictions on the same complaint, brought by the same complainants, subjecting it to costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars, to say nothing of the inconvenience. We enthusiastically support those parliamentarians who are calling for legislative review of the commissions with regard to speech issues."

...downtown Hanover is like LA after the OJ verdict was announced.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


America's fury as Hamza smuggles hate messages to Bin Laden's No 2... From UK jail cell (Jason Lewis, 28th June 2008, Daily Mail)

American counter-terrorism chiefs are demanding a full explanation from Britain of how radical cleric Abu Hamza was able to smuggle murderous messages from his UK prison cell to Al Qaeda's deputy leader.

The major diplomatic row comes in the wake of a long-running battle by US prosecutors to extradite the former imam of London's Finsbury Park mosque to stand trial in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Taliban chief who killed Cpl Sarah is taken out by laser-guided missiles (Christopher Leake, 28th June 2008, Daily Mail)

The fanatical Taliban mastermind behind recent attacks in which six British soldiers died in Afghanistan has been killed in a missile attack by an Army Apache helicopter.

In what military chiefs described as a 'deliberate and surgical strike', the 35-year-old rebel leader - known as Sadiqullah - died alongside nine fellow Taliban fighters after the Apache fired two laser-guided Hellfire missiles at their red pick-up truck and destroyed it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:18 PM


Pakistani city under threat of militant takeover: Security increases around Peshawar as Islamic extremists mass at outskirts of strategic provincial capital close to Afghan border (SAEED SHAH, June 28, 2008, The Globe and Mail)

Security around Peshawar, the provincial capital in northwest Pakistan, has been dramatically stepped up amid fears that the city could fall to heavily armed Islamic militants who have now massed around its outskirts.

From three sides, Peshawar, which borders Pakistan's wild tribal belt, is menaced by Taliban groups and other warlords.

If Peshawar is taken over by extremists, the rest of the North West Frontier Province is also threatened, raising the possibility that religious fundamentalists may gain control of a state on Afghanistan's border. The drama in Peshawar reinforces existing doubts about the new Pakistani government's policy of pulling back the army and seeking peace deals with militants.

Pakistan launches offensive against Taliban (The Associated Press, June 28, 2008)
Pakistani forces blew up a militant leader's headquarters and pounded other suspected Taliban bases with mortar fire Saturday, as authorities launched a major offensive against gunmen operating in the volatile region along the Afghan border.

The offensive in the Khyber tribal region appeared a shift in strategy by Pakistan's new government, backing its calls for peace deals in the tribal areas with the threat of forceful action against militants who get out of line.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:40 PM


Religious and Political Shiism in Syria (Manal Lutfi, 6/28/08, Asharq Al-Awsat)

Strategic relations between Iran and Syria are crucial for both states. However, these relations have been consolidated in Syria, rather than Iran. Today, most inter-political, -economic, -cultural and -religious projects are established in Damascus, which has become a hub for Iranian religious tourism.

Iranian tourists to Syrian religious sites number between 500,000 and one million, and dozens of Shia theological centers, or hawzas, as well as Iranian cultural and educational centers have been established across Syria. However, bilateral relations have also generated tension, especially in Syria.

Iranian activity in Syria, particularly restoring and building Shia shrines, has Syria worried about the spread of Shiism in the country. The Ahlul Bayt Society, headed by former Iranian ambassador to Syria Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, is active in Syria. The Society, which is affiliated to the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei and plans and finances Shia centers around the world, expanded a theological center in Damascus, making it the third largest hawza in the world, after the Hawza al Ilmiyah in Qum, Iran and Najaf, Iraq.

Syria hosts 500 hawzas and Husseiniyat, which edify thousands of Iranian clerics. The Ahlul Bayt Society will soon inaugurate an Islamic bank, a television channel and an Islamic financial institution to promote multilateral relations among Islamic countries.

Regarding the activities of the Ahlul Bayt Society, Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddin Al-Bayanouni said to Asharq Al-Awsat: "The real problem is not that a number of people have become Shia, but that Shiism has been disseminated and caused problems within Syrian society. When people convert from being Sunni to Shia, it provokes Sunni scholars and individuals and creates problems within the fabric of the Syrian society. I know that significant divisions have occurred in some villages due to the dissemination of Shiism. Many reports have declared unlimited Iranian support to Shiism in Syria. There is an attempt to establish cultural centers for disseminating Shiism in Syria in different governorates and cities that have never known this before."

Al-Bayanouni also discussed the causes of the spread of Shiism in Syria: "There is a religious doctrinal reason and a political one. The wave of Iranian progress in Syria hasn’t been limited to Shiism. There is cultural, charitable and even military Iranian activity. Iranian influence in Syria is not only doctrinal, but also political, social and military. Husseiniyats are being built for the Shia minority in Aleppo, Idlib and the new Shia villages in Jaser Ashour and others. On the radio in Damascus, the call to prayer is broadcast at times from the shrine of Sayyeda Zainab or Sayyeda Ruqayah according to the Shia method; that is, they add 'come to the good deed' after saying 'come to prayer and come to success.' This wasn’t the case before in Syria."

No wonder Assad is grovelling to the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM


No Babies? (RUSSELL SHORTO, 6/29/08, NY Times Magazine)

IT WAS A SPECTACULAR LATE-MAY AFTERNOON IN SOUTHERN ITALY,but the streets of Laviano — a gloriously situated hamlet ranged across a few folds in the mountains of the Campania region — were deserted. There were no day-trippers from Naples, no tourists to take in the views up the steep slopes, the olive trees on terraces, the ruins of the 11th-century fortress with wild poppies spotting its grassy flanks like flecks of blood. And there were no locals in sight either. The town has housing enough to support a population of 3,000, but fewer than 1,600 live here, and every year the number drops. Rocco Falivena, Laviano’s 56-year-old mayor, strolled down the middle of the street, outlining for me the town’s demographics and explaining why, although the place is more than a thousand years old, its buildings all look so new. In 1980 an earthquake struck, taking out nearly every structure and killing 300 people, including Falivena’s own parents. Then from tragedy arose the scent of possibility, of a future. Money came from the national government in Rome, and from former residents who had emigrated to the U.S. and elsewhere. The locals found jobs rebuilding their town. But when the construction ended, so did the work, and the exodus of residents continued as before.

When Falivena took office in 2002 for his second stint as mayor, two numbers caught his attention. Four: that was how many babies were born in the town the year before. And five: the number of children enrolled in first grade at the school, never mind that the school served two additional communities as well. [...]

DEMOGRAPHICALLY SPEAKING, Laviano is not unique in Italy, or in Europe. In fact, it may be a harbinger. In the 1990s, European demographers began noticing a downward trend in population across the Continent and behind it a sharply falling birthrate. Non-number-crunchers largely ignored the information until a 2002 study by Italian, German and Spanish social scientists focused the data and gave policy makers across the European Union something to ponder. The figure of 2.1 is widely considered to be the “replacement rate” — the average number of births per woman that will maintain a country’s current population level. At various times in modern history — during war or famine — birthrates have fallen below the replacement rate, to “low” or “very low” levels. But Hans-Peter Kohler, José Antonio Ortega and Francesco Billari — the authors of the 2002 report — saw something new in the data. For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover. Kohler and his colleagues invented an ominous new term for the phenomenon: “lowest-low fertility.”

To the uninitiated, “lowest low” seems a strange thing to worry about. A few decades ago we were getting “the population explosion” drilled into us.

...the "natalists" don't seem so hysterical, huh? And those who remain Antlanticist seem even more delusional--Europe can never matter again.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:29 PM


Bill Clinton says Barack Obama must 'kiss my ass' for his support (Tim Shipman in Washington and Philip Sherwell in New York, 28/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Bill Clinton is so bitter about Barack Obama's victory over his wife Hillary that he has told friends the Democratic nominee will have to beg for his wholehearted support.

He used to command an awful lot more than a peck on the cheek.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:45 AM


'WE COULD DO IT TODAY': Israel Prepared to Use Force Against Iran (Der Spiegel, 9/28/08)

Israel is capable of mounting a successful military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, a former Israeli air force general told SPIEGEL. Isaac Ben-Israel, now a member of the ruling Kadima party, said: "If necessary we will use force," adding: "We could do it today."

Ben-Israel, who as an air force general took part in the planning of the 1981 air raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, admitted it might be "more difficult" to attack Iran's nuclear facilities.

He told SPIEGEL that the dispute over Iran's nuclear activities could be solved "by other means" and advocated much tougher sanctions against Iran. "Only once the critical point has been reached will we choose the final option."

...you can imagine a President Obama leaving the heavy lifting to our junior partner.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


A Surprise Negotiation (David Ignatius, June 25, 2008, Washington Post)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad favored an opening to Israel to counter attempts by the United States, France and Saudi Arabia to isolate his country. Syrian confidence in the Turkish negotiating channel increased after Israel indicated informally that it was prepared to accept terms for return of the Golan Heights (and related issues, such as water rights) that had been reached in direct Syrian-Israeli negotiations during the 1990s.

It's not only the most foolish sort of short-term thinking to help prop up a brutal dictatorship in a neighboring country, it's also, not to put too fine a point on it, an evil act.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Conservatives warm to McCain on the law (BEN ADLER, 6/28/08, Politico)

Conservatives may not be enamored of John McCain, but on subjects that are near and dear to their hearts — legal philosophy and judicial appointments — they are finding a lot to like about the Arizona senator.

Between his campaign trail rhetoric and a stable of legal advisers who are well-regarded in conservative circles, McCain is winning over converts who at one time harbored deep suspicions about his commitment to appointing reliably conservative judges.
It’s a surprising turn of events for a candidate who was once booed at the Conservative Political Action Conference and especially for one who played a key role in brokering the “Gang of 14” compromise in 2005, a deal that some conservatives contend undermined the Republicans’ opportunity to ban filibusters against judicial nominees.

...than it taking the Stupid Party this long to figure something this basic out? They still don't even realize what the Gang won them.

One of Maverick's big advantages is that he can stand still and the "alienated base" will come to him. Meanwhile, Senator Obama has to scramble Right, alienating his base in fact and appearing craven to the rest of us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


America to hand back Anbar, Iraq's biggest province, to Baghdad (Damien McElroy, 28/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

America will next week crown its progress in driving al-Qa'eda out of Iraq by handing back the province of Anbar to local control.

Anbar was once the heart of extremist Islamic resistance to America but was transformed into one of Iraq's most peaceful regions in a matter of months.

The event is a vindication of General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq who transformed the situation with a "surge" of 30,000 extra troops last year and by persuading the local populace to work with them against the insurgency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


The Little Robot That Could: Pixar's Andrew Stanton first thought of WALL•E in 1994, and now it's hitting theaters. We caught up with Stanton to discuss his faith, creativity, and that lonely little 'bot. (Mark Moring, 06/24/08, Christianity Today)

Apparently the idea for WALL•E was first born in 1994?

Stanton: At the time, it wasn't a whole story. It was just the foundation of a great character—and it was literally born from the sentence, "What if humankind left earth and somebody left the last robot on, and it just kept doing the same futile thing forever?" And I thought that was the saddest, loneliest character I ever heard of in my life. [Co-writer] Pete Docter and I loved that idea, and thought we'd love to see a movie like that.

But since we hadn't even finished Toy Story yet, our next sentence was, "Nobody would ever let us make a movie like that." And we put it on the shelf and got caught up doing all these other things. But the idea stayed with me all these years, and when I was writing on Nemo, I started thinking about WALL•E again—and I couldn't stop. That's when I realized that I was attracted to the pure loneliness of this character, and the opposite of loneliness is love—so it should be a love story. From then on, suddenly the skies opened and I just couldn't stop writing.

It is a wonderful love story. But at the same time, it seemed to have heavier social commentary than most Pixar films. It seemed like a story about fat, lazy, American consumers who don't care about the environment and …

Stanton: That's your interpretation, but that's not where I was coming from. I certainly see the parallels, but honestly, all those factors came from very different places. All my choices in the film came from what I needed to amplify the main point, which was the love story between these robots. The theme that I was trying to tap into was that irrational love defeats life's programming—that it takes a random act of loving kindness to kick us out of our routines and habit.

You could blame consumerism as one thing that's happening in this film, but there's a million other things we do that distract us from connecting to the person next to us and from furthering relationships, which is truly the point of living. So I came up with the idea that as WALL•E was picking up trash, it would have all these signs of humanity for him to rifle through, to get him interested in what humans were all about. I loved the idea of WALL•E finding something real. He was fascinated with the idea of living. And what's the point of living? Something real. He was a manmade object with something real inside him. And he found something real while surrounded by manmade objects. That just was poetic for me.

OK, but why were the humans on the space station all fat and riding around in their hovering lounge chairs?

Stanton: I wasn't trying to make the humans into fat, lazy consumers, but to make humanity appear to be completely consumed by everything that can distract you—to the point where they lost connection with each other, even though they're right next to each other. The reason I made them look like big babies was because a NASA guy told me that they haven't yet simulated gravity perfectly for long-term residency in space. And if they don't get it just right, atrophy kicks in and you begin to lose your muscle tone—you just turn into a blob of goo. For a while, that's what I did with the humans in the movie; they were just big blobs of Jell-O. But it was so bizarre, we had to pull it back. So I said, well, let's just make them look like big babies. That's where all that came from.

I wasn't trying to make some sort of mean-spirited comment on consumerism or today's society. I was going with just the logic of what would happen if you were in a perpetual vacation with no real purpose in life. So I went with the idea that we'd become sort of big babies with no reason to grow up. I definitely saw humanity as victims of this system that they were in. They were just big babies that needed to stand on their own two feet. [...]

Stanton: [G]uys like you and others at Pixar, and other Christians like Scott Derrickson and Ralph Winter, are bringing biblical themes into the movies without making them feel "preachy." Where are you on all of that thinking?

Stanton: I agree with what you said. Just because you're strong in your faith doesn't mean that you suddenly have to be dumb and pander to a certain audience. When did that become a rule? I think you were given a brain to use it, and I think you were given talents to use it. And so the same intoxicating, seducing talents and cleverness and wisdom that you see in what may be considered "secular" entertainment, there's no reason that those things should be held back for anything else, I like to think.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Grim proving ground for Obama's housing policy: The candidate endorsed subsidies for private entrepreneurs to build low-income units. But, while he garnered support from developers, many projects in his former district have fallen into disrepair. (Binyamin Appelbaum, June 27, 2008, Boston Globe)

Grove Parc has become a symbol for some in Chicago of the broader failures of giving public subsidies to private companies to build and manage affordable housing - an approach strongly backed by Obama as the best replacement for public housing.

As a state senator, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee coauthored an Illinois law creating a new pool of tax credits for developers. As a US senator, he pressed for increased federal subsidies. And as a presidential candidate, he has campaigned on a promise to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that could give developers an estimated $500 million a year.

But a Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies - including several hundred in Obama's former district - deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable.

Grove Parc and several other prominent failures were developed and managed by Obama's close friends and political supporters. Those people profited from the subsidies even as many of Obama's constituents suffered. Tenants lost their homes; surrounding neighborhoods were blighted.

Some of the residents of Grove Parc say they are angry that Obama did not notice their plight. The development straddles the boundary of Obama's state Senate district. Many of the tenants have been his constituents for more than a decade.

The Left can't support giving individual vouchers to the needy, because it would tend to liberate them. So you come up with this scheme to benefit Cook County developers and the tragedy is well-launched.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Obama Looks to Balance Vulnerabilities With Veep Choice: Obama may pick a vice president with more national security experience (Kenneth T. Walsh, June 27, 2008, US News)

Obama would be America's first African-American president, and his strategists say he wants to reassure white voters that he is a mainstream candidate who shares their values and will protect their interests, especially on the economy. Democratic strategists say Obama also needs a running mate who has credentials on national security, where he is considered vulnerable.

...the optimal strategy is to name himself VP and pick someone serious for the top of the ticket.

June 27, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Stephen Hawking's explosive new theory (Roger Highfield, 26/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

By quantum lore, when a particle of light travels from A to B, it does not take one path but explores every one simultaneously, with the more direct routes being used more heavily.

This is called a sum over histories and Prof Hawking and Prof Hertog propose the same thing for the cosmos.

In this theory, the early universe can be described by a mathematical object called a wave function and, in a similar way to the light particle, the team proposed two years ago that this means that there was no unique origin to the cosmos: instead the wave function of the universe embraced a multitude of means to develop.

This is very counter intuitive: they argued the universe began in just about every way imaginable (and perhaps even some that are not). Out of this profusion of beginnings, like a blend of a God’s eye view of every conceivable kind of creation, the vast majority of the baby universes withered away to leave the mature cosmos that we can see today.

But, like any new idea, there were problems. [...]

Most models of the universe are bottom-up, that is, you start from well-defined initial conditions of the Big Bang and work forward. However, Prof Hertog and Prof Hawking say that we do not and cannot know the initial conditions present at the beginning of the universe. Instead, we only know the final state - the one we are in now.

Their idea is therefore to start with the conditions we observe today - like the fact that at large scales one does not need to adopt quantum lore to explain how the universe (it behaves classically, as scientists say) - and work backwards in time to determine what the initial conditions might have looked like.

The Hawkingcentric universe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Oh, how I hate the Beautiful Game (Craig Brown, 28/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

How I hate the Beautiful Game! I hate its cry-baby players and its gruff, joyless managers, its blokish supporters and its sinister owners, its whistle-peeping referees and its chippy little linesmen, its excitable commentators and - perhaps most of all - its unpluggable "analysts". I hate its imbecilic chanting and its self-righteous saloon-bar expertise. I hate its ersatz working-classness, especially now that the price of tickets compares unfavourably with Royal Ascot or Henley. I have even begun to hate those pampered little kiddies the footballers are now obliged to escort on to the pitch before the start of each game, as though all set to embark on a pervy kind of waltz.

Above all, I hate its inescapability. Honk! Honk! Even in a pretty street on a quiet night in Brussels, it was impossible to escape it. Back in our hotel bar, we were confronted by five screens, all showing endless slow-motion replays of failed goals interspersed with furrow-browed trainers and self-pitying footballers. On screen, a succession of experts and analysts and commentators all jabbered away; meanwhile, in the bar itself, Americans and Belgians and Dutch and English exchanged their equally forceful and self-confident opinions as to where things had gone wrong, and how they personally would have made them go so much better.

It is hard being a football loather, a football unfan. I sometimes feel as lonely as the sole survivor in the last reel of a Zombie film, as, one by one, old friends reveal themselves, with their glassy stares and outstretched arms, to have succumbed to the lure. People you had always assumed were salt-of-the-earth anti-soccer stalwarts suddenly start jabbering incoherently about how Cornelius from Aston Villa should be shot for that tackle by Aldomovar of Tottenham Hotspur and, from the look of them, you suddenly realise that all is lost.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


Iran: The Threat (Thomas Powers, 7/17/08, NY Review of Books)

Nothing in the modern affairs of nations has been more exhaustively analyzed and debated than the utility and dangers of nuclear weapons, and yet the dangers posed by Iran with a bomb have been barely discussed. They are treated as a given. The core idea is that Iran cannot be trusted because the country is run by religious fanatics crazy enough to use a bomb if they had one. This is not the first time such arguments have been made. Some Americans, including Air Force generals, believed in the late 1940s that a preemptive war against the Soviet Union was justified by the peril of Moscow with a bomb. Twenty years later the Russians, in their turn, were so alarmed by the prospect of Beijing with a bomb that they quietly proposed to the Americans a joint effort to destroy the Chinese nuclear development effort with a preemptive attack.

The world's experience with nuclear weapons to date has shown that nuclear powers do not use them, and they seriously threaten to use them only to deter attack. Britain, France, Russia, China, Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and North Korea have all acquired nuclear weapons in spite of international opposition. None has behaved recklessly with its new power. What changes is that nuclear pow-ers have to be treated differently; in particular they cannot be casually threatened.

More recently the examples of Iraq and Libya have suggested that international sanctions work more effectively than military threats to persuade nations to give up bomb programs. As is now well known, American fears of Saddam Hussein with a bomb were unfounded. In early 2003, when the US was loudly insisting that only military invasion and regime change could keep Saddam from acquiring a bomb, the United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix said that whether the danger was real or imaginary could be determined by international weapons inspectors in a matter of months. In the event, the Americans themselves, after a year spent ransacking Iraq for evidence of nuclear weapons activity, announced that Saddam's bomb program had been completely shut down a dozen years previously, in 1991.

While we're rather dubious that Iran will develop nuclear weapons before its citizenry effects regime-change via the ballot box, there are two seemingly significant problems with this analysis: (1) Shi'ite clerics think Mahmoud is crazy, due to his assertion that the 12th Imam is guiding him; and, (2) the end of Iraq's nuclear program, coming as it did in '91, argues the efficacy of military action by the US, not sanctions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


New Zealand take controversial last-ball thriller (Jamie Alter at The Oval, June 25, 2008, CricInfo)

In easily the tightest contest of the summer, England were struggling to stay in the contest with New Zealand well placed on 173 for 4 in the 35th over, but hit back to dismiss Styris (brilliantly run out by Graeme Swann and Paul Collingwood), Oram (pulling to the deep) and Daniel Vettori (excellently held by Bopara at midwicket) in the space of 24 balls and for 16 runs - turning The Oval into a cauldron.

A fourth followed in the most controversial manner. With 26 needed from 39 balls, Mills called Grant Elliott for a sharp single. As Elliott bolted out of the blocks he collided with Sidebottom, rugby style, and fell flat to the ground. Ian Bell threw the ball to Kevin Pietersen, who broke the stumps, but England did not withdraw their appeal despite the umpire, Mark Benson, offering Collingwood the chance to think again. A peeved Elliott hobbled off for 24.

With 12 needed from 21, Bell knocked down the stumps with Tim Southee short of his crease. Mark Gillespie then survived a tantalizingly tense maiden 47th over from Swann, and no runs had been scored for nine deliveries when Mills, who had been sizing up the midwicket boundary, swatted Collingwood off the middle for a 106-metre six, to transform the equation from 12 from 10 to six from nine.

Manic singles followed, and it came down to three from six balls. Mills pinched a single, but the next five deliveries seemed to take an eternity as Luke Wright ploughed a channel outside off and Gillespie fished and missed repeatedly. Then, on the last ball, he pushed the ball to Swann at cover and set off for the single that would have secured the tie. Swann's shy, however, missed the stumps and with England's fielders all converging on the stumps, New Zealand's sprinted through for a delirious winning over-throw. England's final blemish in the field proved decisive.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Is Europe Repainting Its Nazi Past? (Janet Levy, 6/26/08, American Thinker)

In recent years, soccer crowds have gone so far as to simulate the hissing of Nazi gas chambers, pairing the sound with Nazi salutes. In Belgium, Muslim fans at a soccer match between Israel and Belgium shouted "Jews to the gas chambers" and "strangle the Jews," while waving Hamas and Hezbollah flags. Freed from the restraints of acceptable behavior, with inhibitions loosened by alcohol consumption and the intense camaraderie of team spirit, soccer fans freely unleash anti-Semitic slurs with abandon and without fear of retribution.

This alarming behavior prompts questions as to whether anti-Semitism is becoming acceptable again in a Europe that has forgotten its Nazi past, and whether guilt has been supplanted by denial. Is the era of Nazism being re-examined and re-framed in a more positive light that contributes to such gratuitous and ugly outbursts?

No. Soccer is just conducive to such behavior.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


Bird Family Tree Gets Re-Write (AFP, 6/28/08)

A five-year project has revolutionized scientific thought on the evolution of birds and the results are so surprising that now even the textbooks will have to be rewritten, a study said Thursday.

"With this study, we learned two major things," said Sushma Reddy, lead author and a fellow at The Field Museum in Chicago, Ill.

"First, appearances can be deceiving. Birds that look or act similar are not necessarily related. Second, much of bird classification and conventional wisdom on the evolutionary relationships of birds is wrong."

The results of the largest ever study of bird genetics are so widespread that the names of dozens of birds will now have to be changed, says the study to be published in Science magazine.

...make them speciate on paper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


In Iran’s Holy City, Dissent Over Mixing Islam and Politics: The regime faces criticism from an unexpected source (Anuj Chopra, June 27, 2008, US News)

Such dissent fomenting in Qom, a center of Shiite scholarship, shows that the current Iranian government leadership faces rumblings of opposition not just from secular-minded intellectuals in affluent areas of northern Tehran but from elements in Iran's clerical class, too. This cleric—once a staunch supporter of the 1979 Islamic Revolution—is disillusioned with the "frightening direction" the revolution has veered toward, making way for what some have labeled a "turbaned dictatorship."

The revolution, which toppled U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, brought to power Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and transformed Iran into a theocracy. Clerics wear both the hats of government and the turbans of religion. The principle of velayat e faqih [rule of Islamic jurisprudence], which places the clergy above all other institutions, holds that society should be governed by a supreme leader, a cleric best qualified to enforce Islamic law, until the appearance of the Shiite messiah. It is this doctrine that makes Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader and all others subordinate to him.

While Iranian liberals have yearned for a constitutional separation of religion and state, Qom, too, was never completely at ease with Khomeini's idea of velayat e faqih. With its many decrepit buildings bearing scribbled slogans and stenciled portraits of an unsmiling Khomeini, Qom is home to hundreds of seminaries. It might appear to be the nerve center of global Islamic fundamentalism. Yet views here are not homogeneous. Some revered clerics, in private conversations, repudiate the idea of involving religion so deeply in politics and governance. And they blame the politicization of Islam for Iran's pressing woes—human-rights abuses, international isolation, and an economy that is crippled despite being blessed with the world's fourth-largest oil reserves

Jewish, Christian and Shi'a theologians are, of course, the most likely source of criticism that a government is acting heretically in trying to perfect the world.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Politics Goes Viral Online (Aaron Smith and Lee Rainie, June 15, 2008, Pew Internet & American Life Project)

In total, 46% of all adults are using the internet, email or phone text messaging for political purposes in this election. This percentage includes those who are doing at least one of the three major activities we probed -- getting news and information about the campaign, using email to discuss campaign-related matters, or using phone texting for the same purpose.

* 40% of all Americans (internet users and non-users alike) have gotten news and information about this year's campaign via the internet.
* 19% of Americans go online once a week or more to do something related to the campaign, and 6% go online to engage politically on a daily basis.

Websites aren't even fleas on the tail that wags the dog.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Stimulus payments lift spending in U.S. (Michael M. Grynbaum, June 27, 2008, NY Times)

The economic stimulus package, which mailed about $50 billion worth of tax rebates in April and May, provided a lift to income and savings of consumers last month, the government said on Friday.

Consumer spending increased as well.

...just keep giving us our money back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:54 PM


From Pixar, A Droid Piece of Filmmaking (John Anderson, 6/27/08, The Washington Post)

One of the summer's presumptive blockbuster-tentpole-hits-to-be, the Pixar film is clearly making co-producer/distributor Disney nervous. And it's not hard to see why. It's too good. Too smart. And, most importantly, too dark.

Set in a future where the Earth has become covered in trash, swept by monstrous, rumbling dust storms and whose only bona fide wildlife is the cockroach (a literally running gag), "WALL·E" refers to our hero -- a Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth class. The cute, mechanically chirping robot has been left behind to toil endlessly in the shadow of the planet's rubbish skyline, collecting garbage, compressing garbage, living his solitary life amid his amassed artifacts of bygone human society (a Rubik's cube, a flashbulb, a museum's worth of Zippo lighters).

Oh, yes -- and he ends each day growing misty-eyed (or misty-goggled) rewatching an old copy of "Hello, Dolly!"

It's embarrassing -- is this what would be left of us?

Adorably WALL-E: Pixar's latest creation may not be a favorite for the younger generation, but may attract an older audience. (Frederica Mathewes-Green, 6/27/08, National Review)
Apart from WALL-E and Eve, the most interesting character is the skipper of the Axiom, Captain McCrea. Portraits of the vessel’s previous captains line the walls of his cabin, and reveal that the human race has been becoming increasingly obese, soft, and baby-like. Captain McCrea can’t get into his uniform jacket, but wears it buttoned over the shoulders of his stretchy soft unitard, the garment worn by everyone on the spaceship. Contented humans have nothing to do but ride along in hoverchairs, gazing at personal video screens that serve all their entertainment and communication needs. They eat continually, sucking food from plastic cups through beverage straws (advertisements blare, “Lunch in a cup!” “Cupcake in a cup!”). They are barraged by commercials urging them to buy more, eat more, and hop on the latest fad. “Try blue! It’s the new red!” a voice announces, and instantly all the unitards turn blue. A cheery recorded voice calls out, “Consume again soon!”

But Captain McCrea is intrigued by the possibility that vegetable life is sprouting on earth, and begins to overcome his bloated passivity. He asks his computer to define terms like “dancing,” “farms,” and even “hoe down,” and views the images with increasing wonder. Entranced by earth’s fertility and beauty, he begins to consider the possibility of returning to inhabit the earth once more, planting “vegetable seeds and pizza seeds.” This dream is opposed by the ship’s auto-pilot, a HAL-like device called Auto (Otto?), which has a single glowing red eye. Their struggle for power supplies the closing conflict of the movie.

The conflict is somewhat ambiguous, though, because Auto has a pretty good argument on his side. The captain’s naiveté and ignorance would seem to make a return to earth disastrous. We’re given the further detail that centuries of reduced gravity have caused the human skeleton to become smaller and weaker; Captain McCrea’s feet and hands are little more than pudgy blobs. How could such people, with such disadvantages, thrive on earth? Wouldn’t a McCrea victory mean a defeat for humanity?

Well, it’s only a movie, of course. But I’ll urge you to stay for the closing credits, because they offer a resolution to that question that is not just ingenious but satisfying, as well as moving.

...but anecdotal evidence (our house) suggests they're eager to see it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


The Unbelievably Annoying Problem of Christian Moral High Ground : A seventh LOSER LETTER (Mary Eberstadt, 6/27/08, National Review)

Today’s subject concerns an idea that is absolutely critical to the success of Our godlessness: namely, how the believers’ capture of the moral high ground on certain issues — in particular, what they call the “life issues” — continues to deprive us atheists of the converts we deserve. I’ll start by discussing the particular leading “life” issue where they’ve left us Brights in the p.r. dust: i.e., abortion.

Now, let’s begin by noticing that there is such a thing as an atheist position on abortion — namely, that just about every Bright in history or currently in print is unanimously in favor of it. At first, I have admit, I didn’t quite get why Everybody should be so North-Korean-election lopsided about this. After all, we atheists are supposed to be Freethinkers. We do disagree about some important things, like — well, like nothing I can think of offhand, but I’m sure there’s something We don’t all think alike about, somewhere. This issue isn’t one of them, though. You can scour almost all contemporary works on Our side, and find not a Molecule of difference on the question of the morality of abortion.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Because even as recently as a few generations ago, at least a couple of people were apparently able to be atheists and anti-abortion at the same time. For example, two of the few influential Female atheists in history, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were exactly that. Even Our spiritual anti-mother Margaret Sanger was apparently conflicted about the morality of abortion — or at least about abortions committed by white people. (Don’t worry! I would not ordinarily bring Margaret Sanger’s name into anything, at least not around the Dulls aware of Her work. We all know what a liability her flamboyant racism can be. See the excruciating NRO book excerpt by public enemy Jonah Goldberg this very week reminding Everybody of what we’d just as soon forget). For whatever reason, though, it appears that this kind of dissent in atheist thought just quit Evolving. By now, being anti-Loser is pretty much a proxy for being pro-abortion, and usually vice versa too.

Now, there seem to be two arguments for abortion on which today’s Brights unanimously agree. The first, which is simple enough, goes like this: Religious people, and only religious people, are against abortion; religious people are misled, and usually stupid; therefore, being against abortion is not something a Bright should be.

...that there is no foundation for morality in the absence of God (the objective standard), Bright support for abortion is easy enough to explain: they think it's just Dulls being exterminated.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 PM


Grover Norquist has a label for Barack Obama (Don Frederick, 6/27/08, LA Times)

John McCain has been trying hard of late to link Barack Obama with Jimmy Carter in the public consciousness, hoping that the "ineffectual" label that many voters affix to the former president will prove transferable.

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist touts Goc. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota as prime vice presidential prospects for presumptive Republican presdiential nominee John McCainBut Grover Norquist -- the conservative activist who specializes in promoting an anti-tax agenda and, more generally, revels in the role of agent provocateur -- is offering a different comparison.

Norquist dropped by The Times' Washington bureau today and, as part of his negative critique of Obama's liberal stances on economic issues and other matters, he termed the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee "John Kerry with a tan."

..Carol Mosely-Braun with a penis.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Campaign Scorecard (Mark Halperin, 6/27/08, TIME: The Page)

McCain's Good Week (Jonathan Chait, 6/23/08, TNR: The Plank)

[M]cCain did a spectacular job of stopping Obama this last week. Obama was trying to focus on the economy, and he got virtually no traction because McCain has been driving the debate by attacking him on debates, public financing, and terrorism.

The first two, especially, seemed to take a toll. Political reporters are interested in politics, not policy, and a process fight will always eclipse a debate over economic plans. And it's pretty clear that Obama's image has been tainted by the process fights.

...that the quality of the campaigns matters, when really the race is just a function of political dynamics. Everything that helped Senator Obama defeat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination is a liability for him in the general, while nought that aided John McCain is. Now, Senator Obama has to jettison all his baggage -- his identity politics, his voting record, his affiliations, etc. -- and can't help but seem two-faced as he does so. Worse, since no one really knows who he is their first impression of him is that he's so changeable as to be hollow. Republican attacks on his original politics and his shucking them for political purposes simply reinforce this image.

Maverick isn't winning so much as Senator Obama can't win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM

SENATOR BUTTERFIELD (via Glenn Dryfoos):

A Diplomatic Success That Defies the Critics (STEVEN LEE MYERS, 6/27/08, NY Times)

“The regime’s nuclear declaration is the latest reminder that, despite Mr. Bush’s once bellicose rhetoric, engaging our enemies can pay dividends,” Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, whom Mr. Bush defeated in the 2004 presidential election, said in a statement after the declaration on Thursday.

“Historians will long wonder,” he continued, “why this administration did not directly engage North Korea before Pyongyang gathered enough material for several nuclear weapons, tested a nuclear device and the missiles to deliver them.”

History will not judge Mr. Bush as a dove, even if North Korea steps back from the nuclear threshold. The war in Iraq and his sanction of aggressive tactics in the war on Al Qaeda and other terrorists will shape his legacy more than anything he accomplishes diplomatically.

Amazing, North Korea, like Libya, is giving up its nuclear ambitions despite our regime-changing another dictatorship that had them!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


For Obama, a Pragmatist’s Shift Toward the Center (MICHAEL POWELL, 6/27/08, NY Times)

Barack Obama has taken a stroll this week away from traditional liberal political positions, his path toward the political center marked by artful leaps and turns.

On Thursday, he seemed to embrace a Supreme Court decision, written by the court’s premiere conservative and upheld 5-to-4, striking down Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns.

Mr. Obama seemed to voice support for the ban as recently as February. On Thursday, however, he issued a Delphic news release that seemed to support the Supreme Court, although staff members later insisted that might not be the case.

...whether the Democrat can convince Americans that he isn't a liberal. Southern white Evangelical governors -- Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- have succeeded. The prospect of a black nationalist Cook County Senator doing so is improbable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


H.I.V. And Aids Diagnoses Rise in Men Who Have Sex With Men (DAVID TULLER, 6/27/08, NY Times)

Diagnoses of H.I.V. and AIDS in men who have sex with men rose significantly from 2001 to 2006, while declining in other demographic groups, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The increase in infection rates was especially high among males ages 13 to 24, with an annual increase of 12.4 percent, compared with 1.5 percent for men over all. The annual increase was higher still among young African-American men who have sex with men, nearly 15 percent. “It’s a grim report,” said Dr. Ronald Stall, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh. “It means roughly speaking that about half of the American AIDS epidemic is occurring among a few percent of the adult population."

Oughtn't it be a relief that the only way to acquire the disease is through considerable conscious effort to do so?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Feeding the Sectarian Frenzy (Mshari Al-Zaydi, 6/26/08, asharq alawasat)

According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar, Al-Musawi attacked Saudi Arabia without naming it, saying, "This Gulf country is financing the sectarian sedition in Lebanon". Al-Musawi added, "The problem is that this is a political battle that this Gulf country is waging and it should know that it cannot transform Lebanon into an emirate appended to the emirates that it controls" as he referred to the formula of Lebanese co-existence among its sects. This is what was said - from north of the Arabian Peninsula- by one of the leaders of the Iranian-Lebanese party whose master [Hassan Nasrallah] admitted that he was a follower of Waliyat el Faqih. So what was said from south of the Arabian Peninsula and almost in the same week?

In inconsistent remarks to the weekly Yemeni newspaper Al-Wasat (on 18 June) following the recent battles with the Yemeni army, Abdul Malik al-Huthi, the field commander of the Al-Huthist insurgents in the northern mountains of Yemen and the strongholds of Al-Zaydiyah in Sa'dah and elsewhere, said: "The Saudis are hostile to us although we are not their enemies. But their participation in the aggression against us with money and other things force us to treat them like enemies. We have many options and various files that we can revive and raise alongside other Yemeni files". Al-Huthi added: "But so far we have not declared war". In a statement to the Yemeni newspaper Al-Nida on 12 June, Al-Huthi accused Saudi Arabia of "involvement in shedding Yemeni blood to placate the United States". He warned that if Saudi Arabia's aggressive behavior continues, "We may be driven to classify it as an enemy". Abdul Malik al-Huthi also expressed to Al-Wasat his deep admiration for the Iranian state and its policies saying that he supports these policies.

The fact is that the criticism of Saudi intervention by Al-Musawi or Al-Huthi is like trying to block the sunlight with a sieve. Regardless of the true source of corruption and harmful interference - that is Iran - and even if we agree with them that Saudi Arabia is the biggest corrupter and interventionist in Lebanon and Yemen, why is Saudi intervention viewed as an evil deed of the devil while Iran's intervention is deemed sweeter than rainwater?

Because the Sa'uds are consistently opposed to consensual government?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


High Oil Prices: It's All Speculation: The Administration says oil's runup is due to shortages, but the evidence points to manipulation (Ed Wallace, 6/27/08, Business Week)

Today, while energy prices are crushing American families, I think we'd all benefit by reflecting on what happened with energy in 2001. Seven years ago, Enron was fleecing California, extorting its people for electricity to the tune of billions of dollars. As is true today, some voices in the Administration claimed that supply shortages, not manipulation, formed the core of California's soaring electricity prices. Yet, now that we know the whole story of Enron's criminal manipulations, many menbers of the media have forgotten how in 2001 the White House deflected any blame for California's suddenly stratospheric electrical costs away from their Houston friends.

Likewise, our Energy Secretary has a real problem discussing issues with facts. Like a broken record, he continues to maintain that in no way has speculation had anything to do with today's high oil prices. No, to hear Sam Bodman tell it, they are now and always have been caused by too many buyers chasing too few barrels of oil. But, while that might have been true in 2004, things have changed. And so I give you just one week of news from the oil market.

The state of Nature is incapable of rendering the dynamics that capitalism depends on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


Gordon Brown Suffers Humiliating Anniversary Defeat<, 6/26/08/a> (Reuters)

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suffered a humiliating defeat in a mid-term election for a vacant parliamentary seat, the latest setback coming exactly a year after he took power.

Obama Lead Tight Over McCain (JAY NEWTON-SMALL, 6/26/08, TIME)
Illinois Senator Barack Obama enters the General Election with a tight lead, 43% to 38%, over Arizona Senator John McCain, according to a new TIME Magazine poll of registered voters. The poll shows Obama gaining only a slight bounce from Hillary Clinton's departure from the campaign early this month.

When undecided voters leaning towards Obama and McCain are accounted for, the race narrows to a mere 4 percentage points, barely above the poll's 3.5% margin of error. Thirty percent of those who remain undecided said they lean towards McCain, 20% said they were leaning toward Obama with 46% citing no preference.

Divergence from the Third Way is political suicide.

June 26, 2008

Posted by Matt Murphy at 9:11 PM


Bulldogs overcome deficits, injuries to shock college baseball world (Tim Griffin, 6/26/08, ESPN)

Fresno State outfielder Steve Susdorf knew he wanted to come back for his senior season for a reason. But he couldn't have imagined it would have turned out quite so satisfying.

Steve Susdorf (No. 27) decided to come back for his senior season, and he's glad he did.

After he became a part of the most improbable college sports championship story in recent years, Susdorf was glad he listened.

"This is a fairy tale come true," Susdorf said as he held the championship trophy on Wednesday after the Bulldogs vanquished Georgia 6-1. "This is phenomenal. I can't describe it."

The hyperbole around Fresno State's wild charge to the NCAA baseball championship probably isn't overstated. The Bulldogs' emergence from underdogs to wonderdogs will go down in history as one of the most memorable title runs in college sports history, maybe even in all of sports history.

Fresno State, which brought home the school's first men's national title of any kind, entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 4 seed in the Long Beach regional. Its RPI ranking of 89 suggested it was more likely to go "two and barbecue" in the first round as to make a long run.

The Bulldogs became the first No. 4 seed ever to make the College World Series, but they accomplished so much more. They gave hope to all the directional schools and the low majors who are always a part of the 64-team tournament.

"In college baseball, everybody has a chance," Susdorf said. "We just got hot at the right time."

A lot of commentators have noted that the Fresno State team did not lack motivation and that they all seem to have a lot of "heart." Well, remember how Villanova once won the NCAA basketball title over Georgetown? They were an eight seed, and what Fresno State just accomplished is equivalent to a twelve seed winning the basketball tournament. Sometimes heart gets you places.


Thousands at Beiden tribute (George Hostetter and Paula Lloyd, 6/26/08, Fresno Bee)

More than 5,000 fans packed the stands and the playing field at Beiden Field this evening to greet the NCAA champion Bulldogs.

Throughout the mile-long parade route and when they walked onto the field, the players were greeted with roars of "Fresno State, Fresno State."

The estimate of people in the stadium doesn't include those who lined the parade route on Barstow Avenue and Cedar Avenue, 10 to 12 deep in some places.

A unofficial estimate put the crowd at about 10,000.

Bulldog players and coaches rode in golf carts and on fire trucks in the parade. Despite crowd control efforts by law enforcement, many fans broke through to shake the hands of players and of Bulldog coach Mike Batesole. The constant refrain was "You're No. 1" and "We love you."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


REVIEW: of WALL*E ( Josh Hurst, 06/26/08, Christianity Today)

When Toy Story opened in 1995, it was heavily marketed as the first-ever full-length computer-animated film--essentially, as a novelty. Anyone who saw the film, of course, knew that it was anything but a flash-in-the-pan or a gimmick, as Pixar's technical innovation was overshadowed only by the movie's exemplary storytelling. And ever since then, with each new film they've produced, Pixar has delivered on the promise of that first movie time and time again, both in terms of technology and storytelling excellence--strangely, though, as the technology has gotten better and better, it is talked about less and less. Perhaps it's because Pixar's success spawned such a wide slew of sub-par imitators; perhaps it's because their standards of animation are so consistently high, it's simply pointless to even try coming up with new superlatives.

It's more than a little ironic, then, that the studio's greatest achievement to date is a movie that is, on one level, about technology--and that the picture it paints is not a pretty one. WALL*E, from director Andrew Stanton of Finding Nemo, is arguably the purest work of hard science fiction to appear on the big screen in ten or fifteen years, and the world that it creates is bleaker and more dystopian than in any American animated film you care to name.

In WALL*E's world, Earth is no longer inhabited by humans; they fled the planet over 700 years ago, having rendered their home world unlivable. Now, mankind floats through space in a giant space station/spa/shopping mall called the Axiom--a race of fat, stupid, lazy and lethargic slobs, too bloated to even stand on their own two feet as they cruise around in hovering lounge chairs. Their planet is in ruins--literally--but they don't care; they're too busy shopping … from the mega-retailer Buy N Large, which seems to have a monopoly on everything. George Orwell would have had nightmares had he seen such a vivid rendering of unchecked consumerism.

But that's just the backdrop.

WALL-E: Robots in Love: Pixar's newest blasts off to the future by boldly going where every sci-fi movie’s gone before. And that’s a good thing. (Robert Wilonsky, June 24th, 2008, Village Voice)
Many will attempt to describe WALL-E with a one-liner. It’s R2-D2 in love. 2001: A Space Odyssey starring The Little Tramp. An Inconvenient Truth meets Idiocracy on its way to Toy Story. But none of these do justice to a film that’s both breathtakingly majestic and heartbreakingly intimate—and, for a good long while, absolutely bereft of dialogue save the squeals, beeps, and chirps of a sweet, lonely robot who, aside from his cockroach pet, is the closest thing to the last living being on earth.

Cobbled from so many familiar spare parts—from Star Wars to Buster Keaton to Tron to the Marx Brothers—WALL-E feels, here and there, formulaic: Lonely boy and sexy girl meet cute, fall in love, save the planet. It’s a lifetime of celluloid memories cut and pasted into a spiffy computer program that buffs off the rough edges and leaves us with the shiny, sumptuous brand-new. Writer-director Andrew Stanton, among the founding fathers of the Pixar Empire, even admits as much. In the press materials, he name-checks all of the above, plus Alien and Blade Runner and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Such reverence for movie history in general and sci-fi in particular is vital to the story, because it’s what ultimately gives WALL-E its wow factor and its weight—this reinvigoration of the past on the way to the future of filmmaking.

Silent Running, without Bruce Dern.
Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Sliding toward irrelevance (Robert Kagan, June 26, 2008, IHT)

The Lisbon Treaty was supposed to solve some of these problems. It would have created two potential leaders to represent Europe on the world stage: a president and a foreign minister.

Names being bandied about for the two jobs, from Tony Blair to Sweden's Carl Bildt, made it possible to imagine Europe taking a stronger role in the world, even amid all the doubts.

To Euro-enthusiasts across the Continent, the new constitution was the answer to Europe's malaise and the next step toward global leadership. But what now, since the treaty is dead?

All of this is bad news for the United States. In a world of rising great powers, of which two happen to be autocracies, the United States needs its fellow democracies to be as strong as possible.

A unified, independent, capable Europe is in American interests, even if we may disagree at times. I would much rather see Europe run the 21st century than Vladimir Putin's Russia or Hu Jintao's China.

The danger of this latest blow to European confidence is that America's allies, including Britain, could gradually sink into global irrelevance. Already there are voices in London welcoming it. Gideon Rachman of The Financial Times believes that the majority of Europeans, if not their leaders, prefer irrelevance and are right to do so.

...because they're secular themselves. Europe isn't sliding, it's racing and Russia and China are going with it. The continent had one final chance to save itself, after WWII, by shucking statism and reverting to dependence on society, but we administered the coup de grace -- the Marshall Plan rescue of their Welfare system and the assumption of their defense -- preferring that they die out rather than annoy us any further.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


Individual Gun Rights Protected, Top U.S. Court Says (Greg Stohr, June 26, 2008, Bloomberg)

``The enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table,'' Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority. ``These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home.''

Scalia said the ruling doesn't cast doubt on concealed weapons bans or laws barring handgun possession by convicted felons and the mentally ill. Still, the decision may make gun restrictions in Chicago, New York City and other cities more vulnerable to legal challenges.

The court divided along now-familiar grounds, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy joining Scalia. Justices John Paul Stevens, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, and Stevens read from his dissent on the bench.

...as befits the only explicitly limited Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Louisiana vows to nullify child-rape ruling (Tom Ramstack, June 26, 2008, Washington Times)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he will seek to enact laws that would invalidate Wednesday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the death penalty for raping a child.

"One thing is clear," said Mr. Jindal, a Republican. "The five members of the court who issued the opinion do not share the same standards of decency as the people of Louisiana."

...who'd send troops to stop that Nullification.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Why is McCain joining the Bush party? (GLENN HUROWITZ, 6/26/08, Politico)

The weird thing about this newly obedient McCain, however, is that he’s drawing close to the Bush establishment at the very moment when it and its policies are widely blamed for America’s deepening malaise. At a time when the rest of the country is experiencing a Bush hangover, McCain is just popping the champagne. He’s gone from being a maverick who defies the establishment to a kind of gonzo maverick who defies the people — and that’s a very dangerous thing for a presidential candidate.

When, for instance, President Bush pushed his tax cuts for the ultra-rich during the early years of his administration, McCain opposed them, even though the tax cuts enjoyed relatively strong public support. Now, when Bush and his economic policies have fallen into disrepute, McCain is campaigning to make them permanent.

When denying the reality of the climate crisis was de rigueur in the Republican Caucus, McCain fashioned himself as a Grand Old Party green and repeatedly defied the oil companies and his colleagues in the fight for clean energy. Now, with America in a rage about high gas prices and concerned about the fate of the planet, McCain has shied from standing up to the oil barons he used to delight in tweaking. [...]

McCain’s great shift has even extended to torture, once the former POW and torture victim’s signature issue.

...while believing that lower taxes, lower gas prices and tirturing terrorists is bad politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Dems' energy proposals stymied (PATRICK O'CONNOR, 6/26/08, Politico)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi hoped to send House Democrats home for the Fourth of July recess with a series of votes that would show they’re serious about easing the pain at the pump. [...]

The price-gouging bill failed to garner the two-thirds support necessary to pass. An accounting issue forced leaders to put off for a day the so-called “use it or lose it” measure. And the legislation to curb speculation is now caught up in a member fight over the proper path forward — a fight that exposes the misgivings some Democrats have about this activist agenda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Getting ready for a gun ruling (Ben Smith, 6/26/08, Politico)

The Obama campaign, getting ready for an expected Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.'s gun control legislation, reverses a statement it put out last year that the ban was constitutional.

(The campaign now describes the statement as "inartful," but it wasn't ambiguous: "Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional.")

...and replace them with these fascinating pages on the Bering Strait.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


Cameronism: The Tory leader has done a brilliant job rebranding the "nasty party", but he has yet to come up with a coherent political philosophy - or anything especially new. Richard Reeves on the continuing Conservative makeover (Richard Reeves, 26 June 2008, New Statesman)

If Labour politicians were a bit worried in 2005, they are terrified now. Unless there is a significant change in the political weather, Cameron is set to be prime minister within two years. For a long time, Labour refused to believe that Cameron was executing a brilliant strategy to return the Tories to office by reshaping Con servatism. Cameronism is real - as real as new Labour, or the Third Way - and is likely to be the guiding light of the next government.

As a political strategy, Cameronism represents a largely successful attempt to detoxify the Tory brand. Andrew Cooper, the Tory modernisers' favourite polling guru, spent years presenting evidence to party elders showing that people supported various Conservative policies - until they were told they were Conservative policies. Cameron was the first leader to understand this. The first two years of his leadership was like a sorbet between courses, intended to cleanse the electorate's palate of late Thatcherism. It consisted of a relentless marketing exercise to dem onstrate that Cameron was, variously, a "compassionate", "modern", "liberal", "centre-right", "practical" Conservative: and that he was leading his party in the same direction. At his boldest, Cameron has claimed himself as the true "heir to Blair". He and colleagues such as Oliver Letwin now audaciously claim to be pursuing "progressive ends by conservative means".

Now the bitter taste is gone, tougher policies on welfare, immigration and public services can be pursued without being dismissed as typical products of the "nasty party".

...you just need to make it seem a bit ladylike to market the same ideas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Airline safety can depend on aisle seat (Lee Glendinning, June 26, 2008, guardian.co.uk)

The safest place to sit on a plane is an aisle seat close to the emergency exit row, a study of 105 accidents and accounts of 2,000 survivors has found.

The seats with the best survival rate were in the exit row and the rows in front or behind, says the study carried out by Greenwich University for the Civil Aviation Authority.

...if they faced back instead of front, as you can do with many train seats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Obama Criticizes Supreme Court Death Penalty Ruling (SARA KUGLER, June 26, 2008, AP)

Senator Obama said yesterday he disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision outlawing executions of people who rape children, a crime he said states have the right to consider for capital punishment.

"I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes," Mr. Obama said at a news conference. "I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution."

Thus he sides with the Justices he opposes and against the types he says he'd appoint, suggesting it's not a power he ought have.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM

THE WAY THINGS 'SPOSED TO BE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Ensuring It Still Feels Like the Old Ball Game (JOHN BRANCH, 6/23/08, NY Times)

[Lambert Bartak] sat, shoeless, in an enclosed booth, just a man and his weathered 1935 Hammond organ, alone and anonymous in their timeless endeavor. A ballpark organist is part of the unobtrusive background of baseball, or used to be, until most were quietly silenced by time and outsourced by recorded music.

But after decades of playing largely behind the scenes — as an accordion accompaniment to Johnny Carson’s early magic shows (both spent childhoods in Norfolk, Neb.), as a studio musician for a radio station and as a ballpark organist here during the College World Series — Bartak can finally be seen as something more than a lithe-fingered provider of space-filling background music.

He is a reminder of how ballparks used to sound, and feel, and how they increasingly do not.

According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, organs gained a place at ballparks after the Chicago Cubs brought one to Wrigley Field for a game in 1941. It was instantly popular. In 1942, the Brooklyn Dodgers added a full-time organist at Ebbets Field.

Other teams followed, and the trend peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Their numbers have dwindled since. The Hall’s director of research, Tim Wiles, traced at least part of the beginning of the end to a change in ownership for the Mets after the 1979 season. The longtime organist Jane Jarvis was nudged out at Shea Stadium in favor of canned music. Teams wanted their music to rock, not reverberate.

Most major league teams do not employ organists anymore. Even the Omaha Royals, Rosenblatt’s primary tenants, stopped using Bartak a few seasons ago. It is possible that none of the players on the eight teams that made this year’s College World Series have played in another stadium with an organist.

The slow death of organ music may soon hit this event, where the organ still thrives as if there were no tomorrow, only yesterdays. A new stadium is planned for downtown Omaha in 2011, and Bartak doubts that there will be a spot reserved for an organist.

Until then, he punctuates every third out with a three-chord coda, and fills part of the still air between innings with a three-song medley. He does not plan the song lists, relying simply on some indescribable intuition and the hundreds of song titles he has scrawled before him.

Change sucks.

June 25, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 PM


Gallup Daily: Obama, McCain Tied at 45%: Obama had held at least a slim advantage for most of June (Jeff Jones, 6/25/08, Gallup Daily)

The latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking update on the presidential election finds John McCain and Barack Obama exactly tied at 45% among registered voters nationwide. [...]

Since the changes from Tuesday's results are well within the margin of sampling error, it is unclear at this point if today's results represent a further tightening of the race. The last two individual nights of polling have, however, been more favorable to McCain that what Gallup has shown for most of June.

...and using "registered" rather than likely, those are especially dangerous numbers for the Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 PM


ACLU Threatens to Sue U.S. Naval Academy Over Daily Prayer (Jacqueline L. Salmon, 6/24/08, Washington Post)

The American Civil Liberties Union is threatening to sue the U.S. Naval Academy unless it abolishes its daily lunchtime prayer, saying that some midshipmen have complained that they felt coerced to participate. [...]

In a statement, the Naval academy rejected the request.

"The academy does not intend to change its practice of offering midshipmen an opportunity for prayer or devotional thought during noon meal announcements." It said some form of prayer has been offered for midshipmen at meals since the Naval Academy 's founding in 1845 and that it is "consistent with other practices throughout the Navy."

Here's a stunner, the armed forces engage in coercion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


Europe Fears Obama Might Undercut Progress With Iran (Glenn Kessler, 6/22/08, Washington Post)

European officials are increasingly concerned that Sen. Barack Obama's campaign pledge to begin direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program without preconditions could potentially rupture U.S. relations with key European allies early in a potential Obama administration.

The U.N. Security Council has passed four resolutions demanding that Iran stop enriching uranium, each time highlighting the offer of financial and diplomatic incentives from a European-led coalition if Tehran suspends enrichment, a route to producing fuel for nuclear weapons. But Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has said he would make such suspension a topic for discussion with Iran, rather than a precondition for any negotiations to take place.

European officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they are wary of giving up a demand that has been so enshrined in U.N. resolutions, particularly without any corresponding concessions by Iran. Although European officials are eager to welcome a U.S. president promising renewed diplomacy and multilateralism after years of tensions with the Bush administration, they feel strongly about continuing on the current path.

"Dropping a unanimous Security Council condition would simply be interpreted by Iran and America's allies as unconditional surrender, and America's friends would view this as confirmation of America's basic unreliability," said François Heisbourg, a Paris-based military analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "A hell of a way to start a presidential term."

...he also wants to replace Old Glory with a white flag?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


America’s Next Chapter (GARY HART, 6/24/08, NY Times)

The idea that American politics moves in cycles is usually associated with the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., but it has an even longer currency. Ralph Waldo Emerson noted the political oscillations between the party of memory and the party of hope, the party of conservatism and the party of innovation. Henry Adams believed that “a period of about 12 years measured the beat of the pendulum” during the era of the founders. Schlesinger, borrowing from his historian father, estimated that the swings between eras of public action and those of private interest were nearer to 30 years.

What matters more than the length of the cycles is that these swings, between what Schlesinger called periods of reform and periods of consolidation, clearly occur. If we somewhat arbitrarily fix the age of Franklin D. Roosevelt as 1932 to 1968 and the era of Ronald Reagan as 1968 to 2008, a new cycle of American political history — a cycle of reform — is due.

The Republican coalition — composed of the religious right on social issues, the radical tax cutters or “supply-siders” on economic issues, and the neoconservatives on foreign policy....

Can't you just see that cycle coming? The one dominated by seculars who want higher taxes at home and oppose democracy abroad?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


Abortion Moves Back Into Political Spotlight With Black Minister Protest (Paul Bedard, 6/25/08, US News)

Race and abortion politics will merge Thursday when a group of African-American pastors, led by the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., march on the Democratic and Republican Party headquarters to demand that candidates refuse donations from Planned Parenthood. The reason: They believe that Planned Parenthood allows racist donors to designate that their money go to fund abortions of blacks. Planned Parenthood has outlined a $10 million campaign to fund candidates who support abortion. But the ministers say they have evidence in videos that African-American babies are being targeted. The group tells Washington Whispers that it is circulating two YouTube videos in which a racist donor wins agreement from Planned Parenthood workers to have his donation designated for blacks. A similar protest took place in front of Planned Parenthood in Washington in April.

...was the hope of white elites that the breeding of poor blacks could be stopped. It was Applied Darwinism, but, as with most intellectual plans, it went awry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM


Taking ownership of Iraq? (Thomas L. Friedman, June 25, 2008, NY Times)

Having recently returned from Egypt, I have the Suez Canal on my mind. And looking at Iraq from Cairo, the thought occurred to me that maybe the Iraqis have just crossed the Suez Canal. If so, that's good news.

What am I talking about? There is no way that Egypt's President Anwar Sadat could have ever made peace with Israel had he not first launched his lightning strike across the Suez Canal on Yom Kippur, 1973. "The crossing," as that surprise attack became known in Egyptian lore, was as psychologically important as it was militarily important. It wiped away Egypt's humiliating loss in the 1967 war and gave Egyptians the dignity and self-confidence to make peace with Israel as military equals.

The joint isn't exactly packed to the rafters with folks who take Tom Friedman seriously, but how does anyone keep reading after he suggests that there was an Egyptian consensus for peace with Israel? Iraq, on the other hand, has had consensual government since pretty near the end of the war that he later dismisses as fake.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 PM


Tory MPs 'still overwhelmingly Thatcherite' (Andrew Porter, 25/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

The majority of new Conservative candidates selected to fight the next election are unabashed supporters of Margaret Thatcher's ideals, a new survey has disclosed.

They advocate lower taxes and are more concerned about terrorism than global warming. There is also still a very strong anti-European Union bias among Tory candidates.

...when a major party in the Anglosphere runs someone who isn't low tax, defensive of their national sovereignty, and at least tough-sounding on national security.

Netroots feel jilted by Obama's FISA stand (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN | 6/25/08, Politico)

When former Sen. John Edwards dropped out of the presidential race, the progressive Netroots took their affections to Barack Obama, defending him against attack from Hillary Rodham Clinton and others.

But with his support of a government surveillance bill that offers retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies — a bill that he vowed last year to filibuster — the honeymoon has ended.

Disappointed over his position on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the online activists feel jilted and betrayed and have taken to questioning his progressive credentials. One prominent blogger, Atrios, has even given him the moniker “Wanker of the Day.”

He wouldn't govern like her, but he has to run as a Thatcherite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 PM


Away from the Cold War (Greg Sheridan, June 26, 2008, The Australian)

KIM Beazley, always an astute observer of American politics, makes a fascinating observation about US presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Obama, Beazley points out, is the first post-Cold War man to run for the presidency of the US. [...]

The great Cold War questions were things such as how does the US maintain its geo-strategic influence in key regions of the world; what is the interaction between US military posture and other nations' economic development; how do you keep allies in line with grand Western coalition policy; what is the underlying global balance of power equation; how do you manage the emergence of great powers; how do you balance one power against another; when is it worth embarking on a counterinsurgency campaign and when should the US just stand back from a situation? [...]

[I]n due course, naturally, all US political leaders will be people whose minds were not formed in the Cold War. But I do think Beazley's generational insight is acute. Obama is the first of a new breed.

Huh? Senator Obama says he'd not have sought to liberalize the Middle East because Canadian, German and French socialists objected. Meanwhile, W not only ignored Europe -- to the point where electorates in all those states had to change their regimes just to get his attention -- but has shifted our geo-political focus to places like Israel, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Libya, etc. and intervened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Liberia, etc.. If anything, Obama is a retrograde figure who doesn't grasp the Revolution that W has effected in erecting an Axis of Good that surrounds the Middle East and China and works to liberalize every nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM

THINK OF THE PENGUINS ... (via Our Legal Correspondent):

Court slashes judgment in Exxon Valdez disaster (Associated Press, June 25, 2008)

The court ruled that victims of the worst oil spill in U.S. history may collect punitive damages from Exxon Mobil Corp., but not as much as a federal appeals court determined.

Justice David Souter wrote for the court that punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses, about $500 million compensation.

Souter said that a penalty should be "reasonably predictable" in its severity.

Our legal correspondent notes that: In the juris prudence of punitive damages, I’m not aware of any 1-to-1 rule of thumb or goal of “predictability”…the whole point of “puni’s” is to punish outrageous behavior where the direct damages aren’t deemed to be sufficient deterrent.

Which just reinforces the point that, thanks to Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush, it's the most pro-business Court since the "Switch in Time". Perhaps even too pro-business for a Republic.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:49 AM


Interconnected we prosper (William J. Amelio, June 25, 2008, IHT)

The World Bank recently revisited its "dollar a day" global poverty yardstick and came to a startling conclusion: It was wrong when it said some 250 million people in China had escaped from severe poverty between 1990 and 2004.

Instead, by its latest count, some 407 million Chinese citizens rose out of poverty during those 14 years - roughly one-third of the entire population of the most populous country on the planet!

This upward shift is being repeated around the world with amazing implications for society. The Brookings Institution recently forecast that one billion people would join the ranks of this rising middle class by 2020.

This is cause for global celebration: The world's riches are being opened to all of its citizens, who in turn are contributing new value and advances that will propel the world economy to greater heights of shared prosperity.

Why, after centuries of human endeavor, is this amazing transformation happening now?

Because we have moved decisively from what we called "globalization" into a new era of global inter-connectedness, where not just goods but information and ideas flow across borders constantly and (for the most part) freely as near universal access to Internet-enabled communications moves closer to reality.

Which is why the panic over the end of the End of History is so amusing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


HIRAs Are The Future (DIANA FURCHTGOTT-ROTH, June 25, 2008, NY Sun)

Economists at Texas A&M University, Andrew Rettenmaier and Thomas Saving, were in Washington, D.C. last week to present their answer to Congress: Health Insurance Retirement Accounts, or HIRAs.

Here's how HIRAs would function: Workers would deposit 4% of their paychecks into their HIRAs, while current Medicare payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks would be used to pay for current and future Medicare expenditures.

When workers retire, the HIRA would be used to purchase a lifetime annuity. Annual income from that annuity would be available each year to pay medical costs above an initial deductible of $2,500.

If there were money left over in the account at the end of a year, retirees could keep it and spend it on whatever they wanted. If, on the other hand, medical expenses exceeded the annuity amount and the base deductible, the difference would be paid by Medicare.

Since low-income workers would have smaller HIRAs, the federal government might make a supplemental contribution, from tax revenues, and perhaps lower the $2,500 deductible. Workers of all income levels would shop around for medical services, a process that would help stem the increase in medical costs.

Current retirees now on Medicare would continue to pay Medicare premiums under the present arrangement.

HIRAs have major advantages for future generations of Americans:

* They prepay retirement health spending, taking advantage of the miracle of compound interest. That gives workers a nest egg from which to pay medical bills.
* They encourage shopping around for medical care. If people know they get to keep the unspent balance of their annual medical allowances, they would be more cost conscious. Just as prices for Lasik and cosmetic surgery have fallen, so would other medical costs. Doctors would compete against each other by posting lists of services and fees.
* They are fair. Because the size of the annuity is determined by past wages, those with higher incomes pay a larger fraction of their medical care with their larger annuities before dipping into the common Medicare pot.

Workers? If you wait until people are working you've squandered 20 of the healthiest years of their lives when the post could really be building. Start them at birth and fund them for the poor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


A grim reckoning: What has a 16th-century astronomer got to do with the defeat of governments and the possible extinction of the human race ? Answers in fractions please (J. Richard Gott III, November 15, 1997, New Scientist)

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus pointed out that the Earth revolved about the Sun, rather than vice versa, and in one swift move, displaced humanity from its privileged place at the very centre of the Universe. We now see the Earth as circling an unexceptional star among thousands of millions of others in our unexceptional Galaxy. This perspective is summed up more generally in the "Copernican principle", which is the supposition that one's location is unlikely to be special.

Early this century, when astronomer Edwin Hubble observed approximately the same number of galaxies receding from Earth in all directions, it looked as if our Galaxy was at the exact centre of a great explosion. But reasoning with the Copernican principle, scientists concluded instead that the Universe must look that way to observers in every galaxy - it would be presumptuous to think that our galaxy is special. As a working hypothesis, the Copernican principle has been enormously successful because, out of all the places intelligent observers could be, there are only a few special places and many nonspecial places. A person is simply more likely to be in one of the many nonspecial places. But the Copernican principle doesn't apply only to placement of galaxies in space - it works for the placement of moments in time as well.

What does it imply for "Homo sapiens ?"We have been around for about 200 000 years. If there is nothing special about the present moment, then it is 95 per cent certain that the future duration of our species is between 1/39 and 39 times 200 000 years. That is, we should last for at least another 5100 years but less than 7.8 million years.

Since we have no actuarial data on other intelligent species, this Copernican estimate may be the best we can find. It gives our species a likely total longevity of between 0.205 million and 8 million years, which is quite in line with those for other hominids and mammals. The Earth is littered with the bones of extinct species and it doesn't take much to see that we could meet the same fate. Our ancestor "H. erectus" lasted 1.6 million years, while "H. neanderthalensis" lasted 0.3 million years. The mean duration of mammal species is 2 million years, and even the great "Tyrannosaurus rex" lasted only 2.5 million years.

For us, the end might come from a drastic climate change, nuclear war, a wandering asteroid or comet, or some other catastrophe that catches us by surprise, such as a bad epidemic. If we remain a one-planet species, we are exposed to the same risks as other species, and are likely to perish on a similar timescale.

Some people might think that the discoveries of our age - space travel, genetic engineering and electronic computers - place us in a special position. These breakthroughs, they might say, could lead us to spawn new intelligent species, including intelligent machine species, enhancing our chances of survival. But such thinking may raise false hopes. For, according to the Copernican principle, you are likely to be living in a century when the population is high because most people will be born during such periods. And since it is people who make discoveries, it is not surprising that you will live in a century when many interesting discoveries are being made. But your chance of being born 200 000 years after the beginning of your intelligent lineage, in the very century when a discovery is made that guarantees it a billion-year future, is very small, because a billion years of intelligent observers would be born after such a discovery, and you would be more likely to be one of them. If you believe that any current discovery will dramatically increase our longevity, you must ask yourself: why am I not already one of its products ? Why am I not an intelligent machine or genetically engineered ?

Having displaced God with themselves it's only natural that the secular Left falls into the trap of believing every disaster scenario that comes down the pike. Their Malthusianism is just an attempt to make their lives seem important.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 AM


The Battle of Newark, Starring Cory Booker: The battle for America's soul isn't in Baghdad. It's right here at home, in a place forsaken long ago and ruled by depravity and despair. Then Cory Booker came to raise a city from the dead. (Scott Raab, Esquire)

"Before they came after me in 2002," he says, "they offered me every job imaginable. McGreevey" -- that'd be disgraced former New Jersey governor and self-described "gay American" Jim McGreevey, a Sharpe James ally -- "offered me Secretary of State, Secretary of Commerce, or Secretary of Labor. They said, 'The county bosses will give you the line for the Essex County Executive -- you'll be the first black county executive' -- all that kind of stuff."

His voice goes from matter-of-fact to plummy with passion in a heartbeat.

"These people don't understand what this is about. This is not about a position -- it's about a mission, and a city that should be so much further along than it is."

As the movie credits roll, Booker mounts the slope of theater carpet with a jock's whooshing stride -- six foot three, he's packing 250 or so pounds, " 'Twofitty,' as they say," Booker says, making him one of the world's bulkiest vegetarians -- and as he stops in the near-empty lobby, his green eyes are shining bright, his smile a mile wide.

"I'd gladly take a grenade," says Cory Booker, beaming, "if it meant saving Newark."

Goddamn hero.

The grenade thing? He means it. As a law student at Yale, Booker commuted from Newark to New Haven -- a three- or four-hour haul, depending on I-95 traffic -- and moved into Brick Towers, one of Newark's nastiest human warehouses. If it was a publicity stunt, as political enemies have claimed, it was bizarre unto insane: He moved to town two years before he ran for any office -- Booker won a Newark City Council seat in 1998, ousting a sixteen-year incumbent -- and he stayed for eight years, leaving only after the drug- and crime-infested place was condemned. Like Will Smith, Booker was the last human resident to go.

"There was a small point in my life in law school," he says, "right before I moved to Newark, when I didn't know what I wanted to do, and I felt so lost. I said, Well, where I want to be is Newark -- let me move to the worst street I can find and just be there, a young lawyer. Be there. For people."

Maverick ought to offer him one more prize.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 AM


The 'W.' Stands for 'War Criminal': The House and a shot not yet heard 'round the world (Nat Hentoff, June 24th, 2008, Village Voice)

In a June 6 letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey—largely ignored by a press immersed in the future of Hillary Clinton—56 Democrats in the House of Representatives asked for "an immediate investigation with the appointment of a special counsel to determine whether actions taken by the President, his Cabinet, and other Administration officials are in violation of the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441) . . . and other U.S. and international laws."

This isn't front-page news?

No, it's a tantrum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


French Pol: Europe Has 'Enemies' in the U.S. (Honor Mahony, 6/25/08, Business Week)

France's Europe minister, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, has said that Europe has enemies in Washington, suggesting that neo-conservatives played a significant role in the Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty earlier this month.

French daily Le Monde reports Mr Jouyet as saying that "Europe has powerful enemies on the other side of the Atlantic, gifted with considerable financial means. The role of American neo-conservatives was very important in the victory of the No."

...neocons are Jews and so only care about Israel. It's the Theocons who are Anglospherists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:06 AM


Falcon chicks 'stolen for trade' (BBC, 6/25/08)

Three peregrine falcon chicks stolen from a nest in Cheshire were taken by people illegally trading in falconry birds, a wildlife charity believes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Nader's invokes race to criticize Obama (Domenico Montanaro, 6/25/08, NBC First Read)

In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Ralph Nader says this on Obama:

"There's only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He's half African-American," Nader said.

Fear and Loathing (Howard Kurtz, 6/25/08, Washington Post)
Was Charlie Black right?

Did he simply commit the political sin of saying something that is unspeakably true?

An inability to discuss the fact that John Kerry is no more palatable in mocha and that no one would be willing to trust a vacuous neophyte like Senator Obama in a war has served the Democrats poorly, even though it is they who impose this speech code.

June 24, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 PM


Study Says Student Reading and Math Scores Are Improving (Eddy Ramírez, 6/24/08, US News)

Since No Child Left Behind took effect about six years ago, most states have found some success narrowing the achievement gap between white and minority children. Student achievement in mathematics and reading has also improved in a majority of states. But it's impossible to say how much credit the federal education reform law deserves. These are the major findings of a new report (.pdf) by the Center on Education Policy, an independent group in Washington, D.C., that analyzes education reforms.

"We cannot draw a causal connection between these results and NCLB," Jack Jennings, president and chief executive officer of the group that conducted the study, said this week. He stressed that the report's findings are good news at a time when confidence in U.S. public schools is shaky. "We are moving in the direction of improving schools," he added.

...W was personally responsible for black people drowning in New Orleans in a hurricane but not for education improving in precisely the ways he said it would since his reforms took effect?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Surge Protection (Joe Klein, 6/24/08, TIME)

The notion that we could just waltz in and inject democracy into an extremely complicated, devout and ancient culture smacked--still smacks--of neocolonialist legerdemain. The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives--people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary--plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.

That those who opposed the war are enemies of Israel?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 PM


Researchers hit a homer with 'The Odyssey': Using astronomical clues, they date one of literature's most heralded events: Odysseus' slaughter of his wife's suitors. But the finding leaves many questions unanswered (Thomas H. Maugh II, June 24, 2008, Los Angeles Times)

Delving into a 3,000-year-old mystery using astronomical clues in Homer's "The Odyssey," researchers said Monday they have dated one of the most heralded events of Western literature: Odysseus' slaughter of his wife's suitors upon his return from the Trojan War.

According to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the wily hero who devised the Trojan Horse hefted his mighty bow on April 16, 1178 BC, and executed the unruly crowd who had taken over his home and was trying to force his wife into marriage.

The finding leaves many perennial questions unanswered, such as whether the events portrayed actually occurred or whether the blind poet Homer was the author of the tale.

But it casts a new sheen of veracity on a story that has existed in a hazy realm of fantasy and history since it was first composed 400 years after the Trojan War.

...is, hilariously, just a verified fact or two.

Homecoming of Odysseus May Have Been in Eclipse (JOHN NOBLE WILFORD, 6/24/08, NY Times)

That Odysseus took his time, 19 years, getting home to Ithaca from the Trojan War is the story Homer engraved in the “Odyssey.” But exactly when did he rejoin his Penelope, who had been patient beyond belief?

Plutarch thought a crucial passage in the 20th book of the “Odyssey” to be a poetic description of a total solar eclipse at the time of Odysseus’ return. A century ago, astronomers calculated that such an eclipse occurred over the Greek islands on April 16, 1178 B.C., the only one in the region around the estimated date of the sack of Troy. But nearly all classics scholars are highly skeptical of any connection.

An analysis of astronomical references in the epic has led two scientists to conclude that the homecoming of Odysseus, usually considered a fictional character set in the context of a real historical event, possibly coincided with the 1178 solar eclipse.

Odysseus' Bloody Homecoming Dated to 1178 B.C. (Randolph E. Schmid, 6/24/08, Associated Press)

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


Poll: Salvation through myriad faiths: 70 percent acceptance stuns researcher (Julia Duin, June 24, 2008, Washington Times)

Most Americans say that many roads lead to heaven, according to a U.S. Religious Landscape Survey released Monday by the Pew Forum.

Seventy percent of all Americans say their religion is not the only path to eternal life, according to the second half of a massive survey of 35,000 Americans that charts religious attitudes and beliefs.

Only two religious groups did not agree with the phrase "many religions can lead to eternal life." Eighty-four percent of Jehovah's Witnesses and 61 percent of Mormons disagreed with that phrase, followed by 43 percent of evangelical Christians - the next largest group.

The poll showed "an enormous diversity" in American religion, said John Green, a senior fellow at Pew. "I was stunned."

When the Messiah comes, He's either going to be making His first visit, His second, occulating, or He'll tell us we should have listened to Mohammed. As long as we all get another chance to accept Him when He shows, it seems like there's stuff all us Abrahamists could band together to do instead of bicker about a question we all believe gets answered definitively in the long run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


General David Petraeus: My philosophy on war: David Petraeus, the top US general in Iraq, has moved to cement his reputation as a thinking soldier by issuing a 23-point list of lessons learned from salvaging America's 'lost war.' (Damien McElroy, 24/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Much of the memorandum could be an inversion of Mao Zedong's principles of guerrilla warfare. Mao declaimed that a successful resistance must arouse the population to swim alongside like fish in the sea. In the Petreaus version, troops are told to secure and serve the population: "The Iraqi people are the decisive terrain."

But Gen Petraeus, a warrior of capitalism, places a high importance on cash as a battle winner. Money is a weapon, he writes.

The author of the latest revision of the US Army field manual, Gen Petraeus arrived in Iraq in February last year, with a mandate to implement his own ideas. FM 3-24, as the draft was known, sought mastery of counter-insurgency.

By surging combat troops and shifting the army out of massive bases into smaller outposts, the high command was able to disrupt and destroy its enemy. Control of the streets allowed the US to build confidence in Iraq's security forces, which are now confronting the country's strongest militias.

....when the Sunni find out that not only are they a minority but the Shi'a are more than happy to commit reprisals, they suddenly become pliable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 PM


Exchange: 'Nixonland' or 'The Age of Reagan'? (Part Two): How influential were Nixonian ideas and tactics on Reagan's presidency?: In this TNR debate, two powerhouse political historians--Sean Wilentz, the author of The Age Of Reagan and contributing editor for The New Republic, and Rick Perlstein, the author of Nixonland--try to figure out which president continues to have the stronger hold over our political culture. (Rick Perlstein, June 23, 2008, New Republic)

Dear Sean,

I've been wielding my Nixon hammer for so long now--I signed the book contract for Nixonland in November of 2001--that sometimes the whole world starts to look like Nixon-shaped nails. Ask my friends: I've got a Nixon story for every occasion. And I mean every occasion: You call my book "sassy," and that reminds me of a story about Alger Hiss's car. ...

And your opening thoughts get to that issue of hammers and nails: Do I see Nixonland everywhere, to the exclusion of Reaganville? How much influence should Nixon be granted as midwife of our present political moment, and how much Reagan? It's a question I'm not entirely comfortable with, because I never intended to write a book with direct relevance to our present political moment.

My book originally ended this way: Richard Nixon, the greatest Electoral College victory in hand since James Monroe in 1820, is brooding angrily about the Republican Party's failure to capture the Senate. He's berating the press ("that's how they'll piss on it"), and he's getting ready to reward his cabinet by firing them all. My editor Colin Harrison, whose judgment is superlative, sent me back to the drawing board. My readers had come this far (746 pages!), and they wouldn't be satisfied with a mere reflection on the mood of Richard Nixon because the main character of the book was actually "the voter who, in 1964, pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else, at least on that particular Tuesday in November, seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason." I needed, my editor said, to explain what happened to that voter. And so I gave Colin and Nixonland two more pages--one thousand words to explain what the previous 325,000 had been "about." I'm proud of what I wrote, and stand by my words. But it's left me in the position of having to talk more about the snappy conclusion than the messy book--which means defining what it means to say that we're still living in Nixonland.

Sean, with your usual severe intelligence, you argue that Nixonism was a "hiccup" and that the last 25 or so years of American history tie more directly back to Reagan. Because, on the one hand, Reagan sanded the edges off Nixon-style Republican tactics, and on the other, he sharpened the edges of Nixon's ideology.

I'm not sure if that's entirely true, though. For my next book, which will cover the years from 1973 to 1980, with Reagan's ascent to the presidency as its frame, I'll be testing my hypothesis that the differences between the two presidents are overstated.

Friend Perlstein has tip-toed up to an insight, but missed it. Nixon and Reagan
are similar in two ways, but dissimilar in two just as important.
Both lived through the Depression and so were New Dealers who
preserved and even expanded the Welfare State. Nixonland and
Reaganville are then well within the neighborhood of Hooverville and
FDR's America. This similarity is inconsistent with the Left's hatred
of the two, so is largely ignored--as by Rick here--or denied.

Both also fought domestic Communists and so understood the degree to
which American intellectual elites were estranged from the country and
its ideals. This obviously is where they part company with mainstream
liberalism and explains some of the social divisiveness associated
with the two, though it's part and parcel of things like the Scopes
trial decades earlier. American anti-intellectualism is an eternal
theme, not a Nixonian innovation.

But Reagan also became quite wealthy in the 50s/60s and so came to see
what big government cost in taxes. This made him a tax-cutter and
rhetorically anti-big-government, another departure from the Left. He
also had an empathy that Nixon lacked and so found it intolerable that
billions lived under Communist regimes, whereas Nixon, like the Left,
couldn't care less about those people as long as their leaders
preserved stability and didn't threaten us.

Ultimately, Nixon was almost entirely a creature of the Second Way,
while Reagan began the process of breaking away, though not to the
degree that conservative peers like thatcher and Pinochet did. But the
true paradigm shift, to the Third Way, only came with

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


What’s The Big Idea? (Dorothy Wickenden, June 30, 2008, The New Yorker)

On October 7, 2002, in Cincinnati, Ohio, George W. Bush delivered the defining speech of his Presidency. In the face of “clear evidence of peril” from a regime harboring terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, he declared, “we cannot wait for the final proof—the smoking gun—that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

Five days earlier, a forty-one-year-old Illinois state legislator had given a momentous speech of his own, although few recognized it as such at the time. “I don’t oppose all wars,” Barack Obama told a few hundred Chicago protesters, adding:

I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of Al Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars. [...]

Still, sixteen months after announcing his candidacy, and after twenty-six Presidential debates and thousands of public-speaking engagements, Obama remains a puzzle to many voters. Almost as dedicated a policy wonk as Hillary Clinton and arguably more centrist in his economic beliefs, he offers plenty of specifics about what needs to be done. But his captivating eloquence and his slogan—“Change We Can Believe In”—have seemed to lift him dangerously high above the concrete. He has proved his steadiness of purpose without clearly defining his priorities. What, above all, does he intend to accomplish if he is elected President?

Obama is said to have been dissatisfied with the slogan. If so, he has a point. The “change” he advocates can be understood as a pragmatic correction to the radical policies and the ineptitude of the Bush brigade. His political departure is a kind of return. He has written two unusually revealing books—one describing how he came to be who he is, the other delineating how he proposes to reclaim the qualities that once made America so admired. He argues that the United States must relearn the fundamental lessons of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and its own long journey toward a more perfect union, and then apply them to the global upheavals of the twenty-first century.

Hard to unpick all the nensense there, but here are a few basic points:

(1) Given that W has used his presidency to fix his old man's mistakes--tax hikes, Souter, Saddam, etc.--does anyone really think he'd have left office without regime-changing Iraq? 9-11 was a convenient pre-text, not a paradigm-shifter.

(2) WMD was, likewise, just a pre-text, asked for by Tony Blair and Colin Powell, to try and get the United Nations to pass a new resolution, The defining speech on the Iraq War came a month earlier when W challenged the UN to live up to its own Charter and enforce its own prior resolutions, which Saddam was in violation of, President's Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly (George W. Bush,
New York, New York, 9/12/02 ):

Twelve years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait without provocation. And the regime's forces were poised to continue their march to seize other countries and their resources. Had Saddam Hussein been appeased instead of stopped, he would have endangered the peace and stability of the world. Yet this aggression was stopped -- by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations.

To suspend hostilities, to spare himself, Iraq's dictator accepted a series of commitments. The terms were clear, to him and to all. And he agreed to prove he is complying with every one of those obligations.

He has proven instead only his contempt for the United Nations, and for all his pledges. By breaking every pledge -- by his deceptions, and by his cruelties -- Saddam Hussein has made the case against himself.

In 1991, Security Council Resolution 688 demanded that the Iraqi regime cease at once the repression of its own people, including the systematic repression of minorities -- which the Council said, threatened international peace and security in the region. This demand goes ignored.

Last year, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights found that Iraq continues to commit extremely grave violations of human rights, and that the regime's repression is all pervasive. Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution, and torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation, and rape. Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children in the presence of their parents -- and all of these horrors concealed from the world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolutions 686 and 687, demanded that Iraq return all prisoners from Kuwait and other lands. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke its promise. Last year the Secretary General's high-level coordinator for this issue reported that Kuwait, Saudi, Indian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Bahraini, and Omani nationals remain unaccounted for -- more than 600 people. One American pilot is among them.

In 1991, the U.N. Security Council, through Resolution 687, demanded that Iraq renounce all involvement with terrorism, and permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq. Iraq's regime agreed. It broke this promise. In violation of Security Council Resolution 1373, Iraq continues to shelter and support terrorist organizations that direct violence against Iran, Israel, and Western governments. Iraqi dissidents abroad are targeted for murder. In 1993, Iraq attempted to assassinate the Emir of Kuwait and a former American President. Iraq's government openly praised the attacks of September the 11th. And al Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq.

In 1991, the Iraqi regime agreed to destroy and stop developing all weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, and to prove to the world it has done so by complying with rigorous inspections. Iraq has broken every aspect of this fundamental pledge.

From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with Scud warheads, aerial bombs, and aircraft spray tanks. U.N. inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared, and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.

United Nations' inspections also revealed that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons.

And in 1995, after four years of deception, Iraq finally admitted it had a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War. We know now, were it not for that war, the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program -- weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. And Iraq's state-controlled media has reported numerous meetings between Saddam Hussein and his nuclear scientists, leaving little doubt about his continued appetite for these weapons.

Iraq also possesses a force of Scud-type missiles with ranges beyond the 150 kilometers permitted by the U.N. Work at testing and production facilities shows that Iraq is building more long-range missiles that it can inflict mass death throughout the region.

In 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the world imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. Those sanctions were maintained after the war to compel the regime's compliance with Security Council resolutions. In time, Iraq was allowed to use oil revenues to buy food. Saddam Hussein has subverted this program, working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials. He blames the suffering of Iraq's people on the United Nations, even as he uses his oil wealth to build lavish palaces for himself, and to buy arms for his country. By refusing to comply with his own agreements, he bears full guilt for the hunger and misery of innocent Iraqi citizens.

In 1991, Iraq promised U.N. inspectors immediate and unrestricted access to verify Iraq's commitment to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. Iraq broke this promise, spending seven years deceiving, evading, and harassing U.N. inspectors before ceasing cooperation entirely. Just months after the 1991 cease-fire, the Security Council twice renewed its demand that the Iraqi regime cooperate fully with inspectors, condemning Iraq's serious violations of its obligations. The Security Council again renewed that demand in 1994, and twice more in 1996, deploring Iraq's clear violations of its obligations. The Security Council renewed its demand three more times in 1997, citing flagrant violations; and three more times in 1998, calling Iraq's behavior totally unacceptable. And in 1999, the demand was renewed yet again.

As we meet today, it's been almost four years since the last U.N. inspectors set foot in Iraq, four years for the Iraqi regime to plan, and to build, and to test behind the cloak of secrecy.

We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left? The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take.

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a -- nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq. And it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis -- a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty, and internationally supervised elections.

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.

(3) Last, note that W's speech and the Iraq War did precisely what Senator Obama claims to want to do, apply the standards of the American Founding globally. Not that this is new. After all, even the President's father--an arch-Realist/Pragmatist--was responsible for those resolutions, which, among other things, required that Saddam regime-change himself and grant the Iraqi people their God-given liberty.

Senator Obama's argument is that if a war may cost money and lives and be opposed by other foreign regimes that he'd not seek to vindicate American principles. That's a classic Realist trope, just an unAmerican one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Officials: Dozen militants killed in Afghanistan (The Associated Press, June 24, 2008)

Afghan officials say an airstrike has killed more than a dozen militants in the east of the country.

Police and militants fought a gunbattle in Sayid Karam district of Paktia province at about midnight Monday. When the gunmen withdrew toward nearby mountains, a warplane attacked them.

Provincial police chief Ismatullah Alizai said 15 militants were killed.

Thankfully, they never learn.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


A Dark Past: Contraception, abortion, and the eugenics movement: An excerpt from Liberal FascismJonah Goldberg, National Review)

Margaret Sanger, whose American Birth Control League became Planned Parenthood, was the founding mother of the birth-control movement. She is today considered a liberal saint, a founder of modern feminism, and one of the leading lights of the Progressive pantheon. Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood proclaims, “I stand by Margaret Sanger’s side,” leading “the organization that carries on Sanger’s legacy.” Planned Parenthood’s first black president, Faye Wattleton — Ms. magazine’s “Woman of the Year” in 1989 — said that she was “proud” to be “walking in the footsteps of Margaret Sanger.” Planned Parenthood gives out annual Maggie Awards to individuals and organizations who advance Sanger’s cause. Recipients are a Who’s Who of liberal icons, from the novelist John Irving to the producers of NBC’s West Wing. What Sanger’s liberal admirers are eager to downplay is that she was a thoroughgoing racist who subscribed completely to the views of E. A. Ross and other “raceologists.” Indeed, she made many of them seem tame. [...]

Under the banner of “reproductive freedom,” Sanger subscribed to nearly all of the eugenic views discussed above. She sought to ban reproduction of the unfit and regulate reproduction for everybody else. She scoffed at the soft approach of the “positive” eugenicists, deriding it as mere “cradle competition” between the fit and the unfit. “More children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the chief issue of birth control,” she frankly wrote in her 1922 book The Pivot of Civilization. (The book featured an introduction by Wells, in which he proclaimed, “We want fewer and better children...and we cannot make the social life and the world-peace we are determined to make, with the ill-bred, ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens that you inflict on us.” Two civilizations were at war: that of progress and that which sought a world “swamped by an indiscriminate torrent of progeny.”

A fair-minded person cannot read Sanger’s books, articles, and pamphlets today without finding similarities not only to Nazi eugenics but to the dark dystopias of the feminist imagination found in such allegories as Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. As editor of The Birth Control Review, Sanger regularly published the sort of hard racists we normally associate with Goebbels or Himmler. Indeed, after she resigned as editor, The Birth Control Review ran articles by people who worked for Goebbels and Himmler. For example, when the Nazi eugenics program was first getting wide attention, The Birth Control Review was quick to cast the Nazis in a positive light, giving over its pages for an article titled “Eugenic Sterilization: An Urgent Need,” by Ernst Rüdin, Hitler’s director of sterilization and a founder of the Nazi Society for Racial Hygiene. In 1926 Sanger proudly gave a speech to a KKK rally in Silver Lake, New Jersey.

One of Sanger’s closest friends and influential colleagues was the white supremacist Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy. In the book he offered his solution for the threat posed by the darker races: “Just as we isolate bacterial invasions, and starve out the bacteria, by limiting the area and amount of their food supply, so we can compel an inferior race to remain in its native habitat.” When the book came out, Sanger was sufficiently impressed to invite him to join the board of directors of the American Birth Control League.

Sanger’s genius was to advance Ross’s campaign for social control by hitching the racist-eugenic campaign to sexual pleasure and female liberation.

Everyone always acts surprised when the Brights take their ideas--like Darwinism--seriously.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


How Hoyer got the deal done (JOHN BRESNAHAN & PATRICK O'CONNOR, 6/24/08, Politico)

The Maryland Democrat shepherded a set of FISA amendments through the House last week — winning praise from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and even some in his party to who opposed the deal — but now finds himself subjected to a barrage of criticism from his party’s left.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) called the House bill a “capitulation.” Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald called Hoyer an “evil, craven enabler of the Bush administration.” Firedoglake.com blogger Jane Hamsher — delivering the lowest possible blow from the liberal blogosphere — declared Hoyer “the new Joe Lieberman.”

Is that supposed to be an anti-Semitic crack?

June 23, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 PM


Dobson to Attack Obama Tuesday for Distorting the Bible, Having a "Fruitcake" Interpretation of the Constitution (Jake Tapper, June 23, 2008, ABC News: Political Punch)

Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family -- who has stayed unusually quiet in this election cycle likely due to his loathing of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. -- will tomorrow attack Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, on Tuesday for a speech the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee delivered in 2006 to the liberal Christian group Call to Renewal.

The AP was given an advance copy of Dobson's 18-minute radio segment, which has already been taped, and will air Tuesday.

In it, Dobson hammers Obama's views of religion, and says the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is trying to govern by the "lowest common denominator of morality," and calls Obama's views "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution.

Good boy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM

BEING A DECENT PEOPLE... (via Brian McKim and Glenn Dryfoos):

Everything seemingly is spinning out of control (ALAN FRAM and EILEEN PUTMAN, 6/21/08, Associated Press)

Is everything spinning out of control?

Midwestern levees are bursting. Polar bears are adrift. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Home values are abysmal. Air fares, college tuition and health care border on unaffordable. Wars without end rage in Iraq, Afghanistan and against terrorism.

Horatio Alger, twist in your grave.

The can-do, bootstrap approach embedded in the American psyche is under assault. Eroding it is a dour powerlessness that is chipping away at the country's sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance. [...]

American University historian Allan J. Lichtman notes that the U.S. has endured comparable periods and worse, including the economic stagflation (stagnant growth combined with inflation) and Iran hostage crisis of 1980; the dawn of the Cold War, the Korean War and the hysterical hunts for domestic Communists in the late 1940s and early 1950s; and the Depression of the 1930s.

"All those periods were followed by much more optimistic periods in which the American people had their confidence restored," he said.

Life Is Good, So Why Do We Feel So Bad? (GREGG EASTERBROOK, June 13, 2008, Wall Street Journal)
Unemployment is 5.5%, low by historical standards; income is rising slightly ahead of inflation; housing prices are down, but the typical house is still worth a third more than in 2000; 94% of Americans do not have threatened mortgages, and of those who do, most will keep their homes.

Inflation was up in 2007, but this stands out because the 16 previous years were close to inflation-free; living standards are the highest they have ever been, including living standards for the middle class and for the poor.

All forms of pollution other than greenhouse gases are in decline; cancer, heart disease and stroke incidence are declining; crime is in a long-term cycle of significant decline; education levels are at all-time highs.

Sure, gas prices are up, the dollar is weak and credit is tight – but these are complaints at the margin of a mainly healthy society. [...]

Campaigning in Pennsylvania in April, Hillary Clinton said "We need to go back to the prosperity of the 1990s," a comment that drew loud, enthusiastic applause. Converted to today's dollars, per-capita income in the Keystone State is 23% higher than in 1990. People may think Pennsylvania was more prosperous in the past, but the state is better off today. The same can be said for most (needless to say, not all) parts of the country and most demographics. Most are, right now, the best-off they have ever been. [...]

The relentlessly negative impressions of American life presented by the media, including the entertainment media, explain something otherwise puzzling that shows up in psychological data. When asked about the country's economy, schools, health care or community spirit, Americans tell pollsters the situation is dreadful. But when asked about their own jobs, schools, doctors and communities, people tell pollsters the situation is good. Our impressions of ourselves and our neighbors come from personal experience. Our impressions of the nation as a whole come from the media and from political blather, which both exaggerate the negative.

...we worry about our fellow Americans. Those worries are just misplaced.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 PM


Foreshadowing 2008 (SETH LIPSKY, June 23, 2008, NY Sun)

One of the memorable moments in my career was a lunch with Isaac Bashevis Singer. It took place in July 1984 at the home of Simon Weber, who was then editor of the Jewish Daily Forward. Weber lived on the top floor of an apartment block overlooking Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. I've often told the story. When lunch commenced, I reported that the Wall Street Journal, for which I was then working, had just come out in favor, at least in principle, of open borders. "Oy," said the Nobel laureate, without looking up from the bagels and smoked fish, "all those Mexicans."

Funny how the nativists aren't folks great-grandpa considered native.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


A No "Seal" Zone, Starting..... (Marc Ambinder, 23 Jun 2008, Atlantic Blog)

I've had my fun with the Obama campaign's seal, and now that fun ends. I'm told that Obama recognizes that it was a silly mistake, that the universal reaction at Wacker and Michigan was, "Boy, was that dumb," and that they don't think the seal staging will matter to actual voters.

Does the press think Obama is arrogant? Yes. Does the seal represent arrogance? Only tangentially, actually. The worry for Obama's image managers is that it gives the press a pretext to call Obama arrogant, an example for them to add to a list of arrogant moments, and a way to distract them from what Obama is saying.

Believing your own hype is never a good idea.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 PM


The evolution of John McCain : As a maverick Senator, he took pride in just saying no to everyone's wish list. But as a presidential contender, he's become a tax cutter and defender of home mortgages. The inside story of how the candidate is shaping his plan to fix the economy. (David Whitford, June 23, 2008, Fortune Magazine)

Perhaps no issue has tested McCain over the years more than taxes. Four years ago, before he launched his second campaign for President, McCain was the keynote Republican speaker at a bipartisan conference on the budget titled "Restoring Fiscal Sanity - While We Still Can." The event was sponsored by a half-dozen think tanks representing all points on the political spectrum. "I'm a proud Republican," McCain said then, by way of introduction. "I'm a Barry Goldwater Republican. I revere Ronald Reagan and his party of limited government. Sadly, that party is no longer." He went on to sharply criticize colleagues on both sides of the aisle for runaway "pork-barrel spending" and "expanding entitlements," but he didn't quit there. He also talked about taxes. "And why do we have to have tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans when the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest Americans is growing?" he wondered. Later he added, "We're at war. Tell me one time in the history of this country when this nation was at war when we've enacted tax cuts, especially for the wealthiest."

McCain tried valiantly to hold the line. Twice he voted against Bush's tax cuts, in 2001 and 2003, angering many in his own party. But that was then. Now, first step, McCain wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent; then he wants to keep going. He would repeal the alternative minimum tax, slash the corporate tax, increase the tax exemption for children, and, at least temporarily, allow businesses to write off the full cost of capital investments in one year. It'll be expensive - the independent Tax Policy Center estimates, optimistically, that McCain's plan would add $4.5 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years, compared with $3.3 trillion for Obama's plan - but McCain insists that he can balance the budget in four years with promised savings from running a tighter ship and increased tax revenues as the economy expands.

Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), who has sharply criticized McCain in the past, says now, "I'm happy." Norquist still can't get McCain to sign ATR's no-new-taxes pledge, but he has the next best thing: video of the candidate promising as much on national television, three times. "With the campaign's approval," says Norquist, "we took those three YouTube videos and sent them to everybody and their brother on the planet." Now when Norquist convenes his weekly Wednesday strategy meeting at ATR headquarters in Washington, there's always a McCain campaign representative at the table. Apparently all is forgiven. "He was just voting against Bush in general" is how Norquist explains McCain's reversal. "I think it was pique."

...which explains his position on taxes and the activists flocking to him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


Rove: Obama's the Guy at the Country Club Holding a Martini Making Snide Comments About Everyone Else (Jake Tapper, June 23, 2008, ABC NEWS: Political Punch)

ABC News' Christianne Klein reports that at a breakfast with Republican insiders at the Capitol Hill Club this morning, former White House senior aide Karl Rove referred to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, as "coolly arrogant."

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy," Rove said, per Christianne Klein. "He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."

Rove said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "needs to come right at him."

Senator Obama thinks he can hide behind his race, but it's not being black that distances him from most Americans--it's his liberal elitism. Strip away the identity politics and he's John Kerry.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


92% of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit, Pew survey finds (Duke Helfand, 6/23/08, Los Angeles Times)

Americans overwhelmingly believe in God and consider religion an important part of their lives, even as many shun weekly worship services, according to a national survey released today that also found great diversity in religious beliefs and practices.

Ninety-two percent of those interviewed for the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey said they believe in the existence of God or a universal spirit, and 58% said they pray privately every day.

And you wonder why the atheists/Darwinists are so hysterical nowadays? The bleeding was supposed to be staunched at Kansas

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Worst of times for Iran (Spengler, 6/24/08, Asia Times)

Iran has shown in the most vivid fashion that it cannot solve its internal problems. It is therefore likely to seek an external solution.

What happened to the US$35 billion of oil revenues that Iran's Shabab News, in a now notorious account, claims disappeared from official accounting during the year through March 2008? Half the country's oil revenues disappeared from the books. A great deal of it left the country for banks in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere; capital flight already was running at a $15 billion annual rate last year, by my estimate.

During the past year, though, conspicuous consumption in the form of a luxury housing boom has absorbed even more of Iran's oil windfall. Luxury apartments in Tehran's better neighborhoods now sell for $15,000 per square meter, Agence France Presse reported May 26, equal to the best neighborhoods in Paris or New York. A 200-square-meter apartment in northern Tehran sells for about $1 million. Real estate prices in outlying suburbs and some provincial cities have doubled over the past year.

Corruption has metastasized, that is to say, for the scale of the property boom implies that tens of thousands of Iranians are taking six-to-seven figure bites out of the oil budget. Rather than a handful of officials siphoning state funds into bank accounts in Dubai, an entire class of hangers-on of the Islamic revolution is spending sums beyond the dreams of the average Iranian, and in brazen public view.

Ahmadinejad's patronage system generates payoffs to the political class that have set in motion uncontrolled inflation - officially 25% per year but certainly much higher - and a rush into real assets. A side effect is that the average Iranian urban household, which spends $316 a month, is gradually being priced out of the rental market.

Not only rents but foodstuffs, fuel and other essentials have registered double- or triple-digit price increases during recent months, according to fragmentary reports trickling out of the country. The government's 25% inflation figure cannot be correct. The German Suddeutsche Zeitung's Tehran correspondent wrote on June 17, "Price increases follow one another in batches. After the prices of rice and detergent suddenly jumped by a multiple, tea prices have their turn. In just a few days different types of tea have become 300% to 700% more expensive." It is too early to speak of hyperinflation, but the the Iranian bazaar already presents with symptoms of incipient hyperinflation. How do households survive?

Mahmoud has certainly shown he can't solve--in fact, doesn't understand--the internal problems. But the coming election, in which he'll likely be replaced by an ally of Ayatollah Khamenei, who's been pushing economic reform, suggests that there are internal solutions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Cult US comedian George Carlin dies at 71 (Times of London, 6/23/08)

He was a cynic with a gloomy view of mankind. “The world is a big theatre-in-the-round as far as I’m concerned, and I’d love to watch it spin itself into oblivion,” he said. “Tune in and watch the human adventure.” [...]

His comedy revolved around a central theme: humanity is a cursed, doomed species. “I don’t have any beliefs or allegiances. I don’t believe in this country, I don’t believe in religion, or a god, and I don’t believe in all these man-made institutional ideas,” he said.

The sublime thing about his humor is that it requires standards of decency -- human institutions -- in order to be funny being indecent.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


St. Barack Was a Mirage: The senator is losing what made him seem special and inspiring. (Peter Wehner, 6/23/08, National Review)

Obama announced on Thursday that he will opt out of public financing for his presidential run. Offering a breathtakingly jaded and calculating explanation (the Republicans made him do it), Obama betrayed what we were told was the closest thing the candidate had to a high and inviolate principle: political and campaign finance reform. When that principle collided with his political self-interest, Obama invoked the same method that he used, for instance, with Jeremiah “I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother” Wright: He disposed of that which is not politically expedient.

Obama has become what Jennifer Rubin at Contentions refers to as the “never mind” candidate. “Never mind” what he said about the Reverend Wright, flag pins, NAFTA, the importance of not losing in Iraq (in 2004-2005), the threat of Iran, meeting with Ahmadinejad, Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, and so on.

The problem for Obama is that his core appeal has been largely aesthetic; he positioned himself as St. Barack, flying high and high-mindedly above the “old” politics of distractions, divisions, and cynicism. He wouldn’t play the “Washington game.” Obama has been sold to us as post-everything (post-partisan, post-ideological, post-racial, and post-label). If that appeal is stripped away, then Obama will be seen as a deeply and reflexively liberal one-term senator — and as something of a fraud. That combination may be enough to defeat him in a year that should overwhelmingly favor Democrats.

...Northern liberal is enough to defeat him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Despite Economic Dip, Giving Rose in 2007: Donations Passed $300 Billion for 1st Time (Philip Rucker, 6/23/08, Washington Post)

Americans donated $306 billion to charities in 2007, as U.S. philanthropic giving rose to a record level despite a downturn in the national economy, a survey being released today has found.

Charitable giving increased 1 percent last year, when inflation is taken into account, and surpassed $300 billion for the first time, according to the Giving USA survey.

...except that the folks on street corners are handing out apples....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Now that he's known, Obama positions his image (Christina Bellantoni, June 23, 2008, Washington Times)

Sen. Barack Obama's team once worried that the presidential hopeful was widely unknown, but now he faces a challenge in making sure voters know the right things about the presumptive Democratic nominee. [...]

The problem is, many don't know much about his background or where he stands on the issues, and Republicans and groups working for his defeat in November are working to define him on their terms.

Every four years--except when they nominate a Southern Evangelical governor--we go through the same process. Voters find out that the Democrats nominated a stock Northern liberal and decide to vote for the Southwestern conservative instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The case for keeping the Bush tax cuts (DR. MARTIN REGALIA, 6/23/08, Politico)

[A]ny honest discussion on taxes must begin with an honest examination of who pays. For 2005, the most recent year for which information is available, IRS data indicate that taxpayers with an adjusted gross income in the top 25 percent of the population bore 86 percent of the federal income tax burden. If you expand it to the top 50 percent, the number jumps to 97 percent. In other words, the bottom half of the country pays a paltry 3 percent of the country's taxes. This proves, in part, the steep progressivity of the income tax system.

But what about the Bush tax cuts? They only favor the wealthy, right? Again, let’s go to the facts. Since 2000, when President Bush entered office, the share of federal tax liabilities borne by the lowest and middle quintiles has decreased, while the share borne by the highest quintile has increased. In 2000, the lowest quintile bore 1.1 percent of total federal tax liabilities compared with 0.9 percent in 2004, the year that all of the Bush tax cuts were in effect. Thus, the federal tax liability of the lowest quintile dropped 18 percent. However, the highest quintile paid 67.2 percent of these liabilities in 2004, an increase of 1 percent in their liability since 2000, when they paid 66.6 percent. Far from favoring the wealthy, these numbers suggest that the wealthy are bearing more of the tax burden

The Department of the Treasury recently released a paper studying the impact of letting tax relief expire: “A four-person, one-earner family with wage income each year of $40,000 in 2007 dollars would see a tax increase of $2,345; a four-person, one-earner family with wage income each year of $80,000 in 2007 dollars would see a tax increase of $2,000; a three-person, one-earner family with wage income each year of $40,000 in 2007 dollars would see a tax increase of $1,655; and a head of household with two children and wage income each year of $30,000 in 2007 dollars would see a tax increase of $1,615.”

More than 116 million Americans would see their taxes go up. And small businesses that pay their taxes based on individual rates (which is most of them) could see their effective rate rise to more than 44 percent.

...for making the lower classes pay for the government services they demand. Senator Obama ain't making it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Bolivia region 'chooses autonomy' (BBC, 6/23/08)

Bolivia's gas-rich Tarija province has voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater autonomy, exit polls suggest.

About 80% of the voters in the eastern province backed the measure in a referendum, several pollsters said.

The result is seen as a rejection of left-wing President Evo Morales' drive to redistribute wealth in South America's poorest nation.

Tarija is the fourth province to back greater autonomy.

Nor is there a Europe, A chance for Europe to face the New Truth (John Vinocur, June 23, 2008, IHT)
And now, since the Irish voted no in a referendum on a plan to reorganize the EU, and the EU's leaders held a flailing, ineffectual summit meeting to talk about what has been called a body blow to the community's integrated future, Europe is asking how to heal itself.

This is intriguing for three reasons:

a) It involves Europe articulating more home truths - although far from all of them - about the EU than it usually dares.

b) Those divisive truths, as the rest of the world is noting, suggest Europe is not going to be a unified global power anytime soon.

c) Yet the remedies being offered up for knitting the community together don't deal with the most excruciating realities.

The New Truth discussion acknowledges that Europe is not an affair of the heart that is welding self-sacrifice, resolve and patriotism into a common goal as a world player.

And yet, folks pretend it's either important or possible to hold together such patently artificial constructs as The Lebanon and Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:43 AM


"Bonnie And Clyde Was The Most Important Text Of The New Left" (Ed Driscoll, June 23, 2008, EdDriscoll.com)

Making the rounds to promote his new book Nixonland, Rick Perlstein tells Reason:

reason: You like to mix cultural history with political history. Bonnie and Clyde is one of the central texts in the book.

Perlstein: My theory is that Bonnie and Clyde was the most important text of the New Left, much more important than anything written by Paul Goodman or C. Wright Mills or Regis Debray. It made an argument about vitality and virtue vs. staidness and morality that was completely new, that resonated with young people in a way that made no sense to old people. Just the idea that the outlaws were the good guys and the bourgeois householders were the bad guys—you cannot underestimate how strange and fresh that was.

The 1967 release of the movie certainly coincides with the period where traditional liberalism and the far left began to merge; not coincidentally, this was also the period where traditional morality began to break down. The next year would be 1968, a year the left is alternately trying to recreate, or is permanently trapped in, or both. Mick Jagger's lyrics to the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" called the philosophy of the day "heads is tails", and whereas liberals once worshiped science and progress, they soon found themselves admiring the Black Panthers and William Ayers' Weatherman group, and tossing both modernism and hope for the future under the bus.

...that you both disavow the concept of morality and believe the moral to be evil.

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June 22, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


Getting the French to work (Alasdair Sandford, 6/22/08, BBC News)

Christine Lagarde, the country's first female minister for finance and the economy, says it is time for French people to "roll up their sleeves" and stop thinking about holidays.

The former international lawyer, impressed by the work ethic during her time in the US, is intent on instilling the same spirit in her countrymen and women. [...]

"Instead of thinking about their work, people were thinking about their weekend… organising, planning and engineering time off," she says.

...is quite a portfolio.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Three women who might join the GOP ticket (DAVID PAUL KUHN, 6/22/08, Politico)

The most-mentioned potential running mates — former Republican candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — are all men. Yet no clear front-runner has emerged, and there are at least three women McCain might select to fill out the ticket. [...]

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin may be nationally unknown, but in her state she is nothing short of a political phenomenon.

Palin, 44, would add youth to the GOP ticket. As governor she has shown a willingness to veto some of the state’s large capital projects, no small plus for fiscal conservatives. But it’s her personal biography, which excites social conservatives, and reformist background that might most appeal to McCain.

She’s stridently anti-abortion, and recently brought to term her fifth child — who she knew would have Down syndrome. A hunter, fisher and family woman with a rapid professional rise, Palin is a natural for Republican framing.

In 1982, Palin led her underdog high school basketball team to the state championship, earning the nickname “Sarah Barracuda.” Two years later she won the beauty pageant in her hometown of Wasilla, Alaska — and was also named “Miss Congeniality.” By her early thirties, she was the mayor of Wasilla.

In 2003, as ethics commissioner on the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, she risked her rising political star by resigning her position in protest of ethical misconduct within the state’s Republican leadership as well as then-Gov. Frank Murkowski’s acceptance of that impropriety. Though this briefly made her an outcast within the party, within a year several state Republican heavyweights were reprimanded for the conduct she’d decried.

Her reputation with the party thus redeemed, Palin defeated Murkowski in the 2006 Republican primary on the way to being elected governor.

As governor, she’s continued challenging the state’s powers that be, even winning tax increases on oil companies’ profits. Her approval rating has soared as high as 90 percent, making her one of America’s most popular governors.

“Palin is becoming a star in the conservative movement, a fiscal conservative in a state that is looking like a boondoggle for pork barrel spending,” said Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who specializes in women’s politics.

“She’s young, vibrant, fresh and now, and a new mother of five. She should be in the top tier,” Conway continued. “If the Republican Party wants to wrestle itself free from the perception that it is royalist and not open to putting new talent on the bench, this would be the real opportunity.”

...and you turn up the torque on Senator Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Italy struggles with immigration and aging (Elisabetta Povoledo, June 22, 2008, NY Times)

It is an everyday symbol, touching almost, of Italy's troubled demographics: an older Italian out for some air, at times arm in arm with an immigrant aide. The aides often are not here legally but have been tolerated because they do work few Italians do: care for the nation's rapidly aging population.

But much as Italy is growing older, it is also more worried about crime.

And in the eyes of many Italians, for whom immigration is a relatively new phenomenon, immigrants also have a central role in this. Under a law proposed by the far right wing of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's new government, it would become a felony offense to come to Italy illegally, punishable by prison.

Combine retirement homes with prisons and you're all set.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: The interrogator who made him talk (Tom Leonard, 22/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Speaking quietly and patiently, and sometimes bringing his prisoner snacks such as dates, Mr Martinez was brought in after harsher interrogation techniques had been used on Mohammed, an American-educated engineer.

"They'd have long talks about religion", comparing notes between Islam and Mr Martinez's Catholicism, a CIA officer told the New York Times. "He wrote poems to Deuce's wife." Mr Martinez would listen to Mohammed's despair that he would probably never see his children again and his complaints about his living conditions, in particular his lack of a view.

Their relationship progressed to the stage that - according to Mr Martinez - Mohammed would offer key information unvolunteered.

This included his claim to have killed Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal correspondent kidnapped in Pakistan, which Mr Martinez told colleagues came out of the blue.

Mr Martinez was a specialist in analysing computer data on drug shipments but, aged 36, was moved to the CIA's counter-terrorism operation in Islamabad in 2002.

Intelligence chiefs struggling with their inexperience in dealing with an organisation such as al-Qa'eda, had concluded that searching for drug lords was not that different to looking for terrorist leaders.

After his capture, Mohammed cooperated sporadically with his captors, who believed that he was often giving incorrect information.

However, he talked most freely to Mr Martinez. Colleagues noted that they had a certain amount in common - they were a similar age, they both went to universities in the American South, they were both religious and they were both fathers.

The poetic "tributes" to Mr Martinez's wife, scribbled in ungrammatical English, were intended as a mark of respect to the interrogator, said a colleague.

The intelligence provided by Mohammed was reflected in the report of the official 9/11 commission, which listed 60 occasions on which he provided facts about al-Q'aeda.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Soccer player arrested for chewing out ref (CHRISTINE OLLEY, 6/21/08, Philadelphia Daily News)

Instead of quietly following orders after he was ejected from the game between the Fulhundred team and the Pizza by Elizabeth team, Jones bit the ref's chin.

"The official attempted to back away from the player at which time the player grabbed the victim's shoulders and pulled him towards his face with his mouth wide open," New Castle County police said in a statement.

The 38-year-old official suffered deep lacerations just below his lower lip and underneath his chin from the severe bite, police said.

...but that's taking things a bit too seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


McCain Rises and Obama Dips in Fund-Raising for May (LESLIE WAYNE, 6/22/08, NY Times)

After raising record amounts of money all year, Mr. Obama continued spending heavily as the primary campaign extended into early June, and he ended May with $33.3 million in cash for the primary race. Mr. McCain, who raised less all year, was virtually assured of the Republican nomination by February and so spent less, ending the month with $31.6 million in the bank.

Once again we see how little money means in politics. After a year as a cash-raising phenomenon, Senator Obama ends up with the same amount of money as John McCain and, despite the latter spending nothing, at a spot in national polls where Democrats always lose five months later. Even Michael Dukakis had a three-times greater lead before being blown out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:14 AM


Crime Debate Reduced to Incarceration Debate (George Will, 6/22/08, Real Clear Politics)

If crime revives as an issue, it will be through liberal complaints about something that has reduced the salience of the issue -- the incarceration rate. And any revival will be awkward for Barack Obama. Liberalism likes victimization narratives and the related assumption that individuals are blank slates on which "society" writes. Hence liberals locate the cause of crime in flawed social conditions that liberalism supposedly can fix.

Last July, Obama said "more young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities." Actually, more than twice as many black men 18-24 are in college as there are in jail. Last September he said, "We have a system that locks away too many young, first-time, nonviolent offenders for the better part of their lives." But Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, writing in the institute's City Journal, notes that from 1999 to 2004, violent offenders accounted for all of the increase in the prison population. Furthermore, Mac Donald cites data indicating that:

"In the overwhelming majority of cases, prison remains a lifetime achievement award for persistence in criminal offending. Absent recidivism or a violent crime, the criminal-justice system will do everything it can to keep you out of the state or federal slammer."

Oh, what he wouldn't give to fly into Illinois and personally oversee an execution, a la Bill Clinton.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:53 AM


House Passes Spy Bill; Senate Expected to Follow (Paul Kane, 6/21/08, Washington Post)

The House, in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, yesterday approved a sweeping new surveillance law that extends the government's eavesdropping capability and effectively would shield telecommunications companies from lawsuits for cooperating with the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program.

Ending a year-long battle with President Bush, the House passed, by a 293 to 129 vote, an overhaul of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). [...]

Only one Republican opposed the bill, but Democrats were sharply divided. And the legislation presented a fresh foreign policy dilemma for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). The party's presumptive presidential nominee announced his support of the FISA bill despite active opposition to it from the liberal activist base that has financially fueled his campaign.

America doesn't elect liberals, so he has to at least pretend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:46 AM


McCain Defends Trade Pact: As Candidate Visits Canada, His Team Bashes Obama on NAFTA (Perry Bacon Jr., 6/21/08, Washington Post)

McCain said his visit to Canada was "not a political campaign trip," and his remarks centered on keeping relations between the United States and Canada strong. The Republican from Arizona did not refer to Obama by name and refused to take questions on political matters at a news conference after his speech, though he was accompanied by top political adviser Charles R. Black Jr. McCain spent much of his trip in closed-door meetings with Canadian officials.

Nonetheless, his comments on NAFTA invoked Obama's criticism of the agreement, and McCain's campaign attacked the senator from Illinois on the issue throughout the day, accusing him of changing his position after becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee.

"For months, Barack Obama said that he would 'make sure that we renegotiate' NAFTA, demanded unilateral changes and threatened to unilaterally withdraw if he did not get his way," McCain said in a statement released by his campaign. ". . . Now he claims: 'I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally.' "

Throughout his primary battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Obama was a strong critic of NAFTA, describing it as a "big mistake." He said he wanted to renegotiate the deal with Mexico and Canada to impose requirements on worker pay and environmental safeguards.

Obama's position was questioned after a report that adviser Austan Goolsbee had downplayed the candidate's rhetoric as "political maneuvering" in a meeting with a Canadian diplomat in Chicago.

Obama says he still wants to renegotiate parts of the deal, but he backed off of some of his harsh language in an interview with Fortune magazine published this week.

Becoming the Democratic nominee requires you to grovel before groups--like unions--whose position are opposite those of the American people and harmful to the country, which is why you have to run from them once you win the nomination. The big question is whether you'd then make the Bill Clinton mistake--governing like the part man rather than the national candidate--or whether you'd have sense enough to go Third Way from Inauguration Day. Senator Obama doesn't seem the canniest pol around, so it's easy to see him replaying '92-'94.

Whereas, truckling in the GOP primaries forces you to take morally proper and optimal political positions, Is Pastor Hagee Good for the Jews? (DAVID VAN BIEMA, 6/20/08, TIME)

Cutting ties with John Hagee has proved to be a lot easier for Senator John McCain than it has been for some of the very Jewish groups most offended by the conservative Evangelical pastor's statements about God and the Holocaust. McCain moved to dissociate himself from Hagee after a 1999 sermon was publicized in which Hagee claimed that God intended the Holocaust, and had prophesied it in the Book of Jeremiah. "And that will be offensive to some people," Hagee boomed. "Well, dear heart, be offended. I didn't write it. Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said, 'My top priority to the Jewish people is to get them back to Israel.' "

But where McCain cut ties with the Evangelical mega-pastor who had endorsed his candidacy, Abe Foxman, head of the anti-Semitism watchdog organization the Anti-defamation League, appeared more willing to forgive. The reason for Foxman's reluctance to abandon Hagee may have been summed up in a letter from the pastor carried on the ADL's website, in which Hagee points out, "I have devoted much of my adult life to combating anti-Semitism and supporting the state of Israel."

Hagee's support for the Jewish State — he also heads up the influential organization Christians United for Israel, and was a key speaker at last year's conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — has brought Israel millions, if not billions of dollars from Evangelical tourism, and it has delivered political support for a strong pro-Israel policy in Washington.

...though you may, mistakenly, dump them for the General.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


Big Promises Bump Into Budget Realities: New President Won't Have an Easy Time Paying for New Initiatives, Fiscal Experts Say (Lori Montgomery, 6/22/08, Washington Post)

In a new paper titled "Facing the Music: The Fiscal Outlook at the End of the Bush Administration," University of California at Berkeley economist Alan Auerbach and two co-authors from the Brookings Institution conclude that, if spending grows at historic rates, simply keeping the Bush tax cuts and halting the spread of the AMT would drive the budget deficit to $481 billion by the end of the next president's first term, or 2.7 percent of the economy.

Nevermind the inability to forecast economics accurately or the massive cuts that will follow winding down the WoT, the deficit has averaged an "unsustainable" 2.2% of GDP over the past forty years, 25 of which have been the greatest economic boom in human history. Deficits are a moral issue, not an economic one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 AM


McCain Driving Debate, But Some Fear Swerving: GOP Insiders Want More Consistent Theme (Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin, 6/22/08, Washington Post)

In the two weeks since Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee, John McCain has demonstrated a knack for driving the daily political debate, forcing his opponent to respond to a challenge to meet in town hall debates, accusing him of being "delusional" about terrorism and saying he flip-flopped on public financing for his campaign.

...how would the idea candidate not drive the race? And how can the most liberal Senator in the most conservative country reveal his ideas without sustaining political damage?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Sarcasm Seen as Evolutionary Survival Skill (Meredith F. Small, 6/20/08, LiveScience.com)

Neurophysiologist Katherine Rankin at the University of California, San Francisco, has also recently discovered that sarcasm, which is both positively funny and negatively nasty, plays an important part in human social interaction. [...]

According to Dr. Rankin, if you didn't get the sarcastic tone of the previous sentences you must have some damage to your parahippocampal gyrus which is located in the right brain. People with dementia, or head injuries in that area, often lose the ability to pick up on sarcasm, and so they don't respond in a socially appropriate ways.

Presumably, this is a pathology, which in turn suggests that sarcasm is part of human nature and probably an evolutionarily good thing.

Take out the "presumably"'s and there's nought left of Darwinism.

Posted by Bryan Francoeur at 8:58 AM


Car hits NYC pedestrians for 3rd time in 2 days (Associated Press 06.21.08)

For the third time in two days, a vehicle plowed down pedestrians on a New York City sidewalk, this time leaving three bystanders injured and a driver under arrest.

June 21, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Call for Change Ignored, Levees Remain Patchy (MONICA DAVEY, 6/21/08, NY Times)

After the last devastating flood in the Midwest 15 years ago, a committee of experts commissioned by the Clinton administration issued a 272-page report that recommended a more uniform approach to managing rising waters along the Mississippi and its tributaries, including giving the principal responsibility for many of the levees to the Army Corps of Engineers.

But the committee chairman, Gerald E. Galloway Jr., a former brigadier general with the Corps of Engineers, said in an interview that few broad changes were made once the floodwaters of 1993 receded and were forgotten.

“We told them there were going to be more floods like this,” said Dr. Galloway, now an engineering professor at the University of Maryland. “Everybody likes to go out and shake hands on the levee now and offer sandbags, but that’s not helpful. This shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

While the committee’s recommendations certainly would not have prevented the Mississippi and its tributaries from rising to catastrophic levels, Dr. Galloway said they could have lessened the sense of helplessness and limited some of the damage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 PM


The 3,000 Mile Oil Change Myth (Bill Siuru, Greencar.com)

It’s been a misconception for years that engine oil should be changed every 3000 miles, even though most auto manufacturers now recommend oil changes at 5,000, 7,000, or even 10,000 mile intervals under normal driving conditions.

Greatly improved oils, including synthetic oils, coupled with better engines mean longer spans between oil changes without harming an engine. The 3000 mile interval is a carryover from days when engines used single-grade, non-detergent oils.

If they weren't drivers they might notice that in oil company ads cars go 100,000 on one quart or whatever.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:10 PM


How Darwin won the evolution race (Robin McKie, 6/22/08, The Observer)

In early 1858, on Ternate in Malaysia, a young specimen collector was tracking the island's elusive birds of paradise when he was struck by malaria. 'Every day, during the cold and succeeding hot fits, I had to lie down during which time I had nothing to do but to think over any subjects then particularly interesting me,' he later recalled.

Thoughts of money or women might have filled lesser heads. Alfred Russel Wallace was made of different stuff, however. He began thinking about disease and famine; about how they kept human populations in check; and about recent discoveries indicating that the earth's age was vast. How might these waves of death, repeated over aeons, influence the make-up of different species, he wondered?

Then the fever subsided - and inspiration struck. Fittest variations will survive longest and will eventually evolve into new species, he realised. Thus the theory of natural selection appeared, fever-like, in the mind of one of our greatest naturalists. Wallace wrote up his ideas and sent them to Charles Darwin, already a naturalist of some reputation. His paper arrived on 18 June, 1858 - 150 years ago last week - at Darwin's estate in Downe, in Kent.

Crossbreeding to Save Species and Create New OnesMARK DERR, 7/09/02, NY Times)
Though definitions vary, in general hybrids are created when different species interbreed -- or, if not species, then animals or plants from distinct lineages or with distinct adaptations to their environment. Hybridization has been found in a long list of species: mice, leopard frogs, sunfish, insects, Darwin's finches in the Galápagos Islands, hummingbirds, birds of paradise, willow, iris, oak, sunflower. White-tail deer and mule deer hybridize, as do domestic cattle and bison, cattle and yaks, wolves and dogs, wolves and coyotes, and coyotes and dogs.

The new research on hybridization is casting new light on evolutionary processes and raising questions about biodiversity and the preservation of endangered species. In the mid-1990's, wildlife biologists saved the endangered Florida panther from extinction by crossbreeding it with the closely related Texas cougar. That program opened the way for the use of hybridization in saving endangered species.

Most species cannot crossbreed because the genetic, behavioral and ecological barriers are too great to overcome. An elephant will not interbreed with a lion or wildebeest, nor will a wolf mate with a bear or a prairie dog with a squirrel. Still, the new findings indicate that hybridization between species does occur and can sometimes produce new species -- calling into question the longstanding view that a species is a population of interbreeding organisms that is reproductively isolated from other species.

And the finch will lie down with the bird of paradise...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 PM


Big Gains for Iraq Security, but Questions Linger (STEPHEN FARRELL and RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr., 6/21/08, , NY Times)

What’s going right? And can it last?

Violence in all of Iraq is the lowest since March 2004. The two largest cities, Baghdad and Basra, are calmer than they have been for years. The third largest, Mosul, is in the midst of a major security operation. On Thursday, Iraqi forces swept unopposed through the southern city of Amara, which has been controlled by Shiite militias. There is a sense that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government has more political traction than any of its predecessors.

Consider the latest caricatures of Mr. Maliki put up on posters by the followers of Moktada al-Sadr, the fiery cleric who commands deep loyalty among poor Shiites. They show the prime minister’s face split in two — half his own, half Saddam Hussein’s. The comparison is, of course, intended as a searing criticism. But only three months ago the same Sadr City pamphleteers were lampooning Mr. Maliki as half-man, half-parrot, merely echoing the words of his more powerful Shiite and American backers. It is a notable swing from mocking an opponent perceived to be weak to denouncing one feared to be strong.

For Hatem al-Bachary, a Basra businessman, the turnabout has been “a miracle,” the first tentative signs of a normal life.

“I don’t think the militias have disappeared, and maybe there are sleeper cells which will try to revive themselves again,” he said. “But the first time they try to come back they will have to show themselves, and the government, army and police are doing very well.”

While the increase in American troops and their support behind the scenes in the recent operations has helped tamp down the violence, there are signs that both the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi government are making strides. There are simply more Iraqi troops for the government to deploy, partly because fewer are needed to fight the Sunni insurgents, who have defected to the Sunni Awakening movement. They are paid to keep the peace.

Mr. Maliki’s moves against Shiite militias have built some trust with wary Sunnis, offering the potential for political reconciliation.

Folks without security don't care about liberty.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 PM


Poll: most Britons doubt cause of climate change (Juliette Jowit, 6/22/08, The Observer)

The majority of the British public is still not convinced that climate change is caused by humans - and many others believe scientists are exaggerating the problem, according to an exclusive poll for The Observer.

The results have shocked campaigners who hoped that doubts would have been silenced by a report last year by more than 2,500 scientists for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which found a 90 per cent chance that humans were the main cause of climate change and warned that drastic action was needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Yeah, how can you doubt a consensus of experts?

Posted by Bryan Francoeur at 6:49 PM


Tiny Shetland island declares independence (Kate Kelland, 6/21/08, Reuters)

The owner of a tiny island in off Scotland declared its independence from the United Kingdom on Saturday, saying he wanted the territory, population one, to be a crown dependency like the Channel Islands.

In a declaration on his Web site, Stuart Hill, who owns the 2.5 acre island of Forvik in the Shetland Islands in the North Sea, said he no longer recognised the authority of the government or the European Union, and cited a centuries-old royal marriage dowry deal as the basis for his claim.

"Forvik owes no allegiance to any United Kingdom government, central or local, and is not bound by any of its statutes," Hill wrote.

Hill, 65, has lived in the Shetland Islands on the edge of the Atlantic since 2001, when his boat capsized there during an unsuccessful attempted to circumnavigate Britain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:22 PM


Robert Mundell: An Economist Who Matters (KYLE WINGFIELD, June 21, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Robert Mundell isn't in the habit of making fruitless policy recommendations, though some take a long time ripening. Nearly four decades passed between his early work on optimal currency areas and the birth of the euro in 1999 – the same year he received the Nobel Prize for economics. [...]

[M]r. Mundell says "the big issue economically . . . is what's going to happen to taxes."

Democratic nominee Barack Obama regularly professes disdain for the Bush tax cuts, suggesting that those growth-spurring measures may be scrapped. "If that happens," Mr. Mundell predicts, "the U.S. will go into a big recession, a nosedive."

One of the original "supply-side" economists, he has long preached the link between tax rates and economic growth. "It's a lethal thing to suddenly raise taxes," he explains. "This would be devastating to the world economy, to the United States, and it would be, I think, political suicide" in a general election.

Should taxes instead be cut again, I ask him, to stimulate the sluggish economy? Mr. Mundell replies that he favors a ceiling of 30% on marginal rates (the current top rate is 35%). He recounts how the past century experienced a titanic struggle over whether tax rates are too high or too low: from a 3% income tax in 1913; up to 60% during World War I; down to 25% before Congress and President Herbert Hoover raised taxes back to 60% in 1932 and "sealed the fate of our economy for a long, long time"; all the way up to 92.5% during World War II before falling in three steps, reaching 28% under President Ronald Reagan; and back to nearly 40% under Bill Clinton before George W. Bush lowered them to their current level.

In light of this fiscal roller coaster, Mr. Mundell says, "the most important thing that could be done with respect to tax rates now is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. Eliminating that uncertainty would be more important than pushing for a further cut – in the income tax rates, anyway."

One tax that he would cut, to 25%, is the corporate tax rate. "It could be even lower," he says, "but I think it would be a big step to lower it to 25% . . . I made that proposal back in the 1970s."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


British babies are born bigger than ever (Aislinn Simpson, 09/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Babies in Britain are being born bigger than ever thanks to an improvement in diet and living standards.

The average weight of babies has risen steadily for the past 30 years. Male babies in this country now weigh an average of 7lb 8oz - up 2oz from 1970, while female babies weight 7lb 4oz - up 1.5oz since 1970.

...is just a function of nutrition and hygiene.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:03 AM


Railways: When Artists Look Down the Track: Railway Imagery Is Explored At Two Museums (CHARLOTTE COWLES,
June 9, 2008, NY Sun)

The mystique of the railways has attracted artists since the mid-1800s. [...]

While art is often a medium for reflecting a cultural mindset, it is also a tool used to shape opinion — a theme that is taken up here. "British Victorian artists would use the railways for social comment," Mr. Kennedy said. "People were thrown together in train cars like never before."

...is songs about people dying when the crash them.

June 20, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


The Conservative Mind (W. Wesley McDonald, 06/16/08, First Principles)

[W]hen the bulk of established intellectuals were prepared to dismiss conservatism as a permanently discredited ideology, [Russell] Kirk’s rediscovery and articulation of a viable intellectual conservative tradition in the English-speaking world restored credibility to a body of ideas once airily dismissed as the mere bleatings of bourgeois Babbitts. By defining and applying its principles to modern challenges, he fortified and strengthened the conservative position. He demonstrated in a compelling fashion that conservatism is an integral part of the Western political tradition.

Lastly, Kirk was writing a history of conservative ideas, the first historian to attempt such a task. But his intent was more than historical: it was didactic and polemical. The rationalism of the philosophes, the romantic idealism of the Rousseauists, Benthamism, positivism, Marxism, Social Darwinism, pragmatism, and socialism were among the ideologies he condemned as inimical to the social order of the post-1789 world. From them sprang the belief in the perfectibility of man, enthusiasm for social and economic leveling, the impulse for innovation coinciding with a concomitant contempt of tradition, the denial of the power of Providence in history, and the rejection of what Eliot called “the permanent things,” those enduring moral norms that make civilized social existence possible. Against the proponents of radical innovation, Kirk enthusiastically defended tradition, old values, and prescriptive establishments.

The book had an immediate impact. At the suggestion of Whittaker Chambers, Time magazine devoted its entire book review section to The Conservative Mind. Numerous other journals and newspapers, including the New York Times, published reviews praising or at the least expressing respect for the book. As the book’s publisher, Henry Regnery, noted, after Kirk’s volume appeared “one could call himself a conservative without apology.”

The Conservative Mind is one of those books where you envy those who haven't read it their opportunity to do so for the first time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Shifting sands tell the tale of the Chinese west (Howard W. French, June 12, 2008, The International Herald Tribune)

There has never been a marker on the ground in this area, and had there been, it would have been long ago removed, but through much of its long history, the country we know today as China has largely petered out somewhere in the vicinity of this Silk Road outpost.

A visitor today can imagine that spot as towering dunes with their shifting sands that sit at the edge of this sleepy town. You could just as easily place it somewhere in the forbidding badlands that lie within a few hours’ drive from here.

I visited them recently to get a taste of the history in this desolate corner of the country, wandering into gigantic sandstone formations cut and shaped over the ages by the wind into a sight as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon.

Intrigued by the travel stories of the exiled Chinese author, Ma Jian, along the way, I had my driver wander off the simple, two-lane road that winds through the region in search of western end of the Great Wall. Throughout the morning, my mind had raced with images of what I might find. I had imagined myself climbing atop the structure, as every visitor who travels to the wall near Beijing surely does.

When I mentioned this to my driver, he shot me a look that suggested I was crazy. He was having trouble enough finding this section of the Great Wall, which was built during the Han Dynasty two millennia ago. There would be no climbing, he informed me. What remains of the wall is scarcely high enough, and rather brittle.

When we finally caught sight of it, I was chastened but not disappointed. The voyage had been all about understanding China’s definition of itself over time, and its relationship with the “other.”

Quite rightfully, the recent earthquake in Sichuan Province has captivated the world’s attention and drawn unprecedented sympathy and support for China from countries all over the world. From the perspective of Beijing, it has also conveniently pushed out news from beyond the Great Wall of unrest that had roiled Tibet and Xinjiang - provinces that are known as “autonomous regions,” in an administrative fiction that Orwell would have appreciated.

Xinjiang alone comprises one-sixth of the land of the People’s Republic of China, and Tibet, such as it is defined today, is only marginally smaller. At various times in its history, including recently, Tibet has been much larger, comprising parts of several other provinces.

On the surface, Tibetans and the indigenous Uighur population of Xinjiang would seem to have little in common. The Tibetans are Buddhist and the Uighurs are largely Muslim. But they are united in their sense of oppression, as native people of distinctive cultural spheres with a history of autonomy and even independence, all of which has been recently snuffed out by China.

I was hoping he'd head to Karakorum
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Holiday in Hellmouth : God may be dead, but the question of why he permits suffering lives on: a review of Bart D. Ehrman’s God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer (James Wood, June 9, 2008, The New Yorker)

Theologians and philosophers talk about “the problem of evil,” and the hygienic phrase itself bespeaks a certain distance from extreme suffering, the view from a life inside the charmed circle. They mean the classic difficulty of how we justify the existence of suffering and iniquity with belief in a God who created us, who loves us, and who providentially manages the world. The term for this justification is “theodicy,” which nowadays seems a very old-fashioned exercise in turning around and around the stripped screw of theological scholastics. Still, if polls are correct, about eighty per cent of Americans ought to be engaged in such antiquarianism. Union University, in Jackson, Tennessee, might profit from intense classes in theodicy. “God protected this campus,” one of the students there said, because no one was killed in the tornadoes that devastated parts of Tennessee on February 5th. Since ordinary Tennesseans were killed elsewhere that night, the logic of such shamanism is that God either did not or could not protect those unfortunates from something that the state’s governor once likened to “the wrath of God.”

Antique and abstract it may be, but thinking about theodicy still has the power to change lives. I know this, because it was how I began to separate myself from the somewhat austere Christian environment I grew up in. I remember the day, in my late teens, when I drew a line down the middle of a piece of paper, on one side of which I wrote my reasons for belief in God, on the other my reasons against. I can’t remember the order of my negatives now, but the inefficacy of prayer was likely at the top. Here was a demonstrable case of promises made (if you have faith, you can move a mountain) but not kept (the mountain not only stays put but suddenly erupts and consumes a few villages). During my teens, two members of my parents’ congregation died of cancer, despite all the prayers offered up on their behalf. When I looked at the congregants kneeling on cushions, their heads bent to touch the wooden pews, it seemed to me as if they were literally butting their heads against a palpable impossibility. And this was years before I discovered Samuel Butler’s image for the inutility of prayer in his novel “The Way of All Flesh”—the bee that has strayed into a drawing room and is buzzing against the wallpaper, trying to extract nectar from one of the painted roses.

Theodicy, or, rather, its failure, was the other major entry on my debit side. I was trapped within the age-old conundrum: the world is full of pain and wickedness; God may be jealous but is also merciful and all-loving (how much more so, if one believes that Christ incarnated him). If he has the power to alleviate this suffering but does not, he is cruel; if he cannot, he is weak. I wasn’t consoled by the standard responses. Suffering is a mystery, I was told, as is God’s absence in the face of suffering. But this was what I was also told when prayers failed to make their mark: the old “incomprehensibility” routine. It seemed to me that the Gospels, central to my family life, made some fairly specific promises and laid on us some fairly specific obligations; yet that specificity could simply go on holiday whenever God himself seemed to have gone on holiday. (“God moves in mysterious ways.”)

God “suffers with us,” I was told; he feels our pain. If Christ was God incarnate, then God suffered on the Cross. He walks with us in our suffering. This has been the great twentieth-century addition to the familiar arguments, which is perhaps unsurprising, amid so much carnage. The Lacanian philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues, in his book “On Belief,” that when God abandoned Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane he abandoned himself. Christianity, he asserts, returns at this moment to the story of Job, the man abandoned by God: “It is Christ (God) himself who has to occupy the place of Job. . . . Man’s existence is living proof of God’s self-limitation.” A God whose power has been so drastically limited, and who sounds so like us in our abjection, might be loved, but why should he be worshipped? Twenty-five years ago, as I hunched over my piece of paper with its vertical line, I decided that if God existed, which I strongly doubted, then this entity was neither describable nor cherishable but was a vaporous, quite possibly malign force at the horizon of the sayable.

Another attempted consolation is that God intended us to have free will, and free will requires the liberty to do bad as well as good. If we were unable to err, our relation to God would be robotic, meaningless in its hapless obedience. It is regrettable that Hitlers are allowed to exist; but universal freedom is a higher good than the release from local pain. This is still the best available response to the theodicy problem. But even at sixteen I could see an enormous, iridescent flaw in this colorless argument: it is that the Bible is full of divine intervention, full of infringements of free will. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, and brings plagues, and spares the firstborn of the Israelites (while conveniently murdering the Egyptians’), and, if you accept the New Testament, anoints his son as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world. We pray to him precisely because we believe in the power of such intervention. But when we actually need his intervention—say, to put a stop to a few concentration camps—he has . . . gone on holiday again, leaving people to drone on about the paramount importance of unmolested “free will.”

They were at it again when the tsunami killed hundreds of thousands in 2004. The Archbishop of Canterbury, a distinguished theologian, wrote an article at the time, reminding his Anglican communion that such tragedies challenge faith. But then he circled around a kind of physicist’s version of the free-will argument when he cautioned that “the world has to have a regular order and pattern of its own. . . . So there is something odd about expecting that God will constantly step in if things are getting dangerous.” Well, there would be something odd if you had never read the Bible. But one of the repeated indices of God’s power, as invoked in many of the Psalms, is his ability to control the waves—after all, the Psalmist knew that a great flood had consumed the world, at God’s command, and that the Red Sea had been divinely parted. How dangerous would things have to get before divine intervention was justified? To this, the Gospels can reply succinctly: not very. For when the disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee, and things took a stormy turn, Jesus appeared, walked on water, and calmed the storm. Perhaps the disciples just meant more to Jesus than a few hundred thousand Asians.

There is something adolescent about such complaint; I can hear it like a boy’s breaking voice in my own prose. For anti-theodicy is permanent rebellion. It is not quite atheism but wounded theism, condemned to argue ceaselessly against a God it is supposed not to believe in.

...oughn't he grow up at some point?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


Perverted politics: Deviance for its own sake is reactionary, not rebellious (Matthew Taunton, 12 June 2008, New Statesman)

The alternative to transgression need not be a return to the dreaded - and often unfairly caricatured - Victorian morality. Actually, nobody is more dependent on these kinds of rules than the person who lives by breaking them, as Bataille himself realised, opposing the sexual revolution for this reason. And there are cases in oppressive societies where contravening laws and conventions is not just worthwhile, but the duty of the responsible citizen. But this is transgression as a means, and not an end in itself.

Those who dissent from the critical orthodoxy are labelled "conservative", as if being uninterested in cyborgs, pornography and vampirism were tantamount to a betrayal of socialist principles. Yet writers such as Terry Eagleton - a Marxist who bemoaned the ubiquity of PhD theses on "the literature of latex or the political implications of navel piercing" - or Ashley Tau chert, a feminist whose important new book, Against Transgression (Blackwell), debunks many of the myths around the subject, can hardly be described as figures of the right.

As Eagleton and Tauchert both argue, there is something narcissistic and deeply conservative about revelling in transgression. In Tauchert's words, to do so is "reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling".

Amusing the incoherent and self-contradictory knots they have to tie themselves into lest they acknowledge their position is conservative.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


REVIEW: of Dolly Parton: Backwoods Barbie (Dolly Records) (Susan Wunderink, Christianity Today)

Trying to figure out whether Dolly Parton is ironic is like looking for the end of a mobius strip.

In Backwoods Barbie, Parton once again offers what has made her famous since 1963: songs that any country girl can belt out in the car with utter conviction. And true to her country roots, two or three of the songs are about cheatin', five more are about being cheated on or abandoned, and one is about emancipation from a no-good arrogant man. And then there are the personal songs that only Parton can carry off: a couple of inspirational autobiographical songs, as well as one about Jesus.

Her songs put forward Christian spiritual elements, like faith and prayer, but Parton has never been one to get specific with theology. She told Larry King in a 2003 interview that, while she is very spiritual, "I wouldn't say that I'm religious. I grew up in a very religious background. … I trust God, I love God, and I love the thoughts of it. Even if there was no God, I'd prefer to believe it, because I prefer to believe in something greater than we are. It takes all of the pressure off of you. You don't have a bunch of ego problems."

It's hard to see how all of these themes can work together on the same album without knowing that Parton pitches herself as the product of "backwoods sensibilities." This is her explanation for her sense of beauty, her sense of morality, and her religion. "The way I look is just a country girl's idea of glam," she sings in the title track. "Too much makeup, too much hair/Don't be fooled by thinking that the goods are not all there … I've always been misunderstood because of how I look/Don't judge me by the cover, cause I'm a real good book."

Those who only know Parton as the godmother of Miley Cyrus or her guest stint on American Idol might think she is the concoction of marketing experts. But Dolly Rebecca Parton grew up part of a poor, Pentecostal family of 14 in a small town in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains. She has shown remarkable consistency in her persona over the last 45 years: self-deprecating, bawdy, kind, vulnerable, flamboyant, all-American, smart, and ambitious. And those traits, carried throughout her songs and her career, make Dolly both loveable and formidable.

In a way, Backwoods Barbie is a re-introduction of that same Dolly Parton that Johnny Carson fans got to know. She is trying to resist moving into that stage where every album is a slightly modified retrospective (from 1970's The Best of Dolly Parton to 2007's The Very Best of Dolly Parton), contributing her Christian –themed "Travelin' Thru" to the controversial transgender film Transamerica and writing the music and lyrics for with 9 to 5: The Musical.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 AM


Obama move irks reform allies (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 6/19/08, Politico)

Barack Obama’s shift away from a public financing program has drawn fire from Republicans, but it’s also irked his sometime allies in the good government community.

They had come to see the Illinois senator as a budding champion for their efforts to reduce the role of special interest money in politics. And they praised his announcement last year that his presidential campaign would “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee” under which both would accept taxpayer money in the general election.

So they were disappointed with Obama’s Thursday announcement that he would opt out of the public financing system and torn over his efforts to frame the move in the language of the campaign finance reform movement.

He doesn't care abour reform, just about himself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:31 AM


Ghosts in the GOP attack machine (JONATHAN MARTIN, 6/20/08, Politico

The truth is that, less than five months before Election Day, there are no serious anti-Obama 527s in existence nor are there any immediate plans to create such a group.

June 19, 2008

Posted by Stephen Judd at 11:59 PM


I (The Other Brother) will be walking in a Relay for Life event in Wolfeboro, NH on June 21st and 22nd, 2008.

Relay For Life® of Wolfeboro is a fun-filled overnight event designed to bring together those who have been touched by cancer in our community. More than 200 Relays will be held throughout New England in 2008, all celebrating survivorship and raising money to help the American Cancer Society in its mission to save lives, help those who have been touched by cancer, and empower individuals to fight back. During the event, teams of people gather at schools, fairgrounds, or parks and take turns walking or running laps. Each team tries to keep at least one team member on the track at all times.

2007 RFL Wolfeboro

Anyone wishing to donate to the American Cancer Society by sponsoring me may go to my online pledge form.

Thanks for your consideration.

Update: I participated in this event last year, and thanks to the generosity of BrothersJudd readers and friends, raised over $200 dollars. I'll be participating again this year, in particular to honor my long-time friend and mentor Thomas P. Fairchild, who lost a long battle with cancer last year. Any donations are greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Steve

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


Warrantless Wiretapping Deal Struck (PAMELA HESS, 6/19/08, AP)

House and Senate leaders have agreed to a new compromise surveillance bill that would effectively shield from potentially costly civil lawsuits telecommunications companies that helped the government wiretap citizens' phone and computer lines after the September 11 terrorist attacks without court permission. [...]

A congressional official said he believes all the companies have such orders, and therefore all 40 cases would be dismissed. There was small chance of them progressing anyway; the Bush administration has stymied them by invoking its state's secret privilege to bar evidence from being brought into court.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:09 PM


Source: McCain Vice President Search Now Focuses on Pawlenty (James Pethokoukis, 6/19/08, US News)

Internal McCain polls show that adding Pawlenty, 47, to the ticket would help McCain win not only Minnesota but also the neighboring state of Wisconsin. Both are close swing states. In 2004, John Kerry beat President Bush by 3.48 percentage points in Minnesota and 0.38 percentage point in Wisconsin. In 2000, Al Gore beat Bush by 2.4 points in Minnesota and 0.22 in Wisconsin.

This all validates my theory that Team McCain is pursuing a "Big 10" victory strategy, trying to win the states from the college football conference, especially Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

He needs someone young enough to succeed him, with executive experience, who's in good with the religious, and can tip the Blue states W couldn't quite win. Mr. Pawlenty fills the bill (assuming Jeb's serious about not running a national campaign yet).

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:07 PM


Obama to Break Promise, Opt Out of Public Financing for General Election (Jake Tapper, June 19, 2008, ABC News: Political Punch)

In a web video to supporters -- "the people who built this movement from the bottom up" -- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, announced this morning that he will not enter into the public financing system, despite a previous pledge to do so. [...]

In November 2007, Obama answered "Yes" to Common Cause when asked "If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?"

Obama wrote: "In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."

Not so "aggressively," according to the McCain campaign, which argues that Obama did not discuss this or try to negotiate at all with the McCain campaign, despite writing that he would "aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


The Supreme Court Made a Mistake in 'Boumediene' (Glenn Sulmasy, June 19, 2008, US news)

The Boumediene holding permits aliens to exercise constitutional rights within U.S. courts of law. This has never been the policy of the United States, nor has the court ever granted such rights to those detained outside of U.S. jurisdiction. Additionally, it should be noted that this is the first of the Supreme Court cases since the attacks of 9/11 that actually declares that the military commission process contains a constitutional violation. While many on both sides of the aisle believe that Guantánamo and the military commissions might be flawed as a matter of policy (and, some say, of law) and think it is in the best interests of the nation to close Guantánamo, this case actually goes further and will have greater impact than if the commissions themselves were found to violate the Constitution. Justice Kennedy went to lengths to limit the decision to only those detained at Gitmo now, but his decision clearly will be analogized by some to other military bases overseas (e.g. Afghanistan) where detainees are held. The practical effect of flooding an already overburdened federal court system is more than likely. These detainees will not only have access to federal district courthouses but will gain the rights of American citizens to challenge their cases within the United States. One can only imagine further unprecedented constitutional challenges, such as applying the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment to the detainees, arguing these provisions of the Constitution apply to those searched or captured on the field of battle. This is not a stretch but a frightening, arguably unintended consequence of the decision.

...Muhammed Atta and company did less violence to the Republic than such Judicial overreach does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 PM


Barack Obama: I won't martyr Osama bin Laden (Alex Spillius, 19/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Though he refused to detail what approach he would take to bring bin Laden to justice, he sought to show a more sympathetic American face to the world when he described the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders as an exemplar of sound victors' justice.

"What would be important would be for us to do it in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he's engaged in and not to make him into a martyr, and to assure that the United States government is abiding by basic conventions that would strengthen our hand in the broader battle against terrorism," he said.

A show trial and a hanging is sympathy?

June 18, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 PM


Tests find arsenic poisoning killed Phar Lap (The Australian, June 19, 2008)

After dominating Australian tracks, the legendary racehorse died in mysterious circumstances in California in 1932.

While conspiracy theories flourished following Big Red's death, including suggestions gangsters had killed him off, poisoning had always been suspected.

A handwritten notebook of homeopathic recipes used by his trainer Harry Telford, auctioned in Melbourne in April, revealed arsenic and strychnine among the ingredients in the tonics and ointments he used on his horses.

While one can legitimately argue that Man-o-War should edge Secretariat on the list of 10 Greatest Americans, there's no debate that Phar Lap deserves pride of place on the Aussie list.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 PM


Muslim Woman: Scarf Kept Her From Seat Near Obama (JEFF KAROUB, 6/18/08, Associated Press)

A young Muslim woman said she and another woman were refused seats directly behind Barack Obama — and in front of TV cameras — at a Detroit rally because they wear head scarfs.

Hebba Aref said Wednesday that she and Shimaa Abdelfadeel were among 20,000 supporters who gathered to see the Democratic presidential hopeful on Monday at the Joe Louis Arena when the groups they were with were separately invited by Obama campaign volunteers to sit behind the podium. But Aref said the volunteers told members of both parties in separate discussions that women wearing hijabs, the traditional Muslim head scarves, weren't included in the invitation and couldn't sit behind the podium.

Aref, a 25-year-old lawyer, said a member of her group was told by a volunteer that she could not invite Aref because of "a sensitive political climate."

...with his not caring how Muslim women were treated in Saddam's Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 PM


Obama's European Problem (Joe Conason, 12/29/07, Salon)

The senator may have traveled widely, but the critically important subcommittee on Europe has languished under his leadership.

Though, we will have to give some thought to which is less significant: Europe or a Senate subcommittee?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 PM


Taking More Risks Because You Feel Safe (Shankar Vedantam, June 9, 2008, Washington Post)

The housing market is in free fall: Quick -- let's protect homeowners against foreclosure.

The country is in recession: Quick -- let's give Americans money to spend to restart the economy.

Big Wall Street firms are failing: Quick -- let's bail out businesses that are "too big to fail."

Trying to fix problems that affect vast numbers of people has an intuitive appeal that politicians and policymakers find irresistible, but several warehouses of research studies show that intuition is often a poor guide to fixing systemic problems. While it seems like common sense to pump money into an economy that is pulling the bedcovers over its head, the problem with most social interventions is that they target not robots and machines but human beings -- who regularly respond to interventions in contrarian, paradoxical and unpredictable ways.

"How well does government do in helping the market to improve what it does?" asked Clifford Winston, an economist at the Brookings Institution and the author of the 2006 book "Market Failure Versus Government Failure." "The research consistently finds that, in fact, government efforts to correct market failures have little effect, or actually make things worse."

"There is a tendency for people to say, 'If things are safer, then I will take more risk,' " he added.

Exactly. So, after 70 years of government guaranteeing the financial losses of average consumers we have the most risk-willing, heavily invested, affluent population in human history. $60 trillion in household net worth says government got this one right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 PM


Read My Lips: We Need These Taxes (Roger Lowenstein, June 15, 2008, Washington Post)

Let's imagine an alternate universe. The U.S. government is running a large and growing deficit. Not far down the road it faces huge increases in Social Security and Medicare costs. Naturally, the candidates for president want to remedy this by raising revenue. They don't want us to bequeath bigger deficits to our children or stake our future on foreigners' willingness to keep lending us money.

But have you heard this speech? "My fellow Americans, I have a plan to raise taxes so that the budget will be closer to balance and future Americans won't have to worry about their retirement security." Neither have I.

Somebody, though, should be giving it.

...but it was hardly an alternate reality. And those old enough will recall that he ran on this message 25 years ago, when larger deficits were unsustainable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:09 PM


SCOTUS Gitmo Ruling (Jon Cohen, June 17, 2008, Washington Post: Behind the Numbers)

Most Americans oppose last week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba should be able to challenge their incarcerations in the civilian court system.

In the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 61 percent said non-citizens suspected of terrorism should not have these rights under the U.S. Constitution; 34 percent said they should. The view that these suspects do not share these privileges cuts across party lines, with majorities of Democrats (53 percent), independents (56 percent) and Republicans (77 percent) taking that position.

You have to be awfully Bright to read the Constitution the way the 35%ers do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:05 PM


Nazi lyrics screened during Germany-Austria Euro 2008 match (Daily Telegraph, 18/06/2008)

A Swiss television channel has apologised after it mistakenly broadcast the Nazi lyrics to the German national anthem during a Euro 2008 football match.

Broadcaster SRG offered subtitles to Germany's national anthem during live coverage of Austria versus Germany – but mistakenly included the "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" lyrics to the first verse, which have been ignored since the fall of the Third Reich.

Fans were invited to sing along as the subtitles appeared on Swiss screens.

...and a soccer game broke out....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Democracy in Decline (Tony Blankley, 6/18/08, Real Clear Politics)

Democracy, broadly understood as government by the people being governed, has been the upward aspiration of Western civilization for about 1,000 years -- and of the rest of the world for about 100 years. Certainly since the Magna Carta in 1215; arguably going back another millennium to when the Germanic tribes selected their chiefs through a more-or-less popular rather than hereditary method. The pace quickened in our Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789, advanced further with Woodrow Wilson's call for the self-determination of nations after World War I. The democratic urge gained further rhetorical support in the post-World War II United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21:

"(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

"(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

"(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures."

..is that therein the parochial imperialist, George W. Bush, vindicated the principles of the UN Charter while the institution itself -- with Senator Obama's approval -- voted against them. Hopeless idealist indeed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Obama, McCain Divide on a Key Strategy Point (ELI LAKE, June 18, 2008, NY Sun)

"Let's take the example of Guantanamo," Mr. Obama said to ABC News. "What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks, for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated."

Those remarks come after the Supreme Court last week in a 5 to 4 decision ruled that detainees in Guantanamo Bay have habeas corpus rights to plead their cases to a court.

After the ABC interview, the McCain campaign pounced. In a conference call with advisers to the campaign, a former director of central intelligence, James Woolsey, said Mr. Obama's interview disclosed a "naïve" approach to the overall war. Another participant in the call, a former secretary of the Navy and former commissioner on the bipartisan commission examining the attacks of September 11, John Lehman, said another director of central intelligence, George Tenet, told him that evidence in the trial of the 1993 terrorists was kept from the CIA that could have been used to round up al Qaeda had it been treated as intelligence and not evidence. The director of foreign policy for the McCain campaign, Randy Scheunemann, said Senator Obama's remarks exemplified a "September 10" mindset, the same phrasing Bush White House aides used to refer to policies they believed were not sufficiently robust in the war.

The line of attack from Mr. McCain should have a familiar ring to Democrats. The party's 2004 presidential nominee, Senator Kerry was attacked for favoring a "law enforcement" approach to what President Bush has called a war.

Some things are too serious to be left to Judge Ito.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Investors Seek Asian Options to Costly China (KEITH BRADSHER, 6/18/08, NY Times)

Canon is no longer building or expanding factories in China, but the company is doubling its work force at a printer factory outside Hanoi to 8,000.

Nearby, Nissan is expanding a vehicle engineering center. Hanesbrands, the underwear company based in Winston-Salem, N.C., is setting up two new factories here, as is the Texhong Textile Group from Shanghai.

China remains the most popular destination for foreign industrial investment in the world, attracting almost $83 billion last year. But a growing number of multinational corporations are pursuing a strategy that companies and analysts call “China plus one,” establishing or expanding Asian bases outside China, particularly in Vietnam.

A long list of concerns about China is feeding the trend: inflation, shortages of workers and energy, a strengthening currency, changing government policies, even the possibility of widespread civil unrest someday. But most important, wages in China are rising close to 25 percent a year in many industries, in dollar terms, and China is no longer such a bargain.

...is that the entire economic "miracle" is based on monkey-see-monkey-do and since there is no value-added the manufacturing is easily transferable to anywhere cheaper assemblers are available.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Why Hamas Needs Its Cease-Fire with Israel (Pierre Heumann, 6/18/08, Der Spiegel)

It is a moment the 1.4 million Gaza Strip residents have long been waiting for. For months, Palestinians there have been faced with empty store shelves and widespread shortages of everything from fuel to food. It will also mean an end to Israeli bombing runs and military activities in the densely populated region. Israelis, meanwhile, are hoping the deal will stop the steady stream of homemade rockets fired across the border -- though on Tuesday evening, after the deal was announced, yet more rockets sailed into Israel.

The negotiations have been underway for months. Finally, though, the Egyptian middlemen were able to find common ground between the two sides. It is an impressive success which saw Hamas move a long way from its original list of demands. In the beginning, for example, the extremist Islamist group wanted the cease-fire to also extend to the West Bank. There, moderate Palestinians with the Fatah movement under Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are in power -- and Israel has a free hand to hunt down Hamas terror cells. Securing the right to continue such searches was vital to the Israelis. The two sides agreed to leave the issue of the West Bank for future negotiations.

The climb-down on the part of Hamas shows that they are dependent on a cease-fire. Israel has sharply cut supplies to the Gaza Strip in reaction to the rockets which are regularly fired at the south of Israel from the Hamas-controlled territory. As a result, the 1.6 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are currently experiencing one of the territory's worst-ever crises. The harsh Israeli economic sanctions have now brought Hamas to their knees. In accordance with the international boycott which has been in effect since Hamas seized power one year ago, Israel only allows the Gaza Strip to receive just enough fuel, food, construction material and medicine that is necessary for people to survive -- but not enough, however, to make modern life possible.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


American President Pleads Guilty to Hopeless Idealism: On a recent visit to London, George W. Bush chatted up historians but dispensed with the 21st century. (Maureen Dowd, 6/18/08, Der Spiegel)

President Bush was in one of his oddly chipper moods when he arrived for dinner with Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street on Sunday night. [...]

Mr. Bush, who said he’s going to put a “Freedom Institute” in his presidential library, told reporters at a press conference with Mr. Brown that “one of the things that I will leave behind is a multilateralism to deal with tyrants, so problems can be solved diplomatically.” W. confessed only to “hopeless idealism” on Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said “history will judge whether or not, you know, more troops were needed earlier, troops could have been positioned here better or not.” But going in, he said, was right despite the “doubters.” “There is some who say that perhaps freedom is not universal,” he asserted, adding that he rejected as elitist the notion that “maybe it’s only, you know, white-guy Methodists who are capable of self-government.”

...they may have trouble believing that prior to the coming of Ronald Reagan, the GOP was considered the pessimistic party, whereas now it is the Left that thinks brown people incapable of self-government and undesirous of liberty and affluence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:20 AM


Economists predict more pain ahead but no recession: The UCLA Anderson Forecast says there will be little or no growth in GDP this year or next. (Roger Vincent, 6/18/08, Los Angeles Times)

"I am holding on to what is now a shaky view: no recession this year," said economist Edward Leamer, director of the quarterly UCLA Anderson Forecast, which is being released today.

The predictions, however, call for somewhat more pain in the months ahead than previously forecast, with little improvement this year or next.

Not good, but not a recession, which is commonly defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth in gross domestic product.

"In a recession, things happen quicker and nastier," said David Shulman, a senior economist at UCLA.

...which, at this point, means folks in their 30s and older, would consider this slow growth to be painful in any meaningful sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Obama and Iraqi Foreign Minister Have Different Memories of their Conversation (Jake Tapper, June 18, 2008, ABC News: Political Punch)

On Monday, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, talked on the phone with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari.

At a press availability in Michigan, I asked Obama if Zebari had expressed any concern to him that his plans to withdrawal U.S. troops as president would undo any security advances.

"No, he did not express that," Obama said. [...]

But today comes this report that Zebari told the Washington Post "that he had some frank talk for the candidate: 'The foreign minister said ‘my message’ to Mr. Obama ‘was very clear...Really, we are making progress. I hope any actions you will take will not endanger this progress.’"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Israel Offers to Talk Peace With Lebanon (ETHAN BRONNER and ROBERT F. WORTH, 6/17/08, NY Times)

Israel offered on Wednesday to start direct peace talks with Lebanon... [...]

Israel is also very close to a prisoner swap with Hezbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla group that it fought a war against two years ago.

The disputed piece of land that will be under negotiation is known as the Shabaa Farms . When Israel withdrew from the occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, the United Nations Security Council stated that the withdrawal was complete despite its holding onto the disputed area of land because Shabaa, the United Nations said, was part of the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel.

But Lebanon and Hezbollah say the land is Lebanese and Syria has not contradicted them. Moreover, Hezbollah has used the Israeli hold over Shabaa as a pretext for keeping its men under arms despite United Nations resolutions calling for the disarming of all Lebanese militias.

Hezbollah says that as long as part of the Lebanese homeland is occupied, it needs its weapons because the national army is weak.

But the West, especially the United States and France, wants to reduce the power of Hezbollah, a client of both Syria and Iran, and has been looking for ways to strengthen the pro-Western government of Lebanon. On her visits to Jerusalem and Beirut earlier this week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to both the Israeli and Lebanese governments about Washington’s desire to find a solution to the land dispute as a catalyst to solving bigger issues in the region, including strengthening the Beirut government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a senior Israeli official said, and Mr. Olmert agreed to this.

Hezbollah made no immediate official statement on Wednesday. However, Al Manar television, which is run by Hezbollah, said "the real target behind Rice’s position on Shabaa Farms is the resistance’s weapons."

Next month, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to brief the Security Council on the implementation of Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. In that report, it is likely that he will announce a revised or clarified stand on the sovereignty of Shebaa.

For Israel, the main concern in Lebanon is Hezbollah’s increasing power. Israeli military officials say that Hezbollah has far more rockets and far deadlier ones today than it did two years ago when the two fought a month-long war after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border to kidnap and kill Israeli soldiers.

It is unclear whether Shebaa and Hezbollah have been discussed by Israeli and Syrian officials negotiating in their talks, which are being mediated by Turkey. But the Israelis and Syrians say their latest round of talks went well and there is now the possibility that Mr. Olmert and Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, will find themselves at a table together in France next month. Both men have accepted an invitation to a regional conference there on July 13 on immigration, security and the environment, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said they will be seated at the same table.

In the past, the Lebanese government has consistently ruled out negotiations with Israel.

It's a waste of time talking to anyone other than Hezbollah, which represents South Lebanon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Mental toughness: In the eyes of Tiger (David Brooks, June 18, 2008, NY Times)

Rocco Mediate's head swiveled about as he walked up the fairway of the sudden-death hole of the U.S. Open on Monday. Somebody would catch his attention, and his eyes would dart over and he'd wave or make a crack. Tiger Woods' gaze, on the other hand, remained fixed on the ground, a few feet ahead of his steps. He was, as always, locked in, focused and self-contained.

The fans greeted Mediate with fraternal affection and Woods with reverence. Most were probably rooting for Rocco, but only because Woods, the inevitable victor, has risen above mere human status and become an embodiment of immortal excellence. That frozen gaze of his looks out from airport billboards, TV commercials and the ad pages. And its ubiquity is proof that every age finds the heroes it needs.

In a period that has brought us instant messaging, multitasking, wireless distractions and attention-deficit disorder, Woods has become the exemplar of mental discipline. After watching Woods walk stone-faced through a roaring crowd, the science writer Steven Johnson, in a typical comment, wrote: “I have never in my life seen a wider chasm between the look in someone's eye and the surrounding environment.”

E-mail me and we'll get you a book.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Banning Steyn: The road to hell is in Canada. (Jonah Goldberg, 6/17/08, National Review)

Mark Steyn, my friend, colleague, and arguably the most talented political writer working today, is on trial for thought crimes.

Steyn — a one-man media empire based in New Hampshire — was published a few years ago in Maclean’s. Now the magazine and its editors are in the dock before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal on the charge that they violated a provincial hate-speech law by running the work of a hate-monger, namely Mark Steyn. A similar prosecution is pending before the national version of this kangaroo court, the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Not that the facts are relevant to the charges, but here’s what happened. Maclean’s ran an excerpt from Steyn’s bestseller, America Alone.

The Canadian Islamic Congress took offense. It charged in its complaint that the magazine was “flagrantly Islamophobic” and “subjects Canadian Muslims to hatred and contempt.” It was particularly scandalized by Steyn’s argument that rising birthrates among Muslims in Europe will force non-Muslims there to come to “an accommodation with their radicalized Islamic compatriots.”

Note: Steyn’s article was published in 2006, before Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, supported that point earlier this year when he said that it is “unavoidable” that Britain will ultimately have to incorporate some elements of sharia into its law in the spirit of “constructive accommodation.”

You might think that if Steyn had been able to quote Williams or someone else who’d expressed that view, he and Maclean’s wouldn’t be in trouble. You’d be wrong. One of the council’s chief gripes with the article is that Steyn quoted an imam living in Norway who said that “the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes.” An accurate quotation is no defense when giving offense.

Indeed, it seems there is no escaping the charge of promoting “hate” in Canada at all. In 31 years, the national Human Rights Commission has never dismissed a case as unfounded.

People still seem to wrestle with the fact that multiculturalism requires censorship. This is the case because, contrary to perception, liberal tolerance isn't about taking all ideas seriously but about neutering them all, lest they be sources of tension within a system that seeks security at any cost.

Islam and phobias: Mark Steyn and the thought police (The Economist, 6/10/08)

One of [Maclean's] star attractions is Mark Steyn, a columnist who is a sparkling, often side-splittingly funny writer and, by his own admission, “a Zionist neocon Bush shill”. Some readers added “Islamophobe” after Maclean's published an alarmist screed by Mr Steyn in October 2006 predicting, among other things, that Europe was becoming a “Eurabia” overrun by Muslim hordes, intent on jihad and sharia.

The piece, an excerpt from Mr Steyn's book “America Alone: The End Of The World As We Know It”, was notable for its simplistic demographic projections—Yemen (population 22m) will outnumber Russia (141m) by mid-century, he wrote confidently—and for the reaction it generated. [...]

Much of Canada's press and many broadcasters are already noted for politically correct blandness. Some fear that the case can only make that worse. Mr Steyn and others hope it will prompt a narrower brief for the commissions, or even their abolition. As he put it in his blog, “I don't want to get off the hook. I want to take the hook and stick it up the collective butt of these thought police.”

How can it be alarmist in a country that almost adopted sharia recently?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


Iraqi violence down; war's root causes unresolved (ROBERT H. REID, 6/16/08, Associated Press)

Signs are emerging that Iraq has reached a turning point. Violence is down, armed extremists are in disarray, government confidence is rising and sectarian communities are gearing up for a battle at the polls rather than slaughter in the streets.

Those positive signs are attracting little attention in the United States, where the war-weary public is focused on the American presidential contest and skeptical of talk of success after so many years of unfounded optimism by the war's supporters.

Unquestionably, the security and political situation in Iraq is fragile. U.S. commanders warn repeatedly that security gains are reversible.

Still, Iraq is by almost any measure safer today than at any time in the past three years. Fears that the country will disintegrate have receded — though they have not disappeared.

The wave of sectarian massacres that pushed the country to the brink of all-out civil war in 2006 has calmed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Celtics beat Lakers to win NBA championships (The Associated Press, June 18, 2008)

With Russell and Havlicek sitting courtside, and Red surely lighting up a victory cigar somewhere, these Boston Celtics returned to glory like the great teams before them.

Dominant in every way.

On a new parquet floor below aging championship banners hung in the rafters two decades back, the Celtics won their 17th NBA title and a first one — at last — for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — their Big Three for a new generation.

After 22 long years, the NBA has gone green.

Lifted by ear-splitting chants of "Beat L.A." early and cries of "Seven-teen" in the closing seconds by their adoring crowd, the Celtics concluded a shocking rebound of a season with a stunning 131-92 blowout over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

...but it is entirely appropriate that Kobe's team quit.

Old Man Joy (Joe Posnanski, 6/17/08)

And then I started hearing people actually comparing Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

I should say up front that I honestly do not know how many people were making this comparison … maybe it was only Mark Jackson on TV and a few annoying people trying to cause a stir — sort of the way sports magazines of my youth like Inside Sports and Sport used to try to get reader reaction by having these ridiculous headlines on their covers like, “Why Wayne Gretzky is not the best player in hockey” or “Why the Seattle Mariners are going to win it all” or whatever. So I don’t know if this Kobe vs. Michael thing is real or just something to talk about or a strawman to knock down. I really don’t know.

I do know this: Just the thought that anyone was arguing this made me surprisingly angry.

Now, first, let me say that Kobe Bryant is an excellent basketball player who has led the NBA in scoring twice, who annually makes the All-Defensive team, who was a huge part of the three-peat Lakers and who was the clear leader on this Lakers team that reached the NBA Finals. He’s a terrific player, and I’m sure his stats are pretty similar to Michael’s …

Kobe Bryant: 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.6 blocks, 2.9 turnovers, 45.3% FG pct.
Michael Jordan: 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.8 blocks, 2.7 turnovers, 49.7 FG pct.

OK, never mind, his number are not really similar at all. But Kobe still has some great years left, and he’s excellent and …

No, I can’t keep this going. It’s happened. Here is my first old man sports moment. This whole thing just ticks me off. Comparing Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan is like … er … it’s just plain … Kobe Bryant? To Michael Jordan? What? … I mean, that’s like saying that … um … I mean Kobe Bryant is like … are you CRAZY?“

Yep, that’s me sputtering. I cannot even begin a viable argument because it’s like arguing why chocolate cake tastes better than roofing insulation. It’s like arguing that Abraham Lincoln was a more significant American than John Candy. It’s like arguing that Casablanca is a better movie than the Bay City Rollers album Once Upon A Star … It’s like … Kobe? Compared to Michael? Are you serious? … it’s like here it is again, to even ARGUE the point is so frustrating, so infuriating, because you have to begin with an unfair premise, that being that there IS AN ARGUMENT to be made, and there is not.*

*I used to have an old newspaper editor who weaned me off the word ”arguably“ because, he said, ”Everything is arguable.“ He’s wrong about that. Kobe vs. Michael is not arguable.

Yes, this is the first time I feel really EMOTIONAL about an athlete of my childhood. I really do mean no offense to Kobe — OK, maybe a little offense, I don’t like him much, and I am partial to others like Tim Duncan, and I’d rather have Chris Paul or LeBron — but I appreciate that he’s a great player, one of the best of his time. But comparing him to Michael? What? I can’t help it … that infuriates me.

And the funny thing is that I wasn’t even THAT BIG a Jordan fan. It’s something else, something harder to describe, it’s an old man thought, I guess. Kobe is a great player. But Michael was the best player. He was one of the very, very few who you didn’t have to like … he towered over everything. And to compare those two, I guess, feels a little bit like saying my time doesn’t count, that my athletes were not as great, that there’s something more special about today than there was about when I was young and alive and brilliantly aware. Maybe that doesn’t make much sense. It’s emotional, I guess.

In any case, I was thinking about this again while watching the NBA Finals end on Tuesday in ignominy and disgrace for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. I mean, seriously, the Lakers lost by THIRTY NINE POINTS. I won’t lie: That gave me some old man joy. The Lakers seemed to think they were playing a preseason game in Dubuque. They didn’t just get outclassed, they played like they didn’t care. Kobe was laughably bad. He was 7 for 22 from the field, he had one assist, four turnovers — you got the sense he only brought a carry-on bag with him to Boston.

And the argument is over.

June 17, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 PM


Kerry: McCain Bin Laden Argument 'Phony' (Teddy Davis, Gregory Wallace, and James Gerber, June 17, 2008, ABC News)

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., suggested Tuesday that Osama Bin Laden would be entitled to Habeas Corpus rights under a recent Supreme Court decision should he be detained by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. [...]

Kerry was joined on the Obama call by Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism czar and ABC News consultant, who argued that the question of whether Obama favors Habeas rights for Bin Laden is "largely a fake issue." [...]

"[I]f he were to be brought back" to Guantanamo, said Clarke, "the Supreme Court ruling holds on the right of Habeas Corpus."

Except that Senator Obama says he favors that result and would accede to the ruling, so it isn't phony.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


Superiority Complex: Why America’s growing nuclear supremacy may make war with China more likely (Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, July/August 2007, Atlantic Monthly)

In the coming years, as China’s economy booms and its armed forces grow, the United States will seek to curb Chinese military power and influence. The U.S.-China rivalry is poised to become the world’s most dangerous strategic relationship. Optimists might contend that the pacifying effects of economic integration will forestall outright hostility and conflict between Washington and Beijing. Others would argue that the strategic competition itself augurs peace and stability between the superpowers, because each country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons constitutes a security blanket: Just as the danger of mutual nuclear annihilation—or mutual assured destruction (MAD), as it was labeled then—helped prevent war between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, so too will nuclear deterrence cool tensions between the United States and China.

But little about the emerging nuclear balance between the United States and China should lead anyone to assume a similar stabilizing effect. The United States is pursuing capabilities that are rendering MAD obsolete, and the resulting nuclear imbalance of power could dramatically exacerbate America’s rivalry with China.

In the 1990s, with the Cold War receding, nuclear weapons appeared to be relics. Russian and Chinese leaders apparently thought so. Russia allowed its arsenal to decline precipitously, and China showed little interest in modernizing its nuclear weapons. The small strategic force that China built and deployed in the 1970s and early 1980s is essentially the same one it has today.

But meanwhile, the United States steadily improved its “counterforce” capabilities—those nuclear weapons most effective at targeting an enemy’s nuclear arsenal. Even as it reduced the number of weapons in its nuclear arsenal, the U.S. made its remaining weapons more lethal and accurate. The result today is a global nuclear imbalance unseen in 50 years. And nowhere is U.S. nuclear primacy clearer—or potentially more important—than in the Sino-U.S. relationship.

China has approximately 80 operationally deployed nuclear warheads, but only a few of them—those assigned to single-warhead DF-5 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)—can reach the continental United States. (There is no definitive, unclassified count of China’s DF-5 ICBMs, but official U.S. statements have put the number at 18.) China has neither modern nuclear ballistic-missile submarines nor long-range nuclear bombers. Moreover, China’s ICBMs can’t be quickly launched; the warheads are stored separately, and the missiles are kept unfueled. (Unlike the solid fuel used in U.S. missiles, the liquid fuel used to propel Chinese ICBMs is highly corrosive.) Finally, China lacks an advanced early-warning system that would give Beijing reliable notice of an incoming attack.

This small arsenal fulfilled China’s strategic requirements in the 20th century, but it is now obsolete. The current Chinese force was designed for a different era:when China was a poor nation with a limited role on the world stage, and when U.S. and Soviet missiles were too inaccurate to carry out a disarming strike—even against Beijing’s small force. But China’s international presence is expanding, and America’s counterforce capabilities have soared. Moreover, one of the biggest constraints that would deter American leaders from contemplating a disarming strike is fading away. In the past, a U.S. preemptive attack would have generated horrific civilian casualties, but that may soon cease to be the case.

How the United States achieved nuclear dominance after the Soviet Union collapsed is an open secret. The Navy refitted its entire fleet of nuclear-armed submarines with new, highly accurate Trident II missiles and replaced many of the 100-kiloton W76 warheads on these missiles with 455-kiloton W88 warheads. (One kiloton is the explosive energy released by 1,000 tons of TNT.) The result is an unprecedented combination of accuracy and destructive power, essential for an attack on hardened silos. The Navy also recently tested a GPS guidance system that would dramatically boost the accuracy, and thus lethality, of the submarine missile arsenal.

For its part, the Air Force has improved the guidance systems of land-based Minuteman III missiles. Many of these missiles are also being “retipped” with more-powerful warheads—and more-accurate reentry vehicles—taken from recently retired MX (“Peacekeeper”) missiles. The Air Force has also upgraded the avionics on B-2 bombers. These nuclear-mission-capable bombers are already “stealthy,” but the upgrades improve the planes’ ability to penetrate enemy airspace secretly, by flying very low and using the terrain to shield them from radar.

Perhaps as important, the United States is pursuing a slew of nonnuclear weapons that will provide officials options they may find more palatable if they decide to attack an adversary’s nuclear arsenal. These include precision “bunker buster” conventional bombs, high-speed long-range cruise missiles, and conventionally armed ballistic missiles—each of which could be used to destroy enemy missile silos. Furthermore, Washington is undertaking initiatives—including advances in antisatellite warfare and in wide-area remote sensing, designed to find “relocatable” mobile missile launchers—that will make China’s nuclear forces vulnerable. Even a missile-defense system substantially boosts U.S. offensive counterforce capabilities. Critics of this system are right in claiming that it could not shield America from even a modest nuclear attack (e.g., 25 warheads), because it would be easily overwhelmed by decoy warheads and the “penetration aids” that would accompany an adversary’s missiles. But it could enhance offensive nuclear capabilities, by “mopping up” a small number of incoming warheads that survived a U.S. first strike.

America’s growing counterforce power reflects its concern about China’s emergence as what Pentagon planners call a “peer competitor.” In 2006, the Pentagon warned: “Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States.” Not surprisingly, the U.S. is pursuing dominance over China across the military spectrum—building up its conventional-warfare, space-warfare, and information- warfare capabilities, as well as its missile-defense and offensive nuclear-strike systems.

Changes in war plans and shifts in the location of nuclear forces confirm that American nuclear upgrades are linked to the perception that China may become a threat. In 1997, the Clinton administration made the first major change in presidential guidance for nuclear-war plans since the early 1980s, broadening the spectrum of Chinese targets. Leaked excerpts from the Pentagon’s 2001 Nuclear Posture Review called for the United States to be prepared to use nuclear weapons against China. And the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Lieutenant General Henry A. Obering III, acknowledged that his agency’s plans are not entirely focused on “rogue states” or the “axis of evil.” In fact, the Missile Defense Agency also plans for Chinese contingencies. Perhaps the most concrete sign of the increased prominence of China in U.S. nuclear-war plans is the transfer of five nuclear-armed submarines from their Atlantic base at Kings Bay, Georgia, to the Pacific base at Bangor, Washington; two-thirds of the U.S. strategic submarine fleet is now based in the Pacific. Finally, in May 2006, it was reported that the Pentagon had adopted a new war plan to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack by striking Chinese targets, potentially with nuclear weapons. Of course, it’s difficult to ascertain Washington’s intentions, but as a 2003 Rand report on the future U.S. nuclear arsenal concluded, “What the planned force appears best suited to provide beyond the needs of traditional deterrence is a preemptive counterforce capability against Russia and China. Otherwise, the numbers and the operating procedures simply do not add up” (emphasis in original).

These changes do not mean that the United States is adopting a nuclear first-strike strategy—it strongly prefers to fight any future wars without resorting to nuclear weapons. Rather, the United States is honing its nuclear capabilities for three broad purposes: to deter conventional or nuclear attacks, to strengthen its leverage against nuclear-armed adversaries during high-stakes crises or wars, and to give itself better nuclear options in dire circumstances. [...]

U.S. policy makers and analysts need to confront challenging questions about military strategy and foreign policy in an era of nuclear primacy. How should the United States plan to fight conventional wars against nuclear powers in a way that minimizes the odds of an inadvertent escalation? Will the United States need to adopt highly limited war aims—a reversal of the Powell Doctrine of committing overwhelming force to win decisively? Does the military need to rethink the American way of war, focused as it is on blinding and confusing the enemy? And how does the United States plan to manage an alliance system that may become strained, as its allies increasingly realize that they’re more vulnerable than the United States to nuclear threats and coercion?

Mr. Press is a neighbor and at a party one time another neighbor, who's an economist, and I both argued that the U.S. would--and should--use a first strike against either the Chinese or the Iranians because we feel them sufficiently "other" that the moral compunctions would be diminished. There would be no domestic political price to pay.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Can't wait 'til September for Spore? Creature Creator is out now! ( Jay Hathaway, 6/17/08, Download Squad)

Geeks everywhere are anxiously awaiting the September release of Spore, the species-creation game from SimCity genius Will Wright. Today, everyone is drooling just a little bit more over the release of Spore Creature Creator, the part of the game where you generate the prototype for your new species

And the geeks used to be the one group they could convince Darwinism was true. Once you've lost the AV club you're toast.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Cyd Charisse, 86; dancer starred in movie musicals with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire (Mary Rourke, 6/17/08, Los Angeles Times)

Charisse captured moviegoers' attention in a quick succession of films, starting with "Singin' in the Rain" in 1952 in which she partnered with dancer and actor Gene Kelly in a steamy ballet.

She was strong, lithe and "drop-dead gorgeous to look at," dance/film historian and author Larry Billman said of Charisse in her breakthrough performance. She partnered with Kelly again in "Brigadoon" in 1954 and "It's Always Fair Weather" the following year.

"After years when Hollywood's leading dancers were cute and fluffy, Cyd took dance to a more sensual realm in the 1950s," Billman said in a September 2007 interview with The Times.

Charisse also danced with Fred Astaire, the premier dancer of his age, in major production numbers in the '50s. In "The Band Wagon" (1953), they danced to the music of "Dancing in the Dark" on a set that looked like New York City's Central Park. Four years later, Charisse and Astaire were partners again in "Silk Stockings." Astaire said that Charisse was "beautiful dynamite" on screen. Charisse's other starmaker roles of the 1950s included "Deep in My Heart" (1954), in which she danced a sexy duet with James Mitchell.

Unlike many top female dancers in the era of movie musicals, Charisse was trained as a ballerina in the Russian tradition.

While she occasionally performed solo, "she was at her best when she was partnered," Billman said. "She had technique, ability, and she didn't do anything to take away from her partner."

Her glamorous looks fit well with an emerging trend. "In the '50s, Hollywood was all about sex," Billman said. While actresses Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren dominated their field, "Cyd ruled dance," Billman said. "She personified dancing sophistication."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


EU treaty should be dropped, say British voters (James Kirkup and Bruno Waterfield, 17/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

The study piles fresh pressure on the Prime Minister to abandon the treaty in the wake of Ireland’s rejection of it in a referendum last week.

According to a YouGov poll carried out after the Irish result was announced on Friday, 54 per cent of British voters now believe the Government should drop the Lisbon Treaty - which would sweep away dozens of national vetoes - and not try to ratify it.

Only 14 per cent of those questioned agreed that the Government should carry on and ratify the controversial agreement, which would also create a new European president and foreign minister.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Bush made the world a safer place: We may jeer him and tell him to go home, but America's allies continue to benefit from some of George Bush's decisions (Oliver Kamm, 6/17/08, guardian.co.uk)

[A]fter 9/11, he was right in not interpreting the attack as confirmation that America was stirring up trouble for itself. The theocratic barbarism responsible for the attack on the Twin Towers was driven not by what America and its allies had done, but by what we represented. In the words of Osama bin Laden, illegitimately appropriating for himself the mantel of Islam, "every Muslim, the minute he can start differentiating, carries hate toward Americans, Jew, and Christians".

The most fundamental decision in western security policy in the past seven years has not been the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. It has been the recognition that the most voluble adversaries of western society are not merely a criminal subculture, and still less an incipient liberation movement. Rather, they are a reactionary, millenarian and atavistic force with whom accommodation is impossible as well as intensely undesirable.

The grand strategy pursued by the US under Bush has overestimated the plasticity of the international order, but it has got one big thing right. There is an integral connection between the terrorism that targets western societies and the autocratic states in which Islamist fanaticism is incubated.

Indeed, the international order wasn't plastic--it was glass and he broke it. Those Western leaders who wouldn't bend to our will have, for the most part, been replaced with folks who ill: Stephen Harper, Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy, Pope Benedict, whichever cipher is at the UN....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:50 PM


Does the Government Understate Inflation? (Kurt Brouwer, June 17th, 2008, Fundmastery)

In November, 1983, I bought a 1984 Mercedes 300 CD and paid about $33,000 for it. I kept that car for 19 years and bought essentially the same make and model (2003 Mercedes C 320) in December 2002. The new car is significantly better than the 1984 model because it gets better mileage, has more interior room, is much safer (air bags, traction control). Had car prices kept up with inflation over that time period, the 2003 model should have cost around $58,000. In addition, it should have been even higher in price due to the higher quality — it is a much better car.

Yet, I paid $39,500 or so for the 2003 model, an increase of 20% or roughly 1% a year. And, even at that, how should I measure the quality improvements, most of which were unavailable at any price in 1983? So, what was my personal inflation experience with car purchases over the past 20 years?

But, we buy cars infrequently and when we do buy them, we do not really factor in the quality improvements that new cars feature. For example, consider maintenance and reliability. Today, cars routinely go 40,000 miles on a set of tires. In the 1950s, a set of tires lasted 15-20,000 miles. Similar improvements have been made in brakes, engines and other areas. Back then, after 100,000 miles, a car was worn out. Today, a car with 100,000 miles on it has plenty of life left in it.

Posted by Stephen Judd at 12:00 PM


Download Day - English

You're reading this, so you obviously use the Internet. BrothersJudd recommends using Firefox as your web browser, and today Firefox 3 is being released. For the last three months, about 25% of our site visitors have used Firefox...an astounding number, considering that only a few years ago over 90% of our readers were using Internet Explorer.

You can find out more about in the Field Guide to Firefox 3. Download Firefox 3:
Firefox 3

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Exaggerating America's decline (Michael Fullilove, June 17, 2008, IHT)

A new international relations orthodoxy is coalescing, to the effect that America is slouching towards mediocrity. In newspaper columns articles and on TV talk shows you will hear journalists charting the "relentless relative decline" of the United States. The military is overstretched; the economy is exposed; the political system is broken; the punters are suffering from an Iraq-induced hangover; and when it comes to international legitimacy, the White House has maxed out America's credit card. And all the time, potential competitors such as China, the European Union, Russia, India and Iran are closing in.

The best works in this area, by Richard Haass and Fareed Zakaria, are full of insight. Yet as a non-American living in the United States, I'm struck by the gulf that still remains between America and the rest - in terms of hard power, soft power and what we could call "smart power."

In relation to hard power, the $14 trillion American economy dwarfs all the others. The United States spends roughly as much on its military as the rest of the world combined. Washington has been bloodied and diverted by its foolhardy invasion of Iraq, but it remains the only capital capable of running a truly global foreign policy and projecting military power anywhere on earth.

Almost every country thinks it has a special relationship with the United States, based on shared history or values - or clashing ones. None of the great challenges facing humanity can be solved without the Americans.

...after watching the leaders of Europe this past week grovel at the foot of the "unpopular" president of the "spent" superpower?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


Israel and Hamas 'agree truce' (Daily Telegraph, 17/06/2008)

Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas have agreed to a truce starting on Thursday, according to Egyptian negotiators. [...]

The ceasefire could be the first step towards a possible prisoner exchange between the two sides, centred on the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized by Hamas two years ago.

It could also loosen Israeli restrictions on access to the Gaza Strip and speed up the movement of supplies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


How Close McCain Is to Bush Depends on the Issue (ELISABETH BUMILLER, 6/16/08, NY Times)

A look at Mr. McCain’s 25-year record in the House and Senate, his 2008 campaign positions and his major speeches over the last three months indicates that on big-ticket issues — the economy, support for continuing the Iraq war, health care — his stances are indeed similar to Mr. Bush’s brand of conservatism. Mr. McCain’s positions are nearly identical to the president’s on abortion and the types of judges he says he would appoint to the courts.

...so it's unlikely he'll claim that he can give us: 8 more years of economic growth; as significant a shift to the Right on the judiciary, social programs, and life issues as W effected; or quite as much progress on forging the Axis of Good and Reforming Islam as W achieved. But if Democrats think he can do all that, let's hope they're right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


U.S. Democrats to back down on Iraq war conditions (Reuters, 6/16/08)

Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who came to power last year on a call to end the combat in Iraq, will soon give President George W. Bush the last war-funding bill of his presidency without any of the conditions they sought for withdrawing U.S. troops, congressional aides said on Monday.

Lawmakers are arranging to send Bush $165 billion in new money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, enough to last for about a year and well beyond when Bush leaves office on Jan. 20.

If the Democrats were dogs PETA would protest what W has done to them since the midterm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Choice for the Children: The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program gives disadvantaged children a chance at a private education. (Virginia Walden Ford, 6/17/08, National Review)

If Marion Barry can change his mind on school vouchers, there’s hope that others can as well.

For more than a quarter century, the former D.C. mayor and current City Council member has been an outspoken opponent of school vouchers. But he recently shocked the District by writing in support of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program in an article for the Washington Post.

What changed his mind? Talking to parents and families who know that their child’s scholarship is a lifeline that has rescued them from low-performing schools.

”Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and other guardians in my community tell me that these programs are making a difference in their children's lives and giving them hope they have never had,” Barry wrote.

He specifically pointed to one mother, Wanda Gaddis, who told him: “The schools in D.C. were not educating my child. At first I did not have a choice, but I am so thankful that I and so many other parents did get choice with the Opportunity Scholarship Program. I can't begin to tell you how much my child's education has improved since starting with this program.”

There's your sales pitch for capitalism: Market Forces, so basic even a crackhead can grasp them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Unity still out of reach (MATTHEW DALLEK, 6/17/08, Washington Post)

On matters of policy, the differences between Obama and Clinton are indeed small, and numerous pundits have predicted a rapid reversal of the primary enmity. Nonetheless, the divisions among their followers are not insignificant and easily bridged. In the history of modern primary campaigns, ideology is one, but far from the only, source of disunity between presidential candidates of the same party. Historically speaking, issues of class, gender, race and even personality have been nearly as poisonous in causing internecine strife as ideological infighting has been. [...]

[C]linton’s campaign has deepened the doubts that some voting blocs have had about Obama. She successfully courted Latinos, Jews, blue-collar voters and white women partly by comparing Obama unfavorably to McCain, portraying Obama as too inexperienced to lead “on Day One” and as an elitist who is out of touch with kitchen-table concerns.

Strike one. Strike two. Strike three.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Pity the Poor Eurocrats (Anne Applebaum, June 17, 2008, Washington Post)

[D]uring doomed referendum campaigns, the political class, whether Irish or Danish or French, is always unable to sell some complicated institutional reform to the general public, and it is never able to explain to the voters why they should care. And perhaps this should no longer surprise anyone. Maybe someday there will be a country called Europe, whose citizens feel as deeply about the institutions of Europe as they feel about their own national institutions, but there isn't yet. As a result, national referendums on European issues are easily hijacked by rumor, hearsay and single-issue campaigners, however insane or inane. More to the point, they will continue to be, at least for some time to come. So perhaps it would be better all around if Europe's leaders came to terms with this and moved on. As it turned out, there was nothing wrong with a Europe in which some countries adopted a common currency and others did not. The same is doubtless true of "European" foreign policy, which is always at its most successful when several powerful nation-states -- some combination of Germany, France or Britain, and two or three others -- get together, make a decision and stick to it. By contrast "European" foreign policy is often at its weakest when it is carried out by functionaries who owe no allegiance to any particular electorate.

So pay no attention to the wailing in Brussels: If the most enthusiastic Europeans in Europe didn't care enough to read the treaty they've just rejected, then maybe it's just as well it didn't pass.

...has ever become less nationalist?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


India goes to war in space (Sudha Ramachandran, 6/17/08, Asia Times)

India's defense forces will be keeping an eye on yet another frontier - outer space. An Integrated Space Cell, which will be jointly operated by the country's three armed forces, the civilian Department of Space and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been set up to utilize more effectively the country's space-based assets for military purposes and to look into threats to these assets.

Announcing the setting up of the Integrated Space Cell, India's Defense Minister Arackaparambil Kurian Antony said last week that it was being established because of "the growing threat" to India's space assets. "Offensive counter-space systems like anti-satellite weaponry, new classes of heavy-lift and small boosters and an improved array of military space systems have emerged in our neighborhood," the defense minister pointed out, stressing that these need to be countered. [...]

That announcement came less than a month after China used a medium-range ballistic missile to shoot down one of its own aging satellites, a Chinese Feng Yun 1C polar orbit weather satellite that it had launched into orbit in 1999.

...it's actually China that's alone.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Close Race: McCain Stays in Range Amid Challenges for Obama (GARY LANGER, June 17, 2008, ABC News)

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll underscores the conundrum of the 2008 presidential election: If everything is so good for Barack Obama, why isn't everything so good for Barack Obama? [...]

Among all Americans, Obama leads by a fairly narrow 6 points; among those most likely to vote -- an estimate that it's admittedly early to make -- the two are locked in a dead heat. [...]

Obama's advantage vs. McCain is about the same as in an ABC/Post poll last month -- no bounce from Obama's victory in the long-fought Democratic nomination campaign.

One of the challenges for Obama in terms of likely voters is the fact that his support relies heavily on young adults, whose turnout on Election Day is far less reliable than their elders'. [...]

Obama, more broadly, also faces significant unease with his resume, with just half of Americans, 50 percent, saying he's experienced enough to serve as president. Forty-six percent think that's not so, a large number to lose on the basic question of qualifications.

Also, in the two most reliable swing voter groups in presidential elections, Obama and McCain run evenly among independents, and McCain leads by 14 points among white Catholics.

Poll Finds Independent Voters Split Between McCain, Obama (Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, 6/17/08, Washington Post)
At this point four years ago, Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry held identical leads over President Bush among all adults and among registered voters.

Then the GOP and the media explained that Kerry wasn't the anti-Dean but just like Howard Dean. For the next four months they'll explain that Senator Obama too is just a stock Northern liberal. It's not a winnable race for the Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Gordon Brown thrown by George Bush's hip-hop handshake (Tom Chivers, 17/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Instead of going in for a straight grip-and-pump, with the fingers slipping under the wrist, Mr Bush gripped around Mr Brown's thumb, to the obvious confusion of his partner in the War on Terror.

The unusual, "street"-style greeting, more commonly used by young sports stars and musicians than middle-aged heads of state, so perplexed Mr Brown that three of his fingers somehow slipped inside Mr Bush's jacket sleeve. [...]

The handshake, which took place at RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland, was not Mr Bush's first high profile foray into youth-culture territory during his presidency.

The American Commander-in-Chief was famously caught on microphone, during a G8 meeting discussing Hezbollah attacks on Israel, asking Mr Brown's Prime Ministerial predecessor Tony Blair "Yo, Blair. How you doin'"?

Posterity does not, alas, record Mr Blair's response.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Waters rise anew in Iowa city that spurned higher ground (Susan Saulny, June 17, 2008, NY Times)

This is not the first time this tiny city in a valley of rolling hills 70 miles northeast of Des Moines has been mostly under water, as it is now, a soaking casualty of the swollen Iowa River, the Otter Creek and this endlessly wet spring.

In 1993, when floodwaters inundated Chelsea, population 297, and thousands of other communities across the Midwest, killing 50 people and damaging 50,000 homes in nine states, the people here, unlike those in most places, decided to think long and hard about moving the whole community to higher ground.

Despite the heartache involved, moving out of the floodplain in Tama County seemed like a good idea, and the city council voted to move as much of Chelsea as possible out of harm's way.

But the reality of the move proved much more contentious than the idea, and just a few homeowners ended up taking advantage of the federal aid available for relocation and buyouts.

Now here is Chelsea again, under about 6 feet, or 2 meters, of water at the lowest point, second-guessing everything but also staunchly defending its right to exist exactly where it wants to.

...since the victims aren't minority we can be honest and blame them for living in a flood zone.

Zemanta Pixie

June 16, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


China Still Lags Behind U.S. In Influence, Survey Shows (DAVID BARBOZA, 6/16/08, NY Times)

Despite China’s remarkable economic rise, and its efforts to spread its influence in Asia through what is known as “soft power,” the country still lags far behind the United States in that sphere, according to a survey to be released Tuesday.

The survey suggests that China has a long way to go before it is perceived as a multi-faceted power and that the country has not yet found a way to translate economic gains into soft power — or the ability to influence people and nations through nonmilitary means, like culture, diplomacy, politics and education.

The study, conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the East Asia Institute in South Korea, is the latest effort to assess China’s rise at a time when American influence is widely believed to be in decline, partly because of the war in Iraq.

Many academics say China is seeking to become a global super power that relies on soft power rather than on military might, and that trade deals have helped it gain tremendous influence in the developing world.

But the study concludes that many Asians fear China’s rise as much as they admire it, and worry that China could become a military threat.

I just finished reading Peter Navarro's in many ways useful, The Coming China Wars, but there's a real oddity at its core. He offers a fine rehearsal of various problems China faces and/or is causing: it copies Western products rather than innovating; it then mass produces goods by paying exploitative wages; the quality of the goods is horrendous and often deadly; it lacks the natural resources to sustain the sort of growth it would require to become a developed nation; it pollutes at nearly suicidal levels, like Eastern Europe used to; it's running out of water as well as oil and metals and has built shoddy dams that imperil its own people; it has internal ethnic tensions, worker unrest, population imbalances that make a welfare system untenable; it exploits African and other workers abroad as it seeks to extract the raw materials it needs back home, making it the ugliest sort of imperialist power; the Communist Party has to ruthlessly repress free speech, the press, the Internet, religion, etc.; and so on and so forth. And yet, after going through these myriad problems -- and not making nearly enough of the multiple demographic crises that it faces -- Mr. Navarro then proceeds to warn us about China's emerging military might and the threat it represents. It's as if the Iron Curtain had never fallen and people never been forced to realize that a system so inept at self-governance, foreign relations, technological innovation, high-tech manufacture and motivating its own people is simply incapable of producing a military that's capable of challenging ours. As is nearly always the case throughout its history, when the shooting starts it will be the Chinese who are doing the dying, most likely at each others hands.

Sure, we ought to destroy China's nuclear capacity and space program, but just on general principle--that our enemies are allowed neither--not because they present a substantial threat to us in geo-strategic terms.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 PM


President pours praise on Brown (Patrick Wintour and Richard Norton-Taylor, 6/17/08, The Guardian)

Bush said he appreciated the prime minister being "tough on terror", saying that Brown understood that the spread of freedom was transformative, and it was wrong to think that "only white guy Methodists" wanted self-government. He branded such thinking as the ultimate form of political elitism.

Brown's announcements yesterday on Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq underscored the extent to which Britain is determined to stay in step with Washington in the battle against terrorism, and that he is continuing to cooperate with the US despite talk early in his prime ministership of a more distant relationship.

Well, he was easily brought to heel.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 PM


Hint of Movement Between Israel and Three Neighbors (ISABEL KERSHNER, 6/16/08, NY Times)

Israel appeared to be making diplomatic progress Monday on three fronts: a possible prisoner exchange with Hezbollah; a second round of indirect talks with Syrian representatives in Turkey; and a possible truce with Hamas in Gaza.

Making peace with Hezbollahstan and Hamastan is sensible, as both are permanent neighbors, but with the Ba'ath regime that oppresses the people of Syria is not just morally reprehenbsible but foolish as policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


A painful victory for Tiger Woods in U.S. Open playoff (The Associated Press, June 16, 2008)

With a throbbing knee and a pounding heart, Tiger Woods made one last improbable escape and won the U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff over Rocco Mediate on Monday, his 14th career major and maybe the most amazing of them all.

One shot behind on the 18th hole after a collapse no one saw coming, Woods birdied the 18th hole to force sudden death at Torrey Pines against a 45-year-old with a creaky back who simply wouldn't go away.

But that one extra hole was enough to doom Mediate, trying to become the oldest U.S. Open champion at 45 years, 6 months.

He put his tee shot in the bunker at No. 7, knocked his approach off a cart path and against the bleachers, chipped some 18 feet past the hole and missed the par putt.

On the verge of one of golf's greatest upsets, Mediate instead became another victim.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


In New Defense Policy, France Joins Allies (STEVEN ERLANGER and KATRIN BENNHOLD, 6/16/08, NY Times)

In its first new national defense policy in 14 years, France has decided that its security lies within Europe and the NATO alliance, establishing a significant shift from the country’s longstanding notions of moral and military self-sufficiency.

More than four decades ago, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, angry with American and British domination of NATO, said that France’s military integration into the alliance had been “stripped of justification.”

But now that the Soviet Union is gone and the European Union is more fully established, President Nicolas Sarkozy has decided that France is best served by participating fully with Washington and NATO, in part because the vast majority of members of the European Union are also members of the alliance.

...former enemies looking to make sure they're with us next time. If you'd predicted in 2000 that W would get France to join the Axis of Good you'd have been laughed at.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Kaffee vs. Jessup II?: Obama and McCain Square Off on Habeas Corpus Rights for Accused Terrorists (Jake Tapper, June 14, 2008, ABC News)

Obama, a former senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, cited "that principle of habeas corpus, that a state can't just hold you for any reason without charging you and without giving you any kind of due process -- that’s the essence of who we are. I mean, you remember during the Nuremberg trials, part of what made us different was even after these Nazis had performed atrocities that no one had ever seen before, we still gave them a day in court and that taught the entire world about who we are but also the basic principles of rule of law. Now the Supreme Court upheld that principle yesterday."

(Though Obama was clearly referring to the principle of giving criminals a day in court, it's worth pointing out the distinction here, that the Nuremberg trials did not give Nazi war criminals access to U.S. courts, but to a special international military tribunal created by the U.S., USSR, France and the U.K. Though Nuremberg currently is considered a model for international law, it's not as if Rudolph Hess had access to challenge his detention in U.S. federal court.)

It's perfectly acceptable for him to have learned nothing in law school, but has he never read a history book nor the Constitution?

A series of debates with Maverick would obviously be fatal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 PM


Islam stuck in the Middle Ages, says Professor Hans Kung (Ruth Gledhill, 6/16/08, Times of London)

Islam is stuck in its own version of the “Middle Ages” which is contributing to a global crisis, one of the religion's leading experts has argued.

Professor Hans Kung, a leading Roman Catholic and theologian from Germany, warned in a lecture of a “deadly threat” to all humankind unless new efforts are made to build bridges with Islam.

He said in London that Islam has “special problems” with modernity because, unike Christianity and Judaism, in which he also specialises, it has never undergone a “serious religious reformation”. [...]

He argued: “After the Reformation, Christianity had to undergo another paradigm shift, that of the Enlightenment. Judaism, after the French Revolution and Napoleon, experienced the Enlightenment first, and as a consequence, at least in Reform Judaism, it experienced also a religious reformation. Islam, however, has not undergone a serious religious reformation and so to the present day has quite special problems also with modernity and its core components, freedom of conscience and religion, human rights, tolerance, democracy."

Professor Kung also set out what the three religions have in common, such as injunctions against murder and respect for life. “They do not recognise themselves in our picture of Islam, because they want to be loyal citizens of the Islamic religion.

"Those who make Islam responsible for kidnappings, suicide attacks, car bombs and beheadings carried out by a few blind extremists ought at the same time to condemn Christianity or Judaism for the barbarous maltreatment of prisoners, the air strikes and tank attacks carried out by the US Army - 10,000 civilians have been murdered in Iraq alone - and the terrorism of the Israeli army in Palestine.”

...of why Muslims should want to follow post-Modern Europe over the cliff? The Reformation needs to be along Anglospheric lines, not European.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:37 PM


Spoon: Underdogs And Their Old Tricks Of Brilliancy (Daytrotter, 16 June 2008)

Includes a fine cover of Paul Simon's "Peace Like a River."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 PM


Brown backs Bush freedom agenda (Jon Ward, June 16, 2008, Washington Times)

The prime minister has been on his heels politically after a recent defeat in parliamentary elections, and Mr. Bush remains unpopular in much of Europe.

But Mr. Brown did not shrink from backing Mr. Bush when the president defended his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 and to maintain a large troop presence there over the last five years.

"I believe that Iraq is a democracy today because of the action that we have taken. And our next task is to make sure that all Iraqis feel that they have an economic stake as well as a democratic stake in the future of the country," Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Brown also agreed with Mr. Bush's oft-stated and often criticized view that democracy can be established in the Middle East.

"The question facing the Western world is, will we fall prey to the argument that stability is more important than forms of government?" Mr. Bush said, during a press conference with Mr. Brown.

Mr. Brown said: "The passion for freedom I think is a universal value."

...for a President Obama to revert to the Left's preferred Stability (or Totalitarian) Agenda.

Though, there are still folks on his side who lose no sleep at the prospect of standing idly by during genocide, Bush's Misplaced Regrets (Terence Samuel, June 16, 2008, American Prospect)

Just so we're clear, the most regrettable elements of the Bush years have nothing to do with what the president said or how he said it. Rather, it was all the ridiculously ill-considered, foolish, and fundamentally wrong things that he did. For example, starting an unnecessary war that has so far deprived more than 4,000 American families of loved ones and the nation of the confidence of the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:10 AM


Honda makes first hydrogen cars (BBC, 6/16/08)

Japanese car manufacturer Honda has begun the first commercial production of a zero-emission, hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicle.

The four-seater, called FCX Clarity, runs on electricity produced by hydrogen, and emits water vapour. [...]

Many car makers are developing cleaner, more economical vehicles because of high fuel prices and as consumers become more concerned with the environment.

Toyota said it was struggling to keep up with booming demand for its hybrid vehicles because it was unable to make enough batteries.

Hybrid vehicles, such as Toyota's top-selling Prius, switch between a petrol engine and electric motor.

Toyota Motor Corp's executive vice president, Takeshi Uchiyamada, told the Associated Press that new battery production lines could not be added until next year.

"Hybrids are selling so well we are doing all we can to increase production," he said. "We need new lines."

Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker said on Monday it wanted to produce a Golf which consumed three to four litres of petrol per 100 kilometres compared with 4.3 litres currently for the most fuel-efficient model.

"In the next few years, we are not going to do without petrol and diesel motors, but the future belongs to the electric car," VW chairman Martin Winterkorn told German newspaper Bild-Zeitung.

Motorhead Messiah (Clive Thompson, 12/19/07, Fast Company)

“Check it out. It's actually a jet engine," says Johnathan Goodwin, with a low whistle. "This thing is gonna be even cooler than I thought." We're hunched on the floor of Goodwin's gleaming workshop in Wichita, Kansas, surrounded by the shards of a wooden packing crate. Inside the wreckage sits his latest toy--a 1985-issue turbine engine originally designed for the military. It can spin at a blistering 60,000 rpm and burn almost any fuel. And Goodwin has some startling plans for this esoteric piece of hardware: He's going to use it to create the most fuel-efficient Hummer in history.

Goodwin, a 37-year-old who looks like Kevin Costner with better hair, is a professional car hacker. The spic-and-span shop is filled with eight monstrous trucks and cars--Hummers, Yukon XLs, Jeeps--in various states of undress. His four tattooed, twentysomething grease monkeys crawl all over them with wrenches and welding torches.

Goodwin leads me over to a red 2005 H3 Hummer that's up on jacks, its mechanicals removed. He aims to use the turbine to turn the Hummer into a tricked-out electric hybrid. Like most hybrids, it'll have two engines, including an electric motor. But in this case, the second will be the turbine, Goodwin's secret ingredient. Whenever the truck's juice runs low, the turbine will roar into action for a few seconds, powering a generator with such gusto that it'll recharge a set of "supercapacitor" batteries in seconds. This means the H3's electric motor will be able to perform awesome feats of acceleration and power over and over again, like a Prius on steroids. What's more, the turbine will burn biodiesel, a renewable fuel with much lower emissions than normal diesel; a hydrogen-injection system will then cut those low emissions in half. And when it's time to fill the tank, he'll be able to just pull up to the back of a diner and dump in its excess french-fry grease--as he does with his many other Hummers. Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double--from 300 to 600.

"Conservatively," Goodwin muses, scratching his chin, "it'll get 60 miles to the gallon. With 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. You'll be able to smoke the tires. And it's going to be superefficient."

He laughs. "Think about it: a 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and does zero to 60 in five seconds!"

This is the sort of work that's making Goodwin famous in the world of underground car modders. He is a virtuoso of fuel economy. He takes the hugest American cars on the road and rejiggers them to get up to quadruple their normal mileage and burn low-emission renewable fuels grown on U.S. soil--all while doubling their horsepower. The result thrills eco-evangelists and red-meat Americans alike: a vehicle that's simultaneously green and mean. And word's getting out. In the corner of his office sits Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1987 Jeep Wagoneer, which Goodwin is converting to biodiesel; soon, Neil Young will be shipping him a 1960 Lincoln Continental to transform into a biodiesel--electric hybrid.

His target for Young's car? One hundred miles per gallon.

This is more than a mere American Chopper--style makeover. Goodwin's experiments point to a radically cleaner and cheaper future for the American car.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Union Critical of Obama’s Top Economics Aide (LOUIS UCHITELLE, 6/12/08, NY Times)

Acting quickly after securing his party’s presidential nomination, Barack Obama picked a well-known representative of Bill Clinton’s economic policies as his economic policy director and signaled this week that the major players from the Clinton economics team were now in his camp — starting with Robert E. Rubin.

Senator Obama, Democrat of Illinois, hired Jason Furman, a Harvard-trained economist closely associated with Mr. Rubin, a Wall Street insider who served as President Clinton’s Treasury secretary. Labor union leaders criticized the move, and said that “Rubinomics” focused too much on corporate America and not enough on workers.

“For years we’ve expressed strong concerns about corporate influence on the Democratic Party,” John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said Wednesday in a statement implicitly critical of the symbolism of the appointment, no matter Mr. Furman’s economic skills.

...and would be tempted to return to the point where we appear to be the weak horse vis-a-vis Islamicism, he has no wiggle room on economics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


Barack Obama aide: Why Winnie the Pooh should shape US foreign policy (Tim Shipman, 16/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Richard Danzig, who served as Navy Secretary under President Clinton and is tipped to become National Security Adviser in an Obama White House, told a major foreign policy conference in Washington that the future of US strategy in the war on terrorism should follow a lesson from the pages of Winnie the Pooh, which can be shortened to: if it is causing you too much pain, try something else.

Mr Danzig told the Centre for New American Security: “Winnie the Pooh seems to me to be a fundamental text on national security.”

And they wonder what folks meant when they said the grown-ups were back in charge in 2001?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


Nazi war criminal spotted at Euro 2008 match: An internationally wanted Nazi war criminal has been spotted supporting his national team at the Euro 2008 football championships in Austria. (Daily Telegraph, 6/16/08)

Mr Asner is wanted by Interpol for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during his service as a police chief in Croatia during the Second World War, when the country was ruled by a Nazi puppet regime.

But Asner, 95, who now lives a quiet and undisturbed life in Klagenfurt, Austria, has been seen taking leisurely walks, sipping wine with his wife Edeltrat and mingling with Croatian football fans prior to the matches of his country’s national team.

He is the number four on the most wanted list of the Nazi-hunters and Croatia has demanded his extradition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Lies, spies and traitors (Martin Chulov, June 17, 2008, The Australian)

JUST before sunset on April 30 one of Gaza's most loved teachers Awad al-Keek drove slowly away from his school.

He may have heard the foreboding whump of an Israeli Apache attack helicopter as it swept in low through the hazy spring sky. Others in the southern town of Rafah certainly did. The Apaches are always a soundtrack of trouble brewing, invariably followed by a crescendo of explosions and sirens.

Saleh Awad, a plump father of nine from a poor nearby neighbourhood, listened and watched with great trepidation. Using an Israeli SIM card in his Palestinian phone, he had just called his handlers at the Jewish state's intelligence headquarters in Tel Aviv and told them al-Keek was in the car with the local brains trust of the militant group, Islamic Jihad.

The boom that followed left one of Islamic Jihad's darkest secrets in shards of flesh and twisted metal. Al-Keek, the chief rocket engineer of Islamic Jihad, was dead. So were four of his colleagues.

The month since has revealed a series of bitter realities for all stakeholders in the tragic arena of Gaza; the UN Relief and Works Agency which paid al-Keek's teacher's salary for at least the past two years, the shell-shocked locals of Rafah and hunted militants among them, and the Israelis who have since seen Awad - one of their most valuable informants - caught, exposed and condemned.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


LEGACIES OF THE 60s: How Revolt Ricocheted to the Right (ALAN WOLFE, 6/16/08, The Chronicle Review)

Humphrey went on to lose to Nixon in the general election. Even though he came closer than many Democrats unhappy with his nomination thought he would, the party, in the wake of his defeat, decided to revise its rules for nominating candidates for the presidency. First Sen. George McGovern and then Rep. Donald Fraser chaired a commission that made back-room choices more difficult, and, perhaps not surprisingly, the party turned to McGovern as its candidate in 1972. From that campaign until the present one, in which Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton subjected themselves to the will of the voters in 50-plus primaries and caucuses, the voice of the people has counted for more in the party than has the choice of the bosses — even if, because the 2008 race was so tight, the final choice lay with unelected superdelegates. The events of 1968 opened up institutions of all sorts that had once been more exclusive, including colleges and country clubs. It cannot be surprising that the Democratic Party was among them.

Less noticed at the time, the Republican Party, too, opened itself up to its grass roots. The Republicans had fewer noted political bosses in the style of Daley, but they did have an East Coast establishment. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, those patrician WASPs dominated their party's presidential choices. But matters became more complicated as the century wore on. As early as 1952, Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft ("Mr. Republican," as he was frequently called), although favored by some of the party leaders, tried to tap emerging conservative sentiment to help defeat the far-more-establishment candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, as nonpartisan and politically centrist a Republican as one could find. Eisenhower's victory over the conservative insurgents suggested that the Republican establishment still controlled the party.

But the conservative mavericks were not to be denied, and the next few years gave them the chance they needed. In 1964 conservatives engineered the nomination of Sen. Barry Goldwater, but that was an election they had little chance of winning against an incumbent, Lyndon B. Johnson, who had become president when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Far more important was the fact that in 1968, Nixon was able to put down a challenge from the über-establishment candidate Nelson A. Rockefeller, governor of New York. Nixon's nomination could not have happened without support from the South and West, areas that shared little of the pragmatic managerialism characteristic of the East Coast Republican establishment. Because of the turmoil of 1968, then, insurgency came to the conservative party as well as the liberal one.

Nixon used the energy of conservatives within his party to win the nomination. Many years later, Karl Rove used that same energy to help George W. Bush win two presidential elections. Bush, the son of a patrician Republican, had rebelled against his father's mainline religion, just as so many leftists in his age cohort had rebelled against the political conservatism of their parents. Rove, too, had a rebellious streak: He understood that mobilizing the fervid purists of the Republican base would produce more votes for his client in a general election than would appealing to independents and centrists. The key is that 1968 was an ideological year, and Rove, a true child of that time, was inspired by the passions so visibly on display in that year. The fact that his ideology was right-wing rather than left-wing mattered less than his willingness to break with conventional wisdom. No wonder Bush turned out to be more of a radical president than a conservative one. The process of selecting him — from the mobilization of the ideological base at the beginning of his campaign, to the threats of violent protest during the Florida recount — was radical as well.

When the Left asks what's the matter with Kansas or asserts that the Right stole populism or even stole the English language, this is what they mean: making the nomination process more democratic made politics more conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Letters From China, Written in Blood: a review of: Out of Mao's Shadow by Philip Pan (GORDON G. CHANG, June 16, 2008, NY Sun)

The final part of the book contains stories of four ordinary Chinese — a determined military doctor, an idealistic and wily newspaper editor, and two extremely tough advocates — who refuse to accept the one-party state as it is. For instance, Mr. Pan follows Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer, as he eludes government-hired goons and special police in foot chases through villages, fields, and the subways of Beijing.

Not all Mr. Pan's subjects succeed in their individual quests. Some pay a horrible price for resistance to authority. A few of them end up broken. Yet all of them inspire and show the drive, ambition, and resilience of the Chinese people. Mr. Pan has chosen his subjects well, lets them speak, and delivers a fascinating portrait of New China, as the Communist Party calls the nation it leads. What comes through in chapter after chapter is that some Chinese are determined to make their society better, are willing to take on an abhorrent system, and are prepared to pay the price for defiance.

What is less thrilling — discordant even — is Mr. Pan's commentary that both precedes and follows his portraits. Without exception, his profiles showcase an ugly, abusive, and corrupt political system responsible for millions upon millions of deaths and untold needless suffering. Yet in the introduction, he writes, "By almost any measure, the country's last twenty-five years have been the best in its five-thousand-year history." And in the epilogue, he notes, "Rarely has a government had a better case for authoritarianism than this one." But Mr. Pan has already delivered more than 300 pages of unrelenting indictment of the Communist Party's record during decades of horrible misrule. By the end of the book, it's clear the testimony of those who have struggled against that rule speak more clearly than does Mr. Pan.

After all the Party's done for them.....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Cricket as Modernizer (SHASHI THAROOR, June 16, 2008, NY Sun)

Earlier this month, the Indian Premier League came to a thundering climax with a cliffhanger final match, watched by 60,000 cheering fans in a new stadium and an estimated 300 million television viewers around the world. As cheerleaders danced and waved brightly colored pom-poms, and star sportsmen from across the globe, clad in their teams' multi-hued regalia, looked forward to a $2.5 million payday, black-market tickets changed hands for as much as $2,500.
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Football? Basketball? No, the IPL is the newest Indian innovation revolutionizing that most staid of Victorian sports — cricket.

As the globalizing world discovers a 21st-century India full of high-tech computer geeks, efficient businessmen, colorful fashions, and glitzy entertainment — a far cry from the old stock images of fakirs on beds of nails, maharajahs on elephants, and mendicants with begging bowls — it is also finding an India obsessed with what most regard as a 19th-century sport. [...]

By bringing the world's top players to India at unprecedented salaries — one Australian player was auctioned to his new team for $1.4 million, more than most cricketers previously earned in a lifetime — and by spicing up the game through such innovations as American cheerleaders, the new IPL is transforming the sport. When the traditional English cricket season opened in April, as it has for the last couple of centuries, seasoned British journalists ruefully reported that while the players and officials were dutifully present, their minds were far away, following the fortunes of the lucrative league in India.

I have often thought that cricket is really, in the sociologist Ashis Nandy's phrase, an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British. Everything about cricket seems ideally suited to the Indian national character: its rich complexity, the endless possibilities and variations that can occur with each delivery, the dozen different ways of getting out — all are reminiscent of a society of infinite forms and varieties.

A country where a majority of the population still consults astrologers can well appreciate a sport in which an ill-timed cloudburst, a badly prepared pitch, a lost toss, or the sun in the eyes of a fielder can transform a game's outcome. Even the possibility that five tense, exciting, hotly-contested, and occasionally meandering days of cricketing could still end in a draw seems derived from ancient Indian philosophy, which accepts that in life the journey is as important as the destination.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


The Best TV Cop Show is...Canadian? (Tim Heffernan, 6/16/08, Esquire)

Into this musty attic, Canada’s Da Vinci’s Inquest comes like a cool breeze off the Pacific. The Da Vinci of the title is Dominic (played by Nicholas Campbell), chief coroner of the city of Vancouver and a man who has learned to tread lightly on the blood-soaked paths his job leads him down. He does the usual police-procedural things—solves crimes, questions authority, rubs his bosses the wrong way--but he never gives off the air, so common to his American counterparts, of a beleaguered saint. Our detectives treat murder as a dark window on the human condition. This, we are solemnly admonished, is death. On Da Vinci’s Inquest, the attitude is: that’s life. [...]

Da Vinci’s Inquest is not The Wire; it’s a primetime crime drama—pure entertainment—but it’s a great one. A smart one. You never actually need to watch its American counterparts: you know exactly what’s going to happen before the first chung-chung stops echoing. Da Vinci, though—you want to check in with him on now and then. See what he’s been up to. It’s always something interesting, and it’s always a good story. That, as they say in showbiz, is entertainment.

Great may be overstating the case. It's similar to CSI in the seeming pleasure it takes in excessive gore and sadism and it shares the annoying tendency of the not entirely dissimilar British series, McCallum, of having character's personal lives intertwine with the crimes they're investigating. But it is well done and the characters are interesting enough it does compel viewing. While we're at it, you could make a fourth stop in the Anglosphere and check out the Australian series City Homicide, not available on DVD here, but you canb snag the torrents here.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Free Speech on Trial (Jacob Laksin, June 16, 2008, FrontPageMagazine.com)

Earlier this month, the columnist Mark Steyn went on trial for being mean. Steyn’s offense was to have published, in the fall of 2006, an excerpt from his book, America Alone, in the Canadian newsweekly Maclean’s. In it, Steyn advanced the provocative but by no means untenable argument that plunging birthrates in Europe would precipitate a demographic decline, forcing Continental countries to reach an “accommodation with their radicalized Islamic compatriots.” Europe’s future, Steyn suggested, “belongs to Islam.”

Islamic radicals, one might think, would be heartened by the backhanded vote of confidence. Instead, led by a group called the Canadian Islamic Congress, they elected to take offense. Had they limited their remonstration to an angrily worded letter to the editor or a rebuttal in another magazine, they would have been unobjectionably within their rights. But several of the group’s more aggrieved members decided to press things further. First, they demanded that Maclean’s publish an equal-length rejoinder to Steyn’s article – a crude attempt to dictate content no independent publication would accept. Failing to hijack the magazine’s pages, Steyn’s disgruntled detractors did the next best thing: they took the author and the publication to court.

The resulting case brings into bold relief the outsize power that political correctness and its more ardent executors wield in Canada. In the United States, a suit purporting to seek justice for a perceived slight involving nothing more than a difference of opinion would be laughed out the docket. But tolerance for legal frivolity seems to increase above the 49th parallel.

What makes the case sublime is the way it demonstrates the truth of Mr. Steyn's thesis: the craven Canadians truckle to their angry Muslims by trying to silence the guy who warns that this is where they're headed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


The pope, the president and politics of faith (Spengler, 6/16/08, Asia Times)

It is not only faith, but the temerity to act upon faith, that the pope and the president have in common. In the past I have characterized Benedict's stance as, "I have a mustard seed, and I'm not afraid to use it." (See Ratzinger's mustard seed Asia Times Online, April 5, 2005.) Despite his failings, Bush is a kindred spirit. That is what horrifies their respective critics within the Catholic Church and the American government, who portray the president and the pope as destroyers of civilizational peace. The charge is spurious because there was no civilization peace to destroy, but like many calumnies, it contains an element of truth.

Never before did a pope descend to the Vatican gardens to greet a national leader as Benedict did for Bush, returning the unprecedented deference that the president showed in meeting the pope's plane at Andrews Air Force Base in April. More than mutual courtesy is at work here; the two men evince a natural affinity and mutual sympathy. Prelates in the Vatican's permanent bureaucracy fumed at the warmth with which Bush was received, the Italian daily La Repubblica noted June 12, given that the US president "is very distant from papal exhortations condemning war", the Iraq war in particular.

Benedict XVI, like his predecessor John Paul II, disagrees with American policy in Iraq, but not the way that the European or American left would like. "There was not a word from the papal throne about the possibility of an attack on Iran during the coming months, the catastrophic results of which terrify all the bishops of the Middle East," Marco Politi fulminated in La Repubblica June 14. "In the Holy Land, the Holy See is being towed behind the snail's pace [in peace negotiations] of Washington and the Israeli government."

Despite his position on Iraq, Benedict's critics within the church regard him as a civilizational warrior as dangerous as the US president. Bush might denounce "Islamo-facism", but continues to believe that Islam is a "religion of peace". Muslims suspect that the pope wants to convert them, a threat they never have had to confront in Islam's 1,500-year history.

Benedict's "opposition" to the Iraq War is like W's "support" for the ADA, just an inherited obligation.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


A Miracle Putt: Tiger Woods Ties U.S. Open on 18th; Playoff Is Today (TONY DEAR, June 16, 2008, NY Sun)

[A]s he did on Thursday and again Saturday, he hacked it up the left side of the first hole, chopping and clubbing his way through the trees and out of the rough on his way to an ugly double-bogey six, his third of the week.

Then came one or two surprising club choices on the homeward nine. After a fine drive at the 13th that left him 291 yards to the hole with a downhill lie, the obvious play was a safe layup to the bottom of the hill and a relatively straightforward pitch to the flag. But he followed playing partner Lee Westwood into the ice-plant on the left, hitting a wild hook with a 3-wood — a very difficult shot to hit, and, on this occasion, absolutely not what he wanted.

Then, after going for it on the 13th, he decided to lay up off the tee at the short Par 4 14th even though, at 267 yards, he could have got there with his 5-wood. At the 15th, having driven well right off the tee, he attempted to blast it over the tree in front of him and land it softly on the green, but he left the blade well open and it faded weakly into the rough short and right of the green. At the 18th, he hit a poor lay-up out of the fairway bunker on the right that failed to find the fairway. How often do Tiger lay-ups miss the fairway? Heck, how often does Tiger lay up? [...]

So today, after more ice packs and painkillers, Woods will begin as hot favorite again. He will then double-bogey the 1st hole and the game will be on. Rocco will chat to everyone he sees and try to control the 20-yard hook that you'd think would put him in too much trouble to contend at a U.S. Open, but which he has stifled just enough to get him this far.

If he wins he'll become the oldest U.S. Open champion in history, and the first man to deny Woods a major when leading after 54 holes. If Woods wins, no one will be in the least surprised, least of all, one suspects, Rocco Mediate.

Tiger Woods is the true master of suspense: He plays on a different level, letting the story build and holding everyone's attention, even though the inevitable almost always occurs. He did it again to perfection to force playoff at U.S. Open. (Bill Dwyre, June 16, 2008, LA times)

Contrary to popular opinion, Tiger Woods is not a golfer. He is a leading character in an Agatha Christie mystery novel.

Need a story line to captivate and mesmerize? Get Tiger.

Want the story to have drama, action and a mystical hero? Get Tiger.

Want a guarantee that the buildup won't get to a peak and suddenly fall flat? Get Tiger and put a putter in his hands.

On the 72nd hole of the United States Open on Sunday, Tiger Woods did what he almost always does. He came through in the clutch. He gave us goose bumps. He made us wonder how anybody can succeed so often at such a high level in such an imperfect game.

We don't applaud him now as much as we shake our heads in amazement. We think he is flesh and bones like we are, but we are becoming less and less certain.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Now it’s clear: the EU is an alien imposition in Europe: They have been libelled as an uneducated ‘horde’, yet Irish voters’ rejection of the Lisbon Treaty is a brilliant blow against the EU oligarchy. (Frank Furedi, 6/15/08, spiked)

Oligarchs cannot stand public humiliation. So when, last Thursday, the Irish electorate pointed their fingers and shouted ‘The Emperor has no clothes!’, the political elites of the European Union pretended that it was not them who stood exposed, but the Irish people.

EU officials, politicians and their friends in the media all read from the same carefully rehearsed script following the Irish electorate’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. Adopting a kind of fantasy language, with all the hallmarks of classic Orwellian doublespeak, the EU and its representatives told the world that the ‘No’ vote did not really mean ‘No’, since Irish voters were thoroughly confused.

They argued that the vote lacked meaning or legitimacy because the campaign against the Lisbon Treaty – the name given to the rebranded EU Constitution – encompassed far too many different interest groups to be taken seriously. Apparently, a campaign that successfully brings together people from the far left to the Catholic right cannot be a genuine expression of popular will.

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June 15, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:29 PM


An Offensive Prediction's Demise (Michael Wilbon, June 15, 2008, Washington Post)

Most of us were seduced by the glamour, by Phil Jackson's championship rings, by Kobe Bryant's celestial talent, by the Lakers' ability to run and shoot so beautifully. That's certainly why I picked the Lakers to beat the Celtics when the NBA Finals began, because of Jackson, the best coach in the game, and Bryant, the best and most valuable player.

The vast majority of us should be ashamed for being so blinded by the glare of the Lakers because it was all right there in front of us even before the championship series began. The Celtics aren't just better than the Lakers; they're superior. Whether it happens here Sunday night or Tuesday in Boston, the Celtics are going to win the franchise's 17th NBA title and first in 22 years.

The Celtics are going to win because of stunningly obvious reasons, because they have more good players, because they're bigger and stronger up front, because they play infinitely better defense, because they kill the Lakers on the boards.

Defense and rebounding are just functions of desire and that's what Kevin Garnett transfers to his teammates. Kobe, by contrast, doesn't make anyone else a better player.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 PM



In a conversation with hitting coach Kevin Long, Don Mattingly mentioned the weight of a $30 million contract might be at the root of Robinson Cano's recent struggles. [...]

While Long suggested Cano might benefit from sitting today and tomorrow being dark so he has three days to flush his mind, Girardi said he was taking it day to day.

Cano had driven in one run since May 25, had one hit in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position and was batting .188 (12-for-64) overall in the clutch.

It's a peculiar thing but the recent landscape of baseball is littered with 2b who looked good briefly or posted a couple good years and then faded fast. Perhaps it's just as simple as the fact guys mostly don't end up at the position in the first place if they aren't limited in some significant ways.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


Thrill of the chased - Fleet Foxes (AIDAN SMITH, 6/15/08, Scotland on Sunday)

THE debut album by Fleet Foxes is so good that I've stopped listening to it. I love this record but the hype surrounding it threatens to overwhelm the band. Maybe a speed metal group, because of the robustness of their music, would be better equipped to deal with the instant acclaim and the five-star reviews. But Fleet Foxes seem, due to the sounds they make, like the most delicate of flowers.
The hoop-la wouldn't so much go to their heads as blow them right off, like dandelions beside a country lane as a nasty modern sports car roars past. So this sacrifice is a far, far better thing I do now than I have ever done.

One day into it and I'm speaking to the nominal leader of these five hairy men, Robin Pecknold, as the band bump through Belgium on a tour bus. They're a long way from home – Seattle is their base – and a long way from a British newsstand where they could read all the nice things being said about them. There's the internet, of course, but Fleet Foxes give the impression that for them technology peaked with the invention of the handloom.

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-Fleet Foxes Are Not Hippies: Don't Let the Floppy Hats, Jesus Beards, and Five-Part Vocal Harmonies About Rivers,Trees, and Sunshine Throw You (Megan Seling, 1/30/08, The Stranger)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


The Global Gumshoe - Nury Vittachi interview: Nury Vittachi tells Chitra Ramaswamy about the 'wotcha' moment in his childhood that lives on in his sleuth's multicultural misadventures (CHITRA RAMASWAMY, 6/15/08, Scotland on Sunday)

Already a big name in Hong Kong thanks to his journalism, children's books and founding of a major Asian literary festival, Vittachi's five books so far in his detective series – about a Chinese feng shui master who inadvertently solves murders while restoring the harmony of crime scenes – have been published in eight languages. They are not available, however, in his fictional sleuth's home country. "When China clamped down on the religious group Falun Gong they made all esoteric practices, including feng shui, illegal," says Vittachi. "So, they're not available in Chinese, which is absurd seeing as it's about a Chinese man doing Chinese things."

It was when Vittachi discovered that crime scenes in east Asia are visited not just by police and forensics experts but by feng shui masters that he got the idea for his own private eye, CF Wong, a hapless geomancer more interested in wheedling money out of people than righting the world's wrongs. Wong's sidekick is no Watson, either, but a hip, young British-Australian woman who at best tolerates him. Vittachi describes Wong as "an accidental hero, a sexist and racist who likes to eat small animals, alive if possible". Hardly your average hard-boiled, trench-coated gumshoe.

"When someone is murdered, robbed or raped in east Asia, the family call the police but they also call the feng shui master to check the vibrations and harmony of the building and occupants," says Vittachi. "I thought, what if the feng shui master was smarter than the cops? The detective fiction genre has been murdered by forensic crime writers and this concept brought back some of its humanity."

Vittachi started writing the first in the CF Wong series during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China. He had been a daily columnist in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post for 11 years, but rising censorship levels meant that one by one the columnists and cartoonists were fired. Eventually, he was the only one left. "They couldn't sack me because everyone was watching, so my job was changed. Basically I couldn't write, and I became an office ornament. I hated it, then thought 'this is brilliant – I'll write a novel.'" Vittachi finished the first draft of The Feng Shui Detective in three months, and then resigned.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


A Real Masterstroke (Thomas Boswell, June 15, 2008, Washington Post)

This time, it is the month of June that gets to see Tiger Woods, the quintessential swashbuckling kind of champion who prospers at the Masters, turn the often staid par-par-par Open into raw melodrama that will be retold for years.

Get Hootie and the boys a blindfold. Don't let 'em see Tiger -- the long-belting, chance-taking, Snead-Palmer-Ballesteros style of player that the Masters has always helped define -- as he etches his name into another page of U.S. Open history.

Limping, at times badly, in his first tournament after knee surgery, Woods scorched the back nine with two eagles, at the 13th and 18th holes, and holed a one-hop chip for birdie at the 17th hole to take a one-shot lead over Lee Westwood and a two-shot margin over Rocco Mediate after three rounds of this 108th Open.

However, this was no normal Woods charge, and Sunday will probably not be the familiar foregone conclusion for Tiger. On Thursday, he favored his left knee and flinched visibly on a 360-yard drive. On Friday, he tweaked the knee multiple times and was limping, or at least favoring the leg occasionally. But by the final nine Saturday, every heart went out to Woods, for his courage, his amazing gifts, but also for the risks he might be taking by playing hurt so soon after surgery.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


Dem Discovers Joys of Privatization> (Jonah Goldberg, 6/13/08, Real Clear Politics)

The first time I was invited to the Senate for lunch, I was jazzed to sup in the corridors of power. By the time I got my meal, which seemed to have sat under a heat lamp since LBJ was running the place, I felt more like Robert Redford in the 1980 film Brubaker, when the new warden, pretending to be an inmate, eats in the prison dining hall, where the food often moves on its own.

As befits a government-run commissary, the Senate cafeteria has a decidedly Soviet attitude toward variety. It has averaged only two new menu items a year over the last decade. The food is so bad, every lunch hour Senate staffers rush to the House side of the Capitol like starving New Yorkers of the future storming the last Soylent Green vendor.

According to auditors, the chain of restaurants run by the Senate food service, including the snooty Senate Dining Room, has almost never been in the black. It’s lost more than $18 million since 1993 and has dropped about $2 million this year alone. If the food service doesn’t get an emergency bridge loan of a quarter-million dollars, it won’t be able to make payroll.

So how will the Senate fix the problem? Well, with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein taking the lead, the Democrats — that’s right, the Democrats — have called a classic Republican play: Privatize it.

...is that Al Gore doesn't get the joke.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


Superdelegate Davis slow to endorse Obama (John Rodgers, June 13, 2008, Nashville City Paper)

The rise of Sen. Barack Obama, to become the Democrats’ presidential nominee has put most of his party’s faithful on his bandwagon — but not Lincoln Davis, a rural Tennessee Congressman with gubernatorial ambitions. [...]

In Davis’ sprawling 4th Congressional District — which ranges from as far west as Hickman County to as far east as the upper Cumberland Plateau — less than a quarter of Democrats in the largely rural district voted for Obama, the nation’s first African-American presidential candidate nominated by a major party, in Tennessee’s presidential primary.

Davis, a rural white Congressman, represents two-dozen counties — 21 in their entirety and three in part — including Williamson’s southwestern corner.

In February’s Tennessee Democratic primary, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) won 23 of those 24 counties, garnering 68 percent of the vote compared to Obama’s 23 percent. Obama won only Williamson County. [...]

Fred Hobbs, a state Democratic Party Executive Committee member representing part of Davis’ district, said he understands why Davis is not endorsing Obama and is “skeptical” of the Illinois senator himself.

“Maybe [it’s] the same reason I don’t want to — I don’t exactly approve of a lot of the things he stands for and I’m not sure we know enough about him,” Hobbs said when asked why he thought Davis wasn’t endorsing Obama. “He’s got some bad connections, and he may be terrorist connected for all I can tell. It sounds kind of like he may be.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 AM


Horse outruns man in marathon, but only just (Daily Telegraph, 15/06/2008)

The annual Horse vs Man race in the Welsh village of Llanwrtyd Wells saw Dukes Touch of Fun beating John Macfarlane - but only by half a minute.

There was just 30 seconds in it as more than 300 runners pitched themselves against a field of 46 mounts for the annual 22-miles marathon in the Welsh hills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 AM


Darwinists for Jesus (YUDHIJIT BHATTACHARJEE, 6/15/08, NY Times Magazine)

[Michael] Dowd is hardly the first religious figure to reconcile God and evolution. In 1996, Pope John Paul II declared that evolution was “more than just a hypothesis.” And next year, the Vatican will hold a conference to mark the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s “On the Origins of Species.” In many respects, Dowd’s work echoes the once highly influential writings of the 20th century French Jesuit and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who described evolution as a part of God’s plan, driving all of creation toward a sort of magnetic pole of higher consciousness that he called the Omega Point.

The eagerness with which Darwinists accept the idea Darwinism is just a means of Creationism suggests what tatters the theory is in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


Poll reveals huge public support for David Davis's decision to force by-election over Government terror laws (Simon Walters, 15th June 2008, Daily Mail)

Despite his shock decision to resign, David Davis has massive support in his constituency of Haltemprice and Howden, near Hull

It reveals that he would easily beat former Sun Editor Kelvin MacKenzie – who has said he plans to contest the seat on a ‘pro-42 day’ ticket – by 67 per cent to 14.

And significantly, it shows there is widespread support in the constituency for Mr Davis’s claim that the Government has turned into a ‘Big Brother’ state – while violent criminals go scot-free.

...in a political narrative that accuses Labour of treating the middle class as criminals and while fostering and coddling actual criminals and terrorists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


Malthus Redux: Is Doomsday Upon Us, Again? (DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., 6/15/08, NY Times)

While Americans grumble about gasoline prices, food riots have seared Bangladesh, Egypt and African countries. In Haiti, they cost the prime minister his job. Rice-bowl countries like China, India and Indonesia have restricted exports and rice is shipped under armed guard.

And again, Thomas Malthus, a British economist and demographer at the turn of the 19th century, is being recalled to duty. His basic theory was that populations, which grow geometrically, will inevitably outpace food production, which grows arithmetically. Famine would result. The thought has underlain doomsday scenarios both real and imagined, from the Great Irish Famine of 1845 to the Population Bomb of 1968.

But over the last 200 years, with the Industrial Revolution, the Transportation Revolution, the Green Revolution and the Biotech Revolution, Malthus has been largely discredited. The wrenching dislocations of the last few months do not change that, most experts say. But they do show the kinds of problems that can emerge.

The whole world has never come close to outpacing its ability to produce food. Right now, there is enough grain grown on earth to feed 10 billion vegetarians, said Joel E. Cohen, professor of populations at Rockefeller University and the author of “How Many People Can the Earth Support?” But much of it is being fed to cattle, the S.U.V.’s of the protein world, which are in turn guzzled by the world’s wealthy.

Theoretically, there is enough acreage already planted to keep the planet fed forever, because 10 billion humans is roughly where the United Nations predicts that the world population will plateau in 2060.

...that the Brights stop believing him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Habeas Ruling Lays Bare the Divide Among Justices (Robert Barnes and Del Quentin Wilber, 6/15/08, Washington Post)

As both sides of the court acknowledged in Thursday's decision, the cases exposed fundamental differences in the court's vision of judicial power. The conservatives favor adherence to strict rules and regulations promulgated by the political branches. The liberals are content to let judges judge, working out the boundaries between constitutional rights and national security.

...the other wishes to transfer power to the Judiciary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


McCain and Clinton's unlikely friendship: She fired at Obama. He fired at Obama. But with each other, they mostly held their fire. What gives? (DON FREDERICK AND ANDREW MALCOLM, June 15, 2008, TOP OF THE TICKET: LA Times)

Back in April, after she'd been shaking hands at a Toledo factory gate but before flying to Texas, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton told the press: "Sen. McCain brings a lifetime of experience to the campaign. I bring a lifetime of experience. And Sen. Obama brings a speech he gave in 2002."

A pretty good zinger that got Clinton into the day's news flow while her plane was heading to a rally in Austin.

But why would the Democratic candidate mention the Republican at all, let alone in a positive way?

Then, in the primaries' final weeks, as the inevitable delegate math squeezed Clinton, she attacked Barack Obama. And John McCain, already running for the general election, attacked Obama. And Obama fired back at the Republican.

But neither Clinton nor McCain fired at each other.

Then, after the last night of primary ballot-counting, Clinton and Obama spoke briefly about each other.

McCain uttered one sentence about Obama. Then the Arizona Republican said this: "Sen. Clinton has earned great respect for her tenacity and courage. The media often overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received.

"As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach. I am proud to call her my friend." [...]

So The Ticket called people who know both McCain and Clinton. It's true, they confirmed, there is a special friendship. It apparently started in January 2001, when Clinton became the first former first lady elected to public office and walked into the U.S. Senate.

It has always been a gentlemen's club, if not always populated by gentlemen. McCain made a point of heartily welcoming the newcomer and showing her around. "They really hit it off," said one friend.

Both also have at times been at odds with their own parties. They found they could work together across the aisle as committee members and enjoyed each other's company on fact-finding trips around the world. In Estonia, according to one famous tale, Clinton challenged McCain to a vodka shot-drinking contest, which he readily accepted.

Later, McCain remarked to friends "she was one of the guys," a high compliment among guys.

Whereas Senator Obama is a prototype leader of the female party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Something to Shout About: Two Late Eagles Help Woods Soar To One-Shot Lead (Leonard Shapiro, 6/15/08, Washington Post)

By the end of a cool, overcast afternoon hard by the Pacific Ocean, the No. 1 player in the world had made a magnificent, 70-foot eagle putt at the 539-yard 13th hole, holed a 50-foot flop shot at the 441-yard 17th for birdie and sunk a 30-foot eagle putt at the 530-yard 18th hole to take over this tournament with a stunning round of 70 and a three-day total of 3-under-par 210 at Torrey Pines South Course. [...]

Playing in his first tournament eight weeks after knee surgery, he winced in pain after countless shots during the round. He said his knee was "more sore" than it was in the first two rounds and "there are certain shots I'll feel it. You can't say it's the drive, you can't say it's a wedge because I don't know which one it's going to happen on."

Pain or no pain, precedent is very much on Woods's side as he attempts to win the 14th major title of his career. In each of his 13 major victories, he was either tied for the lead or held it outright after 54 holes. On Sunday, he will be in the final group (paired with Westwood) for the sixth time in the last eight majors, courtesy of those two final exclamation points on his memorable round.

The first came at No. 17. In deep greenside grass, he lofted a third-shot wedge from about 50 feet of the hole and watched in some disbelief as it took one bounce and jumped into the cup for a thoroughly improbable birdie 3.

After he missed the fairway for the fifth consecutive hole, "honestly, I was just thinking whatever you do, don't make six here; just give yourself a chance of making four," he said. "All of a sudden, I walk away with three."

At 18, he finally did hit the fairway, then sent his second shot soaring to the green. From 30 feet out, he watched his eagle putt trickle inexorably into the cup for a birdie-eagle finish that had thousands standing and cheering as if the hometown Chargers had just won the Super Bowl. [...]

Where to begin on the demolition derby front? How about Phil Mickelson making a quadruple-bogey 9 at the 539-yard 13th hole from a perfect lie in the fairway, with three consecutive wedges that went up to the elevated green, only to spin back down the hill? A few hours later, Ernie Els (74) had two shots at the same hole that mimicked Mickelson's comical script, but at least Els was able to make a 15-footer to save bogey.

"I've had a nine on 13 before," Mickelson said. "I was eight years old."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Karzai threatens to chase militants into Pakistan (Reuters, The Associated Press, June 15, 2008)

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan threatened Sunday to send Afghan troops across the border to fight militants in Pakistan, a forceful warning to insurgents and the Pakistani government that his country was fed up with cross-border attacks.

Karzai said that because militants cross over from Pakistan "to come and kill Afghan and kill coalition troops, it exactly gives us the right to do the same."

"Therefore, Baitullah Mehsud should know that we will go after him now and hit him in his house," Karzai said, referring to the top Taliban leader in Pakistan, suspected in the assassination last year of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan.

"And the other fellow, Mullah Omar of Pakistan, should know the same," Karzai continued, referring to another Taliban leader. "This is a two-way road in this case, and Afghans are good at the two-way road journey. We will complete the journey, and we will get them, and we will defeat them. We will avenge all that they have done to Afghanistan for the past so many years."

Long past time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


Hamas and Gaza emerge reshaped after takeover (Ethan Bronner, June 15, 2008, NY Times)

One year ago, gunmen from Hamas, an Islamist anti-Israel group, took over Gaza, shooting some of their more secular Fatah rivals in the knees and tossing one off a building. Israel and the West imposed a blockade, hoping to squeeze the new rulers from power. Yet today Hamas has spread its authority across all aspects of life, including the judiciary. It is fully in charge. Gazans have not, as Israel and the United States hoped, risen up against it. [...]

Those who reject Israel's policy as evidence of its ill will make it sound like Gaza has turned into Somalia. It has not. At the same time, those who consider it their role to defend Israel in all it does make it sound as if the 70 truckloads of goods that Israel permits in daily have prevented any real suffering. They have not.

Even more politically complicated is the question of how the closure has affected Hamas's authority and popularity. Many in the West and Israel would very much like to believe Hamas is in trouble. And it is easy to find people here who hate the government and its black-clad police, even among some who voted for Hamas in the January 2006 elections that gave it a majority in the Palestinian legislature and led to 18 months of tense power sharing before the takeover.

But those in Israel who watch most closely — Arabic speaking security officials — say that while the closure is pressing Hamas, it is not jeopardizing it.

"Gaza is totally under Hamas's control," said one of three such major officials, all of whom agreed to speak only if identified in this vague manner, and all of whose assessments were the same.

"What happened in Gaza a year ago was not really a coup," a second official said. "Hamas's takeover was a kind of natural process. Hamas was so strong, so deeply rooted in Palestinian society through its activities in the economy, education, culture and health care, and Fatah was so weak, so corrupt, that the takeover was like wind blowing over a moth-infested structure."

For months before the takeover, life in Gaza, with its 1.5 million inhabitants, was deeply insecure as Fatah and Hamas gunmen fought for control of the streets and institutions. Hamas had a parliamentary majority but Fatah, through the presidency of Mahmoud Abbas, still officially controlled the security apparatuses and ministries.

Now, even many of those who detest Hamas say that security has returned to daily life as a result of its takeover.

"Hamas is strong and brutal but very good at governing," observed Eyad Serraj, a British-trained psychiatrist who runs a group of mental health clinics and is a secular opponent of Hamas. "They are handing out coupons for gas. They have gotten people to pay for car registration. They are getting people to pay their electricity bills after years of everyone refusing to. The city and the hospitals are cleaner than in many years."

...prefers freedom.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Life on Mars US remake stalls in production (DailyTelegraph, 15/06/2008)

An American remake of the BBC time-travelling police drama Life on Mars is in jeopardy, as cast and crew leave and executives ditch the series's pilot episode.

The original British version already has a cult following in the States following a run on BBC America, and the ABC network had high hopes for their adaptation, in which the action is transported to a politically incorrect and male-dominated Los Angeles police force, circa 1972.

However since filming the pilot, the show's executives have elected to start again and move the show to New York, scene of iconic 1970s movies such as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Shaft. The show's writer-producer David E Kelley, who is behind hit TV series including Ally McBeal, is reported to have quit and major changes to the cast are also rumoured.

Just run the original, you're not going to improve on it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 AM


W. regrets almost nothing (Maureen Dowd, June 15, 2008, NY Times)

In a way, W. is very different from the cocky, know-nothing, chip-on-his-shoulder "Bully Bush" I followed on his maiden European tour in 2002. His disdain for Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, and theirs for him, was bristlingly clear.

He told the bemused French that he'd heard tell from Jacques about their "fantastic food," and he lectured the bewildered Germans, as though they were thick on the subject, that Saddam was evil because he "gassed his own people."

This time, he left the heavy lifting on Afghanistan to the more popular Laura Bush, while he hung out with French, German and Italian leaders he likes.

"Your Eminence," he told the pope, "you're looking good." Angela Merkel dodged when asked at a press conference whether she would miss W., but said she liked being able to "call a spade a spade with him."

He enthused that "German asparagus are fabulous," and wryly told a Paris audience that "my hair is a lot grayer," assuming that the French, with their history of foiled colonialism, would know why. He seemed, all these years later, intent on spiritual absolution.

In other ways, however, W. was not very different. He was still pushing, but more softly, the same refrain that turned Europe so virulently anti-American: his muscular proselytizing that sometimes military power is necessary to break up terror networks, and that there is "a moral obligation" to extend "a more hopeful and compelling vision" of democratic ideals to "provide our security and to spread the peace."

That's the refrain that turned Europe from a stomping ground for Chirac, Schroeder, and JPII into one run by W's buddies.

June 14, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


Kevin Rudd and Labor's one-term nightmare (Glenn Milne, June 15, 2008, The Sunday Telegraph)

IN THE most private recesses of their minds, some Labor figures are thinking the unthinkable: could Kevin Rudd be a one-term prime minister, the first of the modern era?

Rudd himself has warned that although the Government appears to have a healthy majority on paper, a good number of its seats are held by wafer-thin margins.

But this is a mathematical assessment. What's driving the pessimism - albeit still nascent - in Labor ranks is the Prime Minister's style of political management, his apparently boundless appetite for "gesture politics'' and the increasingly fractured narrative it creates.

...the Left gets to serve only periodically and temporarily for as long as it remains to the Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


I freed millions from barbarism, says President with no regrets
: President Bush flies into London today for the last time as US leader. In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with Ned Temko on the eve of his visit, he defends his legacy, issues a stern warning to Iran ... and reveals his plans for a freedom institute devoted to 'universal values' (Ned Temko, 6/15/08, The Observer)

For a political leader who has rivalled Gordon Brown's vertiginous nosedive in the opinion polls in the past year, President George W Bush looked remarkably untroubled by self-doubt as he crossed Europe last week. [...]

Asked in the Rome interview about popular opposition in Britain to the war and his presidency, he replied: 'Do I care? Only to the extent that it affects people's view of the citizens I represent. Do I care about my personal standing? Not really.'

He remained, he said, convinced that Iraq, and the world, was a better place without Saddam Hussein. And he said that while 'Presidents don't get to do re-dos' on issues such as Saddam's lack of weapons of mass destruction, there was one lesson from the run-up to the Iraq war that he felt was hugely relevant to the standoff in Iran.

'We didn't realise, nor did anyone else,' Bush said, 'that Saddam Hussein felt like he needed to play like he had weapons of mass destruction. It may have been, however, that in his mind all this was just a bluff... that the world wasn't serious.'

He is who Woodrow Wilson thought he was.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


A Supreme Error (Fred Thompson, June 13, 2008, Townhall)

[A]s Justice Scalia pointed out in his dissent – they for the first time in our nation’s history, conferred a Constitutional right of habeas corpus on alien enemies detained abroad by our military forces in the course of an ongoing war – a broader right than has been given to our own citizens. The court majority did so acknowledging that they could find no precedent to confer such a right to alien enemies not within sovereign U.S. territory

The majority had simply decided that prior courts had denied such rulings based on “practical considerations.” In other words in prior cases and prior wars it had just been too inconvenient to bestow the right of habeas corpus upon non-citizens in foreign jurisdictions. So, by focusing on what they saw as “practical” instead of those pesky court precedents based upon the issues of citizenship and foreign territory … and the Constitution … the majority reached the conclusion they wanted to, since what is practical is subjective. One can only ponder the state of our nation directed by the subjective instead of the Constitution.

As Chief Justice Roberts pointed out in his dissent, the court strikes down as inadequate the most generous set of protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:51 AM


Britons are unemployed because of 'lack of motivation' (Christopher Hope, 12/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Britons are out of work because they lack motivation and "employability", not because of competition with foreign workers, ministers said.

The arrival of a million Eastern Europeans in the past four years has not damaged wages or led to an increase in unemployment among natives, the Department for Work and Pensions insisted.

But some Britons were on the dole because of "issues around basic employability skills, incentives and motivation", its report said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


The American Dream Goes On (Mortimer Zuckerman, June 13, 2008, US News)

There are 12 percent more households earning in excess of $100,000 than 20 or so years ago. And those making less than $30,000 have not increased. So virtually the entire "decline" of the middle-class group has come from people moving up the income ladder, not down.

Those in the middle, and below, are also living better. As William Robert Fogel, the Nobel Prize-winning economic historian, put it, "In every measure that we have bearing on the standard of living . . . the gains of the lower classes have been far greater than those experienced by the population as a whole." Among the inequalities that have narrowed: The quality of goods at the more moderate price levels has improved faster than at higher price tags; rich and poor are less apart in life expectancy, height, and leisure. It's the attitude of Americans that explains the low combustibility (at the moment!) of income inequality. Most Americans tend to believe that people bear primary responsibility for supporting themselves and that market forces are immune to public policy. There's a reflection here of the optimism and confidence characteristic of American life. In one study by Roland Benabou, more than half of Americans think they will be above the median income in the future (even though that is mathematically impossible). Americans, quite simply, believe that plenty of opportunities exist to get ahead, and, indeed, 82 percent of those born into poverty are much better off than their parents and more than a third of them have made it into the middle class or higher.

Education is another great American success story. There has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of adults completing high school and college. Nearly 90 percent of all adults get high school diplomas today compared with 33 percent in 1947; college graduates have soared from 5.4 percent in 1947 to almost 30 percent today. More than two thirds of Americans concur with the statement that people are rewarded for intelligence and skill—the largest percentage across 27 countries taking part in an international survey of social attitudes. This reflects the widespread belief in the ability to get ahead and helps explain why Americans are more accepting of economic inequality than peoples in other countries and why Americans are less likely to believe their government should take responsibility for reducing income disparity.

As we know, the American Left says this is all because of three decades of conservative governance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Is France America's new best friend? (Tom Baldwin and Charles Bremner, 6/13/08, Times of London)

President Bush heralded a “new era of transatlantic unity” when he arrived in France yesterday, with the location of his speech as significant as its content. By choosing Paris for what White House officials described as “the centrepiece” of his week-long farewell trip to Europe, Mr Bush sought to put the seal on a dramatic transformation in relations with France since President Sarkozy was elected last year.

Britain, which for so long has acted as a sometimes rickety bridge across the Atlantic, no longer has such strategic diplomatic importance. President Bush is spending two nights in Paris, but only one in London tomorrow — when he will have a private dinner with Gordon Brown after seeing the Queen. Much of his trip to Britain will be devoted to the relatively parochial issue of Northern Ireland before he heads home.

While the Prime Minister has shied away from being seen as too close to the American President — the British Embassy in Washington, for instance, operating under strict orders to maintain a low profile — the French President has quite deliberately donned the mantle once worn by Tony Blair, defiantly — even triumphantly — talking up his love for all things American. Yesterday a US diplomat called Mr Sarkozy the “axis on which our relations with Europe will turn”, adding that his “penchant for action rather than reflection” suited Mr Bush’s own temperament.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Beware the Chicago boys: Obama's vow of love for free markets gives reason to fear a replay of Bill Clinton's 1993 U-turn (Naomi Klein, 6/13/08, The Guardian)

Barack Obama waited just three days after Hillary Clinton pulled out of the race to declare, on CNBC: "Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market." Demonstrating that this is no mere spring fling, he has appointed the 37-year-old Jason Furman, one of Wal-Mart's most prominent defenders, to head his economic team. [....]

Obama chose as his chief economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist on the left side of a spectrum that stops at the centre-right. Goolsbee, unlike his Friedmanite colleagues, sees inequality as a problem. His primary solution, however, is more education - a line you can also get from Alan Greenspan. Goolsbee has been eager to link Obama to the Chicago School. "The guy's got a healthy respect for markets," he told Chicago magazine. "It's in the ethos of the [University of Chicago], which is something different from saying he is laissez faire."

Another of Obama's Chicago fans is the 39-year-old billionaire Kenneth Griffin, the CEO of the hedge fund Citadel. Griffin, who gave the maximum allowable donation to Obama, is a poster boy for an unbalanced economy. He got married at Versailles, and is one of the staunchest opponents of closing the hedge-fund tax loophole.

While Obama talks about toughening trade rules with China, Griffin has been bending the few barriers that do exist. Despite sanctions prohibiting the sale of police equipment, Citadel has been pouring money into controversial China-based security companies that are putting the local population under unprecedented levels of surveillance.

Now is the time to worry about Obama's Chicago Boys and their commitment to fending off regulation. It was in the two-and-a-half months between winning the 1992 election and being sworn into office in 1993 that Bill Clinton did a U-turn on the economy. He had promised to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement, adding labour and environmental provisions - but two weeks before his inauguration, the then Goldman Sachs chief, Robert Rubin, convinced him of the urgency of embracing liberalisation.

Furman, a Rubin disciple, was chosen to head the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, the thinktank Rubin helped found to argue for the free trade agenda. Add to that Goolsbee's February meeting with Canadian officials, who got the impression that they should not take Obama's anti-Nafta campaigning seriously, and there is every reason for concern about a replay of 1993.

...the difference between Republicans/Tories and Democrats/Labour is less than that between Bob Taft and Ike.

If there were any chance he'd change anything Senator Obama wouldn't be getting so many contributions from folks with vested interests in the system.

The argument is over and marketeers won.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


The Great Inflation Debate: From an economist's point of view, the "core" rate counts more than the "headline." But the Fed will have to pay attention to both (Peter Coy, 6/12/08, Business Week)

The debate over "headlline" inflation (which includes everything) and "core" inflation (which excludes food and energy) heated up on June 13 after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 0.6% increase in May in the headline rate but only a 0.2% increase in the core rate, seasonally adjusted. Over the past three months, headline prices have grown at a 4.9% annual rate, while core prices have risen at an annual rate of just 1.8%. [...]

The first argument in favor of the core rate is that it tells the Federal Reserve more about what it really wants to know: the inflationary pressures within the U.S. economy. Oil and food prices tend to zoom up and down (mostly up lately) because of factors that have nothing to do with underlying conditions, such as the recent flooding of Midwest croplands or armed conflict in Nigeria's oil-producing region. Those factors come and go, so it would be a mistake for the Fed to jerk interest rates up and down in reaction to them. The Fed shouldn't start raising rates to squelch inflation until it works its way into the core rate, which is heavily affected by longer-lasting factors like workers' wage demands.

And the combination of technology, Reagan breaking the unions, immigration, and globalization means workers have no leverage to demand higher wages.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:57 AM


Evolutionary fault makes dragon lizards run on two legs (Lucy Cockcroft, 14/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

For years scientists have pondered why dragon lizards use just two of their four legs as they sprint across the Australian outback, and after putting the creatures through their paces on a treadmill they have the answer – it is down to a design fault. [...]

[Dr Christofer Clemente, of the University of Cambridge,] said: "I think it's just an evolutionary accident. It's a consequence of them wanting to run really quickly. As they are moving, it causes the front of the body to flip up."

...is that they're so confused at this point that they refute it themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Lawmakers Near Deal On Surveillance Bill (Carrie Johnson, 6/14/08, Washington Post)

"It sounds like they've crafted a bill that gives the president everything he wants," said ACLU legislative director Caroline Frederickson. "The essence of this so-called compromise appears to be the White House legislation with a couple of ribbons around it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Oil market looks like tech bubble, analysis shows (Bloomberg News, 6/12/08)

The rally that drove oil to a record $139.12 a barrel last week surpassed the gains in Internet stocks that preceded the dot-com crash in 2000.

Crude rose 697 percent since trading at $17.45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in November 2001, and reached 28 record highs this year. The last time a similar pattern was seen in equities was eight years ago, when Internet-related stocks sent the Nasdaq Composite Index up 640 percent to its highest level ever, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Bespoke Investment Group LLC.

The Nasdaq tumbled 78 percent from its March 2000 peak, erasing about $6 trillion of market value, as investors concluded that prices weren't supported by profits at companies such as Broadcom Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. Billionaire investor George Soros and Stephen Schork, president of Schork Group Inc., say oil is ready to tumble because prices aren't justified by supply and demand.

"There's nothing different between this mania, the dot-com mania, the real estate mania, the Dow Jones mania of the 1920s, the South Sea bubble and the Dutch tulip-bulb mania," said Schork, whose Villanova, Pennsylvania-based firm advises the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Wall Street firms and oil companies on the outlook for energy prices. "History repeats itself over and over and over again."

June 13, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


The 20 best films for children: plus clips: As the Government launches a new scheme to bring the joys of cinema to young people in schools, Times critics' present their guide to the best movies for kids (Sarah Vine and Times critics, 6/13/08, Times of London)

Beautiful Thing

(Hettie Macdonald, 1996)

Suitable for mature teenagers. Contains swearing.

As “gay” is now a term of abuse in the classroom and on the bus, and as gays are all over primetime, this film may just educate as well as enchant. Hettie Macdonald's fizzing adaptation of Jonathan Harvey's hit play follows two teenage boys falling for each other on a South London council estate one hot summer. Funny and tender, rude and moving, Beautiful Thing is not porny, it's not graphic and it's not preachy. The language - as one boy's mother discovers the truth - is occasionally blue, but Ste and Jamie are not stereotypes and, little by little, they are not ashamed, either. TT

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


An Invaluable Insecticide: DDT has come under fire from large corporations and environmentalists. But it is saving lives in Southern Africa. (Roger Bate, June 13, 2008, The American)

Uganda’s High Court recently ordered the health ministry to stop spraying the insecticide DDT in the northern part of the country. Until there is a final ruling on a lawsuit brought by nine companies (including those supplying British American Tobacco), no life-saving DDT can be sprayed. The companies allege that their exports of organic produce, including tobacco, might be harmed if they became contaminated with traces of DDT. Given that more than 300 Ugandan children die each day from malaria, delaying the indoor spraying of DDT will surely cost lives.

In part, the Court’s decision reflects environmentalist hostility to DDT, which has made many African officials unduly skittish about using the chemical. European governments have issued mixed messages, privately advising against DDT use and publicly saying they will boycott produce imports if traces of the chemical are too high. Only those governments and companies courageous and rich enough to ignore Western environmental pressure—notably those of Southern Africa—are using significant and useful amounts of DDT.

Rachel Carson might at least have been ignorant, but what's Al Gore's excuse.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 PM


Tim Russert, 1950-2008 ( William Kristol, June 13, 2008, Weekly Standard)

Tim gave the commencement address at the 2007 Washington University graduation in St. Louis. My wife and I were there because one of our daughters was in the graduating class. I called to congratulate him on the speech--it was a good one, especially given the difficulties and limitations of the genre--and we had lunch. I remember thinking afterwards that he was remarkably unchanged from the guy I’d met thirty years before. He was intellectually curious and personally kind, a patriot and a family man, with a lively personality and a great and communicable interest in politics and life.

Tim Russert was an impressive and admirable man, and while Washington can be an insincere town, the almost universal expressions of grief at his passing are genuine and, if I can put it this way, completely deserved

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:09 PM


Scalia's fear factor: His dissent in a key terror case makes it harder to solve the Gitmo problem. (David Kaye, June 13, 2008, LA Times)

The decision infuriated Scalia. It "will make the war harder on us," he asserted in dissent. "It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

Scalia's overheated rhetoric harms a critical national decision that must be made about what to do next with the detainees. Be afraid! he says. And know whom to blame when the next terrorist attack comes! It's exactly this kind of demagoguery, designed to limit debate, that got us where we are today, with the Congress adopting a detainee law based on fear rather than effective policy and American principles

The sad truth is that Guantanamo has been an epic failure. For more than six years, hundreds of individuals have been held there, some on the flimsiest of evidence and some undoubtedly dangerous, devoted terrorists. Fewer than 300 remain today. None has been tried by the military tribunals set up by Bush in 2001 and ratified by Congress in 2006. Hundreds have been released to their home countries after an opaque process in which the military determined that they "no longer" pose a threat. Some have returned to battle.

...on what basis can Mr. Kaye say it won't potentially lead to more Americans being killed?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM


A summer guide to 100 politically incorrect movies (Mark Royden Winchell, God, Man and Hollywood)

About Schmidt is a nice inclusion in this first installment. I'd also have included The Apostle if this list is alphabetical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


NBC's 'Meet The Press' Host Tim Russert Dead At 58 (CBS, 6/13/08)

The New York Times is reporting that NBC Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert has died from an apparent heart attack. They are citing family reports. He was 58-years-old.

...that we can afford to lose one who did.

Tim Russert, host of NBC's 'Meet the Press,' dies (Katharine Q. Seelye, June 13, 2008, NY Times)

Tom Brokaw, the former anchor of NBC Nightly News, came on the air at 3:39 p.m. and reported that Mr. Russert had collapsed and died early this afternoon while at work. He had just returned from Italy with his family.

"Our beloved colleague," a grave Mr. Brokaw called him, one of the premier journalists of our time. He said this was one of the most important years in his life, with his deep engagement in the network's political coverage, and that he "worked to the point of exhaustion." Mr. Brokaw said Mr. Russert was a true child of Buffalo and always stayed in touch with his blue collar roots and "the ethos of that community."

He said Mr. Russert had just moved his father, who is in his late 80s, from one facility to another in Buffalo. He said he loved his family, his Catholic faith, his country, politics, the Buffalo Bills, the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Leaving Nixonland : a review of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America By Rick Perlstein (David Weigel, 6/13/2008, American Spectator)

[Rick] Perlstein's subject is the voter who cast a ballot for LBJ in 1964 "because to do anything else...seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason."

This is what Nixonland adds to the cornucopia of Nixon books already on the shelves. Other studies focus on the man's psyche, his friendships, and his downfall, and make it hard to understand how he rose to the pinnacle of American politics.

Plenty of these analyses focus on Nixon's inability to pay for a Harvard education after the school accepted him. Perlstein considers that important, but he hones in one what Nixon did when he arrived at Whittier College.

Nixon was rejected from the Franklins, the elite clique that ran the campus, so he founded a club called the Orthogonians "for the strivers, those not to the manor born, the commuter students like him. He persuaded his fellows that reveling in one's unpolish was a nobility of its own."

PERLSTEIN'S INSIGHT IS that Nixon kept up the chairmanship of this club for the rest of his political life, drafting new members at every critical juncture. The "Checkers" speech is the first and best example, as, over the jeers of liberal intellectuals, nearly 2 million people saved Nixon's career by sending telegrams supporting his position in a campaign finance scandal. "They interpreted the puppy story just as Nixon intended it," writes Perlstein, "as a jab at a bunch of bastards who were piling on, kicking a man when he was down, a regular guy, just because they could do it and he couldn't fight back."

It was good practice for the turmoil of the 1960s, and Perlstein is clear-eyed enough to see why, as the decade closed, Nixon was so successful. He identifies the reasons all historians of the left identify -- a heated backlash against the civil rights movement, an even stronger backlash against integration. He locates nasty letters that angry white voters sent to Sen. Paul Douglas (D-Illinois): "While you sit on your butt in Washington Martin Luther King is violating everything I bought and paid for." He excavates oddball rumors that swirled in white communities, like the fear, in eastern Iowa, that black gangsters were traveling from Chicago on motorcycles to attack their communities.

Myth after myth about the 1960s is punctured. The saintly Robert F. Kennedy actually wheezed over the finish line in Indiana and California, stitching together a coalition of white liberals and blacks, not uniting all voters. Ronald Reagan wasn't a sunny optimist, but a political flirt who bashed college students and tried to steal the 1968 nomination from Nixon.

Perlstein, however, does not argue that the backlash of the 1960s and 1970s (the book ends with Nixon's defeat of McGovern) was all the fault of the backlashers. He excoriates the far left for egging all of this on.

The Chicago Seven trial -- the subject of a hagiographic animated movie just last year -- is recounted as a battle between self-aggrandizing, cartoonish leftists and an embittered establishment that didn't know better.

Perlstein digs up wacko event after wacko event, writing the proceedings in a deadpan voice as his subjects condemn themselves. At the 1968 New Politics Conference, convened to nominate a third party ticket of Martin Luther King and Benjamin Spock, "one delegate offered himself for endorsement for president of the United States and said the 1966 Italian art-house Blowup was his platform. He was serious."

At the 1972 Democratic convention, a delegate gloats about voting on acid.

Friend Perlstein's confusion lies in the belief that the 1964 vote was anything more than a reaction to JFK's assassination.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:08 PM


Enemy in the ranks: Lieberman's support of McCain could hurt Democrats among Jewish voters (Matt Berger, 6/12/08, NBC/National Journal)

While Lieberman's national stature has faded since he became the first Jew to run on a major party ticket for vice president in 2000, he remains akin to a rock star in the American Jewish world, especially among national security hawks. But now, the former Democrat — who became an independent in 2006 after losing his party's nomination for re-election to the Senate in Connecticut — is raising eyebrows among some of his biggest fans.

Lieberman surprised many in December when he endorsed Republican John McCain for president, but others dismissed it as just another step in Lieberman's march to the right, spurred by a mix of support for the Iraq war and frustration with Democrats who did not support him after his primary loss. The real confusion, however, has come in recent weeks, as Lieberman has gone on the offensive against Democratic candidate Barack Obama, suggesting he is "naive" on U.S. policy toward Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

How can he put his country ahead of his former party?

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Cold War myths (Paul Steege, June 13, 2008, IHT)

On June 24, 1948, the Soviets halted rail and road traffic from the three Western zones to Berlin. Because each occupying power was obligated to provide the food and fuel for the inhabitants of its sector, most historical accounts assume that this step completely cut West Berliners' supply lines, leaving them dependent on airlifted supplies.

But West Berliners did not just tighten their belts and wait for a delivery of dried potatoes or stand at the end of the runways at Berlin's Tempelhof Airport in an effort to catch the chocolate bars imaginative airlift pilots dropped by handkerchief parachute.

They embarked on foraging trips into the surrounding Soviet zone, made under-the-table arrangements with shopkeepers and bartered and traded on the streets and squares of Berlin. Berliners had practiced these black market strategies since war's end and were used to depending on them for their survival.

These ordinary if technically illicit practices continued in 1948-1949 and made for a steady if occasionally hazardous flow of goods through the Soviet blockade. More than a month into the blockade, one German Communist begged Soviet officials to do something about the vegetables streaming into the Western sectors, which were available in greater quantity and at lower prices than in the Soviet half of Berlin.

Even after the blockade had been tightened in October 1948, it remained rather porous. In mid-November U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall received an intelligence report entitled, "Is Berlin blockaded?" The answer provided by the report and supported by evidence from East German archives: Only partially.

...is that our craven failure to seize upon this handy pretext for regime-changing Moscow was a moral victory for the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


'Liberty and security can be reconciled' (Associated Press, June 13, 2008)

From Thursday's 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Boumediene vs. Bush: [...]

"The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law."

No one really expects Supreme Court opinions to make much sense, but the notion that "liberty" extends to those outside the republic does such violence to the Constitution as to be breathtaking.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Why Won't Obama Agree to Townhalls? (Mort Kondracke, 6/13/08, Real Clear Politics)

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) got an answer from Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) Tuesday on his proposal for 10 town hall-style debates: Not going to happen. That's too bad - and, the fewer there are, the more Obama should suffer for it politically.

The town halls not only would give ordinary citizens a chance to ask the candidates some pointed questions (see suggestions below), but - because they would be nationally televised - they would let voters nationwide see how the candidates handle challenges from across the political spectrum.

...is to answer the question.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:22 AM


FARC Loses a Booster? (The Editors, 6/13/08, National Review)

Uribe’s victory stands as a stark reminder of a shameful moment in the history of the new Democratic majority in Congress. Instead of standing with our strongest South American ally when they had the chance, Democrats in Congress obstructed the passage of the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade agreement when President Bush sent it to Capitol Hill two months ago. (Their decision to do so allowed Chávez to declare Uribe isolated and weak, “since [the Americans] even rejected the FTA.”)

The passage of the FTA wouldn’t have a big impact on the U.S. economy, but it would provide a huge boost to Colombia. As many who support the deal have pointed out, almost all of Colombia’s products already enter the U.S. duty-free under the Andean Trade Preferences Act. But Congress must renew the ATPA periodically for it to remain in effect. An FTA, by contrast, would provide the long-term guarantee that Colombia needs to secure big investments in its infrastructure.

Sen. John McCain understands this, as demonstrated by his decision to visit Colombia in July in an effort to draw attention to the languishing deal and shame the Democrats into passing it. It has become popular in Democratic circles to mock McCain for once admitting that economics “is not something I’ve understood as well as I should.” But the fact that free trade fosters growth is Economics 101. Not only has McCain staked out the correct economic position, he’s staked out the superior diplomatic position as well. Uribe is winning his fight against the socialist bullies in his country and on his border. Barack Obama should explain again why exactly it is he opposes normalizing trade relations with such an ally.

...it's awfully hard to escape the feeling that Democrats are retaliating against Colombia precisely for being a steadfast ally in Latin America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech (ADAM LIPTAK, 6/12/08, NY Times)

A couple of years ago, a Canadian magazine published an article arguing that the rise of Islam threatened Western values. The article’s tone was mocking and biting, but it said nothing that conservative magazines and blogs in the United States do not say every day without fear of legal reprisal.

Things are different here. The magazine is on trial. [...]

The Maclean’s article, “The Future Belongs to Islam,” was an excerpt from a book by Mark Steyn called “America Alone” (Regnery, 2006). The title was fitting: The United States, in its treatment of hate speech, as in so many other areas of the law, takes a distinctive legal path.

“In much of the developed world, one uses racial epithets at one’s legal peril, one displays Nazi regalia and the other trappings of ethnic hatred at significant legal risk, and one urges discrimination against religious minorities under threat of fine or imprisonment,” Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, wrote in a recent essay called “The Exceptional First Amendment.”

“But in the United States,” Professor Schauer continued, “all such speech remains constitutionally protected.”

Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.

Earlier this month, the actress Brigitte Bardot, an animal rights activist, was fined $23,000 in France for provoking racial hatred by criticizing a Muslim ceremony involving the slaughter of sheep.

By contrast, American courts would not stop a planned march by the American Nazi Party in Skokie, Ill., in 1977, though a march would have been deeply distressing to the many Holocaust survivors there.

Six years later, a state court judge in New York dismissed a libel case brought by several Puerto Rican groups against a business executive who had called food stamps “basically a Puerto Rican program.” The First Amendment, Justice Eve M. Preminger wrote, does not allow even false statements about racial or ethnic groups to be suppressed or punished just because they may increase “the general level of prejudice.”

Some prominent legal scholars say the United States should reconsider its position on hate speech.

...but certainly the best yet is a column suggesting we should become more like the multiculti Europe that his book charts the demise of.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie with Almond-Filled Crust (Marlene Parrish, June 12, 2008, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

For the crust

* 1 batch pie dough, enough for a double crust pie or a package of prepared refrigerated pie dough
* 1/2 cup Love'n Bake Almond Schmear, or as much as needed

For the filling

* 1/2 cup heavy cream
* 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
* 1/3 cup granulated sugar
* 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
* 1 tablespoon vanilla

For the topping

* 1- 1/2 pints fresh strawberries
* 1/2 cup strawberry or other jelly
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Make the crust: Divide the pie dough in two equal pieces. Roll out one piece of pie dough on a lightly floured work table into a circle large enough to line a 9-inch round pie pan. Spread the crust evenly with the Almond Schmear. Move the coated dough aside. Roll out the second piece of pie dough on the lightly floured work table to the same size. Carefully place the rolled dough on top of the Schmear-coated dough.

Place the layered dough into the pie pan. Trim the edges, pinch them together to seal and flute them with your fingers.

Chill the filled pie pan for 1 hour in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Line the pie pan with parchment paper and pie weights or beans. Bake the crust for 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven. Remove the pie weights. Prick the surface of the dough with a fork in several places then return it to the oven. Bake the pie crust until it is lightly golden and cooked through, approximately 15 additional minutes. It will look puffy. Allow the crust to cool.

Make the filling: Whip the heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Chill the whipped cream. Beat the cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla on medium speed in a mixer until smooth. Fold in the whipped cream.

Fill the cooled pie shell with the cream cheese mixture. Chill in the refrigerator.

Make the topping: Remove the stems from the strawberries. Halve each strawberry from the tip to the stem. Place the halved berries on top of the filled pie in circles until the cream is covered with the fruit. (You may also slice then fan each half strawberry before placing it on top of the pie.)

Combine the jelly and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat stirring with a whisk until the jelly melts and is smooth. Allow it to cool until lukewarm, then brush the strawberries with the jelly. Chill until ready to serve.

This pie is best served within 12 hours of making it.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

-- lovenbake.com

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:02 AM


Why White Supremacists Support Barack Obama: How do racists, anti-Semites and all-purpose hate-mongers view the possibility of America’s first black president? Not necessarily the way you think they would. (David Peisner, 6/13/08, Esquire)

Erich Gliebe

Who: Chairman, National Alliance

Likes: Third Reich, the movie Rocky

Dislikes: integration, Jewish-controlled media

Career Highlights: Turning white-power record label, Resistance Records, into a million-dollar-a-year business juggernaut; an 8-0 record as a professional boxer under the nickname, “The Aryan Barbarian.”

“Obama might be a better candidate for our cause because he’s racially conscious. One of our big things in the National Alliance is to raise the racial consciousness of our people. Young whites in universities, they’ve been stripped of any kind of racial identity. Obama may be a racist in a positive sense for his people -- that will awaken a lot of the whites, knock some sense into them. They’ll see that non-white Americans are allowed to be proud of who they are, to be racially conscious, to talk about their people or their community without being attacked as being racist. Let’s face it, white people aren’t going to fight for their causes, for their kind with a white president. I don’t think McCain even acknowledges that a white race exists. He’s all about granting amnesty to illegal aliens. The fact he wants to keep us in wars in the Middle East for 100 years, that’s not a good thing. I give Obama credit, he seems to have stuck to his guns as far as pulling the troops out of Iraq. He’s a very intelligent man, an excellent speaker and has charisma. John McCain offers none of that. "

The GOP is a universalist party because religious, while the Democrats are particularist because secular Darwinist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 AM


George W Bush meets Pope amid claims he might convert to Catholicism (Malcolm Moore, 13/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

George W Bush and Pope Benedict XVI have held an intimate meeting in Rome as rumours mounted in Italy that the president may follow in Tony Blair's footsteps and convert to Catholicism. [...]

The two men have grown increasingly close in the past two years, and Mr Bush was overheard whispering: "What an honour, what an honour, what an honour!" as he ascended the steps to the tower.

After a stroll through the Vatican gardens, the men listened to a recital by the choir of the Sistine Chapel. However, Mr Bush did not, as expected, kneel in prayer before the Grotto of the Madonna of Lourdes. It was thought that he may have prayed with the pope in private. Mr Bush prayed with Benedict in the Oval Office during the Papal visit to the US in April.

Several Italian newspapers cited Vatican sources suggesting that Mr Bush may be prepared to convert. One source told Il Foglio, an authoritative newspaper, that "Anything is possible, especially for a born-again Christian such as Bush."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


Yanks Would Have Interest in Sabathia (TYLER KEPNER, 6/13/08, NY Times)

General Manager Brian Cashman has worked diligently to improve the Yankees’ farm system, and it is strong enough now to acquire a player like Sabathia. The Indians would obviously need pitching if they traded Sabathia, and they are also thin in the infield.

The Yankees’ second baseman, Robinson Canó, is struggling, and his salary would not be too much for the Indians. But because Sabathia is unsigned past this season, it is doubtful Canó would be traded for him.

Cashman held on to his prospects last winter, when Johan Santana was available. But with this season’s mediocre start and a mandate from ownership to win every season, he may be more willing to deal this time.

If the Yankees trade for Sabathia and he turns out to be a good fit, they could re-sign him and have a rotation built around Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain. The veterans Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina will be free agents this winter.

Two words of fashion counsel: Ditch pinstripes.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Asia's awesome threesome: a review of Rivals by Bill Emmott (Sreeram Chaulia, 6/14/08, Asia Times)

Emmott's survey of China's strengths and weaknesses leads to the inference that it will be an "awkward neighbor" for India and Japan. Beijing's "smile diplomacy" to assure that its rise should not be feared has few takers in New Delhi due to the former's provocative behavior on the bilateral border dispute. Chinese naval encroachments in the Indian Ocean to secure the "safety of sea lanes" is seen by Indian strategic elites as a strategy of "concirclement". China's military spending is more than double that of India's and roughly the same as that of Japan, which is a far richer country. Emmott portrays China and India as participants in a "strategic insurance policy race" (p 256) that is based on enhancement of respective military capabilities.

At present, the Chinese state does not tax farmers or urban households heavily. However, as expectations for a substantial social security system increase, the Communist Party will need to broaden the tax base and risk demands for democratic representation. Emmott predicts that a serious protracted economic downturn could cause a drop in corporate tax revenues and force the party to introduce "some form of electoral democracy, while ensuring that its substance remains suppressed" (p 85).

The author does not tackle the matter of how domestic regime change in China might go on to impact relations with India and Japan. He assumes that a more open China will be less threatening to the other two Asian powerhouses, although the historical evidence suggests that even if the Kuomintang had won the Chinese civil war and established democracy in the mainland, China would have posed the same strategic threats to India and Japan. Emmott fails to properly evaluate Chinese hyper-nationalism, which shows no sign of abating, even if democracy arrived.

Of course mainland Han China will remain nationalist as it is carved up and declines (from a rather low height). So what?
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


American Politics Through a Glass, Darkly (Suzanne Fields, 6/13/08, Real Clear Politics)

An American won't easily recognize politics at home as seen from Europe. Even our British cousins often look through a glass, darkly. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, distilled to their essence, were easier to understand. Liked him, didn't trust her. But the unfolding of the American presidential campaign is understood mostly through stereotypes. This sometimes makes meaningful conversations difficult.

How wonderful, Europeans typically exclaim, that a black man in the land that fought a war over slavery (to reduce a complicated story to an easily understood stereotype) gets to be president only 150 years later (the actual election is usually understood as only a ratifying formality). Curiously, Hillary as the first serious woman candidate seems hardly to have resonated among the frauleins. After the election of first Margaret Thatcher and then Angela Merkel, a leader's sex seems no big deal in Europe.

Europeans sneer at George W. Bush for many reasons, including his openness in talking about his religious faith, but he's having a good time on his current tour of Germany, France and Italy, whose chiefs of state actually like him.

...that doesn't begin from an understanding that W's presidency is a religious phenomenon and the Democratic contest was a function of identity isn't worth having.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:31 AM


Iraq in Review: Is there anything left of the antiwar Left’s criticisms of the Iraq war? (Victor Davis Hanson, 6/13/08, National Review)

[T]he promotion of constitutional government, however clumsy our efforts in 2003–4, was the only chance the U.S. had after the fall of Saddam Hussein to stabilize the country and hurt our terrorist enemies. No development infuriated al-Qaeda more than U.S. support for elections and a constitutional Iraq that undercut the slander of a 21st-century crusade to annex the ancient caliphate, and invested the Iraqi people themselves in the fight against terrorism for their own future. Iraq is not comparable to the Hamas plebiscite, in that its elections were in concert with a ratified constitution and a result of an American-led effort to depose Saddam Hussein.

One of the most surreal developments of the war has been the Left’s caricature of American idealism and our support for a democratic Iraqi government — a brave group of reformers who have been more tarred and demonized by American politicians than have been their al-Qaeda enemies.

Should we see a President Obama, and he realizes that Iraq is working, expect the Left to cease its criticisms of neocon democracy fantasies, and instead adopt Iraq’s democracy as yet more proof of Obama’s hope-and-change idealism in foreign policy.

Actually, it's exactly like Palestine, the opposite political wings just have trouble accepting that result.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Retail revels in stimulus checks: Benefits seen across industry (Patrice Hill THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Millions of taxpayers have received rebate checks ranging from $300 to $1,200, and they are starting to spend them with gusto.

A report from the Commerce Department Thursday showed they are giving a substantial boost to retail sales and providing critical support to the economy, just as Congress and the White House had hoped when they approved them in February.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Lakers have a collapse for the ages: They lead by as many as 24 points, but Celtics rally to take a 3-1 lead in the Finals. (Mike Bresnahan, 6/13/08, Los Angeles Times)

It was shocking, stunning, and a whole string of whatever anti-superlatives could be dug up and heaped on the Lakers, who allowed the biggest comeback in Finals history since Elias Sports Bureau became the official stat-keeper of the NBA for the 1970-1971 season. [...]

The first half couldn't have been better scripted for a team trying to forge a tie in the series, the Lakers cruising to a 58-40 lead.

Then came the second half, and the apparent beginning of the end of the Lakers' season after they were outscored, 57-33, in the last 24 minutes.

Hope slowly turned to misery as the Celtics turned up their defense and the Lakers turned away, leaving a trail of disheveled statistics.

The Lakers made only 13 of 39 shots (33.3%) in the second half, missing all eight of their three-point attempts.

Bryant had 17 points on the night, making only six of 19 shots. Sasha Vujacic, the hero off the bench in Game 3, had three points on one-for-nine shooting.

Vujacic's three-pointer gave the Lakers a 45-21 lead with 6:45 left in the second quarter, and the slow, steady slide began from there.

"Some turnaround in that ballgame," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said in an understatement. "The air went out of that building."

As the series becomes a perfect reflection of the team's respective stars. One of the curious criticisms of Kevin Garnett is that he isn't truly great because he accepts that he shouldn't be your first option for the last shot of a game because of his own offensive limitations. Note that this is quite different than Scottie Pippen, who should have been such an option based on his scoring ability, but couldn't be because he was scared. On the other hand, Garnett may be the first player since Michael Jordan (although Patrick Ewing and Akeem Olajuwon may fit the profile too) of whom it could be said that he would love to have the game's outcome depend on you trying to score against him. This is what he has brought to the Celtics since the first game of the season, a commitment to and intensity on defense that is extremely rare in a league where what passes for "defense" is instead an eagerness to commit hard fouls (see the old Detroit Pistons).

Kobe Bryant, on the other hand, has drawn grotesque comparisons to Michael Jordan apparently solely on the basis of his being the highest scoring player in Hollywood. And, whether because of the hype or because of his personality, he seems to believe that any play where he doesn't score is a waste and that the players on his team ought to acknowledge that.

Now it is probably true that Kobe is a more gifted offensive player, and shooter in particular, than Michael was, but that fact only obscures Michael's greatness. Because what was true of Michael Jordan was that in nearly every game there was a stretch--typically middle the 3rd quarter to middle of the 4th--where he would so thoroughly dominate that it established the imprint of his will on the opponent. Quite often, this was sufficient to win. But, when it wasn't, when the game remained close, the other team had to account for him on the final possession and he would kick the ball out to some shooting guard -- John Paxson or Steve Kerr or whoever -- who would necessarily be uncovered and would, typically, make the winning shot. There is no evidence that Kobe has even Kevin Garnett's capacity to dictate the style of play, never mind Michael's ability to determine its outcome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Stiff upper lip or let it all out?: Top trauma psychologist David Alexander reacts to a report suggesting in the wake of 9/11 some people coped better if they didn't talk about the terror attacks (David Alexander, 13 June 2008, New Statesman)

Most cultures have developed rituals and practices to help people express grief, sadness and distress.

Contemporary therapies and counselling have attempted to take this this approach to emotional catharsis further - some have considered the meaning of a trauma and how the individual has reacted to it.

Now a study by the University at Buffalo's Dr Mark Seery has produced data which appear to suggest that not talking about a traumatic event (in this case the World Trade Center and Pentagon terror attacks of 9/11) may be a more successful way of coping than the alternative - sharing the experience.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Pakistani Tribes Reach for Guns after U.S. Attack (Reuters, 6/13/08)

Fiercely independent tribesmen, angered by a U.S. air strike that killed 11 Pakistani soldiers earlier in the week, vowed to raise a militia to help Pakistan's army defend the border with Afghanistan. [...]

Elders from ethnic Pashtun tribes in Mohmand, one of seven semi-autonomous tribal regions, issued a statement late on Thursday condemning the attack as "naked aggression" and said they were ready to raise a "lashkar", or tribal army.

"It's the duty of the government to protect and defend the frontiers and we are ready to raise a lashkar to help our army in their cause," the elders said.

"We are ready to fight for our homeland as we fought in Kashmir in 1948," it said, referring to the first war between Pakistan and India just a year after their independence from British rule.

The War on Terror is to some considerable degree just a war against the Pashtun at this point, so it's helpful of them to declare themselves legitimate targets.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


EU referendum: Ireland rejects Lisbon Treaty (Tom Peterkin, 13/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Irish voters have thrown the EU into disarray by rejecting the Lisbon Treaty, the government conceded. [...]

All 27 European member states have to ratify the treaty for it to go come into force next year. So far it has been approved by 18 members including Britain, but Ireland is the only country to put it to a public vote.

It's entirely possible that no electorate would vote "yes," but certain that no Anglospheric one would.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Do Regular People Really Read Blogs? (Josh Catone, 6/12/08, ReadWriteWeb)

A Harris Poll from earlier this year found that 56% of Americans never read political blogs, and just 22% read them several times per month or more. Interestingly, those over the age of 63 were the most likely to be readers of political blogs -- just 17-19% of Gen X and Gen Y (called "echo boomers" in the Harris Poll report) read political blogs.

That certainly explains why Obama has eschewed building a conversational blog while McCain has hired a well-known and experienced blogger -- Obama appeals to the specific demographic that doesn't read political blogs, while McCain appeals to the demographic more likely to subscribe to them. But could that speak to a larger trend in the blogosphere as a whole?

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any recent polling data on how many people are reading blogs. In 2005, comScore found that about 30% of American Internet users read blogs (PDF), though their study didn't really delve into how often people were reading blogs. Is that 30% who read them every day? Or 30% who have visited a blog in the past year? The study doesn't make that clear. Very likely, things have changed since 2005 -- when the comScore report was published, for example, TechCrunch -- now one of the world's largest blogs -- was only 2 months old.

However, if the Harris Poll data is at all representative of the mainstream public's reading habits toward blogs in general, things don't look particularly rosy. The Harris Poll found that of those who visit at least one political blog at least one time each week, 76% read under four of them -- a third read just one. So even though blog readership may be up, people are reading only a small number of blogs on a regular basis.

Further, 69% of political blog readers don't comment on blogs. That indicates that those thousands of comments on McCain's blog are coming from a small subset of political junkies who closely track the political blogosphere.

The important thing here is not just that blogs are trivial but that at the point where denizens of the blogosphere believe a story has reached saturation point--like the Reverend Wright's racial ravings--normal people haven't even heard of it yet.

Meanwhile, the extreme insularity of the blogging community and the skewed politics of bloggers mean that the conventional wisdom that is constantly repeated is just as wrong as that inside the Beltway, with growing overlap. If you read only blogs and editorial pages last winter then you knew for sure that Maverick was toast. But all you had to do was read history and talk to a few folks at the Christmas Party and it was obvious he'd win. Kansas is an awfully long way from Kos and the Corner.

June 12, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


House Latinas Irked by Obama’s Neglect (Jonathan Allen, 6/11/08, Congressional Quarterly)

Barack Obama has a Latina problem in the House of Representatives, and it could be symptomatic of a larger obstacle to unifying his party.

Several Hispanic women who backed New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries are miffed at the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s failure so far to seektheir support, according to several sources familiar with their discontent. [...]

[O]bama has a tough task ahead in courting Clinton’s strongest constituencies, including Hispanics, women and working-class white voters.

In particular, the Illinois senator, who got swamped in most heavily Hispanic districts across the country, can ill afford to risk alienating potential surrogates in a community that has viewed him with skepticism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


STAYING AWAY IN DROVES: Public Viewing a Flop at Euro 2008 (Der Spiegel, 6/12/08)

Organizers had thought that hundreds of thousands of fans would pack public viewing sites in Austria and Switzerland to watch the European football championships. It turns out they were wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:26 PM


Supreme Court again says Guantanamo prisoners should have rights (David G. Savage, 6/12/08, Los Angeles Times)

The Supreme Court, for the third time, rejected President Bush's policy for holding and trying foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and ruled today these men have a right to seek their freedom in a hearing before a federal judge.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court struck down as unconstitutional an administration-backed law that barred the detainees from going to court. The right to habeas corpus is fundamental to American law and cannot be suspended except in times of national emergency, the majority said.

"The framers [of the Constitution] viewed freedom from unlawful restraint as a fundamental precept of liberty, and they understood the writ of habeas corpus as a vital instrument to secure that freedom," said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the court. [...]

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. dissented and predicted the "ambitious opinion" will have "modest practical results."

"I believe the system the political branches constructed adequately protects any constitutional rights aliens captured abroad and detained as enemy combatants may enjoy," he wrote. "I therefore would dismiss these cases on that ground." Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined him in dissent.

It is such a fundamental misreading of the text to classify enemy combatants as part of "We the People" that the President has a Constitutional obligation to ignore such a ruling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


Motorists use blow-up dolls to beat car pooling rules (Nick Squires, 12/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

New Zealand motorists are using blow-up dolls, dogs dressed as children and mannequins to bypass unpopular rules about car pooling.

Tragic how the automobile makes otherwise decent people pathological.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


N.H. foreign-born population growing fast (AP, 6/12/08)

New Hampshire may have a small number of foreign-born residents, but the numbers are growing fast.

Since 2000, the foreign-born population has been growing faster than all but six other states, according to a report released by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

"At the turn of the 20th century, New Hampshire's foreign-born population was significant," said report co-author Ross Gittell in a release. "After nearly a century of decline, New Hampshire's foreign-born population is growing rapidly again at the start of the 21st century."

New Hampshire ranks 25th in the nation in the percentage of foreign-born residents, but first in the percentage of foreign-born adults with four-year college degrees.

...where are the ones who'll actually work for a living?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

3 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon oregano leaf (not ground oregano)

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Pinch cayenne (optional)

1 pound lean ground beef, drained

1 ½ pounds trimmed, smoked brisket, cubed

3 cups onion, peeled and chopped chunky

2 tablespoons oil

1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1 (10.75-ounce) can tomato purée

1 cup beer (optional)

2 cups water or vegetable stock

1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed


Sauté in cast-iron skillet with no oil, and just until toasty brown: yellow cornmeal, chili powder, black pepper, salt, cumin, oregano leaf, and red pepper flakes and cayenne if desired. Set aside spices to add to chili later.

In separate skillet, brown lean ground beef, and drain. In large (4- to 6-quart) kettle or bean pot, sauté chopped onion in 2 tablespoons of oil until pieces start to turn transparent. Add chopped garlic, ground beef and smoked brisket cubes. Add toasted spices.

Add to pot: canned chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, 2 cups water or vegetable stock, drained kidney beans and 1 cup beer (optional).

Simmer over low heat for at least 1 hour, stirring frequently. Add more water or vegetable stock, if chili seems too thick; add additional cornmeal to thicken if chili seems too thin. To increase spiciness to taste, any hot sauce may be added.

Serve chili over Fritos corn chips with optional toppings.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:49 PM


Iraq starts to fix itself: Its people are still suffering monstrously, but Iraq is doing far better than it was only a few months ago (The Economist, 6/12/08)

AFTER all the blood and blunders, people are right to be sceptical when good news is announced from Iraq. Yet it is now plain that over the past several months, while Americans have been distracted by their presidential primaries, many things in Iraq have at long last started to go right.

This improvement goes beyond the fall in killing that followed General David Petraeus's “surge”. Iraq's government has gained in stature and confidence. Thanks to soaring oil prices it is flush with money. It is standing up to Iraq's assorted militias and asserting its independence from both America and Iran. The overlapping wars—Sunni against American, Sunni against Shia and Shia against Shia—that harrowed Iraq after the invasion of 2003 have abated. The country no longer looks in imminent danger of flying apart or falling into everlasting anarchy. In September 2007 this newspaper supported the surge not because we had faith in Iraq but only in the desperate hope that the surge might stop what was already a bloodbath from becoming even worse (see article). The situation now is different: Iraq is still a mess, but something approaching a normal future for its people is beginning to look achievable.

The reality is that Iraq was inevitably going to face some fairly chaotic, but ultimately healthy, sectarian rearranging after its totalitarian dictatorship was removed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM

THIRD TIME A CHARM? [all entries by noon Thursday]:

108th U.S. Open Championship Preview (Gerard Gallagher, 6/09/08, The Sports Network)

The fairways will be typically narrow for a U.S. Open, ranging in width from about 24 yards to 33 yards at their widest. Where the players will get a little bit of a break this year is in the rough.

In the third round at Winged Foot two years ago, Colin Montgomerie made a double-bogey at the par-three third after he found the deep rough in front of a greenside bunker, duffed a flop shot into that bunker, then two-putted for a five.

"Bloody hell!" were just two of the descriptive words the Scotsman shouted.

The deepest rough at Winged Foot that year -- the stuff Monty was hitting from -- was cut to about six inches. It was difficult enough to just walk through the grass, let alone take a shot out of it. The USGA cut the deep rough at Oakmont to the same length last year.

This year, in line with its "penalty fits the crime" plan for U.S. Opens, the USGA will cut three bands of rough on both sides of the fairways to different lengths. But the longest rough will measure only 3 1/2 inches -- nearly half the length of the last two years.

Things get tougher around the greens, however, where any shot more than 12 feet offline will find rough cut to four inches.

This type of grooming is just one of the reasons Tiger Woods claimed the Average Joe wouldn't have been able to break 100 at last year's U.S. Open, when Angel Cabrera's winning score was a five-over 285.

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, singer Justin Timberlake, "Today" host Matt Lauer and amateur John Atkinson, stricken with inoperable lung cancer, set out to prove Woods wrong.

They did, and they didn't.

Playing at Torrey Pines last week, Romo shot a 13-over 84 and Timberlake had a 27-over 98. Lauer landed right on the number at 100, and Atkinson shot a 114.

So two of the players actually broke 100, and Romo's score will probably end up looking OK to some of the players who are sure to struggle this weekend (six players posted scores of 85 or worse at Oakmont, including 2002 PGA Championship winner Rich Beem).

But none of them were able to make a birdie at Torrey Pines, showing the U.S. Open course is manageable for the very good amateur golfer, but not conquerable.

So who's got the game -- and the intangibles -- to win this week?

After failing miserably at picking the last two legs of the Triple Crown, we've still got two copies of Steven Pressfield's new novel, Killing Rommel, to give away (courtesy of Authors on the Web). We're big fans and this one looks like a combo of The Eagle Has Landed and Rogue Male.

Pick your top three finishers at the US Open [I'll take Tiger, Fat Phil & Pete Harrington] we'll give out some more books.

-ESSAY: The Last Honorable War (Steven Pressfield, April 24, 2008, Military.com)
INTERVIEW: World Class novelist Steven Pressfield previews his latest masterpiece, Killing Rommel (Hugh Hewitt, May 02, 2008)
-PODCAST: Steven Pressfield's New Book "Killing Rommel" (Military.com, May 6, 2008)
-REVIEW: of Killing Rommel: A Novel of War by Stephen Pressfield (Mark Whittington, published May 07, 2008 , Associated Content)
-REVIEW: of Killing Rommel (Kirkus Reviews)
-REVIEW: of Killing Rommel (Michael Lee, BookPage)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


and heaving bosoms: Gerald Warner celebrates the unexpected appearance of one last ‘swashbuckling novel’, and mourns the loss of a genre that taught boys honour, courage and chivalry (Gerald Warner, 11th June 2008, Spectator)

‘Do you have the new novel by Alexandre Dumas?’ Who ever imagined going into the local branch of Waterstone’s and asking that question, in the 21st century? Yet the unexpected — the impossible — has happened and an authentically new historical novel by the legendary author of The Three Musketeers has recently been published for the first time in Britain. Its classically Dumas title in French, Le chevalier de Sainte-Hermine, has been changed for an Anglophone readership to The Last Cavalier.

An account of how the Master’s last novel was rediscovered by Claude Schopp, the leading Dumas scholar in France, is given by him in an appendix to The Last Cavalier which describes how the complete book was painstakingly reconstructed. It is the continuation of Dumas’s French Revolutionary novel The Companions of Jehu and completes his panoramic fictional account of French history by covering the Napoleonic period.

In the literary canon of the swashbuckling novel, nobody ever rivalled Dumas père. He brought history to life as never before or since. Behind the arras in every statesman’s cabinet lurked a listener; a party of horsemen cantering into an inn-yard at dusk betokened high adventure; no rapier rested long in its scabbard when there was a quarrel to be settled (the more trivial the better), a lady’s (frequently fragile) honour to be defended, or a service to be rendered the King of France (as distinct from his villainous ministers).

Although Dumas’s heroes took the aristocratic principle of noblesse oblige for granted, acting as unreflecting partisans of divine right kingship, the author was unfaithful to his own ethos. In 1830, when the ancient Bourbon monarchy that was the backdrop to his romances was brought down, Dumas played an unheroic role as a self-interested supporter of the usurper Duc d’Orléans, shortly transformed into the umbrella-wielding Citizen King Louis-Philippe. He later made an equally ineffective, grandstanding intervention against the Bourbons of the Two Sicilies during the Risorgimento. The musketeers would not have been impressed.

Yet such inconsistencies become inconsequential once the reader immerses himself in the world that Dumas conjured. It may be that schoolboys today negotiate adolescence unassisted by Dumas; if so, they are to be pitied. Anyone who has not galloped, heart in mouth, with the musketeers on the road to the convent of Béthune, in a desperate bid to save Constance Bonancieux from the vengeance of Milady, has omitted a crucial rite of passage. He who has never thrilled to the urgent command ‘To horse!’ is a potential health and safety officer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


David Mitton, a Creator of ‘Thomas’ for TV, Dies at 69 (WILLIAM GRIMES, 6/11/08, NY Times)

[David] Mitton, a veteran of British children’s programming, directed or wrote more than 180 episodes of “Thomas the Tank Engine,” beginning with the first one in October 1984. The series, originally called “Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends” and later shortened to “Thomas and Friends,” became an instant success on British television and in 1989 made its debut in the United States as “Shining Time Station” on PBS, with Ringo Starr in the role of Mr. Conductor. (George Carlin took over the role after one season.)

Like their British counterparts, American viewers fell in love with the put-upon but determined Thomas, described in the show’s first episode as “a cheeky little engine.”

Thomas, a bright-blue engine with a round face and big eyes, found adventure and life lessons on the mythical Island of Sodor with a team of engines that included the big, self-important Gordon, wise Edward, uppity James and pesky young Percy. Together they learned the values of friendship, teamwork, honesty and kindness to others.

The series became an unstoppable phenomenon that continued to gather steam, so to speak, long after its original creators had moved on to other projects. Now seen in 145 countries, it supports a vast empire of tie-ins that include books, video games, toys, and clothing.

...the one when our youngest said he was too old for Thomas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


New front opens on evolution wars (Amy Fagan, 6/12/08, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

A battle over science education could soon spill into the courts in Louisiana, where looming legislation would allow teachers to bring up scientific criticisms of evolution, global warming and other hot-button topics.

That's an admirably concise statement of what the dispute is over: on the one side are the fundamentalists who can not allow any critical consideration of their faith, and on the other are the more open-minded and skeptical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


Papers give peek inside al Qaeda in Iraq (Michael Ware, 6/12/08, CNN)

Al Qaeda's folder on Operation Desert Shield expresses the depth, structure and measure of its military command. It is perhaps the most compelling illustration of how al Qaeda works.

Yet the Desert Shield folder is but one found among the thousands of pages of records, letters, lists and hundreds of videos held in the headquarters of al Qaeda's security prince for Anbar province, a man referred to in secret correspondence as Faris Abu Azzam.

After he was killed 18 months ago, Faris' computers and filing cabinets were captured by anti-al Qaeda fighters from a U.S-backed militia, or Awakening Council (the militias made up of former Sunni insurgents, now on the U.S. payroll and praised by President Bush for gutting al Qaeda in Iraq). The Awakening militiamen handed the massive haul of al Qaeda materials to both their U.S handlers from the Navy, Marine Corps and Army, and to CNN.

In all, these Anbar files form the largest collection of al Qaeda in Iraq materials to ever fall into civilian hands, giving an insight into the organization that few but its members or Western intelligence agents have ever seen.

Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, the American military's spokesman in Baghdad, says the document trove is unique, "a kind of comprehensive snapshot" of al-Qaeda during its peak.

"It reveals," Driscoll said, "first of all, a pretty robust command and control system, if you will. I was kind of surprised when I saw the degree of documentation for everything -- pay records, those kind of things -- and that [al Qaeda in Iraq] was obviously a well-established network."

That network is now under enormous stress, primarily from the more than 100,000 nationalist insurgents who formed the Awakening Council militias and initiated an extremely effective assassination program against al Qaeda, but also from recent U.S. and Iraqi government strikes into their strongholds.

As a result, says Lt. Col. Tim Albers, the coalition's director of military intelligence for Baghdad, "al Qaeda in Iraq is fighting to stay relevant."

So, what do these captured documents from 2006 tell us about al Qaeda in Iraq today? A lot, according to a senior U.S. intelligence analyst in Iraq, who cannot be named because of the sensitivity of his position.

"We're still finding documents like these throughout the country, but I would say that's starting to lessen in amount as the organization shrinks," the analyst said.

The al Qaeda command mechanism and discipline seen in the documents, he said, persist.

"The hard-core senior leadership is still trucking along, and there are always going to be internal communications, documents and videos," he said.

With as many as six suicide attacks and three car bombings in the past 10 days in Iraq (including one attack that killed a U.S. soldier and wounded 18 others), Driscoll agrees the picture the documents paint of a well-oiled, bureaucratic organization is relevant today.

"Certainly, we see that in several different ways how they communicate ... as they've got to be able to talk to their troops in the field to maintain morale, especially when we're pursuing them very aggressively," Driscoll said.

Be it then, in 2006, or be it now, al Qaeda in Iraq is nothing if not bureaucratic.

...it's fairly hard to argue that defeating al Qaeda in Iraq had nothing to do with al Qaeda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


CBSSports.com frees up fantasy sports news (BRIDGET CAREY, 6/12/08, Miami Herald)

In an attempt to attract a larger piece of the fantasy sports fanbase, CBSSports.com is opening all of its fantasy sports news and information content to the public for free.

Fantasy sports services -- which allow fans to create and manage teams and leagues based on real-life players and their statistics -- generate about $500 million a year in fees and advertising revenue, according to a study from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Fort Lauderdale-based CBSSports.com is one of the more popular destinations for fantasy sports players, as are Yahoo! and ESPN.

CBSSports.com charges $149.95 for its service that allows users to manage a league, and fantasy news and statistics were previously included as part of that subscription. Now, users need not be subscribers to the ''Commissioner'' level service to access the information.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Torrey Hallelujah (Quin Hillyer, 6/12/2008, American Spectator)

It's this week's U.S. Open golf tournament, on San Diego's picturesque hills directly overlooking the Pacific Ocean, on a course that happens to be the single best venue in the world for both of the world's greatest players. Tiger Woods has won there, at the course called Torrey Pines, six times as a professional, and Phil Mickelson has three pro titles there. Both won junior titles there as well, and Mickelson played it numerous times while growing up in the area.

But, because this is one of those rare Opens played on a course also used annually for a regular tour event, dozens of players in the field also have substantial records at Torrey Pines, a fair number of them with notable success. Masters champion Trevor Immelman, for instance, won the U.S. Public Links tournament there in 1998 -- and, as the only golfer on the planet who can possibly win the Grand Slam of golf this year, he enters the event off of an impressive 2nd place (playoff) finish last week at Memphis.

The final hole at Torrey Pines, meanwhile, might be the best risk-reward closing test in Open history. A par 5 that is barely reachable in two shots if both shots are long and straight, its green guarded across half of its front by a large pond and known for a wickedly sharp slope, the 18th could easily yield every score from eagle to double-bogey just among the final three or four groups. Imagine a final pairing of Woods and Mickelson, both in the "first cut" of light rough 260 yards from the green, both needing birdie to tie clubhouse leader Immelman or an eagle to defeat him without a playoff. Will Mickelson, facing a semi-dodgy lie, have another brain cramp and slash away, or will he for once lay up, counting on his superior wedge play to set him up for a birdie? Will Woods be at all affected by whatever Mickelson decides to do, or will he pay no heed to Lefty?

Or maybe it will be another third wheel, not Immelman, trying to ruin the Tiger-Phil party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


The 125 Healthiest Supermarket Foods in America: We searched every aisle to find the best picks for you (Men's Health, 6/12/08)

Ladies and gentlemen, rev your appetites—and steer your shopping carts toward the delicious staples of a healthy diet. We scoured the grocery aisles and chose the most reliable basics and the best secret ingredients that will improve your diet and take your cooking up a notch—all in one trip to the supermarket!

So click the items to the left to learn about the 125 best grocery foods. Find better breakfast choices, the best sandwich stackers, and the greatest fresh and frozen dinners. After stocking your kitchen with these mouth-watering foods, you'll never want to eat out again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Fate of EU treaty hangs on Irish referendum (Sarah Lyall, June 12, 2008, NY Times)

In a nutshell, that is the problem confronting the treaty's proponents as the Irish head for the polls in a referendum being watched across Europe. At 287 pages of vintage bureaucratese, the Lisbon Treaty, which would among other things give the European Union its first full-time president and create a new and powerful foreign policy chief, is hard to explain. Few voters fully understand it or even want to try.

"The problem is that it's not a very exciting treaty," said Gail McElroy, a lecturer in political science at Trinity College Dublin.

"Institutional efficiency is very hard to get people excited about."

The treaty, which proponents say must be enacted for the union to function more efficiently, has the support of every government in Europe as well as most of the Irish establishment, including the main political parties and unions as well as business groups and farmers' associations. But an eleventh-hour surge of opposition has proved unexpectedly persuasive.

The campaign is still too close to call. But recent opinion polls suggest that previously undecided voters - possibly a third of the electorate - are leaning against the treaty.

"The Irish seem instinctively inclined to listen to dissonant voices, to rebel against their own establishment and to scupper the best-laid plans of the Eurocrats," Fintan O'Toole, the assistant editor of The Irish Times, wrote in an editorial in The Times of London.

Come now. Europe has just spent two centuries all excited about the possibility of replacing democratic liberty with "institutional efficiency." You have to be awfully dang Bright not to grasp why offering intellectual elites another bite at that apple can't get past the unwashed masses.

Europe is long past saving, but you'd think they might have noticed by now that the successful American system is premised on designed institutional inefficiency.

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June 11, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 PM


Cities for Living: Antimodernist Léon Krier designs urban environments to human scale. (Roger Scruton, Spring 2008, City Journal)

[A graduate of the University of Stuttgart’s modernist school of architecture, Léon Krier, has pursued a career in architecture, but he is also a philosopher and social thinker who believes that architectural modernism is not just ugly but also based in profound mistakes about the nature of human society. As he put it in a recent interview: “Humanity lives by trial and error, sometimes committing errors of a monumental scale. Architectural and urbanist modernism belong—like communism—to a class of errors from which there is little or nothing to learn or gain. . . . Modernism’s fundamental error, however, is to propose itself as a universal (i.e., unavoidable and necessary) phenomenon, legitimately replacing and excluding traditional solutions.” What we need, therefore, is a repertoire of real solutions to the problems of urban design. And that is what Krier has set out to produce.

During the seventies, with the help of his equally talented brother Rob, Krier began producing designs showing how the urban fabric of Europe could be conserved, enhanced, and expanded, while answering to the real needs of modern people. A few enlightened city councils—notably those of Luxembourg and Bremen—commissioned plans and projects from the Kriers, though largely of an exploratory kind. But it was only in the eighties, when the Prince of Wales invited him to plan the new town of Poundbury, adjacent to the city of Dorchester, that Krier found a real opportunity to put his ideas into practice. His work immediately began to attract the critics’ attention.

Professional architects, appalled at the threat to the modernist monopoly, did their best to destroy Krier’s reputation and to dismiss his work as that of a nostalgic dreamer. But to their consternation, Poundbury has attracted enthusiastic residents, as well as industries and shops; it has become a place of pilgrimage, as popular with tourists as any medieval city, and a model that others are following elsewhere. The New Urbanist movement, with adherents in America, Italy, Spain, and Britain, owes much to Krier. His 1998 book Architecture: Choice or Fate is slowly becoming a standard work, though the architectural establishment profoundly hates it. Krier has worked in America, submitting designs for the New Urbanist development of Seaside, Florida, where he built a house for himself, and also designing the impressive village hall at Windsor, Florida—a new community conceived according to the principles that he defends.

Krier presents the first principle of architecture as a deduction from Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which tells us to act only on that maxim that we can will as a universal law. You must, Krier says, “build in such a way that you and those dear to you will use your buildings, look at them, work in them, spend their holidays in them, and grow old in them with pleasure.” Krier suggests that modernists themselves follow this dictum—in private. Modernist vandals like Richard Rogers and Norman Foster—between them, responsible for some of the worst acts of destruction in our European cities—live in elegant old houses in charming locations, where artisanal styles, traditional materials, and humane scales dictate the architectural ambience. Instead of Bernard Mandeville’s famous principle of “private vices, public benefits,” it seems that they follow the law of private benefits, public vice—the private benefit of a charming location paid for by the public vice of tearing our cities apart. Rogers in particular is famous for creating buildings that have no relation to their surroundings, that cannot easily change their use, that are extremely expensive to maintain, and that destroy the character of their neighborhoods—buildings such as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, for which a great acreage of humane streets had to be cleared and which deliberately turns its back on the historic quarter of the Marais; or the Lloyd’s Building in London, a piece of polished kitchenware surmounted by a pile of junk, dropped in the city as if from a passing airplane.

Traditional architecture produced forms expressive of human interests—palaces, houses, factories, churches, temples—and these sit easily under their names. The forms of modern architecture, Krier argues, are nameless—denoting not familiar objects and their uses but “so-called objects,” known best by nicknames, and never by real names of their own. Thus the Berlin Congress Hall is the “pregnant oyster,” Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles the “madhouse,” the new building at Queen’s College, Oxford, the “parking lot,” and the UN building in New York the “radiator.” The nickname, in Krier’s view, is the correct term for a kitsch object—for a faked object that sits in its surroundings like a masked stranger at a family party. Classical forms, by contrast, result from convention and consensus over centuries; they earn their names—house, palace, church, factory—from the natural understanding that they elicit, with nothing about them forced.

Modernist forms have been imposed upon us by people in the grip of ideology. They derive no human significance from the materials that compose them, from the labor that produced them, or from the function that they fulfill, and their monumental quality is faked.

Krier identifies the leading error of modernism as that introduced by Le Corbusier, Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: separating load-bearing and outward-facing parts. Once buildings become curtains hung on invisible frames, all of the understood ways of creating and conveying meanings lose out. Even if the curtain is shaped like a classical facade, it is a pretend facade, with only a blank expression. Usually, however, it is a sheet of glass or concrete panels, without intelligible apertures. The building itself is hidden, and its posture as a member of the city, standing among neighbors and resting its weight upon their common ground, is meaningless because unobservable. All relation to neighboring structures, to the street, and to the sky, is lost. The form conveys nothing beyond the starkness of its geometry.

The curtain-wall idiom has other negative effects. Buildings constructed in this way are both expensive to maintain and of uncertain durability; they use materials that no one fully understands, which have a coefficient of expansion so large that all joints loosen within a few years, and which involve massive environmental damage in their production and in their inevitable disposal within a few decades. Modernist buildings are health catastrophes: sealed environments, dependent on a constant input of energy, and subject to the “sick-building syndrome” that arises when nobody can open a window or let in a breath of fresh air. Moreover, such buildings use no architectural vocabulary, so that one cannot “read” them as one does classical buildings. The passerby experiences this as a kind of rudeness. Modernist buildings exclude dialogue, and the void that they create around themselves is not a public space but a desertification.

This failure to provide a readable vocabulary is not a trivial defect of modernist styles: it is the reason why modernist buildings fail to harmonize with their neighbors. In architecture, as in music, harmony is a relation among independently meaningful parts, an achievement of order from elements that create and respond to valency. There are no chords in modernist architecture, only lines—lines that may come to an end but that achieve no closure.

The lack of vocabulary explains the alienating effect of a modern airport, such as Newark or Heathrow. Unlike the classical railway station, which guides the traveler securely and reassuringly to the ticket office, to the platform, and to the public concourse, the typical airport is a mass of written signs, all competing for attention, all amplifying the sense of urgency, yet nowhere offering a point of visual repose. Perhaps the most relaxing and functional public spaces in America are the few classically conceived railway stations—Union Station in Washington, for example, or Grand Central Terminal in New York—where architecture has displaced the written sign and where people, however urgently caught up in traveling, are momentarily content just to be. It is significant that when McKim, Mead, and White’s great Penn Station, modeled on the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, was scheduled for demolition in 1962, even modernists like Louis Kahn joined in the protest to prevent it. The demolition went ahead, but New Yorkers widely regret the old station’s destruction, as much on account of the mean, low-ceilinged space that now alienates the traveler, as because of the hideous and oppressive structure atop it.

...to expect much of antihuman infrastructure like airports or highways, which did more damage to the liveability of cities than any carpet bombing or riot ever did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 PM


Tiger or Phil? Phil or Tiger? The choice is easy. (Rick Reilly, 6/11/08, ESPN)

Rooting for Tiger Woods is like rooting for Justin Timberlake to get "lucky," Exxon to hit a gusher, Bill Gates to find a twenty on the sidewalk. It takes no imagination. It takes no courage. What's the point? It's 1-to-5 he's going to win anyway, whether you cheer or not. Makes no difference to him. It's like rooting for erosion.

Rooting for Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, is like rooting for the salmon to eat the bear. It takes faith. It takes forgiveness. It takes Tums. Mickelson is a roller coaster in an earthquake. One shot will be so inspired you'll cover your mouth in astonishment. The next will be so Spam-brained you'll slap your forehead in disbelief. It's like watching a blind guy jaywalk across Hollywood and Vine. Your fist is in your mouth the whole way.

I bring all this up because Woods and Mickelson will play side-by-side Thursday and Friday at the U.S. Open. You must choose. You cannot root for both. It's un-American.

Here's how to tell them apart: Woods has the Joe Weider body, the Iron Byron swing, the Green Beret mind. Mickelson's body leans toward Sara Lee. He's carried two drivers—one for hooks and one for slices—but none for straights. He can get it up and down out of an ice cream cart, which is a good thing, because he's there a lot. He might be the only athlete whose catch phrase is, "I'm such an idiot!"

...on the basis of his managing the course like a 14-year old? Isn't savvy worthy of our admiration?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 PM


McCain enjoying usual Republican margin among highly religious voters (Frank Newport, 6/10/08, USA Today: Gallup Guru)

News reports in recent days have probed what has been labeled as John McCain’s “Evangelical problem”. The columnist Robert Novak claims that “enthusiasm for McCain inside the Republican coalition is in short supply.” His column talked about the necessity of McCain traveling to Colorado Springs, the home of Focus on the Family’s Dr. James Dobson. And the New York Times on Monday front-paged an article: “ McCain Extends His Outreach, But Evangelicals Are Still Wary”. The article, by Michael Luo, goes on to say “…one of Mr. McCain’s biggest challenges as he faces a general election contest with Senator Barack Obama [is] a continuing wariness toward him among evangelicals and other Christian conservatives…”

Much of the content of these articles depends on anecdotal evidence and opinions of the few leaders or pundits the reporters or columnists could find to interview. Of course, my question is: What do the data show?

A strong bias towards the GOP candidate among highly religious Americans is in essence the starting point for any modern American presidential campaign. My review of the data suggests that McCain so far is no exception. He has very big margins over Obama among highly religious voters across the board. McCain actually appears to be doing a little better among this group than did George W. Bush in 2000, although he’s doing a little worse than Geroge W. Bush did in 2004.

The same folks who think Maverick has a problem with the religious thought Rudy and Mitt would be fighting their way to the convention now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:40 AM


Out of Place (Corey Robin, June 23, 2008, The Nation)

Reformers and radicals must convince the subordinated and disenfranchised that they have rights and power. Conservatives are different. They are aggrieved and entitled--aggrieved because entitled--and already convinced of the righteousness of their cause and the inevitability of its triumph. They can play victim and victor with a conviction and dexterity the subaltern can only imagine, making them formidable claimants on our allegiance and affection. Whether we are rich or poor or somewhere in between, the conservative is, as Hugo Young said of Maggie Thatcher, one of us.

But how do they convince us that we are one of them? By making privilege democratic and democracy aristocratic. Every man, John Adams claimed, longs "to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired." To be praised, one must be seen, and the best way to be seen is to elevate oneself above one's circle. Even the American democrat, Adams reasoned, would rather rule over an inferior than dispossess a superior. His passion is for supremacy, not equality, and so long as he is assured an audience of lessers, he will be content with his lowly status:

Not only the poorest mechanic, but the man who lives upon common charity, nay the common beggars in the streets...court a set of admirers, and plume themselves on that superiority which they have, or fancy they have, over some others.... When a wretch could no longer attract the notice of a man, woman or child, he must be respectable in the eyes of his dog. "Who will love me then?" was the pathetic reply of one, who starved himself to feed his mastiff, to a charitable passenger who advised him to kill or sell the animal.

It took the American slaveholder to grasp the power of this insight. The best way to protect their class, the masters realized, was to democratize it. Make every man, or at least every white man, a master, and so invested would he be in his mastery that he'd work to keep all others in their place. The genius of the slaveholding class was that it was "not an exclusive aristocracy," wrote Daniel Hundley in Social Relations in Our Southern States (1860). "Every free white man in the whole Union has just as much right to become an Oligarch." To that end, Southern politicians attempted to pass legislation and provide tax breaks to ensure that every white man owned at least one slave.

Set aside for the moment the comparison of conservatives to Southern slaveowners--particularly ironic given the respective roles of the GOP and the Democrats as regards abolition--and there's an actual insight here. The Third Way/Ownership Society does in fact seek to create a universal aristocracy, or at least universalize independence and wealth. A system that afforded every American with an HSA, O'Neill account, education vouchers, private unemployment insurance, private SS account, etc., would render a society where most would be masters and none a slave. The Left, naturally, finds this prospect threatening because statism requires a vast constituency of dependents. One of the classic definitions of an aristocrat was someone who wielded political power for more than just himself--for his tenants, slaves, whatever--which is the sense in which aristocracy can be antidemocratic. Making people dependent on the state for their livelihood, so that you essentially control their vote, is the modern version of this antidemocratic problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:33 AM


A Duke Ellington for modern times (Garrison Keillor, June 11, 2008, IHT)

The year my father graduated from high school, Duke Ellington toured the country with his 15-piece orchestra, playing his hits "Mood Indigo" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" to ballrooms packed with his fans, but things being what they were, they traveled in a private railroad car because you just never knew if you could get a hotel room or a meal in a restaurant or be turned away by some jerk in a suit and tie.

They were all black, but Juan Tizol, the trombonist, was fairly light-skinned and had to wear blackface so nobody would think the band was integrated. Ellington didn't complain. He loved his work and he was cool and he didn't deign to address bigotry - he just played right through it.

That era is not so distant. A culture doesn't turn on a dime. Race is a part of this race, even though nobody wants to think so. But Obama has gifts that transcend race and his own slim resumé.

Even if we're being conservative, Duke Ellington is what? One of the two or three greatest musicians America has produced?

Meanwhile, as that "slim resume" betrays, Barack Obama just barely ranks in the top 100 legislators in the current Senate.

The comparison of the two does such a disservice to the former it's disgraceful.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


New iPhone a baseball fan's best friend (Mark Newman, 6/09/08, MLB.com)

That new iPhone that so many people are talking about right now will be available just before the All-Star break, and it will have one particularly impressive feature in addition to that 3G connectivity and corporate e-mail:


Major League Baseball Advanced Media designed a custom application called MLB At Bat exclusively for the iPhone 3G that was introduced amid much fanfare by Steve Jobs at Apple's WWDC keynote on Monday in San Francisco.

Jeremy Schoenherr and Rob Spychala, technical architects for MLB.com Mobile, played a role in that demonstration on the stage by unveiling the app. Images were carried on wire stories all over the Internet, showing how the national pastime once again will reach into another massive space in the population.

"It's a good example of the popularity of baseball," Adam Ritter, MLBAM's vice president of wireless, said from the event. "MLB At Bat will constantly update all the data of each game. You not only get to see all the data, but a couple of minutes after that, you get to see the play that put your team ahead or that great defensive play.

"It's going to be very exciting as a fan. You're going to get video and highlights in an application and see your favorite Major League players. You start with the quality of the content, and then consider the device itself, the screen resolution, the fact that it's twice as fast and will connect on wi-fi -- it just looks beautiful."

Didn't think I was the only guy who used his mobile phone only as a portable browser.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:59 AM


Pakistani army says U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed 11 Pakistani troops (The Associated Press, June 11, 2008)

Pakistan's army today accused the U.S.-led coalition of killing 11 Pakistani paramilitary troops in an airstrike along the volatile Afghan border.

The strike late Tuesday followed a reported clash between Afghan forces and Taliban militants in the same area. The Taliban said that eight of its fighters died in the skirmish.

A Pakistan army statement said the incident late Tuesday in Pakistan's Mohmand tribal region "had hit at the very basis of cooperation" between the two countries in the war on terror.

It would seem more likely that the threat we present to Pakistani forces is the only reason they will co-operate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


The Great Seduction (DAVID BROOKS, 6/11/08, NY Times)

The people who created this country built a moral structure around money. The Puritan legacy inhibited luxury and self-indulgence. Benjamin Franklin spread a practical gospel that emphasized hard work, temperance and frugality. Millions of parents, preachers, newspaper editors and teachers expounded the message. The result was quite remarkable.

The United States has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious and frugal.

Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded. The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country’s moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money. [...]

The deterioration of financial mores has meant two things. First, it’s meant an explosion of debt that inhibits social mobility and ruins lives. Between 1989 and 2001, credit-card debt nearly tripled, soaring from $238 billion to $692 billion. By last year, it was up to $937 billion, the report said.

Second, the transformation has led to a stark financial polarization. On the one hand, there is what the report calls the investor class. It has tax-deferred savings plans, as well as an army of financial advisers. On the other hand, there is the lottery class, people with little access to 401(k)’s or financial planning but plenty of access to payday lenders, credit cards and lottery agents.

That $900+ billion sounds awfully big, until you realize that it's about one sixtieth of our household net worth, then it sounds like George Bailey's account at Mr. Gower's store.

Posted by Bryan Francoeur at 8:45 AM


I went to Maine this past weekend with some friends. For four hours there and four hours back we listened to Randy Newman and NPR.

1) Why is Randy Newman famous? He can't sing (he mostly does that sing-speak thing that irritates me so much) He can't play the piano very well. Better than me, but not better than a talented fifth grader. His lyrics are all standard liberalism. It's not even that interesting liberalism. Rednecks suck. Conservatives suck. People who like America suck. People who disagree with Randy Newman suck. People who aren't as tolerant of diversity as Randy Newman suck. If you want music with funny, interesting, liberal lyrics, check out the Dead Kennedys. He says that he doesn't want to be known for novelty songs like Short People, but what else has he got? Every song that guy has ever written has been a novelty song. At least Weird Al revels in it rather than run away from it.

2) God, I can't stand NPR. I can't stand the way their announcers talk (is there an NPR style of announcing? They all sound the same). The funny thing that that I have people telling me about how listening to the news makes them angry and that they're angry all the time. I want to say, "Have you tried not listening to NPR 24 hours a day?" Bad things happen every second of every day somewhere in the world, and if you've resolved to be outraged by all of it, then, yes you're going to be ticked off most of the time. And NPR has that pseudo-intellectual "If I listen to this report on yak ranchers in outer Mongolia and nod appreciatively, then that must mean I'm intelligent, sensitive, intellectually curious and connected to the world around me! Aren't I a special person?" vibe going for it.

So, my plan to get terrorists to talk is to make them listen to NPR all day, except when Car Talk or music is on, then they get Randy Newman.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Reconsiderations: John Rawls and Our Plural Nation (MARTHA NUSSBAUM, June 11, 2008, NY Sun)

Rawls was already famous for "A Theory of Justice" (1971), one of the philosophical classics of the 20th century, which set out basic principles for a just society. Such a society, he argued, would commit itself to the greatest possible liberty that is compatible with a like liberty for all, and would also permit economic inequality only when that raised the level of the least well-off. Rawls never withdrew or in any major way altered the principles for which he had argued in that work. He also continued to endorse its most innovative philosophical device, the "Original Position," according to which political principles are imagined as selected by rational agents who are deprived of all information about their place in society (wealth, class, race, gender, religion, etc.) that would bias the design of principles in favor of their own situation. Rawls remained unswervingly committed to impartiality and equal respect as core political values, and to the selection procedure based upon these values.

In light of the growing religious presence in American public life, however, Rawls felt the need to augment and revise his great work, attempting to show people with deep religious convictions that they had good reason to accept principles that guaranteed liberty and fairness to all. The fruits of Rawls's decade of reflection on this problem became "Political Liberalism," a book less famous today than "A Theory of Justice," but even more urgently relevant for our own time, as we struggle, once again, with problems of religious solidarity and equal respect.

Rawls's "Political Liberalism" asks an urgent question: Can liberal constitutional democracy, built on values of mutual respect and reciprocity, be stable, or even survive, in a world of religious and secular pluralism? Or, to use his words, "[H]ow is it possible for there to exist over time a just and stable society of free and equal citizens who remain profoundly divided by reasonable religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines?"

The confusions there are myriad, but all delicious. In the first instance, it's important to note how spectacularly Rawls and company whiffed on the central political question of humankind, coming down on the French side, requiring equality of results, instead of the Anglo-American, requiring equality of opportunity. Continental Europe, which exemplifies their approach, is sliding into oblivion, while America isn't just stable but thriving.

Second, Europe's problem isn't just the statism that redistribution necessitates but precisely the secularism and multiculturalism that such statism intentionally brings with it. If it was once possible to argue that egalitie was at least well-intentioned, to advocate it today, when its failure is so spectacularly obvious that even France is finally ditching it, is tantamount to encouraging suicide. Sadly for Rawlsians, the religious seem an especially unlikely group to buy a sales pitch for cultural suicide.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Big Mac: The Taxpayer-Friendly Candidate (Lawrence Kudlow, 6/11/08, Real Clear Politics)

Sen. John McCain moved decisively to the supply-side Tuesday in a strong speech to the National Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C. For investors, small-business owner-operators, and the vast majority of middle-class Americans who go to work every day and are concerned about Sen. McCain's tax vision, this speech is good news. Big Mac is the taxpayer-friendly candidate. [...]

McCain pledged to keep taxes low for families and employers, putting himself squarely in Ronald Reagan's camp and offering to extend the long prosperity wave started by the Gipper over twenty-five years ago. In contrast, McCain charged Obama -- who gave his economic speech on Monday -- with proposing the single-biggest tax hike in the entire post-WWII period.

McCain asserted that "no matter which of us wins in November, there will be change in Washington. The question is what kind of change?" Obama says a McCain victory will hand Bush a third term. McCain says an Obama victory gives Jimmy Carter a second term.

I think McCain gets it right.

Huh? If Maverick's serious about cutting taxes then his presidency would be an extension of W's and conspicuously at odds with the Gipper's.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


The McCain Miracle (Michael Gerson, 6/11/08, Real Clear Politics)

The personal miracle of McCain's presidential run is even more extraordinary. It is obvious -- and therefore often unstated -- that the journey from a 4-by-6-foot Viet Cong cell to the 36-by-29-foot Oval Office would be unprecedented. It would be as though George Washington were captured by the British, who snapped his legs in a torture cell; or Ulysses Grant were nearly starved to death at Andersonville Prison; or Dwight Eisenhower had been interrogated and beaten by the Gestapo in a German Stalag. All three, I imagine, would have been honorable, defiant and arrogant enough to survive. But McCain has proved it.

McCain's experience, unlike some war stories, grows more shockingly impressive upon examination. Physical courage and mental toughness may not be requirements for the presidency, but they are at least as relevant as service in the Illinois Legislature. And McCain's election as president would, in its own way, be historic -- finally and fully honoring the lessons of heroism that came out of America's conflicted experience of Vietnam.

All these experiences, political and personal, have created a unique candidate -- a man more driven by instincts of honor than ideology, predisposed to believe in his own virtue, equally predisposed to confuse opposition with dishonor. At its worst, this approach has alienated many of his Senate colleagues and reportedly led McCain to the brink of leaving the Republican Party in 2001, more out of pique than principle. At its best, this approach has seemed like a populist, reform-minded conservatism, aimed at breaking up concentrated, selfish interests that threaten the public good -- from his campaign against big tobacco, to his anger at inflated corporate salaries, to his disgust with congressional earmarks and pork-barrel spending, to his support for increased automobile fuel efficiency standards and a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions.

...though Maverick's story does border on the miraculous, his supporters feel no need to worship him, while Senator Obama has done next to nothing and the Left thinks he's the messiah.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:28 AM


Eliot Asinof, ‘Eight Men Out’ Author, Is Dead at 88 (BRUCE WEBER, 6/11/08, NY Times)

A writer whose shrewdness and insight trumped his style, which was plainspoken and realistic, Mr. Asinof was productive and versatile. He wrote more than a dozen books, including a novel, “Final Judgment,” that is set on a college campus and concerns a protest to keep President Bush from delivering a commencement address, and is to be published in September by Bunim & Bannigan.

Weeks before his death, his son said, Mr. Asinof completed a memoir of his World War II service in the Army Corps on Adak Island in the Aleutians. “Seven Days to Sunday,” his 1968 account of a week in the life of the New York Giants football team as it prepared for a game, was an early if not groundbreaking enterprise of journalistic embedding in the world of sports.

His first novel, “Man on Spikes,” published in 1955 and based on a longtime friend who spent years in the minor leagues, was a prescient condemnation of baseball’s feudal control over the players. That system was not dissolved until 1975 with the abolition of the so-called reserve clause in standard contracts, which allowed teams to retain in virtual perpetuity the services of players in their employ.

Mr. Asinof also wrote for television and the movies, although his published credits were limited, probably because he was among the many writers who were blacklisted in the 1950s. In his case, he once wrote after he got hold of his F.B.I. file, the blacklisting came about because “I had at one time signed a petition outside of Yankee Stadium to encourage the New York Yankees to hire black ballplayers.”

But he is best known for “Eight Men Out,” published in 1963, and for the 1988 movie of the same title.

The book is an exhaustively reported and slightly fictionalized account of how eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox allowed their anger at the parsimonious team owner, Charles Comiskey, to corrupt their integrity, leading them to welcome the overtures of gamblers, who persuaded them to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. A seminal event in the history of the game, it led to the appointment of the first baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

Mr. Asinof spent nearly three years researching the book, including interviewing the two members of the team, Joe Jackson and Happy Feltsch, who were still alive. In the end, “Eight Men Out” was a book that made plain the connection between sport and money and between sport and the underworld. “Here is the underbelly of baseball vividly dissected,” said Fay Vincent, the former baseball commissioner.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Five To Watch (Other Than the Obvious Two) (TONY DEAR, June 11, 2008, NY Sun)

With nine Buick Invitational wins at Torrey Pines between them, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are obvious contenders this week. There are too many good players in good form for it to be a two-man show, however. Here are five more who are definitely capable of stealing the limelight.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Krauss and Plant get back to the roots (Steve Klinge, 6/11/08, The Inquirer)

When first rumored, the pairing of rock god Robert Plant and bluegrass lass Alison Krauss threatened to be a clash of sensibilities.

But last year's Grammy-winning album Raising Sand proved otherwise. With the help of producer and bandleader T-Bone Burnett, the two found common ground in eerie, swampy American roots music that mixed blues, early rock-and-roll, and country ballads. [...]

[Y]es, they did a few Zeppelin classics: "Rock and Roll" as a slow, sexy ballad, with Plant signaling for the backing "ahh-ahhs" from the sold-out audience that skewed in age closer to Plant's 59 than Krauss' 37; "The Ballad of Evermore" as a mandolin-backed duet; and "Black Country Woman," amped-up and banjo-driven, with Krauss shouting along with Plant.

Those shouts shocked, because Krauss has made a virtue of restraint throughout her career. She looked demure in a backless black blouse and black slacks, and her smiles seemed shy, but her singing and fiddling were anything but: this was a meeting of equals. Her leads on the a cappella "Down to the River to Pray," with Duncan, Plant and Miller doing close harmonies, and on the ancient folk ballad "Mattie Groves" (inserted in the middle of Plant's "In the Mood") were highlights.

After a hand-clapping romp through the gospel classic "You Don't Knock" and a loose and joyful version of George Jones' "One Woman Man," the encore ended with its most beautiful moment: Krauss singing lead with Plant in subtle harmony on the sad valedictory ballad "Long Journey Home."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Iraqis Condemn American Demands: Sides Negotiating U.S. Military Role (Amit R. Paley and Karen DeYoung, 6/10/08, Washington Post)

High-level negotiations over the future role of the U.S. military in Iraq have turned into an increasingly acrimonious public debate, with Iraqi politicians denouncing what they say are U.S. demands to maintain nearly 60 bases in their country indefinitely.

Top Iraqi officials are calling for a radical reduction of the U.S. military's role here after the U.N. mandate authorizing its presence expires at the end of this year. Encouraged by recent Iraqi military successes, government officials have said that the United States should agree to confine American troops to military bases unless the Iraqis ask for their assistance, with some saying Iraq might be better off without them.

"The Americans are making demands that would lead to the colonization of Iraq," said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician on parliament's foreign relations committee who is close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. "If we can't reach a fair agreement, many people think we should say, 'Goodbye, U.S. troops. We don't need you here anymore.' "

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Top Iranian Mullahs Corrupt, Official Says (Kenneth R. Timmerman, 6/10/08, NewsMax)

A senior official with Iran’s Parliamentary Investigations committee, Abbas Palizar] called the regime’s judiciary branch “the center of economic corruption.” Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi was appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 1999, and remains a close ally of the leader, making an attack on him extremely sensitive.

Palizar said the judiciary and the State Inspectorate Organization had refused to cooperate with the Majles (parliament) investigations into corruption, and had put its members on “forced leave” to prevent them from giving testimony.

It took over a year for Palizar and his investigators to access the files on the numerous corruption investigations that were closed without prosecution.

But what he found was stunning, he said.

“One of these clerics came and said that he had a disabled son and wanted to build a physical therapy center where he could be treated. So we registered the center for him.

"Then he asked for financial support, and demanded that we give him the license to operate the Dehbid stone quarry in Fars province, a company that has the some of the best marble in the world. After that, he said this was not enough, and he asked for a license to operate another quarry in Zanjan province. Now he operates four quarries and a physical therapy center.”

Palizar was reluctant to name the cleric, but when students pressed him, he identified him as Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, a prominent member of the Council of Guardians and one of four temporary Friday prayer leaders in Tehran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


Blue Dogs look beyond '08 election (PATRICK O'CONNOR, 6/11/08, Politico)

Rep. Jim Cooper never misses a chance to talk about the federal government’s swelling financial obligations. But the Tennessee Democrat clams up when asked about a conversation he had on the topic with his party’s likely presidential nominee, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

“I’ll let his campaign speak to his position on this issue,” Cooper says.

Cooper’s silence is understandable: Although the party that takes power next year will have to address deficit reduction and entitlement reform, those issues — especially when they involve painful changes to Social Security and Medicare — are too hot to touch during a presidential election campaign.

Having not helped W reform SS, they've lost what little credibility they had in the post-Clinton era.

June 10, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 PM


Ahmadinejad Faces Heavyweight Foe in Larijani (Omid Memarian, 6/10/08, IPS)

This week, Iran's new speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani, proposed forming two joint committees of the legislative and judiciary branches in an effort to reconcile new legislation with the Islamic penal code.

The step is viewed as part of Larinaji's enthusiasm to build strategic alliances within Iran's political establishment to enhance the stature of Parliament, which been criticised for a lack of independence and efficiency in the past four years.

Larijani is expected to be a serious critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the coming years. He has close ties to new technocrat leaders, such as the former head of the Revolutionary Guard, Mohsen Rezaii, and the popular mayor of Tehran, Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf -- considered the leading potential rival of Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential elections.

Larijani is also one of the closest and most loyal politicians to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- who has reportedly called him "my son" in private gatherings -- and the traditional fundamentalist clergy. Over the past two decades, Larijani has held some of the highest appointed positions in the country, such as the supreme leader's representative on the National Security Council and Expediency Council. The position of speaker of Parliament is his first elected office.

Larijani is the son of a grand ayatollah and is son-in-law to Ayatollah Motahari, a cleric for whom Khamenei holds great respect. Over the past 20 years, he has maintained a close relationship with fundamentalist clergy, to the point where prior to running in the parliamentary elections, he visited many leading clerics in Qom, later stating that his candidacy was a direct result of their urging. [...]

In the 2004 elections, out of eight presidential candidates, Larijani came in seventh, but he never accepted Ahmadinejad as his boss, acting as though they were equals. For his part, Ahmadinejad was determined to take back Larijani's appointment to the National Security Council from the supreme leader. Perhaps Larijani realised too late that he may have acted hastily in accepting Khamenei's consolation prize for his failure in the elections.

Though Larijani never explicitly addressed his differences with Ahmadinejad in public, he was vociferous in attacking his policies in private. In the political atmosphere of Iran, this endeared Larijani to analysts and the public, somewhat mitigating the negative memories of his mismanagement of the nuclear negotiations.

What makes Larijani unpopular among most reformists and even some conservatives in Iran is his utter devotion to Khamenei. [...]

Larijani's presence in the Iranian Parliament while Ahmadinejad aspires to a second term has generated excitement in political circles. With skyrocketing oil revenues accompanied by out-of-control inflation rates, soaring costs of living and the international threats looming over the country, the Iranian Parliament will face growing pressure from Iranians to do something about Ahmadinejad's performance. This could lead to a rift between the government and parliament.

Larijani enjoys a strong political background and is generally a decisive and charismatic politician. When the fundamentalist majority representatives gathered to vote for their leadership, he won 160 of 227 votes, with former speaker Haddad Adel receiving only 50 votes.

At the same time, Larijani is known for his unquestionable obedience to the supreme leader, and depending on Khamenei's outlook and decisions, Larijani will not have a lot of room to manoeuvre. If the supreme leader orders a stop to Ahmadinejad's wasteful economic and political plans, however, Larijani is the man who will be capable of mobilising resistance in parliament.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 PM


Lesbos islanders in bid to reclaim the term 'lesbian' from homosexual women (Paul Anast, 11/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

Residents on the Greek island of Lesbos have begun a legal battle to reclaim the term "lesbian" from homosexual women.

A group from the Aegean island claim that the international dominance of the word in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders and disgraces them around the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Suspected U.S. missile fired in NW Pakistan (Reuters, June 10, 2008)

A pilotless U.S. drone was suspected to have fired a missile into a Pakistani area on the Afghan border on Tuesday, but there was no word on the target or casualties, a government official said.

The missile was thought to have been fired into the Mohmand ethnic Pashtun tribal area in northwest Pakistan where this year, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft have struck at least four sites used by al Qaeda operatives, killing dozens of suspected militants.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 PM


Josef Centeno's bäco -- think gyro-pizza-taco -- is a saucy, street-savvy creation: It comes in five variations of flatbreads, sauces and fillings for lunch at Lot 1 in Echo Park, and why not try it at home? (Amy Scattergood, June 11, 2008, LA Times)

The bäco, Centeno's signature hybrid dish ("It looks like a gyro, has the feel of pizza, you eat it like a taco") has trailed him from restaurant to restaurant; now -- in five variations on an all-bäco lunch menu -- it's come to rest in these scrappy new digs.

Like many great dishes, the bäco -- rhymes with taco -- has an accidental provenance. Years ago, after a long night at Meson G, the now-closed Hollywood restaurant where Centeno was then executive chef, he was cooking for his hungry staff. He took some of his flatbreads and piled them high with a choice pick of what was at hand in the kitchen: pork belly, short ribs, smoked paprika aioli -- even some of the salbitxada sauce (a garlicky almond-tomato Catalonian sauce) that had been paired with the ribs.

It was a messy, lip-smacking, utterly delectable invention -- improvised street food with a global pedigree.

It was also a measure of the way Centeno thinks about food: His dishes are built from a crazy quilt of components with the spinning machinery of logic and imagination, curiosity and technique.

CENTENO took his bäco with him to Opus, where he refined it at the "family meal" (as the informal meals that chefs cook for their staff are called) and, at the suggestion of friends, put it on the menu. [...]

Centeno's bäco is, as the name and its umlaut imply, a crossbreed, even something of a mutt. To make one at home, spread a supple Middle Eastern-inspired flatbread with a mix of sauces that combines elements of Spanish, Greek, Mexican, African and French cuisines, then work your way up, ingredient by ingredient.

...but it's darn American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 PM


Minnesota Dems leery of Franken’s past (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 6/10/08, Politico)

Republicans have made Franken’s past comments a central part of their media strategy. The state party has compiled a treasure trove of Franken’s most controversial material, which the party has already leaked out on a selective basis — and GOP operatives hint that there’s a lot more to come.

He’s been facing criticism over the 2000 column he wrote for Playboy, titled “Porn-O-Rama,” describing a visit to an imaginary sex institute where he takes part in sexual acts with humans and machines — replete with graphic sexual descriptions.

The state Republican Party also called attention to a 1995 New York magazine article quoting Franken as joking about a potential “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which Andy Rooney discusses raping CBS news correspondent Lesley Stahl. The skit never aired.

“The thing I don’t understand about Al Franken is how he thought those jokes were funny,” said Steven Schier, a political science professor at Minnesota’s Carleton College. “The biggest failing of any comedian is failing to be funny.”

If he were funny he'd be conservative.
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:35 PM


Report: Gitmo inmates suffer mental damage:
Human Rights Watch warns of impact 'harsh' conditions have on detainees (MSNBC, 6/10/08)

Over two-thirds of the detainees in the Guantanamo Bay prison are suffering from or at risk of mental health problems because they are kept isolated in small cells with little light or fresh air, according to Human Rights Watch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Democratic Congressman Won't Endorse Obama (Jake Tapper, June 10, 2008, Political Punch)

And Democratic officials do not expect [Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla] to be the last to refrain from making a show of not backing his party's presumptive presidential nominee -- though Boren says he will vote for Obama for president in November.

Other House Democrats from swing districts -- Democrats who eked out victories in traditionally GOP districts, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calls her "majority makers" -- may refrain from even attending their party's convention in Denver in August.

Boren noted that Obama had earned the National Journal's controversial rating as "Most Liberal" U.S. Senator in 2007, and saying though he talks a good game on working with Republicans, "unfortunately, his record does not reflect working in a bipartisan fashion."

And they wonder how the GOP has kept them from fulfilling any of their campaign promises?

Webb's rebel roots: An affinity for Confederacy (DAVID MARK, 6/10/08, Politico)

Barack Obama’s vice presidential vetting team will undoubtedly run across some quirky and potentially troublesome issues as it goes about the business of scouring the backgrounds of possible running mates. But it’s unlikely they’ll find one so curious as Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb’s affinity for the cause of the Confederacy.

Webb is no mere student of the Civil War era. He’s an author, too, and he’s left a trail of writings and statements about one of the rawest and most sensitive topics in American history.

He has suggested many times that while the Confederacy is a symbol to many of the racist legacy of slavery and segregation, for others it simply reflects Southern pride. In a June 1990 speech in front of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, posted on his personal website, he lauded the rebels’ “gallantry,” which he said “is still misunderstood by most Americans.”

Webb, a descendant of Confederate officers, also voiced sympathy for the notion of state sovereignty as it was understood in the early 1860s, and seemed to suggest that states were justified in trying to secede.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:53 PM


'Dead' man wakes as transplant surgeons prepare to remove his organs (Henry Samuel, 10/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

A man whose heart had stopped beating woke up just as surgeons were about to remove his organs for donation, it was disclosed yesterday.

There's an obvious problem with having "care-givers" who have a vested interest in your death.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:04 PM


Senate GOP blocks oil taxes (Associated Press, June 10, 2008)

Senate Republicans blocked a proposal today to tax the windfall profits of the largest oil companies, despite pleas by Democratic leaders to use the measure to address America's anger over $4 a gallon gasoline. [...]

"The American people are clamoring for relief at the pump," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., but if taxes are increased on the oil companies "they will get exactly what they don't want. The bill will raise taxes, increase imports."

...to make gas more expensive, but suicidal politics unless tied to cuts and simplifications in other taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


...but it's still interesting that this election offers one of the most conservative Senators vs. one of the most liberal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:27 PM


Charter schools fare better academically than L. A. Unified peers, report says: But some education experts question the validity of the survey, which relied heavily on test scores for comparisons. (Mitchell Landsberg, 6/10/08, Los Angeles Times)

It's the $64,000 question of public education: Are charter schools better than their traditional public school counterparts?

A report to be released today from the California Charter Schools Assn. takes a crack at it, comparing charter schools in Los Angeles with their traditional peers. Its conclusion is that charters generally perform better academically than nearby regular public schools, and that charters improve as they age. [...]

"It's pretty significant that seven out of 10 charters actually outperform their most similarly matched district public school," said Caprice Young, chief executive of the charter schools association, citing one finding in the report. She said the study was intended to answer the question parents are most likely to ask: How does their local charter school stack up against the nearest comparable regular schools?

It found that charter schools did especially well in educating African American students and that charters show some of their strongest success in middle schools, whose traditional counterparts have been stubbornly resistant to progress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


String of Brutal Rabbit Murders Haunts Germany (Charles Hawley, 6/10/08, Der Spiegel)

A disgusting spree of brutal killings continues to haunt Dortmund. Over 40 pet rabbits have been killed, with many bled dry and decapitated. So far, police are clueless.

Here's an artist's rendering of the suspect.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM

The Hold Steady is streaming their entire new album at their MySpace page.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Mr. Obama's Neighborhood: The Democratic candidate has made his home in Chicago's Hyde Park, a place that's not like any other in America. (Andrew Ferguson, 06/16/2008, Weekly Standard)

When Barack Obama was briefly embarrassed earlier this year by his association with the onetime bomb-builder and wannabe bomb-exploder William Ayers, he blamed his neighborhood, sort of. "He's a guy who lives in my neighborhood," Obama said with a shrug, as if to say, "Don't we all have to put up with these cranky old domestic terrorists wandering through the yard?" But of course not every neighborhood has a former Weatherman and his wife, former Weathermoll Bernardine Dohrn, living in it, especially not as twin pillars of the community. [...]

A friend once described Hyde Park as "Berkeley with snow," and it does indeed have the same graduate-student flavor, the same political activism and boho intellectualism, the same alarmingly high number of men wandering about looking like NPR announcers--the wispy beards and wire rims, the pressed jeans and unscuffed sneakers, the backpacks and the bikes. (This is a pretty good description of William Ayers, by the way.) But the similarities can be overdone. "Not 'Berkeley with snow,'  " a U. of C. professor said, when I mentioned my friend's comment to him. "It's the snow that keeps us from being Berkeley. The snow and the cold keep the street people away. It drives everyone inside. You don't have all the students who dropped out of school or graduated and refused to leave. If they stay, they do something. If not, they get out of town. It's too cold just to hang around."

This contributes to the neighborhood's relatively low crime rate and, in part, to the university's reputation as a home for squares and nerds, a buttoned-down "bastion of conservatism," in the phrase of one magazine writer. And the conservatism, by popular account, infects the neighborhood at large, tempers its politics, and adds to its diversity. But the reputation for right-wingery is based on a simple if imprecise bit of data that shocks the delicate sensibilities of college professors: Of the tens of thousands of faculty who have taught at the University of Chicago over the past half-century, perhaps as many as 65 have, at some point in their lives, voted for a Republican. Many of these insurgents were either disciples of the university's most famous faculty member, the free-market economist Milton Friedman, or were drawn to the school because of him; others came under the influence of Allan Bloom, the Straussian philosopher, who ran the university's Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy, along with a few classically minded scholars. Bloom is dead. So is Friedman. The Olin Center closed its doors in 2005. Their disciples and colleagues who remain at the university aren't getting any younger. It's unlikely that the school's wobbly reputation for conservatism, and the neighborhood's, will survive them.

The reputation for diversity, though, probably will survive. It's not often noted that the neighborhood's diversity has its limits. "In Hyde Park," a resident told me, " 'integration' means white people and black people." The nation's fastest growing ethnic group, Hispanics, is scarcely represented at all; same for Asians. The neighborhood is better known as a haven for the black upper class, especially those who don't want to move to an all-white suburb but also don't want the crime risks and miserable schools associated with the neighborhoods to the immediate south, west, and north. Some of these people are famous--Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor, lived in an apartment by the lake, and Muhammad Ali lived down the block from Louis Farrakhan, who lives in Elijah Muhammad's old digs, around the corner from the house of Joe Louis's widow. Most are lawyers and business executives from the Loop, doctors and technicians from the university hospital center, administrators and professors from the university--united to the white upper class through shared politics and aspirations, and delighting in, congratulating one another on, their unique neighborhood.

Hyde Park has always been relatively affluent, but the neighborhood's character was changed forever beginning in the mid-1950s, when university officials orchestrated an ambitious scheme of urban renewal, paid for by the city and federal governments. The project was the first of its kind in Chicago, and one of the first in the country, and it served for a generation as a model for other cities, for better or worse--usually worse. But in Hyde Park urban renewal worked like a Swiss watch.

"You have to understand the mindset," a neighborhood preservationist, Jack Spicer, told me. "In the middle of the 1950s, the university thought they were in the middle of an emergency. Alarms were going off everywhere." All around Hyde Park, white flight was transforming Chicago, goosed by racial panic and the sleazy importunities of "blockbusters"--real estate speculators who bought the houses of fleeing whites at fire-sale prices, then flipped them at a high profit to incoming blacks. "The university figured Hyde Park was next," Spicer said. The school was having trouble attracting students and faculty. Administrators considered moving the campus to Arizona or New Mexico--anywhere pleasant--but balked at the expense. At last they decided that if they couldn't move to a nice neighborhood, they would make their neighborhood nice.

The aim of urban renewal in Hyde Park, according to the university's president, was "to buy, control, and rebuild our neighborhood" until it was a "community of similar tastes and interests." [...]

By Chicago standards, Obama's sweetheart real estate deal with the convicted fixer Tony Rezko--who purchasd the lot next to the house Obama was buying, effectively giving him a bigger yard for free--is almost beneath comment: a cost of doing business or a small professional benefit, typical of machine-backed pols and reformers alike. None of the progressive politicos I spoke with in Hyde Park considered it dismaying--"disappointing," as one oldtimer said, but hardly disqualifying. Most found in Obama instead a mint-perfect expression of their particular brand of politics.

"Barack is perfect for the neighborhood!" Rabbi Arnold Wolf told me, when I stopped by his Hyde Park house one afternoon for a talk. He's as round and white-bearded as Santa, with the same twinkle. He came to Hyde Park before urban renewal and saw its effects firsthand. For 25 years he led the congregation at KAM Isaiah Israel, a synagogue across the street from Obama's mansion. (Recently, the Secret Service contingent has been using its bathrooms.)

"You can't say Barack's a product of Hyde Park. He's not really from here. But everybody saw the potential early on. We had a party for him at our house when he was just starting, back in the Nineties. I said right away: 'Here's a guy who could sell our product, and sell it with splendor!' "

I asked him what the Hyde Park product was.

"People think we're radicals here, wild-eyed!" he said. "Bill Ayers--I know Bill Ayers very well. Bill Ayers is an aging, toothless radical. A pussycat. And his wife, too. I sat on a commission with his wife a few years ago. My god, she was more critical of the left than I was! The two of them, they're utterly conventional people. They had a violent streak at one time. But now--they're thoroughly conventional, just very nice, well-educated people from the neighborhood."

As it happened, I'd spent the evening before reading Ayers's blog, and lingered over a manifesto he posted in early April, after his friendship with Obama became national news. "I've never advocated terrorism," Ayers wrote, "never participated in it, never defended it. The U.S. government, by contrast, does it routinely and defends the use of it in its own cause consistently." Capitalism, he went on, "is exhausted as a force for progress: built on exploitation, theft, conquest, war, and racism, capitalism and imperialism must be defeated and a world revolution--a revolution against war and racism and materialism, a revolution based on human solidarity and love" and so on.

Just another guy in the neighborhood.

But back to the product Obama could sell?

"The thing is, it's not what you might think," Rabbi Wolf said. "It's not radical. It's not extreme. It's a rational, progressive philosophy based on experience. You see it here. This neighborhood is genuinely integrated. We did it here, we really did it! Not just talk about it. Look around. And Barack and his family fit right in. This is their neighborhood."

As he walked me to the door he mused about the urban renewal that created the new Hyde Park. He said he'd always been ambivalent about it.

"Even at the time, you could see the university was saving us, and it was destroying us," he said. "It was keeping us afloat, but it was also taking away the old characteristics, the old buildings, the old trees, the old roots. But it made the neighborhood different, unique. You notice there's no class conflict here."

He twinkled.

"That's because there's only one class--upper!"

The irony would be funny if it weren't so jarring: Black America, after 400 years of enforced second-class status, offers the country a plausible presidential candidate, and what's the charge made against him? He's an elitist.

Segregation by race, bad. Segregation by class, good.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Mr. Sununu Goes to Washington: The political philosophy of an actual politician. (P.J. O'Rourke, 06/16/2008, Weekly Standard)

I went to see Senator Sununu at his office in the Russell Building and said that I assumed he had a political philosophy. "I like to think so," he replied. "But it's not something I have written down on an index card."

As a gut reaction conservative myself, I take the senator's point. In fact, however, Senator Sununu could write his political philosophy on a small piece of paper: "I have a deep-seated belief that America is unique, strong, great because of a commitment to personal freedom--in our economic system and our politics. We are a free people who consented to be governed. Not vice-versa." (Italics added for the sake of the multitudes in our government's executive, legislative, and judicial branches who need to fill out that index card and keep it with them at all times. And if the multitudes are confused by "Not vice-versa" they may substitute, We aren't a government that consents to people being free.)

"It's important for politicians to understand," Senator Sununu said, "that the Founders' writings reflect that point of view. From Jefferson to Hamilton, freedom was the special ingredient in human prospects, moral prospects, political prospects. The argument was over what government mechanism would ensure common good and guarantee freedom. There was no argument about whether we were free people. In most parts of the world there never has been an appreciation for that perspective. Governments have evolved to provide greater freedom, to reduce the power of monarchies, to reduce absolute power."

When, indeed, governments have evolved at all. Darwin, if he'd studied Russia instead of Galapagos finches, would have come up with the theory of "survival of the filthiest." Senator Sununu wants a government mechanism without the innumerable moving parts that collect goo and sludge: "Just because something is a good idea doesn't mean it should be a law--let alone a federal law. That's where I begin," he said, "with a firm belief that people in the United States are best served by limited and effective government."

He gave the example of low taxes, but from a philosophical angle--low taxes respect the prerogatives of free people. "Taxes," Senator Sununu said, "are a confiscation of economic power."

Another of the senator's examples was "local governance to the greatest extent possible." The importance of local governance may not be obvious to an America accustomed to treating city and state downfalls with doses of federal comeuppance. Sometimes there's a reason for that--the Civil War. More often, all reasoning seems absent--No Child Left Behind.

But Senator Sununu was arguing mechanical engineering not ratiocination. I knew what he meant because, some months before, I'd discussed the same subject with his father, a former governor of New Hampshire and Bush 41's White House chief of staff, John Sununu. The governor is himself an engineer and no mean political philosopher. Governor Sununu explained the importance of the "short control loop." Your shower faucets are a short control loop. You turn on the cold faucet, the shower is cold. You turn on the hot faucet, the shower is hot. You fiddle with both faucets, and you take a shower. Now imagine your second-story bathroom has its shower faucets in the basement. That's a long control loop. You turn the water on, climb the steps and get in the shower. It's too cold. You wrap yourself in a towel, go down two flights of stairs dripping water all over the house, go back upstairs. It's too hot. You go back downstairs, etc. "If your federal taxes go up," the governor said, "doing something about it is a protracted process. If your local property taxes go up, you walk over to the town tax collector's house and give him a piece of your mind. So who's more likely to raise your taxes? People in Washington? Or people next door?"

Senator Sununu's political philosophy is consensual government of the short control loop kind. Not only does this make government more responsive to us consenters but it also minimizes government's assumptions about the amount of stuff we've consented to.

I asked the senator, "What does this philosophy require from citizens?" He looked stumped.

There are so many easy answers to that question. Enlightened self-interest. Love of country. Tolerance. Inclusiveness. Blah. Blah. Blah. I felt stupid for asking and heartened by the senator's pause. (We were talking about the limitations of government not the limitations of humans, which is another branch of moral philosophy entirely.) It was as if I'd asked a policeman, "Given the responsibilities and restraints of your position as a law officer, what do you believe that criminals should do?" Actually, I apologize again. That's a lousy analogy considering how Senator Sununu's philosophy is based on the idea that Americans are anything but antisocial. But you see what I'm getting at. Given the consent of the governed, political philosophy is all about the consent. What the governed do is their own business, except in the specific areas of life where the governed have agreed to have government. There are no thought crimes, no philosophical felonies, among a free people. Citizens shouldn't break the law if they can help it, but that hardly merits saying.

What Senator Sununu said instead was, "A responsibility that citizens share is to educate themselves before they cast a vote." But he added, "A responsibility does not mean it's a prerequisite."

One notes the irony that Mr. O'Rourke cites with approval the notion that citizens need to be educated for the system to work just paragraphs after denying that the system has an interest in educating the citizenry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Pakistan’s Phantom Border: Pakistan is often called the most dangerous country on earth. Increasingly, its people would agree. Despite nearly $6 billion in U.S. military aid for the border region since 9/11, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and homegrown terrorist groups have eroded the border with Afghanistan, inflicting a steady toll of suicide bombings. Going where few Westerners dare—from Taliban strongholds to undercover-police headquarters—the author sees what’s tearing the country apart. (Janine di Giovanni, June 10, 2008, Vanity Fair)

Pakistan’s border trouble is concentrated in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a mountainous, semi-autonomous no-man’s-land that abuts Afghanistan, is home to three million people, and is off limits to foreigners and to most Pakistanis. (This is the rugged area where many believe Osama bin Laden is hiding.) Since 9/11, America has pumped in nearly $6 billion to aid the country’s military in catching terrorists who operate out of the Tribal Areas and other border regions, but so far, at least from Washington’s vantage point, there hasn’t been much return on the investment. A scathing report by the Government Accountability Office, released in April, noted that there is still “no comprehensive plan for meeting U.S. national-security goals” in the Tribal Areas.

On the ground in Pakistan’s border regions—where the recently elected Pakistani government has further angered the U.S. by negotiating truces with militants—things look far worse. [...]

In a grimy office on a backstreet in Peshawar, I meet a Pakistani reporter from the Tribal Areas who has strong links with the Taliban (and doesn’t want me to use his name). He offers tea and asks if I want to watch a video of a Pakistani informer getting beheaded. (No thanks.) He is facilitating a meeting for me with a Taliban commander and gets on his two cell phones trying to reach the man who, it turns out, is having “security” problems in coming to meet us. He is stuck in traffic on the way to Kohat, a garrison town in the N.W.F.P., because the Pakistani Army is conducting a raid.

The journalist, like many people inside and outside Pakistan, sees the roots of the conflict in the Cold War, when the U.S. aided the Afghan mujahideen in fighting the Soviets. “People blame America for bringing their war to our land,” he says vehemently. “Tribal people had no idea about jihad before that.”

The people he is referring to are primarily Pashtun tribesmen. The Tribal Areas, originally delineated by the British as a buffer between the Raj and the Russian Empire, operate today under an ancient set of laws known as Pashtunwali, the Pashtun code of honor. The Pashtuns, who also make up a significant portion of Afghanistan’s population, have always been bound on either side of the border by fierce cultural, emotional, and social ties. As one Pashtun saying goes: “Me against my brother, my brother and me against our cousins, and we and our cousins against the enemy.” (The same expression is also used by Palestinians.)

Here, people protect their own. For the most part, honor prohibits one Pashtun from fighting or killing another. Further complicating the war against the extremists is the fact that soldiers of the Frontier Corps, the federal paramilitary force that has taken the brunt of the fight against the Taliban, are usually from the same Pashtun tribe as the men they are trying to catch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 AM


Mark Steyn: Enemy of the State?: The Steyn hearing proceeded with all the marsupial ungainliness of a kangaroo court. (Rich Lowry, 6/10/08, National Review)

The Canadian Islamic Congress took offense. In the normal course of things, that would mean speaking or writing to counter Steyn. Not in 21st-century Canada, where the old liberal rallying cry “I hate what you say, but will fight for your right to say it” no longer applies.

The country is dotted with human-rights commissions. At first, they typically heard discrimination suits against businesses. But since that didn’t create much work, the commissions branched out into policing “hate” speech. Initially, they targeted neo-Nazis; then religious figures for their condemnations of homosexuality; and now Maclean’s and Steyn.

The new rallying cry is, “If I hate what you say, I’ll accuse you of hate.” The Canadian Islamic Council got the Human Rights Tribunal in British Columbia and the national Canadian Human Rights Commission (where proceedings are still pending) to agree to hear its complaint. It had to like its odds.

The national commission has never found anyone innocent in 31 years. It is set up for classic Alice-in-Wonderland “verdict first, trial later” justice. Canada’s Human Rights Act defines hate speech as speech “likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt.” The language is so capacious and vague that to be accused is tantamount to being found guilty.

Unlike in defamation law, truth is no defense, and there’s no obligation to prove harm. One of the principal investigators of the Canadian Human Rights Commission was asked in a hearing what value he puts on freedom of speech in his work, and replied, “Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don’t give it any value.” Clearly.

Now we're offended.

June 9, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Smarter Flies Die Earlier Than Stupid Ones, Scientists Find (Marc Wolfensberger, 6/08/08, Bloomberg)

Fruit flies that are more mentally developed die at an earlier age than their more ignorant counterparts, a study by scientists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland showed.

Researchers Joep Burger and Tadeusz Kawecki managed to boost the mental capacity of a group of flies by teaching them how to associate a smell with a taste, such as with a sweet or sour drink, or an unpleasant experience like the rattling of a box they were in. Over 30 to 40 generations, the insects developed better memory or the ability to avoid the rattling box, the researchers found.

``Still, we rapidly discovered that these flies lived shorter lives,'' Burger said today in a telephone interview. The other group, left in a natural state, lived 80-85 days on average compared with 50-60 days for the more intelligent ones, he said.

As Jay points out, they're just replicating the secular Rationalist experiment, which has the Brightest societies dying off like there's no tomorrow and our Stupid one moving from strength to strength.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


A Spanking Might Beat Ritalin (Nancy Shute, 6/09/08, US News)

Over the years I've talked with Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif., about how society deals with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He often prescribes Ritalin for children with ADHD, but he also thinks that Ritalin is prescribed too often. He seems like a thoughtful, reasonable guy. So imagine my surprise when I saw an article by Diller in which he asked: "Could it be that America would rather give unruly kids a pill than a swat?" Spanking instead of Ritalin? Wow. So I called him and asked what's up. Excerpts:

Spanking is probably the most controversial issue in child rearing. You treat children with ADHD. What on earth compelled you to write that spanking may not be so bad?

I was provoked. About a year ago, a California assemblywoman from the South Bay put out a proposal to make the spanking of children 3 years old and under criminal. I thought, please, please! The reason it gets to me is that in 30 years of practice as a developmental pediatrician, issues of discipline cause 80 percent of the problems that I see. The families that are struggling with children's behavior are also struggling with spanking. Often, they've taken a vow of abstinence. They figure if spanking is bad, then all forms of conflict are bad, and they hesitate to discipline their children. They wait too long before taking effective action. This doesn't have to be spanking; it could be removal of a toy or imposition of a timeout. I am talking about middle-class, upper-middle-class families that love their kids, that have the resources for their kids.

Drugging them into submission is easy. Raising them well is hard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:30 PM


Is Obama an enlightened being?: Spiritual wise ones say: This sure ain't no ordinary politician. You buying it? (Mark Morford, 6/06/08, SF Gate)

[Y]ou want to know what it is? The appeal, the pull, the ethereal and magical thing that seems to enthrall millions of people from all over the world, that keeps opening up and firing into new channels of the culture normally completely unaffected by politics?

No, it's not merely his youthful vigor, or handsomeness, or even inspiring rhetoric. It is not fresh ideas or cool charisma or the fact that a black president will be historic and revolutionary in about a thousand different ways. It is something more. Even Bill Clinton, with all his effortless, winking charm, didn't have what Obama has, which is a sort of powerful luminosity, a unique high-vibration integrity.

Dismiss it all you like, but I've heard from far too many enormously smart, wise, spiritually attuned people who've been intuitively blown away by Obama's presence - not speeches, not policies, but sheer presence - to say it's just a clever marketing ploy, a slick gambit carefully orchestrated by hotshot campaign organizers who, once Obama gets into office, will suddenly turn from perky optimists to vile soul-sucking lobbyist whores, with Obama as their suddenly evil, cackling overlord.

Here's where it gets gooey. Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.

The unusual thing is, true Lightworkers almost never appear on such a brutal, spiritually demeaning stage as national politics. This is why Obama is so rare. And this why he is so often compared to Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., to those leaders in our culture whose stirring vibrations still resonate throughout our short history.

Sure, it's hilarious, but it's also pretty sad that these people's lives are so devoid of meaning that they have to turn a Cook County hack into some kind of dimestore messiah. You especially have to enjoy the irony that, by Friend Perlstein's calculation, JFK and MLK led us all to Nixonland. Where does St. Obama take us, Roveworld?

One might be more inclined to say Maverick was a tad unfair to Senator Obama today, Playing the Carter card (Jonathan Martin, 6/09/08, Politico)

In separate interviews today, John McCain compared Barack Obama to Jimmy Carter.

Speaking to Fox's Carl Cameron, McCain raised Carter's name, putting a face on his assertion that Obama wants to return "to the failed policies of the '60's and '70's."

And then, sitting down with NBC's Brian Williams, he poured it on -- and got to the heart of the matter.

“Senator Obama says that I’m running for a Bush’s third term," McCain said, picking up the central Democratic line of attack. "Seems to me he’s running for Jimmy Carter’s second.”

...were Mr. Morford not claiming that he'd take us back to '68.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:52 PM


Home Sales May Rise Modestly Before Broader Upturn in Second Half Of 2008 (realtor.org, June 09, 2008)

A modest gain in the level of home sales is possible over the next couple months, and an improvement is forecast for the second half of this year as more buyers are able to access affordable mortgages, according to the latest forecast by the National Association of Realtors®.

The Pending Home Sales Index,* a forward-looking indicator based on contracts signed in April, rose 6.3 percent to 88.2 from a reading of 83.0 in March. It’s the highest index since last October, but remains 13.1 percent lower than April 2007 when it stood at 101.5.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said pending sales contracts have picked up notably in areas undergoing significant price drops. “Bargain hunters have entered the market en masse, especially in areas that have experienced double-digit price declines, but it’s unclear if they are investors or owner-occupants,” he said. “Sharp price reductions are leading to a quicker discovery of price equilibrium points. The West is already seeing year-over-year gains in pending contracts.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:42 AM


Why the Economy Is Better Than You Think (James Pethokoukis, June 09, 2008, US News)

1) Fewer than 8 percent of private-sector workers are covered by unions. That's way down from the 1970s and means that the transfer mechanism of higher food and energy inflation into cost-of-living wage adjustments—collective bargaining—has been severed.

2) A more service-oriented U.S. economy is far more resilient to energy shocks than it was in the 1970s. Tech helps, too, allowing folks to work at home or videoconference instead of flying to a meeting.

3) Not only does the rise of global capitalism and trade help keep costs here low but provides a source of growth, through exports, for the currently anemic U.S. economy. Yet according to Gross, we should be bummed out by Rising Asia.

4) Although beset by an oil spike and a housing plunge, the core U.S. economy is in far better shape than it was in the 1970s. Productivity, the key measure of an economy's strength, consistently grew at less than 2 percent in the 1970s and stayed weak until the tax cuts, deregulation, inflation fighting, and corporate restructuring of the 1980s blossomed into the tech and productivity boom on the 1990s and beyond. Productivity has averaged about 2 ½ percent since 1995 and is now running closer to 3 percent. Recently, the World Economic Forum rated the competitiveness of the major economies, and America's came out on top.

I like to think of it this way: If you could swap the American economy for someone else's long term—China's, India's, the EU's—would you?

...is that they all prefer to sink with us, rather than head off to the greener pastures they claim are all around us.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


US, Indonesia Combine Efforts to Fight Trans-national Crime, Terrorism: The United States and Indonesia have agreed to fight trans-national crime and strengthen efforts to combat terrorism, during a visit to Jakarta by the U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. VOA Correspondent Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta has more. (Nancy-Amelia Collins, 09 June 2008, VOA News)

The United States recently lifted its travel warning on Indonesia, citing improved security conditions.

Mukasey also praised Indonesia's efforts to combat terrorism.

"Like Indonesia, the United States has faced terrorist threats and terrorist attacks," he said. "We share the challenge of combating violent extremists, while protecting basic civil liberties in the process. Indonesia has been effective in the apprehension and conviction of terrorists and extremists organizations."

In recent years, Indonesia suffered a series of terrorist attacks blamed on the regional terrorist network, Jemaah Islamiyah.

The authorities have arrested more than 300 militants, in the last several years, saying they have seriously damaged JI and its ability to carry out terrorist attacks.

...until just recently to realize that W had revolutionized American relations with India, how long before they figure out what he's done in Indonesia?

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


German sues for CIA extradition (BBC, 6/09/08)

In a few years it will look like the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon, but with Europeans holding up signs, "Extradite me next!"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:11 AM


Syrian anthem played for Lebanese (BBC, 6/09/08)

Saudi Arabian football authorities are investigating an error that led to the Syrian national anthem being played before a match against Lebanon.

Several Lebanese players were visibly angry when the wrong anthem was played before Saturday's game, reports say.

...why even have a national anthem?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Manny, JD, Papi, Lester and the NBA Finals. (Curt Schilling, 6/09/08, 38 Pitches)

I always wondered about the bitching and moaning of NBA coaches and players with regards to officiating and last night I was literally on the floor to see and hear it first hand. Things I heard and saw. [...]

Kobe. This one stunned me a little bit. Who doesn’t know Kobe Bryant right? I only know what I have heard, starting awhile back with the entire Shaq debacle. I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other on or about him other than to know that people feel he might be one of the 4-5 greatest players to ever lace it up. What I do know is what I got to see up close and hear, was unexpected. From the first tip until about 4 minutes left in the game I saw and heard this guy bitch at his teammates. Every TO he came to the bench pissed, and a few of them he went to other guys and yelled about something they weren’t doing, or something they did wrong. No dialog about “hey let’s go, let’s get after it” or whatever. He spent the better part of 3.5 quarters pissed off and ranting at the non-execution or lack of, of his team. Then when they made what almost was a historic run in the 4th, during a TO, he got down on the floor and basically said ‘Let’s f’ing go, right now, right here” or something to that affect. I am not making this observation in a good or bad way, I have no idea how the guys in the NBA play or do things like this, but I thought it was a fascinating bit of insight for me to watch someone in another sport who is in the position of a team leader and how he interacted with his team and teammates. Watching the other 11 guys, every time out it was high fives and “Hey nice work, let’s get after it” or something to that affect. He walked off the floor, obligatory skin contact on the high five, and sat on the bench stone faced or pissed off, the whole game. Just weird to see another sport and how it all works. I would assume that’s his style and how he plays and what works for him because when I saw the leader board for scoring in the post season his name sat up top at 31+ a game, can’t argue with that. But as a fan I was watching the whole thing, Kobe, his teammates and then the after effects of conversations. He’d yell at someone, make a point, or send a message, turn and walk away, and more than once the person on the other end would roll eyes or give a ‘whatever dude’ look.

Let me reiterate that this is from a complete basketball newbie, so for all I know this could be exactly how these guys play this game and interact with each other.

The contrast though, for me anyway, was watching KG and Allen, Pierce, as the game went on. I was literally ON the Laker bench so I could only watch the celts on the floor, and it was just different. it was all about who has whom, who goes where, what’s up next.

...and say that David Stern didn't approve this message, though it sounds exactly like what Phil Jackson has written.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


Free Mark Steyn (The Editors, 6/09/08, National Review)

Supporters of free speech can do a few simple things. First, the Canadian and U.S. media need to start speaking out soon, and loudly. Aside from the fact that condemning these kinds of tribunals is the right thing to do, such proceedings also threaten the press’s very livelihood. So far, the public in Canada and elsewhere remain woefully uninformed about what’s going on.

Second, American and international political figures also need to speak out. A surefire way to get these tribunals onto the front page in Canada would be if they were roundly condemned by leaders from around the world. Speaking out in favor of free expression here is also important because, after the Danish cartoon incident, Muslims countries have been pressuring the U.N. to weaken its support of free expression as it relates to perceived offenses to Islam.

Third, support is needed for the inchoate political attempts to shut down these ridiculous inquests. Liberal Canadian MP Keith Martin has introduced what is known under parliamentary rules as a “private members bill” to do away with the section of the Canadian Human Rights Act upon which these tribunals rely for their authority to regulate media. And as a matter of principle, the conservative government currently in power in Canada should oppose these tribunals. The liberal Martin is the perfect spokesmen for the ruling party to get behind in a cross-ideological push to remove this threat to a fundamental Western freedom.

Silence only serves the cause of this miscarriage of justice. Speak up — and free Steyn, Maclean’s, and Canada.

To the Editors of the Valley News:

Dear Sirs:

Though it has unfortunately been little noted in either national or local press, one of the Upper Valley's own is currently on trial in Canada in a case that tests whether freedom of speech and the press can endure in a multiculturalist society. The prolific author/essayist/critic/commentator, Mark Steyn (steynonline.com), has run afoul of our Northern neighbor's thought police and has been charged, before the British Colombia Human Rights Tribunal, with expressing and spreading hatred and contempt for Muslims.

The basis for these accusations is a Maclean's magazine excerpt (available online at: http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/article.jsp?content=20061023_134898_134898) from Mr. Steyn's recent best-selling book, America Alone. In it, he notes the fact that demographic trends in Europe suggest the likelihood that Muslims will be a majority there in the future and quotes a radical imam from Norway who celebrates that eventuality. If all this doesn't sound particularly anti-Muslim, consider that the title of the piece is, The Future Belongs to Islam. Far from being a put-upon minority in need of protection, the complainants here are just being sore winners.

Now, Mr. Steyn has had the intellectual honesty not to turn around and play the victim card in this case. Since he also had to good sense to move to the Upper Valley some years ago, it's not as if the author will fester in prison because of PC oppression. But in a community that celebrates the values of free inquiry and free speech, our silence in the face of an attack on a neighbor who was just expressing his rather unexceptional--though unusually well thought-out and delivered--opinions seems inappropriate. And if we aren't likely to have to band together to repel the Mounties when they come for him, there is a simple step we can take that one imagines Mr. Steyn would find most gratifying. Dr. Keith Martin (Member of Parliament for Esquimalt - Juan de Fuca), of Canada's Liberal Party, has introduced a bill that would revoke the authority of these tribunals to persecute the press. We can express our support for his efforts and for a fellow Hampshireman by writing to Dr. Martin at : MartiK@parl.gc.ca

If, as Mr. Steyn suggests in the writings at issue, the secular states of Europe and Canada are indeed dying there is still no reason they shouldn't live free in the meantime.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Obama's Spendthrift Campaign (Jaime Sneider, June 9, 2008, Campaign Standard)

[O]bama oversees a team of 700 people--more than twice as many as Bush in 2004--the biggest, most bloated campaign in the history of presidential elections:

So far in 2008, combined campaign-spending data for the three most recent months available--February, March and April--show that Sen. Obama outspent Sen. McCain 4.5-to-1 on staff salaries, more than 2-to-1 on office rents, and 25-to-1 on broadcast advertising, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Sen. Obama has about 700 employees on the payroll, scattered across 19 states. The McCain cadre is around 100, divided among a handful of local offices.

...even He couldn't have cranked out enough loaves and fishes to feed everybody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Genghis, patron saint of the steppe: He was a generous leader, a true romantic... it turns out Genghis Khan has some admirers (BRIAN D. JOHNSON, June 4, 2008, Maclean's)

[M]ongol, a widescreen epic by esteemed Russian director Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains), portrays Genghis Khan in glowing terms, as a generous leader, a devoted husband, a good father — and a diehard romantic who goes to war over a woman. The vicious warlord has had a makeover and comes out a romantic hero. Shot in the mountains and deserts of Mongolia, this sweeping spectacle evokes tribal tradition with an air of authenticity reminiscent of the Inuit epic Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner — but with battles involving horses, spears, swords and arrows. Despite some obvious computer-generated panoramas, it's the kind of old-school epic Hollywood just doesn't make anymore, a primeval western set in the East.

Bodrov concentrates on the early years of his protagonist. If Mongol were a superhero movie, it would be the Batman Begins phase of the franchise, the story of how Genghis Khan became Genghis Khan. It all begins with a tribal feud and a childhood whim. At the age of nine, Genghis, then called Temudgin, travels with his father to choose a bride from a neighbouring tribe, to atone for the fact that the father stole his bride from the same clan. Instead, the boy picks a girl from another tribe — who later becomes his first wife — and a chain of retribution is set in motion. Later, after a rival prince steals Temudgin's wife, our hero's first battle is to recapture his true love — all this despite the rule that "Mongols never make war over a woman."

The script is full of "Mongol" aphorisms and etiquette rules that verge into Borat territory. Choosing a good wife "is the hardest thing," we're told. "Her face has to be flat like a salt lake, and most of all she must have strong legs." Yet "it's better to have a horse than woman." (Genghis Khan later had over 100 wives, but in the early years covered by the film, he's a one-woman man.)

Bodrov did extensive research, yet with no written history from the era, he had to rely on speculative accounts and a poem written after Genghis Khan's death, The Secret History of the Mongols, which left a wide margin for dramatic licence.

It's a tad too short to qualify for an official Summer Reading recommendation, but if you're looking for a good book, try Jack Weatherford's bio of Genghis Khan, A Kinder, Gentler Khan: a review of Genghis Khan and the
Making of the Modern World
by Jack Weatherford (Alexander Rose, June 14, 2004, National Review)
The Mongols were the thieving magpies, not the busy beavers, of the Middle Ages: Instead of diligently building and developing things, whenever they saw something new and shiny they needed or liked, they took it. And, for some time, they needed a lot, for, owing to their nomadism, the Mongols were ignorant of such basics as how to bake bread or make pottery. Later, Muslim mathematicians, Chinese anatomists, German miners, Persian merchants, Italian silversmiths, English translators, Indian astronomers, all trekked — sometimes involuntarily — to the court of the khan and performed their miracles.

But despite the cosmopolitanism and sophistication of their empire of illusion, one can't help feeling that the Mongols remained, at heart, a hunter-herder steppe people who lucked out and made it big, yet were happiest when down home on the range: They were the Beverly Hillbillies of history's conquistadors.

Weatherford devoted years to this very fine book, and it stands as a necessary corrective to the Enlightenment-invented view of Genghis Khan as an unbridled savage. The author followed the trail of the Mongols through "Russia, China, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan," and then, for good measure, undertook the "sea route of Marco Polo from South China to Vietnam, through the Strait of Malacca to India, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and on to Venice." There is excellent editing throughout — only a single typo, the irresistible "Genghis Kahn" — and just a couple of stylistic infelicities (I briefly sighted the monstrous phrase "snuck in") amid its many splendid passages.

Two other small cavils. First, Weatherford's enthusiastic determination to prove that the Mongols "made" the modern world can sometimes lead him astray. It is not true, to take just one example, that German High Command based its blitzkrieg doctrine on a study of Mongol cavalry operations circa 1250; the Panzer generals in fact took their cue from such distinctly un-Mongol-like figures as British military theorists J. F. C. Fuller and Basil Liddell Hart.

Then there is Weatherford's over-reliance on a single source, The Secret History of the Mongols, an enigmatic 13th-century biography of Genghis Khan. As any medievalist will tell you, never ever unquestioningly cite military estimates given by contemporary chroniclers, who are invariably fabulists in this regard. Nevertheless, Weatherford repeatedly quotes impossible numbers without raising an eyebrow. Were there really "hundreds of thousands" of Mongol cavalrymen at Khubilai Khan's command? How likely is it that "25,000" Europeans were killed at one clash alone in 1241? Consider that at the near-contemporaneous battle of Evesham in England in 1265, which was regarded by medieval observers as a bloodbath of unbelievable savagery, some 30 barons were massacred, along with perhaps another several hundred foot soldiers. Or that Field Marshal Haig lost 20,000 troops dead on the first day of the Somme in 1916, but that stupendous figure out of 600,000 men.

But these are mere quibbles. Thanks to Weatherford's excavation of the great khan and his era, we mighty can again look on Genghis's works, and despair!

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Masters of Disaster (Robert Stacy McCain, 6/9/2008, American Spectator

Somewhere, there should be a Hall of Fame honoring profoundly stupid Democratic Party campaign ideas. Among the featured exhibits would be Michael Dukakis's 1988 tank ride and John Kerry's 2004 Ohio duck-hunting trip. ("Can I get me a hunting license here?")

The important thing to remember about such classic campaign blunders, however, is that Democrats didn't realize their disastrous potential until it was too late to prevent them.

Whether it's George McGovern's choice of Thomas Eagleton as his 1972 running mate or Fritz Mondale's promise to raise taxes in 1984, for some reason there's never anybody around Democrat HQ with the foresight to shout an advance warning.

If Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign melts down this year, however, the Democrats won't have that excuse. This time, there was plenty of warning....

There's an understandable human temptation to believe that such details matter--giving us the illusion that we have some control over events--when, in fact, it is the broader historical and social forces that are determinative. It is conceivable that this time around the nomination of a Northern liberal (*) to run against a Sun Belt conservative won't be a disaster for the Democrats, but if you have any regard for history you wouldn't want to bet on it, irrespective of the minutiae of the campaign. It's just a conservative country.

(*) One of the most important misunderstandings of modern politics is the erroneous belief that JFK contradicts this point. Nevermind all the McCarthyite, Cold Warrior, Supply-sider arguments and consider only this question: what was thought to be his main weakness as a national candidate?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Charter Schools' Big Experiment: New Orleans's Post-Katrina Test May Offer Lessons for Ailing Systems (Jay Mathews, 6/09/08, Washington Post)

The storm that swamped this city three years ago also effectively swept away a public school system with a dismal record and faint prospects of getting better. Before Hurricane Katrina, educator John Alford said, he toured schools and found "kids just watching movies" in classes where "low expectations were the norm."

Now Alford is one of many new principals leading an unparalleled education experiment, with possible lessons for troubled urban schools in the District and elsewhere. New Orleans, in a post-Katrina flash, has become the first major city in which more than half of all public school students attend charter schools.

For these new schools with taxpayer funding and independent management, old rules and habits are out. No more standard hours, seniority, union contracts, shared curriculum or common textbooks. In are a crowd of newcomers -- critics call them opportunists -- seeking to lift standards and achievement. They compete for space, steal each other's top teachers and wonder how it is all going to work.

After all, it's one thing to use market forces to save the Senate lunch room, quite another when you're just talking about poor black kids.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Mankind 'shortening the universe's life' (Roger Highfield, 21/11/2007, Daily Telegraph)

Forget about the threat that mankind poses to the Earth: our very ability to study the heavens may have shortened the inferred lifetime of the cosmos.

That does not mean the field of astronomy does direct harm. A universe with a truncated lifespan may come hand in hand with the ability of astronomers to make cosmological measurements, according to two American scientists who have studied the strange, subtle and cosmic implications of quantum mechanics, the most successful theory we have.

Over the past few years, cosmologists have taken this powerful theory of what happens at the level of subatomic particles and tried to extend it to understand the universe, since it began in the subatomic realm during the Big Bang.

But there is an odd feature of the theory that philosophers and scientists still argue about. In a nutshell, the theory suggests that quantum systems can exist in many different physical configurations at the same time. By observing the system, however, we may pick out one single 'quantum state', and therefore force the system to change its configuration.

"Odd feature" is a quaint appellation for the point at which Natural Science proves Supernature.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Celtics Maintain Hold on Series: Pierce Hits Two Crucial Free Throws As Boston Derails Lakers' Comeback (Michael Lee, 6/09/08, Washington Post)

Paul Pierce, playing on one good leg, was a marksman from beyond the three-point line and moved around as if the brace and bandage on his right knee were there for decorative purposes. Point guard Rajon Rondo was blocking the shots of 6-foot-10 forwards and dunking on the other end. And Leon Powe, a little-used and little-known reserve, was driving the length of the floor and dunking -- and being serenaded by the crowd in the fourth quarter.

For the Boston Celtics and their fans, it was 40 minutes of fun, the kind that results in 24-point leads and premature celebrations. But the thrill of an apparent beatdown was replaced by angst, then horror, as Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers took little more than seven minutes to trim that big lead to just two points.

In a town that has experienced some professional sports heartbreak, the Celtics almost added to the agony with an incredible meltdown in the NBA Finals -- until Pierce finally calmed down his team and its fans. First, he got to the foul line and hit two free throws to stem the tide, then he forced Lakers reserve Sasha Vujacic into a bad miss on the other end, setting up two James Posey free throws that secured a 108-102 victory.

The Celtics now lead this best-of-seven series 2-0, with Game 3 Tuesday in Los Angeles.

If the Lakers weren't so obviously over-rated, you'd almost believe they'd tried rope-a-doping.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Global AIDS epidemic is a myth admit world experts (Fiona Macrae, 09th June 2008, Daily Mail)

The threat of a global AIDS epidemic is over, the World Health Organisation's top HIV expert has admitted.

Kevin De Cock, who has spent most of his career leading the battle against the disease, said the understanding of the threat posed by the virus had changed.

Rather than being a risk to populations anywhere, the threat is largely confined to gay men, drug addicts and prostitutes and their clients.

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June 8, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Senate Votes To Privatize Its Failing Restaurants (Paul Kane, 6/09/08, Washington Post)

The embarrassment of the Senate food service struggling like some neighborhood pizza joint has quietly sparked change previously unthinkable for Democrats. Last week, in a late-night voice vote, the Senate agreed to privatize the operation of its food service, a decision that would, for the first time, put it under the control of a contractor and all but guarantee lower wages and benefits for the outfit's new hires.

The House is expected to agree -- its food service operation has been in private hands since the 1980s -- and President Bush's signature on the bill would officially end a seven-month Democratic feud and more than four decades of taxpayer bailouts.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Rules and Administrations Committee, which oversees the operation of the Senate, said she had no choice.

"It's cratering," she said of the restaurant system. "Candidly, I don't think the taxpayers should be subsidizing something that doesn't need to be. There are parts of government that can be run like a business and should be run like businesses."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 PM


As Israel's Olmert falters, a new star rises: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is increasingly seen as the likely successor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. (Ilene R. Prusher, 6/09/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

For those keen for her to step into the ring, Livni already has a lot in her corner. She has a pedigree that makes her something of a blueblood daughter of Israel's founding fathers. Her parents were leaders in the rightist Irgun movement in the British mandatory period; it was viewed as a militia of pioneers by some, and by others as a terrorist group.

Blondish, athletic, and standing at 5-feet, 10-inches, she has a confidant carriage and sometimes steely exterior that has only been bolstered by recent reports in the British media about the depth of her experience working for Mossad, Israel's spy agency. Although Livni did work for Mossad at one point, various officials in Livni's office say that most of the recent stories about the exact nature of her work were erroneous, but that it's a security breach to say much more.

That secrecy could be one of Livni's strongest suits. Unlike many other Israeli politicians, she doesn't relish talking to the press. Since the Annapolis Process began last November, she's been overseeing negotiations on the Israeli-Palestinian track, but has done so with the caveat that it take place out of the limelight. Two to three times a week, she meets with Palestinian counterparts, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Foreign Minister Ahmed Qorei, and the Palestinian negotiations chief, Saeb Erekat.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM

WANT THE MONEY? (via Ten Second News):

Texas Monthly Talks: Margaret Spellings (Interview by Evan Smith, May 2008, Texas Monthly)

Well, if one were a critic of No Child Left Behind, one would say “enough” begins with as much as you mandate. A criticism that has come your way is that you put in place a program with certain mandates that cost X but then only partially fund it and tell the states, basically, “Deal with it.”

Federal policy works like this: If you want to take our money, these are conditions that have to be met. For the first time in the history of the world, we put a real condition in place: grade-level achievement by 2014. You and I agree that’s quite a modest thing to ask for.

Some might even say you’re slow-playing it.

Yeah, although in the education community you hear just the opposite: “Oh, my God! Do you know how many fill-in-the-blank kinds of kids we have in Texas? There’s no way we can get them up to grade level.” If you want our money, these are the rules of the game.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:46 PM


In McCain’s Court (Jeffrey Toobin, May 26, 2008 , The New Yorker)

The Senator has long touted his opposition to Roe, and has voted for every one of Bush’s judicial appointments; the rhetoric of his speech shows that he is getting his advice on the Court from the most extreme elements of the conservative movement. With the general election in mind, McCain had to express himself with such elaborate circumlocution because he knows that the constituency for such far-reaching change in our constellation of rights is small, and may be shrinking. In 2004, to stoke turnout among conservatives, Karl Rove engineered the addition of anti-gay-marriage voter initiatives to the ballots in Ohio and other states; last week, though, when the California Supreme Court voted to allow gay marriage in that state, only hard-core activists were able to muster much outrage. When it comes to the Constitution, McCain is on the wrong side of the voters, and of history; thus, his obfuscations.

Still, the Bush-McCain agenda for the courts has made great strides. Bush’s conservative appointees to the Supreme Court—John G. Roberts, Jr., and Samuel A. Alito, Jr.—have joined Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in a phalanx that is more radical than any that the Court has seen since F.D.R.’s appointments. Those Justices allowed the New Deal to proceed, and set the stage for the noblest era in the Court’s history, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, when the civil and individual rights of all citizens finally received their constitutional due. By contrast, in just three years the Roberts Court has crippled school-desegregation efforts (and hinted that affirmative action may be next); approved a federal law that bans a form of abortion; limited the reach of job-discrimination laws; and made it more difficult to challenge the mixing of church and state. It’s difficult to quarrel with Justice Stephen Breyer’s assessment of his new colleagues: “It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much.” And more change is likely to come. John Paul Stevens, the leader of the Court’s four embattled liberals, just celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday; Ruth Bader Ginsburg is seventy-five; David Souter is only sixty-eight but longs for his home in New Hampshire. For all the elisions in John McCain’s speech, one unmistakable truth emerged: that the stakes in the election, for the Supreme Court and all who live by its rulings, are very, very high.

For a quarter century now Maverick has been one of the most extreme voices of consent on making the courts conservative again.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:38 PM

'Hot and cold chicken peanut noodle salad (AP, June 8, 2008)

1 pound spiral pasta

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

1/3 cup low-fat sour cream

1 to 2 teaspoons hot sauce (more or less to taste)

1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

1/3 cup orange juice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 cups roughly chopped cooked and cooled chicken (about 1 pound meat)

2 large carrots, diced

3 scallions, chopped

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Just as the pasta finishes cooking, add the peas and stir for 30 seconds. Drain and rinse the pasta and peas under cold water until cool. Let stand in the colander to drip excess water.

Meanwhile, in a blender combine the peanut butter, sour cream, hot sauce, vinegar, ginger and orange juice. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. If the peanut sauce is too thick, add more orange juice or water until it is pourable.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken and carrots. Add the peas and pasta, then toss well. While continuing to toss, slowly pour in the peanut sauce. Mix until all ingredients are well coated. Top the salad with scallions. The salad can be refrigerated or served immediately.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM


Supreme Court race may be roadmap for McCain (Scott Bauer, 6/07/08, Associated Press)

A little-known country judge's road to the Wisconsin Supreme Court is being eyed by John McCain backers as a map for him to win the state.

Republican operatives are closely studying how circuit judge Michael Gableman, a conservative candidate from Webster in far northwest Wisconsin who never ran a statewide race before, was able to oust a more liberal sitting Supreme Court justice in April. [...]

Gableman won without even coming close to carrying either of the state's two largest cities, Milwaukee or Madison, which also happen to be strongholds of the Democratic Party. He got just 28 percent of the vote in Dane County, where Madison is located, and 42 percent in Milwaukee County.

President Bush didn't do much better in 2004 -- winning just 33 percent in Dane County and 37 percent in Milwaukee County.

The key difference is Gableman won and Bush lost.

"What Gableman showed is that you can lose badly in Dane County and lose significantly in Milwaukee County and still win statewide," said Graul, who was Wisconsin state director of President Bush's campaign in 2004. He also worked on the Gableman race.

Also encouraging to McCain supporters is Gableman's strong showing in the north and other traditionally blue collar Democratic counties in southern Wisconsin near the Illinois border.

If McCain can get 49 percent of the vote in Kenosha County, which borders Illinois and Lake Michigan in southeast Wisconsin, then he will win Wisconsin, Graul predicted. Bush got 46 percent there. Gableman got 48 percent.

Another key county for McCain is neighboring Racine. Bush carried it with 52 percent in 2004. Gableman did even better, winning with 54 percent. Graul has set a 55 percent target for McCain in Racine County to help him win Wisconsin.

WI is one of those states that W would have carried but for the Bob Jones baggage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:37 AM


Abortion-Rights Advocates Take Aim at McCain (Amy Schatz, 6/08/08, Wall Street Jornal: Washington Wire)

Abortion rights activists are using Saturday’s anniversary of a milestone in the pro-choice movement to focus a little fire on one of Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s potential weak spots.

“During his 25 years in office, Sen. McCain has consistently voted to block low-income women’s access to birth control,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan said in a statement Friday. “Voters need to know that John McCain is not only against abortion, he is against birth control.”

Amen, lady. It's no coincidence that the only two Democrats to win the presidency in the last thity years were no better than ambivalent about abortion at least rhetorically. The more pro-death their nominee the easier he's been to beat.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


Terry Pratchett hints he may have found God (Rob Davies, 08/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

"I'm certainly not a man of faith, but as I was rushing down the stairs one day... it was very strange. I suddenly knew that everything was okay, that what I was doing was right, and I didn't know why.

"It was a thought that all the right things are happening in the circumstances, and I thought, 'Well that's all right then.' I don't actually believe in anyone who could have put that in my head - unless it was my dad, and he's been dead a few years." [...]

Mr Pratchett, who has sold more than 60 million books, has previously said he was "rather angry with God for not existing".

But in an interview with a Sunday newspaper, he said: "It is just possible that once you have got past all the gods that we have created with big beards and many human traits, just beyond all that, on the other side of physics, they just may be the ordered structure from which everything flows.

"That is both a kind of philosophy and totally useless - it doesn't take you anywhere. But it fills a hole."

...is that they're all so angry at God for leaving that God-shaped hole when they pretend He isn't there.

Terry Pratchett, Lord of Discworld, fights to save his powers: Author and Alzheimer’s sufferer Terry Pratchett tells Bryan Appleyard how he is controlling the progress of the disease (Bryan Appleyard, 6/08/08, Times of London)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 AM


Ancient solutions to modern ills: a review of Vote For Caesar: How the Ancient Greeks and Romans Solved the Problems of Today by Peter Jones (Bettany Hughes, 6/08/08, Daily Telegraph)

The message is clear: there was a time when we remembered the greatness of Greece and Rome, and if we remember it once again we'll be able to sort out our own contemporary messes so much the better. [...]

Crisply, cleverly conjoined, Jones's subjects range from Byzantine intrigue and Cicero ('In battle, laws fall silent') to tyrants who poured molten lead down the throats of the treasonous.

This book follows a worthy tradition; the Alexandrian libraries, the House of Wisdom in Baghdad and the Sicilian Court all commissioned collections of 'ancient world' highlights: lessons and feats of the past that we forget at our peril.

Vote for Caesar is just such a compendium. But whereas the ancient scholiasts confined themselves to jotting the odd note in a margin or re-translating Homer to fit their own world-view, Peter Jones intersperses nuggets from antiquity with an astringent take on the 21st century.

Gordon Brown, The Guardian (often), debt, diets, even poor old Billy Bragg, all come in for a bashing. Jones's son asked whether this was a manifesto; it is certainly the child of a fulminating, pamphlet-producing British tradition. The author is honest: he wears his heart on his sleeve.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Recipe Deal Breakers: When Step 2 Is ‘Corral Pig’ (KIM SEVERSON, 6/04/08, NY Times)

I WAS reading a recipe for apple strudel when I came to a sentence that stopped me cold: “If you don’t have a helper,” it began.

If a dish needs a helper, I need to move on.

Although I didn’t end up with a strudel, I did end up on a quest. I began asking good cooks I know about recipe deal breakers — those ingredients or instructions that make them throw down the whisk and walk away.

Whether for reasons practical or psychological, even the most experienced cooks have an ingredient, technique or phrase that will make them bypass a recipe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Planning ahead for terrorism: Terror and Consent: The Wars for the 21st Century by Philip Bobbitt (Alasdair Palmer, 6/08/08, Daily Telegraph)

While appropriately critical of many of the stupid and damaging policies that the Bush administration has followed since the initiation of its 'war on terror', Bobbitt is also rightly contemptuous of the idea that America has slid into something that remotely resembles a 'terror state'.

He agrees with Bush that America and its allies are indeed at war with Islamist terrorists: more than that, he thinks this is the fundamental insight that needs to be accepted and appreciated before anything useful can be thought or said about how we should deal with terrorism.

He insists that Bush and his acolytes have been wrong to dismiss the role of international law, but he agrees with them that international law, as it stands, is quite incapable of dealing with the seriousness of the situation that confronts us.

Devised to stop nation states going to war again as they did in the Second World War, the current framework of international law is, claims Bobbitt, out of date in a world in which wars are increasingly between nations and terrorists.

Bobbitt argues forcefully in favour of pre-emptive strikes against terrorists and the states that harbour them. He hopes that we can achieve sufficient international consensus to re-write international law in a way that would allow the US to intervene pre-emptively in other countries, and which would also mean that the US would have broad international support when it did so.

I share that hope - but I have to say I don't see the slightest chance of it ever coming to fruition. The fault-lines that stop agreement on critical matters such as who has a right to intervene, when and where, are often the result of profound differences.

It is a beguiling illusion to think that globalisation has made all nations in the world share the same fundamental values, but it is an illusion none the less.

Even if globalisation does eventually lead to common agreement about the right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness', there remains the fact that much, perhaps most, violent disagreement between nations is the result simply of the inequality of power that defines relations between them.

The sense of humiliation that this inequality generates, together with the need to 'get even' for that humiliation, cannot be overcome by arguments but only by equalising power-relationships - something that I cannot see ever taking place.

There's a broader insight about the Left/Right divide there and how it applies to affairs foreign as well as domestic. The Anglo-American model--the End of History--proceeds from the premise that the liberty undergirding liberal democracy/capitalism/protestantism empowers all peoples, not least by making them affluent. Central to this ideal though is the belief that so long as men are equally free to pursue happiness, they can be satisfied and well-adjusted without achieving some sort of absolute equality. Indeed, such mere material concerns are really rather secondary to our fulfillment, particularly once prosperity becomes so generalized.

On the other hand, the French (or Marxist) model assumes a zero-sum universe that requires forcible redistribution and equalization of wealth. According to such a materialist worldview, one can only be satisfied where absolute parity exists.

As applied to the question above, we men of the West have, for the most part, sought to use our greater power and wealth to afford others the opportunity to live under the same system that we enjoy and that made us superior in the first place. Our enemies--and, make no mistake about it, the egalitarians are the enemy--advocate transnationalism or "equalising power-relationships," which is to say, taking away power from us and making inferior nations with failed systems our peers. Under the guise of humantarianism they not only attempt to subvert our spectacularly successful system but would make it more difficult for us to aid those who are trapped in poverty, dictatorship, and the like.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:56 AM


A Not Very Private Feud Over Terrorism (ELAINE SCIOLINO and ERIC SCHMITT, 6/08/08, NY Times)

A bitter personal struggle between two powerful figures in the world of terrorism has broken out, forcing their followers to choose sides. This battle is not being fought in the rugged no man’s land on the Pakistan-Afghan border. It is a contest reverberating inside the Beltway between two of America’s leading theorists on terrorism and how to fight it, two men who hold opposing views on the very nature of the threat.

On one side is Bruce Hoffman, a cerebral 53-year-old Georgetown University historian and author of the highly respected 1998 book “Inside Terrorism.” He argues that Al Qaeda is alive, well, resurgent and more dangerous than it has been in several years. In his corner, he said, is a battalion of mainstream academics and a National Intelligence Estimate issued last summer warning that Al Qaeda had reconstituted in Pakistan.

On the other side is Marc Sageman, an iconoclastic 55-year-old Polish-born psychiatrist, sociologist, former C.I.A. case officer and scholar-in-residence with the New York Police Department. His new book, “Leaderless Jihad,” argues that the main threat no longer comes from the organization called Al Qaeda, but from the bottom up — from radicalized individuals and groups who meet and plot in their neighborhoods and on the Internet. In his camp, he said, are agents and analysts in highly classified positions at the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

If Dr. Hoffman gets inside organizations — focusing on command structures — Dr. Sageman gets inside heads, analyzing the terrorist mind-set. But this is more important than just a battle of ideas. It is the latest twist in the contest for influence and resources in Washington that has been a central feature of the struggle against terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.

Officials from the White House to the C.I.A. acknowledge the importance of the debate of the two men as the government assesses the nature of the threat. Looking forward, it is certain to be used to win bureaucratic turf wars over what programs will be emphasized in the next administration.

If there is no looming main Qaeda threat — just “bunches of guys,” as Dr. Sageman calls them — then it would be easier for a new president to think he could save money or redirect efforts within the huge counterterrorism machine, which costs the United States billions of dollars and has created armies of independent security consultants and counterterrorism experts in the last seven years.

Preventing attacks planned by small bands of zealots in the garages and basements just off Main Street or the alleys behind Islamic madrasas is more a job for the local police and the F.B.I., working with undercover informants and with authorities abroad. “If it’s a ‘leaderless jihad,’ then I can find something else to do because the threat is over,” said Peter Bergen, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan New America Foundation, who puts himself in Dr. Hoffman’s camp. “Leaderless things don’t produce big outcomes.”

Nor did the thing when it was leadered, but these hardly seem mutually exclusive positions. We need decent policing to catch the wahoos here and for the military to treat the regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan that have no sovereign government as free fire zones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Where Whites Draw the Line (MARCUS MABRY, 6/08/08, NY Times)

[Orlando] Patterson said research consistently showed that roughly one in five whites continues to hold racist views. Indeed, a poll by the Pew Research Center in March found that 20 percent of white Democrats over the age of 44 found interracial dating unacceptable; only 3 percent of white Democrats under 44 felt that way.

Mr. Buchanan said Mr. Obama’s monolithic support among blacks was likely to stoke such white animosity.

“There’s a sense among some folks that if African-Americans are voting 90 percent for ‘one of us;’ then you’re going to vote for ‘one of us,’ ” he said.

...after Senator Obama gets almost 40% of the white vote and Maverick gets less than 10% of the black, which of us is racist?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


What is good design? (Alice Rawsthorn, June 6, 2008, NY Times)

I've learned (the hard way) not to do it, but if random strangers - like taxi drivers, or whoever's sitting on the next airplane seat - ask what I do and I'm rash enough to confess to being a design critic, they invariably follow up with: "So what is good design?"

The stock answer is that good design is generally a combination of different qualities - what it does, what it looks like, and so on. But as our expectations of design change, so do those qualities and the relationship between them.

Design that evolves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Chávez suffers military and policy setbacks (IHT, June 8, 2008)

On the same day Colombia said it had captured a Venezuelan national guard officer carrying 40,000 AK-47 assault rifle cartridges believed to be intended for leftist guerrillas, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela said Saturday he would withdraw a decree overhauling intelligence policies that he had made earlier that week. [...]

[I]n a rare act of self-criticism on Saturday, Chávez acknowledged the ire that his intelligence overhaul had provoked among legal scholars and human rights groups, which said Chávez was attempting to introduce a police state by forcing judges to cooperate with intelligence services and criminalizing dissent. [...]

Reeling from the defeat of a constitutional reform in December that would have expanded his powers, Chávez, in his 10th year in power, is facing multiple challenges as a reinvigorated opposition fields candidates in regional elections this year and Venezuela's economic growth slows despite record oil prices.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


In Iraq shake-up, governing Shiite party expels Jaafari (Andrew E. Kramer, June 8, 2008, IHT)

In a shake-up at the top of the Shiite power structure in Iraq, the former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was expelled from the governing Dawa party, officials said over the weekend.

Jaafari, a physician who was an Iraqi exile leader for decades before returning in 2003 to serve as prime minister, was expelled for creating a political movement that had opened talks with rivals of Dawa's leader, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a senior party member said.

...that he just went to Sadr City to try and eliminate a democratic rival.

June 7, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM


Voting for Commander in Chief: There can only be one (Frederick W. Kagan, 06/16/2008, Weekly Standard)

It would be hard to design a better test for the job of commander in chief than the real-life test senators John McCain and Barack Obama have undergone in the last two years. As the situation in Iraq deteriorated during 2006 and the war reached its most critical moment, both senators served on national security committees: McCain on Armed Services, Obama on Foreign Relations. From those positions, with access to classified situation reports as well as the public testimony and private advice of those who knew the situation in Iraq best, each man reached an understanding of the facts on the ground and the interests at stake. And each proposed a strategy. It was as close as a presidential candidate could get to showing how he would respond to a national security crisis without already being in the White House. [...]

Barack Obama's approach differed from McCain's in its basis as well as its goals and methods. Not having traveled to Iraq since January 2006--before the Samarra Mosque bombing, the explosion of sectarian violence, and the two failed U.S. attempts to quell that violence--Obama relied on others' testimony in assessing the situation on the ground. His bill quoted a skeptical Colin Powell and an even more skeptical CENTCOM commander, General John Abizaid. Abizaid said he had discussed the usefulness of a surge of U.S. troops with "every divisional commander, General Casey, the corps commander, General Dempsey," and all had agreed that a surge of troops would not "add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq." Worse, it would "prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future."

Given this analysis, Obama's legislation forbade the surge and ordered most U.S. troops out of Iraq by the spring of 2008. It said,

The redeployment of the Armed Forces under this section shall be substantial, shall occur in a gradual manner, and shall be executed at a pace to achieve the goal of the complete redeployment of all United States combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008, consistent with the expectation of the Iraq Study Group, if all the matters set forth in subsection (b)(1)(B) are not met by such date, subject to the exceptions for retention of forces for force protection, counter-terrorism operations, training of Iraqi forces, and other purposes as contemplated by subsection (g).

In the media, Obama repeatedly predicted that the surge would fail. The day the president announced the new policy, Obama told Larry King he "did not see anything" in the president's surge that would "make a significant dent in the sectarian violence." The same day, he said on MSNBC,

I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. I think it takes pressure off the Iraqis to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that every observer believes is the ultimate solution to the problems we face there. So I am going to actively oppose the president's proposal.... I think he is wrong, and I think the American people believe he's wrong.

Four days later, Obama told Face the Nation, "We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war. And until we acknowledge that reality--we can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground."

So what happened?

....just because Senator Obama got the central foreign policy question of his career totally wrong?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


Britons want looser ties with EU (Patrick Hennessy, 08/06/2008, Daily Telegraph)

British voters would back radical moves to negotiate a new, looser relationship with the European Union, a survey has shown.

The ICM opinion poll for Global Vision, the Eurosceptic campaign group, found that among people who want to remain in the EU, a majority would like Britain to opt out of political and economic union, and restrict itself to links based on trade and co-operation. [...]

The survey findings come days before Ireland holds a referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty, the only member country to vote on the issue.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Maliki visiting Iran: On a mission to improve relations between the countries, Maliki is expected to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Ned Parker, 6/07/08, Los Angeles Times)

Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said the visit was a pragmatic one.

"In the end, the Americans are leaving, but we are staying here and the Iranians are here -- we have to work as neighbors, we have to build our relations as good neighbors," Dabbagh said.

Sadr declared a freeze on the fighting in Basra in late March only after a delegation of Iraqi lawmakers met him in the Iranian holy city of Qom, said Ali Adeeb, a senior member of Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party who was involved in that meeting.

...the neocons think Maliki is standing up to Iranian influence.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


Da' Tara wins Belmont as Big Brown finishes last (Associated Press, June 07, 2008 )

Big Brown failed in his bid to become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown winner when he finished dead last to Da' Tara in the Belmont Stakes.

Da' Tara went wire to wire to beat eight other thoroughbreds over 1 1/2 miles, the longest and toughest of the three classics.

"I had no horse," said Big Brown's jockey, Kent Desormeaux.

...when Jim McKay was summoned home before the race.

Looks like we're having a US open contest....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 AM


Jim McKay, Olympics and ABC announcer, dies at age 86 (ESPN.com, June 7, 2008)

McKay won numerous awards for journalism, including the George Polk Memorial Award and two Emmys -- one for his sports coverage, the other for his news reporting -- for his work at the 1972 Munich Olympics, which were tragically affected by the Black September terrorists' attack on the Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village.

In 1988, McKay was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

In 1968, McKay won the first of his 13 Emmy Awards, becoming the first sports commentator to receive that honor.

His 12th Emmy, in 1988, was not for his talents as a broadcaster but as the writer of the openings for ABC Sports' coverage of the 1987 Indianapolis 500, the British Open and the Kentucky Derby. He is the only broadcaster to have won Emmys for sports and news broadcasting and for writing.

In 1990 he was the recipient of the first-ever Lifetime Achievement in Sports award from the Academy. In 1992 he was the recipient of an Emmy Award in the Individual Achievement category for the ABC Sports special, "Athletes and Addiction: It's Not a Game."

In 1989 McKay received the Peabody Award, which is presented annually to recognize the most distinguished and meritorious public service programming rendered each year on radio and television.

Sportscaster Jim McKay dies at 86 (Associated Press, June 7, 2008)

McKay -- understated, dignified and with a clear eye for detail -- covered 12 Olympics, but none more memorably than the Summer Games in Munich, Germany. He was the anchor when events turned grim with the news that Palestinian terrorists kidnapped 11 Israeli athletes. It was left to McKay to tell Americans when a commando raid to rescue the athletes ended in tragedy.

"They're all gone," McKay said.

The terse, haunting comment was replayed many times through the years when the events of Munich were chronicled. [...]

"He was a founding father of sports television, one of the most respected commentators in the history of broadcasting and journalism," said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. "

Added Bob Iger, president and chief executive of The Walt Disney Company: "He was a regular guy who wrote and spoke like a poet."

McKay's first television broadcast assignment was a horse race at Pimlico in 1947. It was the start of a love affair -- horse racing captivated him like nothing else.

"There are few things in sport as exciting or beautiful as two strong thoroughbreds, neck and neck, charging toward the finish," he once said.

Racecaller Dave Johnson worked with McKay during horse racing telecasts.

"How many Saturday afternoons did we spend with Jim McKay?" he said from Belmont Park. "Maybe more than with family members. Never a cross word out of him, such a decent human being."

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, worked with McKay for six years at ABC Sports.

"He was truly the most respected and admired sportscaster of his generation and defined how the stories of sports can and should be covered," he said. "While we all know what an absolute titan he was in his chosen field, I will always remember him as an extraordinary human being guided by a strong moral compass."

U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth said McKay set a standard for sports journalism.

"Jim is synonymous with the Olympic Games." he said. "As host of ABC's Olympic coverage, he brought into our homes the triumphs and struggles of athletes from around the world."

The New York Yankees paused to remember McKay before the national anthem today, and fans at a packed Yankee Stadium responded with applause.

McKay left his mark on countless colleagues. Bob Costas called McKay a "singular broadcaster."

"He brought a reporter's eye, a literate touch, and above all a personal humanity to every assignment," Costas said. "He had a combination of qualities seldom seen in the history of the medium, not just sports."

Al Michaels described McKay as the "personification of class and style."

"His enthusiasm permeated every event he covered and thus always made it far more interesting," he said. "I always thought of him as a favorite teacher."

Mike Tirico, covering the NBA finals in Boston for ABC and ESPN, worked four British Opens with McKay. He said McKay held a special place in his household while growing up in Queens in New York.

"Dinner wasn't served on Saturday night until 'Wide World of Sports' was over," Tirico said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Big Brown: Not a gods-on favorite: History suggests brash Dutrow will be foiled somehow (JIM O'DONNELL, 6/06/08, suntimes.com )

[G]onsider the last three Triple Crown winners: Secretariat (1973) was chestnut Camelot, a living, breathing Rx for a nation on the threshold of a foundation-shaking Watergate summer. Seattle Slew (1977) was a majestic blur -- wondrous fanfare for and from the common man. One year later, Affirmed (1978) streamed resolute and invincible, a whatever-it-takes descendant of American high from John Wayne to ''Rocky'' to Ditka-at-the-gate.

Now comes Big Brown. On paper, on video, he eminently deserves his morning-line status as 2-5 favorite in Saturday's dance with history. Thus, the public choices at point of punch are very simple:

• • Does a Belmont watcher bet $2 to win on Big Brown and keep the souvenir ticket?

• • Or does a Belmont pirate trawl deep and try to beat him?

All recent Belmont history suggests Big Brown will be beaten. How it will happen and who will do it will be unveiled by the gods on Saturday. The logical choices to pop the upset are Macho Again, Denis of Cork, Casino Drive, Tale of Ekati and Anak Nakal. All five possess one or more of the three basic characteristics of most contemporary Belmont upsetters: 1. They won their last race; 2. They ran powerfully in the Preakness; and/or 3. They ran respectably in the Kentucky Derby.

Of the five, the two most compelling are Casino Drive and Tale of Ekati. Casino Drive is the Japanese-based colt who made a smashing debut in the United States four weeks ago when he blasted to victory in the Peter Pan at Belmont. But he also benefitted from superb inside stalking position in that prep, made possible by speedball stablemate Spark Candle. He will attempt to become the first 3-year-old to win the Belmont off fewer than three career starts since 1895.

The greatest plus of Casino Drive may be his dam, the Deputy Minister mare Better Than Honour. She has produced the last two Belmont winners: the filly Rags to Riches last year and Jazil in 2006.

As for Tale of Ekati, he finished a well-beaten fourth after a bothered trip inside in the Kentucky Derby. But he was also 2-for-2 at Belmont as a 2-year-old and is the only starter with multiple scores at the Long Island oval. Additionally, he is trained by the canny and conservative Barclay Tagg, whose Funny Cide was denied a Triple Crown in a sloppy 2003 Belmont by Empire Maker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


In Yemen, a Mostly Concealed Sectarian Fight Endures: Unrest Drawing Notice Of Saudi Arabia, Iran (Ellen Knickmeyer, 6/07/08, Washington Post)

The rebellion is being mounted by Yemen's Hashemite Shiites, who ruled the country for more than a 1,000 years until an alliance of Shiite and Sunni military officers deposed them in 1962. Yemen's president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, belongs to the country's larger Shiite community, known as the Zaidis.

Giving the conflict a sectarian cast, his forces have been joined by Sunni tribesmen and extremists in battling the Hashemite rebels, whom the government says are supported by Iran. The rebels say they want only their share of development, resources and power.

"I think there is kind of a settling of accounts here against Iran," Hashed said.

This week, 22 clerics in Saudi Arabia published a statement equating the Hashemite rebels with the Shiite movement Hezbollah in Lebanon. "If they have a country, they humiliate and exert control in their rule over Sunnis," the clerics said, citing Iran and Iraq. "They sow strife, corruption and destruction among Muslims and destabilize security in Muslim countries . . . such as Yemen."

Last year, Yemen's defense minister published what was widely interpreted as a fatwa, or binding religious decree, sanctioning Sunnis to use force against the northern Shiite rebels. The largely impoverished nation of 23 million is majority Sunni.

"At first, yes, maybe the people looked to us as their natural leaders," said al-Mourtada al-Muhatwari, a Hashemite scholar in the capital who demonstrated how followers used to kneel before his father. "Now, we are trying only to survive."

It remains unclear how many have died in fighting since Shiite rebels rose up in the jagged massifs of northern Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia, in 2004.

In 2005, believing it had ended the rebellion, Yemen's government announced that fighting had killed 2,000 soldiers, rebels and civilians. Despite several eruptions of violence since then, the government has released no new casualty totals.

The government has made it difficult for independent observers to make their own assessment of the strife or aid its victims. Authorities have cut off most cellphone networks that reach the north. Government checkpoints and rebel ambushes have blocked the road to the north for most of the past month. Aid shipments to the estimated 100,000 people displaced -- at least one in every seven people in the thinly populated mountains -- have been interrupted since fighting resumed in early May.

The government has denied foreign journalists access to the north since the war began and last month also barred local journalists. Authorities called in Yemeni correspondents for foreign news organizations, telling them there was no need for the world to know of Yemen's problems in the northern city of Saada, local journalists said.

Prosecutors brought sedition charges, with execution as possible punishment, against an editor who had published photographs of devastated northern villages.

"To even speak of going to Saada is to get a death sentence," said the editor, Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani. He awaits sentencing on Monday.

Major international rights groups largely bypass Yemen, leaving unexamined and unamplified allegations that government tanks, warplanes and artillery routinely bombard northern Shiite villages. Smuggled videos show that some villages around Saada have been gutted and largely emptied of all but Shiite fighters.

"If a cat dies in Lebanon, the world knows about it," said Muhatwari, who said his school and mosque in the capital have been shuttered by the government. "Here in Yemen, we are forgotten."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Obama’s Comments on Israel Stir Criticism in U.S. (LARRY ROHTER, 6/07/08, NY Times)

Taken together, the remarks, which Obama aides and surrogates maintain do not express any shift of position, play to one of the main criticisms that Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, has made of his likely rival in the November election. On the campaign trail, Mr. McCain has repeatedly attacked Mr. Obama as so inexperienced and uninformed in foreign affairs that he would jeopardize vital security interests of both the United States and its allies, including Israel.

Sensing an opportunity, the Republican National Committee and allied groups on Friday accused Mr. Obama of “flip-flopping,” echoing earlier criticism of what they say is his inconsistent position on having talks with the leaders of rogue states like Iran. And Mr. McCain, campaigning in southern Florida, which has a large Jewish population, quickly echoed those attacks.

“I can’t react to every comment that Senator Obama makes, because it probably will change,” he said after an air boat ride through the Everglades, “as it did on sitting down and talking unconditionally with Ahmadinejad and dictators.” That was a reference to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, although Mr. Obama has recently qualified past assertions he has made about talking with Iran’s leaders.

...if you're just speaking out of ignorance?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Obama, Political Viagra: Now is when you get worried. (Mark Steyn, 6/07/08, National Review)

A few months back, just after the New Hampshire primary, a Canadian reader of mine — John Gross of Quebec — sent me an all-purpose stump speech for the 2008 campaign:

My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world. I hope you’ll join with me as we try to change it.”

I thought this was so cute, I posted it on “The Corner.” Whereupon one of those Internetty-type things happened, and three links and a Google search later the line was being attributed not to my correspondent but to Senator Obama, and a few weeks after that I started getting emails from reporters from Florida to Oregon asking if I could recall at which campaign stop the senator in fact uttered these words. And I’d patiently write back and explain that they’re John Gross’s words, and that not even Barack would be dumb enough to say such a thing in public. Yet last week his demand in his victory speech that we “come together to remake this great nation” came awful close.

Speaking personally, I don’t want to remake America. I’m an immigrant and one reason I came here is because most of the rest of the western world remade itself along the lines Sen. Obama has in mind. This is pretty much the end of the line for me. If he remakes America, there’s nowhere for me to go — although presumably once he’s lowered sea levels around the planet there should be a few new atolls popping up here and there.

June 6, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:24 PM


The National's slow build (Noah Love, 6/05/08, National Post)

After breaking through the din with their 2005 album, Alligator, 2007's Boxer made them international stars, not to mention pals with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and The Arcade Fire.

As they bask in Boxer's afterglow, the band has released an EP/DVD package. The Virginia EP compiles live songs and B-sides from the sessions for Boxer, while the DVD features Vincent Moon's artistic documentary, A Skin, A Night.

Moon's film is a quiet, slightly morose piece that follows the group as they were in the midst of recording Boxer. And, as Devendorf explains, it wasn't exactly the most flattering time to capture them.

"My only worry is that we come off as real sad sacks, and we're not really like that," he says. "I wouldn't say it's an inaccurate picture, but I would say you're only looking at 40 to 45% of a process.

"We had gotten to a point - as we do every time we record, hopefully not next time we record - where we had gone into the studio and we hadn't finished anything. So we were writing as we were working, which is can be great and is usually how we work, but in this case we had committed to studio time at this studio that wasn't cheap.

"So there was time pressure and money pressure, so you kind of lose perspective as to what's good and bad. He sort of captured a time where we were, I wouldn't say quagmired, but it was definitely an interesting time for the recording."

A Skin, A Night also features a surprisingly cautionary moment, when one of the band members (most of the interview audio comes through in voiceover) reveals that the group only paid off early debts at the very end of touring Alligator.

Devendorf says things have been much better since the completion of Boxer and the touring that followed, but that being in a band still requires its members to walk a financial tightrope.

...with bands that biffed the follow-up to their breakthrough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Obama Backs Away From Comment on Divided Jerusalem (Washington Post, June 6, 2008)

Facing criticism from Palestinians, Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged yesterday that the status of Jerusalem will need to be negotiated in future peace talks, amending a statement earlier in the week that the city "must remain undivided."

Obama's statement, made during a speech Wednesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, drew a swift rebuke from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

It's indicative of just how big his problems with a core Democrat constituency are that he'd ram his foot that far down his own throat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


McCain Sets Sights on the Democrats Who Voted for Clinton (Michael D. Shear and Jon Cohen, 6/06/08, Washington Post)

Republicans plan to describe Obama as an elitist from the Hyde Park section of Chicago, where liberal professors mingle in an academic world that is alien to most working-class voters. They plan to make sure Clinton's voters do not forget about Obama's comments that working-class people are bitter and cling to their guns and religion as a way of dealing with the economic uncertainty they face.

"The cling-to part about religion and guns is where the McCain campaign is going to hammer home on," said Kevin Madden, a GOP analyst who was the spokesman for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's presidential bid.

In recent days, the Republican campaign has held focus groups in the Rust Belt and Appalachian states where Obama's messages of hope and change failed to translate into votes, including one session in Pittsburgh -- Obama lost in Pennsylvania to Clinton, and it will almost surely be a critical swing state in the fall. McCain advisers said they found a palpable unease with Obama among those groups.

The point, key Republican advisers said, is that Clinton's voters see more of themselves in McCain than they do in Obama. In recent weeks, McCain advisers have shared data with Republican activists backing up that contention, said one Republican strategist.

McCain's speech Tuesday night contained a direct appeal to Clinton's voters, calling her a "friend" and saying that her presidential campaign inspired his own daughters and "millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach."

In addition, they say they will stress the areas where McCain's positions are different from Bush's. In his speech Tuesday, McCain went out of his way to highlight his belief in global warming, his opposition to Bush's energy bill and his criticisms of the conduct of the war.

"The American people didn't get to know me yesterday," he said. Speaking as much about Clinton's supporters as his own, he added: "They know I have a long record of bipartisan problem-solving. They've seen me put our country before any president -- before any party -- before any special interest -- before my own interest."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


Why oil prices will tank: Arguments that $4-a-gallon gas (or even higher) is here to stay are dead wrong. Housing's boom-and-bust cycle tells you why. (Shawn Tully, 6/06/08, CNN Money)

[E]ven if Saudi Arabia produces at $4 a barrel, if the final, multi-millionth barrel required to heat houses and run cars costs $50, and is produced, for argument's sake, at a flagging field in West Texas, the world price is $50. That's what economists call the equilibrium price: It's where the price that customers are willing to pay meets the production cost, including a cushion, naturally, for profit or "the cost of capital." [...]

So what does that barrel cost today? According to Stephen Brown, an economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve, that final barrel costs just $50 to produce. And when the price is $125, the incentive to pour out more oil, like homebuilders' incentive to build more two years ago, is irresistible.

It takes a while to develop new supplies of oil, but the signs of a surge are already in place. Shale oil costing around $70 a barrel is now being produced in the Dakotas. Tar sands are attracting investment in Canada, also at around $70. New technology could soon minimize the pollution caused by producing oil from our super-plentiful supplies of coal.

"History suggests that when there's this much money to be made, new supplies do get developed," says Brown.

That's just the supply side of the equation. Demand should start to decline as well, albeit gradually.

"Historically, the oil market has under-anticipated the amount of conservation brought on by high prices," says Brown. Sales of big cars are collapsing; Americans are cutting down on driving. The airlines are scaling back flights.

We've learned another important lesson from the housing market: The longer prices stay stratospheric, the worse the eventual crash - simply because the higher the prices and bigger the profit margins, the bigger the incentive to over-produce.

It's even possible that, a few years hence, we could see a sustained period of plentiful oil supplies and low prices, meaning $50 or below.

A similar scenario occurred following the price explosion in the 1970s and early 1980s. The price spike caused the world to cut back sharply on oil consumption. By the mid-80s, oil prices had fallen from almost $40 to around $15. They remained extremely low for two decades.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:15 PM


Andrews says he heard racist strategy from Clinton camp (Josh Margolin, 6/06/08, The Star-Ledger)

A Democratic superdelegate from New Jersey said this week he is worried that unifying the party behind Barack Obama may be difficult because the Clinton camp "has engaged in some very divisive tactics and rhetoric it should not have."

U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, who supported Hillary Clinton throughout the primary season, disclosed he received a phone call shortly before the April 22 Pennsylvania primary from a top member of Clinton's organization and that the caller explicitly discussed a strategy of winning over Jewish voters by exploiting tensions between Jews and African-Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 PM


...but you do have to pull for Kobe to retire having never won without Shaq carrying him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


The Dirty Trickster: Campaign tips from the man who has done it all. (Jeffrey Toobin, June 2, 2008, The New Yorker)

For nearly forty years, [Roger] Stone has hovered around Republican and national politics, both near the center and at the periphery. At times, mostly during the Reagan years, he was a political consultant and lobbyist who, in conventional terms, was highly successful, working for such politicians as Bob Dole and Tom Kean. Even then, though, Stone regularly crossed the line between respectability and ignominy, and he has become better known for leading a colorful personal life than for landing big-time clients. Still, it is no coincidence that Stone materialized in the midst of the Spitzer scandal—and that he had memorable cameos in the last two Presidential elections. While the Republican Party usually claims Ronald Reagan as its inspiration, Stone represents the less discussed but still vigorous legacy of Richard Nixon, whose politics reflected a curious admixture of anti-Communism, social moderation, and tactical thuggery. [...]

It was Stone’s preoccupation with toughness that led to his enduring affection for Nixon. “The reason I’m a Nixonite is because of his indestructibility and resilience,” Stone said. “He never quit. His whole career was all built around his personal resentment of élitism. It was the poor-me syndrome. John F. Kennedy’s father bought him his House seat, his Senate seat, and the Presidency. No one bought Nixon anything. Nixon resented that. He was very class-conscious. He identified with the people who ate TV dinners, watched Lawrence Welk, and loved their country.” (Rule: “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my revolver.”)

Although Stone shares many of Nixon’s resentments, his own tastes have always tended to more Rabelaisian pleasures than “champagne music” and Salisbury steak. Not long ago, Stone went to the Ink Monkey tattoo shop in Venice Beach and had a portrait of Nixon’s face applied to his back, right below the neck. “Women love it,” Stone said.
Nixon recognized the effectiveness of anti-élitism—a staple of American campaigns even today—as a core message. “Everybody talks about the Reagan Democrats who helped put the Republican Party over the top, but they were really the Nixon Democrats. The exodus of working-class people from the Democratic Party was started by Nixon. The realignment was delayed by Watergate, but it was really Nixon who figured out how to win,” Stone said. “We had a non-élitist message. We were the party of the workingman! We wanted lower taxes for everyone, across the board. They were the party of the Hollywood élite.” Stone went on, “The point that the Democrats missed was that the people who weren’t rich wanted to be rich. And Jimmy Carter was viewed as an appeaser.” [...]

Stone detests Hillary Clinton’s politics but admires her pugnacity. He wrote recently on his Web site, an erratically updated collection of observations called Stonezone.com, “I must admit she has demonstrated true grit and Nixonian-like tenacity in the face of adversity.” Stone particularly admires Clinton’s attempt to hang the “élitist” tag on Barack Obama. “It’s a good idea,” he said.

The beauty of the profile is that he finds Nixonland in
the Democratic primary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:40 AM


Q&A: 'Unlike the Wolf, Sheep Are Afraid of Freedom': Interview with Jiang Rong, author of 'Wolf Totem' (IPS, 6/06/08)

IPS: How do you explain the continuing popularity of the book?

JR: It is quite a phenomenon. For the first three years after its 2004 publication, "Wolf Totem" was, continuously, the most read book in China. Now, in its fifth year, the book is still at number five on the most popular books charts. I don’t think there has ever been another Chinese novel to preserve its popularity for so long. It is not only the pirated copies that prove it. Some big companies have financed its reprint themselves and distributed it to their employees. Corporate executives like the book. So do people in the military.

IPS: Why?

JR: Because it attacks the weakness of the Chinese national character. Chinese people are inherently weak; they can’t stand up for themselves. They need an emperor to protect them. Even when they rebel, ultimately they still want to install a better, more enlightened emperor. In my book, I have compared Han Chinese (the dominant ethnic group) to sheep. Sheep are always afraid of freedom. Unlike the wolf, which roams free, the sheep needs shelter and protection. It is cattle. "Wolf Totem" summarises my own experiences in organising liberal democratic movements in China. Each time, I had people who rallied with me. But at the end, they all ran away and I was always the one left to suffer the consequences. I was labeled a "counter-revolutionary" five times in my life. I was sent to prison twice.

IPS: What is the meaning of the wolf in your story?

JR: The wolf symbolises the free spirit. In traditional Chinese culture, which is inspired by Confucianism, all wolf stories are bad. Wolf is a swear word. But in my book, the wolf totem revered by nomadic Mongols, stands for freedom, independence, competition, strength and teamwork. If Chinese people want to be free, they need to nurture these characteristics. They need to change their national character. National character is the reason behind the failure of Chinese political movements.

IPS: What about the role of Mongolian grasslands in your book?

JR: The book is based on my own experiences as an educated youth sent for "re-education" in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. But there is more to the autobiographical element. I wanted to write a book attacking China’s sheep like mentality and criticising our nation’s cultural roots. Unlike Japan, which has learned to embrace Western ideas, China has always resisted the West’s influence. Chinese people resist Western culture because they believe their own culture is superior. In the past this way of thinking has often prevented them from advancing. Obviously, I couldn’t use the West as comparison to make my point. I had to choose the grassland culture of nomadic people, which lies between China and the West.

IPS: Some foreign critics have called your book racist. What is your opinion?

JR: I wrote the book as a self-reflection. I needed to make Chinese people look inside themselves and see their weaknesses. In my original epilogue I explain the motives for my call to emulate the wolf as a way to make Chinese people stand up and fight for freedom.

You know you have a problem when you compare unfavorably to the "independence" of the Japanese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Investors' Growing Appetite for Oil Evades Market Limits: Trading Loophole for Wall Street Speculators Is Driving Up Prices, Critics Say (David Cho, 6/06/08, Washington Post)

The federal agency that oversees oil trading, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, has exempted these firms from rules that limit speculative buying, a prerogative traditionally reserved for airlines and trucking companies that need to lock in future fuel costs.

The CFTC has also waived regulations over the past decade on U.S. investors who trade commodities on some overseas markets, freeing those investors to accumulate large quantities of the future oil supply by making purchases on lightly regulated foreign exchanges.

Over the past five years, investors have become such a force on commodity markets that their appetite for oil contracts has been equal to China's increase in demand over the same period, said Michael Masters, a hedge fund manager who testified before Congress on the subject last month. The commodity markets, he added, were never intended for such large financial players.

"I've never said that financial speculation is behind all of the recent price increase here, but even if it's some of the reason, it's something society needs to look very hard at," he said.

We all own houses, but no one will mind watching these guys get wiped out, and there's any easy way to implode the bubble, Floor It: Drivers have a taxing problem (Charles Krauthammer, 6/06/08, National Review)
Some things, like renal physiology, are difficult. Some things, like Arab-Israeli peace, are impossible. And some things are preternaturally simple. You want more fuel-efficient cars? Don’t regulate. Don’t mandate. Don’t scold. Don’t appeal to the better angels of our nature. Do one thing: Hike the cost of gas until you find the price point.

Unfortunately, instead of hiking the price ourselves by means of a gasoline tax that could be instantly refunded to the American people in the form of lower payroll taxes, we let the Saudis, Venezuelans, Russians, and Iranians do the taxing for us — and pocket the money that the tax would have recycled back to the American worker.

This is insanity. For 25 years and with utter futility (starting in February 1983, with “The Oil-Bust Panic” in The New Republic), I have been advocating the cure: a U.S. energy tax as a way to curtail consumption and keep the money at home. In May 2004 (and again in November 2005), I called for “the government — through a tax — to establish a new floor for gasoline,” by fully taxing any drop in price below a certain benchmark.

The point was to suppress demand and to keep the savings (from any subsequent world price drop) at home in the U.S. Treasury rather than going abroad.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Adviser says McCain backs Bush wiretaps (Charlie Savage, June 6, 2008, NY Times)

A top adviser to Senator John McCain says McCain believes that President George W. Bush's program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.

Power never seems as scary when it's you who'll get to use it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Retailers fare better than expected (Washington Times, June 6, 2008)

[C]ostco Wholesale Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were among the strongest performers, but fewer rebate dollars made their way to the mall, and retailers such as Gap Inc. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. missed expectations.

"It was a great month for discount retailers, but the rest of retail is struggling to capture a share of the consumer's wallet," said Patricia Edwards, a portfolio manager and retail analyst at Wentworth, Hauser & Violich in Seattle.

Overall, results were better than the gloomy May analysts predicted as consumers still shopped despite rising energy costs, declining home values and tightening credit, and some analysts saw some glimmers of a possible pickup in business later this year. And tax rebate checks helped offset rising gas prices, said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research company in Swampscott, Mass.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


A Not-So-Widespread Downturn: So far, the weakness has been largely confined to the housing and automotive sectors—suggesting the economy may be more resilient than it appears (James Cooper, 6/06/08, Business Week)

When the business-cycle experts at the National Bureau of Economic Research define a recession, they say the depth of the decline in economic activity must be "significant" and that it must last "more than a few months." They also say the downturn must be "spread across the economy," and that may turn out to be the most crucial factor in whether or not the current period of weakness ends up being called a recession.

So far, the slump has been unusually narrow, confined mainly to housing and autos. That may explain why broad indicators, such as employment and household income, have not posted typical recession-size declines, and why overall growth has been so resilient in the face of stiff headwinds.

The economy may have more hidden strength than the puny top-line numbers for gross domestic product growth imply. The latest report says the economy grew at annual rates of 0.6% and 0.9%, in the fourth and first quarters, respectively. Help from tax rebates, foreign demand, and lean inventories raise the chances for another small plus in GDP this quarter.

June 5, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 PM


Alleged 9/11 mastermind asks for death sentence: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed criticizes the proceedings at Guantanamo as "an inquisition" and says he wants to be a martyr. He and four others are accused of murder in the 2001 terrorist attacks. (Carol J. Williams, 6/05/08, Los Angeles Times)

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, told the Pentagon's war-crimes court today that he wants to be put to death and become a martyr.

It's where dreams come true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


A Britain No Longer Great (Tom Bethell, 6/4/2008, The American Spectator)

I go to England fairly often as I have family there -- a brother, two sisters, and my 95-year-old mother. Otherwise I doubt if I would go back. The first thing an American will notice is how expensive it is. Most things are double the U.S. price. Gasoline is three times higher -- now $10 a gallon. And still the roads are clogged. (All prices in this article have been converted to dollars at $2 to the pound.)

The country is far richer than it used to be, London is booming and one of the most expensive cities in the world. One reason is that Tony Blair, prime minister for ten years, knew better than to reverse Margaret Thatcher's key reform -- the reduction of tax rates on capital and income. The new (and still unelected) prime minister, Gordon Brown, seems to have less sense. [...]

Parliament, when I was in England, voted not to hold a referendum on the new European "constitution." So the people will not be able vote it down -- as happened in France and the Netherlands. Yet the Labour Party had won the 2005 general election on a manifesto promising such a referendum. A former French president described the background in these words: "Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly." That is what is happening.

THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM in England, I believe, is the decline in Christianity. It is a Europe-wide phenomenon. Churchgoing in Britain is dwindling away, both among Catholics and Protestants. Rome has contributed to this decline by appointing weak bishops, believing that this will bolster ecumenism (a substitute for conversion). Church schools are funded by the state. Recently the Catholic bishop of Lancaster stuck his neck out and said these schools weren't teaching proper Catholic doctrine; sex-ed amounted to "throwing condoms at children" increasing teen pregnancy, and so on. He was soon called to testify before a parliamentary committee whose chairman said:

"It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked."

He reminded us that "this is taxpayers' money."

That is exactly the outlook of the political classes, but normally it is left unspoken. Parliament can tolerate religion, even fund it, as long as people don't really believe it. The bishop spoke out only because parents pressed him, it appears, and I won't be surprised to learn that Rome reacts by urging the bishop not to jeopardize funding in future.

The decline of Christianity is something the intelligentsia has long sought, but the rise of Islam may be its most momentous consequence. And that is feared, not relished. Witness the Archbishop of Canterbury's lame gesture of appeasement, calling for the partial recognition of Sharia law. One faith is moving into the spiritual vacuum left by the other. These, perhaps, are the most important underlying forces at work in Britain today. And rising prosperity is probably the most important cause of Christian decline. People will not think much about the next life when they have so many opportunities to indulge their appetites in this.

One night, on the BBC, there was a touching film called "White Girl," apparently based on a true story. It showed one of these sad, broken families moving into public housing in a part of Bradford now controlled by Pakistani Muslims. (Bradford is a large northern town, once the center of the wool trade, and now one of the largest Islamic communities in Britain. I went there myself on a brief visit recently.)

The daughter of this chaotic family -- the "white girl" -- meets the neighbors and goes with them to the mosque. She tells her surprised mother: "When I pray it's like everything's not all bad and f***ed up, like somewhere there's a place that I feel safe." Muslim propaganda? Maybe. But also believable.

The great unanswered question is whether the welfare state that has so de-moralized family life in Britain will likewise undermine the Muslims. At present they seem to be flourishing. Peter Hitchens accepts that the Muslim rise and Christian decline are but the opposite poles of a single phenomenon. Possibly, the corrosive effects of welfare will undermine the Muslims as well. He described seeing young Muslim men tearing about in souped-up cars on his own visit to Bradford.

Possibly, also, the greater morale that Muslims now seem to enjoy will preserve their families intact. My impression is that their men have not yet been cuckolded by the state -- certainly not in the mosque, and perhaps not in the home either. It's hard to say. I don't know of any good reporting that has yet been done on these crucial developments in Britain.

It is precisely because the welfare state will likewise destroy Muslims that Eurabia is not a realistic threat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Back by popular demand: Mannix!: Fans' persistence got the '60s series on DVD — but it may not be the show they remember (JAIME J. WEINMAN, May 28, 2008, Macleans)

Who knew that Mannix was the ultimate cult show? With flattening DVD sales, most studios aren't bringing out a lot of older TV shows in the format, but on June 3, due to massive fan campaigning, Paramount will release an extras-packed set of Mannix: Season One, a late '60s show starring Mike Connors as a detective who seems to spend most of his time beating people up or getting beaten up himself. The problem is, the first season isn't exactly the show that fans remember, and it may not sell well enough to bring them the episodes they really wanted.

In its first season, in Paramount's good-quality prints, Mannix comes off as a stylish, entertaining mystery/action show, thanks to Connors, showrunner Bruce Geller, and the jazz waltz theme by Lalo Schifrin. The successful show, which ran from 1967 to 1975, was famous for its consequence-free violence: Mad Magazine joked that the show offered "weekly groin-kicking of the defenceless." Today, it isn't widely seen, but it has faithful fans who have lobbied Paramount to release the show, even going to the studio in "Why isn't Mannix on DVD?" T-shirts. The media took notice; a Washington Post article featured interviews with Connors and Mannix fan club organizers, who then used the article to publicize their plea for a Mannix DVD.

Now we need Cannon, Barnaby Jones, Harry O, Hec Ramsey....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:53 AM


The Wrong Lessons from Swift-Boating (Steven Stark, 6/05/08, Real Clear Politics)

Kerry's real mistake -- and what allowed the charges to fester -- was that he made his three-decade-old war experience a key part of his campaign, even beginning his acceptance speech with the words, "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty."

Once he did that, his Vietnam record became a central issue and fair game for critics. And once one gives that much amplitude to a series of personal events that happened 30 years earlier, and that others experienced too, one is inevitably going to be subject to conflicting accounts and faulty memories.

So it went for Kerry. Yes, the GOP poured fuel on the fire. But he lit the match himself -- a mistake John McCain is unlikely to make this time by making his war heroism a rhetorical centerpiece of his campaign.

Dukakis and Willie Horton were another matter entirely. Horton, Democratic partisans don't need reminding, was the Massachusetts convicted murderer let out on a weekend leave who didn't return and subsequently raped a woman in Maryland and attacked her fiancé. His story and the state's furlough program became the showpiece of a whole series of Republican ads that Democrats have been complaining about ever since.

Yes, the ads had racial overtones and, yes, Dukakis didn't really respond. But the real problem with the underlying story was a difficult one to counter under any circumstance: it was true.

...they're unanswerable because true. Similarly, the Democrat attacks are easily answered because true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:44 AM

Country Captain Chicken (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 05, 2008)

* 1/2 cup chicken broth
* 1/2 cup currants or raisins
* 1 tablespoon curry powder (I used McCormick's Red Curry Powder)
* 1 tablespoon garam masala
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
* 4 strips thick-cut bacon, diced
* 12 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin and fat
* 1 pound carrots, sliced
* 2 yellow bell peppers, coarsely chopped
* 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
* 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
* 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
* 4 cups cooked white rice
* 1/2 to 2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring broth to boil in small saucepan; stir in currants. Remove from heat and let soften. In small bowl, mix curry powder, garam masala, salt, and pepper.

Scatter bacon in large, heavy Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring often, until firm and golden, about 6 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer to small bowl. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons drippings, but reserve excess, if any.

In batches, cook chicken in drippings until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side, adding additional bacon drippings (or olive oil) if necessary. Transfer chicken to clean plate. After browning chicken, spoon off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pan.

Add carrots, bell peppers, onions, and garlic to pan. Cook, stirring often, scraping browned bits from pan bottom, until slightly softened, 6 minutes.

Add tomatoes, ginger, spice mixture, and currants and broth. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tomatoes have cooked down to a puree and sauce has thickened, 8 minutes.

Nest chicken in sauce, skin side up and above surface. Tent pot loosely with foil or cover with lid askew. Transfer to oven. Bake 20 minutes until sauce is bubbling. Uncover and bake until sauce is very thick and chicken skin is just beginning to crisp, about 15 more minutes.

Skim off fat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put 1 cup cooked rice in each of 4 bowls; top each with chicken and then sauce. Sprinkle with reserved bacon, almonds, and parsley.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Ladies, get ready to meet Mr Retrosexual (David Thomas, 30th May 2008, Daily Mail)

Once, men were simply men. But then feminists decided they were chauvinist pigs who didn't spend enough time doing the dishes. So along came the guilt-ridden New Man, swiftly followed by sensitive, moisturising Metrosexual Man. Of course, women soon missed the whiff of testosterone and were calling for the return of Real Men. Now a new book, The Retrosexual Manual: How To Be A Real Man, has been published. David Thomas tip-toes through the unashamedly macho details. . .

Who is he?

Remember, you have a number of qualities, almost all deriving from your testosterone, which women can't help but admire. For example:

1. Your mind is uncluttered. Consider the female brain, filled as it is with multiple anxieties about its owner's hair, figure, health, diet, clothes, shoes, emotions, digestive transit, sex life, competitive female friendships, multi-tasking duties as a worker/lover/ wife/mother/whatever.

Instead, your mind is focused on the important things in life: sex, beer, football. Women secretly envy a mind like that.

2. You can make decisions on your own. You don't need to talk it over for hours with all your friends, or consult a horoscope, or worry about feng shui.

3. You have strong arms which come in handy whenever bottles need opening, cases need carrying, or a girl just feels like gazing at a strong, muscular limb.

4. You do not clutter up the bathroom. No woman wants a man who owns more beauty products than she does. A man who showers, shaves, then gets out of the way is ideal.

...if you don't think the following story ought to be part of the sales campaign for the Chevy Suburban, you're a [soccer fan], Can sex really sell green products? (SmartPlanet.com)
New research commissioned by General Motors in the US finds that women would be more interested in chatting to a chap in a hybrid car than something with a bit more vroom under the hood.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Israel, Don't Undermine Beirut (David Schenker, 6/02/08, Jerusalem Post)

Today, in the aftermath of the Doha agreement, the future of the March 14 coalition lies in the balance. And its survival -- indeed, the future disposition of Lebanon -- depends at least in part on what Israel does. Israel, like its Arab neighbors, has a lot at stake on what happens in Lebanon. The struggle in Lebanon today is nothing short of a battle to shape regional trends, a fight between moderation and militancy.

While Washington has sided with the government of Lebanon against Hizbullah, it would be unseemly if not counterproductive for Israel -- technically still at war with its neighbor -- to publicly pick favorites in local Lebanese politics. Nevertheless, given its pro-Western stance, it's difficult to understand Israel's ambivalence toward the disposition of the Saniora government and the Cedar Revolution vis-a-vis Hizbullah.

Supporters of the Lebanese government have long claimed that Israel is actively protecting the Assad regime in Syria and, in the process, undercutting the Saniora government. The recent announcement of the resumption of Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations in Turkey -- coming so closely on the heels of the Syrian-backed Hizbullah military offensive -- has been yet another blow to the morale and survivability of the March 14 coalition.

In Beirut, it's widely feared that an Israeli-Syria deal would come at the expense of Lebanon. This view has merit: many current and former Israeli officials and academics make no secret of their belief that an agreement could be facilitated by recognizing a return of Syria to Lebanon and by ensuring somehow that the Assad regime be insulated from the sanctions which would accompany the regime's implication by the International Tribunal in the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri.

Even if Israeli-Syrian talks don't come to fruition -- and there is little to indicate they will considering Damascus' repeated declarations that it will not undertake a strategic reorientation from Teheran to the West nor change its relationships with Hamas and Hizbullah -- peace talks with Damascus undercut those who oppose the agenda of Hizbullah and Syria in Lebanon. Negotiations alone stand to erode international support for the tribunal, one of the few real levers of pressure held by the majority. This is what the March 14 coalition fears, and of course, this is why the Syrians are so interested in talking with the Israelis now.

The ultimate nature of the government in Beirut -- whether pro-West or aligned with Teheran and Syria -- should be an important policy concern for the Israeli government.

...to imagine that you control other peoples. The notion that Israel can thwart eventual self-determination in Hezbollahstan is delusional.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Why Obama Must Go to Iraq (PETE HEGSETH, June 5, 2008, Wall Street Journal)

Since his election to the United States Senate in 2004, Mr. Obama has traveled to Iraq just once – in January 2006. This was more than a year before Gen. David Petraeus took command and the surge began. It was also several months before Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government came into office. Although Mr. Obama frequently criticizes the Iraqi leader on the campaign trail, he has never actually met him.

Mr. Obama's conduct is strikingly different from that of Sen. John McCain, who has been to Iraq eight times since 2003 – including three times since surge forces began to arrive in Baghdad. The senior senator from Arizona has made it his mission to truly understand what is happening on the ground, in all its messy reality.

Mr. Obama has dismissed the value of such trips, suggesting they are stage-managed productions designated to obfuscate, not illuminate, the truth. This has become an all-too-common sentiment within the Democratic Party leadership, especially since the surge began to transform conditions on the ground for the better. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has denied that there is any value in visiting the troops in Iraq, and has never done so. [...]

That Mr. Obama apparently doubts his ability to distinguish spin from reality, and to draw bad news out of subordinates, does not bode well for his possible future as our nation's chief executive. As I'm sure he will discover, if he wins the White House, these are among the most important skills for a president to possess.

Even more astonishing than Mr. Obama's absence from Iraq, however, is the fact that he has apparently never sought out a single one-on-one meeting with Gen. Petraeus. The general has made repeated trips back to Washington, but Mr. Obama has shown no interest in meeting privately with him. It's enough to make you wonder who exactly Mr. Obama listens to when it comes to Iraq?

Self-knowledge ought to be celebrated, but when you realize you're a lighterweight than George Romney, that's a problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Personal Freedom Without Political Liberty (R.R. Reno, June 5, 2008, First Things: On the Square)

[D]ouglas Farrow’s provocatively titled book Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage provides an important insight that we do well to ponder. He sets aside the moral arguments against homosexual acts and concentrates on the lasting implications of gay marriage for our political culture.

A Canadian active in the recent failed efforts to block gay marriage there, Farrow looks at the legislation and its enabling amendments that made gay marriage possible in Canada in 2005. He finds an important shift. Where old laws spoke of husbands, wives, and children as “blood relations,” the new laws speak of “persons,” “legal parents,” and “legal parent-child relationships.”

In other words, in the old system, the state presumed the existence of a substantive, natural reality that required legal adumbration: the union of a man and a woman, and the children resulting from their sexual relations. Now the Canadian government sees that it must intervene and redefine marriage and parenthood in order to give fixed legal standing to otherwise fluid and uncertain social relations. When the gay friend donates his sperm to the surrogate mother hired by a lesbian couple, the resulting “family” is a purely legal construct, one that requires the power of state to enforce contracts and attach children to adoptive parents.

The result is the opposite of the libertarian dream of freedom. As Farrow observes, with gay marriage we are giving over the family to the state to define according to the needs of the moment. The upshot, he worries, will be a dangerous increase in the power of the state to define our lives in other realms once thought sacrosanct. “Remove religiously motivated restrictions on marriage,” he writes, “and it is much easier to remove religiously motivated restrictions on human behavior in general, and on the state’s power to order human society as it sees fit.” The libertarian dream turns into the totalitarian nightmare. Who can or cannot be a spouse? That’s for the state to decide. To whom do children belong? It’s up to the state to assign parents as its social workers and judges think best.

Plato’s plan of taking children from their parents so that the state can control their socialization has few contemporary proponents. (There are, however, many fellow travelers in the educational establishment and so-called helping professions.) Nonetheless, I think we can see the tyranny of the political in our times. Much like the current abortion regime and the slavery jurisprudence of the antebellum era, proponents of gay marriage imagine that they can redefine inconvenient, permanent realities and remove traditional barriers to the relentless human desire to get what we want. The idea that “bride” and “groom” are not gender specific is a current sign of the absolute triumph of the political will. When we accept that judges and legislators possess the power to define the meaning of marriage, then it’s hard to imagine what would limit the state’s power to redefine social reality other than “personal autonomy,” which turns out to be no limit at all, since everything is desired by somebody somewhere. For all we know, Leona Helmsley wanted to marry her dog.

As importantly, the atomized individuals that are rendered when you apply this social solvent are more dependent on the state and easier to control.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Rays, Red Sox get testy in fight for first (The Associated Press, June 5, 2008)

Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp was involved in a flareup in the eighth when he slid into second baseman Akinori Iwamura hard and late. Crisp was thrown out, but that was hardly the end of it. After Julio Lugo struck out, Rays manager Joe Maddon went to the mound to remove pitcher Jason Hammel, turned toward the Red Sox dugout and said something to Crisp.

"Everybody else on the mound started looking over there so I got louder," Crisp said. "I don't know if he could hear what I was saying but basically I just said, `I did that on my own so don't punish anybody else on the team.'"

Crisp was upset with shortstop Jason Bartlett, not Iwamura, after Bartlett put his knee down in front of the bag on Crisp's successful steal in the sixth. Crisp came out of that with a sprained left thumb that was bandaged after the game but may not sideline him.

"I told him ... I'd get back on base and then I'm going to show him how I felt about it," Crisp said. "It wasn't as dramatic as it probably would have been if he would have covered the bag."

There are a startling number of good/great players under age 30 on the field when these two teams match up and they were feuding even when the Rays stunk.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Obama Versus Lieberman (Eve Fairbanks, 6/04/08, New Republic: The Stump)

A fun report from the Senate floor in Roll Call: [...]

[D]uring a Senate vote Wednesday, Obama dragged Lieberman by the hand to a far corner of the Senate chamber and engaged in what appeared to reporters in the gallery as an intense, three-minute conversation. While it was unclear what the two were discussing, the body language suggested that Obama was trying to convince Lieberman of something and his stance appeared slightly intimidating. Using forceful, but not angry, hand gestures, Obama literally backed up Lieberman against the wall, leaned in very close at times, and appeared to be trying to dominate the conversation, as the two talked over each other in a few instances.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Slaying gave US a first taste of Mideast terror: Analysts call Robert Kennedy's death a prelude to kidnappings and attacks (Sasha Issenberg, June 5, 2008, Boston Globe)

The shooting of Robert F. Kennedy is widely remembered as part of the wrenching domestic turbulence of the 1960s. But some scholars are beginning to see it as something quite different yet no less significant: America's first taste of the political violence of the Middle East.

Sirhan Sirhan, the young Palestinian-American who shot Kennedy, made the attack on the first anniversary of the Six-Day War in Israel. In his private writings, he had demonstrated anger over Kennedy's positions favoring Israel over the Palestinian cause. [...]

Sirhan, a Christian Arab born in Jerusalem, had moved to California as a teenager and was 24 when he shot Kennedy. "My only connection with Robert Kennedy was his sole support of Israel and his deliberate attempt to send those 50 bombers to Israel to obviously do harm to the Palestinians," he told David Frost in 1989.

That would have been largely unfamiliar to Americans as a political cause at the time of Kennedy's murder. UN Resolution 242, passed in the fall of 1967 in the wake of the Six-Day War, does not include the word "Palestinian" at all, and Middle Eastern issues were barely mentioned in a presidential campaign dominated by the Vietnam War.

"No one would have thought of this as Palestinian terrorism," Oren said. "They didn't even know the term 'Palestinian' at the time."

Government investigators quickly ruled out a conspiracy, and Sirhan has never been linked with any terrorist groups. When his trial began in 1969, Sirhan's attorneys quickly settled on a defense that their client lacked the mental capacity to have premeditated the attack, a defense that preempted a serious examination of his motives.

"My reaction and that of many people is that a crazy person could have had an infinite number of guiding forces and he just happened to have that one," Peter Edelman, who was issues director of Kennedy's campaign, said in an interview.

Sirhan's legal strategy demonstrated his lack of interest in using the courtroom as a venue to air his political grievances - or to introduce evidence that contradicted the prosecution's theory.

"He was a Middle Eastern version of Lee Harvey Oswald," said Steven M. Gillon, political historian at the University of Oklahoma. "He fit the profile of a lone gunman who wants to become famous by shooting a famous person rather than having a political ideology he wanted to advance."

In September 1969, Palestinian guerrillas hijacked a TWA plane over Greek airspace, perhaps the first time Middle Eastern terrorists had picked an American target and an increasingly frequent occurrence after the group Black September was founded the following year. But few in the United States or Israel showed any interest in portraying Kennedy as a victim of that cause - and those around Kennedy say he would have been an unlikely martyr.

They used to televise his parole board hearings--Charles Manson's too--and the specific claim he made was that, because of RFK's rhetoric about helping the downtrodden he thought the Senator would support the Palestinians and then felt betrayed when he didn't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Missions Accomplished: a review of The Roman Triumph by Mary Beard (Emily Wilson, New Republic)

In ancient Rome, triumphs were the only occasions on which soldiers in full battle gear were allowed to march through the city. The full-scale triumph was relatively rare in most periods. But the triumph was, as Beard convincingly shows, a central element in the Roman political and cultural imagination. Triumphs were the single most important occasion for the Romans to dramatize the connections between foreign policy and domestic power: they showed the defeated barbarians to the civilians back home, and the victorious general, bloody from battle, rode straight from his celebratory parade to his inauguration in domestic government. In the days of the Republic, great generals became consuls. Through triumph, Roman society could declare that war was the foundation on which the city was built. This central Roman idea is expressed in the final lines of Virgil's Aeneid, when the hero "founds" his city (condit) by "burying" his sword (condit) in the body of his enemy.

Over the last hundred years or so, ancient historians have built up a very clear image of what happened at a typical Roman triumph: the route through the city, what the general wore, who marched where, and so on. But Beard brilliantly shows that most of this story about the typical Roman triumph is a scholarly or literary fabrication, supported by very slender evidence, or by none at all; or it is a reconstruction based on evidence from authors in widely different time periods, each of whom has his own axe to grind. The standard claim, for example, that a slave stood behind the general saying, "Look behind you. Remember you are a man," is actually a result of "stitching together" of totally different pieces of evidence, which Beard meticulously picks apart. The demolition work is the most obvious accomplishment of her book.

But Beard's bulldozer also points to a new building project. She suggests that the way to do history in general -- and the case of the Roman triumph in particular -- is not to tell "a simple story of development and change," but to question and to analyze the "dynamic relationship between ritual practice and 'rituals in ink.'" Tradition, she reminds us, involves a constant process of cultural invention or reinvention. Beard's book provides good evidence for the case that cultural history is not only more interesting, but also more scholarly, than the old models of positivist reconstruction of a unified narrative of the past.

We all think we know that Cleopatra killed herself because she refused to be paraded in a Roman triumph by the victorious Octavian (who was to become Augustus). But Beard reminds us that similar stories of famous prisoners who committed suicide rather than appear defeated before the Roman city recur suspiciously often in the literature of triumph, even before the defeat of Cleopatra, so the trope is unlikely to have originated with her. We should not, then, read these stories as evidence for the (frustratingly unknowable) experience of those defeated by the Roman army. What the stories do illuminate is the complexity of Roman responses to Roman victory. They point to the limits on Roman power -- since Cleopatra's asp can help her outwit her enemies, and "call great Caesar ass / Unpolicied." On the other hand, as Beard emphasizes, the stories clearly celebrate "the inexorable power of Roman conquest and triumph": for a Roman prisoner, death is the only alternative to total humiliation.

Beard claims that "it is warrior states that produce the most sophisticated critique of the militaristic values they uphold." But she herself acknowledges that the Romans were not "proto-pacifists," and argues explicitly against the claim -- often made by classical scholars and Italian tour guides -- that these parades were a way to expiate a sense of war guilt. Beard's evidence suggests that the Romans were not particularly worried about whether war was worth the cost of thousands of Roman lives, or about whether Rome had a right to colonize, or enslave, or impose Roman values on the rest of the world. For the Romans, the big questions raised by the triumph were not "Is war wrong?" or even "Is this particular war worth celebrating?" The questions that vexed the Romans were rather "What are the limits of a single man's power?" and "How rich is too rich?" The triumph, in which a single general or emperor rode high above the city surrounded by wealth gathered from far-flung regions of the world, provided a memorable image of those perennial Roman concerns: the glories and the dangers of wealth, luxury, and tyranny. Beard argues that the general in his chariot always risked being upstaged by the common soldiers, the prisoners, the glorious booty, or the crowd. The elaborate and expensive ritual could go wrong in any number of ways -- as when Pompey the Great, returning victorious from Africa, tried to lead a group of elephants through the gates to the Capitol but got stuck. Triumphs were, among other things, exercises in public relations.

Ambivalence about war is a fine thing, once they're won.

June 4, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM


Habitat for Humanity Disassociates With Planned Parenthood Abortion Center (Steven Ertelt, 6/04/08 LifeNews.com)

[A]ccording to local zoning rules, the abortion business can't build the new center unless a multi-family housing unit is built on the back of the lot. The zoning board turned down a five-year extension since it is not a builder and couldn't find a buyer for the lot.

As LifeNews.com first reported, Planned Parenthood came up with a creative solution and tentatively sold the lot to Habitat for Humanity for $10.

Duane Bates, the director of Public and Media Relations for the national Habitat organization, confirmed in an email to LifeNews.com that Habitat is no longer involved.

"We wanted to inform you that Habitat for Humanity of Sarasota has declined a donation of land from Planned Parenthood, stating that accepting the land 'would not be in the best interests of our ongoing work in the community, the families we seek to serve or the broader Habitat for Humanity community,'" he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


The show trial begins (David Warren, 6/04/08, The Ottawa Citizen)

The writings of Canada's most talented journalist, Mark Steyn, went on trial in Vancouver on Monday, in a case designed to challenge freedom of the press. It is a show trial, under the arbitrary powers given to Canada's obscene "human rights" commissions, by Section 13 of our Human Rights Act.

I wrote "obscene" advisedly. A respondent who comes before Canada's "human rights" tribunals has none of the defences formerly guaranteed in common law. The truth is no defence, reasonable intention is no defence, nor material harmlessness, there are no rules of evidence, no precedents, nor case law of any kind. The commissars running the tribunals need have no legal training, exhibit none, and owe their appointments to networking among leftwing activists.

I wrote "show trial" advisedly, for there has been a 100 per cent conviction rate in cases brought to "human rights" tribunals under Section 13. [...]

While media attention to Mark Steyn's show trial is inadequate, it is nevertheless the best publicized case ever to come before our "human rights" bureaucracies. Most of the victims of these neo-Maoist tribunals have been "little people," with nothing like the resources Maclean's magazine has put in play to defend itself and Steyn, and no media reporting whatever. They have been persecuted, stripped of their livelihoods and savings, demonized among their neighbours, made to endure humiliating "re-education" programs - without lawyers, without assistance of any kind -- all for exercising rights that any Canadian would have taken for granted a mere generation ago.

I want justice for Mark Steyn. But I also want justice for all these little people, who have been crushed under the jackboot of "political correction."

That should read "New Hamphire's most talented journalist, but homey has to have sense enough not to visit that hellhole to the North.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


McCain Should Pick Sarah Palin for VP (Jack Kelly, 6/04/08, Real Clear Politics)

There is one potential running mate who has virtually no down side. Those conservatives who've heard of her were delighted to learn that McCain advance man Arthur Culvahouse was in Alaska recently, because they surmised he could only be there to discuss the vice presidential nomination with Gov. Sarah Palin.

At 44, Sarah Louise Heath Palin is both the youngest and the first female governor in Alaska's relatively brief history as a state. She's also the most popular governor in America, with an approval rating that has bounced around 90 percent.

This is due partly to her personal qualities. When she was leading her underdog Wasilla high school basketball team to the state championship in 1982, her teammates called her "Sarah Barracuda" because of her fierce competitiveness.

Two years later, when she won the "Miss Wasilla" beauty pageant, she was also voted "Miss Congeniality" by the other contestants.

Sarah Barracuda. Miss Congeniality. Fire and nice. A happily married mother of five who is still drop dead gorgeous. And smart to boot.

But it's mostly because she's been a crackerjack governor, a strong fiscal conservative and a ferocious fighter of corruption, especially in her own party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:37 PM


Saudi king calls for end to Islamic extremism (Donna Abu-Nasr, Jun 4, 2008, AP)

Islam must do away with the dangers of extremism and present the religion's positive message, Saudi King Abdullah said Wednesday as he opened a conference of Muslim figures aimed at launching a dialogue with Christians and Jews.

The three-day gathering in the holy city of Mecca seeks a unified Muslim voice ahead of the interfaith dialogue. In particular, Saudi Arabia hopes to promote reconciliation between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

"You have gathered today to tell the whole world that ... we are a voice of justice and values and humanity, that we are a voice of coexistence and a just and rational dialogue," Abdullah told the 500 Muslim delegates from 50 Muslim nations in his opening speech.

Abdullah walked into the conference hall Wednesday with powerful Iranian politician Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who later sat on the king's left on the stage, sending a message that the Sunni kingdom does not have a problem with moderate Shiites like him.

The Sa'uds are going to need to spend as much repudiating Salafism as they did fostering it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Monsanto pledges to lift food supply (Andrew Pollack, June 4, 2008, IHT)

Monsanto, the leader in agricultural biotechnology, pledged Wednesday to develop seeds that would double the yields of corn, soybeans and cotton by 2030 and would require 30 percent less water, land and energy to grow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:26 PM


Dude, Where's My Recession? (James Pethokoukis, 6/04/08, US News)

1) The Institute for Supply Management nonmanufacturing index for May came in at 51.7. That is consistent with an economy growing at about 2 percent a year or so.

2) The ADP private payroll report showed a gain of 40,000 jobs for May. This raises the odds that this week's employment report from the Labor Department might show an actual gain—not the decline of 200,000 to 400,000 typically seen during a recession. [...]

And as today's strong productivity numbers show—it was up 3.3 percent year over year—the Amazing American Growth Machine remains a powerful beast. I mean, if you could swap economies with another nation, which would you choose?

...they mean growth under 3%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:20 PM


US teens having less sex, drugs (AFP, /04/08)

US teens are having less sex, doing fewer drugs and smoking fewer cigarettes than those who grew up in the 1990s, a study released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found.

They are also more likely to use condoms when they do have sex, wear a seat belt and avoid getting into a car with a driver who's been drinking, the national study of youth risk behavior found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


Islam, the Law, and The Sovereignty of God: Accommodating Qur’anic principles to the civil religion (Mark Gould, June/July 2008, Policy Review)

Islam is a multifarious religious tradition. Here I focus on the dominant Sunni tradition. I do not deal with variations in that tradition in the many social and cultural circumstances where it has been and is found. I characterize the logic of religious commitments, the obligations that motivate and legitimate activities, not religious dogma.

Eschatology and soteriology. While soteriology, the theology of salvation, is of paramount importance in Christianity, eschatology, the theology of the last judgment, is of primary significance in Islam. Christians believe in original sin. No Christian, on her own, has the capacity to be saved. God sacrificed his Son to enable salvation; people are saved, or not, through God ’s grace.

In Islam, humans are created with a sound nature, a natural understanding of their obligations to God. They are, however, forgetful and subject to Satan ’s temptations. God’s messengers, and most especially his last and final messenger, Muhammad, remind them of their obligations. Thus God has informed believers how they must act to be saved. God has requested nothing that believers cannot do. If they follow his commandments, on the Day of Judgment God will judge them fairly, weighing the good against the bad, including them among the saved.

These rules are not easy to follow, but Muslims believe that God does not want to create hardship and asks nothing that cannot be accomplished by men and women endowed with a sound constitution, a fitra, which guides each person to God. Unlike in Christianity, where original sin precludes salvation without God ’s grace, here each person’s nature enables her to act in ways that merit God’s grace.

The concern with one’s eternal fate is as manifest in Islam as in Christianity, but its manifestation is different. The Early Meccan suras, those learned first by most Muslims, focus on the Day of Judgment, on God ’s judgment of people in light of his commandments (which are codified in the later suras to be revealed, in the Hadith and in the Shari’a). God is merciful, but believers are told to fear his wrath if they fail to conform to the duties he has revealed for them; thus Muslims are highly motivated to fulfill God ’s commandments, knowing that at the Last Judgment, “Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it also” ( q 99, 8–9). The structure of their religious commitment is embedded in this eschatology. In Christianity, in contrast, a soteriology of grace is enunciated which requires deeds but which centers more concretely in faith. The incarnation of God in Jesus, not in a text articulating a set of rules and regulations, embodies men ’s hopes even as it increases their uncertainty.

Unfortunately, for all of the isms, uncertainty is the whole ball of wax. Islamicism, Socialism, Communism, Libertarianism, Nazism, Maoism -- every form of Utopianism -- is fatally flawed because they reflect a mistaken certainty about the perfectibility of man and human society.

That's why the Shi'a faith affords a better basis for an Anglo-American-style constitutional order but the Sunni will have to be Reformed.

The True Believer (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.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


New views of the Cuban missile crisis: Chaos may have been closer than we think. (Carlo Wolff, June 2, 2008, CS Monitor)

Kennedy and Khrushchev “had the power to blow up the world, but they were both horrified by the thought of nuclear Armaggedon,” he writes. “They were rational, intelligent, decent men separated by an ocean of misunderstanding, fear, and ideological suspicion.”

Later, he adds, “JFK’s great virtue, and the essential difference between him and George W. Bush, was that he had an instinctive appreciation for the chaotic forces of history.”

Chaos may never have come so close to being unleashed as it did in October 1962. Dobbs’s extraordinary book reminds us that keeping powerful forces under control is particularly hard in the nuclear age. And, as always, essential.

To the contrary, there's nothing easier than acquiescing to the oppressive forces that conspire to keep people unfree. That's what the dictators want themselves and there's always an isolationist constituency in the West that doesn't give a rat's patootie how other peoples are treated--the Obama candidacy rests on the assumption that they are a majority. It is embracing chaos (temporarily) that is hard and fighting to grant people abroad the same God-given rights that we enjoy.

What makes the Cuban Missile Crisis an especially shameful episode in our history is not just that the USSR lacked the capacity that Mr. Wolff here claims for it, but that JFK -- a callow, inexperienced Senator who the Left thought was the Messiah -- sold the Cuban people down the river. Fortunately, no matter how this election turns out, because W understood the stakes better than Ike, no one will be able to issue a similar sentence on the Shi'a and Kurds of Iraq.

Flight to Freedom: Looking back on Cuba's Long Night (Dn. Gustavo Alfonso, Orthodoxy Today)

The dark, bitter and long night through which Cuba endures has witnessed the imprisonment and execution of thousands of dissenters, religious persecution, and ultimately a cruel internal “blockade” inherent to Communism which has thwarted the creative power of a resourceful people and which is the true cause of the impoverishment of a once thriving country. [...]

Now, almost twenty percent of the Cuban population of this planet lives outside the island. And my family’s generational continuity was not meant to be — my children were the first in my lineage to be born outside Cuba since the nineteenth century.

I have been blessed to live breathing American freedom all of my life, in a society skeptical of false messiahs and which repudiates tyranny. Consequently, what has always confounded me is the complacency with which so many in the world have accepted the propaganda of the Cuban revolution. How can people continue to lionize Castro, Che and company, and glamorize a cruel regime that has held an iron grip on power for forty-nine years? The dark, bitter and long night through which Cuba endures has witnessed the imprisonment and execution of thousands of dissenters, religious persecution, and ultimately a cruel internal “blockade” inherent to Communism which has thwarted the creative power of a resourceful people and which is the true cause of the impoverishment of a once thriving country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:39 AM


PM following Hawke's path (Greg Sheridan, ,June 05, 2008, The Australian)

KEVIN Rudd is stepping forthrightly into the shoes of Bob Hawke as he pursues the great Australian foreign policy ambition of the past 20 years - to build an Asia-Pacific community.

Like Hawke, Rudd very explicitly wants this community to include the United States. Going beyond Hawke, he also wants it to include India.

Outside of Spain, these days Western elections just put in place folks who adhere to W's view of the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


Did Hillary Crack the Working-Class Code? (Mark Schmitt, June 4, 2008, American Prospect)

The tragedy of Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency is that only after she had effectively lost the Democratic nomination did she find a language and message that gave people a reason to vote for her beyond the claim that her nomination was inevitable. By that point, though, the day-to-day proxy war with Barack Obama was so relentless that even her supporters may have missed the subtle argument and language that could be her lasting contribution to progressive politics.

Subtle? Her argument was that her opponent was part of a liberal elite that doesn't represent mainstream Democrats, nevermind Americans more broadly. That is a winning message--indeed it has won every presidential since 1964--but it's not one "progressives" can use.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


McCain to challenge Obama to additional debates (Jonathan Martin, 6/04/08, Politico)

John McCain will use the first day of the general election to propose additional debates or joint forums beyond the three sanctioned for this fall, according to a McCain source.

At a town hall meeting and press conference in Baton Rouge later this morning, the Republican nominee will make his case for why there should be more engagement between he and Barack Obama.

Because Senator Obama is a disaster when he's off script.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Global Governance vs. the Liberal Democratic Nation-State (John Fonte, 6/04/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)

In the coming years of the twenty-first century the ideology, institutions, and forces of “global governance” will directly challenge the legitimacy and authority of the liberal democratic nation-state and American constitutional sovereignty. What is this ideology, what are these institutions and forces, and how do they challenge liberal democracy and American sovereignty? To begin to examine these issues let us start with the primary questions of politics.

Who governs? To whom is political authority responsible? How are rulers chosen? How are rulers replaced? How is the power of rulers limited? How are laws made? How can bad laws be changed? These are the perennial questions of politics. As Plato and Aristotle inquired: what is the “best regime”?

In this first decade of the twenty-first century, has the question of what is the best regime been settled? For many throughout the developed world the answer is yes. Liberal democracy, that hybrid combination of liberalism and democracy, is the “best regime.”

Liberalism in traditional political theory means an emphasis on individual rights, free institutions, the impartial rule of law, freedom of speech and association, private property, and freedom for religion, commerce, culture, and educational institutions. Under liberalism, equality of individual citizenship is the norm.

Democracy means rule by the “demos,” the people. At the heart of modern democracy is the doctrine that governments derive their powers from the “consent of the governed,” as famously put in the American Declaration of Independence. National self-government, popular sovereignty, and majority rule (within constitutional limits, i.e., limited by liberalism) characterize the norms of liberal democracy.

These great questions of politics are in theory answered in liberal democracy. Political authority resides in a self-constituted people based on “consent.” This self-governing people choose their own rulers through elections and can replace them if they are unresponsive. The people limit the power of rulers through a constitution that functions as a basic law. Bad laws can be changed by elected national legislatures. Moreover, in practice, democracy occurs only within the borders of individual liberal democratic nation-states. As Marc Plattner, co-editor of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy, recently wrote,“…we cannot enjoy liberal democracy outside the framework of the nation-state.” [1]

In his seminal 1989 essay “The End of History,” Francis Fukuyama argued that the great question of politics?what is the best “regime”??has been settled. We have arrived at “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universialization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government,” Fukuyama declared. To be sure, the practical process of spreading liberal democracy throughout the world might take hundreds of years, but the ideological hegemony of liberal democracy has already been established—that is to say, the notion that the only legitimate form of government is liberal democracy is now widespread and almost universally accepted. Even non-democratic governments either pretend to be democratic in their own particular way or claim that they are working towards democracy.

Fukuyama recognized that there will be competiting ideologies to liberal democracy, but no rival political worldviews with universal appeal, in the final analysis. He argued that the potential ideological rivals (Asian values, Islamic fundamentalism) would not likely gain widespread support among Western intellectuals; thus the crux of his argument is that there are “no rival ideologies with universal appeal.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Pacifism Fails in the Face of Sovereign Evil: If the U.N. won't act on its own mandate, then we should use force to combat immutable evil. (Nat Hentoff, June 3rd, 2008, Village Voice)

While the generals ruling Myanmar were drastically limiting international aid for the many thousands of victims of the recent cyclone, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington dismissed the urgent cries for forceful outside intervention.

"Myanmar is a sovereign country," said Wand Baodong on May 20. "In the end, rescue and relief work will have to rely on the Myanmar government." [...]

After nearly 20 years of reporting on the likes of Sudan's General al-Bashir and, more recently, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, I'm convinced there are times when the only way to rescue the surviving victims of such monsters is to bypass the U.N. with a league of democratic nations, enough of whose citizens are driven by a visceral need to protect the human rights of people being terrorized by their own sovereign governments.

For many years, I considered myself a nonviolent, direct-action pacifist, one who was greatly influenced by the lessons of the late A.J. Muste, who, Martin Luther King Jr. told me, first turned him onto nonviolent action. A.J. was also a key strategist of the anti–Vietnam War movement. I wrote a book, Peace Agitator, about Muste in time for him to see it before he died.

However, I am forced to conclude, after many decades spent reporting on and witnessing the evidence, that there is such a thing as immutable evil in this world—as personified by, among others, Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir. By advocating the use of force to save their victims, I feel I have betrayed A.J., and probably that part of myself that made me a pacifist. But with General al-Bashir breaking the 2005 peace treaty that put a stop to his 20-year war against black Christians and animists in the south of Sudan—in which over two million people have already died—only force will prevent the opening of (to quote one Western observer there) "the gates of hell."

The Anglospheric innovation to sovereignty is the requirement that the sovereign govern by the consent of the government and in accordance with our standards of human rights.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Exit polls show challenge for Obama (David Paul Kuhn, June 4, 2008, Politico)

On the night that Barack Obama clinched his party's nomination, one-third of Hillary Clinton's supporters in Montana and South Dakota said they would not vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Exit polls from both states demonstrate that Obama inherits a fractured coalition after the longest primary race in modern history. Demographic divisions dug by class, race, gender and political philosophy haunted Obama until his last contests, effectively forcing the Illinois senator to limp across the finish line Tuesday night.

The cappuccino versus coffee Democratic divide between upper class and working voters continued.

June 3, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Hollywood actor Mel Ferrer dies (BBC, 6/03/08)

US actor and director Mel Ferrer has died at the age of 90, a spokesman for his family has said.

Ferrer died at his ranch in California surrounded by family and friends, the spokesman said.

Ferrer starred in scores of films including War and Peace, The Sun Also Rises, and Lili.

He was married to Audrey Hepburn, with whom he worked on several films. In 1967 Ferrer produced Wait Until Dark, in which Hepburn starred.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 PM


Occupation has cost Israel dear, says report (Rory McCarthy, 6/04/08, The Guardian)

Israel's occupied territories and conflict with the Palestinians has undermined the country's economic growth and has cost at least an extra 36.6bn shekels (£5.7bn) in defence spending over the past two decades, according to an Israeli thinktank.

Calculations by the Adva Centre, an independent policy centre in Tel Aviv, suggest Israel's economy has been held back, inequality within the country has grown and there have been significant government budget cuts to pay for mounting defence spending. [...]

["T]he truth is that the conflict with the Palestinians is like a millstone around the neck of Israel: it undermines economic growth, burdens the budget, limits social development, sullies its vision, hangs heavy on its conscience, harms its international standing, exhausts its army, divides it politically, and threatens the future of its existence as a Jewish nation-state."

Adva's figures show Israel's economy grew 43% between 1997 and 2006, well behind world economic growth during that period of 67% and growth of 68% in the US and in the EU.

...comes from resettling immigrants from the collapsed Iron Curtain and from the slow acceptance that socialism doesn't work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM

IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DREAM, REALLY... (via Bryan Francoeur):

Euthanasia tourists snap up pet shop drug in Mexico (Robin Emmott, 6/03/08, Reuters)

Elderly foreign tourists are tapping Mexican pet shops for a drug used by veterinarians to put cats and dogs to sleep that has become the sedative of choice for euthanasia campaigners.

Tourists from as far as Australia have traveled to Mexico to buy liquid pentobarbital, which causes a painless death in humans in less than an hour, right-to-die advocates say.

Clutching photos of the bottled drug to overcome a lack of Spanish, they have maps sketched by euthanasia activists to locate back-street pet shops and veterinary supply stores near the U.S. border. There they can buy a bottle for $35 to $50, enough for one suicide, no questions asked.

... to die with all the dignity of a Chihuahua in a Nuevo Laredo gutter...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM</