December 31, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 PM


Will Obama's promise of change include U.S.-Japan relations? (HIROSHI NAKANISHI, 1/01/09, The Japan Times)

On the other, there is unease in Japan about the Obama administration and dissatisfaction with Japan's relations with the U.S. The unease mostly derives from the fact that Japan has worse memories of the Democratic administration of President Bill Clinton than of Republican administrations. The first Clinton administration was wary of Japan's economic power and pushed for Japan to open its market by setting numerical targets, which resulted in Japan suffering a steep appreciation of the yen to a record high of ¥79 against the dollar.

While the second Clinton administration saw economic friction wane as the U.S. economy enjoyed a boom and the Japanese economy suffered from a bust, the administration pursued a policy of playing up China's importance in East Asia. In 1998, President Clinton passed over Japan to visit China for more than a week. The experience of this "Japan bashing and passing" has given rise to fears, especially among Japanese political and business leaders, and high-ranking bureaucrats that the Obama administration will represent the reappearance of a Clinton administration — despite the fact that President Clinton and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto issued a joint declaration on security cooperation in 1996, and that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President George W. Bush built a foundation for a strong alliance, realizing what was called the best U.S.-Japan relationship so far. The fact that Obama appointed many people who had served in the Clinton administration to his Cabinet has strengthened these fears to some extent.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


A poet's life, from the inside: a review of GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS: A Life By Paul Mariani (Floyd Skloot, December 31, 2008 , Boston Globe)

[Gerard Manley] Hopkins, born near London in 1844, lived just shy of 45 years before dying in Dublin, weakened by years of nervous illness, after contracting both typhus and typhoid. Though raised within the Church of England, Hopkins at 22, after a period of intense and anguished consideration, convinced of his calling, converted to Catholicism. This conversion, and the subsequent struggle to commit himself even more intensely to a Christ-like life, represent the central story of Hopkins's life. Along with that, his compulsion to write poetry of tremendous originality and immediacy, his guilt over homoerotic urges, his powerful need to express how fully he saw God in all of nature, and his effort to balance religious retreat with his callings as teacher and writer devastated Hopkins's soul as he tried to sustain the pure, simple life of a Jesuit priest and teacher of classics.

Most of Hopkins's story is essentially internal, an account of emotional, philosophical, and spiritual ordeal. This presents serious problems for a biographer, especially when his subject is long dead and restrained by Victorian and Church pressures against candid expression. [Paul Mariani] makes use of Hopkins's letters and notebooks, and devotes extensive space to analysis of Hopkins's poetry, where the inner man is most open. But what distinguishes this biography from previous ones is not Mariani's scholarship or uncovering of vital new material, but the fullness of his absorption into his fellow poet and fellow Catholic's experience and art.

Wisely, Mariani chooses a nontraditional approach. Rather than succumbing to a typical biographical arc, he begins with the conversion story, and with Hopkins's years as a student at Oxford, plunging us into the thematic heart of the story. He also emphasizes the intensity and immediacy of Hopkins's quest for religious consistency, his experience of thought and feeling, by using a present-tense narrative. He seeks to echo Hopkins's literary quirks in recounting the poet's manner of thinking, and finds places where Hopkins, even when young, expressed himself in ways that reveal the core of his dilemmas in a voice already uniquely his own: "the activities of the spirit are conveyed in those of the body as scent is conveyed in spirits of wine, remaining still inexplicably distinct."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:17 PM


Spirited Away: His masked hero has arrived on the big screen, but it’s Will Eisner’s slice-of-life comics that loom large (David L. Ulin, 12/31/08, Nextbook)

Yet if all this speaks to the influence of The Spirit—you can do almost anything in a seven-page comic, Eisner seems to be saying, a radical notion in the 1940s—I’ve long had the feeling that he continued to chafe at the conventions of the medium, that he couldn’t quite align his aspirations with what were, after all, irreconcilable restrictions: the need to resolve everything quickly and neatly; the crimefighter template, with its palette of cops and criminals, heroes and femmes fatales; the throwaway nature of comics in general, which even into the 1970s were regarded as a disposable form. It took a quarter century or so for him to come up with a solution: the long-form comic, or graphic novel, which Eisner helped innovate with his 1978 book A Contract with God.

Three decades later, it’s common to claim A Contract with God as the first graphic novel, but like all creation myths, this is not completely true. In the first place, the book is not really a novel, since it doesn’t tell a single story like the literary works Eisner aimed to emulate; it contains four long stories of Depression-era Jewish life. More to the point, as Eisner himself acknowledged in a preface to the 2005 omnibus The Contract of God Trilogy, he was less a pure innovator than part of a continuum, influenced by experimental graphic artists who in the 1930s “produced serious novels told in art without text.” These are the so-called woodcut novels, inspired by expressionism and printmaking and conceived as a response to silent film. It’s hard to call them comics, exactly, although you can see the work of certain comics artists (Eric Drooker; Peter Kuper; even, to an extent, Art Spiegelman) in them. Yet what their existence suggests is that, as Spiegelman puts it, long before A Contract with God, “the idea of a long comic book was in the air . . . There was conversation about it, and there was even an attempt to figure out what it might be.”

What, then, is Eisner’s real legacy, 30 years after A Contract with God? More than anything, it’s that he recognized the potential of the medium, seeing in comics not just disposable juvenile entertainment but a storytelling palette as rich as that of any narrative art. This is what The Spirit, at its best, has to offer, although it came to fruition only once Eisner shifted his focus—in A Contract with God, as well as the dozens of other graphic novels he produced, at the rate of nearly one a year—to the material he knew best: the urban immigrant world from which he had come.

Here, we have the landscape of A Contract with God: a tenement in a neighborhood of tenements, populated equally by the dissatisfied and the dreamers, by the betrayers and those who feel themselves betrayed. The title story revolves around Frimme Hersh, a Hasid who walks away from religion after the death of his daughter, which he deems a violation of the covenant between God and man. That’s an audacious way to start a book, especially a comic; it announces Eisner’s ambition in no uncertain terms. Comics, he wants us to understand, can take on the most elusive subjects: spirituality and religion, death, obligation, and all those messy questions about existence—about who and what we are.

At the same time, his characters have no choice but to play out their own small dramas, the minor-key struggles of the everyday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


Obama maintains silence in first major test (Rupert Cornwell, 31 December 2008, Independent)

During the autumn presidential election campaign, Barack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, was much mocked for suggesting that a President Obama would be tested by a major foreign crisis within a few months of coming to power.

In fact, that major crisis has erupted even before he takes office, in the shape of Israel's massive assault on Gaza – and the man who, in 20 days' time, will become the most powerful man in the world has said nothing.


Shhhh! As the world waits for Obama to voice his opinion on Gaza, America's President-elect hits the golf course (Daily Mail, 30th December 2008)
Barack Obama remained silent over the violence in Gaza as Israel today threatened to continue its attacks for weeks.

Instead, the President-elect is continuing his 12-day Christmas holiday in Hawaii and was seen enjoying a round of golf.

He joined a group of friends at a private club near his £6million rented, beach-front holiday home yesterday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Is Israel repeating mistakes of the past?: Israel has promised a "war to the bitter end." Yet history shows that battling an organization like Hamas is almost futile. (Yassin Musharbash, Dec. 31, 2008, Der Spiegel)

Armies and governments prefer to avoid such conflicts. They often end without a clear victor; nobody capitulates, there is no white flag waved, no peace treaties signed. Other rules apply. One of them is the following: If the militarily inferior rebel group manages to survive, it is seen as the victor.

Two years ago, the truth of this rule was brought home to Israel after its summer war with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The Israeli army attacked with the goal of ending the Hezbollah threat after the terror group kidnapped two Israeli soldiers at the Lebanese border. But the war, pitting the ultra-modern Israeli force against a few thousand irregulars from Hezbollah, dragged on for weeks. Now the war is seen as a disaster in Israel, and Hezbollah came away seen as the victors, and its image in the Middle East was only strengthened.

Nevertheless, Israeli officials are once again resorting to the all-or-nothing rhetoric heard in 2006. This time around, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has spoken of a "war to the bitter end" and of an "all-out war." This time, the opponent is Hamas.

Israel's anger is understandable. On Dec. 19, Hamas elected not to renew a fragile six-month-long cease-fire with Israel and began once again lobbing explosives at random across the border into Israel. Those rockets have killed four people this week. But the question remains: Is a vast military offensive of the kind we have seen this week the best way for Israel to proceed?

It is certainly risky. Most experts on asymmetrical warfare warn that it is virtually impossible to eliminate a group like Hamas -- with its military and social components -- merely with superior firepower. Furthermore, the offensive strains Israel's relations with its neighbors Jordan and Egypt -- bonds that have never been very tight. It also weakens the positions of those Palestinians who were in favor of a negotiated peace with Israel.

The last five days of Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which have seen over 350 Palestinians killed and many more wounded, have highlighted the problems inherent in such an asymmetrical operation. Planes have targeted mosques because Israel thinks they are being used to cache weapons; apartment blocks where high-ranking Hamas members live have been destroyed, almost guaranteeing civilian casualties. The university was destroyed because it espoused the Hamas ideology. Each one of these targets presents a dilemma -- and the images they create are unhelpful to Israel. Indeed, the only targets that make sense are the smuggler tunnels under the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

It is also unclear that the offensive brings Israel a single step closer to its ultimate goal of eliminating Hamas entirely. Indeed, the more intense the Israeli bombing campaign has become, the more Palestinian rockets have flown across the border into Israel. Hamas may be briefly weakened as its commanders are knocked off and its weapons depots destroyed. But, in the long run, it is difficult to see Hamas not benefiting the same way Hezbollah benefited from the 2006 war. Their aura as resistance fighters can only be strengthened.

Looked at objectively, one would have to conclude that Israel feared Hamas was becoming too weak politically and needed to be boosted.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:02 PM


Wal-Mart To Sell Cheaper Inhaler (David Goodhue, 12/31/08, AHN)

Inhalers must now use hydrofluoroalkane to propel the medication. These inhalers are significantly more expensive than CFC inhalers. Many health advocates say the higher prices may prompt some patients to go without essential medication.

Wal-Mart says it has the answer.

"While some HFA inhalers may sell for as much as $60 for certain brands, our $9 ReliOn Ventolin HFA inhaler will ease the financial burden for sufferers of asthma who should not go without these life-saving medications," Sandy Kinsey, Walmart's divisional merchandise manager for pharmacy, said in a statement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


The Politico Whiteboard

Roland Burris, the choice of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat, defends the injection of race into the debate over who should represent Illinois. “It is a fact there are no African-Americans in the United States Senate," Burris said Wednesday on NBC's "Today," reiterating a statement first made Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill). "Is it racism that is taking place? That's a question that someone may raise."

If you were writing the Obama Presidency as a satire you wouldn't change a word so far.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Abortion After Obama (Joseph Bottum, January 2009, First Things)

On abortion, Obama is the complete man, his support so ingrained that even his carefully controlled public speaking can’t help revealing it. He’s not a fanatic about abortion; he’s what lies beyond fanaticism. He’s the end product of hard-line support for abortion: a man for whom the very question of abortion seems unreal. The opponents of abortion are, for Obama, not to be compromised with or even fought with, in a certain sense. They are, rather, to be explained away as a sociological phenomenon—their pro-life view something that will wither away as they gradually come to understand the true causes of the economic and social bitterness they have, in their undereducated and intolerant way, attached to abortion.

December 30, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 PM


Inmates' fate unclear if Obama closes Gitmo (Alan Gomez, 12/29/08, USA TODAY)

President-elect Barack Obama vowed on the campaign trail to shut down the terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay. But he never said what he would do with the prisoners there.

What to do with the 250 alleged foreign terrorists at the Cuba prison is the real question facing Obama, experts say.

Terrorism experts and two recent analyses of unclassified information on the prison population indicate the men who remain there are either committed, highly skilled al-Qaeda operatives too dangerous to ever free, or Islamists whose native countries would do little to prevent them from rejoining the jihad. [...]

A review by the Brookings Institution found that some of the "Gitmo 110" are eligible for release but have not been freed because their countries of origin are sympathetic to their cause.

Hundreds of detainees have been released to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan because the United States has good relationships with those countries and can trust that they will monitor the released detainees responsibly, said Benjamin Wittes, co-author of Brookings' report.

That has left Guantanamo with a disproportionately high number of lower-risk detainees from Yemen, which has not policed its population and serves as an easy gateway for terrorists into Iraq, Wittes said.

Wittes cautioned that these men are far from harmless, describing them as "quite committed."

While the Obama transition team did not return e-mails seeking comment, the Pentagon says shutting down Guantanamo means only that another facility must be found. [...]

Each detainee is given an initial review by a military tribunal to determine whether they're an enemy combatant to be held until cessation of hostilities in the current war on terror. The combatant then receives an annual review to determine whether he is no longer considered a danger and is eligible for release.

Retired Army major general John Altenburg, who once oversaw the Guantanamo cases for the Pentagon, said those reviews are "unprecedented" in war.

"In any other country, in any other place, they wouldn't be bothering to make that determination," Altenburg said. "They would just say, 'We've detained them legally and we can hold them.' "

Strange how issues that were so cut and dry when Bushitler was raping the Constitution are suddenly so complex....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


Can Israel Win the Gaza War?: It depends how you define success. (Shmuel Rosner, Dec. 30, 2008, Slate)

[T]he question of proportionality is once again being discussed, especially by those who oppose Israel's actions against the Hamas government in Gaza. "In its efforts to stop amateur rockets from nagging the residents of some of its southern cities," writes Palestinian professor Daoud Kuttab in the Washington Post, Israel reacted with "disproportionate and heavy-handed attacks." In other words, "nagging" isn't enough to justify airstrikes.

But for Israel, the daily shelling of civilians with rockets—homemade or not, events of recent days have proved that they are capable of killing—was much more than nagging. And Israeli leaders will claim that the response is far from disproportionate. "Our goal is not to reoccupy the Gaza Strip," said Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Asked if Israel was out to topple Gaza's Hamas rulers, she said, "Not now." If reinstating the status quo ante is the test of proportionality, then Israel passes with flying colors. All it wants to do—as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert explained—is "to improve the security reality of southern residents in a thorough manner." A modest goal for a prime minister who promised two years ago, during the war in Lebanon, to "operate in full force until we … take control and terminate … radical, terrorist, and violent elements."

Wow. It's an even bigger waste of effort than we'd assumed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:10 PM


Love Thy Neighbor: What’s behind evangelical support for Israel? (Jeremy Gillick, Nextbook)

In his book Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism, Stephen Spector, a freewheeling professor of English at Stony Brook University and author of Operation Solomon: the Daring Rescue of the Ethiopian Jews, makes the case for a more nuanced understanding of Christian Zionists. Based on a range of evangelical and academic literature as well as dozens of interviews with evangelical leaders and American and Israeli officials, Spector argues that we’ve misunderstood a large, rich, and diverse religious group—at both their expense and our own.

Jews tend to see evangelical support for Israel as self-serving, and worry that evangelicals champion Jews’ return to the Holy Land only so they’ll die or convert to Christianity at the end of days. But you say that's not the whole story.

The reason that's most often cited is Genesis 12:3—God will bless those who bless the Jews and curse those who don't. Generally, the Jews are God's people. God is on the Jews' side, so evangelicals want to be on the Jews' side as well. There's also a commandment to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and it’s said that those who do will prosper. Among evangelicals, I've noticed a genuine fear of what would happen if the United States stopped supporting Israel. Christian Zionists believe that the only reason we are a blessed nation is because we've blessed Israel. [...]

Do you expect Christian Zionist attitudes to change?

Ted Haggard pointed out that dispensational thinking is declining among evangelicals, and wondered whether they would love and support Israel less as a result. Some evangelicals might feel put off if their love for Israel and the Jews seems unrequited. My best guess, though, is that people who read the Bible literally will always take very seriously God's promises of blessing those who bless Israel, and cursing those who curse the Jews.

...are you really supposed to be that bothered that Jews hate Evangelicals?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


Obama`s Silence On Gaza Show Low Arab Expectations (Javno, 12/20/08)

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, with his silence on Israel's attacks in Gaza, has confirmed Arab expectations that foreign policy changes will come small and slow when he moves into the White House next month.

On the fourth day of Israeli air strikes which have killed more than 380 people in Gaza, the U.S. President-elect has yet to take a position, though he spoke out after militants' attacks in Mumbai and has made detailed statements on the U.S. economy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:43 PM


Blagojevich tries to name Obama successor (MIKE ALLEN & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 12/30/08, Politico)

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to appoint former state attorney general and comptroller Roland Burris to fill out President-elect Obama's term in the U.S. Senate, a Senate official told Politico.

But Senate Democratic leaders have threatened not to seat someone who was named by the disgraced governor, who is accused of trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder.

Bad enough they'll seat Al Franken whose "election" is dubious, is one political party really going to overrule the laws of a state and decide who it prefers for the Senate?

Ah, this may already be a settled question, Can the Senate not seat Burris? (Pete Williams, 12/30/08, NBC)

In January 1967, Adam Clayton Powell of New York was re-elected by the Harlem district he represented since 1942, despite allegations that he had misused official travel funds and made improper payments to his wife. The House, invoking a provision of the Constitution that says, "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members," decided that Powell was unqualified and refused to seat him, declaring the seat vacant.

So, he sued.

The Supreme Court ruled -- by a vote of 8 to 1 -- that the House was wrong and that Powell must be seated. The court said in deciding whether to exclude, Congress is limited to considering only whether a member meets the very minimal requirements for office set out in the Constitution.

A good Colgate man, Brother Powell and never lacking in cojones. His first year at alma mater he just passed as white.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:35 PM


The Good War? Maybe Not (Tom Bethell, December 2008-January 2009, American Spectator)

IN REVISITING THE PRELIMINARIES to World War II, I want to make one more point. Let’s pretend that we can rewrite history, this time without Chamberlain’s pledge. Now what happens? One possibility is that Hitler decides to move east and attack the Soviet Union. He was explicit in Mein Kampf that east was the most promising direction for German expansion, not west or south. And east was where he went anyway. Maybe, with a neutral Poland, an advance to the east would have meant the early end of the Soviet Union, or mutual destruction of the German and Russian armies.

But engaging in such speculation ensnares us in counterfactual history and, as you can readily see, it’s all guesswork. You can make it come out any way you want. Does this mean that we should avoid such speculation? Maybe. We certainly shouldn’t believe any of this subjunctive history. Perhaps it’s an interesting game but it won’t prove anything.

Notice, however, that those in the "good war” camp all along have engaged in just such counterfactual speculation. How so? Obviously they do not call World War II the good war because they believe that the terrible things that happened--50 million dead, including 6 million Jews--really were good. What they mean is that if the destruction of the Third Reich had not happened, an even worse outcome would have come our way.

They have already decided how things would have turned out, if the actual course of events had somehow been derailed. Some believe, for example, that Hitler would have conquered the whole world and we all would have become slaves of the Nazis.

Well, we don’t know that. That particular alternative history is no more reliable than any other. The difference is that the “good war” proponents got in first with their “even-worse-without-it” argument, and they have stuck to their guns.

Perhaps, in the end, we can all agree on one thing: that the war in and of itself was a terrible thing, maybe the worst in history. Let’s try to stop anything like it from happening again.

On one point I disagree with Buchanan. His book is subtitled, in part, “How Britain Lost Its Empire.” But surely it was doomed anyway? The unmitigated disaster of World War I already saw to that. As Buchanan asks, at the end of his account of Versailles: “How could British and Europeans, who had just concluded four years of butchering one another with abandon, assert a moral superiority that gave them the right to rule other people?”

They couldn’t. It was over for the British and the other empires. Even the short-lived Soviet version fell. And notice that that evil empire was a product of World War II--the not-so-good war.

...does not require indulgence of another's patently inane counterfactual. There weren't even enough Nazis to take all of France or the USSR nor any of England and Spain--the notion they'd have had the manpower to administer the entire world is idiocy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:27 PM


Read Her Books: a review of The Private Patient, by P.D. James (Larry Thornberry, 12.30.08, American Spectator)

Conservative TAS readers with a taste for the traditional mystery form will almost certainly like Mrs. James latest offering, The Private Patient, and perhaps any of Mrs. James's previous 18 mystery novels, which began in 1962 with Cover Her Face.

The 88-year-old Mrs. James hasn't lost a step. In Patient, James's 20th book and 14th Adam Dalgliesh novel, readers will encounter her usual complex story, rich with finely drawn characters and many credible suspects, some of whom relate to each other in complex ways. Mrs. James's work departs from mystery pioneers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers in that her characters are believable and modern.

Mrs. Christie's stories could be entertaining, and some watchable movies and TV series have been made of her work, especially those involving Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. But her characters are mostly aristocratic and serving class oddments, presented not to be believed, but only to advance fanciful plots. Mrs. James's characters are real, and engage a real world.

The only clue for the reader to Mrs. James's age is her writing style, only slightly less ornate than that of Dickens but a lot less sentimental. And more precise. Her characters wrestle with the age-old problems of love and lust and fear and aging and loyalty and regret and greed and the place of money and work in our lives. Clearly the elderly and personally conservative James regrets what has been lost through the sorry cultural tendencies of the last few decades. (She was Church of England when that outfit was a vital religion, not the Feiffer cartoon is has become.) But her stories aren't wistful paeans to the good-old-days. She is a keen observer and chronicler of the contemporary scene. [...]

In England less fuss is made than elsewhere about the distinction between mystery writers and writers of, for lack of a better expression, literary fiction. Mrs. James is thought of there as a writer, and one of the country's best. She's not pigeon-holed as just a genre content-provider, which, with her elegant prose, her deft handling of character and place, and her intelligent themes and sure-handed presentation of current social issues, she has never been. The woman, who circumstances obliged to leave school at 16, has received numerous honorary university degrees in recognition of her literary work.

There's much unbearable lightness in the mystery section of your local book store. But none contributed there by P.D. James. Readers will come away from P.D. James's work with more feel for the human condition, and having had a more satisfying look at Vanity Fair as a going concern, than from that of any number of angst-ridden exercises in naval-gazing the current "literary" crowd churns out these days.'s comforting to have Dalgliesh back at least once more.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:42 AM


Stolen Kisses: a review of Passionate Uprisings: Iran's Sexual Revolution by Pardis Mahdavi (Laura Secor, The Nation)

Mrs. Erami's tale encapsulates the wrenching transformation of a society that, thirty years ago, attempted to resolve its divisions and ambivalences by legally and ideologically committing itself to tradition over modernity, even at the price of denial, repression and loss. Today's Iranian youth, especially those from the urban middle and upper classes, are no longer willing to accept that bargain, and the older generation is beginning to allow itself to be moved by the young. Mahdavi's best and most groundbreaking material has to do with the public health implications of this rift between generations and between acknowledged and unacknowledged behaviors, as well as the society's slow and patchy but often ingenious educational response.

In a country where run-of-the-mill dating and fashion are illegal, extreme practices have emerged in the private spaces occupied particularly by well-off, heterosexual Tehrani youth. Mahdavi shows up at a party, thrown by a mullah's daughter whose parents are out of town, that turns out to be a giant orgy. Smaller parties, too, frequently become occasions for group sex. Out on the heavily policed city streets, young people cruise for anonymous sex partners by passing notes into the windows of neighboring cars when they are stuck in traffic, or by driving to poor neighborhoods where nobody will recognize them as they scour the sidewalks for partners they hope never to see again. Adultery, for women, is punishable by stoning in Iran, but fully half of Mahdavi's married, female research subjects are unfaithful to their husbands; for many of them, picking up lovers is a regular form of recreation. And despite the legal requirement that women in Iran cover their hair and hide the curves of their bodies, fashion obsesses the women in Mahdavi's study. They apply layer after layer of makeup, and they find ways to make the hijab as sexy as the skimpy summer attire of Western women.

While this portrait of Iranian sexual experimentation may be shocking on its surface, it has grown familiar to most people who have visited Iran or followed cultural developments there in the past decade. Less well known is that, for all their promiscuity and seeming sophistication, many of these young Iranians suffer from a lack of sexual education and resources that fits the official culture of pious abstinence rather than the actual one of looseness and risk. The birth control method of choice among Mahdavi's informants is withdrawal. Women who take the pill frequently lack the most basic information and take it only erratically, depriving themselves of almost all of its effect. Condoms are considered so filthy and embarrassing that even people who share florid details about their sex lives with Mahdavi blush at their mention, and no one wants to be seen requesting them at a pharmacy. AIDS, educated young Iranians tell Mahdavi, is transmitted through visits to the dentist or hairdresser, and other STDs come only from a certain unsavory sort of woman. While wealthy women can obtain abortions -- illegal in most cases but common, thanks to poor contraception -- from sympathetic doctors at vast expense, poorer women acquire on the black market pills or injections meant for animals. Mahdavi went to a back street where dealers sell these medications, just to see how easily they could be acquired. A dealer sold her a vial of pills without the least instruction on what to do with them. Physicians she interviewed told her that they see a great many women seriously injured or rendered infertile by self-administered abortions meant for animals.

On its face, Iranian state ideology conflicts with the requirements of public health, given the sea change in public attitudes toward sex. Yet there is good news in Mahdavi's study. Close to the ground, where it counts, Iranian doctors, parents, educators and even institutions are bending to the forces of change. For example, since 2000 the Islamic Republic has required Iranians who seek marriage licenses to attend state-administered classes on family planning.

Who will tell the neocons that Ayatollah Khomeni and his Revolution are dead?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 AM


Bush has successfully defended anti-terrorism policies: Domestic surveillance, rounding up Muslim men after Sept. 11, harsh interrogations -- the administration has beat back nearly all legal challenges to its controversial programs. (David G. Savage, December 30, 2008, LA Times)

[I]n his defense of the war on terrorism, Bush has succeeded in beating back nearly all legal challenges -- including those to some of his most controversial policies.

Among them are a domestic surveillance program to intercept international phone calls, the rounding up of Muslim men for questioning after the Sept. 11 attacks, the holding of suspects in military custody in this country without filing charges, harsh interrogations -- some have called it torture -- of suspects arrested abroad, and the detention of foreign captives at a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Because of the administration's successful defense of such policies, they not only will be a part of Bush's legacy but will be around for his successors. Even if Barack Obama rejects or sharply modifies Bush's positions, the precedents will remain for future chief executives.

Soon after Sept. 11, Bush said that as commander in chief he had the "inherent" power to act boldly in the nation's defense, regardless of whether Congress or the courts agreed.

His claim has been much criticized. It also has not been accepted by Congress or endorsed by the Supreme Court. The justices have said the president must act according to the law, not in spite of it.

Nonetheless, Bush's anti-terrorism policies have not been blocked by the courts or Congress. When the Supreme Court struck down Bush's use of special military trials at Guantanamo on grounds that he had no legal basis for creating them, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act to authorize the trials.

When critics claimed the National Security Agency was violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by intercepting calls without a warrant, Congress passed a law to authorize such wiretapping. The same measure also granted legal immunity to telephone companies that had cooperated with the administration.

Bush's tenure has been particularly frustrating for civil libertarians. They had believed that when the government violated the Constitution, someone could go to court and challenge it. But it's not clear that truism is still true.

Huh? Surely Mr. Savage isn't saying that when the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches and the American people agree that the Constitution is being followed they are wrong. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that the war has been particularly frustrating for civil libertarians because the Constitution doesn't mean what they want it to?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Has Israel Revived Hamas? (Daoud Kuttab, December 30, 2008, Washington Post)

For two years, the Islamic Resistance Movement (known by its Arabic acronym, Hamas) has been losing support internally and externally. This wasn't the case in the days after the party came to power democratically in early 2006; despite being unjustly ostracized by the international community for its anti-Israeli stance, Hamas enjoyed the backing of Palestinians and other Arabs. Having won a decisive parliamentary majority on an anti-corruption platform promising change and reform, Hamas worked hard to govern better than had Fatah, its rival and predecessor. [...]

The lack of international support since the 2006 elections, followed by this rebuff to Gaza's only Arab neighbor, Egypt, compounded the deterioration of Hamas's internal support. By November, the survey showed, only 16.6 percent of Palestinians supported Hamas, compared with nearly 40 percent favoring Fatah. The decline in support for Hamas has been steady: A year earlier, the same pollster showed that Hamas's support was at 19.7 percent; in August 2007, it was at 21.6 percent; in March 2007, it was at 25.2 percent; and in September 2006, backing for the Islamists stood at 29.7 percent.

That's why, as the six-month cease-fire with Israel came to an end, Hamas calculated -- it seems correctly -- that it had nothing to gain by continuing the truce; if it had, its credentials as a resistance movement would have been no different from those of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah. Unable to secure an open border and an end to the Israeli siege, while refusing to share or give up power to Abbas, Hamas could have had no route to renewed public favor.

For different reasons, Hamas and Israel both gave up on the cease-fire, preferring instead to climb over corpses to reach their political goals. One side wants to resuscitate its public support by appearing to be a heroic resister, while the other, on the eve of elections, wants to show toughness to a public unhappy with the nuisance of the Qassam rockets.

Palestine Divided (Middle East Briefing N°25, 17 December 2008 , International Crisis Group)
The irony is that the division between the West Bank and Gaza is hardening just as a growing number of international actors acknowledge that without Palestinian unity a genuine peace process, let alone a genuine peace, is unattainable. Changing the dynamics that have convinced both Fatah and Hamas that time is on their side and compromise against their interests will be daunting. At a minimum, it will require both a change in the regional landscape (through U.S. engagement with Syria and Iran) and a clear signal from the U.S. and European Union (EU) that, this time around, they would judge a Palestinian unity arrangement on its conduct rather than automatically torpedo it. Ultimately, the responsibility to put their affairs in order must fall on Palestinian shoulders. But the division of the national movement, which came about at least in part because of what outsiders did, will not be undone without outsiders’ help.

At bottom, the two movements seek fundamentally different outcomes from the process. For Fatah, it is potentially a means of reversing Hamas’s Gaza takeover; at a minimum a method to legitimise extension of Mahmoud Abbas’s presidency; and, in the event of failure, a way to assign blame to the Islamist movement. Hamas, by contrast, is looking to gain recognition and legitimacy, pry open the PLO and lessen pressure against the movement in the West Bank. Loath to concede control of Gaza, it is resolutely opposed to doing so without a guaranteed strategic quid pro quo.

The gap between the two movements has increased over time. What was possible two years or even one year ago has become far more difficult today. In January 2006 President Abbas evinced some flexibility. That quality is now in significantly shorter supply. Fatah’s humiliating defeat in Gaza and Hamas’s bloody tactics have hardened the president’s and Fatah’s stance; moreover, despite slower than hoped for progress in the West Bank and inconclusive political negotiations with Israel, the president and his colleagues believe their situation is improving. They are convinced that they are gaining politically in the West Bank; the newly trained and better equipped security forces are establishing order and waging a wholesale crackdown on Hamas; Israel has loosened some restrictions; and there are signs of economic growth. Abbas enjoys strong regional and international backing, and he hopes U.S. engagement will intensify with the incoming administration.

The cost-benefit analysis is clear: reconciliation could mean the end of Fatah’s administrative and security monopoly in the West Bank and de facto hegemony over the PLO, while partnership with Hamas might jeopardise negotiations with Israel, international backing and financial support to the PA. In exchange for all this, the movement would gain little more than shared control over Gaza, where Ramallah’s influence had shrunk even before the takeover.

For now, Hamas, too, sees time as its ally and reconciliation as a trap. Islamist leaders who, during the 2006 parliamentary elections, had wagered on the political process and sought integration into the Palestinian Authority (PA) are losing influence. Then, the movement’s goals were the ability to govern and a measure of international recognition. With Gaza firmly in hand, Hamas’s price for inclusion in the political system has risen. The Gaza model – withstanding the siege, maintaining core ideological principles and achieving a ceasefire with Israel – may not be all that Hamas desires, but it is as successful as it need be. Gazans are suffering from an acute economic and social crisis, but the Islamic movement is internally secure, new elites more dependent on the movement are emerging, and basic government functions appear sustainable.

From the outset sceptical about Abbas’s negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Hamas leaders are persuaded chances for a diplomatic breakthrough will be dealt an even greater setback if, as expected, Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu forms the next Israeli government. In the West Bank, they are persuaded that cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces is viewed by a growing number of Palestinians as tantamount to collaboration with the occupier. Finally, as they see it, Abbas’s domestic legitimacy will be crucially undermined when his presidential term expires on 9 January 2009. To a growing portion of Hamas’s political leadership, together with the movement’s increasingly influential military wing, reconciliation looks like a ploy designed to deprive them of control over Gaza without commensurate gain.

The Israeli/US strategy of sanctioning Palestinians for electing Hamas and trying to keep Gaza and the West Bank divided has been a success, provided that those were the ends as well as the means. Likewise, if all Hamas wanted to achieve was a divided Palestine and the enmity of the world in order to demonstrate its "resistance" bona fides then it would have to be considered successful. Indeed, given the way all of the parties have behaved over the past three years--Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections--the current war ought not be seen as a failure of Israeli/Palestinian policy but as its quintessence. Of course, once you recognize that all sides are pursuing the infamous "cycle of violence" as the end of their policy the lunacy of all concerned becomes obvious.

However much visceral pleasure there is to be derived in exchanging reprisals and denying each other peaceful mutually-recognized statehood, it is apparent that this sado-masochistic waltz does more harm to the Israelis and Palestinians than it can possibly be worth. So only three other options remain:

(1) Palestinians could demand and Israelis could accede to a single state solution. The current demographics--much disputed--appear to indicate that this would produce an electorate that's roughly 60% Jewish and 40% Arab, trending towards 50-50, where it might settle as Palestinian fertility rates decline. But it does not seem likely that any Palestinian party would be willing to accept Jewish governance nor any Jewish party accept the risk of eventual Arab domination.

(2) One side or the other could either exterminate entirely or conquer and impose apartheid on the other. The Palestinians are too weak to achieve this and the Jews lack the Will. So while this is a pleasant enough daydream for some, it just isn't a political reality.

(3) Or, we could all cut to the chase and move rapidly towards where this is all destined to end up--where we would, in fact, be but for Ariel Sharon's incapacity. US, Israeli and world pressure could be brought to bear on Fatah to accept the verdict of the Palestinian electorate even when it returns Islamist parties to office. Upon the completion of such an election the US and Israel--and whatever allies--could recognize the unified state of Palestine as an independent nation. The resultant state need not be a pal nor a recipient of aid money, but ought, at a minimum, not be subject to economic interference. This will not magically turn Palestine into a peace-loving, capitalist democracy, but it is absurd to expect Palestine to behave like a responsible state until it is at least a coherent nation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Jazz musician Freddie Hubbard dies aged 70 (Adam Bell, 12/30/08,

Hubbard played on more than 300 recordings, and collaborated with jazz legends including Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane.

Born in Indianapolis, he moved to New York in 1958, where he met Coltrane at a jam session.

"I met Trane at a jam session at Count Basie's in Harlem in 1958," he said in an interview in 1995.

"He said, 'Why don't you come over and let's try and practice a little bit together.' I almost went crazy. I mean, here is a 20-year-old kid practicing with John Coltrane. He helped me out a lot, and we worked several jobs together."

In 1961 he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, but left in 1964 to lead his own group. .

But it was his recordings of the mid-1960s with Herbie Hancock that placed him among the foremost hard-bop trumpeters. called his improvisations a combination of "imaginative melody with a glossy tone, rapid and clean technique, a brilliant high register, a subtle vibrato, and bluesy, squeezed half-valve notes."

Freddie Hubbard, jazz trumpeter, dies at 70 (Don Heckman, December 30, 2008, LA Times)
Seemingly the first choice for artists of every stripe, he was present on many of the most significant jazz albums of the '60s, among them Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz," John Coltrane's "Ascension," Eric Dolphy's "Out To Lunch," Oliver Nelson's "Blues and the Abstract Truth," Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil" and Herbie Hancock's "Maiden Voyage."

"Hubbard," wrote Joachim Berendt in "The Jazz Book: From New Orleans to Rock and Free Jazz," "is the most brilliant trumpeter of a generation of musicians who stand with one foot in 'tonal' jazz and with the other in the atonal camp."

Although his playing, especially in the earliest years, reflected the influence of Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and others, he said saxophonists were most influential in his development, often specifically mentioning Coltrane's "sheets of sound" as an important source.

"I always practice with saxophone players," he told Julie Coryell and Laura Friedman in their book, "Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, the Music." "I find when you get around trumpet players, you get into competitive playing -- who can play the loudest and the highest. After you develop your own style, you don't want to get into that."

Like many players in his generation, Hubbard was drawn to pop and rock interests in the '70s and '80s. In 1977 he toured with Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams in the quasi-Miles Davis ensemble V.S.O.P. And he released a series of rock- and pop-oriented albums on the CTI label.

"Red Clay," "First Light" and "Straight Life" received good reviews, and "First Light" was awarded a Grammy in 1972 for best jazz performance by a group. Later CTI albums received generally negative criticism.

In the early '90s, the intensity with which Hubbard had always approached his trumpet caught up with him. After splitting his lip in 1992, he ignored the injury, continuing to play on a European tour. The lip became badly infected, and his physician insisted on a biopsy. No cancer was found, but Hubbard spent the next few years struggling to regain his early ability to articulate his instrument.

His playing over the last decade was uneven, at best.

-ARTIST SITE: Freddie Hubbard Music
Freddie Hubbard Dies (12/29/2008, Down Beat)

Blessed with a sound that combined Clifford Brown's technique, Lee Morgan's bravura and Miles Davis' sensitivity, Hubbard was prominent for much of his career both a leader and a sideman.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


...USA Network has Season 2 of Burn Notice available on-line

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Lack of attendance at a Christmas service shows Barack Obama's church dilemma: President-elect does not like to disrupt other churches with security detail and has yet to pick a new home church (John McCormick, December 26, 2008, Chicago Tribune)

Barack Obama has long stressed the importance of religion in his life.

But as his fellow Christians around the world attended Christmas services on Wednesday and Thursday, the president-elect and his family remained sequestered at their vacation compound on the windward coast of Oahu.

His lack of attendance at formal religious services showcased a dilemma faced by Obama, who is between churches and often expresses concern about bringing the disruption of his security detail into the lives of others.

Still, he has not attended a public church service since before being elected, a departure from the actions of his two immediate predecessors.

After all, Christ only came on a donkey, the One rides a unicorn....

December 29, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 PM


Palin Sexism Redux: The Caroline Kennedy Qualifications Debate (Peter Roff, December 29, 2008, US News)

Coming from outside the political class but not—unusually for this particular Senate seat—from outside the state, Caroline Kennedy is a link to both a glorious time in our nation's past and to a postpartisan hope for the future that began with the Obama campaign. Very much her mother's daughter (recall that Jackie Kennedy tried very hard to stay out of the public spotlight after leaving Washington and did much to shield her children from it), Caroline Kennedy is both a familiar face and a new political commodity.

She has entered the arena and is traveling around New York to introduce herself to the electorate and to "listen." Her detractors, and their number seems to increase daily, are attempting to derail her bid to win the appointment from Gov. David Patterson—who is himself both an unelected chief executive and a "legacy" in New York Democratic political circles. In an effort to stop her appointment, they have focused on the idea that she lacks the qualifications to be a U.S. senator.

Having just been through this over the question of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's candidacy for vice president, we are again faced with the prospect of career partisans attacking a woman who has just entered the arena from outside it—way, way, outside it.

In much the same way that black politicians, at least prior to Obama's election, were damned with faint praise when cited for their "eloquence," the overarching focus on "qualifications"—especially as they apply to women seeking elective office—is little more than an attempt to score a few quick, easy points and push them out of the way. It is unseemly, and it is wrong. should be noted that she has in the past not even bothered to vote in at least one election for the seat she now desires, whereas Ms Palin was the only one on the national tickets this fall who actually had the executive experience the presidency requires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


Southern corn bread (Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2008)

1 cup each: cornmeal, flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup butter or shortening, at room temperature
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk

1 Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 8-inch-square baking pan; place in oven to heat. Stir together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; cut in the butter with a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers until mixture is a coarse but even meal.

2 Beat together the egg and buttermilk; pour into cornmeal mixture. Stir firmly but briefly, scooping from the bottom, just until thoroughly blended. Pour mixture into heated pan; bake until top is lightly browned and corn bread shrinks from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:46 PM


America's 2009 world: change and continuity: The United States’s security policy under Barack Obama may be less of a departure from that of his predecessor than many hope. (Paul Rogers, 12/29/08, openDemocracy)

The Barack Obama administration which will take effect after the new United States president’s inauguration on 20 January 2009 looks likely to be very different to George W Bush’s in two major areas: economic policy and the environment. In its response to a great economic crisis, much of the programmes of public spending will be geared to infrastructural renovation, while the bailout of industries in trouble will be rigorous and demanding. In the area of environmental policy, the appointment of a notably science-literate team suggests a radical change of direction on climate change; this could include large-scale investment in renewable-energy projects underpinned by a clear recognition that this is one of the defining global issues of the 21st century.

In the area of national and international security, however, the Obama team as yet shows far fewer signs of innovative thinking. The actual formulation of policy may still be some way off, but the continuity both of rhetoric and of some personnel (such as the defence secretary, Robert M Gates) may be a foretaste of what is to come. Even on Iraq, there are indications that the process of withdrawal of American forces may not be speeded up, as was expected in the event of an Obama presidency; rather, the tasks of the substantial numbers of troops remaining may be redefined.

He wasn't kidding when he said, "The change is me." That's the only change he cares about.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


George, Abe, Rick & Barack (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 12/29/08, NY Times)

[I] also have to admit that I look forward to Obama’s inauguration with a surprising degree of hope and good cheer.

For one thing, there will be the invocation, delivered by Rick Warren. I suspect he’ll be careful to say nothing pro-life or pro-traditional-marriage — but we conservatives have already gotten more than enough pleasure from the hysterical reaction to his selection by the tribunes of the intolerant left. And having Warren there will, in fact, be a welcome reminder of the strides the evangelical movement and religious conservatives (broadly speaking) have made in recent decades. [...]

Obama, it’s been announced, will be the first president to take the oath of office using the Lincoln Bible, held by President Lincoln at his first inauguration, since ... Lincoln.

Some commentators have poked fun at Obama’s presumption. And it might be a good idea if, when he takes the oath, Obama makes sure that the Good Book is open to Proverbs 16:18, and its reminder that “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

But my (generous) interpretation of Obama’s choice of the Lincoln Bible is this: It’s an homage to Lincoln, not a claim to be like him. Obama intends to look back to Lincoln for guidance and to look up to him as a model. Lincoln, our greatest president and statesman, had a deep understanding of American exceptionalism. He thought long and hard about the relationship of American founding principles to political practice, and in his actions exemplified the prudent and skillful pursuit of a principled end. He was also a great war president. Obama could do a lot worse than study Lincoln and learn from him.

What’s more, in a radio address this past week, Obama cited George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, as a lesson for us today. Obama’s academic supporters must be rolling their eyes, or assuming he’s just playing to the simple-minded patriots in the peanut gallery. But what if Obama’s own understanding of the founders is more in line with the admiring spirit of many recent popular biographies than the belittling efforts of post-1960s tenured radicals?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


Free eBooks from Random House (

Tis the Season...for Giving. Random House is offering 9 free eBooks.

Authors include Alan Furst, Julie Garwood, Charlie Huston, David Liss, Laurie Notaro, Arthur Phillips and Simon Rich. We've include some seasoned titles like Liss' "The Wishkey Rebels", Notaro's "The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death", along with some recently-published titles like Rich's "Free-Range Chickens". The e-books include the full text and are not abridged.

David Liss and Alan Furst are both worthwhile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


Obama's Abortion Spending Spree (David N. Bass, 12.29.08, American Spectator)

A policy report published last month on the Office of the President-Elect's website puts a hole right through the fanciful notion, believed by some evangelicals, that Barack Obama will save a place at the table for pro-lifers.

Titled "Advancing Reproductive Rights and Health in a New Administration," the report suggests a radical abortion agenda for the first 100 days of Obama's term. The recommendations carry quite a price tag. In an era of ballooning national debt and unprecedented government expansion, the abortion industry (and it is an industry -- Planned Parenthood made $115 million in profits for the 2006-2007 fiscal year) can look forward to hefty handouts next year, even if Obama enacts just half of the policies in the report.

Among other policy objectives, the report calls for increasing Title X Family Planning Funding by $400 million. Although the funds can't be used for abortions, Title X grants go to controversial family planning entities that offer contraception services, including Planned Parenthood clinics.

The report also calls for at least $50 million in federal funding for contraception-based sex education programs in public schools, an amount that parodies current spending on abstinence-until-marriage instruction. The report recommends that Obama de-fund the abstinence programs in his proposed budget to Congress.

Most indicative of Obama's radical cultural agenda would be lifting bans on taxpayer-financed abortions domestically and internationally, both of which the report calls for. In keeping with the international theme, the report also urges Obama to support backing the United Nations Population Fund and devoting $1 billion for international family planning programs. that they're frightened that abstinence might leave them fewer babies to kill.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Vintage Model T Ford converted to travel on railway line (Lucy Cockcroft, 29 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

The historic 1927 car has been restored and transformed into a self-powered locomotive which requires no steering.

It has an engine powerful enough to reach speeds up to 60mph, but the downside is it can only seat four passengers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Jets Fire Head Coach Eric Mangini ESPN, 12/29/08)

The Jets started the season 8-3 under quarterback Brett Favre, beating New England and Tennessee on the road in consecutive weeks and raising visions among fans of the team's first Super Bowl trip since 1969.

But they went 1-4 in their final five games, losing to Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Miami and barely beating Buffalo. They did not reach the postseason for the second straight year despite an offseason spending spree that included a trade for Favre after his retirement and return at Green Bay.

The 39-year-old Favre had just two touchdown passes and nine interceptions in those final five games. He led the league in interceptions with 22 and complained after Sunday's 24-17 loss to Miami of pain in his right shoulder and neck.

As the Jets' season sank with four losses in the last five games, so did Eric Mangini's stock in's SportsNation NFL coach approval ratings.

Tannenbaum said Monday the organization wants the 39-year-old Favre to return for 2009 and fulfill the final year of his contract.

If he'd benched Favre yesterday the Jets would have won, yet they fire Mangenius and bring back the qb?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


The American Blair: Tony Blair was both Britain’s Obama, transforming its politics, and Britain’s Bush, prosecuting a deeply unpopular war. But at Yale last semester, as he moved into his afterlife, he seemed oddly unencumbered by his past. (Jennifer Senior, Dec 28, 2008, New York)

In the U.K., the reasons for Blair’s participation in the Iraq War were the source of endless hypothesizing. Some ran toward the psychologically crude—he’s a compulsive ingratiator, the type who thrills to friendships with the powerful (which would explain his warm relations not just with Bush but with Italy’s lunatic par excellence, Silvio Berlusconi). Some were much more generous, hewing to a simpler narrative of pragmatism and Realpolitik: Blair regarded Saddam Hussein as a genuine menace, and he thought that engaging a powerful country like America to depose him was better in this globally interdependent age than letting our country run rampant on its own. (His mistake was in overestimating the competence of the Bush administration.) And this generous interpretation hardly seems a stretch. Long before he was discussing Iraq with George W. Bush, the subject of how to contain Saddam frequently dominated Blair’s foreign-policy discussions with Bill Clinton, and in March 2003, Blair’s position on the Iraq War was no different from, say, that of both of New York’s Democratic senators, or John Kerry, or John Edwards, or Joe Biden. Like most liberal hawks, he made the case for war in the language of human rights, highlighting the moral urgency of ridding the world of a sociopathic tyrant who ignored the United Nations, gassed his own people, and collected—or so it appeared, anyway—weapons of mass destruction. (He too has since had to rebuff claims that British intelligence was, in the words of an anonymous official to the BBC, “sexed up” in order to make the case for war.)

The difference is that most liberal supporters of the Iraq War have since expressed deep regret over their decision. Blair has not.

It's hard to think of world leaders who've had less in their political past to be encumbered by than Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and their predecessor, Margaret Thatcher.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:39 AM


The Future of Conservatism: Hopeful Possibilities (Patrick Deneen, remarks delivered at the ISI Regional Leadership Conference at Yale University, November 2008)

[T]he universities are today configured, for the most part, as the very antithesis of an embodiment of conservation of this past. Viewing themselves as agents of progress and social justice, the universities are predominantly an obstacle to the deep and transformative encounter with the ideas and words of the figures portrayed around this room. Yet, still this room exists: the buildings of the university are often like a palimpsest, an ancient document whose original words could not be thoroughly erased in spite of the effort to obscure and write over the ancient wisdom. This is as true in the world of ideas as it is in the buildings that adorn our campuses. The very monolithic strength of the modern university also constitutes its greatest weakness—its self-assurance in its progressivity makes it blinkered to its own philosophical presuppositions, and largely incapable of articulating the grounds for its own commitments. Indeed, its commitment to progress inclines the modern university to a neglect of the past and its own sources, and thus results in a set of intellectual commitments that are, more often than not, half-baked and half-cocked if not outright incoherent. We are surrounded by Kantians who ardently defend human dignity without a clue of where such a concept of dignity arises; with secularists who argue for a separation of Church and State without knowing the origin for that view; with multiculturalists who haven’t stopped to think about the nature of culture; and so on.

All of these—and I could mention many more—were originally “conservative” concepts that became unmoored from their traditional and (most often) religious origins. The unmooring served an important tactical purpose, which was to unlink those concepts from the constraining religious sources from which they originated. But this very tactic also destabilized these concepts, lending to them a high degree of incoherence and, increasingly, a great degree of indefensibility, leading philosophers like Richard Rorty to endorse liberalism just because it’s there. This very weakness presents a distinct opportunity. [...]

Perhaps it is the moment for a younger generation of conservatives, less shaped and less beholden to the political exigencies of the past half-century, who can begin a process of recovery of the great storehouse—and the great strength—of conservatism, those very underarticulated commitments of so many of our students today. I could provide a long list of particulars, but let me afford one example that seems to most conservatives a tremendous obstacle among a younger generation—and seems to me to be an area of great promise. It is the remarkable rise of a commitment to the environment, that hallmark of “Left” politics for so many years, yet, to my mind, a deeply conservative commitment that we are allowing to go underarticulated and thus by default permit our students to believe to be the very antithesis of conservative.

After all, we need only point out that the root of the very word “conservative” is “conserve” and “conservation,” meaning “to maintain” or “to keep.” In clinging to their own incoherent orthodoxies, conservatives have ceded this concept to the Left and thereby lost the ability to articulate the deepest sources of conservatism. Instead, we should wrest the many noble and praiseworthy commitments of our young people back to their true origin, insisting on the right definition of things. We would do well to insist on the rejection of the word “environment”—which, after all, places human beings at the center of something that surrounds US—but rather articulate that our commitments lie with NATURE. Nature implies and requires the recognition of a CREATED ORDER of which we are a part. Nature is closely related to culture—those forms and ways of life that arise from the human effort to live alongside nature, at once using and preserving the natural world—and thus rejecting the tendency of the language of environmentalism to fall easily into a deracinated and abstract understanding of the human relationship to the natural world. Nature is at once particular—manifested in many particularities (desert and forest, plain and mountain, ocean and river . . . ) while also always a universal whole—pointing out that we always perceive the universal through the particular. NATURE has a temporal dimension, implying the centrality of generations among living things, of the centrality of fecundity and the inevitability of death, and keeps close to mind our relationship to the past and to the future. Only a time when we have so thoroughly rejected the place and centrality of nature would allow us to become as presentist as we have become, oblivious to the past and negligent of the future. A fuller embrace of the spectrum of time, and a reflection of our place in that spectrum, allows for a respectful consideration of the requirements of obligation and duty, of gratitude and fidelity, of memorial to generations past who sought to convey their own best efforts to live alongside nature, and our duty to leave the world as a good and fruitful place for our children. Putting in the forefront conservatism’s deep commitments to the natural order allows us to present arguments and teachings on behalf of governance of appetite, of self-control of our instincts and impulses, of a culture that necessarily prohibits—and understands such self-governance to be a profound form of liberty. And all of this—pointing to a created order, expanding our temporal sense, fostering the liberty of self-governance, inculcating a reverence for the world and for life, points ultimately to our deepest religious longings and aspirations, exemplifying that God is at once demanding and loving, He giveth and taketh, and that it is our nature to seek to understand and ultimately to love and worship Him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


An Emissions Plan Conservatives Could Warm To (BOB INGLIS and ARTHUR B. LAFFER, 12/28/08, NY Times)

CONSERVATIVES don’t support tax increases that are veiled as “cap and trade” schemes for pollution permits. But offer us a tax swap, and we could become the new administration’s best allies on climate change. [...]

Even if the United States extracts more of its own oil — something it needs to do — it will still have only 3 percent of the world’s known oil reserves, and OPEC will still be the cartel with 70 percent of the world’s known oil reserves. Conventional discoveries and unconventional extractions (like shale oil) would improve our standing somewhat, but OPEC’s easily extracted oil makes its members the undisputed kings of crude.

If they’re the kings, we’re the vassals. As long as national security risks aren’t factored into the cost of gasoline and as long as carbon dioxide can be emitted without penalty, oil will continue to have an advantage over emerging fuels in the marketplace, and we’ll continue our ruinous addiction to it.

We need to impose a tax on the thing we want less of (carbon dioxide) and reduce taxes on the things we want more of (income and jobs). A carbon tax would attach the national security and environmental costs to carbon-based fuels like oil, causing the market to recognize the price of these negative externalities.

Key whingeing....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Hillary Waugh, Prolific Mystery Author, Dies at 88 (WILLIAM GRIMES, 12/27/08, NY Times)

Mr. Waugh started out writing private-detective mysteries before he tried his hand at writing a novel that focused on the details of an unfolding police investigation. “I was tired of reading about these superdetectives and a police force composed of a bunch of bumbling idiots,” he told an interviewer in 1990. “I wanted to get away from the neat little corpses with the perfect bullet through the head and instead write a story as it really happened.”

“Last Seen Wearing,” his debut effort in this vein, follows a small-town police chief as he inches toward solving the case of a student who disappears from her small college in Massachusetts. Based on an actual case in Bennington, Vt., and on Mr. Waugh’s interviews with detectives, it is regarded as one of the best early police procedurals: a taut, terse, just-the-facts record of crime detection in which no clues are withheld from the reader.

“If a single book had to be chosen to show the possibilities of the police novel which are outside most crime fiction, no better example could be found than ‘Last Seen Wearing,’ ” Julian Symons wrote in “Bloody Murder,” his history of the mystery genre. In 1995 the Mystery Writers of America named it one of the top 100 mystery novels of all time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Olmert's Final Failure (Jackson Diehl, December 29, 2008, Washington Post)

Israel's new battle with Hamas in Gaza means that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be remembered for fighting two bloody and wasteful mini-wars in less than three years in power. The first one, in Lebanon during the summer of 2006, punished but failed to defeat or even permanently injure Hezbollah, which is politically and militarily stronger today than it was before Olmert took office. This one will probably have about the same effect on Hamas, which almost certainly will still control Gaza, and retain the capacity to strike Israel, when Olmert leaves office in a few months.

The saddest aspect of all this is that Olmert, a former hard-line believer in a "greater Israel," was more committed than any previous Israeli prime minister to ending the country's conflicts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

No, Ariel Sharon was, because he grasped the demographic and democratic realities. The tragedy of Olmert is that he's no Sharon or Palestine would today be a state governed by a nationally-elected Hamas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Late-Period Limbaugh (ZEV CHAFETS, 7/06/08, NY Times Magazine)

Limbaugh informed me that I was the first journalist ever to enter his home. Mary Matalin, the Republican consultant, calls the place “aspirational,” which is one adjective that fits. The place, largely designed by Limbaugh himself, reflects the things and places he has seen and admired. The massive chandelier in the dining room, for example, is a replica of the one that hung in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel in New York. The gleaming cherry-wood floors are dotted with hand-woven oriental carpets. A life-size oil portrait of El Rushbo, as he often calls himself on the air, hangs on the wall of the main staircase.

Unlike many right-wing talk-show hosts, Limbaugh does not view France with hostility. On the contrary, he is a Francophile. His salon, he told me, is meant to suggest Versailles. His main guest suite, which I did not personally inspect, was designed as an exact replica of the presidential suite of the George V Hotel in Paris.

Limbaugh is especially proud of his two-story library, which is a scaled-down version of the library at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Cherubs dance on the ceiling, leatherbound collections line the bookshelves and the wood-paneled walls were once “an acre of mahogany.”

A fastidious man, Limbaugh has a keen eye for domestic detail. His staff lights fragrant candles throughout the house to greet his arrival from work each day. Limbaugh led me into his private humidor, selected two La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Chisel stogies for us to smoke and seated me at an onyx-and-marble table in the study. The room opens onto a patio, a putting green and a beach. On the table was a brochure for Limbaugh’s newest airplane, a Gulfstream G550. It cost him, he told me, $54 million.

Limbaugh can afford to live the way he wants. When we met he was on the verge of signing a new eight-year contract with his syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks. He estimated that it would bring in about $38 million a year. To sweeten the deal, he said he was also getting a nine-figure signing bonus. (A representative from Premiere would not confirm the deal.) “Do you know what bought me all this?” he asked, waving his hand in the general direction of his prosperity. “Not my political ideas. Conservatism didn’t buy this house. First and foremost I’m a businessman. My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates. I happen to have great entertainment skills, but that enables me to sell airtime.”

The dirty little secret of Rush Limbaugh--the only people in their
cars when he's on the radio are middle-aged white salesmen.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Triangulating Scarlett Johansson (Andrew Breitbart, December 29, 2008, Washington Times)

As for the current war on terrorism, there never was any chance of Hollywood liberals supporting it as long as George W. Bush was president. Wrong though it is, it is simply an Article of the Liberal Faith that Mr. Bush stole the election in Florida (look at movies such as the HBO film "Recount") and his entire White House reign was illegitimate - "not my president" and all that. But if Mr. Obama - "my president" - is prosecuting the war, that fundamentally changes the mind-set.

On the precipice of victory in Iraq, and recommitting to destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan, continuing military victories on a Democratic president's watch would be extraordinarily transforming for a party that pretends to thrive in the shadow of George McGovern.

Throwing antiwar agitators Markos Moulitsas and Arianna Huffington under the biodiesel bus would be a historic act that would cause moderates and traditional liberals to rejoice. What would the nutroots at the Huffington Post and the Daily Kos do: Draft Cindy Sheehan again? Or support the Republican next go-around?

Most conservatives just want to win and don't care who gets the credit. If Mr. Obama crushes al Qaeda over the next four years, he will be re-elected, and he will win over many Republicans, including Mr. Bush, who only cares about winning. Not who gets the credit.

Speaking of his magic powers....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Stat of the Week (Peter King, 12/29/08, Sports Illustrated)

When the Patriots let the best kicker of his day -- Adam Vinatieri--leave via free agency in 2006 after 10 stellar seasons, they were widely derided for allowing a few bucks to get in the way of keeping one of the best clutch players of the Super Bowl era. That year, they drafted kicker Stephen Gostkowski from Memphis in the fourth round.

As usual, the Patriots are having the last laugh on the fourth estate -- and the rest of the NFL too. In the last three years, Gostkowski, kicking outside most often, has been more efficient in field goals, with more touchbacks on kickoffs, for a quarter of the cost of Vinatieri, who's been kicking inside most often. Gostkowski was named to his first Pro Bowl this year. And Gostkowski is 24 years old. Vinatieri is 36. [...]

One more thing: Average cap numbers over the past three years: Gostkowski $470,000, Vinatieri $2,036,000. did the Bill Belichik who understands the complete replacability of players end up with all those old ones on defense?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


House Dems look ahead to tough cycle (ALEX ISENSTADT, 12/29/08, Politico)

"We have a daunting challenge ahead in the 2010 midterm elections," Democratic House campaign chief Chris Van Hollen says in a year-end Web video thanking supporters. "Many of our new members are from conservative areas with long histories of Republican representation. We are looking at potentially 70 – 70 – threatened Democrats who will need our support."

While House race watchers are predicting a difficult cycle for Democrats, Van Hollen's 70 figure may be on the high end.

The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan handicapping guide, places 48 Democrats in prospectively competitive races. And Democrats are expected to have targets of their own in 2010, with Cook placing 34 Republicans on its watch list.

Doing well in '10 is easy for Republicans, doing great is up to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama and their pushing social issues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Why Not Start Your Weekend on Wednesday?:
There's no need to preach the gospel of leisure. Most of us work less than our parents did. (Tim Harford, Dec. 27, 2008, Slate)

We earn—this is a very rough average—twice what our parents did when they were our age. When today's teenagers are in their 40s, there is no reason why they shouldn't decide to enjoy their increased prosperity by working less instead of earning more. Rather than being twice as rich as their parents, they could be no richer but start their weekends on Wednesday afternoon. [...]

The other part is that we do have more leisure. According to economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, leisure time for women has increased by at least four hours a week since 1965. Men have done even better. That may well understate the leisure gains. A hundred years ago, many people would start working at the age of 10 or 12 and work until they died. Now it is common to spend fewer than half our years working; the rest of the time we spend studying, traveling, and in retirement.

The "work less, spend less" movement is winning. It's a shame it hasn't noticed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


As with all humor, the "Barack the Magic Negro" meme outrages precisely because of its accuracy. Brights don't want it pointed out that they're worshiping at a totem. Here's a post from the Summer when the matter was being discussed a bit more calmly:

Obama's Romantic Revolution: Barack Obama's promises to heal the world were lapped up in Berlin on Thursday. His speech was a masterpiece in the art of political magic -- and it was all cooly calculated. (Gabor Steingart, 7/25/08, Der Spiegel)

It's not possible yet to compare Barack Obama's words with his deeds. His name is not connected with any legislative project or reform concept, not even a concert hall in his hometown of Chicago bears his name. Until now he has been more of a popular speaker than a politician.

What is true is that he can make a speech like no one else. On Thursday evening he delivered a masterpiece in the art of political magic. He promised to heal the wounds of the world, from Israel to the melting polar ice caps. He wants to reconcile the world's religions, bring black and white people closer together, Europeans and Americans too. The genocide in Darfur should be brought to an end and he wants to end the problems of globalization with global trade that is not just free but also fair.

It's possible to be impressed by all this -- or to find it shameless. [...]

So far, Obama has been the candidate for the romantics. His skill lies in enchanting his supporters with words. Whatever is held against him, his supporters turn into his favor. The man is an unknown quantity -- no mud sticks to him! The man is measured -- no, he is visionary! He wants to save the entire world -- but it does desperately need to be saved, doesn't it?

On pressing questions from common-sense democrats, he has so far offered no answers, partly because he is probably afraid of letting down the romantics.

Lurking behind all such stories is the notion of Senator Obama as Magic Negro, Obama the 'Magic Negro': The Illinois senator lends himself to white America's idealized, less-than-real black man. (David Ehrenstein, March 19, 2007, LA Times)
The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. "He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist," reads the description on Wikipedia .

He's there to assuage white "guilt" (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest.

The question of whether you find Mr. Obama a fresh new phenomenon or a tired cliched may just be a function of your cultural literacy.

MORE (via ghostcat):
Obama, Shaman (Michael Knox Beran, Summer 2008, City Journal)

What both Aristotle and Weber made too little of is the mentality of the charismatic leader's followers, the disciples who discover in him, or delusively endow him with, superhuman qualities. "Charisma" was originally a religious term signifying a gift of God: it often denotes (according to the seventeenth-century scholar-physician John Bulwer) a "miraculous gift of healing." James G. Frazer, in The Golden Bough, demonstrated that the connection between charismatic leadership and the melioration of suffering was historically a close one: many primitive peoples believed that the magical virtues of a priest-king could guarantee the soil's fertility and that such a leader could therefore alleviate one of the most elementary forms of suffering, hunger. The identification of leadership with the mitigation of pain persists in folklore and myth. In the Arthurian legends, Percival possesses an extraordinary magic that enables him to heal the fisher king and redeem the waste land;! in England, the touch of the monarch's hand was believed to cure scrofula.

It is a sign of growing maturity in a people when, laying aside these beliefs, it acknowledges that suffering is an element of life that sympathetic magic cannot eradicate, and recognizes a residue of pain in existence that even the application of technical knowledge cannot assuage. Advances in knowledge may end particular kinds of suffering, but these give way to new forms of hurt--milder, perhaps (one would rather be depressed than famished), yet not without their sting. We do not draw closer to a painless world.

One of the objects of a mature political philosophy is to reconcile people to the painful limitations of their condition. The American Founders recognized this, as did the English statesmen who presided at the Revolution of 1688: they rejected utopianism. And yet, precisely because they knew that human beings are by nature far from perfect, they allowed a degree of scope, in their constitutional settlements, for the mysterious, quasi-magical qualities that Weber associated with charisma--rather as an architect, as a concession to human frailty, might omit the number 13 when labeling the floors of a building. The "magic" of the post-1688 English constitution, Walter Bagehot observed, lay in the pageantry of the monarchy, a relic of the mysterious grace of the healer-redeemer chiefs of old. The American Founders, after experimenting with weaker forms of executive power, created the presidency, an office spacious enough for a charismatic leader to work his wizardry but narro! w enough to prevent delusory overreaching.

Unlike the English Whigs and the American Founders, the modern liberal regards suffering not as an unavoidable element of life but as an aberration to be corrected by up-to-date political, economic, and hygienic arrangements. Rather than acknowledge the limitations of our condition, the liberal continually contrives panaceas that will enable us to transcend it.

Barack Obama, in taking up the part of regenerative healer, is the latest panacea.

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[originally posted: 7/25/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Fallen Marines to be awarded Navy Cross: Cpl. Jonathan Yale and Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter saved Iraqi police and fellow Marines from a truck-driving suicide bomber, Marine brass say. The April attack could have slain dozens. (Tony Perry, 12/29/08, LA Times)

They had known each other only a few minutes, but they will be linked forever in what Marine brass say is one of the most extraordinary acts of courage and sacrifice in the Iraq war.

Cpl. Jonathan Yale, 21, grew up poor in rural Virginia. He had joined the Marine Corps to put structure in his life and to help support his mother and sister. He was within a few days of heading home.

Lance Cpl. Jordan Haerter, 19, was from a comfortably middle-class suburb on Long Island. As a boy, he had worn military garb, and he had felt the pull of adventure and patriotism. He had just arrived in Iraq.

On April 22, the two were assigned to guard the main gate to Joint Security Station Nasser in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, once an insurgent stronghold and still a dangerous region. Dozens of Marines and Iraqi police lived at the compound, and some were still sleeping after all-night patrols when Yale and Haerter reported for duty that warm, sultry morning.

Yale, respected for his quiet, efficient manner, was assigned to show Haerter how to take over his duties.

Haerter had volunteered to watch the main gate, even though it was considered the most hazardous of the compound's three guard stations because it could be approached from a busy thoroughfare.

The sun had barely risen when the two sentries spotted a 20-foot-long truck headed toward the gate, weaving with increasing speed through the concrete barriers. Two Iraqi police officers assigned to the gate ran for their lives. So did several Iraqi police on the adjacent street.

Yale and Haerter tried to wave off the truck, but it kept coming.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Strong Turnout For Peaceful Bangladesh Election: Counting begins on Monday evening. Significant indications of trends are not expected before the early hours of Tuesday. (Javno, 12/29/08)

Bangladeshis voted on Monday in an election that returns the country to democracy after two years of emergency rule and tests whether it has moved beyond a history of street violence between supporters of rival parties.

Polls officially closed at 4 p.m. (1000 GMT), although officials said those still in line would be allowed to vote, and the balloting was generally peaceful. There was a festive air in the sprawling capital Dhaka. Most motor traffic had been banned for a public holiday called for the vote.

Neighbours worry an increasingly violent Islamist militant minority in the South Asia nation of more than 140 million people could provide support and shelter for radical activists in their own countries.

However, both leading candidates have pledged strong action to crack down on violent extremists, as well as made populist promises to contain prices and promote growth in a country where 45 percent of the people are below the poverty line.

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December 28, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:46 PM


MLB Network won't be hard to find (Mark Newman, 12/28/08,

To answer the two most common questions fans have been asking about the new MLB Network that launches at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday in some 50 million households, it is free for everyone with cable to watch on TV and now you can find it by using the channel locator that was just introduced on Sunday at

If you have DirecTV, it's on 213. For everyone else, just use the new channel locator and enter your ZIP code as you are accustomed to doing elsewhere on the Internet. You will find a full listing of cable, satellite and telco providers that carry the MLB Network in your area, along with channel listing details in standard and high definition where applicable. In addition, if there are video providers in that ZIP code who do not carry the MLB Network, the channel locator provides a link to send a message to that provider requesting that they add what every fan needs in 2009.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:30 PM


India: Let Kashmir go: Resolving the disputed territory would benefit all. (Bennett Ramberg, December 29, 2008, CS Monitor)

[T]he time has come for India to short circuit the most critical incendiary, the disputed area of Kashmir. Despite some recent Islamic militant clamor to dominate the entire subcontinent, Kashmir remains the eye of the Indo-Pakistani vortex.

Removing its centrality will help pull the rug from under terrorist groups that have used the dispute to target both the region and the heart of India.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Gusting winds blow in Pats favor 13-0 (JOHN WAWROW, 12/28/08, AP)

The Bills managed 276 yards offense but squandered several scoring chances, and wrap up a season at 7-9 for the third straight year under Dick Jauron. His status as coach won't be determined until end-of-season meetings with team owner Ralph Wilson.

The Patriots want to avoid becoming the first 11-5 team to miss the playoffs since Denver fell short in 1985.

It won't be for lack of trying for a Patriots team that closed its season with four straight wins, and continued to show reslience despite 14 players on injured reserve, including Tom Brady. Rather, New England continued its December dominance, winning its 12th straight game in the month, and extending its win streak over the Bills to 11.

The Pats defense is so bad they were never going to do much better than this, though Bill Belichick did play a big part in losing the San Diego and Indy games. But the difference today was how awful the play calling was for the Bills. A 57 yard punt by Matt Cassel didn't hurt either.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Samuel Huntington, author, Harvard political scientist; at 81 (Adam J.V. Sell, December 28, 2008, Boston Globe)

Dr. Samuel Huntington's first book, "The Soldier and the State: the Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations," was such an influential book that it merited a 50th anniversary symposium at West Point last year, but when it was first published in 1957, reviewers weren't so kind.

"The first review he got, the reviewer compared him to Mussolini - and unfavorably," said James Perry, a former graduate student of Dr. Huntington's. The book endorsed the role of civilian authority over military institutions, and was inspired by President Truman's firing of General Douglas MacArthur, the popular Army leader who disagreed with Truman's handling of China's entry into the Korean War in 1951.

"He tended to have views that were unconventional and remarkably prescient. He would have a finger on the pulse of where events were headed," Perry added. [...]

Despite the brickbats that accompanied his first book, it was an article toward the end of his career that became his most cited, and most controversial, work. "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" centered on how differences between cultures throughout the world would be the cause of most post-Cold War conflicts. It was this premise, said former student Todd Fine, that inspired Dr. Huntington's argument against the war in Iraq.

"Even though he didn't make a big to-do about it ahead of time, he was against the Iraq war. [It was] his belief that it was unnecessary to antagonize other cultures and civilizations," Fine said.

That his argument about the Clash of Civilizations was wrong is nicely illustrated by Iraq, which has hosted an intra-Islamic dispute with the eventual winner oriented towards the Western model. Indeed, the entire WoT basically consists of all of the civilizations he identified and nearly all of Islamic civilization against the last holdouts in the Long War, Sunni salafists. The one square peg is just being pounded into the round hole of the End of History.

Whether oddly or revealingly, but either way unfortunately, he followed up his work on the decline of nationalism and the importance of religious culture by arguing that Latino immigrants, who are part of our culture though not his "nation", are a threat to American values.

-ESSAY: The Clash of Civilizations? (Samuel P. Huntington, Summer 1993, Foreign Affairs)
-TORRENT: Samuel P Huntington: The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (MP3)
-EXCERPT: Chapter One of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order By Samuel P. Huntington
-INTERVIEW: So, are civilisations at war?: Is this a war against terror, or the 'clash of civilisations' predicted in 1993 by Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington? Interviewed here by Michael Steinberger of the New York Times, he answers critics who fear that his generalisations fuel conflict (, Sunday 21 October 2001 )
-INTERVIEW: with Samuel Huntington (Charlie Rose: January 30, 1997)

-INTERVIEW: MANY WORLD ORDERS: David Gergen, editor at large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Samuel Huntington, professor of international relations at Harvard University, author of The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. (The NewsHour, January 9, 1997, PBS)
-INTERVIEW: Five Years After 9/11, The Clash of Civilizations Revisited (Featuring: Samuel Huntington, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor, Harvard. His books include Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity (2004), The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), Interviewer: Mark O'Keefe, Associate Director, Editorial, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life., 8/18/06, Pew Forum)
-INTERVIEW: The Clash of Civilizations Revisited (NPQ, Winter 2007)
-PROFILE: Looking the World in the Eye: Samuel Huntington is a mild-mannered man whose sharp opinions—about the collision of Islam and the West, about the role of the military in a liberal society, about what separates countries that work from countries that don't—have proved to be as prescient as they have been controversial. Huntington has been ridiculed and vilified, but in the decades ahead his view of the world will be the way it really looks (Robert D. Kaplan, December 2001, Atlantic Monthly)

The subject that Huntington has more recently put on the map is the "clash of civilizations" that is occurring as Western, Islamic, and Asian systems of thought and government collide. His argument is more subtle than it is usually given credit for, but some of the main points can be summarized.

• The fact that the world is modernizing does not mean that it is Westernizing. The impact of urbanization and mass communications, coupled with poverty and ethnic divisions, will not lead to peoples' everywhere thinking as we do.

• Asia, despite its ups and downs, is expanding militarily and economically. Islam is exploding demographically. The West may be declining in relative influence.

• Culture-consciousness is getting stronger, not weaker, and states or peoples may band together because of cultural similarities rather than because of ideological ones, as in the past.

• The Western belief that parliamentary democracy and free markets are suitable for everyone will bring the West into conflict with civilizations—notably, Islam and the Chinese—that think differently.

• In a multi-polar world based loosely on civilizations rather than on ideologies, Americans must reaffirm their Western identity.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon highlight the tragic relevance not just of Huntington's ideas about a clash of civilizations but of his entire life's work. Since the 1950s he has argued that American society requires military and intelligence services that think in the most tragic, pessimistic terms. He has worried for decades about how American security has mostly been the result of sheer luck—the luck of geography—and may one day have to be truly earned. He has written that liberalism thrives only when security can be taken for granted—and that in the future we may not have that luxury. And he has warned that the West may one day have to fight for its most cherished values and, indeed, physical survival against extremists from other cultures who despise our country and who will embroil us in a civilizational war that is real, even if political leaders and polite punditry must call it by another name. While others who hold such views have found both happiness and favor working among like-minded thinkers in the worlds of the corporation, the military, and the intelligence services, Huntington has deliberately remained in the liberal bastion of Ivy League academia, to fight for his ideas on that lonely but vital front.

The history of the intellectual battles surrounding American foreign policy since the early Cold War can be told, to an impressive degree, through Huntington's seventeen books and scores of articles. Kissinger and Brzezinski have also produced distinguished works of scholarship, but these men will be remembered principally for their service in government—Kissinger as National Security Advisor under Richard Nixon and Secretary of State under Nixon and Gerald Ford, and Brzezinski as National Security Advisor under Jimmy Carter. Huntington, though he served briefly in the Administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Carter, is a man of the academy to a far greater extent than his two friends. His ideas emerge from seminars and lectures, not from sudden epiphanies. If he couldn't teach, he probably couldn't write. And unlike many professors, he values his undergraduate students more than he does his graduate students. Graduate students, he told me, "are more reluctant to challenge this or that professor" and have often been "captured by the jargon and orthodoxy of the discipline."

One of his former undergraduates observes, "Other academics want to ram down your throat what they know, and then go on to the next victim. Huntington never dominates classroom discussions, and he listens intensely." Huntington disdains "rational-choice theory," the reigning fad in political science, which assumes that human behavior is predictable but which fails to take account of fear, envy, hatred, self-sacrifice, and other human passions that are essential to an understanding of politics. In an age of academic operators he is an old-fashioned teacher who speculates historically and philosophically on the human condition. His former students include Francis Fukuyama, the author of the famous post-Cold War anthem The End of History and the Last Man (1992), and Fareed Zakaria, the former managing editor of Foreign Affairs and the current editor of Newsweek International.

You aren't likely to see Huntington on C-SPAN, let alone on The McLaughlin Group. He is a worse than indifferent public speaker: hunched over, reading laboriously from a text. His status and reputation have come the hard way: through writing books that, though often publicly denounced, have had a pervasive influence among people who count. Although he is the classic insider (a former president of the American Political Science Association and a co-founder of Foreign Policy magazine), he writes as an outsider, someone willing to enrage the very experts who will ultimately judge him. "If a scholar has nothing new to say he should keep quiet," Huntington wrote in 1959. "The quest for truths is synonymous with intellectual controversy."

In many ways Samuel Huntington represents a dying breed: someone who combines liberal ideals with a deeply conservative understanding of history and foreign policy.

-ESSAY: Was Samuel Huntington right after all? (Fouad Ajami, January 4, 2008, IHT)
Nearly 15 years on, Huntington's thesis about a civilizational clash seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at that time. In recent years, for example, the edifice of Kemalism has come under assault, and Turkey has now elected an Islamist to the presidency in open defiance of the military-bureaucratic elite. There has come that "redefinition" that Huntington prophesied. To be sure, the verdict may not be quite as straightforward as he foresaw. The Islamists have prevailed, but their desired destination, or so they tell us, is still Brussels: in that European shelter, the Islamists shrewdly hope they can find protection against the power of the military.

"I'll teach you differences," Kent says to Lear's servant. And Huntington had the integrity and the foresight to see the falseness of a borderless world, a world without differences. (He is one of two great intellectual figures who peered into the heart of things and were not taken in by globalism's conceit, Bernard Lewis being the other.)

I still harbor doubts about whether the radical Islamists knocking at the gates of Europe, or assaulting it from within, are the bearers of a whole civilization. They flee the burning grounds of Islam, but carry the fire with them. They are "nowhere men," children of the frontier between Islam and the West, belonging to neither. If anything, they are a testament to the failure of modern Islam to provide for its own and to hold the fidelities of the young.

More ominously perhaps, there ran through Huntington's pages an anxiety about the will and the coherence of the West - openly stated at times, made by allusions throughout. The ramparts of the West are not carefully monitored and defended, Huntington feared. Islam will remain Islam, he worried, but it is "dubious" whether the West will remain true to itself and its mission. Clearly, commerce has not delivered us out of history's passions, the World Wide Web has not cast aside blood and kin and faith. It is no fault of Samuel Huntington's that we have not heeded his darker, and possibly truer, vision.

-ESSAY: The west has won: Radical Islam can't beat democracy and capitalism. We're still at the end of history (Francis Fukuyama, 10/11/01,
[R]ather than psychologise the Muslim world, it makes more sense to ask whether radical Islam constitutes a serious alternative to western liberal democracy. (Radical Islam has virtually no appeal in the contemporary world apart from those who are culturally Islamic to begin with.) For Muslims themselves, political Islam has proved much more appealing in the abstract than in reality. After 23 years of rule by fundamentalist clerics, most Iranians, especially the young, would like to live in a far more liberal society. Afghans who have experienced Taliban rule feel much the same. Anti-American hatred does not translate into a viable political program for Muslim societies to follow.

We remain at the end of history because there is only one system that will continue to dominate world politics, that of the liberal-democratic west. This does not imply a world free from conflict, nor the disappearance of culture. But the struggle we face is not the clash of several distinct and equal cultures fighting amongst one another like the great powers of 19th-century Europe. The clash consists of a series of rearguard actions from societies whose traditional existence is indeed threatened by modernisation. The strength of the backlash reflects the severity of this threat. But time is on the side of modernity, and I see no lack of US will to prevail.

-ESSAY: The Future of "History": Francis Fukuyama and Samuel P. Huntington, post-September 11 (Stanley Kurtz, June-July 2002, Policy Review)
-Samuel Huntington, 81, political scientist, scholar: 'One of the most influential political scientists of the last 50 years' (Corydon Ireland, 12/26/08, Harvard News Office)
-Samuel Huntington, political scientist, dies at 81 (AP, 12/27/08)
-"Clash of Civilizations" author Samuel Huntington dies (Reuters, 12/27/08)
-Key political scientist dies at 81 (Stuart Rintoul, December 29, 2008, The Australian)
A few years ago in an influential article in Foreign Affairs, Samuel P. Huntington, the Harvard political scientist and foreign policy aide to President Jimmy Carter, and before that reputedly one of the architects of the ''strategic hamlets'' policy in Vietnam, proposed that the war of political systems, ideologies and interests was over and that the war of cultures had begun. The tectonic plates of the emerging world order were seven or eight civilizations -- Western, Eastern Orthodox, Latin American, Islamic, Japanese, Chinese, Hindu and (''possibly'') African.

Africa was listed as only a possible civilization because it was divided into Islamic and non-Islamic components, as well as Saharan and sub-Saharan. Jewish civilization was another possibility, though in the end Mr. Huntington lined the Jews up with the so-called Judeo-Christian heritage of the West. Given the interpenetration of civilizations, these boxes were bound to be a bit fuzzy at the edges. But this problem aside, the Huntington thesis did make the insightful claim that the real actors to watch on the international stage were no longer states or even resurgent ethnicities but the civilizational identities built on the religious empires of the past.

''Realist'' analysts of international affairs had neglected these deeply buried religious allegiances during the cold war. Now they were returning with a vengeance, and Mr. Huntington was among the first to argue that it was not resurgent ethnicity that was the cause of all the violence in the post-cold war world but the ancient civilizational antagonisms.

Thus American policy makers should not have been surprised by the savagery and longevity of Russia's difficulty in Chechnya; it was never just a secessionist conflict but a battle to the death between Orthodoxy and Islam on the fault line between the two civilizations. Similarly, the Yugoslav conflict was a civilizational war among Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Islam. Had the Bush Administration understood this, it might have tried to arrange a peaceful divorce instead of trying to keep the federation together.

However welcome the Huntington emphasis on tradition, culture and religion, after the grindingly narrow emphasis among ''realists'' on state interests, there were problems with the idea that most modern conflict is civilizational. Some of the worst wars in human history have occurred not between civilizations but within them. Common civilizational ties did not prevent Europeans from slaughtering one another between 1914 and 1945. Moreover, in a place like the former Yugoslavia, civilizational differences over religion were more a pretext for war than a cause. Religious quarrels were fading away until nationalist elites fanned them into flames.

In expanding the Foreign Affairs article into ''The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,'' Mr. Huntington has thickened out his argument, but it remains controversial. If there are seven or eight world civilizations, he says, the West had better shed the hubristic notion that its civilization is destined to spread its values across the globe. The West is ''unique'' -- but its values are not universal.

The Clash of Ignorance (Edward W. Said, October 22, 2001, The Nation)
In a remarkable series of three articles published between January and March 1999 in Dawn, Pakistan's most respected weekly, the late Eqbal Ahmad, writing for a Muslim audience, analyzed what he called the roots of the religious right, coming down very harshly on the mutilations of Islam by absolutists and fanatical tyrants whose obsession with regulating personal behavior promotes "an Islamic order reduced to a penal code, stripped of its humanism, aesthetics, intellectual quests, and spiritual devotion." And this "entails an absolute assertion of one, generally de-contextualized, aspect of religion and a total disregard of another. The phenomenon distorts religion, debases tradition, and twists the political process wherever it unfolds." As a timely instance of this debasement, Ahmad proceeds first to present the rich, complex, pluralist meaning of the word jihad and then goes on to show that in the word's current confinement to indiscriminate war against presumed enemies, it is impossible "to recognize the Islamic--religion, society, culture, history or politics--as lived and experienced by Muslims through the ages." The modern Islamists, Ahmad concludes, are "concerned with power, not with the soul; with the mobilization of people for political purposes rather than with sharing and alleviating their sufferings and aspirations. Theirs is a very limited and time-bound political agenda."

-REVIEW: of Clash of Civilizations (Michael Elliott, Washington Post)
-ESSAY: The Engines That Run the World (Richard John Neuhaus, February 22, 2008, First Things)
-ESSAY: Re-clash of civilizations: A decade after its debut, Samuel Huntington's famous thesis still draws fire from liberal intellectuals in the US. . . (Matthew Price , February 15, 2004, Boston Globe)
-ARCHIVES: samuel huntington (Find Articles)

-TRIBUTE: The Clash Of Huntingtons: What the late political scientist taught us about democracy, culture and the American future. (Reihan Salam, 12.29.08, Forbes)

Between 1981, when he published American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, and 2004, when he published Who Are We? The Challenges to American National Identity, Huntington came to view America's prospects through a darker lens. The first book emphasized the American creed of liberty, democracy, and equality which he saw as the essence of American identity. But by the second, he became convinced, rightly in my view, that American identity was less about an ideological creed and more about America's highly idiosyncratic Afro-Anglo-Protestant ethnic heritage.

Instead of emphasizing the extraordinarily malleable and absorptive quality of this quirky creole culture, however, Huntington maintained that the days of the melting pot were drawing to a close. More specifically, he worried that the mass influx of Mexican immigrants would turn America into a bilingual and bicultural society, one that would steadily grow less stable and more conflict-prone, not unlike divided societies elsewhere in the world.

My own guess, and it's only a guess, is that America's ethnic mix will be a source of strength. I say this not because I'm a Pollyanna. Diverse societies really are conflict-prone, as Huntington's colleague and occasional critic Robert Putnam has recently found. I'm basing this mainly on the notion that a more open and interconnected world will need a society that serves as a template and as a hub--a cultural and institutional lingua franca, or an Operating System for Earth.

In a memorable essay in Foreign Affairs, Huntington worried that America was no longer an agent but an arena in which different diasporas and interest groups duked it out for influence. I think that's probably right. But I also think that being the world's arena is not a bad thing to be.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


When Football Grew Up (William Gildea, December 28, 2008, Washington Post)

Fifty years ago today, my father took me to the National Football League's championship game at Yankee Stadium. The previous evening, we rode the train from Baltimore to root for our Colts against the glamorous New York Giants. As a teenager, I found New York unsettling -- too big, too fast. I hoped the Colts could adjust. My father and I spent the night at his Aunt Bea's apartment on upper Broadway. The next morning, we took the subway to the Bronx. Pop knew the way.

It was a gray day. We wore suits, ties and overcoats. Our seats were in the end zone, in the middle deck behind what would have been home plate and first base in baseball season. Pop and I loved the Colts. One Sunday in November 1950, we slipped away from the bedside of his dying father. Pop said it was okay, that something important was going to happen that afternoon and we had to be there. The Colts, he said, were going to win -- and they did. They had lost 14 straight.

But in 1958, they were the betting favorites to win the title game, and they had the best player, a daring young quarterback named Johnny Unitas. We took no comfort in the Colts' advantages. We thought of ourselves, and the team, as intruders from the provinces with dreams likely to be dashed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Lebanon Enjoys a Respite (David Ignatius, December 28, 2008, Washington Post)

[Ibrahim Mousawi, Hezbollah's informal spokesman] sees the two-year siege of the prime minister's office in much the same terms Siniora does -- as a battle over Lebanon's identity. It ended in a compromise, and Mousawi seems to find that acceptable. His organization doesn't want to create a Hezbollah state, he insists. It just wants to block a pro-American one.

"Lebanon was meant to go again into the American age" after the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, Mousawi says. "To Hezbollah, this meant the end. They don't want to be part of American hegemony, part of the West." The militia and its poor Shiite supporters felt they were fighting for their existence. (The other side felt the same way, as always happens in the existential conflicts of the Middle East.)

Hezbollah escalated its tactics on May 7, when its fighters seized West Beirut and other areas. The pro-American forces, known as the March 14 movement, were quickly overwhelmed. The heavy fighting ended in just a few hours, and a broad truce was negotiated over the next few days in Qatar with help from France and Turkey.

"No one would have imagined the Americans would have let [Lebanon] go. But they are a superpower, and they said: 'Let it go,' " Mousawi observes.

As long as the North yields to the South they can hold the place together...loosely.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


A Space Garbage Man and His Eclectic Crew (FRANK DECARO, 12/28/08, NY Times)

“STAR WARS” littered pop culture of the late 1970s with a galaxy of space junk. Television’s two most infamous examples were “The Star Wars Holiday Special,” a deranged two-hour extravaganza from 1978 featuring Bea Arthur, Art Carney and Harvey Korman, and a much shorter but no-less-cracked 1977 takeoff from “Donny and Marie.” This one featured those two musical siblings dressed as Luke and Leia, Kris Kristofferson doing his best Han Solo work, Redd Foxx in full “Sanford & Son” mode playing Obi-Wan Kenobi and an embittered Paul Lynde singing the Broadway hit “Come Back to Me” to a rocket ship.

Chorus girls in imperial storm trooper masks? Even R2-D2 looked embarrassed.

These appealingly tasteless artifacts live on in bits and pieces on YouTube, waiting for the unlikely day that the Force — that is, the seemingly unamused George Lucas — lets them see the light of DVD. Until then there is “Quark: The Complete Series,” Buck Henry’s failed outer space sitcom, whose recent release on DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment was greeted largely with disbelief — although not displeasure — by cult TV aficionados, who never imagined the day would come.

The off chance that are among the signals an alien culture might intercept is sufficient reason to be thankful for Fermi's Paradox.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


The End of Art (Roger Kimball, June/July 2008, First Things)

Nearly everyone cares—or says he cares—about art. After all, art ennobles the spirit, ­elevates the mind, and educates the emotions. Or does it? In fact, tremendous irony attends our culture’s continuing investment—emotional, financial, and social—in art. We behave as if art were something special, something important, something spiritually refreshing; but, when we canvas the roster of distinguished artists today, what we generally find is far from spiritual, and certainly far from refreshing.

It is a curious situation. Traditionally, the goal of fine art was to make beautiful objects. The idea of beauty came with a lot of Platonic and Christian metaphysical baggage, some of it indifferent or even hostile to art. But art without beauty was, if not exactly a contradiction in terms, at least a description of failed art.

Nevertheless, if large precincts of the art world have jettisoned the traditional link between art and beauty, they have done nothing to disown the social prerogatives of art. Indeed, we suffer today from a peculiar form of moral anesthesia—as if being art automatically rendered all moral considerations ­gratuitous. The list of atrocities is long, familiar, and laughable. In the end, though, the effect has been ­anything but amusing; it has been a cultural disaster. By universalizing the spirit of opposition, the avant-garde’s ­project has transformed the practice of art into a purely negative enterprise, in which art is either oppositional or it is nothing. Celebrity replaces aesthetic achievement as the goal of art.

The situation tempts one to sympathize with Leo Tolstoy. In a famous passage from What Is Art?? Tolstoy wrote that “art, in our society, has been so perverted that not only has bad art come to be considered good, but even the very perception of what art really is has been lost.”

And that was in the 1890s.

...but you can't deny the comedic value in listening to people who know better swear they like the garbage just because their betters tell them they should. As Tom Wolfe put it in Bauhaus to Our House:
O beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within they blessed borders today?

Of course, the exact same folks espouse scientific theories that they know in their hears are terrible nonsense just to keep up with the Brights as well.

The Human Family and the Holy Family ("The Story of the Family," The Superstition of Divorce | G. K. Chesterton )

For the modern world will accept no dogmas upon any authority; but it will accept any dogmas on no authority. Say that a thing is so, according to the Pope or the Bible, and it will be dismissed as a superstition without examination. But preface your remark merely with "they say" or "don't you know that?" or try (and fail) to remember the name of some professor mentioned in some newspaper; and the keen rationalism of the modern mind will accept every word you say.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


2008 was the year man-made global warming was disproved (Christopher Booker, 28 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

Looking back over my columns of the past 12 months, one of their major themes was neatly encapsulated by two recent items from The Daily Telegraph.

The first, on May 21, headed "Climate change threat to Alpine ski resorts" , reported that the entire Alpine "winter sports industry" could soon "grind to a halt for lack of snow". The second, on December 19, headed "The Alps have best snow conditions in a generation" , reported that this winter's Alpine snowfalls "look set to beat all records by New Year's Day".

Easily one of the most important stories of 2008 has been all the evidence suggesting that this may be looked back on as the year when there was a turning point in the great worldwide panic over man-made global warming.

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December 27, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


The Net-Zero Gas Tax: A once-in-a-generation chance. (Charles Krauthammer, 01/05/2009, Weekly Standard)

A tax that suppresses U.S. gas consumption can have a major effect on reducing world oil prices. And the benefits of low world oil prices are obvious: They put tremendous pressure on OPEC, as evidenced by its disarray during the current collapse; they deal serious economic damage to energy-exporting geopolitical adversaries such as Russia, Venezuela, and Iran; and they reduce the enormous U.S. imbalance of oil trade which last year alone diverted a quarter of $1 trillion abroad. Furthermore, a reduction in U.S. demand alters the balance of power between producer and consumer, making us less dependent on oil exporters. It begins weaning us off foreign oil, and, if combined with nuclear power and renewed U.S. oil and gas drilling, puts us on the road to energy independence.

High gas prices, whether achieved by market forces or by government imposition, encourage fuel economy. In the short term, they simply reduce the amount of driving. In the longer term, they lead to the increased (voluntary) shift to more fuel-efficient cars. They render redundant and unnecessary the absurd CAFE standards--the ever-changing Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations that mandate the fuel efficiency of various car and truck fleets--which introduce terrible distortions into the market. As the consumer market adjusts itself to more fuel-efficient autos, the green car culture of the future that environmentalists are attempting to impose by decree begins to shape itself unmandated. This shift has the collateral environmental effect of reducing pollution and CO2 emissions, an important benefit for those who believe in man-made global warming and a painless bonus for agnostics (like me) who nonetheless believe that the endless pumping of CO2 into the atmosphere cannot be a good thing.

These benefits are blindingly obvious. They always have been. But the only time you can possibly think of imposing a tax to achieve them is when oil prices are very low. We had such an opportunity when prices collapsed in the mid-1980s and again in the late 1990s. Both opportunities were squandered. Nothing was done.

Today we are experiencing a unique moment. Oil prices are in a historic free fall from a peak of $147 a barrel to $39 today. In July, U.S. gasoline was selling for $4.11 a gallon. It now sells for $1.65. With $4 gas still fresh in our memories, the psychological impact of a tax that boosts the pump price to near $3 would be far less than at any point in decades. Indeed, an immediate $1 tax would still leave the price more than one-third below its July peak.

The rub, of course, is that this price drop is happening at a time of severe recession. Not only would the cash-strapped consumer rebel against a gas tax. The economic pitfalls would be enormous. At a time when overall consumer demand is shrinking, any tax would further drain the economy of disposable income, decreasing purchasing power just when consumer spending needs to be supported.

What to do? Something radically new. A net-zero gas tax. Not a freestanding gas tax but a swap that couples the tax with an equal payroll tax reduction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper: Bloggers are no replacement for real journalists. (PAUL MULSHINE, 12/27/08, Wall Street Journal)

Someone is always heralding the rise of "the intellectual declaration of independence of the American people," as H.L. Mencken once put it.

In his 1920 essay "The National Letters," Mencken traced this sentiment back to the early days of our democracy. He noted how first Ralph Waldo Emerson and then Walt Whitman prophesized the rise of what Whitman termed "a class of native authors, literatuses, far different, far higher in grade than any yet known." Mencken was pessimistic about this prospect thanks to what he termed "the democratic distrust of whatever strikes beneath the prevailing platitudes."

I share that pessimism. Every time a new medium arises, a new group of avatars arises with it, assuring us of the wondrous effects it will produce for our democracy.

I encountered this back in the early 1970s in my communications classes at Rutgers. Cheap, portable video cameras had just been invented, and I was assured by the bearded professors and grad students that these cameras would lead to a rebirth of democracy. The citizenry would start recording public meetings and the result would be a revolution.

Now we're hearing the same thing about the blogosphere. "When enough bloggers take the leap, and start reporting on the statehouse, city council, courts, etc. firsthand, full-time, then the Big Media will take notice and the avalanche will begin," Mr. Reynolds quotes another blogger as saying. If this avalanche ever occurs, a lot of bloggers will be found gasping for breath under piles of pure ennui. There is nothing more tedious than a public meeting.

After I got out of Rutgers, I began as a reporter at a newspaper in Ocean County, N.J. If the Toms River Regional Board of Education had not offered free coffee, I fear that I might have been found the next day curled up on the floor in the back of the room like Rip Van Winkle. As it was, I only made it through the endless stream of resolutions and speeches by employing trance-inducing techniques learned in my youth during religion class at St. Joseph's school up the street.

The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader -- one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the "executive summary." wouldn't trust to deliver the newspaper, nevermind deliver the news.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


Republicans are blinded by love: Lefties just don't have the same feeling about America as the hard right does. (Joel Stein, December 26, 2008, LA Times)

[I]'ve come to believe conservatives are right. They do love America more. Sure, we liberals claim that our love is deeper because we seek to improve the United States by pointing out its flaws. But calling your wife fat isn't love. [...]

Conservatives feel personally blessed to have been born in the only country worth living in. I, on the other hand, just feel lucky to have grown up in a wealthy democracy. If it had been Australia, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Israel or one of those Scandinavian countries with more relaxed attitudes toward sex, that would have been fine with me too. try and pick a country that we didn't liberate, defend or create.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:19 PM


One Really Bad Idea (Mark Shields, 12/27/08,

In a bizarre twist, the City Council of Washington, D.C. (where Obama won a mere 93 percent of the presidential vote), by moving to keep the city's bars open and pouring until 4 a.m. — for three days before the inauguration until the day after — invites turning the new president's historically joyful inauguration week into something out of a hung-over Mardi Gras or Super Bowl weekend.

To nobody's surprise, the Restaurant Association of Greater Washington is a prime mover behind the expanded hours. The visions of bulging cash registers overcame the expressed concerns of overstretched police forces charged with preserving order and security among a predicted 3 million visiting celebrants, more than five times the population of the city itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Not All Stimuli Are Created Equal: The best plan is a cut in the payroll tax. (Lawrence B. Lindsey, 01/05/2009, Weekly Standard)

The incoming chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, has estimated that the macroeconomic benefits of tax cuts can be two to three times larger than common estimates of the benefits related to spending increases. The relative advantage of tax cuts over spending is even clearer when the recession is centered on the household balance sheet. Some relatively minor changes, like making the current 15 percent tax rate on dividends and capital gains permanent, would not only help household cash flow, but also put a floor under equity prices much as their introduction did in 2003. This would help protect against further wealth destruction and balance sheet deterioration.

But the centerpiece of any tax cut should be employment taxes: in particular, a permanent halving of the current 12.4 percent Social Security payroll tax on the first $106,800 of wages, split evenly between workers and employers. The direct revenue effect of that would be a bit under $400 billion per year, roughly in line with the present quantitative needs of the economy. It also meets our three tests of effective stimulus.

First, the funds would flow directly to households through higher take-home pay and indirectly through a reduction in the cost of employment. Economic studies conclude that the benefits of a reduction in the employer portion of the payroll tax are ultimately received by employees. But the immediate effect would be an improvement in the cash flow of credit-starved businesses (as well as being a marginal incentive to keep employment up).

Second, the funds would be extremely timely, with the benefits hitting the economy with the first paycheck after the plan was implemented.

Third, by lowering the taxation of labor, the plan would help produce a higher-employment recovery than would otherwise be the case.

Since the tax cut should be permanent to have maximum effect, the biggest challenge would be how to make up for the lost revenue once the macroeconomic need for fiscal stimulus had passed. In the short run, effective fiscal stimulus requires that government revenue drop, thereby enriching the private sector, and with the Treasury making the Social Security trust fund whole by way of intergovernmental bookkeeping. Longer term, however, spending cuts or a new source of revenue would be needed.

Given the agenda of the incoming administration, the best source of such funds would be a greenhouse emissions tax. It would be a much more efficient way of achieving the desired environmental objectives of the administration than any of the regulatory or "cap and trade" ideas now being considered. Such programs have failed in Europe since they are so easily gamed. Unlike regulations or cap and trade, moreover, an emissions tax can be phased in and calibrated as macroeconomic conditions permitted, specifically as the unemployment rate declined.

The country would be getting the stimulus it needed in the short run. In the long run it would enjoy a permanent improvement in its tax system, with higher taxes on things it wants to discourage (pollution and oil imports) and lower taxes on things it wants to encourage, specifically employment. A greener America with higher employment is a lot better than simply being another day older and deeper in debt.

The opportunity to cast itself as a green party while shifting taxation from income to consumption, forcing innovation, and punishing evil regimes is just sitting there waiting for the GOP to grab it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM



For Irwin, cubism represents the culmination of a five-hundred-year-long process of flattening, as it were, in the subject deemed worthy of artistic attention (from Christ, to this king, to this burgher, to his maid, to her red shawl, to the color red, to the process of seeing the color red); and if one were to take seriously its greatest accomplishment—which is to say the so-called marriage of figure and ground—one couldn’t very well go on making paintings, which would necessarily have to read as figures to the wall’s ground, thereby undermining the whole point of the artistic project. Many critics of the Hilton Kramer variety saw despair in Irwin’s minimalist abnegation of traditional artistic practice, but to be clear: Irwin wasn’t suggesting that everything in the art world level out to a groundlike Zen backdrop; on the contrary, he was advocating a way of being in the world in which everything all around would get tended to (or at least be seen as being worthy of being tended to) with the same sort of heightened attention one used to lavish only on the figure in a work of art (hence his eventual progression to such improbably maximalist projects as the Central Gardens at the Getty or the overall design for DIA Beacon).

Even so, Hockney emphatically disagreed with Irwin’s characterization of the cubist challenge, already insisting to me just a few weeks later (for in the meantime he’d invited me to start visiting more regularly so that I might compose a text for a planned coffee-table book surveying the photocollage cameraworks series on which he’d only just launched out upon), “No! Cubism was precisely about saving the possibility of figuration, this ages-old need of human beings, going all the way back to Lascaux, to render the world in two dimensions, and saving that possibility at the moment of its greatest crisis, what with the onslaught of photography with all its false claims to being able to accomplish such figuration better and more objectively. It was about asserting all the things photography couldn’t capture: time, multiple vantages, and the sense of lived and living experience.” (For his part, critics often got Hockney all wrong as well, misinterpreting the intensity of the ways he would presently be engaging photography—taking literally hundreds of thousands of photos, coming to feel that the Old Masters themselves had been in thrall to a similar optical aesthetic—as a celebration of the photographic over the painterly, and specifically the post-optical painterly, when in fact all along he’d been engaged in a rigorous critique of photography and the optical as “all right,” in his words, “if you don’t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed cyclops, for a split second, but that’s not how the world really is.”)

Hockney that day back in 1982 went on to acknowledge that ever-greater degrees of abstraction constituted one possible path out of cubism. But he for one was sure that Picasso and Braque, from early on, would have realized that such a path would lead only to a dead end or, as he put it, “an empty room.”

While there was ample ideological reason for artists to have retreated into abstraction it was likely also just a function of their fear of competing with the representationalism of photographs.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Rev. Santino endorses Barack Obama for Preside...

Image by Rev. Santino via Flickr

Obama May Be an Aloof President (Michael Barone, 12/27/08, Townhall)
Barack Obama and his family are vacationing in his native Hawaii, far from the wintry snows of Chicago -- and far from almost every other American politician. There's a metaphor here for how I think Obama is going to conduct himself as president: He's going to try to keep his distance from other politicians, including his fellow Democrats. I see him trying to remain aloof from his party, much as Dwight Eisenhower did five decades ago. Like Eisenhower, I think he's drawn the conclusion that his party needs him more than he needs his party.

What's my evidence for this? Well, for one thing Obama didn't do a whole lot of campaigning for his fellow Democrats this year after he clinched the party's nomination in early June. His monster rallies in the fall resembled his monster rallies in the spring: enthusiastic and adulatory crowds inspired by this unique candidate's oratory, without much attention paid to local Democratic officeholders and office-seekers.

Similarly, after the election Obama chose not to campaign for Democrat Jim Martin in Georgia's Dec. 2 Senate runoff -- the election that, depending on how the Minnesota contest turns out, could make the difference between 59 Democratic votes in the Senate and a filibuster-proof 60. Nor did he devote any significant attention to the two Louisiana House runoff elections Dec. 6, both of which Democrats lost.

Actually, the most revealing thing was that, whereas John McCain took a running mate who easily outshone him, Mr. Obama chose a cipher who he then his away from the public. He's followed up with a cabinet of featherweights, in stark contrast to W's team of governors and former chiefs of staff. And, of course, he neither campaigned on nor has he proposed any significant policies, which might detract from his Himness.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Boy Scouts out to attract more Hispanic youths: Mostly white ranks declining (Washin gton Times, December 27, 2008)

"We either are going to figure out how to make Scouting the most exciting, dynamic organization for Hispanic kids, or we're going to be out of business," said Rick Cronk, former national president of the Boy Scouts and chairman of the World Scout Committee.

The venerable Scouts remains the nation's largest youth organization, with 2.8 million children and youths, nearly all of them boys. But that is nearly half its peak membership, reached in 1972. Its rolls took hits through the 1980s and '90s as teenagers raised on TV and shoot-'em-up games had less use for learning to build a campfire or memorize the Scout oath.

The country changed, too. One in five children younger than 18 is Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census. But they make up only 3 percent of Scouts.

Mr. Cronk made Hispanic outreach a focus after he realized that just translating brochures into Spanish, or combining Cub Scouting with soccer, was not enough to meet the goal of doubling Hispanic membership by the group's centennial in 2010.

"We were nibbling around the edges," Mr. Cronk said. "We knew very little about the Hispanic family, how they see us, what they value."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Why men are addicted to video games (Times of India, 27 Dec 2008)

Scientists have found answer to the question that intrigued women for years: Why men are 'hooked' on video games? According to the researchers, the 'passion' stems from a deep-rooted urge to conquer.

Through the magic of brain-scanning, scientists at the Stanford University have determined that playing on computer activates parts of the male brain which are linked to rewarding feelings and addiction. The more opponents they vanquish and points they score, the more stimulated this region becomes, the scans revealed.
In contrast, these parts of women's brains are much less likely to be triggered by sessions on the Sony PlayStation. Professor Allan Reiss of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research at Stanford University, California, said, “Women understood computer games just as well as men but did not have the same neurological drive to win.”

The Wife tried playing MarioKart with The Boys last night and afterward asked if it's even possible to stay on the course....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Saudis see cinema after 30 yrs (AFP, 27 Dec 2008)

They howled, clapped and ate popcorn -- a normal cinema scene elsewhere, but revolutionary in Saudi Arabia where films have not played publicly for decades. Massive lines snaked out from the King Abdul Aziz Cultural Centre as Jeddah residents queued up to see the first feature film open to the public for 30 years, hoping the event heralded a big change in the ultra-conservative kingdom's cultural scene.

In what took hush-hush negotiations with senior political officials and the strict religious police, the Red Sea port of Jeddah and the nearby city of Taif allowed the Rotana entertainment group, owned by powerful Saudi tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, to show its new comedy "Manahi" for nine days. "The hall was filled up till the very last seat during the two shows scheduled each day, forcing us to add a third show after midnight,” said organizer Mamdouh Salem .

Decades ago film lovers in Saudi Arabia would crowd into clubs and halls to watch the same movies enjoyed throughout the Arab world. But in the 1970s, clerics of the ultra-conservative Wahhabist version of Islam cracked down and banned cinemas as having a corrupting influence on society.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Denver axes mascot 'Boone' in diversity drive (Valerie Richardson, December 27, 2008, Washington Times)

Many universities have come under pressure to reject their American Indian mascots, but in what may be a first, the University of Denver has ditched a non-Indian mascot on the grounds he wasn't sufficiently diverse.

A university committee gave the final axing in October to "Denver Boone," better known as Boone, a portly, chubby-cheeked cartoon character in a coonskin cap who represented the University of Denver Pioneers from 1968 to 1998.

"The old Boone figure is one that does not reflect the broad diversity of the DU community and is not an image that many of today's women, persons of color, international students and faculty and others can easily relate to as defining the pioneering spirit," Chancellor Robert Coombe said.

Now they're going to be known as the Raging RuPaul's.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Eartha Kitt: Singer and actress with a difficult reputation who was described as 'the most exciting woman on earth' (Tom Vallance, 27 December 2008, Independent)

When New Faces of 1952, a revue celebrating fresh talent, opened on Broadway, the New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson stated, "Eartha Kitt not only looks incendiary but she can make a song burst into flame."

Orson Welles went further, calling her, "the most exciting woman on earth". He had backed up his opinion by featuring her in a play he produced in the French capital, and is alleged to have had a torrid affair with her some years later. It is easy to understand the impact Kitt had, for there had never been a performer quite like her.

...for wasting Batman episodes that could have featured the real Catwoman, Julie Newmar, instead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


REVIEW: of Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman (Carrie Uffindell,

Devil's Brood opens two years after Time and Chance ends, in 1172 AD. While Henry is still a powerful king in his prime, he continues to struggle with the ramifications of Becket's death. However, it is not Becket's death that will define Henry's later years, but his own personal failings with his family. Chafing under their father's tight control and aided by their mother, Henry's eldest three sons rebel against him. The betrayal sends Henry into a tailspin and his harsh reaction delivers a blow from which the family never recovers.

Writing about such well-documented historical people and events is no small feat, but Penman handles it masterfully. She breathes life and purpose into these long-dead men and women whose actions shaped Europe's Middle Ages, giving attention even to those who are now just names filling contemporary annuals and chronicles. Her portrayals of Henry, Eleanor, the French kings, and their royal progeny are thoughtful, complex, and compassionate.

For some readers, Devil's Brood calls to mind James Goldman's play The Lion in Winter that revolves around a dramatic (yet fictional) Christmas court in which Henry, Eleanor, and their sons bicker, plot, and attempt to seduce one another. (It was made into a wonderful movie starring Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn.) While some similarities are to be expected, Penman's historical accuracy and understanding of medieval culture is far superior, especially in regards to Richard's sexuality, Henry's affair with Princess Alys, and John's character.

December 26, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


Theodore Roosevelt Was No ConservativeThere's a reason he left the GOP to lead the Progressive Party. (RONALD J. PESTRITTO, 12/27/08, Wall Street Journal)

Progressives of both parties, including Roosevelt, were the original big-government liberals. They understood full well that the greatest obstacle to their schemes of social justice and equality of material condition was the U.S. Constitution as it was originally written and understood: as creating a national government of limited, enumerated powers that was dedicated to securing the individual natural rights of its citizens, especially liberty of contract and private property.

It was the Republican TR, who insisted in his 1910 speech on the "New Nationalism" that there was a "general right of the community to regulate" the earning of income and use of private property "to whatever degree the public welfare may require it." He was at one here with Democrat Woodrow Wilson, who had in 1885 condemned Americans' respect for their Constitution as "blind worship," and suggested that his countrymen dedicate themselves to the Declaration of Independence by leaving out its "preface" -- i.e., the part of it that establishes the protection of equal natural rights as the permanent task of government.

In his "Autobiography," Roosevelt wrote that he "declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it." The national government, in TR's view, was not one of enumerated powers but of general powers, and the purpose of the Constitution was merely to state the narrow exceptions to that rule.

...running against Taft, and thereby electing Wilson, was the most politically destructive act ever committed by a Republican.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 PM


Harold Pinter Does Not Deserve the Post Mortem White-Washing He Is About to Receive (Johann Hari, December 25, 2008, Independent)

[H]ow did a young Jewish boy who grew up bravely fighting against gangs of Mosleyite fascists on the streets of the East End wind up as a patron of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic?

There are two arguments against Pinter - one literary, the other political - and they are both hard to make, because in amongst the screw-ups Pinter has some undeniable achievements. Harold Pinter has one literary accomplishment: he imported the surrealism of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Luis Bunel into the staid English theatre. As the critic Irving Wardle put it, in his first play 'The Birthday Party', Pinter showed "how a banal Blackpool boarding house could open up to the horrors of modern history." The play shows a man, Stanley, hiding out in a dank Blackpool boarding house, only for two torturers to track him down. His landlady, Meg, is oblivious to the violence smashing through her own home. At their best, his plays are like a nightmarish stress-dream: unbearably primal, raw expressions of menace and fear, whose meaning is always just beyond our grasp.

But with Samuel Beckett, you always know there is an elaborate existentialist philosophy underneath the darkness and chaos. With Pinter, if you turn on the light and switch off the atmospherics, you find... nothing, except a few commonplace insights: Torture is Bad and Resistance is Good. Pinter himself says "the most important line I've ever written" is when Meg's husband calls out, as Stanley is taken away, "Stan, don't let them tell you what to do." The playwright said of this unobjectionable, obvious platitude, "I've lived that line all my damn life. Never more than now." It's depressingly revealing: Pinter's staccato sinisterness does not illustrate a point; it distracts the audience from the fact his point is so banal.

Yet Pinter has been protected by an elderly critical establishment so invested in creating and building up his reputation that they cannot admit how feeble most of his plays now look. (I assume nobody at all takes the poetry seriously). When I saw 'The Homecoming' - a revoltingly misogynistic work - in the West End a few years ago, the audience kept laughing in all the wrong places. It literally looked ridiculous, yet it was given respectful - and in some cases fawning - write-ups.

But the more important case against Pinter is political. Ever since Pinter was a teenager, he was relentlessly contrarian, kicking out violently against anything that might trigger his rage that day. He claimed to be a man of the left, but a few wildcat strikes at the National Theatre were enough to make him vote for Margaret Thatcher. He had an extraordinarily patronizing attitude to the poor, illustrated in an anecdote in Michael Billington's biography. Pinter once bumped into the tramp he had used as a model for the central character in his play 'The Caretaker' on Chiswick roundabout. "We had a chat and I asked him how he was getting on. I didn't mention the play, because he wouldn't have known what a play was," he said. Pinter did not mention that he had made millions of pounds by using this man as an inspiration. No: instead he noted to himself, "I was very close to this old derelict's world, in a way." His reason for comparing himself to a homeless person? When he was a student at RADA, he would skive off (because it was "full of poofs and ponces") and wander the streets "like a tramp." Yes Harold, just like a tramp.

Pinter often fumed about tyranny, but equally fumed about people who resisted it.

Any enemy of America was a friend of his. Do we really need to know any more?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 PM


Call me Bush: Moby Dick is an eerily prophetic allegory of 21st-century America. It should be named as the nation's epic novel (Stephen Kinzer, 8 December 2008, The Guardian)

From the revolutionary war to the present day, many of America's best ideas have come from the state of Massachusetts. Now a new one has emerged. The Massachusetts House of Representatives has approved a bill naming Herman Melville's Moby Dick as the state's "official epic novel".

Congress should follow. No book more deeply and revealingly explains the spasm of madness through which the United States has passed in recent years than Moby Dick. For generations, it has been considered a masterpiece of world literature, but now can it be seen as an eerily prophetic allegory about 21st-century America. It is now truly the nation's epic.

Consider the novel's plot, and how closely it parallels recent American history. A shocking and disfiguring crime is committed. The victim is unable to understand that the enterprise in which he is engaged helped provoke that crime. Instead of reflecting on his own responsibility, he flails out wildly at the diffuse force he believes must be held responsible.

Which casts the jihadis as unreasoning and unredeemable brutes for whom homicidal violence is just their nature?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 PM


Doctor's Advice: Leave the Toilet Seat Up (LiveScience, 11 December 2008)

One of the longest-running spousal debates may now be settled in favor of men and for the sake of little boys.

Leave the toilet seat up, some British doctors now say. The reason: a rising trend for heavy wooden and ornamental toilet seats to fall down onto the penises of unsuspecting (and just potty-trained) toddlers.

Our youngest is already exacting his revenge, he just doesn't bother to lift the seat to begin with...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 PM

50 IN '10!:

Sen. Reid Hits the Ground Running in Uphill Re-Election Bid (T.W. FARNAM, 12/27/08, Wall Street Journal)

Sen. Harry Reid will command the biggest party majority of any Senate leader in a quarter century when the new Congress convenes in January. But the Nevada Democrat is already worried about his own re-election fight in 2010.

Sen. Reid, perhaps the most-vulnerable Democrat who will face re-election in a midterm race that is likely to favor his party once again, began interviewing campaign managers last week. The Senate majority leader also recently stepped up fund-raising.

Starting early could help Sen. Reid avoid the fate of his predecessor, Tom Daschle, who was Democratic leader for a decade before losing his re-election bid in South Dakota in 2004.

They try to put a moderate face on the Party but leading it kills whomever they choose back home.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


Pakistan Moves Forces from Tribal Areas to Indian Border (Bill Roggio, December 26, 2008, Weekly Standard Blog)

South Asia is on edge today as reports indicate a Pakistani division is being redeployed from the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province to the border region near Lahore. The unit that is being moved is assigned to blunt an Indian armored strike into Pakistan. The division was previously assigned to fighting against the Taliban in the Bajaur region, where a halting offensive has been underway since the summer.

Aside from the risk of an all-out war between Pakistan and India, two regional nuclear powers, the move may further destabilize the lawless Pakistani northwest.

Destabilization is good, but it's useful to have the Pakistani military doing it for us.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 PM


The Economic News Isn't All Bleak: We may be in for a long slide. But there are also reasons to think the economy could rebound quickly. (Zachary Karabell, 12/26/08, Wall Street Journal)

First, we haven't seen war, revolution, the collapse of states and governments or massive demonstrations sweeping the globe. Crowds have demonstrated in China, Greece and Thailand -- for reasons sometimes related to the economic crunch and sometimes not. Pakistan is teetering for multiple reasons -- of which economics is only one. But major economic crises in the 20th century almost always led to those types of major breaks, especially during the 1930s. While no one can say whether they will come in the months ahead, for the time being we should be remarking on how relatively stable things are in light of what has happened.

Second, consumers in many parts of the world are in relatively good shape. That statement might strike many as absurd, given the mantra of "consumers have been living beyond their means." But it's not just the third of American households that have no mortgage, or the 50% savings rate in China, or the still massive wealth accumulation in the Gulf region, Brazil and Russia. It's that the credit system, even at its most promiscuous, didn't allow consumers to take on the obscene leverage that financial institutions did. Millions of people who shouldn't have been lent money were, either in mortgages or through credit cards. But they couldn't be levered 40-to-1 as investment banks and funds were.

People have also reacted swiftly to the current problems, paying down debt and paring back purchases out of prudence or necessity. That's a short-term drag on economic activity, but it will leave consumer balance sheets in good shape going forward. Low energy prices and zero inflation will boost spending power. Even if unemployment reaches 9% or more, consumer reserves in the U.S. and world-wide are deeper than commentary would suggest. Household net worth in the U.S. is down from its highs but is still about $45 trillion. As the credit system eases, historically low interest rates also augur debt refinancing and constructive access to credit for those with good histories and for small business creation in the year ahead. Entrepreneurs often thrive when the system is cracking.

In addition, corporations generally have very clean balance sheets with little debt and lots of cash, unlike the downturns in 2002 and in the 1980s. reduced housing demand in a country with millions of people trapped in the underground economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Who Gives The Most?: Americans, by a long shot. But why? (Elisabeth Eaves, 12.26.08, Forbes)

[I]n the U.S., which is notably religious among wealthy Western nations, about a third of all charitable giving goes to houses of worship. Some of that money, in turn, goes to projects that have an obvious benefit to the needy, like soup kitchens. But some does not, rather going toward paying the church secretary and the rent.

Volunteerism also complicates the picture. The Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies compiled a ranking of private philanthropy in 36 countries from 1995 to 2002. Based on giving alone, the U.S. comes first, giving 1.85% of GDP, followed by Israel at 1.34% and Canada at 1.17%. But based on volunteerism alone, the Netherlands comes first, followed by Sweden and then the U.S.

The more studies you read about motivations for philanthropy, the murkier they become. One fact, though, does stand out: Among developed nations, those with higher taxes and bigger social safety nets tend to have lower rates of giving. In charitable giving as a percentage of GDP, nations with cradle-to-grave welfare systems rank far down the Johns Hopkins list: Sweden 18th, France 21st, Germany 32nd.

That's a particularly amusing formulation there, that the church itself doesn't serve the needy, only its soup kitchen does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


Red Sox Are Happy to Deal (to a Point) (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, 12/25/08, NY Times)

[W]hat has also stood out about the Red Sox has been their strict negotiating style, in which executives have repeatedly drawn a line with players and their agents about the price and length of contracts and been willing to suffer the consequences if it meant no deal could be reached.

This approach has led to the loss, in recent seasons, of Pedro Martínez and Johnny Damon. It nearly led to the departure of Mike Lowell. Now it is probably behind the failure to land Mark Teixeira, their top off-season priority. But the Red Sox survived the losses of Martínez and Damon, and it remains to be seen what moves the Red Sox may now pursue with all the money not used on Teixeira.

Boston’s approach to contract negotiations under Henry can probably be traced back to December 2003, when the team almost acquired Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Manny Ramírez. As part of that deal, Rodriguez agreed to alter his 10-year, $250 million contract to save the Red Sox money.

Ultimately, the players’ union would not go along with all the concessions. At that point, the Red Sox could have moved ahead with the trade, but they would not. Two months later, the Yankees stepped in and acquired Rodriguez, although the Red Sox, not the Yankees, captured the World Series that season.

After that World Series, Martínez became a free agent and sought a four-year deal. The 33-year-old Martínez was not quite the dominant pitcher he had been earlier in his career, and there was concern about how much longer he could physically hold up. Boston offered him three years; the Mets offered him four. Martínez wanted to stay with the Red Sox but the extra year meant more, and off to Queens he went, where he pitched well in 2005, with a 16-8 record. But then he began to be hampered by various injuries, just as Boston had feared he might.

...he's rarely played long enough to be a free agent.


Buying an umbrella in New York
(Joe Posnanski, 12/25/08)

[I] love the New York frenzy for two reasons. One, I think baseball is much more fun when the Yankees are a truly despicable team that every non-Yankee fan in America can hate without conscience. There were too many shades of gray in 1998, when the Yankees were a pretty likable bunch, and again in 2001 when the World Series was going on Ground Zero still burned. It’s more fun when the Yankees do stuff like this and give us a clear cut, pro wrestling type of villain.

Two, more significantly, it always gives me great comfort to see the following facts:

– Over the last 10 years, eight different teams have won the World Series. In all 15 teams made the World Series — that’s half the teams in baseball.

– Over the last 20 years, fourteen different teams have won the World Series. In all 22 teams made the World Series. Now, we’re at more than two-thirds who have reached the Series.

– Over the last 30 years, 20 different teams have won the World Series, and only three — the Chicago Cubs, the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers — have failed to reached the Series. That’s extraordinary, if you think about it — ninety percent of all teams have reached the World Series the last 30 years. And the three teams that didn’t reach had their good moments too. The Cubs have made the playoffs six times and, well, only their Cubbiness has kept them from reaching the Series. The Mariners won 116 games in 2001, the most for any team ever. Even the Texas Rangers have made the playoffs three times and while there’s some dark cloud simply hovering over that franchise, you never get the feeling that the Rangers are hopeless.

By comparison, pro football teams that have not made the Super Bowl the last 30 years include: The New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings, That’s 10 — almost one-third of all the teams in Pro Football.

I don’t mean to make this sound like a defense of baseball’s system. The system’s lousy. The Yankees over the last 14 years have spent a half million dollars in payroll more than the Boston Red Sox or any other team (they have spent 1.2 BILLION more than the Kansas City Royals), and it has paid off, they have made the playoffs 13 of those years, reached the World Series six times and won four. So, money (to some degree) can buy you love.

But it is also amazing how baseball, the game itself, defies the takeover efforts of corporate raiders. The Yankees won their World Series when the team was, to a large degree, homegrown. They famously have not won a World Series since paying big bucks to sign Mike Mussina and then Jason Giambi and then taking on the A-Rod contract. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay last year reached the World Series with the second smallest payroll in baseball — no Rays player made more than $6 million last year. And here’s a beautiful bit of trivia for you, one you can definitely use at parties: According to the indespensible USA Today Salary Database, only one team in baseball history has won a World Series with a $100 million payroll. That team? Yep, the Boston Red Sox (twice — 2004 and 2007).

I’m not saying that the Yankees will not win in 2009 — that’s an awfully good team now, absolutely the best that money can buy. But just remember that key fact — 20 teams have won World Series the last 30 years. And by comparison:

Only 14 teams have won the Super Bowl over the last 30 years.

Only 14 different men have won Wimbledon over the least 30 years.

Only 13 teams have won the Stanley Cup over the last 30 years.

Only NINE teams have won an NBA title over the last 30 years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Conservatism (Bruce Frohnen, 12/25/08, First Principles)

Conservatism is a philosophy that seeks to maintain and enrich societies characterized by respect for inherited institutions, beliefs and practices, in which individuals develop good character by cooperating with one another in primary, local associations such as families, churches and social groups aimed at furthering the common good in a manner pleasing to God.

Often defined simply as a predisposition to conserve existing political and economic structures, conservatism generally is seen as having its roots in opposition to the radical innovations of the French Revolution of 1789. In that revolution, established hierarchies in politics, religion (especially the Catholic Church, in France heavily influenced by an all-powerful monarchy), and society at large were overthrown in favor of an abstract theory of human equality that proclaimed an age of reason yet ushered in years of oppression and mass executions known as the Reign of Terror. The generally acknowledged founder of modern conservatism, the Irish-born British statesman Edmund Burke, wrote his masterpiece, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), in opposition to this revolution in its early stages, predicting the terror to come and arguing that the drive to remold society according to any abstract theory, including the revolutionaries’ Rights of Man, must lead to tyranny and bloodshed.

Unfortunately, conservatism’s modern origin in opposition to revolution has led many to define it in simply negative terms, as a kind of “stand-pattism” or opposition to change. And conservatism is “against” many things to which contemporary liberals in particular are attached. Principally, conservatives reject liberals’ faith in the ability of political planners to “perfect” human nature through a combination of economic incentives (subsidies and the like) and, more crucially, the reshaping of character through therapy and progressive education. Fundamentally, the liberal’s goal is to liberate individuals from inherited institutions, beliefs, and practices. Policies like no-fault divorce and politically correct speech codes and courses of study put into action the liberal desire to remold people into autonomous individuals “liberated” from prejudice and other historical inheritances so that they may build their lives on the basis of radically free, unencumbered choices constrained only by the certainty that all people, choices, and lifestyles are morally equal.

Conservatism is opposed to this radically individualist view of man’s nature and goals. Some who are labeled “conservative” stop here. Skeptics of a conservative predisposition, whether conscious followers of eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume or modern neoconservatives, accept many institutions put in place by liberals (the centralized administrative and welfare state being the prime example) so long as they do not descend into overtly revolutionary policies and activities. These stand-pat conservatives offer no transcendent set of standards by which to judge political and moral developments, resting on skepticism and faith in the inherent strength and goodness of modern American institutions and ideologies, taken in their patriotic mold.

But as a full-fledged philosophical outlook, conservatism does not stop here. It is not constituted by mere pessimism concerning human nature. Nor, despite some conservatives’ romanticization of eras bygone, does it aim simply to restore what once may have been. To the contrary, conservatism defends a positive and fully integrated view of the individual and his role in society. True, conservatives are too skeptical of the power of abstract reason to believe that politicians can improve human nature, though they believe that politicians may corrupt it. True, conservatives believe that the individual, shorn of his inherited social ties, will act less morally because he will lose the bonds of affection that keep pride and selfishness in check. But these are mere defensive responses to the overreaching claims of liberalism and its radical outgrowths. The roots of conservative opposition to liberalism lie in a very positive conception of the human person and the possibilities of social life.

Conservatives are attached, not so much to any particular regime or form of government, as to what they believe are the requirements for a good life for all peoples. In the American context, conservatives defend the ordered liberty established by the Constitution and the traditions and practices on which that constitution was built. In particular, the common law understanding of custom as a necessary basis for law and public action and the primary role of local associations in framing the character and lives of the people are central to the conservative vision of America. Because conservatives believe that people live in their families, associations, and communities more than in their government, they seek to maximize the number of important relationships available to individuals as they seek to minimize the role of particular politicians and policies in dominating, destroying, or displacing these associations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


Even Escapist Fare Can’t Escape Some Real-World Questions (SETH SCHIESEL, 12/25/08, NY Times)

Prince of Persia, the new game from Ubisoft that is meant to revamp the franchise that is now two decades old, is certainly light entertainment. It is gorgeous to behold, with a hand-painted visual style demonstrating that as high-definition graphics grow more advanced, they come to look less electronic, more organic rather than more digital.

On a purely biomechanical level — the delicate composition of finger movements with which a player interacts with a game — Prince of Persia is also a triumph. It is perhaps 2008’s archetypal platforming game, built around jumping, climbing, leaping, running along walls and even attaining the illusion of flight in moments of balletic grace. Rather than force the player to master a dense menu of complicated commands, Prince of Persia makes a formidable palette of acrobatics available with the press of only a button or two.

Simply as a game, as a visually engaging and manually satisfying 15-hour collection of environmental puzzles (How do I get to that ledge up there?) and battles with foes — the prince and his companion, a princess, must restore life to a world that’s been desiccated by evil — this is the best installment in the series since 2003’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

And yet I have never been fully comfortable approaching the Prince of Persia games simply as a diversion, and it has been difficult over the years for me to let the series off the hook for invoking a specific real-world culture so cavalierly. What are we to make of a “Prince of Persia” who talks and behaves like a 17-year-old American mall rat? A “Prince of Persia” with blue eyes, fully Anglicized facial features and what looks like a tan he picked up on spring break? Is it taking a video game too seriously to shrink in distaste from such characterizations?


December 25, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Cuban Garlic Shrimp (From Linda Bladholm's Fork on the Road, 12/25/08, Miami Herald)

• ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

• 4 to 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

• About 3 pounds extra-large shrimp, shells and heads left on

• Juice of 2 limes

• Salt

• ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley with a pinch of dried oregano

• Dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)

In a large skillet, heat the oil over low until it is fragrant. Add the garlic, stirring 1 to 2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium, add the shrimp and cook, stirring, until they turn pink, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the lime juice, salt to taste, parsley and oregano. Taste, adjust seasonings and add Tabasco.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Jindal in 2012? (JONATHAN MARTIN, 12/25/08 , Politico)

Jindal, only elected governor last year, said flatly this month he’s not interested in being president and is only focused on a 2011 reelection bid — perhaps not surprising at a time when few will admit to White House ambitions.

Still, there are indications, from Jindal and close advisers, that he truly is reserving judgment about taking on President-elect Barack Obama in four years.

If Obama is as formidable then as he appears now, it’s unlikely that Jindal, who would be only 41, would risk an uphill race against the incumbent.

“Tell me where Obama is sitting at the end of 2010,” responded a senior adviser to Jindal when asked about a possible run. “Timing is everything.”

Where was George H. W. Bush sitting when Bill Clinton decided to take him on? Timing is nothing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 AM


HOW WE CREATED COLUMBO – AND HOW HE NEARLY KILLED US (Richard Levinson and William Link, from their book "Stay Tuned: An Inside Look at the Making of Prime Time Television," excerpted in American Film magazine, March, 1981)

Within a few days we acquired an energetic and knowledgeable associate producer, Bob O'Neill, and a young writer named Steven Bochco was recommended for story editor. We moved to a larger suite of offices, shut the door, and began work on a ninety-minute script. Half a dozen months and several lifetimes later, not six but seven "Columbo" films were finished and ready for the verdict of the viewing public.

There was, as always, no time for reflection; we literally began making conceptual decisions on the walk from Sheinberg's office to our own. Fortunately, we had the first "Columbo" pilot, "Prescription: Murder," as a prototype. The first order of business for many series is to make radical changes as soon as the pilot is sold. But we had an instinctive feeling that there was strength in the "Prescription: Murder" format, and we decided not to vary it. Each "Columbo" would make use of the so-called inverted mystery form, a method of storytelling invented by an English writer named R. Austin Freeman in the early part of the century.

According to Ellery Queen in his study of detective fiction, Queen's Quorum, Freeman posed himself the following question: "Would it be possible to write a detective story in which, from the outset, the reader was taken entirely into the author's confidence, was made an actual witness of the crime and furnished with every fact that could possibly be used in its detection?" Freeman answered his own question by employing the device in his book The Singing Bone, and based on our experience with the two "Columbo" pilots, we had a hunch that it would work on television. We had no idea that it would become an eventual trap for us and for all of the other writers who would bang their heads against the wall of the inviolate "Columbo" format.

We made other decisions those first weeks, the most basic of which was that the series would not be what is known as a "cop show." We had no intention of dealing with the realities of actual police procedures. Instead, we wanted to pay our respects to the classic mystery fiction of our youth, the works of the Carrs, the Queens, and the Christies. We knew that no police officer on earth would be permitted to dress as shabbily as Columbo, or drive a car as desperately in need of burial, but in the interest of flavorful characterization, we deliberately chose not to be realistic. Our show would be a fantasy, and as such it would avoid the harsher aspects of a true policeman's life: the drug busts, the street murders, the prostitutes, and the back-alley shootouts.

We would create a mythical Los Angeles and populate it with affluent men and women living in the stately homes of the British mystery novel; our stories would be much closer in spirit to Dorothy L. Sayers than to Joseph Wambaugh. Besides, our rumpled cop would be much more amusing if he were always out of his element, playing his games of cat and mouse in the mansions and watering holes of the rich. We even decided never to show him at police headquarters or at home; it seemed to us much more effective if he drifted into our stories from limbo.

When the series went on the air, many critics found it an ever-so-slightly subversive attack on the American class system in which a proletarian hero triumphed over the effete and moneyed members of the Establishment. But the reason for this was dramatic rather than political. Given the persona of Falk as an actor, it would have been foolish to play him against a similar type, a Jack Klugman, for example, or a Martin Balsam. Much more fun could be had if he were confronted by someone like Noel Coward.

Our final decision was to keep the series nonviolent. There would be a murder, of course, but it would be sanitized and barely seen. Columbo would never carry a gun. He would never be involved in a shooting or a car chase (he'd be lucky, in fact, if his car even started when he turned the key), nor would he ever have a fight. The show would be the American equivalent of the English drawing room murder mystery, dependent almost entirely on dialogue and ingenuity to keep it afloat.

Because of these elements -- and constraints -- "Columbo" was a difficult show to write for. The format was reasonably new, and many of the writers we approached either didn't understand it or else understood all too well and felt it wasn't worth the effort. We arranged a screening of the second "Columbo" pilot, "Ransom for a Dead Man," for sixty-odd free-lance writers. Such screenings are common; they are a way of introducing writers to a new show. In theory they will whet the appetites of those assembled, who will then hurry home, explode with ideas, and contact the producer with requests for meetings. In our case, only two out of the sixty expressed any interest. One of these was Jackson Gillis, a veteran of the long-running "Perry Mason" series and an expert at mystery plotting. Gillis wrote two scripts for our first season and thereafter became "Columbo's" story editor for several years.

Because of the difficulty in finding writers, most of our scripts were put together "in house." We would plot them, Bochco would rough out a first draft, and then everyone would do the final polish. We'd often sit in the office having daylong story sessions that would end in near migraines for everyone in the room. Friends were pulled out of the halls for reactions. A writer-director named Larry Cohen dropped by to say hello and was immediately put to work on an idea that had resisted all of our efforts. He quickly solved it, and because he was that rarest of breeds, a writer who understood the show, Universal employed him in future seasons just to come up with "Columbo" story premises.

Our first scripts made their way to the network, and the response was not effusive: NBC had major "conceptual concerns" with our approach. How could we have made the terrible blunder of keeping our leading man offstage until twenty minutes into the show? Didn't we realize that Peter Falk was our star? The audience would expect to see him at once, and here we were perversely delaying his appearance. One of the executives called it, with considerable heat, "the longest stage wait in television history."

There were other complaints. What about this business about an unseen wife? And why a wife at all? Columbo should be free of any marital encumbrances so that he could have romantic interludes on occasion. Why hadn't we given him a traditional "family" of regulars? At the very least he should have a young and appealing cop as his assistant and confidante. And worst of all, the scripts were talkative. They should be enlivened by frequent doses of adrenalin in the form of "jeopardy."

There are only four responses a writer-producer can make to network suggestions: He can ignore them, he can cave in, he can argue, or he can threaten to quit. We opted for the last of these multiple choices. We also pretended to a confidence we didn't feel in the hope that our conviction, or at least the illusion of conviction, would be persuasive in an industry plagued by uncertainty. And we were lucky; we had time on our side. If "Columbo" was to meet its air date, scripts had to be filmed as written. Any delay, caused by either conceptual changes or a walkout by the creative personnel, would throw the series hopelessly off schedule. NBC backed away and grudgingly left us to our own devices. [...]

When we created Columbo, we were influenced by the bureaucratic Petrovitch in Crime and Punishment and by G.K. Chesterton's marvelous little cleric, Father Brown. But Falk added a childlike wonder all his own. He also added the raincoat. We had given Columbo a wrinkled top coat in our play, but during the filming of "Prescription: Murder," Falk dug out one of his old raincoats from the back of a closet and never took it off. He wore the same suit, shirt, tie, and shoes for the entire 10 year run of the series, giving "Columbo" the somewhat dubious distinction of having the lowest budget for male wardrobe in the history of the medium, with the possible exception of Big Bird.

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December 24, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 PM


For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16)

At the candlelight service tonight the pastor, inevitably, dwelt on the disconnect between the gift-giving extravaganza that is the modern Christmas and the deeper meaning of what we celebrate. But I am always struck by the appropriateness of the symbolic deed to the event in question. For what is Christ if not a gift, His greatest gift, from God to us.

A couple asides. Took the In-Laws up to the Hospital for lunch with The Wife yesterday. She and her mother were on line at Au-Bon-Pain and a woman at the front of the line realized she didn't have her wallet. The guy behind her told the cashier just to add it to his order and he'd pay. She thanked him profusely, but he said: "Just do the same for someone else some time." Similarly, the Father-in-Law was at his garage and a soldier in full regalia came in to have his car looked at. The service manager asked the Father-in-Law to step outside to discuss something and an older guy approached and asked to be allowed to pay for whatever service the soldier required. The service manager asked if he could at least tell the kid what was going on and the guy said he'd rather it be anonymous. Two stories that remind us that, in ways big and small, we do things for one another, even for strangers, and give gifts every day.

On Christmas though we recall the most extraordinary gift, the full import of which we can lose sight of. For while it is the Birth we commemorate and celebrate, God gave with knowledge of the Death to come. Indeed, it is His embrace of that Death that constitutes the gift.

One reads of how much trouble missionaries had explaining to heathens why they should worship a God who can die, but we're so used to the idea that its radical nature eludes us. The Old Testament tells the convoluted tale of God and His contentious relationship with the troublesome creatures He Created. We are constantly surprising, perplexing, and disappointing Him, but He keeps giving us chances and even entering into covenants with us in attempts to bring us into line, even as we keep letting Him down.

Then, in a turn of events so unlikely, so moving, and so beautiful -- so aesthetically perfect -- that it can not help but be true, He chooses to incarnate Himself in order to finally understand our incapacity to do as He bids. And incipient in this becoming human is the certainty that He will have to die, and not just that but die in such a manner that His faith will be tested in an extreme enough manner that He will comprehend the despair and despond to which all men are prey. Yet, He, who need not, gives the gift freely to us, who can hardly be said to deserve such a bounty.

What a gift...for it is through this medium, through the Son, that we will be reconciled to Him and this despite the terrible way in which we will reject, repudiate, and revile the gift. God gives us the Son, in order that we may Crucify Him. This is a love of mankind that truly surpasses human understanding. This is gift-giving on a scale that humbles we who have so much to be humble about.

So if a holiday that is structured around giving--whether that was its original form or not--allows us to enact some dim reflection of the great gift-giving, then all the crassness and commercialism and consumption is very much beside the point. What matters is that we do turn to those we love--family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.--and we give to them, no matter what it is we give. We are rather conspicuously not God, nor even gods, and our gifts can not be measured against the Gift, any more than we can measure ourselves against Him. Yet it is easy to imagine that He finds it pleasing, takes pleasure in us, when we at least try give of ourselves to others.

No, sorry, we didn't get you all gifts. We do offer you our thanks though. Thank you for frequenting, or visiting, or accidentally stumbling upon Brothers Judd. Thank you for reading, for commenting, for sending stories, for buying us gifts, for your kind words, for your criticisms, for all the ways that you help us to make this a better site and a more enjoyable experience.

May you all benefit from the spirit of the Season and may you all have a great 2009.

Merry Christmas everybody.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM

NO MATTER HOW LONG THE YULE LOG BURNS THIS YEAR...:'ll have enough tunes, thanks to the Leather Canary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM

THAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS? (via Mike Daley):

U.S. Air Defense Command Offers New High-Tech Ways to Track Santa: Kids can now use cell phones, Twitter and photo-sharing sites to monitor Santa's progress on Christmas Eve (Larry Greenemeier, 12/16/08, Scientific American)

All three of these new capabilities result from a partnership between Google and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which as been tracking Santa's annual trip for the past 50 years. (Its predecessor organization, the Continental Defense Command, or CONAD, tracked the big bearded guy between 1955 and 1958.) NORAD is a U.S.-Canadian military organization based at Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base responsible for the aerospace defense of North America that tracks airplanes, missiles, space launches and anything else that flies through or in the vicinity of North America's airspace, including orbiting objects. Naturally, they decided to add the tracking of Santa to their list of responsibilities, claiming on their Web site to have "the technology, the qualifications and the people to do it."

This year, Saint Nick can be monitored from one's cell phone by using Google Maps for mobile and downloading the Google Earth application. People with an Apple iPhone, T-Mobile G1, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile or Nokia phone with Google Maps can search for "norad santa" to see Santa's location beginning at 4 A.M. Mountain Standard Time (6 A.M. Eastern) on December 24. In addition to checking Santa's location on the map, his fans will be able to Twitter one another via the site.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


The Lowdown: Lucia: It's one of the most enduring Swedish winter traditions. The tradition of Lucia brings some much needed light into Sweden's winter darkness (James Savage, 12 Dec 07, The Local)

Why does Sweden go so big on Lucia?

Quite how St. Lucy worked her way into Swedish tradition is unclear, but December 13th was the shortest day of the year under the Julian calendar, which Sweden followed until the 18th century.

It is traditionally held that a maiden dressed in white robes and wearing a crown of candles brought food to starving villagers on the shore of Lake Vänern. Lucia also has links to a German tradition of girls dressing as 'Christ children', handing out Christmas presents.

Traditionally, Lucia processions would be held in the home, with daughters dressing up and bringing coffee to their parents. Now, the practice is widespread in workplaces and schools, and newspapers frequently run Lucia competitions for readers.

Is this just something for the girls?

Even in these days of sexual equality, the girls have pretty much got Lucia wrapped up. Still, men are now allowed walk-on parts as Lucia's acolytes, known as 'stjärngossar' or 'star boys'. They also wear the long white robes, but instead of the crowns they wear white, pointy hats.

One of the highlights of the school year in this putatively liberal town is when the Swedish kids go around dressed as Lucia and the starboys singing songs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


The Christmas Miracle: Most Americans believe the virgin birth is literally true, a NEWSWEEK poll finds (Newsweek, Dec. 10, 2004)

Seventy-nine percent of Americans believe that, as the Bible says, Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, without a human father, according to a new NEWSWEEK poll on beliefs about Jesus.

Sixty-seven percent say they believe that the entire story of Christmas�the Virgin Birth, the angelic proclamation to the shepherds, the Star of Bethlehem and the Wise Men from the East�is historically accurate. Twenty-four percent of Americans believe the story of Christmas is a theological invention written to affirm faith in Jesus Christ, the poll shows. In general, say 55 percent of those polled, every word of the Bible is literally accurate. Thirty-eight percent do not believe that about the Bible.

In the NEWSWEEK poll, 93 percent of Americans say they believe Jesus Christ actually lived and 82 percent believe Jesus Christ was God or the Son of God. Fifty-two percent of all those polled believe, as the Bible proclaims, that Jesus will return to earth someday; 21 percent do not believe it. Fifteen percent believe Jesus will return in their lifetime; 47 percent do not, the poll shows. [...]

Just 11 percent of those surveyed say American society as a whole very closely reflects true Christian values and the spirit of Jesus; 53 percent say it somewhat reflects those values. But 86 percent say they believe organized religion has a �a lot� or �some� influence over life in the United States today. Nine percent say it has �only a little� influence.

Sixty-two percent say they favor teaching creation science in addition to evolution in public schools; 26 percent oppose such teaching, the poll shows. Forty-three percent favor teaching creation science instead of evolution in public schools; 40 percent oppose the idea.

And folks wonder why the Europeans have become enemies and the Democrats can't connect to voters?

[originally posted: 2004-12-24]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Brains from Thunderbirds to help people combat post-New Year's eve hangovers (Urmee Khan, 24 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

Brains, the bespectacled genius from Thunderbirds, has been cast in an advert encouraging people to drink water to combat their post-New Year's eve hangovers.

The television advert for Britvic spring water brand Drench featured Brains dancing to Snap!'s 1992 hit Rhythm is a Dancer.

The original advert, created by Clemmow Hornby Inge, first aired in May with the strapline "Brains perform best when they're hydrated".

However, in the new cut, which will be launched on 1 January, Brains fails a key dance move when he tries to jump over a broomstick. The mishap is followed by the line "Dehydrated brains don't perform well"

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:24 AM


A growing Christmas tradition -- Chinese food: In I.D., customers opt for Peking duck over turkey (BRAD WONG, 12/23/06, Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

In recent years, as people's lives have become busier, eating Chinese food on Christmas Day has become more of an American tradition.

It also has become its own type of celebration in the Emerald City.

International District business people say that many Western restaurants, especially those in the suburbs, close for the holiday, but people still want a convenient place to eat.

"We want to keep our customers happy," said Andy Wong, the Sea Garden's owner. "We don't want to miss this day."

Those who show up at Chinese restaurants include people who do not celebrate the Christian holiday; business people and international guests from downtown hotels; college students staying in the area; and singles looking for a crowded, lively atmosphere.

Families also have moved their Christmas parties from their dining rooms to Chinese restaurants -- with customers showing up in red-and-white hats.

[originally posted: 2006-12-23]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


Princeton Physicist Calls Global Warming Science "Mistaken" (Michael Asher, December 23, 2008, Daily Tech)

Noted energy expert and Princeton physicist Dr. Will Happer has sharply criticized global warming alarmism. Happer, author of over 200 scientific papers and a past director of energy research at the Department of Energy, called fears over global warming "mistaken".

"I have spent a long research career studying physics that is closely related to the greenhouse effect", said Happer. "Fears about man-made global warming are unwarranted and are not based on good science."

Dr. Happer views climate change as a predominately natural process. "The earth's climate is changing now, as it always has. There is no evidence that the changes differ in any qualitative way from those of the past."

In 1991, Happer was appointed director of energy research for the US Department of Energy. In 1993, he testified before Congress that the scientific data didn't support widespread fears about the dangers of the ozone hole and global warming, remarks that caused then-Vice President Al Gore to fire him. "I was told that science was not going to intrude on public policy", he said. "I did not need the job that badly".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Will CC have the most pinstripes in history? (Paul Lukas, December 22, 2008, ESPN)

We hear it all the time: Wearing the Yankees' pinstripes is a thrill, an honor and a privilege.

But some players are, shall we say, a bit more privileged than others. Joba Chamberlain, for example, has at least 26 pinstripes on the front of his jersey (and presumably a similar number on the back), while the diminutive Phil Rizzuto had only about 20.
Uni Watch

So with the Yankees having signed a player who might charitably be described as being a bit on the robust side, the question has to be asked: Will CC Sabathia, with his prodigious proportions and preference for a loose, baggy fit, be wearing the most pinstripes of any player in Yankees history?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Footballer tackles opponent with chainsaw (Daily Telegraph)

A footballer who was sent off returned and attacked an opposition player with a chainsaw, a court heard.

Anthony Lloyd, 20, was ordered off the park pitch for foul language but returned with the running power tool and tried to chop the hands off rival Paul Westwood while yelling: "I'm a crank."

Prosecutor Laura Plant told the court: "They heard an engine start and saw the defendant coming out of the bushes revving a chainsaw.

"The victim's friend ran off, leaving him cornered by the defendant."

December 23, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 PM


Obama team probe of Obama team finds no Obama team impropriety (Andrew Malcolm, 12/23/08, LA Times Blog)

The Barack Obama presidential transition office today finally released its own report on its own internal investigation of its own contacts with legally challenged Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And you'll be comforted to know the Obama folks found no impropriety whatsoever by Obama folks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


Sources: Teixeira takes Yanks' 8-year deal ( news services, 12/23/08)

Free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira has reached agreement with the New York Yankees on an eight-year contract worth $180 million, two sources involved in the negotiations tell ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.

The contract would pay Teixeira an average of $22.5 million per season. New York has spent $423.5 million in salary in the last month, with $161 million going to left-handed pitcher CC Sabathia in a seven-year deal and $82.5 million on right-hander A.J. Burnett for five years.

Teixeira's salary also gives the Yankees, who are preparing to move into their pricey new ballpark in 2009, the four highest-paid players in Major League Baseball, including third baseman Alex Rodriguez, shortstop Derek Jeter and Sabathia.

It's better than the money they wasted on the gargantuan C.C. Sabathia, but a joke for a mere firstbaseman.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Bishop says Joseph and Mary were immigrants, too (BUD KENNEDY, 11/30/08, Fort Worth Star Telegram)

The new bishop of Arkansas has a strong message for Roman Catholics: Christmas is an immigrant’s story.

"Does Jesus find a warm welcome in our communities?" writes Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, a Fort Worth native, in a pastoral letter read last Sunday in parishes across Arkansas. [...]

"What changes do we need to make here in Arkansas in order to ensure that today’s Marys and Josephs — today’s Marias and Joses — receive a warm welcome truly worthy of the Savior?" [...]

So I see in the Arkansas newspapers and on the Web, where activists from Americans for Legal Immigration are openly publishing Catholic-bashing comments accusing Arkansas church leaders as "pedifiles" and the church of "looking for more alter boys."

Priests across Arkansas will follow Taylor’s letter with sermons today, beginning a three-week series of Advent messages linking the Christmas story to civil rights and immigration.

The title of Taylor’s message is from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: "I Was a Stranger, and You Welcomed Me . . ."

Yet people still can't figure out why the far Right is so scared of another serious Christian nominee like Sarah Palin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:00 PM


Jeb Bush: What I've Learned: In a rare interview as he explores running for Senate, the former Florida governor discusses killing Osama bin Laden, his brother's biggest accomplishment, and what good came out of Obama's victory. (Cal Fussman , 12/22/08, Esquire)

Political journalism is a mirror of the culture -- which is more cynical than it used to be. But it's frustrating because, with all my imperfections, I tried my hardest to serve and do what was right and advance causes I believed in. Yet the lens is always pointed at an angle that asks: What are his personal motives? What's in it for Jeb? That kind of wears you out.

There are easy ways to not let things get beyond your ability to undo them.

In a world of unbelievable exacting science, you can't figure hurricanes out. They wobble. They wiggle. They waggle. They don't go where they're supposed to go. They strengthen when they're supposed to weaken, and they weaken when they're supposed to strengthen. Every one makes you say: My gosh, I didn't know they could do that. A hurricane teaches you to be humble before God. [...]

When my daughter went through a drug problem, apart from the incredible pain and sadness at seeing your daughter suffering, the learning experience was that there are certain things that you just can't control. For a guy like me, that was a painful thing to accept.

It's a lot more fun now that my kids are adults.

I thought my younger brother would be happy when he found out we named our Lab after him. But Marvin wasn't happy about it. He made one comment that let me know he didn't accept the honor as it was intended. I'll never understand.

My memory of 9/11 really is of September 10. I was with my brother, the president. We were in Jacksonville. He was there to promote accountability of schools. We had a town-hall meeting with teachers. Then we flew to Sarasota and had a great dinner with friends. It was a normal day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Evolution of an Icon: Matisyahu’s Musical and Spiritual Journey (Jordana Horn, Dec 18, 2008, The Forward)

Matisyahu, born Matthew Paul Miller, is well known as a genre-busting Hasidic reggae artist who performs in tzitzit. But with his new EP, ”Shattered,” and current tour, he shows a new, bold eclecticism that demonstrates a simultaneous evolution in his music and religious attitudes. He’s taken true steps — away from Chabad in his religious observance, and away from more conventional reggae in his musical development — and has opted instead to define his own new path.

Matisyahu’s identity as a practicing Jew evolved gradually over the years, with its origins far from the place where he now finds himself. Raised Reconstructionist, he went on the Alexander Muss High School in Israel study program as a teenager. This was less out of a love for learning, he says, than out of a desire to get out of high school for a few months.

“Like a lot of American kids, I was not really interested in Judaism and was around that age of starting to make self-discovery. A few things kind of came together for me,” he recalled. “I started listening to Bob Marley, and that informed some of my identity in terms of music and spirituality, and seeing a lot of Jewish references within reggae music was kind of a pull for me towards piquing my interest in Judaism.” [...]

In 2004, after signing with JDub Records, he released his first album. He recorded a live album in 2005, as well as a second studio album, and became famous, performing to larger groups around the world. At the same time, his religious identity was changing.

“I’ve been through all these different phases in Chabad. Chabad has been a bit of a roller coaster for me. It was very pure in the sense that I totally divested myself from all of the confusion that I was living in. I wasn’t getting high, I wasn’t with women — I was waking up every morning and learning Torah all day. And so, in certain senses it was a pure process,” Matisyahu said.

“But there was a lot of alcoholism going on, in my experience, and a lot of borderline —” He interrupted himself. “I definitely lost myself, as well, in the process, in the sense that I somehow stopped thinking for myself. I became completely dependent on other people for my sense of what was right and wrong. I felt incapable of making my own decisions. I was borderline completely losing my mind.” And then, he said, he pulled himself out of Chabad.

It was during this period that he began working with the now Jerusalem-based therapist Ephraim Rosenstein, whom he now considers his personal friend and religious mentor.

“[Rosenstein] was able to help me come to some realizations that were really ground-breaking, and kept me from where I think I would have lost my mind in the state of being I was in at that time,” Matisyahu said. “After that happened, once my therapy came to a certain place, and I’d gotten pretty healthy, I wanted to continue with my spirituality. I guess the therapy to me was sort of getting to know myself as a valid means of spiritual growth. I wanted to take it from a personal to an intellectual kind of thing, so we started learning together. Instead of therapy, I was paying him to discuss ideas, basically.

“I’ve stopped identifying with any group of Judaism. I would now call myself an Orthodox Jew. I try to keep the tenets of halachic Judaism as strongly as possible, but I don’t identify with any one movement.”

He noted that he has not severed ties with the movement completely: “My kids go to a Lubavitch yeshiva and are named after rebbes. I have Lubavitch friends, and we stay with shlichim [emissaries] around the world. I feel I have some in-depth knowledge of Hasidus and Chabad philosophy, and close ties with Lubavitch. But I don’t feel the need to be any one thing.

“In Chabad, there was always the tendency to deify everything, whether it was the rebbes or the learning,” Matisyahu said. “[There was] this sense that you couldn’t ask questions about any of it, that if you didn’t accept it, you weren’t accepting the Torah. It was as if you weren’t religious, and that this was the one path and the true path and that anything outside of it, even if it was a different kind of Hasidim, was certainly looked down upon.” With Rosenstein, he said, Matisyahu relished a different mode of studying, which focused on placing teachings into historical and social contexts and then comparing them with other Hasidus and philosophies of Judaism.

“Shattered,” which comprises four songs, reflects this newly acquired intellectual and musical diversity.

Hanukkah Receives Kosher Pop Welcome (JON PARELES, 12/23/08, NY Times)
Matisyahu has built a career on analogies between Rastafarian roots reggae and Hasidic songs. Both are concerned with faith and survival struggles and have lyrics phrased in Biblical allusions; both draw on modal scales and melismatic vocal lines that can sound Middle Eastern. Near the end of the concert Matisyahu sang long, cantorial phrases while rocking back and forth, as if davening, or praying. Yet if his lyrics weren’t so clear about their references to Jewish history and the majesty of God, most of the time Matisyahu would simply be one more reggae-loving rocker.

In “Jerusalem,” which drew heartfelt singalongs, he worries about assimilation, singing, “Cut off the roots of your family tree/Don’t you know that’s not the way to be.” But the roots of his music are Afro-Caribbean and African-American. He uses Jamaican reggae and dancehall toasting, sometimes delivered with a Jamaican accent; he also uses hip-hop cadences and showed off his vocal beatboxing.

His band also segues into rock, for chiming marches that borrow their idealistic sound from U2. Matisyahu is less concerned with a musical heritage than with a religious one.

Album by album Matisyahu has expanded his music. Along with basic roots reggae he now uses faster, tongue-twisting dancehall toasting and the electronic beats and brooding chords of hip-hop. And he’s looking farther: Matisyahu joined Crystal Method, the thumping, rock-tinged electronica duo that opened the show, to sing and rap on a song from their next album, due in March.

-Melody Maker: The true story of a White Plains boy who found both God and reggae (Mike Rubin, 2/20/06, Nextbook)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:39 PM


Rep. Frank: Obama 'Overestimates' Ability to Unify (Walter Alarkon, 12/22/08, The Hill's Briefing Room)

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) thinks that President-elect Obama picked same-sex marriage opponent Rick Warren to give the inauguration invocation because Obama "overestimates" his ability to unify people.

"Oh, I believe that he overestimates his ability to get people to put aside fundamental differences," said Frank, the first House member to come out of the closet voluntarily.

Of course, Mr. Obama is opposed to gay marriage himself, so the unifying pick would have been someone who supports it. Instead, he seem so to have figured out how to be Bill Clinton '05 rather early on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


On Earth, Evolution Booms in Bursts (AFP, 12/23/08)

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, goes against the common hypothesis that life slowly evolved from a single-celled organism to complex multi-celled organisms.

"We were surprised to observe that nearly all of the increase in size occurred in two distinct time-intervals," said Michal Kowalewski, a co-author of the study and professor of geosciences at Virginia Tech.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:31 PM


Warren On? Party Off (Richard Cohen, December 23, 2008, Washington Post)

Not that he was planning to attend, but Barack Obama should know that my sister's inauguration night party -- the one for which she was preparing Obama Punch -- has been canceled. The notice went out over the weekend, by e-mail and word of mouth, that Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation had simply ruined the party. Warren is anti-gay, and my sister, not to put too fine a point on it, is not. She's gay. fail to understand that someone who is gay is anti-gay, while someone who wants to help them is not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:26 PM


France backs Brazil UN ambition (BBC, 12/23/08)

Brazil should have a greater role in international affairs and a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, says French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:03 PM


The Fort Dix Verdict: A Victory for Pre-emptive Prosecutions (Amanda Ripley, Dec. 23, 2008, TIME)

[T]he verdict is a significant victory for the federal government, and not just because the conspiracy conviction is likely to put the men away for life, when U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler sentences them in April. It proves that the government can convince a jury to support the idea of pre-emptively prosecuting terrorism cases — a risky strategy that has yielded mixed results in the past.

"The word should go out to any other would-be terrorists of the homegrown variety that the United States will find you, infiltrate your group, prosecute you and send you to a federal prison for a very long time," said acting United States Attorney Ralph Marra Jr.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Obama Team to Release Report of Internal Blagojevich Probe on Tuesday (, December 22, 2008)

The president-elect's team hopes the report will end speculation that Obama or any members of his campaign staff or future Cabinet were involved in the governor's alleged "pay-to-play" schemes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM



The handling of the story - of opera-loving gentlemen who met secretly by twos in lavatories and forests to make risky but exciting propositions to each other - has a degree of camp, and it can be lax on the details. Would Stauffenberg really chat so freely about high treason to everyone who wanders within earshot? And what's with pronouncing "Goebbels" "Go Bells"?

But the Third Reich was soaked in theater; the legends, the flags, the redoubts they themselves dubbed "the Wolf's Lair" and "the Eagle's Nest." Given that, it takes only a tweak to turn its leaders back into gleaming, heel-clicking supervillains, as they were for decades until the recent movie trend of giving WWII the art-house treatment. "Any problem on earth can be solved with the careful application of high explosives," says one character. Maybe not, but it would be nice if so.

Like many of the earlier WW II action yarns, this one has a more than grudging respect for the steely codes of the German - not Nazi - spirit, the thing that causes a man who realizes the game is over to briskly call out, "I'd like a pistol, please. For personal reasons." The washed-out look, the murderous da-DUNT score and the supporting cast (Stamp and Bill Nighy, as a blanching co-conspirator, are particularly good, as is the perpetually weaselly Tom Hollander as an Adolphile who senses something is up) are all keenly chosen.

The full story of "Valkyrie" has never received the full Hollywood feature treatment before. It was overdue. It's thrilling to consider how close this group of iron-willed patriots came to bringing about Hitlerdämmerung.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Why Pakistan's military is gun shy (Syed Saleem Shahzad , 12/24/08, Asia Times)

The problems started after September 11, when the US forced the then-military government of president General Pervez Musharraf to abandon the Taliban. Up to 2001, Afghanistan had virtually been a fifth Pakistani province for which Pakistan arranged day-to-day expenditures. Even the communications network was run by the Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation Limited.

By 2003, Pakistan had been forced to send the army into the restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to crack down on al-Qaeda and militants, in breach of its agreements with the tribes.

In 2004, Pakistan was forced to shut militant camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and to accept India's fencing of the Line of Control that separates the two Kashmirs. As a result, militant operations into India-administered Kashmir were badly interrupted.
When Pakistan changed its Afghan policy, Musharraf, who was also chief of army staff, informed all jihadi organizations that the policy was necessary to preserve Pakistan's interests in Kashmir. However, when the Kashmir policy changed and operations started in the tribal areas, the jihadi organizations reacted.

By 2005, all the big names in the LET had left the Kashmiri camps and taken up in the North and South Waziristan tribal areas. The same happened with Jaish and other organizations. The most respected name of the Kashmiri struggle, Maulana Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of Harkatul Jihad al-Islami, also moved to Waziristan.

This was the beginning of serious problems for Pakistan and also resulted in a change in the dynamics of the Afghan war. Trained by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence's India cell, these disgruntled militants caused havoc in Afghanistan and played a significant role in bringing the latest guerrilla tactics to Afghanistan. They also introduced major changes in the fighting techniques of the tribal militants against the Pakistani forces.

By 2006, the Taliban had regrouped and launched the spring offensive that paved the way for significant advances over the next two years. At the same time, militants escalated their activities in Pakistan and forced Pakistan into virtual neutrality in the US-led "war on terror".

An unprecedented number of attacks were carried out on Pakistani security forces in 2007 and by February 2008 suicide attacks in Pakistan outnumbered those in Iraq. Militants carried out dozens of attacks on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) supply lines from Karachi, virtually bringing them to a halt. According to Strategic Forecasting, a Texas-based private intelligence entity: "Pakistan remains the single-most important logistics route for the Afghan campaign. This is not by accident. It is by far the quickest and most efficient overland route to the open ocean."

In this situation, the only peaceful place in Pakistan is Punjab, the largest province and the seat of government. But this peace can only be ensured through central Punjabi jihadi leaders like Hafiz Muhammad Saeed of the LET and southern Punjabi jihadi leader Azhar. Azhar has influence in the jihadi networks in Punjab and he convinced jihadis, after a wave of suicide attacks in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, to go to Afghanistan and spare Punjab.

The highly demoralized Pakistan army has failed in the tribal areas and in the Swat Valley it has had to solicit peace accords.

You aren't sovereign where you can't govern.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Clinton Moves to Widen Role of State Dept. (MARK LANDLER and HELENE COOPER, 12/23/08, NY Times)

Even before taking office, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seeking to build a more powerful State Department, with a bigger budget, high-profile special envoys to trouble spots and an expanded role in dealing with global economic issues at a time of crisis.

Mrs. Clinton is recruiting Jacob J. Lew, the budget director under President Bill Clinton, as one of two deputies, according to people close to the Obama transition team. Mr. Lew’s focus, they said, will be on increasing the share of financing that goes to the diplomatic corps. He and James B. Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration, are to be Mrs. Clinton’s chief lieutenants. [...]

As Mrs. Clinton puts together her senior team, officials said, she is also trying to carve out a bigger role for the State Department in economic affairs, where the Treasury has dominated during the Bush years. She has sought advice from Laura D’Andrea Tyson, an economist who headed Mr. Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers.

The steps seem intended to strengthen the role of diplomacy after a long stretch, particularly under Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in which the Pentagon, the vice president’s office and even the intelligence agencies held considerable sway over American foreign policy.

Given Mrs. Clinton’s prominence, expanding the department’s portfolio could bring on conflict with other powerful cabinet members.

Except that she has more support in the party than the President, let alone his cabinet officers. She has an excellent chance to be what the Left feared Dick Cheney was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Bleeding Heart Tightwads (NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF, 12/20/08, NY Times)

This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.

Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.

Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.

Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so.

The upshot is that Democrats, who speak passionately about the hungry and homeless, personally fork over less money to charity than Republicans — the ones who try to cut health insurance for children.

Nevermind the core truth, how can he not have known this? It isn't exactly a secret.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Census Estimates Show Clout Again Likely to Go West and South (Michael Teitelbaum, 12/23/08, CQ)

Based on its analysis, EDS says Texas would be the big winner among the six states that would gain House seats, with three added to its current 32. If that occurs, Texas — already the nation’s second most-populous state behind only California — would gain multiple House seats for the fourth consecutive decade.

The era of huge population growth for California appears to have peaked, with the EDS projections showing the state holding at 53 House seats. California, which first surpassed long-time population leader New York in the 1970 census, enjoyed a one-seat gain as a result of the 2000 census after taking a huge seven-seat gain in the 1990s. If the projection holds, the 2010 census will be the first that doesn’t produce a House seat gain for California since it achieved statehood in 1850.

The other projected gainers, though, are from among those states that have expanded their congressional rosters in recent years. Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Utah would each gain one seat according to EDS’ reapportionment projections.

Of those eight seats that would shift south and west, seven would come from states in the North where thriving industries diminished long before the nation’s economic downturn: Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania would each lose one seat.

The shift benefits the GOP provided it's as competitive with Latinos as the Bush boys made it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Darwin recipes for Christmas (History Today, 12/23/08)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Cuban Sandwich Casserole (George Duran, 12/23/08, Daily Beast)

1 tablespoon butter
16 slices sandwich bread
10 to 12 slices Swiss cheese
10 to 12 slices baked ham
3 dill pickles, thinly sliced
6 eggs
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons dry mustard
3 cups corn flakes, crushed
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted

One day ahead: Grease a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan with 1 tablespoon butter. Cut the crusts off the bread and line the bottom of the pan with 8 slices. Place half the cheese slices evenly over the bread. Place an even layer of ham on top using all of the ham. Layer over the remaining cheese slices, top with the pickle slices and the remaining bread. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and dry mustard. Pour this mixture over the top of the casserole, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate over night.

Remove the casserole from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Heat the oven to 350°F. Melt the butter and mix it with the corn flakes. Spread the cereal mix evenly over the sandwiches. Bake at 350° for one hour. The casserole will have puffed up and browned around the edges. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


Regrets? Bush has too few to mention (ALEXANDER BURNS, 12/23/08, Politico)

Faced with a faltering economy and a precarious national security position, President George W. Bush made the best of a bad situation and sought to unite the country in spite of Washington’s toxic political culture.

That’s how Bush views his tenure in office, according to a recent round of exit interviews he and Vice President Dick Cheney have done as part of an effort to wind up their administration on a positive note.

Here are a few regrets he should have:

(1) Signing CFR, which places unconstitutional restraints on the only form of non-religious speech that is protected, political.

(2) Not exploiting the patriotic surge of September 11th to shift from income to gas taxes, thereby crippling the worst regime of the Middle East.

(3) Turning down Iran's offer of a post-911 rapproachment.

(4) Leaving occupation troops in Iraq past the Summer of 2003 rather than installing a transitional government.

(5) The failure to regime change Syria.

(6) Refusal to work with popular Islamist governments in Palestine, Somalia and Hezbollahstan.

(7) Failure to adequately replace Ari Fleischer, which--combined with the consistently inarticulate economics team--left the Administration without any effective spokesmen outside the President himself.

(8) Not replacing Dick Cheney with Condi Rice, which would have made her the party's nominee in '08.

(9) Not issuing a blanket amnesty for illegal aliens upon the House GOP's refusal to consider reform.

Overall, he has rather fewer scabs to pick at in retirement than anyone but the Gipper and Ike.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:23 AM


Korean Methodists Celebrate Americans (Mark Tooley, 12.23.08, American Spectator)

The largest Methodist congregation in the world is the 120,000 member Kumnan Church in Seoul, Korea, whose pastor/bishop is an colorful enthusiast for South Korea's alliance with America.

"Without [the] U.S. presence, Korea would not have grown to be one of the largest concentrations of Christians in the world," explained a senior U.S. Army chaplain to the United Methodist News Service recently. "The Korean people are on fire for the Lord. Bishop Kim credits his success to prayer and preaching the unadulterated Word of God."

Methodist Bishop Hong-Do Kim is the 70-year-old pastor who led a 75 member congregation to become one of the world's largest churches. He has helped organize three pro-American rallies in Seoul, and has visited the Pentagon with other Korean pastors to thank the U.S. for its military presence in South Korea. Bishop Kim vividly contrasts with U.S. Methodist officials, who have repeatedly condemned the U.S. presence in South Korea.

December 22, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 PM

NEW EDTV...: archives!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


IAF plans to hit targets in 24 hours (The Nation, 12/22/08)

Indian government’s continued threats to Pakistan during the last few days, now seem to be taking practical shape and the presence of two high-level US army officers in Pakistan is being viewed from a different angle. The Nawa-i-Waqt/The Nation has learnt through very reliable sources that US Admiral Michael Mullen, while negotiating with Pak military brass at the GHQ, is pressing hard upon them not to retaliate in case of expected Indian airstrikes.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 PM


Robert Mulligan (Brian Baxter, 12/23/08, The Guardian)

[F]ew critics could deny the integrity of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), the power of Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965) or dispute the popular success of Summer of '42 (1971) or Mulligan's sensitive understanding of human relationships. His technique was understated and secure and his fine work with actors ensured that many - Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis and Steve McQueen included - returned to work with him.

Born in New York city to a policeman father, Mulligan described his upbringing as "Bronx Irish". His brother was the actor Richard Mulligan, who played Burt Campbell in the US sitcom Soap. Robert intended to be a priest until the second world war interrupted his studies and he found himself in the marines, emerging, aged 20, into a changed world with new-found ambitions. He joined the New York Times as a messenger and moved to CBS in a similar, lowly capacity. Within three years, he had graduated to direction and worked on television series including Suspense, The Alcoa Hour and The Philco Television Playhouse. Within a decade he had directed hundreds of shows and married actress Jane Lee Sutherland. "Nobody knew what they were doing," he said of television work. "It was the ones with the cool heads who succeeded."

Inevitably, Hollywood beckoned, so Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula made their debuts with Fear Strikes Out.

...than Tony Perkins did a ballplayer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 PM


Pope puts stress on 'gay threat' (BBC, 12/22/08)

Pope Benedict XVI has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

He explained that defending God's creation is not limited to saving the environment, but also protecting man from self-destruction.

The pope was delivering his end-of-year address to senior Vatican staff.

His words, later released to the media, emphasised his total rejection of gender theory.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:50 PM


Nobody Knows the Trouble He'll See: A few clouds on Obama's horizon. (Fred Barnes, 12/29/2008, Weekly Standard)

As president, Obama will step into an ideal political situation, at least on the surface. He'll be dealing with a Congress with solid Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. What more could a Democratic president ask for? What's the problem?

Obama and Democrats agree on the big issues, but on power-sharing, process, and priorities they part ways. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has declared that once Joe Biden becomes vice president, he won't be invited to the weekly meetings of the Democratic caucus. This had to be a bitter pill for Biden. He was a senator himself for 36 years and, as veep, actually has a constitutional role in the Senate. But, as a White House man, the senators don't want him butting in. They prefer to decide things on their own.

If Reid's message wasn't clear to the Obama team, House speaker Nancy Pelosi removed any doubt. She told Rahm Emanuel, her former House colleague and now Obama's choice to be White House chief of staff, to stay out of internal House Democratic matters. According to John Bresnahan of Politico, she was clear about what she expects from Obama and his aides, a wish list including "no surprises, and no backdoor efforts to go around her and other Democratic leaders by cutting deals with moderate New Democrats or conservative Blue Dogs."

The subtext is that Reid and Pelosi fear Obama may be more willing to compromise on liberal issues than they are. And they don't want a repeat of President Clinton's so-called "triangulation" with Republicans, despite Obama's promise to pursue bipartisanship. Bottom line: The relationship between Obama and congressional Democrats will be tense. It is already.

There's another aspect of that relationship that's potentially troublesome. More than Obama, congressional Democrats are sensitive to the wants of liberal special interest groups. They're impatient to pass the entire liberal agenda, sooner rather than later. They're eager to fill the $850 billion economic "stimulus" package that Obama is expected to sign soon after being inaugurated with goodies for these groups, notably organized labor and environmentalists.

The problem is Obama didn't run on the liberal agenda and the public didn't vote for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


Guess Who Doesn't Like the Press: And the feeling may be mutual. (Stephen F. Hayes, 12/29/2008, Weekly Standard)

In a New York Times Magazine profile of Robert Gibbs, the incoming White House press secretary, Mark Leibovich reveals that the Obama campaign emulated the "Bush model" of tight information control. Campaign manager David Plouffe acknowledged that they "talked a lot about the Bush model" inside the campaign and, like the Bush White House, sought to limit the spread of information internally so as to avoid the leaking that badly damaged the campaigns of Obama's rivals.

There are other similarities. During the 2004 election, Dick Cheney famously kicked the New York Times off his campaign plane. Obama apparently did the same to three newspapers this fall--the Washington Times, the New York Post, and the Dallas Morning News--all of which had endorsed John McCain. At the time, the Obama campaign cited space concerns. But when Leibovich asked Gibbs whether reporters were kicked off the plane for considerations other than space, Obama's spokesman first said "no" but later amended his response. "On occasion, yes," Gibbs said, adding that such instances were infrequent. "I mean, were there occasions? Sure."

How does that square with Obama's promise to move beyond politics and to run the most transparent and open White House in history?

Just let him eat his waffle.

George Steinbrenner's office is littered with the bones of guys who were fine players in podunk towns but wilted under the pressure of playing in front of a full on media glare. Mr. Obama is so used to an adulatory press that we can have no way of knowing how he'll deal with the coming adversarial one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:30 PM


The psychology of teleology: To understand public resistance to evolution, it's helpful to think like a child (Hania Köver, 12/10/08, Berkeley Science Review)

Berkeley psychologist Tania Lombrozo, who is interested in why people find certain kinds of explanations more or less compelling than others, may have insight into at least part of the answer. Her research suggests that some theories, like evolution, may be difficult to accept because they are at odds with a human default for understanding the world in terms of design.

Lombrozo was motivated by the observation that young children often explain the existence of objects and phenomena with reference to their function, a kind of reasoning termed teleological. Ask a three-year old why it rains, for example, and you are likely to hear something like "so that plants have water to grow." Likewise, lions exist "for going to the zoo," and mountains "are for climbing." This tendency of children to infer design suggests an explanatory default: In the absence of competing knowledge, the best explanation for an object with a plausible function is that it was designed to fulfill that function.

Man has evolved so as not to believe in Darwinism. Those who believe anyway are imploding demographically, demonstrating at least a Darwinian unfittedness of survival. Those who find Darwinism comical are thriving. The latter are children, the former are Bright. Lewis Carroll would have hesitated to invent these characters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM

COME OUT SWINGING (via Bryan Francoeur):

Cheney: Senator deserved the f-word (Ed Hornick, 12/21/08, CNN)

In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," Cheney was asked if he had any second thoughts or embarrassment. "No. I thought he merited it at the time," Cheney said, laughing. [...]

The encounter during the 2004 presidential campaign, sources said then, was brought on by Leahy's criticism of the vice president over Halliburton Co. Cheney is the former chief executive officer of the oil field services company, and Democrats had suggested he helped win lucrative contracts for his former firm while serving in the Bush administration.

"It was partly that, it was partly also … it had to do with — he is the kind of individual who will make those kinds of charges and then come act as though he's your best friend, and I expressed in no uncertain terms my views of his conduct and walked away," Cheney said at the time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:44 PM


The humanity of history: Lisa Hilton hails a brilliant and entertaining study of Herodotus: a review of Lisa Hilton, 22 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

The word “history” comes from Herodotus: we use the term from his adoption of the Greek “to inquire” or investigate. The premise of the world’s first prose epic was modest: “so that great and marvellous deeds – some displayed by the Greeks, some by barbarians – may not be without their glory; and especially to show why the two peoples fought each other”. Two and a half thousand years later, Marozzi aims to follow in his footsteps. Just as the Histories sweep the reader into a maelstrom of gossip, philosophy, breathless journeying and delightful digression, so Marozzi’s account of his tour of Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Greece creates a dialogue with his mentor, which encompasses wassailing Olympians, the mysteries of Euclidian engineering and an alarming account of a Greek exorcism. Marozzi relishes the human curiosities he encounters.

Yet at the heart of this book is a serious conundrum: if, as Herodotus observed, every culture considers its own customs to be superior, what is the best system to permit them to co-exist? What happens when respect for one person’s freedom requires someone else’s repression? If the West was born at Marathon in 490 BC, we might argue that culturally, at least, the Persian wars are still going strong. The fault line that Herodotus drew between the East and the West is perhaps the most significant issue in contemporary politics. Marozzi sets out to explore its source and what solution, if any, history can offer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


What Was Eric Mangini Waiting For? (Josh Curtis, December 22, 2008, NY Observer)

The blame game will doubtless start with an overanalysis of yesterday's humiliating loss to a 3-11 Seattle Seahawks team so ravaged by injury that it was without either its starting quarterback or a single starter on the offensive line. There will be talk of bad calls, missed opportunities, the decision to kick a field goal on fourth down and one from the Seahawks' two-yard line on the game's opening drive, to punt after a five-yard penalty negated a 45-yard Jay Feely kick early in the fourth quarter, the decision to go for it on fourth down and four from their own 20 with 2:21 remaining in the game, and, of course, the Jets' continuing inability to win on the West Coast. These are red herrings. The truth is that the Jets' implosion has had relatively little to do with yesterday's mail-in performance against the Seahawks. This self-destruction has been weeks in the making.

Their wins at New England and Tennessee conclusively established that the Jets have the talent to beat any team in the league. Seven pro-bowl nominations seconded the proposition. But for over a month, the Jets have been sabotaged from within, being glaringly out-coached in nearly every facet of the game. And for over a month, Eric Mangini has been unable or unwilling to stem the tide, choosing instead to stand behind coordinators Brian Schottenheimer and Bob Sutton, both of whom have extracted precious little from relatively talent-laden squads. Their game plans have given the team no strategic advantage in the first half of games, and their halftime adjustments, if there have been any, have changed nothing. More bad run defense, more bad pass defense, more inane, self-defeating offensive play-calling.

As a result, the Jets have been tanking for four weeks. They are 1-3 in their last four games, and only a miraculous end to last week's near-disaster against the Bills has saved them from being 0-4 since their landmark win against the Titans. Four consecutive weeks of pitiful, eerily similar football.

And all the while, Eric Mangini has taken exquisite pains to betray no sense of alarm or urgency. As has been his wont since day one, he has remained the very picture of outward calm, tirelessly repeating his ever-familiar mantra about avoiding mistakes and moving forward. To witness his manicured media persona is to think him as always in control, never given to the whims and folly that mark the behavior of many other coaches around the league. But the bottom line belies the façade. He has fiddled while the Jets have burned.

If they'd kept Chad Pennington they'd be hosting the AFC Championship game.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Flawed Science Advice for Obama? (John Tierney, 12/22/08, NY Times)

[Barack Obama's science advisor, John P.] Holdren, now a physicist at Harvard, was one of the experts in natural resources whom Paul Ehrlich enlisted in his famous bet against the economist Julian Simon during the “energy crisis” of the 1980s. Dr. Simon, who disagreed with environmentalists’ predictions of a new “age of scarcity” of natural resources, offered to bet that any natural resource would be cheaper at any date in the future. Dr. Ehrlich accepted the challenge and asked Dr. Holdren, then the co-director of the graduate program in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley, and another Berkeley professor, John Harte, for help in choosing which resources would become scarce.

In 1980 Dr. Holdren helped select five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — and joined Dr. Ehrlich and Dr. Harte in betting $1,000 that those metals would be more expensive ten years later. They turned out to be wrong on all five metals, and had to pay up when the bet came due in 1990.

Now, you could argue that anyone’s entitled to a mistake, and that mistakes can be valuable if people learn to become open to ideas that conflict with their preconceptions and ideology. That could be a useful skill in an advisor who’s supposed to be presenting the president with a wide range of views. Someone who’d seen how wrong environmentalists had been in ridiculing Dr. Simon’s predictions could, in theory, become more open to dissent from today’s environmentalist orthodoxy. But I haven’t seen much evidence of such open-mindedness in Dr. Holdren.

Consider what happened when a successor to Dr. Simon, Bjorn Lomborg, published “The Skeptical Environmentalist” in 2001. Dr. Holdren joined in an an extraordinary attack on the book in Scientific American — an attack that I thought did far more harm to the magazine’s reputation than to Dr. Lomborg’s.

It's not as if they're going to establish the Cult of Reason as our national church.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Bush, Cheney comforted troops privately: Met with thousands of war injured, kin out of spotlight
(Joseph Curl and John Solomon, December 22, 2008 , Washington Times)

[T]he size and scope of Mr. Bush's and Mr. Cheney's private endeavors to meet with wounded soliders and families of the fallen far exceed anything that has been witnessed publicly, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials familiar with the effort.

"People say, 'Why would you do that?'" the president said in an Oval Office interview with The Washington Times on Friday. "And the answer is: This is my duty. The president is commander in chief, but the president is often comforter in chief, as well. It is my duty to be - to try to comfort as best as I humanly can a loved one who is in anguish."

Mr. Bush, for instance, has sent personal letters to the families of every one of the more than 4,000 troops who have died in the two wars, an enormous personal effort that consumed hours of his time and escaped public notice. The task, along with meeting family members of troops killed in action, has been so wrenching - balancing the anger, grief and pride of families coping with the loss symbolized by a flag-draped coffin - that the president often leaned on his wife, Laura, for emotional support.

"I lean on the Almighty and Laura," Mr. Bush said in the interview. "She has been very reassuring, very calming."

Mr. Bush also has met privately with more than 500 families of troops killed in action and with more than 950 wounded veterans, according to White House spokesman Carlton Carroll. Many of those meetings were outside the presence of the news media at the White House or at private sessions during official travel stops, officials said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Potato kugel (Boston Globe, December 22, 2008)

3 pounds russet (baking) potatoes
12 eggs
2 medium onions, cut into chunks
2/3 cup matzo meal
3 tablespoons peanut, corn, or canola oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Have on hand a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Transfer to a bowl of cold water (don't leave them there for longer than 2 hours).

3. In a very large bowl, beat the eggs until well mixed.

4. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the onions until finely chopped but not liquefied. Scrape the onions into the bowl of eggs. Stir in the matzo meal. (Do not rinse the food processor.)

5. Drain the potatoes. Set a strainer over a bowl.

6. Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into the baking dish, tipping it to coat the bottom and halfway up the sides. Set the pan in the oven for 5 minutes.

7. In the food processor, work the potatoes in 3 batches until very finely chopped. The pieces should be no larger than a grain of rice and mostly smaller. As each batch is processed, immediately scrape it into the strainer. With the back of a spoon, press the mixture to extract the moisture. Immediately stir the potatoes from the strainer into the egg mixture. Discard the liquid in the bowl. Add salt and pepper to the potato mixture.

8. Carefully remove the empty baking dish from the oven. Add the potato mixture. It's OK if the oil spills onto the surface of the batter (this adds crispness to the finished dish). Press the batter down neatly into the corners. Sprinkle the surface with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil.

9. Bake the kugel for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until it is lightly browned. Let it rest for 15 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve hot or warm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


The Man Who Told A Christmas Story: What I learned from Jean Shepherd. (Donald Fagen, Dec. 22, 2008, Slate)

If you know Jean Shepherd's name, it's probably in connection with the now-classic film A Christmas Story, which is based on a couple of stories in his book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. He also does the compelling voice-over narration. On Christmas, TBS will continue its tradition of presenting a 24-hour Christmas Story marathon. There are annual fan conventions devoted to the film—released 25 years ago this Thanksgiving—and the original location in Cleveland has been turned into a museum. But long before A Christmas Story was made, Shepherd did a nightly radio broadcast on WOR out of Manhattan that enthralled a generation of alienated young people within range of the station's powerful transmitter. Including me: I was a spy for Jean Shepherd.

In the late '50s, while Lenny Bruce was beginning his climb to holy infamy in jazz clubs on the West Coast, Shepherd's all-night monologues on WOR had already gained him an intensely loyal cult of listeners. Unlike Bruce's provocative nightclub act, which had its origins in the "schpritz" of the Catskills comics, Shepherd's improvised routines were more in the tradition of Midwestern storytellers like Mark Twain, but with a contemporary urban twist: say, Mark Twain after he'd been dating Elaine May for a year and a half. Where Bruce's antics made headlines, Shepherd, with his warm, charismatic voice and folksy style, could perform his most subversive routines with the bosses in the WOR front office and the FCC being none the wiser. At least most of the time.

I was introduced to Shep, as his fans called him, by my weird uncle Dave.

The Brass Figalee, which podcasts the original radio shows, is one of those sites that single-handedly justifies the Internet.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Volvo to unveil car which avoids pedestrians (David Millward, 22 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

Volvo is developing a car which will drive itself in traffic by using a radar to control the distance to the car in front. [...]

"This technology helps us take an important step towards our long-term vision of designing cars that should not crash. Our aim for 2020 is that no one should be killed or injured in a Volvo car," said Thomas Broberg, the company's safety specialist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Why College Is A Waste of Money: Offering admission and financing to virtually every student who wants to enroll in college has resulted in a dropout rate of nearly 50% -- and an incredible amount of money down the drain. (Zac Bissonnette, 12/22/08, Daily Beast)

Government figures show that of students who entered four-year colleges in 1997, just 54% had earned a degree six years later. A professor wrote about this issue in The Atlantic earlier this year, arguing that it’s immoral to tell all students they can go to college, then crush their dreams by failing half of them. But the problem has deeper effects than hurt feelings: the 54% graduation rate means that around 46% of all money used to finance college tuition results in no degree.

Which means that financially speaking, the spectacularly high dropout rate boils down to a spectacularly bad investment. Though there’s no specific data, one can imagine the countless millions that are wasted financing educations that never come to fruition. We could try to predict which students would be part of the 46% who don’t finish, then encourage those students not to go to college. But to do this would mean a lot of students who might graduate never get to give it a shot. That wouldn’t be fair. So what we can do instead is identify the 5% or 10% of students who are the least likely to graduate, and not send them to college.

The problem is, the current system provides no way, and no incentive, for doing that. In fact, the Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) doesn’t take into account an applicant’s academic record at all. The rationale behind this is reasonable and admirable: we don't want federal student aid to be restricted only to the best and the brightest, many of whom come from backgrounds that made it easy for them to excel. But doesn't it make sense, on some level, to withhold aid from the students who have shown during high school that they’re clearly not equipped to make it through four years of college? Doing so would be a big step toward recouping some of that wasted 46% of lost financing.

Stop giving everyone financial aid. It'd even make college prices more affordable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Reading the Tea Leaves on Trade: The early signs are not good. (Philip I. Levy, 12/22/08, National Review)

For the last year, U.S. economic growth would have been substantially lower than it was if not for exports outpacing imports. In each of the past four quarters, the contribution of the external sector to growth matched or exceeded government spending as a counterweight to plummeting investment and consumption.

World leaders are well aware of trade’s importance. They appear to be reading the same tea leaves for U.S. trade policy and are acting alarmed by what they see. Amidst otherwise futile efforts to take action against the spreading global financial crisis last month, both the G20 meeting in Washington and the APEC meeting in Peru issued explicit calls to resist the temptation of protectionism. Witness also the rush (if a vain one) to try to lock in progress in the troubled Doha trade talks under the World Trade Organization before the new American administration takes power.

The challenge for the Obama administration will be to back away from its campaign promises and rein in the protectionist urges that naturally rise up as an economy turns down. The recovery of the global economy and U.S. leadership will likely depend on the new administration’s ability to do so.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


The 'other Iraq' forges ahead (Stephen Starr, 12/23/08 , Asia Times)

However, with the countrywide decline in violence, inevitable political quagmires have mushroomed and look set to dominate the new face of Iraq. Headlines depicting the awful carnage that has seen thousands killed and millions displaced have waned, but fears remain over how Iraq's long-term reconstruction plans will be divided among the country's various ethnic groups. Homogenous regions previously regarded as havens of stability could become political flashpoints as Iraq's vast reserves of oil and gas become focal points of importance. Iraqi Kurdistan is a prime case in point.

In Kurdistan, signs depicting civil society organizations are now commonplace. In Amadiya, a town of about 6,000, offices promoting women's liberties, support groups for political prisoners and the Kurdistan Communist Party can be found all along a single street. The word "Kurdistan" appears everywhere and nationalism has blossomed in light of newfound freedoms.

The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been working hard to depict itself as being an opposite to the rest of Iraq, even posting a website under the title of "The Other Iraq" whereby it is encouraging tourists with imagery of breathtaking scenery.

More important in terms of politics, it is looking to exploit and further utilize the most valuable asset in its possession, oil. In a country where crude oil reserves are estimated at 115 billion barrels, ownership of this precious commodity has quickly become a sticking point and for the territorial integrity of the entire country, this means bad news.

The northern city of Kirkuk, populated by an ethnic mix of Arabs, Christians, Kurds and Turkomans, sits adjacent to one of the largest untapped oilfields in the region. For all concerned, the status of Kirkuk represents a strategic crossroad and legitimate claims can be made by the KRG and the central government.

Kirkuk was dominated by a Kurdish majority until Saddam's attempted "Arabization" of the northern provinces during the 1970s. Now it rests under the administrative control of Baghdad and is populated by an eclectic mix of Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans and other minorities. The relative stability enjoyed in the north has allowed the KRG to push ahead in pursuing deals with international energy companies. So far, two dozen contracts have been signed with companies from Canada, South Korea and Turkey, among others.

For over 12 months, negotiations have been continuing between the KRG and Baghdad over oil concerns. When Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani visited Irbil in November, his comments that Kurdish oil would be connected to national pipelines bound for Turkey led many to think a softening in relations was imminent.

However, Baghdad insists the KRG has no right to conduct oil deals with foreign interests independently, based on Article 140 of the historic 2005 Iraqi constitution. The KRG claims exactly the opposite. As such, up to 20 contracts signed by the KRG with Iraqi and foreign interests since February 2007 - without authorization from the central government - have been regarded as "illegitimate".

In addition to this, the decrease in the price of oil has led to increased competition among international companies, something that has led to renewed interest in the "safe part" of Iraq. Such events can only conspire to hasten conflict over the issue, still governed by an oil trade law from the Saddam era. The law itself supposes control of oilfields to the Baghdad-controlled Oil Ministry.

The desire to make the new Iraq a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional society is noble but futile. Let the Kurds get on with life.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:34 AM


2008 Key Votes: Financial Rescues And Pivotal Roll Calls (Caitlin Hendel, 12/22/08, CQ)

Not since the vote in December 1998 to impeach President Bill Clinton has a roll call in Congress drawn as much attention as the initial House rejection this year of President Bush’s plan to save the nation’s credit industry. From traders on Wall Street to bankers on Main Street, as well as in Europe and Asia, the world watched House vote 674 with the same intensity usually reserved for celebrity deaths, World Cup finals or highway car chases. You can even find video of it on YouTube.

After the vote was gaveled to a close at 205-228, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted, losing the most points in one day in its 112-year history.

With the whole world watching the House GOP demonstrated just how out of touch they were.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Earthscape Released Santa Tracker (Jeff Scott, 12/21/08, 148Apps)

I had decided a while ago that I wasn’t going to post any reviews of Christmas (or any other) holiday apps. They are all just to trite, simple, and down right annoying. Especially so to a grinch like me. But then, I saw Earthscape Santa Tracker and my heart grew three sizes that day.

December 21, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:28 PM


Intraparty tensions could cleave Dems (MANU RAJU, 12/21/08, Politico)

"In our quest to do good policy, we're going to find a lot more areas of commonality with Obama than we are with House and Senate Democrats," said one senior Senate GOP aide. "When Obama and congressional Republicans do work together, the byproduct of that is in-fighting on the left."

If Obama and the GOP broker deals that split Democrats in Congress, it could create the same sort of disarray that contributed to the collapses of the GOP majority ahead of the 2006 midterm elections and the Democratic majority in 1994.

Nevermind the ease with which the GOP can exploit the Unicorn Rider's need to triangulate, check out the AP photo of him accompanying the story. The honeymoon is over.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 PM


Britain has lost the stomach for a fight
(Michael Portillo, 12/21/08, Times of London)

Last week Gordon Brown announced a date for Britain’s withdrawal from Iraq. Most troops will be back in time for a spring general election. The prime minister posed with soldiers and expressed his sorrow over yet more fatal casualties in Afghanistan. He did not dwell on Britain’s humiliation in Basra, nor mention that this is the most inglorious withdrawal since Sir Anthony Eden ordered the boys back from Suez.

The fundamental cause of the British failure was political. Tony Blair wanted to join the United States in its toppling of Saddam Hussein because if Britain does not back America it is hard to know what our role in the world is: certainly not a seat at the top table. But, for all his persuasiveness, Blair could not hold public opinion over the medium term and so he cut troop numbers fast and sought to avoid casualties. As a result, British forces lost control of Basra and left the population at the mercy of fundamentalist thugs and warring militias, in particular Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The secondary cause of failure was a misplaced British disdain for America, shared by our politicians and senior military. In the early days in Iraq we bragged that our forces could deploy in berets and soft-sided vehicles while US forces roared through Baghdad in heavily armoured convoys. British leaders sneered at the Americans’ failure to win hearts and minds because of their lack of experience in counterinsurgency. [...]

If a fair-minded account of the Iraq war is written, credit should go to President Bush for rejecting two years ago the report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that called for force reductions. He defied conventional wisdom and ordered a troop surge instead. It has been an extraordinary success and, unlike Britain, the Americans will not withdraw in defeat. During debates in Washington, British forces’ ignominious withdrawal to barracks was cited to argue that the United States could not contemplate being humbled in a similar way. In the end Bush was not a quitter. Blair “cut and ran”. no will to live.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Head Of Saudi Morals Police Eases Tone On Cinema (Javno, 12/21/08)

The head of Saudi Arabia's religious police has eased his criticism of a return of cinema to the conservative Muslim country saying he saw no harm in it as long as what is shown complies with Islam.

Cinema made a low-key return in the Islamic kingdom after a three decade ban, but a sharp reaction by Ibrahim al-Ghaith, the religious police chief, showed efforts to relax tough religious laws face tough opposition.

But Ghaith, the kingdom's second-most influential cleric, changed his tone in favour of the moviegoing revival.

"We are not against having cinema if it shows the good and does not violate Islamic law," al-Hayat newspaper quoted him on Sunday as saying.

It was unclear why Ghaith had apparently changed his approach and the religious police were not available for comment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Opec revenue to tumble (Tamsin Carlisle, December 21. 2008, The National)

Opec’s oil-export revenue is set to tumble more than 50 per cent next year to a five-year low due to the combined effect of sharply lower crude prices and production cuts.

In a new forecast released late last week, the US government projected the group’s net revenue from oil exports would slump to US$444 billion (Dh1.63 trillion) in 2009 after narrowly failing to break through the trillion dollar threshold this year. That would be the lowest level since 2004, when Opec revenue stood at $335bn.

December 20, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 PM


General George S. Patton was assassinated to silence his criticism of allied war leaders claims new book
: George S. Patton, America's greatest combat general of the Second World War, was assassinated after the conflict with the connivance of US leaders, according to a new book (Tim Shipman, 20 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

The newly unearthed diaries of a colourful assassin for the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, reveal that American spy chiefs wanted Patton dead because he was threatening to expose allied collusion with the Russians that cost American lives.

The death of General Patton in December 1945, is one of the enduring mysteries of the war era. Although he had suffered serious injuries in a car crash in Manheim, he was thought to be recovering and was on the verge of flying home.

But after a decade-long investigation, military historian Robert Wilcox claims that OSS head General "Wild Bill" Donovan ordered a highly decorated marksman called Douglas Bazata to silence Patton, who gloried in the nickname "Old Blood and Guts".

His book, "Target Patton", contains interviews with Mr Bazata, who died in 1999, and extracts from his diaries, detailing how he staged the car crash by getting a troop truck to plough into Patton's Cadillac and then shot the general with a low-velocity projectile, which broke his neck while his fellow passengers escaped without a scratch.

Mr Bazata also suggested that when Patton began to recover from his injuries, US officials turned a blind eye as agents of the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, poisoned the general. a conspiracy that requires a competent US intelligence agency and USSR, even though Patton was right about the losing of WWII.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 PM


Obama's Cabinet may be short on reformers (Alec MacGillis, 12/20/08, The Washington Post)

[M]any of Obama's other picks reflect his apparent preference for practical-minded centrists who have straddled big policy debates rather than staking out the strongest pro-reform positions. Their reputations as moderates have won Obama plaudits from even some Republicans, but the choices offer relatively few clues to his plans in certain key areas.

His team reflects him--just there for the line on the CV.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 PM


Senate-for-sale case threatens new chief of staff (BRETT J. BLACKLEDGE and TAMMY WEBBER, 12/20/08, AP)

Emanuel did contact the governor's office about the appointment, and left Blagojevich with the impression that he was pushing Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama friend, so he wouldn't have to compete with her in the White House for Obama's attention, said a person close to Blagojevich. The person was not authorized to talk about the governor's discussions regarding the vacancy and requested anonymity.

It was not clear whether Blagojevich inferred Emanuel's motive for advocating Jarrett, or whether Emanuel discussed the appointment with Blagojevich directly or with John Harris, the governor's then-chief of staff who also is charged in the case, according to the source.

Emanuel's refusal to discuss the matter publicly, and the few comments offered by Obama to date, have prompted questions about Emanuel's ties to Blagojevich and what fallout he'll face as the criminal case unfolds, although sources have said he is not a target of prosecutors. Even so, any hint of scandal for Emanuel threatens to tarnish Obama's promise of new political leadership free of scandal and corruption.

...than ditching a rival.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:01 PM

Pan-roasted lamb chops (Sheryl Julian, 12/16/08, Boston Globe)

8 lamb rib chops

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped mixed rosemary, thyme, and oregano

1. With a small sharp knife, remove the fat from the bones beginning at the ends and stopping at the round piece of meat. The chops should look like meat on sticks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil, swirling the pan around so it coats the bottom. When it is hot, add 4 lamb chops. Cook without moving for 3 minutes. Turn and cook the other sides for 3 minutes more. Repeat with the remaining chops. They should be cooked through but pink in the center.

3. Arrange on a plate and sprinkle with the herbs.

Roasted potato planks (Sheryl Julian, December 17, 2008, Boston Globe)
3 tablespoons olive oil

3 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and dried

Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Have on hand 2 rimmed baking sheets. Brush them with some of the oil.

2. Set the sheets in the oven while you slice the potatoes.

3. Using a mandoline or straight-bladed chef's knife, cut the potatoes lengthwise into 1/4-inch pieces. Carefully remove the baking sheets from the oven and set them on a heatproof surface.

4. Arrange the potato slices on the baking sheets. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes for 12 minutes or until they brown on top. Use a wide metal spatula to turn them and roast the other side for 12 minutes more or until the potatoes are golden brown and very crisp. If the potatoes at the edges brown earlier, turn them over when they are brown. Drain the potatoes on paper towels.

Homemade hummus (Emeline Aroush, December 17, 2008, Boston Globe)
1 can (15 ounces) chick peas

1/2 cup sesame tahini

Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Set a strainer over a bowl. Tip the chick peas into it; reserve the liquid.

2. In a food processor, combine the chick peas, 1 tablespoon of their liquid, tahini, lemon juice, salt, and oil. Pulse the mixture until it is smooth and creamy.

3. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon juice, if you like. Add enough of the remaining liquid from the can, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make a mixture that just holds its shape.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Former Pirates pitcher Ellis dies (BEN WALKER, AP)

Dock Ellis, who infamously claimed he pitched a no-hitter for Pittsburgh under the influence of LSD and later fiercely spoke out against drug and alcohol addiction, died Friday. He was 63.

Ellis died in California from a liver ailment, former agent Tom Reich said.

"I've been in this business for 40 years and there was never a more standup guy," Reich said. [...]

At a time when drugs, race and other issues in American society were colliding with baseball, Ellis often was at the forefront. He spoke his mind and stood by what he said while playing with the likes of Willie Stargell, Dave Parker and Roberto Clemente.

"He didn't take nothing from nobody," Reich said. "He was very much ahead of his time."

DOCK ELLIS: A Baseball Player Portrait (Terry Cannon , Cosmic Baseball Association)
Controversy followed Dock throughout his baseball career, yet he steadfastly refused to compromise his principles. Dating back to his formative years in Los Angeles, he refused to play baseball at Gardena High School in protest against the coach's racism. While in the minor leagues in 1964, he went into the stands and swung a leaded bat at a racist heckler in Batavia, New York.

Perhaps the centerpiece of Ellis' stormy career came with the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 12, 1970., when he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. "I can only remember bits and pieces of the game," Ellis said later. "I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times." He walked a total of eight batters in what might be described as one of the most bizarre no-hitters ever thrown.

The year 1972 found Ellis back in the headlines when he was maced by a security guard at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium who wouldn't let him into the Pirates clubhouse. (After an investigation, the Cincinnati club apologized to Ellis and fired the security guard.) Another flap ensued in 1973 when he started wearing hair curlers to the ballpark, after Ebony magazine ran a feature on Ellis' various hairstyles. Supposedly an order came down from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's office to cease and desist wearing curlers on the field.

Perhaps Ellis' most startling act occurred on May 1, 1974 when he tied the major league record by hitting three batters in a row. In spring training that year, Ellis sensed the Pirates had lost the aggressiveness that drove them to three straight division titles from 1970 to 1972. Furthermore, the team now seemed intimidated by Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine." "Cincinnati will bullshit with us and kick our ass and laugh at us," Ellis said. "They're the only team that talk about us like a dog." Ellis single-handedly decided to break the Pirates out of their emotional slump, announcing that "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm going to hit these motherfuckers." True to his word, in the first inning of the first regular season game he pitched against the Reds, Ellis hit leadoff batter Pete Rose in the ribs, then plunked Joe Morgan in the kidney, and loaded the bases by hitting Dan Driessen in the back. Tony Perez, batting cleanup, dodged a succession of Ellis' pitches to walk and force in a run. The next hitter was Johnny Bench. "I tried to deck him twice," Ellis recalled. "I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved." At this point, Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh removed Ellis from the game. But the strategy worked: the Pirates snapped out of their lethargy to win a division title in 1974, while the Reds failed to win their division for the first time in three years.

Though talented, he wasn't the best pitcher of even his generation, but, together with the great NH poet Donald Hall, he ended up with one of the best sports biographies ever:
“‘You are scared of Cincinnati.’ That’s what I told my teammates, "Every time we play Cincinnati, the hitters are on their ass.”

In 1970, ‘71, and ‘72, he says, the rest of the league was afraid of the Pirates. “they say, 'Here come the big bad Pirates. They’re going to kick our ass!’ Like they give up. That’s what our team was starting to do." Cincinatti will bull[****] with us and kick our ass and laugh at us. They’re the only team that talk about us like a dog. Whenever we play that team, everybody socializes with them.” In the past the roles had been reversed. “When they ran over to us, we knew they were afraid of us. When I saw our team doing it, right then I say, "We gunna get down. We gonna do the do. I’m going to hit these motherf******s.’” [...]

Taking his usual warm-up pitches, Dock noticed Pete Rose standing at one side of the batter’s box, leaning on his bat, studying his delivery. On his next-to-last warm-up, Dock let fly at Rose and almost hit him.

A distant early warning.

In fact, he had considered not hitting Pete Rose at all. He and Rose are friends, but of course friendship, as the commissioner of baseball would insist, must never prevent even-handed treatment. No, Dock had considered not hitting Pete Rose because Rose would take it so well, ”He’s going to charge first base, and make it look like nothing.” Having weighed the whole matter, Dock decided to hit him anyway.

“The first pitch to Pete Rose was directly toward his head,” as Dock expresses it, “not actually to hit him, ” but as “the message, to let him know that he was going to get hit. More or less to press his lips. I knew if I could get close to the head that I could get them in the body. Because they’re looking to protect their head, they’ll give me the body.” The next pitch was behind him. “the next one, I hit him in the side.”

Pete Rose’s response was even more devastating than Dock had anticipated. He smiled. Then he picked the ball up, where it had falled beside him, and gently, underhanded, tossed it back to Dock. Then he lit for first as if trying out fro the Olympics.

As Dock says, with huge approval, “You have to be good, to be a hot dog.”

As Rose bent down to pick up the ball, he had exchanged a word with Joe Morgan who was batting next. Morgan taunted Rose, “He doesn’t like you anyway. You’re a white guy.”

Dock hit Morgan in the kidneys with his first pitch.

By this time, both benches were agog. It was Mayday on May Day. The Pirates realized that Dock was doing what he said he would do. The Reds were watching him do it. “I looked over on the bench, they were all with their eyes wide and their mouths wide open, like, 'I don’t believe it!’

“The next batter was [Dan] Driessen. I threw a ball to him. High and inside. The next one, I hit him in the back.”

Bases loaded, no outs. Tony Perez, Cincinnati first baseman, came to bat. He did not dig in. “There was no way I could hit him. He was running. The first one I threw behind him, over his head, up against the screen, but it came back off the glass, and they didn’t advance. I threw behind him because he was backing up, but then he stepped in front of the ball. The next three pitches, he was running, "I walked him.” A run came in. “The next hitter was Johnny Bench. I tried to deck him twice. I threw at his jaw, and he moved. I threw at the back of his head, and he moved.”

With two balls and no strikes on Johnny Bench—-eleven pitches gone: three hit batsmen, one walk, one run, and now two balls—-[manager, Danny} Murtaugh approached the mound. “He came out as if to say, 'What’s wrong? Can’t find the plate?’” Dock was suspicious that his manager really knew what he was doing. “No,” said Dock, “I must have Blass-itis.” (I was genuine wildness, ªnot throwing at batters—-that had destroyed Steve Blass the year before.)

“He looked at me hard,” Dock remembers. “He said, 'I’m going to bring another guy in.’ So I just walked off the mound.”

Eccentric pitcher Ellis dies at 63: Best known for no-hitter, free spirit succumbs to liver ailment (Tom Singer /

Dock Philip Ellis, whose rich pitching talents were obscured by his role as a controversial and colorful leader of the eccentric fringe of '70s baseball, is dead at 63. reported the former right-hander's death in California on Friday from a liver ailment, confirming the news with Ellis' former agent, Tom Reich.

Ellis, who broke in with the 1968 Pirates and pitched for four other teams, retired in 1979 with a record of 138-119 -- including a 1970 no-hitter in San Diego that he later claimed to have pitched while on the hallucinogen LSD.

Diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, Ellis went on a waiting list for a liver transplant seven months ago.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Don Quixote (Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh)

But Don Quixote, it may be objected, is mad. Here the irony of Cervantes finds a deeper level. Don Quixote is a high-minded idealist, who sees all things by the light of his own lofty preconceptions. To him every woman is beautiful and adorable; everything that is said to him is worthy to be heard with attention and respect; every community of men, even the casual assemblage of lodgers at an inn, is a society founded on strict rules of mutual consideration and esteem. He shapes his behaviour in accordance with these ideas, and is laughed at for his pains. But he has a squire, Sancho Panza, who is a realist and loves food and sleep, who sees the world as it is, by the light of common day. Sancho, it might be supposed, is sane, and supplies a sure standard whereby to measure his master's deviations from the normal. Not at all; Sancho, in his own way, is as mad as his master. If the one is betrayed by fantasy, the other is betrayed, with as ludicrous a result, by common sense. The thing is well seen in the question of the island, the government of which is to be entrusted to Sancho when Don Quixote comes into his kingdom. Sancho, though he would have seen through the pretenses of any merely corrupt bargainer, recognises at once that his master is disinterested and truthful, and he believes all he hears about the island. He spends much thought on the scheme, and passes many criticisms on it. Sometimes he protests that he is quite unfit for the position of a governor, and that his wife would cut a poor figure as a governor's lady. At other times he vehemently asserts that many men of much less ability than himself are governors, and eat every day off silver plate. Then he hears that, if an island should not come to hand, he is to be rewarded with a slice of a continent, and at once he stipulates that his domain shall be situated on the coast, so that he may put his subjects to a profitable use by selling them into slavery. It is not a gloss upon Cervantes to say that Sancho is mad; the suggestion is made, with significant repetition, in the book itself. "As the Lord liveth," says the barber, addressing the squire, "I begin to think that thou oughtest to keep him company in the cage, and that thou art as much enchanted as he. In an evil day wast thou impregnated with his promises, and it was a sorrowful hour when the island of thy longings entered thy skull."

So these two, in the opinion of the neighbours, are both mad, yet most of the wisdom of the book is theirs, and when neither of them is talking, the book falls into mere commonplace. And this also is many times recognised and commented on in the book itself. Sometimes it is the knight, and sometimes the squire, whose conversation makes the hearers marvel that one who talks with so much wisdom, justice, and discernment should act so foolishly. Certainly the book is a paradise of delightful discourse wherein all topics are handled and are presented in a new guise. The dramatic setting, which is the meaning of the book, is never forgotten; yet the things said are so good that when they are taken out of their setting they shine still, though with diminished splendour. What could be better than Don Quixote's treatment of the question of lineage, when he is considering his future claim to marry the beautiful daughter of a Christian or paynim King? "There are two kinds of lineage," he remarks. "The difference is this - that some were what they are not, and others are what they were not; and when the thing is looked into I might prove to be one of those who had a great and famous origin, with which the King, my father-in-law who is to be, must be content." Or what could be wiser than Sancho's account of his resignation of the governorship? "Yesterday morning I left the island as I found it, with the same streets, houses, and tiles which they had when I went there. I have borrowed nothing of nobody, nor mixed myself up with the making of profits, and though I thought to make some profitable laws, I did not make any of them, for I was afraid they would not be kept, which would be just the same as if they had never been made." Many of those who come across the pair in the course of their wanderings fall under the fascination of their talk. Not only so, but the world of imagination in which the two wanderers live proves so attractive, the infection of their ideas is so strong, that, long before the end of the story is reached, a motley company of people, from the Duke and Duchess down to the villagers, have set their own business aside in order to take part in the make-believe, and to be the persons of Don Quixote's dream. There was never any Kingdom of Barataria; but the hearts of all who knew him were set on seeing how Sancho would comport himself in the office of Governor, so the Duke lent a village for the purpose, and it was put in order and furnished with officers of State for the part that it had to play. In this way some of the fancies of the talkers almost struggle into existence, and the dream of Don Quixote makes the happiness it does not find.

Nothing in the story is more touching than the steadily growing attachment and mutual admiration of the knight and the squire. Each deeply respects the wisdom of the other, though Don Quixote, whose taste in speech is courtly, many times complains of Sancho's swarm of proverbs. Each is influenced by the other; the knight insists on treating the squire with the courtesies due to an equal, and poor Sancho, in the end, declares that not all the governments of the world shall tempt him away from the service of his beloved master. What, then, are we to think, and what does their creator think, of those two mad- men, whose lips drop wisdom? "Mark you, Sancho," said Don Quixote, "there are two kinds of beauty - one of the soul, and another of the body. That of the soul excelleth in knowledge, in modesty, in fine conduct, in liberality and good breeding; and all these virtues are found in, and may belong to, an ugly man... I see full well, Sancho, that I am not beautiful, but I know also that I am not deformed, and it is enough for a man of honour to be no monster; he may be well loved, if he possesses those gifts of soul which I have mentioned." Sometimes, at the height of his frenzy, the knight seems almost inspired. So, when the shepherds have entertained him, he offers, by way of thanks, to maintain against all comers the fame and beauty of the shepherdesses, and utters his wonderful little speech on gratitude:

"For the most part, he who received is inferior to him who gives; and hence God is above all, because he is, above all, the great giver; and the gifts of man cannot be equal to those of God, for there is an infinite distance between them; and the narrowness and insufficiency of the gifts of man is eked out by gratitude."

There cannot be too much of this kind of madness. Well may Don Antonio cry out on the bachelor Sampson, who dresses himself as the Knight of the Silver Moon and overthrows Don Quixote in fight:

"O sir, may God forgive you the wrong you have done to all the world in desiring to make a sane man of the most gracious madman that the world contains! Do you not perceive that the profit which shall come from the healing of Don Quixote can never be equal to the pleasure which is caused by his ecstasies?"

What if the world itself is mad, not with the ecstasy of Don Quixote, nor with the thrifty madness of Sancho, but with a flat kind of madness, a makeshift compromise between faith and doubt? All men have a vein of Quixotry somewhere in their nature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


Genesis and the origin of the Origin of the species: The argument that God exists based on design figures nowhere in the Hebrew Bible (Jonathan Sacks, 8/29/08, Times of London)

The believer might go on to say, as does Matt Ridley in his book Genome, that we now know, having deciphered the genetic code, that all life in its seemingly endless variety has a single source. In his words: “There was only one creation, one single event when life was born.” The miracle of monotheism is that unity up there creates diversity down here.

The believer might wonder, as does Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society, in his Just Six Numbers, at the extraordinary precision of the six mathematical constants that determine the shape of the Universe, such that if even one were fractionally different neither we nor the Universe would exist.

The believer might mention other mysteries, such as how did life evolve from non-life? How did sentience emerge? How was the uniquely human capacity for self-consciousness born? How did life evolve at such speed that even Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA, was forced to suggest that it came from Mars? And the ultimate ontological question: why is there something rather than nothing?

We might refer to the arguments that persuaded the philosopher Antony Flew, late in life, to abandon his atheism. She might cite the curious paradox, noted by Richard Dawkins, that selfish genes get together and produce selfless people. We might wonder at the fact that Homo sapiens is the only known life form in the Universe capable of asking “Why?” And we might add, in the spirit of Godel’s Theorem, that there are truths within the system that cannot be proved within the system.

We would then say: None of these is a proof. Each, rather, is a source of wonder.

December 19, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 PM


Jewish groups blast new conscience clause rule (JTA, December 18, 2008)

Jewish groups are criticizing a rule issued Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services which allows health-care workers to refuse to participate in providing services that they feel violate their personal, moral or religious beliefs.

In what sense are such groups Jewish?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:08 PM


Chinese crew fights off pirates with bottles and crockery (Richard Spencer, 19 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

The Zhenhua IV, bound for Shanghai, was attacked by men wielding machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Peng Weiyuan, said he and his 30 crew saw the pirates approaching in two motor launches and prepared a counter-attack using empty beer bottles and crockery.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:05 PM


Find of Ancient City Could Alter Notions of Biblical David (ETHAN BRONNER, 10/30/08, NY Times)

Overlooking the verdant Valley of Elah, where the Bible says David toppled Goliath, archaeologists are unearthing a 3,000-year-old fortified city that could reshape views of the period when David ruled over the Israelites. Five lines on pottery uncovered here appear to be the oldest Hebrew text ever found and are likely to have a major impact on knowledge about the history of literacy and alphabet development. [...]

For many Jews and Christians, even those who do not take Scripture literally, the Bible is a vital historical source. And for the state of Israel, which considers itself to be a reclamation of the state begun by David, evidence of the biblical account has huge symbolic value. The Foreign Ministry’s Web site, for example, presents the kingdom of David and Solomon along with a map of it as a matter of fact.

But the archaeological record of that kingdom is exceedingly sparse — in fact almost nonexistent — and a number of scholars today argue that the kingdom was largely a myth created some centuries later. A great power, they note, would have left traces of cities and activity, and been mentioned by those around it. Yet in this area nothing like that has turned up — at least until now.

Mr. Garfinkel says he has something here that generations have been seeking. He has made two informal presentations in the past month to fellow archaeologists. On Thursday he will give his first formal lecture at a conference in Jerusalem.

What he has found so far has impressed many. Two burned olive pits found at the site have been tested for carbon-14 at Oxford University and were found to date from between 1050 and 970 B.C., exactly when most chronologies place David as king. Two more pits are still to be tested.

A specialist in ancient Semitic languages at Hebrew University, Haggai Misgav, says the writing, on pottery using charcoal and animal fat for ink, is in so-called proto-Canaanite script and appears to be a letter or document in Hebrew, suggesting that literacy may have been more widespread than is generally assumed. That could play a role in the larger dispute over the Bible, since if more writing turns up it suggests a means by which events could have been recorded and passed down several centuries before the Bible was likely to have been written.

Another reason this site holds such promise is that it was in use for only a short period, perhaps 20 years, and then destroyed — Mr. Garfinkel speculates in a battle with the Philistines — and abandoned for centuries, sealing the finds in Pompeii-like uniformity. Most sites are made up of layers of periods and, inevitably, there is blending, making it hard to date remains accurately.

For example, several years ago the archaeologist Eilat Mazar uncovered in East Jerusalem a major public building from around the 10th century B.C. that she attributes to David’s time and was perhaps even, she believes, his palace. While she found pottery, it was in a fill, not sealed, making it hard to know how to relate the pottery to the structure.

Still, how this new site relates to King David and the Israelites is far from clear. Mr. Garfinkel suggests that the Hebrew writing and location — a fortified settlement a two-day walk from Jerusalem — add weight to the idea that his capital was sufficiently important to require such a forward position, especially because it was between the huge Philistine city of Gath and Jerusalem.

“The fortification required 200,000 tons of stone and probably 10 years to build,” he said as he walked around the site one recent morning. “There were 500 people inside. This was the main road to Jerusalem, the key strategic site to protect the kingdom of Jerusalem. If they built a fortification here, it was a real kingdom, pointing to urban cities and a centralized authority in Judah in the 10th century B.C.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:59 PM


Warren Invite, Cabinet Picks Irk The Left: NOW Among Groups Frustrated Over Makeup of Obama Team (EMILY FRIEDMAN, Dec. 19, 2008, ABC News)

Once optimistic at having helped elect a president who promised them change, several liberal groups are now feeling slighted by President-elect Obama in his recent selections for his Cabinet as well as his decision to invite Pastor Rick Warren to his January inauguration.

Women's groups, gay rights organizations and environmentalists have spoken out against Obama's appointments and are fueling conversation that the president-elect is overlooking those who helped him win the White House.

Their problem is that they are so overlookable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


NPR Now Lets You Roll Your Own Podcast Feed (Marshall Kirkpatrick, December 18, 2008, ReadWriteWeb)

National Public Radio (NPR) here in the US has some great audio content and the offering got even better today with the release of a new "mix your own" podcast option. Users enter a list of categories and keywords and the NPR site dynamically generates an RSS feed you can subscribe to in iTunes or elsewhere. It's just the latest innovation built on top of the new NPR API.

The user experience is great and we think it makes NPR podcast content immediately more compelling. You get an instant preview of what will be in your feed and it's really easy to use.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:32 PM


‘Headed Out of Town,’ Bush Turns Reflective (DAVID STOUT, 12/19/08, NY Times)

“Reflections by a guy who’s headed out of town,” Mr. Bush called his musings in a question-and-answer session at the American Enterprise Institute. “An old sage at 62 ... headed to retirement.”

The president, who has described himself as uncomfortable with introspection, loosened up considerably before a friendly audience of conservatives. Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all was a theme he embraced several times.

“One such problem was immigration reform,” the president said. “And in this case, I chose to put the spotlight directly on the issue by giving an Oval Office address. Obviously, we weren’t successful about getting comprehensive immigration reform. Nevertheless, I feel good about having tried.”

And while he will miss many things about Washington, he won’t miss “the petty name-calling,” Mr. Bush said.

“I came with the idea of changing the tone in Washington, and frankly didn’t do a very good job of it,” he said. “You know, war brings out a lot of heated rhetoric and a lot of emotion. I fully understand that.”

...but he still has the power to fix the immigration problem befre he leaves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:28 PM


Understanding Fertility within Developed Nations: Bruce Sacerdote and James Feyrer: (Laurent Belsie,

Co-authors of the study, [Will the Stork Return to Europe and Japan? Understanding Fertility within Developed Nations (NBER Working Paper No. w14114)], Bruce Sacerdote, James Feyrer, and Ariel Stern find that where men perform relatively more of those chores -- and where female labor-force participation was highest three decades ago - fertility rates rose from their historic lows. This male-driven rebound in child-bearing already appears to have happened in the United States, the Scandinavian countries, and the Netherlands. Other nations m! ay follow suit as women gain more status in the workplace through better job opportunities and higher pay. "The increase in women's status may eventually reverse fertility trends in Europe and Japan … In particular, men in all high-income countries appear to be taking on a larger share of household duties, which could lead to a large positive increase in fertility," they conclude.

This represents a dramatic reversal from initial stages of a demographic transition, in which fertility falls as women have higher relative wages outside the home. In the United States, for example, women in the 1950s and 1960s earned low wages (relative to men) outside the home and were expected to shoulder all the household and childcare duties. In 1955, American women averaged about 3.5 births apiece. But as more women entered the workforce and their job opportunities and pay rose, so did the opp! ortunity cost of staying at home. Fertility plunged. By the 19! 80s, the U.S. fertility rate had fallen by nearly half from its mid-1950s level -- to 1.8 births per woman.

The rest of the developed world shared the same pattern. By 2005, total fertility rates were as low as 1.3 children per woman in Italy, Spain, Germany, and Japan - far beneath the population's replacement rate of 2.1 children. "The last 30 years have witnessed a social change unprecedented in human history: a variety of high-income nations have experienced fertility declines so large that these countries are far below replacement-level fertility," the authors write. "While other cultures have had brief episodes of less-than-replacement-level fertility, this is the first time in recorded history that large populations with high and growing per capita income have failed to reproduce themselves over an extended period of time."

But some nations have seen a rebound, even as women's pay and job opportunities continued to grow and began to rival those of men. The authors surmise that with increased household bargaining power, which comes from more equal wages, women are able to push some (though not necessarily half) of household and childcare duties onto men. This, in turn, removes some of the disincentives to having more children. By 1995, for example, the U.S. fertility rate had recovered from its 1980s lows to roughly replacement levels.

If you were a betting man, wouldn't you put your money on women figuring out that they were stupid to prefer careers to households in the first place?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Christmas getaway quiet on the roads as people take the train: The credit crisis is hitting the Christmas getaway, with people opting for train travel instead of driving and flying (David Millward, 12/19/08, Daily Telegraph)

Even though the cost of motoring has come down, families appear to be tightening the pursestrings and staying at home.

However the rail industry appears to have benefited, with passengers economising by booking cheap tickets in advance and shunning costly peak-time services.

Train operators also believe that demand has been boosted by the number of factories shutting down for longer than usual.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


People 'still willing to torture' (BBC, 12/19/08)

Decades after a notorious experiment, scientists have found test subjects are still willing to inflict pain on others - if told to by an authority figure.

US researchers repeated the famous "Milgram test", with volunteers told to deliver electrical shocks to another volunteer - played by an actor.

Even after faked screams of pain, 70% were prepared to increase the voltage, the American Psychology study found. isn't inhuman. Nor illiberal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM

Caramelized Onion Soup (Kim Honey, Toronto Star)

1/4 cup salted butter

2 large Vidalia onions (about 2 lb), peeled and quartered

1/4 tsp granulated sugar

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

2 cups 35 per cent cream

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

3 egg yolks

2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


Melt butter in large heavy pot on medium heat. Add onions and sugar; cook, stirring, 25 minutes until onions are golden brown and soft.

Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Stir in flour, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk and cream, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Stir in salt and pepper.

Whisk three egg yolks in small bowl. Whisk in three tablespoons hot soup, then stir yolk mixture into remaining soup.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


Irish politician and journalist Dr Conor Cruise O'Brien dies (Stephen Brook, 12/19/08,

While an Irish cabinet minister, O'Brien, a fierce critic of the IRA, banned members of the terrorist group and its political arm Sinn Fein being interviewed on radio and television.

Born in Dublin on 3 November 1917, O'Brien's career encompassed roles in the Irish civil service and then the UN, where he came to the attention of the secretary general, Dag Hammarskjold, who tasked him with leading the peace keeping operation in the Congo in 1960.

O'Brien became an academic after his stint at the UN and launched his political career in the 1970s.

-OBIT: Conor Cruise O'Brien (Daily Telegraph, 12/19/08)
-Irish iconoclast Conor Cruise O'Brien dead at 91 (International Herald Tribune, Dec 19, 2008)
-Conor Cruise O'Brien: Contributor Profile (The Atlantic)
-ARCHIVES: Conor Cruise O'Brien (NY Review of Books)
-ESSAY: Burke on Ireland's Holy War: On the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Edmund Burke, Conor Cruise O'Brien assesses the legacy of his thinking on Ireland. Enlisted by both sides in the great Home Rule controversy, Burke would not be at all surprised by Ireland's continuing conflict (Conor Cruise O'Brien, August 1997, Prospect)
-EXCERPT: Thomas Jefferson and the Impending Schism in the American Civil Religion (An excerpt from The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800, Conor Cruise O'Brien)
-LECTURE: Conor Cruise O'Brien / A World Falling Apart? (This keynote address at ISPA's International Congress was delivered on June 21, 1994 in Sydney, Australia)
-VIDEO: Interview with Conor Cruise O'Brien (Harry Kreisler, Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley )

-PROFILE: No regrets, no surrender: From civil war in the Congo to verbal wars in the Irish parliament, Conor Cruise O'Brien has illuminated and infuriated as writer, politician, historian and academic. Geoffrey Wheatcroft finds that his capacity for controversy is undiminished (Geoffrey Wheatcrof, 7/12/03, The Guardian)
By the time Labour joined a coalition government in 1973, O'Brien had made one more enemy. John Hume, a founder of the Social Democratic and Labour party and founding member of the civil rights movement, was regarded as the oracle of "the North" in Dublin, though not by O'Brien. "I was originally intended to be foreign minister but," he believes largely because of his antipathy for Hume, "I didn't get it," to his considerable resentment. Instead he was made minister of posts and telegraphs, which gave him the opportunity to ban Sinn Fein from Irish airwaves, thus adding further to his growing unpopularity in Dublin.

What also vexed his enemies was his literary eminence, which put him in a quite different class to other politicians. How many members of the present Irish cabinet, or indeed the British or American cabinets, could be imagined writing brilliantly on Michelet, Mauriac and Camus? He is a scholarly rather than an academic critic, who was never likely to have much sympathy for what he once called "deconstructionism, post-structuralism and what-not".

One of his collections of essays was published as Writers and Politics, and this is really his forte, situating and examining writers in their social and political context. He has occasionally done this in a partisan way - he is one of those whom Christopher Hitchens scolds for obtuse unfairness towards Orwell - but is at his most fair-minded and penetrating with his fellow-Irish, from Somerville and Ross to James Joyce. Not that he has ever much cared for Joyce despite the family connection. He recognises Joyce's genius, of course, but says that he has always found the man who depicted himself in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man a tiresome prig. O'Brien's real heroes are Edmund Burke, as both writer and thinker, and WB Yeats. O'Brien's long essay "Passion and Cunning", written to mark Yeats's centenary in 1965, is still widely regarded as one of the best things ever written about the poet and one of the best introductions for anyone who wants to understand 20th-century Ireland.

-PROFILE: Conor Cruise O'Brien-The Voice of Reason? (Terry Golway, July 26, 1998, NY Observer)
-REVIEW: of Conor: A Biography of Conor Cruise O'Brien. Volume One, Narrative (Contemporary Review, Sept, 1995, Richard Mullen)
-REVIEW: Was Burke a Conservative?: a review of The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke. By Conor Cruise O'Brien (Mark C. Henrie, First Things)
Given the prospect of (at least) "two Burkes," most sympathetic commentators have sought to find a unifying thread by which he can be made consistent. It may be observed, for example, that Whiggery is not identical to liberalism, nor is the American Revolution identical to the French. Burke was a great friend of that arch-Tory, Samuel Johnson, and he never had a good thing to say about democracy nor, with some notable and stinging exceptions, a bad thing to say about hereditary aristocracy. Burke is thus "really" a conservative. On the other hand, the popular and magnanimous sentiments of Burke's early career can be brought to the fore while his response to the Revolution is contextualized into a pragmatic anti-utopianism. In such a perspective, Burke is seen as a critic, not of the French aspiration to achieve such modern political goals as liberty, equality, and fraternity, but only of the Revolution's violence and radical instability. The rest is rhetoric, and Burke is thus "really" a liberal. In his much-praised thick new book, Conor Cruise O'Brien holds an extreme form of this latter view.

The title of O'Brien's "thematic biography" is taken from a line in Yeats' poem "The Seven Sages":

American colonies, Ireland, France and India Harried, and Burke's great melody against it.

O'Brien variously defines the "it" mentioned in this couplet as "oppression," "unjust authority," "authoritarianism," and "the arrogance of power." In O'Brien's view, opposition to "it" is the central moral motivation of Burke's politics, and if we understand this, we can find the deep consistency in Burke's words and actions.

Key to making this interpretation plausible is O'Brien's ingenious and well-constructed argument that Burke identified much more closely with Irish Catholicism than has previously been acknowledged. Burke's own father had conformed to the Established Church in order to practice law in an Ireland where Catholics suffered under the Penal Laws; Burke's mother remained a Catholic, though she conformed sporadically; Burke married a Catholic. O'Brien further conjectures that as a child Burke was probably educated by a priest and may even have been secretly baptized a Catholic. His cousins, members of the Irish Catholic gentry, were often in jeopardy during the periods of vindictive anti-Catholic agitation that for centuries were a recurring experience in the English- speaking world. And there are some indications that in his twenties, in London, Burke found himself strongly attracted to the faith of his fathers.

Thus O'Brien suggests that Burke may be understood rather like a Marrano Jew: he is not fully converted to his new faith and he feels great sympathy for those he has left behind, but under the restrictive laws of his time and as a public figure, he must cover this sympathy with loud declarations of conventional views. Far from being a convinced defender of the Establishments of the British Constitution, Burke secretly harbors a sense of fundamental injustice in the status quo.

This account allows O'Brien to explain (away) Burke's illiberal defense of civil and ecclesial Establishments as a mere rhetorical means by which Burke could pass as a good Englishman. For O'Brien, the "real" Burke was the consistent advocate of Irish Catholic emancipation-and American freedom, and the rights of the natives of India. He even goes so far as to suggest that Burke's antagonism to the French Revolution arose because of the close connection Dr. Richard Price-against whom Burke polemicized in the Reflections-drew between the 1688 Revolution, the French Revolution, and Anti-Popery: the rise of Jacobin sympathies in the British Isles could thus ultimately affect the lives of Burke's Irish cousins. Here the plausibility of O'Brien's hermeneutic stretches very thin, and we are driven to reconsider the evidence for the traditional "conservative" interpretation of Burke.

O'Brien's reconstruction of Burke's Catholicism is surely a masterful work of historical speculation, and it is true that we can always detect a spirit of liberality in Burke's writings and speeches. But this does not suffice to demonstrate that Burke is a liberal in any meaningful sense. In fact, the opposite may be true. Having offered us a Catholic Burke, O'Brien remains strangely silent about what this would imply about Burke's relationship with the natural law tradition-that tradition in contradiction to which modern rights theories emerged. Of course much of what we understand to be virtuous in politics and morals was already present in natural law teaching, but on no Catholic theory of the eighteenth century was even so mild a liberalism as Locke's tenable.

-REVIEW: of The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke (Forrest McDonald, National Review)
On a more substantive level, although he does not appear to notice it, O'Brien offers quotations that seem to indicate that Burke was not quite so consistent as O'Brien's interpretive schema would have him be. Thus, for example, in speaking of India, Burke holds that "the rights of men, that is to say, the natural rights of mankind, are indeed sacred things"; whereas in talking of the effects of the French Revolution he declares that "wherever the rights of man were preached," the outcome was "toil and trouble, discord and blood."

The apparent inconsistencies are readily reconciled if one perceives of Burke not as an enemy to the abuse of power but as a conservative--however, this O'Brien steadfastly refuses to do. To O'Brien, Burke is a "pluralist," a "liberal and counter-revolutionary," not a conservative. He airily dismisses Russell Kirk's studies of Burke as the work of a "polemical and propagandist" cold warrior, but it seems obvious to me that Kirk's interpretation is much closer to a common-sense reading of Burke. One illustration: O'Brien quotes a long passage that ends, "The situation of man is the preceptor of his duty." That encapsulates the essence of conservatism, but O'Brien regards it merely as "a good example of the Burkean aphorism."

-ARCHIVES: "conor cruise o'brien" (Find Articles)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


OPEC Losing Its Muscle : Despite its bluster about cutting production, the cartel has been unable to marshal its members to halt oil's sliding price. (Stanley Reed, 12/19/08, Der Spiegel)

The situation recalls the late 1990s when a fractious OPEC watched prices hit record lows. Today the organization is trying to present a united front, but profound differences exist. On the one hand are the Saudis and other Persian Gulf states. They are the only countries with enough production capacity to make big cuts. Yet they don't want to inflict further damage on the global economy by forcing prices too high. Then there are the hardliners like Iran and Venezuela that want sharply higher prices to support their social programs. Crude prices are well below the $100 per barrel and $86 per barrel Venezuela and Iran need to pay their bills, according to Washington consultant PFC Energy.

As OPEC strives to retain its clout, a glut is emerging that could drive prices even lower. Off Iran's Kharg Island oil terminal are seven supertankers laden with Iranian crude. Iran is storing oil on board in hopes of higher prices later, according to an industry source. Worldwide, an estimated 21 ships are holding about 40 million barrels. At the end of October there were just five. That means producers have been churning out 750,000 to 1 million barrels a day for which there are no ready buyers. With the production cuts, OPEC is simply trying to avoid swamping the world with oil.

...these regimes are so rotten precisely because they rely on oil revenue instead of taxes. All cheap gas does is prop up evil.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Bush to Steer Course Of Aid to Automakers: Managed Bankruptcy Raised as One Option (David Cho and Steve Mufson, 12/19/08, Washington Post)

Under a managed bankruptcy or other form of major restructuring, auto workers unions could be forced to make wage concessions, management could be shuffled and investors' stakes punished or even wiped out.

In answering a question at a morning news conference, Perino said: "There's an orderly way to do bankruptcies that provides for more of a soft landing. I think that's what we would be talking about. That would be one of the options. I'm not saying that's necessarily what would be announced."

In the afternoon, the White House described the bankruptcy idea as one of several being considered.

"No one is hinting that is an option preferred more than any other option," said Tony Fratto, another White House spokesman. He noted that bankruptcy had been included as a possible alternative in unsuccessful legislation backed by the administration earlier this month in an effort to provide a $14 billion bridge loan to General Motors and Chrysler. Ford has said it does not need government money at the moment.

Because the next administration will have the task of overseeing the government loan, President-elect Barack Obama's transition officials have been in close contact with the Treasury and White House, several sources said. One government source said that Obama's aides have similar views as the current administration on what to do for the automakers.

Sources familiar with the negotiations between the Treasury and the car companies say that few auto executives are involved and almost all of those who are talking to the department are financial experts. GM has fewer than six people dealing with the Treasury, mostly answering "nuts and bolts and technical stuff," said a person familiar with the interactions.

The administration has yet to reveal any of its plans to the automakers, according to industry and government officials. Nor has the Treasury engaged with the United Auto Workers in the week since the congressional bailout proposal failed -- except for a single conversation that the union's legislative liaison Alan Reuther called a "fact-finding session."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Why Ahmadinejad Fears Khatami (Amir Taheri, 12/19/08, Asharq Alawasat)

The Islamic Republic in Iran is facing "a sinister international conspiracy" designed to "replace religious rule with secularism." The plot was allegedly hatched by a "secret society of Freemasons" known as the Bilderberg Group whose members include many of the Western world's richest and most powerful businessmen and politicians.

The alleged conspiracy was finalized at a secret meeting of the group in June 1999 in Caesar Park Hotel in the Portuguese resort of Penha Longa. Inside Iran, the executors of the "plot" included the so-called Reform Movement symbolized by former President Mohammed Khatami who attended the meeting along with his then assistant on environmental affairs Mrs. Massoumeh Ebtekar.

The so-called Bilderberg "lodge" is often described by conspiracy theorists as "the secret government of the world".

According to the report published by IRNA, the "plot" included building up Abdul-Karim Sorush, a self-styled philosopher and erstwhile Khatami protégé, as "the Martin Luther of Islam" with a message of separating religion from politics. They also tried to "transform Khatami into an Islamic [version of Mikhail] Gorbachev."'s basically an acknowledgment that they're winning and your own bizarre ideology is toast.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Top 10 Jazz Albums of 2008: Crowned by one immortal recording. (Fred Kaplan, Dec. 18, 2008, Slate)

The best jazz album of 2008 is such a clear choice—not just a stunning disc of music but a breakthrough in music history—that I will say this: If any jazz critics out there leave it off their Top 10 lists, don't trust another word that they say about anything.

1. The album is Sonny Rollins' Road Shows, Vol. 1 (on his own label, Doxy Jazz), a collection of live tracks from 1980-2007, and it's one of his three or four best recordings ever. Rollins, the greatest tenor saxophone player around, famously feels uncomfortable in studios; a good night in front of a live crowd beats nearly anything he lays down before a control booth. A fan named Carl Smith has been collecting bootleg tapes of live Rollins concerts for decades, but his overtures to the man went ignored—until the past few years, when the two joined forces. Rollins has been listening to the tapes. It also turns out that he's been recording some of his gigs as well, straight off the mixing board, and he's been listening to those, too. Rollins is deeply self-critical; he likes very little of what he's ever done. The seven tracks on Road Shows, Vol. 1 are his picks; they're the performances that he could at least tolerate hearing.

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December 18, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:48 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 PM


Rule Protects Workers Who Deny Care That Violates Beliefs (Rob Stein, 12/19/08, Washington Post)

The Bush administration yesterday granted sweeping new protections to health workers who refuse to provide care that violates their personal beliefs, setting off an intense battle over opponents' plans to try to repeal the controversial measure.

Critics began consulting with the incoming Obama administration on strategies to reverse the regulation as quickly as possible while supporters started mobilizing to fight such efforts.

The far-reaching regulation cuts off federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, health plan, clinic or other entity that does not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other employees who refuse to participate in care they find ethically, morally or religiously objectionable. It was sought by conservative groups, abortion opponents and others to safeguard workers from being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways.

But women's health advocates, family planning proponents, abortion rights activists and some members of Congress condemned the regulation....

Protection for the conscience must be inexplicable to those who have none. Hard to believe a new and unknown president wants this to be how he begins to be perceived.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


Palin won't accept raise (KYLE HOPKINS, December 17th, 2008, Anchorage Daily News)

A new state commission appointed by Palin recommends boosting the governor's pay from $125,000 to $150,000. The State Officers Compensation Commission says the lieutenant governor, department heads and legislators need more money too.

But if the commission pushes ahead with a pay raise, Palin won't accept the money, said spokesman Bill McAllister.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 PM


NH gov would veto attempts to repeal death penalty (NORMA LOVE, 12/17/08, Associated Press)

Gov. John Lynch said Thursday he will veto any attempt to repeal or scale back New Hampshire's capital murder statute - potentially setting up a showdown with a Legislature that voted to repeal the law eight years ago.

"I think a just verdict has been rendered," Lynch said after a jury issued a death sentence to Michael Addison for murdering Manchester police Officer Michael Briggs two years ago.

Lynch said murdering a police officer "really strikes at the heart and fabric of our society" and the death penalty is appropriate "for such a heinous crime."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:12 PM


Hallelujah: From Alexandra Burke to Jeff Buckley - Listen to the top ten versions of the Leonard Cohen classic (Daily Mirror, 15/12/2008)

Somehow, one suspects even Leonard Cohen would go with Jeff Buckley:

The BBC did a whole radio program on the song

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Steinmeier Rejects Doubts about Agents in Iraq (Der Spiegel, 12/18/08)

Should the investigative committee find that Germany assisted the US invasion, it could seriously harm Steinmeier's credibility.

All of which helps explain Steinmeier's vehement rejection of the new claims that German intelligence played an important role in the Iraq War. Repeatedly, he called the investigative committee "naïve" for believing that the new US military comments weren't politically motivated. He called US comments "ludicrous" and "outlandish." He said that the military praise of German intelligence was "poisoned."

The comments Steinmeier was referring to, though, are difficult to brush aside. General Tommy Franks, who led "Operation Iraqi Freedom," told SPIEGEL that "it would be a huge mistake to underestimate the value of information provided by the Germans. These guys were invaluable."

General James Marks, who was in charge of pre-invasion reconnaissance, told SPIEGEL that the two German agents from the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, were "heroes" who had helped save American lives. He said "we trusted the Germans more than we trusted the CIA."

Marc Garlasco, who was head of High Value Targeting at the Pentagon during the Iraq invasion, told SPIEGEL that "it is rewriting history to deny that the BND helped us in US military and combat operations during the war." He also said "German (human intelligence) was far more robust and ever present than any of the garbage we got from CIA sources. The Germans were reliable, professional military people."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


Conservative icon Paul Weyrich dies (MIKE ALLEN, 12/18/08, Politico)

Paul M. Weyrich, 66, who helped found the Heritage Foundation and at one time was one of Washington's most visible conservatives, died this morning. At his death, he was president and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

Heritage announced this morning: "Paul M. Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation and the first president of The Heritage Foundation, died this morning around 1 a.m. He was 66 years old. Weyrich was a good friend to many of us at Heritage, a true leader and a man of unbending principle. He won Heritage’s prestigious Clare Boothe Luce Award in 2005. Weyrich will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, including son Steve, who currently works at Heritage."

Conservative activist Paul Weyrich dead at 66 (AP, 12/18/08)
Weyrich got his start as a reporter in Milwaukee, and came to Washington in 1967 as press secretary to Sen. Gordon Allott, R-Colo. Six year later, he founded the Heritage Foundation, and the next year the Free Congress Foundation. At a 1979 gathering of religious leaders, Weyrich talked of a "moral majority" in the country. The name stuck. Over the next decade, the group led by the Rev. Jerry Falwell energized the conservative movement as a political force.

I think that leaves C. Everett Koop as nearly the only surviving pivotal figure from the founding of the pro-life movement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:49 PM


Organizing the White House Is Obama's First Test: All presidents come to realize how much structure matters. (KARL ROVE, 12/18/08, Wall Street Journal)

Mr. Obama's new Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Tom Daschle, has never run anything but will have responsibility for one of the government's most complicated departments. And while Mr. Daschle may have lost his last campaign, he's lost none of his skill at internecine warfare. The wily Washington insider also grabbed the title of director of the White House Office of Health Reform. The creation of this new Daschle-led office clearly downgrades both the DPC and the National Economic Council, which have traditionally split White House action on health issues. The question for Mr. Obama is: Who will give him unvarnished, independent counsel on the recommendations of his HHS secretary?

Finally, the Obama team continues discussing how to use its campaign email list. According to press reports, the aim is to "place pressure on key legislators." But that raises problems beyond irritating representatives and senators who will resent the White House for making their lives more difficult. Ethics and election law expert Tom Josefiak of Holtzman Vogel PLLC says the Obama White House should reread the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel's opinions about The Anti-Lobbying Act. One in 1988 warned: "We caution against grassroots appeals, even by the President, that involve substantial expenditures of appropriated funds." This suggests putting the email list on White House servers is a problem.

And who will direct and pay the organizers that the transition team may hire to lead these White House lobbying efforts? Former FEC Chairman Michael Toner, now of Bryan Cave LLP, says running a new grass-roots advocacy group out of the White House could create serious election-law difficulties. The FEC has imposed large civil penalties on some advocacy groups for failing to register as political committees and abide by hard-dollar contribution limits. Also, any White House advocacy group runs the risk of being treated as a Democratic National Committee affiliate, triggering shared contribution limits, reporting requirements, and a prohibition on soft-money contributions. Given Mr. Obama's professed support of campaign finance reform, he could ill afford any of these problems.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 PM


A Tame Regulator for the SEC (Robert Kuttner, December 18, 2008, American Prospect)

President-elect Obama's appointment of Mary Schapiro to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission does not augur well for Obama's commitment to get at the roots of the financial crisis. Schapiro, who heads one of our broken financial system's main institutions of self-regulation, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, is known as a technically competent and politically moderate regulator who does not make waves. She served on the SEC beginning in 1988, having first been appointed by President Reagan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:39 PM


Big News in Washington, but Far Fewer Cover It (RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA, 12/18/08, NY Times)

Cox, the publisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Austin American-Statesman and 15 other papers, announced this month that its Washington bureau would simply close its doors on April 1.

Cox is not alone. Another major chain, Advance Publications, owner of The Star-Ledger of Newark, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland and other papers, just closed a Washington bureau that had more than 20 people.

Like a number of smaller papers, The San Diego Union-Tribune recently shuttered its bureau, which had four people at the end. Three years ago, the parent company, Copley Press, had an 11-person bureau in Washington, but it has since sold most of its papers.

Those that remain have cut back drastically on Washington coverage, eliminating hundreds of journalists’ jobs at a time when the federal government — and journalistic oversight of it — matters more than ever. Television and radio operations in Washington are shrinking, too, although not as sharply. many reporters does it take to not ask the Unicorn Rider any questions he doesn't feel like answering?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:36 PM


Rolling Monkeys (AppShopper)

"Rolling Monkeys" is a game to make a monkey evolve to man by rotating the wheel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Burger King releases meat-scented cologne (Daily Telegraph, 17 Dec 2008)

Just in time for the festive season, the company has released its very own men's body spray, Flame.

Not recommended for vegetarians, Flame is being promoted as "the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broilled meat".

If you just stand close enough to the grill you can come by the scent honestly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


The Strength of Compassionate Conservatism (Michael Gerson, December 17, 2008, Washington Post)

Far from being a vague, weepy tenderness, compassionate conservatism has a rigorous definition. It teaches that the pursuit of the common good is a moral goal. It asserts that this goal is best achieved through strong families, volunteer groups and communities that all deserve legal deference and respect. But it also accepts that when local institutions fail -- a child is betrayed by a consistently failing school, a state passes a Jim Crow law, a nation is helpless to tackle a treatable disease -- the federal government has a responsibility to intervene. Such interventions generally are most successful when they promote individual and community empowerment instead of centralizing bureaucratic control. But when that is not possible, it is fully appropriate to send in the Army to desegregate the schools of Little Rock.

Instead of being a "romantic cult," compassionate conservatism is often motivated by an ancient orthodoxy: that God is somehow found especially incarnate in the poor, suffering and weak. Instead of being a "sentiment," it is a conviction: that government can be a noble enterprise when it applies creative conservative and free-market ideas to the task of helping those in need.

This, of course, implies a critique of traditional or libertarian conservatism. Tradition often contains stores of hidden wisdom -- but in the absence of moral vision, it can become warped and oppressive. The free market is the best way to distribute goods and services -- but its triumph is not always identical to justice. Conservatism is essential -- and incomplete.

The moral commitments that underlie compassionate conservatism will not fade with the passing of a political figure, party or ideology, because these beliefs stand in eternal judgment of all ideologies, including conservatism. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot bury what cannot die.

...when you expose its lack of moral vision, or even hostility to morality. If nothing else you're forcing them to recognize their convergence with the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


You Like Us! But Not For Long (Matthew Kaminski, 12.17.08, Forbes)

Of course, Andrew Sullivan told us it would be so on the cover of last December's Atlantic--and subsequently told us, repeatedly, that he'd told us that "Obama matters" because the world will see us differently. He has plenty of company in the commentariat and among (admittedly) Democratic politicians. All together, they channel Gidget: "You like me, right now, you like me!" I imagine Sally Field (of 1985 Oscar ceremony fame) partakes fully in the Obama-as-America's-salvation-overseas mania, though I haven't bothered to ask.

One hates to spoil a good party, but here's a bet that's far safer these days than a U.S. Treasury bill: Even with Obama at the White House, they won't really like us any more than before.

It's not because America's not a special country, a City upon a Hill, from the Pilgrims to Obama, the Blagojevich couple and other American horrors notwithstanding. It's because it is. And as ever, our earnest assertion of our superior ontological uniqueness--not to mention its reality in and of itself--is exactly what always grated on the unfriendlies grouped together under the banner of anti-Americanism.

The past few years for sure were especially happy ones for the flag burners, intellectual bomb throwers and suicide attackers.

...after all, they expect to hate a straight white Christian, but imagine their psychic dislocation when the Unicorn Rider turns out to be nothing more than a more mealy-mouthed version of the same thing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


The Shia Religious State: The recently negotiated security agreement reveals who really has the power in the new Iraq. (Matthew Duss, December 17, 2008, American Prospect)

Shias make up more than 60 percent of Iraqis, and the new Iraqi order is, unsurprisingly, largely Shia-controlled. Significantly, the parties that dominate Iraqi Shia politics -- the Islamic Da'wa Party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), and the Sadrists -- are all Islamist parties. Each advocates a society based upon Islamic principles, and each seeks and takes guidance from a small number of ayatollahs in and out of Iraq. In October, as negotiations between the United States and Iraq over the status of forces agreement appeared close to a finish, prominent Shia ayatollahs demonstrated their influence on Iraq's politics -- and thus on the U.S. presence in Iraq -- when they issued fatwas (legal-religious decrees) regarding the disposition of the agreement.

Over the last two years, as Maliki's government has worked to consolidate its rule and increase its legitimacy, one of the semi-official procedures has been "the Najaf visit." When the government is considering matters of great import, Maliki or his representatives pay a call to a small apartment located on one of Najaf's dusty side streets, the home of Iraq's most prominent cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. After the ayatollah has been consulted, a brief press conference is usually held outside, where the substance of the meeting -- carrying Sistani's imprimatur -- is relayed to reporters.

This ritual was repeated throughout the negotiations over the security agreement, just as it has been since the earliest days of the U.S. occupation. In early July, as Bush administration officials were downplaying talk of timetables and withdrawals, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie used a post-consultation presser to insist that Iraq "would not accept any memorandum of understanding with [the U.S.] side that has no obvious and specific dates for the foreign troops' withdrawal from Iraq." The timing and location of the statement -- immediately after a meeting with Sistani, in front of Sistani's home -- made clear both to Iraqis and to the Bush administration that the ayatollah had, in effect, spoken.

In response to these religious edicts, the security agreement was resubmitted by Iraqi negotiators. Among the changes made was stronger language in regard to U.S. withdrawal -- including retitling the pact "agreement on withdrawal of U.S. forces" – as well as prohibition against using Iraq as a staging ground for attacks on Iraq's neighbors. The power of these ayatollahs over Iraq's politics, such that they could threaten to scuttle an agreement of significant import to the security of the United States, throws into stark relief what the Bush administration has helped to create in Iraq: a government dominated by Shia religious parties that take their guidance -- and derive their legitimacy -- from the opinions and edicts of a small handful of conservative Shia clerics.'s over 70% Shi'ite. We don't elect non-Christians, why should they elect seculars?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:06 AM


Charlie Louvin Sings Bloody Murder (JIM FUSILLI, 12/17/08, Wall Street Journal)

At age 81, Charlie Louvin brings his lengthy career full circle with his new album released on Tuesday. "Charlie Louvin Sings Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs" (Tompkins Square) includes three numbers he first recorded 52 years ago on "Tragic Songs of Life" (Gusto), his debut album with his brother Ira. The Louvin Brothers, members of the Grand Ole Opry, performed together until 1963; Ira was killed in a car crash two years later. (The duo were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.) Their music influenced Bob Dylan, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, among others, and what was to become country rock. [...]

"Murder Ballads" was inspired in part by the recent "People Take Warning! Murder Ballads and Disaster Songs 1913-1938" (Tompkins Square), a three-CD set of classic folk, country and blues tunes of death and destruction that served to spread bad news beyond existing media. He chose five songs from the set, including "Wreck of the Old 97," the horrifying story of a fatal 1903 train derailment in Virginia; "Down With the Old Canoe," about the sinking of the Titanic; and "The Little Grave in Georgia," inspired by the 1913 rape and murder of Mary Phagan. He also covers "Wreck on the Highway," a long-ago hit for Roy Acuff, which tells of a deadly alcohol-soaked car accident.

"When you start talking about whiskey and blood -- that's very neglectful," he said. "That's murder."

The conversation turned to "Katy Dear," "My Brother's Will" and "Mary of the Wild Moor," the three songs he revived from the album he cut with his brother in 1956. Though the harmonies are different from the ones he and Ira employed, they add a teardrop to the sad tales.

"I love harmonies with a passion," he said. "It's what I did with my brother for 23 years. I think a song that has singing should have harmony."

Though Ira's drinking and hot temper caused the act to break up, on stage Charlie Louvin still hears their voices joining together. "I can be at the microphone and when it's time for the harmony to come in I'll make room for him, knowing full well there's no one to my right I should scoot for."

Mr. Louvin's solo career is well into its fourth decade.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Gay man backed for Navy secretary (Stephen Dinan, December 18, 2008, Washington Times)

Some top retired military leaders and some Democrats in Congress are backing William White, chief operating officer of the Intrepid Museum Foundation, to be the next secretary of the Navy - a move that would put the first openly gay person at the top of one of the services.

If he's got a bottle or rum and a lash he's at least qualified to be an Admiralty Lord.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


O Come All Ye Faithful 'was a Catholic rallying call' (Daily Telegraph, 17 Dec 2008)

The popular carol O Come All Ye Faithful was a coded rallying call for Catholic supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie, an academic has claimed.

The "faithful" in the song referred to those who believed that the 18th century prince - who was the grandson of England's last Catholic monarch, James II - was the rightful heir.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Take Back Barack: It's time to reclaim the man we put in the White House (JEFF INGLIS + DEIRDRE FULTON, December 17, 2008, Boston Phoenix)

Let's be honest: we didn't vote for the Barack Obama his campaign advertised. We didn't vote for an African-American man, nor for a US senator from Illinois, nor for a father, a husband, an activist, or a young politician.

We voted for the Barack Obama we fantasized — the progressive miracle worker. We voted for Change.

Millions of us stood up and shouted, handed out fliers, talked to our neighbors, donated hard-earned money, and drove people to the polls for Change. We screamed, hugged, kissed, and cried when we learned Change had come to America. We knew Change wouldn't come overnight, that it would take time, but we were excited that we had elected a man who was open to Change, who said he wanted to consider real people's needs while in the Oval Office. We eagerly awaited the first hints of Change, as the president-elect's transition developed.

And now, we have reason to worry that Change is not coming to America after all.

It gets harder and harder to believe that the sole point of the Left's existence isn't just to amuse the rest of us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Rom-coms 'spoil your love life' (BBC, 12/17/08)

Watching romantic comedies can spoil your love life, a study by a university in Edinburgh has claimed.

Rom-coms have been blamed by relationship experts at Heriot Watt University for promoting unrealistic expectations when it comes to love.

They found fans of films such as Runaway Bride and Notting Hill often fail to communicate with their partner. [...]

The movies included You've Got Mail, Maid In Manhattan, The Wedding Planner and While You Were Sleeping.

...that any guy who would watch them probably isn't interested in love with women?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


Bush to Host Lunch for Obama, Previous Presidents (John D. McKinnon, 12/17/08, Wall Street Journal: Washington Wire)

President George W. Bush will hold a lunch for President-elect Barack Obama that also will be attended by the living former presidents – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush – the White House said late Wednesday.

The event is unusual in the recent history of transitions. It was described by one White House aide as “unique – something the president wanted to do.”

Martha Joynt Kumar, a transition scholar, says it’s “unprecedented for the former presidents to come together with the president-elect during a transition. It is a very creative idea and should be an interesting meeting as the four former presidents — two Democrats and two Republicans — represent a variety of experiences and strengths.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


China After 30 Years of Reform: Do Hu and Wen have Deng Xiaoping's wisdom? (Gordon G. Chang, 12.16.08,, Forbes)

The now-accepted narrative is that Deng argued for a startling transformation of Chinese society. We buy the story that he first debated with his fellow revolutionaries, then experimented and finally decreed change.

Yet, in reality, reform progressed more by disobedience than design. Initial failure to meet state-planning goals forced Deng to back away from command-economy tactics and permit individual initiative. Peasants on large collective farms, for example, were permitted to form "work groups" to tend designated plots. Central government policies specifically prohibited these groupings from including just one family. But families started to look after their own plots--and local officials pretended not to notice.

Urban subterfuge followed rural subterfuge. Deng's Beijing strictly prohibited private industry, but entrepreneurs proceeded by operating their businesses as "red hat" collectives and enterprises--private companies operating under the flag of state ownership. Deng's reforms succeeded because the Chinese people disobeyed Deng's rules.

Such defiance would have been unthinkable in the Maoist years. Deng's great contribution, therefore, is not so much that he planned China's "economic miracle" but that he let it happen. The economy during the last three decades has grown at an average annual rate of 9.8% largely because peasants, workers and frustrated bureaucrats made themselves into entrepreneurs and pushed their country forward. By ignoring central government decrees, they built private businesses now accounting for as much as half of the Chinese economy. [...]

The growth we see today is largely the payoff from earlier reforms. Growth tomorrow requires reform today. China's current political system, however, cannot sustain the pace of necessary economic restructuring.

The Party apparently thinks--probably correctly--that further economic reform would threaten the country's authoritarian system, so the Party will not sponsor much more change.

Their only good option is to let reform from the ground up continue while they pretend to be in charge.

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December 17, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 PM


Obama to choose Illinois Rep. Ray LaHood as transportation secretary (LA Times, December 18, 2008)

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) as his transportation secretary, a key role in an administration that has signaled plans for an ambitious public works program, Democratic and Republican officials said Wednesday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


Berkeley Code Pink activists support Iraq shoe-throwing reporter (Contra Costa Times, 12/17/2008)

Anti-war activists from the group Code Pink gathered at a Marine recruiting station in Berkeley this morning to show solidarity with an Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush on Sunday.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 PM


Free-Trader Top Candidate for Trade Rep? (Kevin Vance, December 17, 2008, Daily Standard)

The other leading candidate is rumored to be former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk. Kirk was elected Dallas's first black mayor in 1995 and earned a reputation for being pro-business and pro-trade.

At his mayoral inauguration, Kirk said he wanted Dallas to become "the capital city of NAFTA and the Americas." He often extolled the virtues of NAFTA and in 1996 he expressed hope that Chile would join the agreement.

In 2000, at an event in support of China's membership in the World Trade Organization, Kirk told the Dallas Morning News, "If any state stands up for trade, it should be the state of Texas because of all the success we've enjoyed with NAFTA."

More Clintonian every day.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 PM


Dude, Where's My Bacon Cheeseburger?: Low-carb dieters lose brain function as well as poundage (Taylor Hengen, 12.16.2008 , Popular Science)

A new Tufts study tellingly titled "The popular low-carb, no-carb diets have the strongest potential for negative impact on thinking and cognition” recently revealed just that; within just a few weeks, those who drastically restrict their carbohydrate intakes will suffer from decreased memory function and impaired reaction time.

There’s a good reason for this. The brain mainly uses glucose for energy, but is unable to store this type of sugar. The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose and delivers it to the brain via the bloodstream. Depriving the body of carbohydrates deprives the brain of energy, and, voila: you’re repeating third grade, or at least repeatedly asking a question you first posed just ten minutes ago.

...if you had any brain function to begin with would you be extreme dieting?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


OPEC to cut oil output, but price drops (Richard C. Gross, 12/17/08, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

OPEC announced Wednesday that it will cut oil production by a record 2.2 million barrels a day beginning Jan. 1 in hopes of boosting prices, but the cost of oil plunged immediately to its lowest level in more than four years.

Traders on the New York Mercantile Exchange seemed unfazed by the announcement, which had been expected, as U.S. crude oil prices for January delivery dropped $3.54 to $40.06 a barrel.

It marked the lowest price since July 13, 2004, when the cost of oil was $39.44 a barrel.

...when the price falls even on theoretically inflationary news.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 PM


Gay leaders furious with Obama (BEN SMITH & NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, 12/17/08, Politico)

Barack Obama’s choice of a prominent evangelical minister to perform the invocation at his inauguration is a conciliatory gesture toward social conservatives who opposed him in November, but it is drawing fierce challenges from a gay rights movement that – in the wake of a gay marriage ban in California – is looking for a fight.

Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, opposes abortion rights but has taken more liberal stances on the government role in fighting poverty, and backed away from other evangelicals’ staunch support for economic conservatism. But it’s his support for the California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that drew the most heated criticism from Democrats Wednesday.

They couldn't even carry California and they expect to be pandered to?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM

CAN WE GET A HALLELUJAH! (via Ted Welter):

Season 2 Online Premiere - Flight of the Conchords (US Only) - watch more funny videos

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:18 PM


Declassified: the Secret Soviet Documents of a Leading CIA Spy: Polish Col. Ryszard Kuklinski passed thousands of pages of Soviet military documents to the West (Alex Kingsbury, December 16, 2008, US News)

Polish Army Col. Ryszard Kuklinski was one of the most successful CIA spies of the Cold War, and his exploits read like a manual for clandestine tradecraft.

He and his CIA handlers walked Warsaw's cobbled streets searching for rendezvous spots while dodging the secret police. He used a secret CIA-designed camera disguised as a cigarette lighter to photograph precious military secrets. And after nearly a decade of spying, Kuklinski and his family fled, ducking under the Iron Curtain while hidden beneath blankets in the back seat of a car with a CIA officer at the wheel.

On the anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland, which marked the end of his spying career, the CIA declassified 82 documents related to his work, totaling some 1,000 pages. Kuklinski, who died in 2004, never asked for money in exchange for the work he'd done, although he was relocated to Florida under government protection and an assumed name after fleeing Warsaw.

"His reports provided a deep understanding of the principal national security challenge we faced, and reduced the chance for miscalculation. In that sense, he clearly saved lives," CIA Director Michael Hayden told an intelligence symposium coinciding with the release of the documents. "We often compare intelligence analysis to putting together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture to go by, and with a lot of pieces missing. Colonel Kuklinski didn't just give us a piece or two—he gave us the picture itself." [...]

[T]he record shows that the colonel believed the only way to avoid Armageddon was to create a stalemate, even if that meant compromising his own government. Not that this was his initial choice. The CIA officers who initially met Kuklinski found a man offering to lead his fellow officers in a revolt, should a situation demand it. Instead, Langley convinced Kuklinski that information-sharing was the most effective means of avoiding war.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Holder omitted Blagojevich link from questionnaire: Announced as a ‘special investigator to the Illinois Gaming Board’ in 2004 (CHRIS FUSCO, 12/17/08,

Before Eric Holder was President-elect Barack Obama's choice to be attorney general, he was Gov. Blagojevich's pick to sort out a mess involving Illinois' long-dormant casino license.

Blagojevich and Holder appeared together at a March 24, 2004, news conference to announce Holder's role as "special investigator to the Illinois Gaming Board" -- a post that was to pay Holder and his Washington, D.C. law firm up to $300,000.

Holder, however, omitted that event from his 47-page response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire made public this week -- an oversight he plans to correct after a Chicago Sun-Times inquiry, Obama's transition team indicated late Tuesday. [...]

The March 2004 Chicago news conference where Holder and Blagojevich spoke was widely covered because of a controversial 4-1 Gaming Board vote earlier that month to allow a casino to be built in Rosemont. That vote defied the recommendation of the board's staff, which had raised concerns about alleged organized-crime links to the Rosemont casino's developer.

Besides that, the Gaming Board's staff had been concerned that the governor had named his close friend and fund-raiser, Christopher G. Kelly, as a "special government agent" to be involved in official state negotiations about the casino. Kelly, the Sun-Times later learned, was a business partner of Tony Rezko, another Blagojevich fund-raiser who had held an option to lease a hotel site next to the proposed casino site in Rosemont.

Rezko, also a former Obama fund-raiser, and Kelly both have denied any wrongdoing related to the casino, though both have been charged in separate, unrelated criminal cases since 2004.

The Sun-Times disclosed Rezko's interest in the Rosemont hotel site about three weeks before the news conference announcing Holder would be involved in the casino case. Holder was not aware of the story when he opted to get involved, a source said.

In an interview Tuesday, the Gaming Board's chief investigator in 2004 said the timing of Blagojevich's appointment of Holder raised the staff's suspicions.

"The concern was Holder had a bias to do whatever Blagojevich wanted, which was to give the casino to Rosemont," said Jim Wagner, who was a top Chicago FBI agent before he joined the Gaming Board, from which he retired in December 2005. "We all believed the only reason Holder was coming in was to fashion an investigation that would manipulate the casino into Rosemont."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


'CHE' IT AIN'T SO (Kyle Smith, 12/12/08, NY Post)

MEET Che Guevara. Just think of him as Jesus plus Abraham Lincoln with a touch of Moses and Dr. Doug Ross. After 4½ hours of watching Dr. Ernesto "Che" Guevara heal the sick, teach the illiterate, daze the women, execute the lawless, defeat the corrupt, uplift the peasantry and spew the sound bite, I was convinced there would be a scene in which he turned water to Bacardi.

You can't spell cliché without "Che." And as I endured this mad dream directed - or perhaps committed - by Steven Soderbergh, I wondered where I'd seen it all before. The booted stomping through the greensward, the jungly target shooting? It's a remake of Woody Allen's "Bananas," right? Minus punch lines - or perhaps with them. "We are in a difficult situation," Che observes, at a point when his army is surrounded and forced to eat its horses.

The story of the Argentine doctor Ernesto "Che" Guevara is played with much broody self-importance by Benicio Del Toro. It will be shown in two parts after its one-week opening run. That way, on consecutive evenings, it can bore everyone but activist grad students. [...]

This isn't a movie so much as a siege. When the screen flashed "Day 302," I thought it was updating me on how long I had spent in the theater without food, water or access to the Red Cross.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


Pyramid Schemes Are as American as Apple Pie: How President Grant was taken by the Madoff of his day. (JOHN STEELE GORDON, 12/17/08, Wall Street Journal)

Had Ward been a talented speculator he might have made it work. But he was utterly incompetent. By April, 1884, he was desperate. He had borrowed so much money from Marine National Bank that it would fail along with Grant and Ward, possibly setting off a major panic on the Street. So, ever the con man, he told Grant that it was the Marine National Bank that was in trouble and needed $150,000 to avoid failure, possibly bringing down Grant and Ward with it.

Grant went to see William H. Vanderbilt, the richest man in the world, on the evening of May 5. Vanderbilt, anything but naive and never tactful, told Grant that "What I've heard about that firm would not justify me in lending it a dime." But Vanderbilt let him have the money, saying "to you -- to General Grant -- I'm making this loan." He wrote out a check for $150,000.

Grant returned home and turned it over to a waiting Ferdinand Ward. When Grant went downtown the next morning his son told him that Ward -- and the money -- had vanished and that both Marine National and their own firm were bankrupt. Grant spent several hours alone in his office and when he left he passed through the crowd that had gathered outside, without speaking. Everyone in the crowd removed their hats as a sign of respect.

Ward was soon caught and thrown into the Ludlow Street Jail. He spent 10 years in prison for grand larceny. But there was no saving Grant and Ward, which was found to have assets of $67,174 and liabilities of $16,792,640. By June, Grant had only about $200 in cash to his name. The failure, of course, was front-page news and people began sending him checks spontaneously, which he had no option but to accept. One man added a note to his check, "On account of my share for services ending in April, 1865."

Every cloud, of course, has a silver lining, including the failure of Grant and Ward and the embarrassment of a national hero. Desperate to provide for his family, Grant finally agreed to write his memoirs, something he had stoutly resisted for nearly 20 years, thinking he couldn't write. Mark Twain's publishing firm gave him an advance of $25,000 -- a huge sum for that time. Soon after he began work, Grant learned that he had throat cancer and he hurried to finish the book so as not to leave his family destitute. He died three days after he completed the manuscript.

The book was a titanic success, selling over 300,000 copies and earning Grant's heirs half a million in royalties. But the book was more than just a best seller. It was a masterpiece. With his honesty and simple, forthright style, Grant created the finest work of military history of the 19th century. Even today, most historians and literary critics regard Grant's memoirs as equaled in the genre only by Caesar's "Commentaries."

One can only hope that something even half as good and significant can come out of the peculations of Bernard Madoff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Top donors will mingle with W.H. staff (LISA LERER, 12/16/08, Politico)

President-elect Barack Obama’s team is holding fundraisers to raise money for its transition efforts, with the star attractions its top incoming White House staff.

A $250 ticket to a Wednesday fundraiser hosted by Young Lawyers for Obama gives supporters the opportunity to mingle with Chris Lu, the transition’s executive director who will be the new White House Cabinet secretary; and Lisa Brown, the transition’s co-director of agency review who will be the White House staff secretary.

For $2,500, backers also get admission to a Jan. 6 fundraiser with campaign manager David Plouffe. Lu and Brown, who “will share their thoughts on the transition and what we can expect when President-Elect Obama is sworn in,” according to an e-mail solicitation.

The fundraisers are the latest in a spate of efforts by Obama’s team to raise money for transition efforts and what’s likely to be the most expensive inauguration in history.

What made Rod Blagojevich think it was okay to peddle influence?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Victory for 'metric martyrs' as Britain wins EU battle to keep pints and miles (Daily Mail, 16th December 2008)

After years of wrangling with Brussels, Britain finally won its battle to save pints and miles today.

The campaign to force the UK to switch to metric was ended when MEPs agreed a motion - without a vote - confirming that imperial measures are safe.

It ratifies a decision by the European Commission last year that trying to persuade the UK to embrace litres and kilometres was a lost cause.

'tis well Mrs. T lived to see this glorious day.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


Anonymous 4 spins gorgeous sounds from old melodies (Peter Dobrin, 12/16/08, Philadelphia Inquirer)

For believers, the miracle of Jesus may have been the overt message of Anonymous 4 Friday night in its annual Christmas pilgrimage to St. Mark's Church on Locust Street. But for those of us for whom music is the religion, the bigger miracle is the group itself, which practices a kind of aesthetic bliss and technical perfection all the more dear in a deeply flawed world.

Trafficking mostly in music derived from ancient sources, the a cappella quartet has sold more than 1.5 million albums in its two-plus decades. If that seems unlikely, put it down to the group's connection with a number of overlapping constituencies - not just the musical and religious, but perhaps also a large group of waking aesthetes for whom meditative, soaring vocal sonorities are a great comfort. Either that, or the number of music historians specializing in medieval manuscripts has been vastly undercounted.

Anonymous 4's gifts are even more starkly apparent in concert. Hosted by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Marsha Genensky, Jacqueline Horner, Susan Hellauer and Ruth Cunningham took turns on the high part or in solos. Repertoire for this program, called "The Cherry Tree," named for the miracle ballad of Joseph and Mary, is headed for a CD to be released in 2009. In works from the 15th century to traditional British-American tunes, the solo work underlined the best of all possible reasons for the group's homogeneity. Turns out they're not naturally like-voiced at all. Each has a distinct tone and style in solo work, so the fact that they sound so much like one another in ensemble is the conscious result of skill and effort work.

...allow us to go out on a limb and say that the birth of the Messiah was a bit bigger miracle than a concert, no matter how good.

-AUDIO: Anonymous 4 (Live at NPR, November 17, 2005)
-AUDIO: Anonymous 4 (St. Paul Sunday, MPR)
-AUDIO: Anonymous 4 Thanksgiving (NPR)

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December 16, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 PM


Rahm's calls on tape (MICHAEL SNEED, 12/16/08, Chicago Sun-Times)

Sneed hears rumbles President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is reportedly on 21 different taped conversations by the feds -- dealing with his boss' vacant Senate seat!

He should be trying to influence the pick, as his boss ought simply acknowledge.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:48 PM


Dems May Have Tougher Time Holding Colorado Seat without Salazar (Greg Giroux, 12/16/08, CQ)

President-Elect Barack Obama ’s decision to name Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado as his Interior Secretary means that Democrats may have more of a fight to hang on to the seat than if Salazar ran for re-election in 2010.

Salazar would have been decisively favored to win in a state that has trended Democratic in recent elections.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Russian Army Not Fit For Modern War - Top General: Foreign analysts and critics at home have expressed doubts Russia will be able to defeat a stronger force than Georgia. (Javno, 12/16/08)

he conflict exposed a lack of modern equipment, poor communications and other shortcomings in Moscow's Soviet-era war machine, Nikolai Makarov, chief of the general staff, said.

"To find a lieutenant-colonel, colonel or general able to lead troops with a sure hand, you had to chase down officers one by one throughout the armed forces, because those career commanders in charge of 'paper regiments and divisions' just could not resolve the tasks set," Makarov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. "When they were given personnel and equipment, they simply lost their heads, while some even refused to fulfil the given tasks," Makarov told Russia's Academy of Military Sciences.

"So I have a question: 'Do we need such officers'?"

Foreign analysts and critics at home have expressed doubts Russia will be able to defeat a stronger force than Georgia, while the Defence Ministry unveiled a military reform plan aimed at creating a smaller, but better equipped and mobile army.

Russia's army inherited a largely Soviet-era military structure, in which many units are run mainly or exclusively by officers, existing mostly on paper and ready to be mobilised with reservists in case of a large-scale war.

Makarov said 83 percent of today's Russian army were numerically incomplete and only 17 percent were combat-ready.

"Of those 150 regiments in our air forces, there are only five ones permanently combat-ready and capable of fulfilling all tasks set, albeit with limited numbers -- operating just 24 aircraft instead of 36," he said.

Makarov said a similar gloomy picture was seen in the navy, where "one half of warships stands idle at anchor".

You pretty much have to be a Realist to be scared of Russia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:17 PM


Times Tough for Energy Overhaul: Struggling Economy, Falling Oil Prices Complicate Obama Team's Agenda (NEIL KING JR. and STEPHEN POWER, 12/12/08, Wall Street Journal)

But the next administration will face a range of obstacles on the energy front, from plummeting oil prices and a declining economy to potential rifts among Mr. Obama's own advisers.

In a sign of one major internal difference, Mr. Chu has called for gradually ramping up gasoline taxes over 15 years to coax consumers into buying more-efficient cars and living in neighborhoods closer to work.

"Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe," Mr. Chu, who directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal in September.

But Mr. Obama has dismissed the idea of boosting the federal gasoline tax, a move energy experts say could be the single most effective step to promote alternative energies and temper demand. Mr. Obama said Sunday that a heightened gas tax would be a "mistake" because it would put "additional burdens on American families right now."

Workers can avoid oil taxes, but not income taxes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:14 PM


For Alternative Energy's Sake--Keep Oil Prices High: Tax oil if prices drop? No way! Yet if we don't, we can say good-bye to renewable energy (Steven Kyle, 12/15/08, Scientific American)

Today renewable technologies such as wind and solar are close to being competitive with fossil fuels. But we can say good-bye to that prospect if oil prices decline to $60 to $70 a barrel, which could easily happen in a recession, as we witnessed in October. Two years of lower prices can turn hybrid cars into a bad financial proposition for consumers, and green technology start-up companies could go bankrupt as demand for their goods dries up. Even a temporary decrease in petroleum prices would undermine the long-term development of the alternatives we all know we need.

Happily, there is a solution. If investors could rely on a certain lower limit to oil prices, they would have a fixed goal to work toward for making alternatives cost-effective. Knowing the goal removes a large element of risk for entrepreneurs and their financiers, providing a huge incentive to continue development.

A lower limit is easy to accomplish: the federal government has to impose a variable levy on oil to guarantee a floor price.

Actually, if they were competitive we wouldn't need to tax gas to make it unattractive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:08 PM


A Champion of Wall Street Reaps Benefits (ERIC LIPTON and RAYMOND HERNANDEZ, 12/15/08, NY Times)

As the financial crisis jolted the nation in September, Senator Charles E. Schumer was consumed. He traded telephone calls with bankers, then became one of the first officials to promote a Wall Street bailout. He spent hours in closed-door briefings and a weekend helping Congressional leaders nail down details of the $700 billion rescue package.

The next day, Mr. Schumer appeared at a breakfast fund-raiser in Midtown Manhattan for Senate Democrats. Addressing Henry R. Kravis, the buyout billionaire, and about 20 other finance industry executives, he warned that a bailout would be a hard sell on Capitol Hill. Then he offered some reassurance: The businessmen could count on the Democrats to help steer the nation through the financial turmoil.

“We are not going to be a bunch of crazy, anti-business liberals,” one executive said, summarizing Mr. Schumer’s remarks. “We are going to be effective, moderate advocates for sound economic policies, good responsible stewards you can trust.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


Rail Runner trains beat snowy I-25 (KRQE, 12/15/08)

Drivers found it rough going on Interstate 25 today, but the hundreds of passengers testing the new Rail Runner Express route to Santa Fe didn't give a hoot about the highway.

About 800 people boarded the train from Bernalillo to Santa Fe. Most of them were dignitaries who wanted to see something that's been a dream for so long become reality.

A packed Rail Runner made history, for the first time, taking passengers to Santa Fe. Its debut run was a huge hit.

"It's wonderful," a passenger named Ruth said. "I'm really excited."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


Green Old Party What would a conservative environmentalist agenda look like? (Christopher Beam, Nov. 17, 2008, Slate)

What must be doubly frustrating to Republicans is that their policies can be pretty green, too. There's actually plenty of overlap between the interests of conservatives and environmentally conscious Americans. What follows is a list of a few policies the GOP might emphasize in order to maximize its climate-change cred: [...]

Don't cap, don't trade—tax. No joke. John McCain advocated a cap-and-trade system on the campaign trail—even if he didn't fully understand it. But most Republican aren't likely to embrace it any time soon. Instead, Frum proposes taxing energy and using all the revenue to eliminate other taxes. Republicans might retch at the idea of a gas tax, but not if it means killing the corporate and capital gains taxes. Plus, once Republicans see the horror show that is cap and trade under Obama, says Frum, they'll come around. Another enviro-friendly Frum proposal: Build more toll roads. That way, there's less incentive to drive and more money to stimulate business.

A principled conservative environmentalism would allow the GOP to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:21 PM


Darwin's Living Legacy--Evolutionary Theory 150 Years Later: A Victorian amateur undertook a lifetime pursuit of slow, meticulous observation and thought about the natural world, producing a theory 150 years ago that still drives the contemporary scientific agenda (Gary Stix, December 15, 2008, Scientific American Magazine)

When the 26-year-old Charles Darwin sailed into the Galápagos Islands in 1835 onboard the HMS Beagle, he took little notice of a collection of birds that are now intimately associated with his name. The naturalist, in fact, misclassified as grosbeaks some of the birds that are now known as Darwin’s finches. After Darwin returned to England, ornithologist and artist John Gould began to make illustrations of a group of preserved bird specimens brought back in the Beagle’s hold, and the artist recognized them all to be different species of finches.

From Gould’s work, Darwin, the self-taught naturalist, came to understand how the finches’ beak size must have changed over the generations to accommodate differences in the size of seeds or insects consumed on the various islands. “Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends,” he noted in The Voyage of The Beagle, published after his return in 1839.

Twenty years later Darwin would translate his understanding of finch adaptation to conditions on different islands into a fully formed theory of evolution, one emphasizing the power of natural selection to ensure that more favorable traits endure in successive generations. Darwin’s theory, core features of which have withstood critical scrutiny from scientific and religious critics, constituted only the starting point for an endlessly rich set of research questions that continue to inspire present-day scientists. Biologists are still seeking experimental results that address how natural selection proceeds at the molecular level—and how it affects the development of new species.

Darwin’s famed finches play a continuing role in providing answers. The scientist had assumed that evolution proceeded slowly, over “the lapse of ages,” a pace imperceptible to the short lifetime of human observers. Instead the finches have turned into ideal research subjects for studying evolution in real time because they breed relatively rapidly, are isolated on different islands and rarely migrate.

Since the 1970s evolutionary biologists Peter R. Grant and B. Rosemary Grant of Princeton University have used the Galápagos as a giant laboratory to observe more than 20,000 finches and have shown conclusively how average beak and body size changes in a new generation as El Niños come and go, shifting climate from wet to arid. They have also been able to chronicle possible examples of new species that are starting to emerge.

The Grants are just one among many groups that have embarked on missions to witness evolution in action, exemplars of how evolution can at times move in frenzied bursts measured in years, not eons, contradicting Darwin’s characterization of a slow-and-steady progression. These studies focus on the cichlid fish of the African Great Lakes, Alaskan sticklebacks, and the Eleutherodactylus frogs of Central and South America and the Caribbean, among others.

Ruminations on evolution—often musings on how only the fittest prevail—carry an ancient pedigree, predating even Socrates. The 18th and 19th centuries produced fertile speculations about how life had evolved, including ideas forwarded by Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who lived between 1731 and 1802.

Darwinian evolution was the first capable of withstanding rigorous tests of scientific scrutiny in both the 19th century and beyond. Today investigators, equipped with sophisticated cameras, computers and DNA-sampling tools thoroughly alien to the cargo hold of the Beagle, demonstrate the continued vitality of Darwin’s work. The naturalist’s relevance to basic science and practical pursuits—from biotechnology to forensic science—is the reason for this year’s worldwide celebration of the bicentennial of his birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of his masterwork, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.

Darwin’s theory represents a foundational pillar of modern science that stands alongside relativity, quantum mechanics and other vital support structures. Just as Copernicus cast the earth out from the center of the universe, the Darwinian universe displaced humans as the epicenter of the natural world. Natural selection accounts for what evolutionary biologist Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California, Irvine, has called “design without a designer,” a term that parries the still vigorous efforts by some theologians to slight the theory of evolution.

Theologians work can largely be considered to be done given that the foremost defender of Darwinism is himself a Designist:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:08 PM


Duncan Is Obama's Choice for Education Secretary (JOHN HECHINGER and LAURA MECKLER, 12/16/08, Wall Street Journal)

Mr. Duncan has straddled two competing factions of the education community: the teachers unions, who push for more funding and smaller classes, and a movement that favors accountability and free-market-style incentives and looks to hold schools and teachers more accountable for student performance. [...]

Advocates of the law, including both Democrats and Republicans, believe NCLB's testing requirements provides an important way to hold schools accountable for students' achievement. But critics, including teacher's unions, some education experts and school systems, have complained bitterly about the law's frequent testing and lack of funding.

Many education analysts have spoken of a split among Mr. Obama's presidential advisers, which were seen to represent various factions in the debate over education reform. One of his advisers widely seen as a potential choice for Education secretary, Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor, has been sympathetic to the complaints about No Child Left Behind. Another person believed to be a contender, Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City schools has assigned grades to various schools and tangled more with education unions.

Tom Loveless, an education expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, called Mr. Duncan a "safe choice. It reconciles the disagreements within the Democratic Party."

Monday night, Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, which represents Chicago teachers, declined to comment on the appointment prior to the official announcement, but said: "As we have said in the past, we have a high opinion of Arne Duncan."

Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that advocated for Mr. Duncan to be selected as Education secretary, said he had been a proponent of charter schools, or public schools operated by outside organizations, as well as merit pay for teachers -- both controversial topics among teachers' unions.

Mayor Daley is as Third Way as any post-Clinton Democrat, especially on Education, so this pick, though cautious, is as good as could be hoped from a shallow bench.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:06 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


North Pole Express puts holiday spirit back on track (Molly Snyder Edler, 12/16/08,

For the third year in a row, Cousins Subs went beyond sandwich stacking for the holidays.

On Nov. 1, the Wisconsin-based company launched an in-store contest, inviting kids ages 2 to 8 years old, to write letters to Santa and turn them in at participating Cousins restaurants or online. Cousins received more than 3,000 letters, and earlier this month randomly chose 25 letters. The lucky letter writers – along with one guardian -– were invited to take a journey on a decorated Amtrak train to the "North Pole."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


Bankruptcy Is the Perfect Remedy for Detroit: Washington hates the idea because it would lose leverage. (TODD J. ZYWICKI, 12/16/08, Wall Street Journal)

[C]onsider that the fundamental question to ask of any firm facing bankruptcy is whether it is "economically failed" or simply "financially failed."

If a typewriter manufacturer were to file for bankruptcy today it likely would be considered an economically failed enterprise. The market for typewriters is small and shrinking, and the manufacturer's financial, physical and human capital would probably be better redeployed elsewhere, such as making computers.

A financially failed enterprise, on the other hand, is worth more alive than dead. Chapter 11 exists to allow it to continue in business while reorganizing. Reorganization arose in the late 19th century when creditors of railroads unable to meet their debt obligations threatened to tear up their tracks, melt them down, and sell the steel as scrap. But innovative judges, lawyers and businessmen recognized that creditors would collect more if they all agreed to reduce their claims and keep the railroads running and producing revenues to pay them off. The same logic animates Chapter 11 today.

General Motors looks like a financially failed rather than an economically failed enterprise -- in need of reorganization not liquidation. It needs to shed labor contracts, retirement contracts, and modernize its distribution systems by closing many dealerships. This will give rise to many current and future liabilities that may be worked out in bankruptcy. It may need new management as well. Bankruptcy provides an opportunity to do all that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:47 AM


The Return of Chest Hair (Jessi Klein, 12/16/08, The Daily Beast)

Ever since Adam caught Eve checking out that snake, men have spent way too much time worrying about the appearance of their manhood. What’s more important, the size of the wave or the motion of the ocean? Well, I’m here to make a bunch of men more neurotic by telling you the answer is none of the above. As far as I’m concerned, the real signifier of masculinity lies in another area entirely: chest hair. And it’s making a comeback.

After many years of drought, during which the only reliable source of manly tuft seemed to be the Baldwin brothers, chest hair has returned with a vengeance as the sign of sex appeal and virility.

...but you aren't a man until your pelt blankets your spine.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:41 AM


Cheney Lauds Obama's National Security Team (AP, 12/16/08)

Vice President Dick Cheney is calling President-elect Barack Obama's national security lineup "a pretty good team." [...]

"I must say, I think it's a pretty good team," Cheney said of Obama's national security choices, in a segment of the interview broadcast Tuesday on Good Morning America.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 AM


Amtrak to seek high-speed train (Tom Ramstack, December 15, 2008, Washington Times)

Congressional transportation leaders plan to announce today that the federal government is seeking contractors to build a new $30 billion to $40 billion high-speed rail line between Washington and New York that would be used exclusively by passenger trains.

Amtrak's current Northeast Corridor rail line is shared with freight and commuter trains, which can significantly increase the length of time it takes for passengers to arrive at their destinations.

The rail line for which Congress seeks contractors is the first of a series of nationwide high-speed passenger rail lines the government is considering funding, according to a congressional aide. [...]

Others would run the length of California and Florida, spread throughout the Midwest with a hub in Chicago, connect Portland, Ore., with Seattle, and run between major cities in Texas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


How to Burst a Bubble (Richard Cohen, December 16, 2008, Washington Post)

Obama has often mentioned The Bubble. "This is a problem," he told ABC's Barbara Walters last month. "One of the things that I'm going to have to work through is how to break through the isolation -- the bubble that exists around the president."

Inside The Bubble, as Obama well knows, lurks a further danger: groupthink. Obama has used this Orwellian word himself. "One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in groupthink, and everybody agrees with everything and there's no discussion and there are no dissenting views," he said this month.

A Beltway pundit warning others about the danger of groupthink and being isolated from the rest of the country is just priceless.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM


Greens worry Obama will drop their cause (Valerie Richardson, December 16, 2008, Washington Times)

Environmentalists fear their top priority - a national climate-change policy - will be sidetracked in Congress by concerns over the slumping economy.

Odd how the economic problems haven't slowed Mr. Obama's fund-raising but threatens the enviros' agenda, eh?

December 15, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM

WHAT STRIKES THE AMERICAN VIEWER MOST FORCEFULLY...: how little pride these guys have:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


Shipowners arm themselves to ward off pirates (Tim Brooks, December 16. 2008, The National)

Major shipping and oil companies are arming staff and employing professional security firms to combat Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden. [...]

The plans were discussed yesterday at the Maritime Piracy Seminar at the Seatrade Exhibition in Dubai. Prior to the meeting, Mohammad Souri, the chairman of the National Iranian Tanker Company, said the presence of professional, armed security on board his vessels was key to combating the piracy threat. He said that five of his ships had been pursued by pirates.

“The industry is grateful for the support the EU has offered. If they can provide sufficient protection then the situation will be solved but we are negotiating terms to provide our own security on board."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


The Real Story Behind the Rushed Blagojevich Bust: How the Feds Are Frustrated by Losing (Maybe) Half of Their Case (Cam Simpson, 12/15/08, Wall Street Journal)

Conventional wisdom holds that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald ordered the FBI to arrest Rod Blagojevich before sunrise Tuesday in order to stop a crime from being committed. That would have been the sale of the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

But the opposite is true: Members of Fitzgerald’s team are livid the scheme didn’t advance, at least for a little longer, according to some people close to Fitzgerald’s office. Why? Because had the plot unfolded, they might have had an opportunity most feds can only dream of: A chance to catch the sale of a Senate seat on tape, including the sellers and the buyers.

The precise timing of Tuesday’s dramatic, pre-dawn arrest was not dictated by Fitzgerald, nor was it dictated by the pace of Blagojevich’s alleged “crime spree.” It was dictated by the Chicago Tribune, according to people close to the investigation and a careful reading of the FBI’s affidavit in the case.

At Fitzgerald’s request, the paper had been holding back a story since October detailing how a confidante of Blagojevich was cooperating with his office.

Gerould Kern, the Tribune’s editor, said in a statement last week that these requests are granted in what he called isolated instances. “In each case, we strive to make the right decision as reporters and as citizens,” he said.

But editors decided to publish the story on Friday, Dec. 5, ending the Tribune’s own cooperation deal with the prosecutor.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:21 PM


Charter Schools Make Gains On Tests : Headway by Poor Children Linked To Rigorous Methods, Ample Funds (Dan Keating and Theola Labbé-DeBose, 12/15/08, Washington Post)

Students in the District's charter schools have opened a solid academic lead over those in its traditional public schools, adding momentum to a movement that is recasting public education in the city.

The gains show up on national standardized tests and the city's own tests in reading and math, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. Charters have been particularly successful with low-income children, who make up two-thirds of D.C. public school students.

A dozen years after it was created by Congress, the city's charter system has taken shape as a fast-growing network of schools, whose ability to tap into private donors, bankers and developers has made it possible to fund impressive facilities, expand programs and reduce class sizes.

With freedom to experiment, the independent, nonprofit charters have emphasized strategies known to help poor children learn -- longer school days, summer and Saturday classes, parent involvement and a cohesive, disciplined culture among staff members and students.

It's one of the odd quirks of politics that what's bad for the unions is good for poor black children.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


-VIDEO: Immigration: Is Demography Destiny (Ben Wattenberg, ThinkTank)

Employers look to Obama to deliver on immigration promise (Susan Ferriss, 12/15/08,

Once a promised middle class recovery is under way, Full Belly co-owner Judith Redmond said, business owners hope Obama will turn to immigration overhaul, as he also promised. It's a lightning rod issue, but they contend the problem needs to be confronted if the California and the U.S. economies are to have enough legal workers to meet long-term needs.

"It's about recognizing that we need this work force. We're not going to make this all go away," Redmond said.

She employs about 50 year-round, mostly Mexican workers and is president of the Davis-based Community Alliance with Family Farmers.

Lori Wolf, a Modesto landscaper, added that immigration change "is just not something that can be swept under the rug again. It's very important to a lot of people, especially in California."

Jim Abram, president of the California Hotel and Lodging Association in Sacramento, said his members also are eager for bipartisan talk on immigration.

"This is really a critical, critical issue – to have a stable work force that's not always living underground," Abram said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:51 PM


New museum in memory of Pinochet (Kathryn Hadley, 12/15/08, History Today)

The Pinochet Foundation Museum in Santiago, Chile, was inaugurated on Friday December 12th, two days after the second anniversary of Pinochet’s death, by family, friends and supporters of his regime. The museum was officially opened to the public today. More than 150 people have already registered to visit the display of the dictators’ medals, sabers, books, his collection of toy soldiers, his desk and uniforms, which include the last uniform that he wore as commander in chief of the Chilean Army. The museum is devoted to the memory of the dictator. Its construction was sponsored by the Pinochet Foundation, which includes supporters and former aides to Pinochet, and was to a large extent financed by private donations.

Its inauguration has, however, sparked considerable controversy and opposition from victims of the dictatorship. In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet led a military coup against the socialist government of Salvador Allende ushering in 17 years of dictatorship. According to official reports, 3,197 suspected leftists were assassinated before he left power in 1990 and approximately 28,000 were tortured.

Executions, not assassinations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:48 PM


Obama To Journey To Washington Inaugural Via Train (Hotline, 12/15/08)

Pres.-elect Barack Obama and VP-elect Joe Biden and their families will travel to Washington via train in the days preceding the inaugural celebration.

The day-long trip will include stops in Philadelphia, Wilmington (where the Bidens will hop aboard) and Baltimore -- cities, the Presidential Inaugural Committee suggests, that were instrumental in the founding and defense of the nation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:21 PM


Ignatius Press has done a new audio version of The Innocence of Father Brown and the first chapter is available free on-line, The Blue Cross, plus the Introduction by Dale Ahlquist, star of EWTN's must-Tivo, Apostle of Common Sense.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Is California too unwieldy to govern?: As the state faces fiscal crisis and partisan gridlock, some wonder if this nation-state is so oversized, Balkanized and polarized that it is destined for dysfunction no matter who is in charge. (Evan Halper and Michael Rothfeld, December 15, 2008, LA Times)

Others say this nation-state is so oversized, Balkanized and polarized that it is destined for dysfunction no matter who is in charge. They cite its influx of immigrants, its constant tensions over water supply and its large, self-contained regions that bear little resemblance to one another.

It has even been suggested that the state should break into multiple, more manageable pieces. More than two dozen attempts at that have been tried over the years, the latest by a Northern California lawmaker in the early 1990s. More recently, a blog called Three Californias was created to advocate carving California out of the union and turning it into a new country with three states.

The state's Constitution also makes governing a challenge. California is one of only three states that require two-thirds of the Legislature to agree on a budget. A few lawmakers from the minority party can derail a spending plan -- and they do, sometimes to the point of preventing the government from paying its bills.

And California's heavy use of the initiative system, intended to let voters solve problems when lawmakers don't, has created conflicting mandates that experts say undermine rational policymaking.

Some of the political leaders who for years have been engaged in efforts -- largely unsuccessful -- to make state government run better fret that the current dysfunction creates a fertile environment for more shortsighted ballot measures.

"If this continues, there is the danger that the public will again express itself through an initiative or some kind of constitutional convention or something that will become a vehicle for their anger with elected leaders," said Leon Panetta, a former California congressman and White House advisor who co-chairs California Forward, a bipartisan think tank focused on solving the state's problems. "God knows where that will take us. The danger is it will lead to the wrong steps being taken."

California, with almost 40 million people, is only the canary in the coalmine. America itself will inevitably devolve into smaller states. As is, we are a complete anachronism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Atheists have an answer to prayer day: A foundation sues the governor of Colorado, saying he crossed the line when he attended a religious event, part of a national observance. (DeeDee Correll, December 15, 2008, LA Times)

Bill Ritter Jr. was not the first governor of Colorado to declare the first Thursday in May as a day of prayer.

But he was the first to attend a celebration of the National Day of Prayer at the state Capitol, joining a crowd of several hundred Christians in 2007. His appearance at the event caught the attention of a Wisconsin-based atheist group, which has mounted a campaign its leaders hope will dissuade him and other governors from participating again.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a lawsuit in state court, seeking to stop the governor from issuing any proclamations it says endorse a particular religion and send a message to nonreligious residents "that they are expected to believe in God."

"Everybody has become too comfortable with this interaction of religion and government. Sometimes someone needs to push back," said David Habecker, 63, one of the lawsuit's plaintiffs and a member of the foundation.

The Thanksgiving Proclamation (New York, 3 October 1789)
On 25 September 1789, Elias Boudinot of Burlington, New Jersey, introduced in the United States House of Representatives a resolution "That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness." The House was not unanimous in its determination to give thanks. Aedanus Burke of South Carolina objected that he "did not like this mimicking of European customs, where they made a mere mockery of thanksgivings." Thomas Tudor Tucker "thought the House had no business to interfere in a matter which did not concern them. Why should the President direct the people to do what, perhaps, they have no mind to do? They may not be inclined to return thanks for a Constitution until they have experienced that it promotes their safety and happiness. We do not yet know but they may have reason to be dissatisfied with the effects it has already produced; but whether this be so or not, it is a business with which Congress have nothing to do; it is a religious matter, and, as such, is proscribed to us. If a day of thanksgiving must take place, let it be done by the authority of the several States."

Citing biblical precedents and resolutions of the Continental Congress, the proponents of a Thanksgiving celebration prevailed, and the House appointed a committee consisting of Elias Boudinot, Roger Sherman, and Peter Silvester to approach President Washington. The Senate agreed to the resolution on 26 September and appointed William Samuel Johnson and Ralph Izard to the joint committee. On 28 September the Senate committee reported that they had laid the resolution before the president. Washington issued the proclamation on 3 October, designating a day of prayer and thanksgiving.

Whatever reservations may have been held by some public officials, the day was widely celebrated throughout the nation. The Virginia assembly, for example, resolved on 19 November that the chaplain "to this House, be accordingly requested to perform divine service, and to preach a sermon in the Capitol, before the General Assembly, suitable to the importance and solemnity of the occasion, on the said 26th day of November." Most newspapers printed the proclamation and announced plans for public functions in honor of the day. Many churches celebrated the occasions by soliciting donations for the poor. Washington's secretary, Tobias Lear, wrote to John Rodgers, pastor of the two Presbyterian churches in New York City, on 28 November, that "by direction of the President of the United States I have the pleasure to send you twenty five dollars to be applied towards relieving the poor of the Presbyterian Churches. A paragraph in the papers mentioned that a contribution would be made for that purpose on Thanksgiving day; as no opportunity offered of doing it at that time, and not knowing into whose hands the money should be lodged which might be given afterwards--The President of the United States has directed me to send it to you, requesting that you will be so good as to put it into the way of answering the charitable purpose for which it is intended."

Washington enclosed the Thanksgiving Proclamation in his Circular to the Governors of the States, written at New York on 3 October 1789: "I do myself the honor to enclose to your Excellency a Proclamation for a general Thanksgiving which I must request the favor of you to have published and made known in your State in the way and manner that shall be most agreeable to yourself."

Let's go way out on a limb here and assume that the dude who presided over the Constitutional Convention had a better grasp of how much interplay between religion and politics the Founding allows than these fanatics do.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:13 AM


Settlement opens up amnesty for tens of thousands of immigrants: Many who entered the United States on valid visas but fell out of legal status between 1982 and 1988 are eligible for the amnesty offered under the 1986 immigration reform law. (Teresa Watanabe, 12/15/08, LA Times)

For two decades, Anaheim businessman Erkan Aydin has taken on a task unimaginable for most immigrants like himself: trying to convince the U.S. government that he was here illegally.

Aydin, 50, arrived in the United States from his native Turkey with a valid student visa in 1981, but fell out of legal status when he failed to enroll in school, he said.

The customer service representative has a powerful reason why he wants to be considered an illegal immigrant. It would make him eligible for the amnesty offered to 2.7 million illegal immigrants under the 1986 immigration reform law.

Thanks to a recent legal settlement, the chance to apply for amnesty is finally open to Aydin and tens of thousands of others who entered the country on a valid visa but fell out of legal status between 1982 and 1988. The settlement, approved this fall by a U.S. district court in Washington state, stems from a class-action lawsuit filed by attorney Peter Schey originally on behalf of an immigrant assistance program of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

"I have been born again, like a new baby," Aydin said last week in his Anaheim car dealership office. "I will start a beautiful life in this beautiful country."

It's always amusing when folks pretend to draw careful distinctions between Legal and illegal immigrants in a system that's so dysfunctional that your pal the legal almost certainly is or was at some point illegal, though, oddly enough, his qualities as a human being were unaffected.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Spousal Ties to Lobbying Test a Vow From Obama (CHARLIE SAVAGE and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 12/15/08, NY Times)

Linda Hall Daschle is one of the most important aviation lobbyists in town. Ms. Daschle is also the wife of Tom Daschle, whom President-elect Barack Obama has chosen to be the next secretary of health and human services.

Tom Downey is the founder and chairman of a lobbying firm with dozens of clients, including several with interests in energy policy. Mr. Downey is also the husband of Carol M. Browner, Mr. Obama’s likely choice to be the next White House energy czar.

Mr. Obama’s selection of Mr. Daschle and Ms. Browner to high-level positions illustrates a potential loophole in his pledge of keeping special interests at a distance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Sinise: A man for all services (Andrew Breitbart, December 15, 2008, Washington Times)

Since war became a geographically distant but very real way of life after Sept. 11, 2001, no Hollywood star has stepped up to support active duty U.S. military personnel and wounded veterans like Gary Sinise. There is no close second. And quietly, as is in his nature, he is becoming something akin to this generation´s Bob Hope.

One step in conferring this worthy title on the award-winning actor, director and producer occurred last week when President Bush bestowed on him the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian honor awarded to citizens for exemplary deeds performed in service of the nation. Previous recipients include Henry "Hank" Aaron, Muhammad Ali, Colin L. Powell and Bob Dole.

While the White House ceremony flew under the radar of most of the media, most notably the entertainment press, word has trickled out to many of his countless admirers in and out of the military. And on the occasion of him receiving the award, they want America to take in their words of praise for, as Sharon Tyk in the USO of Illinois put it, this "gallant American patriot."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


The failed Muslim states to come (Spengler, 12/16/08, Asia Times)

Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad controls Iran through a kleptocracy of Central African proportions, dissipating the country's oil windfall into payoffs to an "entire class of hangers-on of the Islamic revolution", as I wrote in June (see Worst of times for Iran, Asia Times Online, June 24, 2008), when oil still sold at US$135 a barrel. What will Ahmadinejad do now that the oil price has collapsed? According to my Iranian sources, the answer is: Exactly the same thing, but without the money.

The point of the joke is that Iran's regime cannot reduce subsidies or raise taxes without losing control of the constituencies that brought it to power. They are the peasants and the urban poor who barely afford shelter and food as matters stand. Despite the oil-price collapse, the government has not reduced energy subsidies that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) puts at more than a fifth of gross domestic product (GDP). A proposed value-added tax was withdrawn last October after strikes in the bazaars, starting in Isfahan and other provincial towns and spreading to the capital Tehran. Iran is eating through its $60 billion of foreign exchange reserves, unable to adjust to a collapse of its only significant revenue source.

It's a nearly ideal moment for democratization: the State wants taxation and the people want representation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:49 AM


The U.S. will be just fine, thank you (Brian Hamilton, December 15, 2008, Washington Times)

There is probably something in humans and in every generation that makes us think that the problems we face are uniquely difficult. Much has been written about the economy and, if you accept certain assumptions from what you read, you might think that we are in the midst of a global depression. Yet it is important to put the current economy in perspective. We might even try reviewing and analyzing some objective data.

Last quarter, U.S. gross domestic product fell at a rate of 0.5 percent, which means that the total value of goods and services produced in this country fell by a half of one percentage point last quarter over the previous quarter. For the first two quarters of this year, GDP grew by 0.9 percent and 2.8 percent, indicating that economic growth is relatively flat this year, but that it is not falling off a cliff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM

AH, BUT...:

Willie Mays, last day at Polo Grounds, and my dad (Lanny Davis, December 15, 2008 , Washington Times)

On Sept. 29, 1957, my dad took me to see Willie Mays play his last game in New York for the New York Giants. The next season, the Giants were moving to San Francisco.

We expected all 54,555 seats in the old Polo Grounds on Coogan's Bluff in the Bronx, just across the ravine from Yankee Stadium, to be filled. Instead, the stands seemed virtually empty. It seemed that Giants fans were angry about the move to San Francisco, and also, the Giants were mired in sixth place. (We later learned the attendance was only about 11,000 fans.)

But there was an advantage to the poor turnout. My dad was able to take me to the empty seats right behind the Giants' dugout, near the rail to the field. None of the ushers seemed to mind. So close to Willie!'s not a real close encounter until your hero call you a homo.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 AM


REVIEW: of Can We Have Our Balls Back, Please? How the British Invented Sport and Then Almost Forgot How to Play It By Julian Norridge (Simon Kuper, December 15 2008, Financial Times)

This book tackles the question not of how the Victorians spread games around the world – they clearly had the best trade routes – but why they invented these games.

Can We Have Our Balls Back, Please? is a heroic endeavour, written in smooth prose with beautiful old illustrations. Yet it is more a fluent reference book than a narrative history. Norridge’s rare points of analysis are convincing but, in a very British way, he prefers fact.

He shows that most sports had pre-British origins. Many civilisations boxed, ran or kicked balls around. “Most societies had played some form of stick-and-ball game,” Norridge notes, but only the Brits codified cricket, baseball and hockey.

...that the only game American Brits didn't improve was golf, which was pefect, and turning rugby into football.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


The Revolt of a Disappointed Generation (Manfred Ertel and Daniel Steinvorth, 12/15/08, Der Spiegel)

The violent unrest that followed the shooting of a 15-year-old boy has driven Greece to the brink of a political crisis. The rioting marks an explosion of rage by the country's young people who have few prospects of carving out a place in a society where all initiative is stifled.

The mood in the jam-packed auditorium was reminiscent of the student protest movements of 1968. Hundreds of young people thronged their way into the dark room, sat on the steps or stood on tables. They shouted "murderers" and "pigs" -- and thunderously applauded calls for revenge. Cigarette smoke and the smell of sweat hung heavily in the air.

Jorgos Barutas, 29, had to struggle to make himself heard. The computer engineer, sporting a five-day beard and steel-rimmed glasses, stood at the foot of the steep rows of seats and shouted up to the audience with a throaty voice. "We have to hold out until the government steps down." Applause. "We have to transform the protests into a political movement." Applause. "We have to formulate political objectives." Followed again by thunderous applause. Barutas stepped down from the stage, feeling satisfied, and the students poured out of hall.

Outside on the campus of the Athens Polytechnic University such lofty political statements are quickly forgotten. Fires blaze and the smoldering remains of hastily erected barricades block the paths between lecture halls. Figures dressed in black and wearing ski masks use threatening gestures or engage in pushing matches to keep strangers from entering.

With a fertility rate around 1.33, they have even less future than they realize. This is as good as it gets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


What children want most is a ban on divorce, says poll (Alastair Jamieson, 14 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

A ban on divorce is what most children would introduce if they ruled the world, according to a poll.

Marital splits were also named the second-worst thing in the world in the survey of under-10s, behind being fat.

December 14, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 PM


Gordon Brown ready to defy Barack Obama over Afghanistan troop surge (Sam Coates and Michael Evans, 12/15/08, Times of London)

Gordon Brown is considering rejecting an expected request from Barack Obama, the US President-elect, to send 2,000 more British troops to Afghanistan to join the surge of US forces confronting the Taleban.

Britain is expected to come under considerable pressure from Mr Obama when he becomes President in January to send another battle group of 1,500-2,000. Turning down such a request would open a rift between Britain and the US. British military chiefs have also been clamouring for reinforcements for the beleaguered troops in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


Bush ducks flying shoes during Iraq visit (Jon Ward, 12/14/08, Washington Times)

President Bush's surprise trip to Iraq on Sunday was thrown off track when a man rose during a press conference in Baghdad and threw his shoes at the president, causing Mr. Bush to duck to avoid being hit.

"This is a farewell kiss, dog," the man reportedly shouted in Arabic at Mr. Bush.

The man was about 12 feet away from Mr. Bush's podium, according to a pool report filed from the scene.

Mr. Bush was not hit or injured. He ducked to avoid the first shoe, and ducked again when the man threw his second. The man quickly was tackled by security guards.

After the man had been hustled out, Mr. Bush cracked, "All I can report is it is a size 10."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:44 AM


Fire badly damages Palin's church in Alaska (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, December 14, 2008)

Gov. Sarah Palin's home church was badly damaged by a fire, leading the governor to apologize if the blaze was connected to "undeserved negative attention" from her failed campaign as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Damage to the Wasilla Bible Church was estimated at $1 million, authorities said Saturday. No one was injured in the fire, which was set Friday night while a handful of people, including two children, were inside, according to Central Mat-Su Fire Chief James Steele.

He said the blaze was being investigated as an arson but he didn't know of any recent threats to the church.

Michael Fumento and the tragically-departed Michael Kelly have done a fine job debunking the notion that church fires--which aren't unusual--are generally hate driven, back when Bill Clinton was milking the notion that black churches were being targeted.

Sure, people who hate God are nutters and may torch a church, but there's a whole host of other reasons that churches burn and are favored by arsonists. They're often old, wooden, open or have no security and minimal fire protection. That's not to say that this instance may not have been arson or even the church chosen deliberately to send some sort of message. But it should caution us that such isn't the most likely explanation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


Catholic schools save U.S. $19.8 billion annually, education group says (CNA, 12/14/08)

The NCEA reports that the nation’s almost 7,400 Catholic schools enroll more than 2.2 million students, who would have been educated in public schools at an average cost of $8,701 per student.

"Catholic schools are a gift to the church - and to the nation," said Dr. Karen Ristau, President of NCEA, in a December 11 press release. "The enormity of this gift is more striking during these challenging economic times."

"Our graduates have a strong commitment to community service because that is a foundation of our schools," continued Ristau. "Just this past year Catholic school students performed 2.2 million hours of public service in honor of Pope Benedict's visit. That kind of involvement is a gift to the country that cannot be measured in dollars alone."

...if they cited the number for how much less it costs per pupil to get that education in Catholic schools.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


Emanuel Had Contact With Governor’s Office on Senate Seat (HELENE COOPER and JACKIE CALMES, 12/14/08, NY Times)

President-elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, communicated with the office of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois about potential candidates for Mr. Obama’s Senate seat and provided a list of names, according to two Obama associates briefed on the matter.

The Obama associates said the interactions concerned several people who might fill the seat. Such contacts are common among party officials when a political vacancy is to be filled. It was not clear whether the communication was via direct telephone calls.

The Chicago Tribune reported that communications between Mr. Emanuel and the governor, both Democrats, had been captured on court-approved wiretaps, but Obama associates gave conflicting accounts of the interactions.

Pressure builds on Obama to release his Blagojevich contacts (Andrew Malcolm, 12/14/08, LA Times)
That does not mean, of course, that Emanuel was involved in any wrongdoing. He's a close political friend of Blagojevich's in the clan-filled world of Chicago machine politics and inherited his 5th District House seat from Blagojevich when he became governor in 2002 on a reform platform.

As a representative of the outgoing senator and president-elect and a member of the same party, it would be hard to believe Emanuel or someone did not communicate somehow with Blagojevich or his staff.

What's puzzled some people and raised suspicions among others is Emanuel's refusal to talk about it (reportedly physically pushing one reporter's tape recorder away and having a verbal altercation with another) and the delay on Obama's part in releasing the promised diary of contacts.

From a practical point of view, if everything is above board, what's to hide?

From a political communications and PR point of view, the atypically clumsy silence and delay creates doubts among even some Democrats, an information vacuum that opponents seek to fill with items like this video below and that has turned what could have been a one- or two-day state scandal story into nearly a week-long saga now involving a new national leader who promised to change the way the people's business is done.'s strange that they don't feel comfortable simply revealing what those contacts were.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


Uncertainty on Obama Education Plans (SAM DILLON, 12/14/08, NY Times)

Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Making sure your video game gifts are fun and appropriate for your kids: Several websites can help parents sort through the hundreds of titles on store shelves. (Alex Pham, December 14, 2008, LA Times)

Step 2: Hit some game review sites to get a preliminary list of games., for example, reviews most major games that have been released. For upcoming games that are buzz-worthy, the site puts together sneak peeks and early game trailers. You can look up games by their titles, platforms and genres. At the bottom of the home page is a Most Popular feature, where readers can see what titles are generating the most excitement.

Want a shortcut? Gamespot has a holiday gift guide you can find on the home page. Other sites worth checking include 1Up and G4 TV.

Another popular place for parents is That's where Mary Ann Masarech went this year to do her research. The 48-year-old mother of two decided against one game that her daughters had requested because players had found it too boring, but went with another based on the positive user reviews.

"The problem with the reviews is that you have to read between the lines to see who's writing them," said Masarech, a management consultant from Fairfield, Conn. "Are they hard-core gamers who would be dissatisfied with a game that would make my kids happy, for instance?"

Step 3: Make sure the games you pick in the first round are fun.

Once you have a list of candidates, you'll want to make sure the games don't turn into very expensive drink coasters. There are dozens of sites that review games for their fun factor. Instead of visiting them all, hit Metacritic. The site aggregates each game's scores into an average, like Rotten Tomatoes does for movies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Now for straight talk about Gitmo (William McGurn, December 15, 2008, The Australian)

One year later, we have Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 plotters at Gitmo saying they want to plead guilty. And the headlines have begun to concede that closing the detention centre will not be as easy as the critics suggested.

"Closing detainee camp a minefield of critical steps," noted The Miami Herald. "Closing it may be the easy part: With Guantanamo, the issue for Obama will be deciding what to do with the 250 prisoners, experts say," reported the Los Angeles Times. "Close Guantanamo prison? Sure. But that's the easy part," said USA Today.

What unites these stories is the acknowledgment of the basic fact of Guantanamo: the problem is the people, not the place.

More importantly, the people held, not the people holding.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 AM


Sonic Canon Gives Pirates an Earful: Pirates off the coast of Somalia last week tried to take a US cruise ship. But the attackers got more than they bargained for when the crew turned a newly developed sonic weapon on them that blasts earsplitting noise. (Marco Evers, 11/15/05, Der Spiegel)

Until now, it wasn't widely known that the US Defense Department was sharing the so-called Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) with commercial cruise ships. The weapon is essentially a small dish that beams hellishly loud noise that is deafening but not lethal. Weighing 20 kilograms and as big as a TV satellite dish, the device looks deceptively harmless. But once trained on its target, it blasts a tight beam of painful siren-like sound.

It's not known how the grinning pirates 160 kilometers off the coast of the Horn of Africa reacted as they suddenly were hit by the LRAD. But they were close, and the closer one is to the sonic cannon, the worse the effect is. It's possible they received permanent hearing damage, but at the very least they experienced an excruciating headache and ear pain to the point that they could no longer see or hear. They also quickly lost the desire to board the ship. Of course, even Captain Blackbeard would have quickly set sail when confronted with 150 decibels of pure noise. [...]

The LRAD was designed by a small San Diego, California firm called American Technology Corporation. The company has sold thousands of the acoustic cannon since 2003, including large orders to the US Armed Forces. Following the al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 that killed 17 sailors, the Pentagon wanted a non-lethal weapon to defend its ships that wouldn't necessarily kill potential attackers.

Around 300 LRADs are in currently in use in Iraq. The US Army even uses the sonic cannons to clear houses acoustically. The dish can even be used as a super megaphone -- enabling soldiers to warn drivers over 300 meters ahead of checkpoints.

Recognizing the potential, police in New York and Boston have also purchased a few of the $30,000 devices. So too, of course, have American and British cruise lines. Besides the Seabourn Spirit, the world's largest cruise ship, the "Queen Mary 2", is able to give pirates an earful.

It's not like these guys are as serious a threat as the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


Blair was always a Catholic and lied about it during time in No10, claims aide (Simon Walters, 14th December 2008, Daily Mail)

Spin-doctor Lance Price said Mr Blair told him to kill off an accurate Press report in 1998 – months after he took power – that he had spoken candidly of his Catholic faith to an Italian cleric on a holiday in Tuscany.

‘He asked me to squash a story that he had told the Archbishop of Siena, “In my heart, I feel more of a Catholic,”’ said Mr Price, an ex-Downing Street deputy Press secretary.

‘He said, “I don’t discuss my Catholicism with anybody.” In his heart he was a Roman Catholic throughout the time he was Prime Minister.

'He was worried it would blow up into a much bigger story, with people asking whether he would be beholden to the Vatican because as a Catholic you are supposed to believe that the Pope is infallible.’ [...]

Although there has never been a Catholic Premier, there is no constitutional bar. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy are Catholics.

In BBC1’s Christmas Voices today, Mr Blair says he did not convert in office because it would have been ‘a palaver’ and he feared talking about his religious beliefs would lead to people dismissing him as a ‘nutter’.

He says: ‘It’s sad people feel you can’t talk about something that is important to who you are. Maybe I was too sensitive but I came to the conclusion that if I started talking about God it was going to be difficult.’

Talk about a poorly hidden secret.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:38 AM


Hot air from Obama (Bjorn Lomborg, December 15, 2008, The Australian)

Consider, for example, hurricanes in America. Clearly, a policy of reducing CO2 emissions would have had zero consequence on Katrina's devastating effect on New Orleans, where such a disaster was long expected. Over the next half-century, even large reductions in CO2 emissions would have only a negligible effect.

Instead, direct policies to address New Orleans' vulnerabilities could have avoided the huge and unnecessary cost in human misery and economic loss. These should have included stricter building codes, smarter evacuation policies and better preservation of wetlands (which could have reduced the ferociousness of the hurricane). Most importantly, a greater focus on upkeep and restoration of the levees could have spared the city entirely. Perhaps these types of preventative actions should be Obama's priority.

Likewise, consider world hunger. Pleas for action on climate change reflect fears that global warming may undermine agricultural production, especially in the developing world. But global agricultural/economic models indicate that even under the most pessimistic assumptions, global warming would reduce agricultural production by just 1.4p er cent by the end of the century. Because agricultural output will more than double during this period, climate change would at worst cause global food production to double not in 2080 but in 2081.

Moreover, implementing the Kyoto Protocol at a cost of $180 billion annually would keep two million people from going hungry only by the end of the century. Yet by spending just $10 billion annually, the UN estimates that we could help 229 million hungry people today. Every time spending on climate policies saves one person from hunger in 100 years, the same amount could have saved 5000 people now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


Bush in surprise visit to Iraq (Times of India, 14 Dec 2008)

US President George W Bush made a surprise farewell visit to Iraq on Sunday, the country he ordered invaded in 2003, the White House announced.

The White House said Bush had come to meet Iraqi leaders, thank the troops and celebrate a new security agreement. [...]

Bush arrived a day ahead of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates surprise visit to the country. Gates, who president-elect Barack Obama has picked to stay on at the Pentagon, stressed the new administration's commitment to the region.

He's earned a victory lap.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:30 AM


Ian Hamilton on Stone of Destiny: I felt I was holding Scotland's soul: It was the 1950s student jape that re-ignited Scottish nationalism. As the 'liberation' of the Stone of Destiny is turned into a film, ringleader Ian Hamilton, now 83, tells Olga Craig why he is still proud of the heist. (Olga Craig, 14 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

It was, Ian Hamilton calmly acknowledges, the moment of no return. ''You sort of know that when you take a crowbar to a side door of Westminster Abbey and jemmy the lock that there isn't really any going back, don't you?'' he says philosophically. ''Not when you know that the next thing you are going to do is steal one of the ancient relics inside.''

Hamilton is lost in reverie for a moment. A wry smile crosses his face and then a thought strikes him. ''Not,'' he says urgently, ''that it was stealing. It was a liberation. A returning of a venerable relic to its rightful ownership.'' [...]

Almost 60 years ago, on Christmas Day 1950, Hamilton, then a brash and idealistic young student studying law at Glasgow University, became notorious in England and achieved nigh-on hero status in his native Scotland when he and a trio of friends staged one of the most audacious heists imaginable. In a caper worthy of an Ealing comedy, they motored from Glasgow to London (in those days no mean feat), broke into the Abbey, and stole the symbol of Scottish pride, the Stone of Scone – with one of the ''thieves'' breaking two toes when it fell on them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


Teenager completes round-UK walk to make amends for prank: A teenager, who had to be rescued by the emergency services after he stole a boat two years ago, has completed a charity walk around the UK to make amends. (Daily Telegraph, 14 Dec 2008)

Seb Green spent a year of his life walking more than 3,100 miles around the UK with his border collie, Flash.

He has raised more than £20,000 for two Dorset charities in a bid to pay back the local community for his behaviour four years ago.

After finishing the walk in his home town of Weymouth, Dorset, Seb said he was delighted to be back.

"I have given up almost a year of my life and it has been an extremely worthwhile sacrifice," he said.

"It will be a strange feeling not having to wake up in the morning and not having to pack my bag and start walking.

"Now I am just looking forward to Christmas and spending time with my family."

Seb was 15 when he and another teenager stole a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) from Weymouth Harbour, Dorset, late on May 8 2004.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


When Jesus met Buddha: Something remarkable happened when evangelists for two great religions crossed paths more than 1,000 years ago: they got along (Philip Jenkins, December 14, 2008, Boston Globe)

By the 12th century, flourishing churches in China and southern India were using the lotus-cross. The lotus is a superbly beautiful flower that grows out of muck and slime. No symbol could better represent the rise of the soul from the material, the victory of enlightenment over ignorance, desire, and attachment. For 2,000 years, Buddhist artists have used the lotus to convey these messages in countless paintings and sculptures. The Christian cross, meanwhile, teaches a comparable lesson, of divine victory over sin and injustice, of the defeat of the world. Somewhere in Asia, Yeshua's forgotten followers made the daring decision to integrate the two emblems, which still today forces us to think about the parallels between the kinds of liberation and redemption offered by each faith.

Christianity, for much of its history, was just as much an Asian religion as Buddhism. Asia's Christian churches survived for more than a millennium, and not until the 10th century, halfway through Christian history, did the number of Christians in Europe exceed that in Asia.

What ultimately obliterated the Asian Christians were the Mongol invasions, which spread across Central Asia and the Middle East from the 1220s onward. From the late 13th century, too, the world entered a terrifying era of climate change, of global cooling, which severely cut food supplies and contributed to mass famine. The collapse of trade and commerce crippled cities, leaving the world much poorer and more vulnerable. Intolerant nationalism wiped out Christian communities in China, while a surging militant Islam destroyed the churches of Central Asia.

But awareness of this deep Christian history contributes powerfully to understanding the future of the religion, as much as its past. For long centuries, Asian Christians kept up neighborly relations with other faiths, which they saw not as deadly rivals but as fellow travelers on the road to enlightenment. Their worldview differed enormously from the norms that developed in Europe.

To take one example, we are used to the idea of Christianity operating as the official religion of powerful states, which were only too willing to impose a particular orthodoxy upon their subjects. Yet when we look at the African and Asian experience, we find millions of Christians whose normal experience was as minorities or even majorities within nations dominated by some other religion. Struggling to win hearts and minds, leading churches had no option but to frame the Christian message in the context of non-European intellectual traditions. Christian thinkers did present their message in the categories of Buddhism - and Taoism, and Confucianism - and there is no reason why they could not do so again. When modern scholars like Peter Phan try to place Christianity in an Asian and Buddhist context, they are resuming a task begun at least 1,500 years ago.

Perhaps, in fact, we are looking at our history upside down. Some day, future historians might look at the last few hundred years of Euro-American dominance within Christianity and regard it as an unnatural interlude in a much longer story of fruitful interchange between the great religions.

Consider the story told by Timothy, a patriarch of the Nestorian church. Around 800, he engaged in a famous debate with the Muslim caliph in Baghdad, a discussion marked by reason and civility on both sides. Imagine, Timothy said, that we are all in a dark house, and someone throws a precious pearl in the midst of a pile of ordinary stones. Everyone scrabbles for the pearl, and some think they've found it, but nobody can be sure until day breaks.

In the same way, he said, the pearl of true faith and wisdom had fallen into the darkness of this transitory world; each faith believed that it alone had found the pearl. Yet all he could claim - and all the caliph could say in response - was that some faiths thought they had enough evidence to prove that they were indeed holding the real pearl, but the final truth would not be known in this world.

Knowing other faiths firsthand grants believers an enviable sophistication, founded on humility. We could do a lot worse than to learn from what we sometimes call the Dark Ages.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


The Very Model Of Lucidity: An appreciation of Avery Cardinal Dulles, 1918-2008. (George Weigel, December 13, 2008, Newsweek)

His pre-ordination philosophy and theology courses and his graduate studies in Rome, where he received the doctorate in 1960, prepared him for a teaching career at Woodstock College, Catholic University and Fordham. That immersion in the Catholic tradition in full also gave him the conceptual anchor that kept him remarkably steadfast in the intellectual whitewater of the post-Vatican II years. His steadiness, which was complemented by an equally remarkable fairness to those with whom he disagreed, made him a unique figure on the U.S. Catholic theological scene--a reference point for just about every serious Catholic religious thinker, and more than a few Protestants and Jews as well. His lecture style was not particularly scintillating; but his written work--extending over more than two dozen books and 800 scholarly articles--was the very model of lucidity. Pope John Paul II, on the advice of Cardinal Joseph Ratinger, honored that accomplishment in 2001 with the cardinal's red hat.

Avery Dulles was a self-consciously ecclesial theologian, who made a deliberate decision to "think with the church." Some imagined this a form of conservatism; if it was (and such labels really don't work with theology), it was an evangelical conservatism, an intellectual approach inspired by Christ's instruction, after the multiplication of loaves ands fishes, to "pick up the fragments, that nothing may be lost." Dulles explicated ancient truths; he stretched our understanding of them a bit; he probed their implications. But he never sought cheap originality or sound-bite fame.

That modesty of intellectual purpose went hand in hand with a charming modesty of person. One does not often see cardinals of the Holy Roman Church walking across campus in cheap blue windbreakers; the cardinal's sartorial style would have caused grimaces at Wal-Mart, let alone Brooks Brothers. This was not an affectation, however, nor was it some kind of eccentric noblesse oblige. Avery Dulles took a vow of poverty when he entered the Society of Jesus and he kept it, as he kept his vows of chastity, obedience to superiors, and that special obedience to the pope that St. Ignatius Loyola intended to be the distinguishing hallmark of Jesuit life. Every dime of his royalties went to the Jesuits; as for patching the holes in one's shoes, well, duct tape would do just fine.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


Czech leader in shock after EU assault: A bizarre confrontation in Hradcany Castle confirms the inablilty of the Euro-elite to accept anyone else's opinions ((Christopher Booker, 14 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

[I]rish MEP, Brian Crowley, ...began by saying "all his life my father fought against the British domination [of Ireland]… That is why I dare to say that the Irish wish for the Lisbon Treaty. It was an insult, Mr President, to me and the Irish people what you said during your state visit to Ireland." Klaus repeated that he had not experienced anything like this for19 years and that it seemed we were no longer living in a democracy, but that it was "post-democracy which rules the EU".

On the EU constitution, Klaus recalled that three countries had voted against it, and that if Mr Crowley wanted to talk about insults to the Irish people, "the biggest insult to the Irish people is not to accept the result of the Irish referendum". This provoked Crowley to retort angrily, "You will not tell me what the Irish think. As an Irishman, I know it best."

Everntually Pöttering closed the meeting by saying that he wanted to leave the room "in good terms", but it was quite unacceptable to compare himself and his colleagues with the Soviet Union. Klaus replied that he had not mentioned the Soviet Union: "I only said that I had not experienced such an atmosphere, such a style of debate, in the Czech Republic in the last 19 years."

This bizarre confrontation, which has been recounted and discussed with shock across formerly Communist eastern Europe, confirms the inability of the Euro-elite to accept that anyone holds different views from their own, on Lisbon, global warming or anything else. As we see from the way our own political parties are run, when it comes to "Europe", the system has no place for opposition. Everything must be decided by "consensus", directed from the top. There is only one approved "party line". Apart from a few little powerless dissidents round the edges, the EU is thus in essence a one-party state.

It was a sense of this that powerfully influenced the French, Dutch and Irish people, when they were given the chance, to vote against the constitution which will cement that one-party state into place more firmly than ever.

What do transnationalists care about the people?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


The answer on immigration (Frank Sharry , 12/14/08, Washington Times)

Why is illegal immigration now a top-tier policy concern? Is it anger at the illegal immigrants? No. In a recent poll conducted by Sergio Bendixen for NDN only 3 percent of voters blame them. Employers who game the system? Yes, nearly a quarter of voters blame employers, many of whom are seen as unscrupulous actors who underpay workers and skip out on taxes. But by a 2-1 margin the public blames the federal government and Congress. Failure to solve illegal immigration is now a symbol of how Washington doesn't work.

This is what most Democrats now get and most Republicans don't. In 2008, Barack Obama and the vast majority of Democratic candidates for Congress defined themselves as in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. The key elements of comprehensive reform are strong enforcement at the borders and the workplace coupled with a requirement that those here illegally pass criminal background checks, pay taxes, study English and get to the back of the citizenship line. This is viewed by the majority of Americans as the most pragmatic approach to this complicated problem.

In contrast, most Republicans adopted a harder line. John McCain felt compelled to pander to make-'em-all-leave primary voters with a promise of "border security first." In contested congressional races, most Republicans trumpeted the enforcement-only position of "no amnesty" so popular with talk radio and anti-immigration groups.

The results? Mr. Obama trounced Mr. McCain with Latino voters generally (67 percent to 31 percent) and Latino immigrant voters especially (75 percent to 25 percent). This represents a dramatic shift from the success George W. Bush had in 2004 (John Kerry won 59 percent to 40 percent with Latinos generally and only 52 percent to 48 percent with Latino immigrants). The results in battleground congressional races was just as stark. In 22 battleground House and Senate races where a Republican enforcement-only hawk challenged Democratic candidates who favored a more comprehensive approach to reform, the reform-minded Democrat won in 20.

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December 13, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 PM


She's red hot, but her soul is strictly sanitised: Despite powerful pipes, Duffy fails to catch fire like the vintage singers she apes (Kitty Empire, 12/14/08, The Observer)

Arrayed across the back of the stage, along with some of Duffy's six-piece band, is a string section, who play us in with vigour. A sparkly dais sits in front of the musicians, awaiting 5ft 2in of Welsh wind power. After a few bars of 'Rockferry', Duffy finally sashays on - her heels the stuff of chiropractors' nightmares, her little red dress the stuff of confectioners' nocturnal fantasies. She looks like a predatory bonbon. The scene could be Vegas or Paris or any TV studio in 1964; you half expect Dick Clark - the plastic host of the vintage US TV show American Bandstand - to appear stage right, applauding wildly.

Mindful of injury, Duffy picks her way purposefully across the stage. She keeps her voice teasingly in check for a couple of verses, then finally lets rip on the key change, stripping the paint off the circle. An appreciative shiver runs through the crowd, a mix of ages, genders and sexualities that attests to the commercial reach of this retro diva.

A year of hard touring has done nothing to blunt the force of Duffy's pipes; if anything, they have become more steely. As a performer, she is more polished too, swinging her microphone around like a handbag while the band take a rare solo. There is little movement to her - just an arm, aimed at the sky or the floor, or a pert bottom wiggle.

She leaves the dancing to two limber men in suits, who - sadly - don't lift Duffy up and carry her around as they would in an old-fashioned musical number. In a recent interview Duffy told of her plans for a Forties-themed party, celebrating an era when men 'were men' and women were 'all tits and teeth'. She is reviving the latter half of that tradition with gusto.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 PM


Mumbai gunman reveals chilling details of attack (Ramola Talwar Badam, 12/14/08, Scotland on Sunday)

THE gunman captured in last month's Mumbai attacks had originally intended to seize hostages and outline demands in a series of dramatic calls to the media, according to his confession.
Mohammed Ajmal Kasab said he and his partner, who assaulted the city's main train station, had planned a rooftop stand-off, but they couldn't find a suitable building, the statement to police says.

The two killed dozens of people inside the station, but it's unclear if they ever held hostages.

Kasab's seven-page confession, given to police over repeated interrogations, offers chilling new details of the three-day rampage through India's commercial centre that left 164 people plus nine gunmen dead.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 PM


Peter Hitchens: Inside Burma - the last ghost of the British Empire : The Mail on Sunday columnist infiltrates this sinister state and uncovers the Generals' secret new capital (Peter Hitchens, 12/14/08, Daily Mail)

In Burma the people are afraid of their rulers - and the rulers are so afraid of the people that they hide from them in a crazy capital city hundreds of miles from anywhere. The only open opposition comes from a lonely woman in a besieged villa and a troupe of comedians in a tiny back-street theatre, who are forbidden to tell jokes in their native language.

In the strange league of pariah states, where Cuba jostles with North Korea and Belarus for the title of most fear-ridden nation on Earth, Burma is certainly the oddest of all.

You step off the edge of the known world when you go there.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 PM


UK may help find Pakistani general’s killers (Carey Schofield, 12/14/08, Times of London)

The brother-in-law of VS Naipaul, the British novelist and Nobel laureate, was murdered last month after threatening to expose Pakistani army generals who had made deals with Taliban militants.

Major-General Faisal Alavi, a former head of Pakistan’s special forces, whose sister Nadira is Lady Naipaul, named two generals in a letter to the head of the army. He warned that he would “furnish all relevant proof”.

Aware that he was risking his life, he gave a copy to me and asked me to publish it if he was killed. Soon afterwards he told me that he had received no reply.

“It hasn’t worked,” he said. “They’ll shoot me.”

Four days later, he was driving through Islamabad when his car was halted by another vehicle. At least two gunmen opened fire from either side, shooting him eight times. His driver was also killed.

This weekend, as demands grew for a full investigation into Alavi’s murder on November 18, Lady Naipaul described her brother as “a soldier to his toes”. She said: “He was an honourable man and the world was a better place when he was in it.”

It was in Talkingfish, his favourite Islamabad restaurant, that the general handed me his letter two months ago. “Read this,” he said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:10 PM


Costello needed on frontbench: Abbott (The Australian, December 14, 2008 )

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 PM


Scarlett Johansson and company get The Spirit (Bob Thompson, 12/13/08, National Post)

If you can't wait to catch The Spirit. You are not alone. For those who might not know, The Spirit is the Frank Miller live-action film version of the classic 1940s Will Eisner newspaper strip and subsequent comic book series.

Opening on Dec. 25, the movie arrives with lots of anticipation and a question; as in can Miller translate the 1940s noir images onto the big screen? At least Miller gets The Spirit. He was an Eisner friend. And his resume suits the challenge. Plus his intention to shoot the movie in the fancy Sin City CGI style made sense to just about everybody.

After all, Miller co-directed and co-wrote the digital Sin City with Robert Rodriguez and wrote the popular graphic novels Sin City and 300 and restored Batman as the brooding Dark Knight in comics which inspired Christopher Nolan's hit movies Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:19 AM


Dealing With Revisionist Russia (Ronald D. Asmus, December 13, 2008, Washington Post)

Among the foreign policy challenges facing President-elect Barack Obama is the need for a new strategy toward Russia. Moscow is a partner and competitor: We need to work with the Russians on issues such as Iran and counterterrorism, but Moscow today is also a nationalistic revisionist power bent on rolling back Western values and influence on its borders with Europe.

They have a declining population, dying at ever earlier ages, with an economy that's moving backwards from a rather low high point. If the remote possibility didn't exist that we could use them to nuke the ChiComs and/or Waziristan they'd be completely ignorable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


HUD pick unveiled at unlikely hour (CAROL E. LEE, 12/13/08, Politico)

Obama appointed New York City Commissioner of Housing, Preservation and Development Shaun Donovan to the post, a move his transition apparently leaked last night to The New York Times. The paper has been a strong backer of Mayor Bloomberg and of his housing plans.

The announcement came in a radio and video address released on Saturday morning at 6 a.m., leaving no opportunity for reporters to ask questions, as they typically can when Cabinet announcements and other large initiatives are announced.

Despite some pretty steep competition, this could be his most boring pick.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 AM


Cardinal Avery Dulles dies at 90 (Michael Paulson, December 12, 2008, Boston Globe)

Cardinal Avery Dulles, who grew up in a famous American family (Dulles Airport is named for his father), converted to Catholicism while at Harvard, and went on to become the most honored Catholic theologian in U.S. history, died today at age 90.

I had a chance to interview Cardinal Dulles back in 2001. Here's what I wrote at the time, including a partial transcript of our conversation: [...]

Q. Your journey to Catholicism strikes me as having been more intellectual than spiritual.

A. I think that's probably true. I hope there was some spiritual aspect to it, but I've never had any great taste for what's called spirituality. I think it deals so much with emotions and feelings. I don't have many emotions or feelings. I tend to have ideas. I was interested in Catholicism ideally, intellectually. I was convinced that it was true. I was interested in truth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Auto bailout's death seen as a Republican blow at unions: For some Senate Republicans, a vote against the bailout was a vote against the United Auto Workers, and against organized labor in general (Jim Puzzanghera, December 13, 2008, Los Angeles Times)

"If the [United Auto Workers], which is perceived as one of the strongest unions in the country, can be put under control, that may send a message across the whole country," said Michigan State University professor Richard Block, a labor relations expert.

Such antipathy to unions was an undercurrent through the weeks of negotiations leading up to Thursday's Senate vote rejecting the plan.

Handing a defeat to labor and its Democratic allies in Congress was also seen as a preemptive strike in what is expected to be a major battle for the new Congress in January: the unions' bid for a so-called card check law that would make it easier for them to organize workers, potentially reversing decades of declining power. The measure is strongly opposed by business groups.

"This is the Democrats' first opportunity to pay off organized labor after the election," read an e-mail circulated Wednesday among Senate Republicans. "This is a precursor to card check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it."

Now, if only the GOP had sense enough to appeal to the non-union immigrant laborers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Black Gold (Michael Kinsley, 12/11/08, TIME)

Just five months ago, we were essentially paying a tax of $95 per bbl. That's the difference between what oil cost then and what it costs now. This was a "tax" whereby the revenue went into the pockets of oil producers--about two-thirds of them foreign countries and one-third fellow Americans. Isn't there something better to do with the money?

This idea always comes up and never goes anywhere. That's partly because of our general loathing of taxes and suspicion of Washington and partly because the idea tends to come up when energy prices are rising and people find it hard to believe that it would be good if they rose even more. But a couple of things are different now. First, we have experienced the high energy prices that people in most of the rest of the world already live with, and we know we can live with them too. Four-dollar gasoline is no longer unthinkable.

Second, this is the perfect moment for the other part of many proposals for an energy tax, which is to give the money back to people by lowering the payroll tax. The payroll tax, or FICA, collects about 15% of your wages or salary--half from you and half from your employer. It is expected to bring in close to a trillion dollars in 2009. Using our windfall from plummeting crude-oil prices alone, we could cut the FICA tax by more than half. Including other forms of energy would bring in even more.

Since everyone gets their FICA taxes back that's not a tax that should be cut but raised. The cost of the government you consume ought not be hidden from you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:29 AM


U.S. Training in Africa Aims to Deter Extremists (ERIC SCHMITT, 12/13/08, NY Times)

KATI, Mali — Thousands of miles from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, another side of America’s fight against terrorism is unfolding in this remote corner of West Africa. American Green Berets are training African armies to guard their borders and patrol vast desolate expanses against infiltration by Al Qaeda’s militants, so the United States does not have to.

A recent exercise by the United States military here was part of a wide-ranging plan, developed after the Sept. 11 attacks, to take counterterrorism training and assistance to places outside the Middle East, like the Philippines and Indonesia. In Africa, a five-year, $500 million partnership between the State and Defense Departments includes Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia, and Libya is on the verge of joining.

American efforts to fight terrorism in the region also include nonmilitary programs, like instruction for teachers and job training for young Muslim men who could be singled out by militants’ recruiting campaigns.

One goal of the program is to act quickly in these countries before terrorism becomes as entrenched as it is in Somalia, an East African nation where there is a heightened militant threat. And unlike Somalia, Mali is willing and able to have dozens of American and European military trainers conduct exercises here, and its leaders are plainly worried about militants who have taken refuge in its vast Saharan north.

“Mali does not have the means to control its borders without the cooperation of the United States,” Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a former prime minister, said in an interview.

Pity poor Africa, which has been a focus of our white Southern president but risks being forgotten now that we've elected a Kenyan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:24 AM

THE GUNS OF INDIA (via Bryan Francoeur)

Indian pitchers are first for America's national pastime (CNN, 12/11/08)

Baseball scouts found Hank Aaron hitting cross-handed in Mobile, Alabama. They found Mickey Mantle outrunning the wind in northeast Oklahoma. They even found a former drug addict and felon turned outfielder, Ron LeFlore, in a Michigan state prison.

The latest discoveries are from the countryside. The Indian countryside.

Two pitchers, both as rural as hay, are now working for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel are the first baseball players from India to sign a professional baseball contract.

They're entering pro baseball, a religious cult of its own with tobacco-spitting high priests, superstitions and unwritten rules of the clubhouse and the field

"Sir, we are very excited," Singh said with stunning reverence compared with most American 19-year-olds.

Indian Navy repulses attack, arrests 23 pirates (Indian Express, Dec 13, 2008)
In another successful anti-piracy operation, Navy warship on Saturday repulsed an attack on a merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden and nabbed 23 Somali and Yemeni sea brigands, in a show of resolve to weed out the menace that affected maritime trade in the region.

The pirates on two speed boats had surrounded the merchant vessel flying the Ethiopian flag around noon, when INS Mysore warship intervened and warded off the attack, Navy spokesperson said.

The pirates had fired at the merchant vessel with their small arms, when it sent out a rescue call and the Indian warship, which was sailing nearby moved its Marine Commandos on a helicopter to help the distressed cargo vessel, he said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Obama may have to keep neo-con ideals (Ian Buruma, December 13, 2008 , The Australian)

[The neo-cons] believed that aggressive promotion of democracy abroad was not only moral, and in the US tradition, but in the national interest as well.

There is a core of truth in this assertion. Liberals, too, can agree that Islamist terrorism, for instance, is linked to the lack of democracy in the Middle East. Realism, in the sense of balancing power by appeasing dictators, has its limits.

Democracy must be encouraged, wherever possible, by the most powerful democracy on earth. But revolutionary wars are not the most effective way to do this.

What is needed is to find a less belligerent, more liberal way to promote democracy, stressing international co-operation instead of blunt military force.

Obama is unlikely to repeat the mistakes of the neo-cons. But, to succeed, he will have to save some of their ideals from the ruins of their disastrous policies.

The cult of personality requires the belief that when the Unicorn Rider continues the historic American policy of liberalizing the world he'll do it without making mistakes--like JFK and the last gang of Brightests?--but democratization is inherently radical and nearly always messy.

December 12, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:14 PM


It’s no surprise that dentists have stopped NHS work (Vicki Woods, 12 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

I can save Alan Johnson some time. The Health Secretary announced that he was setting up an inquiry into why 1.2 million people have “lost” their NHS dentist. I know why. It all went wrong in 2005, when the Government’s time and motion people devised a whizzy “New Dental Contract”. Barry Cockcroft, the chief dental officer, endorsed it as “carefully considered, fully consulted and rigorously trialled”.

Oh yes? Dentists’ NHS pay was henceforth rebranded as their annual contract value (ACV), based on their income in the year before the contract was introduced. For this ACV, they were to provide a set quota of units of dental activity (UDA) for NHS patients.

Dentists call these “udders”. The system is so tightly micromanaged that it’s as impossible to explain as a Budget book. But two things were immediately clear: if a dentist didn’t do enough udders in the given year, his money would be cut. But if he did extra udders, he would earn no extra pay. Two thousand dentists immediately left the NHS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 PM


Forties heart-throb Johnson dies (BBC, 12/12/08)

US actor Van Johnson, a Hollywood heart-throb of the 1940s and 1950s, has died of natural causes at the age of 92 in a nursing home in New York State.

Johnson's boy-next-door wholesomeness came over in such films as 30 Seconds over Tokyo, A Guy Named Joe and The Caine Mutiny. [...]

Nicknamed "the non-singing Sinatra", he married only once, in 1947, to Eve Wynn. [...]

In a 1988 interview, he recalled an art lesson he received from British statesman Winston Churchill aboard the Onassis yacht.

"He got his canvas out and so did I," Johnson said.

"He was working away, and he growled at me, 'Don't just sit there and stare! Get some paint and splash it on!'"

I always liked 23 Paces to Baker Street, which doesn't even seem to be on DVD.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:25 PM


A gift a day: The Replacements reissues ( Bobby Tanzilo, 12/12/08, OnMilwaukee)

he Rhino reissues of eight Replacements records -- "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash," "Hootenanny," "Stink," "Let It Be," "Tim," "Pleased to Meet Me," "Don't Tell A Soul" and "All Shook Down" -- are having a dual effect on me.

First, I'm re-hearing a lot of music I haven't heard in a really long time and it's transporting me back to New York City a bit, but especially to Milwaukee in the 1980s. The Milwaukee of Café Voltaire, Century Hall and Irene J's, of the Odd Rock Café, Zak's, Teddy's and The Toad.

But secondly, I'm hearing a lot of Replacements music I've never heard before, especially during the latter, Sire Records years when Paul Westerberg and company had morphed from a Midwestern good time punk band to the edgier outcroppings of heartland rock, where Westerberg melded a Springsteenian lyricism and workingman's approach to his Clash-based roots.

So, if there's a 'Mats fan on your list this holiday, get him or her one or more of these

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:11 PM


Bettie Page, the model who sparked sexual revolution, dies in LA at 85 (David Usborne, 12 December 2008, Independent)

Her career, that some have said laid the foundations for the sexual revolution that came to America in the 1960s, started almost by accident after she discovered that posing for amateur photographers in provocative poses and risqué attire made her more money than working as a secretary.

Ms Page’s fame was set after she was adopted by Irving Klaw and his sister, Paula, who had a Manhattan mail order business offering cheese cakes and dirty pictures. Years later, she became one of the first models |featured in Playboy as a centre-fold including one in 1955 with her winking under a Santa hat.

The magazine’s founder and friend of Betty in recent years, Hugh Hefner, said: “Bettie Page was one of Playboy magazine’s early Playmates, and she became an iconic figure, influencing notions of beauty and fashion. Her passing is very sad.”

Ms Page disappeared for decades at the end of the fifties, suffering serial broken marriages and, for many years, devoting herself to Christianity.

In the recent biopic, The Notorious Bettie Page, Gretchen Moll does a fine job of capturing the bizarrely naive lasciviousness that made her a phenomenon.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:02 PM


Gran Torino (Review by Brett McCracken, 12/12/08, Christianity Today)

Detroit is on its knees, praying for a few extra years. American auto manufacturing, like Walt Kowalski, is experiencing its cantankerous twilight, shaking its head as new paradigms set up shop and kick the old school callously to the curb. Kowalski represents the vestiges of a bygone era, but he will not go quietly into the night.

The film opens with the funeral of Kowalski's wife in a Catholic church, the young parish priest (Christopher Carley) offering well-intentioned words about life and death while Walt angrily grimaces and grunts at his granddaughter's navel piercing. The only emotion he shows is disgust—with just about everything and everyone around him.

Alone and himself physically ailing, Walt takes pleasure in seemingly very little: his '72 Gran Torino, his dog Daisy, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the occasional expletive-laden conversation with a fellow blue-collar curmudgeon. Everything else irks him, especially the fact that his neighborhood is laden with Hmong, Latino, and African-American residents and gangs. Walt is an old-school racist. He can't go two sentences without using the types of racial slurs that were acceptable in his army days circa 1952.

All of this bodes ill for Walt, considering his next-door neighbors are a Hmong immigrant family. And things look especially dire when Walt catches Thao—the awkward teenaged neighbor boy who Walt calls "Toad"—trying to steal his Gran Torino. Turns out Thao was pressured to steal the car by a local Hmong gang that relentlessly bullies him, though to Walt it makes little difference. He's spitting mad.

Out of this incident, however, and Thao's family's attempts to make up for his shameful behavior, an unlikely bond forms between Walt and his Hmong neighbors. They have a shared enemy, after all: the gangs. From here the story plays out in a somewhat predictable fashion, as Walt's crotchety defenses break down and he learns to love and be loved again. It all escalates to a typically violent, melancholy conclusion, true to Eastwood form. But lest you expect a rousing, heroic bloodbath ending, remember: this is Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby mode. It's not Dirty Harry.

Gran Torino is a Clint Eastwood film in the strictest sense. Unlike his less successful (but no slouch) 2008 effort, Changeling, this is a film that feels utterly personal—a movie that might actually be as much about Clint Eastwood the man/myth/icon as it is about the fictional story he is telling. And if it is indeed his last acting performance on film, it is quite the note to go out on.

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Do You Feel Lucky, Monk?: Clint Eastwood: Oscar-winning director, tough-guy icon—and surprisingly accomplished jazz pianist. So how’d he get to Carnegie Hall? (Nick Tosches, December 12, 2008, Vanity Fair)

It’s one of those curiosities of human nature. No matter how much we achieve in this world, no matter how much life brings us, there are always regrets and pangs of failure.

“If I’ve had any regret in life, it was not paying more attention to it and not practice, practice, practice.”

That’s Clint Eastwood talking, and he’s talking about playing the piano. For him, before there were movies, there was the piano.

He was born in San Francisco in 1930. His father was a steelworker and his mother was a factory worker. And there was a piano.
Nick Tosches

If You Knew Sushi, June 2007

Autumn and the Plot Against Me, February 2007

A Jazz Age Autopsy, May 2005

“I started just playing it around the house when I was a little kid. My mother played a little bit. She could read music and stuff. So just bits and pieces. And then I started imitating records and stuff, ’cause she didn’t know how to play any jazz or blues particularly. So I just started getting interested in players who were good at it, and one thing led to another.”

The players who struck him back then were “Fats Waller and Art Tatum and people like that. And then a lot of the blues pianists that later came along. And I listened to some Dixieland piano players, too. You know, James P. Johnson, the people that date back to that era. And then I listened to a lot of the boogie-woogie piano players of the 30s and 40s. Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, stuff like that. And then Oscar Peterson came along. He was just a kid then, or just a very young man, and he started playing out of sight. George Shearing and Oscar Peterson and those guys became very popular in the 40s and 50s, so everybody tried to imitate them.”

It wasn’t until 1955 that Clint made his first film appearance, without credit, as a lab technician in Revenge of the Creature. But in the years before and after that inauspicious beginning, he never thought of turning to the piano for a living, though he probably could have done as well on a stage or in a bar with a piano as he did in that lab coat on a soundstage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


Armed Guards Would Deter Somali Pirates-US Navy (Javno, December 12, 2008)

Shipping firms should use armed security guards much more to protect their vessels against pirates off Somalia, the top U.S. Navy commander charged with tackling the problem said on Friday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


U.S. Hails Portugal Offer On Guantanamo: Portugal`s offer, made public in a letter by its foreign minister, is too late to help the Bush administration. (Javno, 12/12/08)

"This is extraordinarily significant," State Department legal adviser John Bellinger said in an interview with Reuters. "It is the first time that any country except Albania has privately or publicly stated that they are prepared to resettle Guantanamo detainees who are not their own nationals.

"It really is a first crack in the ice of what has been European opposition to helping with Guantanamo in any way. For five or six years there has been consistent criticism but no constructive offers to help," he said.

The Portuguese offer is timed to help Obama fulfill his pledge to close Guantanamo Bay and Bush administration officials said Amado also wanted to indicate a recent narrowing of legal differences between Washington and Europe over the issue.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado said in his letter to European partners it was time to show Obama's incoming government a clear willingness to resettle prisoners and thereby help to close the detention center.

"The time has come for the European Union to step forward," said the letter, released on Thursday.

As hoped, a President Obama allows Europe to behave responsibly.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM


Rahm Emanuel and Jesse Jackson Jr face new revelations in Governor Rod Blagojevich scandal (James Bone, 12/12/08, Times of London)

Fox News Chicago reported that Mr Emanuel, a Chicago politician who won the Illinois governor's former Congressional seat, may have been captured on FBI wire-taps discussing the fate of Mr Obama's vacated US Senate seat with Gov Rod Blagojevich.

The TV station said Mr Emanuel had "multiple conversations" with Mr Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to "sell" the open Senate seat for a cabinet post or lucrative top foundation job, and his chief of staff. The report said the governor was given a list of Senate candidates acceptable to Mr Obama.

Because the FBI was secretly taping Gov Blagojevich in recent weeks, Mr Emanuel's conversations may have been recorded, Fox News Chicago said.

Any tape-recordings of the newly appointed White House chief of staff speaking to Gov Blagojevich about Mr Obama's former Senate seat would prove an acute embarrassment to the incoming Obama Administration, even if no illegal deals were discussed, and could even force Mr Emanuel's resignation.

Mr Obama has promised to release details of any contacts between his staff and the governor's office, but told a news conference on Thursday he was "absolutely certain" none of his aides were involved in any deal-making.

Mr Emanuel skipped Mr Obama's press conference, which he typically attends.

Would have been helpful if someone had at least mentioned to voters that Mr. Obama is just a Cook County hack.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:50 PM


Today on the World Cafe

Ray Lamontagne is back with his third album since his stunning 2004 debut Trouble. Gossip In The Grain fully utilizes Ray's band and they are here to play live. And you, oh fortunate newsletter receiver, can have the first song we'll get to, "Hey Me, Hey Mama" as a free newsletter-exclusive download. Head here and make it your own!

We'll also play you one from the Menahan Street Band, a Brooklyn aggregation that is part of Daptone Records along with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. There was a great article about Gabriel Roth and his label in this Sunday's New York Times.

And we have a new single from Lily Allen. Here's the video.

Plus our Top 5, sent in by a listener in Boston, is all Australian this time around. Maybe it will make you think of HBO's new comedy series, which became a hit Down Under a year ago. Make sure you give us your top 5 at our website (where your friends can also sign up for this newsletter and get free downloads too)!

With your help we shall reach the 5,000 subscriber mark by year-end. We have 200 to go. So, pass this email on to a well-deserving friend.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM



SPIEGEL ONLINE: Professor Birnbaum, please remind us: What was Barack Obama's campaign slogan?

Norman Birnbaum: Change. Why?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because looking at his cabinet choices, that change seems a distant memory. Obama is retaining Republican Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, he wants to appoint Jim Jones, a friend of John McCain, as his National Security Adviser and Hillary Clinton is going to be in charge of the State Department.

The Obama years haven't even started yet and they're comic gold.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:17 PM


Avery Cardinal Dulles, 1918–2008 (Joseph Bottum, December 12, 2008, First Things)

Word has reached us that Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., died here in New York early this morning.

Created cardinal for his theological work by John Paul II, Avery Dulles was one of the great figures of the twentieth century: a theologian, an intellectual, a teacher, a writer, a lecturer, and a kind and gentle man.

In his long life, he wrote more than 700 articles and twenty-two books, and it is hard to imagine how anyone today can fill the roles he played in the Catholic world and American public life. As the disease that took his life progressed, his final months were a trial that took away his powers to speak, write, and move. But he seemed, in those months, to live even more serenely, more spiritually, and more beautifully. May God welcome him home.

There's a nice collection of his essays for First Things, including this favorite: The Deist Minimum.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:10 PM


Review: World of Goo: Trippy puzzle game (Chris Holt,

World of Goo is a trippy puzzle game that pushes your knowledge of physics to its gooey limits in a post-modernistic setting. Fun, quirky, and highly-addictive, World of Goo is one of the most entertaining puzzle games to come to the Mac in years.

Divided into five chapters and a loose story about a World Goo Corporation that transforms the self-aware Goo into things like beauty cream, World of Goo has hours of amusing, challenging, and just plain weird missions to play through. [...]

World of Goo are a physics simulator at heart, so expect to build plenty of triangles. The difficulty curve gets steep quickly as you’re introduced to new types of Goo. Eventually, you’ll have to float your structures around obstacles, spring booby-traps, ignite explosives, and construct “drool” to progress.

The structures you end up building have a liquid quality that is deeply disconcerting. But it shares the most important aspect of any successful game for non-techies, when you fail you believe you'll get it next time.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Politically correct Christmas carols censor 'king', 'son' and 'virgin' (Martin Beckford, 12 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

[A] Church of England vicar banned his congregation from singing O Little Town of Bethlehem because he believed its words do not reflect the suffering endured by modern residents of Jesus's birthplace.

Another clergyman has rewritten the Twelve Days of Christmas to include Aids victims, drug addicts and hoodies.

Steve Goddard, co-editor of the Christian website Ship of Fools, which is running a competition to find the worst example of a rewritten carol, said: "It's a festive car crash.

"Half the congregation sing familiar words from memory, while the rest stumble over revised alternatives. Our readers are telling us straight – for some new versions there should be no room at the inn."

Among the "theologically-modified, politically-corrected" carols encountered by visitors to the website are Hark the Herald Angels Sing in which the line "Glory to the newborn King" has been replaced by "Glory to the Christ child, bring".

The well-known refrain of O Come All Ye Faithful – "O come let us adore Him" – has also been changed in one church to "O come in adoration", both changes apparently made for fear the original was sexist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 PM


Robert Frost and Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (Peter J. Stanlis, Spring 2000, First Principles)

[Frost’s mother] noted that, through the study of astronomy, that thinker taught that “our faith must not be hampered by scientific doubts, our science must not be hampered by religious scruples.” She also quoted to her son a line from Edward Young’s “Night Thoughts”: “An undevout astronomer is mad.” Clearly, Burell’s interpretation of Darwin’s theory came into sharp conflict with Frost’s religious orientation as derived from her Swedenborgian faith, which he remembered fondly throughout his life for its “purety of spirit.”3 His mother’s guiding spirit, moreover, was an important early factor in shaping both his religious and his aesthetic beliefs. Throughout his life Frost was fascinated by Christian theology and the conception of creativity as “correspondence,” so that from the very beginning of his newly acquired interest in Darwinian evolution he was faced with the philosophical problem of how to reconcile the materialism in Darwin’s naturalism with the strongly opposed religious beliefs taught by his mother.4

Belle Frost considered Darwin’s theory on the origins of life and on how changes occurred in species both shocking and blasphemous, and she warned her son against listening to such an avowed atheist as Burell. Apparently, at first, Frost agreed with her view that the botanist’s belief in Darwin’s theory was a form of undevout madness. He even expressed his agreement in a limerick titled “The Rubaiyat of Carl Burell”:

There was a young fellow, begad,
Who hadn’t but wished that he had—
God only knows what,
But he blasphemed a lot
And showed he was generally mad.

But in talking with his mother, when he referred to himself as “a freethinker,” Belle feared that he shared Burell’s impiety, and she responded, “Oh don’t use that word. It has a dreadful history.”5Frost reassured his mother that he had not become an atheist, but that he was merely rethinking the whole relationship between his conventional belief in God and the claims of the revolutionary theory propounded by Darwin.

In an editorial essay in his high school paper, the Bulletin (May 1892), Frost clarified what he meant by rethinking his beliefs:

A Custom has its unquestioning followers, its radical enemies, and a class who have generally gone through both these to return to the first in a limited sense,—to follow custom,—not without question, but where it does not conflict with the broader habits of life gained by wanderers among ideas. The second class makes one of the first and third. This is best exemplified in religious thought and controversy. 6

What is most remarkable about his schoolboy statement is that it is the first recorded instance of what became his lifelong habit of mind regarding how he responded to challenging new ideas. It became characteristic of the poet to listen open-mindedly to whatever anyone had to say in expounding his scientific, religious, aesthetic, political, or educational beliefs, and then to judge its truth and personal meaning to him: “I’ll accept anybody’s . . . premises. I’ll let them have their say, and then I take it my way.” Thus, in a highly eclectic manner, as a “freethinker” or “wanderer among ideas,” Frost responded both to Darwin’s theory and to the great range of arguments by both critics and defenders of his theory.

Frost’s open-mindedness regarding Darwin’s theory functioned within the all–inclusive frame of reference provided by his philosophical dualism of matter and mind or spirit, and by his growing conviction that all thinking (except possibly mathematical cognition) was essentially metaphorical. This meant that, unlike spiritual monists, such as religious fundamentalists, he did not reject Darwin’s theory out of hand; and in sharp contrast to materialist monists and scientific fundamentalists who defended Darwin’s theory and used it as a weapon to attack religious belief, he at once retained his lifelong belief in God and respect for religion while accepting as valid whatever appeared to be true in Darwin’s thought. Whether in religion, science, literature, or anything else, fundamentalism was to Frost a state of mind and feeling which treated conceptual ideas and philosophical principles with literal-minded rigidity, and often with a fanaticism that lacked all sense of metaphor.

The trinity of Frost’s open-minded eclectic method, his philosophical dualism, and his faith in metaphorical thinking makes his response to Darwin’s theory of evolution extremely complex. His deep knowledge of that theory, his positive response to much of it, his important differences with its propounder, and his conflicts with some of its defenders and critics require an accurate and thorough study of the whole controversy over evolution as experienced by him throughout his adult life. Only after making such a study can readers of his poetry make those important distinctions that are necessary to appreciate the nature and extent of the impact that evolutionary theory had on his thought and verse.

Frost was aware that his mother continued to be troubled by Darwin’s theory, especially that crucial aspect of it which supposedly traced the origin of man and his descent from a common ancestry with the apes. To counteract that view, she quoted from Genesis, II, 7: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”7Belle Frost was unaware that in a letter to Thomas Henry Huxley (December 25, 1859), Darwin had candidly admitted that “ . . . we know nothing as yet [of] how life originates,”8and that in the Origin of Species (Chapter XV), he had noted “the old belief in the creation of species from the dust of the earth.” In response to this expression of his mother’s troubled state of mind, Frost had a “ready answer,” which he came to regard, in retrospect, as his first memorable witticism: “You say, God made man of mud, and I think God made man of prepared mud.”9Frost was well read in Emerson, and he may have taken his cue from that thinker’s statement: “Man was made of social earth.” In fact, he became so fond of his youthful witticism, made in 1892, that he repeated it, with significant variations, many times until his death in 1963.

In a poetry reading at Bread Loaf (June 30, 1955), he provided an addition to his witticism that explicitly harmonized Genesis with Darwin: “It doesn’t make any great difference to give up saying that God made [man] out of mud. All you have to say is that God made him out of prepared mud—worked it up from animal life. So it comes to the same thing—it’s a Darwinian thing.”10Metaphorically speaking, as it applies to the origins of life and the evolution of man, it does indeed come to the same thing, whether the appeal is primarily to things of the spirit, as in religion, or to things rooted in matter, as in scientific theory. Frost’s philosophical dualism of spirit and matter provided him with different metaphorical ways of explaining the same phenomena. Implicit in his witticism is his general belief that, despite apparent contradictions, there was no real conflict between science and religion, only “contrarieties” that needed to be resolved into a harmonious whole. The basic method of resolving all such contrarieties was through the free play of metaphorical thinking—the exploration of comparisons, contrasts, similarities, differences, analogies, parallels, parables, and so on, which involved saying spirit in terms of matter, and matter in terms of spirit.

It is enormously significant that sixty–seven years after Frost first made his witticism, he contended in “The Future of Man” symposium (1959), that the general public eventually came to reconcile its faith in traditional religion with Darwin’s theory by accepting the core idea in his witticism.

It speaks volumes that the many who believe in evolution guided by God are today considered Darwinists.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:58 AM


Help Purnell: The Spectator on the Government's welfare reform plans (The Spectator, 12/12/08)

It is one of the oddities of politics that a Labour government can sometimes get away with announcing policies which, had they come from the mouth of a Conservative minister, would have provoked howls of anger.

So it is with welfare reform. Whenever Mrs Thatcher’s government proposed to make benefit claimants actually do something for their handouts rather than languish in bedsits in Hastings and Margate, as was the common practice in the 1980s, the resulting rage and charges of heartlessness smothered serious reform — with dreadful consequences. In pockets of the country unemployment has become hereditary, and the idea of working for a living an entirely alien concept.

The publication of the government’s white paper on welfare reform on Wednesday, then, ought to be an ideal opportunity to tackle once and for all the culture of welfare dependency. Aside from a few objections from Labour’s backbenches the proposals have been welcomed as a concerted attempt to solve a serious problem: so they are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


Rendell slams Obama over Blago (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 12/12/08, Politico)

“They have never been in an executive position before,” Rendell said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “The rule of thumb is whatever you did, say it and get it over with and make it a one-day story as opposed to a three-day story. Politicians are always misjudging the intelligence of the American people.”

Known for his blunt critiques of fellow Democrats, Rendell did not hold back during the interview.

The public, said Rendell, understands Obama and his aides would have an interest in who fills the Senate seat, and some contact with the governor's office — and that Obama should have said as much at the outset.

"Did Rahm Emanuel who took Rod Blagojevich's seat in Congress have contact with Rod Blagojevich? Of course he did," Rendell said.

Obama gets a crisis 'test run': The president-elect's third response to the Blagojevich corruption scandal may have been the charm. (Peter Nicholas, December 12, 2008, LA Times)
It took three tries in as many days for President-elect Barack Obama to roll out a strategy for defusing the crisis over Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich's alleged attempt to put his old Senate seat up for sale. [...]

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said: "The first answer -- I don't have any comment on an ongoing investigation -- sounded exactly like the comments we've gotten from President Bush. And I don't think that's much of an answer. The answer that he'll [make public] the complete list is finally the right answer."

After basing his campaign for president on a promise to transform Washington, Obama is obliged to set the highest ethical standards, some government watchdog groups say. His transition co-chair, John Podesta, further raised expectations when he vowed last month to run the most open transition in history.

The complaint filed against Blagojevich said he wanted to talk to one of Obama's aides and ask for help raising up to $15 million for a nonprofit group the governor wanted to create.

Yet top aides to the president-elect, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who has political ties to Blagojevich, have not been made available to reporters.

Emanuel has accompanied Obama to some of his news conferences in Chicago over the last month, standing off to the side with other aides. But since the Blagojevich story broke, he has largely kept out of public view. He was not seen at Obama's latest news conference.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


Not so sweet on Caroline (BEN SMITH & GLENN THRUSH, 12/12/08, Politico)

Rivals – including at least three members of the New York congressional delegation — are starting to doubt Kennedy's viability and experience, and Paterson is said to be less than enthusiastic about picking her, people close to him say. Critics are even questioning the substance of her accomplishments in education, her most high profile issue.

If the election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden means anything it's that never having done anything significant is no bar to office.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Liberal Author Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi: Secularism Will Triumph in the Arab World; Terrorism's Crimes Are 'The Death Struggle of Fundamentalism': an interview with prominent Jordanian-American liberal author Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi (, 5/15/08)

Interviewer: "What is your concept of secularism?"

Nabulsi: "'Secularism' means the separation of religion from the state, excluding the clergy from politics, and not permitting religious political parties. These measures are all in the interest of religion, to keep the sacred - religion - apart from the profane - politics.

"This is because when, throughout the ages, politics made use of religion, the joining of religion and politics was to religion's detriment. Politics gained, and religion lost. And likewise, this separation [exists] in order to hold the politician accountable for his political activity, and not [let him] take refuge under the umbrella of religion to avoid accountability and punishment. It is difficult to oppose or hold to account the clergy who combine religion and politics.

"In fact, the separation of religion from politics is easier for the Shi'a than for the Sunnis. Shi'ite institutions evolved like the Church, and the Shi'ite hierarchy resembled the ecclesiastical hierarchy, so that both hierarchies remained separate from the state.

"This is in contrast with the Sunni institutions, which were incorporated into the state from the time of Caliph Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, [the first caliph of the Umayyad Dynasty]. The state made use of Sunni institutions more than the Shi'ite institutions, which remained outside the domain of the Arab Islamic state.

Which is why Shi'ism is the Third Foundation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Poland Successful In EU Climate Wrangle (Javno, 12/12/08)

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk achieved his goal of amending an EU plan to battle climate change to ease the pain of transition for Poland's power sector, a senior government official said.

Poland was seen as one of the main obstacles to the EU's plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions by a fifth by 2020, because it will prove costly for its large coal-dependent power sector.

"The prime minister achieved everything he wanted in negotiations on the climate package," the official told Reuters. "We wait of course for the confirmation on paper."

...when the Poles win everyone wins.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Beliefs in God, UFOs prevail
1 in 3 doubt Darwin theory
(Jennifer Harper, December 12, 2008 , Washington Times)

The numbers clearly favor the proverbial Big Man Upstairs: 80 percent say they believe in God; among those who attend church weekly, the number is 98 percent. Three-quarters believe in miracles, 73 percent believe in heaven, 71 percent say Jesus is the Son of God and 71 percent believe in angels, the survey found. Seven out of 10 say Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that the Bible is, all or in part, the "Word of God."

More than two-thirds - 68 percent - believe in the "survival of the soul after death" and would describe themselves as religious. About 62 percent think that hell exists, 61 percent believe in the Virgin Birth and 59 percent say the devil exists.

In contrast, fewer than half - 47 percent - said they believe in Darwin's theory of evolution; a third said they did not believe in it while 22 percent were not sure what they thought. A full 40 percent said they believe in creationism, though the question did not elaborate on exactly what that term meant.

...think the Party ought to move to the naturalist margins.

December 11, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 PM


Breaking The Will: How waterboarding got the green light from Bush. (Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Dec 11, 2008, Newsweek)

The Bush administration approved the use of "waterboarding" on Al Qaeda detainees after receiving reports from government psychologists that it was "100 percent effective" in breaking the will of U.S. military personnel subjected to the technique during training, according to documents released today by a Senate Committee.

The Senate Armed Services report concludes that waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques—including forcing detainees to stand naked, subjecting them to growling dogs and depriving them of sleep—were discussed by top members of the National Security Council and other senior administration officials inside the White House. Some officials expressed strong concerns about the legality of the methods. But the techniques were ultimately given the green light, based on government assessments that showed such methods were quick and effective in breaking down the resistance of U.S. military officers who were subjected to them in so-called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) classes.

...why are we to believe the latter will forsake what works?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:42 PM


Manny feeling ignored in free-agent market (KEN DAVIDOFF, December 11, 2008, Newsday)

Manny Ramirez is growing extremely upset about the lack of suitors for his services, so much so that he has told friends he would contemplate retirement if a suitable offer doesn't arrive soon, a person close to the situation told Newsday.

The great part of all this is that his own agent is causing this by not letting another client, Mark Texieria, accept the best offer available, from the Washington Nationals, so that they'll be forced to fall back to Manny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 PM


A Vote for Senator Caroline (Ruth Marcus, December 9, 2008, Washington Post)

On the question of Caroline Kennedy for Senate, my head says no, on balance. My heart says yes! Yes! Right now, as you might guess from the hedging on the former and the exclamation points on the latter, my heart is winning.

What, after all, is leftism but the triumph of feeling over thought?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 PM


to orrin
date Thu, Dec 11, 2008 at 6:32 PM
subject Googlewhack!!!

hi there!

my name is sam and i'm from ireland

i just thought id send you an email to let you know that you are a googlewack!!

having typed in fledgling sledworthy your site was the only result on google.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:33 PM


A new history of American foreign policy suggests that intervention is in the country’s blood: a review of From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 by George C. Herring (Gabriel Paquette, The National)

George Herring’s colossal history of US foreign relations has earned fully-deserved praise for its staggering erudition, lucid prose and brisk style. It offers far more than a litany of long-forgotten diplomats and treaties. Instead, Herring persuasively suggests, the US has been embedded fatefully in international politics since its inception. France and Spain, eager to strike a blow at their increasingly dominant rival Britain, lent massive support to a ragtag group of improbable rebels from 1778, support without which their insurgency would have been suppressed. Foreign affairs are not a sideshow of American history, Herring demonstrates, but one of its chief determinants. [...]

Herring harbours no illusions concerning the arrogant self-fashioning of American power, from John Quincy Adams’s allusion to the “benignant sympathy of our example” to Madeleine Albright’s reference to the “indispensable nation”. One of the most refreshing qualities of his book is its demonstration that racial prejudice, cultural chauvinism and unabashed opportunism have shaped US external relations since the republic’s infancy. Herring disabuses his readers of long-entrenched historical myths about America’s supposed pacific age of innocent isolationism before its turn to robust involvement in global affairs. Intervention, not isolation, has been the prevailing tendency in US foreign relations. Indeed, America’s aspiration to intervene beyond its borders has been unconstrained by the actual limits of its authority and resources.

The Crusade pauses periodically, but never ceases.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 PM


Israeli Radical Considers Hitler to be a Genius: The Israeli radical is prepared to support the Palestinians on one condition – that they move out of Israel and move to Arab nations. (Javno, 12/11/08)

Describing Adolph Hitler, the infamous Nazi leader, Mosche Feihlin, who the Israelis consider to be radically oriented to the right and a racist, said that “Hitler was a military genius without rivals”, and that “Nazism in Germany promoted the country into a physically and ideologically fantastic country” write Israeli media.

He is high ranking on the electoral list of the Likud party, and not long after the elections for the leadership of Likud, his text describing his plans and program should he become premier were removed from the official website.

For racialists it isn't a matter of whether Applied Darwinism is wrong in concept only a dispute over how Hitler practiced it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


What Unites the Stone-Throwing Black Bloc?: For days, youths in Athens have been fighting with police. The riots have spread to other parts of Europe, where left-wing radicals are protesting in support of their Greek brethren. They're considered the militant spearheads of an international scene that is largely united by violence. (Der Spiegel, 12/11/08)

The "First International of stone throwers," as one German domestic intelligence worker once put it, describing the international association of socialists that tried to bring togther left-wing political groups in the 1800s, functions, but its capacity for mobilizaition is generally limited. Still, Grigoropoulos' death has been a catalyzing incident, and it has driven leftist anarchists to the streets in a handful of cities across Europe. "This may have hit one person, but it was meant for us all," one German protester's banner read. And it doesn't take much coordinating before the anarchists are out on the streets expressing their rage.

But the "international" scene is, in fact, only loosely connected. The Internet has made it easier for different networks to connect with each other, but real organization would contradict the very self-image of anarchists. "The anarchist movement is not homogenous," states a report by Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, on the country's estimated 5,800 Black Bloc members. There are "more or less consolidated and self-contained groups" who have "no unified ideological concept," the report maintains.

Instead, each individual tends to fight his or her own battle against the state, the political establishment or right-wing extremists. Indeed, the one thing that seems to unite these diffuse ideological fragments is a preference for the prefix "anti." "Anti-American, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist tend to be the Black Bloc's driving principles these days," says Wilhem Heitmeyer, a sociologist at Germany's University of Bielefeld who is a researcher in the field of youth violence. "That's what binds them."

Even more binding than any theoretical minimal consensus, however, is the extremely practical means with which the movement draws attention to itself: The idea that violence is the best way to fight against the "system" or "rulers." "Militance is an identity-building, formative component of the movement's experience," and a "necessary component of left-radical politics," a group of aging German anarchists wrote a few years back, recalling their experiences. In that regard, nothing has changed except that the principle has since spread around the world.

In this context, the Greek anarchists may feel confident of being viewed as the militant spearheads of the movement. And while there may have been relative quiet for the first time in days on Wednesday night, in the orgy of violence in previous days, it had looked as though an entire frustrated generation was unleashing its fury -- or as if the anarchists in Greece had a reputation to defend.

They do protest too much: Youth riots across Greece demonstrate why the country needs to change (The Economist, 12/11/08)
The pent-up anger of Greece’s youth, matched by the anarchists’ taste for mayhem, triggered five nights of riots, causing damage estimated at more than €100m ($130m). Hundreds of school students battled with police after the teenager’s funeral in a plush seaside suburb. Others threw stones at policemen on guard outside parliament, shouting “let parliament burn”.

Appeals for calm by Costas Karamanlis, the centre-right prime minister, were mostly ignored. Fearful of provoking even broader dissent, he refused to take such tough measures as imposing a curfew or ordering blanket arrests, on the ground that they might smack of the military dictatorship in the 1970s. Talks among political leaders in pursuit of a consensus on how to quell the unrest swiftly broke down. On December 10th a long-planned 24-hour strike by public-sector unions went ahead despite Mr Karamanlis’s televised call for it to be cancelled. George Papandreou, the opposition Pasok leader, urged the prime minister to resign and call a general election. “Effectively there is no government…we claim power,” he said.

Mr Karamanlis was already vulnerable. His New Democracy party controls only 151 of the 300 seats in parliament and trails Pasok by four or five points in the opinion polls. For all his party’s weakness, the prime minister’s personal approval rating has so far stayed well ahead of Mr Papandreou’s. But with his image as a safe pair of hands in tatters, that may now change. Small family-owned businesses and retailers, the backbone of support for New Democracy, are furious at the failure of the police to protect their property.

...but spoiled children? When they make this into an opera the chorus will be Oompa Loompas.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


The left's resignation note: Why the left in Europe is not benefiting from the economic crisis (Charlemagne, Dec 11th 2008, The Economist)

SOCIALISM in Britain died in 1983. Its demise can be dated to that year’s Labour Party election manifesto, branded “the longest suicide note in history”. This document combined ideological purity (highlights included the creation of a planning ministry, withdrawal from the European Community, exchange controls to stop capital fleeing overseas and unilateral nuclear disarmament) with a lunatic disdain for what voters wanted.

Today questions are being asked about the health of the European left, as the deepening recession fails to boost Socialist parties across the European Union. This baffles many. After all, the Anglo-Saxon obsession with untrammelled markets has been exposed as madness—or so leftist bigwigs claim. Across the capitalist world, once-strutting tycoons are begging for state bail-outs. Yet voters are not flocking to mainstream centre-left parties. A recent column in Libération, a leftish French newspaper, moaned that this was not just a “paradox” but an “injustice”. [...]

As successive European economies tumble into recession, the thing that most frightens and angers workers is the risk of losing their jobs to lower-cost rivals. The [Party of European Socialists] manifesto dances around this issue. It talks of “managing” globalisation for the benefit of all and using Europe’s combined size and wealth as a labour market to defend “high social standards”. But it does not promise to stop factory closures or lay-offs.

...the only remaining arguments are at the margins.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


Backed by a Brass Band, He Celebrates Himself (NATE CHINEN, 12/11/08, NY Times)

Howard Fishman has a fondness for old things and a knack for restoring them. A decade ago that combination of traits led to his first big New York engagement, at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel. Leading a spry quartet, he dusted off the cameos and curios of a vanished era, drawing no distinctions among Dixieland, bluegrass and Gypsy swing.

Mr. Fishman, a charismatic rhythm guitarist and an endearingly low-key singer, still has his fathomless cache of songs. And he still has his quartet, which will return to the Oak Room on Sunday night. But he has also diversified in recent years. His Basement Tapes Project reclaims the repertory associated with Bob Dylan’s most obsessed-over period. His theatrical oratorio, “We Are Destroyed,” contemplates the frontier tragedy of the Donner Party. His Biting Fish Brass Band borrows the strut of New Orleans street music.

Each of these outlets has been mobilized for Mr. Fishman’s 10th-anniversary celebration, slated to run through Dec. 18 at a handful of different spaces. It’s a programming stunt, transparently. But it’s also true to Mr. Fishman’s natural commemorative urge, even if he does seem to be on the receiving end of his own salute.

You can find a couple of Howard Fishman live shows at Internet Archives

-AUDIO: Episode 012 : Howard Fishman + Josh Lederman (Well-Rounded Radio)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:54 AM


Source: $14-Billion Auto Bailout Plan Headed Toward Death in Senate (, December 11, 2008)

A senior Democratic leadership aide told FOX News on Thursday that the 14-billion dollar auto rescue package appears headed toward a quiet death in the Senate.

The emergency bailout bill -- approved 237-170 by the U.S. House of Representatives -- has angered many Republicans who claim it does not require enough accountability from auto makers. The Republicans have plans to filibuster the legislation to prevent its passage in the U.S. Senate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:36 AM


Giving Thanks for America (George Weigel, December 11, 2008, THE CATHOLIC DIFFERENCE)

[O]ver the years, John Paul came to understand that America had a spiritual vitality that old Europe lacked -- a spiritual vitality that had infused at least some American intellectuals with a contemporary idea of freedom virtually identical to the pope's own. Thus, in the aftermath of the Cold War, John Paul encouraged his fellow-Poles and other citizens of the new democracies of east central Europe to establish contacts with U.S. Catholics in order to build a trans-Atlantic community of conversation and action in defense of freedom rightly understood.

John Paul II gave voice to his mature appreciation of the United States, and his convictions about the challenges before us, in a December 1997 address, delivered when he received the credentials of Lindy Boggs as the new U.S. ambassador to the Holy See:

"No expression of today's [American] commitment to liberty and justice for all can be more basic than the protection offered to those in society who are most vulnerable. The United States of America was founded on the conviction that an inalienable right to life was a self-evident moral truth, fidelity to which was a primary criterion of social justice. The moral history of your country is the story of your people's efforts to widen the circle of inclusion in society, so that all Americans might enjoy the protection of law, participate in the responsibilities of citizenship, and have the opportunity to make a contribution to the common good. Whenever a certain category of people -- the unborn or the sick and old -- are excluded from that protection, a deadly anarchy subverts the original understanding of justice. The credibility of the United States will depend more and more on its promotion of a genuine culture of life, and on a renewed commitment to building a world in which the weakest and most vulnerable are welcomed and protected.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:30 AM


The Pathfinder: New House Whip Eric Cantor Aims to Be the GOP's Out-of-the-Wilderness Guide (Manuel Roig-Franzia, 12/11/08, Washington Post)

For all his renown on the Hill, Cantor did not truly catapult into the national consciousness until two things happened within a few months this summer and fall: He played a starring role in the fight over the Wall Street bailout, helping to block the first version of the plan on the grounds that it did not have enough safeguards for taxpayers. [...]

During the fight over the Wall Street bailout, he seemed to be in front of every microphone, at the center of every key meeting. He looked perfectly in sync with a public that was furious at the prospect of bailing out Wall Street while their savings were evaporating in a plummeting stock market.

But he was about to get schooled.

After the first version of the bailout was defeated, Cantor appeared at a news conference and waved a copy of the speech delivered before the vote by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who blamed the crisis on "reckless" Bush administration policies. "Right here is the reason I believe why this vote failed," Cantor said.

The remark, a single line at a news conference, gave Democrats an opportunity to shift some public opinion against Republicans. With the stock market in freefall after the vote, Barney Frank, the veteran Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, mocked Cantor and other Republicans opponents.

"Because somebody hurt their feelings, they decide to punish the country," Frank said stingingly. "Give me those 12 people's names and I will go talk uncharacteristically nicely to them."

McCarthy, the Young Gun from California who is now Cantor's chief deputy whip, said in an interview that "it was probably a good learning experience" for his friend.

"Whoever thinks politics is not a contact sport doesn't understand this place," McCarthy said. "Nobody in this house hasn't had to take a punch. It's just, did you get back up? This was not a knockout punch."

Despite taking that whack from Frank, Cantor is widely credited with restoring order among Republicans afterward and speeding the passage of the bailout by inserting an insurance provision into the bill. "It was because of Eric that we kept our cool," Ryan, his fellow Young Guns leader, said in an interview.

It was because of Eric that you lost the election.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


Time for dessert? Roll out the cake (ELIZABETH PUDWILL, 12/10/08, Houston Chronicle)

1 box cake mix (any flavor)

1 (12-ounce) container prepared icing (any flavor)

1 package almond bark (vanilla or chocolate)

Bake cake according to directions on box. After it cools, crumble it into a mixing bowl and mix in icing. Shape into balls, place on a cookie sheet and freeze until solid.

Meanwhile, melt bark accordinig to package directions.

After balls have frozen, dip in melted bark and place on cookie sheet, letting them sit until bark has set.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:20 AM


Smoked Turkey, Fontina and Bacon Panini (Fresh & Fast, Marie Simmons)

4 thin slices of bacon

4 slices (½ inch thick) round Italian loaf

½ ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and mashed with a fork

4 slices smoked turkey

3 ounces (approximately) Italian Fontina cheese, cut into thin slices

Olive oil for the pan or griddle

1. In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Drain on a paper towel. Discard the bacon fat and wipe the skillet dry.

2. Lay the slices of bread on a work surface and spread each with a thin layer of the mashed avocado, dividing evenly. Divide the smoked turkey, bacon and cheese evenly on two bread slices. Top with the remaining two bread slices.

3. Place the wiped out skillet (or use a large griddle) over medium heat until hot enough to evaporate a drop of water upon contact. Drizzle the pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Place the sandwiches in the hot pan and weight with a flat lid (or a heat-resistant plate) placed directly on top of the sandwiches.

4. Cook the sandwiches until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Carefully turn the sandwiches and cook until the other side is browned and the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


Coconut-pecan chocolate bars (Andrew Schwartz, December 10, 2008, Boston Globe)

3 cups graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Line it with parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter, and salt. Mix well and press the mixture into the bottom of the pan.

3. Sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly on top, then add the coconut and pecans. Drizzle the mixture with the condensed milk.

4. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Pistachio Shortbread (Joan Rickman of Tracy, 12/10/2008, Contra Costa Times)
1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup chilled, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes

½ cup natural unsalted pistachios, lightly toasted, chopped

1 large egg yolk

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour, powdered sugar and salt in processor. Add butter, pistachios, egg yolk and vanilla. Pulse processor until a moist ball forms.

2. Transfer dough to work surface. Divide dough in half. Form each dough half into a log shape that measures 8 inches. It should be about 1¼ inches in diameter. If dough is too soft to form into a log, chill until firm, about 30 minutes.

3. Wrap logs in plastic, refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. Slice logs into ¼-inch thick rounds, rolling log after every few slices to retain round shape. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake shortbread until barely golden, about 18 minutes. Cool shortbread on baking sheets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:04 AM


Apple Bacon Coffeecake (Noelle Carter, 12/10/08, Los Angeles Times)

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk

1 package active dry yeast (2½ teaspoons)

1/3 cup sugar, divided

3 eggs, divided

10 tablespoons butter (1¼ sticks), at room temperature, cut into ½-inch pieces

3½ cups bread flour, divided

½ teaspoon salt

1½ pounds thick-cut bacon, preferably applewood-smoked, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch pieces

1 pound tart apples, such as Granny Smith (about 2 large)

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup maple syrup, divided

2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

1/3 cup sliced almonds

2 tablespoons cream cheese

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, sifted

1. In a small pan, heat the milk over medium heat, just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar, then set aside until the yeast is activated and the milk is foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Whisk two of the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk
attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining sugar until fully incorporated.

3. With the mixer running, add the butter, one or two pieces at a time, until all of it has been incorporated.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until all of it has been incorporated into the dough.

5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and elastic with a silky texture, 5 to 7 minutes. Knead in additional bread flour as needed, up to the remaining ½ cup. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.

6. While the dough is rising, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently so the bacon cooks evenly and does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate, reserving ¼ cup of the grease for the remainder of the recipe.

7. Peel and core the apples, and slice each into eight pieces. Cut each slice crosswise into 1/8-inch pieces.

8. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons bacon grease over medium heat. Stir in the apple slices and cinnamon and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 tablespoons maple syrup and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender, another 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the Amaretto. Place the pan back over medium heat and cook until the liqueur is mostly absorbed, about 1 minute, stirring to scrape any bits of flavoring from the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

9. When the dough is doubled, punch it down and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a 12- by 18-inch rectangle. Spread the apples and bacon bits evenly over the dough.

10. Roll the dough lengthwise into a tube (like a cinnamon roll), making sure the seam is on the bottom of the roll. Make 15 slits over the length of the roll, a little over 1 inch apart and three-fourths of the way through. Carefully transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Form the dough into the shape of a wreath, with the cut sides on the outside of the wreath. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight; remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking so the dough can come to room temperature.

11. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon maple syrup with the remaining egg. Brush the egg wash over the outside of the wreath. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the wreath and place the pan in the oven.

12. Bake the coffeecake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.

13. While the coffeecake is baking, make the glaze. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon bacon grease and maple syrup.

14. Remove the cake and brush the top with the remaining tablespoon bacon grease. Allow the cake to cool slightly.

15. Drizzle the glaze over the warm coffeecake. Slice and serve. The coffeecake will keep for up to two days if refrigerated, but cover it and bring it to room temperature before serving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


Stephen King’s 10 best list (Marjorie Kehe | 12.07.08, CS Monitor)

5. Nixonland, Rick Perlstein
Nonfiction that has the sweep of an epic novel, with The Great American Political Vampire at the center of the action. It’s the best history of the turbulent ’60s I’ve ever read.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


The Unreal Bill Ayers: Three Decades After the Weather Underground's End, He's Still Justifying Its Means (Charles Lane, December 11, 2008, Washington Post)

Ayers omits the 1969 "Days of Rage" riot in Chicago, spearheaded by his Weatherman faction of Students for a Democratic Society. He kicked it off by helping to blow up a downtown police monument the night of Oct. 6, 1969; the blast showered rubble on a nearby expressway and shattered more than 100 windows.

If a warning to the public preceded this strike, Ayers doesn't mention it in his 2001 memoir, "Fugitive Days" -- nor does contemporaneous media coverage. In fact, a bus driver told police that his vehicle stalled near the statue a half-hour before the blast; he would have been a sitting duck 30 minutes later. Days afterward, Ayers and other club-wielding leftists fought and injured police officers and smashed storefronts and cars. A government attorney tried to tackle one of them and wound up paralyzed.

In his Times column, Ayers's chronology focuses on 1970, the year he co-founded the Weather Underground "after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village." But this wasn't some especially radicalizing furnace mishap. On March 6, 1970, three members of a Weatherman cell died when a bomb they were making blew up in their faces. Packed with nails for maximum lethality, it had been intended for a noncommissioned officers' dance at Fort Dix, N.J.

Only then did the Weatherman faction mutate into the Weather Underground -- and begin issuing pre-detonation warnings. Even so, it was still a matter of luck that there were no casualties.

As Todd Gitlin, a former '60s leftist and a historian of the period, put it: "They planned on being terrorists. Then their bomb blew up and killed several of them and they thought better of it. They were failed terrorists."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM


The Great Chess Doping Scandal: Grandmaster Vassily Ivanchuk refused to submit a urine sample for a drug test at the Chess Olympiad in Dresden and is now considered guilty of doping. The world of chess is outraged that he could face a two-year ban. (Maik Grossekathöfer, 12/11/08, Der Spiegel)

Professional chess player Vassily Ivanchuk, born in Berezhany, Ukraine in 1969, has been a grandmaster for the past 20 years and is currently ranked third in the world. The man with black hair and bedroom eyes is known as "Big Chucky" by his fellow chess players. Why? Because, after losing a game, he goes into the forest at night and howls at the moon to drive out the demons. Because he walks around in shorts in freezing temperatures. Because he likes to sit in dark rooms. Because he usually looks at the ceiling instead of the board during a chess match. Because he tries to fold the oversized winner's check handed out after a tournament down to pocket size. And because he, as World Champion Visvanathan Anand says, lives on "Planet Ivanchuk."

Who knows what was going through Ivanchuk's head when, on Nov. 25 in Dresden, the last day of the Chess Olympiad, he lost to Gata Kamsky? What we do know, however, is that when the game against the American ended, a judge asked Ivanchuk to submit to a drug test. Instead, he stormed out of the room in the conference center, kicked a concrete pillar in the lobby, pounded a countertop in the cafeteria with his fists and then vanished into the coatroom. Throughout this performance, he was followed by a handful of officials.

No one could convince Ivanchuk to provide a small amount of urine for the test. And because refusal is treated as a positive test result, he is now considered guilty of doping and could be barred from professional chess for two years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM

50 IN '09?:

Proposed Special Election for Obama’s Seat No Sure Thing for Dems (Greg Giroux, 12/11/08, Congressional Quarterly)

[A] special election, if that is the route ultimately taken, would accelerate the state Republican Party’s plans to get back into U.S. Senate competition. Party officials insisted, even before Blagojevich was hit with criminal allegations, that they planned to recruit a strong candidate to seriously contest the regularly scheduled election in November 2010, at the end of the six-year term Obama won in 2004.

“It’s going to be a change election,” whether it is early next year or in November 2010, said Andy McKenna, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. McKenna has called on Blagojevich to resign and the state legislature to commence impeachment proceedings if he does not.

“We think we’ve got a slew of good candidates who can come forward and earn the voters’ trust,” McKenna said.

Perhaps the biggest problem for the Republicans if there is a hastily scheduled special election is that they lack a deep pool of potential candidates who are well-known throughout the state. Jim Edgar, the state’s popular Republican governor from 1991 to 1999, has been mentioned for numerous statewide races since he left office, but has said repeatedly he isn’t interested in returning to political life.

One possibly competitive prospect is Rep. Mark Steven Kirk , a Republican moderate. Kirk was just elected to a fifth House term in the Democratic-leaning suburban 10th District north of Chicago, which split its ticket to strongly favor Obama for president. Though he doesn’t have a high profile statewide, Kirk raised more than $5 million to win re-election this year — more than any other House Republican nationally — and could raise substantial funds for an abbreviated Senate election.

Mike Ditka owes us a race. If he'd run a couple years ago the current president-elect never would have made it to Washington.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Obama to offer Israel "nuclear umbrella"-newspaper (Reuters, 11/12/2008)

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama plans to offer Israel a strategic pact designed to fend off any nuclear attack on the Jewish state by Iran, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday.

Quoting an unnamed American source close to Obama's administration, the Haaretz daily said Washington would pledge under the proposed "nuclear umbrella" to respond to any Iranian nuclear strike against Israel with a U.S. retaliation in kind.

The election replaced a theocon with a neocon.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Bush greets, kisses two injured Marines (AP, 12/11/08)

After climbing down from his Marine One helicopter, Bush walked toward the White House, then stopped and approached the Marines, one of whom was in a wheelchair. The president greeted Lance Cpl. Patrick Pittman Jr., of Savannah, Ga., and Lance Cpl. Marc Olson, of Coal City, Ill.

Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP

Bush directed aides to turn Pittman's wheelchair around. Instead, Pittman stood next to the president for the photograph. They were joined by Olson's mother, Pinky Kloski.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


Cleaning Firm Used Illegal Workers at Chertoff Home (Spencer S. Hsu, 12/11/08, Washington Post)

Every few weeks for nearly four years, the Secret Service screened the IDs of employees for a Maryland cleaning company before they entered the house of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the nation's top immigration official.

The company's owner says the workers sailed through the checks -- although some of them turned out to be illegal immigrants.

Now, owner James D. Reid finds himself in a predicament that he considers especially confounding. In October, he was fined $22,880 after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators said he failed to check identification and work documents and fill out required I-9 verification forms for employees, five of whom he said were part of crews sent to Chertoff's home and whom ICE told him to fire because they were undocumented.

"Our people need to know," said the Montgomery County businessman. "Our Homeland Security can't police their own home. How can they police our borders?"


December 10, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:58 PM


left us with the cat's grin>

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 PM


Blagojevich questions censored on Transition site (Ben Smith, 12/10/08, Politico)

President-elect Barack Obama's Transition today launched "Open for Questions," a Digg-style feature allowing citizens to submit questions, and to vote on one another's questions, bringing favored inquiries to the top of the list.

It was suggested when it launched that the tool would bring uncomfortable questions to the fore, but the results so far are the opposite: Obama's supporters appear to be using -- and abusing -- a tool allowing them to "flag" questions as "inappropriate" to remove all questions mentioning Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich from the main pages of Obama's website.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:07 PM


Scandal, appointments give GOP hope (JOSH KRAUSHAAR | 12/10/08, Politico)

Whether it’s the Senate seat Blagojevich allegedly sought to sell in Illinois, the soon-to-be-vacant Senate seats of Joe Biden in Delaware and Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York, or the Arizona governorship that Janet Napolitano will give up to take the helm of the Department of Homeland Security, Republicans are finding an unexpected upside to Obama’s election and subsequent Cabinet picks.

With Blagojevich’s arrest, Illinois Democrats are now scrambling to ensure Obama’s Senate seat remains in their control, amid fears that the scandal could jeopardize the party’s ability to hold what, under normal circumstances, should be a safely Democratic seat. In New York and Delaware, the sudden opening of two solidly Democratic Senate seats also has raised the prospect that Republicans could mount serious challenges. [...]

In Illinois, all eyes are on GOP Rep. Mark Kirk, who is considering running for the Senate seat in a special election. He would give Republicans a battle-tested candidate with no ties to the tainted Chicago and Springfield machines. He might otherwise have been unlikely to run statewide, since as a moderate Republican he could be vulnerable in a primary where conservative voters would hold sway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 PM


Blagojevich’s Big Conference Call and Valerie Jarrett’s Clean Break (Cam Simpson, 12/10/08, WSJ: Washington Wire)

[W]hat’s drawing the most interest is who was on the line from Washington, and the sequence of political events that followed that same night and in the ensuing days regarding Barack Obama’s close friend and adviser, Valerie Jarrett.

According to the FBI, there were “various Washington, D.C., based advisers” on the call with Mr. Blagojevich & Co., although the Washington callers are not named. The FBI also said participants popped on and off the line throughout the conversation.

During the call, Mr. Blagojevich and those closest to him allegedly detailed virtually every one of their ideas for turning Mr. Obama’s open Senate seat into something valuable. Specifically, the governor asked “what he can get from the President-elect for the Senate seat,” the FBI alleged, adding later that callers talked about how to “monetize” Mr. Blagojevich’s connections.

Mr. Blagojevich also bemoaned what he called his financial struggles, although his post reportedly pays about $177,000 per year. “The immediate challenge,” the governor allegedly said, “[is] how do we take some of the financial pressure off of our family.”

Callers discussed the possibility of ambassadorships, which are made by the president. They talked about an appointment for Mr. Blagojevich as head of the Department of Health and Human Services, also made by the president. They explored the idea of getting Mr. Obama to use his clout to put the governor’s wife on corporate boards. And they discussed a deal involving the Service Employee International Union, which would be asked to install Mr. Blagojevich over one of its top political groups in exchange for the union getting to tell Mr. Obama that it was delivering the open U.S. Senate seat to his favorite candidate.

That candidate, Mr. Blagojevich believed, was Valerie Jarrett, according to sources familiar with this part of the probe.

It would be a very good thing if the rumor that Rahm Emanuel is the one who dimed out the Governor was true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 PM


Maliki's tenure on ice as rift with Kurds widens: The Iraqi premier is increasingly at risk as cracks in his Shiite-Kurdish coalition grow in the waning days of the Bush administration, his other main ally. (Jane Arraf, 12/11/08, The Christian Science Monitor)

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's coalition of support is fraying. The Kurds, his chief Iraqi ally, are increasingly at odds with the Shiite premier over issues of power, oil, the military, and Kirkuk. Mr. Maliki's other main sponsor – the Bush administration – will also soon disappear. [...]

"Kurds have made a judgment that he cannot be trusted and that's the worst part of this – it's not about the technicalities of oil law and this and that – this issue of trust was shattered," says the Kurdish official who, like all of the people interviewed for this story, would speak only on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

"A lot of the issues that are involved … are characteristic of nation building and characteristic of competition for power and resources in nascent systems and that's what we are witnessing," says a senior US official. "I think relations obviously have deteriorated. What tangible impact that has on Maliki's ability to govern [is] hard to say but clearly this is problematic for him and for [the Kurds]."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 PM


The price of oil returns to 'normal' (Terence Corcoran, December 10, 2008, National Post)

The list of big-name economists, commentators and forecasters who hung their hats — and their investment plans — on variations of peak oil theory is too big for this page, but some day somebody should post it prominently for all to see.

One of the rare exceptions, a name not on any such list, is Vaclav Smil, perhaps one of Canada’s greatest unsung academics. Let me now sing his praises. Prof. Smil is a distinguished professor in the environment faculty at the University of Manitoba. One of his many books, usually dense and written for scholars, is a new popular Beginners Guide, simply titled Oil (Oneworld Publications, 200 pages, 2008).

Back in June, 2006, Prof. Smil wrote a commentary for FP Comment dismissing the peak oil crowd as a “new catastrophist cult.” In 2000, he warned in a science journal that the experience of long-range forecasting, especially in energy, had been dismal. He predicted more. “There will be no end to naive, and ... incredibly short-sighted or outright ­ridiculous, predictions.”

Prof. Smil’s new contribution to the absurdity of peak oil theory, Oil, is more than just a critique of the latest crackpot forecasting theories. In 200 pages, he packs everything most people — including most economists and investment advisors — should know about the physics and economics of oil.

As time goes on the world will slowly sever its dependence on fossil fuels, but any such transition is decades away. Peak oil enthusiasts are wrong for scores of reasons. They assume that oil reserves are know with some degree of precision; that reserves are fixed; that demand and supply can be projected with accuracy over long periods of time.

As Prof. Smil wrote on this page in 2006: “Unless we believe, preposterously, that human inventiveness and adaptability will cease the year the world reaches the peak annual output of conventional crude oil, we should see that milestone (whenever it comes) as a challenging opportunity rather than as a reason for cult-like worries and paralyzing concerns.”

If Prof. Smil is right, then we must turn to the long-run trend in prices (real inflation-adjusted 2007 dollar prices in the graph below) and ask the question again: What is a normal oil price?

Another good book is The Myth of the Oil Crisis by Robin M. Mills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 PM


Blowing up: No longer the wimpy kid brother to sports-Radio powerhouse WEEI-AM, now has its own seat at Boston sports media’s grown-ups’ table (ADAM REILLY, December 10, 2008, Boston Phoenix)

Earlier this month, Entercom,’s parent company, announced that Curt Schilling — the bloody-sock-wearing, Republican-endorsing, Kobe Bryant–bashing Red Sox–pitcher-turned-free-agent — would be moving his independent blog, 38 Pitches, to And this is just the latest in a string of smart moves. Back in July, the site landed Rob Bradford, the Herald’s highly respected Red Sox reporter, as its new editor, and announced that Michael Felger — who’d been writing the Patriots report card for the Herald, and doing his own radio show for ESPN 890 AM — was joining’s stable. In August, added Will Leitch, the founder of the wildly popular sports Web site and a freshly minted contributing editor at New York magazine; he’s writing a column on Boston sports from an outsider’s perspective.

Other noteworthy hires include Red Sox reporter Alex Speier (a former Harvard debate-team captain who’s written for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Baseball America) and Celtics writers Paul Flannery (Boston magazine’s online editor) and Jessica Camerato (formerly of HoopsWorld) — and that’s only a partial list.

Simply put, at this time last year, was the media equivalent of an appendix — an unnecessary appendage to perennial ratings-powerhouse WEEI-AM that existed simply because every outlet needs at least a token new-media presence. Now it’s an autonomous, attitude-heavy outfit that aspires, in Bradford’s words, to become the of New England — and could pull it off.

ESPN is doing something brilliant this weekend, replaying the Greatest Game Ever. There have to be hundreds of thousands of hours of tape of radio calls of the Bruins, Celtics, Sox, Pats, Eagles, etc. that no has ever touched after they were recorded. Put everything on-line in downloadable form and you're a worthwhile web destination.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Generic drug prices falling in US (Associated Press, December 10, 2008)

The causes? The ultra-low prices for generic prescriptions offered by giant retailers and drugstore chains and intense competition among the many generic drugmakers fighting for sales, according to health information firm IMS Health.

Those pricing pressures forced down dollar sales of generic drugs in the U.S. by 2.7 percent in the year ending in September, even though the number of generic prescriptions filled actually increased by 5.4 percent over the year before, IMS reported Wednesday.

"We're seeing the combination of pressure from large retailers to make generics available at ever-lower prices for their customers" and the intensified competition among generic drugmakers leading them to cut prices, said Murray Aitken, senior vice president of the Healthcare Insight unit at IMS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 PM


The President Participates in a Ceremony for 2008 Recipients of the Presidential Citizens Medal (White House, 12/10/08)

Charles W. Colson

For more than three decades, Chuck Colson has dedicated his life to sharing the message of God’s boundless love and mercy with prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. Through his strong faith and leadership, he has helped courageous men and women from around the world make successful transitions back into society. The United States honors Chuck Colson for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals. [...]

Robert P. George

With wisdom and integrity, Dr. Robby George has brought forceful analytic clarity to the study of America’s ideals and institutions. He has helped strengthen our Nation’s system of ordered liberty by exploring enduring questions of American constitutional law and Western political theory. The United States honors Robby George for his many contributions to our civic life. [...]

Gary Sinise

Gary Sinise is a humanitarian and a patriot. Working alongside our military and reaching out a compassionate hand to Iraqi children, he is helping a society once brutalized by a tyrant to rebuild and realize the great blessings of liberty. He has also travelled the world to show America’s gratitude to our service members. The United States honors Gary Sinise for his efforts to improve the human condition and his strong commitment to the selfless men and women who devote their lives to military service.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 PM


Obama close to naming energy secretary: Sources say nod will go to physicist Steven Chu, who runs one of DOE's main renewable energy laboratories. (CNN, 12/10/08)

President-elect Barack Obama is likely to name Dr. Steven Chu, a physicist who runs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his new Energy Secretary, three Democratic officials close to the transition told CNN.

Growing energy: Berkeley Lab's Steve Chu on what termite guts have to do with global warming (Bonnie Azab Powell, 30 September 2005, UC Berkley News)
Should fission-based nuclear power plants be made a bigger part of the energy-producing portfolio?

Absolutely. Right now about 20 percent of our power comes from nuclear; there have been no new nuclear plants built since the early '70s. The real rational fears against nuclear power are about the long-term waste problem and [nuclear] proliferation. The technology of separating [used fuel from still-viable fuel] and putting the good stuff back in to the reactor can also be used to make bomb material.

And then there's the waste problem: with future nuclear power plants, we've got to recycle the waste. Why? Because if you take all the waste we have now from our civilian and military nuclear operations, we'd fill up Yucca Mountain. [Yucca Mountain, which sits on federal land in Nevada , is under consideration as a long-term storage facility for spent nuclear fuel.] So we need three or four Yucca Mountains. Well, we don't have three or four Yucca Mountains. The other thing is that storing the fuel at Yucca Mountain is supposed to be safe for 10,000 years. But the current best estimates - and these are really estimates, the Lab's in fact - is that the metal casings [containing the waste] will probably fail on a scale of 5,000 years, plus or minus 2. That's still a long time, and then after that the idea was that the very dense rock, very far away from the water table will contain it, so that by the time it finally leaks down to the water table and gets out the radioactivity will have mostly decayed.

Suppose instead that we can reduce the lifetime of the radioactive waste by a factor of 1,000. So it goes from a couple-hundred-thousand-year problem to a thousand-year problem. At a thousand years, even though that's still a long time, it's in the realm that we can monitor - we don't need Yucca Mountain.

And all of a sudden the risk-benefit equation looks pretty good for nuclear.

Right now, compared to conventional coal, it looks good - what are the lesser of two evils? But if we can reduce the volume and the lifetime of the waste, that would tip it very much against conventional coal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:00 PM


The Perils of a Cement Tsunami (Amity Shlaes, December 10, 2008, Washington Post)

In short, Japan traded its export complex for an edifice complex.

The projects were similar to some infrastructure plans under discussion here today. Bridges? Japan put up the longest suspension bridge in the world. Airports? Kansai International, yes, on an artificial island, but also local fields such as Ibaraki Airport near Mito. Roads? Japan built new streets and highways, including the famous New Tomei Expressway. For biotech and telecommunications, Japan poured out the subsidies.

When one plan proved insufficient, another was begun. In 1999, Japan announced a scheme to create 700,000 jobs, much as Obama recently announced a plan to create or save 2.5 million jobs. As with the U.S. example, politicians were precise about the number of new jobs . . . and less precise about their cost. Between 1992 and 2000, the Japanese launched 10 stimulus packages that included public works. The Land of the Rising Sun became the Construction State. Other worthy issues, such as consistent tax reform, lagged. In fact, fiscal reform overall was postponed. After the 1995 Kobe earthquake claimed thousands of lives, the focus on infrastructure was reinforced.

Some of these projects were valuable, some risible. As Bloomberg News recently reported, Japan Airlines Corp. and All Nippon Airways, which run nearly all flights within Japan, don't even expect to fly to the Ibaraki Airport. With the Japanese turning to trains, the New Tomei Expressway seemed a waste.

The spending yielded painfully little for the rest of the economy. The Nikkei stayed down. The country's standard of living failed to keep pace with the rest of the world's. The average Japanese's purchasing power had been moving closer to that of the average American, Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation has noted. But in the 1990s the Japanese saw few advances. The gap between America and Japan widened again.

"The construction state is in some respects akin to the military-industrial complex in cold-war America (or the Soviet Union), sucking in the country's wealth, consuming it inefficiently, growing like a cancer and bequeathing both fiscal crisis and environmental devastation," commented Gavan McCormack, a professor at the Australian National University.

The only upside is that such projects would require massive immigration. Americans aren't going to work on construction jobs anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


‘Day without a gay’ fizzling in Orange County (Martin Wisckol, 12/10/08, Orange County Register)

Some gay marriage advocates wanted to make their importance to the economy known today, by not showing up for the work. The boycott, intended as a show of solidarity against the passage of Proposition 8 last month, was modeled loosely after the 2006 immigration-rights demonstrations.

But I’m having trouble finding any impact in Orange County. The County of Orange government, the largest employer here with 17,400 workers, reports no noticeable effect from the boycott.

Whereas the economy depends on the people who voted against it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:13 PM


Classics Concentrators Espouse Outlandish Ideas: Eccentric outsiders campaign to abolish the UC and farm arable land (HELEN X. YANG, 12/08/08, Harvard Crimson)

[Roger G. Waite, the classics concentrator-cum-Undergraduate Council presidential candidate] arrived at the famously dubbed “Kremlin on the Charles” as a conservative from Chicago, Ill. He is heavily involved with the campus organization Harvard Right to Life, and the conservative publication The Harvard Salient.

As one of the many self-described outsider candidates in the 26-year history of the UC, Waite says that he was motivated into action by what he saw as the poor handling of last year’s party grant controversy.

“For years the administration had expressed concerns over the alcohol, but the UC did nothing to address it. So when [they] got rid of the party grant altogether, the UC created a mob-like hullabaloo,” he says, growing visibly animated for the first time in the interview. “I feel compelled [to run] by the circumstances.”


The Waite-Petri campaign is adopting an age-old tradition of using their platform to advocate for the abolition of the Council. There is one caveat, however. “We’re going to invite a member of the House of Hapsburg to rule the student body indefinitely instead,” Waite says.

“I think that a member of the Royal Family would be in a much stronger position to negotiate with the administration and faculty,” he explains. “It’s much easier for Harvard to blow off a group of self-important undergrads than it is the House of Hapsburg.”

Digging into his jacket pocket, Waite presents a copy of “The Charter of 1650,” the document that established the mission and governing structure of the University.

“It says nothing of student governance and nothing about this nonsense of an Undergrad Council,” he says.

This plan is part of the campaign’s broader goal of returning Harvard to its “founding principles.”

Despite the fact that no American university has ever established a hereditary monarchy to rule over the student body, Waite says that this is certainly not an obstacle.

“Harvard is always on the forefront of change. We can set an example,” he says.

An example the Republic would do well to emulate.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:10 PM


Michael Ignatieff's beliefs: A strong military, an inordinate love of cliches (Kelly McParland, 12/10/08, National Post)

To get a concise idea of his vision of Canada, and his party's place in it, you probably can't do better than that 2005 speech.

So what does the speech tell us? There are some encouraging signs, but also a number worth worrying about. First, the encouraging ones:

• Mr. Ignatieff shows a reassuring willingness to stand up to his party's penchant for anti-Americanism. It's one of the uglier aspects of the Liberal party character, one that does nothing but damage for Canadian interests but which Liberal prime ministers can't seem to bring themselves to resist. Both Jean Chretien and Paul Martin decried it, then exploited it when it suited his needs. Mr. Ignatieff has spent more time in the U.S., and is more of an international citizen, than any of his predecessors, and states categorically that "Being anti-American is a lousy way to be a proud Canadian. A superiority complex towards our neighbor is as foolish as an inferiority complex. Our identity is perfectly secure and it is rooted in our institutions: Parliamentary government, la langue et la culture française, our aboriginal heritage, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We have always done things differently here. We always will."

• Mr. Ignatieff similarly rejects the Liberal tradition of lauding Canada's military past while starving the army of money, material and political support. Chretien let the Forces wither; Martin slashed and burned in his battle against deficit spending, then tried to make it up with big budget increases when times improved. But Liberals continue to play silly games with Canada's Afghanistan commitment. Perhaps Mr. Ignatieff's best-known position is his support for a strong military, willing to play a serious role on the world stage:

"People sometimes ask me why a human rights teacher is such an adamant defender of a robust military for Canada," he says. "In the failed and failing states of our world, the most urgent human need-the central unmet human right-is security. People at the mercy of tyrants and gunmen need protection, first of all. To protect them, we have to have the capacity to fire back."

• He says the right things. He talks tough on separatism; supports a market economy; declares that no party can be all things to all people, and promotes the importance of individual responsibility. You'd have a hard time finding a Tory who would disagree with any of those priorities

Yet another country where W leaves behind leaders in his own image at the head of both parties. The Real;ist/Left complaint that the Bush years diminished our standing in the world can not be squared with the reality that nearly every one of our allies dumped those who opposed him and chose leaders who ape him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 PM


It's a turkey! It's a duck! It's a chicken! It's everything!: With a 15-hour cooking time and a $300 price tag, nothing clucks holiday excess like the turducken (Jeremy Sandler, December 06, 2008, National Post)

For many Canadians, Thanksgiving serves as a warm-up for the holiday bird -- but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll roast the perfect bird this time around. More likely, it means countless hours in the kitchen fretting over a meal that might be undercooked, could be dried out and certainly will inspire worry in a cook's mind.

Party hosts who live in Toronto and wish to avoid all of the above might want to consider a decadent twist on tradition: a turducken from Roo Foods. Simply put, it is a turkey stuffed with a duck that is in turn filled by a chicken, with layers of stuffing between and inside the various birds.

Three Louisiana men, including renowned chef Paul Prudhomme, lay claim to inventing the poultry-themed menage a trois made famous by NFL announcer John Madden.

Speaking of inappropriate humor, our youngest, typically, insists on only being interested in the stuff his big brother likes, so I got gyped out of several years of Thomas the Tank Engine viewing with him. (Though, true confessions, the kids did bust me tivoing Theodore Tugboat.) At any rate, he's been home sick for a few days and with no one else around has been wanting to watch Theodore and Bob the Builder. Anyone know how to do that Munchhausen-by-proxy stuff?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:30 PM


(Pete Williams, 12/10/08, NBC First Read)

A law enforcement official confirms that the person referred to in the federal criminal complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich as "Candidate 5" is Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

However, federal officials caution that they have no evidence, other than statements made by Blagojevich, about whether Candidate 5 actually made any improper approaches to the governor. No conversations with Candidate 5 were ever picked up on any of the bugs or wiretaps.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:50 PM


Taj Mahal: 'Maestro' Of The Blues (World Cafe, November 28, 2008)

Taj Mahal is a blues icon, and he not only preserves that American musical form but also takes from a large range of styles, including reggae, jazz, gospel, R&B, zydeco and much more. His new album, Maestro, celebrates an illustrious career, mingling original work with genre classics and songs written by some of the many artists he's influenced, including Ben Harper, Ziggy Marley and Los Lobos among others.

Far from a passing of the torch, however, Mahal considers this record just the beginning of another stage in his forty years of musical exploration. During this visit, he shares stories from the path that led him to this chapter, including his Caribbean heritage and his childhood introduction to the blues through a homemade radio.

One of the most enjoyable concerts I ever attended was in a little theater in Montclair, NJ. The gigantic Taj Mahal came out on stage in a flowered shirt, plunked himself down on a stool and played and talked solo for ninety minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Michael Caine's classic film The Italian Job is to be the subject of a Bollywood remake (Aislinn Simpson, 10 Dec 2008)

Michael Caine's classic film The Italian Job is to be the subject of a Bollywood remake with Indian cars replacing the famous Minis.

The 1968 film, which features a car chase through the streets of Turin and the legendary line "You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!", will be recreated with "lots of singing and dancing", Indian film chiefs have reportedly said.

Well, the cars and the groovy tune that's played over the annoying "ending".

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:31 AM


Union Official Allegedly Liaison Between Governor, Obama Team: Blagojevich Apparently Hoped for Job Leading Labor Group (Alec MacGillis, 12/10/08, Washington Post)

Among the revelations contained in the complaint brought against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich yesterday was the description of an official with the Service Employees International Union acting as an apparent intermediary between the governor and Barack Obama's camp in discussions over Obama's Senate seat.

The alleged role of the SEIU official was surprising, given that the union had not figured publicly in the investigation into Blagojevich (D). But on another level, the SEIU's apparent involvement is an indication of the extent to which it has, under the leadership of its ambitious and controversial president, Andrew L. Stern, become an omnipresent force in Democratic politics.

That's a strange euphemism for "bag man".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Greece in Flames, Again (Maria Margaronis, December 9, 2008, The Nation)

Even Athenians are amazed at the intensity of this week's violence. The riots began with bands of anarchists but were soon joined by many who had never taken to the streets. No one imagined there would be so many hooded men bent on destruction, high on the crackle of flames and the sound of shattering glass. But no one seems surprised at New Democracy's failure to contain the rioting; everyone feels something of the protesters' rage. It is the blind rage of people who feel betrayed by those who were meant to care for them, who can see no road ahead.

Having infantilized your nation the people behave like spoiled brats. Shocking.

Addicted to Violence in Athens: The police in Athens said they wanted de-escalation. Instead, following the Tuesday funeral for 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, riots once again consumed the center of the Greek capital. Neither the police nor the anarchists seem interested in restoring calm. (Jörg Diehl, 12/1`0/08, Der Spiegel)

The rocks are lying everywhere in the streets. Thousands and thousands of them. Iron rods are also littered about, as are makeshift wooden clubs and spent cartridges. The sharp stench of teargas floats through the air, mixed with the acrid odor of melted plastic. Flames shoot out of trash bins; a Japanese compact lies on its side. And from behind the fence surrounding the Athens Polytechnic, black clad rioters are chanting as loud as they can:

"Pigs! Swine! Murderers!"

"Pigs! Swine! Murderers!"

Facing them, around 10 or 20 meters away, is a unit of riot police, armed with truncheons and armored with shields and white helmets. Earlier, the police had spoken of following a strategy of de-escalation -- but by late Tuesday night, that, apparently, had been discarded. "Come on out you cowards! Come out and get us," yells the police commander. He bends down to grab a rock and hurls it at the demonstrators. His men do the same. It's a revolt in reverse.

Hey, Nixonland!

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:07 AM


The Return of the Wall Street Democrats (Madison Powers, CQ)

President-Elect Obama’s cabinet choices have met with a chorus of approval from many quarters, including some Republicans who have offered effusive praise for the economic team. Thus far, much of the criticism of the economic team has been both cautious and relatively unspecific.

Some true believers have expressed reservations, either based on some residual antipathy toward people associated with the Clinton era or in concerns about the composition of the new cabinet as too homogeneous in their elite educational backgrounds and life experiences. is calling the economic team Clintonite not a specific criticism? Bill Clinton himself described his economic policies as "Eisenhower Republican," that's where the Left fears President Obama is headed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


Swearing in: Barack Hussein Obama (MIKE ALLEN | 12/10/08, Politico)

President-elect Obama says he plans to use all three of his names when he takes the oath of office in January, giving voice to an unusual name that was rarely heard during the campaign expect by critics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Sabathia said to accept Yanks' offer (, 12/10/08)

One day after Brian Cashman traveled one mile up the Las Vegas Strip for a few words with CC Sabathia, the Yankees general manager escaped to the San Francisco area for an unscheduled meeting with the left-hander.

And according to the New York Post, the extra effort paid off. The paper reported on its Web site early Wednesday morning that the 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner has accepted the Yankees' six-year, $140 million offer.

That has to be at least $20 million more than anyone else offered.

December 9, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:08 PM


Rangel's Problems Dog Democrats (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 12/09/08, Wall Street Journal)

Rep. Charles Rangel, the charismatic, powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, spoke grandly at a news conference this week about the need to fund urban projects and keep the nation competitive. Then the New York Democrat was chased down the hall by reporters demanding to know whether he was going to temporarily give up his chairmanship over ethics allegations.

"I don't see what purpose that would serve," Rep. Rangel said. "I don't think reporters should be in the position to remove chairmen, not even temporarily, especially when the reporting is false."

The exchange highlighted the danger for congressional Democrats that Rep. Rangel's problems could be a distraction as they return to Washington this week and prepare for a bigger majority. Rep. Rangel's plight creates a discordant note as the party seeks to enact sweeping overhauls. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi further roiled the waters recently by suggesting the Ethics Committee would quickly wrap up its investigation of Rep. Rangel, prompting Republicans to charge that she was trying to manipulate the process.

...but now it's just Congress again?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 PM


Iran's Rafsanjani says Obama mimicking Bush (AFP, 12/09/08)

Influential former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday accused US president-elect Barack Obama of mimicking his predecessor's tough stance on Tehran's nuclear drive.

"I don't expect someone who considers himself to be originally from Africa and a member of the oppressed black race in America to repeat what (George W.) Bush has to say," Rafsanjani said in a sermon on state radio.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 PM


Man who lost family when jet hit house: I don't blame pilot (CNN, 12/09/08)

A Korean immigrant who lost his wife, two children and mother-in-law when a Marine Corps jet slammed into the family's house said Tuesday he did not blame the pilot, who ejected and survived.

"Please pray for him not to suffer from this accident," a distraught Dong Yun Yoon told reporters gathered near the site of Monday's crash of an F/A-18D jet in San Diego's University City community.

"He is one of our treasures for the country," Yoon said in accented English punctuated by long pauses while he tried to maintain his composure.

"I don't blame him. I don't have any hard feelings. I know he did everything he could," said Yoon, flanked by members of San Diego's Korean community, relatives and members from the family's church.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:29 PM


Scandal casts cloud over Obama presidency (Christina Bellantoni, December 9, 2008, Washington Times)

"I'm from Chicago," Barack Obama used to tell voters wondering whether he was tough enough to win the presidency, drawing laughs for referring to rough-and-tumble - and often corrupt - politics in his hometown.

But the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on charges of trying to sell Mr. Obama's vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder is probably not what the president-elect had in mind.

Authorities stressed that Mr. Obama was not involved in the far-flung corruption probe, but a 76-page FBI affidavit mentions a top Obama adviser who will be a senior White House staffer, a prominent labor union that worked for his candidacy, convicted felon and former Obama fundraiser Tony Rezko, and Washington-based consultants.

Shouldn't he be explaining how he can't get any laughs out of this material?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:27 PM


Greeks turn their ire on the capital's goose-stepping guards: The police's tolerant approach to rioting in Greece has fuelled a plethora of conspiracy theories. (Nick Squires, 10 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

It was the equivalent of launching an attack on the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace. Gangs of Greek protesters, incensed by Saturday's fatal shooting of a 15-year-old schoolboy by a police officer, hurled rocks and other missiles yesterday at the ceremonial guard outside Greece's parliament.

The presidential guards are one of the country's most familiar tourist sights, famous for their theatrical goose-stepping, skirted tunics and distinctly unmilitary black pom-poms on the end of their hobnailed boots. Normally they stand stock-still in parliament's dazzling white marble forecourt, in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Instead, they were forced to take cover behind their blue and white sentry boxes, protected from a hail of rocks, planks of wood and bottles by a phalanx of grim-faced riot police.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Palin urges Obama to seek closer ties with Canada ( News, 12/09/08)

Just a few days after signing a historic agreement that will see a Canadian company build a massive pipeline to flow natural gas from Alaska to Alberta, Gov. Sarah Palin says she is working to strengthen relations with Canada, and Barack Obama should too. [...]

She suggested the contract is an example of cross-border co-operation that Democratic president-elect Barack Obama can learn from.

"I want to grow the relationship we have with Canada," Palin said.

The next significant agreement they negotiate with a foreign government will be the first for her peers on this Fall's tickets.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:58 PM


China heads for a hard landing (MoneyWeek, Dec 05, 2008)

"The Golden Years have shuddered to a dramatic halt," said Stephen Green of Standard Chartered. China's economy, which has expanded 69-fold since free-market reforms began in the late 1970s, is cooling rapidly, with the World Bank pencilling in GDP growth of 7.5% next year – the lowest in almost 20 years – and some analysts expecting far worse. [...]

Capital Economics pointed out that the latest rate cut will further depress household incomes, as the real return on deposits has been negative since last year. Longer-term, only an improved social welfare system will persuade the Chinese that their savings rate (25% of their income) is too high, said Xie. Given all this, Jim Walker of Asianomics now thinks China is likely to grow by 0%-4% next year, and there is a 30% chance of its economy shrinking. We can expect to hear a great deal more about a "hard landing" in China in 2009.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:55 PM


Treasury Bills Trade at Negative Rates as Haven Demand Surges (Daniel Kruger and Cordell Eddings, 12/09/08, Bloomberg)

Treasuries rose, pushing rates on the three-month bill negative for the first time, as investors gravitate toward the safety of U.S. government debt amid the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The Treasury sold $27 billion of three-month bills yesterday at a discount rate of 0.005 percent, the lowest since it starting auctioning the securities in 1929. The U.S. also sold $30 billion of four-week bills today at zero percent for the first time since it began selling the debt in 2001.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:51 PM


A new bull market? By one yardstick, it's here (Tom Petruno, December 9, 2008, LA Times)

By one classic measure, a new bull market has begun: At Monday’s close, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up more than 20% from its recent low -- the first 20%-plus advance in the index since the bear market began in October 2007.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM

...AND LOWER...:

Some forecast $1-a-gallon gas as demand continues to fall: In the last week, pump prices have dropped an average of 11.2 cents nationally and 15 cents in California. (Ronald D. White, December 9, 2008, LA Times)

Pump prices headed toward five-year lows nationally and in California, the Energy Department said Monday. And despite a bump in crude prices, some analysts say the slide might not end until oil hits $25 a barrel and gasoline drops to $1 a gallon or below.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


Internal Warnings Sounded on Loans At Fannie, Freddie (Zachary A. Goldfarb, 12/08/08, Washington Post)

In a memo to former Freddie chief executive Richard F. Syron and other top executives, former Freddie chief enterprise risk officer David Andrukonis wrote that the company was buying mortgages that appear "to target borrowers who would have trouble qualifying for a mortgage if their financial position were adequately disclosed."

Andrukonis warned that these mortgages could be particularly harmful for Hispanic borrowers, and they could lead to loans being made to people who would be unlikely to pay them off. "The potential for the perception and the reality of predatory lending with this product is great," Andrukonis wrote.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:29 AM


Cracks appear in Obama foreign policy team (MATTHEW LEE, 12/08/08, Associated Press)

The first sign of cracks in President-elect Barack Obama's foreign policy team of rivals emerged on Monday as his choices for secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations visited the State Department.

As Secretary of State-pick Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.N. envoy-choice Susan Rice separately visited the diplomatic agency's headquarters in Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood, persons familiar with the transition said that Rice wants to install her own transition team inside the department.

Such a move by an incoming U.N. ambassador is rare, if not unprecedented, because the job is based at the United Nations in New York, where Rice already has a small transition staff, the sources familiar with the incoming administration.

...Meet me at Fort Marcy Park, Sue, and we'll work out the details."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


Illinois Governor Arrested Amid Allegations of Pay-to-Play Politics (Susan Davis , 12/09/08, WSJ: Washington Wire)

Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were taken into federal custody amid allegations that he was using pay-to-play tactics, including the jockeying for President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

The two men are the targets of a broad corruption investigation that includes a conspiracy to exchange Obama’s Senate seat for financial benefits to the governor and his wife.

Chicago news reports also said Blagojevich sought an appointment in Obama’s cabinet as secretary of health and human services, or another high profile post in exchange for supporting a union-backed candidate to fill Obama’s seat.

That's criminal?

In His Own Words (Drew Armstrong, CQ)

“I’ve got this thing and it’s [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”

“I’m going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain. You hear what I’m saying. And if I don’t get what I want and I’m not satisfied with it, then I’ll just take the Senate seat myself.”

“It is not coming for free . . . . It’s got to be good stuff for the people of Illinois and good for me.”

Obama’s preferred replacement was an unnamed “candidate 1,” but according to the complaint, neither Obama nor “candidate 1” had made an offer of the type Blagojevich was looking for:

“They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. [Expletive] them.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


Turf Battles: Politics Interfere with Species Identification: As nations view their flora and fauna as commodities, science suffers (Linda Baker , 12/09/08. Scientific American)

In 1992 the twin goals of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, signed by more than 150 countries, were to preserve biodiversity and to ensure tropical nations were compensated for any “genetic resources” leading to drug discoveries for developed nations. But even as those goals were reaffirmed at a conference held this past spring in Bonn, Germany, scientists continue to criticize policies stemming from the convention. The claim is that the international agreement, which gave countries ownership of plants and animals inside their borders, is hindering tropical research and conservation, not facilitating them.

“The biodiversity convention made the argument that plants and other microorganisms were sovereign entities that needed to be treated with commercial transaction approval,” remarks Josh Rosenthal, a deputy director at the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health. As a result, “the ethos of global scientific collaboration has changed,” and the conditions for research have become more challenging.

Western scientists are not alone in their analysis. The January 2008 Current Science, a journal published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, included an article decrying the “shackles” Indian biodiversity law imposes on native scientists—such as prohibiting them from placing specimens in international repositories. “We need to highlight the importance of sharing biological resources among nations,” says co-author K. Divakaran Prathapan, an entomologist at the University of Kerala. The article was entitled “Death Sentence on Taxonomy.”

Species were never more than an ideological matter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Anyone else notice that now that he's a disappointing president-elect instead of a utopian candidate the photos of Barack Obama in the press have become less flattering?

Or is it just that his team has lost control of the staging?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Instead Of Spending, Cut Taxes (Brian S. Wesbury and Robert Stein, 12.09.08, Forbes)

Why not eliminate corporate taxes all together? During fiscal year 2008, the U.S. Treasury collected $304 billion in corporate taxes--elimination would cost roughly half of what the Obama stimulus plan may cost and just 30% of this year's budget deficit. Imagine how the elimination of corporate taxes would change investor perceptions about investment, even for auto companies. Another option would be full (100%) expensing for any investment made by any company in 2009. This would encourage spending and investment.

Individual income tax receipts were $1.15 trillion in fiscal year 2008. A 50% reduction in tax rates would cost less than the Treasury's TARP proposal. Lower tax rates would take the sting out of any pay cuts that unionized workers at auto companies might be forced to accept. Another option would be to allow all capital losses by individuals to be written off in full for 2008, rather than limiting them to just $3,000. This would limit the selling of profitable investments this year to absorb those losses for tax purposes only.

There are many positive alternatives (including these) that are not being formally discussed. This is a mistake. And more to the point, the last time the government tried to bail out the economy with drastic action, we ended up in the Great Depression. If we really want to "change" the way government and the private sector interact, why is the U.S. government still trying the same old policies that failed in the past? Tax cuts have worked before, so if deficits don't matter, why not try a different kind of surge--a private-sector, incentive-creating one?

It would certainly make more sense to give sub-prime borrowers money than those who made such exploitative loans. That way the banks would get their money but people would get their homes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 AM


Mother arrested as 'yuppie-flu' daughter is found dead after 16 years in bed (Vanessa Allen, Colin Fernandez and Tamara Cohen, 09th December 2008, Daily Mail)

A mother who nursed her daughter for 17 years with the disease ME has been arrested on suspicion of her murder following what is believed to have been a 'mercy killing'.

Police sources revealed that Lynn Gilderdale, 31, died from a massive overdose of morphine after attempting suicide with the same drug at least twice during her battle with the debilitating condition. [...]

Police were called to their bungalow in Stonegate, near Heathfield, East Sussex, on Thursday after the alarm was raised by Lynn's father, Mrs Gilderdale's ex-husband Richard, a former police sergeant. [...]

Pointedly referring to Mrs Gilderdale's 'total dedication' to her daughter, they said: 'Lynn was young, beautiful, loving and caring. At the age of 14 years she was struck down by ME - an illness greatly misunderstood - and as a result, suffered the stigma attached to this dreadful illness."

So you killed her?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


Why it's not as simple as God vs the multiverse (Amanda Gefter, 04 December 2008, New Scientist)

WHAT would you rather believe in, God or the multiverse? It sounds like an instance of cosmic apples and oranges, but increasingly we are being told it's a choice we must make. Take the dialogue earlier this year between Richard Dawkins and physicist Steven Weinberg in Austin, Texas. Discussing the fact that the universe appears fine-tuned for our existence, Weinberg told Dawkins: "If you discovered a really impressive fine-tuning... I think you'd really be left with only two explanations: a benevolent designer or a multiverse."

Weinberg went on to clarify that invoking a benevolent designer does not count as a genuine explanation, but I was intrigued by his either/or scenario. Is that really our only choice? Supernatural creator or parallel worlds?

It is according to an article in this month's Discover magazine. "Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation," writes journalist Tim Folger. "Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse." Folger quotes cosmologist Bernard Carr: "If you don't want God, you'd better have a multiverse."

There are plenty of reasons to take the multiverse seriously. Three key theories - quantum mechanics, cosmic inflation and string theory - all converge on the idea. But the reason physicists talk about the multiverse as an alternative to God is because it helps explain why the universe is so bio-friendly. From the strength of gravity to the mass of a proton, it's as if the universe were designed just for us. If, however, there are an infinite number of universes - with physical constants that vary from one to the next - our cosy neighbourhood isn't only possible, it's inevitable.

But to suggest that if this theory doesn't pan out our only other option is a supernatural one is to abandon science itself. abandoned science itself when you insisted you need to invent an alternative faith because the actual science demonstrates God.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:48 AM


And now for a world government (Gideon Rachman, December 8 2008, Financial Times)

I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.

A “world government” would involve much more than co-operation between nations. It would be an entity with state-like characteristics, backed by a body of laws. The European Union has already set up a continental government for 27 countries, which could be a model. The EU has a supreme court, a currency, thousands of pages of law, a large civil service and the ability to deploy military force.

So could the European model go global? There are three reasons for thinking that it might.

...they can't even hold Spain, Belgium, Italy and Britain together.

December 8, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 PM


OBAMA'S HOLY HELL (RAY KERRISON, December 8, 2008, NY Post)

FOCA means war.

The US bishops have always been united in their moral condemnation of abortion. But they have stopped short of flexing political muscle, evading a head-on confrontation. That may now change.

Obama's commitment to FOCA dominated their discussionsat their annual convention in Baltimore last month. Their president, Francis Cardinal George, warned that FOCA would destroy the freedom of conscience of doctors, nurses and health-care workers. "It would threaten Catholic healthcare institutions and Catholic Charities. It would be an evil law that would divide our country and the church should be intent on opposing evil."

Chicago's Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki went further. He said flatly that if the Obama administration attempted to force Catholic hospitals to provide abortions, they'd shut them down rather than comply.

"There are grave consequences," he said. "It would not be sufficient to sell them to someone who would perform abortions. That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil."

With nearly 300 prelates in attendance, one after the other rose up to demand a tough, unequivocal response to FOCA and the new president.

"This is not a matter of political compromise or finding some common ground," said Bishop Daniel Conlon of Steuvenville, Ohio. "It's a matter of absolutes."

New York's Edward Cardinal Egan said, "We have one important thing to say and we should say it clearly."

The bishops have had it. They're moving into the trenches, which is most uncharacteristic of them. Said Catholic commentator, Christopher Manion: "The Baltimore meeting could be historic. We saw the rumblings of the giant stirring from his slumber."

Largely unspoken but lurking like a storm cloud over the discussions was the dread prospect of excommunication.

The American hierarchy has been sharply split for years over what to do with high-profile politicians who campaign on their Catholicism but support abortion policies contrary to church teaching. Everyone knows the culprits: Vice President-elect Joe Biden; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Sens. Ted Kennedy, Chris Dodd and Pat Leahy; Rep. Charlie Rangel, and many, many more.

But if FOCA becomes law, the Catholic politicians who vote "aye" or otherwise help pass it risk the ultimate penalty of the church.

Asked whether politicians voting for FOCA would incur automatic excommunication, Cardinal George refused to rule it out, saying: "The excommunication is automatic if that act is in fact formal cooperation and that is precisely what would have to be discussed once you see the terms of the act itself."

Put plainly, Catholic politicians can't "cooperate in evil" and escape penalty.

It is hard to imagine that an incoming president would declare war on the church, especially when 54 percent of its faithful voted for him. But he is convinced that a federal abortion law will end the national divisive debate over the practice. In fact, it will do the opposite.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


The Bible, Home Ownership, and the Housing Crisis (Joshua Berman , 12/08/08, History News Network)

[C]onsider the original context of a touchstone of American political culture, the biblical inscription on the Liberty Bell in Independence Hall in Philadelphia: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof." Contrary to popular conception, the verse in question, Leviticus 25:10, addresses neither despotic rule nor slavery, but is an economic prescription. When read in the larger context of that biblical chapter it emerges as a call to ownership stability, part of an economic plan that was radical for its time.

Elsewhere in the ancient Near East, land was held chiefly by the kings and by the temples. The Hebrew Bible, for the first time, sought to put the vast majority of landholdings into the hands of ordinary people. Land -- the means of production in an agrarian society -- was apportioned to extended kinship groups. The vision was that you never dwelt alone, but as part of a deeply intertwined social fabric of extended kin. If a landowner suffered crop failure, or illness, he could sell his land, but would then find himself alienated from his property with no means of getting back on his feet. The Bible's solution was that every fifty years property was restored to the original owners: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land to all the inhabitants thereof, for the Jubilee year it will be for you, and each man shall return to his property and each man unto his kin." The "Liberty" is from debt, and the prescription is for stability of property ownership in the company of one's kin.

The Bible sought to empower citizens by granting them equity. The distribution of lands was similar in spirit to the Homestead Act of 1863. Opening the Great Plains to mass settlement, nearly any person 21 years of age could acquire at virtually no cost a tract of 160 acres that would become his after five years of residence and farming. For 2 million new arrivals and other landless Americans, the Homestead Act was an opportunity to acquire assets and to bring equality of economic standing in line with equality before the law

But no less, these laws of land tenure sought to produce the social capital of community by legislating stability of property and household ownership. In modern times home ownership correlates with greater participation in volunteer organizations, knowledge of local officials, voting in local elections, involvement with community problem solvers, and participation in communal religious practice. The beneficial effects of household immobility for the community also accrue to its individual members. Economist Robert Dietz reports that children of homeowners are more likely to finish high-school and to have fewer behavioral problems in school, and that these conclusions hold up even when the data are controlled for parental education, marital status, and neighborhood characteristics.

Many would find a basis for civic order in the biblical commandment "Love thy neighbor as you love thyself." Yet that verse hails from the same source that contains the Liberty Bell inscription extolling ownership stability, and it is easy to see why. When both my neighbor and I make the relative sacrifice of immobility, invest in our neighborhood, and encounter each other regularly over a long period of time, we are more likely to rise to the noble calling of loving your neighbor as yourself. Indeed, economists Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth find that homeowners are more socially communicative with one another than are renters.

...and the Darwinist Right hates minority home ownership because it makes them neighbors.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:38 PM


Confessions throw Gitmo 9/11 trials into confusion (ANDREW O. SELSKY, 12/08/08, Associated Press)

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said Monday he will confess to masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks, throwing his death-penalty trial into disarray and shocking victims' relatives who watched from behind a glass partition. Four other men also abandoned their defenses, in effect daring the Pentagon to grant their wish for martyrdom. The judge ordered lawyers to advise him by Jan. 4 whether the Pentagon can apply the death penalty — which military prosecutors are seeking — without a jury trial.

"When they admitted their guilt, my reaction was, 'Yes!' My inclination was to jump up and say 'Yay!' But I managed to maintain my decorum," said Maureen Santora, of Long Island City, N.Y., whose firefighter son Christopher died responding to the World Trade Center attacks. [...]

"I reaffirm my allegiance to Osama bin Laden," Ramzi Binalshibh blurted out in Arabic at the end of the hearing. "I hope the jihad continues and I hope it hits the heart of America with weapons of mass destruction."

Hang them and cremate them wrapped in pigskin.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 PM


'Mastermind of Mumbai' seized by commandos: Pakistani forces claim they arrested Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi in raid on camp of militant Islamist group (Patrick Cockburn, 9 December 2008 , Independent)

Pakistan has raided a camp used by militants in Kashmir and claims to have captured Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the man India accuses of masterminding the attacks on Mumbai. [...]

The arrest of Mr Lakhvi, the operational leader of Lashkar-e-Toiba, which has carried out several mass killings in India, would be the first sign that Pakistan is intending to act effectively against the perpetrators of the atrocities in Mumbai. Without significant Pakistani action, India is believed to have decided to undertake military strikes against Pakistan in the next few days.

The US has told Pakistan that failure to apprehend the leaders of Lashkar-e-Toiba is likely to leave India with no choice but to order a military strike in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Senator John McCain, expressing the US view semi-officially during a visit to Pakistan at the weekend, said the US could not object to India using force in retaliation for Mumbai since the US had retaliated militarily after the 11 September attacks. One Pakistani observer, who met him privately, said he believed "the US was giving a green light to India for one strike against Pakistan so long as it was in Kashmir and was not repeated".

Thanks, Maverick.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Risk Factors (George Packer, December 15, 2008 , The New Yorker)

Some commentators have simply demanded that Pakistan rid itself of the virus of extremism that threatens its own security as well as its neighbors’. But which Pakistan is going to do it? The weak civilian government of President Asif Zardari? The two-faced security services? The tribal leaders along the Afghanistan border? The huge, overwhelmingly poor, tumultuous population? The core problem is that Pakistan is no longer really a country, if it ever was. “Our Pakistan strategy is hopelessly at odds with reality,” David Kilcullen, a former counterinsurgency adviser to the State Department, said. “We treat it as an earnest but incapable ally in the war on terrorism.” In fact, some civilian elements of the government are American allies; some military elements are American enemies. The wild northwest, where Islamist militants have extended their control and created a safe haven for Al Qaeda, has thwarted those who would govern it for a long time. Lord Curzon, the British viceroy of India at the turn of the last century, fumed, “No patchwork scheme—and all our present recent schemes . . . are mere patchwork—will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steam-roller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine.”

Areas that will not be governed may not be inhabited.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:36 PM


Crashless Cars: Making Driving Safer: Next-generation automotive safety technology could give us vehicles that are difficult to crash—and eventually may not need drivers at all (Steven Ashley, December 8, 2008, Scientific American Magazine)

The empty highway stretches straight out to the horizon, so I take a moment to peek at the electronic display down in the car’s center console. I read out the numbers on the screen swiftly and glance back to the windshield, when I see ... nothing. A dense fog has swallowed the roadway, and I am driving blind. Before I can feel for the foot brake, an unmistakable warning—a brake-light red rectangle—flashes onto the windshield. Without another thought, I slam hard on the pedal, cursing loudly. My vehicle comes to a hasty halt as a disabled car emerges abruptly from the murk dead ahead.

Before I can even exhale, bright lights burn all around, and laughter rings out incongruously through the passenger cabin. I remember suddenly that I’m sitting inside the VIRTTEX (VIRtual Test Track EXperiment) driving simulator lab at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Mich. The big, egg-shaped simulator dome enables specialists there to conduct driving tests under totally safe but highly convincing virtual-reality conditions. The disembodied mirth on the intercom is the control-room technicians having a chuckle over my brief discomfiture.

For the past quarter of an hour they have thrown various tasks at me—each one designed to demonstrate the dangers of driving while distracted. One of my jobs—the last one, in fact—had been to look down at the central display when asked and call out the numbers that appeared there without losing control of the vehicle. Glances away from the road that are longer than two seconds double the odds of a crash or near crash.

During the follow-up debriefing, Mike Blommer, technical leader at the VIRTTEX lab, tells me that the windshield alarm that popped up during the final task is a visual alert generated by a forward-collision warning unit on Volvos. The system acts like an electronic guardian angel, monitoring traffic up front with radars and cameras and signaling the driver when it senses danger. The warning’s marked resemblance to a standard red brake light is no accident, he notes: “The engineers chose that particular signal because its meaning is intuitively clear to every experienced driver. Even though you’d never seen it before, you knew exactly what it meant and took corrective action.”

This system is just one example of the latest generation of advanced safety devices designed to ward off traffic accidents. Although they are currently available on many high-end car models, these technologies are starting to migrate to lower-cost cars and trucks as well. And the next major iteration of collision avoidance technology should be even more effective, as it will be able to engage the brakes automatically without any input from the driver at all. These and related safety capabilities may herald a new era for the automobile, a time in which car owners become increasingly willing to accept automated assistance on the road, even if that means ceding to robotic systems some of their traditional feelings of mastery over their vehicles. Within a few decades, experts say, many advanced cars will be able to avoid most crashes. At some point, in fact, they will drive themselves. that in order to make them human-friendly you have to remove humans from the equation of operating them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:12 PM


5 GOP Picks for 2012: In spite of Tina Fey, Republicans favor Palin for 2012 election (US News, December 8, 2008)

How about, "in part because of":

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


Start Making Sense: America must end its denial about gas taxes (Washington Post, December 8, 2008)

THERE IS a certain unreal quality to current debate over the state of the U.S. economy, national security and the environment. As Detroit's Big Three automakers approach bankruptcy, dangerous oil-exporting states threaten international stability and climate change continues unchecked, Congress and the incoming Obama administration ponder costly and complex proposals to address these related crises. Under consideration are tens of billions of dollars in loans to the car companies; sanctions and diplomacy targeted at Iran, Russia and others; and a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. Each of these may have its place. What's striking, though, is that the only idea that seems to be off the table is the one that would address all three concerns directly and efficiently: higher gas taxes. This step would stimulate the market for new fuel-efficient cars; defund mischief-making petro-states; and cut carbon emissions. Not only that, it would reduce traffic, curb urban sprawl and, by giving drivers an incentive to drive more slowly, improve highway safety.

America's state of denial about fuel taxes is not new. But the time has come for it to end. The recent plunge in oil prices has created a golden opportunity. The price of a gallon of regular gasoline, which peaked at over $4 last summer, is now about $1.75. This means that today's drivers are enjoying the equivalent of 1980 prices, according to the Energy Information Administration.

...unless we make it cost more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Bibi's Blunders: Netanyahu: not so good for the Jews, either. (Shmuel Rosner, 12/24/08, The New Republic)

The source of all this scorn is simple: Westerners blamed Bibi for trying to torpedo the peace process in the late '90s--and many believe he will do so again today. The truth, however, is that, when it came to foreign policy, Netanyahu was always considerably more pragmatic than Americans and Europeans gave him credit for. He talked tough but relented time and again. Through Ronald Lauder, his emissary to President Hafez Assad of Syria, Netanyahu affirmed his willingness to give up the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. He may have kicked and screamed during the Wye River negotiations in 1998, but, in the end, he acquiesced--ensuring that the Oslo process moved forward. Bibi, wrote Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy at the time, has put the "final nail in the coffin to a claim by any major Israeli political party to 'all the land of Israel.'"

What's more, history has been kinder to some of Bibi's stances than many in the West would like to admit. His reluctance to view Yasir Arafat as a credible partner for peace was vindicated in 2000 when Arafat launched the second intifada, while his objection to Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza three years ago does not, in retrospect, seem quite so preposterous now that the territory has been taken over by Hamas.

Today, the practical distinctions between Netanyahu and his rivals on foreign policy are marginal at best. As the far-left Israeli columnist Gideon Levy has written, Bibi is "no worse than his fellow candidates, but immeasurably more persecuted." Of course, the three main contenders for prime minister--Netanyahu, Livni, and Barak--tend to play up their differences in order to distinguish themselves in voters' minds. But, in contrast to the 1990s when voters were sharply divided over Oslo, Israeli society has arrived at a remarkably coherent consensus on the peace process. Israelis are generally skeptical about the prospects for peace but are willing to play along in a cautious game of trial and error. It's pretty clear that, no matter who wins the upcoming election, the next prime minister will end up roughly carrying out the overwhelming popular desire for cautious pragmatism in negotiations with the Palestinians. As for the question of what to do about Iran's nuclear program, all three candidates agree that it's dangerous and needs to be stopped. Barak and Livni are hardly soft on Iran. Barak has had tough words on the subject: "It is our responsibility to ensure that the right steps are taken against the Iranian regime," he said a year ago. "As is well-known, words don't stop missiles." And, when Livni was recently asked if she supported discussions between the United States and Iran, her reply was blunt: "The answer is no."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Digested classics: Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (John Crace, 12/06/08, The Guardian)

Portnoy's Complaint n. (after Alexander Portnoy 1933- ) A disorder in which a fictional character the same age as the writer kvetches on sex, guilt, sex and Jewishness for 250 pages without pausing for breath.

We digested it briefer

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:45 PM


A Bench More White, Male and Conservative (Washington Post, December 8, 2008)

As a result of Bush's 311 appointments to federal district courts and the appellate bench, judges across the country are more male, more white and slightly more Hispanic than those in place at the end of Bill Clinton's presidency. A third of the nominees during Bush's first term had "a history of working as lawyers and lobbyists on behalf of the oil, gas and energy industries," according to a study by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

A University of Houston study of rulings by Bush's district court appointees through 2004 found that 27 percent of the judges supported what might be considered "liberal" outcomes in litigation related to the Bill of Rights or civil rights -- "giving the President the lowest score of any modern chief executive," according to the author, Robert A. Carp. Bush's judges also were much less likely to express support for privacy rights.

There is, Carp said, "a noticeable and measurable shift in a conservative direction, in favor of business [and] to favor the prosecution in a criminal case."

W is who the Right thinks Reagan was.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Asteroid Impacts Gave Crucial Spark to Early Life (Michael Reilly, Dec. 8, 2008, Discovery News)

Better known as end-bringers than life-givers, asteroid impacts may have forged the chemicals essential for life in Earth's ancient oceans.

Between 4.2 and 3.8 billion years ago, in a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment, space rocks rained down on the planet 100,000 times more frequently than they do today. It would seem an inhospitable environment for life to take its first tentative steps.

But new research on the chemistry of this fiery onslaught suggests the impacts produced a host of carboxylic acids, amines, and amino acids -- essential compounds for building proteins, and a food source for primitive organisms.

No one believes life evolved Naturally anymore, do they.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


In October, the National Debt Clock in New York City ran out of room for the growing number of digits in our national debt. Now the Peter G. Peterson Foundation has created a new way to show the world exactly how out-of-hand our unprecedented debt has become.

First, some back story on the clock. In 1989, a real estate magnate named Seymour Durst installed the National Debt Clock near Times Square. But instead of minutes and hours, this clock calculates our federal debt, using figures from the U.S. Treasury. The clock serves as a reminder to everyone who passes that the government owes more to the public (in the form of Treasury bills and savings bonds), and more to itself (in the form of money it borrows from one pot to spend on another) with each passing single day.

When Durst installed the clock in 1989, the debt was $2.7 trillion. Now, with our national debt just cracking $10 trillion, the clock has simply run out of room to display new numbers.

As a blogger, we thought you and your readers might be interested in how the Peter G. Peterson Foundation is using social networking to spread the word. Check out our National Debt Twitter at today. By following the national debt on Twitter, you'll receive a daily tweet of the national debt as reported by the Treasury Department.

Although this official number is the most commonly-cited national debt, it doesn't scratch the surface of the actual federal fiscal burden. Even though the official number just broke $10 trillion, the actual estimate - including all our government's obligations, like Social Security and Medicare - actually totals more than $57 trillion. Learn more about the real national debt here.

Visit to start following the national debt today, and whether or not you're on Twitter, please help spread the word!

Elizabeth Wilner
Director of Public Affairs
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:25 PM


PRESS RELEASE: Discover NRA Programs on the new

December 8, 2008

FAIRFAX, VA - The newly redesigned, going online later this week, serves as a one-stop news hub for the National Firearms Museum, NRA Competitive Shooting, NRA Firearms Education and Training, Hunting Programs, Women's Programs, Youth Programs, NRA Range Services, Friends of NRA banquets, NRA Clubs and Associations, and the NRA's Law Enforcement Activities Division. will report live from events including the National Rifle
and Pistol Championships at Camp Perry, the NRA Bianchi Cup, the NRA Annual Meeting, the National Police Shooting Championships, several popular industry shows, and a variety of state competitions and clinics. The site will offer exclusive interviews with NRA officials and Board members as well as world-class competitive shooters and industry leaders.

Additionally, offers readers a calendar of upcoming events, the chance to submit photos of themselves at their local Friends of NRA banquets, and the opportunity to learn about NRA programs.

"We are excited and ready to step into the blogosphere with our
programs," General Operations Deputy Executive Director and Director of Media Relations Andrea Cerwinske said. "We reach millions of Americans each year with our educational firearms courses, the NRA National Firearms Museum, and our competitive shooting program, among others. This is the next step to reaching a bigger audience."

Visit the new Site visitors are encouraged to e-mail for a chance to win a limited edition copy of NRA: An American Legacy autographed by NRA General Operations Executive Director and past president Kayne Robinson.

Contact Danielle Sturgis at or 703-267-1595 to submit a story idea or photograph.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


Not Art Rock: Top 10 'Smart Rock' Albums (David Brown, December 2, 2008, NPR)

1. Okkervil River
Album: The Stand Ins
Song: Lost Coastlines

Austin's signature smart-rock quintet picked up even more national momentum in 2008 with the release of, in essence, a collection of outtakes from an aborted double-album. In many ways, this is more like the flip side to last year's The Stage Names; whereas the earlier disc was a meditation on fame, this new collection is about the collateral damage—the emotions curdling under the spotlight. Songwriter Will Sheff mashes up power-pop, '60s folk, new wave and even Motown to form a backdrop for nearly a dozen lush, pint-sized portraits. The result is a miniature masterpiece.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


R.E.M. Reissues A Classic (NPR, 12/01/08, All Songs Considered)

This year marks the 25th anniversary of R.E.M.'s debut full-length album, Murmur. The band is marking the occasion with a remastered version of the record and a deluxe edition that includes a bonus live concert from 1983.

They were done after Document.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


People voted for Congress' development agenda (Times of India, 8 Dec 2008)

With the Congress appearing set to make a hat-trick in the Delhi assembly elections, Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on Monday said the people of the national capital voted for the party's development agenda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Beethoven and the Illuminati: How the secret order influenced the great composer. (Jan Swafford, Dec. 8, 2008, Slate)

By his midteens, Beethoven was a court musician in various capacities and making huge strides as a composer. His father had pulled him out of school after a few years so he could concentrate on music. (Beethoven learned to add and subtract but never learned to multiply. If he had to multiply 65 by 59, he wrote 65 in a column 59 times and added it up.) Meanwhile his father was promoting him relentlessly, mounting concerts in the house and taking him on tours around the Rhineland. By that point, there was little question in Ludwig's or anybody else's mind that he was headed for big things. One day when his landlord's daughter accosted him with, "How dirty you're looking again! You ought to keep yourself properly clean," he told her, "What's the difference? When I become a gentleman, nobody will care."

Which is to say that Beethoven was a prodigy and had the classic prodigy's trouble: He knew all about music, but he didn't know how to live. He had only a hazy sense of the reality of other people. Throughout Beethoven's youth, a row of mentors would attempt to civilize and socialize him, with mixed results.

In those years, his first serious mentor, Neefe the Schwärmer, was in an especially perfervid phase of his spiritual life. For some time he had been a Freemason, a group then in its first century as a progressive, international, secular, semisecret order open to men of all faiths. (As such, the Masons were loathed by churches and regimes alike.) But Neefe was tired of the Masons' endless chatter of liberty and morality. He wanted a more ambitious and active kind of brotherhood—say, a new world order. That took him to one of the more bizarre sideshows of the Enlightenment: the Bavarian Illuminati. A Bonn lodge of the Illuminati formed, and Beethoven's teacher became head of it.

Founded in 1776 by a Bavarian professor named Adam Weishaupt, the Illuminati joined radical politics and Jesuit-style hierarchy to fanatical secrecy. The aims of the order were ambitious, all right: They intended to change the world and had a plan to do it. The means were not to be by violent revolutions. The idea was to form a cadre of enlightened men who would steathlily infiltrate governments everywhere and slowly bring them to a kind of secular-humanist Elysium under the guidance of a secret ruling body. Said Adam Weishaupt: "Princes and nations shall disappear from the face of the earth peacefully, mankind shall become one family, and the world shall become a haven of reasonable people."

Maybe the Left really are Illuminati...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


The Scientist Ending Malaria with His Army of Mosquitoes: For decades scientists have been chasing a genetically engineered vaccine that would prevent the one million deaths that occur from malaria every year. Stephen Hoffman thinks he's found a better one -- in the mosquitoes themselves. (Jason Fagone, 12/08/08, Esquire)

It turns out, though, that there is a way to disrupt the life cycle of the parasite. If a scientist zaps one of these mosquitoes with gamma radiation, the parasites inside it become weakened. If this irradiated mosquito bites you, the parasites travel to your liver, same as before. But now they just sit there. They don't cause you any harm, because they never multiply into an army or hatch into your blood. And yet the parasites--as the scientist can't help but notice--are still alive, meaning that, in theory, they're capable of priming an immune response. Which is how vaccines have worked for more than two hundred years, going all the way back to Edward Jenner's discovery that when he scraped some fluid from a cowpox blister into a cut on a little boy's arm, that boy was protected against smallpox.

But how can the scientist be sure that the things inside this live mosquito--these shocked, "attenuated" parasites--could truly provide protection against malaria?

If the scientist is Stephen Hoffman, he takes a small can and fills it with three hundred irradiated mosquitoes. He inverts the can, placing the mesh lid against his bare forearm, and a cloth over his arm to simulate night. He begins to feel a tickling sensation. Three thousand bites later, he withdraws the can. He has "vaccinated" himself. Then, two weeks later, he repeats the process, only with infectious mosquitoes instead of benign ones, and . . . waits.

In his thirty-year career in tropical medicine, twenty-one of those in crisp Navy whites, Hoffman, sixty, has always been a dreamer. He trudged through the Colombian jungle while in medical school in search of a witch doctor and indigenous salves. Years later he traveled to the remote Indonesian island of Flores, rigging up a twelve-volt battery to a field incubator so he could test the native strains of malaria for resistance to drugs. He escaped death twice: first when a bout of typhoid fever in Ecuador roasted his body for days like a self-basting turkey, then again, fifteen years later, when he and his wife walked away from a plane crash in rural Kenya, where they had been studying malaria in indigenous people. Yet he didn't put the can to his arm out of some sense of romance or dare. He did it because he had already tried to make and test a vaccine using more mainstream methods, and he had failed.

During the eighties at the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, Hoffman's job was to make a malaria vaccine for marines deployed abroad. The era of genetic engineering was dawning, and Hoffman and his colleagues spliced and cloned loops of DNA. Once they had created a "recombinant" vaccine they liked, they shot it into their bodies, then used the can and the mesh and the cloth to give themselves a chaser full of parasites.

Two weeks later, Hoffman was speaking at a medical conference when, in midsentence, he felt a wave of coldness snap through his limbs, deep and sharp, and he lost control of his body. He staggered to a chair and sat down, his teeth chattering uncontrollably. This was a malarial "rigor," his body's vain attempt to boil away the parasite now bursting his red blood cells.

For years afterward, Hoffman kept trying to refine the recombinant vaccine.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM

50 IN '10?:

GOP Has a More Level Playing Field in 2010 Senate Races “Filibuster-Proof?” (Bob Benenson, 12/08/08, CQ)

[T]he GOP will not have the kind of steeply slanted playing field it had to deal with this year. In the flip side of the party’s successes in its better times of 2002, the Republicans ended up defending 23 seats to the Democrats’ 12. That would have made it hard for them to hold their ground, even if the overall political atmosphere had not been so toxic.

The slate of regularly scheduled 2010 races gives the Republicans another defensive chore, though it was not nearly as big: 19 Republican-held seats are scheduled to be up that year to 15 Democratic-held seats. Special elections will narrow the margin further, to 19-17, because of picks President-elect Barack Obama has made for his White House team from among his former Democratic Senate colleagues. [...]

[O]f the 16 states where Democratic Senate seats will be on the line in 2010 (including New York, where both seats will be up), Obama won with ease in 13 of them — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin. He scored a more narrow but historic victory in Indiana, which had gone Republican in 10 consecutive presidential elections dating to 1968. The only two McCain states in which Democratic incumbents are up in 2010 are Arkansas and North Dakota.

Conversely, 13 of the 19 states where Republican seats are up next time were carried by McCain, including his home state of Arizona, while six, or nearly a third, were Obama states: Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


Liberals voice concerns about Obama (CAROL E. LEE & NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | 12/8/08 , Politico)

Liberals are growing increasingly nervous – and some just flat-out angry – that President-elect Barack Obama seems to be stiffing them on Cabinet jobs and policy choices.

Obama has reversed pledges to immediately repeal tax cuts for the wealthy and take on Big Oil. He’s hedged his call for a quick drawdown in Iraq. And he’s stocking his White House with anything but stalwarts of the left.

Now some are shedding a reluctance to puncture the liberal euphoria at being rid of President George W. Bush to say, in effect, that the new boss looks like the old boss.

You mean all the U.R. cares about is himself? Shocking....

December 7, 2008

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Election is 'a giant step' for O.C. Vietnamese Americans (Nation's first Vietnamese American congressman continues a political path that began in Little Saigon. (DOUG IRVING, 12/07/08, The Orange County Register)

"Oh, how neat!" [Tony Lam, the first Vietnamese American to hold political office when he was elected to Westminster's City Council in 1992] said Sunday when he was told that voters in New Orleans had elected Anh "Joseph" Cao to Congress. "That makes me so proud. We've come a long way."

Cao, a Republican, defeated 10-term Democrat William Jefferson in a mostly black and heavily Democratic district. It didn't help Jefferson's campaign that he is facing charges of bribery, money laundering and misusing his congressional office.

Cao came to the United States as a child fleeing war. He works as an immigration attorney, credentials that could come in handy if Congress takes up immigration reform – which President-elect Barack Obama has said he wants lawmakers to do in his first term.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 PM


What would Jesus have to say about illegal immigration?: The Bible contains numerous passages outlining the duty of the faithful to treat 'aliens' with charity and tolerance (BILL KING, 12/07/08, Houston Chronicle)

A few months ago I was in church listening to our pastor's sermon. He was describing a feast where the prophets had sent out word for all the people of Israel to come together. Interestingly, the invitation to the feast specially included all of the "aliens living among you."

When I got home I got on an electronic version of the Bible and did a search for the word "alien." To my surprise, the search turned up dozens of references. It seems that the issue of immigration has been on peoples' minds for some time.

A copy of the passages can be found at Most are in the Old Testament and while the message varies, the underlying theme is an admonishment to treat aliens living in your land with tolerance and charity. Frequently, they are grouped with widows and orphans, and the passages charge us with an affirmative duty to see to their well being. In many of these passages, originally written to the Israelites, they are reminded that they will do these things because they once lived as aliens in the land of Egypt.

There are two passages that I found particularly compelling. First is Exodus 12:49:

"The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you."

I am not a big proponent of mixing religion and politics, but I do not believe we should check our faith-based values at the courthouse door or the capitol steps. I find many of the legislative proposals floating around these days pretty inconsistent with this passage.

The second is less legalistic, but even more compelling. Deuteronomy 10:17-19 provides:

"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality . . . He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt."[...]

Immigration reform is likely to be on the national agenda next year. Some members of the Texas Legislature have indicated that there may be some proposals put forth on the state level as well. Certainly there will be many difficult issues in this process on which people of good will may honestly disagree. But I hope we will undertake reforming our system with our faith-based values in mind and not a moral blindness that we will one day regret.

In case you wondered why the Darwinian Right is so invested in stopping Sarah Palin.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Kathleen Parker Retreats But Still Blames Pro-Life Advocates for Election Loss (Steven Ertelt, December 5, 2008,

Nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker made herself the scourge of the pro-life community when she blamed emphasis of pro-life issues for allowing Barack Obama to win the presidential election. In a new article, Parker is backing down slightly from those arguments, but still bungles the facts.

Parker drew guffaws originally for blaming the presidential election loss on "oogedy-boogedy" pro-life advocates.

In her new column she urges the evangelical and conservative Catholic pro-life advocates to give up their religious-based pro-life arguments and tells them to "take a cue from Nat Hentoff, a self-described Jewish atheist, who has written as eloquently as anyone about the 'indivisibility of life' and the slippery slope down which abortion leads."

"Hentoff's arguments, and others on related issues, ultimately may fail. But at least they will fail for reasons other than that oogedy-boogedy got in the way," she says.

Two big problems for Ms Parker (well, one big, the other, Big): (1) not only is the GOP the party of Oggedy-Boogedy, but most Americans believe in Him; (2) if there is no Oogedy-Boogedy then there is no argument on behalf of life, which is why the Hentoff path does fail.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:42 PM


This Wasn't Quite the Change We Pictured (David Corn, December 7, 2008, Washington Post)

It's no surprise that many progressives are -- depending on whom you ask -- disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied. Sure, Obama's appointments do represent change -- that is, change from the widely unpopular Bush-Cheney status quo. But do these appointments amount to the kind of change that progressives, who were an essential part of Obama's political base during the campaign, can really believe in?

Perhaps Obama is trying to pull off something subtle -- a sort of stealth liberalism draped in bipartisan centrism. But it's understandable that progressives are worried. "I feel incredibly frustrated," OpenLeft blogger Chris Bowers exclaimed. "Even after two landslide elections in a row, are our only governing options as a nation either all right-wing Republicans, or a centrist mixture of Democrats and Republicans? Isn't there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration?" And he asks, "Why isn't there a single member of Obama's cabinet who will be advising him from the left?" Writers at the Nation have decried Obama's national security team as a "kettle of hawks," denounced his economic aides as acolytes of "recycled Clintonism" who fancy "straight-up neoliberal deference to the market," and assailed the retaining of Gates as a move that "has a dispiriting, stay-the-course feel to it."

The other day, two prominent labor officials who toiled mighty hard for Obama during the campaign told me they had this message for the new president: Please, please give us David Bonior as labor secretary. They were referring to the populist former House member who has been a leading critic of NAFTA-like trade pacts. "Don't we deserve at least one Cabinet appointment?" one remarked.

I, too, have huffed about Obama's staffing decisions. It remains a mystery to me why Obama would want to bring into his Big Tent the Clinton circus, which frequently features excessive spin, backstabbing, leaking and messy melodrama. Sen. Clinton is a smart woman who has stature and globetrotting experience. But as health-care czar in her husband's administration, she set back that cause, which is near and dear to the hearts of progressives, by nearly two decades.

Also unsettling is Obama's decision to re-up Gates at the Pentagon. Gates is certainly an improvement on his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. He's no ideologue. And by placing a Bush appointee who happens to be pragmatic in charge of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, Obama might avoid a bruising political wrangle over his Iraq policy. But on Gates's watch, there has been little, if any, progress in Afghanistan. And Gates has not truly taken on the Pentagon's biggest domestic problem: its bloated, out-of-control budget. Obama transition team officials reviewing the Defense Department have told colleagues that they are stunned by the mess they are finding. With the military budget expanding wildly, largely because of hundreds of billions of dollars in cost overruns for questionable weapons programs, the Pentagon is the federal agency most in need of change. That change has to be driven from the top.

As for Summers, he blew one of the more significant policy calls of the 1990s. When regulators wanted to rein in the use of derivatives, he let the free market rule. Now he's being rewarded in an it-takes-a-thief-to-catch-a-thief manner. And the fierce partisan who will be managing the White House for Obama, future chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, was known during the Clinton years as the White House aide who said no to bolder, progressive policy initiatives in favor of modest, centrist proposals.

So with these hawkish, Rubin-esque, middle-of-the-road picks, has Obama abandoned the folks who brought him to the dance? that voters bring you to the dance, not activists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:27 PM

SO HERE'S THE QUESTION... (via The Rest is Noise:

Are you one of those who think The Beatles important to the culture, like the Bard, and so think the comparison to overwrought Shakespeare appropriate? One of those who think them trivial, unlike the great playwright, and so the clip to be mocking their pretensions? One of those who think it's about Olivier?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:56 AM


OMM's Top 20 tracks of the year: MGMT's Time to Pretend is Observer Music Monthly's favourite track of 2008. Frontman Andrew VanWyngarden tells us about the inspirations behind the song. Plus, find out who features in the rest of our top 20 (The Guardian, 12/07/08)

1. Time to Pretend, MGMT

'This is our decision, to live fast and die young/We've got the vision, now let's have some fun,' sang Andrew VanWyngarden with dreamy insouciance on this satire on – or paean to? – rock's most shameful excesses. When he wrote the track with Ben Goldwasser in 2004, both were two wide-eyed Wesleyan college kids in Connecticut. As it turns out, Time to Pretend (originally titled The Mantis Sailing Home) proved less the in-joke and more a prophetic heralding of their future. Genre-blending psych-pop, the track became a freakbeat theme for the Skins generation. Then Radiohead and Oasis and rock fans everywhere discovered the tune, too.

OMM: You wrote Time to Pretend in 2004, when you were still at college in Connecticut?

Andrew VanWyngarden: That's right. I was at a yard sale and there was this old wooden model pirate ship. On the boat was this giant preying mantis so I bought it. It was a great pet to have. It's actually the state insect of Connecticut. We would have dance parties and she loved to dance. Her favourite song was Overpowered by Funk by the Clash. It was a party house that we were living in, with five good friends. Ben made a loop of music that was inspired by the movements of this preying mantis. He played it to me and I thought it was cool and initially it was called The Mantis Sailing Home. It was like a joke song.
We performed it like that a couple of times and then we had access to a school studio and we decided to record a couple of tracks. That song, Time to Pretend and another song called Boogie Down. I wrote new lyrics talking about a joke fantasy of us becoming rock stars and getting really famous and becoming huge touring musicians. It was funny that we were just these two kids in Connecticut. We hadn't played a show outside our tiny little campus. We played it a few times at the end of the year. Then we put it on an EP. An intern at Columbia passed the EP onto an A&R woman and she liked it. That's the reason we got signed I guess.

The rest are listed below also. Here's Metacritic's Best of 2008. Anyone got any favorites for 2008? I'm surprised this one isn't on their list.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


Situation in Somalia Seems About to Get Worse (JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, 12/07/08, NY Times)

Most analysts predict that the war-weary people of Mogadishu would initially welcome the Islamists, out of either relief or fear. In 2006, Islamist troops teamed up with clan elders and businessmen to drive out the warlords who had been preying upon Somalia’s people since the central government first collapsed in 1991. The six months the Islamists ruled Mogadishu turned out to be one of the most peaceful periods in modern Somali history.

But today’s Islamists are a harder, more brutal group than the ones who were ousted by an Ethiopian invasion, backed by the United States, in late 2006. The old guard included many moderates, but those who tried to work with the transitional government mostly failed, leaving them weak and marginalized, and removing a mitigating influence on the die-hard insurgents.

On top of that, the unpopular and bloody Ethiopian military operations over the past two years have radicalized many Somalis and sent hundreds of unemployed young men — most of whom have never gone to school, never been part of a functioning society and never had much of a chance to do anything but shoulder a gun — into the arms of militant Islamic groups.

The sad thing is that it was entirely predictable that we'd want the Islamic Courts back even as we were driving them out.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


The icemen returneth: The first-place Bruins are after something bigger than wins: Making an old hockey town believe again (Shira Springer, December 7, 2008, Boston Globe)

The line of fans stretched from the TD Banknorth Garden Pro Shop down the length of the arena, curled left, and extended another 30 yards into the cold fall air. Some waited almost two hours in the 34-degree weather. Some took their children out of school. One family drove 12 hours from Ontario just for the chance to meet some players from their favorite team and buy the latest souvenir jersey.

A black and gold jersey, no less.

Something strange is happening in Boston. The Bruins matter. A proud, old hockey town has rediscovered its pulse. When was the last time anyone could say that?

This young and feisty team has vaulted to unexpected relevance with 18 wins in its first 26 games, and to first place in the National Hockey League's Eastern Conference. Built from the ground up by a revitalized front-office team, the new Bruins aren't exactly big or bad, but they have so far showcased the essential elements of success on ice: shifty scorers, a fists-up enforcer, a towering defenseman, a rock in goal. And not one household name in the bunch. Not yet.

Average attendance is up 10 percent; pro shop sales, 30 percent. Home game sellouts are no longer a dream but a growing expectation. Even the team's flatline TV ratings, rivaled only by the New England Revolution for local sports broadcast oblivion, have begun to perk up. [...]

It's hard to remember how big hockey once was in this town, especially in the early '70s, when the team, one of the original six franchises in the league, sported both the game's greatest superstar in defenseman Bobby Orr, its most prolific scorer in Phil Esposito, and a complementary cluster of lesser stars. Gerry Cheevers. Ken Hodge. Derek Sanderson.

It didn't take much effort to build a fan base in those days, especially in a city like Boston where schoolboy hockey and youth leagues flourished. Team legend Johnny Bucyk recalls every game as a sellout and constant chatter about the team around town. In those days, Orr's number 4 was as ubiquitous an emblem of the region as Ted Williams's number 9.

Rebuilding the fan base today is much harder work, though the base of youth hockey enthusiasm remains very much in place.

It would help if the NHL got rid of all the expansion teams.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


The Kashmir Connection: A Puzzle (TIM WEINER, 12/07/08, NY Times)

Here is some of what is known:

First, American intelligence officials are all but certain that Lashkar led the attacks, which left 163 people — including 18 members of India’s security forces — dead along with 9 suspected terrorists. “The same group that we believe is responsible for Mumbai had a similar attack in 2006 on a train and killed a similar number of people,” the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, said last week in a speech at Harvard. “Go back to 2001 and it was an attack on the Parliament.” The Mumbai commuter train bombings killed at least 186. A dozen died in the assault on Parliament, which led to talk of war.

Second, Pakistan’s intelligence services have used Lashkar as a guerrilla force to fight India over their disputed border in Kashmir. That fight has raged since the British partitioned India and Pakistan in 1947. The rival nations went to war that year over Kashmir, and again in 1965 and 1971. Tens of thousands have been killed in political warfare since then.

Third, and most significantly, Lashkar’s roots, like Al Qaeda’s, lie in another war — the battle between Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan and Islamic rebels who fought them in the 1980’s. The rebels were backed by billions of dollars from the United States and Saudi Arabia. Their money and guns flowed through Pakistani intelligence.

In 1989, the Red Army left Afghanistan. The international Islamic holy warriors did not; many thousands of radicals from some 40 nations came to learn the lessons of jihad in Afghanistan, and Lashkar’s first foot soldiers were among them.

Lashkar was founded in 1989, supported by Saudi money and protected by Pakistani spies, according to Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s current ambassador to the United States, a former journalist who opposed Gen. Pervez Musharraf when the general was Pakistan’s ruler.

87 Pct in Kashmir Valley Want Independence - Poll (8/13/07)
Nearly 90 percent of people living in Indian Kashmir's summer capital want their troubled and divided state to become an independent country, according to a poll in an Indian newspaper on Monday.

India and Pakistan have fought and argued over the Himalayan region ever since partition in 1947, but 87 percent of people questioned in Srinagar have no allegiance to either side.

Only 3 percent of the mainly Muslim inhabitants of the city think Kashmir should become part of Pakistan, and 7 percent prefer Indian rule, the poll said.

But down in Jammu, the state's mainly Hindu winter capital in the plains to the south, 95 percent think Kashmir should be part of India.

Indians, Pakistanis flexible on Kashmir - poll (Krittivas Mukherjee, 7/17/08, Reuters)
People in India and Pakistan show a readiness to let the disputed region of Kashmir decide its own fate, and many would tolerate independence if that ended the long-running Himalayan conflict, a rare poll on the crisis said.

A poll by asked Indian and Pakistanis to consider a range of possible outcomes for the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir and to say whether they found them desirable, acceptable, tolerable, or unacceptable.

A majority of those surveyed would find independence at least tolerable if Kashmiris wanted it.

"Given the deep roots of the conflict over Kashmir, it is surprising the conflict does not muster clearly polarised majorities in Pakistan and India, falling in line behind their governments' positions," said Clay Ramsay, research director of

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


A railroad journey into the past: Pearl Harbor commemoration train brings out memories of the attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that transformed America. (VIK JOLLY, 12/06/08, The Orange County Register)

The restored train car lurches forward. It clatters and creaks.

An actor does Lou Costello. In the last working barbershop on a train, Earl Nickles of Santa Ana posts his state barber's license on the mirror and arranges the tools of his trade on the counter – Bay Rum, hair tonic, Osage rub, Clubman's Special Reserve aftershave cologne, Lilac aftershave lotion.

A World War II Air Force veteran tells a bit of his story. A Pearl Harbor survivor speaks of the day of the attack.

An announcer rattles off key dates from 1941. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" by the Andrews Sisters went on sale in January. The USO – which Helwig joined – was founded in February. Construction of the new Department of Defense headquarters, the Pentagon, started in September. "String of Pearls," a new Glenn Miller tune, was released in November. Pearl Harbor was struck in December. [...]

Now she sits in this railroad club lounge hitched to an Amtrak train, a commemorative World War II-themed car owned by Bill and Debbie Hatrick and run by L.A. Rail, a consortium of five private rail car owners.

She was told to show up Saturday at the Anaheim train station by an organizer of the St. Paul's Lutheran Seniors and Friends Group from Garden Grove. The excursion that would take her to San Diego and back, along with 35 other members of the group, was a pleasant surprise.

"When I walked in here, it just did something inside of me," Helwig says. "Every once in a while it's nice to remember when we were all young."

To ride and to learn more about the L.A. Rail consortium, which runs the Pearl Harbor Day Troop Train, visit

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


Warning on Britain's grey population: Evidence of the challenges posed by the ageing population will be unveiled by Britain's statistics chief this week. (David Barrett, 06 Dec 2008, Daily Telegraph)

Whereas British-born women have only 1.7 children each on average, the figure is 3.9 for Bangladeshi-born women in Britain, and almost five for Pakistani-born women. [...]

The NHS already restricts access to expensive new drugs that could benefit older age groups -- such as sufferers of Alzheimer's and macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness -- amid fears that the costs could cripple the health service.

Miss Dunnell article, to be published on Tuesday, will look at the ethnic breakdown of the ageing population and the way different parts of the UK will be affected. She will also make comparisons with the demographics of other European countries.

Three months ago the ONS revealed that Britain is home to more pensioners than children for the first time in the country's history. There are 11.58 million pensioners - classed as men over 65 and women over 60 - compared with 11.52 million under-16s.

In 1971, a quarter of the nation was under 16, while 15 per cent were of pensionable age.

The number of over-80s has almost doubled to 2.7 million over the past 30 years. They are the fastest-growing age group as a result of medical advances, and their number is expected to continue rising dramatically.

The state retirement age is to increase to 68 for men and women by 2050, but the sharp rise in the elderly population is likely to lead to calls for the retirement age to be raised still further.

Britain's population profile is ageing despite record immigration and the rise in the number of immigrant women having children. According to the ONS a record number of immigrants settled in the UK last year. Around one in 10 of the population was born abroad, 6.3 million people in all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:59 AM


Ghanaians pray for peaceful poll (Will Ross, 12/07/08, BBC News)

Several groups of local and international observers are keeping a close eye on events in Ghana hoping the continent can be given a democratic boost after the shambolic polls in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

"We need good elections in Ghana," said the African Union's chief observer, Salim Ahmed Salim, at a polling station in Accra.

"They have had four elections now and they have been done very well and this will be seen as a consolidation of the democratic process. The attention of not only Africa, but of the world community is on Ghana at this point.

"The example shown by John McCain when he lost [the US elections] despite a very bitter electioneering campaign, is remarkable and I hope that all of us would learn something from there."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:56 AM


Indicted Louisiana Rep. William J. Jefferson loses reelection bid: Republican attorney Anh 'Joseph' Cao denies the Democratic incumbent a 10th term representing a district that covers much of New Orleans, unofficial results show. (Associated Press, December 7, 2008)

Voters in Louisiana ousted indicted Democratic Rep. William J. Jefferson on Saturday, electing instead a Republican attorney who will be the first Vietnamese American in Congress.

Unofficial results showed Anh "Joseph" Cao denying Jefferson a 10th term. Republicans made an aggressive push to take the seat from Jefferson, 61, who has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, money laundering and misusing his congressional office.

Cao, 41, won Louisiana's majority-black 2nd Congressional District, which covers much of New Orleans. Just 11% of registered voters in the district are Republicans. Turnout appeared to be light.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Where did the illegals go and why? (James Jay Carafano, December 7, 2008, Washington Times)

They are leaving. Illegal immigrants, that is. Analysts from both ends of the immigration debate, from the Center for Immigration Studies to the Pew Hispanic Center, agree. The "unlawfully present" population in the United States has shrunk - and it's getting smaller.

According to Pew, there has been a drop in the annual illegal "inflow" of people to the country since 2005. And the numbers of those already here is going down. It peaked at 12.4 million in 2006 and is down by about 1 million now. [...]

In 1986, Congress passed comprehensive reform that granted a general amnesty and promised more workplace enforcem