February 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:55 PM


Israel PM's family link to Hamas peace bid
: Olmert rejected Palestinian attempts to set up talks through go-between before Gaza invasion (Peter Beaumont, 3/01/09, The Observer)

Hamas, the militant Palestinian organisation, attempted to conduct secret talks with the Israeli leadership in the protracted run-up to the recent war in Gaza - with messages being passed from the group at one stage through a member of prime minister Ehud Olmert's family. [...]

Over two years, from the kidnap of Shalit, which triggered Israel's economic blockade of the Gaza Strip and its 1.5 million residents right up to the days before Israel launched its three-week long assault, Hamas officials expressed a willingness to talk to Israel directly about the kidnap, conditions for a new ceasefire and the ending of the blockade.

The motivation - from Hamas's side - stemmed from a growing frustration with the role of Egypt as an intermediary over key issues between the two sides, especially in relation to ceasefires.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:43 PM


Bangladesh mutineers name tycoon with Pak links (Indrani Bagchi, 3/01/09, Times of India)

The first signs of a Pakistani footprint is showing up in the bloody mutiny that shook Bangladesh this week.

As mass graves continue to spew forth more bloody tales - 10 more bodies have been recovered, bringing the toll to 76 - what is emerging slowly is a larger design behind the apparently senseless killing over the past couple of days.

The preliminary interrogation of some of the rebels has thrown up the name of Salauddin Qadeer Chowdhury, a well-known shipping magnate and reportedly very close to the Pakistan military-intelligence complex and the opposition BNP.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 PM


Obama's Stunted Stimulus (Robert J. Samuelson, February 23, 2009, Washington Post)

Judged by his own standards, President Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus program is deeply disappointing. For weeks, Obama has described the economy in grim terms. "This is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill recession," he said at his Feb. 9 news conference. It's "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." Given these dire warnings, you'd expect the stimulus package to focus almost exclusively on reviving the economy. It doesn't, and for that, Obama bears much of the blame.

The case for a huge stimulus -- which I support -- is to prevent a devastating downward economic spiral. Spending is tumbling worldwide. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the U.S. economy contracted at a nearly 4 percent annual rate. In Japan, the economy fell at a nearly 13 percent rate; in Europe, the rate was about 6 percent. These are gruesome declines. If the economic outlook is as bleak as Obama says, there's no reason to dilute the upfront power of the stimulus. But that's what he's done.

His politics compromise the program's economics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Obama’s Greenhouse Gas Gamble (JOHN M. BRODER, 2/27/09, NY Times)

[T]he full costs and benefits of controlling greenhouse gas emissions remain unknown, and perhaps unknowable. While there is rough consensus on the science of global warming — with some notable and vocal objectors — there is less agreement on the economics of the problem and very little on the policy prescriptions to address it. And while a cap-and-trade approach bears substantial cost, it also brings a benefit whose value is incalculable — a steady decrease in emissions that scientists say will over time reduce the risk of climate catastrophe.

Mr. Obama’s budget estimates $645 billion in cap-and-trade revenue over the next 10 years that will largely be paid by oil, electric power and heavy industries that produce the majority of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for the warming of the planet. Many of these costs are expected to be passed on to consumers.

Why such a convoluted contraption--which has already failed in Eutrope--rather than direct taxation of consumption?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 PM


Web site tracks Obama’s unilateral actions (Kansascity.com, 2/27/09)

With 16 executive orders and 11 memorandums issued to the executive branch in his first 30 days in office, President Barack Obama leads all of his predecessors in volume of unilateral action.

These facts are being tracked by the American Presidency Project, a Web site developed by a pair of political scientists at the University of California-Santa Barbara.

...one of the things that made W so objectionable to the Looney Left?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


The special relationship is going global (Gordon Brown, 3/01/09, Times of London)

[T]here is no international partnership in recent history that has served the world better than the special relationship between Britain and the United States.

It is a relationship that has endured and flourished because it is based not simply on our shared history but on the enduring values that bind us together – our countries founded upon liberty, our histories forged through democracy and an unshakeable belief in the power of enterprise and opportunity.

But if it reflects our values and our histories, this special relationship is also a partnership of purpose, renewed by every generation to reflect the challenges we face. In the 1940s it found its full force defeating fascism and building the postwar international order; in the cold war era we fought the growth of nuclear weapons and when the Berlin Wall fell we saw the end of communism. In this new century, since the horrors visited on America in 2001, we have worked in partnership to defeat terrorism.

Now, in this generation, we must renew our work together once again.

...but recall how Gordon was going to show his distance from Tony and Barrack from George by toning down the special relationship?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


A Maine College Baseball Team That Is Always on the Road (BILL PENNINGTON, 2/28/09, NY Times)

Two days after leaving the Canadian border town of Presque Isle, Me., the bus with 14 players, 2 coaches and a manager pulled into a lot at the baseball field of Ferrum College in western Virginia. The drive had been 22 hours, but for this baseball team, the journey was finally over.

Or was it just beginning?

This February day’s doubleheader against Ferrum would be the first of 37 successive away games scheduled for the University of Maine at Presque Isle team this year.

Because winter can last until May in northern Maine, Presque Isle routinely plays its entire season on the road. With their campus 400 miles north of Boston, the Owls have not played a home baseball game since 2005, when there were two.

“You can either complain that the baseball field is buried under six feet of snow, or you drive to where you can play baseball,” said Tyler Delaney, a junior infielder. “We don’t complain.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Vacancies abound in crucial US posts: Obama vetting policy slows appointments (Farah Stockman and Bryan Bender, February 27, 2009, Boston Globe)

Only about 70 people have been formally nominated to fill the roughly 500 senior posts in the Defense, State, Treasury, and Education departments and dozens of other government agencies, according to White House records. Dozens of nominations are still pending as FBI and White House officials scrub potential nominees' tax returns, financial ties, and former activities in government.

It is not unusual for a new administration to take several months to fill political slots, but the absence of senior officials has been felt more keenly under Obama, who is vowing to quickly disburse a $787 billion stimulus package, revamp education and healthcare, and tackle two ongoing wars.

"It is extraordinarily unusual to have something like this stimulus package" this early in an administration, said Joel D. Aberbach, director of the Center for American Politics and Public Policy at the University of California at Los Angeles. "There has been this big expansion of mission in some areas, so that may exacerbate the consequences of appointments taking awhile."

The situation, which some say is tying up the administration's agenda, was spotlighted yesterday when White House economic adviser Paul Volcker called the absence of senior Treasury officials "shameful."

"The Secretary of the Treasury is sitting there without a deputy, without any undersecretaries, without any, as far as I know, assistant secretaries responsible in substantive areas at a time of very severe crisis," Volcker told a Joint Economic Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. "He shouldn't be sitting there alone."

"You can't be the leading economic power in the world with all the problems we have and have a weak Treasury," he added.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


The Dangers Of Overselling Evolution: Focusing on Darwin and his theory doesn't further scientific progress. (Philip S. Skell, 02.23.09, Forbes)

[University of Chicago biologist Jerry] Coyne seems to believe the major importance of biological science is its speculations about matters which cannot be observed, tested and verified, such as origin of life, speciation, the essences of our fossilized ancestors, the ultimate causes of their changes, etc.

Experimental biology has dramatically increased our understanding of the intricate workings within living organisms that account for their survival, showing how they continue to function despite the myriad assaults on them from their environments. These advances in knowledge are attributable to the development of new methodologies and instruments, unimaginable in the preceding centuries, applied to the investigation of living organisms. Crucial to all fruitful experiments in biology is their design, for which Darwin's and Wallace's principles apparently provide no guidance.

Contrary to the beliefs of Professor Coyne and some other defenders of Darwin, these advances are not due to studies of an organism's ancestors that are recovered from fossil deposits. Those rare artifacts--which have been preserved as fossils--are impressions in stones which, even when examined with the heroic efforts of paleontologists, cannot reveal the details that made these amazing living organisms function.

To conflate contemporary scientific studies of existing organisms with those of the paleontologists serves mainly to misguide the public and teachers of the young. An examination of the papers in the National Academy of Sciences' premiere journal, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), as well as many other journals and the Nobel awards for biological discoveries, supports the crucial distinction I am making.

Examining the major advances in biological knowledge, one fails to find any real connection between biological history and the experimental designs that have produced today's cornucopia of knowledge of how the great variety of living organisms perform their functions. It is our knowledge of how these organisms actually operate, not speculations about how they may have arisen millions of years ago, that is essential to doctors, veterinarians, farmers and other practitioners of biological science. [...]

In 1942, Nobel Laureate Ernst Chain wrote that his discovery of penicillin (with Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming) and the development of bacterial resistance to that antibiotic owed nothing to Darwin's and Alfred Russel Wallace's evolutionary theories.

The same can be said about a variety of other 20th-century findings: the discovery of the structure of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; new surgeries; and other developments.

Additionally, I have queried biologists working in areas where one might have thought the Darwinian paradigm could guide research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I learned that evolutionary theory provides no guidance when it comes to choosing the experimental designs. Rather, after the breakthrough discoveries, it is brought in as a narrative gloss.

The essence of the theory of evolution is the hypothesis that historical diversity is the consequence of natural selection acting on variations. Regardless of the verity it holds for explaining biohistory, it offers no help to the experimenter--who is concerned, for example, with the goal of finding or synthesizing a new antibiotic, or how it can disable a disease-producing organism, what dosages are required and which individuals will not tolerate it. Studying biohistory is, at best, an entertaining distraction from the goals of a working biologist.

It is noteworthy that Darwin's and Wallace's theories of evolution have been enormously aggrandized since the 1850s. Through the writings of neo-Darwinian biologists, they have subsumed many of the biological experimental discoveries of the 20th century. This is so despite the fact that those discoveries were neither predicted nor heuristically guided by evolutionary theory.

On the other hand, their pursuit of the distraction provides the rest of us with endless amusement.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:18 PM


Cassel and Vrabel to KC for pick (Christopher Price, 2/29/09, It Is What It Is)

While dissecting the weekend trade that sends quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs’ for their second-round pick in April — the 34th overall selection in the draft — I can’t help but believe this trade is not an isolated event, but the first step in a larger move (or series of moves) that’s coming sooner rather than later. [...]

New England was up against the cap when free agency began Friday at midnight with roughly $3 million to spare. Now, they’ve been able to clear roughly $18 million in space with the trade, and with holes at linebacker and in the secondary, you figure they aren’t just moving that kind of money around in hopes of re-signing James Sanders. There are a number of big names left out there — especially at linebacker — and now, the Patriots have the cap space to make a deal. They also have more flexibility when it comes to some players who are nearing the end of their current deals, a group that includes Logan Mankins, Stephen Gostkowski, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour.

In addition, New England adds a draft pick. It now holds five of the first 89 selections in April’s draft — the 23rd, 34th, 47th (from San Diego), 58th and 89th.

Keep the picks and take 5 defenders.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:45 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


The Democratic Party Could Face an Internal Civil War: 'Gentry' and 'populist' factions square off on energy and the environment. (Joel Kotkin, 2/28/09, WSJ)

Broadly speaking, there is a long-standing conflict inside the Democratic Party between gentry liberals and populists. This division is not the same as in the 1960s, when the major conflicts revolved around culture and race as well as on foreign policy. Today the emerging fault-lines follow mostly regional, geographical and, most importantly, class differences.

Gentry liberals cluster largely in cities, wealthy suburbs and college towns. They include disproportionately those with graduate educations and people living on the coasts. Populists tend to be located more in middle- and working-class suburbs, the Great Plains and industrial Midwest. They include a wider spectrum of Americans, including many whose political views are somewhat changeable and less subject to ideological rigor. [...]

Although peace now reigns between the Clintons and the new president, the broader gentry-populist split seems certain to fester at both the congressional and local levels -- and President Obama will be hard-pressed to negotiate this divide. Gentry liberals are very "progressive" when it comes to issues such as affirmative action, gay rights, the environment and energy policy, but are not generally well disposed to protectionism or auto-industry bailouts, which appeal to populists. Populists, meanwhile, hated the initial bailout of Wall Street -- despite its endorsement by Mr. Obama and the congressional leadership.

Geography is clearly a determining factor here. Standout antifinancial bailout senators included Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Jon Tester of Montana. On the House side, the antibailout faction came largely from places like the Great Plains and Appalachia, as well as from the suburbs and exurbs, including places like Arizona and interior California.

Gentry liberals, despite occasional tut-tutting, fell lockstep for the bailout. Not one Northeastern or California Democratic senator opposed it. In the House, "progressives" such as Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank who supported the financial bailout represent districts with a large concentration of affluent liberals, venture capitalists and other financial interests for whom the bailout was very much a matter of preserving accumulated (and often inherited) wealth.

Energy and the environment are potentially even more explosive issues. Gentry politicians tend to favor developing only alternative fuels and oppose expanding coal, oil or nuclear energy. Populists represent areas, such as the Great Lakes region, where manufacturing still plays a critical role and remains heavily dependent on coal-based electricity. They also tend to have ties to economies, such as in the Great Plains, Appalachia and the Intermountain West, where smacking down all new fossil-fuel production threatens lots of jobs -- and where a single-minded focus on alternative fuels may drive up total energy costs on the farm, make life miserable again for truckers, and put American industrial firms at even greater disadvantage against foreign competitors.

In the coming years, Mr. Obama's "green agenda" may be a key fault line. Unlike his notably mainstream appointments in foreign policy and economics, he's tilted fairly far afield on the environment with individuals such as John Holdren, a longtime acolyte of the discredited neo-Malthusian Paul Ehrlich, and Carol Browner, who was Bill Clinton's hard-line EPA administrator.

...in order to comprehend how little a temporary Republican loss of power means to the long term triumph of American conservatism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Illinois' highest-security prison a study in isolation: The state's most dangerous inmates live with sparse human contact, no jobs and little chance for education at Tamms. (Gary Marx, February 28, 2009, LA Times)

A few times a week, Joseph Dole stands in a back corner of the outdoor recreation area at Tamms Correctional Center, straining to catch a ray of sunlight.

"About four feet gets sun," said the rail-thin Dole, who is serving a life sentence for murder. "You can only get it if they call yard between 11 and 1. I just stand there. You feel warm, you feel refreshed."

Another murderer, Adolfo Rosario, said he hadn't shaken anyone's hand since his transfer to Tamms 11 years ago. "There is no contact at all, none," he said.

"The hardest part is the isolation," said Tyrone Dorn, serving time for carjacking. "It's like being buried alive."

The so-called supermax section of the prison was built in the 1990s to house Illinois' most dangerous inmates. Human-rights activists persistently criticize it. The long isolation of supermax prisons, opponents say, drives inmates to mental illness -- when the inmates aren't already ill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Obama's Intelligence Blunder (Jon Chait, February 28, 2009, Washington Post)

Most of President Obama's "missteps" to date have been Washington peccadilloes of the "let's find something to complain about" sort. But Obama has made one major mistake that has attracted little public attention: his appointment of Charles Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman was attacked by pro-Israel activists, but the contretemps over Freeman's view of Israel misses the broader problem, which is that he's an ideological fanatic.

That may sound like an odd description for a respectable bureaucrat and impeccable establishmentarian such as Freeman. What's more, he's not an ideologue of the sort who draws most of the attention. When most people think of foreign policy ideology, they mean neoconservatism, which dominated the Bush administration. Broadly speaking, neoconservatism is obsessed with the moral differences between democracies and non-democracies. At its most simplistic (which, alas, it nearly always is) neoconservatism means supporting the "good guys" and fighting the "bad guys." As most of us have seen, neoconservatism has trouble recognizing that the good guys aren't perfectly good and that the bad guys aren't comic book villains.

Freeman belongs to the camp that's the mortal enemy of the neoconservatives: the realists. Realist ideology pays no attention to moral differences between states.

While it's accurate to say that Realism is geopolitics for the amoral, Mr. Chait's specific complaint -- there are many better ones -- about neoconservatism is quite backwards. Idealistic foreign policy doesn't require the good guys be perfect. It is opponents who insist that our allies can't be the good guys because they aren't perfect. Or that Hitler, for example, wasn't completely bad because he was a vegetarian.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


Questions for Bret Mckenzie and Jemaine Clement: Dynamic Duo (Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON, 3/01/09, NY Times Magazine)

Do you find it surprising that you’ve managed to have a hit television show in spite of your twangy accents?
Jemaine: In New Zealand, people don’t like the New Zealand accent, so we weren’t able to get a TV show there.

What do they watch in New Zealand?
Jemaine: American shows. Bret: They don’t understand their own accents, so they don’t talk very much.

What do Australians think of your accent?
Jemaine: They think our accent is crude. Bret: They do make fun of our accents when we’re there.

You first met as drama students at Victoria University in Wellington.
Bret: It started off as a punch-out. Jemaine: In the New Zealand tradition, we started off fighting like two Russell Crowes. Now we’re amicable rivals. Bret: In between fights we’d write comedy songs.

Is that a joke?
Bret: I don’t know.

Is it true there are more sheep than people in New Zealand?
Jemaine: Ten times more. But in America there are probably more ants than people. Bret: More cars than people.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Happy Birthday, Mr. Ripley (JAMES CAMPBELL, February 4, 2009, NY Times)

After her novel “Ripley Under Ground” was published in 1970, Patricia Highsmith presented a copy to a friend with the inscription “For Charles with love . . . from Tom (Pat).” According to her biographer, Andrew Wilson, Highsmith occasionally signed letters in the persona of her favorite character, a charming psychopath whose dedication to a life of art and refinement has erased his conscience. Highsmith recorded five installments of the Tom Ripley story over a period of 37 years. She was the author of 17 other novels, in many of which it is the good man (seldom a woman) who suffers, snaring himself in a trap of his own unconscious devising. With Ripley, matters are different. He has killed at least eight people — most of them unsavory types — yet he always walks free, as, perhaps, he continues to do. Highsmith died after a prolonged illness in 1995, but she gave no indication that Ripley had gone before.

Tom first stepped into view in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” written in six months in 1954. He was 25 years old, which means he celebrates his 80th birthday in 2009.

...he was the perfect hero for our time.

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February 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 PM


Broad support for Obama Iraq plan (BBC, 2/28/09)

US Republicans have broadly welcomed President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw most troops from Iraq by 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:52 PM


A shot across the bows of philistinism: What sets Denis Dutton’s lucid The Art Instinct apart from other books is not his attempt to use Charles Darwin to explain our cultural needs, but his insistence on both art’s universality and necessity. (Tim Black, Spiked Review of Books)

With a title invoking Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, and a publication date to coincide with the two-hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, the reader could be forgiven for approaching Denis Dutton’s The Art Instinct with a degree of trepidation. I, for one, feared some sort of biological reductivism, an attempt, perhaps, to grasp aesthetic experience in terms of the material evolution of the brain, or to see the vast panoply of artistic achievement as little more than an evolutionary by-product of the survival of the fittest.

I needn’t have worried. For a start, The Art Instinct is beautifully written, gliding effortlessly from explaining the knotted abstraction of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement to a brilliantly pithy description of the meaning of kitsch. But the easy elegance of the writing, its ability to shift from concise explications of aesthetic theory to a critique of the relativism of twentieth-century anthropology, before sidling into personal, poetic passages on the meaning of art, is no accident of charm. Rather it touches upon the animus of Dutton’s book. For Dutton, a professor of the philosophy of art, is moved, not by a crude evolutionary psychologist’s desire to explain art in terms of evolutionary theory, but by a passion for art itself or, to be more precise, a conviction that art is essential to our humanity. That, he says, is what The Art Instinct is trying to explain: ‘the universal appeal of the arts – from soap operas to symphonies – across cultures and through history’.

Of course, this is not to diminish the centrality of evolutionary science to Dutton’s thesis. [...]

The universal preference for a particular type of landscape painting taps into universal innate inclinations formed during the Pleistocene period, ‘the 1.6million years during which modern human beings evolved’. Featuring, amongst other things, water, open spaces of low grasses interspersed with thickets of trees, evidence of animal or bird life, and an opening up to an unimpeded view of the horizon, this predilection for a particular landscape testifies to a primordial memory of the African Savannas, the scene for a large portion of human evolution 80,000 generations in length. Each element of the enigmatically appealing landscape painting is tailored to suit the needs of these ancient nomads, from the canopy of trees for shelter, to the food and water necessary for human sustenance.

It’s a compelling thesis. Yet if it struggles to account for the beauty of the worked-up nature captured, say, in the rural England of painter John Constable’s work, then might it seem irrelevant before other forms of painting, say a thirteenth-century portrait of the Magi, let alone before sonnets or symphonies? So, manifest in our hitherto ineffable attraction to a certain natural vistas, the theory of natural selection – ‘random mutation and selective retention’ – may well have fitted the human brain ‘with an assortment of mental blades and implements for solving specific problems of survival in prehistory’. But as a theory it seems ill-suited to explain, as Dutton himself puts it, all that is ‘creative, exuberant, imaginative, romantic, wasteful, storytelling, witty, loquacious, poetic [and] ideology-inventing’ in mankind.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


From Nixonland to Obamaland: A thorough and absorbing account of how Richard Nixon took advantage of shifting political dynamics in the 1960s sheds new light on that era, and also on American politics today. (Sean Collins, Spiked Review of Books)

Historian Rick Perlstein tackles head-on the question of the relationship between Nixon’s ascendancy and the changes occurring in American society in Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Indeed, putting Nixon’s name in the title might be slightly misleading: the book is really a broad review of society and culture as well as politics in this period, and for long episodes Nixon virtually drops out of the picture. Weighing in at a hefty 748 pages, Nixonland is as sprawling, noisy and character-full as was the era itself. While uneven at times, it is a riveting read.

Indeed, Friend Perstein has given us an enjoyable history of the '60-early '70s marred only by its organizing thesis--that the decades were a reflection of Richard Nixon. the times created the man, not vice versa.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:38 PM


Kumquats: Sweet-tarts of the citrus rodeo: The perplexing fruit -- yes, you eat the rind too -- is finding respect with cooks and specialty growers alike. (David Karp, February 25, 2009, LA Times)

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960s, my brother and I knew just what to do with kumquats from the potted tree on the patio: We tossed them at each other. Like most Californians, we never ate them.

Kumquats do present a challenge for the uninitiated. In most citrus, the juicy pulp is consumed and the peel discarded. Kumquats, however, are eaten whole, and their appeal stems from the contrast between their tart flesh and thick, sweet rind.

But maybe folks are finally catching on. Without much fanfare, more and more kumquats are being grown in California, which now leads the nation in production. Granted, it's still a minor crop compared to other citrus, but chefs and home cooks alike are giving kumquats more respect, and specialty growers are planting intriguing, previously rare varieties.

Kumquats are intense, complex flavor bombs.

...real men use horse chestnuts as weapons.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:33 PM


Slow cookers have evolved over the decades: Crock-Pots of the '70s have given way to sleeker, more versatile models and recipes go way beyond soups and stews. (Noelle Carter, February 25, 2009, LA Times)

It all started with the Crock-Pot. Rival introduced the slow cooker to the market with the Crock-Pot brand in 1971. Almost overnight, the Crock-Pot enjoyed a popularity matched only by the fondue pot and defined a certain kind of culinary "chic" for the decade.

It "cooks all day while the cook's away," one 1976 advertisement declared. The Crock-Pot promised complete meals, cooked slowly over long periods of time, costing mere pennies to operate and requiring little, if any, supervision. Rival posted Crock-Pot sales of $2 million its first year on the market, and sales peaked at $93 million after just four years. Inevitably, it wasn't long before competitors jumped on the bandwagon and flooded the market. By the end of the 1970s, sales of slow cookers, including the Crock-Pot, decreased dramatically.

Of course, the slow cooker also had its detractors -- and most complaints were about the food. Many thought everything tasted the same no matter what was in the pot. Others claimed the food dried out despite the closed cooking environment (the lid should prevent moisture from escaping). Some complained about the lack of flavor, others about the lack of visual appeal. Still others said the slow cooker just made mush.

Andrew Schloss, author of the new "Art of the Slow Cooker: 80 Exciting New Recipes," says quality wasn't really a consideration with many of the early recipes. "Earlier recipes were so much about convenience that a lot of the food wasn't that good. Convenience started to trump quality."

People liked the convenience of the slow cooker, they just didn't necessarily like what had been cooked in them. Recipes began to evolve -- slowly -- as interest in the slow cooker grew once again over the last several years. And the cookers evolved too, with manufacturers offering different sizes and inserts (some that allow for conventional stove-top cooking) as well as offering programmable timers, "smart" settings and digital probes. Slow cookers improved cosmetically too.

Today, about 83% of American households own a slow cooker, according to the NPD Group, a leading marketing research firm. Of these households, almost half used a slow cooker within the past month.

Stephanie O'Dea blogged about using her slow cooker every day last year. Also known as the "Crockpot Lady," her adventures (crockpot365.blogspot.com) were a hit, landing her a spot on the "Rachael Ray" show and spawning a cookbook, due out this fall.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:03 PM


France Is Back: With Sarkozy in power, it's good to say ''I'm from Paris'' again. (Felix Marquardt, 02.27.09, Forbes)

As a kid in the early '80s, traveling to and from the French capital, I remember the irrepressible sense of pride I felt about living in one of the world's great cities. Paris was important. The often envious looks I saw on our foreign hosts' faces as they bid us farewell on our way to "Pa-ree!" at the end of holidays made it obvious my family and I were lucky to call it home.

It was just as clear something had changed when I returned in 1998 after my studies. There was suddenly something quite peripheral, indeed almost provincial about the city. By 2001, the gap between the urgent, planetary debate the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 attacks had spawned, and the parochial, indeed sadly introverted conversations they led to in France was demoralizing.

Paris just wasn't "where the world was at" anymore. Worse, in the years that followed, I was surprised to see that the growing unpopularity of the U.S. was almost (never quite) matched by the impatience I saw in many of my foreign interlocutors' eyes when I referred to anything French.

Once again, it's good to say, "I'm from Paris." The country's current leader has given France a sharper, more responsible image.

...after 8 years of being told that George Bush's America should be embarrassed because the French didn't like us it turns out they were just bathing in self-loathing? But now they're okay because they elected a guy who nakedly modeled himself--it being Paris--after Bush/Blair? And the Brights wonder why Americans don't listen to them....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


The Wisdom of the Discount Rack: The 25-cent rack at a local library offers some insights into the literary taste of a different time. (Phyllis Orrick, 2/10/09, Splice Today)

My husband Jamie and I go to West Branch about once a week, to pick up books and records and DVDs and CDs we've reserved online and to paw through the return trolleys and new book shelves. It's a tiny building, and in the crowded entry room, along with the piles of tax forms, adult school catalogs, lists of public showers, hot meals, paratransit services, and organic low-cost school lunches, sits a small bookcase, four or five shelves high, with a little vault next to it where you can deposit your payment for any of the books you purchase. The proceeds go to the Friends of the Library, and all titles are 25 cents.

I don't know what got me started, but sometime about six or seven months ago, I began pausing at the Friends bookcase to see what was on it. People just dump their old books. The library takes them as long as there is not too much underlining, mold or water damage, and that the covers are intact. I am guessing that the Friends' main bookstore downtown has first crack. They have a real book store there, with hardbacks cataloged by subject and selling for varying prices, all more than 25 cents. The books on the West Branch Friends sales shelves are the ones that no one thinks are worth hauling around any more. This is their final stop.

The idea that I would buy a book to bring home was apostasy in the house in which I was raised. One of my earliest Christmas memories is of my mother Ruth railing about "another damn book in the house" as one of the six of us tore the wrapping off the gift from the Doubleday store introduced into the family by an unknowing outsider. Our living room and den were walled with bookshelves, crammed with Dad's share of the huge library his father had collected. He told me of growing up in a house where the books were shelved two-deep to keep them off the floor.

I had been told that paying money and bringing a book home is anathema. Even if the book is a slight paperback and costs a quarter. So it took me a couple more weeks to get over Ruth's training.

When I saw a copy of The Feminine Mystique, I thought, you know, it's almost an iconic object, even if I don't read it. It is designed beautifully: the cover is a dark, midnight blue, the sans-serif DELL, also in blue, in the upper left corner, encased in a full-bleed black box. Opposite is the price in a white elegant font: 75c. The Feminine Mystique in red, of course, topped by a tagline in white uppercase: "THE YEAR'S MOST CONTROVERSIAL BESTSELLER." Betty Friedan's name is below the title, no "by" needed. And, the real capper from my point of view, a blurb from Ashley Montagu, one of the champion pop-anthropologist explainers who seemingly made a fortune on books depicting the revolutions, sexual and otherwise, that were playing out in the culture of the time. "The book we have been waiting for...the wisest, sanest, soundest, most understanding and compassionate treatment of contemporary American woman's greatest problem...a triumph."

It came out in hardback in 1963. It went paperback in '64. This was the fifth edition Dell printed that year: the first in February, second and third in April, fourth in June and this one, in November. Friedan was a married mother of three, Smith College graduate and journalist for the likes of Good Housekeeping, Harper's, McCall's and Reader's Digest, according to the blurb. That, after all, was where an ambitious woman with kids would find an outlet. (Remember, Sylvia Plath won the poetry contest in Redbook.)

I had to be careful when opening the pages: they're yellowed, and the glue in the binding is cracking. I haven't really done much more than dip into it. But someone has marked it up. There seem to be two or three annotators.

One used a blue ballpoint to make precise dots at the start of lines.

I've previously related the following story:
Much of my book buying is done at library book sales or in used book stores. Two favorite haunts being the local library, which hosts an ongoing book sale in the lobby, and a local store that buys and sells used books. At the library I recently found a book I'd previously never heard of, called The American Conservative Movement: The Philosophical Founders. As it's by former Senator John P. East, and is a hardcover in excellent condition, I bought it, for 50 cents. It went on top of the "to be read" pile, but that's a fair sized pile these days. If not forgotten, it had at least been back-burnered.

Meanwhile, at some point this Summer, perhaps at the Five Colleges Book Sale, I'd found a book called Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?: American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century a collection of conservative essays edited by William F. Buckley Jr.. As it happened, this had worked its way to the top of the "to be read" pile, because it includes an outstanding essay by Albert Jay Nock that needed rereading. The Nock piece, in which he discusses his pet theory of the Remnant made for a useful post at our blog and the book returned to the pile.

Then, a few days later, someone responding to a post asked if I was familiar with the work of Willmoore Kendall, though he assumed I'd not be, since few are any more. He included a link to a great profile of Kendall by retired Dartmouth professor Jeffrey Hart. To my chagrin, after reading the profile, I had to answer that no I was not previously familiar with Mr. Kendall. But the wheels had begun turning and, checking in Dream Walking, I did indeed find one of his essays--Democracy: The Two Majorities. Realizing now how central a figure he'd been in the conservative renaissance of the 50s, I checked the East book, and, sure enough, there was a whole chapter on him. And as the tumblers gradually clicked into place, it occurred to me that not only had I seen the edition of his essays that his wife collected posthumously at the local used bookstore, but it at least conceivably could have been Professor Hart's own copy--they'd told me he was the other regular customer who brought in conservative books periodically. So, of course, I raced down there and, mirabile dictu, there was the book, Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum, perched on the shelf. Even better, not only was it once Professor Hart's, it's even inscribed by Nellie Kendall, thanking him for a previous profile he'd written, which serves as the Introduction to the book. Who could fail to feel the fates at work in all of this?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


Denis Potvin's 30-year serenade (Sarah Kwak, 2/25/09, Sports Illustrated)

Madison Square Garden is an unforgiving place. Just ask any of the current Rangers, who have heard plenty of boos and catcalls during their recent slide. And anyone who has ever worn the uniform can attest to the tireless zest and crude genius of Rangers fans when it comes to voicing their displeasure. But no one really knows that ire better than a certain Hall of Fame defenseman who once played for the local rival Islanders.

It was 30 years ago -- on February 25, 1979 -- that Denis Potvin laid a hefty check, clean by all accounts, on Rangers forward Ulf Nilsson, who broke his ankle in the ensuing fall. And yet, the Garden faithful still hasn't forgotten or forgiven. Thirty years since Potvin struck, Ranger fans still chant a two-word combo that was born that fateful night: "Potvin sucks!"

If a great institutional memory has kept the chant alive, rendering Potvin perhaps the most enduring villain in sports history, imperfect human recollection has since twisted the incident that spawned it into grand hockey folklore.

One peculiarity of the great Islander teams was that it was their best players who were their enforcers. Not only was Potvin a beast but Clark Gillies was even bigger and just as brutal when the occasion required, plus Brian Trottier was perfectly happy to mix it up and Billy Smith--a goalie for cripessake--was a borderline psychopath. When they got good they were supplanting the notoriously dirty Flyers and there were a few games where the elders tried intimidating the upstarts, but in Game 5 of the '75 playoffs, Gillies served notice on Dave "The Hammer" Schultz and not only did the Flyers pass the torch rather meekly from there on but no one else in the NHL wanted to start fights when that group was on the ice either.

That made it possible, a couple seasons later, for the Islanders to draft Mike Bossy who was a finesse player, put him on a line (El Trio Grande) with Trottier and Gillies--and Potvin back then played nearly the entire game--so teams couldn't go after the slender scorer.

If it weren't so humiliating, Rangers fans might also recall Gillies breaking the jaw of their "enforcer," Ed "Boxcar" Hospodar.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 AM


How Predictable is the Premier League? (The Gaffer, February 27, 2009, EPL Talk)

There has been so much talk about the 2008/2009 Premier League season being one of the most exciting in years, but that dream is over. After a heroic start to the season, Hull City could be relegated by May. Manchester United are seven points clear at the top of the table and seem invincible. Aston Villa have lost their momentum, and the neutral’s fans hope of them cracking the top two are all but over. All that seemingly remains is the battle to avoid relegation, which in itself is becoming predictable too.

In addition to that, consider the following facts:

* When was the last time Manchester United lost a match in the Premier League against a club outside the Big Four? The answer is 383 days ago when Manchester City won 2-1 at Old Trafford.
* How about Chelsea? The last time they lost to a non Big Four club was 544 days ago when Aston Villa beat them 2-0 at Villa Park.
* Liverpool? It was 118 days ago when Tottenham Hotspur grabbed a last minute goal to win 2-1.
* And Arsenal? The last defeat to a team outside the Big Four in the league was 97 days ago when Man City won 3-0.
* Out of Liverpool’s last 13 league games, 61% of them have been draws.
* Out of Arsenal’s last 10 games, 70% of them have been draws.
* So far this season, 12% of all Premier League games have ended nil-nil.

So, not only do we have a predictable season with Man United running away with it again, but there continues to be few upsets. And, to compound matters, we’re now getting more scoreless draws.

As painful as it's been actually watching soccer this Winter, it's made up for by the curious spectacle that its fans provide. They're enjoyably savage about its awfulness and honest about the universally recognized flaws. For instance, it is accepted as a sad fact of life that when Manchester United is playing--especially if they're at home--nearly nothing that their players do will be called a foul but if their star, Christiano Ronaldo, has the ball you have to stay back from him or he'll flop to the ground and be awarded a free kick. They don't score in open play, for the most part, but on these bogus penalty shots. And everyone in England knows it.

So, and I kid you not, the focus of the League isn't who will win it, but which three teams will be sent down to the lower league after the season. Imagine, if you will, that the NFL's flexible schedule was used to move the Lions, Raiders, Bengals, etc. to primetime Sunday night games. That's right, it is the very worst games that "matter" most. It truly is bizarre.

On the other hand, some of the best writing in the British press is on the soccer pages and there are a bunch of entertaining podcasts about the game: The Guardian's Football Weekly; The Game from Times Online; the ESPN SoccerNet podcast; World Soccer Daily; and the BBC's 606 call-in show. Viewing the culture from a dispassionate distance is like watching a documentary about Trekkies or Civil War re-enactors. Their obsession is so amusing you don't much need to care about its subject.

N.B.: one of my favorite things about the League is that the two best goalies are, inevitably, American. It being the position where you use your hands...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:30 AM


Margaret Thatcher: still guilty after all these years (26 February 2009, New Statesman)

It is 30 years since Margaret Thatcher entered No 10, setting in motion a revolution that would destroy the quasi-socialist political consensus of the postwar decades and, after much strife, turn Britain into the country it is today: riven, atomised, debt-stricken, hugely unequal, its prosperity excessively dependent on financial services, its public spaces degraded, and its towns, at least at night, the preserve of the binge drinker and the brawler.

Many of us may have grown more wealthy during the Thatcher and the New Labour years but, somehow, we seem as a society more spiritually bereft, more restless, unhappier even. This is not to deny that Britain, at the end of the 1970s, was dismal.

It is legitimate to argue that the absence of a Moral Majority in England meant that Mrs. Thatcher's economic revolution was not accompanied by the sort of spiritual counter-revolution needed to arrest the island's slide into secular rot. Whereas Ronald Reagan brought a sharp break with the malaise of the '60s-'70s and a Third Great Awakening, Britain experienced no such revival of its Judeo-Christian roots. Ironically, as Pope Benedict has argued, this may trace in large part to the fact that Britain has an established Church and we don't. It seems a tad much to blame the Iron Lady for that unfortunate historical artifact.

I was a teenage Tory boy: Harry Mount was seven when Maggie Thatcher came to power. He remains an ardent admirer today - with the odd reservation (Harry Mount, 26 February 2009, New Statesman)

She remains powerfully divisive. When a theatre producer decapitated her statue in the Guildhall Art Gallery with a cricket bat in 2002, it was a sort of compliment - who would attack a statue of John Major 12 years after he left power?

She was hated - real, deep hate - when I was at university, too. That summer, in 1990, I refused to burn my poll tax form in a brazier in the cloisters of Magdalen College, Oxford. It didn't go down well. On St Valentine's Day, I received a mocking card that read: "True Blue, Baby, I Love You." Teaching in Prague that August, I shared a flat with an otherwise affable Welshman who swore viciously at me when I praised her. Hatred of Mrs T was a badge of political honour for my contemporaries, but they jumped on her City bandwagon quickly enough, laying aside their protest flags, cutting their hair and putting on charcoal grey suits for their bank interviews. They hated her, but they knew she was right.

Mrs Thatcher was no Gordon Gecko. Her man­tra wasn't that greed is good; she understood that greed is inevitable in man, and students, too. Under Thatcher, that greed was harnessed to produce greater returns for more people and, after Big Bang in 1986, enormous City fortunes were made. What would her enemies have preferred: the old system, with jobs for the boys, over-regulation and antiquated, open-outcry deals?

Another by-product of this money obsession has been an epidemic of sadness. Tremendous expectations have been raised by consumer choice and the me-first cult. The inability to keep up has led to a boom in antidepressants, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety drugs, of visits to psychiatrists and therapists. Open the mirrored cabinets in half my friends' bathrooms, and you'll find pack up on pack of Xanax and Prozac.

You can hardly say this is Mrs Thatcher's fault. Her one drug was malt whisky, and even that wasn't applied as liberally as is suggested in Margaret, BBC2's rather affectionate drama about her, broadcast on 26 February.

-Au revoir, never goodbye: The values Thatcherism embodied will never go away, argues Dominic Sandbrook, precisely because they are part of mainstream Tory tradition (Dominic Sandbrook, 26 February 2009, New Statesman)
To those who hate her, Thatcher must seem like the title character in Stephen King's novel Carrie. She never knows when she is beaten; she never stops coming. And for three decades, the creed that bears her name, Thatcherism, has been the dominant paradigm of British politics. "We are living in a post-Thatcherite world, a Margaret Thatcher theme park," is the verdict of her best biographer, John Campbell. For the columnist Simon Jenkins, Britain since 1979 has been a family firm, Thatcher & Sons. She "saw the need for change", declared the latest proprietor, Gordon Brown, shortly after taking charge. "I am a conviction politician, like her." [...]

The bad news for the left, however (and the good news for the right), is that reports of Thatcherism's demise have been grossly exaggerated. Certainly the notion that the current crisis marks the end of free-market capitalism seems completely bizarre, even allowing for the understandable attractions of wild hyperbole. We may have entered what threatens to be the deepest recession in decades, but, as yet, there is no sign that capitalism is about to give way to a new form of state socialism. Bankers are still taking home great wads of cash, much to the horror of their shareholders and the press. For all the analogies with the Great Depression and the New Deal, few commentators point out that during the 1930s the motor of global capitalism continued to chug along, albeit at a slower rate than before. And while free-market ideas have certainly been badly tarnished by the crisis, there is little sense of intellectual ferment on the hard left, and certainly no sign of voters deserting the centre ground for more challenging options. If we held a general election tomorrow, let us not forget, the Tories would probably win it.

If the 1930s represent an increasingly popular, if often ill-drawn parallel, then the events of 20 years ago offer an alternative one. The revolutions of 1989 dealt communism a blow from which, judging by the enfeebled state of Marxist parties the world over, it has never recovered, and for some commentators, neoliberalism now faces a similar fate. True-blue Thatcherites would doubtless shudder at the thought, but in truth it is a comparison they have been inviting for years.

In documentary series such as BBC4's fascinating Tory! Tory! Tory!, the veterans of 1979 typically present themselves as a tight-knit band of dedicated outsiders, plotting their way from the wilderness into the heart of government, as faithful to the gospel of Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman as any Bolshevik was to Marx and Engels. Theirs, they never cease to remind us, was a peasants' revolt, an uprising against the paternalistic consensus, a revolution. So they can hardly complain when their opponents crow that, for the Thatcherite revolution, the Berlin Wall has just come down.

But all of this rests on a deeply misleading version of Thatcherism's origins, meaning and consequences. In many ways, it was not a revolutionary gospel at all, and in operation it was more fluid, more improvised, more complicated and more contradictory than the neat, sterile neoliberalism of the political science textbooks. For while devotees and opponents alike often give us a stereotyped account of fanatical deregulators, obsessive privatisers and uncompromising free-marketeers, the truth is that its standard-bearer would never have been so successful for so long, had she not been much more cautious and pragmatic than is often remembered. Behind the icy blue eyes about which her admirers rhapsodised, and beneath the strident rhetoric of a lady not for turning, Thatcher was a dedicated career politician, just as capable of backtracking, compromising and changing her mind as any other.

One thing that many people overlook about Thatcherism was that it was never a “creed” in the sense of a coherent, self-contained, carefully worked-out set of beliefs. Thatcher’s personal principles were rigid (unlike, say, David Cameron’s), but judging by the record of her governments, Thatcherism in practice was both more and less than formal neoliberalism, which would never have tolerated, say, the retention of the National Health Service.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Senate nixes Fairness Doctrine revival (David R. Sands, February 27, 2009, Washington Times)

The Senate overwhelmingly put itself on record Thursday against any revival of the defunct Fairness Doctrine, designed to require public broadcasters to air "balanced" coverage of controversial issues of public importance.

Conservatives have worried that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats were plotting to revive the policy, dropped in the last years of the Reagan administration, as a means of curbing the influence of commercial talk radio and other media dominated by right-of-center broadcasters.

The 87-11 vote came on an amendment to the bill that would give the District full voting rights in the House of Representatives. It was offered by Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican.

It must all be part of a diabolical scheme....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


The Obamaist Manifesto (Charles Krauthammer, February 27, 2009, Washington Post)

Some men become president to be someone, others to do something. This is what separates, say, a Bill Clinton from a Ronald Reagan. Obama, who once noted that Reagan altered the trajectory of America as Clinton had not, sees himself a Reagan.

Reagan came to office to do something: shrink government, lower taxes, rebuild American defenses. Obama made clear Tuesday night that he intends to be equally transformative. His three goals: universal health care, universal education, and a new green energy economy highly funded and regulated by government.

While involving government so much will obviously tend to stall rather than hasten innovation, that agenda is quite meager. Indeed, if he were to do the first through universal HSAs, the second through something like Paul O'Neill's investment accounts, and the third through carbon taxes, it would be a worthwhile Third Way agenda.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Dem backlash to Obama tax plan? (JOSH GERSTEIN | 2/27/09, Politico)

In a move that reprises several pitched Washington battles, Obama is proposing to limit the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes. He would cap most itemized deductions at 28%, effectively hiking federal taxes further on families making more than roughly $250,000. Taxpayers in higher brackets, whose federal income tax rate is set to rise as high as 39.6% in 2011, would lose up to a quarter of their current deductions.

The limit would have the greatest impact in high-tax states like New York New Jersey, California and Maryland, as well as in the District of Columbia.

Sen. Charles Schumer deemed a similar proposal by President Bush "a dagger aimed right at the heart of New York."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Rendering Unto Caesar: The Catholic Political Vocation: The following lecture was delivered on Monday evening, February 23, 2009, to a standing-room only audience in St. Basil’s Collegiate Church on the campus of the University of Toronto. (ARCHBISHOP CHARLES J. CHAPUT, O.F.M. CAP, CERC)

I think the message of Render Unto Caesar can be condensed into a few basic points.

Here's the first point. For many years, studies have shown that Americans have a very poor sense of history. That's very dangerous, because as Thucydides and Machiavelli and Thomas Jefferson have all said, history matters. It matters because the past shapes the present, and the present shapes the future. If Catholics don't know history, and especially their own history as Catholics, then somebody else -- and usually somebody not very friendly -- will create their history for them.

Let me put it another way. A man with amnesia has no future and no present because he can't remember his past. The past is a man's anchor in experience and reality. Without it, he may as well be floating in space. In like manner, if we Catholics don't remember and defend our religious history as a believing people, nobody else will, and then we won't have a future because we won't have a past. If we don't know how the Church worked with or struggled against political rulers in the past, then we can't think clearly about the relations between Church and state today.

We need to be very forceful in clarifying what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions.

Here's the second point, and it's a place where the Canadian and American experiences may diverge. America is not a secular state. As historian Paul Johnson once said, America was "born Protestant." It has uniquely and deeply religious roots. Obviously it has no established Church, and it has non-sectarian public institutions. It also has plenty of room for both believers and non-believers. But the United States was never intended to be a "secular" country in the radical modern sense. Nearly all the Founders were either Christian or at least religion-friendly. And all of our public institutions and all of our ideas about the human person are based in a religiously shaped vocabulary. So if we cut God out of our public life, we also cut the foundation out from under our national ideals.

Here's the third point. We need to be very forceful in clarifying what the words in our political vocabulary really mean. Words are important because they shape our thinking, and our thinking drives our actions. When we subvert the meaning of words like "the common good" or "conscience" or "community" or "family," we undermine the language that sustains our thinking about the law. Dishonest language leads to dishonest debate and bad laws.

Here's an example. We need to remember that tolerance is not a Christian virtue. Charity, justice, mercy, prudence, honesty -- these are Christian virtues. And obviously, in a diverse community, tolerance is an important working principle. But it's never an end itself. In fact, tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil. Likewise, democratic pluralism does not mean that Catholics should be quiet in public about serious moral issues because of some misguided sense of good manners. A healthy democracy requires vigorous moral debate to survive. Real pluralism demands that people of strong beliefs will advance their convictions in the public square -- peacefully, legally and respectfully, but energetically and without embarrassment. Anything less is bad citizenship and a form of theft from the public conversation.

Here's the fourth point. When Jesus tells the Pharisees and Herodians in the Gospel of Matthew (22:21) to "render unto the Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's," he sets the framework for how we should think about religion and the state even today. Caesar does have rights. We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience. But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God. Caesar is not God. Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God. Our job as believers is to figure out what things belong to Caesar, and what things belong to God -- and then put those things in right order in our own lives, and in our relations with others.

So having said all this, what does a book like Render Unto Caesar mean, in practice, for each of us as individual Catholics? It means that we each have a duty to study and grow in our faith, guided by the teaching of the Church. It also means that we have a duty to be politically engaged. Why? Because politics is the exercise of power, and the use of power always has moral content and human consequences.

As Christians, we can't claim to love God and then ignore the needs of our neighbors. Loving God is like loving a spouse. A husband may tell his wife that he loves her, and of course that's very beautiful. But she'll still want to see the proof in his actions. Likewise if we claim to be "Catholic," we need to prove it by our behavior. And serving other people by working for justice, charity and truth in our nation's political life is one of the very important ways we do that.

The "separation of Church and state" does not mean -- and it can never mean -- separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be "leaven in the world" and to "make disciples of all nations." That kind of radical separation steals the moral content of a society. It's the equivalent of telling a married man that he can't act married in public. Of course, he can certainly do that, but he won't stay married for long.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Fictional drivel (BARBARA KAY, 2/27/09, CERC)

Monday's front page news contained an unprecedented case of literary lèse majesté. A parent of a Grade 12 Toronto high school student petitioned for the removal from the school's reading list of The Handmaid's Tale, a 1986 novel by the queen of Canadian literature, Margaret Atwood.

A review board concluded that the book should remain a classroom text. No surprise there. It is hard to imagine the venerated Ms. Atwood being effectively "dissed" by a mere parent.

The parent thinks the novel, a futuristic fantasy of a totalitarian society -- American, not Canadian! -- in which women become the reproductive slaves of conservative patriarchs, is "fictional drivel." Well, of course it is, and so is much else in the gifted Ms. Atwood's diverse oeuvre, but the parent misses the greater point.h

The Handmaid's Tale isn't drivel because of the sex and violence that concerned the parent. It is drivel because it is a paranoiac fantasy whose principal purpose and effect is to stir up hatred of men.

...is that it attributes the politics of women to men.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


National Security Structure Is Set
Under Obama, Council Will Grow
(Karen DeYoung, 2/27/09, Washington Post)

President Obama's first presidential directive, outlining the organization of his national security structure, adds the attorney general, the secretaries of energy and homeland security, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to the formal National Security Council.

The four-page directive sketches wide input to NSC meetings, providing for "regular" inclusion of senior trade, economic and science advisers.

If the UR had been planted in the White House by a rightwing conspiracy trying to make the operations of the Executive grind to a halt he'd make all the same moves he has so far.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


Pelosi butts heads with Obama (JOHN BRESNAHAN, 2/27/09, Politico)

On Wednesday morning, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.)—the longest-serving member of the Senate—accused Obama of trying to steal power from Congress by appointing White House “czars” to handle issues that would otherwise be handled by departments subject to congressional oversight.

On Wednesday night, Pelosi made it clear to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that she wasn’t happy with Obama’s plan to leave 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and that, unlike Obama, she “absolutely” favors criminal prosecutions for any Bush administration officials involved in torture or other excesses in the fight against terrorism.

On Thursday, Pelosi said she’d move “faster” than Obama is to roll back Bush-era tax cuts. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Chuck Schumer joined Pelosi’s critique of Obama’s plan to leave. Reid urged Obama not to push too hard to eliminate congressional earmarks. And Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi took a shot at Obama’s budget, saying “change is not running up even bigger deficits that George Bush did.”

Congressional Democrats are hardly in open revolt. But Obama apparently took the criticisms of his Iraq plan seriously enough that he summoned Democratic and Republican leaders to the White House to brief them on the plan Thursday evening in advance of his roll-out Friday at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

...by their alliance with the UR and the Blue Dogs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:21 AM


The Ultimate Kibitzer: Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein wants Jews to trust evangelicals, and evangelicals to love Israel. (John W. Kennedy,2/24/2009, Christianity Today)

At Kehilath Jeshurun, [Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein] defends American evangelicals with the fervor of a Southern preacher. In a nonthreatening manner, he takes to task the crowd of primarily white-collar professionals for prejudices they may harbor against evangelicals. The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), Eckstein's 26-year-old organization, is proficient at raising funds from Christians via direct mail and the Internet. Last year, the organization raised about $88 million, making it one of the largest, most successful religious charities in America.

Eckstein recounts for the crowd a litany of sacrificial gifts evangelicals have made to ensure poor Jews get the help they need: there is the woman who gives from her meager Social Security check; another who switched from lattes to "coffees of the day" on her daily coffee runs and donates the difference; and the family that forgoes Christmas gifts to feed Israeli kids. Over the years, Christians have donated half a billion dollars to an organization founded by the Orthodox rabbi.

The Christian-Jewish connection Eckstein is describing transcends charity, however. Earlier this decade, evangelicals led the way in reviving Israel's dormant tourism industry after lethal terrorist attacks in the Jewish state. Eckstein asks his audience, "How many of you realize IFCJ recently gave at least $500 to every Holocaust survivor—an act no Jewish group has performed?"

No hands go up.

If Eckstein hasn't turned his audience into friends of evangelicals by the time he is finished, he has at least made sure they don't hate them.

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February 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:23 PM


Huckabee takes on fiscal conservatives (Domenico Montanaro, 2/26/09, NBC First Read)

"The GOP can't be a haven for rich, white guys,” Huckabee added. He called himself "prophetic" for saying during the campaign that the party was too close to Wall Street. And he lashed out against conservative critics -- from whom he's still waiting for an "apology," he said -- who criticized his "populist" rhetoric on the campaign trail.

“I’m not a Republican because I grew up rich,” Huckabee said, reprising a line, notably from his Republican National Convention speech. “I’m a Republican because I grew up poor and didn’t want to sit around waiting for the government to come rescue me.”

Huckabee told fiscal conservatives they should embrace -- not criticize -- social conservatives.

"That's wrong," he said, as only about two-thirds of the crowd stood and cheered. "Fiscal conservatives need to realize without strong families," Republicans can't achieve their goals.

Yeah, but a lot of those families aren't white.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 PM


Obama Tries to Quell Iraq Criticism (Anne E. Kornblut and Paul Kane, 2/26/09, Washinton Post)

President Obama has invited members of Congress to the White House for a meeting later this afternoon to discuss his plans for drawing down troops in Iraq -- a plan that has already drawn stiff criticism from his Democratic allies.

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi complained that the level of troops -- 50,000 -- who would remain in Iraq is too high, other senior Democrats voiced similar concerns on Thursday. Among Democratic leaders, only Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois is defending the new Obama plan, which will take three months longer than he promised and still leave a significant force structure on the ground.

"I'm happy to listen to the secretary of defense and the president, but when they talk about 50,000, that's a little higher number than I had anticipated," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said.

"It has to be done responsibly, we all agree, but 50,000 is more than I would have thought, and we await the justification," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

It's Republicans and the UR vs Democrats.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 PM


Obama's budget plan seeks repeal of oil and gas industry tax breaks (BEN GEMAN, 2/26/09, NY Times)

President Obama's budget proposal would repeal several oil industry tax incentives while imposing new taxes on Gulf of Mexico producers to close "loopholes" that have allowed companies to avoid royalty payments.

The overall budget eliminates $31.5 billion in "oil and gas company preferences" over a decade, according to a slender summary released by the White House this morning.

Panel Suggests Higher Gas Tax (KATE GALBRAITH, 2/26/09, NY Times)
A commission established by Congress to study options for financing the nation’s roads and bridges on Thursday recommended raising the federal gas tax by 10 cents a gallon.

...is that they just pass the cost on to the consumer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:53 PM


Asean to Sign Key Free-Trade Pact (DAVID ROMAN, 2/26/09, WSJ)

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said it plans to sign Friday a free-trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand that the parties involved have described as the most comprehensive trade pact the regional group has negotiated.

The agreement will be signed as part of the Asean summit now under way. Leaders of the 10 member nations will meet this weekend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 PM


Two-legged knockout isn't soccer (Gabriele Marcotti, 2/26/09, Sports Illustrated)

Half an hour after going down to a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the Champions League, Roma's Philippe Mexes stopped on his way to the team bus to chat with the media.

"It could have been better, but it's not a bad result," he said. "It's manageable, we'll sort it out in the return leg."

Around the same time, over in Milan, Manchester United players were expressing concern after holding Inter to a scoreless draw. The thinking was that United could have done more to put the game away and that it would have been better if it had managed a 1-1 draw.

Ah, the vagaries of two-legged knockout competition and that thing we call the "away-goals rule." We probably don't think about it because we're so used to it, but when you break it down, competitions like the Champions League might as well be a different sport from domestic leagues.

The basic principle that you can lose and be happy (especially when you lose 3-2, the "dream defeat") seems alien not just to soccer, but to sports in general. Equally, the fact that drawing 0-0 on the road is somehow worse than drawing 1-1 or 2-2 also feels wrong.

Isn't the point of the game to go and win?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


Reality check for Vice President Joe Biden (Fred Childers, 2/15/09, KSLA)

"But what I don't understand from Governor Jindal is what would he do?," asks Joe Biden while on the Early Show. That rhetorical question to Governor Jindal on the Early Show, was followed with this.

"in Louisiana there's 400 people a day losing their jobs, what's he doing?" asks Biden.

But that claim is wrong, if you look at the numbers from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

"In December, Louisiana was the only state in the nation besides the District of Columbia, according to the national press release that added employment over the month," says Patty Granier with the Louisiana Workforce Commission. According to her, not only is Louisiana not losing jobs. "The state gained 3,700 jobs for the seasonally adjusted employment," Granier said of the most recent figures.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:03 PM


Ronald Reagan, closet socialist (Jay Bookman, February 26, 2009, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Since 1970, the annual federal budget has been as low as 18.4 percent of our gross domestic product, and as high as 23.5 percent. (In 2008, preliminary figures say it was 20.5 percent.) (Source, Historical Tables, Office of Management and Budget).

Interestingly, that peak of 23.5 percent occurred in 1983, under President Ronald Reagan. In fact, the federal government consumed a greater share of our national income that year than in any year since the end of World War II.

To take it further, since 1947, the four years in which the federal government consumed the biggest chunk of our national income — the years in which Washington stole the most food off our children’s plates, as conservative rhetoric might put it — all occurred under Reagan.

...but starting from 1947 is revealing. Reagan and W should be measured against other wartime presidencies, as Bill Clinton ought be measured against interwar administrations.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:57 PM


Pelosi tosses cold water on assault-weapon ban (Mike Soraghan 02/26/09, The Hill)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tossed cold water on the prospect of reinstating the assault weapons ban, highlighting Democrats’ reluctance to take on gun issues.

Attorney General Eric Holder raised the prospect Wednesday that the administration would push to bring back the ban. But Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated on Thursday that he never talked to her. The Speaker gave a flat “no” when asked if she had talked to administration officials about the ban.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:44 PM


“Yellow Ants”, Fundamentalists, and Cowboys: An interview with Rémi Brague (Interview and translation by Diederik Boomsma & Yoram Stein, Clarion Review)

[W]estern civilization is something very strange and unusual. Most civilizations have only one centre. Islam has Mecca. Ancient Egypt had Memphis. Babylon had Babylon. But Western civilization had two sources, Athens and Jerusalem—the Jewish and later Christian tradition and that of pagan antiquity—often described as being in dynamic conflict. This opposition is founded on the opposition of Jew and Greek, borrowed from Saint Paul, which was then systemized in different ways: Hellenism versus Hebraism, the religion of beauty versus the religion of obedience, reason versus faith, aesthetics versus ethics, etc. The curious thing is that one was never swallowed by the other. Europe is neither Jewish nor Greek. In “Rome” in Christianity (e.g., the Roman Catholic Church), Jerusalem and Athens are simultaneously joined and kept apart.

With the coming of Christianity the preceding cultures were not destroyed, but a new civilization was formed. As the Romans recognized that their culture was "secondary" to that of the Greeks, the Christians recognized that Judaism preceded Christianity. This understanding gave European civilization a unique openness and humility towards the enormous cultural achievements of the past.

This humility has been a great strength. It fosters the awareness that you cannot simply inherit a civilizing tradition, but that you must work very hard to obtain it—to control the barbarian inside. This has given European culture the possibility of renaissances: a renewed appreciation of the sources of our culture, to correct what has gone wrong.

This becomes apparent in the different ways in which Islam and Christianity approached their older Greek and Jewish sources. The difference could be described by the words “digestion” and “inclusion”. In Islam, the original Jewish and Christian texts were digested, changed into something completely new, purely authentic to Islam itself. In Europe on the other hand, the original texts were left in their original state. The Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Tenakh are almost exactly the same; and Christians recognize the Jewish origins of the books of the Old Testament. Similarly, the Church Fathers took up classical philosophy, and Thomas Aquinas studied Aristotle and included Aristotelian notions in his theology. Yet scholars have never stopped reading the works of Aristotle himself.

The success of Western Europe is remarkable. Who could have thought in the early Middle Ages that Western Europe would become so powerful, and not the Byzantine or Islamic civilizations? Europe is a continent of parvenus. The Roman and Christian inferiority complexes have worked as spurs on the horse.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:36 AM


Gas tax: Paying cents to save big bucks (Barry Bluestone and Stephanie Pollack, February 26, 2009, Boston Globe)

Strange as it may seem, increasing the gas tax by 19 cents a gallon will actually save most Massachusetts drivers more than the higher tax will cost them.

How can that be?

If the gas tax does not go up, tolls (on the Pike and Tobin Bridge) and fares (for MBTA and regional transit riders) will. An increase of even 25 cents per toll or transit trip amounts to more than $10 per month for regular users, so current toll payers and transit riders save if tolls and fares are frozen and the gas tax rises by the proposed 19 cents per gallon.

But what about those who never pay a toll or transit fare? They, too, are better off financially with a higher gas tax. Due in no small measure to inadequate funding, the Massachusetts transportation system is so poorly maintained and badly congested that Massachusetts motorists spend an estimated $718 million each year on car repairs attributable to bad roads. This amounts to nearly $300 per household or roughly three times the proposed gas tax increase. One blown-out tire or bent wheel can cost a lot more to fix than several years of a higher gas tax.

Inadequately maintained roads and lack of funding for paving and other improvements also contributes to Massachusetts's growing traffic congestion, which costs motorists both time and money. The Texas Transportation Institute has calculated that each rush-hour driver in metropolitan Boston bears an annual cost of $895 due to time and gasoline wasted sitting in traffic jams.

The costs don't stop there.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:33 AM


Justice Defends Telecom Immunity in Surveillance Law (Keith Perine, 2/26/09, CQ)

The Justice Department is defending a provision in a 2008 surveillance law that provides legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s warrantless surveillance program.

The department was expected to defend the provision. But its stance in a brief filed Wednesday in a California federal court underscores the surprising degree to which the Obama administration — at least in court — is determined to shield President George W. Bush ’s controversial counterterrorism policies from legal challenge or even public scrutiny.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


Homo Economus Christianus: a review of Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies - And Why They Disappeared. by Allan C. Carlson (Bart Fleuren, Clarion Review)

[A]llan C. Carlson sketches various movements in twentieth century Europe that—based on Christian values, the appreciation of the family, and agrarian forms of life—provided a way out of the false dichotomy between state-dominated socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.

Third ways, as Carlson describes them, are characterized by four prevailing features. First, they take private property as the basis of all economic relations. Holding and maintaining property in private possession is intrinsic to full human participation in the world. Therefore, socialism, although perhaps based on a legitimate concern for human wellbeing, is based on a false conception of human nature; the respect of private property is missing. Second, proponents of third ways seek to protect small scale business, agrarian and other “organic” forms of life, and the wellbeing of the working class against the dangers of laissez-faire capitalism. Third, third ways are geared at the preservation of the family as society’s cornerstone, and as the “chamber of liberty”[i] (Chesterton). Liberty should be protected against erosion from both the state and the market. The fourth and most distinctive feature of the third ways is their inspiration in a profound but practical Christian understanding of the human person, who belongs to the family, the land, and the community.

Although the term “third way” was coined by Leo XIII more than a century ago, it must be noted that in contemporary political theory it is not taken to refer to a Christian middle ground between the excesses of capitalism and socialism. Rather, it refers to the blend of social-liberalism advanced by the UK Labour Party under Tony Blair, the Democrats under Bill Clinton, and other progressive Western administrations of the 1990s.This social-liberal ‘third way’—which is intellectually indebted to the Cambridge sociologist Anthony Giddens—is a middle ground between capitalism and socialism. But it is based on a secular, rather than Christian, understanding of the human person.[ii] Distinctively, Giddens’ third way does not set the preservation of organic forms of life and the family as its main purpose but rather focuses on the advancement of technology, education, and social welfare. The weakness of such postmodern third ways is that they are not grounded in a constitutive understanding of the human person. They mostly look after the needs of the individual human body, not the whole person, and not the community.

The first and foremost merit of Carlson’s book, therefore, is to remind the intellectual and political community that Giddens cum suis were not the first to have offered a way out of the false dichotomy of capitalism or socialism. And second, Carlson shows that social-liberalism is not the only third way by demonstrating the relevance of a Christian conception of the human person for economic law and policymaking. The most important implication thereof is that human happiness consists in more than just the maximization of utility or pleasure: in addition to the socioeconomic variables of the market and the state, the human person and his distinctive natural rights and obligations—such as those regarding the family—constitute a third variable that despite its unquantifiable nature should be of decisive importance.

It's important to keep two things in mind here: first, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair faced the task of selling fundamentally Christian theories of politics to parties dominated at their upper levels by secular intellectuals, so their comparative silence about the sources of the Third Way are understandable; and, two, it's significant that the one is a devout Baptist and the other actually became a Catholic either while in office or shortly after leaving.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


Obama's Straw Men: Why does he routinely ascribe to opponents views they don't espouse? (KARL ROVE, 2/26/09, WSJ)

Mr. Obama also said that America's economic difficulties resulted when "regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market." Who gutted which regulations?

Perhaps it was President Bill Clinton who, along with then Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, removed restrictions on banks owning insurance companies in 1999. If so, were Mr. Clinton and Mr. Summers (now an Obama adviser) motivated by quick profit, or by the belief that the reform was necessary to modernize our financial industry?

Perhaps Mr. Obama was talking about George W. Bush. But Mr. Bush spent five years pushing to further regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He was blocked by Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank. Arriving in the Senate in 2005, Mr. Obama backed up Mr. Dodd's threat to filibuster Mr. Bush's needed reforms.

Even in an ostensibly nonpartisan speech marking Lincoln's 200th birthday, Mr. Obama used a straw-man argument, decrying "a philosophy that says every problem can be solved if only government would step out of the way; that if government were just dismantled, divvied up into tax breaks, and handed out to the wealthiest among us, it would somehow benefit us all. Such knee-jerk disdain for government -- this constant rejection of any common endeavor -- cannot rebuild our levees or our roads or our bridges."

Whose philosophy is this? Many Americans justifiably believe that government is too big and often acts in counterproductive ways. But that's a far cry from believing that in "every" case government is the problem or that government should be "dismantled" root and branch. Who -- other than an anarchist -- "constantly rejects any common endeavor" like building levees, roads or bridges?

During his news conference on Feb. 9, Mr. Obama decried an unnamed faction in the congressional stimulus debate as "a set of folks who -- I don't doubt their sincerity -- who just believe that we should do nothing."

Who were these sincere do-nothings? Every House Republican voted for an alternative stimulus plan, evidence that they wanted to do something. Every Senate Republican -- with the exception of Judd Gregg, who'd just withdrawn his nomination to be Mr. Obama's Commerce secretary and therefore voted "present" -- voted for alternative stimulus proposals.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:28 AM


A New Tradition for Obama's Presidential Events: Opening With a Prayer (Dan Gilgoff, 2/24/09, US News)

A once-in-a-lifetime experience for [Ryan] Culp has become routine for President Obama: In a departure from previous presidents, his public rallies are opening with invocations that have been commissioned and vetted by the White House.

During Obama's recent visit to Fort Myers, Fla., to promote his economic stimulus plan, a black Baptist preacher delivered a prayer that carefully avoided mentioning Jesus, lest he offend anyone in the audience. And at Obama's appearance last week near Phoenix to unveil his mortgage bailout plan, an administrator for the Tohono O'odham Nation delivered the prayer, taking the unusual step of writing it down so he could E-mail it to the White House for vetting. American Indian prayers are typically improvised.

Though invocations have long been commonplace at presidential inaugurations and certain events like graduations or religious services at which presidents are guests, the practice of commissioning and vetting prayers for presidential rallies is unprecedented in modern history, according to religion and politics experts.

Interviews with former White House aides and official presidential archivists going back to the Carter administration turn up no evidence of similar programs, though some of Ronald Reagan's events featured invocations from clergy from a variety of religious traditions. The Reagan White House appears to have received copies of the invocations after they were delivered, as opposed to before, according to Ronald Reagan Presidential Library archivist Lisa Jones.

"If a similar thing had been done by President Bush's White House, I guarantee you there would have been a lot of people crying foul," says Bill Wichterman, deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison under President George W. Bush. "Democrats can do this with immunity, but when Republicans do it, it becomes controversial."

Of course, it ought not be controversial, so there are benefits to reducing Liberal Derangement Syndrome.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Terrible team names and beauties in short skirts: Women's 'soccer' gets the American treatment (Ashley Gray, 26th February 2009, Daily Mail)

How do you make women's football more attractive? Simple. Make the players wear tighter shorts.

That was once the idea of Sepp Blatter, the most powerful if not the most respected man in world football.

But while the FIFA president's comments caused uproar back in 2003, he may be interested to see what the world's best players will be wearing in the new Women's Professional Soccer league here in the United States.

The shorts may not be the skin-tight volleyball style that Blatter enjoys, but the Puma kit arguably goes one better by incorporating an optional 'wrap' (that's a mini-skirt to you and I).

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:10 AM


The Blight of Bagram: Human-rights advocates expected Obama to reverse the previous administration's position on detention, but undoing that policy may take more time than expected. (Adam Serwer, February 26, 2009, American Prospect)

[S]ince January, a number of the decisions made by the Obama administration have caused anxiety among human-rights advocates, who fear that the new president may indeed continue many Bush-era policies. Obama officials such as Attorney General Eric Holder, solicitor general nominee Elena Kagan, and Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyam have released statements endorsing the idea that terror suspects can be defined as "enemy combatants" and held "for the duration of hostilities" without trial.

The Obama administration also recently invoked the state-secrets doctrine to dismiss a civil suit against a Boeing subsidiary that plaintiffs contend aided the CIA in their rendition to countries where they were tortured. Prior to the Bush administration, the state-secrets doctrine was used to dismiss individual pieces of evidence, rather than entire lawsuits. Civil libertarians bristled at Obama's use of the doctrine in the same manner, and on Feb. 11, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced a bill in Congress that would regulate its use. The administration's actions were in contrast to Obama's earliest executive orders mandating that all interrogations by U.S. government agents comply with the Army Field Manual and that the Bush administration's infamous "black sites" be closed. President Obama is walking a fine line between Dick Cheney's "dark side" and his own promise to not compromise American values in the name of national security.

"If you want to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, they are taking the six months they've been given to figure out what their position is going to be," says Sahr Muhammedally, a senior law associate at Human Rights First. "Or the other way of reading it is that they want to embrace the whole Bush position on detention."

The third way of reading it is that their own review convinces them that the whole Bush position was, in fact, consistent with American values.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM


The 2% Illusion: Take everything they earn, and it still won't be enough. (WSJ, 2/26/09)

Consider the IRS data for 2006, the most recent year that such tax data are available and a good year for the economy and "the wealthiest 2%." Roughly 3.8 million filers had adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 in 2006. (That's about 7% of all returns; the data aren't broken down at the $250,000 point.) These people paid about $522 billion in income taxes, or roughly 62% of all federal individual income receipts. The richest 1% -- about 1.65 million filers making above $388,806 -- paid some $408 billion, or 39.9% of all income tax revenues, while earning about 22% of all reported U.S. income. [...]

[A]s a thought experiment, let's go all the way. A tax policy that confiscated 100% of the taxable income of everyone in America earning over $500,000 in 2006 would only have given Congress an extra $1.3 trillion in revenue. That's less than half the 2006 federal budget of $2.7 trillion and looks tiny compared to the more than $4 trillion Congress will spend in fiscal 2010. Even taking every taxable "dime" of everyone earning more than $75,000 in 2006 would have barely yielded enough to cover that $4 trillion.

...shouldn't the UR seek to have them paid more so that he can take it in taxes?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Does Obama Have a Double Standard on Earmarks? (Jay Newton-Small and Michael Scherer, Feb. 26, 2009, TIME)

On Tuesday evening, when President Barack Obama declared before a joint session of Congress that "we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks," House Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi popped like jackrabbits out of their seats for a standing ovation. On Wednesday, those same House Democrats led by Pelosi passed a budget with, by some counts, nearly 9,000 earmarks, worth an estimated $7.7 billion. [...]

And while the Obama Administration is turning a blind eye to the 2009 earmarks, White House officials say they fully expect Congress to live up to his campaign pledge of reducing earmarks to below 1994 levels — when the GOP took control of the House — or less than $7.8 billion a year. "They have got to draw a line in the sand, and they didn't do it here," says Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "They have got to draw it in 2010 or it's irrelevant, whatever the promises are." (The Democratic leadership estimates there are only $3.8 billion earmarks in the bill, while Ellis's nonpartisan watchdog group includes Army Corps of Engineers projects to reach a total of $7.7 billion — a figure still under Obama's target 1994 figure of $7.8 billion.)

So not only is it packed with pork but he specifically approved that much pork ahead of time?

President and His Inner Circle Have Earmarks in Omnibus (Jonathan Allen, 2/26/09, CQ)

Funny how items show up in spending bills without any notice — like an earmark for a president who promised not to seek any.

President Obama, who took a no-earmark pledge on the campaign trail, is listed as one of dozens of cosponsors of a $7.7 million set-aside in the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill (HR 1105) passed by the House on Wednesday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Binyam Mohamed: Britain is too cold after Guantanamo Bay (Ben Leach, 26 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Binyam Mohamed, the British resident released from US detention base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, has told friends that Britain is too cold. [...]

[S]ince arriving back in the country the former Al Qaeda suspect has told supporters he is finding it difficult to adjust to the British climate after four years in Cuba.

Temperatures at the detention centre at this time of year are about 26C, compared with 10C in London.

Moazzem Begg, a fellow former Guantanamo detainee, said Mr Mohamed was in "good spirits" but was struggling to cope with the weather, according to the Daily Express newspaper.

He added: "He's been wearing a jacket most of the time.

One of these days I'm going to have that talk with my son, the one when he asks me what satire was.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


The second chance: Critics say my country can’t be saved. But a new push from America and Kabul could work (Ashraf Ghani, March 2009, Prospect)

When the Taliban was overthrown in 2001 Afghans welcomed the international forces, and the US enjoyed overwhelming support. But too few forces came to help keep law and order. When more finally did, in 2006, they were too late to stop the al Qaeda and Taliban insurgency, which also operated with impunity from Pakistan, a problem that only started to be addressed late in 2008.

Resources for Afghan reconstruction have been far too low. The aid that has arrived comes through contractors or UN agencies, creating new bureaucracies, not strong Afghan institutions. Put bluntly, the international community did its institution building on the cheap.

Many western media experts now claim that Afghanistan can’t be saved and that history “proves” it is incapable of decent government. But the first eight decades of the 20th century were a period of relative peace and economic development. Millions of tourists passed through, en route to India. Unarmed police constables could get local chiefs to appear before courts of law.

Afghans regard the subsequent years of war as an aberration. They agree with the international community that the country needs a functioning state to deliver law and order, and deny Afghan territory to both al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The way forward now falls to General Petraeus and his colleagues who have until April’s Nato summit in Germany to announce a plan for Afghanistan. Petraeus’s approach is likely to move beyond the old counter-terrorism strategy and recognise that force can work only when it changes the political equation. Other instruments—diplomacy, development, trade and the creation of functioning institutions—are the key to winning support and defeating the insurgency.

The first step is establishing order.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


The cult of transparency is a threat to democracy (Brendan O’Neill, 2/26/09, spiked)

‘Transparency’ is not the same thing as democracy. Democracy does not mean revealing every off-the-cuff comment made in committee meetings or rush-written ‘memo of concern’ sent between ministers; democracy is something more profound than that.

It is crucial that governments, political parties and institutions are able to hold frank and strictly private discussions of an issue before arriving at a public position. This is especially important when the issue is a stinkingly controversial one, such as the Iraq war: on such potentially heated matters it is imperative that ministers can interrogate every issue and concern internally before putting forward a clear line for rigorous public debate. Political leadership is not a Diana-style blurting out of unformed feelings, half-cocked concerns and snatched conversations; it must also involve working out in private what the public line should be, so that ministers can then take collective responsibility for it, and the rest of us can challenge it. Just as I would die of shame if the minutes of spiked’s sometimes expletive-laden morning editorial meetings were made public, so it is justifiable for the Cabinet to want to hold back its minutes, too; like spiked and other political outlets and institutions, the government should be held to account for what it says and does publicly, rather than for its tense, coffee-fuelled discussions behind closed doors.

What has a close-up view of every machination of government gotten us besides contempt for the governors? Where a supposedly more democratic means tends towards anti-democratic ends in practice we ought to reconsider it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 AM


Ignatieff: an intellectual in politics: Michael Ignatieff, the telegenic intellectual and writer, has had three separate careers in three different countries. Now the former presenter of the Late Show is tipped to become the next prime minister of Canada (David Herman, March 2009, Prospect)

Ignatieff’s second career was in America, as director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard. Here he played a leading part in debates on contemporary war, terrorism and human rights. He was one of the most quoted liberal supporters of the Iraq war and defended “the American empire” in a series of long articles in the New York Times. Then in 2005 he left the US for Canada, and his third career, this time as a politician, first as a Liberal MP, then within three years as leader of the Liberal opposition party. [...]

[A]mid the breaks—changing country, changing career, moving on to new subjects—there have been important continuities too.

There is the importance of anti-communism and liberal anti-leftism, which led to two sharp breaks with the mainstream left, first in Britain over Thatcherism and the miners’ strike, then in America over 9/11, Iraq and the war on terror. His intellectual fathers, Berlin and Milosz among them, were famous anti-communists.

There is another continuity: the importance of service and public duty. His paternal grandfather, Pavel Ignatiev, a Russian count, was Nicholas II’s last education minister. His great-grandfather, Count Nikolay Ignatyev, was the Russian minister of the interior under Tsar Alexander III. “My grandfather’s favourite phrase,” he writes in The Russian Album, was “Life is not a game, life is not a joke. It is only by putting on the chains of service that man is able to accomplish his destiny on earth.” Ignatieff’s father, too, put on “the chains of service” as a lifelong Canadian diplomat. [...]

[B]osnia, and then Kosovo, changed everything. In 1993, Ignatieff wrote and presented Blood and Belonging, a six-part television series on “the new nationalism.” From then on, through the 1990s, he was increasingly drawn to a new agenda: post-1989 nationalism, new kinds of war and the challenge both present to liberalism. In a later interview in the New York Times, Ignatieff told Kate Zernike, “being anti-war and anti-use-of-force was a kind of defining signature of being a liberal, but that was 30 years ago. In the 90s, being a liberal meant being in favour of military intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. Human rights has come into this and complicated the picture.”

Two things were going on in the mid and late 1990s, side by side. On the one hand, Ignatieff was going to Oxford regularly to interview Isaiah Berlin for the authorised biography. Many of these conversations were about liberalism and its enemies, including nationalism. At the same time, he was writing about the war in former Yugoslavia and then Kosovo which put these issues to the test.

There was something else which may explain the impact that the war in former Yugoslavia had on Ignatieff. In an essay in 2002, on the bridge at Mostar, in Bosnia, he writes: “[I] saw the bridge once in my childhood. In 1959, my family and I drove through Bosnia in a heavy black Buick.” His father had been Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia and later to the UN. He was the embodiment of UN ideals, which have such a powerful resonance in liberal Canada. For Ignatieff, Bosnia was not just about liberalism, it was about the values his father stood for. [...]

Then came 9/11. America was fighting terrorism and then in Iraq. How does a liberal intellectual face up to the choices and dilemmas of liberalism during a war on terror? He ended up siding with Hitchens, Amis and Paul Berman against most of his former friends on the left. “September 11th was not politics by other means,” he wrote in the Guardian. “There were no demands and there never will be… Since the politics of reason cannot defeat apocalyptic nihilism, we must fight.” But, and here came the voice of liberalism, “a war against terror must be discriminate, proportional and restrained.”

And what if it isn’t? This was the question he faced as 9/11 gave way to the war on terror and then the war against Saddam. In January 2003, he wrote a piece called, “The American Empire: The Burden” for the New York Times magazine. He declared his support for the invasion of Iraq. Sanctions weren’t working. “The disagreeable reality for those who believe in human rights is that there are some occasions—and Iraq may be one of them—when war is the only real remedy for regimes that live by terror… The choice is between two evils, between containing and leaving a tyrant in place and the targeted use of force, which will kill people but free a nation from the tyrant’s grip.”

Two experiences influenced Ignatieff’s support for Iraq. In 1999 he was filming in Belgrade. He was struck by the precision of the bombing raids on Belgrade. Particular buildings had been destroyed, leaving adjoining ones standing. This was a new kind of war. His next television project was Future War, a three-part series for BBC2, the basis for his book, Virtual War (2000). New technology was changing war. This was not Guernica or Dresden, or even Gaza.

Secondly, like Hitchens, Ignatieff was hugely influenced by Iraqi exiles. He saw this as a humanitarian war against one of the most despicable tyrants in the world, not just the region. He was part of a generation haunted by Rwanda and Bosnia. Like Tony Blair, he was a humanitarian interventionist.

One of the linchpins of BDS is the bizarre notion that W drove away our previously uber-friendly allies. The canard is nicely illustrated by Canada, where not only was an anti-American prime minister replaced by a Bush-like conservative but even the party of the Left chose a Blair-like leader.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:51 AM


Assessing Obama’s Job Approval at the One-Month Mark (Lydia Saad, 2/23/09, Gallup)

According to Gallup polling on all elected presidents from Richard Nixon through George W. Bush (this excludes Gerald Ford, who assumed office after Nixon resigned), the range of job approval for new presidents after about a month in office extends from 55% for Ronald Reagan to 71% for Jimmy Carter. The average one-month approval rating for all six past presidents is 62% -- nearly identical to Obama's current 63%.

The average first-month disapproval rating for these same past presidents was 16%. However, Obama's slightly higher 24% disapproval score is similar to those seen for the most recent two presidents -- Bush and Bill Clinton -- perhaps owing to heightened partisanship or media scrutiny in recent years.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


On the Road, for Reasons Practical and Spiritual (LARRY ROHTER, 2/25/09, NY Times)

After a five-year stint in a Zen Buddhist monastery and various legal distractions, he is back on the road: an undertaking that seems to combine his quest for spiritual fulfillment with an effort to regain his financial footing, lost when his former business manager made off with his money while Mr. Cohen was living as a monk on a mountaintop above Los Angeles.

“It was a long, ongoing problem of a disastrous and relentless indifference to my financial situation,” Mr. Cohen said on Friday of the resulting legal proceedings, which awarded him $9.5 million — money he has yet to collect. “I didn’t even know where the bank was.”

So on April 2, for reasons both practical and aesthetic, Mr. Cohen will embark on a two-month North American tour, including a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 17 and an appearance at Radio City Music Hall on May 16. In addition, Columbia Records on March 31 will release a live CD/DVD of a show he did in London last year, and songs from the concert he played last Thursday at the Beacon Theater will begin streaming online on Thursday on the National Public Radio Web site (npr.org/music or nprmusic.org).

Mr. Cohen’s world tour, which actually began in May 2008 in his native Canada, is scheduled to continue through the end of this year, a feat of endurance for a man his age. At 74, Mr. Cohen is nine years Mick Jagger’s senior and two years older than John McCain. But he is remarkably limber, skipping on and off the stage during his three-hour show and repeatedly dropping to his knees to sing.

Roscoe Beck, Mr. Cohen’s musical director, says that even on the longest flights Mr. Cohen sits cross-legged and straight-backed in his seat, in a monk’s posture. Asked whether he also does yoga to build strength and agility for his stage shows, Mr. Cohen, his demeanor courtly but reserved, smiled and replied, “That is my yoga.”

In fact, Mr. Cohen appears to see performance and prayer as aspects of the same larger divine enterprise. That may not be surprising, coming from an artist whose best-known songs mingle sacred concerns with the secular and the sexual and sound like “collaborations between Jacques Brel and Thomas Merton,” as the novelist Pico Iyer put it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


Raid on illegals dismays Obama backers: Rights groups see broken 'commitment' on illegals policy (Stephen Dinan, February 26, 2009, Washington Times)

Immigrant rights groups blasted President Obama on Wednesday for breaking what they called his "personal commitment" to change Bush-era immigration raids after U.S. authorities raided an engine machine shop in Washington state and detained illegal immigrants.

The Obama administration itself seemed taken aback by the raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano vowing to Congress that she would "get to the bottom of this."

"The secretary is not happy and this is not her policy," a Homeland Security official said Wednesday evening, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the secretary's review is ongoing.

George Bush needed to pretend to care about these raids -- and the "fence" -- to quiet his Right. The UR has no such need. Just pass the Amnesty.

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February 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:21 PM


Top 5: Ash Wednesday (John Nolte, 2/25/09, Big Hollywood)

There are a billion Catholics in what Hollywood calls the worldwide market and today’s Ash Wednesday, one of most important holy days of the faith and the beginning of our Lenten season — and how many films have been produced to tap that market this year? Is “squat” a number? But the profit driven movie business, in keeping with the spirit of that old saying, “the sixteenth time’s the charm,” does have a couple more Iraq films in the pipeline.

So as we enter the next 46 days, during which we’re asked to reflect on our relationship with God and how we can improve on that relationship and as individuals, here are five films about just that, about lost souls who one way or another found their way home.

1. Tender Mercies (1983) [...]

2. The Sign of the Cross (1932) [...]

3. The Next Voice You Hear (1950) [...]

4. The Exorcist (1973) [...]

5. Bad Lieutenant (1992)

To which allow me to add one more. When we recently mentioned Clive Owen's role in the lamentable film version of Children of Men, mokuren recommended his turn in the British tv adaptation of Minette Walters', The Echo. Therein, Mr. Owen plays a down at the heels reporter -- Mike Deacon -- who is sent to write a piece on the wealthy architect who found a tramp starved to death in her garage. The gist of the story--properly mocked--is: "poverty persists in Blair's Britain." What Deacon finds though is an altogether different tale, about a bum who styled himself after William Blake and who a psychiatrist describes as "something quite unfashionable these days, a repentant sinner."

As deacon investigates he gets involved with a hapless crew of helpers--a photographer who dresses like a slut then wonders why no one takes her seriously; an elderly and lonely Jewish lawyer who'd been friend's with his father; a street urchin with a heart of gold; and a momma's-boy archivist at the newspaper. The scene in which the lawyer hands out deeply personal Christmas gifts to the motley bunch is worth the price of admission by itself.

But it's the unravelling of how "Billy" Blake chose that specific garage to die in and the reporter's realization that he too is in need of redemption that really lifts the material beyond genre. Blake, it develops, believed that he could be saved if he sacrificed his own soul to redeem the soul of another. Deacon takes up the salvific mission and pursues it to a thoroughly satisfying end.

The film torrent is available to download at The Box. I'm happy to provide an invite to anyone who needs one.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 PM


They Don't Make Homo Sapiens Like They Used To: Our species—and individual races—have recently made big evolutionary changes to adjust to new pressures. (Kathleen McAuliffe, February 9, 2009, Discover)

[T]o suggest that humans have undergone an evolutionary makeover from Stone Age times to the present is nothing short of blasphemous. Yet a team of researchers has done just that. They find an abundance of recent adaptive mutations etched in the human genome; even more shocking, these mutations seem to be piling up faster and ever faster, like an avalanche. Over the past 10,000 years, their data show, human evolution has occurred a hundred times more quickly than in any other period in our species’ history.

The new genetic adaptations, some 2,000 in total, are not limited to the well-recognized differences among ethnic groups in superficial traits such as skin and eye color. The mutations relate to the brain, the digestive system, life span, immunity to pathogens, sperm production, and bones—in short, virtually every aspect of our functioning.

Many of these DNA variants are unique to their continent of origin, with provocative implications. “It is likely that human races are evolving away from each other,” says University of Utah anthropologist Henry Harpending, who coauthored a major paper on recent human evolution. “We are getting less alike, not merging into a single mixed humanity.”

Harpending theorizes that the attitudes and customs that distinguish today’s humans from those of the past may be more than just cultural, as historians have widely assumed. “We aren’t the same as people even a thousand or two thousand years ago,” he says. “Almost every trait you look at is under strong genetic influence.”

Not surprisingly, the new findings have raised hackles. Some scientists are alarmed by claims of ethnic differences in temperament and intelligence, fearing that they will inflame racial sensitivities.

Obviously anyone who believes a big beak finch is a different species than a small beak finch can't coherently argue that even an Englishman is the same species as an Irishman. Then again, Darwinists forsook coherence long ago.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 PM


The elephant also rises: The GOP has a bumpy road ahead of them, but if they're savvy they'll be back in power sooner rather than later (STEVEN STARK, February 25, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

Lest Republicans think their party is in bad shape now, it was in far worse shape then. In 1965, along with the presidency, the Dems held a huge 295-140 majority in the House and a whopping 68-32 advantage in the Senate. Yet within four years, by 1969, the Dems had lost 11 seats in the Senate and 52 in the House, as well as the presidency. [...]

In the 1966 elections, the GOP made only few gains in the Senate; then, as it will likely be in 2010, too many seats were out of reach. But in 1966 the Republicans made much larger gains in the House and, perhaps most significant, won eight new governorships and held some key others. George Romney won big in Michigan, Nelson Rockefeller held on in New York, and a neophyte named Ronald Reagan was unexpectedly elected in California. (The GOP also won in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and, to almost everyone's surprise, in Maryland, with a new candidate named Spiro Agnew). This is likely to be the path the GOP pursues again in 2010 — if it's strategically savvy.

Because of the composition of the Senate and the seats that will be up for election, the Republicans could lose a seat or two in the upper body during the next trip to the polls. The House is a different story. Still, the number of "safe seats" due to districting has increased greatly since 1966, favoring incumbents and making it more difficult for any party to make huge gains.

What Democrats need to be worry about in 2010, then, are the State House races, where ideological issues play less of a role. Pennsylvania and Michigan have term-limited Democratic governors who can't seek re-election. States such as Maryland, Illinois, and New York should be in play — especially the latter two, now that "Blago" has tainted the Dems in Obama's home state and David Patterson has gotten off to such a stumbling start in his effort to replace the resigned Eliot Spitzer in New York. Meanwhile, the Republicans are a good bet to retain Florida (Charlie Crist, or someone else if he runs for the Senate), Texas (most likely Kay Bailey Hutchison), and California (especially if former eBay head Meg Whitman runs).

The result could well be a formidable GOP executive base around the country — just as in 1967. And, in an era of economic turmoil, that could give the party a platform of executive competence from which to launch a national campaign in 2012. Plus, it would neatly coincide with the fact that almost all the major GOP candidates thinking about running in the next presidential election are current or former state executives themselves: Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, even Bobby Jindal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 PM


Sox to win 98 in '09?: Statistically Speaking (MIKE MILIARD, February 25, 2009, Boston Phoenix)

Stat savant Nate Silver, widely lauded for foretelling the 2008 election in detail, was a baseball geek first. He's a long-time contributor to Baseball Prospectus's annual almanac, where he unveiled his PECOTA (Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm) system, which forecasts — fairly accurately — the future performances of players and teams.

Silver himself won't be at the Baseball Prospectus 2009 book discussion at the BU Barnes & Noble on Tuesday night, but many of the baseball think tank's principals will, including Boston-based contributor David Laurila. As he packed for a trip to Spring Training, the Phoenix asked Laurila for some thoughts on the coming season.

On what PECOTA says we should expect

They're picking the Sox to win the AL East, based on the computer projections. [In fact, it projects them as the best team in baseball, with 98 wins.]

not only is the Sox 6th starter a hall of Famer--John Smoltz--but the 7th is a top prospect who's already thrown a major league no-hitter--Clay Buchholz--and their righty mop upo guy in the bullpen was the Dodgers closer the past several years--Takashi Saito. It's a filthy staff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:29 PM


Locke's China work complicates bid (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 2/25/09, Politico)

The problem is that Locke, a partner in an international law firm’s China division, has advocated for Microsoft, Starbucks, and banking, timber and shipping interests in recent years, raising potential conflicts for him as head of a department charged with promoting U.S. trade around the globe.

One of Obama’s first acts as president was to sign an executive order barring executive branch officials from working on issues “directly and substantially related” to their former clients or employers for two years.

Yet if he’s confirmed as commerce secretary, Chinese trade issues – including some with direct impact on the companies he went to bat for – are likely to be high on the agenda for Locke, who is the first Chinese-American governor.

Software piracy issues would rank among them. Microsoft and other software developers have lobbied both the U.S. and Chinese governments to crack down on profit-draining practice. On a similar front, Starbucks recently won a trademark lawsuit against a Chinese company using its logo.

An administration official brushed off questions about what steps, if any, would be necessary to ensure Locke complied with Obama’s ethics policy.

Wouldn't it save time if the UR just announced the one or two people on the planet who are actually barred from his cabinet by his rather elastic ethics "rules"?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 PM


House Kills Move to Examine Earmark-Campaign Contribution Axis (Jonathan Allen, 2/25/09, CQ)

House Democrats killed a resolution Wednesday that called for an ethics committee inquiry into the relationship between campaign contributions and earmarks.

The resolution, drafted by Jeff Flake , R-Ariz., cited recent reports of a federal investigation into the campaign finance activities of a lobbying firm, The PMA Group, which has been a major contributor to lawmakers’ campaigns and a successful advocate for earmarked federal dollars for its clients.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland moved to table, or kill, Flake’s resolution, and the House voted, 226-182, to do so. The move prevented a direct vote on whether to refer the matter to the ethics committee.

...but as soon as the GOP won in 1994 we stopped having a US Congress and suddenly had a Republican Congress, which is why every scandal tars just the one party. They need to implant the realization that the body that everyone hates is the Democrat Congress now.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


AG Holder says closing Guantanamo won't be easy (DEVLIN BARRETT, 2/25/09, Associated Press)

Holder said his visit to the site was instructive. He met with military officials and toured the facilities, including the court setting where military commissions were to be held until Obama suspended them.

He said he did not witness any rough treatment of detainees, and in fact found the military staff and leadership performing admirably.

"I did not witness any mistreatment of prisoners. I think, to the contrary, what I saw was a very conscious attempt by these guards to conduct themselves in an appropriate way," he said.

The attorney general said none of those impressions alters the administration's goal of closing Guantanamo by January 2010.

I'm starting to doubt that George W. Bush was a crypto-fascist.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:21 PM


Republicans Smell Weakness In Obama: How did the president's address look from the other side of the aisle? According to insiders, the GOP wasn't fazed one bit. Some Republicans are eager for battle, and some even feel sorry for Obama. (John Batchelor, 02/25/09, Daily Beast)

Here’s how it looked from the Republican side of the aisle. “[House Minority Leader John] Boehner told us,” a senior Republican recounted to me after the president’s address on the financial crisis to a joint session of Congress, “‘Behave, be cool, be nice, sit back, all smiles, no carping, no attacking the president, no trouble. For six months.’ And everyone is cool with that. The morale is great. The old guys are into it as much as the young. We just sat there through the speech and smiled and nodded. There was only one time there might have been towel snapping, when he mentioned there were no earmarks in the stimulus bill. The boys got a little rowdy at that point. A little out of line. Could you hear it on the TV? They were a little rude. The president kept looking to the Democrats for the love, and then he would look at us to act smug, and we gotta out of line at that earmark mention.” [...]

Whether they are right or not, the GOP House members sense animal weakness in the Obama administration on just this point: that the stimulus plan won’t work, that the polls show the American voters doubt it will work, and that the Obama administration is clumsily defensive and prickly because they cannot demonstrate it will work. Hence the strange line, “No one messes with Joe,” in Obama’s speech, as if Joe Biden will be the enforcer of the stimulus trillions. “Joe Biden is just another back-slapping senator who no one dislikes,” said senior House Republican told me, laughing and dismissing the question. “The most you can say is that he might be nutty.”

“I feel sorry for him sometimes,” confided a senior Republican House member about President Obama. “He invited us over to the White House to explain to us how the stimulus plan is working, and how the budget is going to work, and he spoke to us a couple of times. He doesn’t act like he knows what’s going on with the economy. He’s so afraid of confrontation, when you challenge him, he backs off, like he doesn’t know the right answer. Who does? That’s why you kinda feel sorry for him. Not his guys, they don’t act like they know. Do they notice the stock market sinking? Who doesn’t? There’s this sense of disarray. The administration is made up of a lot of numbers twos. The only one with any gravitas is [David] Axelrod. Geithner? He looks like he’s 12-years-old, or a grad student. The president is like a perfect vice-president. That’s what the big speech was like. A vice-president was talking.”

As an academic enterprise, it's interesting to see a president who is the living illustration of the Peter Principle. As an American, it's unfortunate. Mr. Obama seems a nice enough fellow and painfully earnest, but he's in way, way over his head.

Memo to voters: a presidential candidate's first executive experience ought not be prospective.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:13 PM


Tennessee may reject stimulus aid for jobless: Bredesen balks at conditions tied to federal package, long-term costs (Chas Sisk, 2/25/09, THE TENNESSEAN)

Tennessee could reject a portion of the $787 billion economic stimulus package out of concerns that it would force the state to raise taxes on businesses in the future.

At the National Governors Association meetings in Washington, D.C., Gov. Phil Bredesen said this week that he might turn down relief for unemployed workers worth an estimated $143 million because of conditions placed on the money by Congress.

The stimulus package would also raise unemployment benefits by $25 a week for all workers, but in addition, lawmakers want states to expand the pool of people who can apply for benefits. That would put more pressure on an unemployment trust fund that is already trying to stave off insolvency.

There goes his cabinet spot....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Exclusive First Listen: Neko Case (NPR.org, February 18, 2009)

When Neko Case toured in support of 2006's Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, she claimed that she didn't like love songs, and that she was incapable of writing one. But on her sixth studio album, due out March 3, Case offers up what she calls "a bunch of love songs," which are heartbreakingly beautiful and, at times, comical. NPR Music offers an exclusive sneak preview of the entire record, Middle Cyclone. [...]

The opening track, "This Tornado Loves You," imagines what it would be like to have an affair with a funnel cloud.

"What would it be like to be pursued by a force of nature?" Case asks. "That's a frightening and exciting prospect. For me, the song is very literal."

Ultimately, Case says, the songs on Middle Cyclone are more about the universal need for love, regardless of what form it may take.

"What other people might call 'love songs,' I think of as homages," she says. "They can be to a person, a region, a feeling, even sad feelings."

In addition to 12 new tracks, Case also covers two songs on Middle Cyclone: "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" by Sparks, and "Don't Forget Me" by Harry Nilsson.

Middle Cyclone was produced by Case, with Darryl Neudorf, and recorded in Tucson, Brooklyn, Toronto and Vermont. It features Case, backed by her core band: guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray, backing vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse, and drummer Barry Mirochnick. She's also joined by a number of guests, including M. Ward, Garth Hudson, Sarah Harmer and members of The New Pornographers, Los Lobos, Calexico, The Sadies, Visqueen, The Lilys and Giant Sand.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Gaza and After: An Interview with Paul Berman (Michelle Sieff, March 2009, Z)

PAUL BERMAN IS A writer on politics and literature, an editor at Dissent and The New Republic, a professor of Journalism at New York University, and a preeminent public intellectual. He has written or edited eight books, including, most recently, Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems, edited with an introduction, published by the Library of America in 2006.

Many of Berman's political writings have analyzed progressive political movements and their ideas as well as the political movements and ideologies that have challenged these ideas in the modern era. In two of his books - A Tale of Two Utopias, published in 1996 and Power and the Idealists, published in 2005 - Berman analyzed the intellectual evolution of the student radicals of 1968, both in the United States and Europe. In Terror and Liberalism, published in 2003, Berman examined the ideas which underpin radical Islamist political movements and illuminated the connections between Islamist and European totalitarian ideologies.

In the wake of Israel's war against Hamas, I sat down with Paul Berman to discuss the war, the Obama Administration and the Middle East, and the persistence of antisemitism in our own time.

During the Gaza conflict, there were several anti-Israel protests where Israel was routinely demonized as a Nazi or Apartheid state. Why do you think so many activists, especially on the left, demonize Israel? Is it a sign of antisemitism?

Oh, as Irving Howe said, "There is no heart so warm that it doesn't have a cold spot for the Jews." We like to think of hatred of the Jews as a low, base sentiment that is entertained by nasty, ignorant people, wallowing in their own hatefulness. But normally it's not like that. Hatred for the Jews has generally taken the form of a lofty sentiment, instead of a lowly one - a noble feeling embraced by people who believe they stand for the highest and most admirable of moral views.

In the Middle Ages, Christians felt they were upholding the principles of universal redemption, and they looked on the Jews as terrible people because the Jews had refused the word of God - had insisted on remaining Jews. And so, the loftiest of religious sentiments led to hatred of the Jews.

In the 18th century, the Enlightenment philosophers looked on the Enlightenment itself as the loftiest form of thought - the truest of all possible guides to universal justice and happiness. The Enlightenment philosophers detested Christianity because it was a font of superstition and oppression. But this only led them to despise the Jews even more - no longer because the Jews had refused the message of Christianity, but because the Jews had engendered the message of Christianity. And the damnable Jews insisted on remaining Jews, instead of repudiating religion altogether.

The religious wars wreaked all kinds of damage on Europe. But the Treaty of Westphalia came along in 1648 and put an end to religious wars by establishing a system of states with recognized borders, each state with its own religion. The new Westphalian system embodied yet another Enlightenment idea of lofty ideals - the grandest guarantee of universal peace and justice. But the Jews were scattered throughout Europe, instead of being gathered together in a single state. The new state system was supposed to be a comfortable shoe, and the Jews were a pebble. And they insisted on remaining Jews, instead of helpfully disappearing. So one hated the Jews for failing to conform to the new system of states.

Today we have arrived at yet another idea about how to bring about universal peace and justice - the loftiest, most advanced idea of our own time. Instead of looking on well-established states with solid borders to keep the peace, Westphalia-style, we look on states as a formula for oppression and war. Lofty opinion nowadays calls for post-state political systems, like the European Union. Unfortunately, nowadays the Jews possess a state. Thus one hates the Jews in the name of lofty opinion, no longer because the Jews lack a state but because, on the contrary, they have a state. They seem keen on keeping their state. And once again the Jews are seen to be affirming a principle that high-minded people used to uphold but have now rejected as antiquated.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people with advanced ideas began to look on Christian hatred of the Jews as a retrograde prejudice - and the advanced thinkers embraced, instead, the pseudo-science of racism. They no longer hated the Jews on religious grounds - they hated the Jews on racial grounds. The word "racism" originally applied to hatred of the Jews. Racial hatred seemed up to date. Today, however, racism itself has come to seem like a retrograde prejudice. And so, people with advanced opinions hate the Jews on anti-racist grounds, and they regard the Jews as the world's leading racists.

And so forth. The unstated assumption is always the same. To wit: the universal system for man's happiness has already arrived (namely, Christianity, or else Enlightenment anti-Christianity; the Westphalian state system, or else the post-modern system of international institutions; racial theory, or else the anti-racist doctrine in a certain interpretation). And the universal system for man's happiness would right now have achieved perfection - were it not for the Jews. The Jews are always standing in the way. The higher one's opinion of oneself, the more one detests the Jews.

The political left has always been of two minds on these matters. An opposition to anti-Semitism (and to all kinds of bigotry) did use to be one of the pillars of the modern left. But the left has always rested on more than one pillar, and some of those pillars are a little wobbly. And there is the left-wing conceit that, today at last, the system for universal justice and happiness has been discovered, and should be embraced by all advanced thinkers. The cosmopolitan abolition of states, let us say. And here are the Jews resisting it. In short, nothing leads more quickly to a disdain for the Jews than a feeling of smug loftiness.

Odd that the Israel born in reaction to Nationalism-Socialism is now a nationalist stumbling block to Transnationalism

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


European Creationists Take On Darwin: The US isn't the only place with heated debates about Darwin's theory of evolution: Europe has its own hardcore creationists and intelligent design backers, too. Increasingly, they are making their voices heard. (Jens Lubbadeh, 2/25/09, Der Spiegel))

Fundamentalist Christians who believe in creationism -- which holds that God created the world and humanity in the manner described in the Bible -- reject the principle of evolution and are striking back. They are pushing for the use of school texts that vilify the theory of evolution as a mere ideology. They have sued to have the theory of intelligent design -- a water-down version of creationism -- taught in biology courses at the same time as evolution, as both an equally valid scientific theory and alternative to evolution.

"It would be like claiming a right to teach astrology in a physics course," said James Williams, a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex, at a conference entitled "Attitude and Knowledge Concerning Evolution and Science in Europe" held in Dortmund on Feb. 20. Williams has studied the influence that creationists have had in the United Kingdom. And it is big: According to a survey conducted in 2006, the majority of British have their doubts about evolution, and 40 percent want creationism taught in biology classes.

Scientists agree that the overwhelming mass of evidence supports the theory of evolution. "No serious scientist questions the theory of evolution," says Ralf Sommer, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Tübingen. "The only thing being discussed is the mechanisms of evolution, and that is a rather animated field of study."

Mr. Sommer concedes too much there as that is indeed the entire question between Darwinism, Creationism and Design: the mechanisms.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:12 PM


Pink at the Rink Set for Men's Hockey Game on Friday (Dartmouth Sports, 02/25/2009)

HANOVER, N.H. - This Friday the Dartmouth men's hockey team takes on Princeton at 7:30 and will be participating in the second annual Pink at the Rink to benefit the American Cancer Society and promote cancer awareness. The first 250 fans in the door will receive a pink "Real Men Wear Pink" t-shirt, courtesy of Northeast Waste Services. This is the first time the men's team will be wearing special jersey's to promote the event. The jersey's will be autographed and auctioned off after the game. [...]

Dartmouth is teaming up with its community and particularly the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at its own Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. The Big Green is doing its part to raise awareness and lend support to those fighting all cancers and recognize the work of those who care for them. If anyone would like to bid on either the game-worn jerseys or the special neck-tie worn by Coach Gaudet you can go to ecachockeycoachesvscancer.com from Feb. 27 to March 8 to place your bid. A minimum bid of $150 is sought for each player’s jersey.

"Our team is excited that we're able to be a bigger part of the activities," said senior captain Rob Pritchard. "Last season the women got to wear the pink jerseys and participate in the acution and I didn't feel like our team was able to contribute as much. So this year we're excited to be a big part of it and proud to bring some awareness and money to the cause."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 PM


Muslim Publics Oppose Al Qaeda's Terrorism, But Agree With Its Goal of Driving US Forces Out (PIPA, February 24, 2009)

In nearly all nations polled more than seven in 10 say they disapprove of attacks on American civilians. "Bombings and assassinations that are carried out to achieve political or religious goals" are rejected as "not justified at all" by large majorities ranging from 67 to 89 percent. There is a growing belief that attacks on civilians are ineffective, with approximately half now saying that such attacks are hardly ever effective.

At the same time large majorities endorse the goal of al Qaeda to "push the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Islamic countries," including 87 percent of Egyptians, 64 percent of Indonesians, and 60 percent of Pakistanis.

Asked specifically about the US naval forces based in the Persian Gulf, there is widespread opposition across the Muslim world. Across eight Muslim publics on average, 66 percent said it was a bad idea; only 13 percent called it a good idea. Opposition is largest in Egypt (91%) and among the Palestinians (90%), but opposition is also large in America's NATO ally Turkey (77%).

Significant numbers approve of attacks on US troops based in Muslim countries, presumably as a means to apply pressure for their removal. Respondents were asked about US troops based in Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan. Large majorities approve of attacks in Egypt (78-83%), the Palestinian territories (87-90%), and Jordan (66-72%). In Turkey and Pakistan views are more divided. However, only minorities support attacks in Indonesia and Azerbaijan. [...]

Support for Islamist groups participating in the political process, though, is quite strong. Respondents were reminded that "in some countries there is a debate about whether Islamist political groups should be allowed to organize parties and run candidates in elections," and then asked to choose between two statements. Majorities or pluralities in every country chose the statement "All people should have the right to organize themselves into political parties and run candidates, including Islamist groups," including Pakistan (83%), Indonesia (81%), Azerbaijan (75%), Palestinian territories (69%), Turkey (53%), and Jordan (50%). Few chose the statement "Islamist groups should not be allowed to organize and run candidates because their ultimate goals are not consistent with democracy."

In all Muslim publics polled, majorities see US support for democracy in Muslim countries as conditional at best. Only very small minorities say "the US favors democracy in Muslim countries whether or not the government is cooperative with the US." The most common response is that the US favors democracy only if the government is cooperative, while nearly as many say that the US simply opposes democracy in the Muslim countries.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Placebo Effect: A Cure in the Mind: Belief is powerful medicine, even if the treatment itself is a sham. New research shows placebos can also benefit patients who do not have faith in them (Maj-Britt Niemi, February 2009, Scientific American)

A man whom his doctors referred to as “Mr. Wright” was dying from cancer of the lymph nodes. Orange-size tumors had invaded his neck, groin, chest and abdomen, and his doctors had exhausted all available treatments. Nevertheless, Mr. Wright was confident that a new anticancer drug called Krebiozen would cure him, according to a 1957 report by psychologist Bruno Klopfer of the University of California, Los Angeles, entitled “Psychological Variables in Human Cancer.”

Mr. Wright was bedridden and fighting for each breath when he received his first injection. But three days later he was cheerfully ambling around the unit, joking with the nurses. Mr. Wright’s tumors had shrunk by half, and after 10 more days of treatment he was discharged from the hospital. And yet the other patients in the hospital who had received Krebiozen showed no improvement.

Over the next two months, however, Mr. Wright became troubled by press reports questioning the efficacy of Krebiozen and suffered a relapse. His doctors decided to lie to him: an improved, doubly effective version of the drug was due to arrive the next day, they told him. Mr. Wright was ecstatic. The doctors then gave him an injection that contained not one molecule of the drug—and he improved even more than he had the last time. Soon he walked out of the hospital symptom-free. He remained healthy until two months later, when, after reading reports that exposed Krebiozen as worthless, he died within days.

As Mr. Wright’s experience illustrates, a patient’s expectations and beliefs can greatly affect the course of an illness. When psychological factors tied to an inactive substance such as Krebiozen lead to recovery, doctors call the improvement a placebo effect.

In recent decades reports have confirmed the efficacy of such sham treatments in nearly all areas of medicine. Placebos can help not only to alleviate illnesses with an obvious psychological component, such as pain, depression and anxiety, but also to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and inflammatory disorders. Occasionally, as in Mr. Wright’s case, placebos have shrunk tumors.

Here's the Brothers Judd Health Care Plan: ignore everything. It'll either go away or kill you.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:44 AM


Shopping is 'throwback to days of cavewomen' (Ben Leach, 25 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

A woman's love of shopping is a throwback to her days in the caves, according to a new study.

...but the assertion that women all buy 400 pairs of shows because it harkens to their cave-dwelling days is especially imbecillic.

Though, in fairness, the otherwise estimable Dennis Dutton's penchant for such theories has led him to the absurd notion that the universal revulsion at abstract art and preference for realism is a function of our longing for the African Savannah of our species' youth.

The promised land: Art theory assumes that our aesthetic tastes are conditioned by the culture in which we live. But does genetic programming have more to do with it than we think? (Denis Dutton, 05 February 2009, New Statesman)

Unknown to most art historians, there exists a body of psychological scholarship that is much more potent in addressing cross-cultural tastes in landscape than hypotheses about enculturation. For example, the biologist Gordon H Orians has described the ideal landscape that human beings would find intrinsically pleasurable. In his formulation, this landscape has much in common with the savannahs and woodlands where hominids split off from chimpanzee lineages and where much of early human evolution was played out; hence, it is called "the Savannah Hypothesis". In brief, this landscape type includes these elements:

1. open spaces of low (or mown) grasses interspersed with thickets of bushes and groupings of trees;

2. presence of water directly in view, or evidence of water nearby or in the distance;

3. an opening-up in at least one direction to an unimpeded vantage on the horizon;

4. evidence of animal and bird life; and

5. diversity of greenery, including flowering and fruiting plants.

These innate preferences turn out to be more than just vague, generalised attractions towards generic scenes: they are notably specific. African savannahs are not only the probable scene of a significant portion of human evolution, they are to an extent the habitat meat-eating hominids evolved for - savannahs contain more protein per square kilometre than any other landscape type. Moreover, savannahs offer food at or close to ground level, unlike rainforests, which are more easily navigable by tree-dwelling apes.

Human beings are less attracted to open, flat grasslands and more attracted towards a mod­erate degree of hilly undulation, suggesting a desire to attain vantage points for orientation. Verdant savannahs are preferred experimentally to savannahs in the dry season. The type of savannah that is ideal appears to be the very savannah imitated not only in paintings and calendars but in many great public parks, such as portions of New York's Central Park. Modernly designed golf courses can make stunning use of such savannah motifs.

High-quality savannahs are characterised by Acacia tortilis, a spreading tree that branches close to the ground. Research shows that there is a cross-cultural preference for trees with moderately dense canopies which fork near the ground (a common tree type in 17th-century Dutch landscape painting). Trees with either skimpy or very dense canopies were less preferred, as were trees whose first branches were well out of human reach. A climbable tree was a device to escape predators in the Pleistocene epoch. This life-and-death fact is revealed today in our aesthetic sense for trees (and in children's spontaneous love for climbing them).

Landscape preference is not always for wildness, a sense of virgin territory, which can appear intuitively forbidding. In particular, the attraction of natural savannah-like scenes can be increased by signs of human habitation - control and intervention. Low grasses that appear to have been grazed by domestic stock can add appeal, as do such modern clichés as a cottage with smoke curling up from the chimney. Such features seem to humanise a landscape, rendering it less threatening.

Responses to landscape also depend on possibilities for exploration and orientation: "reading" a terrain. Experimental work by the psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan shows that the most desirable landscapes have a moderate degree of complexity. Extremes of intricacy, such as an impenetrable jungle, or boring simplicity, such as a flat, open plain, are undesirable. Preferred landscapes are characterised by coherence and legibility - terrain that provides orientation and intelligibility invites exploration.

A sense of a natural or man-made path is the most common cue for exploration, along with a surface that is even enough for walking. A path or a riverbank that can be followed into the distance can greatly increase the appeal of a landscape. This feature is found in landscape arts across the world, and is particularly potent if the scene suggests that a fertile valley or cool mountains might be where the path leads.

The Kaplans have also stressed a preference for an element of mystery, which they define as a feeling that "one could acquire new information if one were to travel deeper into the scene" - following the path or looking around the bend. They speculate that a sense of mystery implies a "longer-range, future aspect" of landscape preference. More than any other component of landscape characteristics, mystery stirs the imagination and as such is vitally important to landscape as an art form.

In a well-known experiment that has been replicated, the psychologists J D Balling and J H Falk showed photographs of five natural landscape types to six different age groups, each of which was asked about its preferences to "live in" or to "visit" each. The landscape types were tropical forest, coniferous forest, deciduous forest, East African savannah and desert. None of the photographs included water or animals. The age groups were eight, 11, 15, 18, 35, and 70 and over. From age 15 onwards, preferences were varied, with an equal liking for deciduous forest, savannah and coniferous forest, all three of which outrated tropical forests and desert, the latter being the least preferred by all age groups. The most striking finding was in the youngest group: eight-year-olds preferred savannahs for both living and visiting above all the other age groups. It is hard to explain this result from habituation, as none of the eight-year-olds had ever been in a savannah environment.

Choice of habitat was a crucial, life-and-death matter for people (and proto-people) in the Pleistocene. From our day back to the time of Socrates and Plato is a mere 120 generations. If we go further back from their Athens to the invention of writing, agriculture and the first cities, it is a lot longer: another 380 generations. But the Pleistocene epoch itself - the evolutionary theatre in which we acquired the tastes, intellectual features, emotional dispositions and personality traits that distinguish us from our hominid ancestors and make us what we are - was 80,000 generations long.

Over such a vast period of time, human beings moved out of Africa and into environments very different from the savannahs. Our ancestors walked along coastlines, went inland, learned to survive as Arctic hunters, and managed to sustain life in the deserts of Asia and Australia. They populated rainforests both temperate and tropical, followed the receding glaciers northward through Europe, and found islands off the east coast of Asia. Human evolution occurred not in any single geographical place, but over much of the globe. Unlike many animal species that are adapted to a single physical habitat and will die out if that environment disappears, human beings - clever, social, language-using tool- makers - devised ways to live in almost all physical environments on earth.

Nevertheless, the desirability of the original savannahs is an innate idea that lies deep in the human mind. We remain emotionally attached to them today because having an emotional predisposition toward such landscape types was a ­survival advantage for our prehistoric ancestors, not unlike a liking for sweet and fat, or sex. Even if an emotional attachment to such landscapes and a longing to go down the roads they offered had only a small survival advantage in the Pleistocene, it would still have become deeply engrained in the emotional life of the species over thousands of generations. Landscapes cannot be eaten or experienced by touch. They can, however, be seen, and their visual beauty is evolution's way of directing us first to the most fruitful and survivable landforms, just as the beauty and charm of a child is evolution's way of ensuring we treasure our offspring.

Show the kids a picture with a house in it and guess which they'll choose? There's a reason we hang Rockwell, Wyeth and Parrish on our walls.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Hacks versus Franco: Was it possible to report neutrally on the Spanish Civil War?: a review of WE SAW SPAIN DIE: Foreign correspondents in the Spanish Civil War by Paul Preston (Ronald Fraser, February 25, 2009, The Times Literary Supplement)

Through the pages of this outstanding book stride some of the great correspondents and writers of the period: Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Arthur Koestler, Arturo Barea, Martha Gellhorn and Herbert Matthews; and a number of others, among them Ilya Ehrenburg, George Orwell, André Malraux and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, make fleeting appearances. But the correspondents who most concern Paul Preston are those whose work will be best known to readers interested in the Civil War: Jay Allen, George Steer, Louis Fischer, Mikhail Koltsov and Henry Buckley. And even these are only a few of the mainly anglophone and French newspapermen who people this work with their lively presence.

The war was certainly dangerous, but it also raised new challenges for correspondents which resonate to this day. Could journalists be partisan and still truthful? Could they openly aid the side from which they were reporting and still be objective? Were actively partisan correspondents who also reported to their national intelligence services betraying their profession? In short, was each of these a regressive step down a slippery spiral, where “truth” was ultimately sacrificed? As usual in such matters, it is advisable to consider first the circumstances in which these challenges arose.

With a few exceptions – notably Allen and Buckley, who had lived for considerable periods in Spain before the war – most of the correspondents knew little if anything about the country in which they suddenly found themselves at the start of hostilities. Nor was there the time to learn about the recent Spanish past, for the present weighed too heavily on them; and even if they had the inclination, as Cedric Salter of the Daily Telegraph discovered, any discussion of the core of the conflict was regarded in British polite society as “not in quite the best of taste”. What, then, was left for correspondents in the Republican zone but to report the fighting against the insurgent military – whose coup to overthrow the democratically elected government had failed and precipitated the war – by the hastily formed, untrained and poorly armed working-class militias that were trying to hold the rebels back?

Here we already have a correspondent’s elemental story: David’s sling and stone against an armed Goliath supported by home-grown Falangists and the fascist powers of Germany, Italy and Portugal. [...]

In the light of the fascist powers’ intervention and the non-intervention of the Western democracies, the war, not surprisingly, centred for foreign correspondents on its international, anti-fascist, dimensions. The more percipient of them saw clearly the writing on the wall: the Civil War was the precursor of the inevitable and greater war that would follow if fascism were not stopped in Spain. They were privileged, they felt, to be “writing the first draft of history”, as Matthews put it, and were enraged by their own countries’ pusillanimity, which was pushing the Republic into the arms of the only major nation prepared to support it, the Soviet Union. The fact that most “loyalist” Spaniards – committed Communists, socialists and anarcho-syndicalists alike – were neither loyal to the pre-war Republic nor entranced by what they saw as “bourgeois” democracy was overlooked.

"Was"? Try, "is." We know quite well what would have happened had the Left prevailed in the Civil War. Spain would have been a gulag and the USSR would have controlled a vital naval chokepoint. In short, it would have been a disaster for Spaniards and the West. Thankfully, Franco defeated the philistines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM

Pork Ragu for a Crowd (Contra Costa Times, 02/25/2009)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), in 1 or 2 large pieces

Kosher or sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 large yellow onions, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 5 cups)

4 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 cup dry red wine, such as a cabernet sauvignon

7 cups canned diced tomatoes, with their juices

4 fresh bay leaves

1 large or 2 small sprigs rosemary

1 pound mild (fresh) Italian pork sausage, casings removed

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Generously season the pork shoulder all over with salt and pepper. Place in the pot and brown for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, turning until all sides are nicely browned. Transfer to a large plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions to the pot. Stir to coat evenly, adding a tablespoon of oil if necessary. Add the garlic. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and the garlic has softened.

3. Return the pork shoulder to the pot. Increase the heat to medium-high, then add the wine, stirring to incorporate. Let it bubble for a minute or so, and then add tomatoes, bay leaves and rosemary. Reduce the heat to medium-low.

4. Add the pork sausage to the sauce in small pinches. Cover and cook for 2 to 2½ hours, adjusting the heat as needed so the sauce cooks gently. The pork shoulder should be fork-tender.

5. Use tongs to transfer the pork shoulder to a cutting board. Use two forks to shred the meat into bite-size pieces, then return it and any accumulated juices to the pot.

6. Reduce the heat to low; cook until the meat is heated through. Taste the ragu and adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary. Discard the bay leaves and rosemary before serving or storing. The sauce increases in flavor after a day's refrigeration. (And it can be chilled for up to three days or frozen up to three months.) Best served over short, sturdy pasta, such as rigatoni, penne, tortiglioni or cavatappi (corkscrews), with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Asharq Al-Awsat Talks to Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (Michel Abu Najm, 2/25/09, Asharq Al-Awsat

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you have a plan for normalizing the situation in Somalia as acts of violence and piracy continue to be launched from the Somali coasts?

[Ahmad] We have started taking bold steps to address this problem. We have set up committees to be in charge of security in the capital. Calm is returning to Mogadishu's neighborhoods and to many other parts of the country. The government's plan is to give the security issue absolute priority and provide humanitarian aid to the needy and to those affected by both wars and drought. In tandem with these steps, we want the government's work to be transparent, and to keep in contact with the other parties in Somalia and with the outside world, and to focus on fostering our relations with the Arab world.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can you move on in Somalia as there is no central administration or state, and there is no security, and government authority is absent in large parts of the country?

[Ahmad] The problems of the absence of administration and the collapse of the state will be solved by our efforts. The new government contains competent cadres. I believe these cadres will push for restructuring the state and rebuilding its institutions. In addition, we will have in the government a security team that will be tasked with establishing peace in the country. The government has begun working along the lines I have mentioned. As for the Somali parties that did not approve of the government formation, our response is that we will be open to dialogue. Efforts and mediation attempts are being made by Somali religious scholars, tribal chiefs, notables, and by the religious scholars of the Islamic world. All these efforts seek to achieve the sole goal of persuading the Somali parties to lay down their arms and opt for negotiation and conviction.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


Remarks of President Barack Obama -- Address to Joint Session of Congress (Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery, Address to Joint Session of Congress
Tuesday, February 24th, 2009)

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I’ve come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven’t been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has – a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don’t need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It’s the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It’s the job you thought you’d retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that’s now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don’t lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely – to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about tonight.

It’s an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President’s Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government – I don’t. Not because I’m not mindful of the massive debt we’ve inherited – I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That’s why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector – jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut – a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort – because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called recovery.gov so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being. You should also know that the money you’ve deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can’t afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It’s a plan that won’t help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values – Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won’t solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government – and yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you – I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job – our job – is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can’t get a mortgage.

That’s what this is about. It’s not about helping banks – it’s about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they’ll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America – as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn’t supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don’t need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders – and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation’s supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history – an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don’t do what’s easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it’s one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform – a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It’s a commitment that’s paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it’s a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I’m bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I’m proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we’re starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don’t work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don’t need them. We’ll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don’t use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn’t make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you’ll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut – that’s right, a tax cut – for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules – and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century – from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty – we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world’s.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us – watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege – one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth – to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn’t tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community – how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."

And I think about Ty’Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina – a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered." Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

The President has been handed a great gift, an economic contraction that's unusual enough these days that he could use it to enact to some big legislative changes. But, instead, all he offered was: the McCain-Lieberman-style cap-and-trade program, despite the collapse of Europe's; a promise to reduce health care spending while pumping money into the industry; a promise to reduce the cost of education while pumping more money into that system; and tax increases on the tiny fraction of the population that already pays 60%+ of them? We've been pretty disparaging of the notion that this guy has any vision of what he wants to do with the presidency, but even so, this is laughably small potatoes for a "day of reckoning."

Fact-Checking The Speech: Some Claims Aren't Completely True (AP, 2/24/09)

OBAMA: "Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day."

THE FACTS: This may be so, but it isn't only Republicans who pushed for deregulation of the financial industries. The Clinton administration championed an easing of banking regulations, including legislation that ended the barrier between regular banks and Wall Street banks. That led to a deregulation that kept regular banks under tight federal regulation but extended lax regulation of Wall Street banks. Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, later an economic adviser to candidate Obama, was in the forefront in pushing for this deregulation.


OBAMA: "In this budget, we will end education programs that don't work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them. We'll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use. We will root out the waste, fraud and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn't make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas."

THE FACTS: First, his budget does not accomplish any of that. It only proposes those steps. That's all a president can do, because control over spending rests with Congress. Obama's proposals here are a wish list and some items, including corporate tax increases and cuts in agricultural aid, will be a tough sale in Congress.

Second, waste, fraud and abuse are routinely targeted by presidents who later find that the savings realized seldom amount to significant sums. Programs that a president might consider wasteful have staunch defenders in Congress who have fought off similar efforts in the past.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM

Jamaican pineapple upside-down cake (Susan Sampson, 2/25/09, Toronto Star)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

14 oz [...] can pineapple slices

1/2 cup pecan halves

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup whole milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large egg

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

1 tbsp lime juice

1 tsp vanilla extract


Melt butter in 10-inch, cast-iron skillet on medium heat. Remove from burner. Sprinkle in brown sugar evenly. Arrange pineapple slices in pan. (I used 7 of the 8 rings in the can.) Arrange pecans over top, especially in spaces around pineapple rings.

In large bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. Add milk and oil. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed 1 minute. Scrape bowl. Add egg, zest, juice and vanilla. Beat just until well combined.

Pour batter evenly over pineapple in pan. Bake in preheated 350F oven until tester inserted into centre of cake comes out clean and top of cake is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes. Carefully invert onto circular platter. Eat warm or at room temperature.

February 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 PM


Bacon-wrapped meatloaf (Boston Globe, February 25, 2009)

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 Spanish onion, chopped
3/4 cup panko (bread crumbs)
2 eggs
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 thick slices bacon

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, onion, panko, eggs, ketchup, milk, parsley, garlic, Worcestershire, hot sauce, salt, and cayenne. With your hands, work the mixture until thoroughly combined.

3. Lay a 16-by-12-inch piece of plastic wrap lengthwise on your work surface. Arrange the bacon strips vertically on the plastic, slightly overlapping. Turn the meat out onto the bacon and form into a loaf shape with your hands by pressing the loaf lengthwise along the bacon first, and then shaping the sides. Use the sides of the plastic to wrap and press the bacon around the loaf. Transfer the loaf to a rimmed baking sheet and flip it over. Gently remove the plastic wrap.

4. Bake the meatloaf for 60 to 70 minutes or until it is firm to the touch and the bacon starts to brown. For extra-crisp bacon, place the meatloaf under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes, watching it carefully. Set aside for 10 minutes. Use a serrated knife to cut into slices.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 PM


The Big Test (DAVID BROOKS, 2/24/09, NY Times)

When I was a freshman in college, I was assigned “Reflections on the Revolution in France” by Edmund Burke. I loathed the book. Burke argued that each individual’s private stock of reason is small and that political decisions should be guided by the accumulated wisdom of the ages. Change is necessary, Burke continued, but it should be gradual, not disruptive. For a young democratic socialist, hoping to help begin the world anew, this seemed like a reactionary retreat into passivity.

Over the years, I have come to see that Burke had a point. The political history of the 20th century is the history of social-engineering projects executed by well-intentioned people that began well and ended badly. There were big errors like communism, but also lesser ones, like a Vietnam War designed by the best and the brightest, urban renewal efforts that decimated neighborhoods, welfare policies that had the unintended effect of weakening families and development programs that left a string of white elephant projects across the world.

These experiences drove me toward the crooked timber school of public philosophy: Michael Oakeshott, Isaiah Berlin, Edward Banfield, Reinhold Niebuhr, Friedrich Hayek, Clinton Rossiter and George Orwell. These writers — some left, some right — had a sense of epistemological modesty. They knew how little we can know. They understood that we are strangers to ourselves and society is an immeasurably complex organism. They tended to be skeptical of technocratic, rationalist planning and suspicious of schemes to reorganize society from the top down.

Before long, I was no longer a liberal.

"In baseball, you don't know nothin'."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:15 PM


Potential intel pick peddled Saudi-funded textbook accused of bias (Ron Kampeas, February 24, 2009, JTA)

The Obama administration’s reported pick for a top intelligence post helped peddle a Saudi-funded school study guide decried by Jewish groups and educators for having anti-Jewish biases.

Charles "Chas" Freeman, the U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, is slated to chair the National Intelligence Council, according to The Cable, a blog at Foreign Policy magazine that has been unerring in reporting Obama administration national security appointments. [...]

Freeman is president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Saudi-funded think tank. A JTA investigative series in 2005 exposed how the council, led by Freeman, joined with Berkeley, Calif.-based Arab World and Islamic Resources in peddling the “Arab World Studies Notebook” to American schools. In the version examined that year by JTA staff, the "Notebook" described Jerusalem as unequivocally "Arab," deriding Jewish residence in the city as "settlement"; cast the "question of Jewish lobbying" against "the whole question of defining American interests and concerns"; and suggested that the Koran "synthesizes and perfects earlier revelations."

Freeman's reported appointment already has set off a firestorm among Middle East policy bloggers, with some on the dovish side welcoming it as refreshing injection of "realism" after the neo-conservatism that defined the Bush administration, and others expressing alarm at pronouncements of Freeman and the council that have been relentlessly critical of Israel.

"Freeman is a strident critic of Israel, and a textbook case of the old-line Arabism that afflicted American diplomacy at the time the state of Israel was born," Steve Rosen, a former top official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, wrote on his Obama Mideast Monitor blog hosted by the Middle East Forum.

Likely Obama Appointee Had Bin Laden Ties (Ashley Rindsberg, 2/24/09, Daily Beast)
Amid the criticism that has already emerged about President Obama's reported pick for the powerful position of chairman of the National Intelligence Council, there is a yet unmentioned problem that is likely cause even bigger troubles: He had business ties to the bin Laden family after 9/11.

Charles “Chas” Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, had business connections with the bin Laden family and their Saudi Binladin Group, a multi-billion dollar construction conglomerate founded by the father of Osama bin Laden. As chairman of Projects International, Inc., a company that develops international business deals, Mr. Freeman asserted in an interview with the Associated Press less than a month after September 11 that he was still “discussing proposals with the Bin Laden Group—and that won't change.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:39 PM


House Passes Bill Barring Interstate Transport of Pet Primates (Avery Palmer, 2/24/09, CQ)

The House passed legislation Tuesday that would prohibit the interstate shipment of pet monkeys and other primates, over Republican complaints that the bill is a waste of time.

The vote on the bill (HR 80) was 323-95.

You think it's awful to take a flippin' monkey over a state line but have no problem with transporting a minor over that line to abort her baby. Which raises the question of whether there's an exception for pregnant chimps....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:33 PM


Great news! Just drive by the local Mickey D's--Shamrock Shakes are back!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:22 PM


Rahm Emanuel's basement room lights up the blogosphere: Is the Obama chief of staff's rent-free lodging in the home of a pollster friend and his congresswoman wife a gift or income or neither? What of the tax liability? Republicans and tax experts debate. (Andrew Zajac, February 24, 2009, LA Times)

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's Washington lodging arrangements, a rent-free basement room in a Capitol Hill home owned by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) and her pollster husband, have inspired debate among tax experts and in Republican-leaning portions of the blogosphere.

One issue is whether Emanuel, who served in the House with DeLauro until early January, should have listed the room either as a gift or as income on his Congressional financial disclosure forms. Emanuel's disclosure filings contain no mention of his use of the room.

A murkier question is whether Emanuel has a tax liability for the arrangement. The matter may have particular sensitivity in the early days of an Obama administration in which at least four picks for high posts have had confirmations delayed or derailed by tax irregularities. [...]

Jan Baran, a Washington ethics lawyer who advises mostly Republicans, said Emanuel's use of the room from DeLauro and Greenberg does not violate House ethics rules because members clearly are allowed to give each other gifts of lodging. [...]

Joseph Dodge, a professor at Florida State University College of Law, argued that the room is not subject to tax either as a gift or as income.

It's not a gift because it doesn't effectively cost DeLauro and Greenberg anything, Dodge said.

"effectively"? So if the president of Exxon isn't using his Redskins box seats can he give them to Emmanuel and neither report it since it effectively didn't cost anything?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


The Torture Trap: Will Obama Really Ease Up?: Just because he's closing Guantanamo doesn't mean the new president can reform all those real-world Jack Bauers. Or convict them. Or stop them from wiretapping your phone. The reckoning for the Bush administration's interrogation memos may surprise you. (John H. Richardson, 2/24/09, Esquire)

Way back in November, before I even broke out the crystal ball on Barack Obama, I made something of a prediction in this column: "It may be time for Democrats to start slowly ratcheting back their outrage on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, alternative terrorism courts and even some forms of aggressive interrogation. Otherwise, it's going to be awkward for them to adjust to the realities of life under Democratic rule." [...]

Take the interrogation issue. On the left, the answer is simple: Bush tortured, so we need war crimes trials to re-establish the rule of law. But this will never happen. Consider the sequence of events. A few months after 9/11, the CIA captured a top Al Qaeda strategist named Abu Zubaydah. They believed he had knowledge of coming attacks and wanted a legal opinion on how rough they could get during interrogation. Getting somewhat rough seemed to be an option because terrorists were never covered by the Geneva Conventions, and the Convention Against Torture defined torture as "extreme" physical or mental pain.

The job of defining extreme pain went to John Yoo, a lawyer often mentioned in the category of Future Defendant in a War Crimes Trail. Critics like Scott Horton have written that Yoo was part of a "torture conspiracy," writing dishonest briefs "for the explicit purpose of covering the torture project with impunity and pushing it forward by overriding the judgment of serious lawyers at the Pentagon and CIA." But even before entering government service, Yoo had written a long book arguing that a president can break the law in the time of war. This contrarian argument made him an academic star. As to his infamous definition of the extreme pain as equal to organ failure or death, Horton insists that Yoo simply lied about the law, ignoring contrary arguments. But I spent a week with Yoo last year, attending his law classes and traveling with him, and I'm fairly certain that Yoo really believes the things he wrote. A jury could convict him of bad lawyering, but not of lying to advance a criminal conspiracy.

Under Yoo's memo, with Bush's approval, the CIA waterboarded three people. It seems extremely unlikely that a jury would convict CIA officers who acted under a decision from the Justice Department and a go-ahead from the president. It seems equally unlikely that a jury would convict a president who made that decision in the months after 9/11.

And what about Guantanamo, you say? Didn't Susan Crawford — the woman Bush put in charge of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to trail — admit last month that we tortured a prisoner named Mohammed al-Qahtani?

This is the heart of the problem: We have come to a national consensus that waterboarding is torture, which is why the CIA stopped after three abuses. But the interrogation techniques used on al-Qahtani included sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, nudity, and prolonged exposure to cold — none of which rise to the level of torture individually. As Crawford notes, "This was not any one particular act. This was a combination of things."

These are the "enhanced" interrogation techniques. They're what Donald Rumsfeld was talking about when he wrote his famous note asking why standing was limited to six hours. To the civil libertarians, this is evidence of the torture conspiracy. But the whole point of Rumsfeld's question is to stay on what he considered to be the permissible side of the line. You can certainly denounce his judgment, but it's unfair to say that he was gleefully embracing torture.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Osama bin Laden hadn't been killed at Tora Bora but was instead captured tomorrow in Pakistan. Is it even possible to construct a morally coherent argument that we ought not then waterboard him to get him to reveal any other terrorist plots and assets?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:08 AM


The Torture Trap: Will Obama Really Ease Up?: Just because he's closing Guantanamo doesn't mean the new president can reform all those real-world Jack Bauers. Or convict them. Or stop them from wiretapping your phone. The reckoning for the Bush administration's interrogation memos may surprise you. (John H. Richardson, 2/24/09, Esquire)

Way back in November, before I even broke out the crystal ball on Barack Obama, I made something of a prediction in this column: "It may be time for Democrats to start slowly ratcheting back their outrage on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, alternative terrorism courts and even some forms of aggressive interrogation. Otherwise, it's going to be awkward for them to adjust to the realities of life under Democratic rule." [...]

Take the interrogation issue. On the left, the answer is simple: Bush tortured, so we need war crimes trials to re-establish the rule of law. But this will never happen. Consider the sequence of events. A few months after 9/11, the CIA captured a top Al Qaeda strategist named Abu Zubaydah. They believed he had knowledge of coming attacks and wanted a legal opinion on how rough they could get during interrogation. Getting somewhat rough seemed to be an option because terrorists were never covered by the Geneva Conventions, and the Convention Against Torture defined torture as "extreme" physical or mental pain.

The job of defining extreme pain went to John Yoo, a lawyer often mentioned in the category of Future Defendant in a War Crimes Trail. Critics like Scott Horton have written that Yoo was part of a "torture conspiracy," writing dishonest briefs "for the explicit purpose of covering the torture project with impunity and pushing it forward by overriding the judgment of serious lawyers at the Pentagon and CIA." But even before entering government service, Yoo had written a long book arguing that a president can break the law in the time of war. This contrarian argument made him an academic star. As to his infamous definition of the extreme pain as equal to organ failure or death, Horton insists that Yoo simply lied about the law, ignoring contrary arguments. But I spent a week with Yoo last year, attending his law classes and traveling with him, and I'm fairly certain that Yoo really believes the things he wrote. A jury could convict him of bad lawyering, but not of lying to advance a criminal conspiracy.

Under Yoo's memo, with Bush's approval, the CIA waterboarded three people. It seems extremely unlikely that a jury would convict CIA officers who acted under a decision from the Justice Department and a go-ahead from the president. It seems equally unlikely that a jury would convict a president who made that decision in the months after 9/11.

And what about Guantanamo, you say? Didn't Susan Crawford — the woman Bush put in charge of bringing Guantanamo prisoners to trail — admit last month that we tortured a prisoner named Mohammed al-Qahtani?

This is the heart of the problem: We have come to a national consensus that waterboarding is torture, which is why the CIA stopped after three abuses. But the interrogation techniques used on al-Qahtani included sleep deprivation, prolonged isolation, nudity, and prolonged exposure to cold — none of which rise to the level of torture individually. As Crawford notes, "This was not any one particular act. This was a combination of things."

These are the "enhanced" interrogation techniques. They're what Donald Rumsfeld was talking about when he wrote his famous note asking why standing was limited to six hours. To the civil libertarians, this is evidence of the torture conspiracy. But the whole point of Rumsfeld's question is to stay on what he considered to be the permissible side of the line. You can certainly denounce his judgment, but it's unfair to say that he was gleefully embracing torture.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Osama bin Laden hadn't been killed at Tora Bora but was instead captured tomorrow in Pakistan. Is it even possible to construct a morally coherent argument that we ought not then waterboard him to get him to reveal any other terrorist plots and assets?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 AM

Roasted squash and garlic soup with red pepper drizzle (Susan Sampson, 2/24/09, Toronto Star)

1 butternut squash (about 3 lb...)

3 onions, peeled, quartered

1 head garlic, separated into cloves but not peeled

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp dried thyme leaves

1/2 tsp dried rosemary leaves, crumbled

1/4 tsp or more kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

3 roasted red peppers

7 cups chicken or vegetable stock


Cut off neck section of squash. Peel it. Quarter it lengthwise. Cut each piece into 1- to 1-1/2-inch segments. Peel bulb section. Scrape out seeds. Cut bulb lengthwise in half. Cut each half into thirds. Cut into 1- to 1-1/2-inch segments. Place in large bowl.

Add onions, oil, thyme, rosemary, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Stir together gently. Spread out on baking sheet.

Wrap garlic cloves in square of foil. Place on baking sheet.

Roast in preheated 375F oven 30 minutes or until garlic is very soft. Open garlic packet and set aside to cool. Stir squash mixture. Return to oven. Roast until very tender and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, purée red peppers in blender with some of their liquid until smooth and thin enough to drizzle. Scrape into medium bowl.

Squeeze garlic pulp into blender. Working in batches, add squash mixture and stock. Purée until smooth. Pour into large pan. Stir over medium heat until warmed through. Adjust salt and pepper.

Serve soup drizzled with red pepper purée.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 AM


US to donate '$900m in Gaza aid' (BBC, 2/24/09)

The United States is preparing to donate some $900m (£621m) for Gaza, an Obama administration official said.

We ought to be able to talk to our own client.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


The Best Bollywood Films: Now that Slumdog Millionaire has won Best Picture, Hindi cinema stands poised to finally make the international crossover. Anu Chopra reveals the five essential classics any burgeoning Bollywood fan should see. (Anu Chopra, February 24, 2009, Daily Beast)

Sholay (Flames, 1975): “There has never been a more defining film on the Indian screen,” director Shekhar Kapur said of Sholay, “Indian film history can be divided into Sholay BC and Sholay AD.” Labeled a "Curry Western," Sholay is the story of two small-time thieves who are hired by a landowner to capture the dreaded dacoit Gabbar Singh, who has massacred the landowner’s family. With its rugged landscapes, rousing action sequences and rough-hewn textures, the film echoes Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa. But these borrowed elements are skillfully blended with the required Hindi movie tropes: high emotion, supersize characters, and songs. Sholay ran consecutively for five years in one Mumbai theater. Even today, it is Bollywood’s gold standard.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


The Friend-Enemy Distinction: Carl Schmitt, anti-Semitism, and liberal democracy.: a review of Carl Schmitt and the Jews: The "Jewish Question," the Holocaust, and German Legal Theory by Raphael Gross (Stephen H. Webb, February 6, 2009, Books & Culture)

Schmitt is the preeminent critic of political liberalism, which makes him a hero to some and an admonitory instance of the inevitable consequences of conservatism to others.

Schmitt developed some of his best ideas during the Weimar Republic (1919–1933), Germany's experiment with liberal democracy that ended in disaster. From its beginning, the republic was assaulted by both left- and right-wing extremists. To this day, scholars debate whether Schmitt was a friendly critic of Weimar or one of its most dangerous enemies. Schmitt was certainly sympathetic to authoritarian rule, and he thought that all liberal democracies were hindered by inherent contradictions, but he always claimed that he was trying to support Weimar by drawing attention to its constitutional weaknesses. Some of Schmitt's contemporaries were prescient enough to worry that any rejection of the principles of the republic ran the risk of opening the door to a dictatorship, but being a critic of Weimar did not, alone, put anyone on the side of Hitler. Nonetheless, one of the staples of liberal apologetics, often relying on Schmitt's case, is the claim that conservatism is merely a more moderate form of fascism.

Schmitt's conservatism was deeply rooted in his Catholic upbringing, which made him an outsider to the German liberal élite. He was heavily influenced by the Catholic counter-revolutionaries who reacted in horror to the way the French Revolution liberated the masses only by overthrowing the authority of the church. Surprisingly, he was also influenced by Protestant theologians who portrayed faith as an act that transcends rational reflection. From this unlikely pair of sources—French Catholic reactionaries and Protestant existential theologians—he revived the concept of sovereignty and developed a political model known as "decisionism." Every political system, he argued, needs a source of authority that lies outside its own rules and regulations. Even the best constitution cannot prepare in advance for every possible challenge. When a constitution is pushed to the limit, someone has to be in the position to suspend it for its own preservation.

In Schmitt's account, liberal democracies, especially of the parliamentarian kind, try to deny the importance of sovereignty by subjecting every decision to discussion and debate. Liberalism pits egalitarianism against sovereignty and rational consensus against finality of political decisions. As Schmitt once scoffed, when confronted with Christ or Barabbas, "the liberal answers with a motion to adjourn the meeting or set up an investigative committee." Nonetheless, even democracies inevitably face states of emergency that require the political equivalent of a leap of faith. (Think, in the American context, of Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court decision that resolved the 2000 presidential election.)

The political crises that rocked the Weimar Republic sent many Germans on the hunt for a scapegoat. Jews were targeted in part because they were so closely identified with Weimar, which facilitated their assimilation by abolishing official discrimination. Like many German intellectuals, Schmitt thought Jews would always be shaped by their experience of statelessness, and he supposed that this experience led them to put their hope in the egalitarian quest for rational consensus rather than the need for every nation to define itself through political decisions. He thus attributed Weimar's constitutional weaknesses to the Jews, although it should be emphasized, as Gross repeatedly points out, that Schmitt, for the most part, reserved his anti-Semitic speculations for private diaries and letters and remained friends with many Jewish colleagues, much to the chagrin of the more dedicated Nazis.

Liberal universalism not only obscures the need for sovereignty. It also denies the significance of what Schmitt called the friend-enemy distinction. Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you" (Matt. 26:11), meaning that we will never exhaust the importance of generosity, but for Schmitt, it is enemies that are always pervasive, which is why we can never do without political order. This is the most important and controversial aspect of Schmitt's thought. For Schmitt, all political concepts are essentially theological insofar as they require assumptions about human nature, and no theological belief has more political significance than original sin. The doctrine of original sin, translated into a political idiom, grounds social order in the recognition that people are dangerous. Simply put, we have politics because we have enemies. It follows that there is no worse corruption of politics than applying the injunction "love thy enemies," which Schmitt thought should be limited to the interpersonal realm, to relations between nation-states. The whole point of national sovereignty is to decide when conflict rises to the level of enmity and then to settle that enmity without regard to personal gains and losses.

For Schmitt, political liberalism begins with the denial of the friend-enemy distinction, just as theological liberalism begins with the denial of original sin. Political liberalism is mired in the false promise that universal peace can be obtained without confronting enemies, just as theological liberalism thinks that salvation, not sin, comes from within. Although Schmitt never fully understood American democracy, with its divided powers and strong executive branch, his critique of liberalism is as relevant as ever. Is democracy a fantasy of secular intellectuals who think words without power can translate the will of the people into collective action? Does democracy inevitably erode the sense of authority that is necessary for its own political success? Is liberalism another name for the modern tendency to forget the theological substance of politics?

The case for that suicidal love-thy-enemy multi-culturalism is made as well as it can be in John Gray's Two Faces of Liberalism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Closed Door Politics (Richard Nadler, 2.24.09, American Spectator)

In the face of such obvious losses, what's an immigration hawk to do? Writing for the Center for Immigration Reform, James Gimpel, professor of Politics at the University of Maryland, provides an answer: disclaim all responsibility. In Latino Voting in the 2008 Election, he uses the gigantic Edison-Mitofsky exit polls of 2004 and 2008 to make two principle points: first, that Latino voting patterns do not differ noticeably from national trends; and second, that the immigration issue played a negligible role in the election. He writes: "Latino voters just aren't that different from other voters in the national electorate. Their support for Republicans rises or falls when support for GOP candidates rises among the broader electorate."

There is a major problem with Professor Gimpel's assertion: the evidence he adduces in its defense disproves it. John McCain underperformed George W. Bush by 5 percent. The Edison-Mitofsky presidential data show McCain underperforming Bush among Latinos by 13 percent. The same data set shows the Republican share of the Latino congressional vote falling even more precipitously: from 44% in 2004 to 29% in 2008 -- a 15% drop.

When a major demographic group registers a shift of 30 votes-per-hundred cast over a single presidential cycle, it certainly renders itself "different from other voters." Such a result represents not a national trend, but a massacre.

Sure, the nativists are shrinking the Party, but they're making it purer....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


Closed Door Politics (Richard Nadler, 2.24.09, American Spectator)

In the face of such obvious losses, what's an immigration hawk to do? Writing for the Center for Immigration Reform, James Gimpel, professor of Politics at the University of Maryland, provides an answer: disclaim all responsibility. In Latino Voting in the 2008 Election, he uses the gigantic Edison-Mitofsky exit polls of 2004 and 2008 to make two principle points: first, that Latino voting patterns do not differ noticeably from national trends; and second, that the immigration issue played a negligible role in the election. He writes: "Latino voters just aren't that different from other voters in the national electorate. Their support for Republicans rises or falls when support for GOP candidates rises among the broader electorate."

There is a major problem with Professor Gimpel's assertion: the evidence he adduces in its defense disproves it. John McCain underperformed George W. Bush by 5 percent. The Edison-Mitofsky presidential data show McCain underperforming Bush among Latinos by 13 percent. The same data set shows the Republican share of the Latino congressional vote falling even more precipitously: from 44% in 2004 to 29% in 2008 -- a 15% drop.

When a major demographic group registers a shift of 30 votes-per-hundred cast over a single presidential cycle, it certainly renders itself "different from other voters." Such a result represents not a national trend, but a massacre.

Sure, the nativists are shrinking the Party, but they're making it purer....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 AM


Assessing Obama’s Job Approval at the One-Month Mark (Lydia Saad, 2/23/09, Gallup)

President Barack Obama remains highly popular among the U.S. public at the end of his first month in office. However, the 63% of Americans currently approving of his job performance is down slightly from his initial 68% rating in January. The percentage disapproving has doubled, from 12% to 24%.

Increased public disapproval of Obama over the past month is mainly offset by a decrease in the percentage of Americans saying they have no opinion of his job performance.

The latter can certainly be forgiven for not even knowing there's a new president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


Must-see tv -- G. K. Chesterton The Apostle of Common Sense -- comes to you iPod.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


Democratic Congressman v Gibbs (Jake Tapper, February 24, 2009, Political Punch)

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and something of a firebrand, took issue with comments made last week by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. [...]

In an interview with Congressional Quarterly, Oberstar said that LaHood "had the temerity to think...and what did he get? Slapped down. He's a good man. A decent man. Don't let him get slapped down by know-nothings."

Oberstar then suggested that Gibbs ought to stay out of the conversation on transportation policy.

"I've got news for you," Oberstar said, "transportation policy isn't going to be written in the press room of the White House."

...rare the WH flunky who can manage to alienate Cabinet and Congress in his first month on the job.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Made in U.S.' goes high-end: Despite downturn and dire outlook for factories, value of American-made goods still leads world. (Stephen Manning, 2/ Associated Press)

'The U.S. by far remains the world's leading manufacturer by value of goods produced. It hit a record $1.6 trillion in 2007 -- nearly double the $811 billion in 1987. For every $1 of value produced in China's factories, America generates $2.50.

So what's made in the USA these days?

The U.S. sold more than $200 billion worth of aircraft, missiles and space-related equipment in 2007. And $80 billion worth of autos and auto parts. Deere & Co. sold $16.5 billion worth of farming equipment last year, much of it to the rest of the world. Then there's energy products like gas turbines for power plants made by General Electric, computer chips from Intel and fighter jets from Lockheed Martin. Household names like GE, General Motors, IBM, Boeing, Hewlett-Packard are among the largest manufacturers by revenue.

Several trends have emerged over the decades:

• America makes things that other countries can't. Today, "Made in USA" is more likely to be stamped on heavy equipment or the circuits that go inside other products than TVs, toys, clothes and other items.

• U.S. companies have shifted toward high-end manufacturing as the production of low-value goods moves overseas. This has resulted in lower prices for shoppers and higher profits for companies.

Simple division of labor--they make the knick-knacks that any idiot can, we make real stuff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


REVIEW: of THE ENEMY ­WITHIN: 2,000 Years of ­Witch-­Hunting in the Western ­World By John Demos (A. J. Loftin, Wilson Quarterly)

If witches existed, John Demos would have found ­them. [...]

At last Demos ventures somewhat timidly into more recent centuries, to discuss the Chicago ­union-­organized Haymarket riots of 1886, the “Red Scare”–era of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and the ­day­care “abuse” cases of the last 30 years. [...]

Certainly Demos is entitled to stop writing about witchcraft. But this book, far from putting the matter to rest, simply invites more speculation. In treating modern instances, Demos repeatedly asks, “Was it a ­witch-­hunt?” bringing the intellectual scruples and caution of a scholar to bear on his answer. But a general reader doesn’t need to be convinced. Hell, ­yeah—­close enough.

That's accurate so long as you don't make the Lofton/Demos mistake of using "witch-hunt" as a pejorative. The general reader is presumably well aware that the history is dispositive as regards leaders at Haymarket Square being anarchists and socialists and the subsequent throwing of a bomb; the penetration of the arts and government by agents of the USSR; and the comparative prevalence of sexual abusers in professions that provide access to children. But, even if not, so-called "scholars" are obligated to be so informed. When, instead, they choose to whitewash the subversives and pedophiles, we can only assume that they're doing likewise for the witches.

Especially revealing in this regard is that the "witch-hunts" they approve of -- to put down the militia movement after Oklahoma City or to bring pedophile clergy to justice -- are seldom if ever included in such studies. Of course, the problem is that once you concede that beneath the arguable excesses of each of these hunts there lurked genuine "witches" then you're somewhat constrained from throwing brick-bats at the ancestors who you want to look down upon as superstitious hysterics.

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February 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 PM


Cheap Hydrogen from Scraps: Turning organic waste into hydrogen now works without expensive platinum. (Nora Schultz, 2/23/09, MIT Technology Review)

It sounds almost too good to be true: add a few bugs to food scraps and waste water to generate clean hydrogen fuel. But over the past few years, researchers have been gradually working toward this promising scheme for producing hydrogen.

Now, with the help of an unassuming stainless-steel brush, microbial electrolysis cells (MECs) have taken another step forward. The steel brush can be used to replace the expensive platinum normally employed in the electrolysis cell's cathode, slashing costs by more than 80 percent.

Hydrogen is an appealing, environmentally friendly fuel because burning it creates only water as a waste product. MECs harness the electrons produced by certain bacteria as those bacteria feed on biodegradable material. The bacteria sit on an electrode--the anode--as they metabolize organic matter in an oxygen-devoid chamber. Not being able to react with oxygen, the electrons travel from the anode to the counter-electrode--the cathode--where they combine with protons to form hydrogen.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 PM


Simple elixir called a 'miracle liquid': Electrolyzed water cleans, degreases -- and treats athlete's foot. The solution is replacing toxic chemicals. (Marla Dickerson, February 23, 2009, LA Times)

It's a kitchen degreaser. It's a window cleaner. It kills athlete's foot. Oh, and you can drink it.

Sounds like the old "Saturday Night Live" gag for Shimmer, the faux floor polish plugged by Gilda Radner. But the elixir is real. It has been approved by U.S. regulators. And it's starting to replace the toxic chemicals Americans use at home and on the job.

The stuff is a simple mixture of table salt and tap water whose ions have been scrambled with an electric current. Researchers have dubbed it electrolyzed water -- hardly as catchy as Mr. Clean. But at the Sheraton Delfina in Santa Monica, some hotel workers are calling it el liquido milagroso -- the miracle liquid.

That's as good a name as any for a substance that scientists say is powerful enough to kill anthrax spores without harming people or the environment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 PM


Blue Dogs Bark (Christopher Hayes, March 2, 2009, The Nation)

The House of Representatives is a body that produces few stars, but Jim Cooper of Tennessee is a household name inside the Beltway. David Brooks has called him "one of the most thoughtful, cordial and well-prepared members of the House." He is viewed by the well-funded budget-hawk constituency as one of its most articulate advocates. Among his colleagues he has a reputation as a wonk and an intellectual--he even teaches a class at Vanderbilt University on health policy--and as the philosopher for the caucus of forty-nine conservative House Democrats known as the Blue Dogs. He gives off the slightly martyred air of someone who believes himself to be smarter than the people he works with.

In the past few weeks Cooper has emerged as the dissident-in-chief among House Democrats (a role he's been rehearsing since 1994, when his refusal to pull his "compromise" healthcare proposal helped kill the Clinton plan). Cooper was one of eleven Democrats--ten of them Blue Dogs--to vote against Obama's stimulus package. A few days after the vote, Cooper caused a stir when he suggested to a local radio station that Obama's aides had encouraged him to vote against their bill, a statement he had to walk back the next day.

When I spoke to Cooper the week after the vote, he defended it as counterintuitively pro-Obama, cast against "certain Congressional old habits and bad practices. A lot of our colleagues have not gotten the change message."

Exactly the line Republicans should take: they're just helping the President be true to the ideals he's articulated but which the old-time Democrats haven't adopted.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 PM


Iraqi PM, anti-U.S. group reach local alliance deal (Khalid al-Ansary, 2/21/09, Reuters)

Followers of anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are nearing a deal with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to form coalitions in Iraq's provinces following last month's election, officials said on Saturday. [...]

Hassan al-Sneid, a lawmaker from Maliki's Dawa Party, said the agreement was just about wrapped up between the Sadrists and the Dawa-led coalition, which trounced other Shi'ite groups in what was Iraq's most peaceful vote since the 2003 invasion.

The provincial alliances may be named "Public Service Front," he said.

The Muqtada factor re-emerges in Iraq (Sami Moubayed, 2/25/09, Asia Times)
Maliki and Muqtada had created what many called an "unspoken alliance" in 2006. Muqtada supported the newly elected prime minister, giving him legitimacy among grassroots Iraqi Shi'ites, while Maliki gave Muqtada protection from Iraqi officialdom, turning a blind eye to the activities of his Mahdi Army.

The relationship grew stronger when Muqtada's team took 30 of the 275 seats in the Iraqi parliament, and six seats in the Maliki cabinet, including powerful portfolios like Commerce, Health and Education.

In 2007 the alliance snapped when Muqtada walked out, objecting to Maliki's refusal to call for a timetable for US troop withdrawal. Maliki saw this as a blessing in disguise, since Muqtada's outrageous activities had become an embarrassment to the prime minister, especially before neighboring Arab states after the execution of Saddam. He accepted the resignations immediately, cracking down on the Sadrists and turning instead to foster a new alliance with the Kurds.

Maliki today seems as something of a hypocrite, having rallied last month on a platform that steered clear from religious slogans and "sounded" secular. He is now ready to ally himself with someone who wants to create an Iran-like theocracy in Baghdad, independent, however, of direct Iranian influence.

In 2007, Muqtada gave an interesting interview to La Republica, explaining his relationship with the prime minister: "Between myself and Abu Israa [what Maliki is called by friends] there has never been much feeling. I have always suspected that he was being maneuvered, and I have never trusted him. We have met only on a couple of occasions. At our last meeting he first told me: 'You are the country's backbone,' and then he confessed that he was 'obliged' to combat us. Obliged, you hear me?"

Muqtada was trying to say that while Maliki liked him, the feelings were never mutual. Perhaps that is true, and we can never know how many times the two men have actually met, but what is clear from 2006-2007 is that when they were allied, the Shi'ites were getting the upper hand in Iraqi politics, and greater security was being brought into Shi'ite neighborhoods. There was also not much need for strong bridges between the prime minister and either Talabani, or the now fractured PUK.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 PM


Memo to Iraq, from Colombia: How to go from being a conflict-ridden deathtrap to a sunny tourist haven. (Elizabeth Dickinson, February 2009, Foreign Policy)

Tourism in Iraq. It's an idea that sounds far-fetched -- even crazy -- to anyone who reads the newspaper. Conflict in Iraq was mentioned in more than 9,000 mainstream articles worldwide in 2008 -- hardly good press. Yes, violence has dropped off dramatically in recent months, but the 314 U.S. military and at least 9,000 mostly civilian Iraqi casualties during the same period strongly suggest that Iraq will remain on travel-warning lists for years to come.

Some 7,500 miles away from Baghdad, all of that sounds rather familiar. Just a few years ago, promoting tourism in turbulent Colombia looked like a lost cause. A guerrilla war pitting the Colombian government against leftist rebel groups had spread from the countryside to the cities during the last decade. Kidnappings were commonplace --motivated either by politics or ransom. Violence caused at least 3 million people to flee their homes. And fueling it all was a booming illicit coca industry that supplied demand in the United States and Europe. Tourism starting falling after 1980 -- shrinking by half to about 570,000 visitors by 2002.

Yet today, the view from the South American country has dramatically improved -- and not just for tourists. Bustling restaurants and bars are packed with visitors, locals, and good cuisine. The night lights of Bogotá's commercial district shine as bright as the sun that heats up the country's teeming beaches. And although pockets of violence do remain, the security situation in cities and national parks is comparable to that of most countries in the region. The economy churned out a robust growth rate of 7.5 percent in 2007 and 4 percent in 2008. The Ministry of Commerce, Tourism and Industry says it hopes to welcome 4 million annual visitors by 2010.

Iraq, take note. For weak and vulnerable economies, tourism is one of the quickest ways to bring in hard foreign currency.

Forget Colombia--which remained an ally throughout its troubles--how about the tourism trade in Vietnam?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:10 PM


Galileo put us in our place: The astronomer proved we're not the center of the universe -- now we need to start acting like it. (Jeffrey Bennett, February 8, 2009, LA Times)

The revolution was not his alone. The idea was actually an ancient one, and other scientists had embraced it along the way. But it took Galileo and the telescope he built to prove the truth to the masses: Earth is not the center of the universe. [...]

[T]he cosmic perspective also should teach us some humility, because the central lesson of Galileo's discoveries is that we humans are no more central to the universe than our planet or star.

Except that science has demonstrated Galileo to have been quite wrong. Mr. Bennet's argument -- that humans don't much matter -- is an evil built on a lie.

Was Einstein Wrong?: A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity: Entanglement, like many quantum effects, violates some of our deepest intuitions about the world. It may also undermine Einstein's special theory of relativity (David Z Albert and Rivka Galchen , 2/18/09, Scientific American)

Prior to the advent of quantum mechanics, and indeed back to the very beginnings of scientific investigations of nature, scholars believed that a complete description of the physical world could in principle be had by describing, one by one, each of the world's smallest and most elementary physical constituents. The full story of the world could be expressed as the sum of the constituents' stories.

Quantum mechanics violates this belief.

Real, measurable, physical features of collections of particles can, in a perfectly concrete way, exceed or elude or have nothing to do with the sum of the features of the individual particles. For example, according to quantum mechanics one can arrange a pair of particles so that they are precisely two feet apart and yet neither particle on its own has a definite position. Furthermore, the standard approach to understanding quantum physics, the so-called Copenhagen interpretation—proclaimed by the great Danish physicist Niels Bohr early last century and handed down from professor to student for generations—insists that it is not that we do not know the facts about the individual particles' exact locations; it is that there simply aren't any such facts. To ask after the position of a single particle would be as meaningless as, say, asking after the marital status of the number five. The problem is not epistemological (about what we know) but ontological (about what is).

Physicists say that particles related in this fashion are quantum mechanically entangled with one another. The entangled property need not be location: Two particles might spin in opposite ways, yet with neither one definitely spinning clockwise. Or exactly one of the particles might be excited, but neither is definitely the excited one. Entanglement may connect particles irrespective of where they are, what they are and what forces they may exert on one another—in principle, they could perfectly well be an electron and a neutron on opposite sides of the galaxy. Thus, entanglement makes for a kind of intimacy amid matter previously undreamt of.

Entanglement lies behind the new and exceedingly promising fields of quantum computation and quantum cryptography, which could provide the ability to solve certain problems that are beyond the practical range of an ordinary computer and the ability to communicate with guaranteed security from eavesdropping [see "Quantum Computing with Ions," by Christopher R. Monroe and David J. Wineland; Scientific American, August 2008].

But entanglement also appears to entail the deeply spooky and radically counterintuitive phenomenon called nonlocality—the possibility of physically affecting something without touching it or touching any series of entities reaching from here to there. Nonlocality implies that a fist in Des Moines can break a nose in Dallas without affecting any other physical thing (not a molecule of air, not an electron in a wire, not a twinkle of light) anywhere in the heartland.

The greatest worry about nonlocality, aside from its overwhelming intrinsic strangeness, has been that it intimates a profound threat to special relativity as we know it. In the past few years this old worry—finally allowed inside the house of serious thinking about physics—has become the centerpiece of debates that may finally dismantle, distort, reimagine, solidify or seed decay into the very foundations of physics. [...]

We believe that everything there is to say about the world can in principle be put into the form of a narrative, or story. Or, in more precise and technical terms: everything there is to say can be packed into an infinite set of propositions of the form "at t1 this is the exact physical condition of the world" and "at t2 that is the exact physical condition of the world," and so on. But the phenomenon of quantum-mechanical entanglement and the spacetime geometry of special relativity—taken together—imply that the physical history of the world is infinitely too rich for that.

The trouble is that special relativity tends to mix up space and time in a way that transforms quantum-mechanical entanglement among distinct physical systems into something along the lines of an entanglement among physical situations at different times—something that in a perfectly concrete way exceeds or eludes or has nothing to do with any sum of situations at distinct temporal instants.

That result, like most theoretical results in quantum mechanics, involves manipulating and analyzing a mathematical entity called a wave function, a concept Erwin Schrödinger introduced eight decades ago to define quantum states. It is from wave functions that physicists infer the possibility (indeed, the necessity) of entanglement, of particles having indefinite positions, and so forth. And it is the wave function that lies at the heart of puzzles about the nonlocal effects of quantum mechanics.

But what is it, exactly? Investigators of the foundations of physics are now vigorously debating that question. Is the wave function a concrete physical object, or is it something like a law of motion or an internal property of particles or a relation among spatial points? Or is it merely our current information about the particles? Or what?

Quantum-mechanical wave functions cannot be represented mathematically in anything smaller than a mind-bogglingly high-dimensional space called a configuration space. If, as some argue, wave functions need to be thought of as concrete physical objects, then we need to take seriously the idea that the world's history plays itself out not in the three-dimensional space of our everyday experience or the four-dimensional spacetime of special relativity but rather this gigantic and unfamiliar configuration space, out of which the illusion of three-dimensionality somehow emerges. Our three-dimensional idea of locality would need to be understood as emergent as well. The nonlocality of quantum physics might be our window into this deeper level of reality.

The status of special relativity, just more than a century after it was presented to the world, is suddenly a radically open and rapidly developing question. This situation has come about because physicists and philosophers have finally followed through on the loose ends of Einstein's long- neglected argument with quantum mechanics—an irony-laden further proof of Einstein's genius. The diminished guru may very well have been wrong just where we thought he was right and right just where we thought he was wrong. We may, in fact, see the universe through a glass not quite so darkly as has too long been insisted.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:59 PM


Dolan Seen as Genial Enforcer of Rome’s Doctrine (MICHAEL POWELL, 2/23/09, NY Times)

For a few deeply unpleasant days, the Rev. David Cooper found himself in the crosshairs of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

It was 2003, and the priest had opined to a reporter that women should be ordained. Faraway bishops rumbled about censure. Then he picked up the telephone and heard the baritone of Milwaukee’s archbishop, Timothy Michael Dolan. Father Cooper immediately offered to resign.

No, no, the archbishop replied, we just need to repair the damage. “He was very pastoral and caring,” Father Cooper recalled.

And how was it resolved? “Oh, I agreed to recant,” he said. “He effectively silenced me.”

Archbishop Dolan, who Pope Benedict XVI named on Monday to lead the Archdiocese of New York, is a genial enforcer of Rome’s ever more conservative writ, a Falstaffian fellow who talks of his love of the Brewers baseball team and Miller beer, and who takes obvious joy in donning his bishop’s robes and pounding his bishop’s staff as he tromps into church. [...]

In Milwaukee, he proved a prodigious fund-raiser, staving off the bankruptcy that seemed to beckon as the priest sexual abuse scandal, and earlier efforts at a cover-up, led to lawsuits. He closed a $3 million budget deficit last year, and started a fund-raising campaign that he says is more than halfway to its goal, with $57.5 million in pledges. He has combined shrinking parishes and reached out to young people over beers, and recruited new seminarians — the Milwaukee archdiocese expects to ordain six men this year, as opposed to a single ordination a few years ago.

He has vigorously courted the booming exurban white Catholic churches and the Hispanic congregations of the city’s south side. Such experiences could serve him well in New York, where the church also has grown more suburban and Latino.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


All the Leaves are Brown (Steven F. Hayward, Winter 2008, Claremont Review of Books)

"On what principle is it," wondered Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1830, "that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?" Environmentalism didn't exist in its current form in Macaulay's time, or he would easily have discerned its essential pessimism bordering at times on a loathing of humanity. A trip down the environment and earth sciences aisle of any larger bookstore is usually a tour of titles that cover the narrow range from dismay to despair.

On the surface this is not exceptional. Titles predicting decline, decay, and disaster are just as numerous in the real estate, economics, and social science shelves, though, ironically, not so much in the religion book racks, where one would expect to find apocalypticism well represented. This is an important distinction: unlike the eschatology of all major religions, the eco-apocalypse is utterly without hope of redemption for man or nature. The greens turn purple at the suggestion that most environmental conditions in rich nations are actually improving, and they bemoan the lack of "progress" toward the transformation of the human soul that is thought necessary for the planet's salvation. Yet some cracks are starting to appear in their dreary and repetitive story line. Although extreme green ideology won't go away any time soon—the political and legal institutions of the environmental movement are too well established—there are signs that the public and a few next-generation environmentalists are ready to say goodbye to all that. There are even some liberal authors with environmentalist sympathies who are turning against the environmental establishment. But it is necessary to claw our way through the deepening slough of green despondency to see this potential turning point.

More than 30 years ago political scientist Anthony Downs wrote in the Public Interest of a five-step "issue-attention cycle" through which public enthusiasm for an issue gradually diminishes as we come to recognize the high cost of drastic action, and that the nature of the problem was exaggerated or misconceived. The environment, he wrote, would have a longer cycle than most issues because of its diffuse nature, but it appears that the public is finally arriving at the late stages of Downs's cycle. Opinion surveys show that the public isn't jumping on the global warming bandwagon despite a multi-million dollar marketing campaign and full-scale media hysteria. More broadly there are signs that "green fatigue" is setting in. Magazine publishers recently reported that their special Earth Day "green" issues generated the lowest newsstand sales of all issues published in 2008. "Suddenly Being Green Is Not Cool Any More," read a London Times headline in August.

This has been building for a long time. Three years ago New York Times green-leaning columnist Nicholas Kristof lamented that the environmental movement was losing credibility because of its doomsaying monomania, with the result that "environmental alarms have been screeching for so long that, like car alarms, they are now just an irritating background noise." Environmental leaders did not take well to his wandering from the reservation. In response to the popular indifference to green alarms, conventional environmentalists have ratcheted up their level of vitriol against humanity and democratic institutions. One of the most popular books of 2007 among environmentalists was The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, which projects a "thought experiment" about what would occur if human beings were suddenly removed entirely from the planet. Answer: nature would reassert herself, and ultimately remove nearly all traces of human civilization within several millennia—a mere blink of an eye in the planetary timescale. Environmentalists cheered Weisman's vivid depiction of the resilience of nature, but what thrilled them was the scenario of a humanless earth. Weisman made sure to stroke his audience's self-loathing with plenty of boilerplate about resource exhaustion and overpopulation. The book rocketed up the best-seller list, the latest in a familiar genre stretching back at least to Fairfield Osborn's Our Plundered Planet in 1948, arguably the first neo-Malthusian doomsday tract of modern environmentalism. Time magazine named The World Without Us the number one non-fiction book of 2007.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:04 PM


Unmanned Vehicle Contributes to Counterpiracy Operations (Navy.mil, 1/30/2009)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) brings an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capability to Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, which enhances the counterpiracy task force's effectiveness. [...]

The unique attributes of a UAV – namely the ability to stay airborne for long periods and cover hundreds of square miles of ocean during the course of one mission, all the while sending imagery in real time back to Mahan and other assets in the task force – provide a significant tactical advantage.

"It can fly day or night in a covert or overt posture, making it much harder for pirates to hide" said Murphy.

"It is also important to note that the images and information obtained [by the UAV] at sea is shared with our coalition partners, thereby improving overall mission effectiveness and strengthening key partnerships between navies."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Dark Dark Dark (MAUREEN DOWD, 2/22/09, NY Times)

Mr. Obama’s egghead manner has failed to soothe a nation with the jits. Maybe he has been so intent on avoiding the stereotype of the Angry Black Man, as he wrote in his memoir, that it’s hard for him to connect with and articulate public anger about our diminishment.

Though he demonstrated in the campaign that he has a rare gift for inspiring the country with new belief in itself, Mr. Obama has not yet captured either the grit the moment requires or the fury it provokes. He has not explained in a compelling way why Americans who followed the rules need to sacrifice more to help those who flouted the rules.

That is why the CNBC reporter Rick Santelli struck a populist nerve with his screed about the unfairness of responsible homeowners picking up the tab for irresponsible homeowners — following the unfairness of taxpayers who are losing jobs, homes and savings propping up the exact same bankers and carmakers whose greed and myopia caused the economy to crash.

He spoke for those who want a pound of flesh. With the Wall Street bailout, Mr. Obama at least gave bankers a bit of the belt, and capped their pay. But homebuyers who wanted more than they could afford seem to be getting a free ride.

Yet Obama is oozing empathy compared with his attorney general, who last week called us “a nation of cowards” about race.

Eric Holder, who showed precious little bravery in standing up to Clinton on a pardon for the scoundrel Marc Rich, is wrong. We have just inaugurated a black president who installed a black attorney general.

Am I missing something, or is there a way to read the headline of this essay that isn't racially suggestive?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


Is Afghanistan Obama's Vietnam?: Foreign-policy advice from John F. Kennedy (JAMES G. BLIGHT, 2/27/09, The Chronicle Review)
Research in recently declassified documents and formerly secret presidential audiotapes — detailed in my book and documentary film, Vietnam if Kennedy Had Lived: Virtual JFK — demonstrates that John F. Kennedy would very likely not have taken the United States to war in Vietnam. Six deep crises (two each over Cuba and Vietnam, and one each over Laos and Berlin) were his inheritance from his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. His inaugural year, 1961, was in fact the presidential year from hell, as JFK would discover. By March, his advisers were requesting nuclear weapons to counter Soviet-backed rebels in Laos. He suffered humiliation over the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April and outraged his senior advisers, many of whom recommended that he send in the U.S. Marines to salvage the operation and overthrow the Castro government. Between August and October, his advisers recommended military action in Berlin, including the use of nuclear weapons if necessary, and the removal by force of the wall just then going up. And in November, he faced down all of his national-security advisers, who were recommending the Americanization of the conflict in Vietnam.

Kennedy said no to war each time. We now know, after extensive research over more than two decades, Kennedy was right to say no. We are now virtually certain that if Kennedy had chosen to escalate one or more of these crises to an American war, disaster would have followed. In each case, we now know, the adversaries of the United States and its allies were far more numerous, more heavily armed, and more committed to their causes than Kennedy's advisers believed at the time. The same is true for the epochal Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. If Kennedy had agreed to the attack and invasion of Cuba favored by most of his advisers, a nuclear catastrophe would almost certainly have followed. It is highly probable that an American invasion would have been met with devastating Soviet nuclear fire, with almost unthinkable consequences to follow.
The disaster that was JFK can best be traced to two decisions about regime change. The coup he staged in South Vietnam was a catastrophe from which neither its people nor our policy ever truly recovered. Meanwhile, his craven agreement to leave Castro in place left Cuba a gulag for forty wasted years. The lesson for President Obama is pretty simple--replace enemies, like Assad in Syria, help even imperfect allies, like Uribe in Colombia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Liberalism, Civil Society, and the Promsie of Compassionate Conservatism (Kenneth L. Grasso, 02/17/09, First Principles)

Over the past several decades American culture has been transformed by an intellectual system that may be called Enlightenment or philosophical liberalism. By Enlightenment liberalism, I do not mean liberalism as opposed to conservatism as these terms are used in our popular political discourse. Nor do I mean the broad political tradition supportive of the idea of constitutional government, limited in scope, subject to the rule of law, and responsible to the governed. Rather, by Enlightenment liberalism I mean a model of man and society that originated in the seventeenth century and which has come to dominate both modern political theory and contemporary American public argument.

To appreciate why Enlightenment liberalism has played so important a role in the erosion of civil society, it is necessary to understand its nature, to grasp the core commitments that make it a distinctive intellectual tradition. Perhaps liberalism’s most striking feature is its individualism. It insists, as R. Bruce Douglas and Gerald Mara have observed, that “politics is justifiable only by appeal to the well-being, rights or claims of individuals.” But this individualism must be seen within the context of liberalism’s further nominalistic and rationalistic metaphysical commitments; liberalism in the end is, as Roberto Unger has shown, not so much a theory of politics as “a metaphysical system.” And liberal metaphysics necessarily entails “the rejection of teleology,” the rejection of “the claim that there is a discoverable excellence or optimal condition . . . which characterizes human beings” as such—here, quoting Douglass and Mara again.

This vision of man has far-reaching implications for liberalism’s understanding of social and political life. To begin with, it causes liberalism to move inexorably in the direction of a progressively deeper, a progressively more radical, individualism. Liberalism, as Michael Walzer notes, is “a self-subverting doctrine” which “seems continually to undercut itself . . . and to produce in each generation renewed hopes for a more absolute freedom from history and society alike. Much of liberal political theory, from Locke to Rawls, is an effort to fix and stabilize the doctrine in order to end the endlessness of liberal liberation.” Indeed, the history of liberal thought is largely the story of the triumph of the will—the triumph of the subjective will of the individual over those elements in the political theories of earlier generations of liberal thinkers that had acted to restrain it. What results is a “sovereign self” unencumbered by any ends not of its own choosing and thus unable “to entertain the notion of relations as natural.” For liberalism, as Francis Canavan writes, “relations are external, accidental and adventitious, not the consequences of the natures of things.” All relations are essentially external, voluntary, and contractual. In other words, as Carl Schneider argues, all relations are market relations and human communities are only collections of “individuals united temporarily for their mutual convenience and armed with rights against each other.” [...]

Seen against this backdrop, it becomes clear that mere celebrations of the value of freedom and self-reliance, and arguments regarding deleterious consequences of particular state interventions, will not suffice to check the growth of the state. It is no accident that the night-watchman state of classical liberalism was succeeded by the welfare state of modern egalitarian individualism. As Tocqueville suggests and subsequent events have confirmed, individualism and statism are mutually reinforcing.

To halt the growth of the omnicompetent state—and to address the broader array of social disorders, and the deeper process of social decline of which it is a part—it will be necessary to repair the fabric of civil society. This, in turn, presupposes our escape from the constricted intellectual horizon in which Enlightenment liberalism has imprisoned our thinking. Both by installing an impoverished vision of social life at the heart of our political culture, and restricting our basic policy options to a choice between a libertarian and a statist individualism, the liberal model of man and society has been one of the major causes of the contemporary decline of civil society.

The revitalization of civil society will require the rejection of the corrosive individualism that informs both classical and egalitarian liberalism, and the truncated ontology of social life to which it leads, in favor of a richer vision of man and society. It will require the rejection of the false alternatives of libertarianism and statism in favor of a better understanding of the state’s role in the overall economy of social life and of its proper relation to the vast array of other social institutions which issue from man’s nature as a social being.

It thus requires the articulation of the type of authentically pluralist public philosophy sketched in broad outline here—a public philosophy that would enable our political thinking to escape the individual-state-market grid in which liberalism has imprisoned it. By helping to foster both a cultural environment more conducive to the flourishing of these groups and public policies designed to safeguard and nurture them, such a public philosophy would lay essential groundwork for the revitalization of the institutions and groups of civil society. Against this backdrop, it becomes possible to appreciate the promise of compassionate conservatism.

For at the heart of compassionate conservatism is an appreciation for the indispensable contribution of the institutions of civil society to human flourishing and of the ways in which the well-being of society as a whole depends upon their ongoing vitality. This appreciation has been accompanied by the recognition that the roots of many of our contemporary problems are found in the unraveling of the fabric of civil society over the course of the past several decades. Seeking to forge an alternative to both the night-watchman state of classical liberalism and the welfare state of egalitarian liberalism, compassionate conservatism has sought to articulate an understanding of the state’s role which neither ignores or absorbs the institutions of civil society, but instead looks with favor on them, respects their structure and rightful autonomy, and assists them in the fulfillment of their responsibilities. The promise of compassionate conservatism, in short, consists in its capacity to move our thinking beyond the narrow world of the individual-state-market grid, to project on to the American public scene the insights and concerns of the pluralist tradition. By doing so, it can help lay the groundwork for the type of authentically pluralist public philosophy we so badly need.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


Cause for Optimism Amid Gloom (Joseph Calhoun, 2/24/09, Real Clear Markets)

The housing market, which everyone believes must be healed before recovery can begin, is quietly healing itself. Home sales in California, the eye of the housing storm, are rising. Lower prices are attracting buyers at a rate 85% above last years pace. Indeed, even as the median price fell over 40%, the total dollar volume of sales in December was higher than the same month last year. Florida has seen existing home sales rise for four consecutive months, although the rise is more muted than California, up only 27% over last year in December. The government’s actions last week to limit foreclosures not only angers responsible homeowners, it slows the process of moving houses from those who can’t afford them to those who can.

The news of the credit markets’ death also seems to have been a bit premature. Those real estate sales in California and Florida weren’t all cash deals. While banks are certainly requiring more in the way of a downpayment and may actually call your employer to verify you are indeed gainfully employed, it is obvious that banks are lending. Contrary to news reports, banks are even extending financing for other consumer wants; consumer loans at commercial banks are still rising at a 10% rate. That doesn’t mean that lending as a whole is still rising; the securitization market is basically dead. As non-bank lending has withdrawn from the market, banks have stepped up to fill the void. The total volume of lending may not be where it was, but is that something that should be lamented by anyone other than the Wall Street firms who benefited from the easy profits in the boom years? I think not.

Leading economic indicators have risen two months in a row. Some have been quick to seize on the fact that the rising money supply is the biggest contributor to the rise. These pessimists assume that we are in a liquidity trap and that monetary policy has lost its effectiveness. If that is true then the rise in money supply means nothing and the LEI is rendered ineffective as an indicator, but based on the continued rise in bank lending, I remain unconvinced. Furthermore, in last month’s LEI report, five of the ten indicators were positive.

Productivity, which fell in the bad recession of 1981-82 and during the Great Depression, was up 3.2% in the fourth quarter. Incomes, adjusted for the recent deflation in the CPI, are rising. And while the Keynesians among us fret about the paradox of thrift, I find the rising savings rate comforting. Higher savings is exactly what we need to repair the damage done to our economy by excess consumption fueled by easy credit. And besides, retail sales were up in January.

Obviously, we are still in recession and there is more pain to come, but the gloomy mood that surrounds the Obama administration is either manufactured for some political purpose or completely unwarranted.

Ironically, that purpose could be to further the ends of rightwing budget hawks, The Deficit Hawks' Attack on Our Entitlements (Robert Kuttner, February 23, 2009, Washington Post)
With the enactment of a large economic stimulus package, fiscal conservatives are using the temporary deficit increase to attack a perennial target -- Social Security and Medicare. The private-equity investor Peter G. Peterson, who launched a billion-dollar foundation last year to warn that America faces $56.4 trillion in "unfunded liabilities," is a case in point. Supposedly, these costs will depress economic growth and crowd out other needed outlays, such as investments in the young. The remedy: big cuts in programs for the elderly.

The Peterson Foundation is joined by leading "blue dog" (anti-deficit) Democrats such as House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina and his counterpart in the Senate, Kent Conrad of North Dakota. The deficit hawks are promoting a "grand bargain" in which a bipartisan commission enacts spending caps on social insurance as the offset for current deficits.

President Obama's economic advisers devised today's White House fiscal responsibility summit to signal that the president takes the deficit seriously and to lay the groundwork for such a bipartisan deal. Originally, Peterson was slated to be a featured speaker.

Looting Social Security (William Greider, March 2, 2009, The Nation)
o understand the mechanics of this attempted swindle, you have to roll back twenty-five years, to the time the game of bait and switch began, under Ronald Reagan. The Gipper's great legislative victory in 1981--enacting massive tax cuts for corporations and upper-income ranks--launched the era of swollen federal budget deficits. But their economic impact was offset by the huge tax increase that Congress imposed on working people in 1983: the payroll tax rate supporting Social Security--the weekly FICA deduction--was raised substantially, supposedly to create a nest egg for when the baby boom generation reached retirement age. A blue-ribbon commission chaired by Alan Greenspan worked out the terms, then both parties signed on. Since there was no partisan fight, the press portrayed the massive tax increase as a noncontroversial "good government" reform.

Ever since, working Americans have paid higher taxes on their labor wages--12.4 percent, split between employees and employers. As a result, the Social Security system has accumulated a vast surplus--now around $2.5 trillion and growing. This is the money pot the establishment wants to grab, claiming the government can no longer afford to keep the promise it made to workers twenty-five years ago.

Actually, the government has already spent their money. Every year the Treasury has borrowed the surplus revenue collected by Social Security and spent the money on other purposes--whatever presidents and Congress decide, including more tax cuts for monied interests. The Social Security surplus thus makes the federal deficits seem smaller than they are--around $200 billion a year smaller. Each time the government dipped into the Social Security trust fund this way, it issued a legal obligation to pay back the money with interest whenever Social Security needed it to pay benefits.

That moment of reckoning is approaching. Uncle Sam owes these trillions to Social Security retirees and has to pay it back or look like just another deadbeat. That risk is the only "crisis" facing Social Security. It is the real reason powerful interests are so anxious to cut benefits. Social Security is not broke--not even close. It can sustain its obligations for roughly forty years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, even if nothing is changed. Even reports by the system's conservative trustees say it has no problem until 2041 (that report is signed by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the guy who bailed out the bankers). During the coming decade, however, the system will need to start drawing on its reserve surpluses to pay for benefits as boomers retire in greater numbers.

But if the government cuts the benefits first, it can push off repayment far into the future, and possibly forever.

But they'd better hurry before the recovery starts to take hold.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


Forget change: GOP eyes retro strategy (JEANNE CUMMINGS, 2/23/09, Politico)

[S]ome Republicans believe President Barack Obama’s one-two push on the economy and health care reform is setting the stage for a new round of significant gains, if not a total takeover.

“There are two models that Republicans are looking at,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

“One is 1990, [President George H.W.] Bush gets together with the Democrats at Andrews Air Force Base, raises taxes and loses the next election,” he explained. “The other is 1993, Democrats have a series of proposals to spend and tax. Republicans vote no and regain the House and Senate.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Endpaper: Readers can now alter books as they go along (Alex Clark, 20 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Turn to the pages of the US magazine Publishers Weekly and you will find a report detailing a speech made by one Bob Stein, the executive director of a think tank called the Institute for the Future of the Book.

The organisation takes as its starting point the observation that “the printed page is giving way to the networked screen”, and that, as a consequence, writers’ images of themselves as solitary beings who, having created their literary artefact, send it out into the world with no obligation to undertake further debate is fast becoming outmoded.

Rather, Stein’s speech suggests, writers and readers alike will become increasingly aware that the book as physical object has obscured the “social relations” that underlie it; and that new technology will expose, rather than engender from scratch, communities of interested parties who will, in a way that sounds rather nebulous, come together to create a “book”.

The key here appears to be the word “networked” rather than the word “screen”. In other words, it isn’t that we might read a novel or a work of non-fiction on an electronic device rather than a piece of paper that marks the change, it’s that we might instantly and easily be able to comment on it and, in certain cases, alter it – a development recognisable, of course, to keen followers of the blogs that appear on the websites of many newspapers and magazines.

The theory was immediately illustrated by the piece in Publishers Weekly itself, which drew the inference that Stein was highlighting a false hierarchy between writers and readers, one that would cease to exist once readers could intervene and easily offer textual comments.

Stein was quick to set the record straight by posting a set of clarifications online, in which he pointed out that he envisaged a hierarchy that would become flatter, rather than non-existent, and that he was merely attempting to describe developments as he saw them, rather than to promote a particular agenda.

The problem is, rather, that author debates with readers are at least as old as Don Quijote. Technology can facilitate the debate, it doesn't invent it. What's more, the writer is in many ways near the bottom of the literary hierarchy--his intentions paling into insignificance beside the readers' understanding of the work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Machiavelli, Leonardo & Borgia: A Fateful Collusion: What happened when a philosopher, an artist and a ruthless warrior – all giants of the Renaissance – met on campaign in northern Italy? (Paul Strathern, March 2009, History Today)

Leonardo’s tendency to leave works unfinished and to flit from one subject to another in his notebooks, his inability to order this work into separate topics, or execute any overall extensive plan, all these minor traits became exaggerated to almost pathological proportions after his work with Borgia. Despite Leonardo’s later attempts to order his voluminous notebooks, nothing whatsoever came of this project except a comparatively brief treatise on painting (which was probably put together by his faithful assistant Melzi). As a result, Leonardo’s scientific legacy – to say nothing of the groundbreaking anatomical investigations that took him so much effort and caused him so much trouble – would play no part whatsoever in the advancement of science.

All those ingenious devices, the working machines (from helicopters to submarines), the screws, the gears, the ‘hodometer’ (for the precise measuring of distances, invented for Borgia), all this came to nothing. In the event, the notebooks would be sold off after Leonardo’s death, sometimes a few separated sheets at a time, to rich collectors. These souvenir hunters had no conception of what Leonardo’s notebooks were about and regarded them merely as curiosities of genius. They could not even read the mirror-written Latin instructions beside the drawings, a simple code whose secretive crabbed script was not fully deciphered until well over a century later. The waste is inestimable. If Galileo (born less than half a century after Leonardo’s death) had been able to peruse Leonardo’s notebooks, entire new branches of science might have come into being, while others would have made significant advances, in some cases centuries before they in fact did so.

How did Borgia contribute to this psychological flaw in Leonardo? And why did Machiavelli make Borgia the exemplary hero of his notorious political treatise The Prince? Ironically, the reason for these two disparate effects is the same: Borgia’s duplicitous ruthlessness. A supreme example of this was witnessed by both Machiavelli and Leonardo on the occasion when Borgia charmed his treacherous commanders into meeting him for a reconciliation at the town of Sinigallia, assuring them that he could not fulfil his ambitions without them – then had them all murdered. Some were garrotted in his presence, others transported in cages and slaughtered later.

Machiavelli’s initial despatch to Florence describing these events indicates that he was almost out of his wits with terror. News of the betrayals spread fast and Sinigallia was in mayhem as Borgia’s troops went on the rampage, beyond the control of even their redoubtable commander. We can only imagine how this must have affected the sensitive mind of Leonardo, who was with Machiavelli on this occasion. The oblique, ever-secretive Leonardo makes no mention of this event in his notebooks. Such an omission is not unusual; he often simply shut out from his mind any upsetting reality he could not face. But this horrific event would have its effect nonetheless – almost at once it would accentuate what might be termed his ‘intellectual stutter’. The meticulous details of his observations would lose any semblance of overall fluency as the intensity of his mind darted from one idea to another. It was at this time that he attempted to explain this curious mental tic (to himself?) by writing beside a diagram in his notebook that he would not complete this project because of ‘the evil nature of man’.

The more resilient and realistic Machiavelli would eventually take a diametrically different attitude. Indeed, he even went so far as to embrace the ‘evil nature of man’. If a prince was to conquer a territory, rule it and continue to govern it amid the treacherous politics of Renaissance Italy, then Borgia’s ruthless lack of moral concern was the only way he could succeed. All this Machiavelli would later set down in The Prince, whose amorality would inspire indignant outrage across Europe and beyond.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


Poltava: The Battle that Changed the World: Three hundred years ago, Russia emerged as a major power after a clash of armies in the Ukraine. Peter the Great’s victory, Derek Wilson argues, had repercussions that last to this day. (Derek Wilson, March 2009, History Today)

This year marks the 300th anniversary of a battle fought in hilly terrain near the Ukrainian town of Poltava. In the history of warfare it does not rank as one of the outstanding examples of bravery, great generalship or brilliant tactics. The victors owed their success as much to fortune as to heroism. Daniel Defoe, on receiving the news in England, was scornful. He described the outcome as ‘an army of veterans beaten by a mob, a crowd, a mere militia; an army of the bravest fellows in the world, beaten by scoundrels’. Many of his contemporaries shared his surprise and dismay and assumed that this apparent triumph of an uncivilised eastern nation over the best fighting machine in Europe was but a flash in the pan. How wrong they were. The Battle of Poltava was one of the major turning points of modern history and we are still living with its consequences. Peter the Great’s victory over Charles XII on June 27th, 1709 signalled the end of Sweden’s long period of domination of the Baltic and, more significantly, the emergence of Russia as a major European power.

The two protagonists were remarkable men, very alike in their energy, determination and ruthlessness. Charles XII inherited the crown of Sweden in 1697 at the age of 15. He married the impetuosity of youth with the clear vision and ruthless determination of a more seasoned autocrat. He had received a strict military training and was determined to emulate the feats of his great predecessor Gustav II Vasa, known in Europe as Gustavus Adolphus (he reigned from 1611 to 1632). This Protestant hero of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) had established the greatness of Sweden. He was a military genius and he too had come to the throne while still in his teens (aged 17). Gustavus Adolphus had forced European monarchs to accept this ruler of a remote northern land as an equal and had established the basis of an empire which by 1697 embraced Sweden, Finland, Lapland, Karelia, Ingria, Estonia, Livonia, as well as Western Pomerania and the port of Wismar in the western Baltic and the bishoprics of Bremen and Verden, facing the North Sea. The Baltic had, in effect, become a Swedish lake and Charles’s navy was able, very largely, to control the commercial relations of Poland, the north German states and Russia with the outside world.

Peter I became sole ruler of Russia in 1696 at the age of 23 and lost no time in setting about a far-reaching programme of reform that transformed his country by opening it up to western influences. He understood well the importance of international trade and the potential wealth to be gained from the export of flax, hemp, pitch, furs, hides and timber. The problem was that Russia was virtually land-locked. Apart from Archangel on the White Sea, closed by ice for most of the year, the country had no access to the world’s shipping lanes. Peter needed a Baltic outlet. With the aid of military and naval experts hired in Holland, England, Scotland and Prussia he created and equipped a new-style army and built a Russian navy from scratch. He was determined to challenge Swedish supremacy. All he needed was the right moment and a credible cassus belli.

The accession of a minor to the Swedish throne seemed to present the ideal opportunity for issuing a challenge.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 AM


'iTunes university' better than the real thing (Ewen Callaway, 2/18/09, New Scientist)

Students have been handed another excuse to skip class from an unusual quarter. New psychological research suggests that university students who download a podcast lecture achieve substantially higher exam results than those who attend the lecture in person.

February 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:54 PM


Raise the price of gas to $4 – before the next oil crunch: A price floor would help wean America off oil. (Erica Etelson, February 23, 2009, CS Monitor)

It might not be pretty at first, but a price floor – a government-mandated minimum – on retail gas will buy us the time we need to wean us off the oil.

Oil's prognosis is grim for one reason: When prices are low, oil companies do not invest in new projects. That means we are draining global reserves without replacing spare capacity. From North Dakota to Kuwait, new projects that looked lucrative when every barrel fetched $147 got shelved when prices plunged. Many of these developments will resume when prices rebound but, because it takes years before oil from a new field reaches the market, it will be too late.

Cheap oil has been the engine driving US economic growth for decades; its evil twin is pricey oil and, given time, it will drive our economy over a cliff.

The effects of oil scarcity are by now well understood: soaring food prices, social unrest, geopolitical conflict – euphemisms for hunger, food riots, and war.

Last spring, hungry masses in Haiti, Bangladesh, Egypt, and other countries took to the streets, burning cars and looting stores over skyrocketing food prices. Consider it a preview of what's to come – abroad and here at home – if we do not leave oil before it leaves us.

...$4 isn't high enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 PM


New documents come to light about Margaret Thatcher (Andrew Pierce, 22 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Never before seen memos about an unknown Tory politician called Margaret Thatcher, which singled her out for prominence because she was "very pretty" and dressed attractively, have been unearthed in the BBC archive. [...]

Some of the newly released papers, to coincide with BBC2's programme Margaret about her fall from power in 1990, date back to 1957 before she was an MP. It includes one to the head of women's programmes on why the Tory candidate for Finchley should be on television.

It said: "Mrs Thatcher is 30ish though I suspect she could pose for much younger, very pretty, and dresses most attractively. Very feminine. As one would expect of a barrister she is clear, concise, assembles her thoughts well. Her main charm was that she does not look like a career woman."

She's all that and a bag of chips.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Al-Qaeda founder launches fierce attack on Osama bin Laden: One of al-Qaeda's founding leaders, Dr Fadl, has begun an ideological revolt against Osama bin Laden, blaming him for "every drop" of blood spilt in Afghanistan and Iraq. (David Blair, 20 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Twenty years ago, Dr Fadl became al-Qaeda's intellectual figurehead with a crucial book setting out the rationale for global jihad against the West.

Today, however, he believes the murder of innocent people is both contrary to Islam and a strategic error. "Every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers," writes Dr Fadl.

The terrorist attacks on September 11 were both immoral and counterproductive, he writes. "Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy's buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours?" asks Dr Fadl. "That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11."

He is equally unsparing about Muslims who move to the West and then take up terrorism. "If they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum," writes Dr Fadl, then it is "not honourable" to "betray them, through killing and destruction".

In particular, Dr Fadl focuses his attack on Zawahiri, a key figure in al-Qaeda's core leadership and a fellow Egyptian whom he has known for 40 years. Zawahiri is a "liar" who was paid by Sudan's intelligence service to organise terrorist attacks in Egypt in the 1990s, he writes.

Who, besides the Western Left, would disagree?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:27 PM


'Right to die' can become a 'duty to die' (Wesley Smith, 21 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Imagine that you have lung cancer. It has been in remission, but tests show the cancer has returned and is likely to be terminal. Still, there is some hope. Chemotherapy could extend your life, if not save it. You ask to begin treatment. But you soon receive more devastating news. A letter from the government informs you that the cost of chemotherapy is deemed an unjustified expense for the limited extra time it would provide. However, the government is not without compassion. You are informed that whenever you are ready, it will gladly pay for your assisted suicide.

Think that's an alarmist scenario to scare you away from supporting "death with dignity"? Wrong. That is exactly what happened last year to two cancer patients in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal.

Barbara Wagner had recurrent lung cancer and Randy Stroup had prostate cancer. Both were on Medicaid, the state's health insurance plan for the poor that, like some NHS services, is rationed. The state denied both treatment, but told them it would pay for their assisted suicide. "It dropped my chin to the floor," Stroup told the media. "[How could they] not pay for medication that would help my life, and yet offer to pay to end my life?" (Wagner eventually received free medication from the drug manufacturer. She has since died. The denial of chemotherapy to Stroup was reversed on appeal after his story hit the media.)

Despite Wagner and Stroup's cases, advocates continue to insist that Oregon proves assisted suicide can be legalised with no abuses. But the more one learns about the actual experience, the shakier such assurances become.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


Wealth does not always add up to happiness (Jay Hancock, 2/22/09, Baltimore Sun)

A growing body of research suggests that money, if not the root of evil, is not the fount of satisfaction, either. And many of our feelings about money and financial loss are flat-out irrational.

"There is more to life than just consumption," says Amitava K. Dutt, a professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame who is teaching a course called Consumption and Happiness. "Sometimes when we are forced to consume less, good things can happen, although it's pretty bitter medicine to take."

Three decades ago, researchers discovered that, on average, people in poor countries were pretty much as happy as people in wealthy countries so long as they had shelter, heat and food. Developed nations were richer in pocket than in spirit.

But within each country, richer people reported more satisfaction than poorer people no matter their absolute level of possessions. The key was status, having more stuff than one's neighbor, whether in goats or swimming pools. The unhappy had less than what their peers had or what advertisers suggested was adequate.

More recent investigation has found that the negative emotions that investors feel when losing money are more intense than their pleasure when gaining an equal amount.

Neither of which is rational. Your neighbor's lifestyle, no matter how luxurious, has zero material effect on you. If you weren't over the moon when the 401(k) went up $50,000, maybe you should not need therapy when it crashes by the same amount.

Last month, the New York Times illustrated the tendency to focus on relative wealth. Reporter Peg Tyre profiled a couple in Darien, Conn.

The husband lost a Wall Street job. The family economized by replacing a full-time nanny with an au pair and taking less-expensive vacations. They still resided in an upscale town, belonged to the country club, had paid off their mortgage, and had saved money for the children's college.

Even accounting for setbacks, they lived better than 99 percent of everybody who ever existed. Yet they were stressed and worried.

In the grand scheme, money is less important than other assets anyway, happiness experts say. In the long run, friendship, marriage, education, sex, group memberships, and exercise all promote happiness in ways that mere income and consumption cannot.

The more we learn about the costs of inequality the greater the challenge to the First Way Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:04 AM


Foreign workers could be barred from entering UK: Jacqui Smith's aim 'to put British workers first' reflects impact of economic downturn (Alan Travis, 2/22/09, guardian.co.uk)

New measures to bar tens of thousands of foreign workers from outside Europe coming to work in Britain as the recession bites deeper were outlined by the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, today.

The package includes possible moves to prevent the families of skilled migrants working in Britain and restricting skilled migrants to taking jobs only in occupations with shortages.

It represents a significant tightening of the new Australian-style points-based immigration system only four months after its introduction last November in the face of mounting "British jobs for British workers" protests and fears that the far-right British National Party, will win seats for the first time in June's European elections.

Depending on the native British work ethic is a sure way to put yourself in a depression.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


The Gatekeeper: Rahm Emanuel on the job. (Ryan Lizza, March 2, 2009, The New Yorker)

Unlike recent chiefs of staff from the Bush and Clinton eras, who tended to be relatively quiet inside players, Emanuel is a former congressional leader, a Democratic Party power, and one of the more colorful Beltway celebrities. He is a political John McEnroe, known for both his mercurial temperament and his tactical brilliance. In the same conversation, he can be wonkish and thoughtful, blunt and profane. (When Emanuel was a teen-ager, he lost half of his right middle finger, after cutting it on a meat slicer—an accident, Obama once joked, that “rendered him practically mute.”) And, like McEnroe, Emanuel seems to employ his volcanic moments for effect, intimidating opponents and referees alike but never quite losing himself in the midst of battle. “I’ve seen Rahm scream at a candidate for office one moment and then quickly send him a cheesecake,” Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic representative from Maryland, and a friend of Emanuel’s, told me.

Emanuel has long since learned to balance his outsized personality, which has made him a subject of intrigue in Washington, with a compulsion for order, which makes him an effective manager. As a child, he attended a Jewish day school in Chicago, where students received written evaluations, instead of A’s and B’s. “My first-grade teacher,” he told me, “said two things that were very interesting: ‘Rahm likes to clean up after cleanup time is over.’ ” He pointed to his desk. “I am fastidious about it. In fact, this is messy today.” The second point was about Emanuel’s “personality being larger than life.” In the first grade. [...]

The office of chief of staff was created by Dwight Eisenhower, who redesigned the working structure of the White House along the hierarchal staff system he had learned as supreme commander of Allied forces in the Second World War. His chief of staff—though he didn’t officially use the title, because Eisenhower worried that “politicians think it sounds too military”—was Sherman Adams, who accrued enormous influence, power, and enemies. Neither John F. Kennedy nor Lyndon Johnson had a chief of staff, and largely managed the White House themselves. Richard Nixon returned to Eisenhower’s system and delegated vast managerial authority to H. R. Haldeman, the Watergate conspirator whose ironfisted management of the White House abetted Nixon’s own self-destructive behavior in office. In reaction, both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter tried to operate without chiefs of staff, but both men reversed course when the flat management structure of their respective White Houses produced staff disarray. Since Carter, every President has acknowledged the need for a strong chief of staff.

Over the years, some clear patterns about what kind of person succeeds in the job have emerged. James Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University who has written extensively on the history of the office, cites four chiefs of staff as notable failures: Adams, Haldeman, Donald Regan, who was Ronald Reagan’s second chief of staff, and John Sununu, George H. W. Bush’s first chief of staff. “All of them got power-hungry, they alienated members of Congress, they alienated members of their own Administration, they had reputations for a lack of common civility, and they had hostile relations with the press. And each one of them resigned in disgrace and hurt their Presidents,” Pfiffner said. “Being able to be firm and tough without being obnoxious and overbearing is crucial.”

Emanuel’s début as chief of staff featured him on the Hill making deals with lawmakers—politely and with due deference, by all accounts—but a chief of staff’s primary job is to serve as the gatekeeper to the President, controlling the flow of information and people into the Oval Office. Constrict that flow too much and you deprive the President of opposing points of view; increase it too much and you drown him in extraneous detail and force him to arbitrate disputes better settled at a lower level. Emanuel saw both extremes in the Clinton White House. Clinton’s first chief of staff, Thomas (Mack) McLarty, a childhood friend from Arkansas, was known as Mack the Nice, and under his leadership the White House was chaotic. Leon Panetta, who is now Obama’s C.I.A. director and, like Emanuel, was a congressman, took over from McLarty. Arguably, he overcompensated for McLarty’s laxness, limiting access to the President so drastically that Clinton surreptitiously sought counsel outside the channels that Panetta controlled. “The President set up a parallel White House, led by Dick Morris, while Leon was chief of staff,” a former senior Clinton White House official told me. “If you clamp down too tight the principal says, ‘You’re not letting me have access to the people and the information I really want, so I’m just going to go build some other structure.’ ”

Obama’s managerial instincts tend toward a looser operation, with lots of staff and outside input. The fact that he will keep a BlackBerry to stay in touch with friends outside the West Wing fishbowl is one sign of this. (Emanuel grimaced when I mentioned his boss’s devotion to the device.) But early in his Senate career Obama also learned the perils of not having one strong manager in charge. When he arrived in Washington, in 2005, he told one of his senior aides, “My vision of this is having six smart people sitting around the table batting ideas around.” A month and a half later, tensions erupted between Obama’s Chicago staff and his Washington staff, making it difficult for them to agree on his schedule. Obama was frustrated that no single person was able to make decisions. The aide reminded him, “Don’t you remember: ‘six smart people sitting around the table’?” Obama replied, “Oh, that was six weeks ago. I’m not on that now.”

Emanuel’s task will be further complicated by what is a fairly top-heavy White House. David Axelrod, Obama’s longtime political strategist, Valerie Jarrett, a close friend and counsellor, and Pete Rouse, Obama’s Senate chief of staff, are “senior advisers,” a title that in the White House denotes a special place at the top of the hierarchy. Part of Emanuel’s job will be to stitch Obama’s old campaign hands together with powerful new figures on the policy side, such as Summers—“a dominating personality,” according to a senior White House official—and James L. Jones, a retired four-star general and Obama’s national-security adviser. In addition, Obama has created four new policy czars at the White House—for health care, energy, Native American affairs, and urban affairs—making the West Wing a more crowded place. Meanwhile, Vice-President Joseph Biden has been promised a high-level role in decision-making. Joshua Bolten, George W. Bush’s last chief of staff, told me that Emanuel has “the challenge of fitting a lot of large personalities and brains and portfolios into a relatively small space.”

Perhaps Emanuel’s greatest challenge, however, will be making the adjustment from being a prominent elected official to being a staffer. Bolten, who hosted Emanuel and eleven former chiefs of staff for breakfast at the White House in December, said, “One of the interesting bits of advice that emerged from the breakfast was that you probably shouldn’t be a political principal yourself. You need to put aside your own personality and profile and adopt one that serves your boss. I’m not saying you necessarily have to have a low profile, but it can’t really be your own independent profile. It’s got to be the profile your boss wants reflected, and it has to be a profile that does not compete with the rest of the Cabinet.”

As if it weren't bad enough that his personality is all wrong for the post, he matches the UR for lack of executive experience. It's not surprising they're off to such a bad start.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


Wariness in Pakistan (Shuja Nawaz, February 22, 2009, Boston Globe)

I recently received the following account from a young woman from the area:

"For months and months the military has been trying to quell the militants. Two days ago their failure was accepted when the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province went into talks with Mullah Sufi Mohammad and accepted some things. We don't yet know what those things are but the first promise is peace. Peace on what grounds? We don't know.

"Today the party of the Mullah announced that 'democracy' is un-Islamic. It is too late. We have lost the battle against the militants. We have seen day by day how government and army have [been] weakened, how they have finally been reduced to talk and to deal. Nobody is accountable for the thousands killed, for the closure of schools, for the beheadings of men and women. Nobody. Someone said to me the other day - 'Don't complain, because the one you complain to will be your enemy.'

"We no longer can turn [to anyone] here to complain. We now have to think about how to survive this. We now have to give up much of what many of us believe in - tolerance, peace, educated women, and freedom."

She believes the North-West Frontier Province is lost. And she questioned whether President Obama understands the extremists. "He seems to think that these people can be contained within their land, or [any] land. He thinks there is a meeting point, a dialogue possibility. Those who think that giving the militants their haven will contain them - well, the rest of the country and the world will see what this will lead to. This is not the end, it is only the beginning."

...it's helpful for them to establish the free-fire zone.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Labor's time has come, but trouble stirs within: With a labor-friendly administration in Washington, labor's long-sought legislative goals are finally in reach. But union divisions threaten to derail that agenda. (Evelyn Larrubia, February 22, 2009, LA Times)

As political institutions, labor unions are no strangers to controversy. But the current level of conflict is unusual, Ganz and others said, as is the public forum that it has been taking.

The leaders of Unite Here and representatives of its affiliates recently filed a series of lawsuits against each other, laced with complaints of fraud and theft, making public what had been an internal clash over power and organizing methods at the garment, hotel and laundry workers union.

The laundry and garment representatives, led by Unite Here General President Bruce Raynor, accuse hotel worker representatives of failing to increase membership and squandering the savings they brought into the union through a 2004 merger. Citing irreconcilable differences, Raynor wants a divorce.

"We tried to resolve it quietly," he said, "but we couldn't."

The hotel representatives, led by Unite Here's hospitality president, John Wilhelm, accuse their rivals of sabotaging democracy by conducting mass firings of union officials at locals in Detroit and Phoenix and by filing a lawsuit after the union's executive board voted against a breakup.

The dispute comes on the heels of last month's public skirmishes between the giant Service Employees International Union and its 150,000-member Oakland-based local, United Healthcare Workers-West. SEIU removed UHW leaders after they had refused to give up their home health aides to a new local.

The ousted officers, led by former UHW President Sal Rosselli, formed National Union of Healthcare Workers and began a massive campaign to court UHW members. More than a hundred SEIU staffers from around the country have descended on California to keep the UHW members and take over running the local. The fight made national news.

By at least one measure, the two fights are connected: SEIU President Andrew Stern has invited one or both sides of Unite Here to be absorbed into his 2-million-member international union.

"It's ugly," acknowledged Lowell Turner, a professor of comparative labor at Cornell University.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Obamicon.Me Turns Snapshots Into Stylized Obama Posters (Jason Fitzpatrick, Feb 21 2009, LifeHacker)

The Obamicon.Me webapp turns your uploaded images into stylized pictures, modeled after the the distinct four-color campaign posters used by President Obama.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:15 AM


A Quieter Approach to Spreading Democracy Abroad (PETER BAKER, 2/22/09, NY Times)

Four years after President George W. Bush declared it the mission of America to spread democracy with the goal of “ending tyranny in our world,” his successor’s team has not picked up the mantle. Since taking office, neither Mr. Obama nor his advisers have made much mention of democracy-building as a goal. While not directly repudiating Mr. Bush’s grand, even grandiose vision, Mr. Obama appears poised to return to a more traditional American policy of dealing with the world as it is rather than as it might be.

The shift has been met with relief in Washington and much of the world, which never grew comfortable with Mr. Bush’s missionary rhetoric, seeing it as alternately cynical or naïve. But it also underlines a sharp debate in Democratic circles about the future of Mr. Bush’s vision. Idealists, for lack of a better word, agree that democracy-building should be a core American value but pursued with more modesty, less volume and better understanding of the societies in question. The realists, on the other hand, are skeptical of assumptions that what works in America should necessarily be exported elsewhere, or that it should eclipse other American interests.

The essential tension for the Obama team is whether to let Mr. Bush’s strong association discredit the very idea of spreading democracy. [...]

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s National Security Council has not duplicated the high-profile democracy post Mr. Bush had. Instead, Mr. Obama’s top democracy adviser during the campaign, Michael McFaul, was given the Russia portfolio. Coincidentally, this comes as the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor is being relocated across the street from headquarters, although the assistant secretary in charge will remain on the executive floor. The move, instigated in the last days of the Bush administration, stems from renovation schedules, but proximity is power in government and advocates are worried.

No one has been nominated for that assistant secretary position yet. Many Democrats thought Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, would be a powerful choice, but he cannot take the job under Mr. Obama’s rules against lobbyists. Mr. Malinowski was registered as a lobbyist to advocate for victims of genocide, torture and oppression, rather than moneyed interests, but that has not earned him a waiver.

“As a Democrat, I am particularly troubled,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, a group that promotes democracy and liberty abroad. “To see democracy promotion as particularly Republican or Bush policy is to misunderstand our country’s foreign policy history.”

Too bad to let others suffer because you're immature and selfish, but they are the childish party.

Not that they can avoid our manifest destiny, Obama's War and the Risks Of Realism (Fred Hiatt, February 22, 2009, Washington Post)

But is Obama really contemplating a less ambitious mission? Pretty much everyone agrees that if you want to deny al-Qaeda a haven, you have to defeat or defuse the Taliban. That requires whittling away at the opium fields and narco-trafficking that fuel the insurgency. They won't diminish until farmers and traders have other, more legitimate opportunities. Such opportunities won't emerge unless there is a taming of the nation's virulent corruption. For that, you need to train police, encourage the rule of law, and build roads and other infrastructure. You need improved governance. Pretty soon, you are back to nation-building.

Without using that phrase, Central Command chief David Petraeus, the general who oversees the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan, acknowledged the breadth of the task in a recent talk at a conference in Munich. In addition to more intense combat efforts, he said, "a surge in civilian capacity is needed . . . to help our Afghan partners expand their capabilities in key governmental areas, to support basic economic development and to assist in the development of various important aspects of the rule of law, including initiatives to support the development of police and various judicial initiatives."

If you're engaged in nation-building, are there reasons not to say so? Well, yes, there might be. At a time of economic implosion, the nation can hardly afford, and Americans rightly will not support, highflying adventures overseas. Many are tired of what they saw as President George W. Bush's overreaching; that certainly applies to Democrats in Congress, and to plenty of Republicans, too, who only pretended to join in Bush's post-election conversion to an activist foreign policy. Allied leaders, many of whom fancy themselves above naive American pretensions to spread freedom to backward nations, welcome what they see as a return to reality.

But there are risks in such a public relations strategy, and not only that you may fool yourself into believing that the job is not so hard. The bedrock requirement for defeating the Taliban is the support of the Afghan people -- their continued belief, even as civilians get killed and war drags on, that our fight is their fight; that our enemy is their enemy; that foreign troops are helpmates, not occupiers. Is such support likelier if we acknowledge that we are hoping to help them achieve a better life -- or if we say we are roaming their country only to protect ourselves from another Sept. 11?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Pop Music’s Perpetual Old Man, Now 74, Is Back on the Road (NATE CHINEN, 2/21/09, NY Times)

[“If It Be Your Will”] was one of a handful of songs with philosophical overtones, befitting Mr. Cohen’s experience as a Zen Buddhist monk. The strongest in this vein was “Anthem,” which he prefaced with an allusion to troubled times; a joke about his medications (he mentioned a litany of name-brand antidepressants); and a quip about how he tried a course of religious study, but “cheerfulness kept breaking through.” Then came the song, and its chorus:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

Mr. Cohen sang these words with a kind of gracious generosity. Then he introduced everyone onstage, with practiced eloquence. And before dashing into the wings to end the first half he stood for a moment, hat in hand, awash in wild applause.

Yet another gem on The Box is the BBC 2 program with Guy Garvey (of Elbow) meditating on Mr. Cohen's Hallelujah.

-Leonard Cohen takes Manhattan, again (Emily Johnson, 2/20/09, National Post)

During the nearly three-hour show (with one intermission) he was uniformly gracious, doffing his hat to the audience after each song, and receiving a standing ovation for nearly every o`ne in return. Maybe it was just their appreciation of being there for Cohen's first concert in the U.S. since 1993, but it seemed that the audience, aware of his troubled relationship with the States in the past, was at particular pains to show him their true love.

He stands very slim and straight, in his dark suit and fedora, with the mien of a much younger man than his 74 years. Like a Buddhist monk, he seems to ride his bones lightly.

There has always been a tension between the depressive poet mining endless lyrical depths and simple song structures, and the singer and band leader, shuffling and stepping, crouching as he sings or looking over as his band mates play. Not completely resolved here, the styles took turns.

February 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:50 PM


President's Nominee for Trade Rep, a Lobbyist in 2008, to Take Advantage of Loophole in Anti-Lobbyist Regs (Jake Tapper, February 21, 2009, Political Punch)

As recently as last year, [Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas and President Obama's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative] was a lobbyist for investment bank Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., and President Obama has said no one can work in his administration on issues they lobbied on in the previous two years.

Given the vast array of issues the trade representative deals with, and the vast array of Merrill Lynch holdings, such a scenario seems potentially quite problematic.

But here's the quirk for Kirk: He was a lobbyist in Austin, Texas. Not in Washington, D.C.

And that allows Kirk to easily avoid the requirements of President Obama's'anti-lobbyist ethics rules, which apply only to federal lobbyists.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Venus Williams wins final in Dubai; speaks of Peer (AP, 2/21/09)

During the trophy presentation, Williams spoke about Shahar Peer, the Israeli player who was denied entry into the United Arab Emirates for the tournament because of what organizers called security concerns.

"I felt like I had to talk about her," Williams said. "I thought it was brave of her to come here and try and play despite knowing that it is not going to be easy for her. My dad grew up in an area where if you spoke too much, it was your life. So I felt I had a small opportunity to say something where everyone will listen." [...]

"I am not here to rock any boat or upset people, I am just here to do things that are right," Williams said. "And I think right things are already happening next week and right things will happen next year."

Israeli player Andy Ram was granted a visa Thursday for the upcoming men's tournament in Dubai. On Saturday, organizers said Ram would have the security needed to play.

"Obviously, Andy Ram got his visa, so I'll be happy to come and defend next year," Williams said. "If everyone is not given the equal opportunity to play, I'd rethink. But I love this tournament. They really care about the players."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


Thousands of Christians form 'virtual connection' to J'lem (ETGAR LEFKOVITS, 2/21/09, Jerusalem Post)

In an effort to connect with Israel both spiritually and physically, tens of thousands of Christians across the globe have watched live webcasts of Jerusalem holy sites on the Internet since the free service was launched several months ago, the head of a new Christian on-line broadcast provider said Friday.

More than 30,000 people have viewed the webcasts on www.ipraytv.com since its launch four months ago during the Feast of the Tabernacles/Succot, said Mike Peros, founder and CEO of IPrayTV.

The site, which rose to prominence after its live webcasts of Christmas in Bethlehem, has attracted Christians of various denominations as well as some believers of other faiths, although the majority of viewers were evangelical Christians, he said.

The service's launch, which was featured at this month's annual National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, came amid burgeoning relations between Israel and evangelical Christians around the world.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Bush Visits Dallas Hardware Store, Jokes About Applying for Job (FOXNews.com, February 21, 2009)

In one of his first outings in Dallas since leaving the White House, former President Bush made a surprise appearance at a hardware store Saturday and joked, "I'm looking for a job."

Bush was responding to an open letter to him from the store's manager inviting him to consider a position as a part-time greeter.

Kyle Walters, president and CEO of Elliot's Hardware, wrote in a letter published in The Dallas Morning News on Feb. 5 that the position of greeter would offer Bush several perks, including a flexible schedule to allow him to travel to Crawford, an opportunity for him to maintain his people skills, ample parking -- including space for his security detail -- and an employee discount for any projects Bush many have on the "Honey-Do" list.

Bush has not accepted the position, but he spent about an hour browsing the aisles and purchased batteries, flashlights and WD-40, the store said in a news release.

No duct tape?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:34 PM


Ann Arbor teenager pleads guilty in rabbit killing (Associated Press, February 21, 2009)

A 17-year-old from Ann Arbor has pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in the baseball bat beating death of his girlfriend's pet rabbit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:28 PM


Social Democrat support 'lowest since election': poll (The Local, 21 Feb 09)

The opposition Social Democrats are now at their lowest level of voter support since the 2006 general election, according to a new poll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:25 PM


Obama administration tries to kill e-mail case (PETE YOST, 2/21/09, Associated Press)

The Obama administration, siding with former President George W. Bush, is trying to kill a lawsuit that seeks to recover what could be millions of missing White House e-mails.

Two advocacy groups suing the Executive Office of the President say that large amounts of White House e-mail documenting Bush’s eight years in office may still be missing, and that the government must undertake an extensive recovery effort. They expressed disappointment that Obama’s Justice Department is continuing the Bush administration’s bid to get the lawsuits dismissed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


Obama Widens Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan (MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID E. SANGER, February 20, 2009 , NY Times)

The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.

The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:04 PM


Clinton's White House cat Socks dies (KASEY JONES, 2/21/09, Chicago Sun-Times)

Socks, the White House cat during the Clinton administration who waged war on Buddy the pup, has died. He was around 18.

Socks had lived with former President Bill Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie, in Hollywood, Md., since the Clintons left the White House in early 2001.

...the way they don't even pretend it was ever the Clinton's cat.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:56 AM


Barack Obama's great gift to Stephen Harper (National Post, February 21, 2009)

The clearest sign that Barack Obama’s election has changed Canada-U.S. relations came about halfway through the 45-minute Ottawa press conference conducted by Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday, when the PM delivered these lines:

“There is no such thing as a threat to the national security of the United States which does not represent a direct threat to this country,” said Mr. Harper. “We as Canadians have every incentive to be as co-operative and alarmed about the threats that exist to the North American continent in the modern age as do the [government of the] people of the United States.”

As Terence Corcoran observed in yesterday’sNational Post, Jean Chrétien would never have uttered such a sentiment, and Mr. Harper wouldn’t have dared either if he’d been standing beside George W. Bush rather than Mr. Obama. Many Canadians would have considered it a sign that relations were growing far too cozy, and demanded a show of distance from the White House. Yet there has been no outcry at Mr. Harper’s words, even on the CBC.

And therein lies Mr. Obama’s gift to us: The U.S. President, through his immense popularity on this side of the border, provides cover for Canada’s Conservatives to hold hands with Washington in plain view. Shared goals that would have been anathema under Mr. Bush are perfectly okay under President Obama.

Sad, but true, that it took W's departure for everyone to realize that they agree with him.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:53 AM


Ducking the disgrace of pay disparity shouldn't be tolerated (Matt McCarten, 2/22/09, NZ Herald)

John Key has made the traditional right wing look almost mainstream since he became Prime Minister. It has been completely disorienting for the left and many must be wondering if the left-right political paradigm is somewhat outdated.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:17 AM

I, W:

Obama tells Treasury to begin cutting taxes (Ross Colvin, Feb 21, 2009, Reuters)

President Barack Obama ordered the U.S. Treasury on Saturday to implement tax cuts for 95 percent of Americans, fulfilling a campaign pledge he hopes will help jolt the economy out of recession.

The only promise he'll keep is to follow in the footsteps of Reagan and W.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:13 AM


Clinton: Chinese 'human rights can't interfere' with other crises (CNN, 2/21/08)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broached the issue of human rights with Chinese leaders Saturday, but emphasized that the world economic and other crises are more pressing and immediate priorities.

"Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises," Clinton said in talks with China's foreign minister.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:06 AM


Who’ll Stop the Pain? (PAUL KRUGMAN, 2/19/09, NY Times)

So will our slump go on forever? No. In fact, the seeds of eventual recovery are already being planted.

Consider housing starts, which have fallen to their lowest level in 50 years. That’s bad news for the near term. It means that spending on construction will fall even more. But it also means that the supply of houses is lagging behind population growth, which will eventually prompt a housing revival.

The pain will be stopped when the 8 million employed illegal immigrants can be legal participants in the housing market and that amnesty brings millions more in their wake.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:22 AM


Two '80s Film Flashbacks: Sonny Rollins and Al Green Documentaries, New on DVD (WILL FRIEDWALD, 2/21/09, WSJ)

[T]hese two films, newly released on DVD by Acorn Media, hold up well as vital profiles of their subjects at turning points in their lives, each combining a concert film with a journalistic backstory. They also remind us how much the genre has changed in the past two decades, a period of ever-shortening attention spans. When Mr. Mugge made these documentaries (both of which exceed 1½ hours in length, with not a minute wasted), it didn't seem like too much to ask an audience to watch a man play a sax for 10 minutes straight.

"Saxophone Colossus," which takes its title from Mr. Rollins's celebrated 1956 album, begins with the musician talking about how he prepares for a performance; although it isn't exactly through "meditating," he does drop that word, and both of Mr. Mugge's films are extended meditations on one man's contributions to music.

The filmmaker and his camera crew capture Mr. Rollins in performance at two events. At the first, he and the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra play the "Concerto for Tenor Saxophone and Orchestra," Mr. Rollins's collaboration with the Finnish arranger-composer-conductor Heikki Saramanto. In the accompanying commentary, the director explains that he thought the work might become a jazz classic on the level of John Coltrane's suite "A Love Supreme." Instead, the concerto -- though it's a fascinating piece, which includes one movement that sounds inspired by Aaron Copland and another by Caribbean music -- sank into obscurity. It has never been issued on CD.

The other concert included in "Saxophone Colossus" is an August 1986 date in a rock quarry converted into a performance space. Mr. Mugge's intention was to show the high level at which Mr. Rollins performs even at a bread-and-butter gig with his regular working band (including trombonist Clifton Anderson and bassist Bob Cranshaw, who are still with him today).

Less than a half hour in, Mr. Rollins plays a short, unaccompanied medley of several themes, including "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra," and then jumps off the stage. Apparently, he was frustrated by the sound of his tenor sax -- which had changed since it was relacquered. He was intending to head into the outdoor audience, and to play among them like a strolling musician. He hits the ground with such force that his heel bone snaps, and he lies down on the stone, flat on his back. Then, still horizontal, he begins to play "Autumn Nocturne," with neither the audience nor the band realizing that a bone is actually broken in his foot. In the days before tiny video cameras and cellphone photography, this was an extraordinary slice of reality to capture on film.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Thomas Sowell and a Conflict of Visions (Uncommon Knowledge, Filmed on October 21, 2008)

Sowell describes the critical differences between interests and visions. Interests, he says, are articulated by people who know what their interests are and what they want to do about them. Visions, however, are the implicit assumptions by which people operate. In politics, visions are either “constrained” or “unconstrained.” A closer look at the statements of both McCain and Obama reveals which “vision” motivates their policy positions, particularly as they pertain to the war, the law, and economics. (37:38)

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Robert George launches website to test pro-life argument for Obama (CNA, 2/13/09)

“In the run-up to the presidential election of November 2008, a small number of outspoken Catholic and Evangelical intellectuals and activists were pushing the idea that it was legitimate to vote for Barack Obama and other pro-abortion liberal candidates, not despite the likely impact of their policies on abortion, but because of the likely impact of their policies on abortion.”

Professor George summed up their reasoning as ignoring the anti-life voting record of the candidates and voting for them because of their economic policies, which would be “so enlightened” that they would reduce poverty, the main cause of abortion, according to these scholars.

“Paradoxically,” said George, “their argument was that voting for the explicitly so called pro-choice candidates was the pro-life thing to do.”

Saying that this argument struck him as “not only as paradoxical but as foolish,” the professor told CNA that he resolved to create a website after the election to track the decisions of the Obama Administration on the issues of “the sanctity of human life and the defense of the institution of marriage.”

The resulting website, Moralaccountability.com, is dedicated to holding accountable “everyone in the debate: those politicians who declared themselves to be opposed to abortion but in favor of its legality and public funding and the expansion of its availability …those intellectuals, Catholic and Evangelical, who in effect gave cover to politicians who were opposed to pro-life laws…and people like me, who were skeptical.”

“We are going to look at what actually happens when a liberal pro-abortion president and a liberal pro-abortion Congress are voted into office.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Q+A: David Brooks: The conservative New York Times columnist explains how evangelicals can repair their public image. (Sarah Pulliam, 2/20/2009, Christianity Today)

Do you see evangelicals as the core of the Republican Party or as weighing on the neck?

I see them as the core of the party. Just sheer numbers, politically, the party would be dead without evangelical voters, or without a lot of evangelical voters. But even more seriously, spiritually, … the moral core of the party is provided by social conservatives. Without that core, it would just be a party of tax cuts, and that wouldn't be a very inspiring party. I think social conservatives will always be the core of the Republican Party. [...]

How does religion make a difference in the Republican Party, as opposed to just promoting conservative values?

Religion connects you to a set of moral principles that are more than just conserving the past or the free market. Americans like the free market, they like capitalism, but it's not that inspiring. To really inspire people and inspire young people, you've got have a more serious moral mission. So I think social conservatives at their best provide that. As long as it's not a social conservatism that is about how sinful everybody else is.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


North Korea Accuses U.S. Of War-Mongering (Javno, 2/21/09)

"If the U.S. war-thirsty forces are allowed to continue frantically stepping up the moves for another Korean war ... the situation on the Korean Peninsula will reach an unpredictable phase and the U.S. will be held wholly accountable for the ensuing consequences," the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.

Clinton on Friday called the North a "tyranny" and demanded it stop insulting the leaders in the South if it wanted a normal relationship with Washington.

February 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:38 PM


Campaign Pledges Collide With New Fiscal Reality (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 2/20/09, WSJ)

Mr. Obama spent Thursday reassuring Canadians that his campaign talk of reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement would not actually impede free trade. His budget writers are struggling to square promises of rolling back George W. Bush's tax cuts with combating the recession. One campaign applause line -- about ending tax quirks that he said encourage U.S. corporations to move jobs overseas -- is facing a wall of opposition from companies pleading for relief in a global downturn. [...]

In Mr. Obama's budget blueprint, set for release Thursday, he is almost certain to wait until 2011 to allow tax rates to go up on families earning at least $250,000, according to congressional aides and lobbyists discussing budget matters with the administration. That decision would come despite the urgings of prominent allies, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who say an immediate rollback of some Bush tax cuts would show resolve on a deficit heading toward $2 trillion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 PM


Obama backs Bush on terror prisoners (JOSH GERSTEIN, 2/20/09, Politico)

The Justice Department told a federal court Friday that it shouldn’t consider legal challenges filed by prisoners being held in Afghanistan by the U.S. military — another example of the Obama administration hewing to one of President Bush’s war-on-terror stances.

In a short legal filing, Justice Department lawyers said they planned to maintain the Bush administration’s claim that the roughly 600 prisoners held in Afghaninstan have no right to contest their detention in the courts. “The Government adheres to its previously articulated position,” the attorneys said.

...if the UR had just asked W to be his WoT Czar?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 PM


Review Finds Detainees' Treatment Legal: Pentagon Report on Guantanamo Urges More Interaction for Some, Official Says (Peter Finn and Del Quentin Wilber, February 21, 2009,
Washington Post)

A Pentagon review of conditions in the Guantanamo Bay military prison has concluded that the treatment of detainees meets the requirements of the Geneva Conventions but that prisoners in the highest-security camps should be allowed more religious and social interaction, according to a government official who has read the 85-page document.

The report, which was ordered by President Obama, was prepared by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the vice chief of naval operations, and has been delivered to the White House. Obama requested the review as part of an executive order on the planned closure of the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, on the southeastern tip of Cuba. [...]

Defense lawyers for the detainees have complained bitterly about the isolation of some prisoners. They allege that over several years, it has led to mental problems for some detainees. The lawyers also have criticized the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike. There are about 40 prisoners on hunger strike, according to Pentagon officials.

Walsh concluded that force-feeding, which involves strapping prisoners to specialized chairs and forcing tubes down one nostril and into their stomachs, is in compliance with the Geneva Conventions' mandate that the lives of prisoners be preserved, according to the government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the report publicly. [...]

Walsh's report was a broad endorsement of the Pentagon's management of the prisoners at Guantanamo...

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


Royal christening for UK's newest steam engine (AP, 2/20/09)

The first new mainline steam locomotive to be built in Britain for nearly 50 years was christened Thursday by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

Steam and coal smoke swirled around the royals at the railway station in York, 190 miles (300 kilometers) north of London, where Charles formally named the engine Tornado in honor of the crews of Britain's Tornado fighter jets in the first Gulf War.

Britain — home of the world's first working railway steam locomotive — has long been a train-loving nation, and that was evident among the swarm of admirers at Thursday's ceremony.

No people which loves trains is beyond salvation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM

THE POOR TWERPS ARE SO YOUNG.... (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Hundreds Gather to Support N.Y.U. Protest (COLIN MOYNIHAN, 2/21/09, NY Times)

Hundreds of people gathered outside the New York University student center early Friday in support of protesters who had been barricaded in the building’s cafeteria for more than 24 hours and who had ignored the university’s 1 a.m. deadline to end the demonstration. [...]

The students vowed to continue the occupation of the cafeteria until they were able to present a list of demands to school administrators. The demands included thorough annual reporting of the university’s operating budget, expenditures and endowment. They also want the university to provide 13 scholarships a year to students from the Gaza Strip and to give surplus supplies to the Islamic University of Gaza.

The students also called on the school to allow graduate teaching assistants to unionize and to freeze tuition.

On Thursday, a university spokesman said the two sides had been unable to arrange a meeting. John Beckman, the spokesman, said, “Regrettably, the students rejected our offer of dialogue, insisting on remaining in the room and setting a number of preconditions.”

...they don't realize everyone was rooting for the National Guard at Kent State.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


GOP considers ex-Gov. Pataki for US Senate run (Michael Gormley, 2/19/09, Associated Press)

A person who spoke to George Pataki says national Republicans have approached the former New York governor about running for the Senate in 2010.

The person confirmed Tuesday's meeting in New York City between Pataki and Sen. John Cornyn (KOHR'-nihn), a Texas Republican who heads the party's national Senate campaign committee.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


The Persistence of Ideology: Grand ideas still drive history. (Theodore Dalrymple, Winter 2009, City Journal)

In 1960, the sociologist Daniel Bell published The End of Ideology, in which he argued that ideology—understood in the sense of a coherent, single-minded philosophical outlook or system of abstractions intended as much as a lever to change society as a description to explain it—was dead, at least in the West, and in the United States in particular. A combination of democracy and mass prosperity had “solved” the political question that had agitated humanity since the time of Plato. There were to be no more grand and transformative, if woefully erroneous, ideas; all that remained was public administration, with, at most, squabbles over small details of policy. The new version of the old saw, mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body, was a capitalist economy in a liberal democratic polity. That was the lesson of history.

In 1989, as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were reforming—indeed collapsing—so rapidly that it became clear that Communism could not long survive anywhere in Europe, Francis Fukuyama went one step beyond Bell and wrote an essay for The National Interest titled “The End of History?” In this soon-to-be-famous article, later expanded into a book, Fukuyama suggested that the end of ideology that Bell saw in the West was now global. By “the end of history,” he did not mean the end of events, of course; one team or another would continue to win the Super Bowl, and there might yet be wars between national rivals. But broadly, history had given its lesson and mankind had taken it. Henceforth, those who resisted the march of liberal democracy were like the Luddites, those English workers at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution who smashed machines, blaming them for destroying the independent livelihoods of workers at home.

At the end of his essay, however, Fukuyama—more concerned to understand the world than to change it, by contrast with Marx—implicitly raised the question of the role of ideology in the world’s moral economy. With no ideological struggles to occupy their minds, what will intellectuals have to do or think about? Virtually by definition, they like to address themselves to large and general questions, not small and particular ones: as Isaiah Berlin would say, by temperament, they are hedgehogs, who know one large thing, not foxes, who know many small things. Fukuyama admitted that he would miss ideology, if only as something to oppose. “I have ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its North Atlantic and Asian offshoots,” he wrote. “Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.”

As it turned out, of course, we did not have long (let alone centuries) to suffer existential boredom. Our dogmatic slumbers—to use Kant’s phrase for the philosophic state from which reading David Hume roused him—had barely begun when a group of young fanatics flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, thus demonstrating that pronouncements of the death of both ideology and history were somewhat premature. [...]

The most obvious example of an ideology that came into prominence—or better, prominently into our consciousness—after Communism’s fall was Islamism. Because of its emphasis on returning to Islamic purity, and its apparent—indeed noisy—rejection of modernity, most people failed to notice how modern a phenomenon Islamism was, not just in time but in spirit. This is evident from reading just one of Islamism’s foundational texts: Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones, first published in 1964. The imprint of Marxism-Leninism is deep upon it, especially the Leninist component.

Qutb starts with cultural criticism that some might find eerily prescient. “The leadership of mankind by Western man is now on the decline, not because Western culture has become poor materially or because its economic and military power has become weak,” he writes. “The period of the Western system has come to an end primarily because it is deprived of those life-giving values which enabled it to be the leader of mankind.” Since, according to Qutb, those “life-giving values” cannot come from the Eastern Bloc, he thinks (like Juan Domingo Perón, the Argentinean dictator, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister) that a Third Way must exist: which, he says, can only be Islam.

Just as in Marx only the proletariat bears the whole of humanity’s interests, so in Qutb only Muslims (true ones, that is) do. Everyone else is a factionalist. In Qutb’s conception, the state withers away under Islam, just as it does—according to Marx—under Communism, once the true form is established. In Marx, the withering away comes about because there are no sectional material interests left that require a state to enforce them; in Qutb, there is no sectional interest left once true Islam is established because everyone obeys God’s law without the need for interpretation and therefore for interpreters. And when all obey God’s law, no conflict can arise because the law is perfect; therefore there is no need for a state apparatus.

One finds a unity of theory and praxis in both Qutb’s Islamism and Marxism-Leninism. “Philosophy and revolution are inseparable,” said Raya Dunayevskaya, once Trotsky’s secretary and a prominent American Marxist (insofar as such can be said to have existed). And here is Qutb: “Thus these two—preaching and the movement—united, confront ‘the human situation’ with all the necessary methods. For the achievement of freedom of man on earth—of all mankind throughout the earth—it is necessary that these methods should work side by side.”

Like Lenin, Qutb thought that violence would be necessary against the ruling class (of bourgeois in Lenin’s case, unbelievers in Qutb’s): “Those who have usurped the authority of God and are oppressing God’s creatures are not going to give up their power merely through preaching.” Again like Lenin, Qutb believed that until human authority disappeared, the leader’s authority must be complete. Referring to “the Arab” of the Meccan period—an age whose moral qualities he wants to restore—Qutb says: “He was to be trained to follow the discipline of a community which is under the direction of a leader, and to refer to this leader in every matter and to obey his injunctions, even though they might be against his habit or taste.” Not much there with which Lenin could have disagreed. The British Stalinist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote of himself: “The Party had the first, or more precisely, the only real claim on our lives. . . . Whatever it had ordered, we would have obeyed.”

Qutb is as explicit as Lenin that his party should be a vanguard and not a mass party, for only a vanguard will prove sufficiently dedicated to bring about the revolution. And like Leninism, Qutb’s Islamism is dialectical:

[Islam] does not face practical problems with abstract theories, nor does it confront various stages with unchangeable means. Those who talk about Jihaad in Islam and quote Qur’anic verses do not take into account this aspect, nor do they understand the nature of the various stages through which the movement develops, or the relationship of the verses revealed at various occasions with each stage.

Compare this with Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder:

Right doctrinairism persisted in recognizing only the old forms, and became utterly bankrupt, for it did not notice the new content. Left doctrinairism persists in the unconditional repudiation of certain old forms, failing to see that the new content is forcing its way through all and sundry forms, that it is our duty as Communists to master all forms, to learn how, with the maximum rapidity, to supplement one form with another, to substitute one for another, and to adapt our tactics to any such change that does not come from our class or from our efforts.

There are many other parallels between Leninism and Qutb’s Islamism, among them the incompatibility of each with anything else, entailing a fight to the finish supposedly followed by permanent bliss for the whole of mankind; a tension between complete determinism (by history and by God, respectively) and the call to intense activism; and the view that only with the installation of their systems does Man become truly himself. For Qutb’s worldview, therefore, the term Islamo-Leninism would be a more accurate description than Islamofascism.

U.S. as Parent to Countries in Their Teens: a review of GREAT POWERS: America and the World After Bush By Thomas P. M. Barnett (DWIGHT GARNER, NY Times Book Review)
Thomas P. M. Barnett, a former professor at the United States Naval War College, had a surprise best seller in 2004 with “The Pentagon’s New Map.” The title was mildly deceptive; Mr. Barnett’s book was as much about globalization as about military deep-think.

Mr. Barnett’s “new map” split the world into two basic categories: a “functioning core” of nations that are plugged into the global economy, and a “nonintegrating gap” of countries — in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere — that are chaotic and dangerous because they are cut off from the world’s established markets and institutions.

Mr. Barnett’s sane idea: bring the world’s rowdy, hormonal, emotionally tortured teenage countries to the adult table, and teach them to prosper through capitalism, cooperation and openness. The enemy “is neither a religion (Islam) nor a place (the Middle East), but a condition — disconnectedness,” he explained. [...]

Mr. Barnett’s new book, “Great Powers: America and the World After Bush,” picks up where “The Pentagon’s New Map” left off. His central argument, once again, is the importance of enlightened globalization.

“We are modern globalization’s source code — its DNA,” he declares. We should “take everything we’ve learned along the way and sell it across the planet at suitably discounted prices.”

He is clearly fluent in Thomas L. Friedman’s “flat-world” ideas, as well as in Fareed Zakaria’s notion of the “rise of the rest” in his book “The Post-American World.” Mr. Barnett tinkers with these writers’ theories while adding his own military-wonk spin.

When it comes to globalization’s rough patches, particularly when America is confronting emerging countries or belligerent would-be superpowers, Mr. Barnett suggests that we need to realize that “we’re playing against ‘younger’ versions of ourselves in many instances.” He counsels a kind of parental Zen patience.

“It took us 89 years to free the slaves and 189 years to guarantee African-Americans the right to vote,” he writes. “Women waited 144 years before earning suffrage. If a mature, multiparty democracy was so darn easy, everybody would have one.”

Mr. Barnett has far the better argument here. While Islamicism is an ideology, because it comes after the End of History we recognize its futility and that it is just a minor coda to the Long War

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


-REVIEW ESSAY: Such, Such Was Eric Blair: a review of Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays by George Orwell, compiled and with an introduction by George Packer; All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays by George Orwell, compiled by George Packer, with an introduction by Keith Gessen; and Why I Write by George Orwell (Julian Barnes, 3/12/09, NY Review of Books)

It would surprise, and doubtless irritate, him to discover that since his death in 1950 he has moved implacably toward NT status. He is interpretable, malleable, ambassadorial, and patriotic. He denounced the Empire, which pleases the left; he denounced communism, which pleases the right. He warned us against the corrupting effect on politics and public life of the misuse of language, which pleases almost everyone. He said that "good prose is like a window pane," which pleases those who, despite living in the land of Shakespeare and Dickens, mistrust "fancy" writing. He distrusted anyone who was too "clever." (This is a key English suspicion, most famously voiced in 1961 when Lord Salisbury, a stalwart of the imperialist Tory right, denounced Iain Macleod, secretary of state for the colonies and member of the new reforming Tory left, as "too clever by half.")

Orwell used "sophisticated" and "intellectual" and "intelligentsia" as terms of dispraise, hated Bloomsbury, and not just expected but hoped that the sales of Uncle Tom's Cabin would outlast those of Virginia Woolf. He was scathing about social elites, finding the ruling class "stupid." In 1941 he declared that Britain was the most class-ridden country on earth, ruled by "the old and silly," "a family with the wrong members in control"; yet he also recognized that the ruling class was "morally fairly sound" and in time of war "ready enough to get themselves killed." He described the condition of the working class with sympathy and rage, thought them wiser than intellectuals, but didn't sentimentalize them; in their struggle they were as "blind and stupid" as a plant struggling toward the light.

Orwell is profoundly English in even more ways than these. He is deeply untheoretical and wary of general conclusions that do not come from specific experiences. He is a moralist and a puritan, one who, for all his populism and working-class sympathies, is squeamish about dirt, disgusted by corporal and fecal odors. He is caricatural of Jews to the point of anti-Semitism, and routinely homophobic, using "the pansy left" and "nancy poets" as if they were accepted sociological terms. He dislikes foreign food, and thinks the French know nothing about cooking; while the sight of a gazelle in Morocco makes him dream of mint sauce. He lays down stern rules about how to make and drink tea, and in a rare sentimental flight imagines the perfect pub.

He is uninterested in creature comforts, clothes, fashion, sport, frivolity of any kind, unless that frivolity—like seaside postcards or boys' magazines—leads to some broader social rumination. He likes trees and roses, and barely mentions sex. His preferred literary form, the essay, is, as George Packer observes, quintessentially English. He is a one-man, truth-telling awkward squad, and what, the English like to pretend, could be more English than that? Finally, when he rebranded himself, he took the Christian name of England's patron saint. There aren't too many Erics in the lists either of saints or of national treasures. The only Saint Eric is Swedish, and he wasn't even a proper, pope-made saint.

...with the recognition that Keep the Aspidistra Flying is his battle cry.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:33 AM


New Stage for Japan’s Rising Pitching Star (BRAD LEFTON, 2/20/09, NY Times)

“[Yu] Darvish has better control than Matsuzaka,” [Masato Yoshii, who pitched for the Mets in the late 1990s] said. “You’d be hard-pressed to find an example over the course of a season where he got knocked out on walks. He has exceptional control of every pitch known to man except a knuckleball.

“He throws a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a slider that breaks to the side and one that breaks down, a curveball, a changeup, a sinker and a forkball. I’d call his downward-breaking slider a power curve, and it’s devastating. It’s his secret weapon that’s really not a secret to anyone, but they’re all still powerless to do anything other than swing and miss at it. That’s his sure-fire way of finishing you off when he has to.”

The son of Farsad, an Iranian father, and Ikuyo, a Japanese mother, Darvish was born and raised in Osaka. He has never lived outside his birth country, but he has traveled to Iran and the United States, where his parents met while studying in Florida. He remembers his father pushing him toward soccer as a child, but he found something enchanting about the baseball games he saw on television. When he got his first Little League hit, he was hooked.

His lanky 6-foot-5-inch build and distinctive facial features would be enough to make him stand out anywhere, but in a homogenous land, a family name that sounded like none other gave him unwanted attention growing up.

“Kids used to say stuff all the time about how I was different,” Darvish said in Japanese, playing down the suggestion that wearing the national team uniform gave him extra satisfaction in light of such teasing. “It hasn’t been an issue since I was little.”

The Fighters selected Darvish in the first round of the 2004 draft as a high schooler. By then, he was known across the country for having pitched a no-hitter in the spring version of a prestigious national high school baseball tournament that March. He earned a bad-boy image later for being suspended from high school for smoking a cigarette, illegal for minors here, and posing nude for a magazine in 2007. His devilish laughter at the mention of those incidents is a hint that rebelliousness still lurks within him.

But lost in the commotion over his defiance off the field and his vast natural athleticism on it is an astounding aptitude for pitching mechanics that those who know him describe with the highest admiration.

His tentaclelike limbs gave way to an exaggerated, sweeping pitching motion when he first turned pro as he tried to wind his long arms and legs through the twists of his delivery. His motion, while inefficient from a physics standpoint, produced impressive baseball results: records of 5-5 with a 3.53 earned run average and 12-5 with a 2.89 E.R.A. in his first two seasons.

But today, he pitches with the more compact movements of a smaller player. That allows him to better maintain his balance, resulting in more force and greater control.

Who carefully coached him through this transformation? Darvish, it turns out, did it himself.

“I’m a big guy, right?” he said, extending his arms. “But I began to realize that by actually using my body like a big guy, I couldn’t control my pitches the way I wanted to. I could throw the ball hard, but at this level if you’re not accurate, it’s easy for batters to light you up with home runs. That’s when I started concentrating on making my movements more compact. It just seemed to me that smaller movements would produce the kind of pitching I desired.”

Such an understanding of mechanics might not be so stunning from a seasoned professional, but Darvish figured this out over the course of his second and third professional seasons, when he was 19 and 20 years old. He transformed into a more consistent pitcher who threw with greater force and better control in the 2007 season.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Great Myths of the Great Depression (Lawrence Reed, Mackinac Center for Public Policy)

By 1928, the Federal Reserve was raising interest rates and choking off the money supply. For example, its discount rate (the rate the Fed charges member banks for loans) was increased four times, from 3.5 percent to 6 percent, between January 1928 and August 1929. The central bank took further deflationary action by aggressively selling government securities for months after the stock market crashed. For the next three years, the money supply shrank by 30 percent. As prices then tumbled throughout the economy, the Fed’s higher interest rate policy boosted real (inflation-adjusted) rates dramatically.

The most comprehensive chronicle of the monetary policies of the period can be found in the classic work of Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman and his colleague Anna Schwartz, A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960. Friedman and Schwartz argue conclusively that the contraction of the nation’s money supply by one-third between August 1929 and March 1933 was an enormous drag on the economy and largely the result of seismic incompetence by the Fed. The death in October 1928 of Benjamin Strong, a powerful figure who had exerted great influence as head of the Fed’s New York district bank, left the Fed floundering without capable leadership — making bad policy even worse.

At first, only the "smart" money — the Bernard Baruchs and the Joseph Kennedys who watched things like money supply and other government policies — saw that the party was coming to an end. Baruch actually began selling stocks and buying bonds and gold as early as 1928; Kennedy did likewise, commenting, "only a fool holds out for the top dollar."

The masses of investors eventually sensed the change at the Fed and then the stampede began. In a special issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of the stock market collapse, U. S. News & World Report described it this way:

Actually the Great Crash was by no means a one-day affair, despite frequent references to Black Thursday, October 24, and the following week’s Black Tuesday. As early as September 5, stocks were weak in heavy trading, after having moved into new high ground two days earlier. Declines in early October were called a "desirable correction." The Wall Street Journal, predicting an autumn rally, noted that "some stocks rise, some fall."

Then, on October 3, stocks suffered their worst pummeling of the year. Margin calls went out; some traders grew apprehensive. But the next day, prices rose again and thereafter seesawed for a fortnight.

The real crunch began on Wednesday, October 23, with what one observer called "a Niagara of liquidation." Six million shares changed hands. The industrial average fell 21 points. "Tomorrow, the turn will come," brokers told one another. Prices, they said, had been carried to "unreasonably low" levels.

But the next day, Black Thursday, stocks were dumped in even heavier selling . . . the ticker fell behind more than 5 hours, and finally stopped grinding out quotations at 7:08 p.m.

At their peak, stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average were selling for 19 times earnings — somewhat high, but hardly what stock market analysts regard as a sign of inordinate speculation. The distortions in the economy promoted by the Fed’s monetary policy had set the country up for a recession, but other impositions to come would soon turn the recession into a full-scale disaster. As stocks took a beating, Congress was playing with fire: On the very morning of Black Thursday, the nation’s newspapers reported that the political forces for higher trade-damaging tariffs were making gains on Capitol Hill.

The stock market crash was only a reflection — not the direct cause — of the destructive government policies that would ultimately produce the Great Depression: The market rose and fell in almost direct synchronization with what the Fed and Congress were doing. And what they did in the 1930s ranks way up there in the annals of history’s greatest follies. [...]

Did Hoover really subscribe to a "hands-off-the-economy," free-market philosophy? His opponent in the 1932 election, Franklin Roosevelt, didn’t think so. During the campaign, Roosevelt blasted Hoover for spending and taxing too much, boosting the national debt, choking off trade, and putting millions on the dole. He accused the president of "reckless and extravagant" spending, of thinking "that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible," and of presiding over "the greatest spending administration in peacetime in all of history." Roosevelt’s running mate, John Nance Garner, charged that Hoover was "leading the country down the path of socialism." Contrary to the conventional view about Hoover, Roosevelt and Garner were absolutely right.

The crowning folly of the Hoover administration was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, passed in June 1930. It came on top of the Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922, which had already put American agriculture in a tailspin during the preceding decade. The most protectionist legislation in U. S. history, Smoot-Hawley virtually closed the borders to foreign goods and ignited a vicious international trade war. [...]

Smoot-Hawley by itself should lay to rest the myth that Hoover was a free market practitioner, but there is even more to the story of his administration’s interventionist mistakes. Within a month of the stock market crash, he convened conferences of business leaders for the purpose of jawboning them into keeping wages artificially high even though both profits and prices were falling. Consumer prices plunged almost 25 percent between 1929 and 1933 while nominal wages on average decreased only 15 percent — translating into a substantial increase in wages in real terms, a major component of the cost of doing business. As economist Richard Ebeling notes, "The ‘high-wage’ policy of the Hoover administration and the trade unions . . . succeeded only in pricing workers out of the labor market, generating an increasing circle of unemployment."

Hoover dramatically increased government spending for subsidy and relief schemes. In the space of one year alone, from 1930 to 1931, the federal government’s share of GNP soared from 16.4 percent to 21.5 percent. Hoover’s agricultural bureaucracy doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to wheat and cotton farmers even as the new tariffs wiped out their markets. His Reconstruction Finance Corporation ladled out billions more in business subsidies. Commenting decades later on Hoover’s administration, Rexford Guy Tugwell, one of the architects of Franklin Roosevelt’s policies of the 1930s, explained, "We didn’t admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started."

Though Hoover at first did lower taxes for the poorest of Americans, Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen in their sweeping A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror stress that he "offered no incentives to the wealthy to invest in new plants to stimulate hiring." He even taxed bank checks, "which accelerated the decline in the availability of money by penalizing people for writing checks."

In September 1931, with the money supply tumbling and the economy reeling from the impact of Smoot-Hawley, the Fed imposed the biggest hike in its discount rate in history. Bank deposits fell 15 percent within four months and sizable, deflationary declines in the nation’s money supply persisted through the first half of 1932.

Compounding the error of high tariffs, huge subsidies, and deflationary monetary policy, Congress then passed and Hoover signed the Revenue Act of 1932. The largest tax increase in peacetime history, it doubled the income tax. The top bracket actually more than doubled, soaring from 24 percent to 63 percent. Exemptions were lowered; the earned income credit was abolished; corporate and estate taxes were raised; new gift, gasoline, and auto taxes were imposed; and postal rates were sharply hiked.

Can any serious scholar observe the Hoover administration’s massive economic intervention and, with a straight face, pronounce the inevitably deleterious effects as the fault of free markets?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


We're Not OK, Jack (Quin Hillyer, 2.20.09, American Spectator)

[I]t wasn't just Kemp's successful advocacy of "supply-side" tax cuts that made him so important -- although conservatives today are so steeped in the tax-cut dogmas that they may not remember how revolutionary Kemp's ideas seemed at the time and how hard they were to promote. It was that Kemp was a constant, insistent, optimistic advocate for anything that he thought could spur economic growth and raise people out of poverty. Kemp shaped more successful policy from his post in the House, and later as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, than just about any legislator in American history.

First, the tax cuts: It was Kemp who sold Ronald Reagan on supply-side theory, way back in the late summer of 1976. It was Kemp who sold most Republican House members on supply-side economics between 1976 and 1980, overcoming the party's static, green-eyeshade proclivities. It was Kemp who inspired Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott, and Dan Lungren to form the "Conservative Opportunity Society" that pushed not just tax cuts but a whole host of economic growth and anti-poverty initiatives.

Significantly, Kemp worked across the aisle, forging unlikely alliances without ever giving up his conservative bona fides. Witness Kemp's work with District of Columbia delegate Walter Fauntroy to pass legislation in 1987 establishing tenant management and urban homesteading in public housing. Witness his numerous ideas for "empowerment zones" and his ceaseless push for welfare reform -- the latter of which did not grow directly from his prescriptions, but certainly was inspired by his long-stated goals.

And Kemp never failed to challenge conventional wisdom or narrow preconceptions. It was a joy, for instance, to hear him have the guts to stand up at a hyper-conservative Republican National Convention and extol America's "liberal, democratic values." He meant small "l" and small "d," of course, but listeners weaned only on modern political rhetoric probably wondered what planet sent Kemp to them. (Houston, we might have a problem.)

Those guts made the Right hate him just as the did Ronald Reagan (during his presidency) and George W. Bush and as they will the next compassionate conservative leader of the Party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Obama and Harper forge common front (Mitch Potter & Bruce Campion-Smith, 2/20/09, Toronto Star)

Barack Obama swept aside eight years of jangled Canadian nerves and cross-border tensions yesterday, singling out his northern neighbour as the first choice for a new American partnership with the world.

In a lightning visit designed to turn a fresh page in Canada-U.S. relations and tamp down trade worries, Obama made all the right sounds, including a declaration that "I love this country and think that we could not have a better friend and ally." [...]

The day was a triumph, too, for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who found his level with Obama in an expansive question-and-answer session with journalists, the only unscripted moment of a carefully scheduled day.

Despite big differences in philosophy and style, Obama and Harper presented a common front on issues as varied as the war in Afghanistan, reversing the recession and pushing back the hot-button issue of trade protectionism.

Consider that W not only effectively regime-changed Canada but even the party of the Left therein, now run by a Bush-Blair clone.

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February 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 PM


Divorced from Reality: “We’re from the Government, and We’re Here to End Your Marriage.” (Stephen Baskerville, January/February, 2009, Touchstone)

Some four decades ago, while few were paying attention, the Western world embarked on the boldest social experiment in its history. With no public discussion of the possible consequences, laws were enacted in virtually every jurisdiction that effectively ended marriage as a legal contract. Today it is not possible to form a binding agreement to create a family. The government can now, at the request of one spouse, simply dissolve a marriage over the objection of the other. Maggie Gallagher aptly titled her 1996 book The Abolition of Marriage.

This startling fact has been ignored by politicians, journalists, academics, and even family advocates. “Opposing gay marriage or gays in the military is for Republicans an easy, juicy, risk-free issue,” wrote Gallagher. “The message [is] that at all costs we should keep divorce off the political agenda.” No American politician of national stature has ever challenged involuntary divorce. “Democrats did not want to anger their large constituency among women who saw easy divorce as a hard-won freedom and prerogative,” observes Barbara Whitehead in The Divorce Culture. “Republicans did not want to alienate their upscale constituents or their libertarian wing, both of whom tended to favor easy divorce, nor did they want to call attention to the divorces among their own leadership.”

In his famous denunciation of single parenthood, Vice President Dan Quayle was careful to make clear, “I am not talking about a situation where there is a divorce.” The exception proves the rule. When Pope John Paul II criticized divorce in 2002, he was roundly attacked from the right as well as the left.

The full implications of the “no-fault” revolution have never been publicly debated. “The divorce laws . . . were reformed by unrepresentative groups with very particular agendas of their own and which were not in step with public opinion,” writes Melanie Phillips in The Sex-Change Society. “Public attitudes were gradually dragged along behind laws that were generally understood at the time to mean something very different from what they subsequently came to represent.”

Today’s disputes over marriage in fact have their origin in this one. Demands to redefine marriage to include homosexual couples are inconceivable apart from the redefinition of marriage already effected by heterosexuals through divorce. Though gays cite the very desire to marry as evidence that their lifestyle is not inherently promiscuous, activist Andrew Sullivan acknowledges that that desire has arisen only because of the promiscuity permitted in modern marriage. “The world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50 percent divorce rates preceded gay marriage,” he points out. “All homosexuals are saying . . . is that, under the current definition, there’s no reason to exclude us. If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead. But until you do, the exclusion of gays is . . . a denial of basic civil equality” (emphasis added). Gays do not want traditional monogamous marriage, only the version debased by divorce.

Contrary to common assumptions, divorce today seldom involves two people mutually deciding to part ways. According to Frank Furstenberg and Andrew Cherlin in Divided Families, 80 percent of divorces are unilateral, that is, over the objection of one spouse. Patricia Morgan of London’s Civitas think tank reports that in over half of divorces, there was no recollection of major conflict before the separation.

Under “no-fault,” or what some call “unilateral,” divorce—a legal regime that expunged all considerations of justice from the procedure—divorce becomes a sudden power grab by one spouse, assisted by an army of judicial hangers-on who reward belligerence and profit from the ensuing litigation: judges, lawyers, psychotherapists, counselors, mediators, custody evaluators, social workers, and more.

If marriage is not wholly a private affair, as today’s marriage advocates insist, involuntary divorce by its nature requires constant government supervision over family life. Far more than marriage, divorce mobilizes and expands government power. Marriage creates a private household, which may or may not necessitate signing some legal documents. Divorce dissolves a private household, usually against the wishes of one spouse. It inevitably involves state functionaries—including police and jails—to enforce the divorce and the post-marriage order.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 PM


Democrats self-destructing over ethics (LARRY MARGASAK, 2/19/09, AP)

The Obama administration and the new Congress are quickly handing over to Republicans the same "culture of corruption" issue that Democrats used so effectively against the GOP before coming to power.

Freshman Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., is only the latest embarrassment.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


Alien Census: Can We Estimate How Much Life Is Out There?: New study looks to tabulate the extent of intelligent extraterrestrial life (John Matson , 2/10/09, Scientific American)

One day in 1950, nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi posed a question to a few colleagues he was lunching with at Los Alamos National Laboratory that would become known as the Fermi Paradox: If the Milky Way is indeed teeming with alien civilizations, as many theories suggest, where are they? Shouldn't we see evidence of their existence? Nearly 60 years later, the question remains just as vexing. After all, decades of searching for extraterrestrial radio signals or evidence of alien civilizations have come up empty.

Nevertheless, search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) programs soldier on.

Here's the sublime thing: if they actually believed their own ideology, the best way to find other life is to just sit here and wait for them to find us. But they proceed from the anti-scientific assumption that we're the most advanced life form and it's up to us to find everyone else.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 PM


Colgate ROTC Re-emerges (Olivia Offner, 2/5/09, Maroon News)

A corner of the fourth floor of Lathrop Hall, which was partially vacated after the opening of the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center, now looks like a U.S. Army recruiting office. Posters and pamphlets advertise the training and financial incentives of the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. Colgate, like many other colleges and universities, disbanded its ROTC program during the Vietnam War era. Until this semester, Colgate students who wished to participate in ROTC had to commute to Syracuse University twice a week to participate in their Army ROTC program.

Three Colgate students, junior Stephen Kendrex, first-year Alan He and sophomore David Ko, currently participate in Army ROTC. Last semester, Major Eric Schaertl came to Colgate to meet with the cadets once a week to relieve their commuting time.

"We met everywhere," He said. "Mostly Huntington gym, the track outside when it was warm out and Sanford Field House. Major Schaertl even came to the Coop to meet a couple times."

Major Schaertl joined with members of the Colgate faculty and administration to help meet the students' need for a space on campus. The administration gave ROTC the space in Lathrop Hall for classes and meetings. Army First Sergeant Ken Alcorn, who has been with ROTC for six years, was tapped to lead the program. He has been in the Army for 24 years, serving tours in Germany and Korea, a combat tour in Desert Storm and a stint as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson. Alcorn was chosen for his expertise in building ROTC programs on college campuses; the program he started three years ago at Utica College has flourished under his leadership.

"The motivation and will to try and make this program happen between Colgate and the Army caught fire over Christmas break," Alcorn said. Alcorn will spend Thursdays at Colgate, Tuesdays at Syracuse University and the rest of the week at Utica College. In the future, depending on the success of the program, Alcorn envisions spending two days a week at Colgate. Two other cadets, one from SUNY Morrisville and one female cadet from Hamilton College, will participate in Colgate's program.

"What we're looking at to do here is take baby steps and grow," Alcorn said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 PM


Obama, in Canada, Warns Against Protectionism (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 2/19/09, WSJ)

President Barack Obama, in his first foreign trip, sought to reassure Canada that he had no intention of turning some of his campaign rhetoric on trade into actual barriers between the U.S. and its largest trading partner.

"Now is a time where we've got to be very careful about any signals of protectionism, because as the economy of the world contracts, I think there's going to be a strong impulse, on the part of constituencies in all countries, to see if they can engage in beggar-thy-neighbor policies," Mr. Obama said.

Much better to beggar the netroots.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 PM


Europe to America: We Surrender! (Eric Le Boucher, Feb. 19, 2009, Slate)

French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Click image to expand.French President Nicolas SarkozyWe've known all along that the first test of the European Union would be a recession. And now we have one—a great recession, perhaps even a depression. But the union isn't rising to the occasion. As the crisis unfolds, Europe is caught up in small-time squabbles. As unemployment grows, politicians do nothing but point fingers.

It's as if the European Union, in the middle of a war, had decided to lay down its arms. Helpless and divided, we rely on others—on the United States and China—to overcome the crisis. Each member country can think only of saving its own banks, its own auto industry; there's no comprehensive plan of action. We're patching up holes, waiting around for America to save the day with a substantive solution. Just like 1944.

Fortunately, only the Realists take Europe seriously and no one takes the Realists seriously.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:16 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:43 PM


NY voters prefer sales tax hike to more income tax (MICHAEL VIRTANEN, February 18, 2009, Associated Press)

If state taxes must be increased, most New York voters would rather see it happen at the checkout line instead of in their pay stubs, according to a new poll.

With the state facing a budget deficit estimated at $14.2 billion for the coming fiscal year, a Quinnipiac University poll found more popular support for cutting services than raising taxes, 51 percent to 34 percent. There wasn't any clear preference for where to trim the roughly $120 billion state budget.

"New Yorkers to Albany: Cut services before you raise taxes," said Mickey Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "If you have to raise taxes, the sales tax is the choice."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:41 PM


Democrats strike different tone on Katrina (BEN EVANS, 2/19/09, AP)

The economic stimulus signed by President Barack Obama will spread billions of dollars across the country to spruce up aging roads and bridges. But there's not a dime specifically dedicated to fixing leftover damage from Hurricane Katrina.

And there's no outrage about it. [...]

It's a significant change in tone from the Bush years, when any perceived slight of Katrina victims was met with charges that the Republican president who bungled the initial response to the disaster continued to callously ignore the Gulf's needs years later.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM


Obama Follows Some Of Bush’s Footsteps: Administration Invokes State Secrets Act (Helen Thomas, 2/19/09, Hearst)

The Bush administration’s position has been that the [Binyam Mohamed] case should be dismissed because even courtroom discussion of their treatment could threaten national security. When the case was heard earlier this month before a panel of Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judges sitting in San Francisco, the Obama administration made the same argument.

One judge asked the Justice Department lawyer if the change in administrations had any bearing on the case.

"No, your honor," came the reply.

According to The New York Times, "even the judges on the panel seemed surprised by the administration’s decision to go forward" with the same argument. That’s not "change," the theme of the Obama presidential election campaign. It’s more of the same.

You bet your dewlaps, baby.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:52 AM


The closet radical: The Spectator on David Cameron's policy platform (The Spectator, 18th February 2009)

There is growing evidence that, within his recycled trainers, the Conservative leader’s toes twitch with nervous energy: that he may be a closet radical. This week’s Tory green paper on local government did not satisfy the most ardent localists and Simon Jenkins was certainly right in Wednesday’s Guardian that when politicians use the word ‘localism’ we should ‘count the spoons’. The package of Tory proposals does not resolve the fundamental problem of local governance in this country, which is that our town halls are completely dependent upon central government: 75 per cent of the money spent locally comes from the Treasury, the most centralised system of local government finance in Europe other than Ireland’s.

Nonetheless, the ending of Whitehall capping powers and the introduction of local referendums to enable residents to overturn bad budgets would be a very desirable transference of financial control from the mandarin to the man in the street. The removal of disincentives to build houses, the devolution of planning power, the plans to plough the fruits of local businesses back into the community, the proposed statutory presumption enabling town halls to act in the best interests of their voters, even if no specific legislation supports their actions: all these measures, if matched by serious political will, would be significant steps towards the growth of a genuine localist culture.

The Spectator has pressed, and will continue to press, for more grammar schools. But the Conservatives’ plan to adopt the Swedish model of independent schools, enabling parents, voluntary groups and businesses to establish their own educational establishments funded by vouchers, is a truly radical blueprint which we support wholeheartedly. The Swedish experiment has shown how the liberalisation of public services can triumph where top-down, centralised bureaucracies and targets have failed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:05 AM


Google Earth Exposes Secret U.S. Drones at Pakistan Base in 2006 (FOXNews.com, February 19, 2009)

The U.S. was secretly flying unmanned drones from the Shamsi airbase in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan as early as 2006, according to an image of the base from Google Earth, the Times of London reported Thursday.

The image -- that is no longer on the site but which was obtained by The News, Pakistan's English language daily newspaper -- shows what appear to be three Predator drones outside a hangar at the end of the runway.

The Times also obtained a copy of the image, whose coordinates confirm that it is the Shamsi airfield, also known as Bandari, about 200 miles southwest of the Pakistani city of Quetta.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:01 AM


Counting the costs: President Obama stakes so much on a package unlikely to revive our economy (Philip I. Levy, February 19, 2009, Baltimore Sun)

Politically, President Barack Obama seems to have dashed many of his major thematic campaign promises in his very first foray into large-scale policymaking. The crafting and selling of the stimulus package haven't been transparent, innovative, calm or bipartisan. The rush to push money out quickly left no time to develop creative new approaches. The president's dire warnings of doom did little to soothe fears, particularly in those who had doubts about the stimulus package's efficacy. And while Mr. Obama was willing to exchange pleasantries with Republicans, those Republicans were largely excluded from the crafting of the bill and voted overwhelmingly against it. Even Mr. Obama's hand-picked "reasonable" Republican, Judd Gregg, found the process unpalatable and withdrew as commerce secretary nominee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


E.P.A. Expected to Regulate Carbon Dioxide (JOHN M. BRODER, 2/18/09, NY Times)

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials. [...]

If the environmental agency determines that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant to be regulated under the Clean Air Act, it would set off one of the most extensive regulatory rule makings in history. Ms. Jackson knows that she would be stepping into a minefield of Congressional and industry opposition and said that she was trying to devise a program that allayed these worries.

“We are poised to be specific on what we regulate and on what schedule,” Ms. Jackson said. “We don’t want people to spin that into a doomsday scenario.”

Even some who favor an aggressive approach to climate change said they were wary of the agency’s asserting exclusive authority over carbon emissions. They say that the Clean Air Act, now more than 40 years old, was not designed to regulate ubiquitous substances like carbon dioxide. Using the law, they say, would capture carbon emissions from new facilities, but not existing ones, blunting its impact. They also believe that a broader approach that addresses all sectors of the economy and that is fully debated in Congress would be better than a regulatory approach that could drag through the courts for years.

The finding and proposed regulations would be issued in sequence, with ample opportunity for public comment and not in a sudden burst of regulatory muscle-flexing, Ms. Jackson said. The regulations would work in concert with any legislation and not supplant it, she added.

“What we are likely to see is an interplay of authorities, some new, some existing,” she said.

That is not likely to assuage critics, including many Democrats from states dependent on coal-generated electricity and manufacturing jobs, where such regulation could significantly increase costs. Representative John D. Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who has long championed the interests of the auto industry, said that the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions by the E.P.A. would set off a “glorious mess” that would resonate throughout the economy.

Forcing the transition would have been better done via taxes than regulation, but that's one of the very few opportunities W missed.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM

Logan County Hamburgers (Linda Gassenheimer's Dinner in Minutes, 2/19/09, Miami Herald)

• ½ pound ground beef (95 percent lean)

• ¼ cup grated onion

• 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

• 1/8 teaspoon salt

• 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

• 2 teaspoons softened butter

• 4 slices white bread

• 2 slices American cheese

• ¼ cup sliced onion

Combine beef, onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix until combined. Form into 2 thin patties about ½-inch thick. Spread butter on one side of each slice of bread.

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high. Cook the burgers about 3 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels.

Wipe the grease from the skillet. Add 2 slices of bread, butter side down. Top each with a slice of cheese, sliced onions and a burger. Top with 2 remaining slices of bread, butter side up. Cook each until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes per side.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Profile: Phillip Blond: His “Red Tory” thesis is attracting support from left and right, and the man emerging as the Conservatives' philosopher-king is a grave threat to Labour (Jonathan Derbyshire, 19 February 2009, New Statesman)

[Phillip] Blond's Red Tory thesis is that the Conservatives...need to recognise that neoliberalism, or "free-market fundamentalism", has created "private-sector monopolies" (high-street behemoths such as Tesco) that are every bit as corrosive of the "intermediary structures of a civilised life" as the state monopolies of the old, Keynesian dispensation. Blond calls for a "new communitarian settlement", involving what he terms the "relocalisation of the economy" and the "recapitalisation of the poor". To this end, he recommends, among other policy measures, an extension of the Post Office's retail banking function and the establishment of local investment trusts that would offer finance to people without assets.

Presumably this commitment to wider distribution of assets is the kind of thing that Blond's friends on the left have found attractive. Yet, as Sunder Katwala, general secretary of the Fabian Society, has noted, what is intriguing about Cameron's "patronage" of Blond's project is that a "Red Tory revolution would certainly need much blue blood to be spilled" - and it is not obvious that the Tory leader has the stamina for such a fight inside his own party. (One Conservative backbencher's promotion this month of a bill that would allow the minimum wage to people willing to work for less suggests that the battle would indeed be bloody.) Certainly, when Cameron spoke at the Progressive Conservatism launch, he preferred to repeat his party's talking points about "Labour's debt crisis", rather than draw any more far-reaching conclusions from the financial meltdown.

Blond rejects the terms of Katwala's analysis, however, when I put it to him. For one thing, Cameron is not his "patron": "I'm an independent academic at an independent think tank." Demos is, notionally at least, a left-of-centre operation and Blond is not a product of the Conservative research Establishment. Until recently, he was a lecturer in theology at the University of Cumbria. Of Demos, he says: "I wanted to put myself in an environment that was critical of my ideas. I wanted to put myself in a genuinely creative environment. And I am thoroughly independent: I've been careful to maintain that." (Later, however, Blond says he is "quite well connected with the Tory agenda", and describes how he was contacted last year by someone at the Conservative Party's policy unit after he had an article published in the Guardian.)

In any case, he thinks the left has got Cameron wrong. "I think he is in deadly earnest. And I don't think it's cover for another agenda. The left wants to believe it's Thatcherism Mark II, but it isn't. The left is still far too mired in the old politics, and it's the right who are making the running. The reason my article has had such an effect is that no one can doubt it's progressive. And I believe that Cameron is committed to it." He points to the Conservative leader's speech at Davos last month, in which he repudiated the "old economic orthodoxy" and argued for a "popular capitalism", or "capitalism with a conscience", to replace "markets without morality".

Just like W called his Thatcherism compassionate conservatism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Devilled round steak with mushrooms (KIM HONEY, 2/19/09, Toronto Star)

Round steak is a less expensive cut from the animal’s rump, which ’30s cooks knew produced a tender and delicious meal when marinated and cooked slowly. [...]

This was submitted to the Vancouver Sun newspaper in 1934 by a reader who won $1 for her dish. [...]

1 pound ... round steak
1 tsp dry mustard
6 tbsp butter, divided
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion, chopped
3 tbsp lemon juice
12 oz ... mushrooms


Score steak deeply with knife on both sides; rub in mustard. Melt 3 tablespoons butter. Whisk melted butter with Worcestershire, salt, pepper, paprika, onion and lemon in small bowl. Pour over steak; marinate 8 hours or overnight.

Remove from marinade; reserve liquid. Brown steak on both sides in medium frying pan over high heat, about one minute a side.

Brown mushrooms in 3 tablespoons butter in separate frying pan over medium-high heat, about six minutes. Place steak topped with mushrooms in a ovenproof dish with a lid.

Add one cup hot water to reserved marinade. Pour over steak and mushrooms. Cover and cook 1 hour at 350F.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


Two Professors Theorize on Bin Laden Hideout (Reuters, 2/19/09)

Professors Thomas Gillespie and John Agnew of the University of California at Los Angeles use satellite-imagery analysis and elaborate geographic methods to theorize that bin Laden is in the city of Parachinar in the mountains of northwestern Pakistan. [...]

"We believe that our work involves the first scientific approach to establishing his current location. The methods are repeatable and can be updated with new information obtained from the U.S. intelligence community," the professors wrote in the MIT International Review.

Gillespie and Agnew used bin Laden's last reported whereabouts, the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, and employed "theories that predict how plants and animals distribute themselves over space and over time."

Dead animals?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:04 AM


The rise of scientific authoritarianism: The megalomania of James Hansen of NASA shows how ‘climate expertise’ can undermine democracy. (Roger A Pielke Jr, 2/18/09, spiked)

One of the leadng lights in the demand for action on climate change, James Hansen of NASA, wrote an op-ed for the Observer last Sunday, which, more than any other piece of his that I have seen, expresses his political philosophy. In a phrase, that philosophy can be characterised as ‘scientific authoritarianism’.

Scientific authoritarianism, as I am using it here, holds that political decisions should be compelled by the political preferences of scientists. It is a very strong form of the ‘linear model’ of science and decision-making that I discuss in my book, The Honest Broker. Hansen believes that the advice of experts, and specifically his advice alone, should compel certain political outcomes.

He opens his op-ed with this statement: ‘A year ago, I wrote to Gordon Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other leaders.’

Collectively, Brown, Merkel, Obama and Rudd lead about 500million people. The idea that one person’s policy views should carry so much weight in democratic societies is an indication that Hansen believes that expertise should carry decisive weight in decisions. Hansen is not even a citizen of Germany, Australia or the United Kingdom, so the mere fact that he is asking the leaders of these countries to act based on his say-so is an expression of scientific authoritarianism.

Rather than making the case for his preferred policy, Hansen’s argument includes his complaint that policymakers have not followed his advice, which Hansen seemingly believes should take precedence over all other views. Indeed, he dismisses the views of the public as being too poorly informed, too distracted or unsophisticated to contribute to decision-making on the climate issue: ‘The public, buffeted by weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time to analyse decadal changes. How can people be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from those pushing special interests? How can people distinguish between top-notch science and pseudo-science?’

Mr. Hansen accidentally stumbles into the fundamental point there.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


We're Not Heading to Socialism (Robert Brent Toplin , 2/23/09, HNN)

The leading socialists of earlier American history, such as Edward Bellamy, Daniel De Leon, and Eugene Debs, would be surprised to hear that the emergency measures advocated by Obama and leaders in Congress constitute socialism. Bellamy, De Leon, and Debs differed vigorously on details but agreed on essentials. As socialists, they wanted to make the U.S. government owner and manager of some of the great corporations. Those socialists aimed to nationalize large businesses, because they judged capitalism corrupt, exploitative, and oppressive.

Today’s advocates of strong federal action do not share that enthusiasm for replacing capitalism with socialism. They understand that the free enterprise system is vastly superior to one based on state-run industries. And they are not enthusiastic about investing public funds in failing businesses to give them temporary protection from a meltdown. Socialists, by contrast, eagerly sought a permanent role for government as owner and manager of the great industries.

Obama, the Democrats, and some Republicans agreed to let the government take a financial stake in AIG, auto companies, and troubled banks as well as a larger commitment to Fannie Mae because those institutions were teetering. Eventually, some banks may need to be nationalized (temporarily) so that collapse can be prevented, toxic assets can be removed from their balance sheets, and depositors are protected.

We have been here before – in the 1980s -- when the government managed temporary rescues of the savings and loan associations.

Leaders in Washington are pouring public money into troubled institutions in order to save them for capitalism, not to transform them into socialist enterprises.

Mr. Debs, he dead.

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February 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 PM


Obama-as-chimp cartoon blasted (Jennifer Harper, February 19, 2009, Washington Times)

The cartoon wars have erupted again.

A cartoon in the New York Post on Wednesday ties together two current news items, the economic stimulus bill and the police shooting earlier this week of a rampaging chimpanzee in Connecticut.

This time, the war centers around the New York Post, which ran an editorial cartoon Wednesday casting President Obama as the infamous pet chimpanzee shot dead by police earlier this week after the ape went on a rampage. The cartoon shows a bloodied chimp, two cops, a smoking gun and the caption, "Now they'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill."

New York Gov. David A. Paterson and others are not amused.

"It's important for the Post to explain what the cartoon intended to portray. Obviously, some associations have been made; they do feed a negative, stereotypical image," Mr. Paterson said.

...is the monkey blind?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:47 PM


Let’s see the 'criticism' of Israel for what it really is: Emotions have run high over recent events in Gaza. And in this impassioned and searching essay, our writer argues that just below the surface runs a vicious strain of ancient prejudice (Howard Jacobson, 2/18/09, Independent)

I was once in Melbourne when bush fires were raging 20 or 30 miles north of the city. Even from that distance you could smell the burning. Fine fragments of ash, like slivers of charcoal confetti, covered the pavements. The very air was charred. It has been the same here these past couple of months with the fighting in Gaza. Only the air has been charred not with devastation but with hatred. And I don’t mean the hatred of the warring parties for each other. I mean the hatred of Israel expressed in our streets, on our campuses, in our newspapers, on our radios and televisions, and now in our theatres.

A discriminatory, over-and-above hatred, inexplicable in its hysteria and virulence whatever justification is adduced for it; an unreasoning, deranged and as far as I can see irreversible revulsion that is poisoning everything we are supposed to believe in here – the free exchange of opinions, the clear-headedness of thinkers and teachers, the fine tracery of social interdependence we call community relations, modernity of outlook, tolerance, truth. You can taste the toxins on your tongue.

But I am not allowed to ascribe any of this to anti-Semitism. It is, I am assured, “criticism” of Israel, pure and simple. In the matter of Israel and the Palestinians this country has been heading towards a dictatorship of the one-minded for a long time; we seem now to have attained it. Deviate a fraction of a moral millimetre from the prevailing othodoxy and you are either not listened to or you are jeered at and abused, your reading of history trashed, your humanity itself called into question. I don’t say that self-pityingly. As always with dictatorships of the mind, the worst harmed are not the ones not listened to, but the ones not listening. So leave them to it, has essentially been my philosophy. A life spent singing anti-Zionist carols in the company of Ken Livingstone and George Galloway is its own punishment.

But responses to the fighting in Gaza have been such as to drive even the most quiescent of English Jews – whether quiescent because we have learnt to expect nothing else, or because we are desperate to avoid trouble, or because we have our own frustrations with Israel to deal with – out of our usual stoical reserve. Some things cannot any longer go unchallenged.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:40 PM


Clinton Arrives in a Surprisingly Strong Indonesia: When the Secretary of State makes her stop in Jakarta on Feb. 18-19, she will see a country that has made big economic and political strides (Frederik Balfour, 2/18/09, Business Week)

A decade ago Indonesia was the sick man of Asia, its banks mired in bad debts, its foreign exchange reserves depleted, and its economy crippled by Asia's 1997-98 financial crisis. Many parts of the sprawling archipelago were convulsed by bloody separatist conflicts, while Jakarta struggled to overcome the legacy of strongman Suharto's 32-year rule that ended in 1998. But when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes her stop in Jakarta on Feb. 18 and 19, she will be visiting a country that boasts the region's most successful economic and political transformations.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:37 PM


Whitewashing Roman Polanski: More than 30 years after he raped a 13-year-old girl, the fugitive director hoped a skewed documentary would reopen his case. Thankfully, a judge said no dice. (Bill Wyman, Feb. 19, 2009, Salon)

Bad art is supposed to be harmless, but the 2008 film "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired," about the notorious child-sex case against the fugitive director, has become an absolute menace. For months, lawyers for the filmmaker have been maneuvering to get the Los Angeles courts to dismiss Polanski's 1978 conviction, based on supposed judicial misconduct uncovered in the documentary. On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled that if Polanski, who fled on the eve of his sentencing, in March 1978, wanted to challenge his conviction, he could -- by coming back and turning himself in.

Espinoza was stating the obvious: Fugitives don't get to dictate the terms of their case. Polanski, who had pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, was welcome to return to America, surrender, and then petition the court as he wished. [...]

Polanski deserves to have any potential legal folderol investigated, of course. But the fact that Espinoza had to state the obvious is testimony to the ways in which the documentary, and much of the media coverage the director has received in recent months, are bizarrely skewed. The film, which has inexplicably gotten all sorts of praise, whitewashes what Polanski did in blatant and subtle fashion -- and recent coverage of the case, in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and elsewhere, has in turn accepted the film's contentions at face value.

...though it's odd they're surprised by Pedophilia Chic.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


White House: Obama Opposes 'Fairness Doctrine' Revival (FOXNews.com, February 18, 2009)

President Obama opposes any move to bring back the so-called Fairness Doctrine, a spokesman told FOXNews.com Wednesday.

How will we get word to Rush's bunker?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Obama’s War on Terror May Resemble Bush’s in Some Areas (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 2/18/09, NY Times)

Even as it pulls back from harsh interrogations and other sharply debated aspects of George W. Bush’s “war on terrorism,” the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda.

In little-noticed confirmation testimony recently, Obama nominees endorsed continuing the C.I.A.’s program of transferring prisoners to other countries without legal rights, and indefinitely detaining terrorism suspects without trials even if they were arrested far from a war zone.

The administration has also embraced the Bush legal team’s arguments that a lawsuit by former C.I.A. detainees should be shut down based on the “state secrets” doctrine. It has also left the door open to resuming military commission trials.

And earlier this month, after a British court cited pressure by the United States in declining to release information about the alleged torture of a detainee in American custody, the Obama administration issued a statement thanking the British government “for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information.”

These and other signs suggest that the administration’s changes may turn out to be less sweeping than many had hoped or feared — prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups and a sense of vindication among supporters of Bush-era policies.

If W had left any of it intact this would constitute shredding the Constitution and imposing fascism, no?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:12 AM


Pope Reminds Speaker Pelosi of Her Obligation to Protect and Defend all Human Life (Catholic Online, 2/18/2009)

"Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage.

"His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development."

You can be either a Catholic or a Democrat.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:33 AM


Portrait of a Shadow: He helped create and equip the Iraqi insurgency. U.S. forces tried for years to kill or capture him. Now he has a different mission: to destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq. (Scott Johnson, 2/14/09, NEWSWEEK)

The American operatives were openly skeptical when the sheik said they might find a valuable ally in Abu Ahmed. The Americans knew who the young man was: a longtime insurgent organizer and spiritual leader. U.S. forces had been trying to kill or capture him almost since the Iraqi resistance began. But the sheik, a powerful tribal leader from Anbar province, knew Abu Ahmed better than the Americans did. "They said, 'He's a terrorist'," the sheik recalls. "I said, 'No, don't judge him—you can use him'."

The sheik was right. For more than a year, Abu Ahmed and the Americans have been indispensable partners in a covert war against Al Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans provide the resources, while Abu Ahmed provides the inside knowledge he gained from his years with the insurgency. Their teamwork has turned, captured or (in a few cases) killed dozens of extremists. "Is it strange to go from wanting to kill [Americans] to wanting to work for them?" the slender, scholarly young Sunni says. "Definitely, yes." But Iraq's hope for a lasting peace depends on Abu Ahmed and other Iraqis like him. "He's an ace in the hole" for the Americans, says one U.S. official familiar with Abu Ahmed's role in the shadow war. "He's the real deal."

Abu Ahmed and the sheik are unsung heroes in the Iraqi people's fight to reclaim their country from the jihadists. To use their proper names or recount their stories in too much detail would be to put their lives at risk. Fighters on the battle's other fronts have received far more coverage: the Sunni tribal leaders whose Awakening Councils first rebelled against Al Qaeda's reign of terror, the Americans whose troop surge finally rolled back the warring sectarian factions, the Sons of Iraq whose neighborhood patrols have helped to keep the peace since then.

While they have all helped to reduce Al Qaeda's grip on Iraq, the group still has a solid foothold in the country. That's what Abu Ahmed, the sheik and possibly hundreds of other anonymous Iraqis are fighting for: to eliminate the last vestiges of the extremist group. "The hive is still there," says Abu Ahmed. "If you kill the swarm but leave the queen, you've done nothing." (Key details of his story and his cooperation with the Americans are confirmed by well-placed Iraqis as well as by two U.S. officials, one of them recently retired. Both Americans are familiar with Abu Ahmed's case but forbidden to speak on the record.)

In many ways Abu Ahmed's story is also Iraq's story. His transformation traces an arc followed by many of his countrymen, from all-out war against the Americans to revulsion against Al Qaeda's psychopathic ideology. [...]

Many hard-line Salafists consider it a sacrilege for outside forces to occupy Muslim soil—as Osama bin Laden once objected to American troops being based in Saudi Arabia. In May 2003, Abu Ahmed attended a meeting of about 50 Salafist imams and religious scholars at a house a few miles south of Baghdad. They agreed on a threefold plan to prepare for war against the Americans: gather arms from Saddam's storage depots, collect money left behind by the regime and steal intelligence files from government offices. Later that month, on May 20, the fledgling insurgency struck its first blow against the Americans, ambushing a U.S. military unit in Baghdad.

Since he had no military training or experience, Abu Ahmed focused on logistics: supplying and transporting weapons and money, organizing safe houses and coordinating the operations of different cells. His wife drove when he had guns to deliver—the Americans were less likely to stop and search a car with women or children inside. "Our marriage was like that from the beginning," Abu Ahmed says. "She was often afraid; she knew the car was full of weapons, but she did that with me."

By the middle of 2005, Abu Ahmed had risen to the top tiers of one of Iraq's best-equipped resistance groups, with hundreds of fighters battling American forces throughout Iraq. But the dangers of his work made him practically a hermit. He stayed away from public events and gatherings, and only one of his brothers and a couple of friends knew where he lived.

Nevertheless, his life then was relatively pleasant compared with what it became after Feb. 22, 2006. That was when a gang of men blew up one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines, the golden-domed Al Askariya mosque in Samarra. The resulting sectarian blood feud fueled a merciless Shiite backlash, which in return drove thousands of Sunnis into the arms of Al Qaeda.

In mere weeks, Abu Ahmed's insurgent group hemorrhaged two thirds of its fighting force. "We lost control of our people," he says. When the group's Saudi bankrollers realized what was happening, they cut off funding and supplies. "They wanted to prevent a sectarian fight," Abu Ahmed recalls. "They had experience in Afghanistan, and what they did was wise." The Saudis remembered the factional warfare that had torn the Afghan mujahedin apart in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal, and they had no desire to see such a bloodbath right next door in Iraq.

They may have been wise, but they were also too late. In the midst of the violence, a very senior Qaeda leader ordered Abu Ahmed to carry out a recruiting and fundraising mission outside Iraq. Abu Ahmed said no—and Al Qaeda's killers responded by decapitating his father and brothers. "Everything was out the window after that," Abu Ahmed says. Within three weeks, he made sure the killers' own heads had been chopped off. Senior Qaeda men contacted him personally to apologize. But Abu Ahmed didn't buy their story, and he refused their offers of compensation. "They told me, 'If you hadn't killed [your father's killers], we would have'," he says. "But I was convinced they had planned to do this." He set off on his own—fatherless and brotherless, pursued as a terrorist by the Americans and no longer able to trust the insurgency's fiercest supporters.

But he wasn't as alone as he thought. He had first met his friend the sheik back in 2005. Even then the older man had no use for Al Qaeda: all that brutality is bad for business, as he sees it. Although Abu Ahmed was "stuck in the fighting," the sheik nevertheless saw the young insurgent as a potential ally. "I didn't try to convince [Abu Ahmed] directly," he recalls. "I had to be smarter than that."

Whenever possible, the sheik arranged for Abu Ahmed to meet with Iraqi widows and orphans, so the young insurgent could get a close look at the human cost of warfare, and urged him to do more humanitarian work. It was slow going, but the encouragement began to take root. The sheik appealed to Abu Ahmed's sense of nationalism. "I said, 'We don't want the Americans to stay here forever, but what we have now is bad'." The sheik was convinced that Al Qaeda's sectarian war would end with Iran stepping in to defend Iraq's Shiite majority. The only alternative to living under Iranian rule was to help the Americans stop Al Qaeda. "I told him, 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend—for the time being'."

Shi'a reprisals drove home a simple demographic reality to the salafists--if Iraq was going to be all one thing or all the other, it wasn't going to be Sunni.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


The White House's missing documents (JOSH GERSTEIN, 2/17/09, Politico)

In his first weeks in office, President Barack Obama shut down his predecessor’s system for reviewing regulations, realigned and expanded two key White House policymaking bodies and extended economic sanctions against parties to the conflict in the African nation of Cote D’Ivoire.

Despite the intense scrutiny a president gets just after the inauguration, Obama managed to take all these actions with nary a mention from the White House press corps.

The moves escaped notice because they were never announced by the White House Press Office and were never placed on the White House web site.

They came to light only because the official paperwork was transmitted to the Federal Register, a dense daily compendium of regulatory actions and other formal notices prepared by the National Archives. They were published there several days after the fact.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


A Short History of the National Debt: Deficits are nothing new. It's the trend that should worry us. (JOHN STEELE GORDON, 2/18/09, WSJ)

At 8.3% of GDP, this year's deficit is by far the largest since World War II. But the total debt is, as of now, still under 75% of GDP. It was almost 130% following World War II. (Japan's national debt right now is not far from 180% of that nation's GDP.)

...is how the world economy would cope without the safety of our debt to flee to.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


Who’s Sorry Now? (Lloyd Billingsley, 2/18/09, FrontPageMagazine.com)

Last week the San Diego School Board issued an apology to banjoist and singer Peter Seeger, 89, fresh from his performance with Bruce Springsteen at the pre-inaugural concert for President Barack. The San Diego episode gave little hint that Seeger has a few items to apologize for himself.

He was a communist convert, and there were plenty of those in the 1930s, when it seemed that American capitalism was on the rocks and that the USSR, under Stalin, represented the wave of the future. When Stalin signed a pact with Hitler in 1939, the act that started World War II, many abandoned their communist faith and defense of the USSR. Pete Seeger was not one of those.

He was one of those “artists in uniform” as the CP doctrine had it, and considered his songs to be weapons. He hit stride during the Nazi-Soviet pact, following the Communist Party line of opposing military action against Hitler. In March of 1941, when the Pact remained in effect and Hitler had occupied much of Europe, Seeger crooned this:

Franklin D., listen to me, You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea, 'Cross the sea, 'cross the sea, You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea.

You may say it's for defense, But that kinda talk that I'm against. I'm against, I'm against, That kinda talk ain't got no sense.

Seeger also shilled for Birobidzhan, Stalin’s “homeland” for Jews, way out near Mongolia. This forlorn outpost might well have become a killing ground had not Stalin died before his latest anti-Semitic campaign could hit stride. Seeger remained in the Communist Party USA through the nadir of Stalinist brutality, including the deportation of artists, writers to the gulag, from which few returned. If this bothered him, he never said much about it. Neither did Seeger deploy his banjo, guitar, or voice against the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Clinton Arrives in Indonesia (MARK LANDLER, 2/19/09, NY Times)

Mrs. Clinton was expected to announce that the United States will move toward signing a treaty with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, drawing it closer to the 10-member group, which includes Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, among others.

She is also expected to thank the Indonesian government for its counterterrorism efforts, which have resulted in the arrests of radical Islamist terrorists who carried out the deadly bombing in Bali in 2002.

In his first annual threat assessment, submitted to the Senate last week, the director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, praised Indonesia's counterterrorism efforts, which were aided by the United States, saying they had resulted in the arrests of hundreds of operatives of Jemaah Islamiya, the radical Islamist group responsible for the Bali attack.

While he said the group remained a threat, the Indonesian government's efforts had "degraded their attack capabilities."

Indonesia is, in many ways, a good-news story: an Islamic society that has made a transition to democracy and rebuilt its economy after a devastating collapse during the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s.

Bush seeks to heal long Indonesia rift: After 13 years, U.S. reaches out to army (Jane Perlez, FEBRUARY 8, 2005, NY Times)

After a 13-year break, the Bush administration is acting to mend relations with the Indonesian military, the largest in Southeast Asia and a potentially crucial player in the U.S. campaign against terror.

Washington is seizing on an opportunity that came with the tsunami, when Indonesia accepted the help of the U.S. military in distributing aid and had daily contacts with the Americans.

The U.S. Congress, concerned about Indonesia's human rights record, curbed military ties in 1992, and cut them back further five years ago after the Indonesian Army was involved in the killings of hundreds of civilians in East Timor, a province that has since gained independence.

Now, Bush administration officials said, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has moved to strengthen U.S. training of Indonesian officers considerably. Such training allows up-and-coming officers to learn modern warfare methods, the American system of civilian control over the military, accountability and rights issues. Armies in Asia that receive this international military education training program include those of Thailand, Malaysia, India and Pakistan.

In late January, Washington dispatched $1 million worth of spare parts for Indonesia's aged fleet of military transport planes. For the moment, the administration is not planning to push for the removal of the ban on the sale of weapons to Indonesia, although that might come later, a Pentagon official said.
Today in Asia & Pacific
Afghan civilian deaths rose 40 percent in 2008
Cambodia begins painful look back with Khmer Rouge trials
As war's end nears, Sri Lanka struggles to define peace

The Bush administration tried once before to draw closer to Indonesia's military, but the effort failed in 2002 after two American schoolteachers were killed in Papua Province because, U.S. officials say, the Indonesian Army blocked U.S. investigators.

Rice now plans to certify to Congress that Indonesia is cooperating sufficiently in investigating the Americans' deaths, a step that would remove a major stumbling block to ties, according to an aide to Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

Leahy and others in Congress assert that the Indonesians first need to "fully cooperate" with an FBI investigation into the Americans' deaths and in other cases of rights abuse before full training of Indonesian soldiers in the United States can resume. Congressional approval is necessary for a resumption of the military training.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Ruble Hits Record Low Against Dollar (LIDIA KELLY, 2/18/09, WSJ)

The Russian ruble slid to a historic low against the dollar and weakened generally early Wednesday as the country's economic outlook continues to deteriorate, and traders say the currency remains vulnerable to further losses.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


O, Canada: Plans for Obama's trip north (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 2/18/09, Politico)

As a presidential candidate stumping across the Rust Belt a year ago, Barack Obama drew cheers when he threatened to quit the North American Free Trade Agreement unless Canada and Mexico agreed to tough new worker-friendly standards.

But when Obama travels to Canada Thursday on his first foreign trip as president, he’ll leave that populist rhetoric at home.

Ahead of his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama said Tuesday the global economy is so fragile that it’s no time to do anything that could weaken trade.

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February 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 PM


LIGHTING UP THE DARK AGES: a review of The Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000 By Chris Wickham (Christopher Kelly, Literary Review))

The Inheritance of Rome begins in the West with the establishment of new, post-Roman states in France, Spain, Italy, Britain and Ireland. It then turns eastwards. Here the surviving half of the Roman Empire, with its capital at Byzantium, continued to defend its hold on the eastern Mediterranean, with less success from the eighth century when it faced an aggressive and dynamic Arab state. The history of the 'Abbasid Caliphate is hardly ever included in conventional histories of Europe. It is one of the most rewarding pay-offs of this comparative project that Wickham places cultural and political developments in the Islamic world from AD 750 against the better known histories of Charlemagne in Francia (768-814) and Alfred the Great in England (871-899).

To understand the history of Europe it is necessary to maintain a Mediterranean-wide perspective (that expansive idea might be thought of as Wickham's own particular inheritance from Rome). Such a breadth of vision exposes important similarities: land remained the basis of aristocratic wealth, the extraction of income depended on the systematic exploitation of peasants, and the stability of medieval states was founded on the maintenance of a political community focused on a royal court. Within this framework there was substantial variation. Religion played a much greater role in the less deeply rooted kingdoms of western Europe than the wealthier and more confident Byzantine and Islamic worlds. Unlike Charlemagne, neither emperors nor caliphs sought legitimacy for their political programmes by seeking the explicit moral approval of clerics. The close coalition of church and state - so much part of the conventional image of the Middle Ages - turns out to have been more limited in its scope and impact. The East offers a striking contrast to the West.

Wickham's comparative project also challenges cherished national histories. The medieval world was remarkably international in its outlook. Alfred the Great's reformation of the English state owed much to his conscious adoption of policies successfully pursued by Charlemagne and his successors. Developments in an arc of kingdoms from Asturias-Léon in northern Spain through Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, the Slavic lands and into Rus reveal attempts by rulers to establish more elaborate political and military structures to underpin their rule. Again the variations are important. The establishment of centralised kingdoms was less successful in Wales and Ireland than in Rus, Bulgaria, Denmark and Asturias-Léon. But there is also a definite pattern: by AD 1000, Europe north of the Rhine-Danube (the old Roman imperial frontier) had crystallised into a set of recognisable states formed on the model of Francia or Byzantium. This is perhaps the most important political inheritance of Rome.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 PM


The Last Ace: American air superiority has been so complete for so long that we take it for granted. For more than half a century, we’ve made only rare use of the aerial-combat skills of a man like Cesar Rodriguez, who retired two years ago with more air-to-air kills than any other active-duty fighter pilot. But our technological edge is eroding—Russia, China, India, North Korea, and Pakistan all now fly fighter jets with capabilities equal or superior to those of the F-15, the backbone of American air power since the Carter era. Now we have a choice. We can stock the Air Force with the expensive, cutting-edge F‑22—maintaining our technological superiority at great expense to our Treasury. Or we can go back to a time when the cost of air supremacy was paid in the blood of men like Rodriguez. (Mark Bowden, March 2009, The Atlantic)

Over Cesar Rodriguez’s desk hangs a macabre souvenir of his decades as a fighter pilot. It is a large framed picture, a panoramic cockpit view of open sky and desert. A small F‑15 Eagle is visible in the distance, but larger and more immediate, filling the center of the shot, staring right at the viewer, is an incoming missile.

It is a startling picture, memorializing a moment of air-to-air combat from January 19, 1991, over Iraq. Air-to-air combat has become exceedingly rare. Even when it happens, modern fighter pilots are rarely close enough to actually see the person they are shooting at. This image recalls a kill registered by Rodriguez, who goes by Rico, and his wingman, Craig Underhill, known as Mole, during the Gulf War.

The F‑15 in the distance is Rodriguez’s.

“The guy who is actually sitting in the cockpit staring out at this, he’s locked on to me with his radar, and that,” he said, pointing at the missile, “is about to hit him in the face.”

“So this is an artist’s rendering?”

“No,” said Rodriguez. “That’s actually the real picture.”

A special-operations team combed the Iraqi MiG’s crash site, and this was one of the items salvaged, the last millisecond of incoming data from the doomed Iraqi pilot’s HUD, or head-up display. It was the final splash of light on his retinas, probably arriving too late for his brain to process before being vaporized with the rest of his corporeal frame. Pilots like Rodriguez don’t romanticize such exploits. These are strictly matter-of-fact men from a world where war is work, and life and death hang on a rapidly and precisely calibrated reality, an attitude captured by the flat caption mounted on the frame: This is an AIM-7 air-to-air missile shot from an F‑15 Eagle detonating on an Iraqi MiG‑29 Fulcrum during Operation Desert Storm.

A snapshot from the doorstep of oblivion, the photo is a reminder that the game of single combat played by Rico and Mole, and by fighter pilots ever since the First World War, is the ultimate one. It may have come to resemble a video game, but it is one with no reset button, no next level. It is played for keeps.

When Rodriguez retired two years ago from the Air Force as a colonel, his three air-to-air kills (two over Iraq in 1991 and one over Kosovo) were the most of any American fighter pilot on active duty. That number may seem paltry alongside the 26 enemy planes downed by Eddie Rickenbacker in World War I, or the 40 notched by Richard Bong in World War II, or the 34 by Francis Gabreski across World War II and Korea. Rodriguez’s total was two shy of the threshold number for the honorific ace, yet his three made him the closest thing to an ace in the modern U.S. Air Force.

George S. Patton was an Olympic pentathlete, but he didn't lead sword-waving horsemen against the Nazis.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 PM


Darwin: evidence is everything (Mark S. Lawson, 18 February 2009, Online Opinion)

Three great scholars are generally associated with the second half of the 19th century - Darwin, Freud and Marx. There were many more, of course, but those three are all household names and devised theories that have had far reaching effects. Of those three Charles Darwin is the only one whose reputation has survived intact. With his 200th birthday being celebrated recently, it is worth considering why his fame has grown since his death and the theories of the other two have been discarded.

In the process we can gain some inkling of the extraordinary nonsense that can distort public and scientific debate.

This is not to entirely dismiss either Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud. Both men kicked off whole new ways of looking at subjects. Freud started the new idea of treating a patient with a mental illness by talking to the patient. Talking helped, it was found. The problem was that he devised theories about what was going on inside the patient’s mind which were wrong.

Before Karl Marx the study of history was mostly military history. After him, historians began to think in terms of economics and classes. Again, the problem is that although he brought a whole new perspective to economics and history, (almost) everyone can now agree that the theories he devised concerning collectivisation of property and the various stages through which a society must pass are of little use.

So what was the difference between those two and Darwin?

The only significant difference among the three is that while Freud was responsible for much human misery, his bogus theories aren't responsible for millions of deaths.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM

Mini Shepherd's Pie (Seattle PI, 2/17/09)

1 pound lean ground beef

1/2 cup ketchup

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 cups frozen peas and carrots mixture

1 (24-ounce) package refrigerated mashed potatoes, such as Simply Potatoes or 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the ground beef for 6 to 8 minutes, or until meat is cooked through, stirring frequently to break up the meat. Drain, if needed. Add ketchup and Worcestershire sauce and stir well to combine. Add peas and carrots and stir well to combine and defrost.

Prepare mashed potatoes according to package directions.

Place about 1 cup meat mixture in four ramekins or large teacups. Top with about 1/2 cup mashed potatoes, spreading to cover the meat. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the tops are golden, turning heat to broil for 1 minute, if necessary. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:38 PM

Coconut Hot Chocolate (Seattle PI, 2/17/09)

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 15-ounce can coconut milk

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

Pinch kosher salt

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped (about 1/4 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract [...]

Whisk cocoa into 1/3 cup boiling water. In a saucepan, combine coconut milk, brown sugar and salt. Simmer, stirring, until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Whisk in hot cocoa and chocolate until smooth. Stir in vanilla.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Tories open up 20 point lead over Labour, poll shows (Andrew Porter, 17 Feb 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The Conservatives have opened up a 20 point lead over Labour, according to an Ipsos-Mori poll.

The survey is the best for David Cameron since last summer and signals the end of the "Brown bounce" that accompanied the Prime Minister's attempts to rescue the financial system from collapse last autumn. The Tories are on 48 per cent and Labour on 28.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:43 AM


Mortgage deal may hurt Dodd in 2010 (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 2/17/09, Politico)

A 51 percent majority of Connecticut voters said they “definitely” or “probably” won’t be voting for him, with only 42 percent saying they’d likely support him.

A 56 percent majority of Connecticut voters said they were less likely to vote for him because of the mortgage controversy. Fifty-four percent of respondents didn’t buy Dodd’s explanation that the low-interest loans were a “courtesy” from Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo, and they want further details.

“Sen. Dodd is vulnerable. His approval has sunk to a new low. More voters disapprove than approve of the job he is doing for the first time in 15 years of polling,” said Quinnipiac Poll Director Douglas Schwartz. “The mortgage controversy has taken a toll on his approval rating.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Nutty for Nutella: spreadable joy: The Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread has its devoted fans. (Amy Scattergood, February 11, 2009, LA Times)

As members of Nutella's secret handshake society will tell you, it's a blend of hazelnuts and chocolate -- or rather, nuts, cocoa, sugar, skim milk, oil and a few other flavorings and emulsifiers -- that's been ground to a blissfully smooth, creamy spread. Knifed onto a slice of bread, or smeared over crepes or waffles, it's a simple snack that (as my children and the Ferrero Co., which makes the product, like to point out) is even vaguely wholesome.

Maybe it's the idea of spreadable chocolate, or maybe it's the deeply satisfying combination of chocolate and hazelnuts, but there's something about Nutella that inspires the kind of devotion usually reserved for federally banned substances.

Check out some of those Google results and you find eGullet threads, Flickr galleries, MySpace videos and rapturous blog posts, where recipes that make use of Nutella proliferate in a seemingly endless riff, like conspiracy theories or suggestions for what to name the Obama First Dog.

According to allfacebook.com, Nutella's Facebook page ranks third in number of fans, having just moved past Homer J. Simpson with a little more than 2 million. (The two most popular pages, in order: Barack Obama and Coca-Cola.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


The Best Conservative Movies (JOHN J. MILLER, 2/16/09, National Review)

Once in a blue moon, Hollywood releases a conservative movie, or at least a film that resonates with conservatives in a particular way. Because conservatives love movies — and especially debates about movies — we decided to produce a list of the 25 best conservative movies of the last 25 years. Our approach in selecting them doesn’t rise to the level of an actual methodology, but there was a method to it. We asked readers of National Review Online to submit nominations. Hundreds of suggestions came in, along with explanations and arguments. We considered each one, tallied them up, and consulted a number of film buffs and professional movie-makers.

We do not claim that the writers, directors, producers, gaffers, and key grips involved with these films are conservative. We certainly make no such assertion about the actors. Yet the results are indisputable: Conservatives enjoy these films because they are great movies that offer compelling messages about freedom, families, patriotism, traditions, and more.

The gem from their list that people may not have seen yet is James Bowman's recommendation, Blast from the Past. The most asinine picks are Red Dawn and Ghostbusters, though several are dubious. The Truman Show is the most obvious also-ran that belongs on the list. Peter Weir's other masterpiece, Master and Commander should likely top it if Truman Show doesn't. I'd include Gladiator too, though it should be considered fantasy, rather than a historical epic (an essay I've not gotten around to yet). Here are some others they missed:

About Schmidt

The Apostle

The Big Kahuna

Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace

Bruce Almighty

Donnie Darko

The Lady and the Duke


The Matrix

Night Watch




At any rate, as the lists and the many films we're left out attest, the late father Neuhaus had this one wrong, The “American” Religion (Richard John Neuhaus, December 12, 2008,, First Things)

While religion flourishes here in America, it is largely of the Christ-without-culture variety. What in recent decades have been the distinctively Christian contributions that deserve to command the attention of the cultural gatekeepers of America? In literature and the arts, in music and entertainment, in political philosophy and the humanities, such contributions are few and far between. Distinctively Christian cultural products typically cater to the Christian market. They are not proposals of a more excellent way for American culture. Recently a Hollywood movie studio announced that it was inaugurating a new series of films aimed at “the faith market.” Does this indicate a growing Christian influence in our public culture? Perhaps so, but it is much more obviously a commonsensical capitalist decision to take advantage of the niche market that is the Christian subculture.

The Christ-without-culture model induces contentment with being a subculture. But Christianity that is indifferent to its cultural context is captive to its cultural context. Indeed, it reinforces the cultural definitions to which it is captive. Nowhere is this so evident as in the ready Christian acceptance of the cultural dogma that religion is essentially a private matter of spiritual experience, that religion is a matter of consumption rather than obligation. Against that assumption, we must insist that Christian faith is intensely personal but never private. The Christian gospel is an emphatically public proposal about the nature of the world and our place in it. It is a public way of life obliged to the truth.

Even if despite itself, the movie industry still evangelizes heavily.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:59 AM


SCREENING OBAMA (The Prowler, 2/16/09, American Spectator)

[T]he White House is looking to install a small video or computer screen into the podium used by the president for press conferences and events in the White House. "It would make it easier for the comms guys to pass along information without being obvious about it," says the adviser.

The screen would indicate whom to call on, seat placement for journalists, pass along notes or points to hit, and so forth, says the adviser.

Using a screen is nothing new for Obama; almost nothing he said in supposedly unscripted townhall events during the presidential campaign was unscripted, down to many of the questions and the answers to those questions. Teleprompter screens at the events scrolled not only his opening remarks, but also statistics and information he could use to answer questions.

"It would be the same idea with the podium," says the adviser.

Of all the many myths of the Unicorn Rider, certainly the funniest is of his eloquence.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


The Islamist Mindset 'Is Very Comfortable': Ghaffar Hussain was once a radical Islamist with the group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Now he is part of the Quilliam Foundation, a British think tank seeking to combat extremism. He spoke with SPIEGEL ONLINE about the Islamist world view and the pleasant feeling of omniscience. (Der Spiegel, 2/16/09)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: As we speak, around three dozen German Islamists are supposedly living in terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some of them have radicalized very quickly, within months. You yourself were a radical Islamist at one time and are now an expert in the field. What is it that makes some young Muslims tick?

Hussain: Primarily they buy into a certain narrative, and a specific world view, which seems to be particularly appealing for young Muslims in Europe. Quite a few of them feel marginalized, they don't feel they fit into society and they can't connect with their parents' generation. So they look for something they can belong to and some of them feel very attracted by the Umma concept, the idea that all Muslims form a unity. This is then where your allegiance lies and nothing else matters. From there, they develop an urge to do something good, and then they are sometimes confronted with what I call shock tactics: graphic images of Muslim victims, for example. They reach the conclusion that they have to do something about it. Plus there is the scriptural side: They are being told that they have to fight, that fighting is a duty.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some of those who have become radicalized have not been very succesful in their former lives. It's like they are losers who seek to transform themselves into winners...

Hussain: Yes, and the elite factor definitly plays a role as well. I have met many radical people who wouldn't want to discuss their ideas with someone knowledgable, because they knew they would not win that debate. But for them their mindset is very comfortable. They are the vanguard, everything makes sense for them. They have a network, a group of friends. It can be very attractive to suddenly be convinced that you alone now know what's really going on.

Just considered from the viewpoint of psychological warfare, why don't we use the media and public dialogue to belittle the Islamicists precisely in order to counteract that elite factor? Just as a for instance, why not make a big production out of Mohammad Atta's will and how it reveals his obvious homosexual tendencies and bizarre sexual fetishes and then portray al Qaeda and company as a rather standard issue sodomite boy-gang for whom the homoeroticism trumps any vestiges of Islam. To the extent that we take them seriously and act like they're a significant threat we play into their ability to empower losers. Treat them as objects of contempt and ridicule and don't you rob them of their best weapon?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:04 AM


Louie Bellson, Dynamic Jazz Drummer, Dies at 84 (NATE CHINEN, 2/17/09, NY Times)

Mr. Bellson was a dynamic, spectacular soloist known for his use of two bass drums, a technique he pioneered as a teenager and developed from a novelty into a serious mode of expression. But he wasn’t strictly a solo exhibitionist: his attentiveness and precision made him a highly successful sideman, and he was capable of extreme subtlety.

He always proudly maintained that Duke Ellington had called him the world’s greatest drummer. During his tenure with the Ellington band in the early 1950s he was often granted a long drum feature, which he attacked with relish and poise. He also wrote compositions like “The Hawk Talks” and “Skin Deep” that were regularly performed by the band. Later, in 1965, he participated in Ellington’s first Sacred Concert.

Before joining Ellington’s band, Mr. Bellson logged time with the top-flight orchestras of Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James. He later worked briefly with Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald. As a regular on the impresario Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic tours in the 1950s, he appeared in combos with all-stars like the trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie, the alto saxophonist Benny Carter, and the pianists Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson.

In 1952 Mr. Bellson married the singer and actress Pearl Bailey, who had a Top 10 hit that year with her version of “Takes Two to Tango.” He became her bandleader, and their high visibility was significant at a time when interracial relationships were far from common.

Partly because of Ms. Bailey’s political views, the couple enjoyed warm relationships with the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, and they were often invited to the White House.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 AM


An Obama-Reagan Presidency? (Dr. Paul Kengor, 2/16/08, FrontPageMagazine.com)

In 2008, despite Obama winning the presidency by 54 to 46 percent, 21 percent of Americans said they were liberal vs. 38 percent who said they were conservative (36 percent chose moderate). Although both liberals and conservatives alike picked up small gains; the difference between 2000 and 2008 was virtually identical.

If that seems contradictory for a nation that voted for a man from the far left as president … well, that’s because it is. But that’s nothing compared to the inconsistencies in another poll:

A nationwide survey by Clarus Research Group asked American voters which president should be the model for Barack Obama in shaping his presidency. One would expect Americans to pick a liberal president—since, of course, Obama is a liberal. Perhaps FDR, LBJ, Jimmy Carter. Instead, the top choice was America’s most conservative president: Ronald Reagan.

How could that be? Answer: it cannot. It is impossible.

Barack Obama cannot model his presidency after that of Ronald Reagan. The two are irreconcilable. A large square cannot fit into a tiny circle. You cannot take a president who is a paragon of liberalism and one who was a paragon of conservatism and match them ideologically. That’s not fair to Obama. In fact, Obama would not want to do that, nor would his staff—nor would Ronald Reagan.

Other than the appointment of Antonin Scalia, the UR could govern exactly as Reagan did and be considered a decent liberal.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Car czar decision has critics revved up (CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 2/17/09, Politico)

The “car czar” is out. The Presidential Task Force on Autos is in.

And by taking longer than expected to decide which way to go, President Barack Obama is drawing fire from industry analysts and some key Democrats who fear he has inadvertently delayed help to an auto industry frantically trying to bail itself out.

...find a way to kill them off while appearing to help. Which is why he and W have both used delaying tactics.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


The more things change (Bruce Fein, February 17, 2009, Washington Times)

President Barack Obama's campaign theme should have been, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

The personality-driven media has juxtaposed Mr. Obama's pledge to clean the nation's Augean Stables of rich lobbyists and insiders who profited on special access to the corridors of power; and, his appointments or nominations of delinquent taxpayers to his Cabinet (with jurisdiction over the Internal Revenue Service), and appointment of a mega-lobbyist for a defense contractor as deputy secretary of defense.

But Mr. Obama's more alarming betrayal concerns the imperial powers of his office, which he inherited from the Bush-Cheney duumvirate. He has either embraced or acquiesced in every one of their usurpations or abuses (some perpetrated with congressional collaboration).

You can feel a little bit sorry for those on the Left who were duped by the Unicorn Rider, but with deranged conservatives it's pure schaudenfreude. Folks like Mr. Fein got exactly what they deserve, a Democrat who opposes them where W did but then opposes them everywhere that W agreeed with them as well. Unfortunately, the country deserves better.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Republicans try to block Guantánamo detainees from state prisons: Party members in Congress introduce legislation seeking to prevent inmates from being held near their electorates (Daniel Nasaw, 2/17/09, guardian.co.uk)

Republicans in at least six states are seeking to block the White House from transferring Guantánamo Bay detainees to their districts, in what critics call an effort to stymie Barack Obama's efforts to close the prison.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Angry White Female: Margaret Sanger's Race of Thoroughbreds: Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was one of the lead architects of the culture of death. Not only was she a major contributor to the liberation of sexuality from all restraint, but sexual liberation was for her part of a larger program of eugenics. (BEN WIKER, 06/24/01, National Catholic Register)

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was one of the lead architects of the culture of death. Not only was she a major contributor to the liberation of sexuality from all restraint, but sexual liberation was for her part of a larger program of eugenics. While Planned Parenthood has been very careful to keep its founder's sexual and especially eugenic views from the light, they are a matter of public record, boldly and clearly expressed throughout Sanger's writings.

Sanger's dedication to the propagation and legalization of birth control was part of an overall eugenics program. Her journal, The Birth Control Review, was filled from cover to cover with the strongest and crudest eugenic propaganda. One of her favorite slogans, adorning each issue, was "Birth Control: To Create a Race of Thoroughbreds."

For Sanger, the "lack of balance between the birth rate of the 'unfit' and the 'fit,'" was "the greatest present menace to civilization," so that "the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective." As with the other eugenicists of the early 20th century, Sanger was particularly upset by the presence of the "feeble-minded," a vague term which seemed to encompass everyone from the insane and those with nervous disorders, to those hitting low marks on the newly developed IQ tests. (By her estimate, some 70% of the population was feebleminded.)

To deal with the great "menace," Sanger advocated a new kind of philanthropy, claiming that traditional philanthropy only succeeded in making the problem worse — "it encourages the perpetuation of defectives, delinquents and dependents," she said, who were "the most devastating curse on human progress and expression." True charity, by contrast, should not both coddle and perpetuate the "dead weight of human waste," but weed out these undesirables at the source through birth control. Nor did Sanger shrink from advocating the use of force if necessary: "We prefer the policy of immediate sterilization, of making sure that parenthood is absolutely prohibited to the feeble-minded."

Sanger's plans for genetic cleansing for the sake of "racial health" were racist as well. She was horrified by the fertility of the immigrant "Slavs, Latins [i.e., Italians], and Hebrews," and her first birth-control clinic was set up in the Brownsville section of New York City, where such racially defective immigrants predominated.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Sugar Shane takes shine off Golden Boy: After yet another remarkable performance, Sugar Shane Mosley deserves to be hailed as a boxing great (Kevin Mitchell, 1/29/09, Guardian Sports Blog)

The most encouraging development in boxing for a long time has been the revival of the welterweight division, historically the sport's best showcase for speed, skill and power. And at the top of the pile is a remarkable fighter, Sugar Shane Mosley.

Down the years, a lot of good judges have rated Oscar De La Hoya a better fighter than Mosley, which has always struck me as perverse. After recent events, not so many of them are still blinded by the Golden Boy's aura.

For a start, we ought to be talking about De La Hoya in the past tense as a boxer since Manny Pacquiao so comprehensively exposed his late-career pretensions in December, while Sugar Shane, two years older at 37, last Saturday night returned to the form that inspired his one-time trainer, the late Eddie Futch, to compare him favourably with Sugar Ray Robinson.

At the Staples Center, in the ring where he and De La Hoya opened the arena nine years ago, Mosley did such a total number on the tough Mexican Antonio Margarito, seven years his junior, that he had ringside commentators putting his name alongside those of the great welterweights. His time had come. Again.

Because the folks who run boxing are such morons, good fights are almost never on broadcast tv, so I'd read about Sugar Shane but never seen him fight. But the encomiums after his latest bout were so generous I found a torrent of that one and of Related articles by Zemanta

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


All of us live by the logic of finance: Margaret Thatcher promised wealth for all in her new society. First, though, we all had to become capitalists. (Peter Wilby, 05 February 2009, New Statesman)

In the 1930s, the majority of Britons had not bought (I use the verb deliberately) into capitalism as they have over the past 30 years. Working-class families then accounted for three-quarters of the population, but less than one-fifth owned their home. Few held a bank account and almost none invested in shares or bonds, either directly or through pension schemes. For most of these families their only insurance was against funeral expenses.

Working-class life was based on cash, with surplus income, rare at the best of times, converted into portable possessions. Debt was widespread - it was sometimes the only way a working-class family, even if it had a regular income, could buy new clothes or shoes - but it was small-scale and local. Many were accustomed to existing on the margins of subsistence, and the dole, pitiful as it was, ensured that the Depression just made life more of a struggle. It did not frustrate ambition or aspiration, because most ordinary people had none. The consumer society had not been invented.

The Britain of 2009 is utterly different. The country was changed profoundly by Thatcherism (as the United States was changed by Reaganism), often in ways that were scarcely noticed at the time and are now forgotten. [...]

The new order followed the collapse in the 1970s of the postwar economic and social consensus, known as Keynesianism. Trade unions were weakened, partly by legislation, partly by the decline of heavy manufacturing industry. Labour could no longer drive a hard bargain.

Capital, assisted by deregulation of money movements across borders, held the whip hand. Under the Anglo-Saxon economic model, employers could now hold down wages - if necessary by relocating or threatening to relocate abroad - shed jobs and require longer hours and/or more productivity from their workforces. Faced with the devaluation of their labour, working people had to try and get a slice of the capitalist action. Money, they had to learn, no longer stopped with the wages generated from employment. As Randy Martin, the New York University public policy specialist, puts it in his illuminating book Financialisation of Daily Life (2002), "what once belonged to the workaday world beds down with leisure and domesticity".

This was exactly what Margaret Thatcher wished for. Once, western governments tried to subjugate the working class. The governments of the postwar era, by contrast, tried to pacify it. High wages, good working conditions, decent housing, stable employment, predictable pensions and, crucially, the power of a large state sector to head off deep recession through fiscal intervention delivered the workers’ consent to, even enthusiasm for, a capitalist economy. It also ensured the stable domestic markets that provided the basis for unprecedented economic growth. As the student rebels of 1968 understood, the workers were required not just to produce goods but to consume them, too.

Thatcher offered what you might call a "third way". The working class was not to be enslaved or tamed, but abolished. Everyone would become, in their private if not in their working life, a member of the bourgeoisie, owning a house, acquiring debt to improve themselves, trading in shares and bonds. With such financial commitments, they would be reluctant to sacrifice regular income by going on strike.

Better still, they would vote Conservative, or at least for an alternative party that accepted, as new Labour did, the broad principles of Thatcherism. The spectre of communism or socialism would be exorcised.

That's what she and W understand, while the Right gripes about the "undeserving" homeowners.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


REVIEW: Of Taking Aim at the President:
The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford By Geri Spieler
(Steve Weinberg, SF Chronicle)

On Sept. 22, 1975, a seemingly unremarkable 45-year-old named Sara Jane Moore shot at President Gerald Ford in San Francisco. She missed, but only by about 6 inches. Wrestled to the ground and disarmed, Moore insisted she was not insane, refused a trial and pleaded guilty.

Sentenced to life in prison, she never fully repented and never fully explained her assassination attempt. In 2007, at age 77, Moore walked out of prison a free woman, assuming she met the conditions of her supervised parole.

The month after her arrest, Moore sent a handwritten note to Geri Spieler, then a Los Angeles newspaper journalist. Three months later, Spieler visited her. They stayed in touch after that.

Spieler relies heavily on their acquaintanceship in "Taking Aim at the President," an unusual book about an unusual criminal.

One of the saddest aspects of these bizarre events was that President Ford may have been saved when an ex-Marine knocked Sara Jane Moore's arm upwards as she fired and, for his service to his country, the press rewarded the man by printing the despicable Harvey Milk's revelation that the hero was a closeted homosexual.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


Bush's Greatness: There's a good reason he infuriates the reactionary left (David Gelernter, 09/13/2004, Weekly Standard)

Bush's greatness is often misunderstood. He is great not because he showed America how to react to 9/11 but because he showed us how to deal with a still bigger event--the end of the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 left us facing two related problems, one moral and one practical. Neither President Clinton nor the first Bush found solutions--but it's not surprising that the right answers took time to discover, and an event like 9/11 to bring them into focus.

In moral terms: If you are the biggest boy on the playground and there are no adults around, the playground is your responsibility. It is your duty to prevent outrages--because your moral code demands that outrages be prevented, and (for now) you are the only one who can prevent them.

If you are one of the two biggest boys, and the other one orders you not to protect the weak lest he bash you and everyone else he can grab--then your position is more complicated. Your duty depends on the nature of the outrage that ought to be stopped, and on other circumstances. This was America's position during the Cold War: Our moral obligation to overthrow tyrants was limited by the Soviet threat of hot war, maybe nuclear war.

But things are different today. We are the one and only biggest boy. We can run from our moral duty but we can't hide. If there is to be justice in the world, we must create it. No one else will act if the biggest boy won't. Some of us turn to the United Nations the way we wish we could turn to our parents. It's not easy to say, "The responsibility is mine and I must wield it." But that's what the United States has to say. No U.N. agency or fairy godmother will bail us out.

Of course our moral duty remains complicated. We must pursue justice, help the suffering, and overthrow tyrants. But there are limits to our power. We must pick our tyrants carefully, keeping in mind not only justice but our practical interests and the worldwide consequences of what we intend. Our duty in this area is like our obligation to show charity. We have no power to help everyone and no right to help no one. In the event, we chose to act in Afghanistan and Iraq to begin with--good choices from many viewpoints.

The end of the Cold War means that our practical duties have changed too, in a limited way. Since the close of World War I in 1918, our main enemy has been the terrorist-totalitarian axis--still true today. Different nations and organizations have occupied this axis of evil, but the role itself has been remarkably stable. Until the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the main terrorist-totalitarian power (except when it was eclipsed by Nazi Germany and Warlord Japan). The Berlin Wall fell in 1989; in 1990, Saddam marched into Kuwait. Radical Arab terrorism and totalitarianism go way back; the Nazis and then the Soviets supported them. When the Soviets fell, Arab tyrants and terrorists were ready for the limelight. Our job was to find new ways to do what we had always done--fight and (ultimately) beat our terrorist and totalitarian enemies.

President Bush had to respond to these post-Cold War realities; 9/11 meant that our pondering period was over. He announced, with deeds and not just words, that we would meet our moral obligations, police the playground, and overthrow tyrants; we would meet our practical obligations and continue to lead the fight against this new version of the terrorist-totalitarian axis.

We have often been told that we face, today, a whole new kind of war. Only partly true. For more than half a century we have battled totalitarian regimes (the Soviets, North Vietnam, Cuba . . . ) and the terrorists they sponsored. Today we are battling totalitarian regimes (Baathist Iraq and the Taliban's Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea) and the terrorists they sponsor. What's changed? Since we became modern history's first monopower, our obligations and maneuvering room are both greater. But the basic nature of the struggle is the same.

Lincoln said, "Let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it." Bush answered: "Okay; let's roll." We accept our obligation to be the world's policeman. If not us, who? If not now, when?

February 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 PM


China editorial slams 'Buy American' provision (AP, 2/16/09)

"History and economics have told us, facing a global financial crisis, trade protectionism is not a solution, but a poison to the solution," the editorial said.

U.S. labor groups that pushed hard for inclusion of the measures have argued that their main purpose is to ensure that U.S. Treasury dollars are used to the fullest extent to support domestic job creation.

China has promised to avoid "Buy China" protectionist measures in its own multibillion-dollar stimulus effort, and appealed to other governments to support free trade. Deputy Commerce Minister Jiang Zengwei said in early February that China would "treat domestic and foreign goods equally so long as we need them."

It's not often that a communist dictatorship lectures a US President about our own values and has it right.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:18 PM


U.S. Hits Pakistan's Tribal Areas in Second Strike (Bill Roggio, February 16, 2009, Weekly Standard)

Just two days after a Predator strike in South Waziristan, the United States conducted yet another strike, this time in the tribal agency of Kurram. The target was a camp run by an Afghan Taliban commander who trains fighters inside Pakistan for attacks against NATO and Afghan forces. More than 30 have been reported killed after several Predators launched multiple Hellfire missiles at the camp.

The second attack is very interesting for several reasons. First, the United States has never struck inside Kurram. In fact, all of the previous airstrikes (51 total since 2006) have taken place in North and South Waziristan and Bajaur, and in one instance in the settled region of Bannu.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 PM


Nordic exposure (Katie Boucher, February 17. 2009, The National)

[Henning] Mankell, the author of numerous plays and novels, is causing the biggest stir among booksellers [at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair]. He has enjoyed a huge spike in popularity since Wallander – the grumpy, middle-aged, fast-food-loving detective at the centre of 10 of Mankell’s novels – made his small screen debut. With the lead character played by Kenneth Branagh, Wallander was screened by the BBC last November and has piqued British interest in an author who already enjoyed a huge following across the rest of mainland Europe.

Wallander is an impressive fictional creation: a dour but quick-minded slogger, slightly flabby and melancholy, but ultimately loveable. Starting with 1991’s Faceless Killers, Mankell’s books have been published all over the world, winning many prominent fans along the way. They are said to be read by presidents and politicians, and an entire industry in the Swedish city of Ystad, where the books are set, is dedicated to the sleuth. From location filming to guided tours of landmarks that feature in the stories, Wallander is far more than a fictional character: he is a franchise in his own right.

As for Mankell, the author’s childhood was spent amid the snowdrifts of northern Sweden. No surprise, then, that his writing is filled with the bleached landscapes and industrial wastelands of his youth. As the son of a judge, his family lived above the town law courts – an experience which marked the beginning of Mankell’s fascination with the justice system.

After a brief spell in Paris during the student uprisings, he returned to Sweden to start a career in theatre. These days, though, he divides his time between Sweden and Mozambique, where he works with the Teatro Avenida theatre, in the capital city of Maputo, and dedicates considerable time to Aids-awareness projects.

Mankell is not the only Scandinavian author in the spotlight, either. Interest in crime writing from the region has been steadily rising for over a decade, ever since the rave reviews picked up by the Danish writer Peter Høeg’s 1994 novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow. Others followed, including Karin Fossum and Jo Nesbø, both from Norway, and Sweden’s Håkan Nesser.

The Branagh adaptation (available at The Box), but the Swedish tv versions are terrific.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:06 PM


Varitek: No switch from switching (Tony Massarotti, February 16, 2009, Boston Globe)

"Oh my goodness. Hell, no," Varitek said this morning at the Red Sox' spring training complex. "Have you ever all of a sudden tried to hit right-on-right when you haven’t done it in 15 years? . . . I’ve heard that offered a few different times whether [it was suggested] in the media or whatever, but it’s ludicrous."

So there you have it.

He’s still switch-hitting.

A natural righthanded hitter, Varitek batted .284 from the right side last season as opposed to .201 from the left side. The discrepancy was easily the greatest of his 12-year career. The difference in OPS was even more astounding -- .863 from the right side, .616 from the left -- which led to the obvious suggestion that maybe it was time for him to hit solely from the right side.

Obvious, it seems, to everyone but him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:55 PM


Step by step for Middle East women: As women gain access to education, jobs, and voting, they'll demand more rights. (CS Monitor, February 17, 2009)

[T]he Middle East is not the same place for women that it was even five years ago.

That at least is the conclusion of a study released last week by Freedom House, a Washington-based group which tracks liberty's advance (or retreat) around the globe. From 2004 through last year, all six countries in the study advanced women's rights, making "small but notable gains" in political, economic, and legal rights.

Of the countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates), Kuwait and the UAE made the most progress. In Kuwait, for instance, women voted and ran for the first time in local and national elections in 2006. (Recent regional elections in next-door Iraq required 30 percent of candidates be women.)

Saudi Arabia lags far behind its neighbors. Women there live in a gender-segregated and unequal society. They may not vote, must seek male approval to travel, and are subject to veil enforcement by religious police. But even the kingdom has inched forward, allowing women to study law, check into hotels alone, and obtain their own identification cards.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:51 PM


Let me pass on a story about a possible lifeboat for Brown: As Cameron's message about Labour's failings begins to get through, rumours about the future are starting up again (Jackie Ashley, 2/16/09, The Guardian)

Certainly the public mood is swinging from scared to vengeful. The bankers may have said sorry but it doesn't wash. After watching their Commons evidence sessions, I heard a story that sums up their problem. They did indeed have media coaching before the MPs' grilling. One coach asked one of them how much he earned. "I'm afraid I don't know," came the reply. Oh dear.

But I also watched Gordon Brown's evidence to the liaison committee this week and found myself squirming as he refused, again and again, to apologise for any failings on his part. This has become embarrassing. Yes, I know, it's the game being played by Cameron - get him to say sorry, then call on him to go. But among the many who failed, the chancellor, now prime minister, cannot step aside and blame someone else.

He was there throughout. He took credit for the good times. He made friends with the same Scottish bankers now in disgrace. The failed regulatory system was the one he set up. The Tories also went along for the ride. So did much of the media. So did many more, here and around the world. But an honest reflection on what he got wrong, and why, would perhaps be the only thing that could restore some of his reputation right now. People are very angry. They want plain speaking.

This assumes, of course, that Brown is going to stay on. But let me pass on a story doing the rounds among a few senior Labour people at Westminster. I can't say it will happen and I am sure Downing Street would deny it, with a hearty, but not necessarily convincing, laugh. But it comes from quite close to the inner core. It's worth bearing in mind.

It starts with the 2 April London G20 summit. This will be an important moment, with lots of red carpet, as leaders queue to be photographed with President Obama. But as the world stares at full-blown depression, with countries such as China and Germany under huge pressure to do more to revive the global economy, it's a lot more important than that. What will actually come out of it? Well, there's one near-certainty: agreement about the need for a new global financial regulator, whether based inside or outside the IMF.

I'm told the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has a favourite candidate to head this new body - Gordon Brown. She is said to be quietly pushing the idea behind the scenes and getting quite a good reaction from other leaders. Obama can be won over, says my source, and even Sarkozy would be pleased to see the man he's been tussling with off the European stage.

Conservatism is dead, time for the conservatives to resume the Thatcher legacy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:47 PM


Peace talks could split Pakistani Taliban (Tom Hussain, February 17. 2009, The National)

Independent security analysts and western diplomats are closely watching how a ceasefire in Pakistan’s Swat Valley evolves for possible wider ramifications for the Pakistani Taliban movement.

Taliban militants in the insurgent northern valley declared a 10-day ceasefire late on Saturday in anticipation of peace talks with the government of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP).

The talks, should they bear fruit, could lead to a split in the Pakistani Taliban movement.

The ceasefire was announced on Sunday by Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the Swat faction of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). As a concession to the group and to quash a potential revolt, the government said yesterday it was allowing restoration of sharia to Pakistan’s north-west Malakand area, of which the Swat Valley is a part.

Islamic law was introduced as the basis of Swat’s judicial system in 1994, following protests, but abolished by the military regime of Pervez Musharraf after he assumed power in 1999.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:19 AM


Hugo Chavez wins Venezuela vote with solid margin (TYLER BRIDGES, 2/16/09, McClatchy News Service)

Polls by Datanalisis, a Caracas-based survey firm, showed that Chavez made up a 17-point deficit in the campaign's final six weeks. He did it, Datanalisis said, by targeting the 20 percent of the electorate who said Chavez had been a good president but who were reluctant to allow him to remain in power indefinitely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Why America Celebrates Lincoln: Liberty and union were the right, and difficult, choice. (WALTER BERNS, 2/16/09, WSJ)

[Abraham Lincoln] saved [the Union] by fighting and winning the war, of course. But his initial step in this was the decision to go to war. Not a popular decision, and certainly not an easy one. His predecessor, the incompetent fool James Buchanan, believed that the states had no right to secede from the Union, but that there was nothing he could do about it if they did. Thus, by the time Lincoln took office, seven Southern states had seceded, and nothing had been done about it. Led by South Carolina, they claimed to be doing only what they and the other colonies had done in 1776. To oppose them might bring on the war, and Buchanan had no stomach for this.

Lincoln knew that the time had come when the only way to save the Union was to go to war. But could he say so and retain the support of the people who had voted for him? The abolitionists, for example. For them, slavery was a sin, and the slaveholders sinners. But their leading spokesman, William Lloyd Garrison, was no friend of the Union. He said the Constitution was "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell." During the Fort Sumter crisis, Garrison said "all Union saving efforts are simply idiotic."

The country's leading antislavery editor, Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, said much the same thing. As he put it, "if the Cotton States shall become satisfied they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go." But suppose we had let them go. How, then, would Greeley free the slaves, except by going to war with them? The self-righteous journalist did not say -- perhaps he would have had us enter into "real" negotiations with the Confederates -- but it was his desire to avoid war that led him to say what he said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


George Washington: Today’s Indispensable Man (Forrest McDonald, Spring 1995, Intercollegiate Review)

In regard to his being trusted, it is easy to overlook a crucial ingredient, that Americans sorely needed someone to trust. Partly this need arose from the perilousness of the undertaking on which they embarked in 1776. They had no way of knowing whether they would be founders or failures: the winners in such circumstances are called Patriots, the losers are hanged as traitors. But there is more to it than that. Difficult as it may be to imagine, Americans were a monarchical people, a people who loved their kings. George III had been especially beloved, and when he betrayed Americans by making war on them, they reacted by embracing republicanism and by refusing to entrust executive power to anyone. And yet the craving for a symbol to embody the nation remained. In this diverse new entity—the United States of America—it was not enough to have leaders, no matter how virtuous or capable; there had to be one above all others. As Americans had earlier referred to George III as “The Father of His People,” they now needed someone to call “The Father of His Country,” if there were to be a country, and not thirteen separate countries.

Washington satisfied this need, and not least because he looked the part. Tall and powerfully built, he was “the most graceful figure . . . on horseback,” as Jefferson put it, and was instantly recognized as the commander in chief even by soldiers who had never seen him before. When Abigail Adams finally met him in 1789 she was moonstruck. She gushed, as had the Queen of Sheba when first setting eyes on Solomon, “the half was not told me.”

His physical appearance was complemented by an aura, not merely of strength, but of invincibility. His immunity to gunfire seemed almost supernatural. Early in his career a treacherous guide fired at him from point-blank range—and missed. Once he rode between two columns of his own men who were firing at one another by mistake and struck up their guns with his sword—the musket balls whizzed harmlessly by his head. Time and time again during the Revolutionary War musket balls tore his clothes, knocked off his hat, shredded his cape, horses were killed under him, but he was never touched. What mortal could refuse to entrust his life to a man whom God obviously favored? What country could refuse to do so?

But if it was his natural gifts that made others prone to trust him, there remains the question, how did he come to be worthy of trust? The answer is, he made himself that way. To understand how he did it, we must turn to the prevailing ideas about the nature of the human animal. Virtually every American at the time believed in God—the God of both the Old Testament and the New—which meant that, while they believed in the possibility of redemption in the hereafter, they also believed in original sin, in the inherent baseness of man.

And yet, though man could not escape his nature, there were a number of ways he could improve himself. All of them rested on the premise that the social instinct is a primary force; the desire to have the approval of one’s peers ranked with the physical appetites in motivating people. A perceptive person could turn this instinct into an engine for self-improvement, which is what Washington did. As a child he devoutly wished to become a country gentleman (a status he was by no means born to) and toward that end he recorded and followed “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” These rules were a manual of etiquette for circumstances ranging from being at the dinner table (“Being Set at meat Scratch not neither Spit Cough or blow your Nose—except there’s a Necessity for it”) to being “In Company of those of Higher Quality than yourself.”

Notice the adolescent Washington’s phraseology: “those of Higher Quality than yourself.” Eighteenth-century Virginia society was highly stratified, as was society throughout Europe. Washington was acutely conscious of his own social position, for as a teenager he had been taken under the wing of a wealthy, titled family, the Fairfaxes. From watching them, and also from a play he saw for the first time in his late teens, he learned to aim higher than just seeking the approval of his peers. The play was Joseph Addison’s Cato, and its message was clear: Addison advised young Washington to follow precisely the opposite course from that recommended by Shakespeare’s Polonius. In Hamlet, Polonius says: “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Shakespeare put those words in the mouth of a prattling fool, and Addison’s message is that, for public men, they are foolish words. Rather, he says: Do not trust in your own righteousness. Instead, be true to others; seek the esteem of the wise and the good, and it follows that you cannot then be false to yourself—or to your country.

Washington made that a guiding star for his own conduct. Later, when circumstances and his achievements made it possible, he aimed his sights even higher, and he sought by conscious design to earn the esteem of posterity, of generations of discerning and virtuous people yet unborn.

That was one way Washington improved himself. Another was through the concept of character. The term character was rarely used in the eighteenth-century as we use it, to refer to internal moral qualities. Rather, at least in polite society and among people in public life, it referred to a persona or mask that one deliberately selected and always wore: one picked a role, like a part in a play, and sought to act it unfailingly, ever to be in character. If one chose a character with which one was comfortable, and if one played it long enough and consistently enough, it became a “second nature” that in practice superseded the first. One became what one pretended to be.

The results, for good or ill, depended upon the character or characters chosen and upon how well one acted the part. Washington chose to play a progression of characters, each grander and nobler than the last, and he played them so successfully that he ultimately transformed himself into a man of almost extrahuman virtue.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


The Hard Cases:
Will Obama institute a new kind of preventive detention for terrorist suspects? (Jane Mayer February 23, 2009 , The New Yorker)

No matter how Obama responds to the case, his decision is likely to arouse controversy. Hafetz says, “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush Administration’s war on terror.” This view is widely held by Obama’s political base. Yet the political risks of change are obvious. In 2004, Jeffrey Rapp, an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, claimed in a sworn affidavit, without providing evidence, that Marri had met with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, and “offered to be an al Qaeda martyr.” The government’s theory is that Marri came to America in order to help carry out a second wave of terrorist attacks. “Al-Marri must be detained to prevent him from aiding al Qaeda in its efforts to attack the United States,” Rapp said in his statement, which is the sole public document offering reasons for holding him.

In early February, former Vice-President Dick Cheney increased the pressure on Obama, by warning that a catastrophic nuclear or biological terrorist attack on America would occur unless Obama kept the Bush policies in place. In an unusually contentious interview for an erstwhile high official, Cheney told Politico that the Obama Administration was “more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States.” Two days after Cheney’s remarks were published, the White House was visited by families of victims killed in the September 11th attacks and in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, in 2000. Some of those families have organized an advocacy group, Military Families United, which claims sixty thousand members, and which has circulated a petition demanding that Congress reject all efforts by the Obama Administration to relocate any detained terrorist suspects to its members’ districts.

Amid such competing viewpoints, a compromise idea has also emerged, which the Obama Administration is weighing. A number of national-security lawyers in both parties favor the creation of some new form of preventive detention. They do not believe that it is the President’s prerogative to lock “enemy combatants” up indefinitely, yet they fear that neither the criminal courts nor the military system is suited for the handling of transnational terrorists, whom they do not consider to be ordinary criminals or conventional soldiers. Instead, they suggest that Obama should work with Congress to write new laws, possibly creating a “national-security court,” which could order certain suspects to be held without a trial.

Same result. Different name. Everyone's happy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:48 AM


Fears growing for missing Baker Street singer Gerry Rafferty (Daily Telegraph, 2/16/09)

Fears are growing for the safety of Gerry Rafferty, the singer who created the 1978 hit song Baker Street, who vanished from a hospital where he was being treated for liver failure seven months ago.

The singer, who has apparently been battling a drink problem, disappeared from St Thomas' Hospital in London on August 1 last year and it has now emerged that he has been out of contact with friends for many months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Obama Confronts a Choice on Copters (PETER BAKER, 2/16/09, NY Times)

President Obama has slammed high-flying executives traveling in cushy jets at a time of economic turmoil. But soon he will have to decide whether to proceed with some of the priciest aircraft in the world — a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters that will each cost more than the last Air Force One.

A six-year-old project to build state-of-the-art presidential helicopters has bogged down in a contracting quagmire that will challenge Mr. Obama’s desire to rein in military contracting expenses. The price tag has nearly doubled, production has fallen years behind schedule and much of the program has been frozen until the new administration figures out what to do about it.

Treating presidents as if they were uniquely irreplaceable does more violence to our political values than the Booths and Oswalds ever did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:27 AM


Obama Should Visit India--Soon: It's time for the Democrats to cement America's major new alliance. (Tunku Varadarajan, 02.16.09, Forbes)

Ironically, even as Mrs. Clinton was packing her valise for Beijing, a senior spokesman for the Congress Party, which heads the ruling coalition in New Delhi, made an impassioned freelance appeal for George W. Bush to be awarded the Bharat Ratna ("Jewel of India"), the country's highest civilian award. The Bharat Ratna is a big, big deal in India and has been awarded only 41 times since its inception in 1954--and only twice to non-Indians, one of whom was the sainted Nelson Mandela. The Congress Party quickly distanced itself from its spokesman's appeal, no doubt regarding it as a particularly impolitic show of nostalgia for Bush so early in the Age of Obama.

But the truth is that, for all his unpopularity in the U.S. (and Europe, and Latin America, and the Middle East, and practically everywhere else outside Albania and Georgia), Bush is a much-appreciated figure in India--at least in high policy circles. As many have noted, both in Washington and New Delhi, the one indisputable foreign policy success of the eight Bush years was America's invigorating new alliance with India--an alliance that is based as much in a sense of shared ideology (democracy, pluralism, etc.) as it is in strategic need (both countries want a reliable counterweight to China and face a common foe in Islamist terrorism).

...the itinerary should be India, Israel, Turkey, Liberia, Uganda, Botswana, Mali, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Japan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand. But there's no reason to believe he is as astute at geopolitics as W was.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:22 AM


Nationalization, or Pre-privatization? (Greg Mankiw, 2/16/09)

The search for alternative names can be amusing at first, but I think there is more here than mere semantics.

Why are people scared about the idea of nationalization? One reason is that it is a sign of the depth of our problems. A second, more substantive reason is that it seems to point in a bad direction. I certainly do not want the government deciding who deserves credit and who does not, what kind of investments are worthy of financing and what kind are not. That is a big step toward crony capitalism, where the politically connected get the goodies, and economic stagnation awaits the rest of us.

If the government is to intervene in a big way to fix the banking system, "nationalization" is the wrong word because it suggests the wrong endgame. If banks are as insolvent as some analysts claim, then the goal should be a massive reorganization of these financial institutions. Some might call it nationalization, but more accurately it would be a type of bankruptcy procedure.

Why not just call it "resale"?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 AM


'Obama Only Talks about Change': Justin Sayfie, a former top aide to Jeb Bush and a seasoned observer of the Republican party, talks to SPIEGEL ONLINE about why Obama's bipartisan efforts have failed and how the Republicans are reinventing themselves. (Der Spiegel, 2/16/09)

Justin Sayfie: I'm not sure whether Obama's bipartisan strategy was truly genuine. It's true, the president acted in a bipartisan manner -- he invited Republicans to talks in the Oval Office and organized bipartisan parties to watch football in the White House together. But his outreach was poisoned by the way the Democrats put together the stimulus bill in Congress. I can understand why Republicans feel that Obama only talks about change in Washington so far. There was simply not a lot of dialogue by congressional Democrats with Republicans in the run-up to the stimulus bill. The House and the Senate Democratic leadership were not as open to Republican suggestions as one might think from Obama's bipartisan gestures. The president would have received more Republican support if he had been successful in convincing his fellow Democrats in Congress to act in a more bipartisan way.

The Jeb team has obvious reasons for taking the UR down a peg, but for the broader GOP, at least for now, the better message is: We would have liked nothing better than to help the President pass his plan, but he's a captive of the Congressional Democrats and we needed his help to stop them from wrecking the bill. For whatever reason, he didn't think he was strong enough politically to get a clean bill past his own party.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:11 AM


Berlin Imposes Tough Conditions for Guantanamo Inmates: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants Germany to take in former Guantanamo inmates who cannot be sent home. The country's Interior Ministry, however, is setting an impossibly high bar for accepting detainees that could exclude most of the prisoners expected to be released. (Der Spiegel, 2/16/09)

[T]he German government plans to set such tough conditions for taking in detainees that it will be almost impossible for a prisoner to fulfill them, SPIEGEL has learned.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who have previously crossed swords over accepting detainees, have agreed that each case must be individually examined to determine whether the prisoner poses a danger to German society. However the Interior Ministry is insisting that only people who have a connection to Germany be taken -- which would rule out almost all the inmates expected to be released from the camp.

In addition, the Interior Ministry wants the US administration to explain why a detainee poses no danger in Germany, even though he can neither return to his homeland nor be kept in the US. The bar would be raised so high on the conditions that it would hardly be possible for an inmate to fulfill them.

Europeans don't help us to defend them, just whine about the way we do it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 AM


U.S.-Led Forces Kill Taliban Commander: Officials (Reuters, 2/16/09)

U.S.-led troops have killed a wanted Taliban commander in an air strike in Afghanistan's southwestern province of Badghis, U.S. and Afghan officials said on Monday. [...]

The Taliban commander, Mullah Dastagir, along with eight other militants were killed in a raid on a village near Turkmenistan's border on Sunday night, the officials said.

Dastagir was behind a series of attacks in Badghis, including an ambush in which 13 Afghan soldiers were killed last November, they added.

Before that ambush, Dastagir had been jailed but was released by order of President Hamid Karzai, a defense ministry official said.

Algerian Forces Kill Senior Qaeda Figure: Paper (Reuters, 2/16/09)
Mourad Bouzid, 65, also known as Ami Slimane, was a charismatic figure instrumental in recruiting and motivating younger Al Qaeda fighters, daily Ennahar reported, citing an unnamed source.

He was hiding in the town of Issers, 55 km (34 miles) east of the capital Algiers, and was found with the help of local residents, said the paper which specializes in security matters.

It said Bouzid was tracked down using information from Ali Ben Touati, also known as Abou Tamine, another top Maghreb Qaeda figure who surrendered in late January to take advantage of a government amnesty offered to rebels who disarm.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


The Mini: a potted history: The Mini, which is now 50 years old, has been one of the most successful and loved cars of all time (Daily Telegraph, 2/16/09)

Launched in 1959 , it was soon dubbed the "classless car". Almost anyone, from film stars to factory workers, could be driving one.

With its terrific manoeuvrability and its easy-to-park qualities, the Mini was an instant success and spawned equally-popular spin-offs such as the Monte Carlo Rally-winning Mini Cooper which featured in the cult film The Italian Job.

More recently the Mini has been relaunched by German car giant BMW which has significantly increased the power of the iconic vehicle without decreasing the car's popularity.

The Mini was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis and had an 848cc engine and top speed of 72mph.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Liberals not pleased with go-slow approach by Obama: Activists recall his promises as a candidate and express frustration at his equivocation as president. They cite stem cell research and the detainee policy as examples (Peter Wallsten, February 16, 2009, LA Times)

Advocates for stem cell research thought Obama would quickly sign an order to reverse former President Bush's restrictions on the science. Now they are fretting over Obama's statement that he wants to act in tandem with Congress, possibly causing a delay.

Critics of Bush's faith-based initiative thought Obama had promised to end religious discrimination among social service groups taking federal money.

But Obama, in announcing his own faith-based program this month, said only that the discrimination issue might be reviewed.

And Obama's recent moves regarding a lawsuit by detainees have left some liberal groups and Bush critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, feeling betrayed, given that Obama was a harsh critic of Bush's detainee policies when running for office last year.

The anxiety is also being felt in the labor movement, one of Obama's most important support bases. Some union officials and their allies are frustrated that at a crucial point in negotiations over his massive stimulus package, Obama seemed to call for limits on "Buy American" provisions in the bill aimed at making sure stimulus money would be spent on U.S.-made materials.

He didn't become president to help them, just to help himself.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Saudi Arabia appoints first female minister (Julian Borger, 2/16/09, The Guardian)

In his first reshuffle since assuming the throne in 2005, King Abdullah also replaced two powerful enemies of reform, the chief of the Saudi religious police, Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, and the country's most senior judge, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan. Ghaith, who runs the commission for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice, known as the mutawa, which enforces bans on alcohol and drugs, has gained a reputation for brutality. Luhaydan ruled last year that it was permissible to kill owners of satellite television channels broadcasting "immoral" programmes. Several other hardline judges were sacked as part of a challenge against the kingdom's hardline religious establishment.

The grand Ulema commission, an influential grouping of religious scholars, will be reconfigured and opened to moderate clerics, breaking the grip of the ultra-conservatives.

King Abdullah also appointed a new head of a 150-seat consultative body, the Shura council, and replaced his ministers of education, health, justice and information.

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February 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 PM


Shall we give Harry the boot?: Or give him a free pass? (SHERMAN FREDERICK, 2/15/09, Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Between drinks and dinner, the conversation turned to politics, and around these parts that means it turned immediately to the big political question of the new year: Should Nevadans give Harry Reid the boot in 2010, or not?

Just about everyone has a strong opinion on this. According to the latest polling, 47 percent of voting Nevadans have an unfavorable opinion of Harry. It's probably higher now that Harry's taken the lead in crafting the trillion-dollar spending bill that Democrats desperately want people to refer to as the "economic recovery and stabilization bill," which I will not.

Anyway, as we contemplated the "to boot or not to boot" question, the corollary question arose: "Why should Nevada throw away that kind of power?" Harry Reid is, after all, the Senate majority leader. He's a big shot inside the Beltway and arguably the most influential politician ever to hail from the Silver State.

But Harry's length of service and accumulated power isn't the question.

The question, if I may be so impertinent, boils down to this: "So what?"

Think about it this way: On Aug. 16, 2005, Harry Reid suffered a mild stroke. He recovered, thank God. But what if, as a result of that stroke, Harry had been forced to leave office? How would Nevada be different today?

Forgive me if this sounds morbid, but it gets to the heart of the dilemma facing Nevadans in 21 months. For all the power and prestige that Harry has earned, how has that translated into a better Nevada today?

My dinner companions and I paused for a long while and finally, we agreed, "That is the question."

It's easy for the Republicans to pick off Democratic leaders who are chosen by their peers because they got elected in Republican states.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:44 PM


Meet the doomsayers of our time: For millennia, doomsayers have been predicting the end of the world as we know it. These days, theory dovetails with fact: oil is disappearing. Should we be listening? (Cathal Kelly, 2/15/09, Toronto Star)

In the jargon of his peers, Paul is a 'doomer.' Those who don't share his concerns are 'sheeple.' And sheeple don't rank in Paul's world.

The high priests of the doomer set include the acerbic critic of suburbia, James Howard Kunstler, and Matt Savinar, founder of LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net. They envision the Peak Oil aftermath as something out of Mad Max. Chronic oil shortage will dovetail with urban violence, ecological degradation and financial chaos to create a series of cascading catastrophes. They expect the 21st century to look a lot like the 18th. Scary scenario: primitive. Really scary scenario: primitive and dangerous.

Others see the oil dip coming, but cautiously hope that we will roll with the blow, rather than be floored by it. The disappearance of cheap, ready oil will get us out of our cars and refocus us on a less materialistic local economy. Toronto political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon captured the spirit of that group in the title of his last book, The Upside of Down.

Paul will concede there is a small chance that might happen. He holds his thumb and index finger in front of his eye and carefully measures out a half-millimetre worth of chance.

"Maybe," Paul said, humouring me. "But I don't think so."

Paul has been interested in the outdoors and survivalism all of his adult life. He began hunting as a young man. During the early '80s, he and a group of four friends began taking regular excursions deep into the bush, teaching themselves how to live off the land.

"We were getting ready to disappear into the backwoods. Because of the nuclear stuff," Paul said.

War didn't break out. Paul's friends got married and had kids. He still keeps in touch with some. At least one thinks he's "crazy" now. Paul feels just as sorry for him.

The situation has changed, but Paul still has a plan. Recently, he bought a 38-foot steel-hulled sailboat. He's in the process of outfitting it – water filtration system, satellite navigation, food stores, including stuff he cans himself in his townhouse.

When things start going wrong, he'll hit the water. He'll hug the eastern seaboard all the way down to the Panama Canal (which will presumably still be in working order). Then he will pop into the Pacific and sail back up to Costa Rica. Once there, he'll find an isolated shore and start over.

"I don't think we're going to see the end of the year without something major," Paul warned. Then he leaned over and said consolingly, "You're in the first stage. Denial."

The escape over water is a familiar trope of the doomer ethos. The other is the so-called `doomstead' – an isolated farm that can be stocked, self-sustaining and easily defended.

Calan Boyle, 27, lives with his parents and two younger brothers on a 50-acre plot a short drive from downtown Hamilton. He is not as publicity-shy as Paul, but thinks twice about giving his address.

"You never know," Boyle said.

Boyle has been following Peak Oil developments for five years. What he's read has convinced him that he and his family may have to use the farm as a bunker in the near future.

Robin M. Mills's Myth of the Oil Crisis is an especially authoritative and delicious demolition of Peak Oil nonsense , not that obliterating Malthusian bunk is particularly difficult.

The Decline of the Petro-Czar: Plunging oil prices have created an unexpected diplomatic bright spot in the global recession by weakening unfriendly regimes (Rana Foroohar, 2/14/09, NEWSWEEK)

What a difference a half a year makes. Last summer, when oil prices hit an all-time high of $147 a barrel, so did the hubris of the petro-czars. Vladimir Putin sent Russian tanks rolling into Georgia, laying bare his ambition to restore Russian dominion over the lands of the old Soviet empire. In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was busy bashing the dollar, which he had declared "worthless," and transferring Iran's reserve wealth into euros. Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was in Russia meeting with Putin to negotiate arms deals.

The rise of these leaders was the dark side of an otherwise golden era of growth in the global economy. A prospering world was thirsty for oil, and had little choice but to buy heavily from them. Not now. With the world economy collapsing in recession, and falling demand driving the price of oil down to $37 per barrel, the trio of Putin, Chávez and Ahmadinejad are losing their strength. The empires that they built on oil are proving rickety, vulnerable to inflation and joblessness, and now mounting political unrest is jeopardizing their personal power. "High oil prices and oil wealth reshaped geopolitics in recent years," says energy expert Daniel Yergin. "Now we're seeing the reversal of all that."

The decline of the petro-czars is an unexpected bright spot in a grim global recession.

Unexpected only by the Realists.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 PM


Women less tolerant of each other than men are, study finds (Daily Telegraph, 2/15/09)

Women are less tolerant of each other than men are, according to a new study which may explain why some women prefer to have a male boss.

The research, published in the US journal Psychological Science, found that women formed a negative view of their peers much quicker than men did.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 PM


Is Obamania Stopping Us From Questioning Obama's Competence? (Gil Troy, 2/15/09, HNN))

Wow, the descent from “Yes We Can” to “I screwed up” has been rapid – and unnerving. It hurts me to write this post. Like the millions who were in Washington on Inauguration Day, and the billions who watched around the world, I want Barack Obama to succeed, America needs Obama to succeed. But as American patriots – and as historians – we cannot be so blinded by our hopes and his charms that we overlook the truth. Obama’s Keystone Kops Cabinet farce would be funny if it were not so tragic. His utter failure to put together an effective team without getting so much egg on his face plays to one of my greatest fears about Obama. As an academic who has never been an administrator (beyond one year as department chair), I wondered how he, with only minimally more administrative experience, could take on one of the most complicated executive jobs in history. So far, the results are depressing.

Let’s imagine what would have happened had George W. Bush entered the White House, with one nominee for Commerce Secretary already withdrawn because of an investigation the most basic background check should have uncovered. All we would have heard about was Republicans’ corruption and Team Bush’s incompetence. Imagine it was followed by a trio of tax slobs, topped by a new Commerce Secretary from across the aisle who realized a week after his nomination that he and the administration were incompatible. (One wonders, did it take that long for Judd Gregg to realize that he was a conservative Republican and that the Republicans lost, he was being hired by a Democratic president?) And then, to top it all off, imagine if one of the tax slackers, who, by the way, was now in charge of the Internal Revenue Service, whose services were so in need his careless paperwork was overlooked, launched a critical financial program in such a nervous, vague, hamhanded way, the stock market plummeted after his presentation. This personnel trainwreck would have created a Tsunami of contemptuous laughter, particularly among reporters, pundits, and comedians.

This narrative suggests political bias, that the so-called “liberal media” was tough on George W. Bush, the Republican, and soft on Barack Obama the great liberal democratic hope.

While anecdotal evidence ought not be the basis for drawing conclusions, I can't be the only one who has Democrat friends who keep saying things like: "Boy, you must be loving this mess." Indeed, others have told me of similar experiences. We all still hold out hope that our president succeeds, but questioning his competence seems pretty de riguer.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 PM


Dems Fed Up With McCain: "Angry Old Defeated Candidate" (Sam Stein, February 15, 2009, Huffington Post)

Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated with the brash political attacks Sen. John McCain has launched against Barack Obama in the weeks since the new president took office. No one expected the Arizona Republican to be a legislative ally for this administration. But it was widely assumed that Obama's overtures to McCain in the weeks after the election would dull some of the hard feelings between the two. Now, they are realizing, it has not.

You'd think the campaign would have reminded these guys that Maverick is a conservative, not the RINO of the Right's fantasy. When Democrats came out of the gates in partisan fashion there was no chance he was going to provide cover for them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 PM


Khatami’s candidacy rattles hardliners (Michael Theodoulou, 2/16/09, The National)

Supporters of the hardline incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hoped that the potent challenge posed to their monopoly on power by Mr Khatami, the charismatic politician-philosopher who still retains some of his rock star-like popularity, would unite conservatives behind the president.

But a hardline deputy revealed last weekend that some conservatives are ready to ditch the populist Mr Ahmadinejad as their most obvious candidate – if they can persuade Mr Khatami to stand down.

Ali Motahhari, the MP, said the plan had been discussed with many “Principlists”, the flattering term hardliners use to proclaim themselves as exclusively loyal devotees of the principles of the Islamic Revolution – and all agreed.

“However, the pursuit of the plan will depend on Khatami’s withdrawal from the election,” he told Iran’s conservative Mehr news agency.

If so, the Principlists would put forward two candidates other than Mr Ahmadinejad. The scheme, however, would be dropped if Mr Khatami refused, Mr Motahhari added.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:10 PM


Israel Mulls Releasing Uprising Leader To Abbas (Javno, 2/15/09)

Israel could release Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi to bolster President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction before any prisoner swap with Hamas, an Israeli political source said on Sunday.

He's more use to Israel in Palestine than in prison.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:26 AM


We get a fair number of e-mails from folks who have been assigned utterly nonintuitive names by their free e-mail programs--Bob54763452@aol.com. But we have a free brothersjudd.com e-mail domain that you're welcome to partake of. It's totally private--we have no access to your account--and we have few enough users that you're not unlikely to be able to just use your own first name or name and last initial. I just use that account and access it via POP in gmail, so nearly all junk mail is filtered out and the email address is simplicity itself: orrin@brothersjudd.com Write us if you'd like the Other Brother to set up an account for you.

If you like British Television and use bit torrents, we still have a couple invites to The Box to give away.

If, like me, you're a voracious consumer of media, you can get a wicked good deal on DVDs, books and cds through the Swap family of sites. It's a good way to get rid of stuff you're never going to read, listen to or watch again. Or, you can do what I do: buy stuff you find at book sales and thrift stores and trade it for the stuff you really want but are too cheap to pay full price fo, I just got a harcover copy of The Looming Tower at PaperbackSwap and a full season Xena Warrior Princess at DVD Swap:

PaperBackSwap.com - Our online book club offers free books when you swap, trade, or exchange your used books with other book club members for free.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


The End of the Ownership Society? (Marc Goldwein , 2/16/09, HNN)

Like their libertarian counterparts, conservative ownership advocates aim to reduce the overall size and scope of the government and emphasize the importance of individual responsibility. But while free-market supporters address this goal on the supply-side – pushing policies which will either directly reduce government spending or push politicians toward such actions – conservative ownership advocates focus on the demand-side, aiming to reduce the public’s need and desire for government assistance. In fact, ownership advocates often support increasing the supply of government upfront, using activist public policies to expand asset-ownership.

Supporters of an ‘ownership society’ envision a world in which the vast majority of Americans are able to provide for themselves through the accumulation of appreciating assets – especially real estate and private equities. By owning these assets, the argument goes, individuals will be able to take advantage of the high economic returns to capital and thus be more self-sufficient. Advocates also argue, as President Bush did, that “if you own something, you have a vital stake in the future of our country,” and so expanded ownership strengthens citizenship and community involvement. Additionally, supporters of ownership see it as the truest path to freedom, putting individuals in charge of their own social and economic fates. And finally, conservatives believe broad ownership can strengthen their governing coalition by creating a new class of worker-capitalists who are less apt to support redistributive or regulatory government policies – especially those that might hurt asset values.

Ownership has long been a part of the nation’s political economy. Such ownership has been a major component of this nation’s private welfare state, 1 and its expansion has been pursued by liberals and conservatives alike (with the former supporting it as a supplement rather than replacement for existing welfare state programs). Bush’s particular concept of an ownership society, though, is most closely related to Margaret Thatcher’s ‘popular capitalism.’ During her time as Prime Minister, Thatcher declared that “spreading the ownership of property more widely is central to this Government’s philosophy,” and passed measures to sell public housing (of which there was a considerable amount) to interested tenants and partially privatize the country’s public pension program. This became a source of inspiration for America’s conservative ownership agenda. 2

During his time in office, President Bush pursued a number of policies to increase property ownership – lower capital gains and dividend tax rates, health savings accounts, 529 college savings accounts, expansions of 401(k)s and IRAs, support for small businesses, etc. But in line with Margaret Thatcher’s popular capitalism initiatives, the centerpiece of Bush’s ownership agenda was housing and Social Security. His goal was to increas homeownership rates and partially privatize Social Security to offer all workers personal retirement accounts. While both initiatives entered the public agenda in the mid-1990s, they were pushed most vigorously during Bush’s time in office; and ultimately, both failed under his watch.

The recent push to expand homeownership actually began with President Clinton’s ‘National Homeownership Strategy’ in 1995, after which the homeownership rate shot up 5 percentage points in the next decade (having remained stagnant for the three proceeding decades). Yet while new initiatives to promote homeownership began under President Clinton, the Bush administration pushed hard for using “the mighty muscle of the federal government…to encourage owning your own home.” These measures included tax credits, down payment assistance, vouchers, financial education, regulatory reforms, and pressure on the private sector.

The Social Security privatization movement also became popular in the 1990s, when a number of bipartisan commissions, outside think tanks, and members of Congress began proposing that Social Security have a private accounts component.

Compassionate Conservatism: Ten Lessons from the New Agrarians (Allan C. Carlson, 02/13/09, First Principles)
In discussing the New Agrarian version of “compassionate conservatism,” a useful place to start is a 1934 essay entitled, appropriately enough, “The Task for Conservatism.” Written by the popular historian Herbert Agar, it appeared in a remarkable, albeit short-lived journal, The American Review. This article stands as a model of “activist” or “radical” conservatism.

Agar was writing, it should be recalled, at the very worst point of the Great Depression. One-third of American workers were unemployed; the nation was littered with failed banks; stock certificates issued during the exuberant 1920s had been rendered worthless. Agar argued that the label “conservative” had been thoroughly twisted by what he called the “apostles of plutocracy” into the defense of economic “gamblers and promoters.” He observed that “according to this [strange] view, Mark Hanna was a conservative.” Agar sought to save the term by appealing to “another, and an older, America,” a time when there was virtue in and a moral plan for the nation.

Central to this plan, Agar said, was “[t]he widest possible distribution of [productive] property.” For Thomas Jefferson, this had meant a nation of self-sufficient farmers. For John Adams, this had meant “an interdependent community” of farmers and modest merchants, with government holding the balance. All of the American founders, Agar maintained, had held that “a wide diffusion of property . . . made for enterprise, for family responsibility, and in general for institutions that fit man’s nature and that gave a chance for a desirable life.” Physical property, in short, was so important to the full and rich human life that everybody should have some.

But America had lost its way, Agar continued. Under current economic conditions, the ownership of real property fell into ever fewer hands. “The normal human temptation to sacrifice ideals for money” had grown, lifting “the rewards for a successful raid on society to dangerous heights.” A culture of widely distributed property had fallen under assault by “the barbarism based on monopoly.” The great banking houses and financial institutions had destroyed “an entrenched landed interest” in the South during the Civil War. In 1914, the same group determined that America no longer needed an agricultural surplus for export, and it set out to destroy the independent farmer as well.

Agar called for an effort—at once “radical” and “conservative”—to restore the Property State. This “redistribution” of ownership must become “the root of a real conservative policy for the United States.” As he explained, the ownership of land, machine shop, small store, or a share of “some necessarily huge machine” needed to become the normal thing, in order to set the necessary moral tone for society. Agar stressed the radical and political nature of this attempt, for it was on its face inconsistent with existing economic developments. As he wrote: “It must be produced artificially and then guarded by favorable legislation.” All the same, such an effort was necessary to rebuild a humane America, a compassionate America, an America that would make for “stability in family and community life, for responsibility, [and] for enterprise.”

Agar was not alone is this appeal to a radical conservatism. The whole line of New Agrarians agreed on the same orientation. Agar’s special focus was on the power of private property as a defense of liberty and the source of the good life. But the New Agrarians pressed other points as well, insights that might contribute in our time to a richer understanding of the term “compassionate conservatism,” insights into what an “activist” conservatism might look like.

The second lesson from the New Agrarians will seem strange to many: it is love of the earth, a genuine ecological sensitivity. Liberty Hyde Bailey, named Dean of the College of Agriculture at Cornell University nearly a century ago, crafted most of the themes that would characterize twentieth-century agrarian thought, and an environmental passion was at the core of his vision. Bailey’s most provocative book appeared in 1916. Entitled The Holy Earth, it emphasized “the oneness of nature and the unity in living things,” a process guided by the Great Patriarch, God the Father. As Bailey explained:

Verily, then, the earth is divine, because man did not make it. We are here, part in the creation. We cannot escape. We are under obligation to take part and do our best living with each other and with all creatures. We may not know the full plan, but that does not alter the relation.

Every man, Bailey said, should know “in his heart . . . that there is goodness and wholeness in the rain, in the wind, the soil, the sea, the glory of sunrise in the trees, and in the sustenance that we derive from the planet.” The true conservative, then, begins as an ecologist, aware of the inner-connectedness of our lives with the Creation.

The third lesson is the positive value of human fertility. Harvard sociologist Carle Zimmerman, founder of the discipline of “rural sociology” in the 1920s, was the New Agrarian writer most committed to dismissing the gloom of Malthusian ideas. Instead of fretting about “overpopulation,” Zimmerman celebrated high human fertility and an abundance of large families as signs of social health. In his book Family and Society, Zimmerman called “an absolutely stable or decreasing population. . . . unthinkable for the survival of a nation.” In his massive tome Family and Civilization, he stressed that hope for the future rested on “the making of familism and childbearing the primary social duties of the citizen.” Zimmerman’s celebration of small family farms rested on their very biological vitality. As he wrote: “These local family institutions feed the larger culture as the uplands feed the streams and the streams in turn the broader rivers of family life.” [...]

The ninth New Agrarian lesson is the unique power of marriage, a point made with special effect by the contemporary writer Wendell Berry. Proper marriage, the Kentuckian writes, is a sexual and an economic unit; the sexual function without the economic function is ruinous, with “degenerate housewifery” and “degenerate husbandry” the result. When brought together, though, the consequence is beauty. As Berry explains in his poem “The Country of Marriage”:

Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are
that puts it into the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?

Marriage, so understood, is an economy of joy.

Contra Mr. Goldwein, a politics so deeply embedded in the Anglo-American tradition and so embraced by the successful electoral parties of both Right and Left throughout the Anglosphere isn't anywhere near an end, though it might rest for a bit.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


'Pashtunistan' holds key to Obama mission: The mountainous borderlands where Afghanistan meets Pakistan have been described as a Grand Central Station for Islamic terrorists, a place where militants come and go and the Taliban trains its fighters. Now Barack Obama has made solving the 'Af-Pak' question a top priority. But could the battle to tame the Pashtun heartland become his Vietnam? (Jason Burke in London, Yama Omid in Kabul, Paul Harris in Washington, Saeed Shah in Islamabad and Gethin Chamberlain in Delhi, 2/15/09, The Observer)

First, there is the local situation. Since launching an offensive in 2006 the shifting alliance of insurgents which make up the Taliban in Afghanistan have established control - or at least denied government authority - over a large part of southern and eastern Afghanistan. British foreign secretary David Miliband last week spoke of a "stalemate" - something senior generals and security officials have known for some time.

Local Afghan forces are still far from able to take on the insurgents without assistance from the 73,000 Nato troops now in country. The government is corrupt and ineffective. Opium production has exploded. Across the border in Pakistan, despite continuing military operations, authorities seem unable to push the Islamic militants on to the defensive. And somewhere in the mess is al-Qaida, though few can say exactly where.

Then, there is the regional situation. There is little love lost between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The two former countries have been at loggerheads since splitting in the aftermath of independence from Britain. Kabul's relationships with New Delhi are warm, a cause and consequence of their mutual animosity towards Islamabad.

"Both India and Pakistan would justify their involvement [in Afghanistan] as a deterrent against the other," said Chietigj Bajpaee, South Asia analyst for the Control Risks group.

Finally, there is the global situation. "AfPak", or more specifically the area dominated by the Pashtun tribes around the border mountains, has become the "grand central station" of global Islamic militancy, intelligence sources told the Observer. Young westerners head up to the tribal areas, the semi-autonomous zones which line the Pakistani side of the porous frontier, to visit makeshift al-Qaida training camps to learn how to blow up trains or planes back home. British intelligence track about 30 individuals of high risk through Pakistan each year. Others are known to be fighting with the Taliban against Nato troops. [...]

In Pakistan, those Holbrooke met were impressed by the envoy's apparent desire to hear what Pakistanis had to say. In Lahore, Jugnu Mohsin, a newspaper publisher, described how when told how Lahore was once known as a tolerant city where all religions thrived, Holbrooke, who backpacked through the region as a young man, wanted to know if it had become more conservative.

"He wanted to know about the Badshahi (mosque), who built it. He was interested in the culture and history of the place," said Mohsin. "He was basically there to learn, to inform himself, not to tell us what was what."

Others agreed, though pointed out that Holbrooke's open mind might have revealed a lack of detailed knowledge. "He is candid... and not given to the pro-India fixation of the Bush administration," said Ikram Sehgal, an analyst who briefed Holbrooke on the security concerns of Pakistani businessmen. "We've turned a real corner."

No one could reasonably expect someone as inexperienced as Barack Obama to be competent, but appointing an envoy to Afghanistan/Pakistan/India who had to have India removed from his portfolio is mind-bogglingly inept.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


At 49, Boyd wants to turn fantasy into reality (Nick Cafardo, 2/15/09, Boston Globe)

Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd has long felt the game of baseball was taken away from him far too soon. He was 31 years old when he threw his last pitch for the Texas Rangers in 1991.

But now, at age 49, Boyd believes his shoulder is stronger than ever. He says his velocity is up in the low 90s and the 12-6 curveball and changeup have returned. He wants a chance to show a major league team he can still pitch.

"I have nothing to lose, and all a major league team has to lose is 15 minutes," said Boyd. "Give me 15 minutes and I'll show I can still pitch. That's all I want."

It's always been Boyd's dream to carry on the legacy of Satchel Paige and pitch into his 60s. Two weeks ago, at the Red Sox fantasy camp, Boyd started throwing in earnest again and was pleased with the results.

"After surgery in '87, it took me 10 years to feel good," he said. "I wasn't on the field, started gaining weight. All of a sudden, my arm has healed. The arm strength is there and it's there consistently. The more I throw, the better it feels."

Former Red Sox catcher Mike Stanley, who caught Boyd at the camp, said, "He looks no different to me now than when I caught him in Texas. He still has the same passion. I don't know if he was getting to 90 because we didn't have a gun, but he still had the same stuff. The same tight slider, curve, fastball."

"Satchel being my idol and knowing he didn't come into the game until he was in his early 40s, that's always been in the back of my mind," said Boyd. "Now, I've been given back the fastball I once had. I want to play.

"I spoke to some people about it. If I was given an opportunity, I'd love to work my way back. I think it would be good for the game. It shows me baseball is a forgiving game."

He and Pedro Martinez could both be major league closers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


Ball is rolling: Varitek glad to be back (Nick Cafardo, February 15, 2009, Boston Globe)

Welcome to the rest of your career, Jason Varitek.

Your tenure has been long and distinguished. You have acquitted yourself well with your professionalism and team-first attitude. Your work ethic is unmatched in the game.

But after you hit .220 last season and showed signs of decline, the Red Sox brought you back - for one year at $5 million, with team and player options for 2010. You'll earn $5 million in 2010 if the team picks up the option, $3 million if you do, with $2 million of incentives in that case.

Here's your chance to prove you can be the catcher and hitter you once were. If things should continue on the path they did a year ago, then the likelihood of you finishing your career with the Red Sox - which you referenced three times yesterday - might not take place. But one thing we know is that you're a proud man who doesn't want to leave on the downslide.

So the time has come. It's hard to say you have to prove yourself again, but really, this is no different than when you took that step from being a young catcher with potential to becoming a starter.

This could be a bigger challenge. [...]

One can't help but think, however, that the Red Sox are going to use Bard more than they've used any backup catcher since Varitek came here in that famous 1997 deal from Seattle along with Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb.

With San Diego last season, Bard was hitting .308 before catching the entire 22-inning 2-1 Padres loss to Colorado April 17. After that game, Bard struggled, hurt his elbow, and ended up hitting .202 for the season. But if healthy, Bard, also a switch-hitter, is an effective lefthanded hitter.

Will the Sox use Bard more in lefthanded-hitting situations? All that manager Terry Francona would hint at was that Varitek may get more rest in day games after night games.

...but it's been several years since he was a decent left-handed hitter while he's kept his right-handed swing throughout. Just stop switch-hitting.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


Invading New Hampshire: How the Bay State transformed its northern neighbor. (Tom Keane, February 15, 2009, Boston Globe)

For years, the folks in the Granite State would chortle about how alluring their brand of low-tax living must be to Massachusetts residents. In fact, it seems, it was. From 2000 to 2006, even as Massachusetts's population remained stagnant, New Hampshire grew by 6.4 percent, according to a 2008 report from UNH's Carsey Institute. Most of that population increase was due to migration from other states, and the number one contributor was metropolitan Boston. During that time, New Hampshire had a net gain of 44,000 from this region.

And why the rush to move north? A Globe poll from 2006 found that most who left Massachusetts did so because of our high cost of living. Another 30 percent cited taxes and a good chunk -- more than 10 percent -- named the state's liberal politics and political leadership.

How deliciously ironic. All of those emigres may have thought they had abandoned Massachusetts, but it appears many carried its politics with them. On the streets of Nashua and Manchester, they're now building their own little Bay States. Why are they re-creating the very thing they left behind?

My guess is that while it's easy to complain about state government in general, when it comes to specifics, people like having the government take care of them. Onetime Massachusetts residents are still in thrall to the lures of well-funded schools, decent roads, and readily available healthcare.

Except that we had better health, education and infrastructure than MA before they got here.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:21 AM


Hugo Chavez And Anti-Semitism: To win votes, he's using Jews as a scapegoat. (Michael Rowan and Douglas E. Schoen, 02.15.09, Forbes)

[C]hávez and Iran speak with one voice about Jews. Chávez is a vehement supporter of Iran's nuclear ambitions and is a frequent visitor to Iran and Syria. He tends to link Israel, the U.S. and Jews in a conspiracy to rule the world through war and capitalism.

In an infamous Christmas Eve speech several years ago, Chávez said the Jews killed Christ and have been gobbling up wealth and causing poverty and injustice worldwide ever since. Chávez has declared war against the U.S.' "evil empire" and sees Israel in the same way Ahmadinejad, his partner, does.

Voters are strongly against Chávez's election-for-life referendum, and Venezuela suffers from the worst inflation and corruption rates in the hemisphere--as well as the highest murder rate in the world. But Chávez might still rig the election so it appears he won it; he has total control over who votes and how they vote through centrally controlled electronic voting machines.

There's evidence that he switched the yes and no votes on a recall referendum in 2004, that he changed a 5% victory to a landslide 28% so he could claim a mandate for his revolution in 2006, and that he planned to rig a 13% margin rejecting his president-for-life referendum but then settled for a 1% loss when General Raul Baduel and hundreds of thousands of students demanded a fair count in 2007.

The anti-Semitic campaign could provide cover for Chávez's electoral legerdemain. Always in search of an enemy to blame for his failure at dealing with poverty and corruption, Chávez has steadily vanquished opposition political parties, while Chávez's "devil"--former president George W. Bush--has exited the scene.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


Reading the Signs: a review of Signs and Mysteries: Revealing Ancient Christian Symbols by Mike Aquilina (David Mills, Inside Catholic)

Take, for example, the fish, a symbol taken from both the Old and New Testaments and from nature. It was the most common symbol in the early Church, as far as we can tell from archaeology. Everyone knows that the first letters of the words "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" made up the Greek word ichthys, or fish. But Aquilina argues that the fish was a visual symbol before someone thought of using the word as a way of memorizing Jesus' titles.

Jewish Christians, for example, would remember the use of fish to symbolize God's people in the prophets Ezekiel and Habakkuk. Ezekiel talks of "very many fish" of "many kinds" in a river, with fisherman standing on the banks. These Christians saw themselves as the fish and the Church as the river. The fishermen symbolized the apostles and their successors the bishops, who were, as Jesus said, "fishers of men."

Some saw themselves as fish because fish are born in water, as we are reborn in baptism, and fish die when taken from the water, as we die outside the Church. People who regularly saw fish suffocating on the dock would know what life outside the Church would mean.

It was a symbol capable of elaboration. In the fourth century, St. Ambrose of Milan urged Christians to imitate the fish because even when "the storm rages, the winds howl, the fish swims, it does not sink, because it is wont to swim." The world "has many billows, heavy waves, fierce storms," he says. "Be a fish, so that the waves of the world do not sink you." Faithfulness, courage, obedience, perseverance ought to be as natural to us as swimming is to the fish, because unless we live like that, we will drown.

The fish was also a useful symbol at a time when marking yourself as a Christian could get you fed to the lions. For a time, it was one of the key words in the Christians' secret code. One tombstone Aquilina mentions called the Christians the "divine race of the heavenly fish," a name that would mean nothing to the outsider.

But for the early Christians, the fish was even more important as a symbol of the Eucharist. In the sixth chapter of his Gospel, John tells how Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes before giving His Bread of Life discourse, and then at the end of the Gospel tells how the resurrected Jesus prepared the same meal for His disciples.

The early Christians naturally saw Jesus' miraculous provision of food to hungry men, and indeed more food than anyone could eat, as a symbol of the Eucharist. Some early pictures of the Last Supper actually show a fish meal instead of the Passover supper. The fish declared the radical claim that, by participating in this ceremony, they were actually receiving the Son of God.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


Green eugenics: Population control has gone from culling the ‘unfit’ to finding the whole human race a nuisance. (Bill Muehlenberg, 10 February 2009, MercatorNet)

Who wants to be a eugenicist? Not President Barack Obama, I’m sure, and yet his reversing of the Mexico City Policy, which banned US foreign monies from going into organisations which perform or refer women for abortions, makes him an accomplice of a movement whose great aim, in the words of patron saint Margaret Sanger, is to stop the “unfit” breeding.

Now, billions of dollars of US foreign aid funds may go to groups for whom contraception, sterilization and abortion are all morally indifferent means to controlling the numbers of poor -- mostly brown -- people in the world. [...]

This sort of thing goes back a long way. An Egyptian Pharaoh of 3,500 years ago and a Jewish King of 2000 years ago both sought to put to death a generation of innocents. Pharaoh ordered the death of all male babies, while King Herod ordered the death of all male children under two years of age. Both were early examples of eugenicists and population controllers. We look back in horror at their genocidal plans, but we are not all that different today. There are still plenty of folk pushing radical population control and eugenics policies.

And the motivations may not be all that different either. Pharaoh wanted to cull the growing Israelite population in Egypt: they were a threat to his rule and reign. Herod did not want to see another contender to the throne arise (the promised Messiah), so he took radical steps to ensure this would not occur.

Today the motivations may not be dissimilar. Sure, any such human cull proposals are always dressed up in fancy rhetoric and humanitarian-sounding aims. We must do something to save the planet, we are told. But that often translates into something rather like this: My Western lifestyle is cramped because there are too many of you (fill in the blank) around. My turf is being invaded by the swarming hordes, and I want them culled, so I can live a more comfortable life.

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February 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:33 PM


Republicans Must Be a National Party: Florida's former governor on immigration, school choice, and the GOP's limited-government foundation. (Fred Barnes, 2/14/09, WSJ)

[Jeb] Bush becomes animated when talking about ideas and policy innovations -- he's an unorthodox Republican who latches onto reform ideas wherever he finds them. He's a fan of the school system in Sweden (more on this below). Currently he's reading "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns" -- on his Kindle electronic reader. And he's convinced Republicans should make a heroic effort to govern California because it's "a center of innovation and a place that looks like the changing demographics of our country, similar to Florida." [...]

[H]is current lack of interest in elective office surely is not the last word on Mr. Bush's political career. He's popular with both moderate and conservative Republicans, and more easy-going and genial than his brother George. Mr. Bush was a successful governor (1999-2007) of the fourth most populous state. His tenure was memorable because of his intense focus on reform of education, government, the budget process, civil service, health care, procurement and race-based programs. He also cut taxes in a state with no income tax.

What comes through when Mr. Bush is asked about education is how radical his views are. He would toss out the traditional K-to-12 scheme in favor of a credit system, like colleges have.

"It's not based on seat time," he says. "It's whether you accomplished the task. Now we're like GM in its heyday of mass production. We don't have a flourishing education system that's customized. There's a whole world out there that didn't exist 10 years ago, which is online learning. We have the ability today to customize learning so we don't cast young people aside."

This is where Sweden comes in. "The idea that somehow Sweden would be the land of innovation, where private involvement in what was considered a government activity, is quite shocking to us Americans," Mr. Bush says. "But they're way ahead of us. They have a totally voucherized system. The kids come from Baghdad, Somalia -- this is in the tougher part of Stockholm -- and they're learning three languages by the time they finish. . . . there's no reason we can't have that except we're stuck in the old way."

So are Republicans, Mr. Bush believes. But with a few adjustments, the GOP can become a modern reform party. "I don't think there's anything that holds us back," he says. "I think we're actually well positioned to do exactly that." Mr. Bush would stand the party on its head by de-emphasizing Washington and mounting "a real effort to play offense outside of Washington in advancing a reform agenda. I think a respectful, policy-oriented opposition in Washington will be quite effective." But the states are where "being able to change things is easier to do."

This approach "worked in the early 90s," Mr. Bush says. "We had some fantastic governors who were my role models." He mentions his brother when he led Texas, John Engler of Michigan and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin. "We had an all-star team." He likes the current crop of Republican governors, including Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Haley Barbour of Mississippi.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:39 PM


White House provides plane to senator for key stimulus vote (CNN, 2/13/09)

The plane is being provided by the White House, Brown's office said, because the vote is considered "official business," and there are no commercial flights available that would allow him to cast the vote and return to Ohio for his mother's funeral Saturday morning.

A White House official refused to provide a cost estimate for the military plane, but acknowledged "it will be a higher cost than if he were flying commercial."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


Geithner At G7: All Must Maintain Open Trade (Javno, 2/14/09)

Geithner, making his G7 debut in the role, also responded in sort to concerns that recession is breeding protectionism.

"All countries need to sustain a commitment to open trade and investment policies which are essential to economc growth and prosperity," he said.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:12 AM


Closing In On Hugo Chávez (Edward Schumacher-Matos, February 14, 2009, Washington Post)

Barring an oil miracle, the former army paratrooper is slowly being undone by his economic mismanagement and corruption, like any of a number of populist strongmen before him.

Oil prices may recover somewhat from their current lows of around $40 a barrel, but not soon and not anywhere near the more than $80 a barrel that Chávez needs to stave off a major currency devaluation that would stoke rampaging inflation and food shortages. His is a chronicle of a political death foretold, an old story that ended in most of Latin America in the 1980s but that Chávez and too many Venezuelans chose to revisit.

There is a lesson here for the new Obama administration. It should not engage Chávez in public quarreling and certainly should not work privately against him inside Venezuela. Both approaches are a fool's errands, ones that leftover Cold War warriors foisted on George W. Bush during his first term. The clever Chávez verbally made Bush into a laughingstock south of the border and badly damaged hemispheric trust in the United States when the Bush administration seemed to endorse a 2002 coup against Chávez that failed.

Obama should merely ignore Chávez and let Venezuelans take care of him.

Or at least that;'s the lesson if you don't care about the lives of Venezuelans. If you believe they deserve better then the lesson is we should have stepped in and made the coup work.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:00 AM


Obama's Rhetoric Is the Real 'Catastrophe' (BRADLEY R. SCHILLER, 2/13/09, WSJ)

This fearmongering may be good politics, but it is bad history and bad economics. It is bad history because our current economic woes don't come close to those of the 1930s. At worst, a comparison to the 1981-82 recession might be appropriate. Consider the job losses that Mr. Obama always cites. In the last year, the U.S. economy shed 3.4 million jobs. That's a grim statistic for sure, but represents just 2.2% of the labor force. From November 1981 to October 1982, 2.4 million jobs were lost -- fewer in number than today, but the labor force was smaller. So 1981-82 job losses totaled 2.2% of the labor force, the same as now.

Job losses in the Great Depression were of an entirely different magnitude. In 1930, the economy shed 4.8% of the labor force. In 1931, 6.5%. And then in 1932, another 7.1%. Jobs were being lost at double or triple the rate of 2008-09 or 1981-82.

This was reflected in unemployment rates. The latest survey pegs U.S. unemployment at 7.6%. That's more than three percentage points below the 1982 peak (10.8%) and not even a third of the peak in 1932 (25.2%). You simply can't equate 7.6% unemployment with the Great Depression.

Other economic statistics also dispel any analogy between today's economic woes and the Great Depression. Real gross domestic product (GDP) rose in 2008, despite a bad fourth quarter. The Congressional Budget Office projects a GDP decline of 2% in 2009. That's comparable to 1982, when GDP contracted by 1.9%. It is nothing like 1930, when GDP fell by 9%, or 1931, when GDP contracted by another 8%, or 1932, when it fell yet another 13%.

Auto production last year declined by roughly 25%. That looks good compared to 1932, when production shriveled by 90%. The failure of a couple of dozen banks in 2008 just doesn't compare to over 10,000 bank failures in 1933, or even the 3,000-plus bank (Savings & Loan) failures in 1987-88. Stockholders can take some solace from the fact that the recent stock market debacle doesn't come close to the 90% devaluation of the early 1930s.

Mr. Obama's analogies to the Great Depression are not only historically inaccurate, they're also dangerous.

Not least because gullible declinists on the Right imbibe them.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:55 AM


Big Red on wrong end of wild affair (Ithaca Journal, February 14, 2009)

HANOVER, N.H. — The ghosts of Thompson Arena have done it again.

Joe Gaudet scored his second goal of the game 1 minute, 5 seconds into overtime to lift the No. 19 Dartmouth men's hockey team to a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over No. 6 Cornell in a wild affair Friday night.

So wild, the winning goal may not have even crossed the goal line.

At the end of a Big Green power play, Adam Estoclet wheeled a shot from the left side that was deflected straight up by Gaudet at the top of the crease. The goal judge ruled it a goal, but referee Alex Dell — standing no more than 10 feet from the net — immediately waved it off.

Dartmouth players flooded the ice — first to celebrate, then to protest. The officials then huddled and Dell was over-ruled by the other referee, Bryan Hicks, who was positioned in the neutral zone during the play.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:50 AM


Bipartisanship Isn’t So Easy, Obama Sees (PETER BAKER, 1/14/09, NY Times)

Whatever it will do for the economy, the legislation that passed Friday will clearly not do anything to create long-term, sustained bipartisan reconciliation. Not one Republican voted for Mr. Obama’s plan in the House and just three voted for it in the Senate as it headed to final passage on Friday night. The party-line schism, coupled with the withdrawal on Thursday of a Republican senator, Judd Gregg, as a nominee to Mr. Obama’s cabinet, made clear the futility so far of the president’s effort to move Washington toward post-partisanship.

Their unrequited overtures to Republicans over the past several weeks taught Mr. Obama and his aides some hard lessons. Advisers concluded that they allowed the measure of bipartisanship to be defined as winning Republican votes rather than bringing civility to the debate, distracting attention from what have otherwise been major legislative victories. Although Mr. Obama vowed to keep reaching out to Republicans, advisers now believe the environment will probably not change in coming months.

Well, no one will accuse the new president of being as tenacious as the former in pursuit of his ends.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:39 AM


In Praise of Diplomacy: a review of WE CAN HAVE PEACE IN THE HOLY LAND: A Plan That Will Work By Jimmy Carter (GERSHOM GORENBERG, NY Times Book Review)

[“W]e Can Have Peace in the Holy Land” is really a short op-ed article disguised as a book. The argument, which might easily have been put in 900 words, is that Obama should follow ­Carter’s own example, defy political calculations and throw himself into Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

The goal, Carter says, should be reaching a two-state solution, with the borders between Israel and the Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 armistice lines, along with minor territorial exchanges. Obama should get to work at the start of his term, put his own peace proposals on the table and persuade both parties to accept them. Carter implies that Obama must separate support for Israel from support for Israel’s policies. In short, he should do what Carter says he did to bring peace between Israel and Egypt.

One can hardly blame Mr. Carter for wanting to take credit for the only positive thing that happened during his presidency, but the fact of the matter is that the peace between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin was entirely dependent on them and had nothing to do with the identity of the American president. Once Sadat decided peace would serve Egypt's interests better than war and there happened to be a hawk in control of Israel, who could silence the Right, the rest was inevitable.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:34 AM


The Audacity of Audaciousness (Dana Milbank, February 13, 2009, Washington Post)

[Obama campaign manager David] Plouffe was listed as the keynote speaker at the luncheon yesterday for "Transition 2009," sponsored by Georgetown University and Politico. The public was invited to the event -- students free of charge and everybody else for a fee. But at the last minute, Georgetown announced that Plouffe's speech would be "closed press," even though the speech was being given in the National Press Club ballroom, described on a plaque at the door as "the sanctum sanctorum of American journalists."

National Press Club President Donna Leinwand fired off an e-mail to Plouffe and his agents stating her "strong opposition" to the press banishment from its own club. "If Mr. Plouffe wants to keep secrets," she said, "Mr. Plouffe should stay at home."

Politico editor John Harris called it "a surprise to me and an unhappy one." Harris pulled out as moderator of the speech and said his publication was disassociating itself from the luncheon.

Un-sponsoring part of the two-day event, however, was rather tricky. The Politico emblem was still emblazoned on signs outside the ballroom and on the lanyards and name tags for attendees.

This sort of mess has become a trademark of the former Obama campaign manager.

The speed with which the UR and team has alienated a press that was only too happy to play lap dog during the campaign has been impressive.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:15 AM


The No-Stats All-Star (MICHAEL LEWIS, 2/15/09, NY Times Magazine)

Seldom are regular-season games in the N.B.A. easy to get worked up for. Yesterday Battier couldn’t tell me whom the team played three days before. (“The Knicks!” he exclaimed a minute later. “We played the Knicks!”) Tonight, though it was a midweek game in the middle of January, was different. Tonight the Rockets were playing the Los Angeles Lakers, and so Battier would guard Kobe Bryant, the player he says is the most capable of humiliating him. Both Battier and the Rockets’ front office were familiar with the story line. “I’m certain that Kobe is ready to just destroy Shane,” Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ general manager, told me. “Because there’s been story after story about how Shane shut Kobe down the last time.” Last time was March 16, 2008, when the Houston Rockets beat the Lakers to win their 22nd game in a row — the second-longest streak in N.B.A. history. The game drew a huge national television audience, which followed Bryant for his 47 miserable minutes: he shot 11 of 33 from the field and scored 24 points. “A lot of people watched,” Morey said. “Everyone ­watches Kobe when the Lakers play. And so everyone saw Kobe struggling. And so for the first time they saw what we’d been seeing.” Battier has routinely ­guarded the league’s most dangerous offensive players — LeBron James, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce — and has usually managed to render them, if not entirely ineffectual, then a lot less effectual than they normally are. He has done it so quietly that no one really notices what exactly he is up to.

Last season, in a bid to draw some attention to Battier’s defense, the Rockets’ public-relations department would send a staff member to the opponent’s locker room to ask leading questions of whichever superstar Battier had just hamstrung: “Why did you have so much trouble tonight?” “Did he do something to disrupt your game?” According to Battier: “They usually say they had an off night. They think of me as some chump.” He senses that some players actually look forward to being guarded by him. “No one dreads being guarded by me,” he said. Morey confirmed as much: “That’s actually true. But for two reasons: (a) They don’t think anyone can guard them and (b) they really scoff at the notion Shane Battier could guard them. They all think his reputation exceeds his ability.” Even as Battier was being introduced in the arena, Ahmad Rashad was wrapping up his pregame report on NBA TV and saying, “Shane Battier will try to stop Kobe Bryant.” This caused the co-host Gary Payton to laugh and reply, “Ain’t gonna happen,” and the other co-host, Chris Webber, to add, “I think Kobe will score 50, and they’ll win by 19 going away.”

Early on, Hoop Scoop magazine named Shane Battier the fourth-best seventh grader in the United States. When he graduated from Detroit Country Day School in 1997, he received the Naismith Award as the best high-school basketball player in the nation. When he graduated from Duke in 2001, where he won a record-tying 131 college-basketball games, including that year’s N.C.A.A. championship, he received another Naismith Award as the best college basketball player in the nation. He was drafted in the first round by the woeful Memphis Grizzlies, not just a bad basketball team but the one with the worst winning percentage in N.B.A. history — whereupon he was almost instantly dismissed, even by his own franchise, as a lesser talent. The year after Battier joined the Grizzlies, the team’s general manager was fired and the N.B.A. legend Jerry West, a k a the Logo because his silhouette is the official emblem of the N.B.A., took over the team. “From the minute Jerry West got there he was trying to trade me,” Battier says. If West didn’t have any takers, it was in part because Battier seemed limited: most of the other players on the court, and some of the players on the bench, too, were more obviously gifted than he is. “He’s, at best, a marginal N.B.A. athlete,” Morey says.

The Grizzlies went from 23-59 in Battier’s rookie year to 50-32 in his third year, when they made the N.B.A. playoffs, as they did in each of his final three seasons with the team. Before the 2006-7 season, Battier was traded to the Houston Rockets, who had just finished 34-48. In his first season with the Rockets, they finished 52-30, and then, last year, went 55-27 — including one stretch of 22 wins in a row. Only the 1971-2 Los Angeles Lakers have won more games consecutively in the N.B.A. And because of injuries, the Rockets played 11 of those 22 games without their two acknowledged stars, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, on the court at the same time; the Rockets player who spent the most time actually playing for the Rockets during the streak was Shane Battier. This year Battier, recovering from off-season surgery to remove bone spurs from an ankle, has played in just over half of the Rockets’ games. That has only highlighted his importance. “This year,” Morey says, “we have been a championship team with him and a bubble playoff team without him.”

Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars. And yet every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win.

Solving the mystery is somewhere near the heart of Daryl Morey’s job. In 2005, the Houston Rockets’ owner, Leslie Alexander, decided to hire new management for his losing team and went looking specifically for someone willing to rethink the game. “We now have all this data,” Alexander told me. “And we have computers that can analyze that data. And I wanted to use that data in a progressive way. When I hired Daryl, it was because I wanted somebody that was doing more than just looking at players in the normal way. I mean, I’m not even sure we’re playing the game the right way.”

The virus that infected professional baseball in the 1990s, the use of statistics to find new and better ways to value players and strategies, has found its way into every major sport. Not just basketball and football, but also soccer and cricket and rugby and, for all I know, snooker and darts — each one now supports a subculture of smart people who view it not just as a game to be played but as a problem to be solved. Outcomes that seem, after the fact, all but inevitable — of course LeBron James hit that buzzer beater, of course the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl — are instead treated as a set of probabilities, even after the fact. The games are games of odds. Like professional card counters, the modern thinkers want to play the odds as efficiently as they can; but of course to play the odds efficiently they must first know the odds. Hence the new statistics, and the quest to acquire new data, and the intense interest in measuring the impact of every little thing a player does on his team’s chances of winning. In its spirit of inquiry, this subculture inside professional basketball is no different from the subculture inside baseball or football or darts. The difference in basketball is that it happens to be the sport that is most like life.

When Alexander, a Wall Street investor, bought the Rockets in 1993, the notion that basketball was awaiting some statistical reformation hadn’t occurred to anyone. At the time, Daryl Morey was at Northwestern University, trying to figure out how to get a job in professional sports and thinking about applying to business schools. He was tall and had played high-school basketball, but otherwise he gave off a quizzical, geeky aura. “A lot of people who are into the new try to hide it,” he says. “With me there was no point.” In the third grade he stumbled upon the work of the baseball writer Bill James — the figure most responsible for the current upheaval in professional sports — and decided that what he really wanted to do with his life was put Jamesian principles into practice. He nursed this ambition through a fairly conventional academic career, which eventually took him to M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management. There he opted for the entrepreneurial track, not because he actually wanted to be an entrepreneur but because he figured that the only way he would ever be allowed to run a pro-sports franchise was to own one, and the only way he could imagine having enough money to buy one was to create some huge business. “This is the 1990s — there’s no Theo,” Morey says, referring to Theo Epstein, the statistics-minded general manager of the Boston Red Sox. “Sandy Alderson is progressive, but nobody knows it.” Sandy Alderson, then the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, had also read Bill James and begun to usher in the new age of statistical analysis in baseball. “So,” Morey continues, “I just assumed that getting rich was the only way in.” Apart from using it to acquire a pro-sports team, Morey had no exceptional interest in money.

He didn’t need great wealth, as it turned out. After graduating from business school, he went to work for a consulting firm in Boston called Parthenon, where he was tapped in 2001 to advise a group trying to buy the Red Sox. The bid failed, but a related group went and bought the Celtics — and hired Morey to help reorganize the business. In addition to figuring out where to set ticket prices, Morey helped to find a new general manager and new people looking for better ways to value basketball players. The Celtics improved. Leslie Alexander heard whispers that Morey, who was 33, was out in front of those trying to rethink the game, so he hired him to remake the Houston Rockets.

When Morey came to the Rockets, a huge chunk of the team’s allotted payroll — the N.B.A. caps payrolls and taxes teams that exceed them — was committed, for many years to come, to two superstars: Tracy ­McGrady and Yao Ming. Morey had to find ways to improve the Rockets without spending money. “We couldn’t afford another superstar,” he says, “so we went looking for nonsuperstars that we thought were undervalued.” He went looking, essentially, for underpaid players. “That’s the scarce resource in the N.B.A.,” he says. “Not the superstar but the undervalued player.” Sifting the population of midlevel N.B.A. players, he came up with a list of 15, near the top of which was the Memphis Grizzlies’ forward Shane Battier. This perplexed even the man who hired Morey to rethink basketball. “All I knew was Shane’s stats,” Alexander says, “and obviously they weren’t great. He had to sell me. It was hard for me to see it.”

Alexander wasn’t alone. It was, and is, far easier to spot what Battier doesn’t do than what he does. His conventional statistics are unremarkable: he doesn’t score many points, snag many rebounds, block many shots, steal many balls or dish out many assists. On top of that, it is easy to see what he can never do: what points he scores tend to come from jump shots taken immediately after receiving a pass. “That’s the telltale sign of someone who can’t ramp up his offense,” Morey says. “Because you can guard that shot with one player. And until you can’t guard someone with one player, you really haven’t created an offensive situation. Shane can’t create an offensive situation. He needs to be open.” For fun, Morey shows me video of a few rare instances of Battier scoring when he hasn’t ­exactly been open. Some large percentage of them came when he was being guarded by an inferior defender — whereupon Battier backed him down and tossed in a left jump-hook. “This is probably, to be honest with you, his only offensive move,” Morey says. “But look, see how he pump fakes.” Battier indeed pump faked, several times, before he shot over a defender. “He does that because he’s worried about his shot being blocked.” Battier’s weaknesses arise from physical limitations. Or, as Morey puts it, “He can’t dribble, he’s slow and hasn’t got much body control.”

Battier’s game is a weird combination of obvious weaknesses and nearly invisible strengths. When he is on the court, his teammates get better, often a lot better, and his opponents get worse — often a lot worse. He may not grab huge numbers of rebounds, but he has an uncanny ability to improve his teammates’ rebounding. He doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he takes only the most efficient shots. He also has a knack for getting the ball to teammates who are in a position to do the same, and he commits few turnovers. On defense, although he routinely guards the N.B.A.’s most prolific scorers, he significantly ­reduces their shooting percentages. At the same time he somehow improves the defensive efficiency of his teammates — probably, Morey surmises, by helping them out in all sorts of subtle ways. “I call him Lego,” Morey says. “When he’s on the court, all the pieces start to fit together. And everything that leads to winning that you can get to through intellect instead of innate ability, Shane excels in. I’ll bet he’s in the hundredth percentile of every category.”

There are other things Morey has noticed too, but declines to discuss as there is right now in pro basketball real value to new information, and the Rockets feel they have some.

...is the effect one persona can have on such small teams. When Kevin Garnett came to the Celtics, all of a sudden everyone on the team was ashamed to not be seen playing as hard as he does, especially on defense.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


The Saharan Conundrum (NICHOLAS SCHMIDLE, 2/15/09, NY Times Magazine)

“I have always thought that democracy was our best antiterror weapon,” Mark Boulware, the American ambassador to Mauritania, told me when I met him in Washington last fall. Boulware arrived in Mauritania at an opportune time. In April 2007, Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi became president after the country’s first transparent election. Cooperation with the United States on security issues immediately resumed, ending a two-year hiatus that followed a coup in 2005. With Abdallahi’s presidency, the Bush administration’s two dominant priorities, fighting terrorism and promoting democracy, appeared to dovetail perfectly.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte flew to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, for Abdallahi’s inauguration ceremony. Months later, Bush invited Abdallahi to an intimate discussion among emerging democracies during the United Nations General Assembly meeting. Washington welcomed Mauritania into its Threshold Program, an anteroom to full membership in the Millennium Challenge Account — the flagship of the Bush administration’s approach to development aid, where funds became available only after countries achieved a certain score on a range of good-government indexes.

The democratic movement in Mauritania did not last long. Last August, Abdallahi’s generals overthrew him after he tried to fire them. The American partnership with Mauritania promptly collapsed. A high-tech American surveillance plane, which had been based in Mauritania to fly over the northern part of the country, searching for Al Qaeda training camps, was removed, as were the 80 or so Army and Marine Special Forces troops that were training a counterterrorism unit. The Threshold Program funds dried up, and Mauritania’s chances for membership in the Millennium Challenge Account disappeared.

“We were using Mauritania as an example of how countries should move forward with elections,” Dell Dailey, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, told me. Dailey served more than three decades in the army’s shadowy world of Special Operations, eventually leading such operations in Iraq and Afghanistan before joining the State Department in the summer of 2007. Dailey said the American message was simple: “When you hold elections, there are certain benefits, like assistance in security and law enforcement and economic development. The three pillars of trying to defeat terrorism and build a good society are development, good governance and security. In Mauritania, they were moving in that direction. The coup was extremely disappointing.”

The junta tried to convince the world otherwise, claiming that Abdallahi had been weak on terrorism. The new leaders said that, by legalizing an Islamist party and meeting with moderate Islamists to request help in challenging the growing militant Salafist movement in the country, Abdallahi paved the way for a string of terrorist attacks in Mauritania over the past two years. The military’s charges were ignored by Washington, however.

To this day, Washington considers Abdallahi the legitimate president of Mauritania. Two capitals coexist: one in Nouakchott, where Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz occupies the presidential palace; and one in Abdallahi’s hometown, Lemden, where he lives in internal exile. (On the anniversary of Mauritania’s independence day, Bush sent Abdallahi a congratulatory letter there.) Even the vocabularies used in the two capitals are different: Abdallahi and his supporters slip the words “democracy” and “election” into every sentence, while the junta talks about “terrorism” and “Al Qaeda” at every turn.

Now, the junta waits for President Barack Obama to give the country a fresh look. “We hope that your new president, a young man with the interests of Africa in mind, will be more understanding of our situation,” Mohamed Ould Moine, the minister of communication, told me.

After all, the Realists don't think colored peoples capable of self-government.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:01 AM


A New Role for Iraqi Militants: Patrons of the Arts (STEVEN LEE MYERS, 2/14/09, NY Times)

Two years ago the American authorities arrested Sheik Mazin al-Saedi, a senior aide to the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr, accusing him of organizing kidnappings and killings.

This week in Baghdad, the city once terrorized by those killings, Sheik Mazin mingled in a white-walled art gallery as the patron of an exhibition of paintings and sculptures that would not, exactly, be out of place in Chelsea or SoHo: abstract art, expressionist paintings and conceptual works larded with symbols of Iraq’s ancient history and today’s reality.

The goal was “to show the entire world that we are not as the media portrays us, a movement that believes only in bearing arms and knows no culture other than that of violence,” Sheik Mazin said of Mr. Sadr’s movement, which is widely blamed for its part in the violence that followed the American invasion in 2003.

“The Sadr movement,” he said, “is also one that believes in ideas and encourages and patronizes the arts.”

It's been obvious for some time that they're primary a cultural movement, but couldn't they blow up abstract art instead?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:51 AM


Moment Turned on a Memory (Philip Rucker, 2/14/09, Washington Post)

The House Republican leader dropped a printout of the 1,100-page stimulus bill on the House floor, claiming it was overweight with spending. The Democratic House speaker likened the bill's passage to Abraham Lincoln's preservation of the union. By dusk, after the $787 billion economic recovery package had sailed through the House and 59 senators had voted in favor, the nearly empty Senate chamber fell silent. The proceedings remained open for five painstaking hours as Senate leaders awaited the climactic return of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who flew in from Ohio and cast the decisive 60th aye vote.

Brown strode into the chamber at 10:45 p.m., wearing a dark suit and no smile.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:06 AM


Suspected US missile strike kills 27 in Pakistan (AP< 14/02/2009)

A suspected U.S. missile strike by a drone aircraft flattened a militant hide-out in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing 27 local and foreign insurgents, intelligence officials said.

Several more purported militants were wounded in the attack in South Waziristan, a militant stronghold near the Afghan border where al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri are believed to be hiding.

The new U.S. administration has brushed off Pakistani criticism that the missile strikes fuel religious extremism and boost anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world's only nuclear-armed nation.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:55 AM


The Obamateur Hour: How long will it last? (Mark Steyn, 1/14/09, National Review)

Few pieces of political “wisdom” are more tediously recycled than a well-retailed bon mot of British prime minister Harold Macmillan. Asked what he feared most in the months ahead, he gave an amused Edwardian response: “Events, dear boy, events.” In other words, you can plan all you want but next month, next year, some guy off the radar screen will launch a war, or there’ll be an earthquake, or something. Governments get thrown off course by “events.”

It suggests a perverse kind of genius that the 44th president did not wait for a single “event” to throw him off course. Instead he threw himself off: “Is Obama tanking already?” (Congressional Quarterly); “Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed?” (the Financial Times). Whether or not it’s “already” failed or tanked, the monthly magazines still gazing out from their newsstands with their glossy inaugural covers of a smiling Barack and Michelle waltzing on the audacity of hope seem like musty historical artifacts from a lost age. The ship didn’t need to hit an iceberg; it stalled halfway down the slipway. This is still the phase before “events” come into play, when an incoming president has nothing to get in the way of his judgment and executive competence.

No one voted for him on the basis of either.

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February 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:56 PM


Obituary: Professor Michael Majerus - Geneticist who defended Darwin in battle against creationism (Belfast Telegraph, 13 February 2009)

Majerus was internationally known in the fields of ecological and evolutionary genetics. His best-known work was on the Peppered Moth, which has two forms, one light and speckled, the other dark and sooty (knownas melanic), and has long been heldto be an example of evolution in action. The dark form predominates in polluted areas because it is less easilyspotted by birds when at rest ontrees. Stung by a review of his 1997 book, Melanism: Evolution in Action, which rejected the supporting evidence and so became grist to the mill of creationists, Majerus set about proving his case.

It took him seven years of meticulously planned experiments which tested and compared the predation of the moths by birds and bats by release and recapture, and of the respective behaviour of wild and lab-reared moths. He also redetermined exactly where the moths rest by day, a controversial part of the original research which had been criticised on the grounds that the moths never rested on tree trunks. Majerus proved the critics wrong: they do (it is just that they are hard to see). His work is seen as a significant contribution to the evolution versus creation/intelligent design debate, and has helped to swing the international scientific consensus back in favour of the Peppered Moth as a supreme and easily understood example of evolution.

You have to feel sorry for the poor guy, he got so caught up in the minutiae of the fraud that he lost sight of the fact that even the original claim for peppered moths actually said nothing in favor of Darwinism, indeed, argued against it.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:46 PM


Network Nation (Leon Wieseltier, February 18, 2009, The New Republic)

One of the most momentous questions facing our society concerns the impact of the new technologies of communication on our conception of human relations. That we are all connected is plain, but what is the quality of our connection? The ideal of a "national conversation" seems to have been electronically fulfilled, but does a nation really converse? What do the social networking sites conceal about an individual and what do they reveal? (They certainly reveal a horror of concealment.) When a society is described as a network, what is gained and what is lost? The network is the controlling metaphor of our age, but the wisdom of John McClane keeps nagging at me: "It's not a system, it's a country." Some months ago I listened with amazement to a hotshot Israeli think-tanker explain that the medieval Jewish community was the first world wide web, and that therefore we could not understand it until the world wide web was invented. It was the dumbest thing I heard last year. I raise these doubts because of the email that I received from President Barack Obama. For one of his innovations in American politics has been the zealous adoption of the ideology of the network. To be sure, there were practical reasons: email and YouTube are cheaper than direct mail, and of course cooler--but direct mail is all they are. The number of people who can be reached in an instant is genuinely astounding--but this is a marketer's dream, nothing more. Btw, is not electronic communication the most facile and the most fleeting communication? Scholars have documented the inexorable effect of the Internet in creating "communities of interest," and the Obama machine wishes to portray the nation itself as a community of interest; but this returns us once again to that mythical unity. What is more likely happening is that Obama's community of interest is depicting itself as America's community of interest. Communities of interest are formations of exclusiveness enabled by technologies of inclusiveness. So it was odd to get that email from my president. I voted for him, and I gave him a few dollars, but I do not revolve in his vast magical orbit. The personal touch had a distinctly de-personalizing effect, the way Amazon does when it teaches me about my tastes. The Obama machine may be excited to be connected to me, but I am not excited to be connected to it. I am not connected to it. The jazziness of the means aside, this was junk mail.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:23 PM


House Passes Stimulus Bill Without Republican Support
Senate to Vote Later Friday
(GREG HITT, 2/13/09, WSJ)

Seven Democrats voted with 176 Republicans against the package. A Senate vote is expected as soon as late Friday.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, battling brain cancer, will miss the vote, according to the Associated Press. Kennedy spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner said Friday that Sen. Kennedy was continuing his treatment and physical rehabilitation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:34 PM


Feinstein comment on U.S. drones likely to embarrass Pakistan (Greg Miller, February 13, 2009, LA Times)

A senior U.S. lawmaker said Thursday that unmanned CIA Predator aircraft operating in Pakistan are flown from an air base in that country, a revelation likely to embarrass the Pakistani government and complicate its counter-terrorism collaboration with the United States.

The disclosure by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, marked the first time a U.S. official had publicly commented on where the Predator aircraft patrolling Pakistan take off and land.

At a hearing, Feinstein expressed surprise over Pakistani opposition to the campaign of Predator-launched CIA missile strikes against Islamic extremist targets along Pakistan's northwestern border.

The childish party ought not be allowed grown-up knowledge.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:14 AM


The Other Side of Disgust (L. Brent Bozell III, 2/13/09, CNSNews.com)

Daniel Bergner isn’t the devil’s advocate, but he is a pervert’s apologist. This author and contributor to the New York Times Magazine has a new book titled The Other Side of Desire, which argues it is unfair to judge bizarre, harmful, and disgusting sexual attractions as bizarre, harmful, and disgusting.

Bergner’s book focuses on four real-life fetishists: a husband with a secret foot fetish, a man with an attraction to amputees, a vicious female sadist, and a man who longs for sex with his 12-year-old stepdaughter. Book reviews and interviews suggest he hasn’t written a book to judge the fetishists, but rather to judge the society that would rush to condemn their drives and behaviors.

Bergner tries to define deviancy down by quoting one of his experts, a New York psychiatrist who quips, "perversion can be defined as the sex that you like and I don't.”

...there's no rational basis for opposing the rest of the perversions

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:09 AM


Why Gregg Withdrew (William Kristol, February 13, 2009, Washington Post)

The story circulating among Hill Republicans is that Gregg wasn’t notified about the Census matter before the announcement, and that he demanded of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel a few days ago that the decision be reversed. I'm told that Emanuel said he would get back to him, but Gregg heard nothing. So he requested a meeting with the president and said he couldn’t be part of the Obama administration.

One effect of this story will be to exacerbate the sense among Republicans that, after all the happy talk during the transition, the Obama administration has taken on a surprisingly political and partisan cast. Republicans on the Hill with whom I’ve spoken are in a sense relieved; they were worried that clever “post-partisan” or bipartisan tactics by Obama could split and weaken an already uncertain and demoralized GOP. But if it is true that Rahm Emanuel chooses to behave like Karl Rove on steroids, then Republican unity and fighting spirit will be pretty easy to maintain.

Note that W didn't make Turdblossom his Chief of Staff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


The 10 Most Redeeming Films of 2008: What do irresistible robots, racist curmudgeons, and sensitive pachyderms have in common? They're all key characters in the year's best redemptive movies. (Christianity Today, January 27, 2009)

1. Wall•E
directed by Andrew Stanton

"A meaningful masterpiece that offers as much food for thought to adults as it does to children." "Whimsical comedy, thrilling action, threads of Noah's Ark and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and an inspiring mechanical hero—a fusion of R2D2, Woody Allen, and Charlie Chaplin—who reminds us that humanity at its best, living responsibly and passionately, just might help us out of the mess we've made at our worst." "Unconditional love." "A wake-up call to be aware of the beauty that is round us at all times." "A thing of beauty—a true artist's picture that is both entertaining, provocative, subtle, sad, and joyful." "Existential longing, awe and apocalyptic hope form the ambitious thematic terrain of this poetic, mesmerizing film." "A timeless parable about love in the ruins—a testament to the power of love to transform darkness into light."

2. The Visitor
directed by Tom McCarthy

"A withdrawn professor's static life is shaken up—and ultimately enriched—by his unexpected involvement in the lives of a pair of illegal aliens." "When Walter reaches out to two needy immigrants, he changes their lives and redeems his own, becoming a Christ-like sufferer alongside the oppressed." "A tale about the rewards of living with courage, conscience, and compassion." "It buys the right to discuss the U.S.'s treatment of immigrants because it was first and foremost a story of people. I cared for these people." "Though the film tackles a weighty issue and—ultimately—provides no easy answers, it is thoroughly satisfying. It oozes goodness, humanity, and a classy reverence for dignity and trans-cultural decorum." "A film about tricky political issues that eschews polemics in favor of real compassion."

3. Gran Torino
directed by Clint Eastwood

"Eastwood adds an interesting new wrinkle to the themes of mortality, violence, revenge and redemption that have been so prominent in his more recent films." "Some have said that Gran Torino doesn't have a happy ending, but the symbolism of what happens points to loving sacrifice and the complete commitment of one's life for the betterment of others." "We see a man redeemed from hatred to love for neighbors who steadily and persistently showed him love—even when he continually pushed them away." "Profound on a number of levels—a commentary on our contemporary zeitgeist but also a timeless story of redemption, sacrifice, and grace. It's Eastwood working through his own Dirty Harry mythos, atoning for his own cinematic sins in the same way that any of us must reckon with our past as we age and the world changes."

4. Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who
directed by Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino

"When the Mayor of Whoville raises his voice to a mysterious, invisible presence in the sky, he shows his people how to live with courageous faith. When Horton risks his own reputation to save microscopic lives, he reminds us of the importance of looking closer, and of serving with humility." "The film encourages us to look both 'up' and 'down'—to humble ourselves and see ourselves as small, yet also to see the greatness that exists in others who we may find all too easy to dismiss." "A wonderful allusion to how God loves us." "Horton has such love for the Whos that he cares for them without fail—and wants to know them, and characters trust and believe without seeing. Neither the Whos nor Horton have 'proof' for the existence of the other except for the voice they can hear. Horton listens to the still, quiet voice and chooses to believe the impossible—even in the face of opposition." "Horton is one of the year's best and most inspiring heroes; celebrates courage, dedication, compassion and even forgiveness."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


Democracy proves a winner (Anita Barraud, February 14, 2009, The Australian)

While waiting at Denpasar airport in Bali, I meet a young man from Flores, an island off the coast of West Timor. We chat and I tell him my brief: four radio programs exploring Indonesia's transition to democracy.

He laughs. "Indonesia has had democracy for just over 10 years. There are countries that have had it for 150 years and still haven't got it right," he says.

He has a point. Since 1998, Indonesia has transformed. There are now more than 30 political parties, a robust anti-corruption drive and the military, officially at least, is banned from political influence. The conservative Islamic parties have suspended campaigns for the introduction of shariah law. The two main Muslim organisations are stressing a just and prosperous nation rather than an Islamic state.

In little more than a decade, Indonesia has guaranteed freedom of the press, expression and association, and has signed all the major UN conventions on human rights and disability and mandated sexual equality, aiming for 30 per cent female representation in all government administrations.

East Timor gained its independence and Aceh achieved special autonomy status. Open a newspaper in Indonesia, watch afternoon talk shows on television and you'll find vigorous discussion and criticism, even ribald satire, on issues that rival any in a Western democracy.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:41 AM


Slain Somali president's son to become PM (Reuters, 2/13/09)

Somalia's president has chosen Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the U.S.-based son of a murdered former leader, to be prime minister in a unity government intended to end civil conflict, official sources said on Friday.

Showing the task awaiting Sharmarke and newly-elected President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, an al Qaeda leader urged jihad against the Western-backed, moderate Islamic government.

"Aim your arrows towards them ... direct your battles against them and intensify your campaign," Abu Yahya al-Libi said in a video released on Islamist web sites on Friday.

Sharmarke's nomination -- designed to shore up both diaspora and national support for the administration that is the 15th attempt to set up government in Somalia since 1991 -- drew wide approval among many Somalis but condemnation by local rebels.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:22 AM


Superhero Conservatism (David Swindle, February 13, 2009, FrontPageMagazine.com)

We see certain ideas in particular in last year's three best superhero films: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk. And just what is the political vision that appears? One that's fundamentally conservative, albeit in very different fashions. [...]

In another of 2008's most popular superhero films, Iron Man, we see clear political themes emerge in the character of its protagonist Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) One of the bonus features provides an extensive look into the origins of the character and the last four years of his comics history.

Stan Lee, Iron Man's co-creator described in one of the featurettes on the Iron Man DVD how he intentionally made a conservative character:

Well it was a funny thing. I think I gave myself a dare. It was the height of the Cold War. The readers – the young readers – if there was one thing they hated it was war, it was the military, or, as Eisenhower called it, the military-industrial complex. So I got a hero who represented that to the hundredth degree. He was a weapons manufacturer. He was providing weapons for the army. He was rich. He was an industrialist. But he was good-looking guy and he was courageous… I thought it would be fun to take the kind of character that nobody would like – that none of our readers would like – and shove him down their throats and make them like him… I kind of had Howard Hughes in mind – without being crazy, he was Howard Hughes.

Right from the beginning of the film Stark is depicted as a man of the Right. As the CEO of Stark Industries he's a capitalist. Not only is he a business genius but an inventor as well, continually developing new inventions and technologies.

He's also a patriot, having come to the realization that the American Idea allows for the freedom that has given him such a wonderful life. And so he applies his genius to develop weapons which he then sells to the military.

Stark certainly isn't a social conservative, though. A bit of a womanizer, he makes a habit of seducing the attractive, leftist journalists who start out insulting him in their interviews.

In the film Stark's origin story is updated from taking place in Vietnam in 1963 to Afghanistan in modern times. While in the deserts demonstrating his newest missile for the military he's kidnapped by a terrorist group who then try and force him to build weapons for them. Instead, Stark secretly builds his first Iron Man suit which he uses to escape.

Stark returns traumatized from his experiences. His first reaction is one of pacifism – to announce that his company will no longer make weapons. It's an understandable response for someone who's just been on the receiving end of the products he's made a fortune selling. Once he gets his head on straight, though, he comes to different conclusions. It's not the weapons which are to blame, but the malevolent people using them. So, he develops better weapons – in the form of a more advanced version of the Iron Man suit – to defeat them.

In the film we see a particularly entertaining depiction of a conservative truth: the need to have superior firepower drives technological innovation. How many present-day technologies that make our lives better and easier have their origins in military development? It's no coincidence that the same innovative energy source that powers Stark's suit also keeps his heart running.

Stan Lee's particular genius was to recognize that awkward young men would recognize with heroes who were vulnerable beneath their costumes. But, the point is that they got to put on the costumes and kick some butt. The notion that those readers opposed war is hilarious.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:12 AM


The Real Lesson Of The New Deal: Deficits were too small, not too large. (Bruce Bartlett, 02.13.09, Forbes)

[I]n terms of fiscal policy, Roosevelt's error wasn't that he spent too much, but that he didn't spend nearly enough.

As economists Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz proved to the satisfaction of most economists, the core economic problem in the early 1930s was a contraction of the money supply by a third. This caused the general price level to fall by about 25%.

Deflation caused real wages to rise, forcing employers to lay off workers to reduce labor costs; it forced businesses to go bankrupt because they had to sell goods for less than they cost to produce; it magnified the burden of debts as borrowers had to repay loans in dollars worth more than those they were lent; and it increased real interest rates and the real burden of taxation. [...]

The critics were also totally opposed to deficit spending. As with Republicans today, they said that federal borrowing would simply draw funds out of productive uses in the private sector to be squandered on make-work government jobs, pork barrel projects of dubious value and welfare programs that would sap the dynamism of the American economy.

Apparently, it didn't occur to these critics that the existence of vast unemployment, closed factories, abandoned farms and extremely low interest rates meant that much of the private sector's resources were simply idle. Borrowing them by running deficits didn't reduce private output because there were no alternative uses available.

Furthermore, an expansive fiscal policy was essential to recovery because without it monetary policy was impotent and deflationary conditions continued. Although Roosevelt had economists like Leon Henderson and Lauchlin Currie around him who perfectly well understood this, he did not heed their advice.

Roosevelt preferred instead the counsel of Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, who argued that the modest budget deficits Roosevelt ran in his first term were exacerbating the economy's problems, rather than being part of the cure. In 1937, Morgenthau was successful in getting Roosevelt to raise taxes and cut spending, and in convincing the Fed to tighten monetary policy because prices were finally starting to rise.

Globalization and technology have created long term deflationary pressures and it's deflation of the good sort. But we concurrently have deflation of the bad sort and you counteract that by pumping money into the economy. There would seem no better way to do that than to directly give money back to the tax payers.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Gregg flip-flop emboldens GOP (CHARLES MAHTESIAN, 2/13/09, Politico)

Republicans applauded boisterously when Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) opened a closed-door meeting in the Capitol basement Thursday night by announcing Gregg’s withdrawal.

"He made a difficult decision to turn down a job that a lot of Republicans could take," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.). "Here's a guy who's going to turn down his place in the history books."

In pulling out, Gregg pointed to “irresolvable conflicts” on the two issues behind which the Republicans have been closing ranks—the stimulus package and the alleged politicization of the census.

“We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy,” he said in a statement issued by his Senate office.

By citing reservations about the economic recovery package, Gregg reinforced widespread GOP criticism about wasteful spending that has less to do with reviving the economy than rewarding Democratic constituencies. And by noting his differing view on the census, Gregg breathed life into Republican charges of a White House power grab over a critical Commerce Department function.

It'll be fun to see who takes a job that the Senator has basically just redefined as being Rahm Emanuel's prison wife.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:03 AM


Nationalize Insolvent Banks : Paradoxically, this is a market-friendly solution to the crisis. (Nouriel Roubini, 02.12.09, , Forbes)

[T]he new Treasury plan would end up being again a royal rip-off of the taxpayer if the guarantee is excessive in relation to the true value of the underlying assets. And if, instead, the guarantee is not excessive, the banks need to sell the toxic assets at their true underlying value, implying that the emperor has no clothes.

A true valuation of the bad assets--without a huge taxpayer bailout of the shareholders and unsecured creditors of banks--implies that banks are bankrupt and should be taken over by the government.

Thus, all the schemes that have so far been proposed to deal with the toxic assets of the banks may be a big fudge--one that either does not work or works only if the government bails out shareholders and unsecured creditors of the banks.

So, paradoxically, nationalization may be a more market-friendly solution to a banking crisis. It creates the biggest hit for common and preferred shareholders of clearly insolvent institutions and, most certainly, even the unsecured creditors, in case the bank insolvency hole is too large; it also provides a fair upside to the taxpayer.

Nationalization can also resolve the problem of the government managing the bad assets: If you're selling back all the banks' assets and deposits to new private shareholders after a clean-up, together with a partial government guarantee of the bad assets (as was done in the resolution of the Indy Mac bank failure), you avoid having the government manage the bad assets.

Alternatively, if the bad assets are kept by the government after a takeover of the banks and only the good ones are sold back, through a reprivatization scheme, the government could outsource the job of managing these assets to private asset managers. In this way, the government can avoid creating its own Resolution Trust Corp. bank to work out such bad assets.

In Japan’s Stagnant Decade, Cautionary Tales for America (HIROKO TABUCHI, 2/13/09, NY Times)
The Japanese have been here before. They endured a “lost decade” of economic stagnation in the 1990s as their banks labored under crippling debt, and successive governments wasted trillions of yen on half-measures.

Only in 2003 did the government finally take the actions that helped lead to a recovery: forcing major banks to submit to merciless audits and declare bad debts; spending two trillion yen to effectively nationalize a major bank, wiping out its shareholders; and allowing weaker banks to fail.

By then, Tokyo’s main Nikkei stock index had lost almost three-quarters of its value. The country’s public debt had grown to exceed its gross domestic product, and deflation stalked the land. In the end, real estate prices fell for 15 consecutive years.

More alarming? Some students of the Japanese debacle say they see a similar train wreck heading for the United States.

“I thought America had studied Japan’s failures,” said Hirofumi Gomi, a top official at Japan’s Financial Services Agency during the crisis. “Why is it making the same mistakes?”

Many American critics of the plan unveiled Tuesday by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said the plan lacked details. Experts on Japan found it timid — especially given the size of the banking crisis the administration faces.

“I think they know how big it is, but they don’t want to say how big it is. It’s so big they can’t acknowledge it,” said John H. Makin, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, referring to administration officials. “The lesson from Japan in the 1990s was that they should have stepped up and nationalized the banks.”

Knowing what you need to do and going against ideology to do it are two very different things.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Gregg Withdraws As Commerce Pick: Republican Senator Cites Policy Disagreements As Congress Prepares to Vote on Stimulus Plan (Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear, 2/13/09, Washington Post)

The episode underscored how burdensome Cabinet selection has become for the new administration, which has watched nearly half a dozen of its top appointees withdraw or face embarrassing scrutiny over the past several weeks. The slip-ups have caused the White House to revamp its vetting process and have slowed down confirmations for nominees already in the pipeline.

And now Obama is left with two key openings -- at the departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services -- and more questions about his personnel choices.

Gregg's withdrawal comes as Congress prepares for final passage of a $789 billion stimulus package; Obama previously got no Republican votes for the legislation in the House and only three in the Senate.

...right up until W actually left office and the UR took over....

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Gregg Was a Square Peg as Commerce Nominee (Jonathan Allen, 2/13/09, CQ)

Gregg played down the significance of a partisan scrap over the Census Bureau as a factor in his decision.

“The census was only a slight catalyzing issue,” he said. “It was not a major issue.”

But his past record on census matters — and a White House plan to deal directly with the census director — kicked up a political maelstrom around Gregg. And it may have just been the tip of the iceberg.

The day his nomination was announced last week, the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials raised concerns about Gregg’s fight with Clinton over census funding when he was chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Commerce Department and his votes in favor of a GOP budget that aimed to abolish the department.

A senior White House official told Congressional Quarterly the next day that the census director would report to the West Wing — a policy later clarified as a plan for the census director to “work closely with” senior White House aides.

Republicans cried foul, accusing Democrats of politicizing the national head count by putting it in the hands of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel , an expert in district-level electoral politics.

At that point, there was no solution to the problem that wouldn’t find either Gregg or Obama ceding valuable partisan political turf, an outcome counter to the bipartisanship demonstrated in Obama’s choice of the Republican Gregg.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:50 AM


Even After the Deal, Tinkering Goes On (DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 2/13/09, NY Times)

Even as clerks were still drafting the measure, a broad array of industries and interest groups scrambled to calculate winners and losers in the final stimulus deal and in some cases engaged in fierce down-to-the-wire lobbying efforts for further adjustments.

At some points on Thursday, there was confusion among top White House and Congressional officials over whether certain provisions were in the bill — a bit discomfiting for House Democrats, who had promised at least 48 hours of public review before a vote. At 10:45 p.m., the final text was posted to a House Web site.

...just start claiming there's all kinds of sensational stuff in the bill--sex change money for death row inmates; grants to study alien abductions; etc.--and watch Democrats scramble around trying to read the bill.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Pope provocateur (Father Raymond J. de Souza, 2/12/09, National Post)

Since he arrived in Rome more than 25 years ago, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has repeatedly and deliberately been provocative, kicking up enormous media storms on sensitive subjects. His calculated risk is that his interventions will not move the debate one way or the other within the given parameters, but change the parameters of debate altogether. [...]

In 2005, just weeks before John Paul's death, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the meditations for the papal Via Crucis at the Colosseum. Writing of the Church, he wrote of the "filth" in the priesthood, and that the ship of faith was "taking on water from all sides." It too made international headlines and remains today the most memorable and dramatic condemnation of priestly sexual abuse. Last year on his American visit, Benedict spoke repeatedly about sex abuse and met personally with victims, again changing the tone and substance of that crisis.

At the funeral Mass of John Paul, it was Ratzinger who moved the world to tears with the evocative image of the Holy Father standing at the window of the house of the Father. A few days later, on the threshold of the conclave, Ratzinger used the phrase "dictatorship of relativism," which instantly made the front pages of every newspaper in the world, and framed the challenge facing the Church in electing a new pope.

Then there was Regensburg, where, in 2006, the Holy Father raised in an indirect but unmistakable fashion the question of the status of violence within Islam. The rioting and anti-Christian violence which followed sent Benedict and the Vatican into the fence-mending operations we have seen again these last weeks. Yet Regensburg was a historic turning point -- for the first time Catholics and Muslims met last year at the Vatican for theological dialogue. A frank challenge was met with a breakthrough response. Another debate he entered in order to change it.

Benedict is a quiet, even shy man. But he is not timid or naive. He is not afraid to bring the fire, even if, as was the case this month, it means that those gentle, classical pianist's fingers might get burnt.

...between a static defense and defending after you score a big gain.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Obama backs off 'Buy American' (CAROL E. LEE, 2/13/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama’s visit to a Caterpillar manufacturing plant Thursday did more than focus attention on his efforts to create working-class jobs, as administration officials hoped. It provided the perfect backdrop to highlight Obama’s change of heart on controversial “Buy American” provisions that require government-funded projects to use only U.S.-made materials.

The issue has forced Obama to dance between rival camps of supporters in the debate over his economic stimulus bill. Labor unions wanted a strong Buy American provision in the plan; U.S. trade partners and companies with significant overseas exports, such as Caterpillar, oppose the proviso.

It’s unclear exactly where the president, who during the campaign ran “Buy American, Vote Obama” ads in labor-heavy states, currently stands on the issue. But citing the economic crisis, he now says he supports a watered-down version of the Buy American provisions contained in the House and Senate stimulus bills.

..."It's unclear where the president stands on the issue."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Q&A Martin Jacques (New Statesman, 13 February 2009)

Marxism Today was extremely influential in its time and was associated with three fundamental propositions. One was that it recognised from 1977 onwards the novelty of Thatcherism, that it was a new kind of phenomenon. Most thought that it was just a rawer form of Toryism: they were wrong. It was new. The term Thatcherism was first coined in January 1979 in an essay by Stuart Hall in Marxism Today.

Second proposition. At that time the great majority on the left thought the labour movement was on the rise and believed that the march of progress was inevitable - that history was on their side. Our proposition was that the labour movement was in decline. We contradicted the conventional wisdom. In fact, the left was on the eve of the most fierce decline and its executioner was Thatcherism.

Third proposition. In 1988 we produced an edition called New Times which argued the world had been through a profound change with globalisation and post-Fordism. Thatcherism's historic achievement had been to recognise that process and to claim it for the right. At that time, the left hadn't even really clocked the changes, alas.

Although we closed the magazine in 1991, we produced a special one-off edition in 1998. On the cover was: Blair Wrong. It was our assessment of New Labour. Some had claimed that Blair was in some way a product of Marxism Today. Certainly he recognised the changes that had taken place such as globalisation. But rather than seeking a different kind of response to them he simply acquiesced in Thatcherism: that acquiescence was the defining characteristic of New Labour.

And of the New Democrats.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Cash on delivery: The movement to give every American a trust fund at birth (Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, February 1, 2009 , Boston Globe)

In the most commonly promoted version of the plan, the government would contribute an initial deposit at birth, with low-income families receiving a supplement. The family could add to the fund, which would accrue interest tax-free, and the government would offer some matching incentives. At 18, the accountholder could begin to withdraw money for higher education, homeownership, and eventually, retirement.

As proponents see it, universal trust funds, or children's savings accounts, would confront major issues that current policy fails to address. They would foster a culture of saving in an era when the rising price of important goods, such as college, has made assets increasingly crucial to achieve the good life free of indebtedness. They would work against the rampant debt that has contributed to the current financial crisis. And they could help remedy the overlooked problem of wealth inequality, or disparity in assets, which dwarfs even the income gulf between rich and poor.

For the poor, income is necessary to survive, but to escape poverty - to attain education and financial security, to plan ahead and provide offspring with prospects - assets are essential. Social scientists have even identified an "asset effect": owning an asset, whatever the size, appears to impart a greater sense of control and confidence about the future.

"We've structured social welfare spending as a get-through-the-month idea," says Michael Sherraden, director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University. Children's savings accounts, by contrast, would make headway on a more ambitious goal, he says: "How do you develop personal and household capacity over the long run?"

Sherraden's center, along with the Washington-based think tank the New America Foundation, is studying and promoting the idea in the US and around the world. The initiative has attracted the support of powerful Democrats such as Joe Biden, who advocated it during his presidential campaign, and Rahm Emanuel, who as a congressman pushed relevant legislation in the House. But its appeal cuts across ideological lines: prominent conservative fans include the columnist David Brooks and former senator Rick Santorum, who find it compatible with notions of an "ownership society."

It was typical of Paul O'Neill's unfortunate turn at Treasury that he came out for such after he left.

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February 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:54 PM


Utterly exhausted, Labour is giving up: Attention turns to who will take over from Brown as the party's leader in opposition (Iain Martin, 2/12/09, Daily Telegraph)

Wanted: a leader-in-waiting for a Left-leaning political party scheduled for a move into the once familiar territory of opposition. The successful applicant will need a GSOH and the patience of a saint to steer his party through the challenging next phase of its development.

You might think that there would be few applicants for the post of Labour leader after Gordon Brown, but you would be wrong. The race to succeed him after the election has already started, as the Prime Minister's year has so far been entirely empty of good news. [...]

What looms is not just defeat, but the death of everything on which the Labour party has based its assumptions and policies for more than a decade. Will there be much left for its next leader to inherit? Those manoeuvring for the leadership will banish such thoughts. There is the possibility that the Conservatives, if they win, will crumple quickly on entering office. Public opinion is volatile. Will it turn on Cameron and propel Labour back into power? Perhaps.

But the Conservatives entertained similar thoughts in the aftermath of their defeat in 1997; which explains why they invested so much effort that summer on the leadership contest to succeed John Major. That battle was akin to two bald men fighting over a comb. But fight they did; and so will Labour after the election.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Judd Gregg Withdraws as Commerce Nominee (AP, 2/12/09)

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire abruptly withdrew his nomination as commerce secretary Thursday, citing "irresolvable conflicts" with President Barack Obama's handling of the economic stimulus and 2010 census. [...]

Sen. Gregg, 61 years old, is a former New Hampshire governor who previously served in the House. He has been in the Senate since 1993 and currently serves as the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, where he is known as a crusader against big spending

When your bipartisan cover bails on matters of principle it's called a self-inflicted wound.

Gregg Withdraws Amid Census Flap, Stimulus Debate (Jonathan Allen, 2/12/09, CQ )

Black and Hispanic leaders had taken issue with Gregg’s nomination because he had opposed President Clinton’s request for additional funding for the 2000 census and because he had voted in favor of abolishing the Commerce Department.

A senior White House official told CQ last week that a decision had been made to have the Census director report directly to the White House, a move that appeared to assuage black and Hispanic leaders.

But it sparked outrage from House Republicans, who argued that the politically delicate process of counting Americans and collecting data on numerous aspects of their lives would be removed from the policy realm and into the political realm if the Census director were to report to the West Wing of the White House and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel .

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:16 PM


Iran And The West (BBC2, Saturday) (James Delingpole, 11th February 2009, The Spectator)

Just in case you needed another reason to loathe and despise the French (I mean, as if Olivier Besancenot wasn’t enough), there was a corker in Norma Percy’s characteristically brilliant new documentary series Iran And The West (BBC2, Saturday).

It concerned the Lebanese hostage crisis of the 1980s when the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia (‘practitioners’ as Jon Snow would no doubt call them) kidnapped dozens of Westerners, among them American journalist Terry Anderson, Archbishop’s envoy Terry Waite, and various Frenchmen and seemed determined to hold them indefinitely.

Our then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was adamant on how to deal with this: there could be no concessions to hostage-takers for it only encouraged further hostage-taking. However, at a joint press conference, her opposite number in France took a more nuanced (i.e., typically devious, cheese-eating, surrender-monkey-ish) line. ‘I don’t think one can negotiate with people who commit such crimes but the problem is very delicate because we are talking about human life,’ said François Mitterrand, preparing his get-out clause, and the contemptuous curl of the blessed Margaret’s lips as he uttered it was glorious to behold.

But in terms of pure weaselry, Mitterrand had nothing on Jacques Chirac who was then campaigning for election as prime minister. Chirac’s opposition party, we learned from episode two of the series — ‘Pariah State’, produced and directed by Delphine Jaudeau — had no qualms about manipulating the hostage crisis for its own slippery ends. A deal had secretly been negotiated by Mitterrand’s government whereby the French hostages would be released for an eye-watering bribe — sorry, repayment of money owed — to Iran of around $1 billion. Then, at the very last minute, the deal was called off.

Why? Well, Chirac has always firmly denied that any skullduggery was involved but, then, you would, wouldn’t you, if you thought there was no way on earth you could ever possibly be found out. But Chirac had reckoned without the tenacity of Brook Lapping (The Death Of Yugoslavia; Israel and The Arabs; etc.), the remarkable documentary production company that always gets its men, be they presidents, prime ministers, ayatollahs, or just the guy who chauffeured them or the hack who interviewed them at a pivotal moment in history.

In this case the unlikely Deep Throat was one Sheikh Tufeyli, a member of the Hezbollah Central Committee which had decided not, after all, to release the French hostages. The committee, Tufeyli explained, had ‘received some envoys from the French opposition party’ (i.e., Chirac’s lot) who had asked them not to release the prisoners till after the forthcoming French elections. Mitterrand’s foreign minister revealed what he had been subsequently told by the Iranians: ‘Where you offer us ten, your rivals the French opposition offer us one hundred.’ (As a result at least one French hostage spent an extra two years in confinement.)

One of the proudest accomplishments of George W. Bush was so alienating America from Chirac, Schroeder, and Chretien that all were replaced by their people.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:52 PM


The Bankers Give, the Lawmakers Complain (Leslie Wayne, a NY Times: DealBook)

Eight of the nation’s top bankers who got a legislative tongue-lashing on Wednesday may have an additional reason to be upset. Nearly every member of the House Financial Services Committee — including its Democratic chairman, Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts — received campaign contributions from the same financial institutions now being pilloried in Congress.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:47 PM


Correction: Evolution (The Economist, 2/12/09)

In "Unfinished business", published on February 7th, we said in the United States a Gallup poll found that only 15% of people agreed with the proposition that "humans developed over millions of years", up from 8% in 1982. The figures should have been 14% and 9% respectively.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:24 AM


"Afflicted" with fertility? (George Weigel, February 4, 2009, THE CATHOLIC DIFFERENCE)

According to Neil Howe and Richard Jackson, two researchers at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, the primary destabilizer of world affairs in the mid-decades of the 21st century will be demographics – meaning, primarily, too few people throughout too much of the developed and developing world. Some numbers-crunching helps make the case:

--In the 1980s, the median age was 34 in western Europe and 35 in Japan. Absent an unanticipated and dramatic change in birth rates, the median age in western Europe in 2020 will be 47, and in Japan, 52.

--In the 2020s, half the adult populations of Italy, Spain, and Japan will be above the official retirement age.

--By 2030, thanks to several generations of cratering birth rates and the resulting demand for immigrant labor to fill low-wage jobs, the number of Muslims will double in France and triple in Germany. Amsterdam, Birmingham, Cologne, and Marseilles will likely be majority-Muslim cities, twenty years from now.

--China, the fair-haired boy of establishment international affairs analysts, is heading for serious trouble, thanks to its draconian one-child policy and communism's destruction of traditional Chinese culture. By 2030, China will be an older country than the U.S.. As Howe and Jackson write, "Imagine [Chinese] workforce growth slowing to zero while tens of millions of elders sink into indigence without pensions, without health care, and without children to support them. China could careen toward social collapse – or, in reaction, toward an authoritarian clampdown."

--Vladimir Putin's plans for a new Russian imperium may run aground, because Russia will almost certainly be in demographic free fall by 2050, if not sooner. With what demographers call "lowest-low"birth-rates, and confronting colossal public health problems related to alcohol abuse and environmental degradation, Russia is a mess. Today, the average Russian man's life expectancy is 59, which is sixteen years less than his American counterpart (and somewhat less than the life-expectancy of those in his grandfather's generation who survived Stalin and Hitler). Forty years out, Russia will have fallen in the world population tables from fourth place (in 1950) to twentieth place.

--And while all this is going on, western Europe will be in continuing social, economic, and political crisis, thanks to too few tax-paying workers trying to support the womb-to-tomb Euro-welfare state – which has already displaced private-sector health care and pension options while suppressing the habits necessary to sustain them.

Ever since the 1968 publication of Paul Ehrlich's intellectually fraudulent bestseller, The Population Bomb, enlightened opinion has held that "overpopulation" is the problem. It isn't, and it never was. Now, thanks in part to the triumph of a contraceptive mentality in societies that have lost any religious sense of obligation toward the future, the grim truth is revealing itself: the problem is too few people. Of course, there was always something instinctively counterintuitive about the anti-natalist cast of mind, which thinks of a newborn calf as a "resource" or an "asset" and a newborn child as a "burden" or "problem." Now that implausibility turns out to have, not only the gravest moral consequences, but the most severe economic, social, and political results.

The World Won't Be Aging Gracefully. Just the Opposite. (Neil Howe and Richard Jackson, January 4, 2009, Washington Post)

Yes, demographics, that relentless maker and breaker of civilizations. From the fall of the Roman and the Mayan empires to the Black Death to the colonization of the New World and the youth-driven revolutions of the 20th century, demographic trends have played a decisive role in precipitating many of the great invasions, political upheavals, migrations and environmental catastrophes of history. By the 2020s, an ominous new conjuncture of these trends will once again threaten massive disruption. We're talking about global aging, which is likely to have a profound effect on economic growth, living standards and the shape of the world order.

For the world's wealthy nations, the 2020s are set to be a decade of hyperaging and population decline. Many countries will experience fiscal crisis, economic stagnation and ugly political battles over entitlements and immigration. Meanwhile, poor countries will be buffeted by their own demographic storms. Some will be overwhelmed by massive age waves that they can't afford, while others will be whipsawed by new explosions of youth whose aspirations they cannot satisfy. The risk of social and political upheaval and military aggression will grow throughout the developing world -- even as the developed world's capacity to deal with these threats weakens.

The rich countries have been aging for decades, due to falling birthrates and rising life spans. But in the 2020s, this aging will get an extra kick as large postwar baby boom generations move into retirement. According to the United Nations Population Division (whose projections are cited throughout this article), the median ages of Western Europe and Japan, which were 34 and 33 respectively as recently as 1980, will soar to 47 and 52, assuming no miraculous change in fertility. In Italy, Spain and Japan, more than half of all adults will be older than the official retirement age -- and there will be more people in their 70s than in their 20s.

Graying means paying -- more for pensions, more for health care, more for nursing homes for the frail elderly. Yet the old-age benefit systems of most developed countries are already pushing the limits of fiscal and economic affordability. By the 2020s, political warfare over brutal benefit cuts seems unavoidable. On one side will be young adults who face declining after-tax earnings, including many who often have no choice but to live with their parents (and are known, pejoratively, as twixters in the United States, kippers in Britain, mammoni in Italy, nesthocker in Germany and freeters in Japan). On the other side will be retirees, who are often wholly dependent on pay-as-you-go public plans. In 2030, young people will have the future on their side. Elders will have the votes on theirs. Bold new investments in education, the environment or foreign assistance will be highly unlikely.

Aging is, well, old. But depopulation -- the delayed result of falling birthrates -- is new.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:09 AM


Democrats Reach Out to Syria (JAY SOLOMON, 2/12/09, WSJ)

Two congressional leaders plan direct meetings later this month with Syrian President Bashar Assad, said officials briefed on their trips, in a further sign of efforts in Washington to re-engage diplomatically with hostile regimes.

The visits by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Howard Berman of California, the Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House foreign affairs committees, come as President Barack Obama has sought to start a direct dialogue with Iran.

There's a high cost to be paid for W's failure to do Damascus right after Baghdad in '03.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Israel and the new politics of insecurity: The Israeli elections confirm the death of grand Zionist visions and the rise of new forms of fearful separatism. (Nathalie Rothschild, 2/12/09, Spiked)

Despite various Israeli politicians’ Obama-inspired rhetoric of change , the real shift in Israeli society, which this election has brought to the fore, is the decline of left-wing Zionism, and the prevalence of a politics of insecurity, which inspires defensive patriotism rather than ideological zealotry. The fall of the centre-left Labour party, which came fourth with only 13 seats, and the rise of the right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel our Home), which got 15 seats, encapsulate these two defining features: the death of grand-vision Zionism and the rise of a new politics of hiding behind walls. [...]

Avigdor Lieberman’s political language has little of the PC, US-pleasing rhetoric of other Israeli politicians, such as Barak. With his Russian-accented, hard-line, straight-talking approach, Lieberman looks and sounds like change. He has proposed a mandatory loyalty oath to the Jewish state and has said that ‘Arab Knesset members who collaborate with the enemy and meet with Hamas heads should be dealt with sternly’ (6). On the two-state solution, Lieberman has asserted: ‘Israel needs to explain that the demand for a Palestinian state and the refugees’ right of return is a cover for radical Islam’s attempt to destroy the State of Israel.’ (7) By comparison, the heads of the mainstream parties sound like broken records, stuck in the old dichotomies of ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’, and regurgitating worn-out attitudes to the peace process.

However, while ‘Liebermania’ may have upset the intelligentsia and liberal commentariat in Israel and beyond (8), with a closer look it becomes clear that Lieberman’s anti-Arab rhetoric and attitudes to a two-state solution largely mirror the approach of the mainstream parties, not least the centre-left Labour party which initiated the peace talks under Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s. In demanding clear and implacable separation between Israelis and Arabs, even if that means giving up some of Israel’s current land, which Lieberman is prepared to do (in fact, he has said he is prepared to give up his own home), he is actually remaining true to the partitionist, separatist logic of the recent peace talks themselves.

Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, has been portrayed as a collection of right-wing, Arab-hating lunatics, but the rise of Lieberman primarily encapsulates the rise of a new politics of insecurity, rather than a politics of security, in Israel. Lieberman plays into the existential fears of Israelis and seems to present clear solutions to external threats. The fall of Labour, meanwhile, embodies the death of left-wing Zionism. The demise of the party that once had a grand vision for a land of Zion alongside the rise of a right-winger who is willing to give up bits of land if it means permanent separation from the Arabs captures the defining feature of contemporary Israeli society: a post-Zionist desire to batten down the hatches and hide from ‘externalities’.

...just nationalism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


US worried over prospect of right-wing gov't (HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, 2/12/09, THE JERUSALEM POST)

US officials are publicly taking a wait-and-see approach to the formation of a new Israeli government, but privately many have expressed concern that Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu might preside over a right-wing coalition.

"There would be great unease" at the prospect of such a government, said one Capitol Hill source.

He predicted that a governing coalition of parties from the Right could embolden the left flank of the Democratic party and turn up pressure, particularly in the US Congress, to pass measures that made clear demands on Israel.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


OFFSHORE DRILLING: Democrat says ban may not return (JENNIFER A. DLOUHY, Feb. 11, 2009, Houston Chronicle)

A leading Democrat on Wednesday signaled that Congress is unlikely to restore a ban against offshore oil and gas drilling along most of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, despite pressure from environmental advocates and California fishermen.

“We may be in a situation where the ship has already sailed,” said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “The political reality may be that the moratorium as we knew it will not be reimposed.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:52 AM


Pelosi concerned about a Murtha probe (JOHN BRESNAHAN, 2/12/09, Politico)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are “concerned” by a widening criminal probe that may involve Rep. John P. Murtha, but sources close to the leadership say there’s no move afoot to force him out as chairman of the powerful Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.