August 31, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 PM


Can Obama give 'em hell before it's too late? : Why can't Democrats mobilize the public for healthcare reform? Blame the demagogy gap (Michael Lind, 8/31/09, Salon)

[F]DR would be shocked by the inability of his party to mobilize the public on behalf of reform.

The irony is that the modern conservative movement started out by opposing the very populism it later embraced. The late William F. Buckley Jr. was influenced by the philosopher Albert Jay Nock, a family friend who despised mass democracy. Buckley's never-published philosophical manifesto, written in the 1950s and early 1960s (he allowed me to read the manuscript), was a critique of the mass society, inspired by the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset's "The Revolt of the Masses." The symbol of empty, decadent mass politics for the young Buckley, as for Gore Vidal in his novel "Washington, D.C.," was the telegenic celebrity politician John F. Kennedy. A few years later in the 1960s, Buckley wrote that he would rather be governed by the first 400 names in the Boston phone book than by the Harvard faculty, and in 1980 the conservative movement captured the White House in the person of the ultimate telegenic celebrity master of mass politics, Ronald Reagan.

While the right was rejecting its gloomy elitism and embracing the mass society and populist politics, liberalism was moving in the other direction. Liberal intellectuals, shocked by McCarthyism and the rejection by the voters of the urbane Adlai Stevenson for Dwight Eisenhower, concluded that the American people themselves were the problem.

We are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:47 PM


Mercedes to Launch Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Car Into Production by 2010 (Mike Spinelli, 08.31.2009, Popular Science)

The company says it will build 200 units of the F-Cell, a car powered by a 136-horsepower electric motor with current generated by a fuel-cell generator. Power storage comes by way of a lithium-ion battery (35 kW output / 1.4 kWh capacity) supporting a driving range of 250 miles and a top speed of 106. According to a press release, the F-Cell will perform similarly to an economy car with a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine. The company also touts good cold-start capability at temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit. Not likely a problem in California, where most of the country's hydrogen refueling stations are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 PM


U.S. Loses Ruling on Cotton Payouts (PETER FRITSCH and JOHN LYONS , 9/01/09, WSJ)

A ruling against the U.S. in a long-running fight with Brazil over American payouts to cotton growers sets an important precedent for developing nations concerned by what they see as excessive U.S. support for farmers.

A World Trade Organization arbitration panel ruled Monday that Brazil is entitled to $295 million upfront, and nearly $150 million a year, for the U.S. failure to eliminate subsidies to the cotton industry. The annual penalties are far below the $2.5 billion Brazil had sought.

Come one, come all!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 PM


Study finds prostate cancer test may expose men to unnecessary treatment (Kelly Brewington, 8/31/09, Baltimore Sun)

Most men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the last two decades never needed to know they had the disease, exposing them to treatment that can do more harm than good, according to a new study. [...]

"Just the diagnosis of cancer causes a fair amount of anxiety--no one wants to be given that diagnosis needlessly," said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a researcher from Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, and the study's lead author. "The bigger problem is being given treatment that can't help you, but all of our treatments can hurt you."

Yet they insist that rationalizing health care requires more "preventive" medicine....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:18 PM


‘Sam’s Club’ Republican Pawlenty Bids for 2012 (Albert R. Hunt , 8/30/09, Bloomberg)

[Tim Pawlenty] has built a reputation as a blue-collar conservative -- his dad was a truck driver, and associates say he’s much more comfortable hunting or fishing with his pals than hobnobbing with the rich and powerful. He advocates a more modern, inclusive Republican Party -- a “party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club” -- that stresses lower taxes and entrepreneurial initiatives while eschewing divisive and exclusive politics and policies.

He wants to run for president in 2012 and this fall will establish a federal political action committee to finance trips around the country. He’ll then have to start spending more time with wealthy donors as well as grassroots Republicans.

Although a big-tent Republican, he has impeccable conservative credentials. He is an evangelical Christian and has been happily married for 22 years to the same spouse, who even Democrats say is a political asset. He is consistently anti- abortion, pro-gun on the Second Amendment and against gay marriage.

He brings an almost Jack Kemp-like fervor to cutting marginal tax rates; an important predicate for any presidential run may be how Pawlenty handles a recommendation from a task force he appointed that the state replace some corporate and individual taxes with consumption levies.

His emphasis on taxes rankles many Minnesota Democrats. “There is a long line of progressive Republican governors in Minnesota who are big supporters of education,” says Walter Mondale, the former vice president and U.S. senator. “He is much more interested in tax-cutting and has broken with that tradition.”

The GOP has an embarrassment of riches for 2012.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Obama keeps Bush nominees in top posts (TOM RAUM, 8/31/09, AP)

Along with Gates and Bernanke, they include:

- Sheila Bair as holdover chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. She has played a major role in the management of the financial crisis. A one-time unsuccessful candidate for a Kansas House seat, Bair was first appointed by Bush in June 2006. Forbes Magazine ranks her as the second most powerful woman in the world behind German chancellor Angela Merkel.

- Ray LaHood, a former congressman from Illinois, as transportation secretary. He was elected as part of the "Gingrich Revolution" of 1994 and was so trusted by both Republicans and Democrats that he was selected to preside over the House during the impeachment vote against President Bill Clinton.

- Former Rep. John McHugh from upstate New York, as Army secretary. McHugh was known by his House colleagues for an even temperament and willingness to work with Democrats.

- Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was a Mormon missionary in China in his youth, as ambassador to China.

- Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, as director of the National Institutes of Health.

Unlike the others on the list, Collins is not a Republican and worked in the Obama presidential campaign. But he doesn't fit the usual mold of liberal Democrat as portrayed by many Republicans. many days until the first accusation from the Left that Mr. Obama is George H. W. Bush's secret love child? The administration is too big a train wreck for the Left to take any responsibility.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:58 AM


Live Free, Die Free: The Final Exit Network, a right-to-die organization, battles government euthanasia accusations. (Adam Case, 8/31/09, In These Times)

The GBI alleges that four Final Exit volunteers not only provided suicide-related information to John Celmer of Cummings, Ga., but assisted in his death. After Celmer’s death, the state began a sting operation.

An undercover agent contacted the group and identified himself as a patient with pancreatic cancer. According to an affidavit given by the agent, two volunteers held Celmer’s hand as he breathed in helium from a tank with a hood cinched tightly over his head, causing death by asphyxiation. “This would have prevented John Celmer the ability to pull off the hood had he changed his mind about dying,” the affadavit states.

Final Exit Network denies the charge. “Anybody who wants to take off the bag can take off the bag. We are holding a person’s hand out of compassion only, so they are in touch with another human being when they die,” says Jerry Dincin, president of the Final Exit Network. “It’s more like holding the hand of a child in a very nice way.”

While you murder them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


An Update on C. P. Snow's "Two Cultures" (Lawrence M. Krauss, 8/31/09, Scientific American)

Ultimately, science is at best only consistent with a God that does not directly intervene in the daily operations of the cosmos, certainly not the personal and ancient gods associated with the world’s great religions. Even though, as physicist Steven Weinberg has emphasized, most people who call themselves religious tend to adhere to only those bits and pieces from scripture that appeal to them, by according undue respect for ancient religious beliefs in general, we nonetheless are suggesting that they are on par with conclusions that have been drawn from centuries of rational empirical investigation.

Snow hoped for a world that is quite different from how we live today, where indifference to science has, through religious fundamentalism, sometimes morphed into open hostility about concepts such as evolution and the big bang.

The problem for Snow and Mr. Krauss is that the more we know the more science converges on the ancient wisdom of the "intellectuals" of The Two Cultures and the more misguided the intellectuals of their own sort appear to be. With even leading Darwinists espousing intelligent design theories and the geocentrism of modern physics, we're pretty much back to the One culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Rise of a New Era in Japan (YUKA HAYASHI, 8/31/09, WSJ)

[T]he DPJ faces skepticism from voters ambivalent about change. The party has offered few specifics on how it plans to pay for its initiatives.

"What the party is saying sounds impossible," said Kozue Murakami, 34, a stay-at-home mother who took her infant son to the polls. Pointing to her son, she said if the DPJ fails to finance its policies, "We citizens have to take the burden, and these children are the ones who will have to take up the slack."

Despite its mandate, the DPJ may go slowly in policy shifts.

It's the latest democratic trend, change no one believes in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:39 AM


Obama’s health care tactics just like those he used in state Senate in 2004 (LYNN SWEET AND DAVE McKINNEY, 8/31/09, Chicago Sun-Times)

Barack Obama, deflecting criticism of his top agenda item to deal with the health care crisis, accuses opponents of "fear-mongering," telling lies and miscasting his proposal as "socialized medicine."

That wasn't President Obama in recent weeks, as the health care debate has been heating up in Congress and in town halls across the country. That was then Illinois State Sen. Obama, arguing on the floor of the Illinois Senate on May 19, 2004. If the themes sound familiar, it's because Obama is mustering some of the same rhetoric in 2009 he used in 2004. [...]

If the past is prologue, the episode involving Obama's successful bid to pass what became the "Adequate Health Care Task Force" could be instructive. Obama won on a party-line vote.

Obama ultimately watered down the original bill because the insurance industry feared that the state was going to mandate coverage. Instead, Obama called for a task force to study coverage options, cost containment and portability of coverage, among other items. [...]

The task force Obama helped create took shape in August 2005 and issued a final report to then-Gov. Blagojevich and the General Assembly in January 2007.

The group's basic findings -- that Illinois essentially should adopt a form of universal health care coverage and employers should help foot the bill -- wound up being incorporated into Blagojevich's ill-fated bid later that spring to impose a gross-receipts tax on businesses. That tax proposal withered, effectively killing discussion on universal health care for the remainder of time Blagojevich was in office.

He can definitely get a bipartisan bill to study the issue into oblivion.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Cheney Wins (James Carroll, 8/31/09, Daily Beast)

The Obama administration insists that its version of rendition will be supervised and handled legally, if not necessarily humanely. But rendition is itself the revelation: a mechanism that allows for torture means torture lives on. No matter how you cut it, this bypassing of U.S. jurisdictions, protections, and official American standards of conduct and accountability, even for the sake of urgent information, reeks of ends-justify-means moral bankruptcy. Score one for Dick Cheney—a final victory.

...but even he ought to recognize that he isn't arguing against "means-ends" but for a different "means-ends". His end is that we not torture and his means is that we even allow successful terrorist attacks instead. Mr. Cheney's is that we prevent terrorist attacks even if it requires torturing the occasional terrorist. The one gives pride of place to concerns about evil-doers' physical and mental comfort, the other elevates innocent lives above such sensibilities. Once viewed through this corrected lens it's easy to see why torture is so readily accepted in democracies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:46 AM


Becoming Close: The Geography of Friendship (Allison Aubrey, 8/31/09, NPR: Morning Edition)

In both cases, what drew these friends together in the first place was proximity — being in the same place at the same time. They also shared a common race or heritage.

So, are those two factors really enough to spark a friendship? Bruce Sacerdote, a researcher at Dartmouth College who studies economics and society, says the answer seems to be yes.

"I think having that shared background and the random chance meeting certainly have big impacts on who your friends are," Sacerdote says. He says these early college friendships can even have big impacts on whom you marry, where you live and what you do.

Several sociology studies, some going back decades, point to this proximity or "distance" effect. In Sacerdote's own research, he studied e-mail exchanges among students on his campus. The e-mails were stripped of personal identification and content, as he was only looking to analyze the volume of e-mails.

He then correlated the number of e-mails with factors such as race, hometown, Greek system or fraternity membership, whether students went to private or public high school, and the distance they lived from each other in college housing.

His study found that race and distance were the key determinants. administrators lean heavily towards closing fraternities and moving upper classmen into off-campus apartments, effectively atomizing the population.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Macaulay Culkin is the father of Michael Jackson's son Blanket (Urmee Khan, 31 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Culkin, who is now 29, became friends with Jackson after he rose to fame in the 1990 with the film Home Alone.

A source told the Sun: "But Jackson and Culkin were best friends. He was one of the few people Jackson really trusted and Mack never let him down.

"Really, Jackson idolised him - that's why he asked Mack to donate sperm.

"Deep down, I think he always wished Mack was his son. Creating Blanket was the next best thing."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


Environmentalists Slow to Adjust in Climate Debate (David A. Fahrenthold, 8/31/09, Washington Post)

It seems that environmentalists are struggling in a fight they have spent years setting up. They are making slow progress adapting a movement built for other goals -- building alarm over climate change, encouraging people to "green" their lives -- into a political hammer, pushing a complex proposal the last mile through a skeptical Senate.

Even now, these groups differ on whether to scare the public with predictions of heat waves or woo it with promises of green jobs. that--besides a more direct gas tax being preferable--all of the good arguments are on the other side of the political aisle:

The Pigovian: Taxing consumption rather than income

The Capitalist: The creative destruction of forcing the transition away from the petroleum economy


The Liberationist: Depriving the rotten--almost without exception--regimes that pump oil of the power that props them up

Wahhabism and Saudi Power (Dr. Irfan Al-Alawi, 8/31/09, Hudson Institute)

The Saudi Arabian kingdom could be the poster child for the Middle East as an area ruled by despotic governments that deprive their people of basic human rights.

The Saudi state and the royal family have not been directly and publically exposed as international terror financiers, although officially-subsidized Saudi charities and global missionary (da’wa) institutions have been identified as complicit in terrorism. In addition, the royal family includes factions that conceal their support, but still contribute to extremist violence. Funding of terrorism from Saudi Arabia continues, but now mainly originates from individuals as well as from charities and agencies that have evaded scrutiny. Aside from the terroristic violence visited on Shias and other minorities, Saudi Arabia itself is curiously immune from major terrorism, except against foreigners. The Wahhabi cult and its enablers prefer to export their worst fanatics to countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Terrorists who attempt to disrupt life in the kingdom itself are imprisoned and re-educated.

But neither authoritarianism nor human rights violations stops Western money from flowing to the Saudi royal family.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


Missing Richard Nixon (PAUL KRUGMAN, 8/31/09, NY Times)

Many of the retrospectives on Ted Kennedy’s life mention his regret that he didn’t accept Richard Nixon’s offer of a bipartisan health care deal. The moral some commentators take from that regret is that today’s health care reformers should do what Mr. Kennedy balked at doing back then, and reach out to the other side.

But it’s a bad analogy, because today’s political scene is nothing like that of the early 1970s. In fact, surveying current politics, I find myself missing Richard Nixon.

Indeed, Richard Nixon was our last liberal president.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


The Breathalyzer Behind the Wheel (PHILIP J. COOK and MAEVE E. GEARING, 8/31/09, NY Times)

People driving while intoxicated still cause about 13,000 deaths a year in the United States. And of the 1.4 million arrests made, one-third involve repeat offenders. The greatest potential of ignition interlocks is to reduce this recidivism. [...]

A person who has been drinking might naturally think of fooling the device by persuading a sober person to start the engine, but that is not enough to subvert the system, because the device requires breath samples while the person drives — at random intervals of five minutes to an hour. (At least one company is also integrating cameras with the interlocks to photograph the driver when he provides a breath sample.) The unit keeps a log of all tests, and it is sealed so that any attempts at tampering can be detected.

Ignition-interlock devices are not perfectly effective; a drunk can often borrow another car. But in one recent study they were found to reduce repeat drunk-driving offenses by 65 percent. If they were widely installed, the devices would save up to 750 lives a year, a recent National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report estimated.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


A Clash of Camelots: Within months of J.F.K.’s death, the president’s widow asked William Manchester to write the authorized account of the assassination. He felt he couldn’t refuse her. Two years later, nearly broken by the task, Manchester found himself fighting a bitter, headline-making battle with Jackie and Bobby Kennedy over the finished book. The author chronicles the toll Manchester’s 1967 best-seller, The Death of a President, exacted—physically, emotionally, and financially—before it all but disappeared. (Sam Kashner, October 2009, Vanity Fair)

It has never gone away, the nightmare of November 22, 1963. Each time one revisits the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States, “one hopes for once the story will be different—the car swerves, the bullets miss, and the splendid progress continues. But each time, like a recurrent nightmare, the handsome head is shattered,” as Gore Vidal wrote in his World Journal Tribune review of William Manchester’s highly detailed, passionate, and greatly beleaguered account, The Death of a President.

Of all the books written about the Kennedy assassination—by some counts more than 2,000—the one book commissioned by the Kennedys themselves and meant to stand the test of time has virtually disappeared. The fight over Manchester’s book—published on April 7, 1967, by Harper & Row after more than a year of bitter, relentless, headline-making controversy over the manuscript—nearly destroyed its author and pitted him against two of the most popular and charismatic people in the nation: the slain president’s beautiful grieving widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, and his brother Robert F. Kennedy. And the struggle would bring to both Jackie and Bobby a public-relations nightmare. [...]

Beset by writers clamoring for interviews, Jacqueline decided to designate one to produce the official story of the assassination. In part, she wanted to stop Jim Bishop, a syndicated columnist living in Florida, who was already preparing a book. He was the author of The Day Lincoln Was Shot and a just-finished book, A Day in the Life of President Kennedy, but according to Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and special assistant to Kennedy, the First Lady considered Bishop a “hack” who asked too many personal questions. She preferred that no book be written, but as that was impossible, she went in search of an author. [...]

By the second anniversary of the assassination, Manchester began to crack. “I had no appetite—for food, for beauty, for life. I slept fitfully; when I did drift off, I dreamt of Dallas. I was gripping my Esterbrook [fountain pen] so hard that my thumb began to bleed under the nail. It became infected … marring the manuscript pages with blood.” He stopped driving because he didn’t trust his reflexes. Finally, on November 22, 1965, he found himself writing the sentence “Oswald, surrounded by over 70 policemen, was murdered in the basement of the Dallas jail,” when his hand stopped moving. He couldn’t go on. “This is Camus,” he would eventually write. “This is the theatre of the absurd.”

Four days later, he was admitted to a Portland, Connecticut, hospital, suffering from nervous exhaustion, which gave rise to rampant rumors in Washington—that he had fallen into catatonic schizophrenia, that he had fallen in love with Jacqueline Kennedy, that he had fallen completely apart. Manchester’s doctor even received an anonymous phone call saying that he had died in Mexico City. Hearing the rumor, Robert Kennedy aide John Seigenthaler exclaimed, “We’ve killed him!” But after 12 days, Manchester asked for his typewriter and his files to be brought to him, and he finished the book in the hospital, where he remained for eight more weeks.

The final manuscript, which Manchester had titled The Death of Lancer (Kennedy’s Secret Service code name), was l,201 pages—380,000 words. He wrote to Bobby Kennedy upon its completion, “When I awoke this morning I felt as though I had emerged from a long, dark tunnel.” He made four copies and packed them into a suitcase, which weighed 77 pounds, and on March25, 1966, he boarded a Trailways bus for New York and hand-delivered the first copy to Evan Thomas at Harper & Row. He dropped another copy off with Don Congdon, and then, with Thomas at his side, the remaining copies were delivered to Robert Kennedy’s Manhattan office. Angie Novello, Robert’s secretary, and Pam Turnure, Jacqueline’s private secretary, brought Manchester to the Kennedy suite at the Carlyle, No. 18E, where they toasted the completion of the book.

It was finally a glorious spring for William Manchester. The reactions of his first readers were ecstatic. Back home in Connecticut, he got a phone call from Evan Thomas: “This is the finest book I’ve read in 20 years here,” his editor told him. “I couldn’t stop crying, but I couldn’t stop reading.” Cass Canfield wrote to Manchester, “A work of unusual distinction and great power. It will be in demand long after you and I have disappeared from the scene.” Schlesinger wrote in a six-page memorandum, which he sent to Robert Kennedy, Evan Thomas, and Manchester, “I think that this is a remarkable and potentially a great book. The research, the feeling, the narrative power, the evocation of personality and atmosphere, much of the writing—all are superb.”

That was the good news. The bad news, as his editor informed him, was that neither Jacqueline nor Robert would read the manuscript. It would only open up painful memories, Robert had explained, so he delegated his and his sister-in-law’s right of approval to two trusted Kennedy aides, Ed Guthman and John Seigenthaler. Richard Goodwin, the poetry-loving speechwriter and adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, would also weigh in.

Manchester thought he was finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but it turned out it was the light of an oncoming train.

Guthman, Robert Kennedy’s press secretary, had left the Justice Department and was now national editor at the Los Angeles Times. Seigenthaler, “the blond, tough editor of The Tennessean,” was Robert Kennedy’s closest friend. And Dick Goodwin, the rumpled, summa cum laude graduate of Tufts and Harvard Law School, had worked in the Justice Department as an investigator into the television quiz-show scandals of the 1950s. After the president’s death, Goodwin continued as a speechwriter for President Johnson, but Senator Kennedy also came to rely upon him. Coincidentally, Goodwin and Manchester were neighbors at the time in Middletown, as Goodwin had accepted a two-year fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan.

Thomas worked with Guthman and Seigenthaler, who provided him with long memos about their concerns. Their main objection, which Thomas shared, was Manchester’s unflattering depiction of Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson, Thomas felt, was portrayed as a rawboned boor, too eager to take over on Air Force One the day of the assassination. If Bobby sought the nomination from his party in the 1968 election, the book’s less than flattering portrayal of Johnson would look opportunistic. On May 16, 1966, after reading the manuscript for a third time, Thomas wrote to the two Kennedy friends that he didn’t want Robert Kennedy to be hurt by association with Manchester’s book, which he found, “in part, gratuitously and tastelessly insulting to Johnson.” He suggested that Manchester had become “so deeply involved in this tragic narrative that he could not resist turning it into a magic fairy tale”—Jack the Lancer, “all pure Camelot,” versus “the Texans in their polka dot dresses and bow ties.”

Most troubling to the early readers was “the deer-hunting incident”—a scene described by Jacqueline that opened the original manuscript. On a visit to the Johnson ranch, along the Pedernales River, eight days after the election, Johnson took the president-elect deer-hunting, initiating him into the blood sport. “At 6 a.m. they turned out by the ranch house, Johnson in weather beaten cowboy clothes, Kennedy in a checked sports jacket and slacks. They left in Johnson’s white Cadillac, zooming and jouncing across the fields, and Kennedy was forced to shoot his deer.… To Kennedy,” Manchester wrote, “shooting tame game was not sport, and he had tried to bow out gracefully.” The scene underscored the implication that Texas and its culture of violence were factors in the assassination. Manchester, when asked to delete the scene, refused to do so, but he did plow it further back into the narrative, which diminished its power. Still, the implication remained that “a Texas murder had made a Texan President,” in the words of Jay Epstein, who would later write Inquest, about the Kennedy assassination.

Dick Goodwin joined the jury, poring over the manuscript, which he praised as “a masterful achievement.” He advocated only three changes: to begin with, a new title. It was Goodwin who suggested the elegant The Death of a President. He also suggested excising a quote by Mrs. Kennedy and shortening the ending of the book by five pages, all of which Manchester agreed to do. Gerald Posner's Case Closed:

August 30, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:19 PM


Focus on Ind. Gov. Daniels sparks White House talk (MIKE SMITH, 8/30/09, AP)

The 60-year-old millionaire governor is equally at home in Washington and Indiana after serving as President George W. Bush's budget director and an adviser to President Ronald Reagan. He earned a reputation in Washington as the "blade" for his efforts to promote fiscal responsibility in Congress and carried that to Indiana, where he took over a state with a $800 million deficit and worked with lawmakers to pass a balanced budget in his first year. The state's fiscal year ended June 30 with a $1.3 billion surplus.

Republican observers believe his track record in Indiana would resonate with voters weary of billions in federal bailouts for banks and the auto industry, and record federal red ink.

"First of all he's a successful governor. Secondly, he is deeply informed on the subject about which deep information is now particularly needed, and that is budgeting," said conservative commentator George Will. "Third, he has an all-purpose general intelligence, and fourth, he is funny. He is a witty man and a graceful writer."

Daniels is popular with voters, winning Indiana easily in a year in which Barack Obama gave Democrats their first presidential victory in the state in 40 years. And he doesn't hesitate to speak his mind, criticizing his own party for being too placid and putting politics above policy and saying the GOP needs to get in touch with average citizens — something he excels at. [...]

Daniels' businesslike approach to state government — including a highly criticized move to privatize many state welfare eligibility functions and a 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign consortium — has caught the eyes of other states looking for savings and revenue-generating ideas.

His philosophies and potential appeal to the GOP have been the focus of articles in National Review magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He was an hour-long guest on C-SPAN, and delivered a weekly radio address for the GOP, criticizing Obama's "cap and trade" energy policy as too costly.

It's the perfect climate--again--for an uber-wonky deficit hawk who wants to run DC more like a business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:41 PM


The Long-Distance Runner: While other 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls crash, burn, and sputter, Mitt Romney has quietly been raising millions, casting himself as a New Hampshire son, keeping cozy with the NRA, and otherwise perfecting his Mr. Perfect approach. (Sasha Issenberg, August 30, 2009, Boston Globe Magazine)

When Mitt Romney strode onstage just past noon on Thursday, February 7, 2008, many of those attending CPAC did not know that he was no longer a candidate for president. The basement of Washington’s Omni Shoreham hotel is deep out of cellphone range, and so the news that had popped up on blogs 20 minutes earlier -- that Romney would use his speech to withdraw -- barely moved the ballroom, then featuring a panel discussion on books by Barry Goldwater, Russell Kirk, and Ayn Rand. “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” the crowd cheered upon Romney’s arrival.

The day before, Romney had gathered his senior staff in a conference room in his Boston headquarters to assess his options after Super Tuesday. He had carried all but one of the day’s caucus states, evidence that he had at long last won over conservative activists. But, with the exception of Massachusetts, he had lost the big-population states -- California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey -- which gave their delegates to John McCain, and whose demographics augured poorly for Romney’s ability to build a broad base of support.

Romney enjoys watching debates play out in front of him, and he invited aides to make the case for fighting on. Even another month as a candidate could help Romney establish a national constituency as an alternative to McCain and allow him to quit the race as undisputed runner-up in a party that has long recognized rank. (The Republican nominees in 1980, 1988, and 1996 had each finished second in the previous open primary season, as McCain had in 2000.) But Romney’s advisers were convinced that former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who had tangled with Romney for the votes of social conservatives, would make his own bid for that role.

“Even under the rosiest scenario, it was hard to see how the data worked out,” says Phil Musser, a senior adviser who had by then left the campaign. “He was cleareyed about the math and what continuing meant for his wallet, in order to keep up a long fight with a slim chance of success.”

Romney ended the meeting and went home to Belmont to write a speech for CPAC, while a group of aides decamped, as they often did in the evenings, for burgers and beer at the North End’s Waterfront Cafe. Eventually spokesman Madden’s BlackBerry buzzed with a draft from Romney. Staying in the race, he had concluded, would only weaken McCain’s prospects against Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. “In this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror,” Romney had written.

Romney returned to his office the following week in a T-shirt and jeans, ready to travel to his California home. From there, Romney’s staff informed McCain’s, he would be willing to travel to Arizona for a formal endorsement ceremony. But McCain’s camp volunteered their candidate, campaigning that day in Rhode Island, for an immediate photo op in Boston. Romney wavered about doing it so quickly -- he held a ticket for a middle seat on a JetBlue flight later that day and hesitated about paying the cancellation fee -- but was flattered that McCain would show deference and come to him. Hours later, after postponing his flight and changing into a suit, Romney met with McCain privately for 15 minutes and asked what he could do. McCain made a standard request: He entreated Romney to campaign for him and other Republican candidates. Then the two walked out in front of an American flag and made it official.

It was an early indication that Romney’s long-term strategy would be undiverted by the grudges and pique that often endure among rivals. When McCain found himself in a similar scenario against George W. Bush eight years earlier, he had prolonged the end of his flailing campaign, projected a visible discomfort when he finally endorsed, and participated in a “shadow convention” that drew attention away from Bush’s nomination. Romney decided to be a good soldier.

“That we just put down to him being smart,” says Mark Salter, a McCain adviser who was among Romney’s most vehement detractors during the primaries. “He got out and then graciously said, ‘Put me to work.’ And I don’t think he turned down anything we asked him to do.”

The brutal reality is that unless Mr. Romney converts to Catholicism or becomes a Baptist he has no shot. He's seeking the nomination of a party in which many don't consider him a fellow Christian. John McCain has already demonstrated that "skip IA, win NH, lose SC" is not a viable strategy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


Zero Of The Lions (George Plimpton, 9/0764, Sports Illustrated)

As a football player, the zero wedged unheroically at left between the broad backs of Nick Pietrosante (33) and Jim Gibbons (80) of the Detroit Lions is a nothing who even keeps his helmet on because it hurts his ears to pull it off. He is the author, and he is about to take the field for the climax of what began as no more than a Walter Mitty daydream. He had long wondered—as has every follower of the sport—what it would feel like to quarterback a professional football team. Sports Illustrated approached the Detroit Lions, who were willing to oblige him before several thousand fans in their big preseason scrimmage. What follows is his account of the smashing career of the most naive, inept, befuddled, tolerated and unnerved quarterback that pro football has ever known[...]

Raymond Berry, the knowledgeable Baltimore end, once told me that I would survive a scrimmage if I played his position (out on the flank) and was sure to stay out of what he referred to as the "pit"—a designation that often came to mind just before my participation in scrimmages. It was an area, as he described it, along the line of scrimmage, perhaps 10 yards deep, where at the centering of the ball the Neanderthal struggle began between the opposing linemen. The struggle raged within a relatively restricted area that was possible to avoid. Berry himself, when he told me this, had wandered into the pit only three times in his career—coming back to catch poorly thrown buttonhook passes falling short—and he spoke of each instance as one might speak of a serious automobile accident. The particulars were embalmed in his memory in absolute clarity: that year, in that city, at such-and-such a game, during such-and-such a quarter, when so-and-so, the quarterback, threw the ball short, his arm jogged by a red-dogging linebacker, so that Berry had to run out of his pattern back toward the scrimmage line so many yards to catch it, and it was so-and-so, the 290-pounder, who reached an arm out of the ruck of the pit and dragged him down into it.

"One thing to remember when you do get hit," Berry told me in his soft Texas accent, "is to try to fall in the foetus position. Curl up around the ball, and keep your limbs from being extended, because there'll be other people coming up out of the pit to see you don't move any, and one of them landing on an arm that's outstretched, y'know, can snap it."

"Right," I said.

"But the big thing is just stay out of that area."

"Sure," I said.

But when I arrived to train with the Lions at Cranbrook I disregarded his advice. What I had to try to play was quarterback, because the essence of the game was involved with that position. The coaches agreed, if reluctantly, and after the front office had made me sign some papers absolving them of any responsibility, I became the "last-string" quarterback, and thus stood in Berry's pit each time I walked up behind the center to call signals. He was right, of course. One of the first plays I called at Cranbrook landed me in the pit. It was a simple hand-off play. Opposite me across the line the linebackers were all close up, shouting, "Jumbo! Jumbo! Jumbo!" which is one of the Lion code cries to red-dog, to rush the quarterback. When the snapback came I fumbled the ball, gaping at it, mouth ajar, as it rocked back and forth gaily at my feet, and I flung myself on it, my subconscious shrilling, "Foetus! Foetus!" as I tried to draw myself in like a frightened pill bug, and I heard the sharp strange whack of gear, the grunts—and then a sudden weight whooshed the air out of me.

It was Dave Lloyd, a 250-pound linebacker, who got through the line and got to me. A whistle blew and I clambered up, seeing him grin inside his helmet, to discover that the quick sense of surprise that I had survived was replaced by a pulsation of fury that I had not done better. I swore lustily at my clumsiness, hopping mad, near to throwing the ball into the ground, and eager to form a huddle to call another play and try again. The players were all standing up, some with their helmets off, many with big grins, and I heard someone calling, "Hey, man, hey, man!" and someone else—John Gordy, I think, because he said it all the time—called out, "Beautiful, real beautiful." I sensed then that an initiation had been performed, a blooding ceremony. Wayne Walker said, "Welcome to pro ball." Something in the tone of it made it not only in reference to the quick horror of what had happened when I fumbled but in appreciation that I had gone through something that made me, if tenuously, one of them, and they stood for a while on the field watching me savor it.

But the trouble was that the confidence that came with being blooded did not last long. After 10 minutes, kneeling on the sidelines quaking with eagerness to be called again, one would feel it begin to seep away, and the afternoon would be gone, and when the night came, in the cubicle-sized rooms of the boys'-school dormitory where we slept, what was left would edge completely away, skirting the discomfiture and insecurity that waited, as palpable as cat burglars, to move in.

It made sleep at night difficult to come by—a problem not so much for me as for the rookies, who had their careers at stake. Frank Imperiale, in the daylight hours trying for an offensive guard position, told me that it was often 4 o'clock before he could get to sleep. He would lie and listen to the hands of the big clocks in the corridors click forward every minute, which I had noticed too, audibly, like post-office boxes clicking shut, and he would count from one click to the next, trying to match them to the count of 60. He got expert at it, mumbling his numbers in the darkness. There were variations he could switch to. His room was next to a latrine, which had a row of urinals that flushed automatically every 53 or 83 seconds, I forget which, and Imperiale would count the seconds off to whichever number it was, and when he got there a low moan of machinery would rise from next door and culminate in a harsh flush of water. Mainly Imperiale kept at his numbers to keep his mind off football and his chances of making the team [he did not] and to bore himself to sleep. But every once in a while his mind's eye would fill with a vision, always the same: an enormous phantom lineman opposite him on the line of scrimmage, down in his crouch, the hard eyes staring out from his helmet, and when Imperiale launched himself at the figure he did so with such an effort to establish contact, muscles straining, that in his bed he suddenly felt pounds lighter, not far from levitating himself completely, sailing up off the bed stiff as an ironing board, and then with a gasp he would collapse back, the sweat beginning to flow. He would blink his eyes open and shut to remove the image.

Imperiale had the fortune, nonetheless, of having a single illusory opponent to take care of. Mine, either in the closeness of my dormitory room or in my mind's eye as I sat gloomily on the bench at Pontiac, gaping vacantly out at the field where the contests were concluding, came in great numbers, cliffs of defensive linemen, toppling toward me, calling out, "Jumbo! Jumbo! Jumbo!" nearly loud enough to drown out, but not quite, the schoolmaster's pawky voice whispering close at hand, "Son, do this, son, do that," manifestations of insecurity so discomfiting that to cease being a captive audience to them I ripped off my helmet, despite the fact that game time was only minutes away, and let the outside noise of the crowd wash over me.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


A Scary Season For Obama (David S. Broder, August 30, 2009 , Washington Post)

I badly misjudged the broad public reaction to the angry August congressional town meetings. Instead of provoking a pro-Obama backlash, as I had expected, the town halls, amplified on sometimes hostile cable channels and talk radio, spread disquiet about what the president has in mind. And Obama's patient, didactic responses have not quieted the reaction, let alone built fresh support for a vitally needed overhaul of our expensive, dysfunctional health system.

With congressional Democrats increasingly divided between moderates nervous about the cost of reform and liberals adamant that it not be compromised, it will take a major presidential push to get this effort back on track. But the coming weeks will find Obama more than distracted by growing challenges in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. [...]

Meantime, an implacable and opportunistic Republican opposition savors the prospect of victories in off-year gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia.

As Washington mourns the death of Edward Kennedy, a rested but sobered president faces the toughest times he has yet encountered.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


The Paranoid Style in Iranian Politics (ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN , Tehran Bureau)

The conspiratorial interpretation of politics is not, of course, unique to Iran. In fact, the title of this essay is borrowed from Richard Hofstadter’s classic “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Published nearly thirty years ago, that article described how throughout American history nativistic groups have claimed that Washington was being subverted by foreign conspirators — at times by Freemasons, at other times by Roman Catholics, at yet other times by Jews, and, in more recent times, by International Communists, such as General Eisenhower and Chief Justice Earl Warren. Similarly, fearful politicians in Britain have been known to conjure up a variety of fantastic conspiracies — all the way from the Luddite-Jacobin plot during the Napoleonic Wars, to the Zionist “manipulation” of the 1908 revolution in the Ottoman Empire, and, more recently, to the KGB’s “control” of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Such paranoia not only sees plots everywhere but views them as the main force of history. “According to this style history is a conspiracy,” writes Hofstadter, “set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power.”

Although the paranoid style can be found in many parts of the world, it is much more prevalent in modern Iran than in most Western societies. In the West, fears of plots, both real and imaginary, emerge in times of acute insecurity — during wars, revolutions, or economic crises. In Iran, they have been pervasive throughout the last half century. In the West, they tend to be confined to fringe groups, causing more ridicule than concern in the mainstream. In Iran, however, the paranoid style permeates society, the mainstream as much as the fringe, and cuts through all sectors of the political spectrum — royalists, nationalists, Communists, and, of course, Khomeinists. What stirs ridicule in Iran is not the style itself but the rival reading of the grand “conspiracy.” One man’s particular interpretation becomes for others not ridiculous but a deliberately misleading misinterpretation.

This chapter has three interrelated aims: first, to trace the root causes of the paranoid style in Iran; second, to compare the forms the style takes among the main political streams — among royalists, nationalists, and, most important of all, Khomeinists; and third, to weigh its consequences for contemporary Iran, especially its costs in retarding the development of political pluralism. [...]

[T]his style can be explained by history, especially Iran’s experience of imperial domination: foreign powers — first Russia and Britain, later the United States — have, in fact, determined the principal formations in the country’s political landscape over the last two hundred years.

These key formations include three disastrous wars in the first half of the nineteenth century; the subsequent capitulations in the treaties of Golestan, Turkmanchai, and Paris; the creation of the Tsarist-led Cossack Brigade in 1879; the sale of the tobacco monopoly to a British entrepreneur in 1890; the 1901 D’Arcy concession, which soon led to the establishment of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company; the 1907 Anglo-Russian Agreement, dividing Iran into zones of influence; the 1911 Russian Ultimatum and the consequent Anglo-Russian occupation; and the 1919 Anglo-Persian Agreement, designed to make the whole country into a British protectorate.

In the eyes of not only Iranians but also other Europeans, Russia and Britain had in effect incorporated Iran into their empires. It was their diplomats who ruled the country; the shah served as a “mere viceroy.” By the second half of the century, the Qajar shahs could not even designate their successors without the explicit approval of the two imperial representatives.

Imperial influence was also present in Iran’s three military coups: in 1908, 1921, and 1953. In the first, the Cossack Brigade led by its Tsarist officers bombarded the newly established Parliament in an attempt to shore up the faltering Qajar monarchy.

In the second, British officers helped Colonel Reza Khan of the same Cossack Brigade to overthrow the government, paving the way for the demise of the Qajar dynasty and the birth of the Pahlavi state.

In the third, the CIA, together with Britain’s MI6, financed army officers to overthrow a popular prime minister and salvage the Pahlavi throne. These traumatic events naturally led Iranians to conclude that whatever took place in their country was decided by the imperial powers.

This feeling of alienation was further intensified by the wide gap existing between state and civil society — in Persian terms, between the dawlat (government) and mellat (nation); the mamlekat (realm) and ummat (community); the darbar (court) and vatan (country); the hokumat (regime) and mardom (people).

The imperial powers sought local clients, and the elite in turn sought foreign patrons, even foreign citizenship. Ordinary citizens, thus, understandably came to the conclusion that public figures harbored alien “ties” and “connections.” In the words of a typical Iranian historian: “The imperial powers interfered in everything, even the personal affairs of leading statesmen. Absolutely nothing could be done without their permission.”

The link between the imperial powers and local elites was most glaring from 1941 to 1953 — from Reza Shah’s abdication brought about by the Anglo-Soviet invasion to Mohammad Reza Shah’s triumphant return engineered by the CIA. For one thing, this period saw the birth of Iran’s main political movements, especially the Tudeh and the National Front, and a host of gadfly newspapers which were able to openly air such themes as class conflict, national sovereignty, and foreign intervention. For another, the Great Powers immersed themselves in Iranian politics while Iranian politicians actively sought their help.

The shah, convinced that the army and the monarchy would stand or fall together, sought U.S. military aid. Southern politicians — led by Sayyid Ziya, a leading figure in the 1921 coup — obtained British assistance to counter both the shah and their other competitors. The United States considered Sayyid Ziya to be so pro-British as to be “unsuitable” for the premiership. Americans, no less than Iranians, were highly skeptical when British officials, such as Lambton, categorically denied having ties with Sayyid Ziya. Northern aristocrats tried to contain the shah and their southern rivals first by seeking Soviet help, but when they found the Soviets encouraging social revolution in Iran, they turned to the United States, seeking economic, rather than military, assistance.

The Tudeh party, on the other hand, as a radical movement, looked to the Soviet Union as the “champion of the international working class.” Meanwhile, Mosaddeq, leading the middle-class National Front, sought U.S. support against the pro-British aristocrats associated with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, against the shah and the armed forces, against the pro-Soviet Tudeh, and against the northern aristocrats as well as conservative pro-American politicians.

Riding a wave of popularity based on his promise to nationalize oil, Mosaddeq was elected premier in 1951 and promptly took over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The British, refusing to accept nationalization, did their best to discredit Mosaddeq, categorizing him as a “wily Oriental” who was not only “crazy,” “eccentric,” “abnormal,” “unbalanced,” and “unreasonable” but also “demagogic,” “slippery,” “cunning,” “unscrupulous,” “single-mindedly obstinate,” and “opium-addicted.”

“Mosaddeq’s megalomania,” declared the British Embassy in 1952, “is now verging on mental instability. He has to be humoured like a fractious child.” As evidence of Mosaddeq’s “mental instability,” the British ambassador cited his refusal to use the ministerial motorcar and the title “His Excellency.” He concluded that Iran, unlike the rest of Asia, was not yet ready for independence but rather, like Haiti, needed some twenty more years of foreign occupation: “Persia is indeed rather like a man who knows very well that he ought to go to the dentist but is afraid of doing so and is annoyed with anybody who says there is anything wrong with his teeth.”

The British government planted articles with similar themes in the newspapers. For example, the London Times carried a biography of Mosaddeq describing him as “nervously unstable,” “martyr-like,” and “timid” unless “emotionally” aroused. The Observer depicted him as an “incorruptible fanatic,” a xenophobic Robespierre, a “tragic” Frankenstein “impervious to common sense,” and with only “one political idea in his gigantic head.”

To encourage similar views across the Atlantic, the British fed the American press with a steady diet of — to use their own words — “poison too venomous for the BBC.” Typical of such character assassinations was an article in the Washington Post written by the venerable Drew Pearson falsely accusing Hosayn Fatemi, Mosaddeq’s right-hand man, of a host of criminal offenses, including embezzlement and gangsterism. “This man,” Pearson warned, “will eventually decide whether the US has gas rationing, or possibly, whether the American people go into World War III.”

The British, determined to undermine Mosaddeq from the day he was elected premier, refused to negotiate seriously with him. For instance, Professor Lambton, serving as a Foreign Office consultant, advised as early as November 1951 that the British government should persevere in “undermining” Mosaddeq, refuse to reach agreement with him, and reject American attempts to find a compromise solution. “The Americans,” she insisted, “do not have the experience or the psychological insight to understand Persia.”

The central figure in the British strategy to overthrow Mosaddeq was another academic, Robin Zaehner, who soon became professor of Eastern religions and ethics at Oxford. As press attaché in Tehran during 1943-47, Zaehner had befriended numerous politicians, especially through opium-smoking parties. Dispatched back to Iran by MI6, Zaehner actively searched for a suitable general to carry out the planned coup. He also used diverse channels to undermine Mosaddeq: Sayyid Ziya and the pro-British politicians; newspaper editors up for sale; conservative aristocrats who in the past had sided with Russia and America; tribal chiefs, notably the Bakhtiyaris; army officers, shady businessmen, courtiers, and members of the royal family, many of whom outstripped the shah in their fear of Mosaddeq. Helped in due course by the CIA, Zaehner also wooed away a number of Mosaddeq’s associates, including Ayatollah Kashani, General Zahedi, Hosayn Makki, and Mozaffar Baqai.

Baqai, a professor of ethics at Tehran University, soon became notorious as the man who abducted Mosaddeq’s chief of police and tortured him to death. MI6, together with the CIA, also resorted to dirty tricks to undermine the government, one of the more harmless ones being the rumor that “the communists are plotting against Mosaddeq’s life and placing the responsibility on the British.”

It is therefore not surprising that the 1953 coup gave rise to conspiracy theories, including cloak and dagger stories of Orientalist professors moonlighting as spies, forgers, and even assassins. Reality — in this case — was stranger than fiction. These conspiracy theories were compounded by the fact that some Western academics did their best to expurgate from their publications any mention of the CIA and MI6 in the 1953 coup. In fact, recent autobiographies reveal that the shah often subsidized British and American academics whose publications tended to reinforce the court view of modern Iranian history, especially of the 1953 events.

...imagine how crazy a coup would make them?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:11 AM


Tehran Prosecutor Sacked (Muhammad Sahimi, 8/29/09, Tehran Bureau)

Hojjatoleslam Sadegh Larijani, the new chief of the judiciary, has fired Saeed Mortazavi, the notorious Prosecutor General of Tehran and of the Revolutionary Court. Larijani has appointed Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi to replace him.

Mortazavi was responsible for the arrest and torture of many journalists, young bloggers, human rights advocates, political activists and reformist leaders. He was behind the closure of more than 200 newspapers, weeklies, and monthlies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:25 AM


Lead Us Not Into Penn Station (Ed Driscoll, 8/29/09)

One of the subplots in the first two episodes of Mad Men’s third season (set in mid-1963) involves fictional ad agency Sterling-Cooper’s involvement with the firm that’s leveling Manhattan’s original Penn Station and building modern-day Madison Square Garden and an office high-rise on top of it. Given the folk Marxism (as Arnold Kling would call it) that’s lurking just under the surface of so much of the show’s writing, it seems safe to say that its producers view the nuking of the original 1910-era Penn Station as greedy businessmen and shortsighted developers run amok, along with a railroad that couldn’t care less about its passengers.

The reality, as I wrote back in 2005 over at Tech Central Station, when it appeared a long-delayed successor was on the immediate horizon, is a bit more complex, with plenty of blame to go across both political aisles, and private enterprise, government, and academia, combined...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Japanese govenment crushed in election rout (Richard Lloyd-Parry, 8/30/09, Times of London)

Japan’s ruling conservative party today suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of voters, according to exit polls.

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan is now expected to win 300 of the 480 seats in the lower house of Japan’s Diet, ousting the Liberal Democrats, who have governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, according to projections by the major Japanese TV networks. [...]

[M]r Hatoyama has taken an outspoken stand against unfettered international capitalism and promised to abandon the country’s “worship” of the United States.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


Interrogating the CIA (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 8/30/09, WSJ)

A clever, streetwise classmate of mine at the Central Intelligence Agency's junior officer training program—a former Delta Force officer—quickly and rudely discovered that counterterrorism in the much-vaunted Reagan years wasn't a serious endeavor at Langley. He had original and provocative ideas on using physical force to scare the bejesus out of terrorist suspects who had American blood on their hands. Although the CIA was then filling up with operatives pretending to be engaged against a growing terrorist menace, Langley's counterterrorist data bank and real operational planning were near zero. My friend's ideas were too unsettling. He resigned. By the time I resigned in 1994, CIA counterterrorism had become an inflexible, lumbering creature, incapable of countering the wicked anti-American forces gaining strength in the Middle East.

Fast forward to eight years after 9/11: Has Attorney General Eric Holder damaged the CIA's improved counterterrorist capacity by his decision to employ a special prosecutor to investigate whether crimes were committed by the agency's interrogators? From the moment Barack Obama won the presidency, Langley's use of "enhanced interrogation" was obviously over. The appointment of a prosecutor guarantees that unless the United States is again devastated by a terrorist attack—on a scale greater than 9/11—CIA operatives will certainly decline any future order by a Republican president to interrogate roughly a jihadist. Langley's junior officers may still receive survival and escape training, which is the baptismal font for the agency's enhanced interrogation techniques. But members of al Qaeda will not similarly get to enjoy the experience.

Constrained by new rules and hostile lawyers, can the CIA in the future successfully interrogate uncooperative jihadists, like self-described 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who remained as close-mouthed as a clam when questioned without physical coercion?

Does anyone really think that any Democratic president would eschew torture despite a subsequent attack?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Bankers watch as Sweden goes negative (Andrew Ward in Stockholm and David Oakley in London, August 27 2009, Financial Times)

[L]ast month, the Swedish Riksbank entered uncharted territory when it became the world’s first central bank to introduce negative interest rates on bank deposits.

Risbank graphic for MarketsEven at the deepest point of Japan’s financial crisis, the country’s central bank shied away from such a measure, which is designed to encourage commercial banks to boost lending.

But, as they contemplate their exit strategies after the extraordinary measures of the past two years, central bankers will be monitoring the Swedish experiment closely. would you sustain positive rates? Such a precipitous decline in the supply of people has to drive down the demand for all sorts of stuff, no? Which means demographics will drive deflation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


Bach’s ‘Goldberg’ as You’ve Never Heard It (VIVIEN SCHWEITZER, 8/30/09, NY Times)

BACH, though an energetic transcriber of other composers’ music, could never have imagined the stampede of arrangers his own scores would attract in a distant future. His “Goldberg” Variations, written for a two-manual harpsichord in 1742, have been widely coveted since Glenn Gould’s landmark 1955 recording on the piano: interpreted and misinterpreted by pianists, jazz trios, guitarists, accordionists, saxophone quartets and others. Now two harpists and a marimba player have entered the fray with recordings of their own transcriptions.

You have to think that Bach would appreciate the inventiveness of Pius Cheung’s version, billed as the first recording of the “Goldberg” Variations on marimba. With the marimba coming into its own as a solo instrument, it was only a matter of time before an enterprising player laid hands on the work. In booklet notes for the recording, released independently, Mr. Cheung, a young Chinese-Canadian virtuoso, writes that the piece is “incredibly difficult” to play on the instrument. But he surmounts the contrapuntal hurdles and offers a stylish, deeply expressive interpretation notable for its clear voicing, eloquent phrasing and wide range of color and dynamics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


He's a driving force in the world of electric cars: Tom Gage, a self-described 'car nut' since childhood, has been advancing the technologies under the hoods of electric vehicles as chief executive of AC Propulsion. (Ken Bensinger, August 30, 2009, LA Times)

A self-described "car nut" since childhood, Gage moved to Georgia to work as a race mechanic after graduating from Stanford University with an engineering degree. After a few years tinkering with turbos and emissions systems, he wiped off the grease, got an MBA and landed a job at Chrysler. There he got his first jolt of electric transportation, working on a program to develop plug-in passenger vehicles. That effort sputtered, and Gage ultimately left Detroit for California to consult on advanced vehicle technologies.

In 1994, he met Alan Cocconi, who had put an electric drivetrain into an old Honda Civic. Driving it, Gage said, "was a life-changing experience for me." Soon after, he "started hanging out at AC Propulsion," Cocconi's company, and worked his way up the ladder. [...]

Gasoline engines can be great for power or for fuel economy, but not both, Gage said. That's a compromise that electric cars don't have to make. He said vehicles running AC Propulsion's drivetrain, called the tzero, can have bullet-like acceleration yet still get from point A to point B for just a few pennies' worth of juice. The only limitation is range, which is rapidly increasing as lithium battery technology improves.

"The most compelling feature is that you don't use petroleum," Gage said. "For many uses, electrics are superior."

Once you crank up the cost of gasoline the transition will be so fast that we'll have to phase in a broad consumption tax to make up the revenues.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 AM


The truth in black and white: there are too many of us (Rod Liddle, 8/30/09, Times of London)

So immigration, both direct and by proxy, is still the main weapon in our valiant fight to reach the 100m mark around about Easter 2112, by which time we will all be stacked horizontally in warehouses on wooden pallets, like in those weird Japanese hotels, and eating one another.

There are plenty of learned people around who worry that Britons — and Europeans in general — are being rapidly outbred in their homelands and will soon constitute a minority in their “own” countries. I don’t much care, frankly, who is stacked above me snoring on one of those pallets (so long as it is not a Belgian); it is the sheer weight of numbers I find alarming. The quicker the problem of overpopulation can be uncoupled from alarmist racial rhetoric, the more likely we are to address the real problem.

The Optimum Population Trust (OPT) think tank reckons Britain’s population should be somewhere between 17m and 27m, although it has not, to my knowledge, recommended a cull...

Britain's population, for example, was 20 million in the early 1850's, when Dickens wrote Hard Times. And Ebenezer Scrooge was, like Mr. Liddle, a Malthusian:
'I wish to be left alone,' said Scrooge. 'Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned-they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.'

'Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'

'If they would rather die,' said Scrooge, 'they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population..'

Of course, back then Britain at least had a majority living in grinding poverty to "justify" such views. It's a much harder argument to sustain in a society that just moves from one pinnacle of well-being to the next as its population grows. As always, the case against humans depends on wishing them dead, not on any effect from their numbers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Time for a Souter-O'Connor Commission (Fred Hiatt, August 30, 2009, Washington Post)

If President Obama has been frustrated in his desire not to look back at Bush-era detention practices, it is because he is caught between two fundamental but seemingly irreconcilable American principles.

On the one hand, this is a nation of laws. If torture violates U.S. law -- and it does -- and if Americans engaged in torture -- and they did -- that cannot be ignored, forgotten, swept away. When other nations violate human rights, the United States objects and insists on some accounting. It can't ask less of itself.

Yet this is also a nation where two political parties compete civilly and alternate power peacefully. Regimes do not seek vengeance, through the courts or otherwise, as they succeed each other.

More than either of those, it's a nation that pursues its foreign affairs with an almost unique savagery. Recall that the "anti-war" side in Iraq proposed maintaining the embargo instead, even though they said it was killing 5,000 children under 5 per month. The notion that a people who happily burn down cities in order to win wars must try guys for pretending to drown a couple terrorists in order to vindicate its legal traditions is absurd.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:59 AM


Obama Will Continue “Shipping Away Prisoners” (Matthew Rothschild, August 25, 2009, The Progressive)

It’s the story, I’m sorry to say, of another Obama betrayal.

When he was campaigning for President, he said we needed to end the practice of “shipping away prisoners in the dead of night to be tortured in far-off countries.”

But now Obama has decided to continue the Bush policy—and I’m not going to use the euphemism of rendition, because it’s a policy of kidnapping.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Mubarak, Obama and the US-Cairo thaw (ZVI MAZEL , 8/30/09, Jerusalem Post)

Following his talks with Obama, Mubarak declared that his Cairo speech had removed all doubts concerning the new American policy towards the Muslim world, thus giving Obama Egypt's seal of approval and putting an end to the coolness between the two countries.

After all, in Cairo the American president had given low priority to human rights issues, and the message had been well received by Arab leaders and particularly by Mubarak.

After all, why should a modern liberal care about the freedom of 80 million Egyptians?

August 29, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 PM


Man-made volcanoes may cool Earth (Jonathan Leake, 8/30/09, Times of London)

THE Royal Society is backing research into simulated volcanic eruptions, spraying millions of tons of dust into the air, in an attempt to stave off climate change.

All we'd have to do is nuke Assad, Chavez, Kim, & the PRC to achieve the same effect. In addition to which, once we'd done it once no one would ever misbehave again. It's a non-proliferation regime with teeth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:43 PM


Revealed: Lockerbie link to oil exploration deal (Jason Allardyce, 8/30/09, Times of London)

The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.

Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:34 PM


How will liberals react to Obama maintaining Bush-era security policies? (Ruben Navarrette Jr., 08/28/2009, San Diego Union-Tribune)

They say the older you get, the smarter your parents get. Likewise, it seems, the deeper President Barack Obama gets into his first term, the smarter President George W. Bush gets.

Hard-line liberals will never accept this. They have too much invested in the narrative of Bush-as-incompetent-dolt to make room for the possibility that the Texas Republican got one or two things right in eight years. Nor do they want to believe that the supposedly more enlightened Obama is emulating his predecessor. [...]

So what gives? Here are three options: Either Obama is learning that being president is much more difficult than running for president, or he's a bigger pragmatist than we thought, or he never really believed President Bush was as bad he made him out to be during the campaign.

And whatever brought them to this point, Obama supporters only have two options: Stand by their man, or their principles.

...principle is whatever your leader does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:08 AM


How a Detainee Became An Asset: Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding (Peter Finn, Joby Warrick and Julie Tate, 8/29/09, Washington Post)

After enduring the CIA's harshest interrogation methods and spending more than a year in the agency's secret prisons, Khalid Sheik Mohammed stood before U.S. intelligence officers in a makeshift lecture hall, leading what they called "terrorist tutorials."

In 2005 and 2006, the bearded, pudgy man who calls himself the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks discussed a wide variety of subjects, including Greek philosophy and al-Qaeda dogma. In one instance, he scolded a listener for poor note-taking and his inability to recall details of an earlier lecture.

Speaking in English, Mohammed "seemed to relish the opportunity, sometimes for hours on end, to discuss the inner workings of al-Qaeda and the group's plans, ideology and operatives," said one of two sources who described the sessions, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much information about detainee confinement remains classified. "He'd even use a chalkboard at times."

These scenes provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy of the United States into what the CIA called its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.

"KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete," according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA's then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

The 'Most Prolific' Detainee: We learned a lot about al Qaeda from KSM, and not by asking nicely. (Thomas Joscelyn, 09/07/2009, Weekly Standard)

On March 1, 2003, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the principal planner of the September 11 attacks, was captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. U.S. interrogators quickly went about the business of getting him to talk, and for good reasons. KSM's operatives were already here, inside America, planning attacks.

Shortly after KSM was detained, an Ohio-based truck driver named Iyman Faris was arrested by the FBI. Faris had reportedly been under suspicion beforehand, but U.S. authorities suddenly determined that they had to arrest him. It turned out that Faris, an al Qaeda-trained sleeper agent, had been dispatched to the United States by KSM to plot attacks on landmarks in the New York area, including the Brooklyn Bridge.

Then, in late March, a young Pakistani man named Uzair Paracha was arrested. He had been working out of an office in Manhattan's Garment District for a company owned by his father, Saifullah Paracha. KSM wanted Uzair to facilitate the entry of al Qaeda operatives and use the Parachas' import-export business to smuggle explosives into the United States.

Until this past week, it was not clear how U.S. authorities pieced together the details of this plotting so soon after KSM was captured. But the inspector general's report on the CIA's detainee interrogation program and two other CIA analytical papers--all three of which were released on August 24--fill in the blanks. It is clear now, if it wasn't before, that the CIA's questioning of KSM saved numerous lives, both here and abroad. The inspector general found that KSM "provided
information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Saifullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen whom [KSM] planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States." His "information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris." KSM would become the "most prolific" detainee in the CIA's custody, giving up fellow terrorists and the details of plots around the globe.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Lester Young: 'The Prez' Still Rules At 100 (Tom Vitale, 8/27/09, NPR)

In the winter of 1959, French photographer Francois Postif interviewed Young in his Paris hotel room less than two months before the saxophonist died. The recording has been passed around from jazz fan to jazz fan.

In it, Young said that even though he became famous with the Count Basie Orchestra, he didn't like big bands.

"I don't like a whole lot of noise — trumpets and trombones," Young says in the recording. "I'm looking for something soft. It's got to be sweetness, man, you dig?"

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Ted Kennedy's Soviet Gambit: Considering the late senator's complete record requires digging into the USSR's archives. (Peter Robinson, 08.28.09, Forbes)

Kennedy's message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. "The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations," the memorandum stated. "These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign."

Kennedy made Andropov a couple of specific offers.

First he offered to visit Moscow. "The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA." Kennedy would help the Soviets deal with Reagan by telling them how to brush up their propaganda.

Then he offered to make it possible for Andropov to sit down for a few interviews on American television.

Of course, John shared a lover with Hitler, so just swapping love letters with Andropov doesn't seem so awful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Tax Pledge Is a Target As Deficits, Debt Grow (Lori Montgomery, 8/29/09, Washington Post)

During last year's campaign, President Obama vowed to enact a bold agenda without raising taxes for the middle class, a pledge budget experts viewed with skepticism. Since then, a severe recession, massive deficits and a national debt that is swelling toward a 50-year high have only made his promise harder to keep.

The Obama administration has insisted that the pledge will stand. But the president's top economic advisers have refused to rule out broad-based tax increases to close the yawning gap between federal revenue and government spending and are warning of tough choices ahead.

...and decided to try and replicate every single one of the worst mistakes. Somewhere there must be a gang of plumbers trying to break into GOP hq...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


'Inspector Lewis' mixes highbrow with lowdown (Mary McNamara, 8/29/09, Chicago Tribune)

Lewis, now an inspector, is back in Oxford, with his own detective sergeant, James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), who, though not as arrogant as Morse, does have a tendency to quote Shakespeare a bit too often for Lewis' taste.

So not only is a viewer treated to the stately spires and cobblestone charm of Oxford, but each episode inevitably imparts some bit of scholarship or other, and a pretty decent mystery too.

On Sunday, Percy Bysshe Shelley is the focus, so brush up on your knowledge of the Romantics, or clues like "Prometheus" (as in "Prometheus Unbound") will whiz right by you. Just so you know, the title of the episode -- "And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea" -- comes from Shelley's "Love's Philosophy," parts of which are repeated a few times with enduring lyricism even as the body count rises. [...]

The next episode makes a U-turn into Wagner, the world of boxing and the fall of East Germany. It would be a, well, crime to say more because the beauty of "Inspector Lewis" is watching how seemingly unconnected incidents emerge as a single series of events that inevitably expose some odd subculture or other, all within the confines of the still-formidable setting of Oxford.

"And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea," written by Alan Plater, is especially well done, with a terrific main conceit, a very believable set of players and a genuine ongoing conversation about the nature of art itself.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:22 AM


An Example for the Future Or an Icon of the Past? (Alec MacGillis and Ann Gerhart, August 29, 2009, Washington Post)

Today, although they control Congress and the White House, Democrats are suffering from a crisis of confidence. Having spent years running from the "liberal" label, many fret over how far to push Kennedy's signal issue, health-care reform that would bring medical insurance to every American -- now the centerpiece of President Obama's domestic agenda.

Kennedy's death this week has left Democrats debating just what made him so successful -- his public embrace of liberalism or his political skill and the relationships he built with opposition lawmakers -- and about whether his approach might be translated to help Democrats regain their footing.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wants Democrats to renew their commitment to unabashed liberalism. "Voters want the real thing," he said.

American voters in particular don't want the real thing, but what's revealing is that neither do voters in Canada, England, Australia, etc. This is an opportunity for liberals to modernize their views in the way that other Labour/Left parties in the rest of the Anglosphere have.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Reactions to Health Bill Make Some Democrats Wary: In Nebraska, Sen. Nelson Hears Steady Chorus of Opposition to Overhaul; 'My Vote Is Not on Autopilot,' He Says (Janet Adamy, 8/29/09, WSJ)

He and some other Democrats say it now seems more likely Congress will opt for scaled-down health legislation, instead of the broad expansion of insurance coverage President Barack Obama is pushing. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D., Mo.) said he hopes Congress will "punch the reset button," and sees two core principles as vital to a bill: competition to drive insurance costs down and eliminating insurers' ability to deny coverage because of pre-existing health conditions.

A moderate Democrat in a conservative state, Mr. Nelson has been one of the Senate's most skeptical Democrats on lawmakers' proposals to fix the health system. The former insurance-company executive maintains he is undecided on whether he will vote for a health overhaul, and he has criticized proposals to create a public health-insurance plan.

That position prompted liberal groups to hit him with attack ads in Nebraska for not backing the public plan. This month, Mr. Nelson fought back with television ads defending his position, an unusual move since he doesn't face re-election until 2012.

While Democrats were taking jabs at each other, the Nebraska Republican Party was sending emails to thousands of supporters, saying that the Democrats' health proposals would make health care more expensive, raise taxes, increase the federal budget deficit and harm the quality of care Americans receive. Conservative groups distributed details about town-hall meetings and encouraged Republicans to voice their concerns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Obama vows not to forget lessons of Katrina (PHILIP ELLIOTT, 8/29/09, AP)

August 28, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Americans worried about Iran, support direct talks and tough sanctions (Eric Fingerhut, August 28, 2009 , JTA)

A new poll shows that Americans are worried about the nuclear aspirations about Iran and support the U.S. doing anything it can to stop the Islamic republic -- from sanctions to direct negotiations.

The Israel Project poll of 800 registered voters, jointly conducted by the Republican Public Opinion Strategies and the Democratic Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, found that 81 percent believe Iran poses a "very" or "somewhat" serious threat to the United States, and 84 percent agreed with the statement "Even with all the problems that America faces at home now, we must still work hard to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


4% of Israeli Jews: Obama pro-Israel (GIL HOFFMAN , 8/28/09, Jerusalem Post)

The number of Israelis who see US President Barack Obama's policies as pro-Israel has fallen to four percent, according to a Smith Research poll taken this week on behalf of The Jerusalem Post.

Jimmy Carter had to leave the presidency and reveal his true self to sink that low.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:22 PM


Colorado 'Republican Obama' Looks to Better the Real Obama (Amanda Ruggeri, 8/28/09, US News: Washington Whispers)

Ryan Frazier, the GOP candidate battling for the seat of Colorado's Sen. Michael Bennet, is young, African-American, tech-savvy, charismatic, and school smart. So it's no surprise that some have dubbed him the "Republican Obama." Watching the prez, the 31-year-old says he's learned what—and what not—to do in campaigns.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:32 AM


Reversal on Senate Succession Stirs Political Storm: Democrats' Push to Let Governor Fill Kennedy's Seat, After Demanding Special Vote in 2004, Draws Accusations of Hypocrisy (JOHN HECHINGER and PHILIP SHISHKIN, 8/28/09, WSJ)

Massachusetts state Sen. Brian A. Joyce, a Democrat who headed the election-laws committee in 2004, agreed. "If we were to allow an appointment, it would be wholly undemocratic," he said. "When you cut through the rhetoric on both sides, it's pure partisan politics."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


The Bailout Bonanza: TARP's early returns are impressive. (Daniel Gross, Aug 28, 2009 , Newsweek)

The final cost of TARP will be a fraction of the original $700 billion, and taxpayers are turning a profit from its central component: the Capital Purchase Program.

Paulson's initial efforts, continued by the Wall Street sharpies who succeeded him, had the characteristics of an investment fund. Under the CPP, the government would lend money to banks at 5 percent, through the purchase of preferred shares. As investors in troubled companies do, the government demanded an extra ounce of flesh: warrants, which are the right to buy a stock at a set price. It's like lending money to a financially troubled friend to buy a house, but getting ownership of the kitchen.

The spreadsheets at document the status of the 667 investments, worth $204.4 billion, made under the CPP. Morgan Stanley, which borrowed $10 billion in October 2008, paid back the cash in June and purchased the warrants for $950 million on Aug. 12, giving taxpayers a 12.7 percent return, according to SNL Financial. For the 22 companies that have bought back shares and warrants, the taxpayer received an annualized return of 17.5 percent—better than most hedge funds have done lately. (Another 15 have repaid part or all of the principal.) Since many of the largest financial institutions have left the program, the 37 "exits" represent 34 percent of the total cash initially disbursed. The bottom line: taxpayers have received $70.3 billion in principal, plus about $10 billion in dividends and warrant payments.

Nice to have had our first president with an MBA when the panic hit. Too bad we had the House Republicans....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


As boycott continues, Glenn Beck's audience swells (Matea Gold, August 27, 2009, LA Times)

An advertising boycott against Fox News host Glenn Beck has succeeded in keeping most major sponsors from running commercials on his show even as the controversial commentator's viewership has grown.

Beck attracted 2.81 million viewers Monday, his third-largest audience since his show launched on Fox News in January, according to Nielsen Media Research data provided by the network. On Tuesday, nearly 2.7 million viewers tuned in, his fifth-largest viewership to date. [...]

[Updated at 4:43 p.m.: Beck posted his second-highest viewership ever Wednesday, attracting more than 3 million viewers for the hour.]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:25 AM


A New Path for Japan (YUKIO HATOYAMA, 8/27/09, NY Times)

Yukio Hatoyama heads the Democratic Party of Japan, and would become prime minister should the party win in Sunday’s elections.

In the post-Cold War period, Japan has been continually buffeted by the winds of market fundamentalism in a U.S.-led movement that is more usually called globalization. In the fundamentalist pursuit of capitalism people are treated not as an end but as a means. Consequently, human dignity is lost.

How can we put an end to unrestrained market fundamentalism and financial capitalism, that are void of morals or moderation, in order to protect the finances and livelihoods of our citizens? That is the issue we are now facing.

In these times, we must return to the idea of fraternity — as in the French slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité” — as a force for moderating the danger inherent within freedom.

What citizens? The country is already so insular it's dying and now they'll turn further inwards?

Remember when folks like Walter Mondale, Ross Perot and Michael Crichton were terrified of Japan? It was kind of the '80s version of climate hysteria.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 AM


Union Disappointment: A “No” on Card Checks: Legislation coveted by unions isn’t likely to get the nod this year, though a compromise stands a good chance next year. (Martha Lynn Craver, 8/28/09, The Kiplinger Letter)

Congress will likely deal unions a disappointment on labor law reform this year. Prospects are dimming for a vote in the Senate on legislation that would allow labor groups to organize via card signing campaign instead of a vote. have to look to William Henry Harrison...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:31 AM


For Obama, Golfing Is a Very Leisurely Pursuit (HELENE COOPER, 8/28/09, NY Times)

Bill Clinton was famous for the creative way he kept score. Both George Bushes would speed-golf through 18 holes as if they had to beat the clock, not the course.

And President Obama?

Long, slow rounds. A lot of time hunting for balls in the woods. [...]

He spent five hours on Monday afternoon playing 18 holes at the Farm Neck Golf Club here, two and a half hours on Tuesday playing nine holes at Mink Meadows Golf Club in Vineyard Haven, and several hours playing Thursday afternoon at the Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown.

His caddies must despise him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:25 AM


White House: Obama postponed Israel trip due to healthcare reform (Yitzhak Benhorin, 08.28.09, Israel News

The National Security Council suggested that US President Barack Obama travel to Israel, but the trip was postponed due to the political dispute surrounding healthcare reform, White House officials told Ynet.

According to the officials, Obama planned on visiting Israel in the coming months due to the drop in Israeli public support for the American leader.

...but he'd improve the chances of the health care bill if he weren't in America talking about it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Elder Bush will not attend Kennedy funeral (The Associated Press, Aug. 28, 2009)

The other remaining former presidents — Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — will join the younger Bush at the service. President Barack Obama will give the eulogy. have W deliver the eulogy. He never failed to rise to the occasion for his big set piece speeches and he and Michael Gerson would render a memorable one. If the UR follows form he'll have to give three follow-ups apologizing for and clarifying his otherwise forgettable remarks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


Well, this is as subtle as a trainwreck. It's sponsored by Nestea and the story has an office drone (the great Tony Hale from Arrested Development and Chuck) spill Nestea on his keyboard, turning it into some kind of time portal. Sadly, that may be the future of television since you can just skip the ads if they aren't built into the show.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:17 AM


History is much too important to be left to politicians: The EU must not give succour to self-interested revisionists who equate Stalinism and Nazism in an effort to smear the left (Jonathan Steele, 8/19/09,

[2]0 years on, the issue is still a political football, marked by a resolution which the European parliament passed this spring to declare 23 August "a Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes".

In the arcane way these things are done in the European parliament, the resolution was a watered-down version of a "declaration" it passed last September which wanted to make 23 August a day to remember "victims of Stalinism and Nazism". Individual EU governments take the ultimate decision, and few have nominated 23 August as a special day. But the issue matters as it marks an unpleasant effort by many Baltic and central European politicians to equate Stalinism and Nazism or claim Stalinism was worse. In part concerned by the continuing strength of former Communist parties in the region, they use the Nazi-Soviet "equation" as a device to smear any party of the left. (The draft resolution was watered down by left groups in the European parliament.) It is also a barely disguised attempt to maintain extreme wariness, if not outright hostility, to contemporary Russia.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact certainly showed Stalin to be as cynical as Hitler. But to jump from that to equate the two men's record or ideology does not accord with reality. Nor does it take account of the fact that Soviet policy evolved after Stalin's death so that political activity, let alone ordinary family life, in the two decades under Brezhnev was not subject to arbitrary terror. Rightwing Baltic politicians have a point in saying most other Europeans are unaware of Stalin's mass deportations from the Baltics. Perhaps 100,000 people were sent to Siberia after 1939 or when the Red Army defeated the Nazis and re-entered the region.

So because the Soviets period of mass murder only lasted for the first forty years of the regime before they settled into a less violent totalitarian gulag they weren't as bad as the Nazis? Who's to say that by the time Hitler died of natural causes the Reich would not have been largely done with its death camps and have evolved into just a stock nationalist socialist experiment? (Anyone read Robert Harris's Fatherland?)

We don't have to smear the Left when folks like Mr. Steele do such a good job of smearing themselves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:13 AM


Gaddafi: ‘Lockerbie is history. Now it’s time to talk business' (Exclusive by LUCY ADAMS, August 28 2009, The Herald)

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son today reveals the inside story of how - and why - the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing was released.

Speaking exclusively to The Herald at his home near Tripoli, Saif al Islam al Gaddafi disclosed the original prisoner transfer deal with the UK government was directly linked to talks on trade and oil. [...]

In what he said was his most important message, Mr al Gaddafi said: "Lockerbie is history. The next step is fruitful and productive business with Edinburgh and London. Libya is a promising, rich market and so let's talk about the future. There is no reason for people to be angry. Why be so angry? This is an innocent man who is dying."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:10 AM


Obama's envoy Holbrooke 'in heated row' with Karzai (Haroon Siddique, 8/28/09,

The US special envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, had a heated row with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, in the aftermath of the election, according to reports. Sources described the meeting as "a dramatic bust up" and "explosive", according to the BBC.

Holbrooke is said to have challenged Karzai over allegations of ballot-stuffing and fraud and suggested that a run-off to decide the next president – which would be held if no candidate obtained more than 50% of the votes – would boost the credibility of the democratic process.

And the two that are our allies at that. As in Honduras, the Obama Administration's position appears to be that not following your own constitution is the way to make the UR happy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM

SEE YOU OUT THERE (via Glenn Dryfoos):

Soldiering On: The Troops First Foundation gives America's injured vets a chance to reclaim their dignity (David Feherty, 8/26/09, , GOLF Magazine)

Earlier that week, Hunter, Rod Pampling, Jason Gore, Pat Perez, Kelly Tilghman and Tom Watson played with thirty or so seriously injured servicemen and women (most of them amputees) in my 2nd Annual Improvised Explosive Day of Golf at the Chevy Chase Club. This year I had another amazing group of warriors, from Rob Brown — a below-the-knee amputee who may represent the U.S. in both the regular Olympics in kayak and Para-Olympics in track and field — to 22-year-old PFC Brendan Marrocco of the 25th Infantry, who on Easter Sunday in Tikrit was robbed of all four limbs plus his left eye.

It takes a while to figure out how to react to the severely injured members of our armed forces, but after almost three years of being around them, I think I have it figured out. This year's IED of Golf was the first time I'd met Brendan, with whom it is impossible to shake hands, play footsie, chest bump or, for that matter, pull his finger. A stump-to-knuckles thing had to suffice, and after that I embarked on what is now my normal procedure for getting to know a new member of my F-troop, who was being driven around in a cart by his brother Mike. It went something like this:

Me: "You know, you're not as tall as I thought you'd be."

Brendan: "I used to be taller."

"Yes, I can imagine. So, what would you like to do today?"

"I'd like to kick your [butt]."

"Well, that seems unlikely. Obviously you can't walk, but you look like you'd bounce pretty well. Are you going to be okay in that cart without a seat belt?

"Yeah, I can hold on with my butt cheeks."

"Excellent! Well, clench on, brother — I'll see you out there."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


The isolation of Israel could have disastrous consequences for us all: The more Israelis feel they can no longer rely on Washington to protect them, the more likely they are to launch unilateral military action to destroy Iran's nuclear capability (Con Coughlin, 8.28/09, Daily Telegraph)

n the course of Israel's 61-year history, there have been a host of occasions when the country has found itself in a tight fix. There was the Six-Day War of 1967, when the Jewish state was surrounded by hostile neighbours hell-bent on its destruction; the surprise attack by Syria that triggered the Yom Kippur War of 1973, which directly threatened the Israeli heartland; and the condemnation that followed the massacre of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Beirut's Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps at the height of the Lebanese civil war in 1982, for which the Israeli military bore a heavy responsibility.

Recent history has been scarcely less traumatic. During the Gulf War, Israelis were subjected to their own terrifying ordeal when they were bombarded by Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles. Israel's subsequent military operations in Lebanon and Gaza were not only problematic, but did much to alienate international opinion.

But throughout their trials and tribulations, Israelis have been able to take comfort from the fact that no matter how great the threat, they could always rely on the support of their closest ally, the United States.

And yet today, when Israel arguably faces a threat to its very existence from Iran's nuclear ambitions, the country suddenly finds itself more isolated than ever before, shunned by its erstwhile defender and protector.

...but looked at only through the lens of Realist foreign policy, what's the downside of them destroying each other?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:39 AM


A Virginia Model For a GOP Comeback? (Michael Gerson, August 28, 2009, Washington Post)

Since 1977, the political party that has won the presidency has, in every case, lost the Virginia governorship in the next election. This pattern of cussedness is holding, at least for the moment. McDonnell, Virginia's former attorney general, is currently well ahead of his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds, in one poll leading by 15 percentage points among likely voters.

McDonnell, riding in a well-worn, 30-foot blue RV from dairy farm to winery to college campus, recounts how the political environment has changed from a year ago. "The business community," he says, "was the first to recoil" from policies such as "card check" -- legislation to allow union organization by signing cards instead of by a secret ballot -- and cap-and-trade environmental policies. "But health care now dwarfs previous concerns -- handing over the best medical system in the world to the federal government. It affects everyone." Conservatives, he contends, are more activated than at any time since 1993.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:34 AM


Abuse Issue Puts the C.I.A. and Justice Dept. at Odds (Peter Baker, David Johnston and Mark Mazzetti, 8/28/09, NY Times)

With the appointment of a prosecutor to investigate detainee abuses, long-simmering conflicts between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Justice Department burst into plain view this week, threatening relations between two critical players on President Obama’s national security team.

The tension between the agencies complicates how the administration handles delicate national security issues, particularly the tracking and capturing of suspected terrorists overseas. It also may distract Mr. Obama, who is trying to move beyond the battles of the Bush years to focus on an ambitious domestic agenda, most notably health care legislation. [...]

Despite the C.I.A. pressure and the stated desire of the White House not to dwell on the past, Mr. Holder went ahead with an investigation that will determine whether agents broke the law in their brutal interrogations.

The officials interviewed for this article spoke anonymously so that they could discuss debates over classified matters.

On the day the decision was announced, Mr. Panetta phoned Mr. Holder, according to people familiar with the call. In the conversation, which lasted less than a minute, the C.I.A. director told the attorney general that the agency would cooperate but expressed his displeasure and swore mildly, if only once.

Mr. Holder and Mr. Panetta are each confronting difficult balancing acts. Mr. Holder inherited a dispirited department accused of carrying out the political wishes of the Bush White House, and he now must show independence while continuing to work with the rest of the administration.

For his part, Mr. Panetta, who is also new to his job and lacks a background in intelligence, must carry out White House orders to make a clean break with some of the Bush administration’s intelligence policies, including ending the C.I.A.’s harsh interrogations. At the same time he must soothe frayed nerves at the C.I.A.

...Mr. Obama would do what should have been done years ago: shut the place, raze it, salt the earth and switch to a market-based open intelligence system. Instead, typically, he's giving us the worst of all possible worlds: the same useless, when not actually counterproductive, agency further crippled by leftwing politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:30 AM


Some Roman Catholic Bishops Assail Health Plan (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 8/28/09, NY Times)

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been lobbying for three decades for the federal government to provide universal health insurance, especially for the poor. Now, as President Obama tries to rally Roman Catholics and other religious voters around his proposals to do just that, a growing number of bishops are speaking out against it. [...]

The bishops’ opposition — published in diocesan newspapers, disseminated online by conservative activists, and reported in a Roman Catholic newspaper to be distributed this weekend at churches around the country — is another setback for Mr. Obama’s health care efforts. His administration has been counting on the support of Catholic leaders to help rally believers behind his health care plan. Just last week, he held a conference call with 140,000 religious voters to appeal to what he called their “moral convictions.”

The bishops’ backlash reflects a struggle within the church over how heavily to weigh opposition to abortion against concerns about social justice.

...but any measure that controls costs does the opposite. And since the most rational cost control is to just kill the patients....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


Iran's supreme leader downplays foreign links to unrest (Ramin Mostaghim, August 28, 2009, La Times)

In a move seen as an attempt to woo disenchanted moderates and reformists back into the political establishment, Iran's supreme leader said in comments published Thursday that he was not convinced leaders of recent unrest were acting on behalf of foreign interests.

The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's top political and religious authority, distanced him from assertions made by hard-liners.'s not foreigners; it's we who hate you.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 AM


Bush's Search Policy For Travelers Is Kept (Ellen Nakashima, August 28, 2009, Washington Post)

The Obama administration will largely preserve Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search -- without suspicion of wrongdoing -- the contents of a traveler's laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device, although officials said new policies would expand oversight of such inspections. [...]

[R]epresentatives of civil liberties and travelers groups say they see little substantive difference between the Bush-era policy, which prompted controversy, and this one.

...than looking to the UR for anything substantive?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM


Change We'd Rather Do Without (Michael Kinsley, August 28, 2009, Washington Post)

The reason Americans have turned against health-care reform, after electing President Obama in part for promising it, is simple: Despite protestations to the contrary, Americans don't like change. You wouldn't know it, of course, if you listen to politicians in high-pander mode, or to talk radio hosts of the right or TV pundits of the left. Or, for that matter, if you listened to the president of the United States. You would think that while we might disagree about what kind of change we want, Americans are in total agreement that the current situation is intolerable in all areas and that change -- big, immediate change -- is essential. Americans do agree about this -- in the abstract. But as soon as it seems that change might actually happen -- as soon as we leave the abstract for the particular -- we panic. We suddenly develop nostalgia for the comforts of the status quo. Sure, we want change -- as long as everything can stay just as it is.

...but one where most of the status quo was a product of consensus. Change is an accusation.

That's why we rehabilitate even our worst presidents--Truman, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter--because we elected them in the first place. If they suck we're idiots.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


Forever Young—A Centennial Tribute (WILL FRIEDWALD, 8/19/09, WSJ)

His 1943 solo on "Sometimes I'm Happy," made shortly after Young's return to the Count Basie Orchestra, is a prime ­example of the President (usually shortened to "Prez")—as Billie Holiday called Young—touching on every emotion known to man in a single, short solo. He's obviously ­inspired by Irving Caesar's title and lyric as much as he is by Vincent Youmans' melody. Most popular songs present the states of "happy" and "sad" as monolithic poles of feeling, but Young seems to be jazzed by the way that Caesar and Youmans mix both together. His ­interpretation of the tune is both at the same time, a constant state of melancholic ­euphoria. [...]

Young's later period has been the subject of much controversy among jazz scholars; it's often alleged that he was in decline in the 1950s, partly as a result of a nightmarish year he spent, mostly in the detention barracks, in the segregated armed forces during World War II, which certainly exacerbated the chronic alcoholism that contributed to his death at age 49. Yet even without these extramusical circumstances, it seems reasonable that Young's sound would have grown darker and deeper as he got older (as did Sinatra's), and to many of us Young in his 40s is even more melancholy and moving than his earlier self.

The "Centennial" collection includes seven tracks from 1956 of the President, appropriately, in Washington, D.C., at a local club at his relaxed and clear-headed best, and three longer tracks of him jamming more ­aggressively with the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe ­(including Roy Eldridge and Flip Phillips) and in front of Oscar Peterson's Quartet.

When he plays "I Cover the Waterfront" on the "Centennial" package (from 1953), he isn't just playing a pretty melody or a generic love song. He makes you feel as if he's covered every inch of that waterfront, searching for that person whom the lyrics ­refer to as "the one I love." Not only has he looked on every pier and wharf, but he's been in and out of every waterfront watering hole and saloon, fortifying himself along the way. No less than Sinatra doing "Angel Eyes" or Holiday doing "Don't Explain," it's a profoundly dark, almost ­existential experience. You have a hard time believing anyone could ­reveal so much of his soul through a tenor sax and a ­microphone.

And yet, most of the time, even in his final years, Young is an irresistible and relentless swinger—Fred Astaire only wished he could be this light on his feet—as on the saxophonist's two original riff anthems, "Lester Leaps In" and "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid." There's no escaping the conclusion that listening to Lester Young makes you happy. Sometimes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


GOP poll: Reform less popular than '94 (MICHAEL FALCONE, 8/27/09, Politico)

President Barack Obama’s health care reform plan is facing even more public skepticism than President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals did in 1994, according to a poll released this week.

The telephone survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm, found that 37 percent of Americans are opposed to the Obama plan compared with 25 percent who favor it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Apple's Snow Leopard reviewed (, 27 August 2009)

Mac OS X 10.6 – aka Snow Leopard – will be released tomorrow. The truth is that it doesn't contain hundreds of big new features to entice you into upgrading – but it does have one that everyone will appreciate: speed.

Snow Leopard is, in fact, blisteringly fast. Booting is quicker, waking from sleep is quicker, and, of course, launching applications is quicker than if you're using Leopard.

Just in case you were wondering what to get us for Labor Day....

Name Your Link

August 27, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


How Abortion Could Imperil Health-Care Reform (Michael Scherer , 8/24/09, TIME)

The health-care reform proposed by House Democrats, if enacted, would in fact mark a significant change in the Federal Government's role in the financing of abortions. "It would be a dramatic shift," says Representative Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who has vowed to oppose the bill because of how it would affect abortion. Stupak says dozens of House Democrats may join him in opposing a final health-care compromise unless the abortion language is changed, presenting a clear challenge to Democratic vote counters that could imperil a party-line vote. [...]

Opponents of abortion, including Stupak, want language that would prohibit any private insurance company that accepts federal funds from offering to policyholders abortions other than those already eligible under Medicaid.

Nonetheless, the new system differs markedly from the old federal policy of not involving the government in abortion services unless issues of rape, incest or the life of the mother are at play. "It does represent a policy shift in favor of the abortion-rights community that it would not have received under George W. Bush's Administration," says Glen Halva-Neubauer, a political scientist at Furman University who has studied the politics of abortion. [...]

[S]tupak says that Obama's statements during recent public events signal one of two things: either he does not fully understand the current House bill, which Stupak maintains has the effect of publicly funding abortion, or "if he is aware of it, and he is making these statements, then he is misleading people."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 PM


Mitt Romney won't run for Ted Kennedy's seat (ANDY BARR, 8/27/09, Politico)

Former Massachusetts GOP Gov. Mitt Romney will not seek the Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death, a Romney spokesman said Thursday.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:56 PM


Solar Panels Built Into Roads Could Be the Future of Energy (Adrian Covert, 08.27.2009, Popular Science)

The Department of Energy just gave $100,000 to upstart company Solar Roadways, to develop 12-by-12-foot solar panels, dubbed "Solar Roads," that can be embedded into roads, pumping power into the grid. The panels may also feature LED road warnings and built-in heating elements that could prevent roads from freezing.

Each Solar Road panel can develop around 7.6 kwh of power each day, and each costs around $7,000. If widely adopted, they could realistically wean the US off fossil fuels: a mile-long stretch of four-lane highway could take 500 homes off the grid. If the entire US Interstate system made use of the panels, energy would no longer be a concern for the country.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


Ted Kennedy died with faith – in us (Doug Kmiec, 8/27/09, National Catholic Reporter)

But is it proper to insist that the law simply coerce the hearts and minds of others? Was it not once the calling of the church to convert, not coerce? [...]

While Ted Kennedy understood the law could not impose faith, he knew it was instrumental to building a just society: reforming immigration in 1965 (abolishing irrational quotas); creating a federal cancer research program in 1971 that quadrupled the amount spent on the number one disease affecting millions of Americans each year; promoting women’s equality in college sports with the passage of Title IX in 1972; curbing the corrupting influence of money in politics with the public financing system for presidential candidates in 1974; securing the creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday in 1983; bringing racial justice to South Africa by spearheading the 1986 anti-apartheid efforts; co-authoring in the 1990s, the Family and Medical Leave Act helping business to begin to understand the Catholic insight that “work is for man; man is not for work; allowing for student loans at subsidized rates; passing the law that allows employees to keep health insurance after leaving a job; sponsoring needed increases in the minimum wage; and on and on. The work of social justice is never finished, he observed. How correct he was.

Mr. Kmiec is too busy these days defending the abortion regime for anyone to take him seriously when he tries his hand at moral reasoning, but the notion that you deserve tremendous credit for regulating daily life so thoroughly that you even limit someone's political speech but ought not be held accountable for helping them kill their child is simply insane. Such is the incoherence that Mr. Kennedy led liberalism into.

Ted Kennedy, Abortion Advocate and Health Reform Mastermind, Dead at 77: NARAL awarded 100% pro-abortion voting record to senator, who also championed embryonic stem cell research, same-sex "marriage." (Kathleen Gilbert, August 26, 2009 (

As a prominent Catholic, Kennedy's aggressive pro-abortion politics was a constant source of scandal to the Catholic community. But it was not always so: in the years before the abortion industry took hold of the Democrat party, Kennedy, like many of his fellow abortion-promoting Democrats, was pro-life.

"Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized - the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old," wrote Kennedy in a letter to Catholic League member Tom Dennelly in 1971.

"When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:35 PM


Obama's job approval rating falls to 50% in poll (Mark Silva, August 27, 2009, LA Times)

President Obama, who won the White House with an electoral college landslide and enjoyed soaring public approval for the job he was doing in the weeks following his inauguration, has fallen to a 50% job approval rating in the newest daily tracking of the Gallup Poll released just now. [...]

[O]bama has reached his new low more quickly than most of his predecessors did, according to Gallup. The percentage of people voicing disapproval for the job the president is performing also stands at a near-high of 43%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:26 PM


Cattle Dealer (ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS, September 2009, Standpoint)

The New Statesman has long prided itself on its left-wing, liberal and agnostic reputation. [Mehdi Hasan]'s appointment [as senior editor (politics)] is possibly the final nail in the coffin of this image, which has been gradually eroding over the last decade.

In July, an audio tape was released by a leading blog, Harry's Place, of a fiery speech Hasan delivered at the al-Khoei foundation, a Shia centre in London. [...]

Addressing an audience made up mainly of young Muslims, he says: "The kaffar, the disbelievers, the atheists who remain deaf and stubborn to the teachings of Islam, the rational message of the Koran; they are described in the Koran as, ‘a people of no intelligence', Allah describes them as; not of no morality, not as people of no belief — people of ‘no intelligence' — because they're incapable of the intellectual effort it requires to shake off those blind prejudices, to shake off those easy assumptions about this world...In this respect, the Koran describes the atheists as ‘cattle', as cattle of those who grow the crops and do not stop and wonder about this world."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:19 PM


Four years after Katrina, New Orleans reinvents its schools: Disaster gave birth to radical reforms, with lessons for others. (USA Today, 8/25/09)

If there was any silver lining to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina wrought in New Orleans four years ago, perhaps it is this: The water washed away one of the nation's worst school systems and left New Orleans determined to rebuild in a wholly new way. [...]

-- Innovation. New Orleans has embraced charter schools as no other city has. The Recovery School District's 38 charters, with 11,600 students, outnumber its 30 traditional schools. While the label, "charter," doesn't ensure success, the charter model — taxpayer funded, publicly chartered but run by independent operators — has achieved striking successes in other places. It encourages fresh thinking, makes principals and teachers accountable and does away with bureaucratic shackles, such as retaining poorly performing teachers just because of tenure. Charters are among the city's best performing schools, and Vallas has grafted the model's best ideas onto traditional schools, giving principals the autonomy to hire, fire and promote.

-- Competition. Students are no longer bound by geography; all schools are open to everyone. Schools must compete for students and the attention of picky parents, as well as for their very survival. Unlike the old days, when failing schools limped on forever, Vallas promises to close non-performing schools. One charter closed already.

W should have used his secret weather warfare machine more widely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:05 PM


Obama Targets Jack Bauer, but Who Takes the Fall?: The closer you read the newly released CIA reports and read into the Justice Department's torture probe, the more you realize nothing much is going to come of them — except more enemies for the inheritor-in-chief (Thomas P.M. Barnett , 8/27/09, Esquire)

With the CIA report's parallels, 24 is now actually a more accurate comparison than ever. And with its fallout, Obama's new torture approach suggests more dangerous paths than even his hedging on Guantanamo, each with their own pitfalls between which he will have to carefully maneuver if he wants to make it past 2012. By launching a Justice Department probe, for starters, Obama is effectively writing GOP campaign ads in the event that Al Qaeda pulls off anything substantial on U.S. soil in the coming years ("He crippled our intelligence agencies, denying them the tools they needed to prevent the [city] attacks of [date], resulting in the sacrifice of [dozens/hundreds/thousands] of innocent American lives!"). But by insisting that Eric Holder's special prosecutor focus on CIA personnel and contractors and not the lawyers who issued the justifications for "enhanced interrogation techniques," the White House risks an outcome as unsatisfying as Abu Ghraib: scapegoat prosecutions of underlings, scot-free consequences for higher-ups, and more restrictions for the investigated parties to, you know, do their jobs. Most precariously, Obama has decided to personally own the problem going forward, announcing that the White House will form and directly supervise (under the direction of the Bauer-esque — though highly qualified — John Brennan) a new interrogation unit led by the FBI, signaling a return to the days when Washington (read: Clintonian Democrats) treated terrorism as a police problem. And that simply won't jive with classifying Afghanistan as a "war of necessity" and ramping up American drone strikes in northwest Pakistan.

So while Obama has the right instincts to avoid criminalizing past policy mistakes even as he corrects them, what may ultimately decide which of these situations turns from danger to reality is who takes the fall in his new windfall of investigation. And putting together the pieces of the newly released documents — the chain of command, the timeline, and what they mean to other, bigger investigations — offers a preview of the country's torture endgame as Jack Bauer goes back in his cage — until we decide we need him again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:02 PM


Obama great-uncle unsure whether to be 'confused or not' (Ben Smith, 8/26/09, Politico)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you feel like you have a good grasp of what's in the plans for overhauling health care?

RALPH DUNHAM, PRESIDENT OBAMA'S GREAT-UNCLE: No, I don't, because the thing is over a 1,000 pages long, and the House and the Senate are going to straighten out the two bills. And nobody knows what's going to be in it, I don't think.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


Key Democrat suggests party moderates 'brain dead' (ERICA WERNER, 8/27/09, AP)

Moderate Blue Dog Democrats "just want to cause trouble," said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who heads the health subcommittee on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.

"They're for the most part, I hate to say, brain dead, but they're just looking to raise money from insurance companies and promote a right-wing agenda that is not really very useful in this whole process," Stark told reporters on a conference call.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


The Last Liberal (Orrin Judd, 8/27/09, New Ledger)

Now, if you want to get a feel for what it was like to argue about angels and pinheads in medieval times, you could always just try start an argument about what the term liberalism means. Libertarians and paleocons will fight you for the right to it, in its original incarnation as a belief in human freedom. And plenty will tell you it’s an epithet, standing for naught but statism and economic redistribution. But Ted Kennedy claimed the term for himself, always wore it proudly, and defended it even after most Democrats had tried escaping it. So perhaps we can say that, to a remarkable degree, modern liberalism was whatever Ted Kennedy said it was and however he stood on the issues. He certainly leaves no fellow politician behind who Americans would both recognize and describe as a liberal. The last Democratic nominee who would have been comfortable describing himself as a liberal was probably George McGovern and most of the remaining liberals in Congress are intentionally kept out of the limelight. Nancy Pelosi is probably the closest thing he has to an heir, but House Speakers are fairly anonymous. No, Teddy was it. All that “last liberal lion” is more true than not.

So when we look at his public record we can learn wider lessons about modern liberalism. What that record teaches us is that there are pronounced inconsistencies to liberalism such that it can barely be considered a political philosophy, inconsistencies so drastic that we can see why it failed to stand the test of time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Guilt and Atonement on the Path to Adulthood (JOHN TIERNEY, 8/28/09, NY Times)

Guilt in its many varieties — Puritan, Catholic, Jewish, etc. — has often gotten a bad rap, but psychologists keep finding evidence of its usefulness. Too little guilt clearly has a downside — most obviously in sociopaths who feel no remorse, but also in kindergartners who smack other children and snatch their toys. Children typically start to feel guilt in their second year of life, says Grazyna Kochanska, who has been tracking children’s development for two decades in her laboratory at the University of Iowa. Some children’s temperament makes them prone to guilt, she said, and some become more guilt-prone thanks to parents and other early influences.

“Children respond with acute and intense tension and negative emotions when they are tempted to misbehave, or even anticipate violating norms and rules,” Dr. Kochanska said. “They remember, often subconsciously, how awful they have felt in the past.”

In Dr. Kochanska’s latest studies, published in the August issue of The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, she and colleagues found that 2-year-olds who showed more chagrin during the broken-toy experiment went on to have fewer behavioral problems over the next five years. That was true even for the ones who scored low on tests measuring their ability to focus on tasks and suppress strong desires to act impulsively.

“If you have high guilt,” Dr. Kochanska said, “it’s such a rapid response system, and the sensation is so incredibly unpleasant, that effortful control doesn’t much matter.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:48 AM


Is quantum mechanics messing with your memory?: For all we know we may live in a world in which windows un-break and cold cups of coffee spontaneously heat up, we just don't remember. The explanation is quantum entanglement (Michael Slezak, 27 August 2009 , Guardian)

Briefly, the problem is that while our laws of physics are all symmetrical or "time-reversal invariant" – they apply equally well if time runs forwards or backwards – most of the everyday phenomena we observe, like the cooling of hot coffee, are not. They never seem to happen in reverse.

We have a statistical law that describes these everyday phenomena called the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This law tells us that the "entropy" or degree of disorder of a closed system never decreases. Roughly speaking, a process in which entropy increases is one where the system becomes increasingly disordered. Windows break, thereby increasing disorder, but they will not spontaneously unbreak. Gases will disperse but not spontaneously compress.

However, entropy describes what happens with large numbers of particles. We presume that it must arise from what happens with individual particles, but all the laws that govern the behaviour of individual particles are time-reversal invariant. This means that any process they allow in one direction of time, they also allow in the other.

So why will your coffee spontaneously cool down, but not heat up?

Maccone's solution is to suggest that in fact entropy-decreasing events occur all the time – so there is no asymmetry and no associated mystery about the arrow of time.

He argues that quantum mechanics dictates that if anyone does observe an entropy-decreasing event, their memories of the event "will have been erased by necessity". that lady who said it's turtles all the way down likewise claimed that we routinely observe this fact but then forget it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 AM


More Sun for Less: Solar Panels Drop in Price (KATE GALBRAITH, 8/27/09, NY Times)

For solar shoppers these days, the price is right. Panel prices have fallen about 40 percent since the middle of last year, driven down partly by an increase in the supply of a crucial ingredient for panels, according to analysts at the investment bank Piper Jaffray.

The price drops — coupled with recently expanded federal incentives — could shrink the time it takes solar panels to pay for themselves to 16 years, from 22 years, in places with high electricity costs, according to Glenn Harris, chief executive of SunCentric, a solar consulting group. That calculation does not include state rebates, which can sometimes improve the economics considerably.

American consumers have the rest of the world to thank for the big solar price break.

Until recently, panel makers had been constrained by limited production of polysilicon, which goes into most types of panels. But more factories making the material have opened, as have more plants churning out the panels themselves — especially in China.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:22 AM


Hezbollah Part of Next Government: Hariri (AFP, 8/27/09)

Lebanese prime minister-designate Saad Hariri said on Wednesday Hezbollah will be part of the next cabinet "whether Israel likes it or not," as his bid to form a government entered its eight week.

"The national unity government will include the (ruling) March 14 alliance, and I also want to assure the Israeli enemy that Hezbollah will be in this government whether it likes it or not because Lebanon's interests require all parties be involved in this cabinet," Hariri said at an Iftar feast to break the Ramadan fast on Tuesday night.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:19 AM


Laim Neeson thanks US for its support by becoming a citizen (Rashid Razaq, 27.08.09, Evening Standard)

Liam Neeson has decided to become an US citizen because of the support shown by Americans following the death of his wife Natasha Richardson.

The Northern Ireland-born actor said "touching" condolence letters sent to him by well-wishers had prompted him to seek citizenship after living in America for 20 years.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World by David Priestland: Western progressives nostalgic for the Soviet Union shouldn’t get too excited by the global financial crisis, writes John Gray. A fine new history of communism shows why (John Gray, 27 August 2009, New Statesman)

It cannot be long before progressive opinion begins to look back on communism with nostalgia. Whatever they may have been like in practice, communist states were established to embody ideas that progressives understood and to a large extent shared. The Soviet Union and Maoist China were seen as advancing the cause of humanity and many on the left judged it best not to make too much of any crimes these regimes committed along the way. However imperfectly, communism continued an authentic tradition of European radical humanism.

One of the many virtues of David Priestland's The Red Flag is that it places communism squarely in this tradition. Citing Marx's description of Prometheus as "the most eminent saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar", Priestland shows how Marx's Promethean world-view has animated communist movements and regimes throughout their history. In the preface to his dissertation, Marx wrote, in the words of Aeschylus: "In sooth all gods I hate. 'Tis better to be bound on a rock than bound to the service of Zeus." In Marx's variation on the Promethean myth, heroic humanity wages war against religion, inequality and subservience to nature.

Priestland shows that this modern mythology was propagated right up to the end of communist Russia.

For over half of Ted Kennedy's career the single most important issue facing mankind was the war between the West and Communism, yet he for the most part was either silent on that war or actively engaged in undermining the West. That too is his legacy and that of the Left he led.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Will an Opposition Victory Rescue Japan's Economy? (Michael Schuman, 8/27/09, TIME)

The central theme marking this weekend's general election in Japan is much like the one that dominated the American presidential contest of a year ago — "change." Yukio Hatoyama, president of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is striving to paint his party as the party of "change" on the campaign trail, much like U.S. President Barack Obama positioned his Democrats. And if the election goes as expected — the DPJ commands a comfortable lead in polls over the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — "change" is exactly what Japanese voters will want. The LDP has governed Japan almost uninterrupted since 1955, but the nation's endemic malaise seems to have pushed an often politically complacent public to finally boot them out of power.

The election, if it turns out as expected, could prove a seminal moment in Japan's modern political history and bring about a dramatic transformation in the country's politics and government. Yet on the most pressing area of policy — the struggling Japanese economy — voters may not get the change they so desperately desire, and badly need. it'll be exactly like electing the UR.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The folly of devolution: The furore over the Lockerbie release may hasten the decline of the union (James Macintyre, 27 August 2009, New Statesman)

After 18 years of a Tory government for which relatively few Scots voted, and having been used as a laboratory for the poll tax experiment, Scotland welcomed devolution in 1997. But Tony Blair's mistake was to accept uncritically his predecessor John Smith's policy on devolution, instead of making the case for a national Labour government that would redress some of the damage of the Thatcher years. Today, the latest BBC Scotland/ICM poll shows that only 38 per cent of Scots would vote for independence while 54 per cent support the union. But amid a gradual, diminishing sense of cohesion, there are new fears that the controversy over the Lockerbie release may further expose the flaws of the devolution settlement and thereby hasten nationalist moves towards the 300-year-old union's demise.

So, like William Wallace, the passengers of Pan Am 103 will have died for Scottish liberation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


SAUNTERING ON (Mark Steyn, Steyn on Stage and Screen)

Back in the late Thirties, Bob Hope and his writers created two “Bob Hopes”, two public personae that kept him in business for the next six decades. For radio, he was smart, sharp, sly, with tremendous confidence: in my mind’s eye, I always see him walking out from the wings to the mike - the first great saunterer in show business. He was the pioneer stand-up and the inventor of the modern Oscar ceremony. Until the late Thirties, the Academy Awards was like Rotarian of the Year night in a hick town. At the 1937 Oscars, Cecil B de Mille, presenting the awards for editing and sound recording, spoke for 35 minutes. The next year, a Hollywood newcomer called Hope was asked to present the award for Best Short Subject. He eyed the table containing the statuettes, said, “Looks like Bette Davis’ garage”, and went on from there. And that was it: he’d found the tone - the affectionate joshing of the big-time stars. Next year, they asked him to host, which he kept doing every other year or so till the late Seventies. “What a night. The furs, the jewels, the glamour,” he began, in March 1978. “I haven’t seen so much expensive jewellery go by since I watched Sammy Davis Jr’s house sliding down Coldwater Canyon.” He was pushing 75, and the Hope persona his writers had cooked up in the Thirties still had a couple decades’ juice left in it.

But, for the movies, they came up with a second Hope - a boaster, a tightwad, a skirt-chaser, a coward: “Brave men run in my family.” The Paleface (1948) is the apotheosis of the second Hope, and the Road pictures its most basic template. I once tried to have a fairly serious conversation with him about why he didn’t go with the radio act on screen. “Well, we took a decision to play up the boob side more,” he said. I don’t know who the “we” is: it sounds like a corporate strategy taken by the full board and, commercially, it worked.

But there’s a third Hope I just love watching, the self-deprecating tuxedoed romantic of the very early movies. His first film was a two-reeler from 1934, Going Spanish. “When they catch Dillinger,” he told Walter Winchell, “they’re gonna make him watch it twice.”

...I consider myself especially lucky toi have seen Mr. Hope live, when he came to Colgate to film his "On Campus" special in 1979.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM

Toasted Pecan Rice (Linda Cicero's Cook's Corner, 8/27/09, Miami Herald)

• 3 tablespoons butter

• 1 medium yellow onion, chopped

• ½ bell pepper, chopped

• 2 celery ribs, chopped

• 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 cup uncooked rice (white or brown)

• 4 cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth

• 1 bay leaf

• ½ cup minced parsley

• ½ cup chopped green onion

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1 cup pecans, freshly toasted

Heat butter in a 1 ½-quart saucepan over medium heat. Sauté yellow onion, bell pepper and celery 5 minutes. Turn heat to high, stir in garlic and cook until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in rice, broth and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until rice is tender, 20 to 25 minutes for white, 35 to 40 minutes for brown. Stir in parsley, green onion and pecans.

August 26, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:57 PM


'Cruel and neglectful' care of one million NHS patients exposed (Rebecca Smith, 27 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

One million NHS patients have been the victims of appalling care in hospitals across Britain, according to a major report released today.

In the last six years, the Patients Association claims hundreds of thousands have suffered from poor standards of nursing, often with 'neglectful, demeaning, painful and sometimes downright cruel' treatment.

The charity has disclosed a horrifying catalogue of elderly people left in pain, in soiled bed clothes, denied adequate food and drink, and suffering from repeatedly cancelled operations, missed diagnoses and dismissive staff.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:35 PM


Panetta loses battle over CIA abuse probes (Eli Lake and Shaun Watermanm, 8/25/09, THE WASHINGTON TIMES )

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta argued within the Obama administration that it should not reopen cases of suspected torture by CIA officers but lost the argument to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., former and current intelligence officials said Monday.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:05 AM


Blood, Sweat, and Words (Joseph Epstein, Septrember 2009, In Character)

I recently wrote a book about Fred Astaire, than whom no one worked harder at his craft. Astaire was a perfectionist, which is to say a great worrier. His only difficulty with the studios for which he worked was his constant demand for more and yet more rehearsal time before his dance numbers were finally filmed. He wanted everything he did to look effortless, which on film it indubitably does, and so he put in the maximum effort to ensure that it did. For Astaire all grit entailed was properly left in the studio rehearsal halls; the seemingly effortless, lilting, unforgettable beauty went into the movie.

I have never liked to suggest that writing is grinding, let alone brave work. H. L. Mencken used to say that any scribbler who found writing too arduous ought to take a week off to work on an assembly line, where he will discover what work is really like. The old boy, as they say, got that right. To be able to sit home and put words together in what one hopes are charming or otherwise striking sentences is, no matter how much tussle may be involved, lucky work, a privileged job. The only true grit connected with it ought to arrive when, thinking to complain about how hard it is to write, one is smart enough to shut up and silently grit one's teeth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:02 AM


Siemens and Deutsche Plan US High-Speed Rail Offensive: German engineering giant Siemens and national railway operator Deutsche Bahn are making plans to penetrate the US rail market. They hope to benefit from President Obama's promised $8 billion in investments in the country's high-speed railway infrastructure. (Der Spiegel, 8.26.09)

Europe's largest engineering company, Siemens, and German national railway operator Deutsche Bahn AG announced on Saturday that they are hoping to jointly enter the US high-speed rail business.

Both companies have been hurt by the global financial crisis and are hoping to find a boost in profits from US President Barack Obama's plans to invest up to $8 billion (€5.6 billion) in the US rail sector. Obama's plan, which was unveiled in April, envisions creating up to 10 new high-speed rail corridors between major cities, such as Miami and Orlando as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles, with trains travelling at top speeds of over 150 mph (240 kph). For the 2010 fiscal year budget, Obama has proposed a separate, additional €5 billion investment in high-speed rail service.

According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, as part of the proposed joint effort, Siemens would supply high-speed ICE-3 trains and transport technology, while Deutsche Bahn would be in charge of operating the rail links. The latter company's consulting division, DB International, has already started looking into how to implement the plan.

The point has to be to connect Miami and LA.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Lester Young Turns 100: Billie Holiday’s favorite musician, jazz great Lester “Prez” Young brought a hip, freewheeling sensibility to his saxophone playing (Jamie Katz, August 25, 2009,

He was known for speaking a private language, some of which has entered the American lexicon. The expression “that’s cool” was probably coined by him, as were “bread” (for money), “You dig?” and such colorful sayings as “I feel a draft”—code for prejudice and hostility in the air. He also wore sunglasses in nightclubs, sported a crushed black porkpie hat and tilted his saxophone at a high angle “like a canoeist about to plunge his paddle into the water,” as the New Yorker’s Whitney Balliett put it. Rolling Stone later pronounced Prez “quite likely the hippest dude that ever lived.”

Young’s impact on the language of music was even greater. Before tenorman Coleman Hawkins led the emergence of the saxophone as a serious instrument in the 1920s, most sax players “habitually produced either a kind of rubbery belch or a low, mooing noise,” wrote Young biographer Dave Gelly. Young came along right behind Hawkins, and electrified the jazz world with his dexterity and imagination.

“He redefined the instrument,” says the tenor saxophonist and jazz scholar Loren Schoenberg, who is also executive director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem (a Smithsonian affiliate). His most fundamental change involved a subtle relaxation of jazz phrasing and rhythm. “A lot of lesser players depend on the friction of a spiky rhythm to make it seem as if it’s ‘hot,’ ” Schoenberg says. “Young found a way to play that had a more even rhythm, and yet he swung like crazy. This called for great ingenuity and great genius.”

Young mastered the art of improvising beautiful melodies, which he played with a velvety tone and an effortless, floating quality. Yet like a great dancer, he never lost sight of the beat. A bluesman at heart, he could swoop and moan and play with edge, but more typically, the sensation was one of “pulsating ease,” as critic Nat Hentoff once described it. At slower tempos, he radiated a more wistful, bruised spirit. “In all of Lester Young’s finest solos,” Albert Murray writes in his classic study, Stomping the Blues, “there are overtones of unsentimental sadness that suggest he was never unmindful of human vulnerability.”

To the untrained ear what stands out is his fluidity, though, to my mind at least, the transition of jazz from dance halls to night clubs killed it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:26 AM


The Rich Have Feelings, Too: Losing billions is stressful, and the brave financiers who risk other people’s money need a way to cool out—hopping on the GV, say, for a bimbo-boffing weekend in the Bahamas. Thanks to the bailout, that’s history. The author imagines one fictional highflier’s shock as he rejoins the commercial-aviation herd. (Tom Wolfe, September 2009, Vanity Fair)

Up until the tarantulas arrived late last year waving their billions in “bailout” money before our faces, there were ten of us, including the two Harvard algorithm swamis, who could use the Gulfstream V, the Falcon, and the three Learjets pretty much anytime we needed them.

The vast majority of the flights—let’s get this straight before anyone starts clucking and fuming—were strictly business, but we also used the planes to “maintain an even strain,” as our C.E.O., Robert J. (Corky) McCorkle, liked to put it.

At the risk of sounding condescending, we should point out that ordinary people haven’t the faintest conception of the strain we had to endure daily. How many ordinary people have ever done anything remotely like betting $7.4 billion—bango!—just so!—that the price of energy will rise sharply 14 months from a certain date? How many of them ever had the animal spirits to go for it on the say-so of a young never-been-wrong-yet meteorology swami from M.I.T. who was convinced that, after a five-year lull in the cycle, a series of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes would pulverize the Gulf of Mexico, obliterating all offshore drilling operations, possibly shutting them down for years? How many ordinary people have woken up in the middle of the night, eyes popped open—swock!—like a pair of umbrellas, stark raving terrified by the possibility that they have just blown $7.4 billion on … a weather forecast? How many of them have ever sat for three days, 72 hours straight, in front of a gigantic plasma TV watching the Weather Channel as if it were the Super Bowl as Hurricane Enrique dithers, dawdles, malingers, messes around off the coast of Fort Lauderdale? How many ordinary people have been reduced finally, by sheer fear, to yelling at the screen, “Come on, Enrique, you pathetic wuss! Move your fat eye, you lazy worthless bitch! Be a man! Move inland! Cut straight across the Everglades, tear ‘em up by the roots and just let the greenies wail! Set your eye on the freaking Gulf! Take your goddamn steroids! Show some rage, you pussy! Barrel into those goddamn oil rigs! Destroy ‘em! Obliterate ‘em!”? How many ordinary people have finally sunk to their knees, hands clasped in prayer before a plasma-TV screen, imploring it, begging it, beseeching it … to save them?

God knows we deserved every chance we could get to even out the strain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:15 AM


The Curious Paradox of 'Optimism Bias': Being highly positive can lead to disaster for individuals—but benefit society as a whole (Dan Ariely, 8/26/09, Business Week)

The basic idea is that when people judge their chances of experiencing a good outcome—getting a great job or having a successful marriage, healthy kids, or financial security—they estimate their odds to be higher than average. But when they contemplate the probability that something bad will befall them (a heart attack, a divorce, a parking ticket), they estimate their odds to be lower than those of other people. [...]

It is interesting to ponder the utility of over-optimism. It's not a simple matter, because it can both hurt and help us. Individuals often suffer because of an overly bright outlook. They wind up dead, or poor, or bankrupt because they underestimated the downside of taking a certain path. But society as a whole often benefits from behavior spurred by upbeat outlooks.

It's the inverse of "the paradox of thrift," which holds that saving money (instead of consuming) may be good for an individual but is bad for an economy trying to grow.

Overoptimism works the other way. Imagine a society in which no one would take on the risk of creating startups, developing new medications, or opening new businesses. We know most new enterprises fail in the first few years. Yet they crop up all the time, sometimes jump-starting entirely new sectors. A society in which no one is overly optimistic and no one takes too much risk? Such a culture wouldn't advance much.

Want to know why you should be optimistic? Find someone 85 or older and try telling them how you just lived through a Depression just like the Great one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:33 AM


The Reagan Revolution and Its Discontents: His presidency was better than expected, but worse than desired. (Steven F. Hayward, 8/26/09, National Review)

Reagan’s statecraft, at home and abroad, should be seen as a unity for one crucial reason: He saw it as a unity. Lincoln once wrote that all nations have a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate. The same can be said of leading statesmen. Reagan’s central idea can be summarized as the view that unlimited government is inimical to liberty, both in its vicious forms, such as Communism or socialism, and in its supposedly benign forms, such as bureaucracy.

That Reagan regarded statism as a continuum, rather than a dichotomous problem of the East and West, was made clear in his 1982 speech in Westminster, where he said: “There is a threat posed to human freedom by the enormous power of the modern state. History teaches the dangers of government that overreaches — political control taking precedence over free economic growth, secret police, mindless bureaucracy all combining to stifle individual excellence and personal freedom.” Reagan’s conflation of “secret police” and “mindless bureaucracy” was no mere coincidence, as his next sentence made clear: “Now, I’m aware that among us here and throughout Europe there is legitimate disagreement over the extent to which the public sector should play a role in a nation’s economy and life” — in other words, “I know you’re not all as freedom-loving as me and Margaret Thatcher” — “but on one point all of us are united: our abhorrence of dictatorship in all its forms.”

The point is: The same principles that animated Reagan’s Cold War statecraft also directed his domestic-policy vision. Now, this isn’t especially remarkable to recall, and in fact the critics who nowadays want to consign Reaganism to the dustbin of history like to recall with scorn the part of his First Inaugural Address where he declared: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem. . . . It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government.”

However, I think both friend and critic have lost sight of the important way in which Reagan viewed his project as a restoration of constitutional government as the Founders intended it. In other words, Reagan conceived of his project not as a revolution but as a restoration.

This is made clear in the immediate sequel in his Inaugural Address. Reagan continued: “It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed” (emphasis added). Note here that Reagan didn’t rest his argument against the growth of government on grounds of efficiency or effectiveness, but on the constitutional ground of consent. This had been a constant theme of Reagan’s political rhetoric for more than 20 years, but one that was rarely heard from America’s political class — even from other conservatives. He was careful, though, to qualify his critique of government:

It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. . . . Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work — work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back.

While this is not revolutionary, it is controversial, as it challenges the basic premises of the modern, centralized administrative state. Liberals in 1981 could scarcely have imagined hearing such heresy from the presidential podium. Although many liberals had been shaken by the disasters of the preceding 15 years, from Vietnam and the Great Society through President Carter’s ineffectual rule, there was never a point at which the fundamental premises of modern liberalism were attacked from the pinnacle of American power. The moment seemed very far removed from the days when a liberal intellectual such as Robert Maynard Hutchins could declare: “The notion that the sole concern of a free society is the limitation of governmental authority and that that government is best which governs least is certainly archaic. Our object today should not be to weaken government in competition with other centers of power, but rather to strengthen it as the agency charged with the responsibility for the common good.”

Reagan was the first president since FDR who spoke frequently and substantively about the Founders and the Constitution. This is a remarkable and telling fact. Woodrow Wilson also spoke often on these subjects, but quite differently than FDR did. While Wilson was openly critical of the founding because of its emphasis on limited government, FDR’s invocations of it were mischievous — he appeared to be defending or proposing a restoration of the principles of the founding while in fact attempting a wholesale modification of our constitutional order. After FDR, our presidents practically ceased making reference to the founding or the Constitution — until Reagan arrived.

It is also significant that Reagan rejected the reformist assertion that the presidency, or our democracy in general, was inadequate to the times.

From time to time, we have been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

Reagan had so fully internalized the thought of so many of his political forebears, such as Jefferson, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, that it is not clear whether he knew he was paraphrasing them. Where he got his principles, though, is no mystery. In his First Inaugural Address, in 1801, Thomas Jefferson said: “Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.” Unlike Hutchins and other liberals, Reagan didn’t think Jefferson’s philosophy was “archaic.”

Did Reagan succeed in curbing the size and reach of the federal government? The answer appears to be no, at least if total federal spending or the size of the federal bureaucracy is used as the main metric. Although Reagan had some success in keeping the growth of government spending below what it would have been under a second term of Jimmy Carter (indeed, far below what Carter’s last five-year budget plan had projected), over the long run the Reagan years appear to have been a small speed bump on the road to serfdom. Between 1981 and 2006 (the last year for which I ran the numbers for my book), inflation-adjusted federal spending grew by 84 percent, while the population grew by only 30 percent. If per capita spending had grown only at the rate of inflation, federal outlays in 2006 would have been $800 billion lower than they actually were — under, remember, a Republican president and a Republican Congress.

On the other hand, in 1981 federal spending accounted for 22.2 percent of GDP; in 2006 it was 20.3 percent. So the growth in the economy over the last generation has allowed federal spending to soar way beyond the rate of population growth while falling slightly as a portion of GDP. William Voegeli commented on this in The Claremont Review of Books:

This measure hovered in a very narrow band for the whole era, never exceeding 23.5% or falling below 18.4%. Adding expenditures by states and localities confirms the picture of a rugby match between liberals and conservatives that is one interminable scrum in the middle of the field. Spending by all levels of government in America amounted to 31.6% of GDP in 1981, and 31.8% in 2006.

The difficulties Reagan had controlling spending and the growth of government were not lost on conservatives during and immediately after his presidency. The case for disappointment, verging at times on betrayal, was made often while Reagan was in office. For example, the Winter 1984 issue of Policy Review contained a symposium called “What Conservatives Think of Reagan.” Now recall that in early 1984 the Democrats were engaged in a spirited nomination battle to see who could best reestablish old-school liberalism and overthrow the Reagan usurpation. As late as December 1983 some polls found Reagan trailing the putative strongest Democratic challenger, Sen. John Glenn, and it was far from clear that the economic expansion that had shown signs of robustness in 1983 would continue.

In the midst of this uncertain political situation, conservatives such as Sen. William Armstrong (R., Colo.) said: “What’s the sense of having a Republican administration and a Republican Senate if the best we can do is a $200 billion deficit?” Terry Dolan, head of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, complained: “There has been no spending cut. There has been no turnover of control to the states. There has been no effort to dismantle the Washington bureaucratic elitist establishment. . . . The question when Reagan got elected was whether he was going to be closer to Eisenhower as a caretaker or to Roosevelt as a revolutionary. He’s been generally closer to Eisenhower, preserving the status quo established by previous liberal administrations.” On and on the conservative commentariat fulminated. Conservative journalist M. Stanton Evans: “This has been essentially another Ford administration. It has been business as usual, not much different from any other Republican administration in our lifetime.” Paul Weyrich: “The radical surgery that was required in Washington was not performed.”

In the early years after Reagan left office, the refrain of disappointment continued. Midge Decter wrote in Commentary in 1991: “There was no Reagan Revolution, not even a skeleton of one to hang in George Bush’s closet.” “In the end,” concurred William Niskanen, chairman of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers, “there was no Reagan Revolution.” The late Thomas B. Silver argued: “Judged by the highest goal he set for himself, [Reagan] was not successful. That goal was nothing less than a realignment of the American political order, in which the primacy of the New Deal was to be challenged and overthrown. It cannot be said that Reagan in any fundamental way dismantled or even scaled back the administrative state created by FDR.”

The hatred of the Left for George W. Bush was amusing, but that of the Right was hilarious, especially when they compared him unfavorably to the Gipper, who they'd loathed in office and whose legacy they'd invented out of whole cloth.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Get ready for another uproar (Ruben Navarrette, August 26, 2009, San Diego Union Tribune)

[A]s divisive and shrill as the health care discussion has been at times, the soon-to-be resurrected immigration debate could be much worse. The issue, expected to be on Congress' fall agenda, will provide its share of theatrics. Imagine cable television filling air time with footage of protesters waving American flags and screaming about how illegal immigrants are invading and “colonizing” the United States, letting Spanish drown out English and turning the land of Ozzie and Harriet into that of Jose and Maria. Those cultural fears will be front and center as Americans needlessly fret about losing control over their own country and their own destiny.

And, if Obama wants to get an immigration reform package through Congress, he will again need help from conservative Blue Dog Democrats.

Just like with health care. And if Obama panders to the Blue Dogs too much, he could alienate more liberal Democrats. Just like with health care. should the UR have in January 2009. Though Mr. Obama had even greater reason to pass an amnesty, just for the economic stimulus it would have provided.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Obama Dances Awkwardly With Bush Policies (Dan Balz, August 26, 2009, Washington Post)

On the same day Holder made his announcement, it became clear that some elements of the Bush administration's policies for handling suspected terrorists would continue. The current administration will continue the policy of rendition -- shipping suspects abroad for interrogation -- although, administration officials insist, under stricter guidelines that will prevent them from being tortured.

That was the latest example of an area of continuity between Obama's and Bush's national security policies, particularly the policies that were in practice during the last years of Bush's presidency.

The most obvious area of continuity in foreign policy involves two of the key architects of Bush's policies in the final two years of his presidency. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, continue to play central roles in military and security policy of the Obama administration.

In Afghanistan, Obama's departures from Bush's policies have been aimed at augmenting the size of U.S. forces and stepping up the nation's commitment to the war there. In Iraq, Obama has ordered a withdrawal of U.S. forces, as he pledged during the campaign, but on a slightly elongated timetable. In reality, given the relative success of Bush's troop surge policy and the agreements negotiated at the end of his administration, the shift from U.S. to Iraqi dominance in securing the country was already in the works.

In other areas of national security policy, Obama has made alterations but not always full breaks with Bush. In some cases, he has repackaged the rhetoric that describes these policies, but Bush administration officials see clear links.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Dies (JOHN M. BRODER, 8/27/09, NY Times)

Mr. Kennedy was the last surviving brother of a generation of Kennedys that dominated American politics in the 1960s and that came to embody glamour, political idealism and untimely death. The Kennedy mystique — some call it the Kennedy myth — has held the imagination of the world for decades and came to rest on the sometimes too-narrow shoulders of the brother known as Teddy.

Mr. Kennedy, who served 46 years as the most well-known Democrat in the Senate, longer than all but two other senators, was the only one of those brothers to die after reaching old age. President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were felled by assassins’ bullets in their 40s. The eldest brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., died in 1944 at the age of 29 while on a risky World War II bombing mission. [...]

Senator Kennedy was at or near the center of much of American history in the latter part of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. For much of his adult life, he veered from victory to catastrophe, winning every Senate election he entered but failing in his only try for the presidency; living through the sudden deaths of his brothers and three of his nephews; being responsible for the drowning death on Chappaquiddick Island of a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide to his brother Robert. One of the nephews, John F. Kennedy Jr., who the family hoped would one day seek political office and keep the Kennedy tradition alive, died in a plane crash in 1999 at age 38.

Mr. Kennedy himself was almost killed, in 1964, in a plane crash, which left him with permanent back and neck problems.

He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.

Senator Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, one of the institution’s most devoted students, said of his longtime colleague, “Ted Kennedy would have been a leader, an outstanding senator, at any period in the nation’s history.”

Mr. Byrd is one of only two senators to have served longer in the chamber than Mr. Kennedy; the other was Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. In May 2008, on learning of Mr. Kennedy’s diagnosis of a lethal brain tumor, Mr. Byrd wept openly on the floor of the Senate.

Born to one of the wealthiest American families, Mr. Kennedy spoke for the downtrodden in his public life while living the heedless private life of a playboy and a rake for many of his years. Dismissed early in his career as a lightweight and an unworthy successor to his revered brothers, he grew in stature over time by sheer longevity and by hewing to liberal principles while often crossing the partisan aisle to enact legislation. A man of unbridled appetites at times, he nevertheless brought a discipline to his public work that resulted in an impressive catalog of legislative achievement across a broad landscape of social policy.

Mr. Kennedy left his mark on legislation concerning civil rights, health care, education, voting rights and labor. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at his death. But he was more than a legislator. He was a living legend whose presence insured a crowd and whose hovering figure haunted many a president.

Although he was a leading spokesman for liberal issues and a favorite target of conservative fund-raising appeals, the hallmark of his legislative success was his ability to find Republican allies to get bills passed. Perhaps the last notable example was his work with President George W. Bush to pass the No Child Left Behind education law pushed by Mr. Bush in 2001. He also co-sponsored immigration legislation with Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. One of his greatest friends and collaborators in the Senate was Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican.

Mr. Kennedy had less impact on foreign policy than on domestic concerns, but when he spoke his voice was influential. He led the Congressional effort to impose sanctions on South Africa over apartheid, pushed for peace in Northern Ireland, won a ban on arms sales to the dictatorship in Chile and denounced the Vietnam War. In 2002, he voted against authorizing the Iraq war; later, he called that opposition “the best vote I’ve made in my 44 years in the United States Senate.”

...but his own legislative legacy means that to some considerable extent we live in Ted Kennedy's America. Of course, his isolationism meant that the South Vietnamese live in Ted Kennedy's Vietnam and had he had his way, Eastern Europe would still be to some extent Ted Kennedy's Iron Curtain and Iraq would be Ted Kennedy's Ba'athist regime, etc. Among the tragedies of his life is that where the older brothers became heroes fighting the Axis powers, he was only too willing to countenance equally vile evils. And even setting aside the personal damage he did to people, he can never be forgiven his betrayal of his own religion to embrace abortion. For all the talk of how much he cared for the weakest members of society, the fact is he helped kill tens of millions of the most vulnerable.

The great irony of hios career was that he was at his very best when he helped to prevent government from limiting people--immigration reform, civil rights, deregulation--largely mistaken when he either helped or turned a blind eye to government interference in people's lives--all of the various mandates and regulations he helped pass--and a fellow traveler with evil when he collaborated with regimes that oppressed and killed people, from the legal regime of Roe to the foreign regimes of North Vietnam, Iraq, etc. His inconsistency on these questions made him a lesser man than a Ronald Reagan or a George W. Bush who applied their humanitarianism universally and illustrates the essential incoherence of modern liberalism, of which he was the last icon.

Coincidentally, Michael Barone wrote about this dissonance today in a different context, Obama's lyrical Left struggles with liberalism (Michael Barone, August 26, 2009, Washington Examiner)

[U]nlike most New Republic writers of the time, [Randolph Bourne] vehemently opposed U.S. entry into World War I -- not out of pacifism, but for fear of what it would do to the country. "All the activities of society are linked together as fast as possible to this central purpose of making a military offense or a military defense," he wrote in 1918, "and the State becomes what in peacetimes it has vainly struggled to become -- the inexorable arbiter and determinant of men's business and attitudes and opinions."

This was a perceptive description of the dominant trend of the unlyrical warlike Left of the first two-thirds of the 20th century. In World War I, the Wilson administration nationalized the railroads and shipyards; in World War II, the Roosevelt administration mobilized 16 million into the military (the proportionate equivalent today would be 35 million) and commandeered much of the private-sector economy.

The Wilson war policies provided a blueprint for much of the New Deal. The Roosevelt war policies were a template for the makeshift welfare state of the postwar years. Lyndon Johnson declared a "war" on poverty. It was even clearer that war was the health of the state in Britain, where voters rejected the welfare state in the 1930s depression and embraced it after the experience of wartime mobilization and controls.

But in the late 1960s, the American Left started going Randolph Bourne's way. They rejected Lyndon Johnson's "guns and better" and renounced the Vietnam war. They cheered rather than objected when Richard Nixon abolished the military draft. They supported civil rights and tolerance of diverse lifestyles and multiculturalist responses to immigration. They opposed military action in Grenada, in the Gulf war, in Iraq and oppose it today in Afghanistan. [...]

The problem for Obama and America's lyrical Left is that dovishness abroad and statism at home don't readily go together.

The Death of Ted Kennedy: The Brother Who Mattered Most (Richard Lacayo, Aug. 26, 2009, TIME)
-OBIT: U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy dies at age 77 (Reuters, 8/26/09)
-OBIT: Sen. Edward Kennedy dies at 77 (Kathy Kiely, 8/26/09, USA TODAY)
A gifted speaker and skilled legislator, his career was punctuated by a series of personal setbacks and humiliations — often of his own making. The most devastating came in 1969, when a car that Kennedy was driving hurtled off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Mass., killing a young female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy fled the scene and did not report his role in the accident until the next day.

Decades later, Kennedy still refused to discuss the incident, according to his biographer, Adam Clymer, who wrote Edward M. Kennedy: A Biography in 1999.

Though he disagreed with church leaders on the issues of abortion and gay rights, Kennedy was a devout Catholic who clung to his religion's belief in the potential for human redemption.

-OBIT: Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy Dies at 77 After Cancer Battle (Joe Holley, 8/26/09, Washington Post)
Kennedy served in the Senate through five of the most dramatic decades of the nation's history. He became a lawmaker whose legislative accomplishments, political authority and gift for friendship across the political spectrum invited favorable comparisons to Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and a handful of other leviathans of the country's most elite political body. But he was also beset by personal frailties and family misfortunes that were the stuff of tabloid headlines.

For years, many Democrats considered Kennedy's own presidency a virtual inevitability. In 1968, a "Draft Ted" campaign emerged only a few months after Robert Kennedy's death, but he demurred, realizing he was not prepared to be president.

Political observers considered him the candidate to beat in 1972, but that possibility came to an end on a night in July 1969, when the senator drove his Oldsmobile off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Mass., and a young female passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned.

The tragedy had a corrosive effect on Kennedy's image, eroding his national standing. He made a dismal showing when he challenged President Jimmy Carter for reelection in 1980. But the moment of his exit from the presidential stage marked an oratorical highlight when, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, he invoked his brothers and promised: "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on. The cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

Instead of a president, Kennedy became a major presence in the Senate, which he had joined in 1962 with the help of his politically connected family. He was a cagey and effective legislator, even in the years when Republicans were in the ascendancy. When most Democrats sought to fend off the "liberal" label, the senior senator from Massachusetts wore it proudly.

-OBIT: Edward Kennedy dies at 77; 'liberal lion of the Senate': The Massachusetts Democrat was the last surviving son in a legendary political family. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008. (Rich Simon and Claudia Luther, August 26, 2009, LA Times)
Though his most cherished legislative goal of universal health insurance eluded him, Kennedy helped write a number of laws that ranged from making it easier for workers who change or lose jobs to keep their health insurance, to giving 18-year-olds the right to vote, to deregulating the airlines, helping lower airfares.

He several times spearheaded legislation to raise the minimum wage and, in the early 1970s, wrote the law creating Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to seniors. He was influential in reforming immigration laws and in expanding Head Start programs.

In 1982, he helped gain an extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and he was a principal sponsor of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which negated Supreme Court decisions that made it more difficult for minorities to win lawsuits charging job discrimination by employers. In 1990, he worked with then-Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) to gain passage of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act giving disabled Americans greater access to employment, among other things. That same year, he was author of the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act providing funds for community healthcare and support services.

And every major education law passed since the 1960s bears Kennedy's imprint, according to the National Education Assn., which gave Kennedy its highest award in 2000.

"Americans have so much affection for the Kennedy family, and they often fail to see past the legend and the celebrity," the group's then-president, Bob Chase, said at the time.

-OBIT: Sen. Edward Kennedy Dies After Battle With Cancer (NAFTALI BENDAVID, 8/26/09, WSJ)
Mr. Kennedy died with one of his lifelong goals, universal health care, tantalizingly within reach yet struggling on Capitol Hill. Some advocates have said his absence has hurt the chances for legislation, and hope Mr. Kennedy's passing will give new momentum and emotional force to his favored cause.

Mr. Kennedy was embraced early on as an heir to a heroic legacy and long seen as a president-in-waiting. But his own mistakes -- especially a car crash near Chappaquiddick Island in 1969, in which a campaign aide died -- helped cost him the presidency when he sought it in 1980. In later years, episodes like the rape trial of his nephew William Kennedy Smith in 1991 gave him the reputation of an irresponsible playboy.

-OBIT: Senator Edward Kennedy dies at 77 (Jurek Martin, August 26 2009, Financial Times)
-OBIT: U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy dies at 77 (Stephen Dinan, 8/26/09, Washington Times)
Outside of Washington Mr. Kennedy was a divisive figure, loved by liberals and hated by conservatives. But inside the Senate he was known as a gracious and gifted lawmaker, eager to work across the aisle if it meant getting major legislation passed.

He built a legislative empire unequaled in modern times, with more than 300 of his bills signed into law.

-OBIT: A Liberal Icon and a Legendary Legislator: A Five-Decade Senate Legacy (Seth Stern, 8/26/09, CQ)
n the end, his influence on the way the United States lives its collective life in the 21st century may well exceed the imprint left by his two even more famous older brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. “For more than four decades in the Senate, Teddy has led the fight on the most important issues of our time: civil rights, social justice and economic opportunity,” his niece Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy, said in 2008. “I know his brothers would be so proud of him.”

Sometimes, Kennedy wound up getting less or giving away more than his liberal allies would have preferred. Most recently, he said he harbored regrets over joining with President George W. Bush to enact the No Child Left Behind overhaul of federal education aid and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. But he understood better than anyone that ideological purity is almost always the principal opponent of legislative accomplishment. “Teddy Kennedy understood that nothing in the Senate gets done without bipartisan support,” says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University. “He was able to work with the most astonishing collection of political conservatives to really amass one of the most remarkable legislative records of any senator of the 20th century or young 21st century.”

-TRIBUTE: Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009): The Kennedy who most changed America. (Timothy Noah, Aug. 26, 2009, Slate)
In 1965, Kennedy was floor manager for an immigration bill that ended four decades of preferences for Northern Europeans at the expense of Asians and other groups and, some have argued, paved the way for Barack Obama's presidential victory. In 1972, Kennedy helped shepherd Title IX, which banned sex discrimination in education programs and fostered the expansion of athletic programs for women in high schools and colleges. In 1974, Kennedy sponsored the "post-Watergate amendments" to campaign finance law, limiting the size and sources of private contributions to candidates and creating a public financing system for presidential elections. In 1986, Kennedy advanced key amendments to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, guaranteeing continued health coverage to workers after they lost their jobs. In 1990, Kennedy sponsored the Americans With Disabilities Act, which enacted civil rights protections for the handicapped. In 1997, he sponsored the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which extended medical care to families with children that didn't qualify for Medicaid. Every one of these laws expanded in tangible ways the promise of American life.

-TRIBUTE: Romanticizing the late Ted Kennedy: A great man, with a dark past (Mehdi Hasan, 26 August 2009, New Statesman)
-TRIBUTE: Ted Kennedy Was No Victim: Ted Kennedy Courtesy Gerald Posner Teddy Kennedy ably shouldered the grief from his siblings’ death and pushed for health-care reform for decades. Gerald Posner recollects his first meeting with the senator, and why he could never fill John and Bobby’s shoes. (Gerald Posner, 8/26/09, daily Beast)
-TRIBUTE: Ted Kennedy: a tale of American shame and redemption (Michael White, 8/26/09, the Guardian)
-TRIBUTE: Triumph And Tragedy: The see-saw life of Edward M. Kennedy (Sean Wilentz, August 26, 2009, New Republic)
-TRIBUTE: Ted Kennedy: Global Hero (Adam Clymer, 8/26/09, Daily Beast)
-TRIBUTE: Ted Kennedy: Keeper of the Liberal Flame: Kennedy was the champion of the uninsured, the undocumented, and the forgotten. (Harold Meyerson, August 26, 2009, American Prospect)
Icons Aren't What They Used to Be
Journalists find another word to abuse. (Joe Queenan, 7/20/09, WSJ)
The term "icon" has two basic meanings, neither of which apply to Michael Jackson, Greg Norman, Ed McMahon, most Scottish mystery writers or anyone from Paul Revere & the Raiders. Originally it referred to sacred images painted on tiny wooden panels back in the days of the Eastern Empire. Thus, in theory, Farrah Fawcett's famous '70s poster could vaguely qualify as an icon. But for the longest time the word "icon" was used to refer to what Webster's describes as "an object of uncritical devotion." No more. Today it is used to describe anyone reasonably famous who is completely over the hill, on a respirator, or stone dead. Or, in the case of Mickey D's, beloved but inanimate.

August 25, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 PM


Feingold: No health care bill before Christmas (Richard Moore, 8/25/09, Lakeland Times)

U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold told a large crowd gathered for a listening session in Iron County last week there would likely be no health care bill before the end of the year - and perhaps not at all.

It was an assessment Feingold said he didn't like, but the prospect of no health care legislation brought a burst of applause from a packed house of nearly 150 citizens at the Mercer Community Center. [...]

The senator, a declared proponent of health care reform in principle, nonetheless did not seem too concerned about a potential failure of the Obama administration's effort. He said there was merit to the idea of trying a variety of proposals in various states first.

"Lindsay Graham and I sponsored legislation to have pilot programs in five states," Feingold told the audience.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:54 PM


George W. Bush CIA insider key to Obama plan (JOSH GERSTEIN, 8/25/09, Politico)

[N]ow, Obama has chosen a man who was at the heart of Bush’s intelligence effort to play a key role in overseeing the new administration’s own interrogation policies: John Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran who was privy to the extreme tactics Obama has declared off limits. [...]

This isn’t the first time Brennan has drawn controversy. When Brennan’s name was floated as a leading candidate for CIA director during Obama’s transition, liberal activists loudly questioned the possible choice, and Brennan later withdrew.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:40 PM


What if torture works? (Mehdi Hasan, 25 August 2009, New Statesman)

[A]s the Guardian reports today, in its coverage of the latest CIA revelations:

Some of the techniques were judged to have been a failure, with the mock execution described as "transparently a ruse, and no benefit was derived from it". But the document says valuable intelligence was gained on various plots round the world, including one to hijack aircraft to fly into Heathrow airport.

This raises the intriguing yet disturbing question: what if torture, on the odd, rare occasion, works? What if useable, valuable and accurate intelligence is gleaned from detainees that either prevents actual terror attacks, or helps disrupt a terrorist plot or leads to the arrest and detention of wanted terrorists? Does it then become permissible or defensible? [...]

The bigger issue is: why is it "unjustifiable"? There are, of course, countless familiar and obvious moral objections which revolve around human rights, dignity, autonomy, etc. As Kenneth Roth, of Human Rights Watch, for example, has argued:

[Torture] dehumanizes people by treating them as pawns to be manipulated through their pain.

...when you don't torture a terrorist to see where they're planning to kill next? Is he more human if he gets away with murder than if you waterboard him? Are you more humane if you let people die rather than being mean to him? Are the victims better off dead than living at the cost of a brief waterboarding of one of their attackers?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:36 PM


Bellying up to Kentucky Fried Chicken's double down (LA Times: Daily Dish, August 24, 2009)

The sandwich does indeed exist, and it is called the double down. It is made of two Original Recipe fillets, bacon, Swiss and pepper jack cheese and something called the Colonel's sauce.

The bad news? The sandwich is only being tested in Providence, R.I., and Omaha, Neb. But if it does well -- and really, why wouldn't this sandwich do well? -- it could head out West.

No wonder God has not totally given up on us.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:29 PM


Democratic Congressman: Obama demand for settlement freeze 'mistaken' (Barak Ravid, 8/25/09, Ha'aretz)

The chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee said last week that the Obama administration is making a mistake in demanding Israel completely freeze construction in the settlements. Congressman Howard Berman, a Democrat from California, made these comments during a closed meeting with Jewish leaders in Los Angeles.

...but apparently you can frag the leader of your own party....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:24 PM


Violence erupts at West Ham v Millwall match (Chris Irvine, 25 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

A man has been stabbed and at least two people have been arrested as "large-scale" crowd trouble broke out between fans outside a West Ham v Millwall football match. [...]

Reports suggested that some of the fans had been throwing missiles and bricks at one another and the violence between the two sets of fans was described as "serious" by BBC News.

Police called on reinforcements in order to help calm the violence, which has been going on for several hours.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:38 PM


Health care plan raises cost concerns (Erik Larsen, August 22, 2009, Asbury Park Press)

[U.S. Rep. John Adler, D-N.J.] said he shares much of the same consternation as many of his constituents over the existing legislation proposed.

"The bill that's coming through the House, with or without the public option, isn't good for America," Adler said matter-of-factly. "We have Congressional Budget Office projections of a trillion-dollar increase in costs that will have to be borne by taxpayers or insurance purchasers; meaning businesses and households. Either way, that's a cost we can't afford."

While he won't speculate on what will happen when the House reconvenes on Sept. 8, he said acceptable reform is one that keeps all the good parts of the American health care system but does a better job at controlling costs.

"I'm hearing different views from different people, but I'm hearing a consistent concern about cost to taxpayers and to insurance purchasers, and I share that concern that real health care reform has to involve cost controls to make private insurance affordable."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:24 PM


King on Holder: 'You wonder which side they’re on' (Ben Smith, 8/25/09, Politico)

A "furious" Rep. Peter King, the hawkish, maverick Long Island Republican, blasted a "disgraceful" Eric Holder for opening an investigation of CIA interrogators and chided his own party for what he described as a weak response to the move in an interview just now with POLITICO.

"It’s bulls***. It’s disgraceful. You wonder which side they’re on," he said of the attorney general's move, which he described as a "declaration of war against the CIA, and against common sense."

"It’s a total breach of faith, and either the president is intentionally caving to the left wing of his party or he’s lost control of his administration," said King, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Homeland Security and a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:16 PM


Hero Teacher Halted ‘Columbine-Style’ Attack (KTVU, August 25, 2009)

Hillsdale High teacher Kennet Santana admitted Tuesday he was merely reacting to the chaos around him when he tackled and subdued a former student, who had entered the school armed with 10 pipe bombs, a sword and a chainsaw.

Santana’s actions were being praised Tuesday for preventing a ‘Columbine-Style’ massacre at the San Mateo high school attended by more than 1,000 students.

He told KTVU that his Monday had a pretty normal start. It was around 8 a.m. and he had just checked in at the school office when the events began to unfold.

“I was on my way to make some copies,” he told KTVU. “I heard the first bang --- it sounded more like a crash to me. So that slowed me down. The second bang came right after that. There was a rush of students and teachers going away from the noise.”

What Santana did not know at the time was the noise was two pipe bombs exploding in a hallway. Fortunately, no one was injured by the blasts and instead of joining the exodus out of school, Santana decided to go toward the noise.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:48 PM


Sadrists Promised Major Positions in New Gov't (Shadha al-Jubori, 8/25/09, Asharq Al-Awsat)

Asmaa al-Mousawi, a high-ranking member of the Sadrist trend that is led by Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, revealed that the movement had received a number of assurances prior to it joining the Iraqi National Alliance, which replaces the United Iraqi Alliance. These assurances ensure that there is no repeat of the "mistakes" of the United Iraqi Alliance which resulted in the withdrawal of one party from the coalition, and the split of another. These assurances include the Sadrist trend being offered high-ranking positions in government should the Shiite coalition win the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Iraq.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:44 PM


Applause, boos greet lawmaker (Patricia C. McCarter, 8/25/09, Huntsville Times)

The union man was angry.

He loudly reminded U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, of a promise he made to U.S. Steel Workers Local 193 in Courtland last spring that if they helped him get elected, he'd do everything he could to get health insurance for all Americans.

While surrounded by many more conservatives than liberals in the Monday night town hall meeting at the University of North Alabama, union President Phil Everett wanted to know: "Are you a Democrat or are you a Republican?"

The Democratic congressman took a negative stance on the Democratic-proposed economic stimulus package and the cap-and-trade pollution bill, and has offered conservative-leaning answers to dozens of questions on health care reform.

In fact, applause nearly drowned him out as he walked over to shake the unhappy union man's hand and said, "I'm an American, and a good one." [...]

Griffith was asked why, if he believed what he said he believed, did he align himself with the party of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama.

"Conservatives could not have stopped this (health care reform) bill (from coming to the floor for a vote)," he said, adding that only the conservative arm of the Democratic Party - the Blue Dogs, of which he is a member - could.

Another speaker commended him for his stance, but said he was concerned that if Pelosi was privy to everything he was saying, "she might not let you back in chambers."

Griffith laughed and said, "If she doesn't like it, I've got a gift certificate to the mental health center."

Christie Carden, the 25-year-old organizer of the Huntsville Tea Party Movement, asked if he would vote for Pelosi for speaker again. Griffith said that if matter came up for a vote today, "I would not vote for her. Someone that divisive and that polarizing cannot bring us together."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:35 AM


75% Worried That Gitmo Closing Will Set Dangerous Terrorists Free (Rasmussen, August 25, 2009)

Seventy-five percent (75%) of U.S. voters are at least somewhat concerned that dangerous terrorists will be set free if the Guantanamo prison camp is closed and some prisoners are transferred to other countries. Fifty-six percent (56%) are very concerned. [...]

Support for the president’ s plan to close the prison camp for suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba continues to erode. It’s been steadily dropping since Obama announced the camp closure just after taking office in January. Only 32% of voters now favor closing the prison camp, down six points from May and down 12 points since the President announced his decision in January.

Mr. Obama had done so little of any significance before he got to the White House that each of us could look at him and see there whatever we wanted--he was the ultimate Rorschach blot. Whose bright idea was it to let him start defining the image into something recognizable?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:48 AM


Cameron’s Tories: the heirs to Blairism: Promoting patient choice, regulating our behaviour... Cameron is channelling New Labour circa 1997. (Rob Lyons, 8/25/09, Spiked)

Once upon a time, the UK Conservative Party proclaimed a mix of free-market rhetoric and social moralising. Under Margaret Thatcher, the message (more preached than practised) was that the state was ruining the British economy; the sooner government left business alone to get on with creating wealth, the better. But just as Tony Blair was the product of the domination of the Conservatives in the Eighties and Nineties, so David Cameron is now sounding more and more like a protége of New Labour.

Cameron’s speech to Conservative activists in Bolton, England, last week started by talking about ‘values’. There is, perhaps, nothing so quintessentially New Labour as talking about ‘values’. It’s as if Cameron had been taking advice from Labour deputy PM Peter Mandelson. ‘I know perfectly well that some of the changes we have made in this party over the past few years have not been easy for the party to accept’, Cameron said. ‘But there is one change we’ve made where, frankly, it has felt like pushing on an open door – and that is making crystal clear our wholehearted commitment to the NHS. Why? It’s not to do with ideology, or philosophy, or any abstract political theory. It is the simple, practical, commonsense, human understanding of a fantastic and precious fact of British life.’

In other words, the Conservatives don’t do ideology, philosophy or political theory anymore. All they have is the same pragmatic, managerial approach to politics that New Labour does.

Indeed, she practiced Pinochetism as Blair practiced Thatcherism as Cameron will practice Blairism...

A Working Model (Richard W. Rahn, May 16, 2008, Washington Times)

Thirty years ago, a young Jose Pinera, who had earned a Ph.D. at Harvard, was Chile's labor minister. He saw the coming disaster in the government old-age pension system.

Inspired by an idea from the late Nobel Prize winning economist, Milton Friedman, he developed a solution that empowers workers and gives them real financial security. Pinera-type social security systems have now been adopted by more than 30 countries and cover several hundred million people — for a very simple reason — it works!

Under the Pinera-type social security systems, workers are required to invest in highly diversified, qualified funds. Because they actually own their pension funds (like 401(k) funds in the United States), workers can choose their age of retirement, whether it is age 50 or 80. The longer they work, the more money they will have — but again each individual determines his or her own retirement age. (The very poor and those unable to work are still covered by a government system.)

Mr. Pinera is here in Berlin, selling his concept to German opinion leaders, as part of a multi-country "Free Market Road Show" sponsored by the European Center for Economic Growth and the Hayek Institute of Vienna, Austria.

The Chilean privatized system began in 1981, exactly 100 years after Bismarck instituted his system in Germany. It has been 29 years since the system went into effect in Chile so Mr. Pinera now can answer his critics, not only with theoretical arguments, but with hard data.

The results are remarkable. Chile's citizens have on average experienced a 10 percent per year, above inflation, compounded growth rate in their pension funds for the last 29 years. The result is most Chileans are no longer poor, but are, in fact, "small capitalists."

The Chilean government, increasingly freed from paying pensions out of tax funds (almost all Chileans have moved into the private accounts, though they could have stayed in the old government system), is now running a budget surplus of 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which could pave the way for the abolition of the income tax.

The new Chilean system has provided so much investment capital that Chile moved from being a poor country to being a solid middle-income country with the highest per capita income in South America. Critics in the U.S. and elsewhere claim investing pension funds in stocks and bonds is risky, but the real risk to the elderly is being trapped in government social security schemes headed toward insolvency.

The Swedish Model (Richard W. Rahn, August 18, 2009, Washington Times)
One notable success has been pension reform. Sweden was the first nation to implement a mandatory government retirement system for all its citizens. Sweden, like the United States and most other countries, was faced with an increasing, unfunded social security liability as a result of low birthrates and people living much longer. After studying the problem in the early 1990s, the Swedes approved, in 1998, moving toward a Chilean private pension system, first developed by former Chilean Labor Minister Jose Pinera. (Seventeen countries have adopted variations of the Pinerian system, which has been very successful in Chile.)

The new Swedish pension system has four key features, including partial privatization, individual accounts, a safety net to protect the poor and a transition to protect retirees and older workers. The benefits have been substantial budgetary savings, higher retirement income and faster economic growth.

Those who wish to chase the Swedish model need first to decide which model they seek: The high-growth, pre-1960 model; the low-growth model of the 1970s and 1980s; or the reformist, welfare-state model of recent years. The irony is that the current Democratic Congress and administration are rapidly emulating the parts of the Swedish model that proved disastrous and rejecting those parts that are proving to be successful.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:17 AM


RI gov to shut down state government for 12 days (RAY HENRY, 8/24/09, AP)

Rhode Island will shut down its state government for 12 days and hopes to trim millions of dollars in funding for local governments under a plan Gov. Don Carcieri outlined Monday to balance a budget hammered by surging unemployment and plummeting tax revenue.

The shutdown will force 81 percent of the roughly 13,550-member state work force, excluding its college system, to stay home a dozen days without pay before the start of the new fiscal year in July. [...]

The governor ordered the shutdown in an executive order but said he's willing to negotiate a different deal with state employee unions so long as it saves the same amount of money, roughly $22 million. But time is short: the first shutdown day has been scheduled for Sept. 4. Additional shutdown days have been scheduled every month through June.

There's a lot of mileage for the GOP in taxpayers vs. taxeaters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:56 AM


HBO’s Potential New Star ‘Licked Doorknobs’ to Make Republicans Sick (John Nolte, 8/25/09, Big Hollywood)

The first reaction to a story like this is get wrapped ’round the axle of HBO’s hypocrisy, so let’s get that out of the way: Of course no Republican who had behaved in the same manner as ”sex columnist” Dan Savage would get a shot at an HBO show. But there’s really no hypocrisy when you realize that Bill Maher’s network is waging ideological war. Through that prism of clarity, the network’s desire to do business with and thrust Mr. Savage further into the American cultural/political landscape is perfectly consistent. [...]

Acting out his burning hostility in such an inappropriate manner wasn’t a one shot deal, either. As recently as 2006, Savage declared in a videotaped interview that Green Party candidate Carl Romanelli should:

“…be dragged behind a pickup truck until there’s nothing left but the rope.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


Fayad: De facto state within 2 years (JPOST.COM, 8/25/09)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad on Tuesday unveiled a plan to create a de facto Palestinian state in two years. [...]

"We must confront the whole world with the reality that Palestinians are united and steadfast in their determination to remain on their homeland, end the occupation and achieve their freedom and independence," he continued.

It's taking them long enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:26 AM


U.S. Raises Estimate for 10-Year Deficit to $9 Trillion (EDMUND L. ANDREWS, 8/25/09, NY Times)

“A lot of people will look at this deficit and say we cannot afford health care reform,” said Peter R. Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget. But Mr. Orszag said the opposite was true: the only way to control spiraling Medicare costs, he said, was to get control of overall health care costs...

So it is about rationing?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:07 AM


Bacteria Desalinate Water, Generate Power (Eric Bland, 8/25/09, Discovery News)

"(Using this approach) you basically need zero power input, and it could even produce energy if you use organic material as the input," said Liu.

For now, microbial fuel cells, whether they desalinate water, generate electricity or create hydrogen, methane or other gases, are limited to small-scale laboratory devices. That will change next month, however, when Logan and his colleagues install a larger microbial fuel cell to turn waste water from a Napa Valley winery into hydrogen gas.

"This project is just a demonstration for now," said Logan. "But ultimately (the winery) could use the power generated by the microbial fuel cell to power cars, forklifts or other vehicles."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:19 AM


A mean streak in the US mainstream: The US tolerates more inequality, deprivation and suffering than is acceptable here (Mary Dejevsky, 8/25/09, Independent)

The reason why Obama is finding health reform such a struggle – even though it was central to his election platform – is not because an extreme wing of the Republican Party, mobilised by media shock-jocks, is foaming at the mouth, or because Republicans have more money than Democrats to buy lobbying and advertising power. Nor is it only because so many influential groups, from insurance companies through doctors, have lucrative interests to defend – although this is a big part of it.

It is because very many Americans simply do not agree that it is a good idea. And they include not only mainstream Republicans, but Democrats, too. Indeed, Obama's chief problem in seeking to extend health cover to most Americans is not Republican opposition: he thrashed John McCain to win his presidential mandate; he has majorities in both Houses of Congress. If Democrats were solidly behind reform, victory would already be his.

The unpalatable fact for Europeans who incline to think that Americans are just like us is that Democrats are not solidly behind Obama on this issue. Even many in the party's mainstream must be wooed, cajoled and even – yes – frightened, if they are ever going to agree to change the status quo. Universal healthcare is an article of faith in the US only at what mainstream America would regard as the bleeding- heart liberal end of the spectrum. [...]

The point is that, when on "normal", the needle of the US barometer is not only quite a way to the political right of where it would be in Europe, but showing a very different atmospheric level, too. For there is a mean and merciless streak in mainstream US attitudes, which tolerates much more in the way of inequality, deprivation and suffering than is acceptable here, while incorporating a large and often sanctimonious quotient of blame.

This transatlantic difference goes far beyond the healthcare debate. Consider the give-no-quarter statements out of the US on the release of the Lockerbie bomber – or the continued application of the death penalty, or the fact that excessive violence is far more common a cause for censorship of US films in Europe than sex. Or even, in documents emerging from the CIA, a different tolerance threshold where torture and terrorism are concerned.

Some put the divergence down to the ideological rigidity that led Puritans and others to flee to America in the first place; others to the ruthless struggle for survival that marked the early settlement years and the conquest of the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


Broad: a new hero takes fame in his stride: Amid the fervour, England's blue-eyed boy of the future keeps his feet on the ground (David Lloyd, 25 August 2009, Independent)

Nothing it seems, fazes Stuart Broad. Whether described as the next Andrew Flintoff, talked about as English sport's newest sex symbol or even promoted as a candidate to model fancy underwear, the only response is a knowing smile and a string of sensible words.

By taking five wickets in the space of 47 balls at The Oval, Broad changed his life. He may not fully appreciate that yet, but he will. In just a few overs of top-quality fast bowling, the 23-year-old not only put England on the road to an Ashes-clinching victory but also guaranteed that his picture would be used on front as well as back pages, in magazines and on billboards.

Not only that, but a private life that has probably never required much protecting will now need a little more guarding. "I don't think they have paparazzi in Nottingham," said Broad. If they don't, they will soon, Stuart.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 AM


That Old Testament Sound (Lia Grainger, 8/24/09, National Post)

As is often the case with reggae music, Matisyahu's songs contain religious references, though he draws on Judaism rather than Rastafarianism. He feels that the two religions, rather than conflicting, complete a circle, because both make use of the stories in the Old Testament. "When I was 14 I started listening to Bob Marley and was hearing what I considered Jewish phases, but in a different context," Matisyahu says. "Bob Marley was singing about these powerful feelings for Zion, and it made me want to discover Judaism on my own terms."

The journey towards becoming a practising Hasidic Jew was not one that started at birth for Matisyahu. Born Matthew Miller and raised in White Plains, N.Y., he was brought up a Reconstructionist Jew, and spent much of his teenage years as a devoted fan of the jam band Phish, following them on tour around the country. It was a semester abroad in Israel that led him to adopt Orthodox Judaism, after which he gave up music completely, opting instead to devote himself completely to religious practice and study.

"It's sort of like the story of Abraham sacrificing his son," says Matisyahu of his time without music. "The son was his ultimate creation, but then in the end he doesn't have to kill him. It's the same thing that happened to me. Music was my main thing, and I wanted to show God and myself that I would be willing to give up everything." He says that after two or three years of barely even listening to music, opportunities arose to perform, and he decided to return to his life's other passion.

Once Matisyahu started performing, his rise was quick, and though his religion is quite visible when he's onstage - he often wears the traditional flat-top hat and long black jacket to perform - critics and fans came to realize that his music was not a gimmick.

One of the nice things about the Internet Archives' live music collection is there's a bunch of Matisyahu

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:00 AM


Kurdistan oil strike delivers barrels by the million (Tamsin Carlisle, August 25. 2009, The National)

Gulf Keystone Petroleum may have found up to six times as much oil in Iraqi Kurdistan as it originally thought, making its oil strike the second multibillion barrel discovery in the region this year.

After encountering more oil while drilling its Shaikan-1 test well deeper, the British company said it revised its estimate of oil in place to between 1.5 billion and 3 billion barrels. That is up from the 300 million and 500 million barrel estimate it made earlier this month, and could translate to as much as 2 billion barrels of recoverable crude.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 AM


Liberalism without labor unions?: Hey Democrats: Can liberal interest groups and social elites really form the basis of a successful political party? (Michael Lind, Aug. 25, 2009, Salon)

Looking back, we can see that the history of American liberalism since the Depression falls into two periods: the New Deal up until the 1970s, when industrial labor provided the muscle of the reform coalition, and the neoliberal period, when unions have been eclipsed in the alliance by the black civil rights movement and other social movements: consumerism, environmentalism, feminism and gay rights. Necessary and important as they are, there are two problems with these liberal social movements as the base of a progressive party.

First, unlike unions, they are not membership organizations funded by dues from their members. They are mostly AstroTurf movements that depend on their funding and strategic direction on a handful of progressive foundations, and their leaders are appointed by donors and board members, not elected by followers. The work they do is valuable, but they cannot be substitutes for genuinely popular organizations.

Second, the members of most of these nonprofit movements are drawn disproportionately from the white college-educated professional class; their self-assignment to one or another single-issue movement does not disguise the fact that they tend to belong to the same social elite. Like the progressivism of the 1900s, but unlike the labor movement and agrarian populism, the progressivism of the 2000s is a movement of haves motivated by pity for the have-littles and have-nots, rather than a movement of have-littles and have-nots motivated by self-interest. And because they are, or believe themselves to be, motivated by philanthropy, the progressive haves are less interested in the economic struggles of the have-littles of the broad working class than in rescuing a far smaller number of have-nots from dire poverty. And even those elite progressives who are concerned about the working class are motivated by noblesse oblige: "We're from Washington, and we're here to help!"

Is the future of American liberalism a politics of charity rather than a politics of solidarity? In my darker moments, I sometimes wonder whether the relatively brief influence of labor unions in the Democratic Party in the mid-20th century was not an exception to the rule of elitism in American politics. You can write a narrative of American history in which, first, agrarian populism and 19th-century labor movements are crushed by repression and bloodshed by the 1900s. Then organized labor, after a brief, unforeseen period of influence from the 1930s to the 1960s, is crushed a second time by neoliberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike, leaving an America in which the only significant conflicts are those within the economic elite. In such a political order, the only left that counts will be the left based on money rather than votes or members. Progressivism becomes a movement of the privileged and charitable who are interested in doing good to other Americans rather than with other Americans.

In such a system, it is hard to speak of a politics of the left at all, inasmuch as politics is a matter of popular participation.

If the Democratic Party was a woman he'd be gnawing his own arm off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:49 AM


Obama Allies Find Words Fail Them (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 8/25/09, WSJ)

In the rhetorical battle over health care, the forces backing President Barack Obama's overhaul have spent years polling and using focus groups to find the precise language that would win over voters -- an effort that doesn't at the moment appear to be working.

When Mr. Obama told grass-roots organizers last week that the mandatory purchase of health insurance would "be affordable, based on a sliding scale," the phrasing precisely mirrored language that had been poll-tested and put before batteries of focus groups by Democratic consultants over the past few years.

The words had been carefully chosen in an effort to take away the rhetorical targets of health-overhaul foes and replace them with terminology that would bring ordinary Americans on board. But under steady attack from opponents using more-emotional language, some of the president's allies are rethinking the linguistic strategy.

That's what you get when you take George Lakoff seriously and pretend that it isn't your politics that is unpopular, just your phraseology.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


High and Low Relief: Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the Met (Peter Schjeldahl, 8/24/09 , The New Yorker)

“Augustus Saint-Gaudens in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” a rather scholarly show of some four dozen works from the museum’s collection, augmented with loans, gives me a chance to comb out tangled thoughts about a very American, chronically underrated artist, who died in 1907, after suffering from cancer for several years, at the age of fifty-nine. I have taken the occasion to visit, at last, the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, the sculptor’s painstakingly preserved estate, on rambling hilltop grounds, in Cornish, New Hampshire. Among the abundant works to be seen there is a copy of his most powerful achievement, the Shaw Memorial (1884-97), on Boston Common. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw commanded the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, a corps of African-American soldiers which included two of Frederick Douglass’s sons, during the Civil War. In an audacious combination of high and low relief, the mounted officer leads his richly individualized troops, their ranks bristling with shouldered rifles, beneath a wafting, solemn angel. Shaw and much of the regiment were killed in an assault on Fort Wagner, in Charleston Harbor, in 1863. The shared expression of the many faces harrows. It strikes me as the courage, indistinguishable from indifference, of the already dead. Morbid and exalted in equal measure—an epic of sacrifice—the work has a European parallel in Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais” (1889), representing the legend of six men who, in 1347, volunteered to be executed in return for the lifting of an English siege of their city. Saint-Gaudens became friends with Rodin during a sojourn in Paris in the eighteen-nineties, and also with James McNeill Whistler. Like them—and like other superb contemporaries, including the muralist Puvis de Chavannes and the architect Stanford White—he was modern in spirit but retained conservative forms, consequently landing afoul of histories of modern art that venerate avant-gardism. Might we have reached a point of being allowed to praise Saint-Gaudens without apologizing to Picasso? It would amount to rekindling a long-lapsed wish for art that is both of the moment and genuinely public.

The wish lapsed among the intellectuals, not the public.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Barack Obama reveals his reading list for Martha's Vineyard holiday (Tom Leonard, 8/25/09, Daily Telegraph)

At the serious end are Hot, Flat And Crowded – Why We Need A Green Revolution And How It Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman and John Adams, a biography of the second US president by David McCullough. McCullough is a particularly tactful choice as he lives down the road from where the Obamas are staying.

The novels are The Way Home by George Pelecanos, a crime thriller set in Washington DC, Lush Life by Richard Price – a crime thriller set in New York – and Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a worthier tale about small-town life on the Colorado plains.

...because that isn't a reading list, just the first five books someone saw on the rack in an airport bookstore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


The NRA's Main Target? Its Members' Checkbooks. (Richard Feldman, December 16, 2007, Washington Post)

[T]he truth is that much of the public debate over gun rights and gun control is disingenuous. Gun owners of every stripe -- liberal, moderate, conservative -- and non-owners alike can and do agree that violent criminals, juveniles, terrorists and mental incompetents have no right to firearms. Federal and state laws, despite poor enforcement by the courts, underscore that. Further, there's no significant debate -- nor should there be -- over private ownership of guns for lawful purposes such as target shooting, hunting, self-protection and collecting.

What we do have, though, is an organization whose senior leadership is dedicated to keeping the gun debate alive and burning in the American consciousness, for its own self-serving and self-preserving reasons. That organization is the National Rifle Association.

Unfortunately for American gun owners, the nation and the NRA itself, this major lobbying group has become intoxicated with money and privilege. The leadership has lost sight of its mission. Safeguarding the rights of gun owners has become secondary to keeping the fundraising machinery well greased and the group's senior staff handsomely compensated.

I know, because I once worked for it.

In 1984, I landed my dream job as Northeast regional representative of the NRA. I was a young lawyer, keen on politics and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. This post promised to indulge both passions, and for a time it did. But soon enough, I was watching with growing dismay as the NRA morphed from a reasonable, responsible voice of sportsmen and firearms owners into a giant money machine that provides more benefits to its insiders than to its 3 million-plus members.

During my tenure at the NRA, the theme was "We're not in the business of fundraising; we fundraise to stay in business." The "business" of the NRA then was defending the Second Amendment rights of a considerable number of Americans (if pollsters are correct that guns are kept in almost one of every two American homes). But today, the association's primary business is fundraising. And nothing keeps the fundraising machine whirring more effectively than convincing the faithful that they're a pro-gun David facing down an invincible anti-gun Goliath.

Well, David was better armed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


What is civilization?: Everyone is in favour of civilization, but exactly what is it? A British intellectual has taken up the challenge of defining a very slippery concept. : a review of In Search of Civilization By John Armstrong (Francis Phillips, 24 August 2009, MercatorNet)

Armstrong picks his way carefully through these contradictions to provide his own definition: "Civilization is constituted by high-quality relationships to ideas, objects and people." Readers acquainted with the posted comments to Mercatornet articles will recognise the intense, even violent, arguments that ensue whenever general statements of this kind are made: who is this author to define high-quality relationships, my opinion is as valid as his -- Beethoven and Britney Spears (to use the author’s own example) cater for different tastes, neither superior nor inferior… and so on.

The author recognises that the modern democratic, rather than the past hierarchical and deferential, society will lead to this kind of intellectual anarchy. In effect, he is appealing to like-minded (high minded?) readers and as a reader I am very sympathetic to his thesis, even as I recall countless arguments with highly educated friends who completely reject anything that presupposes shared or objective truths. ("History is bunk", stated Henry Ford. "Religion is bunk" I was recently informed by a friend).

"Love", Armstrong continues, is the one-word version of the phrase ‘high quality of relationship’." The aim of civilization should be to make us love goodness, beauty and truth -- and the greater the freedom of ideas and behaviour in a society the greater our need for civilization. Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, with its definition of "the best that has been thought and said", is quoted, as is Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, which first stated that a high degree of national wealth was necessary for a civilized society. Yet wealth alone is not enough: the core problem of the West, according to the author, is that "material prosperity has increased while spiritual prosperity hasn’t". What is this prosperity of the soul? A somewhat circular argument: the love of goodness, beauty and truth and their integration into our daily lives. He concludes: civilization occurs when a "high degree of material prosperity and a high degree of spiritual prosperity come together to mutually enhance one another."

And since only monotheism can render objective truths, there are rather few civilizations. And its religious nature is why the Left is barbarian.

-INTERVIEW: What Is Civilisation?: Why is civilisation an important idea? Is it about art, or is it a social and political concept, as suggested in the phrase 'the clash of civilisations'? Melbourne philosopher John Armstrong tackles some big questions. (Alan Saunders, 10/07/06, ABC: Philosopher's Zone)

Alan Saunders: Well, let's look at the big question that is going to be addressed in your series: the simple question of what is civilisation? I mean can we define it?

John Armstrong: I think we can, really quite well. Civilisation is fundamentally to do with two kinds of prosperity being integrated: the material prosperity of control over the environment, control over resources, and the ability to use those, to mould those to your ends and do things with them. That's the kind of material prosperity aspect. And then the other side of it is what I might call the imaginative prosperity, which is really to do with having good values and having good ends through your trying to use your resources well. And I think that the concept of civilisaton is just the idea of these two things being fully integrated and working very well together.

-REVIEW: of In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea by John Armstrong ( Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Times of London)
-REVIEW: of In Search of Civilization ( Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph)
-REVIEW: In Search of Civilization (Steven Poole, The Guardian)
-REVIEW: of In Search of Civilization (Elizabeth Speller, Financial Times)
-REVIEW: of In Search of Civilization (Fred Inglis, Times Higher Education Supplement)
-REVIEW: of In Search of Civilization (Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


What's Missing from the CIA Docs: Why is the Obama administration using heavy, retro-Bush era blackouts in a newly released CIA report? (John Sifton, 8/25/09, Daily Beast)

Several new facts emerge in the OIG report. We learn, for instance, that CIA interrogators working in the “High Value Detainee” (HVD) program at times went beyond even the permissive boundaries set by the Bush-era White House: They threatened detainees with death, conducted mock executions, threatened to rape detainees’ mothers, and kill their children.

You can see how these would be revelations if the CIA had actually executed them, raped their mothers, and killed their children, but is it still a "revelation" if all we did was talk mean to terrorists?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Giuliani, Seeing Opening, Mulls a Governor Bid (DANNY HAKIM, 8/25/09, NY Times)

He is already laying the groundwork. On Friday he traveled to Long Island to encourage the state Republican Party chairman, Joseph N. Mondello, to step aside, a maneuver that party insiders viewed as the former mayor’s most concrete step yet toward a run.

On Monday, Mr. Mondello announced his resignation, and Mr. Giuliani’s lieutenants were working the phones to drum up support for the replacement they prefer, the Niagara County Republican chairman, Henry F. Wojtaszek, a longtime supporter of Mr. Giuliani’s.

Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to sound out party leaders about a candidacy have also intensified. He has crisscrossed the state meeting with local officials; after a motivational speech to a paying audience in Buffalo last Tuesday, he met with local Republican leaders in a private meeting room to talk about the race. In recent weeks, he has also discussed his possible candidacy with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and met in Washington with Representative Peter T. King, a Republican who has considered running himself but said he would not if Mr. Giuliani became a candidate.

Mr. Giuliani declined to be interviewed, but several people who have spoken to him said he sees parallels between the current conditions in Albany and those in the city before his election as mayor. Voters were willing to take a chance on him then, he has said, in part because they were fed up with the dysfunction.

“Several times, he said to me that he sees state government similar to where New York City was in 1993: out of control,” said Mr. King, who met with Mr. Giuliani late last month at the Capitol Hill Club. “So many people are saying the state can’t be governed, which is what everyone was saying about the city then. In Rudy’s mind, this is a challenge.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:41 AM


‘Peak Oil’ Is a Waste of Energy (MICHAEL LYNCH, 8/25/09, NY Times)

Like many Malthusian beliefs, peak oil theory has been promoted by a motivated group of scientists and laymen who base their conclusions on poor analyses of data and misinterpretations of technical material. But because the news media and prominent figures like James Schlesinger, a former secretary of energy, and the oilman T. Boone Pickens have taken peak oil seriously, the public is understandably alarmed.

A careful examination of the facts shows that most arguments about peak oil are based on anecdotal information, vague references and ignorance of how the oil industry goes about finding fields and extracting petroleum. And this has been demonstrated over and over again: the founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil first claimed in 1989 that the peak had already been reached, and Mr. Schlesinger argued a decade earlier that production was unlikely to ever go much higher. [...]

Just as, in the 1970s, it was the Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, today it is the invasion of Iraq and instability in Venezuela and Nigeria. But the solution, as ever, is for the industry to shift investment into new regions, and that’s what it is doing. Yet peak-oil advocates take advantage of the inevitable delay in bringing this new production on line to claim that global production is on an irreversible decline.

In the end, perhaps the most misleading claim of the peak-oil advocates is that the earth was endowed with only 2 trillion barrels of “recoverable” oil. Actually, the consensus among geologists is that there are some 10 trillion barrels out there. A century ago, only 10 percent of it was considered recoverable, but improvements in technology should allow us to recover some 35 percent — another 2.5 trillion barrels — in an economically viable way. And this doesn’t even include such potential sources as tar sands, which in time we may be able to efficiently tap.

Oil remains abundant, and the price will likely come down closer to the historical level of $30 a barrel as new supplies come forward in the deep waters off West Africa and Latin America, in East Africa, and perhaps in the Bakken oil shale fields of Montana and North Dakota.

Taxes are the only way to make it uneconomical.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Obama's Summer of Discontent: The politics of charisma is so Third World. Americans were never going to buy into it for long. (Fouad Adjami, 8/25/09, WSJ)

A political class, and a media elite, that glamorized the protest against the Iraq war, that branded the Bush presidency as a reign of usurpation, now wishes to be done with the tumult of political debate. President Barack Obama himself, the community organizer par excellence, is full of lament that the "loudest voices" are running away with the national debate. Liberalism in righteous opposition, liberalism in power: The rules have changed.

It was true to script, and to necessity, that Mr. Obama would try to push through his sweeping program—the change in the health-care system, a huge budget deficit, the stimulus package, the takeover of the automotive industry—in record time. He and his handlers must have feared that the spell would soon be broken, that the coalition that carried Mr. Obama to power was destined to come apart, that a country anxious and frightened in the fall of 2008 could recover its poise and self-confidence. Historically, this republic, unlike the Old World and the command economies of the Third World, had trusted the society rather than the state. In a perilous moment, that balance had shifted, and Mr. Obama was the beneficiary of that shift.

So our new president wanted a fundamental overhaul of the health-care system—17% of our GDP—without a serious debate, and without "loud voices." It is akin to government by emergency decrees. How dare those townhallers (the voters) heckle Arlen Specter! Americans eager to rein in this runaway populism were now guilty of lèse-majesté by talking back to the political class.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


Iran MPs snub Ahmadinejad Ramadan feast: Report (AFP, 25 August 2009)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited parliament's 290 MPs to an Iftar feast to break the Ramadan fast... but almost nobody came, a reformist newspaper reported.

"On Sunday evening, only 20 out of the 290 lawmakers attended the party hosted by the president," the Etemad newspaper said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Obama to Reappoint Bernanke as Fed Chief: Signs of Economic Recovery Cited by President's Chief of Staff; Central Banker's Renomination Requires Senate Confirmation (JON HILSENRATH, DAVID WESSEL and SUDEEP REDDY, 7/24/09, WSJ)

President Barack Obama will announce the nomination of Ben Bernanke to a second term as Federal Reserve chairman on Tuesday, opting for continuity in U.S. economic policy despite criticism in Congress of the low-key central banker's frantic efforts to rescue the financial system.

...but it's still amusing to watch him follow W.

August 24, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


Death of a Salesman: The more Obama talks about health care, the lower his approval rating goes (Fred Barnes, 08/31/2009, Weekly Standard)

Between July 20 and July 30, President Obama was a busy man, barely out of the public eye while campaigning furiously for his health care initiative. He did four town hall events, spoke at two hospitals, delivered a radio address, was interviewed on two network TV news shows, and held a prime time press conference--all devoted to promoting his health care plan. On this issue as on no other, Obama personally took his case to the people.

Something else occurred during that time frame. The president's job approval rating fell 9 points, from 61 percent to 52 percent in the Gallup Poll. This was an unusually precipitous decline from which Obama hasn't recovered. In mid-August, after more weeks of barnstorming for his health care program, his approval rating remained in the low 50s. Only Bill Clinton among recent presidents had a lower approval after seven months in office.

For Obama, there's still worse news. Not only has he lost ground, but public support for his health care proposal has collapsed to the point that a majority of Americans prefer no reform at all to his plan. And the more he stumps for it, the less support it attracts. Rather than a peripheral phenomenon, the noisy opposition in congressional town hall meetings turns out to be a reflection of the deep national suspicion of Obamacare.

Two conclusions are inescapable. The first is that Obama is not Mr. Persuasive, a compelling orator like FDR, swaying public opinion with his words. Quite the contrary, he has failed to sustain public backing for his economic stimulus package, his decision to shut down Guantánamo, his proposed spending, the takeover of General Motors, bailouts in general, and now health care reform. [...]

There's a corollary. The impulse at the White House to rely on Obama as salesman-in-chief, to put him on the road, is surely mistaken. For him, the bully pulpit has limited utility. In fact, presidential scholar George C. Edwards III argued in his book On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit that presidential speechmaking no longer moves public sentiment.

The second conclusion to draw is that Obama has been dragged down by his health care policy. The more he's identified himself with it, the less the public likes him. There's nothing irrational about this. Why should people without a partisan allegiance to Obama hang with him when they dislike his signature policy? There's no good reason.

At some point you just have to stop the bleeding, don't you?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:57 PM


'Big Wave' Theory Offers Alternative to Dark Energy (Clara Moskowitz, 17 August 2009, Space)

Mathematicians have proposed an alternative explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe that does not rely on the mystifying idea of dark energy.

According to the new proposition, the universe is not accelerating, as observations suggest. Instead, an expanding wave flowing through space-time has caused distant galaxies to appear to be accelerating away from us. This big wave, initiated after the Big Bang that is thought to have sparked the universe, could explain why objects today appear to be farther away from us than they should be according to the Standard Model of cosmology.

"We're saying that maybe the resulting expanding wave is actually causing the anomalous acceleration," said Blake Temple of the University of California, Davis. [...]

Temple compared the wave to what happens when you throw a rock into a pond. In this case, the rock would be the Big Bang, and the concentric ripples that result are like a series of waves throughout the universe. Later on, when the first galaxies start to form, they are forming inside space-time that has already been displaced from where it would have been without the wave. So when we observe these galaxies with telescopes, they don't appear to be where we would expect if there had never been a big wave.

One potential issue with this idea is that it might require a big coincidence.

For the universe to appear to be accelerating at the same rate in all directions, we in the Milky Way would have to be near a local center, at the spot where an expansion wave was initiated early in the Big Bang when the universe was filled with radiation.

Nice dead end Galileo led the credulous down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 PM


Obama's Big Bang could go bust (MIKE ALLEN & JIM VANDEHEI, 8/24/09 , Politico)

The Obama theory was simple, though always freighted with risk: Use a season of economic anxiety to enact sweeping changes the public likely wouldn’t stomach in ordinary times. But the abrupt swing in the public’s mood, from optimism about Obama’s possibility to concern he may be overreaching, has thrown the White House off its strategy and forced the president to curtail his ambitions.

Some Democrats point to a decision in June as the first vivid sign of trouble for Obama. These Democrats say the White House, in retrospect, made a grievous mistake by muscling conservative Democrats in swing districts to vote for a cap-and-trade energy bill that was very unpopular among their constituents.

Many of those members were pounded back home because Democrats passed a bill Republicans successfully portrayed as a big tax increase on consumers. The result: many conservative Democrats were gun-shy about taking any more risky votes — or going out on a limb on health care.

The other result: The prospects for winning final passage of a cap-and-trade bill this year are greatly diminished.

The Blue Dogs and the UR are in trouble to exactly the extent that they moved away from being moderate Republicans with D's after their names.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:42 PM


Officials Weigh Circumcision to Fight H.I.V. Risk (RONI CARYN RABIN, 8/24/09, NY Times)

Public health officials are considering promoting routine circumcision for all baby boys born in the United States to reduce the spread of H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

The topic is a delicate one that has already generated controversy, even though a formal draft of the proposed recommendations, due out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the end of the year, has yet to be released.

Experts are also considering whether the surgery should be offered to adult heterosexual men whose sexual practices put them at high risk of infection. But they acknowledge that a circumcision drive in the United States would be unlikely to have a drastic impact: the procedure does not seem to protect those at greatest risk here, men who have sex with men.

...if you're serious about stopping the spread of AIDs you need to take off more than their foreskins....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:38 PM


CIA director defends interrogation techniques (Tom Braithwaite, August 24 2009, Financial Times)

Leon Panetta, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, on Monday defended the organisation’s interrogation techniques as the Obama administration prepared to release details of alleged prisoner abuse. [...]

In a message to CIA staff, made public by the agency, Mr Panetta said the dossier was old and had been seen by the Department of Justice and Congress for years, the “enhanced interrogation techniques” – some of which the agency’s critics categorise as torture – had ended, and they had worked.

“The CIA obtained intelligence from high-value detainees when inside information on al-Qaeda was in short supply,” he wrote. “Whether this was the only way to obtain that information will remain a legitimate area of dispute, with Americans holding a range of views on the methods used.”

...prosecute guys for successful interrogations that were handled differently than Mr. Holder would prefer?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 PM


Can Nixon Save the GOP?: Sam Tanenhaus tries to resurrect a more-agreeable breed of conservatism. (Carl Swanson, Aug 23, 2009, New York)

So you think all this anti-Obama rhetoric is for naught? It won’t help restore the GOP to power?

One thing that really struck me during the campaign was Obama’s race speech. Not so much what he said about black people, but what he said about white people. And I watched it and thought, This is [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan’s argument about how white ethnics, who are not accountable for America’s legacy of slavery, have their grievance, too. And Obama really got that. Somehow he’s absorbed more of this conservative history. He is a kind of [Edmund] Burke. And I do think he and Clinton were the model contemporary presidents, which will of course shock all my conservative friends. They adjusted to the realities of the politics of their day, which is exactly what Burke and Disraeli and Buckley said politicians are supposed to do.

Setting aside how peculiar it is to be talking about the Obama presidency in the past tense, it seems early to compare him to Bill Clinton. If the UR does react to the reality of losing both chambers of Congress to the GOP by zagging as far rightwards as Bubba did, then he will indeed by conforming to the modern model of Thatcher, Blair, Howard, Harper, Clinton and W. That he has to first receive the same drubbing as his Democratic predecessor suggests he absorbed as little history as Mr. Tanenhaus has.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:19 PM


The end was nigh: Richard Overy’s comprehensive account of the fear of ‘civilisational decline’ that gripped Britain between the world wars, writes Matthew Price, poses more than a few challenges for the doomsayers of today.: a review of The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars by Richard Overy (Matthew Price, The National)

In his suggestive new book The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars, the distinguished historian Richard Overy looks back to the time of Spengler to explore how the paradox of progress and peril consumed almost every aspect of British society in the two decades between the First and Second World Wars. His subject matter, Overy writes, “is in no sense an insular history”. As America does today, Britain then considered itself the hub of western civilisation – and its putative crisis was cast by intellectuals, writers, artists, politicians and scientists as a “crisis of civilisation”, tout court. Fear and doubt, then as now, were pervasive – over the resilience of capitalism, the health of the population, the direction of society and, above all, about whether Europe would soon destroy itself in another violent conflagration. The discourse Overy surveys was widespread: “There were few areas of intellectual endeavour, artistic, literary, scientific, philosophical, that were not affected in some form or other by the prevailing paradigms of impending decline and collapse,” he writes. “The sense of crisis was not specific to any one generation... nor was it confined to one political or social outlook.”

Overy has gathered a rich harvest of material – pamphlets, broadsides, books, lectures, newsreels and radio broadcasts – from a diverse assortment of English writers and thinkers, among them EM Forster, the brothers Aldous and Julian Huxley, HG Wells, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Stephen Spender, George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and the historian Arnold Toynbee. If the world was indeed ending, there was as much eloquence from these figures as there was gloom about their predicament. (After a health crisis in 1936, Forster mused that he was being nursed “with so much kindness and sense,” despite living in a “civilisation which has neither kindness or sense.”)

Few did more to establish the tenor of the era than Arnold Toynbee, Britain’s own Spengler. In Toynbee’s view, all civilisations hewed to the same pattern, which Overy describes as “creative expansion, mechanistic consolidation, internal decay prompted by cultural stagnation, social division, and a final universal Caesarism”. Just as past civilisations – Mayan, Roman, Greek – had seen glory and then disappeared from the face of the earth, the West would meet a similar fate. His ideas found a receptive audience in the inter-war years. Lecture halls featured talks on topics like “The Decay of Moral Culture” and the poetic if overwrought “The Smoke of Our Burning”. Death was on everyone’s minds – in 1924, one lecturer asked “Why not Commit Suicide?” (Overy does not say how the question was answered). In the mid-1930s, John Boulting (of the famed filmmaking duo the Boulting Brothers), recoiled after a trip to London, where he found only “dirt, disorder and a terrifying din”, another sign of a society plunging “headlong, blindly and almost eagerly towards a gigantic carnival of self-extermination”.

Today, this erudite hysteria may seem unintentionally funny, the hyper-articulate ravings of terrified intellectuals. But Overy notes that these views were hardly outside the mainstream: Britain had been overcome by a tidal wave of despair, and as the 1920s gave way to the years of the Slump, the agitation only increased. Writers fed the public’s appetite for the literature of crisis – The Intelligent Man’s Guide Through the World Chaos, by the socialist writer GDH Cole, sold some 50,000 copies in 1932. (Whatever the state of British civilisation, these years proved a boon to the publishers like Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books, and Victor Gollancz, the proprietor of the Left Book Club.)

Overy contends that this was not merely a time of escalating and overheated rhetoric: the prophets of decline were deadly sincere, looking to science, economics, medicine and history to construct elaborate proofs of the nearing of the end. If, as has been suggested, this was primarily the discourse of an educated elite, whose views “reflected the prejudices and the expectations of the educated classes”, the theories of decline found a wide and eager audience – they flourished, Overy writes, “in the first real age of mass communication”.

The Morbid Age is a showcase for the brightest minds of the era, yet the fruits of all this fevered fretting were often less than palatable. The discourse of crisis was extreme in tone; the terms used to describe the state of Britain were invariably apocalyptic and millennial. Moderate voices were drowned by a series of emotive keywords that recur again and again in the literature Overy surveys: decay, menace, disease, barbarism, chaos, descent, sick. Even among some of the most progressive thinkers of the age, as Overy shows, the diagnosis that British civilisation was approaching collapse bore a deeply reactionary tint.

Perhaps the most sinister manifestation of this current was the intellectual vogue for eugenics. The rise and fall of civilisations could, in part, be explained by theories of racial purity. In Britain, many concluded that the wrong people – the poor and the mentally handicapped – were giving birth at a rate that threatened to engulf society in a wave of mediocrity. “We are getting larger and larger dregs at the bottom of our national vats,” concluded one biologist. To counter the trend, the British Eugenics Society, whose members included Julian Huxley and Keynes, promoted a campaign of sterilisation that looked very much like a similar programme implemented in Nazi Germany.

This ugly esteem for eugenics was but one manifestation of the great faith laid at the feet of science, whose advances were widely believed to represent the only possible hope for salvation. “Confidence in the power of science to deliver what was appropriate for modern society was widespread” writes Overy.

By their dimness shall you know the Bright.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:48 AM


Don’t Blame Obama (ROSS DOUTHAT, 8/24/09, NY Times)

In reality, the health care wrestling match is less a test of Mr. Obama’s political genius than it is a test of the Democratic Party’s ability to govern. This is not the Reagan era, when power in Washington was divided, and every important vote required the president to leverage his popularity to build trans-party coalitions. Fox News and Sarah Palin have soapboxes, but they don’t have veto power. Mr. Obama could be a cipher, a nonentity, a Millard Fillmore or a Franklin Pierce, and his party would still have the power to pass sweeping legislation without a single Republican vote.

What’s more, health care reform is the Democratic Party’s signature issue. Its wonks have thought longer and harder about it than any other topic. Its politicians are vastly better at talking about the subject than Republicans: if an election is fought over health care, bet on the Democrat every time. And for all the complexity involved, it’s arguably easier to tackle than other liberal priorities. It’s more popular than cap and trade, it’s less likely to split the party than immigration and it’s more amenable to technocratic interventions than income inequality.

If the Congressional Democrats can’t get a health care package through, it won’t prove that President Obama is a sellout or an incompetent. It will prove that Congress’s liberal leaders are lousy tacticians, and that its centrist deal-makers are deal-makers first, poll watchers second and loyal Democrats a distant third.

...that representational government works and that Democratic Health Care doesn't represent the will of the people?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM


Policy Makers Seek to Learn From 1937's Stalled Comeback (MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS, 8/24/09, WSJ)

The economy was recovering briskly during Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term in the White House. The jobless rate, which had peaked at 25% in 1933, fell to 14% in 1937 -- not exactly cause for celebration but a relief nonetheless.

The comeback stalled in 1937. Banks, nervous about the fragile recovery, were holding huge amounts of cash in reserve at the Fed. Fearing an inflationary surge should the banks decide to lend that money out to businesses and individuals, the Fed -- which had made the mistake of tightening monetary policy soon after the 1929 stock-market crash -- miscalculated again. The Fed ratcheted up banks' reserve requirements three times, starting in 1936. The banks reacted by cutting lending even further.

"There's no doubt that [Fed Chairman Ben] Bernanke is heavily influenced by these two mistakes of the Fed during the Depression and is absolutely intent on not repeating them," says Alex J. Pollock of the American Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington.

Compounding the Fed's errors, the federal government tightened fiscal policy. Congress approved a big bonus for World War I veterans in 1936, providing a spark of consumer spending. But lawmakers allowed the subsidy to lapse in 1937. At the same time, the government began collecting the first Social Security taxes, on top of income and capital-gains tax increases that Mr. Roosevelt approved in 1934-35.

Tightening the monetary and fiscal screws sent the economy into free fall again -- the second trough of the W. Unemployment shot up to 19%, prolonging the nation's suffering.

Not only does Ben Bernanke understand better than anyone the danger of deflation, but any replacement would have to demonstrate his inflation-hawk bona fides by hiking rates into the deflation, as Mr. Bernanke himself had to do, causing the recent stall out.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:35 AM


The Competition Cure: A better idea to make health insurance affordable everywhere. (WSJ, 8/24/09)

[John Rother, executive vice president of AARP]: "There are states and localities where health care is much less expensive than others, and if we allow people to buy all their insurance from those places, it will raise the rates there. And it's called risk selection. It's a real problem, given the fact that health care costs can vary substantially from one place to another. So I think while the idea sounds appealing, the consequence would be it would make health care more expensive for those people who live in those low-cost areas."

How did Mr. Rother arrive at this conclusion?

His claim assumes that what makes insurance expensive in places like New Jersey—where the annual cost of an individual plan for a 25-year-old male in 2006 was $5,880—is merely the higher cost of medical services in the Garden State. He sounds an alarm in the rest of the country by suggesting that an individual living in, say, Kentucky—where an annual plan for a 25-year-old male cost less than $1,000 in 2006—would be asked to subsidize plan members living in high-priced states.

That's not how interstate insurance would work. Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis who has written extensively on this subject, notes that insurance companies operating nationally would compete nationally. The reason a Kentucky plan written for an individual from New Jersey would save the New Jerseyan money is that New Jersey is highly regulated, with costly mandated benefits and guaranteed access to insurance.

Affordability would improve if consumers could escape states where each policy is loaded with mandates. "If consumers do not want expensive 'Cadillac' health plans that pay for acupuncture, fertility treatments or hairpieces, they could buy from insurers in a state that does not mandate such benefits," Mr. Herrick has written.

A 2008 publication "Consumer Response to a National Marketplace in Individual Insurance," (Parente et al., University of Minnesota) estimated that if individuals in New Jersey could buy health insurance in a national market, 49% more New Jerseyans in the individual and small-group market would have coverage. Competition among states would produce a more rational regulatory environment in all states.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


All the President’s Zombies (PAUL KRUGMAN, 8/24/09, NY Times)

The debate over the “public option” in health care has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in health care have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government program.

Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.

...when it even held made the Second Great Depression so short and shallow?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:18 AM


Growing deficit frames health care debate (John Fritze, 8/24/09, USA TODAY)

As the White House prepares to release worse-than-expected deficit projections this week, even Democrats in Congress said that whatever health care bill emerges this fall will have to cost less than the $1 trillion price tag contemplated earlier this year.

"It's going to have to be significantly less than what we've heard talked about," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., one of six senators from both parties seeking a bipartisan health care bill, said on CBS' Face the Nation. "We've got to have the deficit reduced as a result of this effort. That is absolutely imperative."

...and we'll show you Eric and Julia Roberts in one place at the same time.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Obama’s Team Is Lacking Most of Its Top Players (PETER BAKER, 8/24/09, NY Times)

Of more than 500 senior policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation, just 43 percent have been filled — a reflection of a White House that grew more cautious after several nominations blew up last spring, a Senate that is intensively investigating nominees and a legislative agenda that has consumed both.

While career employees or holdovers fill many posts on a temporary basis, Mr. Obama does not have his own people enacting programs central to his mission. He is trying to fix the financial markets but does not have an assistant treasury secretary for financial markets. He is spending more money on transportation than anyone since Dwight D. Eisenhower but does not have his own inspector general watching how the dollars are used. He is fighting two wars but does not have an Army secretary.

He sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Africa to talk about international development but does not have anyone running the Agency for International Development. He has invited major powers to a summit on nuclear nonproliferation but does not have an assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:13 AM


Healthcare insurers get upper hand: Obama's overhaul fight is being won by the industry, experts say. The end result may be a financial 'bonanza.' (Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger, August 24, 2009, LA Times)

Lashed by liberals and threatened with more government regulation, the insurance industry nevertheless rallied its lobbying and grass-roots resources so successfully in the early stages of the healthcare overhaul deliberations that it is poised to reap a financial windfall.

The half-dozen leading overhaul proposals circulating in Congress would require all citizens to have health insurance, which would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers -- many of whom would get government subsidies to help pay the companies' premiums.

"It's a bonanza," said Robert Laszewski, a health insurance executive for 20 years who now tracks reform legislation as president of the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates Inc.

August 23, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:11 PM


Republicans Have Obama Playing Defense: The GOP strategy of principled opposition is winning over independents. (Fred Barnes, 8/23/09, WSJ

Today, the strategy of strong opposition to Mr. Obama seems obvious. But it didn't appear that way to many Republicans after their crushing electoral defeats in 2006 and 2008. Republicans were afraid that crossing Mr. Obama would only make the public dislike them all the more.

Inside Washington, they were urged to reduce the influence of pro-lifers in the party and distance themselves from conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh. They were told to warm up to Mr. Obama, the new master of American politics, and they were told to fret about all those voting blocs that were drifting away from the GOP—Hispanics, young people, gays, urbanites, blacks, voters in Northeastern states and independents. To survive, in short, they needed to move the party to the center. Conservatism was dead.

In hindsight, it's fortunate that they ignored the Beltway wisdom. But it was a gamble—it wasn't clear at the time that a strategy of pure opposition would do anything other than marginalize Republicans.

Their first big step was to oppose the economic "stimulus" package. Many in the media insisted Republicans had a death wish when they unanimously rejected it in the House and by a near-unanimous vote in the Senate. The press was wrong. This was the smartest move Republicans have made all year, one with several positive repercussions.

Republicans deconstructed the bill, pointing to its excessive spending, its pork, its favors for Democratic special interests, its lack of actual economic stimulants. Their critique was full-throated and specific. Not only did Republicans begin to revive their reputation as fiscal hawks, they convinced a large chunk of the public that out-of-control spending was a threat to the nation's well-being.

The effect has been to crimp Mr. Obama's plans for further spending. New funds for bailouts are unlikely to be approved by Congress. ObamaCare's cost—a minimum $1 trillion—has become a big reason protesters are turning out against it at town-hall meetings.

They won NH by inundating the state with ads saying that John McCain would tax health care benefits while Mr. Obama would cut tax taxes for 95% of us. That didn't exactly leave him much wiggle room to the Left.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 PM


Setting the price of a free press: If the 1st Amendment is to mean anything, Congress has to suspend antitrust rules for the newspaper industry so publishers can determine as a group how much to charge for online content. (Tim Rutten, August 22, 2009, LA Times)

[T]he Australian-born media magnate understands that what's required for serious -- which is to say expensive-to-produce -- journalism to survive is that all the quality English-language papers and news sites agree to charge for Web access and then mercilessly sue anyone who makes more than fair use of their work without paying a fee. For such a scheme to work, the papers' owners need to agree on when to act and what to charge. (Murdoch and his digital strategist, Jonathan Miller, believe the Journal's existing website model offers a place for what the latter calls "premium" journalism.)

Putting aside the irony of the man who probably has done more to undermine serious English-language news coverage than anybody else in our lifetimes now proposing to save it, Murdoch is right, and newspaper proprietors should elect his proposal or one of the others also being discussed -- and soon. American papers had combined revenues of $34.7 billion from the advertising in their print editions last year and just $3.1 billion in advertising from their online sites, despite the fact that, on average, 67.3 million people visited them each month.

Unless that imbalance is reduced, all but a few quality papers will disappear. For its part, Congress needs to move quickly to grant the newspaper industry at least a temporary exemption from antitrust and price-fixing laws so that publishers and proprietors can, in essence, collude for survival. exactly do you get NPR and the BBC to charge us for content?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:03 PM


Honduras high court threatens Zelaya with arrest (AFP, 8/23/09)

Honduras's Supreme Court has rejected a Costa Rica-brokered deal that would have restored ousted President Manuel Zelaya to power and sternly warned that he faces arrest if he returns.

In a ruling late Saturday that fell in line with similar pronouncements by the military-backed regime, the high court said that Zelaya will not be allowed to return to power, and "cannot avoid having to submit to established procedures of the penal process" should he return to Honduras. [...]

The court decision also accused Zelaya of "crimes against the government, treason against the nation, abuse of power" and other misdeeds, as it affirmed the legitimacy of Micheletti's government.

Micheletti's government had been installed as part of a lawful "constitutional succession," the high court found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


If you haven't been keeping up with Inspector Lewis on British tv, and don't want to watch a 4 hour Yanks/Sox game, PBS is finally showing the 2nd series starting this month. Laurence Fox's Hathaway is the best Sergeant since Kevin Whatley's own Lewis and there's a great moment at the end of the 3rd season where Lewis takes his place as an Inspector beside Morse. Tonight they're showing the third episode of Season One.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:02 PM


Western novelist Elmer Kelton dies at 83 (AP, 8/23/09

Kelton wrote 62 fiction and nonfiction books. "The Good Old Boys" was made into a 1995 TV movie starring Jones for the TNT cable network. Kelton also was known for "The Man Who Rode Midnight" and "The Time It Never Rained."

His first novel, "Hot Iron," was published in 1956, and he recently finished his last book, "Texas Standoff," due out next year. Another novel, "Other Men's Horses," will be released this fall.

The Western Writers of America voted Kelton "Best Western Author of All Time" and gave him its Spur Award seven times. Four of his books won the Western Heritage Award from the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Born in Crane, Kelton grew up on the McElroy Ranch in west Texas. He served in the U.S. Army from 1944 to 1946 and saw combat in Europe during World War II.

-TRIBUTE: Kelton told stories effortlessly and unpretentiously (Ross McSwain, August 22, 2009, Go SanAngelo)
To meet Elmer Kelton on the street for the first time, you would never think the man to be America’s best writer of western novels, an honor bestowed on him a few years ago when his peers, members of the Western Writers of America, voted him to be the best of the best.

Stockmen from all over the Southwest know Elmer Kelton. He looks like them, talks like them, wears clothes like them and can talk prices of lambs, goats, feeder steers, wool and mohair with plenty of ease and knowledge.

He was once described in a story that appeared in the New York Times News Service as “the mild-mannered” man who leaves his editor’s desk at the nationally known Livestock Weekly each day and starts his other career as one of the nation’s best story-tellers and historians.

Kelton writes from experience and from listening well to stories told by oldtime cowboys during his days growing up on one of West Texas’ storied ranches. His characters breathe. Like many West Texas ranch folks that the author has befriended over decades of covering agricultural news, his heroes are complex, flawed and, in some cases, unlikable.

His stories describe the real Old West where there was not near as much gunplay as that shown in the movies. His secret for success with his novels? “I look for natural conflicts and I try to build on character rather than just action,” he said in an interview.

Always a keen observer of human actions and emotions, Kelton has not hesitated to plow new ground in his story-telling. One of my favorite books, written several years ago, was “The Pumpkin Rollers,” in which one of his featured characters was a young ranchwoman with a very strong personality and will to achieve nearly the impossible.

Another book, also a personal favorite of mine, was “Cloudy In The West,” in which he tells the story from a youngster’s point of view. In another book, “Wagontongue,” a former slave maintains his dignity as a cowboy in the Jim Crow era, and he pits an Indian chief against a Buffalo Soldier in a superb historically correct story centered around Fort Concho.

Believable characters and the way they express themselves are keys to Kelton’s success as a regional writer. During a long, seven-hour drive to attend a meeting of the Texas Folklore Society in Sherman several years ago, I learned a tremendous amount about the writing craft from a true master.

-ESSAY: True Grit (Elmer Kelton, July 2008, Texas Monthly)

The real cowboy has somehow been lost in all the reckless rhetoric that uses his name in vain. It may be too late to save his reputation from the sneers of the pundits and politicians, but let us at least try to present some of the truth about who he is and what he does.

To begin with, he is a working man, having much in common with millions employed in other occupations, but different in the specifics of his profession. As writer John Erickson has observed, the cowboy is defined by the work he does. That work has to do with domestic animals, specifically cattle, though a good hand with horses and sheep may also qualify for the title.

To call a man a cowboy tells you what he does for a living, but it does not tell you about him as a person. He may be gentle, or he may be rough. He may have a college degree, or he may have trouble reading a newspaper. He may be in church every Sunday, or he may spend the Sabbath getting past a hangover. A cowboy is an individual—tall, short, thin, heavy, loud, quiet, or none of the above.

His job developed out of the vaquero tradition that migrated north from Mexico in the early 1700’s. Working methods and tools of the trade evolved from those favored by Mexican herders on horseback. In South Texas today, the terms “cowboy” and “vaquero” are often used interchangeably, though the true vaquero is Hispanic. In the mountain states of the West, the word is “buckaroo,” an Anglo corruption of “vaquero.”

But cowboying is no regular profession, like bricklaying or accounting. The cowboy is an integral part of the American myth, a symbol of self-reliance and rugged individualism, a descendant of Sir Walter Scott’s knights of old. Of course, this image of a wild but selfless defender of righteousness and justice is just as inaccurate as more-negative depictions. It began with penny-dreadful pulp magazines of the late 1800’s and was augmented by Hollywood western action films, beginning with The Great Train Robbery (1903) and continuing through the spaghetti western invasion of the sixties and seventies. In most of these he tended to be seven feet tall and quick on the trigger.

By contrast, the first western novel widely accepted as literature, Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1904), depicted the cowboy as quiet and contemplative, slow to take action and regretful about it afterward. A boisterous group in town for a spree immediately settles down upon learning that they are disturbing a sick woman. The hero meets the villain in the street only when honor leaves him no other option. Wister’s cowboy lived by an unwritten but widely accepted code of conduct that, in general, has guided real cowboys through the generations.

-ESSAY: Bone Dry: Ruined crops, depleted herds, raging wildfires, and water rationing: I thought I had lived through our most devastating drought forty years ago, but this one may be worse. (Elmer Kelton, July 1996, Texas Monthly)
-ESSAY: My Favorite Place: Mesquite Country (Elmer Kelton, May 1989, Texas Monthly)
Perhaps the most special ground for me, because it is my own home country, are the mesquite ranges from San Angelo west, merging with the creosote flats as one approaches the Pecos River, and beyond the Pecos the grandeur of the Davis Mountains and the Guadalupes rising from a desert floor. In the place where I spent my boyhood, I still enjoy the glistening sandhills, rippling with summer heat waves, from Crane and Odessa westward toward Monahans or northward toward Andrews.

Big and empty you might call this thinly settled country. You might even feel it has more history than future, its rural outlook no longer relevant to a state whose population is mostly urban. But it is there, and it is huge. It is home to sturdy holdouts of an independent-minded ranching and farming and oil-patch heritage—my people—who have met the challenge of a stern land and endured for generations.

-ESSAY: Having a Cow: Beyond Beef blames cattle for the decline of civilization—not to mention famine, pestilence, destruction, and death. (Elmer Kelton, April 1992, Texas Monthly)
-EXCERPT: Twin Wells: Chapter One (Elmer Kelton, January 2008, Texas Monthly)
-EXCERPT: Twin Wells: Chapter 12 (Elmer Kelton, December 2008, Texas Monthly)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Elmer and Anni Kelton - a Love Story: Part Four (Texana Review, 10/22/08)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Elmer and Anni Kelton - a Love Story: Part Three (Texana Review, 5/26/08)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Elmer and Anni Kelton - a Love Story: Part Two (Texana Review, 2/23/08)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Interview with Elmer Kelton - Part Three (Texana Review, 6/10/07)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:55 PM


The Guns of August (FRANK RICH, 8/23/09, NY Times)

I have been writing about the simmering undertone of violence in our politics since October...

...none of the Left's threats towards George W. Bush counted....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:41 PM


Russia's Moves Raise Doubts About Obama's Diplomatic 'Reset' (James Marson, Aug. 23, 2009, TIME)

The much-trumpeted "reset" of relations between Russia and the U.S. was dealt a slap in the face last week as Moscow went on the offensive against Ukraine and Georgia. After Russian President Dmitri Medvedev waded into Ukrainian politics with barbed criticism of his Ukrainian counterpart's "anti-Russian" policies, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin embarked on a provocative trip to reaffirm support for Abkhazia, the Moscow-backed territory that enjoys de facto independence from Georgia.

...back to the point where Nixon, Kissinger, Ford and Carter trusted them. The UR has obviously not read Alex Dryden

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:56 PM


Ashes: Andrew Strauss praises team effort as England claim series win (Tom Lutz, 8/23/09, ,

The pitch was seen by many as contributing to England's victory after Strauss won the toss and elected to bat and Ponting admitted he was unimpressed by the state of the wicket. "It was a a poor wicket – I'm not blaming the wicket – but it was a poor Test match wicket. But both sides had the same. The difference in this game was our first-innings batting."

Ponting also conceded it had been a mistake not to select Australia's spinner, Nathan Hauritz, in a Test where the ball turned sharply. "In hindsight, no [the decision to leave out Hauritz was incorrect], but I don't think anybody saw that happening," he added. "I think England would have played two spinners if they had."

Stuart Broad bowled superbly in Australia's first innings and Ponting singled the Nottinghamshire player out for praise. "I think Broad's last couple of games have been pretty impressive," he said. "He's stood up probably when his position was in a bit of jeopardy as well."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Democrats' Colorado gold rush turns into a bust
(Michael Barone, August 23, 2009, Washington Examiner)

As Fred Barnes pointed out in The Weekly Standard last year, this Colorado model has been a brilliant success. Democrats captured both houses of the legislature and a Senate and House seat in 2004, the governorship in 2006, and a Senate and House seat in 2008. Colorado, which voted for George W. Bush by 8 points in 2000 and 5 points in 2004, voted for Barack Obama by 9 points in 2008. It was a fitting conclusion to a campaign in which Obama accepted his nomination in front of Greek columns in Denver's Invesco Field.

But now, Colorado seems to be going in the other direction. Gov. Bill Ritter, elected by 17 points in 2006 and seeking another term next year, is trailing former Republican Rep. Scott McInnis in the polls and runs only even against a little-known Republican state legislator. Michael Bennet, appointed by Ritter to fill Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's Senate seat, has a negative job rating and runs well under 50 percent against Republican opponents. Barack Obama's job rating in the state has been conspicuously below his national average -- closer to those of still rock-ribbed Republican Rocky Mountain states than the hip states of the Pacific Coast.

Campaigning, it turns out, is easier than governing.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM



President Obama's aides were so furious that Gov. Paterson dragged him into a rant about racism that they sent a message sharply criticizing the governor's comments just hours after he made them, The Post has learned.

Aides to Obama were angered by Paterson's tirade on liberal talk-radio station WWRL on Friday, sources said.

Paterson blamed his political woes on racially slanted coverage and predicted the president would be the next "victim" of biased media.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Polls show potential GOP challengers would beat Harry Reid (BENJAMIN SPILLMAN, 8/23/09, LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL)

It's the highest stakes ever for a Nevada election, and former boxer Sen. Harry Reid is on the ropes early. Either Republican Danny Tarkanian or Sue Lowden would knock out Reid in a general election, according to a recent poll of Nevada voters. [...]

Nevadans favored Tarkanian over Reid 49 percent to 38 percent and Lowden over Reid 45 percent to 40 percent, according to the poll.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Health Care and Infant Mortality: The Real Story (Steve Chapman, 8/23/09, Townhall)

Our infant mortality rate is double that of Japan or Sweden. But we live different lives, on average, than people in those places. We suffer more obesity (about 10 times as much as the Japanese), and we have more births to teenagers (seven times more than the Swedes). Nearly 40 percent of American babies are born to unwed mothers.

Factors like these are linked to low birth weight in babies, which is a dangerous thing. In a 2007 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, economists June O'Neill and Dave O'Neill noted that "a multitude of behaviors unrelated to the health care system such as substance abuse, smoking and obesity" are connected "to the low birth weight and preterm births that underlie the infant death syndrome."

Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, also attributes the gap largely to conduct. Comparing white Americans to Norwegians in his 1995 book, "The Tyranny of Numbers," Eberstadt concluded that "white America's higher rates of infant mortality are explained not by poverty (as conventionally construed) or by medical care but rather by the habits, actions and indeed lifestyles of a critical portion of its parents." Whites are not unique in those types of behavior.

African-American babies are far more likely to die than white ones, which is often taken as evidence that poverty and lack of health insurance are to blame. That's entirely plausible until you notice another racial/ethnic gap: Hispanics of Mexican or Central or South American ancestry not only do consistently better than blacks on infant mortality, they do better than whites. Social disadvantage doesn't explain very much.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Why the Gang of Six is deciding healthcare for 300 million of us: Six senators representing 3 percent of the population are running things because the White House wants it that way (Robert Reich, Aug. 24, 2009, Salon)

We have a Democratic president in the White House. Democrats control 60 votes in the Senate, enough to overcome a filibuster. It is possible to pass healthcare legislation through the Senate with 51 votes (that's what George W. Bush did with his tax-cut plan). Democrats control the House. The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is a tough lady. She has said there will be no healthcare reform bill without a public option.

So why does the fate of healthcare rest in Grassley's hands?

It's not even as if the gang represents America. The three Dems in the gang are from Montana, New Mexico and North Dakota – states that together account for just over 1 percent of Americans. The three Republicans are from Maine, Wyoming and Iowa, which together account for 1.6 percent of the American population.

So, I repeat: Why has it come down to these six? Who anointed them? Apparently, the White House. At least that's what I'm repeatedly being told by sources both on the Hill and in the administration. "The Finance Committee is where the action is. They'll tee up the final bill," says someone who should know.

...and the reason for this would be obvious. The furthest Left the President can afford to be on Health and be re-elected is where moderate Republicans stand, not where his own party does.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:53 AM


The NHS: Britain and America are both right (Daniel Finkelstein, 8/19/09, Times of London)

If you want to understand the rights and wrongs of the NHS argument, you need to start with this. Duke University in North Carolina has a very small basketball stadium and a large number of students who want to attend matches. To solve the problem of ticket allocation, an elaborate system has been developed.

Roughly a week before the game, students pitch tents in front of the stadium. If they want a ticket they cannot leave. At random intervals a horn is sounded at the box office, and those who do not respond within five minutes are removed from the waiting list. There’s more. After almost a week of camping the students at the front of the queue are still not guaranteed a ticket. They merely get a lottery number and have to hope that they will win admittance.

In 1994 the behavioural economists Dan Ariely and Ziv Carmon decided to exploit this ritual to conduct an experiment. They called up students who had camped out but failed to obtain a ticket, offered them admittance and negotiated a price. On average, respondents were willing to pay $175.

Next they called up the lucky winners and made bids to buy a ticket. The average price demanded? A huge $2,400. Remember that both sets of students wanted the tickets badly in the first place. The value they both put on admittance should have been, at least roughly, the same. Instead they were separated by a factor of about 14.

Ariely and Carmon present this finding as corroboration of what is known as the endowment effect. Once someone owns something, once it is theirs, they value it more. This is closely allied to another effect beloved of behavioural economists — loss aversion. People much prefer avoiding losses to making gains.

At the end of the day, too few American voters are uninsured to shake up the system.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:45 AM


The Feminist Hawks (VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN, 8/23/09, NY Times Magazine)

David Horowitz, the conservative firebrand, is among those who have seized on the feminist-hawk position. Horowitz may not be an obvious feminist, but as someone who has dedicated his life to political media (producing or contributing to magazines, books, political ads, cable news, talk radio, blogs, video podcasts, even a pamphlet), he’s adroit at adapting ideologies for media platforms. Right now, this one is working for him.

Like many conservatives, Horowitz appears to have come to feminist-hawkism after 9/11. But in his hands, the ideology has fast became a tenacious memebrid — as Tim Hwang, a sociologist and the director of the Web Ecology Project, calls memes that unite two or more cultural phenomena.

“The neat marriage of hawkish tendencies and feminist framing of issues does this quite effectively,” Hwang explained to me in an e-mail message. Borrowing left-wing shibboleths is one way that “conservative ideas can make it big in a generally more liberal online social sphere,” he wrote. Furthermore, to depict Islamic regimes less as terrorists than as repressors of civil liberties may appeal even to traditional isolationists, as it “plays off of the strong communities of libertarians that dominate some prominent spaces.” [...]

As a fan of intensely specific forms of communication — blogs, memoirs, reality TV — I don’t believe that any idea exists apart from its mode of dissemination. But I also know that ideas that seem especially big and irresistible are usually so elegantly integrated with particular communication technologies that it’s hard to conceive of them separately. Could Rush Limbaugh’s patriotic anti-elitism have coalesced anywhere but on AM radio? Could “family values” have emerged without Christian TV?

And could the feminist-hawk position have emerged without the weird confluences of the Web? Like any wily and surviving creature, this new ideology has faced evolutionary pressures and adapted to its ecological niche.

Forget Bill Safire, David Brooks and other house Republicans, that's the most conservative thing you've likely read in the Times: evolution depends on wiles; patriotism is the preserve of AM listeners; actual concern for women is a function of conservatism, not feminism; and family values depend on Judeo-Christianity. Game...Set...Match.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:38 AM


Obama vacations where the elite meet (NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, 8/23/09, Politico)

“The danger for President Obama is that he seems to be in what is one of the most elite summer resorts in the United States. From an image-making point of view, it would be better to be in the Wisconsin Dells or Put-in-Bay, Ohio,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian. “There is the connotation with Martha’s Vineyard of East Coast elitism…I have a feeling when they decided on Martha’s Vineyard they didn’t know the health care debate would be this brutal.”

Just imagine how unnatural, how John Kerry-like, he'd look engaging in anything other than an elitist pursuit. This is a guy who made bowling seem harder than brain surgery and bike riding geeky.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Word for Word | Saul Alinsky: Know Thine Enemy (NOAM COHEN, 8/23/09, NY Times)

Here are excerpts from “Rules for Radicals.”

Mr. Alinsky observes that “any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical”:

One of our greatest revolutionary heroes was Francis Marion of South Carolina, who became immortalized in American history as “the Swamp Fox.” Marion was an outright revolutionary guerrilla. ...Cornwallis and the regular British Army found their plans and operations harried and disorganized by Marion’s guerrilla tactics. Infuriated by the effectiveness of his operations, and incapable of coping with them, the British denounced him as a criminal and charged that he did not engage in warfare “like a gentleman” or “a Christian.”

Don’t worry, Mr. Alinsky advised, if they call you names:

The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a “dangerous enemy.” ... Here again we find that it is power and fear that are essential to the development of faith. This need is met by the establishment’s use of the brand “dangerous,” for in that one word the establishment reveals its fear of the organizer, its fear that he represents a threat to its omnipotence. Now the organizer has his “birth certificate” and can begin.

The first step:

The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act. that it's the 60% vs the 40%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:22 AM


Concern, Doubts From the Left on Obama's Health-Care Plan (Dan Balz, August 23, 2009, Washington Post)

The immediate cause for the rebellion is growing concern among Obama's progressive allies that he is prepared to deal away the public insurance option to win passage of a health-care bill. Obama insists that he still prefers the public option as part of any legislative package, but some friends on the left now clearly doubt his resolve.

That has given way to broader criticisms: Is Obama tough enough to defeat the interests arrayed against health-care legislation? Has he lost the passion that was such an asset during the campaign? Have his rhetorical skills been muted as he descends into the dry, arcane details of health care? Is he too enamored of bipartisan consensus, given what is seen as Republican implacability? Has he given up the moral high ground in the health-care battle?

There's only one problem with asking those questions--they all assume a Barack Obama who never existed except in their own minds. Consider only the whole Reverend Wright controversy. Mr. Obama immediately dropped his church when it became inconvenient and was incapable of defending his past membership, but was fortunate enough to have opponents who let him slide. He displayed no toughness, no eloquence, and no passion as he abandoned any pretense that he was morally grounded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 AM


A Grand Bargain Over Evolution (ROBERT WRIGHT, 8/23/09, NY Times)

The first step toward this more modern theology is for them to bite the bullet and accept that God did his work remotely — that his role in the creative process ended when he unleashed the algorithm of natural selection (whether by dropping it into the primordial ooze or writing its eventual emergence into the initial conditions of the universe or whatever).

Of course, to say that God trusted natural selection to do the creative work assumes that natural selection, once in motion, would do it; that evolution would yield a species that in essential respects — in spiritually relevant respects, you might say — was like the human species.

Man, these guys aren't even trying anymore.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


'Is He Weak?' (Jim Hoagland, August 23, 2009, Washington Post)

Shortly after the Group of 20 summit concluded in London in April, Nicolas Sarkozy blurted out to a small group of advisers a question that weighed on him as he watched President Obama glad-hand his way through the gathering: "Est-il faible?" (Is he weak?) [...]

The withering criticism that liberal Democrats are directing at Obama over a public insurance option as part of health-care reform shows his vulnerability. Similarly, his economic spokesmen created confusion about his (and their) resolve this month when they seemed to edge toward, and then back away from, tax increases on the middle class.

Was the president of two minds on these matters and using trial balloons? Had he failed to explain himself to his most senior associates? Or were they trying to bounce him into changing course? Whatever, an air of indecision gathered over a White House that prides itself on crisp decision-making.

"Characteristically, Mr. Obama has been trying to have it both ways," the Financial Times editorialized about the health-care ruckus. "Characteristically" was the dagger in that sentence.

All of their own confusion comes from thinking he's a leader when he's always and only ever been a follower.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


The cost of healthcare reform: Congressional Democrats are looking at various ways to finance their overhaul legislation. (Noam N. Levey, August 23, 2009, LA Times)

How much is it going to cost to overhaul the system? [...]

In the Senate, a bill developed by the health committee would spend nearly $780 billion over the next decade to expand coverage, not including fees and penalties that could help offset some of that cost, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The bill written by senior House Democrats would spend $1.26 trillion to expand coverage before accounting for the fees and penalties. [...]

How can the country afford that?

Part of the bill would be paid by people and companies that don't abide by new mandates that would require individuals to get coverage and require medium-sized and large businesses to provide health benefits to their employees. The CBO estimated that the Senate health committee bill would generate about $88 billion in such penalties over the next decade. The House bill would produce about $192 billion.

What's $1.25 trillion minus $88 billion?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Medieval art of jousting is alive and well (Keith Ervin, 8/23/09, Seattle Times)

The Seattle Knights, the troupe of jousting, sword-fighting actors that put on the fair, are building the first of two pirate ships in preparation for the October event and future fairs. Nearby are a Wild West town and a Native American village of tepees used for other family-oriented events at V2 Farm.

The Knights, founded in 1991 by former comic-book artist Dameon Willich, play their parts with relish, goading the audience to cheer them on as they fight with swords, knives, lances and other weapons.

"This is sort of a hobby and a second job at the same time," said Lauren Crosson, of Issaquah, a Seattle Knights pirate for the past two years. "You get to hang out with the best and funniest group of people."

For the mounted knights, wearing as much as 80 pounds of armor and peering through narrow slits in their helmets, the outcome is a bit unpredictable. It takes a special kind of horse to stay on course while running toward an oncoming horse, with a combined speed of 60 to 70 mph, actor Alan Paulsen said.

And plenty of nerve and skill on the knight's part to hit the target. In a "light joust," the knight tries to strike the opponent's shield. In a "heavy joust," they go for the torso.

Lances are built with tips that break off when they hit body armor. "We're crazy, but we're not stupid," Paulsen said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Classic book review: Possession: A.S. Byatt's stunning novel about books and their readers. (Thomas D'Evelyn, Nov. 16, 1990, CS Monitor)

“Possession” is about reading. The characters all read the fictitious Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash. In varying degrees, they have bought into the Ash industry that has grown up in England and as far away as New Mexico. The title “Possession” refers not only to the romantic plot, but also to the legal problems that arise with the discovery of new manuscripts by the poet.

The manuscripts are letters to a woman, a poet hitherto unconnected to the hitherto unblemished Ash. The finder of the letters is a mild young scholar named Roland. He is just about to give up scholarship for something that pays, as his girlfriend Val has already done. Through his discovery, Roland meets the beautiful, self-possessed Maud (who specializes in the person Ash corresponded with, the poet Christabel LaMotte).

Before the novel is over, everybody interested in either Ash or Christabel – scholars and “poetic trippers” alike – becomes involved in the hunt for missing evidence as to the nature of their relationship. The book surveys contemporary academic styles with fastidious glee.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Jonathan Trott century puts Ashes within reach (Simon Wilde, 8/23/09, Sunday Times of London)

For the second time in four years at The Oval a South African-born cricketer has taken England to within tantalising reach of regaining the Ashes, lost in Australia in December 2006. Jonathan Trott’s workmanlike century in the fifth and final npower Test match yesterday may have lacked the panache and daredevilry of Kevin Pietersen’s 158 on the same ground in 2005 but it could prove every bit as valuable in purpose.

Trott’s painstaking, chanceless 119, spread across five and a half hours, enabled England’s captain, Andrew Strauss, to declare at 373 for nine and leave Australia 546 to win, a target that has never been met in any first-class match, let alone a Test match. But to England’s frustration, Simon Katich and Shane Watson negotiated 20 overs to stumps, closing on 80 for no wicket.

If Australia somehow score the 466 runs they still need to win, they would take the series 2-1 and retain the Ashes — and in the process probably break English hearts. England’s target is simple: 10 wickets in a minimum of 180 overs. The weather forecast is good for the two remaining days of the match.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:54 AM


Why bother being nice?: A somewhat limited look at Western thinking on altruism: a review of ON KINDNESS By Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor (Ann Harleman, August 23, 2009, Boston Globe)

Kindness, in today’s thinking, is “either a higher form of selfishness (the kind that is morally triumphant and secretly exploitative), or the lowest form of weakness . . . a virtue of losers.’’ Our suspiciousness of charity, our doubts about the possibility of altruism, our “ghettoization’’ of kindness by relegating it to women, even our sexual hang-ups, according to Phillips and Taylor, are different faces of the same essential error. What makes us want to shunt kindness off to the sidelines? Fear, of course. “The pleasure of kindness is that it connects us with others; but the terror of kindness is that it makes us too immediately aware of our own and other people’s vulnerabilities. . . . particularly the vulnerability we call desire.’’ Following Winnicott, the authors advocate “a more robust version of kindness.’’ “It is kind to be able to bear conflict, in oneself and others; it is kind, to oneself and others, to forgo magic and sentimentality for reality. It is kind to see individuals as they are, rather than how we might want them to be; it is kind to care for people just as we find them.’’ This version of kindness accommodates ambivalence; it makes room for, and thereby transcends, frustration and hatred. It is the poet’s (or the novelist’s) version - Tolstoy, rather than Dr. Phil. In short, it’s human.

In the course of Phillips and Taylor’s discussion, then, the concept of kindness has widened to take in every human emotion. Yet their answer to the question that sparked the discussion is less satisfying than it might have been. For anyone struggling to construct an ethics outside the framework of religion...

That circle can't be squared.

August 22, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:32 PM


Teacher allegedly paid student after sex (Melinda Rogers, 8/21/09, The Salt Lake Tribune)

A former Helper Junior High School teacher charged with having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old male student paid her victim between $1,400 and $1,500 after the encounters, court documents allege.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:17 PM


Gordon Brown in new storm over freed Lockerbie bomber (Gaby Hinsliff, 8/22/09,

[T]he new letter, addressed to "dear Muammar" and signed off by wishing him a happy Ramadan, suggests that the decision was well enough advanced and Brown well enough briefed to set terms for a homecoming – albeit unsuccessfully. A jubilant Libyan crowd, some waving Scottish flags, greeted Megrahi at the airport.

Last night the Tories redoubled calls for the government to release official records of conversations about the release, as Gaddafi increased the embarrassment by publicly thanking "my friend Brown, his government, the Queen of Britain, Elizabeth, and Prince Andrew who all contributed to encouraging the Scottish government to take this historic and courageous decision". [...]

The business secretary, Lord Mandelson, left hospital today – where he was recovering from a prostate operation – and insisted that it was "completely wrong" and "offensive" to suggest that Megrahi's release was linked to trade deals over oil and gas.

Mandelson met Gaddafi's son during a holiday in Corfu this month, several weeks after the prime minister's meeting in Italy, and has admitted the subject of the Lockerbie bomber was raised. Today he said the Libyans had had "the same response from me as they would have had from any other member of the government".

...but then developed prostate cancer, do you suppose the government would have released him on humanitarian grounds?

Secret talks on deal to return Megrahi to Libya (Exclusive by LUCY ADAMS, 1/15/09, The Herald)

According to Libyan officials, senior civil servants at Whitehall have actively "encouraged" them to apply for prisoner transfer for Megrahi - a move likely to be highly unpopular with campaigners and some of the relatives of the victims of the bombing, who want to hear the fresh evidence in open court.

A Libyan source said: "We have been encouraged to apply for the prisoner transfer option once the agreement is ratified, but there are concerns as to whether the UK Government can be trusted."

The Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) was signed off by a delegation from Tripoli and senior UK officials in November and is due to be ratified by the UK and Libyan parliaments in March.

It would take months for an agreement on such a transfer to be reached, partly because Megrahi is serving a life sentence and his case would have to be reviewed by the Scottish Prison Service and the Parole Board.

The final decision will ultimately lie with Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary - a point clarified last year during the very public argument which followed the Scottish Government's discovery that it had not been privy to the details of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Tony Blair and Colonel Gaddafi in May 2007 as part of the "deal in the desert".

While Whitehall officials denied the deal and subsequent PTA had anything to do with the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, the row between the Scottish and UK Governments highlighted the fact that it was about Megrahi.

Professor Robert Black, one of the architects of the original trial at Camp Zeist, said: "If this happens it will leave a stain on the Scottish criminal justice system because lots of people now believe there is something wrong with the conviction if he decides he wants to go home and is allowed no other options.

"But is that really the path a civilised legal system should be taking? Compelling him to go down that path would leave serious questions about the criminal justice system unanswered."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Obama's healthcare messages are backfiring, strategists say (Peter Nicholas, August 22, 2009, LA Times)

The strategists, many of whom saw healthcare reform fail in the Clinton administration, contend that President Obama has advanced too many rationales for his plan, leaving people confused.

For example, Obama has argued that a new healthcare system is necessary to spur an economic recovery. He also has offered up healthcare as an antidote to rising deficits. Earlier this week in a conference call with religious leaders, Obama laid out a "moral" imperative for revamping the nation's healthcare system.

At other points, Obama has portrayed "meddling" insurers as a reason for scrapping the existing system.

His vacation this week is a good test for the White House, which ought to keep him from speaking to the press for a week. They find less is more.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


Voices of Anxiety (BOB HERBERT, 8/22/09, NY Times)

Mr. Obama, who has a command of the English language like few others, has been remarkably opaque about his intentions regarding health care. He left it up to Congress to draft a plan and he has not gotten behind any specific legislation. He has seemed to waffle on the public option and has not been at all clear about how the reform that is coming will rein in runaway costs. At times it has seemed as though any old “reform” would be all right with him.

It’s still early, but people are starting to lose faith in the president. I hear almost daily from men and women who voted enthusiastically for Mr. Obama but are feeling disappointed. They feel that the banks made out like bandits in the bailouts, and that the health care initiative could become a boondoggle. Their biggest worry is that Mr. Obama is soft, that he is unwilling or incapable of fighting hard enough to counter the forces responsible for the sorry state the country is in.

More and more the president is being seen by his own supporters as someone who would like to please everybody, who is naïve about the prospects for bipartisanship, who believes that his strongest supporters will stay with him because they have nowhere else to go, and who will retreat whenever the Republicans and the corporate crowd come after him.

People want more from Mr. Obama. They want him to be their champion. But they don’t feel that he is speaking to them in a language that they understand.

Mr. Obama is pretty much the poster child for the "soft bigotry of low expectations," when it comes to communicating. Thus can his unique command of the language leave everyone confused. Eschewing ebonics isn't exactly the same as eloquence and coherence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:47 AM


Masters and Slaves of Deception (CHARLES M. BLOW, 9/22/09, NY Times)

The president should have treated health care reform the same way he treated the stimulus package — by personally helping to shape it and push it through from the start.

On Feb. 11, a Gallup poll found that 59 percent of Americans over all supported the economic stimulus package, but only 28 percent of Republicans supported it. This is not so different from the way Americans feel about health care. According to a CNN/Opinion Research poll released this month, 50 percent of Americans said that they favored “Barack Obama’s plan to reform health care,” compared with just 19 percent of Republicans.

The Democrats forged ahead with the stimulus package. The House passed it without a single Republican vote, and the Senate passed it with the help of three moderate Republicans.

Presidents get lots of bad advice, but recommending that he repeat the unpopular stimulus debacle is particularly looney.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:37 AM


Somalia and the Two Faces of Islamism (Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, 8/21/09, Hudson Institute)

Somalia is now an open battleground between two main strains of Islamism: that of the more "moderate" and pragmatic Muslim Brotherhood, and that of the more rigid and violent al-Qaeda.

The situation in Somalia is a prism through which can be seen the differences that exist worldwide between Muslim Brotherhood inspired Islamists and al-Qaeda Islamists. The former, represented by Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, show a flexibility and ability to adapt their ideology to certain times and places. The latter, al-Shabaab, are al-Qaeda jihadists who are completely inflexible and uncompromising in their aims to take control of Somalia and the surrounding region, and will not be placated by a long term programme of Islamisation and sharia.

...when W let Ethiopia drive out the prior Courts government, even though it was inevitably temporary.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:35 AM


Sugar Land: Obama's slow roll on free trade. (WSJ, 8/22/09)

Mark it as an early retreat by the Obama Administration to a small group of domestic producers who wield an outsized political influence in the fight against trade liberalization. In states from Florida to Minnesota, sugar producers have their profits guaranteed by a price floor created by the import restrictions. Anyone who doubts their influence in Washington need only review the battle over the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which the sugar growers nearly throttled over the prospect of a 1% increase in annual import quotas.

Each year, the amount of foreign sugar that manufacturers may use is limited to protect U.S. sugar farmers who benefit from artificially higher prices on the domestic market. According to the letter to Secretary Vilsack, signed by companies like Kraft, Hershey and Mars, without some easing "consumers will pay higher prices [and] food manufacturing jobs will be at risk." But scarcity is only half the issue. The other half is a protectionist program that distorts trade and has negative economic consequences.

The costs have been a sticky issue for years. According to a 2006 study by the U.S. International Trade Administration, each sugar job saved by propping up domestic producers costs three jobs in manufacturing, with many companies relocating to countries such as Canada and Mexico where the price of sugar can be one-half to two-thirds the rate in the U.S. So instead of importing sugar, the U.S. brings in more sugary finished products, with imports rising to $18.7 billion in 2004 from $6.7 billion in 1990.

The Administration's reluctance to take on the sugar lobby comes in the context of what is beginning to look like a slow roll by the President on free-trade principles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:19 AM


Harry Redknapp's Spurs side peppered with pace and goal threat: Could Tottenham really challenge for the title this season after so many years of unfulfilled promise? (Alan Smith, 22 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Ahead of tomorrow's trip to West Ham, wins against Liverpool and Hull prove that Harry Redknapp has assembled a very exciting side, peppered with pace and goalscoring threat.

Jermain Defoe is absolutely flying, in the form of his life, and the support cast isn't bad either. Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko vie for places in an attack supplied by the clever nous of Luka Modric and the penetrating speed of Aaron Lennon.

In central midfield, Tom Huddlestone has done very well so far alongside the impressive Wilson Palacios while the back door has been bolstered by Sebastien Bassong. When Michael Dawson and Jonathan Woodgate return, Redknapp will be spoilt for choice.

Perhaps the biggest doubt surrounds the goalkeeper. Heurelho Gomes isn't just unpredictable, he tends to get injured on a regular basis, succumbing again at Hull after only 16 minutes. If Spurs are to prosper, Carlo Cudicini might have to play a big part.

Gomes is a fine shot stopper but a nightmare doing anything else with the ball and the rumor that Harry Redknapp wants to replace him with the notoriously boner-prone David James can hardly inspire confidence in Spurs fans. They're definitely a team to follow though if you haven't picked one yet, especially since Villa and Everton look dire.

Altidore ready to unleash anger on top flight rivals (Sport Hull, August 22, 2009)

The 19-year-old striker, who signed on a season-long loan from Villareal 16 days ago, has seen his top flight debut held up by a string of set-backs.

Despite being granted a work permit early last week, he was forced to spend a week in America awaiting international clearance.

But having arrived back in England on Thursday night and trained with his City team-mates yesterday, Altidore was set to make his Tigers bow against Bolton today.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Theory and Morality in the New Economy (DAVID LEONHARDT, 8/22/09, NY Times)

Beyond the immediate crisis, today’s overarching economic challenge is figuring out how the country can reap the benefits of Smith’s market-based system without experiencing the worst of its downsides. In the decades after World War II, the Keynesians who descended on Washington thought they had solved this problem. With the right mix of spending, regulation and interest rates, they believed, the business cycle could be tamed and unemployment largely eliminated. “This was hubris,” Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate and liberal Times Op-Ed columnist, writes in “The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008.” Technocrats overestimated how many jobs they could create without aggravating inflation, and aggravate inflation they did.

Their failures, combined with the greater failure of socialist economies, set the stage for the ascendancy of laissez-faire economics. Much of Asia moved to a market-based system and experienced stunning improvements in living conditions. As Krugman writes, “capitalism could with considerable justification claim the credit.” These successes, however, created their own excesses. The principles of laissez-faire capitalism were elevated to the status of religious scripture, with Alan Greenspan as high priest. In “The Cost of Capitalism,” Robert J. Barbera, a longtime Wall Street economist, notes that Greenspan and others confused the fact that market capitalism was thebest economic system with the misguided notion that it was the perfect system.

Barbera calls instead for “an enlightened synthesis.” Such a synthesis — one that takes Smith at his word rather than his caricature — is at the core of almost every serious vision of a postcrisis American economy. For Barbera, it means the Federal Reserve should recognize that bubbles are the norm and that preventing them is its job. For the conservative appellate judge and law professor Richard A. Posner, it means seeing the crisis as “A Failure of Capitalism,” as he titled his latest book. Among other things, Posner suggests a modern-day version of Smith’s tax on luxury carriages: “increasing the marginal income tax rate of persons who have very high incomes, in order to reduce their appetite for risk-taking.” And in “Animal Spirits,” George A. Akerlof (another Nobel laureate) and Robert J. Shiller (who issued early warnings about the dot-com and housing bubbles) say the synthesis must take into account the many ways in which people are not the coldly rational, utility-maximizing beings that laissez-faire economic models imagine.

Smith, as it happens, would have been quite comfortable with this notion. At the University of Glasgow he held the chair of moral philosophy, and his second most famous book was titled “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.” In “The Wealth of Nations,” he wrote of the ways that pride, envy, respect and other emotions influenced decisions. its faith that the free man is moral.

-REVIEW: A Smith for All Seasons: Adam Smith in His Time and Ours: Designing the Decent Society. By Jerry Z. Muller (Michael Novak, First Things)
-ESSAY: Is the Market Moral? (Jerry Z. Muller, Project Syndicate)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Illegal Health Reform (David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey, August 22, 2009, NY Times)

The Constitution assigns only limited, enumerated powers to Congress and none, including the power to regulate interstate commerce or to impose taxes, would support a federal mandate requiring anyone who is otherwise without health insurance to buy it.

Although the Supreme Court has interpreted Congress's commerce power expansively, this type of mandate would not pass muster even under the most aggressive commerce clause cases. In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the court upheld a federal law regulating the national wheat markets. The law was drawn so broadly that wheat grown for consumption on individual farms also was regulated. Even though this rule reached purely local (rather than interstate) activity, the court reasoned that the consumption of homegrown wheat by individual farms would, in the aggregate, have a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce, and so was within Congress's reach.

The court reaffirmed this rationale in 2005 in Gonzales v. Raich, when it validated Congress's authority to regulate the home cultivation of marijuana for personal use. In doing so, however, the justices emphasized that -- as in the wheat case -- "the activities regulated by the [Controlled Substances Act] are quintessentially economic." That simply would not be true with regard to an individual health insurance mandate.

The otherwise uninsured would be required to buy coverage, not because they were even tangentially engaged in the "production, distribution or consumption of commodities," but for no other reason than that people without health insurance exist. The federal government does not have the power to regulate Americans simply because they are there. Significantly, in two key cases, United States v. Lopez (1995) and United States v. Morrison (2000), the Supreme Court specifically rejected the proposition that the commerce clause allowed Congress to regulate noneconomic activities merely because, through a chain of causal effects, they might have an economic impact. These decisions reflect judicial recognition that the commerce clause is not infinitely elastic and that, by enumerating its powers, the framers denied Congress the type of general police power that is freely exercised by the states.

...just wait until the 5-4 ruling striking down insurance mandates...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Lebanese man is target of first rendition under Obama : Contractor Raymond Azar is arrested in Afghanistan, hooded, stripped and flown to the U.S. His alleged crime? Bribery. A human rights activist calls the case 'bizarre.' ( Bob Drogin, August 22, 2009, LA Times)

A Lebanese citizen being held in a detention center here was hooded, stripped naked for photographs and bundled onto an executive jet by FBI agents in Afghanistan in April, making him the first known target of a rendition during the Obama administration.

Unlike terrorism suspects who were secretly snatched by the CIA and harshly interrogated and imprisoned overseas during the George W. Bush administration, Raymond Azar was flown to this Washington suburb for a case involving inflated invoices.

August 21, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:06 PM


Obama And The Swedish Welfare State (Richard Rahn, 2009-08-20, Brussels Journal)

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Sweden began an economic course correction that continues today. Marginal tax rates were reduced for most of the population. The wealth tax and inheritance tax were abolished. Financial markets, telecommunications, electricity, road transport, taxis and other activities were deregulated. Privatization of industry was begun, and the current government is continuing the process.

The generosity of some welfare and other benefits has been reduced, with the goal of making work more economically rewarding relative to government benefits. Also, trade liberalization has been expanded greatly. The result has been a pickup in economic growth, and Sweden is no longer falling further behind other developed countries.

One notable success has been pension reform. Sweden was the first nation to implement a mandatory government retirement system for all its citizens. Sweden, like the United States and most other countries, was then faced with an increasing, unfunded social security liability as a result of low birthrates and people living much longer.

After studying the problem in the early 1990s, the Swedes approved in 1998 moving toward a Chilean private pension system, first developed by former Chilean Labor Minister Jose Piñera. (Seventeen countries have adopted variations of the Piñerian system, which has been very successful in Chile.)

The new Swedish pension system has four key features, including partial privatization, individual accounts, a safety net to protect the poor and a transition to protect retirees and older workers. The benefits have been substantial budgetary savings, higher retirement income and faster economic growth.

Those who wish to chase the Swedish model need first to decide which model they seek: The high-growth, pre-1960 model; the low-growth model of the 1970s and 1980s; or the reformist, welfare-state model of recent years.

The irony is that the current Democrat Congress and administration are rapidly emulating the parts of the Swedish model that proved disastrous and rejecting those parts that are proving to be successful.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


Liberals: Take the Gloves Off (Amitai Etzioni, August 18, 2009, Huffington Post)

The time has come for liberals to take off their gloves. A good place to start is to conduct hearings (Henry Waxman, where are you when we need you?) and town hall meetings fully dedicated to the ill doings of the private, profit-making sector.

The Democratic Party vs the private sector? Well, it'd provide clarity but no one would be well served by a landslide as big as that would hand the GOP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:23 PM


Charlie Cook: Dem situation has 'slipped completely out of control' (Charles Mahtesian, 8/21/09, Politico)

"These data confirm anecdotal evidence, and our own view, that the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Today, The Cook Political Report’s Congressional election model, based on individual races, is pointing toward a net Democratic loss of between six and 12 seats, but our sense, factoring in macro-political dynamics is that this is far too low," he wrote.

"Many veteran Congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats."

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:16 PM


What made Budd Schulberg run (Mark Steyn, 8/21/09, Macleans)

A few years back, I was at Paramount taking part in some panel discussion, and at one point the subject of “artistic persecution” arose. “When,” I scoffed, “was the last time anyone in Hollywood was persecuted?” “The 1950s,” snapped the otherwise delightful Lynda Obst, the producer of Sleepless In Seattle, who was sitting next to me. I forbore to suggest to Lynda that the Hollywood blacklist was not what most societies would recognize as “persecution”—or, indeed, that the guys doing the persecuting were not the government but the studio suits at Warner Brothers, Universal, et al. No matter. Execs can be forgiven: it’s strictly business, right? For the Sean Penn/George Clooney generation, what Schulberg and his director Elia Kazan did was an affront to their sense of their own artistic heroism. As the Boston Globe’s Thomas Oliphant wrote, Kazan was “a pathetically prototypical rat-fink of the anti-Communist hysteria.”

In an ideal world—or if you were making the umpteenth movie on the subject—it would be helpful if the blacklist’s “victims” had been a little more accomplished. By contrast, Schulberg, as a writer, and Kazan, as a director, are too talented to be written off as mere snitches and toadies to state power. For one thing, their experience as “rat-finks” produced a true cinematic masterpiece, and a better film than any on their detractors’ CVs, post- or pre-blacklist. Schulberg’s script for On The Waterfront (1954) reads like transcripts from the Congressional hearings: “I just want to ask you some questions about some people you may know”; “Stooling is when you rat on your friends,” etc. Yet it’s not about Communist penetration of the movie business, but organized-crime penetration of the longshoremen’s union.

Schulberg and Kazan had hit upon the perfect analogy—for, until Hollywood leftists began demanding that personal loyalty trumps all other considerations, the notion that “ratting” was the ultimate sin was confined mostly to the mob. In Schulberg’s screenplay, the union men are “D & D”—deaf and dumb to the evils committed in the name of a bogus working-class solidarity. You couldn’t find a better parallel to all those “well-intentioned liberals” in the arts who stayed true to the theoretical ideals of Communism no matter how large the mountain of corpses grew. To elevate personal friendship above all is an absurdity, nicely caught in an exchange between Marlon Brando’s washed-up prizefighter Terry Malloy and Karl Malden’s outraged Catholic priest:

“Johnny Friendly used to take me to ball games when I was a kid.”

“Ball games?” says Malden, contemptuously. “Don’t make me cry.” It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for baseball seats?

They were pretty good seats, too. As a 20-year-old Dartmouth student, Schulberg visited the Soviet Union and was shown its artistic glories. He fell in love with the theatre of Vsevolod Meyerhold, Stanislavski’s wayward disciple. Meyerhold loved the older stylized dramatic forms—commedia dell’arte, pantomime—and refused to confine himself to Socialist Realism. So in 1939 Stalin had him arrested, tortured and his wife murdered. He was shot by firing squad in February 1940.

How about that? Executed over a difference of opinion about a directing style. As “persecution” goes, isn’t that a little more thorough than, say, being denied a writing credit on Hellcats of the Navy, as happened to Bernard Gordon? More to the point, if it’s all about “personal loyalty,” then what about the loyalty owed to Meyerhold by all those young American artistic lefties he befriended and inspired? Or is the “personal loyalty” owed not to persons but to the noble cause, in service of which any individual is dispensable? Even today, we continue to draw a distinction between Nazism and Communism—between the bad evil and the good evil, the evil that’s philosophically sound, admirably progressive and just ran into one or two problems on the ground, like a great movie idea that went off course in development.

In 1937, Schulberg wrote a short story about an ambitious kid on the make in Hollywood, and then decided to expand it into a novel. Demonstrating the same hands-on approach as Comrade Stalin with Meyerhold, the Communist Party told him to ease up on the Jewishness of the central character, and portray the striking screenwriters more appealingly. Happily, the American Commies lacked the enforcement regime of Uncle Joe. So Schulberg refused, and published What Makes Sammy Run? as written. In essence, he broke with the Reds for artistic reasons.

But he learned a broader lesson in the way they operate.

Terry: If I spill, my life ain't worth a nickel.

Father Barry: And how much is your soul worth if you don't?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


Stuart Broad's brilliant spell puts England on top (Evening Standard, 21.08.09)

Stuart Broad markedly enhanced England's chances of winning the npower Ashes decider with a devastating afternoon spell at The Oval.

All-rounder Broad took his second five-wicket haul in as many Test innings, including a spell of four wickets for eight runs in 21 deliveries, to plunge Australia from 73 without loss to 133 for eight at tea on the second day.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:34 AM


They keep running an ad for Kelloggs' Frosted Flakes Reduced Sugar cereal on the radio here. Didn't we used to just call those Corn Flakes?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:26 AM


49% Say Workers Should Be Able To Opt Out of Social Security (Rasmussen, 8/21/09)

Forty-nine percent (49%) of U.S. voters say working Americans should be allowed to opt out of Social Security and provide for their own retirement planning.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 37% disagree and do not believe Americans should be able to opt out of Social Security. Fifteen percent (15%) are not sure.

A majority of voters under 50 say workers should be allowed to opt out.

George W. Bus ran against a popular Vice President at a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity and then was the first war president since FDR to be re-elected with personal SS accounts as one of the central planks of his Ownership Society. Even the Stupid Party has to be able to figure out the message there. Combine them with universal HSAs, O'Neill accounts and personal unemployment insurance and you make the GOP the party that's identified with a generous and durable social safety net.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:43 AM


Zogby Interactive Poll: Obama's Job Approval Sinks to Record Low 45% (Zogby, 8/21/09)

President Barack Obama's job approval rating has sunk to a record low of just 45%, the latest Zogby Interactive poll shows. Fifty-one percent of likely voters now say they disapprove of the President's job performance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:35 AM


Lonely Planet: Despite our inter-connectedness, we're now more alone than ever. (Johannah Cornblatt, Aug 21, 2009, Newsweek)

Social isolation in all adults has been linked to a raft of physical and mental ailments, including sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of depression and suicide. How lonely you feel today actually predicts how well you'll sleep tonight and how depressed you'll feel a year from now, says John T. Cacioppo, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago and coauthor of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection (W.W. Norton, 2008). Studies have shown that loneliness can cause stress levels to rise and can weaken the immune system. Lonely people also tend to have less healthy lifestyles, drinking more alcohol, eating more fattening food, and exercising less than those who are not lonely.

Though more Americans than ever are living alone (25 percent of U.S. households, up from 7 percent in 1940), the connection between single-living and loneliness is in fact quite weak. "Some of the most profound loneliness can happen when other people are present," says Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester. Take college freshmen: Even though they're surrounded by people almost all the time, many feel incredibly isolated during the first quarter of the school year with their friends and family members far away, Cacioppo says. Studies have shown that how lonely freshmen will feel can be predicted by how many miles they are from home. By the second quarter, however, most freshmen have found social replacements for their high school friends. Unfortunately, as we age, it becomes more difficult to recreate those social relationships. And that can be a big problem as American becomes a more transient society, with increasing number of Americans who say that they're willing to move away from home for a job.

Loneliness can be relative: it has been defined as an aversive emotional response to a perceived discrepancy between a person's desired levels of social interaction and the contact they're actually receiving. People tend to measure themselves against others, feeling particularly alone in communities where social connection is the norm. That's why collectivist cultures, like those in Southern Europe, have higher levels of loneliness than individualist cultures, Cacioppo says. For the same reason, isolated individuals feel most acutely alone on holidays like Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving, when most people are surrounded by family and friends.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:16 AM


Combine Jason Varitek's defense with the fact he's got .150 points lower OPS against righthanders and you can see why the Sox just got hot when he sat down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:03 AM


Obama’s Trust Problem (PAUL KRUGMAN, 8/21/09, NY Times)

On the issue of health care itself, the inspiring figure progressives thought they had elected comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who talks of “bending the curve” but has only recently begun to make the moral case for reform. Mr. Obama’s explanations of his plan have gotten clearer, but he still seems unable to settle on a simple, pithy formula; his speeches and op-eds still read as if they were written by a committee.

Meanwhile, on such fraught questions as torture and indefinite detention, the president has dismayed progressives with his reluctance to challenge or change Bush administration policy.

And then there’s the matter of the banks.

I don’t know if administration officials realize just how much damage they’ve done themselves with their kid-gloves treatment of the financial industry, just how badly the spectacle of government supported institutions paying giant bonuses is playing. But I’ve had many conversations with people who voted for Mr. Obama, yet dismiss the stimulus as a total waste of money. When I press them, it turns out that they’re really angry about the bailouts rather than the stimulus — but that’s a distinction lost on most voters.

So there’s a growing sense among progressives that they have, as my colleague Frank Rich suggests, been punked.

...why were they as easily fooled by the Organization Man as the Right was? After all, the unwashed mass of voters recognized that he wouldn't do anything to rock the boat. He onlky gets himself in real trouble politically when he threatens to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Just 12 percent of Israelis see Obama as more supportive (JTA, 8/21/09)

In a survey, 12 percent of Israelis said President Obama supports Israel more than he does the Palestinians.

In the poll conducted this month, 40 percent of respondents said he was more supportive of the Palestinians and 38 percent said he was even handed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:05 AM


Western Democrats brace for 2010 election pitfalls (Valerie Richardson, 8/21/09, Washington Times)

President Obama's approval rating is slipping. Republicans are preparing red-meat ballot initiatives to get out conservative voters. Democrats have a negative "tax-and-spend" image.

That's not a Republican summary of Democratic vulnerabilities or the outcome of GOP opposition research into how to gain seats in the midterm elections. Rather, it's a list of the potential pitfalls that Democratic bigwigs saw for themselves at a brainstorming session here last week. [...]

[S]trategists see a number of pitfalls for the party as it heads into the 2010 election, including a likely array of conservative-themed ballot initiatives, a loss of momentum among the "surge" of voters who backed Mr. Obama in 2008, the shifting Hispanic vote and the party's struggles on issues involving taxes and national security.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


AARP Takes Heat Over Health Stand (NAFTALI BENDAVID and GARY FIELDS, 8/21/09, WSJ)

AARP thinks U.S. health care needs a sweeping overhaul. Problem is, a lot of its members don't agree. [...]

Mr. Obama cites AARP's backing as an irrefutable seal of approval, saying the group is "on board because they know this is a good deal for our seniors." But in a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 46% of people over 65 were against the Obama health plan, with 28% favoring it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:40 AM


Clint Dempsey ready to torment Chelsea with forward role (David Smith, 21.08.09, Evening Standard)

The two-goal hero of Fulham's dramatic 2-2 draw against Chelsea last December, Clint Dempsey, is ready to inflict new misery on the Blues by making himself available to replace long-term injury victim Andy Johnson in the Cottagers' attack when the sides clash on Sunday.

Last December midfielder Dempsey scored twice, including a dramatic 89th-minute equaliser, as Fulham held Chelsea at Craven Cottage.

Ahead of this season's repeat fixture, Dempsey demonstrated he is still deadly in front of goal when he netted a stunner from long range as Fulham beat Russian club Amkar Perm 3-1 in the first leg of a final Europa League play-off last night.

The side the US Team should really go to school on though is Liverpool, and how they can achieve width by letting their right and left fullbacks (Glen Johnson and Emiliano Insua) play forward.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 AM


A floundering campaign on health care (Michael Kranish, August 21, 2009, Boston Globe)

President Obama’s campaign for the White House was widely hailed for its ability to stick to a script. But as prospects for the passage of health care reform become murkier, and a backlash among liberal Democrats becomes louder, even some of Obama’s strongest supporters are suggesting that his discipline has slipped.

In recent weeks, Obama has delivered mixed messages that have bogged down the debate and sapped momentum from his top domestic priority.

He distracted attention during his own prime-time press conference last month on health care when he stated that Cambridge police acted “stupidly’’ when they arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr., which dominated the news for a week. He took several days to directly rebut charges that the health plan included “death panels’’ that would determine end-of-life care. This week, he and his top aides appeared to waver on the importance of creating a government-run plan to compete with private insurers.

...the UR and the Democrats have been on message, it's just that the message is itself so contradictory and unpopular, at least in significant parts, that to enunciate it clearly is to drive away support. Forget all of the particulars and consider only the generalities of what is being promised:

(1) A massive expansion in the number of people covered by some form of health insurance. Some taxpayers have to pay for that.

(2) Establishing some government control over what is being spent now. Someone is going to be denied care that they currently would receive.

(3) Womb-to-grave coverage. Which means the government will be more involved in and spending money on the most controversial procedures in our society: abortion and euthanasia.

And all of this proceeds from the Left's fundamental belief that the State is insufficiently involved in the provision of health care to the citizenry, although a vanishingly small percentage of Americans believe that government involvement will render either medical or economic efficiencies to the system.

All of the discipline in thew world can not save the President from killing the momentum for his proposed policies ever time he speaks of them. If anything, the big mistake the White House has made is letting him speak at all.

A Basis Is Seen for Some Health Plan Fears Among the Elderly (ROBERT PEAR, 8/21/09, NY Times)

President Obama has sold health care legislation to Congress and the country as a way to slow the growth of federal health spending, no less than as a way to regulate the insurance market and cover the uninsured.

Mr. Obama has also said Medicare and private insurers could improve care and save money by following advice from a new federal panel of medical experts on “what treatments work best.”

The zeal for cutting health costs, combined with proposals to compare the effectiveness of various treatments and to counsel seniors on end-of-life care, may explain why some people think the legislation is about rationing, which could affect access to the most expensive services in the final months of life.

You mean opposition can be rational, not just evil or stupid?

When Planners Decide Life (Michael Gerson, August 21, 2009, Washington Post)

It is increasingly clear, however, that Democratic health reforms would disrupt this rough equilibrium.

Take abortion. The House approach to the coverage of the procedure in federally subsidized insurance plans is presented as a compromise: Abortions would be funded out of the premiums that come from individuals, not money from taxpayers. But this is a cover, if not a con. By the nature of health insurance, premiums are not devoted to specific procedures; they support insurance plans. It matters nothing in practice if a premium dollar comes from government or the individual -- both enable the same coverage. If the federal government directly funds an insurance plan that includes elective abortion, it cannot claim it is not paying for elective abortions.

In fact, any national approach to this issue is likely to challenge the current social consensus on abortion. The House bill would result in federal funding for abortion on an unprecedented scale. But forbidding federal funds to private insurers that currently cover elective abortions (as some insurers do) would amount, as pro-choice advocates note, to a restriction on the availability of abortion. Either way, government will send a powerful, controversial social signal.

The same is likely to be true of end-of-life issues. Talk of "death panels" is the parody of the debate -- hyperbolic and self-defeating. But a discussion about the prospect of rationing in a public health system is not only permissible but unavoidable. Every nation that has promised comprehensive, low-cost health coverage for all citizens has faced a similar dilemma. Eventually it is not enough to increase public spending or to reduce waste. More direct forms of cost control become an overwhelming priority. And because health expenditures are weighted toward the end of life, the rationing of health care often concerns older people most directly.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:13 AM


The Führer's Obsession with Art: 'Hitler Considered Himself an Artistic Genius' (Der Spiegel, 8/21/09)

Art historian Birgit Schwarz talks to SPIEGEL about why Adolf Hitler saw himself as a genius and how his obsession with art affected his political views.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Schwarz, countless books and academic papers have been written worldwide about Hitler, the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Now you are claiming that it's time to correct our image of Hitler. In what sense?

Birgit Schwarz: In my opinion, people have underestimated the notion that Hitler considered himself an artist, in fact, an artistic genius, and that much can be deduced from this self-image, this overheated artist's ego. However, this has hardly played a role in the research to date. That's the starting point, from my perspective, because it can help us gain a better understanding of Hitler as a person, as well as his system of power. Hitler's deluded view of himself as a genius is based on the confused system of thought emerging in the late 19th century, which centered on the idea that a genius -- a strong personality who outshone everything else -- could do anything and could do anything he pleased.

Of course, if Modernism is valid, then we have no basis from which to deny that Hitler was an artistic genius.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Most Americans expect higher taxes: Nearly 70% of all Americans surveyed by Gallup say they expect higher taxes by the end of Obama's term. That could explain the difficulty selling a healthcare overhaul. (Mark Silva, August 21, 2009, LA Times)

Despite President Obama's promise that only taxpayers earning more than $250,000 a year will pay higher taxes to support the healthcare initiative that he is proposing, the vast majority of Americans surveyed believe that they will pay higher income taxes by the final year of Obama's term in 2012.

The apparently pervasive fear of higher taxes – with 68 percent of all Americans surveyed by the Gallup Poll saying they expect higher taxes by the end of Obama's term – could help explain widespread uncertainty about the president's plans for overhauling the delivery of health care and insurance. [...]

"Most Americans remain skeptical that the administration can pay for healthcare reform and its other programs without raising their taxes,'' Gallup's Jeffrey Jones reports today.

So when Democrats say they'll just pass the most expensive provisions of the health care bill on a party line vote, Americans will see them as going solo on a huge tax hike. Our last two tax increases cost George HW Bush and then the Democratic Congress their jobs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Joy as Proms audience joins in Beethoven’s Ode to the Ukulele (Jack Malvern , 8/21/09, Times of London)

When Beethoven wrote his heaven-storming Ninth Symphony he cannot have imagined that the Ode to Joy would one day be played by an ensemble of 1,000 ukuleles. The attempt at the Albert Hall on Tuesday night was as sublime as it was ridiculous.

The band, which has been going for almost 25 years, hoped to attract about 200 players. In the event, the gathering surpassed the world record for largest ukulele ensemble, set at the London Ukulele Festival on June 20, but will not enter the record books because the actual number of players could not be verified. So full was the sold-out hall that room could not be found for the people who would count the number of players. [...]

The resulting performance was surprisingly quiet. The ukulele, invented a century after Beethoven’s death, is such a gentle instrument that even a 1,000 players failed to drown out the amplified instruments on the stage.

It's posted at The Box and I have 14 invites to give away...

August 20, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Neville Chamberlain should be praised, not buried: Faced with an impossible situation, Neville Chamberlain performed better than anyone else would have done (David Dutton, 20 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Of course, Chamberlain made mistakes in the 1930s. He overestimated his ability to reach a settlement with the dictators; he probably clung too long to the hope of averting war. But it is doubtful if anyone else would have done much better, Churchill included.

Chamberlain was no fool. But no individual could change the basic facts of the international scene, which made fighting Germany almost unthinkable for most of the decade. Like all his generation, Chamberlain had been deeply scarred by the memory of the First World War. Expert opinion predicted that any future war would be even worse: to the slaughter of the battlefield would be added unspeakable destruction from the air. Extrapolating from the Spanish Civil War, it was estimated that the first few weeks of a German air assault would bring half a million casualties: Britain was defenceless in the face of the bomber.

Of course, the calculations were way off the mark. But Chamberlain was doing what many of his critics complain he was reluctant to do – following expert advice.

Let us grant that fighting the Nazis was impossible for a British PM at that point. If we're being pure Realists shouldn't the point of British policy have been to get the Germans to attack the Soviets?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:21 PM


Major Insights Into Evolution of Life Reported (Stuart Wolpert, 8/20/09, US News)

Humans might not be walking the face of the Earth were it not for the ancient fusing of two prokaryotes—tiny life forms that do not have a cellular nucleus. UCLA molecular biologist James A. Lake reports important new insights about prokaryotes and the evolution of life in the Aug. 20 advance online edition of the journal Nature.

Endosymbiosis refers to a cell living within another cell. If the cells live together long enough, they will exchange genes; they merge but often keep their own cell membranes and sometimes their own genomes.

Lake has discovered the first exclusively prokaryote endosymbiosis. All other known endosymbioses have involved a eukaryote—a cell that contains a nucleus. [...]

"Along came these organisms—the double-membrane prokaryotes—that could use sunlight," Lake said.

Yes, we've actuallky reached such a point of Darwinian desperation that a theory that resorts to an "along came" moment is considered a great advance.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:23 PM


Bob Novak, Truth Seeker: Novak ended up supporting Reagan because he was open to changing his mind. (JEFFREY BELL, 8/20/09, WSJ)

I first met Bob Novak in Sacramento in 1974, and I'm not embarrassed to say I was more than a little afraid of him. I was 30 years old and had just started a job as a political researcher for Ronald Reagan, who was finishing up his term as governor of California and considering a run for the presidency in 1976. Robert Walker, a more senior member of Reagan's political team, had invited me to lunch, and I was thrilled to learn that Bob, of whom I'd long been in awe, would join us.

I'd read every word of every Evans and Novak column, and regarded Bob as the most dangerous journalistic critic of the conservative movement. He was dangerous not because he was unfair, but because he knew so much about us. Most members of the elite media didn't know anything about conservatives and didn't want to know. So I told myself I'd have to watch my words unless I wanted to get my new boss, and myself, in some trouble.

I did watch my words, but I couldn't help but listen to his. He seemed to know everyone in politics and everything they were up to. He was free with his opinions and observations, often accompanied by a revealing anecdote. I'm sure I asked him more questions than he asked me. He never once took out a notebook. In spite of my resolutions, I found myself relaxing and trying to engage. I was on the road to becoming a source.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:21 PM


The Death Book for Veterans (JIM TOWEY, 8/20/09, WSJ)

If President Obama wants to better understand why America's discomfort with end-of-life discussions threatens to derail his health-care reform, he might begin with his own Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He will quickly discover how government bureaucrats are greasing the slippery slope that can start with cost containment but quickly become a systematic denial of care.

Last year, bureaucrats at the VA's National Center for Ethics in Health Care advocated a 52-page end-of-life planning document, "Your Life, Your Choices." It was first published in 1997 and later promoted as the VA's preferred living will throughout its vast network of hospitals and nursing homes. After the Bush White House took a look at how this document was treating complex health and moral issues, the VA suspended its use. Unfortunately, under President Obama, the VA has now resuscitated "Your Life, Your Choices."

Who is the primary author of this workbook? Dr. Robert Pearlman, chief of ethics evaluation for the center, a man who in 1996 advocated for physician-assisted suicide in Vacco v. Quill before the U.S. Supreme Court and is known for his support of health-care rationing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 PM


30 Classic Games for Simple Outdoor Play (Jenny Williams, August 20, 2009, Wired)

Kick the Can: This game is a variation of tag and hide & seek. One person or a team of people are designated as “it” and a can is placed in the middle of the playing area. The other people run off and hide while the “it” covers his or her eyes and counts to a certain number. “It” then tries to find everyone. If a person is tagged by “it”, they go into a holding pen for captured players. If one of the un-captured players manages to kick the can, the captured players are released. The game is over once all the non-”it” players are in the holding pen.

Number of Players: Ideally at least three.

Equipment: A metal can.

...but they don't mention two of the Brothers' favorites:

Stick and tree: Players throw a stick into a tree, trying to get it hung up in the branches. Last branch to fall out of the tree wins.

Number of players: At least two.

Equipment: A tree (we used a catalpa in our backyard)


A-S-S: This game is a variation on H-O-R-S-E and Shawshanking. Players alternate bouncing a ball on a door stoop and whenever the ball bounces twice without being rebounced the player who missed gets a letter. When a player has an A, an S, and another S, he spreads eagle across the stoop and the other player gets to whip the ball at him from three strides away.

Number of playersL two

Equipment: a stoop and a Spaldeen.

Nothing like growing up in the hood for stripping sports down to its most basic elements.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:52 AM


Reid’s Nevada Senate Race: Follow the Leader? (Emily Cadei, 8/20/09, CQ)

Is Harry Reid too big to fail? That is shaping up as the key point of contention in the Senate majority leader’s 2010 re-election contest back home in Nevada.

Reid and his supporters contend that the state cannot risk losing the legislative and political clout that come with the four-term incumbent’s powerful leadership position. Opponents argue back that Reid’s rise to the top of the Senate Democratic ranks has actually produced few tangible benefits for his home-state constituents.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:13 AM


Overdue Process (When it comes to terrorist suspects in detention, Obama is finding that Bush set a difficult precedent to break. (Adam Serwer, August 20, 2009, American Prospect)

At the core of the dispute over the detention of suspects like Jawad is whether or not there are, as President Barack Obama claims, "detainees at Guantánamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people." This is the so-called "fifth category" of detainees -- exactly how many there are, the government has yet to determine. (Assistant Attorney General David Kris told Congress in July that half of the Guantánamo detainees' cases had been reviewed, and none had yet been put into the "fifth category.") "There will be some, who we have picked up and who are in Guantánamo ? who for a variety of reasons can't be prosecuted," says former CIA counsel Jeff Smith. "We have convincing intelligence information, but it is not enough to prosecute them." [...]

In his inauguration speech, Obama declared, "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." And in his first weeks in office, he took some important first steps to that end. He outlawed the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" (the Bush administration's euphemism for torture), suspended military commissions, and ordered Guantánamo closed within a year. But when it came to detainees like Jawad, Obama found that Bush had set a precedent that was difficult to break. "It ultimately comes down to a question of risk aversion," says Matthew Waxman, who was the deputy secretary of defense for detainee affairs from 2004 to 2005. "How much risk is the government willing to take in releasing someone who is believed to pose a continuing danger?"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:09 AM


ObamaCare's Contradictions: The President does both sides now on his health insurance plan. (WSJ, 8/20/09)

So no bureaucrats, no bean-counters. Mr. Obama merely wants to create "a panel of experts, health experts, doctors, who can provide guidelines to doctors and patients about what procedures work best in what situations, and find ways to reduce, for example, the number of tests that people take" (New Hampshire, again). Oh, and your health-care plan? You can keep it, as long your insurance company or employer can meet all the new regulations Mr. Obama favors. His choice of verbs, in Montana, provides a clue about what that will mean: "will be prohibited," "will no longer be able," "we'll require" . . .

Maybe you're starting to fret about all those bureaucrats and bean-counters again. You shouldn't, according to Mr. Obama. "The only thing I would point is, is that Medicare is a government program that works really well for our seniors," he noted in Colorado. After all, as he said in New Hampshire, "If we're able to get something right like Medicare, then there should be a little more confidence that maybe the government can have a role—not the dominant role, but a role—in making sure the people are treated fairly when it comes to insurance."

The government didn't get Medicare right, though: Just ask the President. The entitlement is "going broke" (Colorado) and "unsustainable" and "running out of money" (New Hampshire). And it's "in deep trouble if we don't do something, because as you said, money doesn't grow on trees" (Montana).

Let us take the President at his word and accept that he would like to do three things: (1) make it so that everyone has some sort of set health care coverage; (2) reduce the costs of the overall health care system; and (3) make the system by which health care is provided more fair.

Now, here are the realities of the current health care system that need to shape how we think about achieving these ends. First, people are not denied health care services just because they don't have coverage. Instead, we tend to treat them, gratis, in emergency rooms and the like. We, somewhat perversely, provide extremely expensive forms of care to precisely those who can't pay for it. For the Left, this means recognizing that there is not some crisis of the untreated ill in America. For the Right, it means accepting that we aren't saving money or achieving efficiencies by not having some variant of universal coverage.

Second, health care is just another consumer good these days. The enormous amount we spend on it as a society is not a function of our actual health nor of the effectiveness or expense of treatments. The proportion of the health care sector of the economy that might be considered to consist of basic human necessities is rather small. The bulk is stuff we just want, regardless of whether we need it or not.

And yet, thanks to comprehensive insurance plans, our decisions about what and how much to consume have come untethered from normal market disciplines, like cost and quality. If your employer was paying for your groceries, do you think you'd spend the same amount or less per year on food, or would you spend much more? And this in a society where we already consume so many calories that obesity is, for the first time in human history, our biggest nutrition problem. Even without "free" food we're gluttonous--imagine how much worse we'd be if we weren't footing the bills? In a system that lacks any incentives not to spend money on "health" you are never going to get a handle on costs and expanding the number of undisciplined consumers can only drive costs higher.

Third, the idea of fairness when it comes to the realm of health care, is too amorphous to have much meaning. If a poor person who was shot in a mugging was left to die in the street because they didn't have insurance, we could all accept that there was something unfair in that. Or if the poor had no access to vaccines because they couldn't afford them. Or if any number of truly basic health care treatments were being denied to people. But the fact is they aren't.

So, if by fairness we mean that employer-provided comprehensive health insurance is better than other sorts of coverage or than the lack of coverage, then the only way to make things truly fair would be to give everyone such gold-plated plans, which even the Left doesn't propose to do. And, as a culture, we don't insist on such perfect parity as the measure of fairness. We tolerate, even embrace, wide disparities, so long as we perceive that everyone has similar opportunities to achieve the best.

So the fairness we try to effect via health reform should be something rather less than full equality of health care. Instead, we may wish to think of fairness as just the universal certainty that when you have (or your child has) a significant health problem, you can get it treated as a matter of routine public policy, rather than depending on a hospital not to turn you away. As a matter of human dignity, there is a world of difference between showing up to have an illness treated and being able to show a card or provide a number that obligates the provider to treat you and showing up empty-handed and dependent on their largesse.

Now, if we combine the President's wishes with our realities and what we know about economics, it seems apparent that there is one reform that makes an awful lot of sense. Indeed, Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, described it in the pages of the Journal, though he didn't go as far as President Obama could:

The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees' Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health-care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan's costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of worker satisfaction.

By making such a combination universal, we would guarantee that everyone has at least some basic coverage, would restore market mechanisms to the health care business, would even get some of the egalitarian sort of fairness, and, best of all--though not a central concern of the President and his allies--turn the policy of providing health care into a means for building up savings and wealth.

Are there downsides to such a reform for both sides of the political aisle? Sure. The Right would have to accept: that the modern social welfare net is going to include universal health coverage, some mandates on employers and individuals who can afford to provide these accounts for their employees or themselves, and penalties (at least tax code disfavor) on plans that are more comprehensive. The Left would be stuck with accepting that the best way to control costs is via First Way forces rather than Second Way controls and with the prospect of the poor being empowered and enriched by the plan's savings accounts. But perhaps the respective side's oxes would be gored equally enough that President Obama could deliver a truly bipartisan compromise, one that would reflect a genuine public consensus and have strong support. If nothing else, such a plan has the advantage on being internally coherent, with its moving parts working in tandem, rather than against each other. The Mackey pitch above is simple and sensible: illness is covered, incentives for savings are created, those so covered are satisfied, and the plan costs less than most alternatives. It's as close to the Goldilocks plan as we're ever going to get.

Hey, Big Spender: Controlling costs by spending more? (Alan Reynolds, 08.19.09, Forbes)

A recent New York Times editorial sermonized on the need to fight health care inflation. It declared that the Obama Administration "seems headed in the right direction to finally slow the rate of growth in health care spending." That is nonsense.

Health care spending equals the sum of public and private spending on health care. The Obama Administration hopes to spend an additional trillion dollars on subsidized health insurance over the next decade. The only way such added federal spending could possibly "slow the rate of growth in health care spending" would be for private spending to fall by $1 trillion.


Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:59 AM


Les Paul, 1915-2009: W.C. Fields on the legendary innovator: “The music you’re making sounds like an octopus. Like a guy with a million hands” (John Payne, August 19, 2009, LA Weekly)

Circa 1941, the carrot-topped Les was playing his first professional gigs as Rhubarb Red at a little roadhouse barbecue stand just outside Waukesha, on a custom PA system jerry-rigged from his mother’s radio, which he’d hooked up to a telephone mike. “I’m playing and singing and everything,” he said, “and some guy in the rumble seat of a car wrote a note to the carhop, and the note read, ‘Red, your voice and your harmonica are fine, but your guitar sounds lousy.’ He said the guitar wasn’t loud enough.”

Paul couldn’t stop thinking about that anonymous listener’s comment. It made him think about the ideal materials that ought to be employed to ensure a guitar’s maximum volume. He thought about the density and hardness of railroad track.

Paul’s idea was to combine that dense steel with wood: “Something,” he said, “where the strings would vibrate but not the object holding the strings — in other words, to add a piece of wood that would color the sound, and make it different than the string actually is.”

Thus he built two guitars, one of wood and one of steel railroad track.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:41 AM


Using solar heat to power air conditioning: Southern California Gas Co. is testing systems that use less gas and electricity and is inviting businesses to view the prototypes on the roof of its Downey research facility. (Nathan Olivarez-Giles, August 20, 2009, LA Times)

Engineers are testing two technologies that use mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto pipes with water running through them. The heated water powers a thermal process in a chiller that cools the cold water used in air conditioning units.

"When we tell people we heat water up only to cool it down, they don't get it at first," said David Berokoff, a technology development manager at SoCal Gas. "But all this technology has been around for a while. We're just trying to bring it together so we can get it out to our customers as soon as possible."

The initiative is the latest in a move by SoCal Gas and its parent, Sempra Energy, to wean businesses off gas and push them to use more solar power. For businesses, the technologies could mean substantial savings.

Beyond the potential environmental benefits -- the sun is a nonpolluting, renewable source of energy -- the solar systems undergoing tests could help businesses slash air conditioning costs as much as 60%, Berokoff said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


The Origin of Dogs: Fido's cousins may be Eurasian wolves, but new findings complicate the details of domestication (Katherine Harmon, 8/20/09, Scientific American)

From precious pomeranians to mangy mutts, all domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) seem to be descended from the Eurasian gray wolf (Canis lupis). But what we still don't know is exactly when and where our best friends transformed from predators into partners. are they being funny intentionally or accidentally. The notion that dogs "transformed" rather than "were transformed" can't be taken seriously.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


POLITICO Interview: Gov. Tim Pawlenty (ANDY BARR, 8/20/09, Politico)

POLITICO: What is your main objection to the Democrats’ health care plan?

PAWLENTY: First, if they are going to go forward with the public option, that’s a really bad idea. We have an economy and a country here that prizes the private sector approach and to have the government directly competing with the private sector interests is an unwise and misguided direction.

Second, I don’t like the fact that there would be a massive tax increase on small and medium-sized businesses across this country at a time when the economy can’t afford it. They’ll be penalized up to eight percent if you don’t provide health insurance to your employees. Many employers are saying that if they do provide insurance currently they’ll just dump it because they’d rather pay the eight percent rather than continue to pay the insurance for their employees. So you’d see this off loading of private insurance onto the government roll.

And then, if you’d indulge me with a third one, this thing is a massive spending disaster. The CBO is saying this could cost between a trillion and two trillion dollars, depending on which version they ultimately pass. They have no ability pay for it. Even their tax the wealthy scheme isn’t going to pay for part of it and then the rest they say they are going to wring out with a bunch of savings and efficiency. I think that’s a bunch of hooey. They’re not going to do that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Post-Partisan Promise Fizzles (JONATHAN WEISMAN, 8/20/09, WSJ)

Barack Obama campaigned last year on a pledge to end the angry partisanship in Washington. He wasn't the first to promise a post-partisan presidency: Both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton offered a similar change, only to see the mutual hostility between Republicans and Democrats increase while they were in the White House.

Now, just as his predecessors did, Mr. Obama is seeing that promise turn to ashes. Angry town-hall meetings, slumping presidential approval poll numbers and rising opposition to his signature health-care proposals suggest an early resumption of politics as usual.

The big difference is that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush hadn't even won a majority of the vote and came to office with enormous ill-will directed at them on their first day. President Obama has squandered enormous good will and the genuine hopes of many even in the Republican Party that he'd succeed, especially in draining some of the poison from within the Beltway.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


Novak Was Tough as Nails, Kind as They Come (Margaret Carlson, 8/19/09, Bloomberg)

Bob was a conservative who believed in low taxes, the gold standard and gridlock. He was an equal opportunity destroyer who would turn on the GOP in a heartbeat.

He got more thoughtful as time went on, wondering why we are put here and whether it is possible to do good while doing well, long after most of us have given up on such introspection. He started going to Mass, converting from secular Judaism to Catholicism in 1998, joking that he was doing his part to make the Capital Gang more Catholic (he made it four of five) while Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wondered at the party after his baptism if his conversion meant he would finally become a Christian.

That day in the airport, Bob overheard me tell the businessman who asked about him that he was actually an original character, as tough as nails but as kind and generous as a man could be.

He warned me never to say that again as it would ruin his reputation. Since he can’t scowl and I stopped being afraid of him a long time ago, I’ll say just one more time that no matter what the tapes tell you, he was a wonderful man I was blessed to know.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


If the NHS is ‘fair’, give me unfairness any day
(James Delingpole, 19th August 2009, Spectator)

Did I ever tell you about the time the National Health Service relieved me of my piles? It’s a painful story — and for many of you, no doubt, already far, far more information than you want. But I do think it goes a long way towards explaining our ongoing Eloi-like subservience to the great, slobbering, brutish NHS Morlock which we so rose-tintedly delude ourselves is still the ‘Envy of the World’.

Look, if you don’t want to read about piles (‘’roids’ if you’re American), I should skip on a few pars. The key thing to recognise is that from tiny beginnings, they mutate into an all-consuming misery. Enjoying a night in front of the TV? Yeah, but the piles! Having a relaxing bath? Yeah, but the piles! Fancy going riding? Eek! You can see why Napoleon — a fellow sufferer — felt compelled to conquer half the world. Anything to distract yourself from what’s going on down below.

So naturally when a surgeon relieves you of the buggers, you feel exceedingly grateful. I remember coming round after my op in my overstretched local hospital — King’s in south London — two or three years back, and thinking the thought that occurs to all British citizens at some time or another: ‘Gawd bless you NHS! You have saved my sorry arse!’

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:40 AM


House Dems Blitz Insurers With Demands for Data on Profits, Perks (John Reichard, 8/19/09, CQ)

Three key Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have launched a barrage of letters targeting dozens of insurers with requests for information on salaries, board compensation, entertainment expenses and profits in what industry sources describe as an attempt at intimidation. [...]

Insurers fired back at the salvo, saying Democrats are trying to beat back their attempts to prevent Congress from including a government-run insurance plan in insurance exchanges that would be created by health overhaul legislation.

“This is a politically motivated, taxpayer-financed fishing expedition designed to silence the health insurance industry and distract attention away from the fact that the American people are rejecting a government-run insurance plan,” said America’s Health Insurance Plans spokesman Robert Zirkelbach.

One health care lobbyist described the letters as an attempt by Democrats to warn the industry against broadening its current campaign favoring an overhaul but opposing a public plan. The attempt is to prevent behind-the-scenes efforts to torpedo a health overhaul generally, the lobbyist said, adding that the industry really doesn’t want an overhaul at all.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 AM


Life expectancy up close to 78 in U.S. (AP< 8/20/09)

The increase is due mainly to falling death rates in almost all the leading causes of death. The average life expectancy for babies born in 2007 is nearly three months greater than for children born in 2006. [...]

Life expectancy is the period a child born in 2007 is expected to live, assuming mortality trends stay constant. U.S. life expectancy has grown nearly one and a half years in the past decade, and is now at a new high. [...]

The CDC report found that the number of deaths and the overall death rate dropped from 2006 -- to about 760 deaths per 100,000 people from about 776. The death rate has been falling for eight straight years, and is half of what it was 60 years ago.

August 19, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 PM


Women's Health Is Universal Health Care (Cecile Richards, 8/18/09, Huffington Post)

So yesterday an article by Dan Gilgoff appeared in the U.S. News World Report titled "Bishops Demand Universal Healthcare Without Abortion." Does anyone else see the irony in the U.S. bishops wanting to define universal health care as covering everything except for what they don't support?

um, no? We do see the irony in defining universal as excluding babies though.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:50 PM


Who Cares About Human Rights?: Not the Obama administration. (Elliott Abrams, 08/19/2009, Weekly Standard)

This week brought the odd juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated events: the death of former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, and the visit to the United States of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. What links the two events is America's human rights policy--or lack of it. [...]

Mubarak has ruled for 28 years and done next to nothing to prepare Egypt for democracy; indeed this very week his government once again refused to allow the formation of a moderate Islamic party that would draw votes away from the Muslim Brotherhood. He has in fact created a dangerous two-party system: the ruling "National Democratic Party" and the Muslim Brotherhood are the only organized political entities. Moderates have been crushed, imprisoned, exiled, and forbidden to organize. This is sowing the wind and when Mubarak is gone the reaping

The Brotherhood is moderate and democratic..

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:06 PM


Gas price hits seven-year low (Tamsin Carlisle, August 19. 2009, The National)

US natural gas prices have fallen to their lowest in seven years as storage facilities fill up ahead of the winter heating season.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:04 PM


Please, God, let her be a LaRouchie and not a Republican....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:35 AM


Solzhenitsyn On Our Future (Peter Augustine Lawler, Summer 2009, The City)

According to social critic Christopher Lasch, writing in The Culture of Narcissism, the increasingly common product of our effort to understand ourselves as free individuals with interests and nothing more is the narcissistic personality. To be narcissistic is to experience everyone and everything as existing for me—people experience themselves as more alone than ever.

The narcissistic person, Lasch observed, aims to be protectively shallow, so as not to lose himself or his interests in other people, in deep thought or in love. He also has a fear of binding commitments and a willingness to pull up roots, to maximize his emotional independence and keep his options open. He wants to free himself to judge every moment of his life according to his interests, or according to what’s best for securing his own being. Most of all, the narcissistic person is repulsed by an experience of dependence—on other people, on nature, and even on his own body. He opposes himself—his free existence—to any attempt to limit his freedom. Because he can’t acknowledge his dependence, he’s incapable of feeling or expressing loyalty or gratitude. He is aware of his reality, but also his emptiness, of existence as a collection of pixels, disconnected in every respect from the world around him. He insists on defining himself by himself for himself.

Consider the incoherent way sophisticated Americans understand themselves today. They are, more than anything, proud of their autonomy, and they favor choice in nearly all areas of life. Since Darwin teaches the whole truth, they know they are qualitatively no different from animals—just chimps with cars, cell phones, and bigger brains.

If you look at the behavior of these self-defined autonomous chimps, it’s clear who they really think they are. They work to maximize their personal autonomy. They don’t really believe they’re stuck with what nature gave them—they refuse to act like chimps. They labor against nature, refusing to spread their genes by having little chimps, and rebelling more insistently against nature’s indifference to their particular existences. They act like they don’t like being chimps and have freely chosen to do something about it—and many look down at those non-narcissist evangelical and orthodox religious believers, doing their natural social duty of reproducing, going through life not nearly as upset by their contingent and ephemeral biological existences.

According to the great thinkers of the pre-modern world, human beings are political, familial, and religious animals. Their mixture of reason, love, freedom, and embodiment leads them to give institutional content and communal form to the lives together. But the contemporary narcissist hates any formal limitation or direction to his freedom. So he does what he can to live without politics, family, and church. He tries to live nowhere in particular, because he experiences himself as being nowhere in particular.

...observes himself in the rearview mirror of his car.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


ObamaCare Is All About Rationing: Overspending is far preferable to artificially limiting the availability of new procedures and technologies. (MARTIN FELDSTEIN, 8/18/09, WSJ)

The White House Council of Economic Advisers issued a report in June explaining the Obama administration's goal of reducing projected health spending by 30% over the next two decades. That reduction would be achieved by eliminating "high cost, low-value treatments," by "implementing a set of performance measures that all providers would adopt," and by "directly targeting individual providers . . . (and other) high-end outliers."

The president has emphasized the importance of limiting services to "health care that works." To identify such care, he provided more than $1 billion in the fiscal stimulus package to jump-start Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER) and to finance a federal CER advisory council to implement that idea. That could morph over time into a cost-control mechanism of the sort proposed by former Sen. Tom Daschle, Mr. Obama's original choice for White House health czar. Comparative effectiveness could become the vehicle for deciding whether each method of treatment provides enough of an improvement in health care to justify its cost.

In the British national health service, a government agency approves only those expensive treatments that add at least one Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) per £30,000 (about $49,685) of additional health-care spending. If a treatment costs more per QALY, the health service will not pay for it. The existence of such a program in the United States would not only deny lifesaving care but would also cast a pall over medical researchers who would fear that government experts might reject their discoveries as "too expensive."

How is the UR supposed to make any sense when the politics requires him to promise both cost controls and unlimited health care consumption?

I am finally scared of a White House administration (Nat Hentoff, 8/19/09,

President Obama's desired health care reform intends that a federal board (similar to the British model) — as in the Center for Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation in a current Democratic bill — decides whether your quality of life, regardless of your political party, merits government-controlled funds to keep you alive. Watch for that life-decider in the final bill. It's already in the stimulus bill signed into law.

The members of that ultimate federal board will themselves not have examined or seen the patient in question. For another example of the growing, tumultuous resistance to "Dr. Obama," particularly among seniors, there is a July 29 Washington Times editorial citing a line from a report written by a key adviser to Obama on cost-efficient health care, prominent bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel (brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel).

Emanuel writes about rationing health care for older Americans that "allocation (of medical care) by age is not invidious discrimination." (The Lancet, January 2009) He calls this form of rationing — which is fundamental to Obamacare goals — "the complete lives system." You see, at 65 or older, you've had more life years than a 25-year-old. As such, the latter can be more deserving of cost-efficient health care than older folks.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:32 AM


Poll: Confidence in Health Care Dwindling (AP, 8/18/09)

A monthly survey of consumer sentiment on health care issues shows that Americans' confidence in insurance coverage, affordability and access dropped more than 5 points in July, after having risen slightly in June.

Among seniors eligible for Medicare the drop was even more striking - 10.4 points - suggesting the health care debate is raising alarm bells for older people. The survey was conducted even before coverage of raucous town hall meetings that highlighted public opposition to Mr. Obama's Democrats' health overhaul plans. scaring the bejeebers out of folks as he defends his program, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


The Next Sarah Palin?: Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire’s GOP rising star, is a folksy, gun-loving mother of two who has her eyes on a Senate seat. And, you betcha, she married a dude who puts Todd to shame. (Liz Goodwin, 8/19/09, Daily Beast)

Shortly after a relatively unknown New Hampshire attorney general, Kelly Ayotte, resigned her post last month to consider a run for U.S. Senate, New Hampshire Democrats ran an ad comparing Ayotte to Sarah Palin. In the ad, the song “Two of a Kind” plays in the background as Ayotte states her desire to resign in order to pursue higher office. Text fills the screen: “Both Palin and Ayotte put politics before the public.” The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ran a similar ad in July, comparing Ayotte to Palin and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, calling them all “quitters.”

So why are Democrats spooked by a 41-year-old attorney general from New Hampshire? Maybe it’s because they’re worried Ayotte, with her budding star power and folksy charm, might actually be another Sarah Palin, a star who rockets out of nowhere. With the national GOP desperate to replace outgoing Sen. Judd Gregg with a Republican—and desperate for any Senate victory, for that matter—Ayotte may prove to be the party’s best prospect. [...]

When asked about her views on abortion, Ayotte invoked her two children under age five. And her background is almost as charmingly woodsy as Palin’s seemed a year ago. Ayotte is the wife of Joseph Daley, a National Guardsman and Iraq war vet, who “founded a small landscaping and snowplowing business,” according to the Concord Monitor. He’s got the earthiness of Todd without any obvious separatist tendencies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


Backlash grows on Obama’s health reform (Edward Luce, August 18 2009, Financial Times)

In a letter to Kathleen Sibelius, the secretary for health and human services, 60 Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives warned that they would vote against healthcare reform if it excluded a public insurance option that would provide a state-run alternative to private insurance plans for low-income people. That would leave Mr Obama needing 22 Republican votes in the lower chamber – a very tall order. [...]

The letter, which crystallises what appears to be an unbridgeable divide between conservative “blue dog” and “progressive” Democrats, follows a series of recent White House hints that it would be prepared to junk the public option in order to get an overall bill passed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


White House disputes Mubarak's peace plan claim (Jon Ward, August 19, 2009, Washington Times)

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak left an Oval Office meeting with President Obama on Tuesday claiming that the U.S. administration has committed to presenting a comprehensive blueprint for Middle East peace talks next month - a characterization the White House disputed.

Mr. Mubarak's first trip to the United States in six years focused on the effort to restart talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. But the visit by Mr. Mubarak, 81, also raised questions from critics about whether the White House has abandoned attempts begun by the George W. Bush administration to challenge the aging leader on human rights and democratic governance inside his country.

Obama's Latest Foreign Slip (Leslie H. Gelb, 8/18/09, Daily Beast)
Any time Washington makes a truly dumb foreign policy move, it generally looks plausible on the surface. So when the Pentagon announced that Georgia would dispatch 750 troops to Afghanistan to fight terrorists at America’s side, it sounded just fine. Besides, these Georgians would actually be empowered to fight, unlike most of our mandate-restricted NATO allies. It all seemed like such a no-brainer that only The New York Times and a few others even bothered to report the good news.

But like too many foreign policy no-brainers, this one was fraught with potential perils and bad omens. Moscow will surely stew over American interference in its nasty relations with its Georgian neighbor. And this will surely retard Obama administration efforts to “reset” ties with Russia to allow for cooperation on key issues like Iran. And it might even cause Georgians to miscalculate American military support against Russia and foolishly provoke Moscow. And because it puts all these things at risk for token help in Afghanistan, it sets off alarm bells about the Obama team’s understanding of priorities and strategy. [...]

It’s hard to predict how irksome this issue will become in Russian-American relations. It might derail serious conversation for a long stretch. At a minimum, it will delay critical cooperation on Iran. But what’s truly troubling about this story is what it reveals, once again, about President Obama’s misunderstanding of strategy and priorities, or at the very least, his lack of appreciation for exactly what it takes to accomplish big priorities. To reset relations with Russia requires a host of key decisions, and it’s not clear that all or most of them have been made.

...without being so inept when you're sucking up to our enemies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


President's Coverage Promise Is No Keeper (David S. Hilzenrath, 8/19/09, Washington Post)

President Obama promises that, if health-care reform is enacted, people will be able to keep their current coverage.

"I keep on saying this but somehow folks aren't listening: If you like your health-care plan, you keep your health-care plan. Nobody is going to force you to leave your health-care plan," he said Saturday in a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo., much as he said Friday in Belgrade, Mont., and earlier in the week in Portsmouth, N.H.

However, under legislation drafted by House and Senate Democrats, that would not necessarily be true.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 AM


Netanyahu's Defiance of U.S. Resonates at Home: Polls Show Resistance to Settlement Freeze (Howard Schneider, 8/19/09, Washington Post)

In Israel, the dynamic seems to have shifted further from any dramatic concessions. Netanyahu "scored points" for standing up to Obama, said Yoel Hasson, a member of parliament from the opposition Kadima party. In contrast to the United States' public demands for a settlement freeze, signaled early in the relationship between the two new governments, "I think the U.S. understands that it is better for them to do everything with Netanyahu more quietly," Hasson said. [...]

The most recent War and Peace Index poll, conducted monthly by Tel Aviv University, showed overwhelming support for Netanyahu's decision to oppose the White House on settlement construction and particularly on building in East Jerusalem. In recent weeks, organizations that favor building houses for Jews in all parts of Jerusalem and the West Bank have steadily become more vocal. [...]

Ateret Cohanim, an organization active in promoting Jewish construction in Jerusalem's contested neighborhoods, this week hosted former Arkansas governor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on a tour of projects -- including a cocktail party at the site of a proposed Jerusalem apartment complex that the Obama administration has singled out for criticism. Huckabee said the trip was arranged in recent weeks as part of a developing response to Obama's demands on Israel.

Members of Congress praised Netanyahu's first months in office on a recent tour of Israel, and even Obama allies such as House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) suggested that the onus was on the Palestinians to open talks with or without a settlement freeze.

"There have been some very positive things that have happened under Netanyahu, and I think that [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas ought to take the opportunity to engage," Hoyer said in an interview last week with the Jerusalem Post while on a trip sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group. [...]

"From the point of view of Israeli public opinion, so far Netanyahu has maneuvered quite successfully," said Tel Aviv University professor Ephraim Yaar. His surveys have showed support for Netanyahu in his clash with Obama and distrust of the U.S. president. In his July poll of 512 Israelis, 60 percent said they did not trust Obama "to safeguard Israel's interests," and 46 percent said he favors the Palestinians, compared with 7 percent who think he favors Israel. The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.'s not easy being less trustworthy than an Israeli pm.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:57 AM


Democrats Seem Set to Go It Alone on a Health Bill (CARL HULSE and JEFF ZELENY, 8/19/09, NY Times)

“The Republican leadership,” Mr. Emanuel said, “has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.”

The Democratic shift may not make producing a final bill much easier. The party must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers.

On the other hand, such a change could alter the dynamic of talks surrounding health care legislation, and even change the substance of a final bill. With no need to negotiate with Republicans, Democrats might be better able to move more quickly, relying on their large majorities in both houses.

So they'll go back to letting the Left of the Party write the bill even though the Right of the Party won't vote for it? That will actually make the vote bipartisan anyway, just against any final bill...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Les Paul: 1915-2009: The Father of Modern Guitar Spanned and Shaped Genres (JIM FUSILLI, 8/19/09, WSJ)

The Les Paul-Mary Ford version of "How High the Moon" was a smash hit in 1951, spending nine weeks in the top slot on the Billboard charts.

"When you go back and listen to 'How High the Moon,' it's so different than anything else from that time," said Bruce Swedien, a Grammy-winning engineer who first met Mr. Paul in the late 1950s. "The only natural sound on that song is Mary's voice. His concept was to take music, bust it down to its elements and build it back up again."

August 18, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:55 PM


Liberals tired of health care compromise (CHARLES BABINGTON and RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, 8/19/09, Associated Press)

"It is clear that Republicans have decided 'no health care' is a victory for them," Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview. "There is a point at which bipartisanship reaches a limit, and I would say it's reaching that limit."

The growing liberal unhappiness sets a difficult stage for Obama this fall. Political pragmatists want him to keep seeking a middle ground that will attract at least a few Republican lawmakers as well as moderate Democrats who could prove crucial to passage in the House and Senate. Even modest achievements, such as preventing insurers from refusing to cover pre-existing medical conditions, would allow Obama to claim a victory and perhaps try for more later, they say.

Liberal activists say there's no point in the Democrats winning the House, Senate and White House unless they use their clout to enact the major measures that Obama campaigned for — with or without some Republican support.

Here's a question for President Obama's next townhall: why should life insurers be exempt from covering pre-existing conditions? Sure, our grandfather has been dead for 33 years, but why shouldn't they have to sell us a policy on him?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:23 PM


Talking heads bite Barack Obama (MIKE ALLEN, 8/18/09, Politico)

When you’re Barack Obama and you’ve lost Jon Stewart, you’ve got a problem.

It's as if none of the townspeople even noticed the Emperor was nekked...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 PM


Robert Novak, Pugnacious Columnist, Dies at 78 (DOUGLAS MARTIN and JACQUES STEINBERG, 8/18/09, NY Times)

Mr. Novak rose from a $68-a-week cub reporter to become the wealthy proprietor of almost a cottage industry, achieving prominence and celebrity as an influential Washington pundit whose views leaned decidedly to the right and parlaying that renown into books, newsletters and political seminars he organized.

At one point his column appeared in as many as 300 newspapers, and he was one of the first personalities to emerge on all-news cable television. CNN put him on the air its first weekend.

He first drew attention as an old-fashioned, notebook-and-shoe-leather newspaperman. For three decades his was the second byline with “Inside Report,” a syndicated column, written with Rowland Evans, that became a must-read for many both inside and outside Washington.

After Mr. Evans retired in 1993, Mr. Novak continued the column alone, writing as recently as last September about the tumor that ultimately took his life. Mr. Evans died in 2001. [...]

Morton Kondracke, a colleague on the syndicated talk program “The McLaughlin Group,” once characterized the role Mr. Novak played so enthusiastically as “the troll under the bridge of American journalism.” [...]

[M]r. Novak did not rely solely on senior officials. “Bob Novak was always a human Electrolux, in terms of pulling information from every corner and nook,” Mr. Shields said. “He may be the only major syndicated columnist in Washington who regularly had a meal with the assistant minority staff director of House subcommittees. His sources weren’t status sources.” [...]

[W]hen Mr. Novak became embroiled in perhaps the messiest story of his career, Americans had a face on which to focus. The episode began on July 14, 2003, when Mr. Novak published the name of a C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson. Her husband, the former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson IV, had made public assertions that the Bush administration had justified the invasion of Iraq by distorting intelligence about Iraqi efforts to acquire unconventional weapons. Referring to Ms. Wilson by her maiden name, Plame, Mr. Novak disclosed her identity as “an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.”

Once BDS dies down in a few years, that revelation, that an anti-Bush functionary at CIA sent her own husband on a supposed fact-finding trip for the Agency is likely to be seen as the pinnacle of his career. The intelligence services running a black op against the president is a tough scoop to top.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:08 AM


Afghanistan The Imperial Way: British MP candidate Rory Stewart isn't as old-fashioned as he looks. (Melik Kaylan, 08.18.09, Forbes)

[L]ast week, [Rory Stewart] announced his intention to run for parliament as a Conservative member in Britain. Hence the Spectator article. Here is another extract from it:

"With Brad Pitt having already bought the movie rights to Stewart's life story, one would have thought that the Tories would be reveling in their new catch. Style and substance combined: what the modern Tory party so desperately wants. But instead Stewart's ambitions, announced in an interview in the London Evening Standard that took the party hierarchy by surprise, are causing heartburn."

Why so? Because Stewart doesn't support the war in Afghanistan. As the article goes on to say, he believes it to be "unwinnable." He thinks "the British presence there should be substantially reduced." This is not the old imperial spirit at all. He said as much to me about Iraq in the interview I did for the Journal; a pre-Petraeus viewpoint, I dubbed it. On Iraq, he surely proved wrong. A large number of people think that he's generally--and reprehensibly--"defeatist." In fact, Stewart's posture is more complex than that.

He represents a distinct strand of the British scholar-adventurer tradition as embodied in the likes of Sir Richard Burton and T.E. Lawrence. That is, he has a sneaking affection for the cultures of the other side. He likes Muslims as much as Brits and thinks that we shouldn't invest so much blood and money in trying to convert them to our way of life. Even with those Muslims living in Britain, as the Spectator goes on to say, "there are worries that he represents the 'empire comes home' approach to dealing with Muslim communities, which emphasizes squaring religious leaders rather than integration."

I don't agree with Stewart much on this, especially on the question of integration at home, but one can see his point of view. He gets exasperated at the exhausting effort we pour into Afghanistan to change the unchangeable: NGOs that want to bring family planning to women in the countryside; Western activists who insist on transparent government and lily-white uncorrupted processes in an opium-free and warlord-free landscape. He thinks that it won't work, that it will beggar us in the long run and that we have better things to do with our dwindling power both for ourselves and to help Muslim communities evolve along their own lines. Which is not to say that he has a rosy view of Islamic countries: His two books crackle with contempt for the dishonesty and brutishness he often encounters among Muslims, enough to make a politically correct liberal mind faint away in outrage. But as he once told me, he probably could not have made the same treks as easily across Western lands as he did across the Orient, where he was housed and fed in the remotest places with generous decency.

Anyway, all this represents only half his position. The other half he keeps muted, for obvious reasons. As a "realist" and contrarian, he thinks we can secure our own strategic needs from afar. Enough of revolution and occupation. There are other ways. I don't think I'm putting words in his mouth in saying that his approach would be stealthier and in some ways "dirtier." The Iranians do things this way pretty effectively, as indeed the West did against the Soviets in Afghanistan rather successfully--exactly what the British Empire finally did there by maintaining puppet monarchs.

What it amounts to is this: Use the indigenous system rather than change it. Fund warlords, arm sympathetic tribes, build modest waterworks and roadways and mosques even, use Predator drone strikes aplenty, but let the Afghans fight it out while keeping the scales tilted in our favor. Above all, do it all from a distance.

'Start With How Things Actually Are' (MELIK KAYLAN, 9/13/07, WSJ)

Looking at Rory Stewart's spare, deceptively waifish profile, you wonder what the Marsh Arabs of Iraq -- he administered virtually a million of them for a year -- made of this very distinctive product of the British tradition. Eton, Oxford, the British Army, the foreign service: He should be a clear enough type. Yet, in person, Mr. Stewart is a strangely elusive, estranged figure. With his accumulated fame and celebrated achievements, amplified by his two books about exploits in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, one expects to meet someone fully revealed, familiar even. But Mr. Stewart belongs to the more complicated tradition of British heroism: Still single at 34, slightly haunted and solitary-seeming even when happily dazzling a female fan, he gives you an inkling of how it might have felt to meet the likes of T.E. Lawrence -- epic adventurers with an urge to self-publicize who exude a sense of internal exile.

Mr. Stewart gives off a kind of quiet, complex discomfort, as would anyone who unites in himself the multiple strands of Britain's questing sensibility: the soldier with the artistic temperament, the colonial officer with the austere probity of a missionary who tells harsh truths simultaneously about his own side and the other. One senses the self-exacting conscience just beneath the surface that must cut across both ambition and convention. [...]

As we chatted, I told Mr. Stewart that he seemed always to be both loyalist and outsider, acting both within and against convention. He agreed, and began by explaining the treks that led to his first book: "I'd had a chattering life . . . very social school, university and foreign office work. I wanted to get out of secondhand experiences, perhaps learn to survive alone. I felt a bit of a fraud. The Scots have a long heritage of being abroad, and they often have a hardheaded, unsentimental view of what they see. My grandfather and father worked in India and in the colonial service, but my father was often impatient with Whitehall bureaucracy and yes men who were clueless about real events on the ground in a foreign country. That's perhaps why I had the urge to see countries on foot and at the village level.

"When it came to writing the book, I'd always been beguiled and irritated by the long tradition of travel writing from Robert Byron to Bruce Chatwin. I found their approach to be in some ways dishonest, because after days and days of boredom, which is never recorded, they would suddenly romanticize the entire experience based on one encounter with a ruin. They would romanticize the local people as embodiments of grand history. I wanted the book to reflect the real experience, at least mine: When you ask people the way, or where to find food, or the history of a place, mostly your questions don't get answered. Rather than being in a mystical trance, I'm usually just irritated. Instead of Alexander the Great's footprints everywhere, one is likely to see cheap cookie wrappers littering the ground. The locals aren't steeped in their own grand history. They usually reject it."

I asked Mr. Stewart if this dystopian view of things, when applied to war zones, gave him a more realistic perspective with a more practical sense of what to do. He said: "You have to start with how things actually are and work from there. In Afghanistan, for example, it's no good telling an opium farmer suddenly to stop -- in rural areas you earn $1.50 per day for a wheat harvest and $8 to $9 for opium. It adds up to half the national economy. Neither the populace nor the leadership considers it a priority to eradicate it. It's useless to demand or impose Western standards from afar.

"We also have illusions about the kind of government they should have. Afghanistan is a country run from the countryside, which is a highly varied population ranging from mullahs to warlords. It's not possible to run things from the center in a clean, transparent, efficient Western way. Toppling or changing regional power by fiat only creates chaos. In Afghanistan, in my view, you have a center versus region problem, rather than a Karzai versus Taliban problem."


Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 AM


Obama's Doomed Utopia: Hidden assumptions suggest reforms won't work. (Richard A. Epstein, 08.18.09, Forbes)

Unfortunately, his campaign skills have not easily transferred to the humdrum business of governance. So much so, that his best chance for reelection requires the remainder of his legislative program to fail.

Why? For decidedly academic reasons: His campaign rhetoric rests on implicit ceteris paribus assumptions that can't hold good. Ceteris paribus is a bit of fancy Latin that means, "all other things being equal." It is an intuitive way to hedge one's bets about the future, by saying that some specified change in a complex system will have its desired effect, assuming that everything else remains unchanged.

This approach is a mixed blessing. On the high side, the ceteris paribus assumption allows for a convenient simplification of what otherwise would be an intractable problem. Thus if one wants to figure out the overall social effects of a rent control statute, it is useful to ignore the possibility that tenants will use their rent savings to bid up the price of tangerines. The prudent analyst is better advised to concentrate on the (dramatic) effects that the regulation has on the supply and quality of housing.

The downside is that in some settings a more capacious view of ceteris paribus lulls people into ignoring issues that are at the core of a problem.

In his classic, Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt's lesson is that:
The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

The text is only made more useful by the fact that Mr. Hazlitt immediately proceeds to violate the lesson himself:
Let us begin with the simplest illustration possible: let us, emulating Bastiat, choose a broken pane of glass.

A young hoodlum, say, heaves a brick through the window of a baker’s shop. The shopkeeper runs out furious, but the boy is gone. A crowd gathers, and begins to stare with quiet satisfaction at the gaping hole in the window and the shattered glass over the bread and pies. After a while the crowd feels the need for philosophic reflection. And several of its members are almost certain to remind each other or the baker that, after all, the misfortune has its bright side. It will make business for some glazier. As they begin to think of this they elaborate upon it. How much does a new plate glass window cost? Two hundred and fifty dollars? That will be quite a sum. After all, if windows were never broken, what would happen to the glass business? Then, of course, the thing is endless. The glazier will have $250 more to spend with other merchants, and these in turn will have $250 more to spend with still other merchants, and so ad infinitum. The smashed window will go on providing money and employment in ever-widening circles. The logical conclusion from all this would be, if the crowd drew it, that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.

Now let us take another look. The crowd is at least right in its first conclusion. This little act of vandalism will in the first instance mean more business for some glazier. The glazier will be no more unhappy to learn of the incident than an undertaker to learn of a death. But the shopkeeper will be out $250 that he was planning to spend for a new suit. Because he has had to replace a window, he will have to go without the suit (or some equivalent need or luxury). Instead of having a window and $250 he now has merely a window.

Obviously Mr. Hazlitt's example requires that the window industry remain perfectly static over time, rather than so dynamic that the replacement the baker purchases--double-paned, gas-filled, etc.--will not only save dramatically on his own energy bills but benefit the entire society by reducing fuel consumption.

Now, if an economic savant can't consistently apply his own lesson in a book meant only to teach it, what hope does Mr. Obama have of grasping it, given that he has no economic training nor business background?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:41 AM


For the Left, war without Bush is not war at all (Byron York, August 18, 2009, Washington Examiner)

As part of a straw poll done at the [Netroots Nation] convention, the Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg presented participants with a list of policy priorities like health care and the environment. He asked people to list the two priorities they believed "progressive activists should be focusing their attention and efforts on the most." The winner, by far, was "passing comprehensive health care reform." In second place was enacting "green energy policies that address environmental concerns."

And what about "working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan"? It was way down the list, in eighth place.

Perhaps more tellingly, Greenberg asked activists to name the issue that "you, personally, spend the most time advancing currently." The winner, again, was health care reform. Next came "working to elect progressive candidates in the 2010 elections." Then came a bunch of other issues. At the very bottom -- last place, named by just one percent of participants -- came working to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan..

...but that they were willing to sacrifice Iraqi freedom to get at him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:01 AM


Obama Faces Possible Rebellion of House Democrats (Jake Tapper, August 17, 2009, Political Punch)

[Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY] indicated that some in the president's own party feel betrayed after supporting him on health care reform and then taking lumps from constituents.

"Some of us who have gotten roughed up pretty good at town hall meetings and stuck in there because we believe in this, now kind of feel like we have a tire track on our chest where the bus that rolled over us is," Weiner said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:36 AM


Palin's Red Menace (Richard Cohen, August 18, 2009, Washington Post)

In McCarthy's day, it was anti-communism coupled with national security, and it hardly mattered that he frequently did not have his facts straight. He got huge amounts of attention anyway.

With Palin, the subject is health care, which in many ways is the Red Menace of our day and lends itself to a kind of political pornography.

Almost, but it isn't "health care," that she's warning about but the President's general disregard for life. Even setting aside the New York Times Magazine interview where he explicitly talks about an independent group guiding what procedures the elderly should get, this is after all a politician who supports abortion on demand, even infanticide, and embryonic stem cell harvesting. Mr. Cohen is right though, this sort of radically pro-Death politics is the Red Menace of our day. And just as McCarthism was successful because the communists and fellow travelers were so alien to American values, so too did Ms Palin have little difficulty defeating the Death Panels because they're so creepy. They aren't porn, they're snuff films.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:05 AM


Obama Joker artist unmasked: A fellow Chicagoan (Mark Milian, 8/17/09, LA Times)

Bored during his winter school break, Firas Alkhateeb, a senior history major at the University of Illinois, crafted the picture of Obama with the recognizable clown makeup using Adobe's Photoshop software.

Alkhateeb had been tinkering with the program to improve the looks of photos he had taken on his clunky Kodak camera. The Joker project was his grandest undertaking yet. Using a tutorial he'd found online about how to "Jokerize" portraits, he downloaded the October 23 Time Magazine cover of Obama and began digitally painting over it.

Four or five hours later, he happily had his product. [...]

Although Alkhateeb claims he was making no political statement with the artwork, he's plugged into the Washington debate. Though born in the United States, his Palestinian family closely follows Middle Eastern politics.

"I think he's definitely doing better than Bush was," Alkhateeb said of Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:51 AM


Pain relievers tested on kids' broken arms (AP, August 18, 2009)

Kids with a broken arm do better on a simple over-the-counter painkiller than on a more powerful prescription combination that includes a narcotic, a surprising study finds.

It tested ibuprofen - sold as Advil, Motrin and other brands - against acetaminophen plus codeine, a combo called Tylenol No. 3 that is also sold in generic form. [...]

"They were more likely to play, they ate better and they had fewer adverse effects," [Dr. Amy Drendel of the Medical College of Wisconsin] said.

Pain is inconvenient. Narcotics debilitating.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:45 AM


Liberals revolt over public option (JONATHAN MARTIN & CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, 8/18/09, Politico)

A group of left-leaning House Democrats tells POLITICO that a bill without a public option simply won’t win enough votes in their caucus – a sentiment that raises fresh questions about the prospects to enact sweeping health care reform this year.

“A bill without a public option won’t pass the House,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), a member of Energy & Commerce Health subcommittee. “Not only are they weakening their proposal, but they are also weakening their hand. This is legislative subtraction by subtraction.” [...]

“To take the public option off the table would be a grave error; passage in the House of Representatives depends upon inclusion of it,” wrote Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in a letter to Sebelius Monday. one can realistically have expected the UR to pass any significant bills. But it was always obvious that the Left of his own party would be the stumbling block for him. That's why ceding the legislative agenda to the Hill and the committee chairs--the longest serving members because from the least competitive districts--was such a big mistake. As with Bill Clinton, the success of his presidency depends on a GOP takeover at the midterm.

August 17, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:06 PM


The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare (JOHN MACKEY, 8/11/09, WSJ)

Here are eight reforms that would greatly lower the cost of health care for everyone:

• Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees' Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health-care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan's costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of worker satisfaction.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:57 PM

there has to be some language in which obama even means "status quo":

Feingold Statement on Public Option (The Page: TIME, 8/17/09)

“A public option is a fundamental part of ensuring health care reform brings about real change. Opposing the public plan is an endorsement of the status quo"

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:18 PM


The Psychological Profession and Homosexuality: Lunatics Running the Asylum? (Matthew Cullinan Hoffman, August 14, 2009,

A man goes to a psychologist with a problem. "Doctor," he says, "I'm suffering terribly. I feel like a woman trapped inside the body of a man. I want to become a woman."

The psychologist responds: "No problem. We can discuss this idea for a couple of years, and if you're still sure you want to be a woman, we can have a surgeon remove your penis, give you hormones for breast enlargement and make other changes to your body. Problem solved."

Gratified, the first patient leaves, followed by a second. "Doctor," he says, "I feel terrible. I'm a man but I feel attracted to other men. I want to change my sexual preference. I want to become heterosexual." The psychologist responds: "Oh no, absolutely not! That would be unethical. Sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic!"

The irony of this little tale is that, while reading like a joke, it is in reality an accurate description of the mental health professions today. While dismissing and condemning reparative therapy for homosexual orientation, the majority of psychiatrists and psychologists in Anglophone North America have embraced the concept of "sex change," a procedure that does nothing more than mutilate the patient to appease his confused mind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:47 PM


Political Ideology: "Conservative" Label Prevails in the South: Conservatives outnumber liberals in nearly every state, but not in D.C. (Lydia Saad, 8/14/09, Gallup)

The overall percentages of self-declared conservatives in each state range from a high of 49% in Alabama to a low of 23% in the nation's capital. The "liberal" label is embraced most widely in D.C., by 37%, followed by 29% in Massachusetts. At 14%, it is used least commonly in Louisiana. (See table at end of this report for complete state-by-state percentages.)

Because the percentage of moderates varies by state -- from 43% in Hawaii and Rhode Island down to 32% in Alabama -- the percentage identifying themselves as "conservative" does not by itself provide a complete picture of the relative strength of conservatism across states. For this reason, the "net conservative" statistic -- defined as the total percentage calling themselves conservative minus the total percentage defining themselves as liberal -- is used in the accompanying map to identify the ideological makeup of each state.

States where the conservatives' advantage over liberals is greater than 25 percentage points are defined as Most Conservative. Net conservatism registering 20 to 25 points is defined as More Conservative; from 10 to 19 points, as Somewhat Conservative; and from 1 to 9 points, as Less Conservative. Only Washington, D.C., which has more liberals than conservatives, is defined as Liberal. [...]

Despite the Democratic Party's political strength -- seen in its majority representation in Congress and in state houses across the country -- more Americans consider themselves conservative than liberal. While Gallup polling has found this to be true at the national level over many years, and spanning recent Republican as well as Democratic presidential administrations, the present analysis confirms that the pattern also largely holds at the state level. Conservatives outnumber liberals by statistically significant margins in 47 of the 50 states, with the two groups statistically tied in Hawaii, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:26 PM


Sporting emotions at the highest pitch: Trip to Mexico for World Cup qualifier simply unforgettable (Bill Simmons, 8/17/09, ESPN)

My trip to Mexico quickly morphed into one of those "I'm going to remember everything that happened 40 years from now." I stood on the field at Azteca, grabbed a few strands of grass and put them in my wallet. I rode in SUVs with bulletproof windows and security guards. I asked a hotel concierge if there was a good place to get coffee, followed by him pointing me toward a Starbucks to our left, then saying, "Whatever you do, don't go right." I got trapped in one of Azteca's oppressively hot elevators and saw my life briefly flash before my eyes. I watched one of my bosses get nailed by a flying burrito after the game. I drank enough tequila to kill Salma Hayek. I got rocked by Montezuma's revenge on the way home, which was strange because I am absolutely positive I have never done anything to Montezuma.

None of those memories matched the game. The Americans were a sterling 0-22-1 in Mexico before Wednesday's match ... and with reason. The stands hug the field, shoot straight up and couldn't be more intimidating, especially in the corners, where fans shower opponents with beers, sodas and LTYDEWTKWTA (Liquids That You Don't Even Want To Know What They Are) on every corner kick. The lower section of the stadium is fenced, with a guarded, waterless moat (seriously, a moat!) with a second fence above it that prevent fans from racing onto the field. Atop the stadium, an uneven half-roof leads to eerie shadows and goofy lighting that seem to change by the minute.

Opponents never feel safe. Inside the bowels of the stadium, the players walk down a concrete tunnel that feels like it was built in 1362. Emerge from the tunnel, and Mexican fans are suddenly right there, wearing green jerseys, yelling obscenities and pounding the fence in front of them. The venom starts immediately -- booing and hissing, horn blowing, various "Meh-hee-CO! Meh-hee CO!" chants -- and never really stops. The Mexican fans had no problem drowning out the Star-Spangled Banner with jeers. They tossed drinks and debris at the U.S. bench for most of the second half ... which didn't matter because Azteca's opposing bench has an impenetrable plexiglass roof, but still. During a corner kick in extra time, they showered Landon Donovan with such a staggering amount of debris that he briefly staggered back toward the field in disbelief, shrugging his hands as if to say, "How could anyone act like this?"

You can't even call it just a hostile environment; it's more primal than anything. I have only attended two other games in which the crowd's collective loathing was palpable -- Game 6 of the 1986 NBA Finals (Boston fans heaping hatred on Ralph Sampson, who had punched two Celtics in the previous game) and Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern finals (the same treatment for Bill Laimbeer, who had decked Larry Bird the previous game) -- and neither approached USA-Mexico. Michael Vick could crash a PETA rally and get a friendlier reception than the Americans did at Azteca.

On the worst days in Mexico City, opponents deal with high altitude, intense heat and oppressive smog that makes their lungs burn. (The famous Azteca story that sounds like an urban legend but is actually true: Eric Wynalda once coughed up black blood after a game there.) Mexico passed up a more lucrative prime-time telecast for a mid-afternoon start, hoping humidity, altitude and pollution would wear the Americans down. Nope. The weather settled in the mid-70s. There was a breeze. The skies were so clear you could glimpse the mountains. The U.S. team will never have better conditions for a game in Mexico City.

Normally with international soccer games (especially Cup qualifiers), a few sections are reserved for the opposing team's fans. Not in Azteca. The U.S. was allotted about 500 seats for Sam's Army (a traveling band of American fans); they were crammed in the upper deck in one corner with armed police officers flanking both aisles. Fans tossed drinks, batteries and rocks at them, then berated them in Spanish, which wasn't a surprise because this was "Throw Drinks, Batteries and Rocks at American Fans and Berate Them in Spanish" Day. According to one account by a photographer who attended the game, Sam's Army was advised to flee the premises immediately after the final whistle. You know, just to be safe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:49 PM


Health Care’s Generation Gap (RICHARD DOOLING, 8/17/09, NY Times)

With so much evidence of wasteful and even harmful treatment, shouldn’t we instantly cut some of the money spent on exorbitant intensive-care medicine for dying, elderly people and redirect it to pediatricians and obstetricians offering preventive care for children and mothers? Sadly, we are very far from this goal. A cynic would argue that this can’t happen because children can’t vote (even if their parents can), whereas members of AARP and the American Medical Association not only vote but can also hire lobbyists to keep the money flowing.

One thing’s for sure: Our health care system has failed. Generational spending wars loom on the horizon. Rationing of health care is imminent. But given the political inertia, we could soon find ourselves in a triage situation in which there is no time or money to create medical-review boards to ponder cost-containment issues or rationing schemes. We’ll be forced to implement quick-and-dirty rules based on something simple, sensible and easily verifiable. Like age. As in: No federal funds to be spent on intensive-care medicine for anyone over 85.

I am not, of course, talking about euthanasia. I’m just wondering why the nation continues incurring enormous debt to pay for bypass surgery and titanium-knee replacements for octogenarians and nonagenarians, when for just a small fraction of those costs we could provide children with preventive health care and nutrition. Eight million children have no health insurance, but their parents pay 3 percent of their salaries to Medicare to make sure that seniors get the very best money can buy in prescription drugs for everything from restless leg syndrome to erectile dysfunction, scooters and end-of-life intensive care.

Sir William Osler, widely revered as the father of modern medicine, said, “One of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine.”

Except that the reason the old disproportionately consume health dollars is not just that they are politically powerful but that they are ill. Insuring the young (and, therefore, healthy) is the medicine that ought not be taken.

Health Reform Fattens Big Insurance and Taxes the Young (Bernadine Healy, M.D., August 17, 2009, US News)

Imagine a 25-year-old man, perhaps your son, just starting out in life, with good health but a skimpy income. Right now, despite being laden with school loans and a car that's not quite paid for and trying to save up for a house—all on maybe $35,000 a year—he can get health insurance that will meet his needs at this stage in his life and contribute toward the national goal of universal coverage. To do this he might buy a catastrophic-care policy that covers him for major medical events, like a bad skiing accident, that could otherwise bankrupt him. This might cost as little as $500 to $600 a year and typically comes with inexpensive primary-care access. But under Obamacare, he would have to pay a premium closer to $4,000—a potential back-breaker that might force him to take a government handout, further burdening his fellow taxpayers.

That's because, as mandated by the House bill, his premium must be no less than half the highest premium paid by an older, less healthy adult in the same plan. By tightly harnessing the premiums of the young and healthy to those of the old and sick, reform would redistribute dollars belonging to younger Americans—much as Medicare and Social Security already do. But reform would hide this spreading of wealth by folding it into premiums, rather than revealing it on paychecks. Forced by government and enforced by the Internal Revenue Service, these hefty premiums would amount to a middle-class tax.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 PM


Obama's neocon stake in Afghanistan elections: His surge of troops helps promote a safe and secure vote this Thursday. (The Monitor's Editorial Board, August 17, 2009, CS Monitor)

[A]n important election this Thursday in Afghanistan is pushing Mr. Obama toward the neoconservative idea of using force to promote democracy and freedom as a bulwark against Islamic terrorism. Not only has he sent a surge of troops to Afghanistan, he is making sure US soldiers prevent the Taliban from attacking polling stations, threatening voters, and otherwise ruining the vote for president and local councils. [...]

The Taliban see this election as a violation of Islam and threaten to chop off the ink-stained finger of anyone who casts a ballot. Recent US assaults on Taliban strongholds are Obama's attempt to make sure the election is free and fair – and conducted without fear. Such a defense of democracy is essential if Afghanistan is to not again become a sanctuary for international terrorists, especially Al Qaeda.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:02 AM

WHAT THE ...?:

Winds of Dune Author Brian Herbert on Flipping the Myth of Jihad: Dune author Frank Herbert's son discusses picking up his father's threads in Winds of Dune, out this month, and his hopes for Peter Berg's film adaptation of the saga. (Clayton Neuman, August 17, 2009, SciFi Scanner)

Q: The Winds of Dune is part of your Heroes of Dune series of prequels. What was the inspiration to go back?

A: When [co-author] Kevin [J. Anderson] and I started writing books together, he wanted to do Dune 7, which was the book my dad had not written before he passed away. I wanted to do The Butlerian Jihad and go back 10,000 years. So we settled on a third option -- we're doing the core characters of Dune when they're all older. Winds of Dune focuses on Jessica, and it's about her reaction to this jihad that's going on -- billions of people have been killed in her son's name. My dad was a reporter and he liked to look at the myths under which we lived, and he would flip the myth of a charismatic leader: Isn't it great we have this wonderful leader, but what if it's the other way? Hitler and bin Laden were charismatic too. [...]

Q: Do you think it's an appropriate time for a remake since the plot so closely parallels what's going on in the Middle East right now?

A: Absolutely. Look at all the predictive qualities that my dad had. The interesting thing about Frank Herbert is that he was living so far in the future, and he could just see how things came out.

Am I missing something, or is the implication of the question--in an arts blog, no less--that the film ought not be made because it might be insightful?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:53 AM


Obama took wrong turn on health (Clive Crook, August 16 2009, Financial Times)

He continues to insist, as he has from the beginning, that control of costs is the principal reason for embarking on reform – more important, even, than achieving universal coverage. Once, this seemed to make strategic sense, because the great majority of US citizens have health insurance and are happy with it. To appeal to this majority, Mr Obama argued that health insurance, both public and private, would soon become unaffordable unless healthcare inflation was brought under control.

Fine – until the independent Congressional Budget Office examined the Democrats’ plans and found that they all added substantially to long-term costs. The CBO’s estimates attacked the core of Mr Obama’s case and they especially rattled moderate Democrats. Yet the line from the White House never deviated. This entire exercise, the administration blithely repeated, is about controlling costs. Can anyone be surprised that moderates are having doubts?

It would have been better to accept from the start that the reform would cost a lot and that universal coverage, with particular emphasis on a guarantee of continued coverage for those currently insured, was worth paying for. But the promise not to raise taxes except on the rich foreclosed that approach. Instead, the plans all aim to cover costs with big savings on Medicare, the public programme for the elderly – and many Medicare recipients doubt the assurance that their services will not worsen as a result.

Okay, so the overwhelming majority of Americans already has health insurance with which it is satisfied, but the proper political path is for Mr. Obama to go before the electorate and offer to make health care cost more and require them to pay more, in exchange for which they get to keep what they already have? That sounds more like a threat than a sales pitch.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:43 AM


Has the left blown its big chance of success?: The collapse of unfettered capitalism should have been a golden opportunity for the left. So where did it all go wrong? (Andy Beckett, 8/17/09, The Guardian)

The last year should have been a happy one for the left. The great global lab experiment in unfettered finance capitalism has blown up. Bankers have become pariahs. Taxes on the rich have gone up. The pages of the financial press have had a frequent air of panic. New Labour has fallen out of love with the free market. Above all, the rightwing economic and political ideas first popularised by Margaret Thatcher in the 70s have, finally, lost their air of impregnability.

"These are the best circumstances to make the left case we've known for an awful long time," says Neal Lawson, head of the leftwing pressure group Compass, "since way back before 1979, since back to the 30s." Geoff Mulgan, the former Labour strategist and a longtime observer of the left, agrees: "This is a moment that should be incredibly propitious for the left. Capitalism is collapsing. You don't get more propitious than that." [...]

And yet, in Britain and most comparable countries the left is not thriving. Quite the opposite. The Brown government's mild tilt to the left has made it no more popular. At the European elections in June, left-leaning parties, whether in office or opposition, cautious or militant, were trounced across the continent. Votes went instead to mainstream conservative parties or far right and anti- immigration groups. Over the summer the broader political debate, particularly in Britain, has shifted in the same direction: "The crisis of the financial markets has become a crisis of public spending – it's incredible!" says Hilary Wainwright, editor of leftwing magazine Red Pepper. [...]

Has the left missed its moment? The radical American writer Rebecca Solnit fears so. "It felt like last October [the peak of the banking panic] was the golden moment to put forward an alternative vision," she says. "What's been dismaying is that there has been so little coherent response from the left since."

Capitalism has history on its side, while, as Mr. Beckett is conceding, the Left only has brief moments, typically, quite brief. That this recession passed so quickly and was so shallow that the Left never even had an opportunity to make a case for an alternative ought to tell him all he needs to know about the futility of his cause.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:40 AM


Key Feature Of Obama Health Plan May Be Out (Ceci Connolly, 8/17/09, Washington Post)

Racing to regain control of the health-care debate, two top administration officials signaled Sunday that the White House may be willing to jettison a controversial government-run insurance plan favored by liberals.

...but do you really control a debate if you're conceding all of your oppenents' points?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


Liberals Fret a Democratic Stay to Center ( KRIS MAHER and JAKE SHERMAN, 8/17/09, WSJ)

There's growing frustration among some liberal activists that the Democratic Party may be tilting toward moderates, leaving many wondering how they can have a bigger impact in fights over health care and other complex legislation.

Nearly 2,000 computer-toting bloggers and activists, ranging from 20-year-old legislative aides to 60-year-old retired consultants, gathered here for the fourth annual Netroots Nation convention, blogging from panels on food policy and Congressional redistricting and speeches by former president Bill Clinton and senior administration adviser Valerie Jarrett.

The main topic of discussion, however, was health care and concern that the administration is losing its momentum and tilting toward compromise on key issues. Some in the Netroots community favor a single-payer health-care system and say a compromise on the more limited public option would render a bill worthless. [...]

Many at the convention expressed their own frustration at being unable to effectively push for health-care reform because terms like public option and single payor are confusing. Their inability to do so raises questions about their own effectiveness.

They're the Brightest people they've ever met and the moose-hunting beauty queen just Rodney Kinged them.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:47 AM


GOP gains steam as health care bill sputters (ANDY BARR, 8/16/09, Politico)

"Republicans have quickly recovered their voice," Rep. Mark Kirk, whose Senate campaign in Illinois has many Republicans eyeing a pick up, told POLITICO. [...]

"The issue mix right now could not be better for us, with the public worried about big spending, high taxes and big government. If ever there was a mixture of issues that could benefit Republicans it would be that, just like in 2008 we probably had the worst issue mix we could have ever had," GOPAC chairman and longtime GOP insider Frank Donatelli said in an interview.

"For the first time in six years, the level of enthusiasm and intensity among our party members is higher than the other side, and you cannot overestimate how important that is," Donatelli said. "Independents are lining up with us and not Democrats, and that's a sea change."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:39 AM


Are Dems Losing the Battle Over Public Option?: Bipartisan Health Care Reform Could Mean Losing Key Democrat-Backed Provisions (KRISTINA WONG, Aug. 16, 2009, ABC News)

"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option. There never have been. So to continue to chase that rabbit, I think, is just a wasted effort," [Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D] said on "Fox News Sunday."

Instead, Conrad -- who is the Senate Budget Committee chairman and member of the "Gang of Six," a bipartisan group of senators -- touted a compromise solution: the "co-op."

"It's not government-run and government-controlled. It's membership-run and membership-controlled," he said. "But it does provide a nonprofit competitor for the for-profit insurance companies, and that's why it has appeal on both sides. It's the only plan that has bipartisan support in the United States Senate."

The government would provide seed money for such a co-op in order for it to fulfill the requirement that every health insurer hold a certain amount in reserve, but after that, be "membership-run, membership-controlled."

Sen. Richard Shelby, a top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee said he would be open to the idea of a co-op.

"Well, I think that's something we should look at. We already have a lot of those, or something like them, nonprofit, basically, that seem to work. I don't know if it will do everything people want, but we ought to look at it. I think it's a far cry from the original proposals," Shelby said.

While Republicans and Americans anxious about a "government takeover" may be assuaged by the dropping of a "public option" from any Senate bill, the president faces flak from House Democrats, whose bill included a public option.

They can't pass a public option, can't pay for it with taxes on the rich, can't fund abortion, can't kill old people, and can't cover illegals--what's in it for the Left?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:26 AM


HARVARD PROFESSOR JOSEPH NYE ON HARD AND SOFT POWER: 'It Is Pointless to Talk to Al-Qaida': Harvard professor Joseph Nye talks to SPIEGEL about America's role in the world, the change of strategy under US President Barack Obama and how his concept of soft power can be used to solve tough conflicts. (Der Spiegel, 8/17/09)

SPIEGEL: Is there a historical example where a milder form of power politics was really effective?

Nye: Think of the end of the Cold War. Not a single shot was fired. For decades, the American military was necessary to deter Soviet aggression and expansion. But it was mainly the soft-power elements which penetrated the Iron Curtain and made the people on the other side lose faith in their system.

Didn't communism fail mostly because they tried it and it didn't work? Are we really going to let al Qaeda run its experiment somewhere?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


The Book of Harry: How the boy wizard won over religious critics -- and the deeper meaning theologians now see in his tale (Michael Paulson, August 16, 2009, Boston Globe)

[O]ver the last several years, religion writers and thinkers have warmed to Harry - both Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine, and L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, have praised the latest film. The Christian Broadcasting Network, home of Pat Robertson, now features on its website a special section on “The Harry Potter Controversy,” with the acknowledgment, “Leading Christian thinkers have disparate views on the Harry Potter products, and how Christians should respond to them.”

At the same time, scholars of religion have begun developing a more nuanced take on the Potter phenomenon, with some arguing that the wildly popular series of books and films contains positive ethical messages and a narrative arc that is worthy of serious scholarly examination and even theological reflection. The scholars are primarily interested in what the books have to say about the two big issues that always preoccupy people of faith - morality and mortality - but some are also interested in what the series has to say about tolerance (Harry and friends are notably open to people and creatures who differ from them) and bullying, the nature and presence of evil in society, and the existence of the supernatural. [...]

“There is a whole burgeoning field of religion and popular culture, not just looking at what exact parallels there are, does it jibe with religious beliefs or is it counter to religious beliefs, but looking at these stories as a reflection of the spiritual or religious sensibilities of the culture,” says Russell W. Dalton, an assistant professor of Christian education at Brite Divinity School in Texas and the author of “Faith Journey through Fantasy Lands: A Christian Dialogue with Harry Potter, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings.”

“When stories become as popular as the Harry Potter stories, they no longer simply reflect the religious views of the author, but become artifacts of the culture, and they say something about the culture that has embraced them,” Dalton says. “And that is certainly the case with Harry Potter.”

-REVIEW: The Youngest Brother's Tale: Harry Potter's grand finale. (Alan Jacobs, September 1, 2007, Books & Culture)

A little more than a hundred years ago, a number of British educators, journalists, and intellectuals grew exercised about the reading habits of the nation's children. The particular target of their disapproval was the boy's adventure story—the kind of cheap short novel, full of exotic locations and narrow escapes from mortal peril and false friends and unexpected acts of heroism, that had come to be known as the "penny dreadful." Surely it could not be good for children to immerse themselves in these ill-made fictional worlds, with their formulaic plots and purple prose; surely we should insist that they learn to savor finer fare.

Then came riding into the fray a young man—twenty-five at the time—named Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who, though a journalist and an intellectual himself, repudiated the hand-wringing of his colleagues and planted his flag quite firmly in the camp of the penny dreadfuls: "There is no class of vulgar publications about which there is, to my mind, more utterly ridiculous exaggeration and misconception than the current boys' literature of the lowest stratum." Chesterton is perfectly happy to acknowledge that these books are not in the commendatory sense "literature," because "the simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important. Every one of us in childhood has constructed such an invisible dramatis personae, but it never occurred to our nurses to correct the composition by careful comparison with Balzac."

Nor should our nurses have done so, because what matters most about the penny dreadfuls is the soundness and accuracy of their moral compass, and their power of inspiring their readers to discern the significance of moral choice:

The vast mass of humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies spared … . The average man or boy writes daily in these great gaudy diaries of his soul, which we call Penny Dreadfuls, a plainer and better gospel than any of those iridescent ethical paradoxes that the fashionable change as often as their bonnets.

And above all, what Chesterton loves about the penny dreadful is this: "It is always on the side of life."

I have been meditating on these thoughts in recent days, as I have scanned cyberspace for the many and varying responses to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final tale of the Boy Who Lived. It is a story full of exotic locations and narrow escapes from mortal peril and false friends and unexpected acts of heroism; it is a story which suggests that courage is splendid and fidelity noble. Of course, that's not enough for some people; and for others it's precisely the problem.

We already know that some Christians mistrust the Potter series because of its depictions of magic; we already know that some critics (Harold Bloom most prominent among them) deplore the books' lack of literary grace. But another and different set of critics has emerged here at the end of the series, for whom the evident traditionalism of the books is their greatest flaw. One of the participants in's Book Club thinks that the novel, and its epilogue in particular, "feels awfully bourgeois in its concern with little other than our heroes' marriages and children." (I did not know that concern for marriage and children was the exclusive province of the bourgeoisie; but that's why I read Slate, to learn stuff like that.) And as I scanned the blogs I lost track of the number of people who complained that the epilogue, and indeed the whole series, is defaced by "heteronormativity." Not a gay or lesbian couple in sight—though, if it makes anyone feel better, I have seen that a few readers of the previous book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, think that Harry's obsession with finding out what Draco Malfoy is up to marks a welcome homoerotic interlude.

What could one say in defense of these books, so unliterary, so unsophisticated in their morality and style, so bourgeois, so heteronormative? Perhaps only this: that J. K. Rowling has produced, in the vast, seven-book, thirty-five-hundred-page arc of Harry's story, the greatest penny dreadful ever written.

-ESSAY: Harry Potter and the Christian Critics (Mark Shea, Sep 13, 2007, First Things)
[I]t became hard to dismiss the charge of immorality when Deathly Hallows presented us with, in my opinion, the only really intellectually respectable basis for Christian criticism of the series: Snape's killing of Dumbledore on Dumbledore's orders.

Some fans of Harry have attempted to come up with excuses for this act. If Snape didn't kill Dumbledore, the logic goes, then Draco Malfoy would have been forced to do it. So (the claim goes) this is a salvific act, not an act of murder. Some even go so far as to say it was OK because Dumbledore was dying anyway. And besides, he ordered it.

One wants to be generous to such people, especially after all the unjust guff they've taken as "dreaming slaves," to quote O'Brien. But the fact remains that "You shall not do evil that good may come of it." It is evil to kill an innocent man, as Snape himself points out. Mercy killing isn't just wrong for Muggles. And "I was just following orders" was shown to have limited traction in 1946. Fans of Potter cannot escape the problem of Dumbledore's and Snape's actions by this route.

That said, I think this is only an intractable problem if we view Dumbledore as the source and summit of all moral and spiritual wisdom—which is precisely what Rowling labors to prevent in the final book. Indeed, the curious thing about Deathly Hallows is that Rowling repeatedly hammers home an attack on exactly the consequentialism that some Harry fans are mistakenly laboring to excuse in a whitewash not unlike Elphias Doge's sentimental hagiography. Rowling inexorably takes apart such hagiography and does not permit us to turn Dumbledore into a plaster saint. Dumbledore's great downfall was doing evil "for the Greater Good"—and that, I think, is the key. Deathly Hallows is the book in which, above all, Dumbledore gives way to Harry as the doubtful and imperfect Baptist gives way to Jesus, as the great but pagan Vergil gives way to Beatrice, as the greatest prophet gives way to the least in the kingdom of heaven. A reader of my blog perceptively writes:

Let's not forget that Rowling also depicts Dumbledore as a character with very significant moral flaws—[Rowling] has spoken of this several times in interviews, besides all the evidence she gives us in the books, particularly DH, where it is a major theme. Dumbledore himself is aware of this—his remorse for his sins against his sister is permanently chiseled into her grave stone, and he is still haunted by them when he talks to Harry in King's Cross. He has also said that, with his very great gifts, he sometimes makes greater mistakes than others. Despite decades of good work defending the weak, giving second chances and defeating evil characters, he is still so prone to the seduction of power he cannot resist putting on the Resurrection Stone, which Snape rightly excoriates him for doing. In short, just because Dumbledore the character plans it, or does it, doesn't make it right, even in the books. Nor are we required to approve of all his choices as they are presented in the books.

Beyond that, Rowling makes clear . . . that Dumbledore's grand plan doesn't work! We are not to look at him sacrificing himself (as many try to see it) as the act of deep genius that makes it all come out OK. His choice to have Snape kill him was a way to get the unbeatable Elder Wand into the hands of the strongest wizard left standing on the anti-Voldemort side. Instead, events he had no control over lead things in a completely different direction. Draco didn't kill him, but the wand became Draco's when he pinned Dumbledore and it fell away. Though it was buried with Dumbledore, it "belonged" to Draco. In the chapter "Malfoy Manor," the right to the wand passes to Harry when Harry bests Draco by wrestling three wands from him. And, in the end, Voldemort wields a wand he doesn't really own against Harry. In fact, he murdered Snape in the mistaken belief it would make him master of the wand-murderer Snape because, in accord with Dumbledore's grand plan, Snape should have inherited the wand when he killed Dumbledore. Instead, the Elder Wand responds to Harry's "signature spell," Expelliarmus, leaping from Voldemort's hand to Harry's and sending Voldemort's hurled curse back upon himself. I'm paraphrasing here, but Rowling said that, "in the end, all Dumbledore's plotting didn't make the difference—instead it came down to a wrestling match between two teenaged boys."

Harry understands all (or almost all) of this when he leaves King's Cross to confront Voldemort a last time. He thinks he will win, but he is ready to try it even if he fails because he has grown through struggling with his own flaws (and the flaws of Snape, Dumbledore, Ron, and others), and he has learned the key lesson taught by the Blessed Woman (Lily! That name!) and the hobbit of hobbits in the book, Dobby—real life, life stronger than death, is found by giving your life for another.

Dumbledore is, like Vergil, a "great man" (in the words of Hagrid). But he himself acknowledges that Harry is the "better man." Harry can do what Dumbledore could not. That's not because Harry has mastered secret knowledge. It's because Harry is the recipient of grace. Dumbledore's death is marked by the sin that marred Dumbledore's life: He does evil "for the greater good." And the plan he hatches "for the greater good" is fruitless. The Elder Wand he aimed to give to Snape goes to Draco. But, in the mystery of grace, his failure is redeemed by Harry's response to grace.

So it seems to me that Rowling is, in fact, remaining true to her rejection of consequentialism. Dumbledore's consequentialist act of ordering Snape to kill him "for the greater good" results only in failure, and Rowling wants us to see that (if the interview is any indication). But sin and failure are not the last word—grace is. Harry's imitation of Christ's death and resurrection is rewarded with redemption, reconciliation, and healing, which save Harry's world.

Harry Potter and the Way of Jesus (Sylvia Keesmaat, Banner)
I admit that when the Harry Potter phenomenon first hit, I was a bit skeptical. After all, a series about witches and wizards that had hit the best-seller list didn’t sound that attractive to my tastes. I was partly doubtful that anything so hugely popular could have any literary quality and partly unsure of the subject matter.

Then a colleague suggested I read the first book. The first led to the second and the third and then the fourth (all that were out at that point). I discovered, first, that the Harry Potter books are an excellent addition to children’s literature. The first three are rather lightweight, but by the fourth book Rowling has created something that rivals the Narnia series and enters the epic proportions of Lord of the Rings. Add to that the extra level of meaning in the names and spells for those who know a little Latin, and the books become an intellectual exercise as well.

I also discovered that Harry Potter has nothing to do with any real-life religion that uses the terminology of witchcraft (commonly called “Wicca”). Rather, Rowling’s world of magic, of witches and wizards and spells, is a literary device, a fantasy world.

Harry Potter fits squarely into the category of fantasy literature, with its major influences being the Christian fantasy authors C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Narnia chronicles and Lord of the Rings trilogy have shaped the Christian literary imagination for half a century now. Just as the works of Lewis and Tolkien are about the epic struggle between good and evil, and just as Lewis used the terminology of the “Deep Magic” and portrayed his evil character as a witch, so also the Harry Potter books draw on the language of fantasy.

And just as Tolkien and Lewis put average characters in central roles in the struggle between good and evil, so Rowling describes the challenges faced by an average boy given an exceptional task.

As the story line unfolds over the seven Harry Potter books, however, it becomes clear that Rowling is not merely interested in a wooden, clear-cut battle between good and evil. Both the characters and the story reveal a worldview that is deeply Christian at its core. Let me illustrate.

August 16, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:12 PM


The Demanding Game Of Shuffleboard (Gilbert Rogin, 9/04/67, Sports Illustrated)

Shuffleboard is not deck shuffleboard, the full and proper name of the game played with a cue or stick. Deck shuffleboard is a parvenu that was apparently devised late in the 19th century as a shipboard amusement for children, and is now, of course, ineradicably associated with St. Petersburg, Fla. and senior citizens. True shuffleboard—first called shoveboard and then, inexplicably, shovelboard—seems to have originated in England, where there is a record of its being played in 1532, and in its earliest form consisted of shoving coins across a polished tabletop. Shuffleboard was one of the first games played in the American colonies; but, along with dice, cards, bowls, quoits and ninepins, it was banned on account of the early Puritan "detestation of idleness." Indeed, in Colonial Connecticut and Massachusetts shuffleboard was described as a game in which "much precious time is spent unfruitfully."

Nonetheless—or, rather, for this very reason—shuffleboard has flourished. According to Sol Lipkin, sales manager of the American Shuffleboard Company of Union City, N.J., which has 99% of the market, there are perhaps half a million boards now in use. American sold 3,500 last year. "The only trouble with the shuffleboard business," says Nick Melone, American's general manager, "is that shuffleboards last forever."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:01 AM


In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition: Birthers, Town Hall Hecklers and the Return of Right-Wing Rage (Rick Perlstein, August 16, 2009, Washington Post)

In the early 1950s, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as "20 years of treason" and accused the men who led the fight against fascism of deliberately surrendering the free world to communism. Mainline Protestants published a new translation of the Bible in the 1950s that properly rendered the Greek as connoting a more ambiguous theological status for the Virgin Mary; right-wingers attributed that to, yes, the hand of Soviet agents. And Vice President Richard Nixon claimed that the new Republicans arriving in the White House "found in the files a blueprint for socializing America."

When John F. Kennedy entered the White House, his proposals to anchor America's nuclear defense in intercontinental ballistic missiles -- instead of long-range bombers -- and form closer ties with Eastern Bloc outliers such as Yugoslavia were taken as evidence that the young president was secretly disarming the United States. Thousands of delegates from 90 cities packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, a 1961 version of today's tea parties; a keynote speaker turned to the master of ceremonies after his introduction and remarked as the audience roared: "Tom Anderson here has turned moderate! All he wants to do is impeach [Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl] Warren. I'm for hanging him!"

Before the "black helicopters" of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a "civil rights movement" had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would "enslave" whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn't lack for subversives -- anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and '50s.

The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny.

The similarity is haunting:
The fantasy of total control has emerged as central to the Bush administration imagination. It comes out in the unguarded utterances: the aide who blurts to a New York Times reporter that he was just one more sad-sack member of the "reality-based community." ("That's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.") The president demanding during the Iraq debate to congressional leaders, "Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you." A White House aide, to a congregation of Pentecostal ministers, the "current government is engaged in cultural, economic, and social struggle on every level."

It shows up in the tautological narcissism of Bush's National Security Strategy document, which actually uses the phrase "the best defense is a good offense," and artfully constructs a vision in which whatever the United States does to preserve its interest is always already "peaceful," even when it requires war, is always already "democratic," even when it requires installing governments by fiat, is always already selfless, even as it establishes only two categories of states, those who cooperate and those who do not, in a situation of crisis defined unilaterally and whose time horizon stretches to infinity.

"In the new world we have entered," it avers, "the only path to peace and security is the path of action." The manifesto takes on ominous overtones when read alongside the famous post-9/11 draft Pentagon report that establishes a royalist conception of "sweeping" executive power as the only way to keep us safe: because "national security decisions require the unity in purpose and energy in action to characterize the presidency rather than Congress."

"Unity in Purpose, Energy in Action" – more than one commentator has noted its resemblance to slogans of fascist movements throughout history.

And of course out of fantasies of perfect control have always sprung the world's greatest human catastrophes. There will always be things even the most energetic executive cannot come even close to controlling. Conservatives used to warn us about the dangers of such utopianism – of the unintended consequences of hubristic attempts to "socially engineer" brave new worlds conjured in the heads of liberal intellectuals. Now Americans are once again learning that lesson, but the perpetrators are ... conservatives.

And their utopia, heaven help them, is Iraq.

What comes next there? For the subject who fantasizes total control, chaos is only an injunction to more radically confident maneuvers that enlarge the struggle for control.

[W]e should be worried about self-fulfilling prophecies. "Biblically," stated one South Carolina minister in support of the anti-Road Map billboard campaign, "there's always going to be a war."

Don Wagner, an evangelical, worries that in the Republican Party, people who believe this "are dominating the discourse now, in an election year." He calls the attempt to yoke Scripture to current events "a modern heresy, with cultish proportions.

"I mean, it's appalling," he rails on. "And it also shows how marginalized mainstream Christian thinking, and the majority of evangelical thought, have become."

It demonstrates, he says, "the absolute convergence of the neoconservatives with the Christian Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby, driving U.S. Mideast policy."

The problem is not that George W. Bush is discussing policy with people who press right-wing solutions to achieve peace in the Middle East, or with devout Christians. It is that he is discussing policy with Christians who might not care about peace at all—at least until the rapture.

Poor Friend Perlstein, he can't help seeing himself when he looks at them, and being justifiable scared by such derangement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:52 AM


White House appears ready to drop 'public option' (Philip Elliott, 8/16/09, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

President Obama's health secretary said Sunday that a government alternative to private health insurance is "not the essential element" of the administration's health care overhaul. for the President to apologize for scaring the American people by making sound like he was going to change the health care system in any meaningful way...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Emanuel Wields Power Freely, and Faces the Risks (PETER BAKER and JEFF ZELENY, 8/15/09, NY Times)

[M]r. Emanuel talked with Mrs. Clinton, said Democrats informed about the situation, and explained that bringing Mr. Blumenthal on board was a no-go. The bad blood among his colleagues was too deep, and the last thing the administration needed, he concluded, was dissension and drama in the ranks. In short, Mr. Blumenthal was out.

Perhaps nothing illustrates how far Mr. Emanuel has come than that conversation last month. Sixteen years ago, it was Mrs. Clinton, then first lady, who helped have Mr. Emanuel demoted as a senior official in Bill Clinton’s White House after he ruffled feathers with his aggressive style. Now all these years later, it is Mr. Emanuel telling Mrs. Clinton what she cannot do as a member of the cabinet.

Seven months after moving into his office in the West Wing, Mr. Emanuel is emerging as perhaps the most influential White House chief of staff in a generation. exchange for leaking like a New Orleans levy, Mr. Emanuel is given these sorts of toast-buttering profiles by those who depend on him. But W brought in a strong executive as his chief of staff and, despite Florida and BDS, Congressional Quarterly did a report on his legislative record for 2001 that showed the Congress had adopted his position on legislation over 70% of the time, a record of accomplishment that they compared to LBJ at the height of the Great Society. President Obama brought in a legislator as his chief and can't get any meaningful legislation through a Democratic Congress: can't cut taxes; can't restore the assault weapons ban; can't pass immigration reform; can't pass the unintended pregnancies bill; can't close Gitmo; can't get out of Iraq; can't pass cap & trade; can't pass health reform; etc...etc...etc... We're perfectly willing to see Mr. Emanuel get the blame for this singular lack of achievement, but it does suggest he's more powerless than powerful, unless power only refers to bureaucratic squabbles within the Executive.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:17 AM


AP source: Wis. Gov. Doyle won't seek re-election (SCOTT BAUER, 8/15/09, AP)

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, whose approval ratings have plunged as he struggled with a weak economy and a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, will not seek a third term in 2010, a person informed of the decision told The Associated Press. [...]

A number of Republicans already are running for governor, most notably Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:14 AM


Drinking the Kool-Aid: Failing to lead, Hillary follows the President in placating the world (Michael Goodwin, August 16th 2009, NY Daily News)

The bended-knee approach abroad shames America and reduces our great nation to the sum of its mistakes and failures. And it seems designed to create the misleading impression that Third-World kleptocrats and genocidal maniacs are, gee, just like us.

Clinton's moral equivalency moment came when she told a group of Nigerian activists that, "In 2000, our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of the man running for President was the governor of the state. So we have our problems, too." [...]

Nigerians would be thankful for any election that didn't involve the army and stacks of corpses. Instead, they get childish bromides about American flaws.

That sends a demoralizing message to reformers fighting Nigeria's government, which is regarded as one of the most corrupt in the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:29 AM


NASA's moon plan too ambitious, Obama panel says (JOEL ACHENBACH, 8/15/09, Washington Post)

NASA doesn't have nearly enough money to meet its goal of putting astronauts back on the moon by 2020 -- and it might be the wrong place to go, anyway. That's one of the harsh messages emerging from a sweeping review of NASA's human space flight program.

The Human Space Flight Plans Committee, appointed by President Barack Obama and headed by retired aerospace executive Norman Augustine, has been trying to stitch together some kind of plausible strategy for America's manned space program.

Is Obama's 'let's talk' diplomacy failing?
The US has scored no big wins under his policy of talking with the enemy. Doubts that it can are rising. (Howard LaFranchi, 8/09/09, The Christian Science Monitor )
Whether the issue is key security threats, as with Iran and North Korea, or lower-profile matters, as with Cuba or Burma (Myanmar), Obama's critics and even some backers of the "talk to the enemy" approach are starting to speak of the policy's limits.

"I'm one who thinks the president is right to pursue this path, but he needs a major success pretty soon to make his case," says Charles Kupchan, a foreign-policy scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations here. "None of these cases is low-hanging fruit, and he doesn't have to score across the board. But without a major success we're going to see the Bush-McCain refrain coming back: that engagement is appeasement."

After the new Deal you get Ike, but he's followed by JFK. After the Gipper, you get GHWB, but he's followed by Clinton/W. And after them you get the UR, but this rentrenchment too will be followed by visionary presidency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:26 AM


Europe and US still at risk from deflation trap (Edmund Conway, 14 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

The developed world has not shaken off the risk of sliding into a deflation trap, experts warned after new figures showed that prices in both the eurozone and the US are falling. [...]

Indeed, the fall in consumer prices over the past year in the US represents the biggest such drop since January 1950, and means that the country has now been in deflation for eight months.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:21 AM



In the 1990s, Republicans tried to change Medicare into a defined-contribution model, more along the lines of the plan that federal employees enjoy. The Republican-controlled Congress passed such legislation in 1995, but President Clinton vetoed it. Seeing that Medicare costs were out of control, Clinton set up a bipartisan Medicare Commission headed by John Breaux (D-La.). The Breaux Commission came up with a similar plan in 1999. Democrats killed that too.

When Republicans controlled Congress and the White House, from 2003-06, they provided Health Savings Accounts and prescription coverage under Medicare for the first time. With the Democrats regularly using Senate filibusters, those were significant achievements.

Republican introduced precursors to the Patients' Choice Act in the House in July 2007, May 2008 and September 2008. All died in the Democrat-controlled House. There is also the Health Care Freedom, introduced in the Senate this June by Sen. Jim DeMint.

The Patients' Choice Act addresses the concerns most of us have about health care. It will reduce costs. It will expand coverage. It will increase patient choice, moving decision-making away from government and corporations and toward individuals.

...that the GOP can win by running on alternative ideas, not just on "no". The PCA, however, affords too much choice. It should direct people into HSA's with opt-out provisions, not just hope they choose wisely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Russia could scrap troubled sea missile: report (Reuters, 8/15/09)

Russia may halt the development of its accident-prone Bulava sea-based nuclear missiles and opt for another system if future tests fail to work successfully, Interfax reported Friday, quoting industry sources.

Russia has pressed ahead with the Bulava as a crucial plank of its strategic defense that has become a symbol of the country's attempts to create a new generation of post-Soviet weaponry to match Washington's advanced arsenal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:16 AM


2 Killings Stoke Kashmiri Rage at Indian Force (LYDIA POLGREEN, 8/14/09, NY Times)

“India says Kashmir is a free part of a free country,” said Majid Khan, a 20-year-old unemployed man who has joined the stone-throwing mobs. “If that is so, why are we being brutalized? Why are women gang raped?”

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, and the Himalayan border region remains at the heart of the 62-year rivalry between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Settling the Kashmir dispute is the key to unlocking the region’s tensions, something the United States hopes will eliminate Pakistan’s shadowy support for militant groups and allow its army to shift attention toward fighting Taliban militants.

Despite Kashmiri rage and the damage to India’s image, the Indian government has bridled at any outside pressure to negotiate a solution, let alone reduce its force level here. Caught in the middle are Kashmir’s 10 million people. The case of Asiya and Nilofar is only the latest abuse to strike a chord with Kashmiris, who say it is emblematic of the problems of what amounts to a full-scale occupation.

It doesn't matter whether it's India in Kashmir, Russia in Chechnya, China in Tibet and Uighurstan, The Maronites/Sunni in Hezbollahstan, or Israel in Palestine, peoples who think of themselves as nations are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:09 AM


McDonnell Ahead In Governor's Race (Jon Cohen and Anita Kumar, August 16, 2009, Washington Post)

Republican Robert F. McDonnell has claimed a clear early lead over Democrat R. Creigh Deeds in the race for Virginia governor, according to a new Washington Post poll.

Widespread criticism of the direction of a state run for the past eight years by Democrats and an increasingly GOP-friendly electorate have propelled McDonnell, who runs competitively even in the Democratic strongholds of Northern Virginia. [...]

McDonnell is favored over Deeds among all registered voters, 47 to 40 percent, and is up by an even steeper margin, 54 to 39 percent, among those who say they are certain to vote in November.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Why Neoconservative Pundits Love Jon Stewart (Jacob Gershman, 8/09/09, New York)

"There is genuine intellectual curiosity," [Cliff] May told New York. "He's a staunch liberal, but he's a thoughtful liberal, and I respect that." May isn't the only conservative gushing about Stewart. While the movement professes a disdain for the "liberal media elite," it has made an exception for the true-blue 46-year-old comedian. "He always gives you a chance to answer, which some people don't do," says John Bolton, President Bush's ambassador to the United Nations and a Fox News contributor, who went on the show last month. "He's got his perspective, but he's been fair." Says Bolton: "In general, a lot of the media, especially on the left, has lost interest in debate and analysis. It has been much more ad hominem. Stewart fundamentally wants to talk about the issues. That's what I want to do."

What's more, Stewart seems to like hosting conservatives (Comedy Central did not reply to requests for comment). In recent weeks, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Kristol have stopped by. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, Stewart has interviewed more conservative pundits than liberal ones. (Remember when fans fretted he'd have trouble finding ways to be funny under the new president?) It may be because it's simply easier to tangle with an ideological adversary than to needle a compatriot. A clash of ideas is always more entertaining than an echo chamber. And, for a liberal wit like Stewart, it's easier to stake out a clear position when facing off against a direct opponent. When he's interviewing a liberal politician or pundit, he comes from a weaker position. His offensive instincts are blurred — notwithstanding his on-air indictment of Jim Cramer — and occasionally he fawns.

Take his interview last month with House Financial Services Committee chair Barney Frank. "It seems like it's disappeared," Stewart said of the stimulus money. Frank dodged the attack by insisting that Democrats had made the economic crisis "less bad than it used to be." Stewart toggled to another point, that Democrats had revised the recovery timetable. Frank claimed his intervention prevented a deeper hole. Frank wasn't really answering the questions. The conversation felt unsatisfying.

August 15, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Breaking News: ESPN To Show Chelsea v Hull City Game (The Gaffer, August 14, 2009, EPL Talk)

Breaking news just in to the EPL Talk desk. ESPN2 will show the opening game of the 2009-2010 season between Chelsea and Hull City at 7:45am ET Saturday.

...but Jozy Altidore should see some time for Hull, if not start.

Premier League: the definitive club-by-club guide (Times of London, 8/14/09)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:36 AM


Webb's Trip To Burma May Be Litmus Test: U.S. Weighs Reengagement As Senator Talks With Junta (Colum Lynch, 8/15/09, Washington Post)

The trip by the Virginia Democrat, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit to Burma in a decade, comes just days after a government-run court sentenced the main opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to an additional 18 months under house arrest. But it also comes as the Obama administration calibrates its policy toward the military junta that rules the country, which came under tough economic sanctions during the Bush administration.

The Obama administration has shown a willingness to engage with Burma and other adversaries. Webb's trip could highlight the benefits of such engagement, at least in Burma, U.S. officials said. Senator Webb doesn't care if they're free, but the President ought to recognize by now that his policy of appeasing dictators isn't getting him anything.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:31 AM


Americans to Play When Prem Kicks Off (Jeffrey Marcus, 8/14/09, NY Times: Goal)

Clint Dempsey, who struggled Wednesday against Mexico, signed a contract extension at Fulham that will keep with the London club until 2013. (He would have been out of contract at the end of next season had he not extended.) Dempsey, who netted six goals last season, is one of a number of American players in recent years to find success at Craven Cottage. Also on the roster at Fulham: Eddie Johnson, a forward who was on loan last season to Cardiff City. [...]

Jonathan Spector, a fullback for West Ham United, begins his sixth season in England. He signed as a teenager for Manchester United in 2001. He has been a key player for West Ham since 2006, though injuries have limited him some. The Guardian calls him an “unsung hero” for West Ham. Spector was an integral part of the U.S. backline that reached the final of the Confederations Cup in South Africa over the summer. But on Wednesday, Bob Bradley left him out of the U.S. lineup against Mexico, opting instead for the veteran right back Steve Cherundolo.

In Mexico we didn't even have half of these guys, didn't play Spector, played Dempsey out of position, and didn't start Altidore. Madness....

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Moratorium against the new pagans (Francesco Agnoli, 8/14/09, Chiesa)

One of the ideas that recur most in the writings of the first Christians is in fact their desire to frequently repeat one concept: we Christians are different from the pagans, in part because we do not kill our children, neither within our women's wombs or outside of them.

In chapter XXX, paragraph 2 of his "Octavius," the second-century apologist Minucius Felix, comparing the teaching of Christ with that of the pagans, writes: "you expose your newborn children to wild beasts and to birds; or strangling them you crush with a miserable kind of death. There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, smother in their very bowels the seed destined to become a human creature, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And you learn these things from your gods, for Saturn did not simply expose his children, but even devoured them."

For his part, the great Tertullian, in his "Apologeticum," chapter IX, states: "For us Christians murder is expressly forbidden, and therefore it is not even permitted for us to destroy the fetus in its mother's womb. Preventing birth is murder in advance. It doesn't matter at all whether one destroys a life already born or crushes it at birth: what is about to be born is already a human being. Every fruit is already contained in its seed."

Another very important document from second-century Christianity, written in Asia Minor, the Letter to Diognetus, reiterates the same ideals in this rather concise manner: "Christians marry like everyone else and produce children, but they do not throw away their newborns."

On this same theme of infanticide, the historian A. Baudrillart has written: "There may be no matter on which ancient pagan society and modern Christian society are in more stark opposition than in their respective ways of thinking about children."

In effect, if we look at the ancient world, we note that abortion and infanticide are fairly widespread. "Seneca," recalls the American sociologist Rodney Stark in 'The Rise of Christianity, "regarded the drowning of children at birth as both reasonable and commonplace. Tacitus charged that the Jewish teaching that it is 'a deadly sin to kill an 'unwanted child' was but another of their 'sinister and revolting' practices. It was common to expose an unwanted infant out-of-doors where it could, in principle, be taken up by someone who wished to rear it, but where it typically fell victim to the elements or to animals and birds."

So in Rome just as in Greece, children were casually killed, or sold, or exposed and left to die of hunger and cold when there was no one to rescue them, usually in order to make them slaves. We know of the discovery, in the Roman sewers, of piles of bones from infant children who were abandoned and then thrown away like trash or garbage.

The victims of infanticide were usually girls, as in China and India today, while abortion, in addition to killing the fetus, often killed the mother as well, or left her sterile.

The first Christians' refusal to resort to abortion and infanticide, which was connected to a high rate of fertility among them, was not only a great victory of humanity, but also one of the elements that, together with conversions, allowed the first Christians to expand more and more, to the point of surpassing the pagans in numbers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:08 AM


Reaping the Whirlwind: GERMANY 1945: From War to Peace By Richard Bessel (BRIAN LADD, NY Times Book Review)

Bessel’s account of the second half of 1945 is less gripping but more instructive. The profound insecurity felt by millions of Germans — reduced to camping out in ­ruined train stations, chasing black-­market food and using cigarettes as currency — led to a craving for order: not the Nazis’ kind, with its promises of glory and adventure, but something that would give them a home once again. This yearning, Bessel argues, coupled with “the iron tutelage of the Allies,” became “the unlikely base for a remarkable recovery.”

...unlike the Brits and French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:05 AM


Boy pursued by football fans told 'hide in bush' by police (Andy Bloxham, 15 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

A 12-year-old Southampton FC fan called Charlie Whitemore asked a policeman for help while being chased by a gang of rival fans and was told to hide in a bush.

Charlie was with two friends walking through Hoglands Park towards the League One side's St Mary's Stadium when a group of Millwall fans began chasing him for wearing his Saints shirt.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:04 AM


Hamas: Leader of al-Qaida-inspired group killed in Gaza (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 8/15/09)

Hamas security said on Saturday that the leader of an al-Qaida-inspired group in the Gaza Strip has been killed in a fierce gun battle.

A Hamas security official said Saturday morning that Abdel-Latif Moussa, the leader of Jund Ansar Allah was killed by an explosion while fighting Hamas forces in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:28 AM

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BENNY (via Glenn Dryfoos):

August 14, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:03 PM


Sandoval to resign from federal court (BENJAMIN SPILLMAN, 8/14/09, LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL)

Judge Brian Sandoval will resign from the U.S. District Court in Nevada, Chief Judge Roger Hunt confirmed today. [...]

He has been described as a potentially strong Republican candidate for governor.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 PM


As Obama Goes on the Attack, a Blue Dog Takes Some Heat (ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON in Belgrade, Mont., and STEPHANIE SIMON in Arkadelphia, Ark., 8/15/09, WSJ)

While Mr. Obama tried to talk up the benefits, and urgency, of action, voters in Arkadelphia, Ark., urged caution in a meeting that lasted more than three hours with Mr. Ross. The leader of the Blue Dog Democrats in the House, a group of centrists in the party, repeatedly said he was neither for or against the bill, because there is no final bill; it's still being amended.

I"I'm not here to defend the public option," Mr. Ross told the audience. "I'm not even sure I support the public option. That's why I'm here listening....I'm not doing this for your all's entertainment. I really do appreciate your comments."

Mr. Ross isn't going to be in the sequel to Profiles in Courage, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 PM


British sniper describes how he shot Taliban commander... from TWO KILOMETRES away (Daily Mail, 15th August 2009)

Corporal Christopher Reynolds, 25, camped on the roof of a shop for three days as he waited for the perfect conditions to shoot the terrorist commander.

He calculated the range, wind and trajectory before pulling the trigger - and the bullet flew 1,853 metres before hitting the target in the chest.

The warlord, known as 'Mula', is thought to be responsible for co-ordinating several attacks against British and American troops since the outbreak of war in 2001.

Cpl Reynolds, of 3 Scots, The Black Watch, who has already killed 32 rebel fighters, has now been credited with the longest kill in Afghanistan at 1.15 miles away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:20 PM


'Quarter of a million people waiting more than 18 weeks for NHS treatment' (Murray Wardrop, 14 Aug 2009, Slate)

The disclosure of the statistics comes just three days after Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, claimed there were no longer any waiting lists in the NHS.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:16 PM


As Economy Turns, Washington Looks Better (DAVID LEONHARDT, 8/08/09, NY Times)

What if in the end they got it right?

What if, amid all their missteps and all the harsh criticism, the people in charge of battling the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression — Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson and the rest — basically succeeded?

It is clearly too soon to know for sure. But the evidence is now pointing pretty strongly in one direction: history books may conclude that the financial crisis of 2008 turned out to be far less bad than it could have been and that Washington deserved much of the credit.

Everyone in Washington except the House GOP that is.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:07 PM


Poll Finds Voters Against Obamacare, as Trust in Democrats Drops (Peter Roff, 8/14/09, Thomas Jefferson Street blog)

The summer congressional recess brings with it a bit of good news for the GOP. Pollster Scott Rasmussen reports that, "for the first time in over two years of polling, voters trust Republicans slightly more than Democrats on the handling of the issue of healthcare," 44 percent to 41 percent. [...]

Voters also don't like the specifics of the healthcare reform plan Congress is currently working on, also with the backing of the White House. Support for it has fallen "to a new low," with just 42 percent of U.S. voters now in favor of it. That represents a five-point decline in support just in the two weeks since the recess began.

Tempers fray as middle America finds its voice (Edward Luce, August 14 2009, Financial Times)
Something peculiar is happening at the grassroots level in America. Initially dismissed by Democrats as artificial “Astroturf” protests – because they were allegedly organised by groups opposed to universal healthcare coverage, such as Conservatives for Patients Rights – hundreds of ordinary voters are now being turned away at local meetings.

Many belong to organisations that oppose abortion or assisted suicide, which many inaccurately believe are sponsored by the healthcare bill taking shape in the House of Representatives. But others are ordinary citizens – almost always white, blue-collar workers – who are suffering from the recession and feel deep anger towards the federal government in general.

Obama criticizes media coverage of town halls (CAROL E. LEE, 8/14/09 , Politico)
Obama decried the media’s focus on contentious town halls and said the scenes that have been airing on cable TV are not representative of the many calm meetings being held across the country. “TV loves a ruckus,” Obama said.

You know, Rahm Emanuel works right next to the poor guy. You'd think he could explain that he recruited a bunch of conservatives to run for House seats because it was the only way the party could win a majority.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:28 AM


From 'Yes, We Can,' to 'No! Don't!' (Peggy Noonan, 8/14/09, WSJ)

The president seemed like a man long celebrated as being very good at politics—the swift rise, the astute reading of a varied electorate—who is finding out day by day that he isn't actually all that good at it. In this sense he does seem reminiscent of Jimmy Carter, who was brilliant at becoming president but not being president.

He's never shown much interest in the job, just the title.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:18 AM


Footballers install panic rooms after burglaries (Daily Telegraph, 14 Aug 2009)

Footballers from the Premier League, including some from Manchester United and Liverpool, have installed panic rooms in their homes in the wake of a series of raids on wealthy figures.

Work is understood to have taken place at luxurious properties in parts of north west England, including Alderley Edge as well as Hale, Knutsford and Mere.

It's not like they have any jewels.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:44 AM


The Afghans Have a Referendum on Democracy: Hamid Karzai's main challenger has had enough of governance by patronage. (Ann Marlowe, 8/14/09, WSJ)

These Afghans don't believe the line the foreign press is pushing—that Mr. Karzai has the election sewn up. With 10 days until the vote, they've come to offer help or cut deals, believing that they're backing the winner.

Dr. Abdullah, 49 years old, is an ophthalmologist and a former foreign minister of Afghanistan who entered politics by organizing medical care for the Afghan resistance after the Soviet invasion in 1979. He's running on a platform of overhauling the 2002 Afghan Constitution. He advocates a parliamentary system, political parties, and direct elections of mayors and provincial governors. (They're currently appointed by the president.)

Dr. Abdullah has single-handedly turned this election into a much-needed referendum on governance. How much direct democracy is enough? When is a people "mature" enough to elect its leaders? Is legitimacy derived from an election, from performance, or from the power of the gun? These are questions that resonate in Afghanistan as much as they do for Americans considering the merits of democracy promotion overseas.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:36 AM


GOP thinks the unthinkable: Victory in 2010 (Byron York, August 14, 2009, Washington Examiner)

It's a possibility many Republicans speak of only in whispers and Democrats are just now beginning to face. After passionate and contentious fights over health care, the environment, and taxes, could Democrats lose big -- really big -- in next year's elections?

Ask them about it, and many Democrats will point to the continued personal popularity of Barack Obama. But that's not the story. "I think what's going to happen is Obama's going to be fine, and the Democrats in Congress are going to get their [butt]s kicked in 2010," says one Democratic strategist who prefers not to be named. "This is following a curve like the Clinton years: take on really controversial things early, fail, or succeed partially, ask Democrats to take really tough votes, and then lose. A lot of guys are going to get beat, but the president has time to recover."

One of the advantages of the Contract with America was that it got GOP candidates to talk about a mainstream set of worries instead of the wacky stuff that moves them. A new one focused just on spending, budget balancing, tax simplification and entitlement reform would be opportune.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


Gay to straight: HOMOSEXUALITY: The American Psychological Association reports that identity and behavior can be changed to affirm religious beliefs (Alisa Harris, 8/14/09, World)

Psychologist Warren Throckmorton once met a woman who was in a lifelong lesbian relationship and suddenly, with no prefaced desire to leave her lesbian lifestyle, fell in love with a guy at work. She left her lesbian partner and married the man.

The American Psychological Association just published a report on whether therapists can make this change happen. In examining change therapy, which claims that people with homosexual desires can switch to heterosexual desires, the report says there is insufficient evidence that the therapies work.

But it also found that while people are unlikely to change their desires, they can change their identity and behavior. People who underwent change therapy sometimes reported that they learned to tolerate same-sex attraction, even if they didn’t act on it. Some eventually identified as heterosexuals and had heterosexual relationships. The APA also said that therapists can help people choose to live in a way that affirms their religious beliefs.

...not acting on one's desires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:27 AM


An ancient board game is winning new players: Go's complexities are ageless. (Sean Wood, 8/13/09, The Inquirer)

The Chinese Emperor Yao was disturbed by his young son's inability to concentrate. So, legend has it, the ancient ruler asked an adviser to invent an activity that would condition the boy's mind. The result: a wooden board and two boxes of stones.

Thus was born "go," one of the oldest and most complex board games on the planet. Part sport, part mystical experience, the 4,000-year-old tradition has attracted followers who are a rare combination of strategists and seers. An increasing number of Western devotees include celebrities Robin Williams, Paul Giamatti, and Rod Stewart.

Locally, go evangelists congregate at about 10 clubs and societies scattered throughout Philadelphia and its surrounding counties. The players are a mixed bunch, ranging from curious kids to an older Chinese player at the Phoenixville Go Club who - according to his opponents - knows little English outside the words "you lose."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:16 AM


Euro Zone's Consumer-Price Decline Accelerates (JOE PARKINSON and JASON SINCLAIR, 8/14/09, WSJ)

Consumer prices in the 16 countries that use the euro accelerated their decline to a fresh record low rate in July, but the earlier-than-expected return to growth in Germany and France may lead to a quicker rebound.

The European Union's official statistics agency, Eurostat, said Friday the consumer price index in the euro zone fell 0.7% in July from a year earlier. In June the year-to-year rate fell 0.1%, the first annualized decline in the currency bloc's 10-year history.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:10 AM


Finance Committee to drop end-of-life provision (Michael O'Brien, 08/13/09, The Hill)

The Senate Finance Committee will drop a controversial provision on consultations for end-of-life care from its proposed healthcare bill, its top Republican member said Thursday.

The committee, which has worked on putting together a bipartisan healthcare reform bill, will drop the controversial provision after it was derided by conservatives as "death panels" to encourage euthanasia.

August 13, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 PM


Here are those Owen Wilson "Don't be THAT guy" ads for STP.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:14 PM


We'll give away a couple books for the PGA Tournament. Pick two neither being Tiger. We'll take picks until noon (Pacific).

Among the books we have to give away is David Morrell's newest, Rising Above it All: How Rambo's Creator Earned His Pilot's License (David Morrell, Author of The Shimmer)

Readers familiar with my fiction know how much I love doing research. For Testament, I enrolled in an outdoor wilderness survival course and lived above timberline in the Wyoming mountains for 30 days. For The Protector, I spent a week at the Bill Scott raceway in West Virginia, learning offensive-defensive driving maneuvers, such as the 180-degree spins you see in the movies. I once broke my collarbone in a two-day knife-fighting class designed for military and law enforcement personnel.

Two years ago, I began the longest research project of my career. I was preparing to write a novel called The Shimmer, a fictional dramatization of the mysterious lights that appear on many nights outside the small town of Marfa in west Texas. When the first settlers passed through that area in the 1800s, they saw the lights, and people have been drawn to those lights ever since, including James Dean who became fascinated by them when he filmed his final movie Giant near Marfa in 1955.

The lights float, bob, and weave. They combine and change colors. They seem far away and yet so close that people think they can reach out and touch them. In the 1970s, the citizens of Marfa organized what they called a Ghost Light Hunt and pursued the lights, using horses, vehicles, and an airplane, but the lights had no difficulty eluding them.

Because an airplane was used, I decided to include one in The Shimmer. I'd never written about a pilot, and the idea of trying something new always appeals to me. The dramatic possibilities were intriguing. But a minute's thought warned me about the monumental task I was planning. As a novelist version of a Method actor, I couldn't just cram an airplane into my novel. First, I would need to learn how airplanes worked so that real pilots wouldn't be annoyed by inaccuracies. Real pilots. That's when I realized that it wouldn't be enough to learn how airplanes worked. I would need to take pilot training.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:13 PM


Cheney Felt Bush Stopped Listening to Him (Brian Kates, 8/13/09, NY DAILY NEWS)

"In the second term, he felt Bush was moving away from him," one participant told the newspaper. "He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took....The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney's advice.

Bush "showed an independence that Cheney didn't see coming," the insider said.

...the former president asked, "You want to listen to the fat bald guy whinge on about Scooter Libby?"

Big mistake not replacing him with Condi in '04.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:59 AM


Les Paul, Guitar Innovator, Dies at 94 (JON PARELES, 8/14/09, NY Times)

Mr. Paul was a remarkable musician as well as a tireless tinkerer. He played guitar with leading prewar jazz and pop musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. In the 1930s he began experimenting with guitar amplification, and by 1941 he had built what was probably the first solid-body electric guitar, although there are other claimants. With his electric guitar and the vocals of his wife, Mary Ford, he used overdubbing, multitrack recording and new electronic effects to create a string of hits in the 1950s.

Mr. Paul’s style encompassed the twang of country music, the harmonic richness of jazz and, later, the bite of rock ’n’ roll. For all his technological impact, though, he remained a down-home performer whose main goal, he often said, was to make people happy. [...]

His interest in gadgets came early. At 10 years old he devised a harmonica holder from a coat hanger. Soon afterward he made his first amplified guitar by opening the back of a Sears acoustic model and inserting, behind the strings, the pickup from a dismantled Victrola. With the record player on, the acoustic guitar became an electric one. Later, he built his own pickup from ham radio earphone parts and assembled a recording machine from a Cadillac flywheel and the belt from a dentist’s drill.

From country music Mr. Paul moved into jazz, influenced by players like Django Reinhardt and Eddie Lang, who were using amplified hollow-body guitars to play hornlike single-note solo lines. He formed the Les Paul Trio in 1936 and moved to New York, where he was heard regularly on Fred Waring’s radio show from 1938 to 1941.

In 1940 or 1941 — the exact date is unknown — , Mr. Paul made his guitar breakthrough. Seeking to create electronically sustained notes on the guitar, he attached strings and two pickups to a wooden board with a guitar neck. “The log,” as he called it, was probably the first solid-body electric guitar and became the most influential one. “You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding,” Mr. Paul once said.

The odd-looking instrument drew derision when he first played it in public, so he hid the works inside a conventional-looking guitar. But the log was a conceptual turning point. With no acoustic resonance of its own, it was designed to generate an electronic signal that could be amplified and processed — the beginning of a sonic transformation of the world’s music.

Mr. Paul was drafted in 1942 and worked for the Armed Forces Radio Service, accompanying Rudy Vallee, Kate Smith and others. When he was discharged in 1943, he was hired as a staff musician for NBC radio in Los Angeles. His trio toured with the Andrews Sisters and backed Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby, with whom he recorded the hit “It’s Been a Long, Long Time” in 1945. Crosby encouraged Mr. Paul to build his own recording studio, and so he did, in his garage in Los Angeles.

Guitar legend Les Paul dies at age 94; Innovator was a key force in creator of rock 'n' roll (LUKE SHERIDAN, 8/13/09, Associated Press)
As an inventor, Paul helped bring about the rise of rock 'n' roll and multitrack recording, which enables artists to record different instruments at different times, sing harmony with themselves, and then carefully balance the "tracks" in the finished recording.

With Ford, his wife from 1949 to 1962, he earned 36 gold records and 11 No. 1 pop hits, including "Vaya Con Dios," ''How High the Moon," ''Nola" and "Lover." Many of their songs used overdubbing techniques that Paul the inventor had helped develop.

"I could take my Mary and make her three, six, nine, 12, as many voices as I wished," he recalled. "This is quite an asset." The overdubbing technique was highly influential on later recording artists such as the Carpenters. [...]

A tinkerer and musician since childhood, he experimented with guitar amplification for years before coming up in 1941 with what he called "The Log," a four-by-four piece of wood strung with steel strings.

"I went into a nightclub and played it. Of course, everybody had me labeled as a nut." He later put the wooden wings onto the body to give it a tradition guitar shape.

In 1952, Gibson Guitars began production on the Les Paul guitar.

-INTERVIEW: Les Paul: What I've Learned: In one of his last interviews, the late father of the electric guitar looked back on how being sick made him start playing, how he got sick of playing, and how he wished he could go back to the beginning (John H. Richardson, 8/13/09, Esquire)
I got the mumps. They threw me in a crib so I wouldn't roll out onto the floor. And there's a big bay window in my house, and that window stayed perfectly still until that train started to chug. At a certain speed, I could reach up and feel the pane, and that glass pane would vibrate. I said, Doggone, there's got to be a reason for this. So I go to the kindergarten teacher, and she takes me to the science teacher, and the science teacher takes me to the library and reads it off to me -- "This is called resonance." That was the beginning.

The audience, they're not professionals. They just love music. It isn't necessary to play over their heads to be admired.

The Many Lives of Les Paul (Ed Driscoll, Aug 22, 2002, BlogCritics)

Who Is Les Paul?

Les PaulTo baby boomers, he's the name on their, or their favorite guitarist's instrument (as his recent commercial for Coors Beer made light of). To the previous generation, he's a musician with a string of pop hits in the 1950s. And there are lots of older folks around who still remember his days from the 1930s, playing in Fred Waring's Orchestra, and backing up Bing Crosby.

Clearly, while most people would be happy with one successful career, Les Paul is a man who can look back on several simultaneous lives.

Born Lester William Polfus on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, he began to teach himself not only the guitar, but electronic engineering when he was just a child. He later shortened his name to Les Paul (after a brief spell known as Rhubarb Red!) and played with big bands in the 1930s, such as Fred Waring's outfit in the 1930s and with Bing Crosby in the 1940s.

Simultaneously, he also did much developmental work on the concept of the electric guitar. His electrical engineering skills led him to finally develop the electric solidbody guitar, designed initially to reduce feedback and increase the sustain of notes and chords.

Later in that same decade, he began developing the concept of sound on sound recording, first painstakingly overdubbing part after part on a 78 rpm record cutting machine, and then later on magnetic tape. The Beatles' complex and masterful recordings of the late 1960s, as well as virtually all popular music recorded since, use the very methods he developed. Led Zeppelin's albums, with layer upon layer of overdubbed, multitracked guitars, and often recorded in large country homes instead of professional recording studios, would be unthinkable without Paul's first efforts away from a studio.

Rock guitar pioneer Les Paul dies (BBC, 8/13/09)
U2 guitarist The Edge, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Guns N' Roses star Slash and the Sex Pistols' Steve Jones are among those closely associated with the Les Paul sound.

Henry Juszkiewicz, chairman of Gibson Guitar, said: "His influence extends around the globe and across every boundary."

Gibson president Dave Berryman said: "As the 'father of the electric guitar', he was not only one of the world's greatest innovators but a legend who created, inspired and contributed to the success of musicians around the world."

Guitar legend Les Paul dies at 94 (Bob Tourtellotte, Reuters)
In 1977, Paul and another legendary guitarist, Chet Atkins, released the Grammy-winning album “Chester and Lester.”
He was back at the Grammy Awards in 2005 with award-winning “Les Paul & Friends: American Made World Played,” featuring guitarists Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards among the collaborators.

Paul is the only person to be a member in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:49 AM


70% say brides should take husband's name (Jillian Berman, 8/11/09, USA TODAY)

About 70% of Americans agree, either somewhat or strongly, that it's beneficial for women to take her husband's last name when they marry, while 29% say it's better for women to keep their own names, finds a study being presented today at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting in San Francisco. [...]

But she says some studies have found that younger women are as likely or more likely to change their name when they marry as their baby boom counterparts. "It's not a straight age trend."

Respondents who said that women should change their names tended to view it as important for establishing a marital and family identity, she says, while those who thought women should keep their own names focused on the importance of a woman establishing a professional or individual identity.

Hamilton says that about half of respondents went so far as to say that the government should mandate women to change their names when they marry, a finding she called "really interesting," considering typical attitudes towards government intervention. "Americans tend to be very cautious when it comes to state intervention in family life," she says.

If you're primarily interested in individual identity you ought not marry.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:03 AM


Aborting Health Reform (Without reproductive-health coverage, any public insurance plan is doomed to fail. (Dana Goldstein, August 13, 2009, American Prospect)

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama did not shy away from the issue of abortion, pledging, "On this fundamental issue, I will not yield." In the context of health reform, though, the president and his staff have been reluctant to directly address reproductive rights. In a March interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, the White House's chief domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes -- who once sat on the board of Planned Parenthood -- claimed she had never spoken to the president about whether abortion services should be covered under a universal health-care system. "We haven't proposed a specific benefits package or a particular health-care proposal, so we're going to be engaging with Congress to have this conversation," she said. When Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag was asked by Fox News in July whether the public insurance plan should cover abortion, he was vague. "I'm not prepared to rule it out," he said. The president finally addressed the issue himself in a July 21 interview with Katie Couric, in which he bucked reproductive rights groups by saying he would consider deferring to the "tradition" of "not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care." [...]

[T]he potential downside is stark: A politicization of which reproductive-health services insurers can cover, meaning that under anti-choice administrations, abortion and even contraceptive limitations or bans could become the norm.

For millions of American women, insurance-subsidized abortion is already off limits. After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, one of the religious right's first successes in limiting access to the procedure was the passage of the Hyde Amendment. Since 1976, Hyde has banned Medicaid -- the federal health-insurance program for poor women and children -- from paying for abortions, except in the most extreme cases when a woman's physical health or life is in danger. Medicaid covers 7 million American women of reproductive age, or 12 percent of women in that cohort. Federal employees, members of the U.S. military, Peace Corps volunteers, and prisoners are also barred from using their government health coverage to access abortion.

During a July 14 interview on MSNBC, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, contended that when it comes to abortion and health reform, "what we're trying to do is maintain current policy." Yet because any potential public health plan would be funded by the federal government, what anti-choicers would really like to ensure is that Hyde would also apply to any new public insurance programs.

It's not tradition, it's law.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:50 AM


How American Health Care Killed My Father: After the needless death of his father, the author, a business executive, began a personal exploration of a health-care industry that for years has delivered poor service and irregular quality at astonishingly high cost. It is a system, he argues, that is not worth preserving in anything like its current form. And the health-care reform now being contemplated will not fix it. Here’s a radical solution to an agonizing problem. (David Goldhill, September 2009, Atlantic))

[I] suspect that our collective search for villains—for someone to blame—has distracted us and our political leaders from addressing the fundamental causes of our nation’s health-care crisis. All of the actors in health care—from doctors to insurers to pharmaceutical companies—work in a heavily regulated, massively subsidized industry full of structural distortions. They all want to serve patients well. But they also all behave rationally in response to the economic incentives those distortions create. Accidentally, but relentlessly, America has built a health-care system with incentives that inexorably generate terrible and perverse results. Incentives that emphasize health care over any other aspect of health and well-being. That emphasize treatment over prevention. That disguise true costs. That favor complexity, and discourage transparent competition based on price or quality. That result in a generational pyramid scheme rather than sustainable financing. And that—most important—remove consumers from our irreplaceable role as the ultimate ensurer of value.

These are the impersonal forces, I’ve come to believe, that explain why things have gone so badly wrong in health care, producing the national dilemma of runaway costs and poorly covered millions. The problems I’ve explored in the past year hardly count as breakthrough discoveries—health-care experts undoubtedly view all of them as old news. But some experts, it seems, have come to see many of these problems as inevitable in any health-care system—as conditions to be patched up, papered over, or worked around, but not problems to be solved.

That’s the premise behind today’s incremental approach to health-care reform. Though details of the legislation are still being negotiated, its principles are a reprise of previous reforms—addressing access to health care by expanding government aid to those without adequate insurance, while attempting to control rising costs through centrally administered initiatives. Some of the ideas now on the table may well be sensible in the context of our current system. But fundamentally, the “comprehensive” reform being contemplated merely cements in place the current system—insurance-based, employment-centered, administratively complex. It addresses the underlying causes of our health-care crisis only obliquely, if at all; indeed, by extending the current system to more people, it will likely increase the ultimate cost of true reform.

I’m a Democrat, and have long been concerned about America’s lack of a health safety net. But based on my own work experience, I also believe that unless we fix the problems at the foundation of our health system—largely problems of incentives—our reforms won’t do much good, and may do harm. To achieve maximum coverage at acceptable cost with acceptable quality, health care will need to become subject to the same forces that have boosted efficiency and value throughout the economy. We will need to reduce, rather than expand, the role of insurance; focus the government’s role exclusively on things that only government can do (protect the poor, cover us against true catastrophe, enforce safety standards, and ensure provider competition); overcome our addiction to Ponzi-scheme financing, hidden subsidies, manipulated prices, and undisclosed results; and rely more on ourselves, the consumers, as the ultimate guarantors of good service, reasonable prices, and sensible trade-offs between health-care spending and spending on all the other good things money can buy.

These ideas stand well outside the emerging political consensus about reform. So before exploring alternative policies, let’s reexamine our basic assumptions about health care—what it actually is, how it’s financed, its accountability to patients, and finally its relationship to the eternal laws of supply and demand. Everyone I know has at least one personal story about how screwed up our health-care system is; before spending (another) $1trillion or so on reform, we need a much clearer understanding of the causes of the problems we all experience. [...]

The reason for financing at least some of our health care with an insurance system is obvious. We all worry that a serious illness or an accident might one day require urgent, extensive care, imposing an extreme financial burden on us. In this sense, health-care insurance is just like all other forms of insurance—life, property, liability—where the many who face a risk share the cost incurred by the few who actually suffer a loss.

But health insurance is different from every other type of insurance. Health insurance is the primary payment mechanism not just for expenses that are unexpected and large, but for nearly all health-care expenses. We’ve become so used to health insurance that we don’t realize how absurd that is. We can’t imagine paying for gas with our auto-insurance policy, or for our electric bills with our homeowners insurance, but we all assume that our regular checkups and dental cleanings will be covered at least partially by insurance. Most pregnancies are planned, and deliveries are predictable many months in advance, yet they’re financed the same way we finance fixing a car after a wreck—through an insurance claim.

Comprehensive health insurance is such an ingrained element of our thinking, we forget that its rise to dominance is relatively recent. Modern group health insurance was introduced in 1929, and employer-based insurance began to blossom during World War II, when wage freezes prompted employers to expand other benefits as a way of attracting workers. Still, as late as 1954, only a minority of Americans had health insurance. That’s when Congress passed a law making employer contributions to employee health plans tax-deductible without making the resulting benefits taxable to employees. This seemingly minor tax benefit not only encouraged the spread of catastrophic insurance, but had the accidental effect of making employer-funded health insurance the most affordable option (after taxes) for financing pretty much any type of health care. There was nothing natural or inevitable about the way our system developed: employer-based, comprehensive insurance crowded out alternative methods of paying for health-care expenses only because of a poorly considered tax benefit passed half a century ago.

In designing Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, the government essentially adopted this comprehensive-insurance model for its own spending, and by the next year had enrolled nearly 12 percent of the population. And it is no coinci­dence that the great inflation in health-care costs began soon after. We all believe we need comprehensive health insurance because the cost of care—even routine care—appears too high to bear on our own. But the use of insurance to fund virtually all care is itself a major cause of health care’s high expense.

Insurance is probably the most complex, costly, and distortional method of financing any activity; that’s why it is otherwise used to fund only rare, unexpected, and large costs. Imagine sending your weekly grocery bill to an insurance clerk for review, and having the grocer reimbursed by the insurer to whom you’ve paid your share. An expensive and wasteful absurdity, no?

Is this really a big problem for our health-care system? Well, for every two doctors in the U.S., there is now one health-insurance employee—more than 470,000 in total. In 2006, it cost almost $500 per person just to administer health insurance. Much of this enormous cost would simply disappear if we paid routine and predictable health-care expenditures the way we pay for everything else—by ourselves. [...]

What amazed me most during five weeks in the ICU with my dad was the survival of paper and pen for medical instructions and histories. In that time, Dad was twice taken for surgical procedures intended for other patients (fortunately interrupted both times by our intervention). My dry cleaner uses a more elaborate system to track shirts than this hospital used to track treatment.

Not every hospital relies on paper-based orders and charts, but most still do. Why has adoption of clinical information technology been so slow? Companies invest in IT to reduce their costs, reduce mistakes (itself a form of cost-saving), and improve customer service. Better information technology would have improved my father’s experience in the ICU—and possibly his chances of survival.

But my father was not the customer; Medicare was.

The take away: Government doesn't produce efficiency, market forces do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:42 AM

60-40 NATION:

When Liberal Leaders Confront a Centrist Nation (Michael Barone, August 13, 2009, Rasmussen Reports)

There are more conservatives than Republicans and more Democrats than liberals. That's one of the asymmetries between the parties that helps to explain the particular political spot we're in. The numbers are fairly clear. In the 2008 exit poll, 34 percent of voters described themselves as conservatives and 32 percent as Republicans; 39 percent described themselves as Democrats but only 22 percent as liberals. [...]

The result is that the two parties have offsetting political advantages. Democrats tend to win on party identification. Republicans tend to win on ideology. Democrats don't have to appeal to as many independents as Republicans do. Republicans don't have to appeal to as many moderates as Democrats do.

But the Democrats have a problem here. The party's leadership currently tilts heavily to the liberal side. Barack Obama is from the university community of Hyde Park in Chicago. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is from San Francisco, and important House committee chairmen are from similar "gentry urban" locales -- Henry Waxman from the West Side of Los Angeles, Charles Rangel from a district that includes not only Harlem but much of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Barney Frank from Newton, Mass., next door to Boston.

Yet the UR conceded control of the governing agenda to the Hill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:00 AM


Social insurance needs rethinking (Stuart Butler, August 13, 2009, Washington Times)

A revamped approach to retirement security that reduces debt would have three tiers.

The first tier is personal savings. Those who aren't poor should be expected to save for predictable events, such as a basic income and routine health care costs during retirement. But most Americans suffer from inertia and don't get around to saving systematically. That's why it's a good idea for employers automatically to enroll their workers in retirement savings plans. You could opt out, but under the default you would be enrolled. Bipartisan legislation on Capitol Hill, with President Obama's blessing, would help firms set up such "auto-enrollment" savings plans.

Second, we should make "real" insurance, not social insurance, the first resort for dealing with events such as catastrophic medical expenses, disability, long-term care and unemployment. Individuals who can afford to carry reasonable levels of insurance should do so, rather than expect "society" to cover for them.

Traditional social insurance programs such as Medicare and Social Security should be the final tier. But they need to be scaled back and reserved for those who truly need them. Adjusting benefits according to economic status is the fairest, most rational way to ensure economic security without committing fiscal hara-kiri.

Requiring and/or funding O'Neill accounts and HSA's for every newborn will leave them with sufficient wealth later in life that they won't need to draw upon social insurance. The genius of forced savings early in life is that when you add a means test you dispose of the old Welfare State for everyone.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:53 AM


The recovery will prove Thatcherism right: This recession has been overstated. And states with liberal, flexible economies are best placed to benefit from the upturn (Bill Emmott, 8/13/09, Times of London)

The first point, however, is that claims that this is the worst slump since the 1930s, or in a century, were way overblown. [....]

This recession has looked historic chiefly because it has been global. But from most national points of view, it has not looked or felt quite so exceptional. In neither Britain nor America has it yet felt worse, for jobs or living standards — surely the two things that matter most — than the early 1980s or (in America’s case) the late 1950s. Unemployment is still rising but would have to rise a lot farther before this recession achieves once-in-a-century status.

Its true novelty, by comparison with the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s, is that it was caused by a banking crisis and is deflationary, rather than being caused by an effort to tame inflation. Hence interest rates have been at rock bottom, cutting living costs for millions of mortgage-borrowers and thus supporting consumer spending. [...]

The fourth, and biggest, implication of a recession that ends now is that the obituaries written last year for liberalism, for the 30 years of policy domination by the ideas of Reagan and Thatcher, will prove premature. The state has been back only as an emergency rescue service, albeit a vital one, and governments in Europe and America will sell nationalised banks and other assets at the first opportunity, and cut public spending wherever they can. Financial regulation will be tighter at the end of this crisis than at the start, but even Friedrich Hayek, Lady Thatcher’s guru, would not quibble with that.

Indeed, I would venture a prediction: five or ten years hence, we will conclude that the countries that recovered most strongly and durably from the 2007-09 recession were those whose economies were the most flexible, the most able to seek out new opportunities and to shift resources from dud old sectors to new ones — which means more liberal countries, such as Britain and America. Over-regulated Europe will feel obliged again to shuffle in a liberal direction. Japan got stuck in its 1990s stagnation because its economy proved too rigid. That is the case for liberalism: not that markets are always right, but that they are a system of constant experimentation and adaptation that governments thwart at their countries’ peril.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:49 AM


End-of-Life Provision Loses Favor (JANET ADAMY, 8/13/09, WSJ)

The cost of caring for patients who are near death accounts for a big piece of the government's medical spending. But a furor over a provision for government-paid counseling to plan for end-of-life care is steering lawmakers away from the issue. [...]

Tucked inside a sweeping House bill to overhaul the health system is a provision that would require Medicare to pay physicians to counsel patients once every five years. During those sessions, doctors could discuss how patients can plan for such end-of-life decisions as setting up a living will, obtaining hospice care or establishing a proxy to make their health decisions when they are unable to do so.

The end-of-life counseling provision in the House bill is expected to cost a few billion dollars over the next decade. But health policy experts say it could lower medical spending by reducing end-of-life medical care that patients don't want. [...]

But growing complaints over the provision are leading key lawmakers to conclude that the health overhaul should leave out any end-of-life counseling provisions. A group in the Senate Finance Committee that is attempting to craft Congress's only bipartisan health bill has decided to exclude such a measure, Senate aides said this week.

Once you strip the bill of the public option, abortion and killing old folks, what's the point for the Left?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 AM


Obama's Health Care Push Faces Citizens' Mounting Concern Over Deficit (JAKE TAPPER and HUMA KHAN, Aug. 12, 2009 , ABC News)

[R]egaining the momentum may become increasingly difficult in light of the soaring federal deficit, which increased by $180 billion in July alone. At a record $1.27 trillion, the deficit is heading toward $2 trillion by the end of the fiscal year. Citizens at town hall meetings are expressing concern over the government's ability to pay for health care reform without adding to the deficit.

"The initial cost is over a trillion dollars for a down payment. Who is going to pay for this bill?" a woman shouted at Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., at a town hall meeting in Lebanon, Pa., yesterday. "My children and my grandchildren are going to pay for this bill."

Supporters of the president's health care reform push point out that spiraling health care costs in Medicare and Medicaid are a huge part of the deficit problem, and reform is necessary to tackle the issue.

Yet they also have to convince people that the bill won't reduce spending on those programs. How do you square that circle?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Steele laughs at Specter (ANDY BARR, 8/12/09, Politico)

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele burst out laughing Wednesday after watching a clip of Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) insisting that the town hall protesters are “not necessarily representative of America.”

Asked to respond to the clip during an interview with Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, Steele had to gather himself just to answer the question.

“I’m sorry, I’m laughing, I’m sorry,” Steele said as he tried to respond to Specter.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:30 AM


Obama and the Permanent Campaign (KARL ROVE, 8/13/09, WSJ)

Team Obama is suffering from Extended Campaign Syndrome. In an election, campaign staffers are often just trying to survive until the next week or the next primary. They cut corners because they are fatigued or under pressure.They can be purposely combative and even portray critics as enemies.

Carrying this mindset into the White House can get you into trouble, a lesson the Obama administration is now learning the hard way. [...]

Much of the Democratic response to critics has been inappropriate or unpresidential. Take the reaction to the town-hall meetings taking place across the country. Many people are worried about their health care and a few are responding in unacceptable ways. But Democrats are portraying the opposition as an "angry mob" using, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer wrote in a USA Today op-ed, "un-American" tactics. Mr. Obama's "Organizing for America," a political group founded by the president to mobilize supporters, dismisses critics as tools of "insurance companies . . . stirring up fear with false rumors," without presenting a shred of evidence to back up the charge.

The White House may actually welcome this process fight if it is more interested in the state of mind of 60 Democratic senators and 256 Democratic House members than in what the public at large is thinking. It seems to believe attacking critics will reassure nervous members of Congress. The sideshow also distracts attention from the substance of Mr. Obama's plans, which is what is really hurting him.

For example, many small businesspeople are starting to figure out that under ObamaCare it will be cheaper to pay a penalty equal to 8% of payroll than to continue covering their employees' health insurance. How will people feel about Mr. Obama's claim that everyone can keep their existing coverage when their employer tells them it makes better economic sense to dump them into the government-run option than to keep paying for private insurance?

He doesn't want to be president, just to have been president. Looks good at the top of the resume.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


America should avoid copying Britain, warns Tory MEP (Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor Paul Waugh, Deputy Political Editor, 13.08.09, Evening Standard)

A Tory MEP has warned Americans against copying the NHS and called instead for a system of personal health accounts to deliver better healthcare. [...]

Mr Hannan used a speech in Washington to claim that the service was a "Marxist system" and warned Americans to "ponder our example and tremble". He also told Fox News that "you would much rather fall ill in the US". Writing on his blog today, Mr Hannan defended his remarks, pointing out that he wanted to "replace the current government monopoly in healthcare with a Singapore-style system of personal health accounts".

He disagreed with David Cameron over his refusal to radically reform the NHS.

"It seems increasingly obvious that American voters are turning against Barack Obama's plans...British-style state-administered hospitals - that plainly ain't gonna happen. Which raises the intriguing question of whether Britain would establish the NHS today," he wrote.

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott said Mr Hannan's remarks showed "the mask is slipping and Dan Hannan is the true face of 'caring Conservatism'."

Bingo! Rather than using a top-down system to make people even more dependent on the State, compassionate conservative solutions, like HSAs, provide even the very poor with independence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


The Curious Case of Jose Francisco Torres (Noah Davis, 8/12/09, Goal)

Jose Francisco Torres, a Mexican-American born in Longview, Texas, could have chosen to play for either country, but last October he announced his intention to join Bob Bradley's American team despite his club career at Pachuca. On the 11th of that month he made his international debut for the Stars and Stripes, coming on in the 68th minute of a 6-1 rout against Cuba. He's since earned four more caps and made the 23-man roster for July's Confederations Cup -- a squad featuring the best U.S. talent -- although he didn't see a minute of action during the tournament. [...]

Torres isn't likely to start for the U.S. side against El Tri, but he could see action as a second-half substitute despite his struggles to fit into the American style. That said, his talent, vision, and creativity are undeniable and represent the vast amount of untapped potential that could be infused into the American squad, especially given FIFA's recently relaxed rules governing international allegiance.

In the immediate future, however, he'll have to exercise patience.

Because what does vision and creativity do but produce scoring opportunities? Which wasn't in Coach Bradley's game plan.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Australian Senate rejects curbs on greenhouse gases (Associated Press,, Thursday 13 August 2009)

If the Senate rejects legislation twice in three months, Australia's constitution allows prime minister Kevin Rudd to call a snap election before his three-year term has expired.

Such an early election fought on the issue of climate change is expected to favour Rudd's center-left Labor Party, which opinion polls suggest remains far more popular than the centre-right Liberal party opposition.

Analysts expect that if the Senate knocks back the legislation again in November, Rudd could call an election early next year.

Senate Liberal leader Nick Minchin, who commands the largest voting bloc in the upper house chamber, said the bills should be put "in the deep freeze" until after the Copenhagen meeting and a US Senate debate on American emissions permit trading.

Cap-and-Trade's Unlikely Critics: Its Creators: Economists Behind Original Concept Question the System's Large-Scale Usefulness, and Recommend Emissions Taxes Instead (JON HILSENRATH, 8/13/09, WSJ)
In the 1960s, a University of Wisconsin graduate student named Thomas Crocker came up with a novel solution for environmental problems: cap emissions of pollutants and then let firms trade permits that allow them to pollute within those limits.

Now legislation using cap-and-trade to limit greenhouse gases is working its way through Congress and could become the law of the land. But Mr. Crocker and other pioneers of the concept are doubtful about its chances of success. They aren't abandoning efforts to curb emissions. But they are tiptoeing away from an idea they devised decades ago, doubting it can work on the grand scale now envisioned.

"I'm skeptical that cap-and-trade is the most effective way to go about regulating carbon," says Mr. Crocker, 73 years old, a retired economist in Centennial, Wyo. He says he prefers an outright tax on emissions because it would be easier to enforce and provide needed flexibility to deal with the problem.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


England are rescued by Capello's old school values (James Lawton, 8/13/09, Independent)

Rio Ferdinand, perhaps the most eloquent advocate of the Capello way, and Gareth Barry, one of the newer members of English football's plutocracy, made mistakes so nonchalant it was difficult to understand quite what had filled their heads before coming out on to the field. It was not, we could be sure, the driving philosophy of their coach, which is based almost entirely on the belief that professional respect is something that has to come afresh with each new performance.

Ferdinand and Barry committed almost identical crimes, passing the ball to the feet of opponents in positions which gave their colleagues, most notably the traumatised goalkeeper Rob Green, little serious chance of preventing goals. Capello, naturally, was not so much surprised as aghast.

In past regimes we might have expected a wholesale disintegration of faith, pretty much of the dimension that came in Copenhagen on the approach to the World Cup of 2006. Then England defended quite as haplessly but for rather longer and the 4-1 defeat cast a huge shadow over the prospects of Sven Goran Eriksson's England.

Capello's England though have a different kind of imperative, a rather strong force. Capello has the capacity to find pockets of resistance to the most unpromising fate, and last night his famed half-time conversations, which can as sweet, apparently as a master diplomat's or a ferocious as a demented sergeant major's, had perhaps their most dramatic effect since he arrived here 18 months ago.

The England coach effectively re-made his team at half-time, leaving Ferdinand, whose concentration has been known to slip before but remains a player of often quite imperious quality on the field, but yanking off Barry, a man who not for the first time had given some worrying hints that he might well have been promoted, both in club and international football, somewhat above his station.

Most significantly, he brought on Jermain Defoe, who scored two goals with brilliant opportunism. They were his ninth and 10th goals for England, and here we have, surely, a gathering body of evidence that he may well travel the full course to next summer's World Cup finals in South Africa. New force was also provided by Carlton Cole, James Milner and Michael Carrick, a player who surely offers potentially more much to the creative instincts of the side than Barry.

Suppose, for a second, you thought the US starting XI made sense yesterday. No one can have by halftime. And yet the same eleven started the 2nd half...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 AM


Choosing My EPL Team (Bill Simmons, Page 2: ESPN)

Picking an English Premier League team is like picking a new car: If you don't throw yourself into it and assimilate as much information as possible, you could end up getting stuck with a lemon. That's why I spent the past seven days sifting through more than 4,000 reader suggestions, downloading YouTube clips, surfing goofy European sites, checking out every team's sponsors and jerseys, Googling every team's name along with the phrase "celebrity fans," TiVo-ing old EPL games on DirecTV's Channel 613, reading up on team histories and everything else.

And you know what? Much like buying a car, the whole process was more enjoyable than I thought it would be (as evidenced by the fact that this column is in two parts and more than 6,000 words). Honestly, I haven't liked soccer since the New England Tea Men were thriving back in the mid-'70s, and I'm making the leap based on the fact that it's serviceable TV fodder in the mornings when I'm answering e-mails and reading various Web sites. But soccer does have the one thing that drew me to sports in the first place: Great crowds. There's nothing like following a sport with fans who know how to make a big game feel even bigger. [...]

[A]s I delved into the English Premier League -- starting from scratch, really -- three things struck me over everything else. First, English soccer goes way back to the 19th century (The Football League was founded in 1888). Second, picking a team really IS like picking a car -- every team offers something unique (good and bad). And third, the passionate arguments from hundreds upon hundreds of readers (we're talking about e-mails in the range of 1,000-1,500 words) convinced me even more that I was doing the right thing. I'm going to find a team and follow them for a year. Maybe two. Maybe 10. Maybe for the rest of my life. Who knows? Consider me curious. And if it doesn't work out, no hard feelings.

I kept six goals in mind throughout the screening process:

Goal No. 1: Avoid the whole "jumping on the bandwagon" thing. I didn't want to be like those losers in the mid-'70s who started rooting for the Cowboys or Steelers just because they were winning.

Goal No. 2: Avoid a team that's too tortured. Already went down that road with the Sox. Once was enough.

Goal No. 3: If possible, gravitate toward a city that could double as a potential vacation spot. (Translation: London.)

Goal No. 4: Put it this way: I'd rather have less hooligans in my life than more hooligans. I don't even like when my dogs get rowdy.

Goal No. 5: Pay careful attention to the list of celebrity fans attached to each team. For instance, one of the EPL teams (we'll reveal which later in the column) counts John Gotti and Osama bin Laden among its fans. I'm not a celebrity, but just in case somebody mistook me for one, that's not a list I'd want to be on.

Roman Abramovich
Getty Images
Meet Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich -- a Russian billionaire who spent lavishly to build his championship team. Can you root for a team like that?

Goal No. 6: Pick a team that's successful enough to crack Channel 613 from time to time and will avoid the ignominy of getting kicked out of the EPL. And by the way, that can happen. At the end of every season, the bottom three teams are relegated to the second division, with the top three teams from the second division getting called up. (Imagine if baseball did this?) You don't want to be stuck with a team that gets relegated. So that factored in more than anything else.

There are 20 EPL teams in all. I ruled out nine immediately because of relegation dangers and other factors...

This column is a couple years old, so here's a quick guide for the coming season.

To begin with, you have to choose one of the big 4 to prefer to the other 3, because even though it's only early July, sixteen teams have already been eliminated from title contention, as they are every year.

If you're a Yankee fan you want to go with Manchester United. They're the biggest-budgeted, winningest team in recent years and have that earned-arrogance of the pin-stripers. They also, like the Yankees, have the best player in the League--Wayne Rooney--but they play him out of position and he's an emotional timebomb, again like Arod. Several of their other key players are past their prime but still know how to win. And their youngsters are over-hyped. By the end of last season they were the 21st Century Yankees, a team pretty clearly headed into a fallow period, but they had the good sense to ditch Cristiano Ronaldo, giving them an opportunity to rebuild their otherwise dire offense around Rooney. Ideally, Alex Ferguson would use him like a Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard between the forwards and the midfielders, allowed to play as either. The problem is, he's also their best striker, whereas Liverpool has Fernando Torres and Chelsea has Didier Drogba. Basically, they need two Rooney's, one to make the pass and one to convert it.

If you're a Sox fan, you probably have to go with Liverpool. For one thing, the city and iots fans are almost universally loathed. For another, despite past success they're snake-bit in recent years and manage to lose the League to Man U even when, as last year, they're obviously the superior side. They are decidedly the second team. Just when it looked like they'd win this year, Man U was fortunate enough to dump Christiano Ronaldo, which makes them the favorites again.

Liverpool does have the best two player combo in the world--in Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Torres is the scorer but also has a work-rate like a utility infielder trying to stay in the majors. Gerrard can score himself or set up others, though he isn't particularly attentive on defense and tends to make rash tackles, so is subject to refereeing to an unacceptable extent in an elite player (think of a slightly more mature Michael Bradley but who refs can't treat as badly). The team is worth watching if for no other reason that they play the formation that the US National squad should adopt--more or less a 4-2-2-2.

Chelsea and Arsenal play the prettiest football in the League and the former have some decent defenders too. Think of Arsenal as the 1980's California Angels--trying to beat you with offense--and of Chelsea as a potential Red Sox of the aughts, if they can stop other teams from scoring.

Now, having picked one of the 4 teams that might actually win, you can pick a favorite to genuinely root for. There's a handful of teams that can compete against the big 4 on occasion and are likely to finish in the upper half of the table, who are worthy of consideration. Fulham as a good coach, excellent goalkeeper, and two Americans--Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson. They're coming off their best finish ever--7th place, see what I mean?--and lost almost no one. Stoke plays a very physical brand of game and they have Rory DeLap, the guy who throws the ball so well that no one in soccer can figure out how to defend against it. They don't really have a good enough offense to relieve pressure on themselves so they have to defend well. And they don't have the money to bring guys in. They're a team that ought to plunge into America to sign players and we should hire their coiach--Tony Pulis--even as a part-timer, to run the national team. Bolton Wanderers are another honest side with a good coach and keeper. These are three unsexy sides you could follow and no one would accuse you of front-running.

Everton, West Ham and Aston Villa are all worthy and harbor ambitions of breaking into the top 4. They each have a very good coach, but none really has the depth that the money of the big teams provides. They are therefore prone to have stretches where they look as good as any team in the League, followed and/or preceded by stretches where they're quite vulnerable. Their plight tends to be exacerbated by having to play in the consolation playoffs of Europe--the Europa Cup--which sees them play numerous pointless games. Fulham joins Everton and Aston Villa in that quandry this year.

Last year's early season surprise was newly-promoted Hull City. They got off to a great start then had an incident where their brash coach--Phil Brown--lectured the team on the field at halftime in front of the home crowd instead of waiting until they were in the locker room. They also seld a few players at the break and completely fell apart in the second half. They lost on the final day of the season but managed to stay up when their competition lost too. At any rate, they bring in the great young American striker, Jozy Altidore, but seem almost certain for relegation.

One other team worth mentioning is Manchester City. Perennial second cousins to United, they have absurdly wealthy new ownership from the UAE and have been throwing money around like there's no tomorrow. This has given them a huge payroll but no one is quite certain how the guys they've bought will fit together. And, between their spending spree and their Arab ownership, everyone is rooting for them to fall flat on their faces. Imagine George Steinbrenner in a burnoose.

As we did last year, we'll host an EPL fantasy league. Jim in Bingo had the shame of being behind both Brothers early in the season but rallied as fiercely as Hull folded.

You can sign up here:

And we'll invite you to join the Brothers Judd bracket. I never did figure out how they did the scoring, so don't ask.

August 12, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 PM


Poll: 70% of Americans see Israel as U.S. friend (Haaretz Service, 8/12/09)

More than two-third of Americans regard Israel as an ally despite recent diplomatic tensions, a nationwide survey conducted by the U.S. polling firm Rasmussen Reports has revealed.

The 70 percent who view Israel as America's friend marks twice the number of respondents who view Egypt as an ally, though that Middle Eastern country has been polled as the most highly regarded Islamic country among Americans.

Which is why you could be forgiven the belief that Robert D. Kaplan had been smoking peyote when he wrote about American turning on Israel

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:40 PM


New poll highlights health care attitudes (Susan Page, 8/12/09, USA TODAY)

In a survey of 1,000 adults taken Tuesday, 34% say the sometimes heated protests at sessions held by members of Congress have made them more sympathetic to the protesters' views; 21% say they are less sympathetic.

Independents by 2-1, 35%-16%, say they are more sympathetic to the protesters now.

The findings are bad news for President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, who have scrambled to respond to town halls marked by aggressive questions and noisy demonstrations by those opposed to plans to overhaul the health care system.

Just Who Are These Health Care Protesters? (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 8/12/09)

The emerging protest movement is almost the mirror image of the grass-roots campaign that helped sweep Obama into office by pulling in people who'd never been politically active. This time Obama is seeing the other side of what can happen when people are motivated, connect over the Internet and seemingly reach a tipping point that turns them from onlookers into activists.

''You have awakened a sleeping giant,'' one woman told Specter at a town hall meeting he held Tuesday in Lebanon, Pa.

Protesters interviewed at Specter's town hall events in central Pennsylvania this week were almost exclusively white, conservative and working class. But they ranged in age and their concerns went beyond health care to deficit spending, taxes, government growth and other issues. Many contradicted claims from Democratic leaders that their protest was manufactured by lobbyists or that they represented an orchestrated opposition led by Republicans or national conservative groups.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:29 PM


Mexico scores late to defeat U.S., 2-1, in World Cup qualifier (Grahame L. Jones, August 12, 2009, LA Times)

American Charlie Davies scored nine minutes into the game to open the scoring before Mexico tallied the equalizer on a goal by Israel Castro in the 22nd minute.

Sabah, who had come on as a substitute only minutes earlier, collected a pass inside the top of the box in the 82nd minute and quickly fired a rising shot that went over Howard and under the crossbar. [...]

The starting lineups have just been released.

The U.S. will have Tim Howard in goal behind a back line of Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay Merit and Carlos Bocanegra. In the midfield are Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark and Landon Donovan. Up front are Bring Ching and Charlie Davies.

We have one defender who crosses balls into the box--Jonathan Spector--he was on the bench.

We have one midfielder who has been carrying and distributing the ball well--Benny Feilhaber--he was on the bench.

We have two guys with a nose for the goal--Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey--Altidore was on the bench and Dempsey was in midfield, where he has repeatedly shown he has no interest in playing.

If you were the Mexican coach and got to pick our opening formation the only change you'd make is to bench Onyewu, the single most dominant central defender in the world right now.

Bob Bradley has single-handedly revived the Mexican national squad. Playing for the tie from the opening was profoundly craven. Doing so the first time you have the country paying attention to your team was just another example of why soccer can't make headway with Americans because of the self-destructive tendencies of those who run it. It's like he was trying to alienate his countrymen.

AZTECA CLAIMS ANOTHER AMERICAN TEAM (Brent Latham, August 12, 2009, Yanks Abroad)

The United State's continued their losing ways in Mexico City on Wednesday afternoon despite striking early and quieting the massive crowd at Estadio Azteca settled at 7,200 feet above sea level.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:40 PM


Coach Bradley is starting Davies and Ching up front--no Altidore

Cherundolo and Bocanegra in the back--no Spector

and no Feilhaber or Torres in midfield

It's an eleven that is designed not to score and can't be described as anything other than timid.

Friend Dryfoos is at the game and it took two hours for the twenty minute taxi ride. He says the place is just packed.

From Untitled Album
From Untitled Album
From Untitled Album

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:01 PM


El Sid: The former ‘Nation’ editor and publisher remembers Sidney Zion, crusading journalist and renegade Jew (Victor Navasky, August 12, 2009, Tablet)

Hecht, it turned out, was Sidney’s hero. Not just because he was a journalist’s journalist, playwright, screenwriter, and man about town, but because, as the author of A Guide For The Bedevilled—Sidney’s bible—he was a Jew’s Jew. Sidney, who kept track of these things, reminded me that after A Flag is Born closed, Hecht had used his own proceeds from the play to take out an ad in The New York Herald Tribune congratulating the Irgun on blowing up British trains, robbing British banks, killing British Tommies.

Not that we were in political sync across the board. We both saw ourselves as First Amendment absolutists in the Black-Douglas tradition, and we both had a healthy contempt for what we thought of as Harvard-inspired Frankfurterian judicial self-restraint. But Sid, it turned out, had been chairman of the Eisenhower for President Club while a student at the University of Pennsylvania, whereas I, in the argot of the day, had been “Madly for Adlai.” When I asked Sid how he could have supported the Republican, he passionately explained that Roosevelt, whom he considered an anti-Semite, “didn’t lift a finger” to save the Jews of Europe. As Ben Hecht had once put it, FDR was “the humanitarian who snubbed a massacre.” [...]

I’ve already said that Sid had a love-hate relationship with the Times. Let me give an example. In his last years at the Times, Sid got a tip that Judge Henry Friendly, then perhaps the preeminent appellate court judge in the country and prominently mentioned as a possible U.S. Supreme Court nominee, many years earlier failed to disqualify himself from ruling on a case in which he had a conflict of interest. Assured by Managing Editor Abe Rosenthal that if he got the goods the Times would print the piece, Sidney spent the next weeks definitively documenting the story. But when the time came to print it, Rosenthal was overruled by James Reston, who was then running the paper. Reston summoned Zion into his 10th floor office, and from behind his imposing desk, explained that if Friendly actually received a Supreme Court nomination, the Times would run the story. But absent that, Reston was not about to run a piece that would cast a dark shadow on Friendly’s otherwise distinguished career.

“The difference between you and me, Mr. Zion,” Reston said, “is that you were brought up as a poor Jew on the scrappy streets of Passaic, New Jersey, whereas I was brought up in the Church of Scotland outside of Glasgow.” At this point, Sidney rudely interrupted. “I thought that the difference between us,” he said, “is you are sitting there, whereas I am sitting here.”

In 1971, after he quit the Times to co-found Scanlan’s Monthly with Warren Hinckle, Sidney made worldwide news and incurred what seemed at the time the everlasting enmity of his erstwhile Times colleagues because he named Daniel Ellsberg as the leaker of the Pentagon Papers. He was roundly denounced as a snitch, an informer. How could he do such a thing?

For better or worse, here’s how. From Sid’s perspective, the Times was campaigning for a Pulitzer Prize that it didn’t deserve. The man who took the real risks was the man whom the Times said the world would never know. Oh yeah?, said macho Sid, who vowed to prove his prowess as an investigative reporter and bragged that he could find out who it was in a matter of days, and did just that. After he announced his find on the radio, the world descended on Sid The Informer.

This all struck me as ironic, because Sid himself had long detested those who played the informer. In fact, one of the first pieces Scanlan’s ran was titled “Hello, Informer,” a reprint of Elia Kazan’s testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Scanlan’s sent him a check for $150, which he never cashed.

You can hardly unravel the moral confusions of a man who hated FDR for not doing enough for Jews and hated anti-Stalinists.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:01 PM


Remembering Amos Kenan (David Twersky, August 11, 2009, JTA)

I write in memory of Amos Kenan, the Israeli artist, playwright and columnist who died Aug. 4 in Tel Aviv at the age of 82. [...]

Kenan was a rebel, starting with his youthful membership in the Stern Gang, properly Lehi. He flirted with the non-Zionist Canaanites, a grouping of intellectuals who saw Israel as a radical break with the Jewish world. Kenan lived in Paris from 1954 to 1962, where he sat at the table with Sartre at the Left Bank’s Le Cafe Flore, sipping coffee spiced with the heady fumes of existentialist thought, cultural modernism and political revolution.

Almost immediately after the Six-Day War, Kenan was proposing that Israel should focus on the Palestinian dimension and, as in 1947, agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as the best of a bunch of bad outcomes. Much of his weekly column, “A Letter to All the Good People,” was by now a familiar critique of the left’s anti-Israel view. But it was not familiar then; it broke new ground.

His stand put him at odds with the New Left and the Israeli establishment at the same time. His proposal was quite a departure from the establishment line: the nascent “doves” argued for a deal with Jordan. No one among the Israelis or Palestinians was talking about a Palestinian state alongside Israel except for Kenan and some fringe voices on the Israeli left. (Aryeh Eliav, the secretary general of the Labor Party and card-carrying member of the establishment, would soon join Kenan, at the price of his party leadership position.)

Kenan’s column ran in the Friday Yediot, appearing on the same page as a column by a fellow Lehi veteran, Boaz Evron, who had similar sympathies. The page was called “Fatah-land” -- Israeli slang for southern Lebanon -- a reference to the writers’ perceived Palestinian sympathies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:57 AM


Revolution Leaders Struggle for Power in Tehran: In the wake of a bogus election, the deadly harassment of protestors and squabbling among hardliners, everything seems to have changed in Tehran. Two men could now pose a serious threat to the regime: Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri and multimillionaire Hashemi Rafsanjani. (Dieter Bednarz and Erich Follath, 8/12/09, Der Spiegel)

If there is one place where it is possible to discover what is truly happening in Iran these days, it is London. Here, in an inconspicuous single-family home halfway between Heathrow Airport and downtown London, lives a man in self-imposed exile who can offer a wealth of information about Iran today. Ataollah Mohajerani, 54, a man with a history of ties to the top echelon of power in Iran, is deeply familiar with those who currently play key roles in the embattled theocracy.

As an inquisitive student, Mohajerani discussed the correct path of action with Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a cleric revered by the faithful in Iran, and was involved in the underground movement agitating against the shah. After the successful 1979 revolution, Mohajerani, a rising political talent, worked as a parliamentary secretary for then-Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the current opposition leader.

As a pragmatic vice-president under former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohajerani fought to improve the standard of living for all Iranians. And as an enlightened minister of culture under the reformist former President Mohammed Khatami, he brought the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas to Tehran. In dozens of debates, he argued with conservative religious leader Ali Khamenei over the independence of art and freedom of the press. In 2000, realizing that championing his causes had become pointless, he resigned. [...]

He is familiar with the circle of power in Tehran and its secrets -- the characters, the codes and the shadow play. According to Mohajerani's analysis, three figures are playing a special role in Iran today, three men who have always struggled to find the right path for their country and are now at the center of attention once again: Hossein Ali Montazeri, 87, who is reverentially referred to as "Marja-e Taglid," or "Source of Imitation," Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 74, who is respectfully but somewhat suspiciously known as "Kuseh" ("Shark"), and Ali Khamenei, who Iranians have taken to calling "the Dictator." The three men are now the three pillars of the theocracy. These big three, long partners in the revolution, are now fighting on different fronts.

This is the Persian puzzle, and the world is observing it with great anticipation. The story of Montazeri, Rafsanjani and Khamenei is one of friendship, estrangement and betrayal. It is the history of Iran, the story of its past and present, and probably of its political future. [...]

This is where the triumvirate stands today, the three men who embarked on their political careers together, intent on bringing an Islamic revolution to Tehran -- and who could now be confronted by a new revolution.

Montazeri is convinced that the concept of a theocracy has failed. He grants the religious leader, at most, the status of a constitutional monarch.

Rafsanjani would probably like to see the basic structures of the velayat preserved, but with a "sensible" religious leader like himself, and with a liberal market economy similar to China's.

"In the struggle for the country's direction," says Iran expert Mohsen Milani of the University of South Florida, Rafsanjani has "never quite forgotten that even an Islamic Republic needs popular approval to attain legitimacy." According to Milani, this explains why Rafsanjani tried to limit the term of the revolutionary leader to 10 years in his 1989 constitutional amendment. For Khamenei, on the other hand, says Milani, the country's leadership "answers primarily to God."

Khamenei is fighting to preserve the status quo, and to do so, he could very well be prepared to throw Ahmadinejad, his awkward protégé and ideological ally, to the wolves.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:20 AM


Poll: 49% disapprove of Obama's handling of healthcare policy: A new Gallup poll shows 43% in support of the president. Findings are essentially unchanged over the last three weeks. (Mark Silva, August 12, 2009, LA Times)

The latest measure of public support for the president's initiative follows weeks of action by congressional committees in the House, an ongoing debate in a key Senate committee and a personal campaign by President Obama to build public support for an overhaul of the nation's health insurance.

Nearly half of those surveyed -- 49% -- said they disapproved of Obama's "handling of healthcare policy." And 43% told Gallup's interviewers that they approved

...then what are the 43%? Or is this America whereof the President speaks not governed by consent of the people?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Mexico gives the U.S. altitude: Estadio Azteca, site of a World Cup qualifier, is 7,400 feet above sea level and a hostile environment for visiting teams. (GRAHAME L. JONES, August 12, 2009, LA Times)

U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said Monday, "This will be my first time to Azteca."

It will also be the first time for most of Bradley's players. Only four of the 20 on the roster -- defenders Steve Cherundolo, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra and forward Landon Donovan -- have played at Azteca. For the rest, it will be an eye-opening experience.

"It's almost like a rite of passage for a U.S. national team player," starting goalkeeper Tim Howard said Monday.

No American national team has won in Mexico. A scoreless tie in 1997 is the best the U.S. has achieved in 23 games over 72 years. Bradley's predecessor as national coach, Bruce Arena, failed twice.

"You're not playing on a level playing field in that game," Arena said. "On a level playing field at sea level, I would favor the United States.

"The conditions at Azteca are difficult. You have around 100,000 people. The stadium is massive. The sightlines are real difficult for players. There are literally probably 20 yards from the touchline to the dugouts. You see that and the field looks like you're out in the country.

"Then you start dealing with the heat and the altitude and it gets to your head. Not only your head. The physiology is difficult. I remember games where we had oxygen at halftime. It's hard. It's an awesome home-field advantage."

There is nothing Bradley can do about the heat -- a temperature near 80 with a chance of thunderstorms is forecast for today -- or about the smog, or about the sellout crowd of 105,000 that will shake the old edifice to its foundations starting long before the kickoff at 1 p.m. PDT.

USA in Mexico City (Steve Goff, 8/11/09, Washington Post)
Bradley, on whether he will use the same lineup as he did against Spain at the Confederations Cup with Howard, Spector, Onyewu, DeMerit, Bocanegra, Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Clark, Altidore and Davies: "It's always a nice thought to think that you have a lineup that if it works one day, all you have to do is run it out again and it works again. But if you take a broader perspective, we had a lot of good games in the last six months, games that have given us a real sense of our depth, of our talent. The only things that get factored in differently than when when we were in Blumfontein is what have guys been doing lately? It is an interesting time for a match like this because it's preseason for some clubs, in some cases following the Confederations Cup, some guys had short periods of rest, some had longer periods of rest and gone back into their teams. Schedules for clubs vary. The MLS guys have been busy in the most demanding part of their season. So we take these different things into account and find our best lineup."

Donovan, on Jose Torres bringing extra insight into the Mexican players: "He plays against a lot of these guys, so we will pick his brain and have picked his brain."

Bradley, on Torres's place in the program after not playing at Confederations Cup and not being included in the Gold Cup but getting the call-up here. Was he in the doghouse? "Honestly, I think 'doghouse' is pretty inaccurate. Everyone is going to look from the outside and come up with ideas. ... The timetable of any young player in terms of how quickly they develop, how quickly they establish themselves in teams, what roles they take, you can't always predict what the timetable is."

One of the reasons that coach of the US squad is the best gig in the soccer world is that no one ever gets fired, so it's futile to think what they might do with a real coach. But you do have to ask how Mr. Bradley can justify not using Torres at all in the Gold Cup and then calling him up to the World Cup side.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:16 AM


The Swell Season: Tiny Desk Concert (Stephen Thompson, August 10, 2009, NPR)

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova record and tour together using the name The Swell Season, which is a shorter but far less descriptive moniker than "Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, Who Won Oscars for the Song 'Falling Slowly,' From the Hit Indie Musical Once." So when we informed our coworkers that last Wednesday's Tiny Desk Concert would feature the pair, the response generally ran somewhere along the lines of, "Um, okay. ... Wait, who? THEM? REALLY?"

Two recent films have had the exceptionally rare effect of making you proud to be a human being, Once and Bella. Each, in its own way, expresses a profound belief that we can be decent to one another and are capable of great goodness and of genuinely selfless love.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:20 AM


Toilet-Paper Barricades (MAUREEN DOWD, 8/12/09, NY Times)

The postpartisan, postracial, post-Clinton-dysfunction world that Barack Obama was supposed to usher in when he hit town on his white charger, with turtle doves tweeting, has vanished. [...]

The young grass-roots army that swept Obama into office has yet to mobilize now that the fight is about something complicated rather than a charismatic hope-monger. No, they can’t?

Instead of a multicultural tableau of beaming young idealists on screen, we see ugly scenes of mostly older and white malcontents, disrupting forums where others have come to actually learn something.

The UR has had relatively smooth sailing because he hasn't tried doing anything. On the only two issues where he does propose change--health care and cap&trade--he's dead in the water. A smart politician would learn from that.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:12 AM


Specter gets 'an earful' at Pa. town halls (Thomas Fitzgerald, 8/12/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Chants broke out - "You work for us!" and "Read the bill!" - as the senator tried to answer questions.

Later in the day, Specter faced similar frustrations from skeptical voters in Lewisburg in an auditorium at Bucknell University. In both places, most of the questioners stayed civil but accused President Obama, Specter, and other congressional Democrats of trying to force a government takeover of health care that would violate their constitutional rights as well as the character of the nation. [...]

Specter, accompanied at both town halls by several plainclothes Capitol Police and state troopers, said it had been difficult to explain the Democrats' plans without a specific bill to defend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:07 AM


Rendell jokes about gassing legislators (Mario F. Cattabiani, 8/12/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Rendell said yesterday that once the committee got back to meeting, they should hold daily sessions to solve the budget impasse that is now in its second month.

He also told reporters that he was frustrated with the way the conference committee had conducted its first meetings. They were held in public with Democrats and Republicans spending most of the time bickering about procedure and making little if any progress toward a handshake.

Rendell said it all reminded him of a scene from the 1960s James Bond classic Goldfinger, in which the villain kills a room of gangsters in one fell swoop.

"He just filled the room with poison gas and knocked them all off," Rendell said with a snap of his fingers. "You might have thought after watching those two [conference-committee] days that that would have been a good idea."

Public political discourse ought not resort to jokes about murder, no matter how funny.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:02 AM


Capello has extinguished fear factor says Terry (Mike McGrath, 8/12/09, Independent)

Fabio Capello has managed to get rid of the fear factor in England's squad, according to skipper John Terry. [...]

"Players would be lying if they told you there wasn't any fear coming into big games with England," Terry said.

...when that sort of emotional fragility is such a central aspect of the sport. Soccer players should be allowed to use steroids just to get their testosterone up to normal male levels.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:56 AM


The heyday of the harmonica: 400 top players perform and jam in Sacramento. (Edward Ortiz, 8/12/09, McClatchy Newspapers)

This week the center of the universe for all things harmonica is in Sacramento.

More than 400 harmonica players from around the nation and the globe will descend on the city starting today for the 46th annual convention of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica, or SPAH.

Some of the biggest names in the harmonica world will partake, like legendary blues player Charlie Musselwhite, Hollywood session player Tommy Morgan, and Nashville legend Jelly Roll Johnson. And this year the festival has invited one of the world's best classical harmonica players: Jia-Yi He.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 AM

Blueberry Oat Muffins (Pam Mitchard from Cooking Light, 08/12/200, Contra Costa Times)

2 egg whites

½ cup water

1/3 cup canola oil

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup quick oats

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and dried

Cinnamon sugar, optional

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together egg whites, water and canola oil.

2. Blend in flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently stir in blueberries.

3. Lightly spray the muffin tin with cooking spray or use muffin papers. Fill the cups with batter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar if desired. Bake for 23 to 27 minutes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:28 AM


Baby girl died of massive overdose (The Local, 12 Aug 09)

The baby which died in an alleged mercy killing at Astrid Lindgren's Children's Hospital in Stockholm was given a massive overdose of pain killers, a new report by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has concluded. [...]

According to medical journal Dagens Medicin, the welfare board has established that the baby, who had sustained serious brain damage in a prior hospital visit, was administered the anaesthetic Pentothal before she died on September 20th 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:25 AM


The Democrats' senior problem (CHRIS FRATES & VICTORIA MCGRANE, 8/12/09 , Politico)

Democrats have a senior citizen problem.

Frustrated older Americans are packing the town halls on health care. They are incredibly passionate about their Medicare benefits. Polls show senior citizens largely disapprove of health care reform ideas so far.

And of course, they vote — in larger numbers than any other demographic.

But so far, Democrats have focused much of their health care sales pitch on middle-class Americans and the uninsured — a slight that has been noticed by senior citizens, who hold great influence with members of Congress.

Indeed, the UR proposes to pay for the uninsured on the backs of seniors, which is dubious politics whatever the medical merit.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:09 AM


Chávez Loyalists Push to Close Golf Courses (SIMON ROMERO, 8/12/09, NY Times)

President Hugo Chávez’s political movement has found a new target: golf.

After a brief tirade against the sport by the president on national television last month, pro-Chávez officials have moved in recent weeks to shut down two of the country’s best-known golf courses, in Maracay, a city of military garrisons near here, and in the coastal city of Caraballeda.

“Let’s leave this clear,” Mr. Chávez said during a live broadcast of his Sunday television program. “Golf is a bourgeois sport,” he said, repeating the word “bourgeois” as if he were swallowing castor oil.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:07 AM


The dangers of a carbon trade war (Michael A. Levi, August 12, 2009, Boston Globe)

CLIMATE POLICY and trade policy are on a collision course. Last week, 10 Democratic senators sent a letter to President Obama demanding that cap-and-trade legislation include tariffs against dirty imports. Precisely such tariffs, aimed at countries that are not doing enough to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, were part of the climate legislation recently passed in the House. Proponents argue that the tariffs are needed to prevent the loss of US jobs and the shift of emissions-generating activities to other countries. Free trade advocates are horrified at the prospect, which they worry could violate global trade rules and spark an economic war.

Happily, the WTO would not allow such tariffs to stand.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:59 AM


Can You Hate the Artist but Love the Art? (Randy Cohen, 8/10/09, NY Times)

Last Wednesday Budd Schulberg died at 95. He was a journalist (particularly astute about boxing), a novelist (‘‘What Makes Sammy Run’’) and above all a screenwriter: ‘‘On the Waterfront’’ is a glorious accomplishment. He was also a man who named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. It is not easy to reconcile Schulberg’s disheartening testimony with his splendid work. Does rejecting the artist mean rejecting the art? [...]

Knowing about Schulberg’s (to me) perfidious conduct — he himself defended his testimony throughout his life — can affect how we see ‘‘On the Waterfront,’’ adulterating its joys, corrupting even its most famous scene. That’s psychology more than ethics — no conscious decision is involved — but it is particularly potent psychology.

Actually, not only is it almost exclusively a moral question, but the entire movie is a rebuke to Mr. Cohen's personal code. To love the movie, for his ilk, is to hate oneself.

After all, the entire point of On the Waterfront is that it is more important to stand up to a gang of thugs than to follow the code of silence that their dominance depends on. As Frank Serpico said: "The problem is not so much that there are a lot of corrupt people, but rather that there are so many that the honest are scared of the corrupt." We, even those on the Left, respond to these films because the ethos of confronting rather than collaborating with evil is so powerful that it rather easily overcomes all that nonsense about snitching and being a rat.

You can understand how this response would be so traumatic for someone like Mr. Cohen, who places omerta above other values, because it forces them to recognize that their argument against men like Schulberg and Kazan is essentially an argument against Terry Malloy and Father Barry and in support of Johnny Friendly and Charlie the Gent.

For a professional ethicist in particular, that has to be a bitter pill to swallow. But the object of his hatred should be himself, not Budd Schulberg..

Stalin in charge: New research shows how the Soviet Politburo and the secret police served a single man (Donald Rayfield, August 12, 2009, The Times Literary Supplement)

From 1925, when Stalin began to dominate the “collective” leadership, to 1936, when he had physically eliminated every possible opponent, rival or even plausible successor, the Politburo gradually lost any resemblance it had once had to a Cabinet of ministers. All the evidence we have shows that, except for very rare occasions, the Politburo acted more as a secretariat; any demurral, let alone dissent, was quickly suppressed. Its members were called on to sign their names, or telephone their assent, when Stalin proposed a particularly gruesome process, such as the annotated “shooting lists” of 1937–8 for 44,000 persons holding posts important enough to require Politburo sanction for execution, or the 1940 decision to murder 22,000 captive Polish officers (the Katyn affair). Otherwise, they were the muscles that tensed or relaxed their grip on the population according to the impulses that came from Stalin’s brain.

August 11, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:35 PM


Incoherent Vice: My Thomas Pynchon problem. (Sam Anderson, Aug 2, 2009, New York)

This is probably going to make me sound, yet again, like a Neanderthal shouting from the back of the classroom, and might even destroy my career and end a few friendships and scandalize my children and cast shame upon my ancestors—but I have something to confess. After years of deceiving myself and others (felonious head nods in grad seminars, forced cocktail-party chuckles), I have decided it’s time to stop living a literary-critical lie. There is no easy way to say this, so here it is. I hate Thomas Pynchon.

I should not, probably, hate Thomas Pynchon. He is an indisputably, uniquely gifted genius who shares artistic DNA with almost all my favorite writers (Joyce, Barthelme, DeLillo, et al). Basic demographics and taste-algorithms suggest, in fact, that I should be a full-fledged Pynchon groupie, the kind of guy who names all his hamsters Slothrop and slaps W.A.S.T.E. stickers on the windows of his local post office. But I can’t help it. My distaste is visceral, involuntary, and preconscious—a spasm of my aesthetic immune system. While I fully appreciate Pynchon in the abstract, as a literary-historical juggernaut—a necessary bridge from, say, Nabokov (with whom he studied at Cornell) to David Foster Wallace—sitting down with one of his actual books makes my eyebrows start to smolder. I find him tedious, shallow, monotonous, flippant, self-satisfied, and screamingly unfunny. I hate his aesthetic from floor to ceiling: the relentless patter of his Borscht Belt gags, his parodically overstuffed plots, his ham-fisted verbs (scowling, growling, glaring, leering, lurching) and adjectives (lurid, louche, lecherous), the tumbling micro-rhythms of his sentences, the galloping macro-rhythms of his larger narratives. I hate the discount paranoia he slathers over everything with an industrial-size trowel. I hate the cardboard cutouts he tries to pass off as human characters, and I hate—maybe most of all—his characters’ stupid names. (I even hate his name, which makes him sound like some kind of 29th-century sci-fi lobster.) I hate the fake song lyrics he invents for his characters to sing and the fake restaurants (Man of La Muncha) he invents for them to eat at and the stupid acronyms he invents for them to pledge their lives to. he not only identifies why he secretly hates Joyce, etc. but why he pretends not to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:55 AM


Greatest 'Say what?' movie moments (Patrick Kevin Day, Brill Bundy and Andy Greiser, 8/11/09, Chicago Tribune)

We can't tell you exactly what part of "Orphan" made us slap our forehead in disbelief and mutter, "Say what?" -- that would spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it. But trust us when we say this is the kind of film that the phrase "Say what?" was invented for. And it's not the first. There are movies in which surprise is a pleasing virtue, such as the early work of M. Night Shyamalan, and films in which surprise is like waking to find your bed smeared with birthday cake and a church choir sitting in your living room. You didn't expect it, sure, but huh? The films listed here are of the latter variety. Be warned that spoilers abound. [...]

"Deep Blue Sea" (1999). The moment: Samuel L. Jackson stands on the edge of a moon pool and utters this stirring speech: "Nature can be lethal, but it doesn't hold a candle to man. Now you've seen how bad things can get and how quick they can get that way. Well they can get a whole lot worse. So we're not going to fight anymore. We're going to pull together and we're going to find a way to get out of here! First, we're going to seal off this ..." At which point a giant shark jumps out and eats him. It's perhaps the film's only highlight, but where did that come from? why more movie makers don't realize they've reached the point where the shark has to be let out of the tank. No one was happy that Richard Dreyfus survived in Jaws.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


"Flight of the Conchords" versus a real New Zealand Consulate: But, no, the Conchords aren't there; however, there are some similarities ( Christopher Borrelli, August 11, 2009, Chicago Tribune)

What we found will startle you.

We found Ed Burkhardt.

He is 70, and a very pleasant man, born in Queens, N.Y., a longtime resident of Kenilworth, a former police commissioner of Kenilworth, holed up in a spotless modern office tower (sans wood paneling) in the northwest corner of Chicago, blocks from Rosemont, miles from downtown. And so, yes, Chicago's New Zealand Consulate resides at the nerd table.

The British Consulate is in the Wrigley Building. The Canadian Consulate is across from Millennium Park. The Romanian Consulate is on Michigan Avenue. Even the Netherlands Consulate (on East Wacker) is within walking distance of a Starbucks. Indeed, there are almost 60 international consulates in Chicago, and nearly every one of them is downtown. All except Burkhardt -- who runs Chicago's New Zealand Consulate, which is in the same building as the world headquarters for True Value hardware.

Burkhardt is a droll character, with a broad laugh and a long face. When we asked about perks, he shrugged. You should see the entertainment budget they've got over at the Australian Consulate, he said. "I can probably expense a Coke from the machine, but that's about it." He wasn't entirely joking. If there are similarities between Chicago's New Zealand Consulate and New York's New Zealand Consulate as portrayed on "Flight of the Conchords" -- the Soviet-looking consulate facade seen on the show is actually the facade of the East Broadway Medical Association -- the primary one would be this general lack of international pomp and circumstance.

But there are other similarities -- eerie similarities.

"I hope the idiocy part of the similarities doesn't wash," Burkhardt said when we explained why we were there.

It doesn't wash. Still, incredibly, just as Murray manages a band some of the time and works at the New Zealand Consulate some of the time, Burkhardt spends a small part of his time as the honorary New Zealand consul for Chicago and the rest of his day managing a business.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:28 AM


A Century-Old Principle: Keep Corporate Money Out of Elections (ADAM COHEN, 8/11/09, NY Times)

The founders were wary of corporate influence on politics — and their rhetoric sometimes got pretty heated. In an 1816 letter, Thomas Jefferson declared his hope to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

This skepticism was enshrined in law in the early 20th century when the nation adopted strict rules banning corporations from contributing to political campaigns. Today that ban is in danger from the Supreme Court, which hears arguments next month in a little-noticed case that could open the floodgates to corporate money in politics.

The court has gone to extraordinary lengths to hear the case. And there are worrying signs that there may well be five votes to rule that the ban on corporate contributions violates the First Amendment. [...]

In 1907, Congress passed the Tillman Act, the first federal law barring corporate campaign contributions. States adopted similar laws.

Since then, Congress has repeatedly ratified the federal ban.

...nor can limitations on individuals pass constitutional muster.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 10:05 AM


Are liberals seceding from sanity?: The left is crazy to insult white Southerners as a group (Michael Lind, Aug. 11, 2009, Salon)

When liberal pundits are not arguing that white conservatives are insane, they are explaining conservatism in the patronizing spirit of Lipset and the '60s liberals as the result, not of ideology or theology, but of the irrational resentment of the "angry white male." But what about the angry white female? If white men in the South and elsewhere who do not vote for the Democrats are by definition hate-filled racists upset by social progress, then the same must be true of white women who vote the same way.

By this test, it appears that there are a lot of angry white women and that they have been angry for decades. In 2008 white women preferred John McCain to Barack Obama by 53-47 (compare white men, 57-41). They backed George W. Bush in 2004 by 55-44 percent and in 2000 by a narrow 49-48 percent. A majority of white women in 1996 split their votes among Dole (43) and Perot (8), giving Clinton only a minority of their vote at 48 percent. In 1992 white women were even more anti-Clinton, giving Bush (41 percent) and Perot (18 percent) in combination a majority. White women gave the first Bush 56 percent of their vote in 1988, and they gave Reagan 62 percent in 1984 and 52 percent in 1980. They preferred Ford to Carter, 52-36. I could go on, but you get the picture. Clearly, to judge from their unwillingness to support Democratic presidential candidates since the 1960s, most white women, like most white men, are evil, hate-filled racist monsters.

Curiously, the progressive punditariat, so voluble about "angry white men," is silent about the decades-old Republican bias of white women. Even more curious is the paradox that liberals routinely denounce white Southern Protestants for holding the very social views that are held by majorities or near-majorities of blacks and Latinos who form the electoral base of the Democratic Party.

Consider gay rights. According to a Gallup poll in December 2008, only 31 percent of black Democrats consider homosexuality morally acceptable, compared to 61 percent of non-black Democrats. The proportion of black Democrats who think that homosexuality is immoral is identical to the proportion of all Republicans who think so. The double standard of the white liberal left was evident, when California voters narrowly passed an amendment banning gay marriage. Here is the AP: "California's black and Latino voters, who turned out in droves for Barack Obama, also provided key support in favor of the state's same-sex marriage ban. Seven in 10 black voters backed a successful ballot measure to overturn the California Supreme Court's May decision allowing same-sex marriage, according to exit polls for the Associated Press. More than half of Latino voters supported Proposition 8, while whites were split." There were lots of news stories about pro-gay-rights liberals denouncing the Mormon Church for its role in the campaign. Where were the liberals angrily denouncing black and Latino voters opposed to gay marriage?

Latinos, like blacks, are far more likely than whites to oppose abortion. According to a 2007 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center, nearly half of second-generation Latinos think that abortion should be illegal, while 65 percent of first-generation Latinos think it should be outlawed. Indeed, the overall level of Latino opposition to abortion, 57 percent, is higher than that of any other group. Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, described Latino immigrants as being out of the mainstream, saying that second-generation Latinos (the more "liberal" cohort that is split nearly 50-50!) are "much, much closer to mainstream American values ... in stark contrast to the first generation who are much more conservative on this issue." Imagine the uproar if Rush Limbaugh or Patrick Buchanan said that Latino immigrants are far from "mainstream American values."

...not to recognize who their allies are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:57 AM


Arizona’s Budget Breakthrough: An alternative to California’s tax and spend model. (WSJ, 8/11/09)

Perhaps states are starting to learn the right fiscal lessons from the red-ink blowouts in high-tax California and New York. Today, the legislature in Arizona will vote on a tax reform designed to entice more employers and high-income taxpayers to the state. Sponsored by Republican Governor Jan Brewer, the plan would cut state property taxes, the corporate tax and personal income taxes, in exchange for a temporary rise in the sales tax.

Most economic studies agree that states have more jobs and higher income growth when they tax consumption rather than savings, investment and business profits. This explains why most of the nine states with no income tax at all—such as Texas, Florida and Tennessee—have been economic high-flyers in recent decades.

Ms. Brewer’s proposal reflects this economic logic.

Tax what you don't want, not what you do.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:54 AM


GM says new Volt to get 230 mpg in city driving (Associated Press, August 11, 2009)

If the figure is confirmed by the EPA, which does the tests for the mileage posted on new car door stickers, the Volt would be the first car to exceed triple-digit gas mileage, Posawatz said.

GM has produced about 30 Volts so far and is making 10 a week, CEO Fritz Henderson said during a presentation of the vehicle at the company's technical center in the Detroit suburb of Warren.

Henderson said charging the volt will cost about 40 cents a day.

"The EPA labels can and will be a game changer for us," he said.

Most automakers are working similar plug-in designs, but GM could be the leader with the Volt, which is due in showrooms late in 2010.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:49 AM


Obama’s Tone-Deaf Health Campaign: The president shouldn’t worry about the protestors disrupting town hall meetings. He should worry about the Americans who have been sitting at home listening to him. (Dorothy Rabinowitz, 8/11/09, WSJ)

There was no such hand-wringing over the decline of civil debate, during, say, election 2004, when cadres of organized demonstrators carrying swastika-adorned pictures of George W. Bush routinely swarmed about, and packed rallies. There was also that other “breakdown of our media culture,” that will dwarf all else as a cause for embarrassment, the town-hall coverage included, for the foreseeable future. That would be, of course, the undisguised worshipful reporting of the candidacy of Barack Obama.

That treatment, or rather its memory—like the adulation of his great mass of voters—has had its effect on this president, and not all to the good. The election over, the warming glow of those armies of supporters gone, his capacity to tolerate criticism and dissent from his policies grows thinner apace. His lectures, explaining his health-care proposals, and why they’ll be good for everybody, are clearly not going down well with his national audience.

This would have to do with the fact that the real Barack Obama—product of the academic left, social reformer with a program, is now before that audience, and what they hear in this lecture about one of the central concerns in their lives—his message freighted with generalities—they are not prepared to buy. They are not prepared to believe that our first most important concern now is health-care reform or all will go under.

The president has a problem. For, despite a great election victory, Mr. Obama, it becomes ever clearer, knows little about Americans. He knows the crowds—he is at home with those. He is a stranger to the country’s heart and character.

The Beltway press keeps telling him how great these speeches are so he just gives more and more of them without considering that the more he talks the bleaker his prospects are.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


State Democrats Fear That Paterson Is Liability (RAYMOND HERNANDEZ, 8/11/09, NY Times)

As he prepares to run for re-election, Representative Michael E. McMahon, a Democrat from Staten Island, is burdened with having to campaign in a district where Republicans have a strong presence and where the impact of job losses on Wall Street has been particularly severe.

But, increasingly, he has another worry: Gov. David A. Paterson.

Mr. McMahon and other leading Democrats are concerned that the election prospects of the party’s candidates will be undermined with Mr. Paterson prominently on the ticket, as he is hobbled by plunging job-approval ratings and missteps that have raised questions about whether he should even run next year.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:16 AM


Deeds Throws Abortion Gauntlet: McDonnell Record Cited in Risky Push (Rosalind S. Helderman, 8/11/09, Washington Post)

Surrounded by female activists and lawmakers, Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds on Monday launched an assault on his opponent's record of working to restrict abortions, calling it evidence that the Republican has the wrong priorities for the state. [...]

Deeds's message could energize a Democratic base that has been showing signs of sluggishness since last year's overwhelming victory in the presidential election.

Has the Democratic Party really come to this, that it's last defense is unlimited abortion?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Productivity Leaped in 2nd Quarter (TOM BARKLEY, 8/11/09, WSJ))

Unit labor costs -- a key gauge of inflationary pressures -- fell 5.8% last quarter at an annual rate, a pace of decline not seen since the second quarter of 2001. Economists had expected a 2.9% decline.

Unit labor costs were down 0.6% from a year ago, an indication that disinflationary pressures remain.

First-quarter unit labor costs were revised to negative 2.7% from positive 3.0%.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


PREVIEW: MEXICO - UNITED STATES (Rich Fidler, August 11, 2009, Yanks Abroad)

Bradley will no doubt rely on a starting eleven that leans heavily on the roster that lead him to the Confederations Cup final. Tim Howard will undoubtedly be the starter behind a back four of Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu and possibly Jonathan Spector.

Spector will battle regular first-team right back Steve Cherundolo, who missed South Africa due to injury, but is fully healthy and went the full 90 minutes in Hannover 96's 1-0 defeat over the weekend before flying across the Atlantic.

The midfield will pair Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, a villain to most Mexicans for his goal scoring exploits, on each wing. The LA Galaxy midfielder has grown to enjoy the pressure of facing their regional rival.

Bradley will start his son and current Borussia Mönchengladbach ace alongside Houston Dynamo's Ricardo Clark - although more offensive minded Benny Feilhaber could see the start depending on Bradley's formation at 4:00pm EST tomorrow.

Up top the team will be lead by Brian Ching, who returned from an injury that kept him out of South Africa to captain the team during the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The second striker will be an intriguing choice for the head coach, either Jozy Altidore who recently joined Hull City on-loan or speedy Sochaux forward Charlie Davies will get the nod.

The strength of playing what's basically a 4-2-2-2 is that you basically end up with 4 very good central defenders in Onyewu, Bradley, Clark, and Demerit. It forces the other team wide and then Onyewu is such a dominant force on balls in the air that he can head a goodly number away--likewise Altidore on set piece plays.

The weakness is that you end up with almost no width yourself. You really need to have Spector and Donovan play towards the corners on the attack and then cross balls into the middle. More than that, Marvell Wynne eventually needs to be brought onto the starting 11 in place of Bocanegra, because he can make runs out wide and still get back to defend, which the captain can't.

The other problem with the line-up above is that there's no midfielder who can hold the ball himself and regularly looks to play it forward if you aren't starting Feilhaber. It would be better to move Dempsey up front with Altidore and bring Feilhaber into the midfield.

As a general matter though, there is no excuse (barring more ridiculous red cards) for the US not winning this game. And even though we should win, doing so will send a tremor through world soccer, coming on the heals of the Confederations Cup performance in South Africa. Soccer teams are so psychologically fragile that they routinely lose games they should win and any sign of mental toughness by your squad scares the bejeebies out of others.

The US isn't likely to be a World Cup favorite in 2010 but they aren't far from being the team the favorites would least like to have to face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Obama Sets Immigration Changes for 2010 (GINGER THOMPSON and MARC LACEY, 8/11/09, NY Times)

[I]n the most detailed outline yet of his timetable, the president said that he expected Congress, after completing work on health care, energy and financial regulation, to draft immigration bills this year. He said he would begin work on getting the measures passed in 2010.

“Now, am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No,” the president said. “But ultimately, I think the American people want fairness. And we can create a system in which you have strong border security and an orderly process for people to come in. But we’re also giving an opportunity for those who are already in the United States to be able to achieve a pathway to citizenship so they don’t have to live in the shadows.”

...this would have been his first priority, since it's effectively a massive stimulus.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:50 AM


Obama's Euthanasia Mistake (Lee Siegel, 8/11/09, Daily Beast)

For those of us who believe that the absence of universal health care is America’s burning shame, the spectacle of opposition to Obama’s health-care plan is Alice-in-Wonderland bewildering and also enraging—but on one point the plan’s critics are absolutely correct. The plan’s—and Obama’s—sympathy for limitations on end-of-life care is morally revolting. And it’s helping to kill the plan itself.

Make no mistake about it. Determining which treatments are “cost effective” at the end of a person’s life and which are not is one of Obama’s priorities. It’s one of the principal ways he counts on saving money and making universal healthcare affordable.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:44 AM


Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s: . . . It’s a tricky business, integrating new politics with tried and true social motifs . . . (Tom Wolfe, June 8, 1970, New York Magazine.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. These are nice. Little Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts. Very tasty. Very subtle. It’s the way the dry sackiness of the nuts tiptoes up against the dour savor of the cheese that is so nice, so subtle. Wonder what the Black Panthers eat here on the hors d’oeuvre trail? Do the Panthers like little Roquefort cheese morsels wrapped in crushed nuts this way, and asparagus tips in mayonnaise dabs, and meatballs petites au Coq Hardi, all of which are at this very moment being offered to them on gadrooned silver platters by maids in black uniforms with hand-ironed white aprons . . . The butler will bring them their drinks . . . Deny it if you wish to, but such are the pensées métaphysiques that rush through one’s head on these Radical Chic evenings just now in New York. For example, does that huge Black Panther there in the hallway, the one shaking hands with Felicia Bernstein herself, the one with the black leather coat and the dark glasses and the absolutely unbelievable Afro, Fuzzy Wuzzy-scale in fact�is he, a Black Panther, going on to pick up a Roquefort cheese morsel rolled in crushed nuts from off the tray, from a maid in uniform, and just pop it down the gullet without so much as missing a beat of Felicia’s perfect Mary Astor voice. . . .

Felicia is remarkable. She is beautiful, with that rare burnished beauty that lasts through the years. Her hair is pale blond and set just so. She has a voice that is �theatrical,� to use a term from her youth. She greets the Black Panthers with the same bend of the wrist, the same tilt of the head, the same perfect Mary Astor voice with which she greets people like Jason, D.D. Adolph, Betty, Gian Carlo, Schuyler, and Goddard, during those après-concert suppers she and Lenny are so famous for. What evenings! She lights the candles over the dining room table, and in the Gotham gloaming the little tremulous tips of flame are reflected in the mirrored surface of the table, a bottomless blackness with a thousand stars, and it is that moment that Lenny loves. There seem to be a thousand stars above and a thousand stars below, a room full of stars, a penthouse duplex full of stars, a Manhattan tower full of stars, with marvelous people drifting through the heavens, Jason Robards, John and D. D. Ryan, Gian Carlo Menotti, Schuyler Chapin, Goddard Lieberson, Mike Nichols, Lillian Hellman, Larry Rivers, Aaron Copland, Richard Avedon, Milton and Amy Greene, Lukas Foss, Jennie Tourel, Samuel Barber, Jerome Robbins, Steve Sondheim, Adolph and Phyllis Green, Betty Comden, and the Patrick O’Neals . . .

. . . and now, in the season of Radical Chic, the Black Panthers. That huge Panther there, the one Felicia is smiling her tango smile at, is Robert Bay, who just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called �criminal facilitation.� And now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue. Harassment & Hassles, Guns & Pigs, Jail & Bail�they’re real, these Black Panthers. The very idea of them, these real revolutionaries, who actually put their lives on the line, runs through Lenny’s duplex like a rogue hormone. Everyone casts a glance, or stares, or tries a smile, and then sizes up the house for the somehow delicious counterpoint . . . Deny it if you want to! but one does end up making such sweet furtive comparisons in this season of Radical Chic . . . There’s Otto Preminger in the library and Jean vanden Heuvel in the hall, and Peter and Cheray Duchin in the living room, and Frank and Domna Stanton, Gail Lumet, Sheldon Harnick, Cynthia Phipps, Burton Lane, Mrs. August Heckscher, Roger Wilkins, Barbara Walters, Bob Silvers, Mrs. Richard Avedon, Mrs. Arthur Penn, Julie Belafonte, Harold Taylor, and scores more, including Charlotte Curtis, women’s news editor of the New York Times, America’s foremost chronicler of Society, a lean woman in black, with her notebook out, standing near Felicia and big Robert Bay, and talking to Cheray Duchin.

Cheray tells her: �I’ve never met a Panther�this is a first for me!� . . . never dreaming that within 48 hours her words will be on the desk of the President of the United States . . .

This is a first for me. But she is not alone in her thrill as the Black Panthers come trucking on in, into Lenny’s house, Robert Bay, Don Cox the Panthers’ Field Marshal from Oakland, Henry Miller the Harlem Panther defense captain, the Panther women�Christ, if the Panthers don’t know how to get it all together, as they say, the tight pants, the tight black turtlenecks, the leather coats, Cuban shades, Afros. But real Afros, not the ones that have been shaped and trimmed like a topiary hedge and sprayed until they have a sheen like acrylic wall-to-wall�but like funky, natural, scraggly . . . wild . . .

These are no civil-rights Negroes wearing gray suits three sizes too big�

�no more interminable Urban League banquets in hotel ballrooms where they try to alternate the blacks and whites around the tables as if they were stringing Arapaho beads�

�these are real men!

Next: The chicness of the Panther women.

Shootouts, revolutions, pictures in Life magazine of policemen grabbing Black Panthers like they were Viet Cong�somehow it all runs together in the head with the whole thing of how beautiful they are. Sharp as a blade. The Panther women�there are three or four of them on hand, wives of the Panther 21 defendants, and they are so lean, so lithe, as they say, with tight pants and Yoruba-style headdresses, almost like turbans, as if they’d stepped out of the pages of Vogue, although no doubt Vogue got it from them. All at once every woman in the room knows exactly what Amanda Burden meant when she said she was now anti-fashion because �the sophistication of the baby blacks made me rethink my attitudes.� God knows the Panther women don’t spend 30 minutes in front of the mirror in the morning shoring up their eye holes with contact lenses, eyeliner, eye shadow, eyebrow pencil, occipital rim brush, false eyelashes, mascara, Shadow-Ban for undereye and Eterna Creme for the corners . . . And here they are, right in front of you, trucking on into the Bernsteins’ Chinese yellow duplex, amid the sconces, silver bowls full of white and lavender anemones, and uniformed servants serving drinks and Roquefort cheese morsels rolled in crushed nuts�

But it’s all right. They’re white servants, not Claude and Maude, but white South Americans. Lenny and Felicia are geniuses. After a while, it all comes down to servants. They are the cutting edge in Radical Chic.

August 10, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:21 PM


President Obama distances himself from Nancy Pelosi (NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, 8/10/09, Politico)

head of his own town hall Tuesday, President Barack Obama sought to distance himself from charges by Democratic congressional leaders that boisterous health care dissent is "un-American," with his spokesman saying that the protests are a part of American life. [...]

[H]is spokesman pushed back against the comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer by saying that Obama is ready for whatever comes Tuesday.

"I think there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America. The President thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that," Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:57 PM


Clinton's temper flares (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 8/10/09)

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's temper flared on Monday when a Congolese university student asked for her husband's thinking on an international matter.

"My husband is not secretary of state. I am," an obviously annoyed Clinton replied sharply. [...]

The question was left unanswered as the moderator of the event quickly moved on.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:52 PM


Pelosi versus Palin (Carolyn Lochhead, August 10 2009, SF Chronicle)

Before leaving for the August recess, before health care town halls became the story, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would use her successful defeat of former President George W. Bush's Social Security overhaul as her "template" for pushing health care reform. [...]

Hello? Pelosi was trying to block legislation in 2005, not pass it. Ask Newt Gingrich. Governing is a lot harder than bomb throwing.

Pelosi's challenge on health care is precisely the reverse of her attack on Bush's Social Security plan. Back then, she succeeded in uniting Democrats in opposition, rapidly quashing any effort by any Democrat to offer an alternative that would have set the stage for negotiations. The message was: kill it.

Republicans and other opponents are doing just that on health care, which is easier to do with health care because it is much bigger, much more complex, more emotional for more people, and has many more vested interests.

...she is doing to health care reform what she did to SS reform.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:53 PM


, In the beginning was the joke: Why cheerfulness is next to godliness. (John Lloyd, August 2009, Ode)

If you look at the universe as a tremendously complex, very amusing practical joke, it suddenly starts to make sense. It also offers a hopeful suggestion as to how to behave. If life is neither a meaningless gene machine nor a cruel and vicious vale of tears but a damn good gag, the only logical solution is to laugh—which is convenient, because that’s what I do for a living.

Good jokes, like good spiritual scriptures, must contain a hidden truth. Take this line from the American comedienne Phyllis Diller, which perfectly expresses society’s paradoxical attitude toward education: "We spend the first 12 months of our children’s lives teaching them to walk and talk, and the next 12 years telling them to sit down and shut up." Or, as Benjamin Franklin put it, "We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to become stupid."

The best jokes are also wise. Wisdom is different from intelligence because an intelligent person can be seriously bad—and throughout history, many of the brightest people have been seriously bad—but you cannot be wise without being good. Even the bleakest jokes contain a suggestion that the way things are isn’t the way they should be, and that you really ought to do something about that, as in this quip by 20th-century poet W.H. Auden: "We are here on Earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don’t know." Wisdom isn’t only on the side of the angels; it’s also timeless. [...]

So what are we here for? Your modern neo-Darwinist is perfectly certain—for no reason. That just doesn’t cut it for me. I mean, it may be true, but it doesn’t help me get through Thursday. I prefer this take by the composer Aaron Copland (simply replace the word "music" with the word "life"): "The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer would be, ‘Yes.’ And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be, ‘No.’"

...that all humor is conservative.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:44 PM


Evolution's third replicator: Genes, memes, and now what? (Susan Blackmore, 7/31/09, New Scientist)

WE HUMANS have let loose something extraordinary on our planet - a third replicator - the consequences of which are unpredictable and possibly dangerous.

What do I mean by "third replicator"? The first replicator was the gene - the basis of biological evolution. The second was memes - the basis of cultural evolution. I believe that what we are now seeing, in a vast technological explosion, is the birth of a third evolutionary process. We are Earth's Pandoran species, yet we are blissfully oblivious to what we have let out of the box.

This might sound apocalyptic, but it is how the world looks when we realise that Darwin's principle of evolution by natural selection need not apply just to biology. Given some kind of copying machinery that makes lots of slightly different copies of the same information, and given that only a few of those copies survive to be copied again, an evolutionary process must occur and design will appear out of destruction. You might call it "design by death" since clever designs thrive because of the many failures that don't. [...]

In all my previous work in memetics I have used the term "meme" to apply to any information that is copied between people, including stories in books, ideas embodied in new technology, websites and so on. The reason was that there seemed no way of distinguishing between "natural" human memes, such as spoken words, habits, fashions, art and religions, and what we might call "artificial" memes, such as websites and high-tech goods. So on the grounds that a false distinction is worse than none I stuck to the term "meme". Yet an email encrypted in digital code, broken into tiny packets and beamed around the planet does seem qualitatively different from someone shaking hands and saying "Hi". Could there be a fundamental principle lurking here? If we ask what made memes different from genes, would that help us decide what would make a new replicator different from memes?

Putting it that way makes the answer easier to see. Memes are a new kind of information - behaviours rather than DNA - copied by a new kind of machinery - brains rather than chemicals inside cells. This is a new evolutionary process because all of the three critical stages - copying, varying and selection - are done by those brains. So does the same apply to new technology?

There is a new kind of information: electronically processed binary information rather than memes. There is also a new kind of copying machinery: computers and servers rather than brains. But are all three critical stages carried out by that machinery?

We're close. We may even be right on the cusp. Think of programs that write original poetry or cobble together new student essays, or programs that store information about your shopping preferences and suggest books or clothes you might like next. They may be limited in scope, dependent on human input and send their output to human brains, but they copy, select and recombine the information they handle.

Or think of Google. It copies information, selects what it needs and puts the selections together in new variations - that's all three. The temptation is to think that since we designed search engines and other technologies for our own use they must remain subservient to us. But if a new replicator is involved we must think again. Search results go not only to screens for people to look at, but to other programs, commercial applications and even viruses - that's machines copying information to other machines without the intervention of a human brain. From there, we should expect the system to grow rapidly beyond our control and for our role in it to change. We should also expect design to appear spontaneously, and it does. Much of the content on the web is now designed automatically by machines rather than people.

Modern deism just replaces the watchmaker with the computer programmer.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:32 PM


First Freedom: Religious liberty and national security: a review of World of Faith and Freedom: Why International Religious Liberty is Vital to American National Security by Thomas F. Farr (Allen D. Hertzke, August 10, 2009, Books & Culture)

Farr argues that promoting religious freedom must be a "central element of a refurbished American engagement with the world." This bold assertion is buttressed by three contentions. First, for the foreseeable future religion will have a huge global impact on norms, politics, and transnational movements; thus we cannot ignore it. Second, the foreign policy establishment is ill equipped to address a world of pervasive religious faith. Indeed, secular assumptions so profoundly shape the diplomatic worldview that Foreign Service officers need training to see religion as something other than a problem. Third, the United States has potent statutory vehicles to address current deficiencies. Vigorously enforced, the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) could be the catalyst for recalibrated and integrated initiatives throughout the foreign policy apparatus.

In making his case Farr marshals cutting-edge scholarship on the positive correlation between religious freedom and civil liberties, democratic consolidation, economic development, women's status, and peace. Thus the success of a myriad of foreign policy aims hinges in part on how well we advance the "first freedom."

The book is divided into three parts. The first part catalogues the vast intellectual infrastructure that underpins the "religion deficit" among foreign policy élites. If religion is viewed as irrational and conflict-prone, then progress means secularization, privatization, and strict separation. The only way a polity is safe from fanaticism, in this view, is if religious people refrain from asserting comprehensive truth claims in the public square. Farr turns this Rawlsian argument on its head. In a pervasively religious world, he argues, the only hope for some modicum of peace lies in regimes that grant religious groups the right to contend in the democratic forum.

To make this competition healthy, religious groups must forswear violence or coercion. Here Farr offers a kind of bargain to religious communities: abandon the claim on the coercive powers of the state; in return, gain full citizenship rights to promote your religious values in public policy. But this bargain can only work if the United States stops peddling a form of strict separationism that would banish religion from the public square, which religionists abroad rightly see as an attempt to secularize their society. [...]

What makes Farr's work so timely is its broader point: that fostering religious freedom is not just a humanitarian aim but is crucial to the national interest. Thus it should not be the object of a single office in the State Department but instead woven into the highest levels of America's global engagement.

To develop this argument Farr devotes the third part of the book to chapters that show how the promotion of religious freedom would advance our strategic interests on two major fronts: the Islamic world and China. With respect to Islam, Farr stresses that extending greater freedom to religious minorities and Muslim dissenters is essential to draining the swamps of militancy that give rise to terrorism. He shows how apostasy and blasphemy laws crush the kind of free inquiry necessary for moderate voices to be heard. Thus when American policy makers ignored religious liberty concerns in such places as Afghanistan, they unwittingly enabled Islamic militants to intimidate and silence Muslim reformers, human rights proponents, and women.

The picture is perhaps more hopeful in China, where Farr believes the United States can make a strong case to authorities that free religious communities can help build a modern China. Recent back channel meetings between communist officials and house church representatives suggest that China's rulers might be amenable to such arguments.

Church-State Relations in America and Europe: Robert Kraynak on America's Civil Religion (25 MARCH 2005, ZENIT)

Alexis de Tocqueville admired the way Americans were able to combine the spirit of religion with the spirit of liberty in the 1830s.

Robert Kraynak, professor of political science at Colgate University and author of "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World" (Notre Dame), explains in the first part of this three-part interview how civil religion prevented a totally secular democracy from arising in America for nearly 200 years, and how it might be a good model for other nations.

This is the first of a three-part interview.

Q: Recently, Cardinal Ratzinger described the American model of church-state relations as more hospitable to religious truth and institutions than European models. What features of the American model might be more hospitable to religion?

Kraynak: The American model of church-state relations was best described by Alexis de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America" more than 150 years ago. He expressed his admiration, much like Cardinal Ratzinger today, for the way Americans were able to combine the spirit of religion with the spirit of liberty.

The crucial point for Tocqueville was the distinction between laws and customs. By law, Americans separated church and state; but in their customs or mores, Americans insisted on a prominent role for religion in public and private life. This meant Americans rejected the model of Great Britain, which established a national Church of England, and the practice of regional princes in Germany, who gave legal support to their own denominations.

By rejecting state establishment, Americans never experienced the problems of clerical power and were able to develop a robust pluralism where the various Christian churches pursued religious orthodoxy as voluntary associations on roughly equal terms, although reformed Protestant churches had a historical advantage.

While favoring voluntary worship, Americans also believed that religion had a public role in promoting republican virtue. Hence, they developed a nondenominational civil religion that was expressed in the Declaration of Independence's doctrine of God-given natural rights — the belief that liberty derived from "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" and that inalienable rights were endowments of the Creator.

This republican religion was later expressed in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which said that "this nation under God" will enjoy a new birth of freedom — a sentiment also echoed in the Pledge of Allegiance and in countless public statements connecting the blessings of American freedom with God's providence and judgment.

For nearly 200 years, this civil religion prevented a totally secular democracy from arising in America, while allowing and even protecting a deeper piety based on the revealed truths of Christian faith in the many Protestant, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches of America.

American piety is thus a special blend of three elements: the disestablishment of religion, a republican civil religion of God-given natural rights, and pluralism in the pursuit of Christian orthodoxy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:58 PM


Undue Influence: The House Bill Skews End-of-Life Counsel (Charles Lane, August 8, 2009, Washington Post)

[A]t least as I read it, Section 1233 is not totally innocuous.

Until now, federal law has encouraged end-of-life planning -- gently. In 1990, Congress required health-care institutions (not individual doctors) to give new patients written notice of their rights to make living wills, advance directives and the like -- but also required them to treat patients regardless of whether they have such documents.

The 1997 ban on assisted-suicide support specifically allowed doctors to honor advance directives. And last year, Congress told doctors to offer a brief chat on end-of-life documents to consenting patients during their initial "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam. That mandate took effect this year.

Section 1233, however, addresses compassionate goals in disconcerting proximity to fiscal ones. Supporters protest that they're just trying to facilitate choice -- even if patients opt for expensive life-prolonging care. I think they protest too much: If it's all about obviating suffering, emotional or physical, what's it doing in a measure to "bend the curve" on health-care costs?

Though not mandatory, as some on the right have claimed, the consultations envisioned in Section 1233 aren't quite "purely voluntary," as Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.) asserts. To me, "purely voluntary" means "not unless the patient requests one." Section 1233, however, lets doctors initiate the chat and gives them an incentive -- money -- to do so. Indeed, that's an incentive to insist.

Patients may refuse without penalty, but many will bow to white-coated authority. Once they're in the meeting, the bill does permit "formulation" of a plug-pulling order right then and there. So when Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) denies that Section 1233 would "place senior citizens in situations where they feel pressured to sign end-of-life directives that they would not otherwise sign," I don't think he's being realistic.

What's more, Section 1233 dictates, at some length, the content of the consultation. The doctor "shall" discuss "advanced care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to"; "an explanation of . . . living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses" (even though these are legal, not medical, instruments); and "a list of national and State-specific resources to assist consumers and their families." The doctor "shall" explain that Medicare pays for hospice care (hint, hint). least he wasn't mealy-mouthed about using government to get rid of people over 65.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:50 AM


The Unfunny Truth (ROSS DOUTHAT, 8/10/09, NY Times)

No contemporary figure has done more than Apatow, the 41-year-old auteur of gross-out comedies, to rebrand social conservatism for a younger generation that associates it primarily with priggishness and puritanism. No recent movie has made the case for abortion look as self-evidently awful as “Knocked Up,” Apatow’s 2007 keep-the-baby farce. No movie has made saving — and saving, and saving — your virginity seem as enviable as “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” whose closing segue into connubial bliss played like an infomercial for True Love Waits.

“We make extremely right-wing movies with extremely filthy dialogue,” Seth Rogen, Apatow’s favorite leading man, told an interviewer during the promotional blitz for “Knocked Up.” He was half-joking, of course, and it’s safe to say that you won’t see Apatow and his merry men at the next Christian Coalition fundraiser. But the one-liner got something important right. By marrying raunch and moralism, Apatow’s movies have done the near impossible: They’ve made an effectively conservative message about relationships and reproduction seem relatable, funny, down-to-earth and even sexy.

At least until now. Having taken on virginity, pregnancy, and wedlock, Apatow has moved on to later stages of the life-cycle — divorce and death. His new film, “Funny People,” features Adam Sandler as a superstar comedian who’s rich, lonely, and battling leukemia. He’s also battling to win back his former girlfriend, whom he cheated on years ago, from her husband, who’s also cheating on her — but with whom she has two kids.

It is heavier than Apatow’s last two films, and fewer people care for it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:47 AM


Are we alone?: There could be more than 200 extraterrestrial civilisations humming away in our galaxy right now. Cosmos wonders where they are (Tim Dean, April 2007, Cosmos)

WHICH IS THE more shocking proposition: that our galactic neighbourhood is riddled with advanced alien civilisations? Or that we humans are a solitary beacon of intelligent life in a silent universe of almost incomprehensible vastness?

Either prospect is enough to keep you awake at night. Yet one of these two statements is likely true. We just don't know which one.

Of course we know, as witness the proviso folks have to add to option 1: "Despite the plethora of advanced civilizations, none can communicate with us."

A grim reckoning: What has a 16th-century astronomer got to do with the defeat of governments and the possible extinction of the human race? Answers in fractions please (J. Richard Gott III, 11/15/97, New Scientist)

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:41 AM


A Thousand Little Gitmos (Petra Bartosiewicz, July/August 2009, Mother Jones)

Hashmi is not in Guantanamo Bay, nor is he an enemy combatant. He's a US citizen, born in Pakistan and raised in Flushing, Queens, facing trial in federal court in Manhattan. His home for the past two years has been the Special Housing Unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a stone's throw from the Brooklyn Bridge. Hashmi might be guilty, he might not. We may never know—because when he goes before judge and jury later this year he won't get a fair trial. Much of the government's evidence against him is secret, and he can't see it because he doesn't have a security clearance. Maher, who does have a security clearance, can't see much of it either. Maher finds this incredible.

"There are cases across the country where men are being convicted and given astronomical sentences under the most inhumane and draconian conditions possible," says Maher. "Animals at the Bronx Zoo get treated better than this."

As one of his first official acts, President Obama issued an order to shutter Guantanamo and review all US terrorism detention policies. But no change is on the horizon for the dozens of terror cases cycling through the federal court system—some of which, thanks to a range of post-9/11 measures, have come to resemble the kind of jurisprudence practiced at Guantanamo.

Think there's anyone in a SuperMax prison who prefers it to the treatment at Guatanamo Bay?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:18 AM


The Structure of Scientific Evolutions: Evolution's place in a created universe. (William Saletan, Aug. 10, 2009, Slate)

In a series of books—Three Scientists and Their Gods, The Moral Animal, and Nonzero—Wright has pushed the idea of pre-existing architecture from the chemical to the biological to the cultural level. He believes that the structure of our world has favored the evolution of societies based on peace, commerce, reciprocal altruism, and mutual benefit. His latest book, The Evolution of God, takes this argument further: God may or may not have shaped biological and cultural evolution (just by establishing an initial algorithm), but these processes have definitely shaped Him. The evolution of the human brain led to religion, and our ideas about God have subsequently changed in concert with cultural progress. On the whole, despite history's ups and downs, God has become more peaceful, more beneficent, and more compatible with a scientific understanding of the world.

Not everyone is thrilled with Wright's version of God. To many religious people, a nonpersonal deity that never intervenes in the ordered world is no deity at all. But the more interesting critique has come from scientists. Many of them don't like theism, even in Wright's deistic form. They prefer simple explanations. They think that biological evolution can account for religion's emergence and that this form of explanation is uniquely God-free.

The most notable of these scientific critics is Nicholas Wade, a reporter for the New York Times. Wade is the author of Before the Dawn, an ingenious reconstruction of human prehistory from genetic and linguistic evidence. This fall, he has another book coming out: The Faith Instinct. In a preview on the Times Web site, he agrees with Wright that "morality has a genetic basis and may well have evolved over the millennia into forms that are objectively higher." But Wade thinks religion's original function was clear:

to instill, through group cohesion, morality within a group and hostility toward those outside it. So in very early human societies, groups with strong religious behavior would have prevailed over less cohesive adversaries. We are descended from the religious groups, the argument goes, and that is why everyone harbors a religious instinct. …

Wade concludes: "Natural selection also explains rather well how religious behavior would have conferred such advantages on early human societies that it became a part of human nature."

The questions of religious faith's role in a Darwinian universe and of Darwinism's role in a Created one are certainly interesting enough as academic exercises, but that of belief in Darwinism in a purely Natural universe is the big enchilada. For exactly the same reasons that the internal logic of Darwinism requires that religion be merely an evolutionary affect, so too must Darwinism itself be. It's quite exquisite--to exactly the extent that one has faith in Darwinism that faith is undermined by Darwinism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:08 AM


Opposition Emerges to House's Jet Spree (BRODY MULLINS and T.W. FARNAM, 8/10/09, WSJ)

Bipartisan opposition is emerging in the Senate to a plan by House lawmakers to spend $550 million for additional passenger jets for senior government officials.

The resistance to buying eight Gulfstream and Boeing planes comes as members of both chambers of Congress embark on the busiest month of the year for official overseas travel. The plan to upgrade the fleet of government jets, which was included in a broader defense-funding bill, has also sparked criticism from the Pentagon, which has said it doesn't need half of the new jets.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:17 AM


Obama and the irony of status quo (Robert J. Samuelson, August 10, 2009, Newsweek)

One of the bewildering ironies of the health care debate is that President Barack Obama claims to be attacking the status quo when he's actually embracing it. Ever since Congress created Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, health politics has followed a simple logic: Expand benefits and talk about controlling costs. That's the status quo, and Obama faithfully adheres to it. While denouncing skyrocketing health spending, he would increase it by extending government health insurance to millions more Americans.

Just why this approach is perennially popular is no secret. Health care is viewed as a “right.” Promoting it seems “moral.” Cost controls suggest dreaded “rationing.” So there's a powerful bias toward expansion.

History is unambiguous.

August 9, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:14 PM


Exceptionalism: America’s right to rule and order the world (John Pilger, 10 August 2009, Online Opinion)

The new “ism” was Americanism, an ideology whose distinction is its denial that it is an ideology. Recently, I saw the 1957 musical Silk Stockings, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Between the scenes of wonderful dancing to a score by Cole Porter was a series of loyalty statements that the colonel in Vietnam might well have written. I had forgotten how crude and pervasive the propaganda was; the Soviets could never compete. An oath of loyalty to all things American became an ideological commitment to the leviathan of business: from the business of armaments and war (which consumes 42 cents in every tax dollar today) to the business of food, known as “agripower” (which receives $157 billion a year in government subsidies).

Barack Obama is the embodiment of this “ism”. From his early political days, Obama’s unerring theme has been not “change”, the slogan of his presidential campaign, but America’s right to rule and order the world. Of the United States, he says, “we lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good ... We must lead by building a 21st-century military to ensure the security of our people and advance the security of all people.” And: “At moments of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond their borders.”

Since 1945, by deed and by example, the US has overthrown 50 governments, including democracies, crushed some 30 liberation movements and supported tyrannies from Egypt to Guatemala (see William Blum’s histories). Bombing is apple pie. Having stacked his government with warmongers, Wall Street cronies and polluters from the Bush and Clinton eras, the 45th president is merely upholding tradition. The hearts and minds farce I witnessed in Vietnam is today repeated in villages in Afghanistan and, by proxy, Pakistan, which are Obama’s wars.

In his acceptance speech for the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Harold Pinter noted that “everyone knew that terrible crimes had been committed by the Soviet Union in the postwar period, but “US crimes in the same period have been only superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all”. It is as if “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening, it wasn’t happening ... You have to hand it to America ... masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

As Obama has sent drones to kill (since January) some 700 civilians, distinguished liberals have rejoiced that America is once again a “nation of moral ideals”, as Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times. In Britain, the elite has long seen in exceptional America an enduring place for British “influence”, albeit as servitor or puppet. The pop historian Tristram Hunt says America under Obama is a land “where miracles happen”. Justin Webb, until recently the BBC’s man in Washington, refers adoringly, rather like the colonel in Vietnam, to the “city on the hill”.

You have to love the gnostic bit, where only folks like Harold Pinter and John Pilger can really see that what seems like an unprecedented era of liberalization and economic growth has secretly been a tyranny.

Political Theology: Religion and U.S. foreign policy in the first phase of the Cold War: a review of Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment by William Inboden (Joseph Loconte, August 10, 2009, Books & Culture)

Renewed debate over the direction of U.S. foreign policy has focused on several contending schools of political thought: Wilsonian idealists, Kissinger realists, liberal interventionists, and the neo-conservatives. Though the debate is important in that it takes big ideas seriously, there is a hollow quality to much of it: a remarkable inattention to the role of religious belief in the formation and execution of public policy.

This problem has become institutionalized in our foreign policy enclaves. In college classrooms, textbooks such as American Foreign Policy Since World War II somehow manage to discuss the Cold War without mentioning the stark religious divide between atheistic communism and the American democratic creed. Henry Kissinger, the quintessential Cold War realist, produced an 800-page tome, Diplomacy, that fails to reference religion in its index. The U.S. State Department still functions largely as though the First Amendment precluded the promotion of America's greatest contribution to democratic government, namely, freedom of conscience and religion. It's as if the great forces moving the hearts of men and nations were indifferent to their deepest appetites and aspirations.

With the publication of William Inboden's Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment, the conventional, secular approach to political science and public policy seems conspicuously deficient. We learn, for example, that in early 1951 the State Department held a two-day conference with Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and other national figures to help the United States develop an "ideological offensive against international communism." This was the era of the Truman doctrine, the U.S. policy to contain Soviet communism, and the administration understood that a political theology defined the conflict between the two superpowers. That meant the government needed all hands on deck—yes, even the hands of ministers and theologians, of whatever faith. "I share your apprehension over the threat to Christian civilization," Truman wrote to Pope Pius XII in an effort to court domestic Catholic support for his policies. "All who cherish Christian and democratic institutions should unite against the common enemy. That enemy is the Soviet Union, which would substitute the Marxist doctrine of atheistic communism for Revelation." The president went on to describe his Marshall Plan, the U.S. program to rescue postwar Europe from economic ruin, in frankly religious terms. [...]

In Religion and American Foreign Policy, we are reminded that the political leaders who took America into a long, costly, and ultimately successful struggle against the Soviet Union did not do so primarily because of "power politics." They did so because they feared, quite reasonably, that the triumph of atheistic communism would mean the wreckage not only of human rights but also of human souls. "Without this theological context," Inboden writes, "the Cold War cannot be understood."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:37 PM


Pace of Job Losses Sets Stage for Quick Labor-Market Rebound (Justin LaHart, 8/10/09, WSJ)

The rapid pace at which businesses shed jobs during the recession comes with a flip side: Workers will need to be hired back quickly as the economy improves. [...]

Businesses say they are running lean. Philadelphia staffing and outsourcing company CDI Corp. has seen demand for its services fall sharply in response to the recession. Its engineering services business, for example, has seen a 22% drop-off, said Chief Executive Roger Ballou. But the company has cut staff deeply enough that it doesn't have many idle hands, and Mr. Ballou said that's true at CDI's customers as well.

"I'm unaware of any firm out there today that has lots and lots of people sitting on the bench, waiting for business to come back," said Mr. Ballou. As a result, he thinks jobs will come back more quickly as the economy recovers than they did in 2001.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:14 PM


Blair Ghost Project: The haunting of Gordon Brown (Howard Jacobson, 8/12/09 , The New Republic)

At first, after a decade of Tony Blair's irrepressible, quicksilver self-satisfaction, a dismal prime minister, too lugubrious and lubberly to be evasive, seemed the answer to the country's prayers. They had been a double act--comic and straight man. And we'd had enough of the comic. Fair play came into it as well. It was widely believed that the two men had struck a deal that, if they ever made it to high office, they would share the spoils. Me first, no you. But Blair had liked it too much to part with. The years went by. And all along, in the dismal gloaming, Brown nursed his thwarted genius, convinced he could prance as airily as Tony if only Tony would give way. And then, Tony did. [...]

A now infamous joke tipped Brown into ridicule. Impatient with his dithering, yet again, in the matter of secret donations to the party, the Liberal Democrat MP Vincent Cable used Prime Minister's Question Time to describe Brown's "remarkable transformation in the past few weeks from Stalin to Mr. Bean." That Vincent Cable is a civil, mild-mannered, crestfallen man, only added to the torture. We couldn't even pity Brown's falling to a deadly assassin.

As the joke revealed more and more cruel felicities, the House laughed as though it meant never to stop. At a stroke, Brown was derided for the austere socialist heavyweight he had aspired to be, and for failing so spectacularly to be it. From Stalin to Mr. Bean is some descent. We heard Mr. Has-Been in the joke, and Mr. Never-Was. Blair might have laughed it off; Brown's face collapsed.

Mr. Bean's best-known misadventure has him with his head stuck up the unsavory end of a Christmas turkey. It is hard now to see Gordon Brown any other way. He has recently survived desperately bad local and European election results, a number of murmuring challenges to his premiership, and the scandal of MPs' expenses. But few expect him to win a general election. In a last bid to court popularity, he has packed himself around with celebrities from the world of reality television, inviting the judges of "Britain's Got Talent" and the host of "Strictly Come Dancing" to dinner. He is, as was Blair before him, a deeply uncultured man. It is regrettable that he should see salvation in making a virtue of that. At least when he was dismal, he seemed serious. His dismalness, he appears to think, is his only flaw. In this, he is tragically mistaken. His dismalness is his greatest virtue. His flaw is to suppose he can, and should, pass himself off as something lighter, someone more like Tony. Thus, Tony goes on exacting his terrible revenge.

The Tories distanced themselves from Thatcherism and, therefore, had to give way to Tony Blair who embraced it. Mr. Brown is in trouble precisely to the degree he has distanced himself and his party from both Mrs. Thatcher and Tony Blair. George HW Bush distanced himself from Ronald Reagan and lasted just one term. Al Gore distanced himself from Bill Clinton and lost an unloseable election. The congressional GOP turned on W and lost their majorities. The Unicorn Rider is doing best on those questions--like the WoT--where he's aping W and worst on those--stimulus, health care, cap & trade--where he's distancing himself. How hard is this to figure out?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:12 PM


Seniors Remain Wary of Health-Care Reform: Administration Aims to Reassure Older Americans Fearful of Losing Access to Care (Ceci Connolly, 8/09/09, Washington Post)

Senior citizens are emerging as a formidable obstacle to President Obama's ambitious health-care reform plans.

The discontent in the powerful and highly organized voting bloc has risen to such a level that the administration is scrambling to devise a strategy to woo the elderly.

Obama's task will not be easy. Proposals to squeeze more than $500 billion out of the growth of Medicare over the next decade have fueled fears that his effort to expand coverage to millions of younger, uninsured Americans will damage elder care. As a result, barely one-third of seniors support a health-care overhaul, several polls found.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:55 PM


Guessing Game: What we still don't know about the Russian-Georgian War. (Joshua A. Tucker, August 8, 2009, New Republic)

Despite the war (or maybe because of it), Saakashvili is still in power. He continues to face frequent calls for his resignation but will probably survive until the end of his term. We are no closer than we were a year ago to understanding where power really lies between Putin and Medvedev, despite claims that the war demonstrated that Putin pulls all the strings. Russian-Georgian relations are extremely tense, with rumors surfacing in recent days of new between Georgia and its breakaway republics. (Tensions have apparently increased sufficiently that Obama and Medvedev spoke about the matter by phone last Tuesday.) And, while the overall tone of Russian-U.S. relations has improved somewhat since Obama took office--the issues of missile defense and new NATO members are being addressed with a bit more tact now--the two countries essentially remain what Daniel Korski, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, called "frienemies," cooperating on some issues and conflicting on others.

So what has changed in the past year? Most seriously, the price of oil, which was skyrocketing up toward $147 per barrel at this time last summer, has only recently returned to about half that level. Not coincidentally, the Russian economy has suffered mightily from the global economic crisis. (Georgia's economy has also suffered, both from the war and international economic developments.) Only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent. (Noticeably missing from this list is China, which one can only assume was not pleased to see Russia stoking the aspirations of separatist regions). Russian troops are still in the republics--despite complaints from Georgia about both their actions and locations, their number is fairly low--along with some EU monitors. Georgia has asked for U.S. monitors as well, but Russia has resisted the move.

In short, little related to this war has changed; despite the Russian military victory, neither side can really claim to have gained much.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:32 AM


The Enthusiasm Gap: Why liberals should not be disappointed with the current lackluster health care legislation. (Jonathan Cohn, August 07, 2009, New Republic)

As a fan of single-payer health insurance--a scheme that would, if properly designed, cover everybody with relatively small exposure to out-of-pocket costs--I certainly understand the ambivalence. It's tempting to think of what might have been, if only the bill writers had raised their ambitions and pushed a more pristine, more far-reaching measure.

But there's a reason they didn't: Health care reform is politically difficult, particularly given the setup of American government.

Even harder given the politics of the American people.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:15 AM


Lawmakers slam Obama for embracing Bush tactic (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 8/09/09, The New York Times)

President Bush set off a national debate in 2006 over the propriety of signing statements — instructions to executive officials about how to interpret and put in place new laws — after he used them to assert that he could authorize officials to bypass laws such as a ban on torture and oversight provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

During the presidential campaign, Obama called Bush's use of signing statements an "abuse" and said he would issue them with greater restraint. Obama administration officials said the signing statements the president has signed, challenging portions of five bills, have been based on mainstream interpretations of the Constitution and echo reservations routinely expressed by presidents of both parties.

Nonetheless, since taking office, Obama has relaxed his criteria for what kinds of signing statements are appropriate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:09 AM


Clinton backs Somali president, issues warning to Eritrea (Agence France Presse, August 07, 2009)

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday threw her support behind Somalia’s embattled president and warned Eritrea to stop sponsoring insurgents turning the country into a terror hub.

Clinton held the highest-level US meeting yet with Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ah­mad, whom she described as the best hope of stabilizing a nation torn by conflict for nearly two decades and now facing a deadly insurgency.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:00 AM


Congressional Budget Expert Says Preventive Care Will Raise -- Not Cut -- Costs (Jake Tapper, August 09, 2009, ABC: Political Punch)

In yet more disappointing news for Democrats pushing for health care reform, Douglas W. Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, offered a skeptical view Friday of the cost savings that could result from preventive care -- an area that President Obama and congressional Democrats repeatedly had emphasized as a way health care reform would be less expensive in the long term.

"Although different types of preventive care have different effects on spending, the evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall," Elmendorf wrote.

So providing care to the healthy adds costs? Crazy, huh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:51 AM


How France sank the original Mideast peace (EDWIN BLACK , Aug. 6, 2009, THE JERUSALEM POST)

The Arabs were assured a seat at the victors' table in Paris because they fought alongside the British and Lawrence against the Ottomans. Faisal became the face of Arab nationalism to the Peace Conference. On January 1, 1919, he submitted a formal memorandum to the Supreme Council of the Peace Conference outlining his vision for Arab nationalism throughout the Middle East. It was not monolithic or pan-Arab. It sought only one territory: Syria.

"The various provinces of Arab Asia - Syria, Iraq, Jezireh, Hijaz, Nejd, Yemen - are very different economically and socially," asserted Faisal's petition, "and it is impossible to constrain them into one frame of government... [But] Syria... thickly peopled with sedentary [settled] classes, is sufficiently advanced politically to manage her own internal affairs."

As for Iraq, Faisal declared, "The world wishes to exploit Mesopotamia rapidly, and we therefore believe that the system of government there will have to be buttressed by the men and material resources of a great foreign power." He stipulated to a British mandate.

Faisal's petition also stated: "In Palestine, the enormous majority of the people are Arabs. The Jews are very close to the Arabs in blood, and there is no conflict of character between the races. In principles, we are absolutely at one."

That said, he acknowledged that Palestine was important to many faiths and therefore the Arab national movement "would wish for the effective super-position of a great trustee, so long as a representative local administration commended itself by actively promoting the material prosperity of the country." Again, a British mandate was stipulated.

But at the Paris sessions, the French snubbed Faisal. Regardless of prior representations by the British, the French were uninterested in relinquishing their designs on greater Syria, especially since the Lebanon region was overwhelmingly Maronite Christian. Many French officials simply considered the Arabs a threat.

Typical was a memo from the Quai D'Orsay that stated, "Damascus is a Muslim center which is very hostile to France, to tell the truth, the most hostile in all Islam... It is there where all the plots against our authority in the Muslim countries are hatched, and it is there where the agitators come and preach rebellion... Damascus [must] be placed under our control." [...]

FAISAL REMINDED the League of Nations that the stated intent during the Arab uprisings against Turkey was "nothing less than their complete deliverance from a foreign yoke, and the establishment of a free and independent government." Ominously, Faisal added, "The decision of San Remo puts an end to this hope. The moderate elements in the young nation, who... are still endeavoring to guide it toward a policy of sincere collaboration with the Allies, are now discouraged and rendered powerless by this decision."

As the fuse of San Remo burned, Arab militancy and violence across the occupied Middle East - in Palestine, Mesopotamia and Syria - already a problem, now ratcheted up.

It's queer that Woodrow Wilson is criticized for being a democratic idealists, when the reality is he was only only too happy to shaft the legitimate political aspirations of any number of peoples if only he got his League. While we obviously should have stayed out of WWI to begin with, the way we ended it made the worst of the "peace."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:36 AM


Losing Patience with Israel: More than democracy, Washington wants stability in the Middle East. That means leaning against the interests of the Jewish state. (Robert D. Kaplan, 8/03/09, Atlantic Monthly)

Not since the days of Henry Kissinger’s Mid-East shuttle diplomacy in the 1970s has America’s foreign policy toward Israel been characterized by such an attitude of unsentimental realism.

After eight years of fighting, the stalemate in Afghanistan and the loss of 4,000 American troops in Iraq – not to mention the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – has rendered the search for stability, rather than democracy, paramount, and created a climate in which interests are to be valued far more than friends. [...]

As for the matter of Israel’s influence on U.S. policymaking, that will only wane as a new generation of immigrant elites – from Asia, the Muslim world, and the Indian Subcontinent – take their places inside America’s civilian bureaucracy and military ranks. Israel is not central to the analytical concerns of these young, newly minted Americans. To them, it is just another country with which America must engage according to its interests. If anything, for this new generation—and, in fact, for the Obama Administration – it is countries like China, India, and Indonesia that are becoming the principal areas of focus.

What is most interesting here is that not only has Mr. Kapolan forotten what he wrote about how wrong Kissinger's Realism got things--"(In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan"--but that he ignores what realism means for the Han and the Hindu, for whom the prospect of Israel nuking Arabs/Muslims could hardly be a more satisfactory outcome. That's the trouble with Realism, it's just isolationism in fancy dress.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:52 AM


High drama overrides flaws in Ashes quality: England and Australia have failed to match the sustained excellence of 2005 but the series is equally as compelling (Simon Barnes, 8/09/09, Times of London)

Instead of the hard-nosed gum-chewer, Matthew Hayden, at the top of the order, Australia started off with the twittering Phillip Hughes. Instead of shark-like Shane Warne, they have Nathan Hauritz, who looks like the boy on the Fruit Gums packet. Instead of the micrometre-perfect Glenn McGrath, they have Mitchell Johnson, who has all the accuracy of a Formula One driver with the champagne.

As for England, they are without the fearsome Stephen Harmison, the inspired Kevin Pietersen and the Andrew Flintoff, who, in that brief window four years back, really was the finest cricketer in the world. So the flaws are not something we can argue about. But here's Athers telling us that this doesn't matter all that much.

Rum thing to claim, when sport is supposed to be about the pursuit of excellence. But then I haven't been able to look away from this series, flaws or no flaws. And anyone with sporting blood in the veins will certainly be in the same state. This has been a terrific series and we are just, it seems, getting to the good bit. I shall be at the Brit Oval for the final npower Test - the decider? - and it promises to be a cracker.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:42 AM


Pesky Camels Will Be Shot From Helicopters (Sky News, 8/09/09)

Thousands of camels will be shot from helicopters and turned into burgers in a bid to halt their trail of havoc across Australia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:32 AM


Time to Thank Obama…and Bush (Mark McKinnon, 8/08/09, Daily Beast)

We’ve become so accustomed as a political culture to looking at, and creating, crises ahead, that we’ve become incapable of acknowledging or appreciating crises averted.

Our memories are so short. But remember when experts were predicting a Dow of 4000? Remember that nauseous feeling you had as you watched your IRA and mutual funds collapse overnight? Remember thinking that your life as you knew it might be over? Really over. I’m not a doom-and-gloom guy generally, and I’m no economic expert, but I remember thinking we were damn close to an absolute meltdown, the kind of chaos where people disappear into basements with canned goods and guns, and a world populated by mad scavengers, with every man, woman, and child for themselves.

Given this latest news, shouldn’t we be giving our presidents—yes plural, Obama and Bush and their economic teams (putting aside debate about the causes of the crisis, Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made some of the early and toughest policy decisions)—some credit for saving our [***]es from oblivion?

...are the House Republicans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:18 AM


In Revolution 1989 Victor Sebestyen shows that the collapse of the Evil Empire was engineered behind closed doors rather than on the streets (Tibor Fischer, 09 Aug 2009, Daily Telegraph)

[B]y 1989, while there were few true believers who saw the Soviet Union as a workers’ paradise, there were still plenty of lefties left who thought the Bloc was an honourable if unsuccessful experiment solely because they used the word 'socialism’ a lot.

I once worked on a Channel 4 documentary series called The Other Europe which aired in 1988. We were attacked by The Independent’s television critic for being too harsh on Ceausescu. A year later the Ceausescus’ compatriots delivered an even harsher verdict.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:04 AM


Pakistan Taliban leader's fate shrouded in claim and counter-claim (Declan Walsh, 8/09/09,

A secret meeting to choose a successor to the slain Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud erupted into a gunbattle in which at least one senior commander was killed, Pakistani officials said.

Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, said the shootout took place in a remote mountain village on Thursday morning, one day after Mehsud was apparently killed in a US drone attack.

Guns were drawn between Hakimullah Mehsud and Wali ur Rehman, both of whom were vying to succeed Mehsud. "They had a rift in the past. A scuffle took place and one of them is dead," he told the Guardian.

Fighting Erupts Between Taliban Rivals: `The infighting was between Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud`, Interior Minister Rehman Malik told Reuters. (Javno, 8/09/09)
An intelligence officer in South Waziristan said he had reports that Hakimullah Mehsud died in the shooting after heated exchanges between the rivals at the meeting held around 4:30 p.m.(1030 GMT).

"According to reports Wali-ur-Rehman fired and killed Hakimullah Mehsud," the official said.

State-run Pakistan Television (PTV) said there were reports that both leaders might have been killed in a shoot-out.

August 8, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:02 PM


...he's a much better
">thriller writer
than mash-up artist. But bonus points for the use of Brick House:

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:52 PM


The Last Abortion Doctor: For thirty-six years, Warren Hern has been one of the few doctors in America to specialize in late abortions. George Tiller was another. And when Dr. Tiller was murdered that Sunday in church, Warren Hern became the only one left. (John H. Richardson, 8/05/09, Esquire)

By the way, he hates the word abortionist. Though it is a simple descriptive term like "podiatrist," the opponents of abortion have turned it into a degrading and demeaning word that has the same negative connotations as the most despicable racial epithet. All the same, it is the right word, an accurate word, and our discomfort with it is but a measure of how poisoned the language of abortion has become.

Late that night, he calls you at your hotel. You're reading one of his many scientific publications, which have titles like Shipibo Polygyny and Patrilocality or Urban Malignancy: Similarity in the Fractal Dimensions of Urban Morphology and Malignant Neoplasms. This one argues that man is a "malignant ecotumor" laying waste the planet. One of the main characteristics of a cancerous growth is that it resists regulation. A cancer cell is a cell that reproduces without limits. [...]

In passing, the abortionist says you can never get used to this. Next time he gives you a minute, you ask him to elaborate.

You can't, he says. I think we're hardwired, biologically, to protect small, vulnerable creatures, especially babies. The fetuses may not be babies, but some of them are pretty close.

Since you've become wary of even saying the word baby around him, always using fetus instead, this surprises you. But he refuses to say any more. He suggests you read an essay called "What About Us? Staff Reactions to D&E." The antiabortion people quote the [****] out of it. It's kind of antiabortion porn for them. But the pro-choice people don't like it either. They don't like it when you talk about how it really feels to do this work. His voice is somewhere between bitter and proud.

So why did he write it? For that matter, why does he write so many papers and books? And why does he escape to the jungles of Peru every chance he gets? And what about this theory that man is a cancer? Is it all some kind of elaborate coping mechanism that makes it easier for him to do what he does?

I wrote it because, A, I'm a human being, and B, I'm a writer, and C and D, I'm a physician and I'm trying to understand what we're doing here.

You read the paper. He describes the reactions members of his staff have when they see residue of late abortions, which include shock, dismay, amazement, disgust, fear, and sadness. The later the pregnancy, the harder it is to accept. One assistant resented the patients for putting them through such a horrible experience. Two others described dreams where they vomited fetuses or felt an overwhelming urge to protect others from viewing the fetal parts. Common coping mechanisms were denial, projection, and rationalization. For the senior author, rationalization has been shown by his intensive involvement in professional meetings, where this matter is discussed, and by his seeking peer support from colleagues who have similar experiences. Another great help was the relationships with the patients, which helped the senior author maintain his sense of commitment. It ended with the passage the antiabortionists love to quote, always out of context, words so honest they are almost as painful to read as they must have been to write:

We have reached a point in this particular technology where there is no possibility of denying an act of destruction. It is before one's eyes. The sensations of dismemberment flow through the forceps like an electric current. It is the crucible of a raging controversy, the confrontation of a modern existential dilemma. The more we seem to solve the problem, the more intractable it becomes.

Exactly what is the context that makes him less appalling, unless you too believe man a cancer?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:30 PM


Obama Reverses Stand on Drug Industry Deal (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 8/08/09, NY Times)

Pressed by drug industry lobbyists, a White House deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, confirmed in an e-mail message on Wednesday that the White House shared the drug lobbyists’ interpretation of the deal: that any health care overhaul would not include allowing direct government negotiation of drug prices or require certain additional price rebates. Since Wednesday, other representatives of the White House had also stood by Mr. Messina’s statement as well.

After reading reports about Mr. Messina’s e-mail message, House and Senate Democrats loudly protested that they would not be bound by any such agreement to remove clauses allowing government negotiation of drug prices under Medicare — something Democrats have sought for years.

Several Senate Democrats said Friday that, in a private meeting, White House officials had told them there was no such deal, sowing yet more confusion. House Democratic leaders vowed to fight against it.

Then, after contending for two days that the Senate Democrats had misunderstood the White House aide’s comments, the White House appeared Friday night to back away.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 11:16 AM


Meet the ayatollahs: As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is sworn in again as president amid further protests, Juan Cole, one of the world’s leading experts on Shia Islam, introduces the senior clerics whose conflicting views are influencing events in Iran (Juan Cole, 8/06/09, New Statesman)

When Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, insisted on 31 July that his relationship with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, was "like that of a father and son", he drew attention not only to apparent tensions between himself and Khamenei, but to the deep fissures that have opened up in Iranian politics since the disputed 12 June presidential election and subsequent demonstrations. The opposition and the regime are still dancing a dangerous tango of protest and repression, with the theocracy's leading clerics lining up on either side. In a Friday prayers sermon at the end of June, the fiery Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami commanded: "Anybody who fights against the Islamic system or the leader of Islamic society, fight him until complete destruction." In contrast, the reformist Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was put under house arrest between 1997 and 2003 for questioning the regime, said that no one in his right mind could have believed that Ahmadinejad won the election. He observed: "A government not respecting people's vote has no religious or political legitimacy." So who are the leading senior clerics influencing Iran today, and whose support for - or opposition to - the protesters could determine the country's future?

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
President of Iran from 1981-89 and Supreme Leader since 1989

When Khomeini died, the then president, Ali Khamenei, was promoted to Supreme Leader. He had impeccable revolutionary credentials, having been a lifelong activist against the shah and a principal player in the rise of the Islamic Republic. But although he was a cleric, he was hardly scholarly or widely respected, and he was somewhat implausibly declared an ayatollah so he could take up the post of Supreme Leader.

Khamenei has never attracted a wide personal following as a jurist and public mentor on the practice of Islamic law, and his frankly partisan support of President Ahmadinejad, and sign-off of election results that many or most Iranians found dubious, has deeply damaged the authority of his position. On 19 June, in the Friday prayers sermon at Tehran University, he insisted that he would not yield in the face of the protests, and warned against further agitation. The next day, the regime cracked down hard. Khamenei may be able to deploy the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij to quell the popular disturbances for now, but in doing so he risks losing the consent of the governed.

Khamenei may be Supreme Leader, but in purely religious authority it is believed he is outranked by more than two dozen grand ayatollahs. They may be among the chief beneficiaries of the damage to the Supreme Leader's standing, and a shift in public support towards the more reform-minded among them could signal a sea change in Iranian politics.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:45 AM


-REVIEW ESSAY: The Books That Rock the Cradle: Libertarian themes in children's fiction (Stuart Anderson, January 2006, Reason)

Margaret Peterson Haddix's series of books deals with the frightening effects of population control, describing a future where the government hunts down children born beyond the two-child-per-family limit. Using eugenics and population control as literary devices to warn against modern society's encroachment on the individual is not new. They're not often deployed, however, in novels for the young.

The first installment, Among the Hidden (1998), won an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults award. It's the story of Luke, a 12-year-old boy who must hide to avoid detection as a "third child," while his two older siblings live a normal life. Haddix establishes the story's tone on the second page, relating Luke's thoughts: "At twelve he knew better, but sometimes still pictured the Government as a very big, mean, fat person, two or three times as tall as an ordinary man, who went around yelling at people, 'Not allowed!' and 'Stop that!' " In Haddix's world, children and adults fear the government, rather than view it as a solution to their problems.

The fear is for good reason. Among the Hidden introduces early on the dreaded Population Police, who monitor phones and computers, and possess unlimited authority for search and seizure. The children they apprehend are executed. This frightening context is tempered by the down-to-earth portrayals of Luke and his neighbor Jen, another third child. While Luke knows little of the outside world except that he is forbidden to participate in it, Jen is worldly to the point of recklessness, engaging in online chats and nascent activism with other third children. She teaches Luke to question authority and derides the government at every turn. Luke learns that Jen is more than mere bluster when she asks him to attend a protest rally she has planned with other third children in front of "the President's House." Part of Luke wants to go, but he's too worried that a public demonstration would be fraught with peril.

Parents should note that this book is hardly a Disney film with cute kids easily besting the grownups. After days go by without hearing from Jen, a worried Luke comes upon Jen's father. He relates to Luke what happened at the rally: "They shot her. They shot all of them. All forty kids at the rally, gunned down right in front of the President's house. The blood flowed into his rosebushes. But they had the sidewalks scrubbed before the tourists came."

The aftermath of the protest means Luke can no longer hide in safety with his parents, and must instead go to a school formed by dissident adults to protect the identities of third children. The seven-part series--Haddix has just completed the final two--follows Luke and other kids as they cope with betrayal and the fear of government authorities, moving from battling to stay alive to sowing the seeds of rebellion.

Haddix says the idea for Among the Hidden came after discussing with her husband whether to have a third child themselves. She started thinking about the one-child policy in China and its impact on individuals and families. As research, she read Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book The Population Bomb, in which Ehrlich stated: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Haddix notes that she read the book already years past the deadline for that dire prediction, so it was easy to take Ehrlich's warnings with a grain of salt.

Buttercup recommended this series and we give it a hearty thumbs up

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:58 AM


Friend Kurt Brouwer looks at Cash for Congressional Clunkers

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:58 AM


Democrats struggle to sell an undecided health plan (Janet Hook, August 8, 2009, LA Times)

As Congress adjourns for a summer recess, Democrats are in the uncomfortable position of trying to defend a plan for vast change in the nation's healthcare system that has not yet been written.

Comic genius.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:52 AM


The Rise and Fall of Donald Rumsfeld: a review of BY HIS OWN RULES: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld By Bradley Graham (CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL, 8/09/09, NY Times Book Review)

[R]umsfeld got things done. Bosses liked him better than subordinates did. He was “high on energy and intensity and low on frills and compliments.” Richard Nixon put him in charge first of the Office of Economic Opportunity, then of wage and price controls, and made him ambassador to NATO. Under Gerald Ford he became the White House chief of staff and then defense secretary, the youngest in history. (He would later become the oldest.) He kept Ford’s trust while sidelining his rivals, Kissinger and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Such talents served him well as chief executive of the pharmaceuticals company G. D. Searle, where he turned a $28 million loss into a $72 million profit and brought aspartame to market; he got similar results in the early 1990s as C.E.O. of the General Instrument Corporation, a pioneer in high-definition television that needed a favorable hearing from the Federal Communications Commission.

Rumsfeld’s ability to work Congress and the regulatory bodies helped him in business. By the end of the 1990s he was worth between $50 million and $210 million. But he was more than a glorified lobbyist. He amassed information patiently and thoroughly, and would not be bullied into acting before he had mastered it. And he has never lost his ruthlessness in questioning structures kept in place by mere inertia.

As a candidate, George W. Bush had called for armed forces that were “agile, lethal, readily deployable and require a minimum of logistical support.” Rumsfeld seemed ideal for the task. “I’ve never been in a company where I couldn’t save 15 percent,” he said in 2001. The fascination of Rumsfeld, the tragedy of him, is that the Iraq occupation was nearly wrecked by the kind of mistakes he had spent his career diagnosing. By the time Rumsfeld resigned, the day after Republicans were routed in the 2006 midterm elections, the United States was on the verge of outright defeat. The replacement of his strategy with that of the so-called surge has stabilized Iraq greatly. that the war that mattered was his against the Pentagon and the Hill, not the occupation of Iraq. But he was certainly correct that if we'd just withdrawn immediately the surge would have occurred in 2003 instead of 2006, because the portions of it that were determinative were Iraqi (first Shi'a turning on Sunni and then Sunni turning on Salafists to relieve the pressure from Shi'a militias), not American.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:43 AM


Airspeed systems failed on US jets (JOAN LOWY, 8/07/09, AP)

On at least a dozen recent flights by U.S. jetliners, malfunctioning equipment made it impossible for pilots to know how fast they were flying, federal investigators have discovered. A similar breakdown is believed to have played a role in the Air France crash into the Atlantic that killed all 228 people aboard in June. [...]

The equipment failures, all involving Northwest Airlines Airbus A330s, were brief and were noticed only after safety officials began investigating the Air France crash - on a Rio de Janeiro to Paris flight - and two other recent in-flight malfunctions.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:38 AM


Sticking to our (air) guns in Arctic: In bid to prove Canada's claim over vast region, ship shoots bubbles to survey the sea floor (Paul Watson, 8/08/09, Toronto Star)

ABOARD THE CCGS LOUIS S. ST-LAURENT–In defence of Canada's Arctic sovereignty, the heavy guns blow big bubbles.

They don't point north at the Russians, but toward the sea floor that marks the front line in Ottawa's struggle to prove its claim over a vast region rich in natural resources.

When Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2003, the clock started ticking on a 10-year deadline to submit its claim to a UN commission that oversees claims to economic zones beyond 320 kilometres from a country's shores.

If scientists can provide geological evidence that Canada's Arctic continental shelf extends further than that limit, Ottawa could prove the right to exploit vast reserves of oil, natural gas and minerals from the seabed to what is called "the outer limit."

With so much potential wealth at stake, the federal government has budgeted at least $109 million since 2004 on efforts to find geologic proof in sediments and slopes on the sea floor to defend Canada's Arctic sovereignty.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:34 AM


The Community Is Restless (Mark Steyn, 8/08/09, National Review)

The Washington Post’s Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite (not, as far as I know, a Brooks sister to the Brooks Brothers) says “the town hall demolition derby” is “cynically designed and carried out in order to destroy real debate in the public square over health insurance reform.” Decrying the snarling, angry protesters, liberal talk-show host Bill Press (no relation to the Corby Trouser Press) says that “Americans want serious discussion” on health care. If only we’d stuck to the president’s August timetable and passed a gazillion-page health-care reform entirely unread by the House of Representatives or the Senate (the world’s greatest deliberative body) in nothing flat, we’d now have all the time in the world to sit around having a “serious discussion” and “real debate” on whatever it was we just did to one-sixth of the economy.

But a sick, deranged, un-American mob has put an end to all that moderate and reasonable steamrollering by showing up and yelling insane, out-of-control questions like, “Awfully sorry to bother you, your Most Excellent Senatorial Eminence, but I was wondering if you could tell me why you don’t read any of the laws you make before you make them into law?”

The community is restless. The firm hand of greater organization is needed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:24 AM


Valhalla of dirt (Gordon Torbet, August 08. 2009, The National)

Most drivers, like Robertsson who owns a junkyard and spare parts business, are mechanics or working with cars in their nine-to-five jobs, and it’s only that drive for more power, the adrenaline rush and the honour of winning (with the hope of renewed sponsorship for next season) that keeps them in the garage throughout the endless Icelandic winter nights and under the hood on competition days like today trying to eke out that extra one or two horsepower for the next round, or replacing a broken axle or blown tyre.

There are no major prizes. Even in the 1980s when the sport was in its heyday, there was enough money to go around that no one really cared about big cheques – the reward was the excitement and spectacle.

But with the Icelandic economy in freefall at the moment, even minor sponsors are becoming hard to find. Thrandur Arnthursson, editor of and one of Iceland’s authorities on rough terrain driving, says, “Some guys have about 4,000,000 Icelandic krona (Dhs120,000) in sponsorship each year. It’s not like they’re getting rich, but they can sustain the sport.”

Even today’s championship winner, Hafsteinn Thorvaldsson is sceptical about 2010: “I don’t have sponsorship for next year – I didn’t have any this year either. But I won’t do that again. If I get a sponsor, I’ll be back.”

The sport is addictive. A competition day consists of at least six rounds, each on a different course, with at least one time trial. The further each vehicle progresses along the course, the more points they score.

For variety, they frequently involve lakes, jumps, boulders, and apparently impossible inclines, which is where the specially designed shovel tyres excel.

With enough momentum, the unfettered 1000hp-plus high-octane and nitro-injected powerplants propel these multi-tonne mutations across volcanic lake surfaces for hundreds of metres, or pounding up sheer cliff faces of loose rock so they get air time off the crest.

As a spectator sport, it’s breathtaking; for the thunderous power, the driving skill and the unbelievable traction these beasts can gain, and of course for the frequent spectacular spills.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:23 AM


The hot new price for e-books: free (Marjorie Kehe, 08.08.09, CS Monitor)

There were already a lot of people unhappy about the low price ($9.99) that Amazon was charging for many titles being sold on its Kindle electronic reading device. They worried that Amazon was giving the books away. Well now, in some cases, that’s exactly what Amazon is doing: giving e-books away for free.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:20 AM


Militant behind Jakarta bombings thought dead (Times of London, 8/08/09)

Noordin Mohammad Top was reportedly shot dead by police following an 18-hour siege in Central Java. [...]

Police said the stand-off at a house in Temanggung district was part of anti-terror operation following the arrest on Friday of several suspected militants loyal to Top and the seizure of 500kg of explosives.

Officers surrounded the remote building for 18 hours before blowing open one the doors and entering.

After an exchange of gunfire and explosions, police emerged laughing and shaking hands with each other.

One body was brought out and put in a wooden coffin, while two more were carried out in body bags.

August 7, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:35 PM


Willy DeVille, Mink DeVille Singer and Songwriter, Is Dead at 58 (WILLIAM GRIMES, 8/08/09, NY Times)

Mr. DeVille, a regular at CBGB in the mid-1970s, lent his bluesy voice and eclectic musical tastes to Mink DeVille, one of the club’s main draws. A disciplined songwriter with a deep admiration for the Atlantic Records sound of the Drifters and Ben E. King, he drew from many sources, including Latin music, French ballads, New Orleans funk and Cajun accordion music. He was, the critic Robert Palmer wrote in The New York Times in 1980, “idiomatic, in the broadest sense, and utterly original.”

Mr. Deville was born William Borsey in Stamford, Conn. After dropping out of school at 16, he began spending time in Greenwich Village and on the Lower East Side, where he learned to play the guitar and began performing, affecting a blues style like that of John Hammond Jr. He played with several groups before assembling Mink DeVille on a trip to San Francisco. He brought it to New York in 1975.

Mink DeVille, frequently lumped in with its fellow headliners Blondie, Television and Talking Heads, was essentially a soul band with roots in the commercial songwriting traditions of the Brill Building. Onstage Mr. DeVille cut a dapper figure. A pencil mustache and sculptured pompadour complemented his suits and pointy Italian shoes.

Name Your Link

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:45 PM


'Dead' baby wakes before funeral (BBC, 8/08/09)

A premature baby declared dead by doctors at a hospital in Paraguay was found to be alive hours later when he was taken home for a funeral wake.

Jose Alvarenga said he had discovered his son was alive after he heard crying from the box in which he was placed.

The baby is now back at the same hospital's intensive care unit and reported to be in a stable condition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:46 PM


Doctors in Cuba Start Over in the U.S. (MIRTA OJITO, 8/04/09, NY Times)

While the rest of the country is suffering from a shortage of primary care physicians, Miami is awash with Cuban doctors who have defected in recent years. By some estimates, 6,000 medical professionals, many of them physicians, have left Cuba in the last six years.

Cuban doctors have been fleeing to South Florida since Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, but the pace intensified after 2006, when the Department of Homeland Security began a program that allowed Cuban medical personnel “who study or work in a third country under the direction of the Cuban government” to travel to the United States legally. The program has effectively turned a crowning achievement of Cuba’s foreign policy on its head.

In the 50 years since the revolution, Cuba has sent more than 185,000 health professionals on medical missions to at least 103 countries. About 31,000, most of them doctors, are in Venezuela, where they work in exchange for cheap oil and other trade benefits for the Cuban government.

And more are in the pipeline. Cuba’s official news agency reported that more than 25,000 health professionals graduated this year, “the largest graduation ever.”

But many doctors on the island are now vying to be tapped for an international mission, in part because they know that no matter where they are sent, they will be one step closer to a visa to the United States.

"I have seen the future...and it is fleeing here."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:42 PM


Time to end our deluded obsession with club managers (Simon Kuper, August 7 2009, Financial Times)

The obsession with football managers is misguided. Hardly any of them make any difference to results. The institution of manager is something of a con-trick. Ferguson and Ancelotti are best understood as marketing tools.

The fact is that players’ salaries alone almost entirely determine football results. Stefan Szymanski, economics professor at Cass Business School, studied the spending of 40 English clubs between 1978 and 1997, and found that their spending on salaries explained 92 per cent of their variation in league position. The team that pays most, wins.

Only a few managers, such as Brian Clough or Bill Shankly, consistently perform better with their teams than the wage bill suggests that they should. Sometimes a manager outperforms when he is the only one in a country who possesses new knowledge. That’s why Arsene Wenger did so well in his early years at Arsenal: nobody else in England then knew as much about foreign players, or what footballers should eat. Similarly, Guus Hiddink outperformed with South Korea, Australia and Russia because he taught these teams the latest European football know-how.

However, no such knowledge gaps exist in English football any more. Everyone in the game now has access to best practice. The Premier League is like a market with almost perfect information.

...would be like that old Godzilla vs. Bambi cartoon. Just the notion that there is no knowledge would be easily exploited by any coach who could break down tape.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:26 PM


Crist: I won't pick me for Sen, no favored candidates (Marc Caputo, August 7, 2009, Miami Herald)

It's official: Gov. Charlie Crist said he won't pick himself to succeed U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez (he'll rely on the 2010 electorate to do that). And Crist said he has no favorites to replace the retiring Sen.

"I want to assure my fellow Floridians that we will undertake a very thorough, comprehensive, thoughful process," Crist said.

"Florida will have an opportunity in the next few weeks to make sure that an honest person of great integrity that will protect the public trust will be appointed to go ahead and serve the remainder of this senate term. I will not appoint myself. And I have gotten a lot of recommendations about very qualified people who can serve in this senate term."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:28 PM


The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek has been unfairly condemned by history, argues a new biography (Dan Southerland, August 6, 2009, CS Monitor)

Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek stands condemned by many historians and journalists as a dictator lacking ideals and significant achievements. In a new biography, The Generalissimo, Jay Taylor sets the record straight. [...]

Taylor shows in great detail that Chiang and his often-maligned troops fought more effectively against Japan’s heavily armed and well trained war machine than is generally realized. He also depicts in a mostly positive light Chiang’s performance during a quarter of a century in exile at the head of the Nationalist government on Taiwan, where he set the stage for the island’s shift from dictatorship to democracy.

...not even 100 million dead Chinese nor the qualitative differences between the PRC and Taiwan could change their minds about Chiang v. Mao.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:48 AM


Obama's new nuanced counter-terrorism policy (B Raman, 8/07/09, Rediff)

The new policy as outlined by [John O Brennan, a former career intelligence officer of the Central Intelligence Agency, who now functions as President Barack Obama'sAssistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism] will be a mix of hard and soft power, the professional and political options and treating terrorism as a threat and at the same time as a phenomenon, which requires a multi-dimensional approach. He was critical of attempts to make the entire foreign policy hostage to counter-terrorism. It will no more be a war on terror as projected by the previous administration of George W Bush. Instead, it will be a campaign against terrorism.

Will those of you in the cheap seats please keep down your giggling.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:18 AM


Nothing would prove US soccer has arrived like beating Mexico at the Azteca (JIM LITKE, 8/06/09, AP)

It's called Azteca Stadium, imposingly perched atop volcanic rock 7,400 feet above sea level, which is only one reason why it might be the toughest road game in all of sports. Throw in smothering smog, withering heat, 100,000-plus wildly partisan fans and a host desperate for a World Cup qualifying win — and what you've got is the perfect time and place for the U.S. team to demonstrate it's finally serious about soccer.

U.S. fans have been waiting decades for just such a development and by almost any measure, the sport has never been more popular here. They've proven they'll pay good money to watch foreigners play topflight soccer, packing stadiums from Seattle to Foxborough, Mass., to see world-class clubs like Chelsea, Barcelona and AC Milan play each other and even teams from Major League Soccer.

They lingered in front of TV sets in record numbers to watch the U.S. team recover from a bumbling start at the Confederations Cup and throw a scare into mighty Brazil right up until the final whistle. Then they stuck around to see a "B'' squad of their countrymen carve a path all the way to the finals of the Gold Cup.

All that momentum won't mean much, however, if the U.S. team gets beat next Wednesday at the Azteca. The Americans may have clawed their way to the No. 12 ranking in the world, but you can't honestly call yourself a big dog on the international scene unless you rule in your own backyard.

A loss would have to be considered a choke.

This looks to be the best team Coach Bradley could select, but begs one obvious question: why didn't he play Jose Francisco Torres in either the Confederations Cup or Gold Cup?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:46 AM


Mirror Image: Latin America isn't tilting left, it's tilting right. (Mac Margolis, 8/07/09, Newsweek)

Despite the financial meltdown and for all the lather over neoliberalism, young Latin Americans are still in favor of free-market capitalism. In a PODER/Zogby poll commissioned earlier this year by NEWSWEEK, 63 percent of Latin Americans ages 18 to 29 said they believe that free trade is not only good but "benefits all people." The same number saw Colombia's FARC guerrillas as terrorists or drug traffickers, and two thirds named Chávez as the leader worst suited to lead the region in the future. That doesn't mean that Latin America is veering right again, but it may just be learning to cherish the middle ground.

Consider Alan Garcia, the guitar-playing enchanter who nearly wrecked Peru with his checkbook populism in the late 1980s. Now he's back, but this time as the poster boy of international investors—and reaping the results. Peru's economy is on track to expand by 2.5 to 3 percent this year and 6 percent in 2010; mining stocks have doubled in value on Lima's BVL bourse since January. In Chile, Bachelet's Socialist Party publicly disses neoliberals and the Washington Consensus, but in office she has abided by their rules and kept to the no-nonsense prescriptions of the center-left coalition Consertación. Although she has pumped money into social programs, she has taken care not to rock the broad consensus in favor of the free trade and fiscal conservatism that have kept Latin America's most vigorous capitalist economy on course.

In Brazil, Lula swapped his sweaty denim for tailored suits, broke bread with investors, and paid down the country's debts religiously, and though he is beginning to spread perks and pork again (with an eye on next year's election), his government still boasts one of the most conservative monetary policies on earth. (The central bank's prime lending rate is 8.75 percent a year.) Everyone but Brazil's factory-fitted leftists is delighted. Lula has an enviable 80 percent approval rating.

Even Fernando Lugo, a left-wing priest who was elected president of Paraguay vowing to take land from the rich and give to the poor (and to nationalize foreign firms), has been as quiet as a monk. (Credit here goes, again, to Lula, who bought off the Paraguayans by throwing them more money for the energy Brazil buys from the Itaipu hydroelectric plant.)

Three countries in South America—Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil—will hold elections in the next 17 months, and yet in none is the ruling left-wing party favored to win.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:37 AM


Same As It Ever Was?: The pro-Israel lobby, long seen as an immutable part of American politics, may be headed toward obsolescence. (Michelle Goldberg, August 7, 2009, American Prospect)

Billionaire Jewish philanthropist Charles Bronfman is worried that Israel's conflict with the Palestinians is hurting the country's relationship with young Jews in the Diaspora. "We turned from David to Goliath in 1982, with the invasion into Lebanon, and the Arabs became David," he told the Israeli daily Ha'aretz last week. "Now everybody's worried about the Palestinians. Now we're occupiers, oppressors, who live by the sword. That's what you see in the media, and it festers and has effects on the general population and on Jews as well." Peace, he said, was crucial to maintaining the bond between Israel and the broader Jewish world.

Coming from Bronfman, this was a striking statement, because few have done more than he has to cement that bond. He's the co-founder of Birthright Israel, which offers free 10-day trips to the country for Jews between 18 and 26 years old; around 230,000 have participated in the program so far. He's also not alone in noticing that younger Jews are more ambivalent about their ostensible birthright than their parents are. Young Jews don't share past generations' automatic support for Israeli policies. In time, their alienation could profoundly transform the relationship between Israel and the United States.

Indeed, in the long run the pro-Israel lobby, often seen as an immutable part of American politics, may be headed toward obsolescence.

US Christians 'morally' support Israel (ETGAR LEFKOVITS, 4/10/08, Jerusalem Post)
More than 80 percent of American Christians say they have a "moral and biblical obligation" to support the State of Israel, and half say Jerusalem should remain its undivided capital, according to a survey released on Thursday.

While evangelical Christians are the strongest supporters of the Jewish state, strong pro-Israel convictions cut across all key Christian denominations in the US, according to the poll carried out on behalf of the Washington-based Joshua Fund, an evangelical organization.

Eight-two percent of respondents said they had a "moral and biblical obligation" to love and support Israel and pray for the peace of Jerusalem," 10% disagreed and 8% did not know.

America is 2% Jewish and 80% Christian. Unless you reverse those numbers somehow we're going to be pro-Israel.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:32 AM


All Aboard the Eco-Express: Rail's Hybrid Energy Solutions: Green transportation is gaining momentum on U.S. railways (Venessa Wong, 8/06/09, Scientific American)

Trains have long been a more fuel-efficient way to haul freight than trucks, but now the federal government's amped up support in the alternative energy arena may help "the iron horse" go even greener with hybrid locomotives and other advances.

Although large freight railway traffic (measured in carloads) is down 19 percent this year due to the recessed economy, it grew 47 percent between 1990 and 2007, and railroads have been more fuel-efficient than trucking for at least the past few decades, according to the Association of American Railroads.

The average train in 1980 used four liters of fuel to move one ton of freight 380 kilometers, and by 2007 the average increased to 700 kilometers, or three times the fuel efficiency of a truck, says Steven Forsberg, general director of public affairs with BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway) in Fort Worth, Tex.

New hybrid locomotives are designed to do even better, trading on the same technologies found in today's hybrid automobiles.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:29 AM


Senate Democrats Want Climate Bill to Protect Manufacturing (STEPHEN POWER, 8/06/09, WSJ)

Ten Senate Democrats whose votes are pivotal to the success of climate legislation urged the Obama administration on Thursday to support levying tariffs on goods from countries that don't limit their greenhouse-gas emissions.

President Barack Obama has resisted the idea, saying it would send "protectionist signals" to the world.

In a letter to Mr. Obama, the lawmakers said it was critical to include a "border mechanism" in climate legislation to ensure it would be "trade neutral and environmentally effective." They also warned that it would be "extremely difficult" to support a bill that didn't "deal with these important issues."

...but he does have a few allies.

NAFTA Leaders Urged To Rein In `Buy Local` Impulse: In this global economic downturn, it is imperative that the three countries work together more intensively than ever, the Council said. (Javno, 8/07/09)

North American business groups urged leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada on Friday to rein in "buy local" provisions they called a threat to free trade and economic growth.

"In this global economic downturn, it is imperative that the three countries work together more intensively than ever to make the most of their strengths and set the stage for robust and sustained economic recovery," the North American Competitiveness Council said. [...]

The advisory group made up of leading U.S., Mexican and Canadian business associations had its sternest advice for Obama, who they urged direct his administration to "clarify its intent and interpretation" of Buy American provisions passed as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus bill.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:12 AM


Making the Same Mistake Twice: Obama's missteps in the health care debate mirror his missteps in last year's campaign. (John Dickerson, Aug. 6, 2009, Slate)

Does Obama's success in the campaign offer any lessons for his health care battle? There are lots of ways that being president is different from running a campaign—you have to deal with Congress, and you don't always have a ready-made opponent you can rally your supporters against. And you have to make deals you never would have contemplated while trying to court your party's activists. The New York Times reports, for example, that the White House made a deal with the drug lobby in an effort to sell health care reform.

And in this debate, unlike in the campaign, Obama is not lucky in his opponents (though plenty of his allies think conservatives are overreaching by stirring up confrontation at the town halls of Democratic members of Congress). Republicans may be in bad shape now, but they're not as dysfunctional as the Clinton and McCain campaigns portrayed in the book.

White House aides know they can't duplicate many of the stratagems of the campaign. They can't galvanize their supporters the way they could in the immediate post-Bush era—though they're trying. But what helped Obama the most during the campaign, Balz and Johnson show, was his ability to learn on the fly. They detail regular acts of self-assessment. There were several candid meetings in which Obama called on his team (and himself) to improve their performance: "The New Hampshire loss revealed characteristics in Obama that served him well through the long campaign—his facility to stay calm under pressure, his capacity for self reflection, his willingness to take corrective action, his determination to keep his team focused."

The question is how Obama finds this focus, and his voice, on health care. Reading the passages of his stump speeches from the campaign immediately reminds you what's missing from the campaign to sell reform: the passion and the stories. "I tend to be a storyteller," Obama tells the authors, explaining how he felt hemmed-in during the quick-answer debates. "The aspirational aspects of my message are rooted in people's stories and stories about this country." He's yet to find his story on health care.

Pollster Stan Greenberg thinks this is a key to Obama's successful salesmanship of reform. "The Congress can't win the country for health care reform," he says. "It's got to be the president. He's the leader. … You can't get there on analysis alone. You gotta get there on emotion."

From Iowa to his swearing in the UR made 5 significant speeches. After his victory speech in IA he promptly lost NH. His European speech was universally ridiculed as platitudinous drivel. He ended up having to give two damage control speeches after his Reverend Wright explanation. His Convention Speech was a disaster. And his Inaugural was so awful that his fans had to argue that he was intentionally trying to depress people lest they expect much from him. And ask yourself this: do you remember anything he said in any of those speeches? Well, other than pretty much calling his grandmother a racist? The awkward fact for Obama rooters is that -- unlike Reagan and Clinton in particular -- allowing him to speak tends to set the cause back rather than advancing it. And he just can't seem to stop talking...

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:06 AM


US cuts fewer jobs than expected (BBC, 8/07/09)

The US economy lost 247,000 jobs in July, far less than analysts had expected, official figures show.

With fewer workers being laid off, the unemployment rate fell to 9.4%, down from 9.5% in the previous month, the first drop since April 2008.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:43 AM


Quoits? Nah! It's ladder ball: This summer's hot beach game. (Amy S. Rosenberg, 8/07/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

On the beach late one recent afternoon, as the tide worked its way in and the sun started its downward arc over their shoulders, the Gallo group of family and friends was knee-, head- and Miller-Lite-deep into flinging balls around ladder rungs.

"Middle is the hardest to hit," Jarrod Holzman, 27, of South Philly, was saying, explaining why - unlike some versions of the game, in which if your two balls at each end of a string wraps around the top rung, you get the highest score (3) - these guys were scoring the middle rung highest. (The goal is to reach 21 without going over. They scored the top rung 1 point, the bottom 2.)

"Didn't a philosopher say that?" Holzman, a shark-tooth-necklace-wearing federal correctional officer asked, suddenly going deep. "Find the medium."

Broyles, standing next to him but on the other team, tried to be helpful: "It was a South Philly philosopher - Rizzo."

"It was Fumo," Holzman replied.

Actually, it was Aristotle, who counseled, "Everything in moderation."

So, ladder ball has deep philosophical resonance for you, Jarrod?

"Absolutely," he said. "This is how I meditate, actually."

An Aristotle-quoting correctional officer from 13th and Wolf finding his inner zen flinging balls underhand on a Jersey beach as the sun headed for the horizon? This game may have more going for it than purists clinging to their quoits give it credit for.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:31 AM


There Is a Military Option on Iran: U.S. Air Force and Naval forces could do serious damage to Tehran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails. (CHUCK WALD, 8/06/09, WSJ)

Many policy makers and journalists dismiss the military option on the basis of a false sense of futility. They assume that the U.S. military is already overstretched, that we lack adequate intelligence about the location of covert nuclear sites, and that known sites are too heavily fortified.

An attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would mostly involve air assets, primarily Air Force and Navy, that are not strained by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the presence of U.S. forces in countries that border Iran offers distinct advantages. Special Forces and intelligence personnel already in the region can easily move to protect key assets or perform clandestine operations. It would be prudent to emplace additional missile-defense capabilities in the region, upgrade both regional facilities and allied militaries, and expand strategic partnerships with countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia to pressure Iran from all directions.

Conflict may reveal previously undetected Iranian facilities as Iranian forces move to protect them. Moreover, nuclear sites buried underground may survive sustained bombing, but their entrances and exits will not.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:27 AM


‘You Are Terrifying Us’: Voters send a message to Washington, and get an ugly response. (Peggy Noonan, 8/07/09, WSJ)

We have entered uncharted territory in the fight over national health care. There’s a new tone in the debate, and it’s ugly. At the moment the Democrats are looking like something they haven’t looked like in years, and that is: desperate.

They must know at this point they should not have pushed a national health-care plan. A Democratic operative the other day called it “Hillary’s revenge.” When Mrs. Clinton started losing to Barack Obama in the primaries 18 months ago, she began to give new and sharper emphasis to her health-care plan. Mr. Obama responded by talking about his health-care vision. He won. Now he would push what he had been forced to highlight: Health care would be a priority initiative. The net result is falling support for his leadership on the issue, falling personal polls, and the angry town-hall meetings that have electrified YouTube. [...]

And so the shock on the faces of Congressmen who’ve faced the grillings back home. And really, their shock is the first thing you see in the videos. They had no idea how people were feeling. Their 2008 win left them thinking an election that had been shaped by anti-Bush, anti-Republican, and pro-change feeling was really a mandate without context; they thought that in the middle of a historic recession featuring horrific deficits, they could assume support for the invention of a huge new entitlement carrying huge new costs.

...if Ms Clinton got "credit" for a second GOP takeover of Congress.

Democrats’ Fear Is Showing on Health Care: This administration feels it is the only legitimate beneficiary of “people power.” (Jonah Goldberg, 8/07/09, National Review)

Nancy Pelosi, who will get her own bound volume in the annals of asininity, has outdone herself. When asked by a reporter whether the protests at various town-hall meetings represented legitimate grassroots opposition or were manufactured “AstroTurf” stunts, she replied, “I think they’re AstroTurf. You be the judge. They’re carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on health care.”

Now this is a pas de trois of dishonesty, slander, and idiocy. Not only is Pelosi lying when she says protesters are bringing swastikas to these town halls, not only is she suggesting that American citizens are Nazis for having the effrontery to get in the way of Obamacare, but she’s also saying that the alleged swastikas are obvious proof that these protests are manufactured by slick P.R. gurus.

How does that work? What public-relations genius says: “Okay, we need these protests to seem like an authentic backlash of real Americans. Make sure everyone has enough Nazi paraphernalia!”

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:24 AM


France Fights Universal Care's High Cost (DAVID GAUTHIER-VILLARS, 8/07/09, WSJ)

France claims it long ago achieved much of what today's U.S. health-care overhaul is seeking: It covers everyone, and provides what supporters say is high-quality care. But soaring costs are pushing the system into crisis. The result: As Congress fights over whether America should be more like France, the French government is trying to borrow U.S. tactics.

In recent months, France imposed American-style "co-pays" on patients to try to throttle back prescription-drug costs and forced state hospitals to crack down on expenses. "A hospital doesn't need to be money-losing to provide good-quality treatment," President Nicolas Sarkozy thundered in a recent speech to doctors.

And service cuts -- such as the closure of a maternity ward near Ms. Cuccarolo's home -- are prompting complaints from patients, doctors and nurses that care is being rationed. That concern echos worries among some Americans that the U.S. changes could lead to rationing.

The French system's fragile solvency shows how tough it is to provide universal coverage while controlling costs, the professed twin goals of President Barack Obama's proposed overhaul.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:01 AM


Senators Hear Concerns Over Costs of Health Proposal (ROBERT PEAR and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, 8/07/09, NY Times)

Senior members of the Senate Finance Committee, trying to put together a bipartisan bill to guarantee health insurance for all Americans, were told Thursday that their proposals might be unaffordable to states and to many low-income people.

Governors expressed concern about the cost to states, while Democratic senators said they were worried about the cost to those of modest means. [...]

After the call, Mr. Baucus said that it would be impossible for the federal government to pick up all the costs for new Medicaid recipients and that states would have to bear some of the costs.

Governors said they had pushed back hard against this idea, which they describe as an unfunded mandate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:57 AM


Rahm Emanuel warns liberal groups to stop ads (JONATHAN MARTIN, 8/6/09, Politico)

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel warned liberal groups this week to stop running ads against Democratic members of Congress. [...]

Emanuel’s request came on the same day that Obama himself told a meeting of Democratic senators that he didn’t like seeing dollars used by liberal groups to target congressional Democrats.'re just begging for trouble.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:55 AM


Air strike kills Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud: Taliban confirms death of notorious commander after missiles hit farmhouse along Afghan border (Declan Walsh, 8/07/09,

Kafayat Ullah, an aide to Mehsud, told the Associated Press news agency that Mehsud and his second wife were killed in Wednesday's missile attack in South Waziristan. He would not provide any further details.

Mehsud is said to have died when a drone plane fired two Hellfire missiles at a remote farmhouse where he was sheltering, early on Wednesday.

The death of Mehsud would represent a quantum leap for Pakistan's war against the rampaging Islamist militancy based in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.

August 6, 2009

Posted by Orrin Judd at 8:14 PM


Medal Nettle: President Obama is offering the Presidential Medal of Freedom to someone widely considered a villain. (Gregory Levey, 8/06/09, Newsweek)

Robinson presided over the infamous 2001 "World Conference Against Racism" in Durban, which targeted Israel squarely, and so disproportionately that the United States delegation walked out in the middle. (As a result of that debacle, the United States, Canada, Germany, and several other countries skipped the 2009 follow-up conference entirely.) Led by Robinson, the summit made the case that Zionism was inherently racist, plummeting it into a circus of outright hatred where, for example, demonstrators marched with banners saying "Hitler Should Have Finished the Job." Later, Robinson called the conference's results "remarkably good, including on the issues of the Middle East." At exactly the moment when Obama is throwing energy at a just Middle East peace, he has taken the counterproductive step of choosing to honor someone who, despite her other achievements, is anathema to key players in the conflict.

Under Robinson's stewardship, the UNHCHR consistently cost the U.N. credibility by fostering initiatives that, instead of acknowledging that both sides in the conflict had rights and responsibilities, pointed angry fingers at only one party: Israel. One 2002 resolution, for example, voiced support for "all available means, including armed struggle," to establish a Palestinian state. This was widely thought to condone terrorism by Palestinian extremist groups. The result was a disservice not just to Israelis, but also to Palestinians wanting peace.

Given all that, it's no surprise that several American Jewish organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, are up in arms. What is surprising, though is that even the highly influential, but usually circumspect, American Israel Public Affairs Committee has chosen to weigh in.

...the UR would be giving her an apology instead of a medal.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 7:25 PM


U.S. Official: 'Strong Indications' Pakistani Taliban Leader Baitullah Mehsud is Dead (MARTHA RADDATZ, GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS and NICK SCHIFRIN, Aug. 6, 2009, ABC News)

"There is strong indication" that Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a CIA drone strike that targeted his second father-in-law's house Wednesday, a senior administration official told ABC News.

"Efforts are underway to determine for certain whether it was Mehsud, but there are hopes that it is him," the official said.

A Pakistani official confirmed the report but said they are awaiting 100 percent confirmation from DNA tests.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:44 PM


Obama as The Joker: Racial Fear's Ugly Face: 'Political' Poster Turns On Violent Symbolism (Philip Kennicott, 8/06/09, Washington Post )

The new Obama poster has two basic thrusts. Obama is a socialist, or a crypto-socialist. And Obama is somehow like the Joker, unpredictable and dangerous. But joining these two messages together yields more questions and contradictions than good poster art can sustain. The Joker is violent and dangerous, but a socialist? And didn't we see George W. Bush depicted as the Joker not so long ago?

Yes, in an image by Drew Friedman published online by Vanity Fair on July 29, 2008. [...]

So why the anonymity? Perhaps because the poster is ultimately a racially charged image.

I've never even heard of Drew Friedman, but I find it extremely hard to believe that he's racist in the first place or feels racial animus towards W in the second.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:39 PM


Protests at Democrats' Health-Care Events Spark Political Tug of War: Sparring Threatens To Drown Out Policy Debate (Philip Rucker and Dan Eggen, 8/06/09, Washington Post)

Obama, meanwhile, called for support Wednesday from the 13 million people on his e-mail list, asking them to commit to attending at least one health-care event this month.

"This is the moment our movement was built for," Obama wrote in the message, distributed by Organizing for America. He continued: "There are those who profit from the status quo, or see this debate as a political game, and they will stop at nothing to block reform. They are filling the airwaves and the Internet with outrageous falsehoods to scare people into opposing change. And some people, not surprisingly, are getting pretty nervous. So we've got to get out there, fight lies with truth, and set the record straight."

The Democratic National Committee released an advertisement Wednesday alleging that "desperate Republicans and their well-funded allies are organizing angry mobs" to "destroy President Obama."

...scraping the DISSENT IS PATRIOTIC stickers off Volvo's and Prius's

Posted by Orrin Judd at 4:31 PM


Aesop's fable is true, shows crow study: An Aesop's fable about a crow with a knowledge of physics is more than just folklore, scientists have shown. (Daily Telegraph, 06 Aug 2009)

n the story, written thousands of years ago by the Ethiopian slave Aesop, a thirsty crow finds a pitcher containing too little water for his beak to reach.

He solves the problem by throwing pebbles into the pitcher one by one, until the water level rises high enough for him to drink.

A similar challenge faced the rooks studied by the appropriately named Cambridge University zoologist Christopher Bird.

...but ravens are smarter than most McArthur grant winners.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:08 PM


Sotomayor Confirmed by Senate, 68-31 (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 8/06/09, NY Times)

Voting largely along party lines, the Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the 111th justice of the Supreme Court. She will be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the court.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was expected to administer the oath of office to Judge Sotomayor, 55, in the next few days, with a formal ceremony likely in September.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:34 PM


Wake-up call for science: Is science inherently illogical, because it relies in part on assumed theories that reach beyond what we can ever observe? (Andrew Baker, 7/30/09, Cosmos)

Modern scientists proudly herald the enterprise of science as logical (reasoned), yet since science's earliest stirrings more than 2,000 years ago, various thinkers have maintained this logic is flawed.

Even so, it wasn't until 1739 that Scottish thinker David Hume drove the point home by specifying that modern science is inherently illogical, because it relies in part on assumed theories that must reach beyond what we can ever observe.

This has profound implications: the very foundations of science are infirm. Yet, understandably, in his day Hume's concern fell largely on deaf ears of those more interested in reaping rewards of practical science at the birth of the industrial revolution.

C'mon, don't spoil our fun. One of the things that makes the Brights tolerable is that even as they defend an ideological tower based solely on faith they insist on the primacy of Reason. It's enormously amusing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:29 PM


Obama's counter-terrorism advisor denounces Bush-era policies: John Brennan accuses the previous administration of promoting a 'global war' mind-set that served only to 'validate Al Qaeda's twisted worldview.' (Greg Miller, August 6, 2009, LA Times)

President Obama's counter-terrorism chief rebuked the Bush administration repeatedly today in a speech designed to make the case for an expanded approach to fighting Islamic extremism, just weeks before the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In his first public appearance as White House counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan said the Bush administration's policies had been an affront to American values, undermined the nation's security and fostered a "global war" mind-set that served only to "validate Al Qaeda's twisted worldview."

If you expand your approach from global war what do you do? Attack other planets?

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:24 PM


Shovel Ready (John P. Gregg, 8/06/09, Valley News)

There's good news for all those artists and arts groups who seem to spend a good deal of time writing grant applications and otherwise soliciting modern-day Medici, which increasingly seems to include the ordinary taxpayer.

Republican Gov. Jim Douglas yesterday announced that 42 arts organizations around Vermont will share in $606,000 in stimulus funding. [...]

[E]xpect skeptics of stimulus funding -- aka the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- to go to town on this one.

Lyme resident Mark Steyn, better known globally as a best-selling conservative writer and columnist at National Review, earlier this summer already had a field day with a newspaper ad from Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) posting bureaucratic jobs funded with stimulus money, including a SEVCA listing for an “ARRA Projects Coordinator.”

“Gotcha,” Steyn wrote. “So the first new job created by the stimulus is a job ‘coordinating' other programs funded by the stimulus. What's next?”

Not all is lost with the stimulus funding -- another part of the stimulus package has trickled down to the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission to address “brownfields” sites.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:07 PM


Why Al Qaeda Is Losing the War on Terror: Because the Middle East is catching up to — and connecting with — the rest of the world. And no matter how much peace Osama bin Laden's No. 2 tries to offer Barack Obama, there is no stopping globalization's power over extremism. (Thomas P.M. Barnett, 8/06/09, Esquire)

[T]he penetrating embrace of globalization is doing the truly profound damage to Al Qaeda, and we are globalization's bodyguard. The flow of proliferating networks that offer ideas and conversations and products and expressions of individualistic ambition — especially with regard to women — offer radical Islamic groups no hope of gaining permanent political control.

As if al-Zawahiri's smoke-blowing video — as close to an admission of strategic failure as we're likely to get out of Al Qaeda for the foreseeable future — wasn't enough, poll after poll confirms the trend: Al Qaeda's appeal — along with violent extremism in general — is waning across the Islamic world while America's has been significantly improved by Barack Obama's election and subsequent efforts at civilizational dialogue (which clearly has Al Qaeda's leadership worried, as evidenced by the amount of time al-Zawahiri spent in this last video attempting to diminish it). As Thomas Friedman pointed out recently, radical Islam's only successes as of late have involved stoking sectarian and ethnic feuds — hardly the calling card of a successful international ideological movement. [...]

In America's persistent struggle against violent extremism triggered by globalization's advance, there will always be the temptation to return to history's sidelines, much like we did after World War I. But our now decades-long success in creating and defending and expanding an international liberal trade order (now known as globalization) has created this larger, unpalatable reality: The United States is no longer in control of this process and thus cannot "turn off" its resulting challenges.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:01 PM


‘Punkin’ the Birthers: Priceless’ (David Weigel, 8/6/09 , Washington Independent)

It’s looking more and more like the forged “Kenyan birth certificate” released by Orly Taitz on Sunday was a prank by a supporter of President Obama.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:32 PM


Hull unveil loan star Jozy Altidore as Phil Brown continues summer spree (Sportsmail, 06th August 2009)

The pair are Hull's first signings of the summer after failing in pursuit of a number of other targets. Boss Phil Brown said: 'I'm over the moon at the fact we have at long last managed to get one or two players into the camp." [...]

'Jozy is unproven at this level but has great potential and we hope can fill the void of goals from the front line.'

Altidore, 19, is highly regarded in the US and shone in the recent Confederations Cup. His deal includes an option to buy next summer and a hearing over his application for a work permit is due to be heard on Monday.

Go Tigers!

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:18 PM


White House Affirms Deal on Drug Cost (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, 8/06/09, NY Times)

Pressed by industry lobbyists, White House officials on Wednesday assured drug makers that the administration stood by a behind-the-scenes deal to block any Congressional effort to extract cost savings from them beyond an agreed-upon $80 billion.

Drug industry lobbyists reacted with alarm this week to a House health care overhaul measure that would allow the government to negotiate drug prices and demand additional rebates from drug manufacturers.

In response, the industry successfully demanded that the White House explicitly acknowledge for the first time that it had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the overhaul. The Obama administration had never spelled out the details of the agreement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 9:27 AM


On The Waterfront earned Budd Schulberg a one-way ticket from Palookaville: Budd Schulberg passed away aged 95 this week, and he will be missed enormously (Kevin Mitchell, 6 August 2009, The Guardian)

Schulberg knew exactly what would be in his final book. He'd touched on the anecdotes many times before, in interviews and collections of his writing. This time, though, he would tell all. The book would be packed with great tales of growing up in Hollywood, of getting gloriously drunk – and sacked – with F Scott Fitzgerald, of swapping literal and nearly physical blows with Ernest Hemingway, of sparring with the big, kind heavyweight he managed, Archie McBride, of ratting on his communist former friends to the House Un-American Activities Committee in the odious McCarthy era, and how he came to write On The Waterfront.

It was in that movie that Schulberg put into the mouth of Marlon Brando a speech that will never be forgotten.

This is what Brando's Terry Malloy said to his gangster brother Charley, played by Rod Steiger, in the back of a taxi in that movie, and which was responsible for Schulberg winning an Oscar for best screenplay in 1954.

"It wasn't him, Charley!" he tells him, pleading that the blame for his failed boxing career lay closer to home. "It was you. You remember that night in the Garden, you came down to my dressing room and said, 'Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.' You remember that? 'This ain't your night!' My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors in the ballpark – and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palookaville … I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am …"

It's up there with Hamlet's soliloquy, whatever any smart literary types say. It's poetic, passionate, intuitive, and, most importantly, has a ring of authenticity about it that makes you understand all the anger and frustrations that consume fighters, men who are powerful and powerless at the same time. The truth always was Schulberg's driving force.

And, of course, how does Terry demonstrate that he is somebody, and not a bum? It's revealing how film critics and others have to avoid the meaning of the greatest movie of the '50s lest they acknowledge that they prefer Rod Steiger and the mobsters. In an odd way, it's a form of respect, for they recognize their own ilk to be the rats and Mr. Schulberg, Elia Kazan and the rest who testified against the Communist Party to be heroes.

VIDEO: Last Word: Budd Schulberg (NY Times)

-OBIT: Budd Schulberg, Screenwriter, Dies at 95 (TIM WEINER, August 5, 2009, NY Times)
-OBIT: Budd Schulberg, ‘On the Waterfront’ Screenwriter, Dies at 95 (Anahad O'Connor, 8/05/09, NY Times: Arts Beat)
-OBIT: Academy Award-Winning Screenwriter of 'On the Waterfront' (Adam Bernstein, 8/05/09, Washington Post)
-OBIT: Budd Schulberg dies at 95; author of 'What Makes Sammy Run?': The scathing look at the film industry drew the Hollywood establishment's anger. The writer, who named names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, won an Oscar for 'On the Waterfront.' (Dennis McLellan, August 6, 2009, LA Times)
-OBIT: 'On the Waterfront' screenwriter dies in NY at 95 (HILLEL