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Monday, December 31, 2007

The war on boys: Teachers ignoring science 


The English government has produced a study with results that are not the least bit surprising to anybody who is a boy, was a boy, or who has raised a boy:

Playing with toy weapons helps the development of young boys, according to new Government advice to nurseries and playgroups.

Staff have been told they must resist their "natural instinct" to stop boys using pretend weapons such as guns or light sabres in games with other toddlers.

Fantasy play involving weapons and superheroes allows healthy and safe risk-taking and can also make learning more appealing, says the guidance.

It conflicts with years of "political correctness" in nurseries and playgroups which has led to the banning of toy guns, action hero games and children pretending to fire "guns" using their fingers or Lego bricks....

The report says: "Creating situations so that boys' interests in these forms of play can be fostered through healthy and safe risk-taking will enhance every aspect of their learning and development."

It cites a North London children's centre which helped boys create a "Spiderman House" and print pictures of the superhero from the internet.

This led to improvements in their communication, ability to develop storylines in their play and skills in drawing, reading and writing.

The guidance is aimed at boosting boys' achievement. They often fall behind girls even before starting school and the trend can continue throughout their academic careers.

Unfortunately, the teachers are choosing to ignore the Government's "advice" because it conflicts with their own ideology:
But teachers' leaders insisted last night that guns "symbolise aggression" and said many nurseries and playgroups would ignore the change...

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "The real problem with weapons is that they symbolise aggression."

There is, of course, a huge difference between "symbolizing" aggression and actual aggression. Yes, teachers must prevent actual aggression between the students in their charge. The stifling of the symbolizing of aggression, however, is nothing more than the rank imposition of ideology. Now we know that, in addition to indoctrinating our children, the cult of "non-violence" may actually be harming them. Indeed, if on this blog we used the language of the political left we might say that depriving our boys of toy guns is itself "violence" against their spirit, the metaphorical neutering of their inchoate maniliness, and quite possibly figurative "gendercide." Since we do not, we'll simply repeat what we have always thought: Toy guns are good, harmless fun, and people who think they encourage actual violence are idiots.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Thomas P.M. Barnett's "top ten" foreign policy wish list 


Thomas P.M. Barnett has published his "top ten" foreign policy wish list for 2008. I agree with virtually all of it, but would add another -- we ought all hope that protectionism does not become too popular among the countries that count in the world, including particularly the United States.


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Pakistan's hideous political culture 


Pakistan's largest political party, Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, has chosen her husband and 19 year-old son -- who is still at Oxford and proposes to remain there -- as its leaders. This did not happen as it sometimes does in the United States, with a long process of campaigning and an open primary system, but at a meeting of the party leaders following a reading of Benazir Bhutto's will. The co-called symbol of Pakistani "democracy" bequeathed her position to her family.

What a joke.


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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sarko dumps Syria 


Here's a tough one. For years, the New York Times and the rest of the lefty chattering classes have been demanding that the Bush administration (1) work with our "traditional allies," which was code for France, and (2) "negotiate" with Syria notwithstanding its subversion of Lebanon. What are they going to do now that France has broken off ties with Syria until it proves that it is no longer meddling in Lebanon?

France is to suspend diplomatic contacts with Syria, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced.

Links will be restored only when France has proof that Syria is not blocking progress towards installing a consensus president in Lebanon, Mr Sarkozy said.

So, either we disregard the advice of the New York Times and Nancy Pelosi regarding negotiation with Syria, or we once again frustrate our "traditional ally" France. How will the transnational progressives resolve the dilemma?

Sarko continues to step up. The ban on French jokes therefore also continues.

MORE: Don Surber is link-happy on this story.

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Quotes of the year 


Michelle Malkin, who has been a great supporter of this blog, has a wonderful round-up of memorable quotes of the year. One of them is mine!


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Hats off to the New York Times 


The New York Times has announced that Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol will join its stable of regular op-ed columnists. I would have preferred somebody more analytical with a particular expertise (Andrew McCarthy comes to mind) or somebody wittier (Jonah Goldberg or Mark Steyn). That said, Kristol has been such a critic of the Times (he suggested that perhaps it ought to be prosecuted for publishing the details of the NSA's surveillance program) that the decision shows real courage on their part. Indeed, it is a genuine surprise, considering that the paper's current Public Editor, Clark Hoyt, has turned out to be such an unapologetic guardian for the lefty point of view.


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Has al Jazz cut off al Qaeda? 


Stratfor($) notes that al Qaeda's latest propaganda message did not come through al Jazeera, its usual channel.

Al Qaeda’s Dec. 28 claim of responsibility for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto was not transmitted through the organization’s usual messenger, Al Jazeera. This change probably resulted from a deal between the United States, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Rather than using Al Jazeera, al Qaeda spokesman Al Qaeda Mustafa Abu al-Yazid — likely working through elements connected to Pakistan’s intelligence apparatus— transmitted a message via phone to Italian news agency Adnkronos International (AKI) and Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online...

The shift in Al Jazeera’s al Qaeda coverage probably resulted from negotiations between Doha, Qatar; Riyadh, and Washington. The Qatari government has come under pressure from the United States and Saudi Arabia to rein in Al Jazeera and aid in Washington’s and Riyadh’s efforts to undermine support for al Qaeda in Iraq. Al Jazeera’s modification follows a recent rapprochement between Qatar and Saudi Arabia that emerged in a December deal between the two governments with several breakthroughs that included the return of Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Qatar. (Saudi Arabia has not had an ambassador in Qatar since 2003, when the Saudi ambassador was withdrawn over an Al Jazeera broadcast critical of the Saudi royal family.) The deal also included Saudi King Abdullah’s attendance at the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha in December. (King Abdullah has boycotted the meeting since it was last hosted in Doha, in 2002.) Finally, the deal provided that Qatar would ensure future Al Jazeera broadcasts no longer would “undermine” or campaign against Saudi Arabia; in exchange, Saudi Arabia would permit the network to establish a bureau in Riyadh.

If true, Bush administration diplomacy has cut off al Qaeda's loudest megaphone into the Arab Muslim world. There was a day when this would have clearly been a significant victory in the information war, because most other media available in many of those countries is controlled. The question is whether alternative pipes -- other satellite television, other mainstream media, and internet-based new media -- will substitute.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Comic book sacrilege 


Marvel superheroes are apparently going to fight under the auspices of the United Nations. As a longstanding fan with more than 5,000 comics in my attic, I call bullshit. With the possible exception of the Fantastic Four (who have always worked with the Man), there are no important superheroes in the Marvel Universe who would work for the United Nations. Certainly not Spider-Man. Unless, of course, the story requires them to beat up on United Nations soldiers for raping girls and trading sex for favors. But somehow I don't think that's the point.


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Free speech: Victories and defeats in the Muslim world 


Victory: The Sandmonkey reports on a major victory for free speech in Egypt:

Three Cheers for the Egyptian justice system. Judge Mourad lost his case today, and the court ruled in favor of freedom of speech on the internet, with emphasis that websites should never get blocked by the government. This is a very important legal precedent, and a boon to free speech advocates everywhere. Kudos to Gamal Eid and the Hesham Mubarak legal team, and special thanks to Judge Mourad: if it wasn't for your stupidity, this wouldn't have taken place at all.


Defeat: The government of Malaysia has declared that the word "Allah" can only be used by Muslims. You know what that makes me want to do? Allah! Allah. Allah? Allahy, Allahy - Oxen Free! Allah!

Etc.


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Joseph Goebbels never had this problem 


It must be difficult to be the propaganda man in the age of Photoshop. I'd feel sorry for these clowns if they weren't such bastards.


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Pity Barack Obama's poor grandmother 

So, Barack Obama actually thinks this is going to help him with the voters in Iowa:

"It's that experience, that understanding, not just of what world leaders I went and talked to in the ambassadors house I had tea with, but understanding the lives of the people like my grandmother who lives in a tiny hut in Africa," Obama, D-Ill., told a crowd of would-be voters in Coralville, Iowa, on Friday.

Barack -- may I call you Barack? -- this is not going to help. Apart from the absurdity of claiming that the housing conditions of one's grandmother amount to foreign policy experience, no Iowan who has been as successful as Barack Obama would let his grandmother live in a "tiny hut."

Somebody ought to take up a collection for the poor woman.

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Pyramids 


Here are some very cool pictures of the Egyptian pyramids.


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China's 1984: The Olympics as an instrument of oppression 



The New York Times ran an article in its business section yesterday that received far less attention from the blogosphere than it should have. China is using the security requirements of next year's Olympic games to justify the installation of millions of surveillance cameras all over the country and the acquisition of sophisticated systems to monitor those cameras. Of course, the Olympics and related tourism will last, all in, a few months. Nobody believes that China's police state will remove those cameras once the supposed security threat diminishes. Instead, they will become the center of the most Orwellian surveillance system in the world.

Several large American companies, including Honeywell, General Electric, IBM, and United Technologies, are participating in the project, which apparently at the moment does not violate the letter of any American law. I am sure that makes David Cote, Jeff Immelt, Samuel J. Palmisano, and George David sleep well at night. It will not stop me, however, from selling my miniscule holdings in Honeywell and General Electric.

Regular readers know that I am not particularly sanctimonious when it comes to public companies doing business with bad governments, and am generally contemptuous of politicians who bash "corporations." This project, though, has the potential to change the character of the largest society on the planet and choke off such aspirations that the Chinese people may have to choose their own government. These systems will become an instrument of oppression in China as surely as God made little green apples. Do these great American companies really want to participate in a project that will inevitably result in an extraordinary amount of human suffering?


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"Never-Never Land": This year's "voodoo economics" moment? 


John Edwards, the leading anti-business candidate, went after Barack Obama with hammer-and-tongs yesterday:

Friday morning at a forum for undecided voters in Independence, Iowa, Edwards repeated his implicit criticism of Obama, saying any candidate who thinks he or she can invite corporate America to the table and achieve real results for Americans "is living in never-never land."

That sounds a lot like George H.W. Bush's famous "voodoo economics" quip, which did not stop Ronald Reagan but which Democrats used to great effect for more than a decade. Perhaps it will not be as durable, because it describes an attitude rather than a policy ("voodoo economics" referred to the idea that one could increase tax revenues by cutting tax rates), but it certainly feels as though the phrase will survive as long as Obama does.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Ralph Peters: Benazir Bhutto may help Pakistan more in death than in life 


Leave it to the always interesting Ralph Peters to write something harsh about Benazir Bhutto even before she is buried:

FOR the next several days, you're going to read and hear a great deal of pious nonsense in the wake of the assassination of Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Her country's better off without her. She may serve Pakistan better after her death than she did in life.

We need have no sympathy with her Islamist assassin and the extremists behind him to recognize that Bhutto was corrupt, divisive, dishonest and utterly devoid of genuine concern for her country.

She was a splendid con, persuading otherwise cynical Western politicians and "hardheaded" journalists that she was not only a brave woman crusading in the Islamic wilderness, but also a thoroughbred democrat.

In fact, Bhutto was a frivolously wealthy feudal landlord amid bleak poverty. The scion of a thieving political dynasty, she was always more concerned with power than with the wellbeing of the average Pakistani. Her program remained one of old-school patronage, not increased productivity or social decency.

Educated in expensive Western schools, she permitted Pakistan's feeble education system to rot - opening the door to Islamists and their religious schools.

During her years as prime minister, Pakistan went backward, not forward. Her husband looted shamelessly and ended up fleeing the country, pursued by the courts. The Islamist threat - which she artfully played both ways - spread like cancer.

Read the whole thing, and consider this bit in light of my previous post:
Now she's dead. And she may finally render her country a genuine service (if cynical party hacks don't try to blame Musharraf for their own benefit). After the inevitable rioting subsides and the spectacular conspiracy theories cool a bit, her murder may galvanize Pakistanis against the Islamist extremists who've never gained great support among voters, but who nonetheless threaten the state's ability to govern.

As a victim of fanaticism, Bhutto may shine as a rallying symbol with a far purer light than she cast while alive. The bitter joke is that, while she was never serious about freedom, women's rights and fighting terrorism, the terrorists took her rhetoric seriously - and killed her for her words, not her actions....

In killing Bhutto, the Islamists over-reached (possibly aided by rogue elements in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, one of the murkiest outfits on this earth). Just as al Qaeda in Iraq overplayed its hand and alienated that country's Sunni Arabs, this assassination may disillusion Pakistanis who lent half an ear to Islamist rhetoric.

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The Bhutto assassination and polarization in the wider war 


IraqPundit sees a connection that eludes American politicians:

All of a sudden, anyone who's anyone loves a modern, liberal Muslim -- except al-Qaeda, of course -- and unless those liberal Muslims are in Iraq....

I don't think we need any additional proof that al-Qaeda and their ilk think its their duty to murder modern, liberal Muslims wherever they are -- in addition to everyone else they disagree with....

Politicians and others can argue all they want that there is no connection between Iraq and the fight against terror. They can call for the abandonment of Iraq and claim it will have no impact on al-Qaeda. What matters is that the terrorists themselves can see the connection clearly.

I would like to point out that those who have declared Iraq a failure sometimes forget their own argument. WaPo's David Ignatius writes of "the assassination of this brave woman" today. He says, "Bhutto wasn't afraid of that tumultuous and sometimes deadly process of change, nor should anyone be."

Commentary

Al Qaeda's war is, first and foremost, a civil war within Islam. It seeks to kill any Muslim whom it considers apostate, and any non-Muslim who rises to the defense of al Qaeda's enemies. The West can choose to leave liberal Muslims and other enemies of al Qaeda to their own devices, in which case they may lose the war and we will be in for a much tougher fight than we have today. Or we can pursue policies that sustain the enemies of the jihadis and polarize the Muslim world against them. The choice really is that simple.

Of course, there are those who argue that Western military intervention polarizes the Muslim world against us. Indeed, it is certainly true that Western military action makes it easier for al Qaeda to recruit. But it is also true that there are far more Muslims around the world today fighting against al Qaeda than there were before we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, the increase in the number of Muslims fighting against al Qaeda seems quite obviously far greater than the increase in the number fighting for al Qaeda. Doves and other critics of the Bush administration emphasize al Qaeda's recruitment without acknowledging the rapidly growing numbers of Muslims walking a post against al Qaeda. They act as though these are independent events when in fact they are highly interrelated. The great masses of Muslims who oppose jihadi ideology are joining the fight against it because we have, through our policies, forced them to take a side. This does not require that they "like" or "approve" of the United States -- indeed, they may hate us -- but only that they understand which enemy is most likely to kill them capriciously.

Pakistan has apparently been an exception to the general trend in the war. There, the strength of the jihad seems to have risen more quickly than the numbers of people fighting against the jihad. Perhaps this is because al Qaeda and its allies have not yet made themselves so dangerous inside Pakistan that the average Pakistani is willing to take up arms against them. The question is, will that change with the murder of Bhutto and so many innocent people around her? If her assassination is the prelude to indiscriminate attacks on Pakistani civilians -- the only real military option at al Qaeda's disposal -- we may yet see Pakistan polarized against the jihadis as has already happened in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.

MORE: Army doctrine seems to reflect precisely the argument of this post. Heh.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

A new sectarian war 


We wingnut warmongers like to think that only Muslims wage sectarian war, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Only yesterday, rival Christian sects did battle in one of Christianity's holiest sites, Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. True, they used broomsticks. But still.

CWCID: The Jungle Trader.


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Aldous Huxley and George W. Bush 


Who knew that Aldous Huxley influenced one of George W. Bush's most controversial policy decisions? That is just about as ironic as it gets.


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Huckabee apologizes for al Qaeda 

Unfair? You be the judge:

With about 150 supporters crowded around a podium set up on the tarmac of Orlando Executive airport (and about 20 Ron Paul supporters waving signs outside) Mike Huckabee strode out to the strains of “Right Now” by Van Halen and immediately addressed the Bhutto situation, expressing “our sincere concern and apologies for what has happened in Pakistan.”

The world is in some sense divided between people who hold the United States -- by dint of some act or omission -- responsible for virtually all its troubles, and those who believe that the people responsible for bad things are those who actually do them. Many Europeans, virtually all journalists, some Democrats, Jimmy Carter, and the editors of the New York Times all fall into the former category. So, apparently, does Mike Huckabee.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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The Iraqi army scores a victory 


In non-Pakistan news, the much-maligned Iraqi army seems to have nailed a bad guy, the "defense minister" of al Qaeda in Iraq:

The Iraqi army captured a senior al Qaeda militant in a clash south of Baghdad on Thursday, a government security spokesman said.

Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said the militant, Ahmed Turki Abbas, claimed the rank of defense minister of the al Qaeda-linked group Islamic State of Iraq.

Moussawi said Abbas was lightly wounded and was in the custody of Iraqi forces after being captured in the clash near the town of Mahmudiya, 30 km south of Baghdad.

Every little bit helps.

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Karachi shuts down 


Stratfor reports that Karachi has essentially shut down, and that rumors of civil war are flying:

A source in Karachi, Pakistan, told Stratfor on Dec. 27 that everything in the city has shut down in the wake of opposition leader and former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Cars reportedly are on fire all over the city, even in the quiet residential areas where such events normally do not occur. Even journalists in Karachi are staying off the streets, and people have had to abandon their cars and walk home because of the burning cars in the streets. The source was not aware of any military presence in the streets of the city.

The source added that rumors are flying about a civil war in Pakistan; some Sindhis in the town of Sheikhapura have been shouting in the streets, calling for separation from Pakistan.

The key is the army. It is the most respected national institution, and probably the only force remaining in Pakistan today that can stabilize the situation. If it divides over the Bhutto assassination or the management of its aftermath, things could get very grim in a hurry.

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Let's not have any illusions about Pakistan 


Ponder this:

Whether we get round to admitting it or not, in Pakistan, our quarrel is with the people. Their struggle, literally, is jihad. For them, freedom would mean institutionalizing the tyranny of Islamic fundamentalism. They are the same people who, only a few weeks ago, tried to kill Benazir Bhutto on what was to be her triumphant return to prominence — the symbol, however dubious, of democracy’s promise. They are the same people who managed to kill her today. Today, no surfeit of Western media depicting angry lawyers railing about Musharraf — as if he were the problem — can camouflage that fact.

In Pakistan, it is the regime that propounds Western values, such as last year’s reform of oppressive, Sharia-based Hudood laws, which made rape virtually impossible to prosecute — a reform enacted despite furious fundamentalist rioting that was, shall we say, less well covered in the Western press. The regime, unreliable and at times infuriating, is our only friend. It is the only segment of Pakistani society capable of confronting militant Islam — though its vigor for doing so is too often sapped by its own share of jihadist sympathizers.

Read the whole thing, and come back here to comment.

MORE: If you think there is even only a chance that Andy McCarthy is right, Bill Richardson's proposal that the United States somehow "force" Musharraf from power seems transportingly dumb.

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The Religion of Peace strikes again: Benazir Bhutto is assassinated 


[Continuously updating...]

A suicide bomber shot and killed Pakistan's former president and leader of the opposition, Benazir Bhutto, and then murdered 20 other people when he blew himself up. It is a great tragedy for Pakistan and, probably, a great victory for al Qaeda. Whether or not al Qaeda was behind the killing -- and what are the chances it was not -- the jihadis have moved one step closer to controlling a nuclear arsenal.

Of course, Jim Hoff has a round-up.

More in a few minutes.

MORE:

Not surprisingly, stock futures are down on the news ahead of the market open.

Pajamas Media round-up here.

MORE:

Stratfor:

Given the modus operandi, it is likely the work of jihadists linked with the Taliban and/or al Qaeda. This assassination could not have been possible without the jihadists being enabled by elements within the government because both the jihadists and many within the regime fear the possibility of Bhutto‘s party emerging strong in the Jan. 8 polls. This attack further highlights the murky links between Islamist militants and elements within the Pakistani security/intelligence establishment.

Bhutto’s death will trigger a serious backlash in the form of violence and unrest in the country, which could derail the polls, which the opposition is claiming will be rigged by the establishment. The unrest and violence following her death could also lead to the imposition of martial law.


Captain Ed (written before we knew that Bhutto herself had died):
The Islamists appear to fear Bhutto more than any other potential opposition. As of yet, no one has targeted Nawaz Sharif, possibly because he cannot run for office at the moment, even though he leads one of the political parties. They have not tried again to assassinate Pervez Musharraf either, but Musharraf has no reason to give speeches in parks. Bhutto makes the easiest target for the lunatics, and they're apparently going to keep trying to kill her until they succeed or until they run out of suicidal volunteers.

They have more motive with Bhutto than other candidates, too. Bhutto has said that she would favor allowing the US and NATO to conduct operations in Waziristan and the North West Frontier Province to clear out the Taliban and al-Qaeda. While she would have only limited ability to employ that strategy -- that seems clearly the provenance of Musharraf, who doesn't share her enthusiasm for the idea -- the radical Islamists want to take no chances. They have nowhere else to run if the US and Pakistan start cooperating to defeat them.


MORE:

Stratfor is now saying that "reports of rioting by Pakistan People’s Party workers are coming in from throughout Pakistan."

Richard Fernandez:
There were already questions about whether Bhutto -- or any other candidate -- could create a political alternative to the dilemma of rule by the Army or rule by the Taliban... Now there will not even be the illusion of an electoral outcome. The effect of political assassination is to restrict effective political discourse to argument by high explosive or supersonic lead projectiles. Pakistani politics might not miss Benazir Bhutto as an individual, but it will surely want for elections in general.

That is precisely the objective of the jihadis, of course, who believe as a matter of ideology that sovereignty comes only from Allah, not the people.

She was warned, in case it was not obvious after the October attack:
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said Dec. 13 that the Pakistani Interior Ministry received information on a potential attack against party leader and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 21, Geo reported. Rehman Malik, Bhutto’s security adviser, told Geo the PPP has demanded extra security for Bhutto’s campaign.


MORE:

Captain Ed, who has been following Pakistan more completely than most big American bloggers, has now posted his analysis. It is well worth reading if you are not up to speed on the various players.

Also, here is a Stratfor analytical piece from mid-November that discusses the ultimate issue, which is control over the nuclear arsenal:
Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf took another big step Monday in consolidating his hold over the government, with a Supreme Court decision to throw out the five main court petitions against his eligibility to remain president as the country’s army chief. This comes as little surprise since the general himself handpicked most of the judges who voted.

While the political opposition led by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is screaming that this is yet another illegal move made by an illegitimate government, that “illegitimate” government has made it clear that it is fully capable of providing “legal” solutions to its own problems. All in all, Musharraf is not in that bad a shape, despite the political melodrama in the streets of Pakistan.

The U.S. State Department will continue issuing statements urging Musharraf to restore democracy, but the issue that is really keeping U.S. policymakers awake is that of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal. The New York Times published a feature article Nov. 18 that discusses in detail how the United States has been involved in a covert program for the past six years to secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. The newspaper says it had been sitting on this information for three years under pressure from the U.S. administration before its decision to come public with the information. Stratfor loyalists who have read George Friedman’s America’s Secret War, however, should regard this as old news. [I read Friedman's book when it came out, and was, in fact, amazed that people considered this news when the NYT re-broke the story last month. - ed.]

As we have discussed a number of times, the United States delivered a very clear ultimatum to Musharraf in the wake of 9/11: Unless Pakistan allowed U.S. forces to take control of Pakistani nuclear facilities, the United States would be left with no choice but to destroy those facilities, possibly with India’s help. This was a fait accompli that Musharraf, for credibility reasons, had every reason to cover up and pretend never happened, and Washington was fully willing to keep things quiet. After all, the United States was not interested in regime change in Islamabad. The timing of the New York Times article, then, is interesting — we would not be surprised to find that certain opposition elements were involved in the publishing of this article in an attempt to throw another hand grenade at Musharraf.

But is Musharraf really in trouble? One look at the divided opposition and the defeated street protests suggests not. However, the real threat to the general — and potentially the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons — comes from the army itself. Stratfor has been keeping a close eye on the status of the military throughout this political crisis, searching for any serious signs of dissent among Musharraf’s top brass. Pakistani sources said Monday that there was a recent case of insubordination within the army in which a midlevel commander refused to open fire during an incident in Swat (where the military is heavily engaged in counterterrorism operations), saying the army is fighting its own people and the government’s policies are only making matters worse. The commander refused to obey orders from his superior even after a gun was put to his head, and is now being court-martialed. We also are hearing from ranking officers that several junior officers in the army are strongly criticizing Musharraf and that some soldiers driving in army vehicles have been seen giving victory signs to opposition protesters in the streets.

These scattered signs of dissent do not necessarily imply that the Pakistani army is disintegrating and that the country’s nuclear arsenal is vulnerable. However, if the general tide in the army turns against Musharraf, we could soon see a scenario play out in which Pakistan’s top generals force Musharraf to step down. The Pakistani general is consolidating the military’s hold on power, but there is still no guarantee that Musharraf himself will not be sacrificed in the process.


MORE:

Michelle Malkin's round-up includes at least one report that al Qaeda is claiming credit.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Annals of lefty scholarship: Attacking Israel's army for not raping Palestinians 


Israel, unlike any other country in its part of the world, has a whacko academic left in the style of most Western countries. Evidence:

A research paper that won a Hebrew University teachers' committee prize finds that the lack of IDF rapes of Palestinian women is designed to serve a political purpose.

The abstract of the paper, authored by doctoral candidate Tal Nitzan, notes that the paper shows that "the lack of organized military rape is an alternate way of realizing [particular] political goals."

The next sentence delineates the particular goals that are realized in this manner: "In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it can be seen that the lack of military rape merely strengthens the ethnic boundaries and clarifies the inter-ethnic differences - just as organized military rape would have done."

The paper further theorizes that Arab women in Judea and Samaria are not raped by IDF soldiers because the women are de-humanized in the soldiers' eyes.

In other words, the absence of rape is evidence that Israeli soldiers regard the Palestinians as animals. By this absurd logic, more IDF rape would be a precondition to a respectful and durable peace in the region.

Even Israel, which faces more no-win public relations problems than any country other than the United States, would be hard pressed to locate a more idiotic example of "damned if you do, damned if you don't."

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Notes from the culture wars 


If this bit of coastal news does not extinguish your Christmas spirit -- or at least your appetite -- nothing much will:

A beefy gent wearing a red Santa hat and purple G-string in Los Angeles this holiday season not only didn't pass for Santa but failed a Breathalyzer test, too.

Rick Carroll, 53, of Long Beach, Calif., who also sported a blond wig, black leg warmers and red, lace camisole, allegedly registered just over the legal blood-alcohol limit of .08 percent when officers tested him after he pulled up in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater Sunday night, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

Now, regular readers know that I have nothing against risque Santa pictures, but I uncompromisingly believe that "beefy gents" should avoid wearing G-strings in public under any circumstances.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Iraq: Across the confessional divide 


Christmas in Iraq was cheerier today than it has been in years; Gateway Pundit has a big round-up, including a link to the heartwarming story of the day:

Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the ancient Chaldean Catholic Church and Iraq's first cardinal, celebrated Mass before about 2,000 people in the Mar Eliya Church the eastern New Baghdad neighborhood of the capital.

"Iraq is a bouquet of flowers of different colors, each color represents a religion or ethnicity but all of them have the same scent," the 80-year-old Delly told the congregation.

Muslim clerics—both Sunni and Shiite—also attended the service in a sign of unity.

"May Iraq be safe every year, and may our Christian brothers be safe every year," Shiite cleric Hadi al-Jazail told AP Television News outside the church. "We came to celebrate with them and to reassure them."

William Jalal, a 39-year old father of three attending Mass at Mar Eliya, said this Christmas was clearly different.

More of that, please.

Commentary

With the growing acknowledgement that the "surge" has substantially improved security in Iraq, the political opponents of the Bush administration -- Nancy Pelosi, for example -- have taken to arguing that there has been no "political reconciliation," and that therefore the entire effort is a waste. It is superficially easy for Speaker Pelosi and her followers to make this argument, because the government of Prime Minister Maliki is corrupt and inefficient and has not enacted the specific legislation that America has consistently requested be enacted (proving, by the way, that Maliki's government is hardly our puppet and the war we are fighting is no longer even arguably an occupation). If you look more deeply, though, you can see more meaningful reconciliation than would be revealed with any law or the appointment of any particular minister. The "Awakening" movement has brought the Sunni tribes into military alliance with the government against the jihadis. Shiite and Sunni clerics are not only attending a Christian service in a show of unity, but they are attending together.

Columnist Trudy Rubin, hardly a household name among hawks, made much the same point in her column today:
After two weeks in Iraq, I can report that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is as dysfunctional as ever, the prime minister's staff a collection of incompetents from his Shiite Dawa Party who are criticized by many in his own government.

"Things have changed a lot, but the changes need to be sustained," I was told by the savvy Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "If the government doesn't move faster, those gains could evaporate."

And yet despite the failure of the al-Maliki government to deliver vital legislation, or make anything function, things are changing politically in Iraq.

The changes are hard to see clearly because the country is still going through an ugly period of chaos and confusion, with Shiite militias battling each other in the south, and intra-Shiite violence in Baghdad. Fighting continues between Sunni tribal leaders and al-Qaida in parts of the country. And the al-Maliki government has failed to pass benchmark laws that had been viewed as signs of whether sects could reconcile.

But the sharp decline in sectarian killing has changed the way Iraqis look at politics and their post-Saddam Hussein leaders. "The less there is of sectarian killing, the more people will focus on their interests," I was told by Sheik Humam Hammoudi, an astute leader of one of the largest Shiite political parties, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). "We are in a transitional phase, from competition over identity to a competition over interests," the sheik continued.

Let me explain what that means. In the violent chaos of the post-Hussein era, even secular Iraqis turned to political groups that represented their sect as a form of protection. Long-oppressed Shiites, a numerical majority, were determined to gain the power they believed they had long been denied. Sunnis fought back to retain their old standing. Kurds focused on building their quasi-state in the north.

Now the violence has ebbed. "We have avoided a major sectarian war that could have spread," Mr. Zebari said. "It is not over, but it has died down. The overall atmosphere has changed."

Now people have the breathing room to assess their sectarian parties that have failed to deliver services or safety while indulging in astounding levels of corruption. The judgments I heard from every Iraqi I spoke with were unremittingly harsh.

Even the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has had to pay attention to popular dissatisfaction with the shakedowns and murders carried out by thugs in his Mahdi Army militia. He has dispersed hit men to try to eliminate some of the more egregious violators in Baghdad neighborhoods. I spoke to one, a hard-faced, middle-aged tough named Abu Ali, who was limping from a gunshot wound to the leg; he told me his men had killed 17 "criminals" in Baghdad's Hurriyah district on Mr. al-Sadr's orders. The Shiite mafiosi are cleaning house.

Iraq's Shiite religious leaders, too, are weighing in on the government's failures. The leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, sent word through his spokesmen of his dissatisfaction with the fact that much of the parliament had decamped to Saudi Arabia for the Muslim pilgrimage at government expense. This at a time when crucial laws on oil and provincial elections are languishing in committees. Ayatollah al-Sistani said that parliamentarians would get no religious credit for the hajj because they had abandoned their duty.

Politicians in Baghdad are paying attention; many factions are discussing the possibility of a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Mr. al-Maliki in the next months. The Kurdish bloc has sent him a warning letter demanding that he reform his government so it functions, or risk losing its support.

Meantime, new segments of society are trying to get into the political system, instead of aiming to seize power through force. New Sunni tribal militias in Anbar province, known as the Anbar Awakening, that drove out al-Qaida in Iraq, are now starting to form political parties that are less sectarian in nature than the existing Sunni parties. The group may draw substantial votes away from those existing parties because it has improved Iraqis' lives.

This last point is particularly important. In the end, the provision of security is the cornerstone of a government's legitimacy. If a government does not protect its people one way or the other, it will not last. The first truly successful government of post-Ba'athist Iraq will protect its people -- with or without American help -- from al Qaeda jihadis, Iranian infiltration, Shiite militias, and organized crime. The "surge" -- which was in fact a sweeping change in tactics -- was crucial not because it would create the "space" for the current batch of clowns to "reconcile," but because the "Iraqization" of security would legitimize a new generation of political leaders with the credibility to lead the country after the American withdrawal. That is, in fact, textbook counterinsurgency, and there is evidence that it is happening.

Of course, the Democratic leadership will argue that President Bush set specific "benchmarks" -- the fair distribution of oil profits, the confessional integration of the government, and so forth -- and those have not happened so we should declare the operation a failure and bring the troops home. There are at least two responses. The first is that grass roots reconciliation may in fact be more durable than superficial reconciliation between national pols. Perhaps we are getting something better than an oil law (and, besides, more oil money is going to the provinces anyway). The second is so obvious that I am almost reluctant to write it. The American president could not very well say that a core objective -- or even a hoped-for consequence -- of the Petraeus strategy was to raise up a new generation of Iraqi leaders to supercede those presently in power, could he?

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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And don't forget the philatelists 


Having been extremely busy, I am not quite finished Niall Furgeson's innovative history of violence in the 20th century, The War of the World. It is chock full of little bits of historical anecdote, many of which will find its way on to this blog in one way or another (but do read the whole thing if you enjoy 700 page history books).

Anyway, Ferguson devotes a chapter to the sacking of Poland during the period of the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact. The Nazis sorted, segregated, and slaughtered the western population according to their twisted racialist classifications, and the Soviets crushed the east in the bizarrely paranoid Stalinist style. How bizarre?

From Stalin's point of view, the Nazi vision of a Germanized western Poland, denuded of its social elites, seemed not menacing but completely familiar. Stalin had, after all, been waging war against the ethnic minorities of the Soviet Union for far longer and on a far larger scale than anything thus far attempted by Hitler. And he regarded few minorities with more suspicion than the Poles. Even before the outbreak of war, 10,000 ethnic Polish families living in the western border region of the Soviet Union had been deported. Now the entire Polish population of the Soviet-occupied zone was at Stalin's mercy. Beginning on the right of February 10, 1940, the NKVD unleashed a campaign of terror against suspected "anti-Soviet" elements. The targets identified in a set of instructions subsequently issued in November of the same year were "those frequently travelling abroad, involved in overseas correspondence or coming into contact with representatives of foreign states; Esperantists; philatelists; those working with the Red Cross; refugees; smugglers; those expelled from the Communist Party; priests and active members of religious congregations; the nobility, landowners, wealthy merchants, bankers, industrialists, hotel [owners] and restaurant owners". Like Hitler, in other words, Stalin wished to decapitate Polish society.

I can at least understand Stalin's fear of those other dangerous subversives, but philatelists? As a numismatist, I do not know whether to be relieved that coin collectors were not also killed, or offended that the Commies held them in so little regard that they were not rounded up with the stamp guys and the Esperantists.

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Another Democrat sees merit in the "surge" 


Another Democratic Congressman has gone to Iraq and now sees merit in the "surge." Nevada rep Shelley Berkley, a critic of the war in Iraq, "said Monday the U.S. military and Iraqi police have made more progress than she expected in quelling violence that had beset portions of the country." The most curious thing about her statement was not the reversal of her previously anti-surge position, but her surprise at what she is seeing in Iraq:

"This is a difference from what I anticipated," Berkley said. "I did not anticipate the progress and the extraordinary morale of our troops.

"They believe they are turning the corner," Berkley said. "Nobody is doing a victory lap at this point, but the reality is the military has done an extraordinary job."

Berkley's praise extended to the Iraqi police who are assisting U.S. troops in patrolling neighborhoods.

"For years we had heard they weren't ready to take over, but at this point there is such a significant difference," Berkley said. "The Iraqis are truly stepping up to the plate and that accounts for the lowering of violence.

"Wherever you go, Iraqis and our American servicemen are telling us that the difference is dramatic," Berkley said. "The violence is down 60 percent from last year."

The question is, why is the progress different than she "anticipated," why is she surprised at the "extraordinary morale of our troops"? Neither the progress nor the morale of our troops is in the least bit surprising, other than to people who "know" everything they know from left-wing sources. Could it be that Rep. Berkley only knows what she sees in the mainstream media?

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Merry Christmas! 


We are behind schedule on our Christmas cards this year, and only took the photograph we will use this past Friday. It turns out that those few of you who check in today will be the first to see it! Anyway, here we are in front of the house we are building Somewhere in Princeton. Merry Christmas!


Christmas card


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Monday, December 24, 2007

"Ten Crucial Days: The Road To Liberty" 


If you watch or have access to NJN -- New Jersey's public television network -- set your TiVo to record "Ten Crucial Days: The Road To Liberty." It is airing Christmas night at 8 p.m., Friday the 28th at 9:30, and Sunday the 30th at 7:30. Its author, who just happens to be a devoted TigerHawk reader and occasional commenter, writes:

It's a documentary about the Battles of Trenton and Princeton that changed the momentum of the Revolutionary War. In all due modesty, and much is due, I was only the writer on this - the production was meticulously crafted by Lou Presti, somewhat of an NJN legend. It's really a terrific look at what some remarkable men did 231 years ago just down the Pike.

Highly recommended for kids, by the way - 27 minutes long, no sexual innuendo and little violence other than some bayonet mayhem brought to life in HDTV. Try to see it, even if you already know the ending.

Well, if it includes "bayonet mayhem brought to life in HDTV," who would dare miss it?

If you do watch it, come back here to comment.

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HuffPo: Judge Obama not by the content of his mind, but by the color of his skin 


The featured post on the HuffPo email alert argues that in foreign policy, the personal "identity" of the president is more important than "experience", and that Barack Obama's identity gives him an advantage over other candidates:

The main issue in American foreign policy now is repairing America's image in the world. There would be no greater asset in that task than a leader like Obama, who by his very multicultural hybrid biography, renews the fundamental promise of America to the world as a society where every individual is considered worthy enough to get a chance in life. That speaks volumes, far more than a full set of Foreign Affairs magazines on his bookshelf.

In the times ahead, we don't need so much a seasoned diplomat of the already past post-Cold War moment as someone with an intuitive grasp of global politics in a world of hybrid cultures. Dashing a clash of civilizations and making globalization work are the tasks at hand, not negotiating this or that treaty in Geneva.

To "lead by example," as Obama has argued -- instead of the Bush will to power policies -- is the fundamental shift that needs to take place in our foreign policy.

So let me get this straight. The Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Indians, Iranians, Arabs, and -- *cough* -- Europeans are going to respect the United States more because its president has an "intuitive grasp of global politics" because he had a black father? Only a coastal liberal who has never done business outside the United States could believe that. Imagine the outrage if somebody argued the opposite and (by the way) equally intuitive point: That much of the world is more racist and sexist than the United States, especially when it comes to Africans, and that we would be better off electing a white man to the White House.

Fortunately, there is no evidence that the "world's" undifferentiated respect or lack thereof for our president -- whatever that might be worth in geopolitical coin -- is a function of the color of his skin. From the perspective of most of the world's chattering classes, it is far more important that our president be left wing than of a particular race or religion. Of that there is no doubt.

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Snow everywhere, and nary a reference to climate change 


I am in Durango, Colorado right now, and look forward to skiing today. Durango is in the far south of Colorado, and in our experience often has not had much snow by late December. Not this year, though. Both Durango and Teluride have already had many feet up on the mountain. Even in town there is snow everywhere.

The same is apparently true in Vermont. The New York Times is running a story today about the snow on the ski mountains there, which has apparently been the best for some time ("The old-timers who have seen it all have far and away said this is the best December they remember.”).

And the same is true in Europe, where the ski season has gotten off to an early start.

Not surprisingly, none of these stories mention anything about global climate change. That makes sense, since one cannot judge what is happening to the climate over the long term by the weather in a single winter. This is even true when there are apparent trends. In Burlington, Veermont, for instance, three of the last four Decembers have had above-average snowfall, a fact which the New York Times saw fit to relate, but not comment upon:

Ski resorts are hoping that the strong start will give resorts enough momentum and a firm foundation of snow to last them through the winter.

To understand the difference, consider recent snow totals posted in Burlington, Vt. It has received 34 inches of snow so far in December, compared with 10 inches during that month in 2006, 18.4 inches in 2005 and 22.8 inches in 2004. The average for the month is 15.7 inches.

The thing is, the media reacts quite differently to anecdotal lack of snow. Last December saw unusually light snowfall in the northern hemisphere ski resorts. Then, the media did not attribute it to bad luck, but climate change. Link. Link. Link. Link. Of course, a lot of that news was driven by the United Nations beating the climate change tom-toms simultaneously with the snow drought, but that says something as well: The climate change activists there and elsewhere have not been talking about a snow shortage this year, because the northern ski resorts from the Rockies to the Swiss Alps are covered in the stuff.

It is clear that local observer bias plays a huge role in the popular perception whether or not exacerbated by the press. In the United States, climate change has -- so far -- produced generally favorable results, at least as far as humans are concerned. I argued in March that Americans are less concerned about climate change than Europeans because we like it, at least in its local manifestation. Our winters have warmed, but our summers have not, which effects have made Americans more comfortable. Europe's summers have gotten much hotter, and that has made Europeans much less comfortable. Oil industry propaganda has nothing to do with it.

People react very strongly to what they see. Note, for example, this article about the impact of the "backyard effect" winter tourism. It turns out that the depth of the snow on the mountains of New England is less relevant to the resort business than the snow on the streets of Boston and New York. People see snow out the window and think "let's go skiing." Chances are, journalists -- who are people, too -- react the same way. Piles of snow on West 43rd for a couple of winters in a row would have a better chance of changing the tone of the press coverage then four good months of skiing in Vermont.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Avoid surgery in Tanzania 


Oops:

On November 8, surgeons at Tanzania's main Muhimbili Hospital opened the skull of Emmanuel Didas to remove a non-existent brain tumour while Emmanuel Mgaya, who had the tumour, underwent knee surgery.

I'm thinking that there are at least two "Emmanuels" in the world who are unlikely to obey the seasonal injunction to "rejoice".

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The popularity of "Monica" 


Bird Dog at Maggie's Farm wonders whether the popularity of the name "Monica" has declined since it achieved a certain notoriety in presidential affairs. As it were. Well, it has. The source for name popularity is NameVoyager, which displays the relative frequency (in the United States) of just about any name over the last century or so. "Monica," as it turns out, has been in secular decline since its peak during the Carter administration, but it has indeed become substantially less popular in the last decade.


Distribution of Monica


Draw your own conclusions.


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The Kindness Animal Hospital, Durango, Colorado 


If you need a good veterinarian in the area of Durango, Colorado, consider my sister-in-law's practice, the Kindness Animal Hospital on the road between Durango and the airport. She started it about a year ago, and it seems to be going very well. She treats both livestock and small animals, is very experienced with horses and llamas, and, as you can see from the pictures below her hospital has an amazing view to boot. (And, yes, this post is shameless Google bait.)


Kindness Animal Hospital, Durango, CO


Kindness Animal Hospital, Durango, Colorado


Kindness Animal Hospital, Durango, Colorado


San Juan Mountains


Kindness Animal Hospital


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Corrupt is as corrupt does 


I always knew Arkansans have a primitive grasp of conflict of interest, and after the Clinton years everybody knows that politics there makes New Jersey look like Scandinavia by comparison. Even I, however, did not realize the extent to which it was a freaking banana republic.

Can't we just send the 101st to Little Rock? We've done it before.


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Sunday morning in Advent Mystery Photo! 


I took this picture two years ago today somewhere in the United States. For mass quantities of TigerHawk "points" (redeemable for glory among the smartest blog readers in the world), identify the church, the city in which it is located, and its historical significance.


Mystery photo


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Disneyland's solution to a weight problem: Free food! 


The special end-of-year Fortune "Investor's Guide" has a goofy feature devoted to the "101 Dumbest Moments in Business, 2007" (no link, working from hard copy). Number 13 reminded me of my "weight problem" in Phoenix on Saturday afternoon:

Disneyland announces plans to close the "It's a Small World" attraction to deepen its water channel after the ride's boats start getting stuck under loads of heavy passengers. Employees ask larger passengers to disembark -- and compensate them with coupons for free food.

I'm not so sure that's a "dumb moment in business." Would not free food be especially appealing as compensation to "larger passengers"? An "ironic" moment in business, maybe, or a "pandering" moment in business, but a dumb moment? I think not.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Stranded in Phoenix! 


The picture at right is our plane -- a US Airways flight in code-share disguise -- backing away from its gate at Phoenix airport on its way to Durango. I was able to take this picture because we were denied boarding on account of "weight limitations". That we were not nearly the fattest people on the flight seemed to be irrelevant. Apparently we were the last passengers to get boarding passes, and therefore the last to be allowed to board if there is too much baggage on the plane. We were not, however, dilatory in our pursuit of boarding passes. We are the last passengers to have been given boarding passes because US Airways in Newark would not issue them at our original point of embarkation. It seems their computers are less nuanced than those of other airlines.

In any case, here's my most fundamental gripe: Since this is a flight to a ski resort during the week of Christmas and everybody and their brother has more baggage than the 1st ID, it was fairly goddamned predictable that the last four passengers would not be allowed on. Indeed, the last passenger actually granted right of passage reported that this happens on the Durango flight more often than it does not. Thanks for that, US Airways, I'll have another.

With any luck, we will squeeze on the totally booked flight three hours later. Unless, of course, I screwed up our karma with this post.

UPDATE (11:20 pm MST): We did indeed get on the later flight out of Phoenix and got up to Durango in fine fettle. As one of our commenters observed, there is a beautiful full moon tonight, and it lit up the snow-covered mountains all the way up. Absolutely gorgeous.


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A short note on the risks of bioterrorism 


Stratfor sent out an email on the risks of bioterrorism that is so interesting I thought I would push against the edges of fair use and post a lengthy excerpt (in return for giving you the link to their new home page):

Earlier in December, Interpol hosted a bioterrorism tabletop exercise at its headquarters in Lyon, France, that was code named "Black Death." The scenario for the exercise involved militants unleashing a biological agent at a large sporting event, using air horns to disperse the agent into the unwitting crowd. According to the opening statement given by Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble, "Using disease, terrorists can substantially multiply the devastation and societal disruption that they cause, and they can do it without sophisticated infrastructure or state support. For this very reason, we would be mistaken to treat a worst-case scenario as a remote possibility. Instead, we must deal with this as an eventuality for which we need to be prepared."

In this season of large college bowl games and the National Football League playoffs in the United States, and large nonsporting events such as the New Year's Eve celebration in New York's Times Square -- not to mention the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing -- a discussion of bioterrorism and the threat it poses might be of interest.

First, it must be recognized that during the past several decades of the modern terrorist era, biological weapons have been used very infrequently -- and there are some very good reasons for this. Contrary to their portrayal in movies and television shows, biological agents are difficult to manufacture and deploy effectively in the real world. In spite of the fear such substances engender, even in cases in which they have been somewhat effective they have proven to be less effective and more costly than more conventional attacks using firearms and explosives.

In fact, nobody even noticed what was perhaps the largest malevolent deployment of biological agents in history, in which thousands of gallons of liquid anthrax and botulinum toxin were released during several attacks in a major metropolitan area over a three-year period. This use of biological agents was perpetrated by the Japanese apocalyptic cult Aum Shinrikyo. An examination of the group's chemical and biological weapons (CBW) program provides some important insight into biological weapons, their costs -- and their limitations.

In the late 1980s, Aum's team of trained scientists spent millions of dollars to develop a series of state-of-the-art biological weapons research and production laboratories. The group experimented with botulinum toxin, anthrax, cholera and Q fever and even tried to acquire the Ebola virus. The group hoped to produce enough biological agent to trigger a global Armageddon. Between April of 1990 and August of 1993, Aum conducted seven large-scale attacks involving the use of thousands of gallons of biological agents -- four with anthrax and three with botulinum toxin.

The group's first attempts at unleashing mega-death on the world involved the use of botulinum toxin. In April of 1990, Aum used a fleet of three trucks equipped with aerosol sprayers to release liquid botulinum toxin on targets that included the Imperial Palace, the Diet and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, two U.S. naval bases and the airport in Narita. In spite of the massive quantities of agent released, there were no mass casualties and, in fact, nobody outside of the cult was even aware the attacks had taken place.

When the botulinum operations failed to produce results, Aum's scientists went back to the drawing board and retooled their biological weapons facilities to produce anthrax. By mid-1993, they were ready to launch attacks involving anthrax, and between June and August of 1993 the group sprayed thousands of gallons of aerosolized liquid anthrax in Tokyo. This time Aum not only employed its fleet of sprayer trucks, but also use sprayers mounted on the roof of their headquarters to disperse a cloud of aerosolized anthrax over the city. Again, the attacks produced no results and were not even noticed. It was only after the group's successful 1995 subway attacks using sarin nerve agent that a Japanese government investigation discovered that the 1990 and 1993 biological attacks had occurred.

Aum Shinrikyo's team of highly trained scientists worked under ideal conditions in a first-world country with a virtually unlimited budget. The team worked in large, modern facilities to produce substantial quantities of biological weapons. Despite the millions of dollars the group spent on its bioweapons program, it still faced problems in creating virulent biological agents, and it also found it difficult to dispense those agents effectively.

Even when the group switched to employing a nerve agent, it only succeeded in killing a handful of people. A comparison between the Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo subway attack and the jihadist attack against the Madrid trains in 2004 shows that chemical/biological attacks are more expensive to produce and yield fewer results than attacks using conventional explosives. In the March 1995 Tokyo subway attack -- Aum's most successful -- the group placed 11 sarin-filled plastic bags on five different subway trains and killed 12 people. In the 2004 Madrid attack, jihadists detonated 10 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and killed 191 people. Aum's CBW program cost millions and took years of research and effort; the Madrid bombings only cost a few thousand dollars, and the IEDs were assembled in a few days.

The most deadly biological terrorism attack to date was the case involving a series of letters containing anthrax in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks -- a case the FBI calls Amerithrax. While the Amerithrax letters did cause panic and result in companies all across the country temporarily shutting down if a panicked employee spotted a bit of drywall dust or powdered sugar from doughnuts eaten by someone on the last shift, in practical terms, the attacks were very ineffective. The Amerithrax letters resulted in five deaths; another 22 victims were infected but recovered after receiving medical treatment. The letters did not succeed in infecting senior officials at the media companies targeted by the first wave of letters, or Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, who were targeted by a second wave of letters.

By way of comparison, John Mohammed, the so-called "D.C. Sniper," was able to cause mass panic and kill twice as many people (10) by simply purchasing and using one assault rifle. This required far less time, effort and expense than producing the anthrax spores used in the Amerithrax case. It is this cost-benefit ratio that, from a militant's perspective, makes firearms and explosives more attractive weapons for an attack. This then is the primary reason that more attacks using biological weapons have not been executed: The cost is higher than the benefit.

There are many who are learned among you. Release the hounds.

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Annals of shameless pandering: Huckabee hears a Who 


Heh:

"Who is your favorite author?" Aleya Deatsch, 7, of West Des Moines asked Mr. Huckabee in one of those posing-like-a-shopping-mall-Santa moments.

Mr. Huckabee paused, then said his favorite author was Dr. Seuss.

In an interview afterward with the news media, Aleya said she was somewhat surprised. She thought the candidate would be reading at a higher level.

"My favorite author is C. S. Lewis," she said.

I hope he does not read The Butter Battle Book.

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Progress, ephemeral and otherwise 

We are on the road today, flying from Newark to Durango, Colorado for family and skiing. Blogging will be catch-as-catch-can, so consider this an open thread or, if you would prefer, discuss the relevance of the data in the following chart to American strategic interests.


Iraq data, November 2007


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Friday, December 21, 2007

The Ultimate Canon Rock 


YouTube fans know that amateur musicians around the world have been performing the Pachelbel Canon on the electric guitar. Some of the various renditions are absolutely amazing. Well, somebody has stitched together clips from many different versions of "Canon Rock" to produce the "Ultimate Canon Rock." Quite something.



CWCID: The TigerHawk Teenager.


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Santa picture of the day 


Around 80% of my readers will enjoy this "Santa" picture. Apologies to the other 20%, with the usual "it's Friday" defense.

Oh, and there are interesting links, too.


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Will oil prices drop back to $50? 


John Cassidy argues that the sustained high oil prices of the last few years will lead to a surge in new production and substantially lower prices in the future.

The tripling of oil prices since the summer of 2003 has unleashed forces that within the next two or three years will bring oil prices tumbling back down to below $50 a barrel. Looking even further ahead, prices could easily fall to $30 a barrel or even lower. So before you trade in your Cadillac Escalade for a Toyota Prius, think twice: $1.50-a-gallon gas might not be gone forever.

Regular readers know I took that side of the action in a bet with my brother (even while lacking the courage to follow through with real investment decisions), so without actually knowing anything about energy markets my instincts tell me that Cassidy is directionally correct. I do know this, though: If he is correct the next president will both claim and get credit for the price decline with no justification whatsoever.

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A very nice compliment 


We are blessed to have civil readers and we get a lot of very nice comments for which I am grateful, but I am particularly proud of this one, which came in last night to my "blogiversary" post on Tuesday:

You are filling a very very small niche, which is being a blog that can both be linked to by Instapundit and not completely piss me off. This is one of the places I come to feel uncomfortable about (for example) opposing the surge, because you manage to write a pro-war stance in a non-partisan, non-"macho", real-live-person kind of way. Keep it real.

I like that compliment because I hope it is true. I am manifestly right of center, especially regarding economic, regulatory, and national security matters, and I therefore have a strong tendency to favor Republicans, but I am not partisan in the sense that this blog is not in the service of political advantage. We do not raise money or regurgitate talking points emailed to us by our Roverlords, and we do not defend Republicans because they are Republicans.

Thank you.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Barack Obama pledges to violate international law 


Barack Obama says that if elected president he would ban all importation of toys from China. Yes, it is reckless pandering to protectionists, which is especially problematic insofar as protectionism is both naturally popular and hideously stupid. And, yes, it would mean that only the affluent would be able to afford the few toys made elsewhere, such as Sweden and Denmark. It is also, however, nothing less than a promise to violate our international trade agreements, a position curiously at odds with both lefty rhetoric about George W. Bush and Obama's own responses to questions from the American Society of International Law:

Promoting strong international norms helps us advance many interests, including non-proliferation, free and fair trade, a clean environment, and protecting our troops in wartime.

Recognizing that "fair trade" is protectionist code for "not quite free trade," a blanket ban on an entire segment of manufactures from another World Trade Organization member country, regardless of the specific manufacturer, is neither free nor fair and it certainly is not lawful.

The ugly truth is that few American politicians genuinely respect international law in the abstract -- they just disagree over which international law to violate.

The Peking Duck has more.

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Will "Wrong-headed Chuck" Hagel run on the Bloomberg ticket? 


There's a rumor going around that Michael Bloomberg and Chuck Hagel may team up for a run at the White House. Good news for the Republicans, I would say. In particular, the regular running of advertisements with Hagel's profoundly incorrect predictions about "the surge" ("This is a dangerously wrong-headed strategy that will drive America deeper into an unwinnable swamp at a great cost... We cannot escape the reality that there will be no military solution in Iraq") should both interdict Republican defections to Bloomberg and promote Democratic ones.


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Basketball savant 


An autistic kid gets his shot to play on the high school team. Maximally heartwarming, and you would not have believed it if Hollywood had made it up.


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Carbon dioxide emissions: The first pounds are always the easiest to lose 


Glenn Reynolds links to a couple of items that argue that the United States is doing a better job of reducing greenhouse gases than the Kyoto signatories. That is a tempting thought for those of us, including me, who believe that Kyoto-style massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions will do more damage than good. Unfortunately, the argument implied in Glenn's post -- that recent American gains are evidence of the superiority of the American regulatory approach to greenhouse gas reductions -- is not particularly persuasive.

First, look at the claims of Randall Hoven at American Thinker:

One would think that countries that committed to the Kyoto treaty are doing a better job of curtailing carbon emissions. One would also think that the United States, the only country that does not even intend to ratify, keeps on emitting carbon dioxide at growth levels much higher than those who signed.

And one would be wrong.

The Kyoto treaty was agreed upon in late 1997 and countries started signing and ratifying it in 1998. A list of countries and their carbon dioxide emissions due to consumption of fossil fuels is available from the U.S. government. If we look at that data and compare 2004 (latest year for which data is available) to 1997 (last year before the Kyoto treaty was signed), we find the following.

Emissions worldwide increased 18.0%.
Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21.1%.
Emissions from non-signers increased 10.0%.
Emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6%.

In fact, emissions from the U.S. grew slower than those of over 75% of the countries that signed Kyoto.

Hoven goes on to argue that world opinion is, essentially, a crock:
World and U.S. opinion seems to revolve around who signed Kyoto rather than actual carbon dioxide emissions. Once again, stated intent trumps actual results.

Glenn also links to this article from ScienceDaily, which shows that the United States economy is growing more efficient with regard to greenhouse gases, meaning that our GDP is growing faster than emissions:
The economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), grew by 3.3 percent and energy demand fell by 0.9 percent indicating that energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) fell by 4.2 percent. Carbon dioxide intensity (CO2 emission per unit of GDP) fell by 4.5 percent.

The problem, of course, is that the United States is starting from a position of extreme profligacy compared to virtually every other rich country in the world. On a per capita basis, the United States emits more carbon dioxide than every other "real" country in the world. We ranked 10th in 2004, behind five oil sheikhdoms, three Carribean resorts, and Luxembourg. Our carbon dioxide emissions per capita were more than double the United Kingdom and Germany, and more than triple France and Italy. They were even 25% worse than low-density, meat-grilling Australia. Among wealthy countries of at least some consequence, only Canada comes close. We emit five times the carbon dioxide per capita of China.

So perhaps we generate a lot of national income per ton of carbon dioxide? Er, no. Again, virtually all of the economically productive countries in the world other than the oil and gas exporters produce less carbon dioxide per unit of GDP than the United States. (By this measure, China is horrendously inefficient, but there is probably some truth to the argument that rich countries have been indirectly "dumping" CO2 emissions on China by shifting their least efficient manufacturing there.)

When Randall Hoven argues that "[w]orld and U.S. opinion seems to revolve around who signed Kyoto rather than actual carbon dioxide emissions," he is ignoring the unavoidable and widely understood fact that the United States, on a per capita and per unit of GDP basis, ranks near the bottom of countries that matter.

The United States has, indeed, gotten some quick greenhouse gas reductions without new regulation. But why? Because we are extraordinarily profligate in this regard compared to our counterparts, so it is still very easy for us to make marginal reductions. If you are immensely fat, it is easier to lose ten pounds or 3% of your body weight than it is if you are already lean and fit. If you are obese you can cut your donut consumption in half and walk around the block every day and lose a few quick pounds. But you're still immensely fat. Similarly, Americans have an extremely high rate of return on conservation, so small changes in behavior can generate superficially big gains. I suspect that virtually all of improvement trumpeted in the linked articles is the result of higher oil prices -- people are doing some easy things to reduce consumption -- and, perhaps, some old-fashioned consciousness raising. But we are still immensely fat.

Regular readers know that when it comes to climate change I am a "consequences skeptic," meaning that I believe that human activity is affecting the global climate but I do not believe that the world faces impending doom or that all the consequences of climate change will be bad. Yes, it may suck if you live in the Maldives, but Americans may come out ahead, which is perhaps reason enough for we patriots to oppose Kyoto-style regulation. Let us not, however, deceive ourselves that the hidden hand of laissez-faire is a superior means for massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It is not. We would have to destroy trillions in economic wealth to get as "efficient" as, say, France in the time period demanded by the activists.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Obvious headline of the month 


There's still time, but this has to be a contender for "obvious headline of the month":


mixedblessing


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Last minute shopping? 


Yes, I am running a bit behind schedule this year, even by my pathetic Christmas shopping standards. Note, however, that the general electronics search on Amazon is a great place to start. If you move fast you can still get it there by Monday!


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Journalists and battlefield ethics 


Readers of righty blogs are familiar with the case of Bilal Hussein, the Associated Press photographer who has been held by American forces in Iraq for 20 months on suspicion of terrorism. Hussein's case has become something of a cause among journalists, who regard his detention without charges and legal representation to be an attack on, or at least an affront to, the press. Well, Hussein has now been charged (NY Times story), and the accusations are ugly (bold emphasis added):

A spokesman for the military said that Mr. Hussein had been detained as “an imperative security threat” and that he has persistently been “treated fairly, humanely and in accordance with all applicable law.”

In a lengthy e-mail message, the spokesman said that Mr. Hussein had been named by “sources” as having “possessed foreknowledge of an improvised explosive device (I.E.D.) attack” on American and Iraqi forces, “that he was standing next to the I.E.D. triggerman at the time of the attempted attack, and that he conspired with the I.E.D. triggerman to synchronize his photograph with the explosion.

The e-mail message did not say whether the photograph in question is the one that Mr. Hussein took in Falluja on Nov. 8, 2004, of Iraqi insurgents firing a mortar and small arms, which was among the 20 from The Associated Press that collectively won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography.

The military spokesman said further: “The Associated Press was informed that the sources had reported Mr. Hussein’s knowing and willing offer to provide a false Iraqi national identification card to an alleged sniper, whom Mr. Hussein knew was wanted” by the military, “in order to assist the sniper in eluding capture.”

As far as I'm concerned, if these accusations are true there is no hole deep enough for this guy. Still, many journalists would disagree even so. It is difficult to distinguish Bilal Hussein's alleged behavior -- at least in the I.E.D. encounter -- from the "ambush" hypothetical put to Mike Wallace 20 years ago, in which Wallace asserted that he would not warn American soldiers walking into an ambush because it would compromise his professional "higher duty" to observe rather than participate.

It must be convenient to have ethical rules that are so perfectly aligned with the advancement of one's career.

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Gui-Tiger picture of the day 



More cool guitar pictures here.


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Iraq: The mainstream media and Pentagon in-fighting 


In January, USA Today characterized the new strategy in Iraq -- the so-called "surge" -- as "the political and military equivalent of a 'Hail Mary' pass" (in an editorial that basically waffled between the respective positions of the administration and the Democratic leadership). Today, USA Today is running a front-page story that attacks the administration for having "snubbed" apparently obvious advice that it adopt counterinsurgency tactics for three years before promoting General Petraeus at the end of 2006.

[T]he counterinsurgency blueprint that the Pentagon now hails as a success were pitched repeatedly in memos and presentations during the following two years, at meetings that included then-Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

The core of the strategy: Clear insurgents from key areas and provide security to win over Iraqis, who would respond by helping U.S. forces break IED networks and defeat the insurgency.

Bush administration officials, however, remained wedded to the idea that training the Iraqi army and leaving the country would suffice. Officials, including Cheney, insisted the insurgency was dying.

Commentary

Never mind that USA Today's cover story is barely news at all -- civilian experts were arguing out in public back in 2004 and 2005 that we needed to adopt traditional counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq. See, for example, Kenneth Pollack's public testimony before the United States Senate in July 2005. Thomas Ricks' book Fiasco, published in July 2006 and reflecting numerous articles he had written in the Washington Post, devotes endless pages to the general point that our various divisional commanders in Iraq each pursued different tactics against the insurgency without any theaterwide strategy or even governing philosophy. The fact that USA Today uncovered a few civilian consultants who say they "advised" the military to change its approach two or three years ago is barely news, much less worthy of the front page.

Now, it is tempting to attack USA Today for gratuitous bashing of the Bush administration, but they are not doing it without help. We speculate that the changing tone of the press -- from "the surge won't work" to "the surge was obviously necessary all along but ignorant and perfidious Cheneycons blocked it" -- is the product of bureaucratic warfare within the Pentagon. As Ricks makes clear in his book and even USA Today admits, some generals were pursuing counterinsurgency tactics from the get-go, including particularly David Petraeus during his command of the 82nd 101st Airborne. USA Today this morning, echoing Thomas Ricks almost two years ago:
For years, Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials resisted just such an approach. Although generals such as Petraeus put their theories into action on a small scale in Iraq as early as 2003, the military still lacked a detailed, nationwide plan for battling the insurgency.

In fact, if Fiasco is revealed in the fullness of time to have been a respectable first draft of history, there was no unified strategy in Iraq because Ricardo Sanchez did not impose one during 2003-2004, the first of at least two "wasted years" during the war. That divisional generals such as Petraeus and Ray Odierno were making it up as they went along with varying success is virtual proof that neither SecDef Rumsfeld nor the White House was micromanaging the occupation. Far from it. They allowed politics within the Pentagon to prevent the emergence of a sound strategy for contending with the insurgency. Iraq has made a lot of people in the Pentagon look stupid; in today's accusatory climate, the last thing such people need is for Petraeus to succeed in 2007-2008 with tactics that he was experimenting with in plain sight back in 2003-2004. They tried to stop Petraeus in January by telling reporters that the surge would never work, and now that it appears to be they are claiming that they would have done the same thing but Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby prevented them. Yes, the Bush White House and Donald Rumsfeld screwed up, but the error was in not requiring that the Pentagon serve up some coherent theaterwide strategy. Instead, they let the military drift along until the failure became obvious even to the top brass.

On the other hand, the usual fools are not even smart enough to change their story.

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