Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A hanging in Singapore 

(via Blackberry)

I write this on the flight from Melbourne to Adelaide, having just digested
my daily dose of Aussie news. The papers here are obsessed with the looming
execution of Australian national Nguyen Tuong Van. The government of
Singapore is going to hang him tomorrow for having brought a large amount of
heroin into that sparkling, efficient, fascist city.

Australia, tough as it is, has abolished the death penalty. The letters to
the editor reflect a national revulsion at the very idea of retributive
executions. Capital punishment has none of the populist appeal here that
characterizes American attitudes.

I wonder, though, whether Americans would react to this event much
differently than Australians have. Singapore, a close neighbor of
Australia, is going to *hang* an Australian citizen for carrying drugs in
transit through that country. The Singaporeans have applied their law to
Nguyen without compromise, even denying requests that their death row
facility waive its "no contact" rule so that Nguyen's mother can give him a
final hug. This last bit has prompted a specific protest from Australia's
foreign minister Alexander Downer, who says that he is "having nightmares"
over the Nguyen case.

Then there is the controversy over Singapore's 74 year-old hangman, Darshan
Singh. He has said that he has been sacked, and has used the Nguyen case to
observe that you don't want some inexperienced hangman measuring the rope,
else Nguyen might "flop around." He is, in effect, arguing that such a high
profile case requires Singapore's top talent, and that he should therefore
be rehired.

Wierdly, the government of Singapore denies that Singh was fired at all.
Still, one of the points of press interest is the suspense over who will do
the deed, a subject that the American media never discusses.

Not surprisingly, Singapore doesn't just sling a rope over a tree and kick
the stool over. There is apparently some art to calculating the precise
length of rope needed to break the prisoner's neck when the trapdoor opens.
This requires weighing Nguyen on the eve of execution - apparently Singh is
too proud just to eyeball the guy and estimate. No, there is a whole
formula involved. If you have ever been to Singapore, you would be
surprised if there weren't.

So, how would Americans react if, say, the Mexicans proposed to hang an
American caught with some cocaine while changing planes in Mexico City?
With outrage, I would guess, notwithstanding the popularity of capital
punishment in the U.S. Remember a few years ago when the American press
went crazy when Singapore merely caned that American kid who vandalized
somebody's car? I daresay we would react much as Australia has to the
Nguyen execution.

Now for the inflammatory part: There is something to admire in Singapore's
application of the death penalty. They execute their criminals openly and
notoriously, figuring that the medium is the message. We hide our
executions from public view, sanitize them for peace of mind, and guard the
identities of the executioners because, perhaps, they are not so openly
proud of their function as Singapore's Mr. Singh. Singapore's system
achieve's two objectives at once: it maximizes the deterrant effect of the
execution and it forces the government to take a moral position in its
defense. Our hidden executions do neither.

Yes, I support the death penalty in at least three situations: kidnapping,
the killing of law enforcement officers and prison guards, and terrorism.
The first two are to leave ruthless people (kidnappers and people in a
position to kill a cop or prison guard) with something further to lose. The
second is because I believe that terrorism is war or insurrection. But I
would televise our executions, and I would require them to be every bit as
brutal as Singapore. If we are to sanction the taking of life in
retribution, we as citizens should have the moral fortitude to live with the
unvarnished consequences of our political opinions.

(15) Comments

Quick Hits 

Why bother fisking Richard Cohen when others do it so much better?

Rep. Norm Dicks, Man of the People, too!

It takes a big man to admit he made a mistake. It takes an even bigger man to admit he was fooled by a retarded chimp. Washington State Representative Norm Dicks is such a man. Like Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Jack Murka before him, Dicks has joined a growing list of Democrats who despite being intellectually superior to Republicans, have suddenly realized they were misled by a man who can’t even eat a pretzel without seriously injuring himself...

Now, as Bush’s poll numbers are plummeting and Americans are increasingly turning against the occupation, Dicks thrusts himself into the media spotlight with his call for a premature withdrawal from Iraq - save for a small handful of “advisors” who will remain behind to insure a Mogadishu-style outcome politically beneficial to all parties involved. In a darker, less enlightened era, Dicks’ sudden reversal would have been called “flip-flopping” or “limp-wristed waffling”. But today, we know it as something else: Courage.

Via No Government Cheese, Jacques Derrida would be proud. According to the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, the Establishment Clause prohibits resident assistants (RAs) from leading Bible studies in their own dormitories. Seems if other students see them reading the Bible, they might conclude they're not "approachable".

Interesting NPR audio: Rep. Mike Sodrel (R-IN) and Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA) discuss what their constituents are saying about the situation in Iraq during the congressional recess.

The fascinating thing about this is how balanced and objective both young Representatives were - there was none of the overheated partisan rhetoric we've been hearing of late. And both have been to Iraq - the Democratic Representative has been six times. It's quite noteworthy that he is much more positive about our chances of success than many of his brethren. Give it a listen - well worth the time.

Two women elected to office in Saudi Arabia. Money quote:

With only 100 women among the some 3,880 chamber members who cast ballots, the pair's victory was effectively handed by men.

"We should give them (women) a chance because they have little representation in society," one male voter said Tuesday, adding he had voted for four women.

Truly, a fire has been lit in the hearts of men.

Good nightshirt.

People with good memories are actually just better at screening out things that don't matter - in other words, at strategically forgetting or ignoring irrelevant information:

"Until now, it's been assumed that people with high capacity visual working memory had greater storage but actually, it's about the bouncer – a neural mechanism that controls what information gets into awareness," Vogel said.

Working with two of his graduate students, Andrew McCollough and Maro Machizawa, Vogel recorded brain activity as people performed computer tasks asking them to remember arrays of colored squares or rectangles. In one experiment, researchers told subjects to hold in mind two red rectangles and ignore two blue ones. Without exception, high-capacity individuals excelled at dismissing blue, but low-capacity individuals held all of the rectangles in mind.

Say it loud... he's black and he's proud.

A man's a man for a' that.

And last but by no means least, Darleen Click is hosting this week's Cotillion - check it out to see what some of the conservababes of the blogosphere are saying. A few highlights:

- Bad Blog Awards - dish the dirt. Heh.
- Gender differences and money management
- Our own Jane Novak has once again infuriated the Yemeni government, who call her "a conspirator, Zionist, traitor, unemployed and the owner of a bad website and lying sources".

And she is *not* unemployed, either. May her Stomach Roast in Hell for all eternity.

(0) Comments

The Meaning of Conservatism 

This will either intrigue some TigerHawk readers or bore them to tears - I have no idea. I'd like to draw your attention to a site I rather enjoy: Right Reason. While I was still blogging I had no time to wade in with any regularity, but if you're looking for something a little more thought-provoking than the odd equine gaydar post or MoDope's scintillating speculations on why men are so intimidated by her towering intellect, Right Reason is a good place to start.

This week they are discussing the nature of conservatism. Roger Scruton has an interesting comment on the perils of overextending the free market model. This is my primary objection to Libertarianism, though I often test mildly Livid Terrier on online tests (to my eternal shame):

The free-market ideologues take one instance of spontaneous order, and erect it into a prescription for all the others. They ask us to believe that the free exchange of commodities is the model for all social interaction. But many of our most important forms of life involve withdrawing what we value from the market: sexual morality is an obvious instance, city planning another. (America has failed abysmally in both those respects, of course.)

Looked at from the anthropological point of view religion can be seen as an elaborate (and spontaneous) way in which communities remove what is most precious to them (i.e. all that concerns the creation and reproduction of community) from the erosion of the market. A cultural conservative, such as I am, supports that enterprise. I would put the point in terms that echo Burke and Chesterton: the free market provides the optimal solution to the competition among the living for scarce resources; but when applied to the goods in which the dead and the unborn have an interest (sex, for instance) it wastes what must be saved.

Chew on that for a while.

Scruton offers an intesting insight that seems to distinguish the difference the view most military people have of life from that of so many civilians, who see in the notion of duty or honor only a sort of hypnotized, 'support the dupes' mentality:

To describe an obligation as transcendent in my sense is not to endow it with some kind of oppressive force. On the contrary, it is to recognize the spontaneous disposition of people to acknowledge obligations that they never contracted. There are other words that might be used in this context: gratitude, piety, obedience -- all of them virtues, and all of them naturally offered to the thing we love.

What I try to make clear in my writings is that, while the left-liberal view of politics is founded in antagonism towards existing things and resentment at power in the hands of others, conservatism is founded in the love of existing things, imperfections included, and a willing acceptance of authority, provided it is not blatantly illegitimate. Hence there is nothing oppressive in the conservative attitude to authority.

It is part of the blindness of the left-wing worldview that it cannot perceive authority but only power. People who think of conservatism as oppressive and dictatorial have some deviant example in mind, such as fascism, or Tsarist autocracy. I would offer in the place of such examples the ordinary life of European and American communities as described by 19th century novelists. In those communities all kinds of people had authority -- teachers, pastors, judges, heads of local societies, and so on. But only some of them had power, and almost none of them were either able or willing to oppress their fellows.

I confess that I see much of modern American culture as reflexively anti-authoritarian. As a nation, we seem increasingly inclined to take the easy way out: self-righteously rejecting the notion of any limits on our actions or words (even self-imposed ones) as opposed to being thoughtfully independent or taking a principled stand against things which legitimately ought to be opposed. I truly believe this tendency explains the distressing and irresponsible behavior of our leaders on Capitol Hill.

How can we expect responsibility, much less accountability, from those who disrespect authority and acknowledge no duty to anything higher than their own selves?

(8) Comments

Talking with Iran 

Too. Tired. To blog.

But I will offer up somebody else's thinking in lieu of my own. Yesterday's letter from Stratfor argued that the United States and Iran are about to resume speaking to each other in public, and that both countries have been signalling that it is time to move from non-verbal to verbal negotiation. Fair use excerpt:
A Nov. 29 editorial in the Iran News, the leading Iranian English-language daily, called on Tehran to respond positively to Washington's offer to hold public and direct bilateral negotiations regarding Iraqi security. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad first made the offer public.

The Bush administration's offer and the Iran Daily editorial indicate that both sides are eager to publicize back-channel talks that have taken place between the parties since before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Together, these developments confirm what we have long said: Public rhetoric notwithstanding, the Bush administration and the clerical regime have engaged in secret talks over Iraq and the Iranian nuclear issue. Each side's cautious tone also constitutes an acknowledgement of how publicizing their secret meetings presents challenges on their respective home fronts, and of how the public acknowledgement could give the other side an unexpected advantage.

Both sides' fears aside, this announced-before-the-fact public meeting could represent a major milestone -- one that could gradually move the two countries toward re-establishing some semblance of bilateral ties.

In mid-2003, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage disclosed having met with former Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi earlier that year. That admission, however, came after the fact, whereas Khalilzad's remarks show Washington giving the world advance notice. The move resembles the Bush administration's offer in the aftermath of the late-2003 devastating earthquake that hit Bam, Iran, to send a high-powered delegation to Iran led by a senior member of the Bush family and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole. Iran rejected that offer.

It appears that Tehran will likely not turn down the opportunity this time around, even though a rift is emerging within the ruling conservative camp between pragmatic conservatives and ultraconservatives over how to achieve Iran's strategic objectives. The two rival factions agree that achieving Iranian national interests necessitates an interface with the United States. But the debate in Iran continues, which explains why the Iran Daily editorial tried to placate the fears of the unelected clerics in the ultraconservative camp, who fear losing their grip on power if U.S.-Iranian relations become too warm.

This would also explain the paper's quotation of Mohammad Javad Larijani, director of international affairs at Iran's judiciary, who reportedly said, "In politics, we should work with our enemies 80 percent of the time and only 20 percent of the time with our friends."

Recently, both senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials and the U.S. State Department have not only acknowledged behind-the-scenes contacts, they have called for the groundwork to be laid in which both sides could enhance their ties. Further indicators of Washington's desire to engage Tehran include the recent U.S. acceptance that Iran can produce uranium hexafluoride (one step short of enrichment), and hints that circumstances might exist under which Iran could enrich uranium, so long as it could be objectively ensured that Tehran would not divert nuclear resources toward military use.

Here's a news article from Dawn, the Pakistani English-language paper, discussing White House authorization, ex ante, for Khalilzad to meet with the Iranians. More from The Indian Express here.

It is 10 pm here in Melbourne, and I have to get up at 5 to get on a flight to Adelaide, so I am not going to take the time to think this through. But that doesn't mean that we can't put the massive distributive intelligence of the blogosphere to work on this problem in the meantime. What do you think of Stratfor's analysis? Speak your mind in the comments, and I'll follow up with more developed thoughts later in the week.

(6) Comments

MoveOn.org blows it big time 


(1) Comments

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Real Estate 

The press and financial wise people are increasingly beating the drumbeat of a real estate bubble. I, for one, am doubtful that we have a generalized bubble in the asset class as we did in say, internet stocks, telecom stocks or, once upon a time, tulips. This is not to say that, like in anything else, people aren't making some poor real estate investments today, or that there couldn't be a setback in the market. But let me give offer some observations, and see what people think.

1) As opposed to some of the other assets which have become subject to bubbles, real estate often comprises the vast majority of a normal person's wealth; the income used to support carrying that asset often comprises a sizeable fraction of a person's income. The underwriting standards, therefore, that individuals apply to their investment decision tend to be high, as do that of banks. Much higher than the standards which many use to buy a stock, usually a far smaller portion of one's wealth; and certainly higher than margin loan underwriting standards.

Thus, the likelihood that the majority of Americans, and their lenders, are committing a substantial majority of their wealth and income to an irrationally priced asset class as a general matter seems to me unlikely. Most people do consider rental alternatives as a benchmark against which to weigh their real estate purchase. People do make rational decisions with their money and with their decisions to live someplace.

2) It is not uncommon for the New York real estate market, to use one example, to be thought of as an irrationally exuberant market. Prices seem exhorbitant. Competition can seem crazed for apartments. Even high earners seem to be priced out of the most attractive locations.

Yet, if you measure New York real estate by global standards, it is not insane. In fact, it is cheaper than comparable global cities, such as London, Paris, Milan, Tokyo and Hong Kong, to name a few. In addition, the New York real estate market tends to be moved by income...and New Yorker's income is increasing markedly, not decreasing.

And keep in mind that NY not long ago was subject to a violent attack which killed 2,000 of its inhabitants and made living downtown, well, not so great. That, coupled with a recession, was as good a test as I can imagine short of a dirty bomb of the resiliency of a market. It has sprung back to life extraordinarily.

3) Interest rate increases. Another excellent test of real estate financing markets has been the last 12 Fed meetings, which have resulted in an increase in the Fed Funds rate to 4%. The simple prediction is that an increase in mortgage rates should reduce the affordability of real estate unless prices adjust down. In some measure, again, this has occurred, but not dramatically so.

Again, absent a movement in rates to historically high levels from historically low levels (which would cause lots of other problems), I don't think rate increases will move the needle here.

So I think the general market is probably okay. Marginal locations are probably overpriced and will surprise people to the downside in a correction, but good locations wil hold value (a time tested cliche, of course).

Here is where the whole sector could get bombed, and if it happens, look out below. If the Congress messes around with the mortgage interest deduction, you will have a massive, generalized bear market in real estate, bubble or no bubble, good location and bad. If you are long real estate, write your congressperson...this is the financial nuclear weapon which would detonate on all real estate and really hurt us folks....

(2) Comments

Welcome aboard 

Observent readers will notice that we have a guest-blogger on board. A few more posts like those and the Great Unwashed will be begging for me to extend my trip!

Thanks to everybody for keeping this thing going while I'm in lands far away.

(0) Comments

Equine Gaydar Alert 

Since TigerHawk was kind enough to invite me to guest-blog, I thought it as well to set out some goals for my brief sojourn here.

Traffic seems to be a big concern for most male bloggers, so I'd like to begin by doing my part to boost his presence on the search engines... and what better way to do that than by making TigerHawk your one-stop-shopping destination for Gay Horse updates?

In case you haven't been following this breaking news story, let me fill you in:

Sam Brown, who graduated last summer, was arrested in May this year after a drunken conversation with a pair of mounted policemen on Cornmarket Street... Brown had just left the Cellar Bar when he allegedly called out to the policemen,

“Mate, you know your horse is gay, I hope you don’t have a problem with that.”

Warned by one officer not to repeat his comment, Brown reassured him that he was not insulting both horses, and said: “No, don’t worry. Your horse is fine, it’s his horse, his horse is gay.” He then proceeded to follow the policemen down the street, repeating his comments.

“Sam was adamant his equine gaydar was accurate,” eyewitness Daniel Cooper told The Oxford Student at the time. However, the officers considered the comments to be a breach of the Public Order Act, and took him into custody, calling on two squad cars and six policemen to make the arrest.

Among those present was ex-Balliol LGB (Lesbian-Gay-Bigender) Officer, Matthew Williams. “Aside from the hilariousness of the event there’s a serious question here,” he commented at the time.

“Isn’t it offensive to assume categorically the word ‘gay’ is insulting? I kept drunkenly shouting at the police that I was offended that they assumed ‘gay’ was being used as an insult.” Brown was released the following morning and issued with an £80 fine for, “causing harassment, alarm or distress.”

Matthew has a point.

As my oldest son is an officer of the law, I am all in favor of promoting a Sensitive, New Age Constabulary but this seems a bit much. To all accounts, the Officer's mount shows no signs of spouting overlong passages from Leaves of Grass or inciting his fellow equines to rousing choruses of Mame during working hours. That being the case, I think enlightened persuns need not concern themselves with what goes on behind paddock doors. Mark Steyn comments:

A spokesperson for Thames Valley Police told the student newspaper Cherwell that the "homophobic comments" were "not only offensive to the policeman and his horse, but any members of the general public in the area."

"Offensive to his horse"? Well, you never know. If any constabulary is keeping a full-time equine psychologist on staff, it's bound to be Thames Valley. Even now, the horse may be on one month's stress leave at home on full pay, with his feet up listening to Judy Garland on his iPod. Whoops, sorry. We don't know whether the horse in question is, in fact, gay. It may be just the way he trots. Whoops, there goes another 80 quid. What I'm getting at is that, even under a generous interpretation of "homophobia", it's hard to see why simply identifying the horse as gay should be a criminal offence.

Mr Brown didn't say: "Tell your gay horse to stop coming on to me" or "I couldn't get near Royal Ascot last year because those gay horses were queening around and backing up traffic." Few of us would appreciate inappropriate speculation about the sexuality of our mounts, yet even in Thames Valley the offence of hippophobia is surely a stretch.

Caligula made his horse a consul but only Thames Valley has made its horses' sexuality a hate crime.

(1) Comments

Fisking Turner 

Ted Turner, revealing his worldliness once again, gave a recent foreign policy speech at Kansas State University, summarized here at AccessNorthGa.com (via Drudge). My comments (difficult to type while shaking with rage) are in italics.

Media mogul Ted Turner said Monday that Iraq is "no better off" following the U.S.-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Exactly which part of Iraq is "no better off?" The persecuted Shia and Kurds? The Marsh Arabs? Aspiring journalists? Farmers? Business people? Oh, he must be referring to the fascist Sunni elements who used to run the country under Saddam. You know, the ones blowing others up.

Delivering the 141st Landon Lecture at Kansas State University, Turner said the world is at a "critical juncture" and compared the situation to that of a baseball team down two runs in the seventh inning.

Hmm. Would that be the Cubs or the Yankees? Who are we playing? Do they have a closer? Come on Ted, we want to know where you are going with this.

The philanthropist and founder of Atlanta-based CNN gave the lecture to a less-than-full auditorium. Earlier this fall, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev delivered a similar message of peace to a packed room as he marked 20 years of the reforms he championed.

I think 'message of capitulation' would be a bit more accurate.

Turner said the situation in Iraq is serious but not hopeless. He raised concerns about global overpopulation, poverty and hunger.

Aha, now I get it. Turner regrets that Saddam is no longer working on his many strategies to solve the regional overpopulation problem.

He also called for nuclear disarmament.

Wasn't this debate settled twenty years ago? Ok Ted, why don't you and Jimmy Carter have another talk with the North Koreans. Let us know how it comes out.

He said the U.S. and Russia still have thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at each other on a "hair trigger." He said if he were in charge _ making it clear he wasn't and never would be _ "we'd be rid of them."

And thereby removing an effective deterrent to any other country with nuclear weapons and a grudge. Nice work, Ted.

He warned that a nuclear war could "kill everything on the planet" and said it could take place in an afternoon. Turner said he was afraid someone in power could make the mistake to launch a nuclear war, including President Bush, based on his previous decisions.

That's right, the danger here is Bush, as usual. Not the oppressed North Korea, Pakistan, or Iran. Who exactly, by the way, does he think Bush is going to nuke?

"You have to question ... the president on a lot of decisions he's made," Turner said. "He might just think launching those weapons would be a good thing to do. ... He thought Iraq was."

Liberating Iraq, launching a nuclear strike, c'est la meme chose!

Turner said war is an outdated form of diplomacy that has stopped working.

Uh, it would have been nice if there was a consensus on this point on, say, September 10, 2001. I'm looking forward to the new, updated forms of diplomacy that work. Like Jimmy Carter's North Korean deal, right?

"You would think that we would have learned that in Vietnam," he said.

You would think we would have learned from Vietnam not to undermine our own efforts with defeatist, utopian drivel.

Turner also said the authority of superpowers of tomorrow will be derived from education, health care, and science and technology. He encouraged the United States to focus it energies on those areas.

That's probably true. The Islamofascists would never have attacked us if Hillary's plan for universal health care had gone through. And of course stem cell research is well known as a great pacifier of nations.

"That's what's going to be on top in the future," he said.

Things are becoming increasingly globalized, he said, and if humanity is going to survive, its members are going to have to work together.

Work together at what, exactly? Organic farming, maybe. (I think this address would be more productive if delivered in Tehran, or perhaps a cave in Pakistan.)

"We are going to survive together, or we are going to perish together," he said.

Whatever, Ted.

(3) Comments

Analogies - How about Korea? 

The Vietnam comparisons to Iraq are really quite foolish...Vietnam bears no resemblance to Iraq. We have fought a different enemy (fascism not communism; small not large; ill supplied not well supplied, and so forth) and clearly and decisively vanquished him (in a few weeks) at minimal loss of life. The tyrant is on trial. We are in the midst of helping to midwife a democratic nation in the heart of Arabia. Remarkable. Extraordinary. The networks and papers don't see it, but the history books will. In Vietnam, we were never successful in giving birth to a free, democratic South Vietnam for a number of reasons. We abandoned the Vietnamese, and millions lost their freedom and their lives.

An imperfect, but perhaps more appropriate, post WWII analogy might be South Korea. At great peril and loss of life (60,000 Americans), we helped to secure a free and democratic South Korea as a bulwark to Communist expansion in Asia. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan form an Asian "arc" of freedom, democracy and prosperity that arguably has played an important role in moderating the worst tendencies of Chinese communism to the benefit of its people. And we did this in 1950 - just in the wake of an exhausting WWII -- in a faraway place, without immediate, tangible benefits. Few would today argue it was a mistake, though it was politically controversial, marred with disastrous setbacks along the way and (again arguably) may have contributed to significant electoral realignment. Generals as heroically recalled as MacArthur lost their jobs over Korea. As a moral matter, think about the disastrous plight of the North Korean people in comparison to the South Koreans or Japanese people. Amazing how the passage of time, and success, illluminates.

Some might argue that the loss of those 60,000 Americans wasn't worth it. How can you measure what might otherwise have been? Pat Buchanan argues today we shouldn't have fought the Nazis. Ridiculous. So too would I argue the point on Korea. Those 60,000 Americans gave their lives for American freedom as well as South Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese freedom. If you don't stem the growth of totalitarian societies by fighting for freedom, you eventually lose many more lives -- and quite possibly your own, and your family's freedom.

(1) Comments

KerryWatch: MisconScrewed Again 

Poor John Kerry. The press-shy Junior Senator from Massachusetts who keeps his finger on the pulse of fresh-def urban culture would like nothing better than to forget the bitter partisan wounds of last year's election season. If only the media would quit dragging him into the limelight so he could quietly represent the needs of his Massachusetts constituents from the sidelines:

Asked what hurt him the most during the campaign, Kerry mused about how ''all of us are flawed as human beings" and ''I think I have a strong record" before raising his voice and declaring: ''One thing I know is that I didn't flip-flop on anything."

We sympathize, Senator. The lies of those partisan hacks at Faux News find their way into so many dialogues these days.

But when the call comes, the upright man rushes to answer. And so it appears Senator Kerry (D., Vietnam) is once more positioning himself to bring the Strong Strength of StrongnessTM back to a nation adrift. As I reported on another forum last week, after announcing that he still has his eye on the Presidency in 2008 (sacre bleu! who knew?) Mr. Kerry let fall another media bombshell:

The windsurfing Senator from Massachusetts also announced that if he had it to do over again, he would vote differently on the authorization to use force in Iraq:

During the interview, Kerry also said his vote authorizing President Bush to use military force was a mistake. He says he'd change his vote knowing what he does today.

We officially pronounce ourselves shocked at this totally unforseen turn of events. If stalwart men like Senator Kerry go wobbly in the GWOT, then all is lost.

Some might be tempted to see this pronouncement as... qu'est ce que c'est? une flippe-floppe? But more enlightened observers think of it as a nuanced clarification of the Senator's earlier position:

Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said on Monday he would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing force against Iraq even if he had known then no weapons of mass destruction would be found.

Taking up a challenge from President Bush, whom he will face in the Nov. 2 election, the Massachusetts senator said: "I'll answer it directly. Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it is the right authority for a president to have but I would have used that authority effectively."

For those readers at home who don't speak French, the use of the word effectively denotes Mr. Kerry's courageous, principled, and unwavering policy of support for forcible regime change in Iraq, even without funding and without the aid of Germany and France. Sadly, even Mr. Kerry's laudable attempts at plain speaking cannot insulate him from the baseless sneers of the snarky reich-wing punditocracy:
From the Associated Press comes evidence that John Kerry* is running for president again, reprising the strategy that worked so well in 2004:

Kerry initially voted in favor of a Republican-sponsored resolution calling on President Bush to explain his strategy for success in Iraq. Minutes later, the Democrat changed his vote.

How to explain this unprecedented volte-face from The Stalwart Senator? The linked AP article elaborated:

Kerry, last year's Democratic presidential candidate who is said to be considering another run, first voted for the GOP resolution. He then left the chamber and was seen just steps off the Senate floor talking briefly to his senior home state colleague, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Kerry walked back into the chamber and changed his vote.

We think Mr. Kerry has shrewdly adopted the brilliant new battlefield strategery lately proposed by Rep. John Murtha on the House floor. Dubbed by some the rhythm method of warfare, the new tactic is generating much excitement amongst the vast reich-wing war punditocracy, threatening to displace even the reigning solution-du-jour, trainspotting. Sadly, shallow-minded critics often misconscrew Murtha's rhythm method, erroneously labelling it "premature withdrawal" or characterizing it as "pulling out" before "accomplishing our objective". As I explain here, nothing could be farther from the truth:

Ooohhh...it's not a premature withdrawal...we're just redeploying to the rear

I suggest that Mr. Kerry, by withdrawing his prior vote, is not "cutting and running". He is just, on the advice of the Senior Senator from Massachusetts, redeploying his forces leaving him free to attack from another direction.

After all, the man of nuance always leaves his options open.

(6) Comments

The slippery slope towards theocracy 

Just another example of how the far right continues to impose its views on the rest of us.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has told federal officials that the lighted, decorated tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol -- known in recent years as the "Holiday Tree" -- should be renamed the "Capitol Christmas Tree," as it was called until the late 1990s.

Calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree has become a politically charged prospect in jurisdictions across the country -- from Boston to Sacramento and in dozens of communities in between.

The debate boiled over in Boston last week when the city's Web site referred to a giant tree erected on Boston Common as a "holiday tree."
The Nova Scotia logger who cut down the 48-foot tree for Boston also was indignant. Donnie Hatt said he would not have donated the tree if he had known of the name change.

"I'd have cut it down and put it through the chipper," Mr. Hatt told a Canadian newspaper. "If they decide it should be a holiday tree, I'll tell them to send it back. If it was a holiday tree, you might as well put it up at Easter."

Is Nova Scotia a red state?

(7) Comments

SeRx appeal: Cheerleading as career path 

The New York Times published a hilarious article yesterday about the pharmaceutical industry's recruitment of former -- and sometimes current -- cheerleaders to work as sales reps. Certain schools, including perennial cheerleading powerhouse University of Kentucky, count more than a few pom-pom alumnae in the ranks of drug industry salesforces.

The article contains some choice bits. One theory holds that the rise of cheerleader sales reps is an unintended consequence of the prosecutorial blowback against other pharmaceutical sales practices:
Some industry critics view wholesomely sexy drug representatives as a variation on the seductive inducements like dinners, golf outings and speaking fees that pharmaceutical companies have dangled to sway doctors to their brands.

But now that federal crackdowns and the industry's self-policing have curtailed those gifts, simple one-on-one human rapport, with all its potentially uncomfortable consequences, has become more important.

One-on-one human rapport? Potentially uncomfortable consequences? I didn't call it blowback for nuttin'.

There are those who claim that it isn't just that hotties move the scrips -- it is also that they are naturally good at sales:
But many cheerleaders, and their proponents, say they bring attributes besides good looks to the job - so much so that their success has led to a recruiting pipeline that fuels the country's pharmaceutical sales force. T. Lynn Williamson, Ms. Napier's cheering adviser at Kentucky, says he regularly gets calls from recruiters looking for talent, mainly from pharmaceutical companies. "They watch to see who's graduating," he said.

"They don't ask what the major is," Mr. Williamson said. Proven cheerleading skills suffice. "Exaggerated motions, exaggerated smiles, exaggerated enthusiasm - they learn those things, and they can get people to do what they want."

I daresay.

And then there is rank cheerleader-triumphalism:
"The cheerleaders now are the top people in universities; these are really capable and high-profile people," said Gregory C. Webb, who is also a principal in a company that runs cheerleading camps and employs former cheerleaders. He started Spirited Sales Leaders about 18 months ago because so many cheerleaders were going into drug sales. He said he knew several hundred former cheerleaders who had become drug representatives.

That's strange. I thought the "top people in universities" were quarterbacks.

It only really gets good, though, when the pharmaceutical companies tell you that it has nothing to do with looks:
But pharmaceutical companies deny that sex appeal has any bearing on hiring. "Obviously, people hired for the work have to be extroverts, a good conversationalist, a pleasant person to talk to; but that has nothing to do with looks, it's the personality," said Lamberto Andreotti, the president of worldwide pharmaceuticals for Bristol-Myers Squibb.

You know the world is all topsy-turvy when people claim that it's the cheerleaders who have the "good personality." What's left for the ugly people?

(1) Comments

Monday, November 28, 2005

Books: Suggestions for the "Holiday Season" 

The writers of National Review Online have posted their long list of books to give for Christmas (no PC inclusiveness at NRO -- even the Jewish contributors post to the "Christmas" list). There are some surprises in there. Among the surprises, the list does not include the two books that regular readers know particularly enthralled me this year.

The Right Nation, by Economist correspondants John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (how could those guys not be Brits?), is perhaps the best book on American politics that I have ever read. It should fascinate and infuriate both left and right. If you are interested enough in politics to read blogs, you should read The Right Nation.

In the matter of America's place in the world, the must-read book of the year is Ralph Peters' New Glory. Like The Right Nation, there is something in New Glory to challenge your thinking no matter what your political persuasion (in particularly, you will hate the book if you are a manufacturer of weapons systems, Donald Rumsfeld, an Arab autocrat or an anti-war leftist). It is a wide-ranging discussion of the world today and the world as it was (I posted an excerpt describing the battle of Vienna in 1683 here). And it is beautifully written.

(4) Comments

The Trial of Saddam Hussein 

Times have changed. Mussolini was lynched and meathooked. Hitler shot himself. Today's fascist tyrants are put on trial, on global television no less. Milosevic and now Saddam are tried for genocide in front of a global audience.

This trial has an inevitability to it which of course robs it of any suspense, really. By now the crimes are well known. Today the trial moved passed procedural wrangling into its storytelling -- in this case, about the massacre of Iraqi citizens of Dujail, punished for an assassination attempt on Saddam in 1982. While a former Baathist Intellignce Officer for Hussein testified that there may have been 12-14 people involved, a far larger number were likely arrested, perhaps tortured and executed. The trial will likely get to the bottom of this isolated case.

What will we learn from all this? Mostly about primitive sorts of justice -- like massive collective punishment. If Saddam was wronged, he punished everybody in town. No surprise there, except to hear it out loud.

We will see two things put on display which will be instructive, I think:

1) Watching an omnipotent psychopath brought low - this may shock people
2) Learning how he intends to defend his actions -- will he deny there occurrence? Will his lawyers simply challenge the legitimacy of any trial as an American occupier's creation? Will he justify his actions as calculated to defend the nation? I suspect the latter two will b e his path, but seeing how he responds will be extraordinary. Blame the outsider, always. It will put on stark display the paranoia which fuels murder and genocide.

The reporting on the Saddam Hussein trial, progress on elections and the continued passage of time will make it clearer that Iraq is well on its way. Politically, it will be dangerous to align oneself in a fashion which has the natural implication of defending Saddam's continued rule.

(1) Comments

Deer season in Buckingham 

It is deer season in Virginia (and elsewhere I suppose). I've read numerous articles about the decline in hunting across the country. If you were driving around Buckingham County this weekend there was little evidence that this pastime is in danger of fading away in Central Virginia. Every bend in the road revealed parked pickups along the edge of the woods, often accompanied by men in blaze orange holding their rifles.

I am not a hunter myself, but have granted permission to a local hunting club to hunt deer in my acreage. My grandmother started this practice in her late 80s, when she was approached by representives of the self-dubbed Bellroad Boys. She granted permission on the reasoning that developing a good relationship with the local hunters might be a good idea for an 87 year old woman living alone in the woods. It was a decision that paid her many dividends, as the Bellroad Boys made themselves available to her anytime she needed work done around the house (and kept her supplied with venison).

I remember when a large tree began leaning and threatening her barn. One quick call produced four truck loads of men wielding axes and chainsaws. One of them climbed the tree and attached a rope that allowed them the guide the tree's fall so it missed the barn by about 25 feet. Within an hour the tree had been cut up and split into firewood and the brush hauled off to the burn pile.

I maintained the arrangement after she died, partly on the same logic, but also because I was then the absentee owner of a vacant house and appreciated having the local "boys" (ranging in age from 15 to 66) keeping an eye on my place. And, frankly, I think everyone is better served if the deer herd is culled with guns rather than cars. I've never had any problems with the group, who treat the woods with respect. From time to time I am graced with small gifts, which in addition to venison have included mason jars of moonshine, occasional labor, and when my grandmother died, a poinsettia and a bag of fried chicken.

We were down at the house over the weekend. Friday night we ate venison chile which I had prepared and frozen from last year's contribution, and shortly after finishing it up we were surprised by headlights in the drive. I went out back and it was one of the Bellroad Boys with five pounds of fresh tenderloin, which I gratefully accepted.

The meat will go into the freezer for now. There is more than enough to make more chile, but we'll be working on some other recipes as well. There are many interesting recipes to be found on line, such as this one (below). Of course if anyone out there has any favorites, bring them on!

Spicy Hearty Venison Stew

1 pound venison, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1 can chicken broth
1 (28 ounce) can tomatoes, cut into chunks with liquid
1/2 large bell pepper, diced
8 medium mushrooms, cut into quarters
3 medium onions, cut into wedges
2 medium carrots, cut into bite size chunks
1 small rutabaga or parsnip, diced
1/4 teaspoon gumbo file
2 medium bay leaves
salt & pepper to taste

Brown venison in dutch oven with olive oil, Tabasco, worcestershire and garlic. When browned, add vegetable and other ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour. Serve in bowls over steamed or buttered noodles. This is an excellent pick-me-up, warming meal, for cold winter days.

(3) Comments

Colts - Steelers 

Imagine my surprise this morning when I saw a Bears post on Tigerhawk. This prompts a little commentary on the the NFL and history, as it intersected with my youth. TH and the Villain grew up in the midwest, hence their interest in Iowa collegiate football and Illinois professional football. Those teams have been there for eons and aren't going anywhere.

I was a little less fortunate. Growing up in Owings Mills, Maryland, we had the O's and the Colts. But I am a football guy, and I missed the Colts glory days. Johnny Unitas was finishing his career in a Charger uniform - ugh --by the time I was tuning in. The Colts quarterbacks in my first year of fandom were -- are you ready -- Marty Domres and Bill Troupe. That's worse than the Jets current predicament. It led to a 2 - 12 season and a significant retooling. But I loved them no matter what.

And in 1975, something remarkable happened. A pretty young Ted Marchibroda took over, and handed the QB job to Bert Jones -- an early and poor man's John Elway. He was a big boy from Louisiana who was hard to bring down and had a cannon. He in turn would hand the ball to Lydell Mitchell, Franco Harris's lesser known running mate at Penn State. And he had some targets to throw to --Rodger Carr (the father of the the current Houston Texans QB, David Carr), Glenn Doughty and Raymond Chester.

The defensive side of the ball was outstanding - with a line that was competitive with the best in football. Cook, Dutton, Ehrmann and Barnes. The backs and linebackers weren't hall of famers, but all were tough and capable - Stan White stood out at inside LB (Mike Curtis was gone by then).

As it happens, in 1975, the Colts were off to a very slow start -- but turned it all around at Soldier Field against Da Bears, no less. They went on to win 10 in a row and make the playoffs by beating the Dolphins with a Toni Linhart field goal in the fog, on the last play of the regular season. That's how I remember it anyway -- and I maybe wrong -- but I was 8 and it was unbelievably exciting.

Of course, the Colts could never muster the juice to get past the Steelers in the playoffs, and it was the Steelers who were the ones to build the incredible dynasty of the 1970s, the first 4 time Super Bowl winners. After one playoff loss to the Steelers, a small plane crashed into the upper deck at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. Had the Colts won, I am sure many people would have perished in the celebration after the game. As it happened, the Colts loss meant the stadium was empty. It was as though the Colts loss had been preordained for the good of humanity. In 1977, the Colts peaked, taking the Raiders to overtime in an epic divisional playoff game still shown on ESPN Classic. Jones missed a wide open Chester deep down the field late for what undoubtedly would have set up a Colt victory. No dice. Raiders win, Colts done. When I see this game on ESPN Classic, even now, I always hope Jones brought it down just a little and Chester can leap to make the catch. It still makes me sick to see it. The next year, Jones hurt his shoulder in preseason, and it was all downhill from there.

And in 1984, after several dismal seasons (and John Elway's rejection of Baltimore after the team selected him #1), Robert Irsay moved the Colts to Indianapolis, a midnight heist from which Baltimore didn't recover until the Browns/Ravens, themselves escapees from Cleveland, brought a Super Bowl championship back to Baltimore.

So tonight, when the undefeated Indy Colts take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, the uniforms will recall a forgotten time and mean different things to people. Most Baltimoreans detest the Colts -- though as time passed, so did Irsay, and Baltimore adopted Art Modell's Browns/Ravens. The hate exists mostly among the older crowd -- those who still remember Unitas, Berry and Moore, Ewbank and Shula. Just watch Diner if you want to understand the intensity of an older generation of Baltimorean feeling for the Colts. For the middle aged, who only had Jones and Mitchell and Ehrmann, who have seen the Browns and Raiders move and understand football is a business, maybe some of us will pull for the Colts, for the uniform. Peyton Manning is the kind of guy you root for, who's a good role model for your kids. Tony Dungy is a class coach. It's been easier to root for that uniform since Bob Irsay has been gone. Can you imagine if Elway comes to Baltimore and the team stays? And Manning is Elway's heir? That would have been something to see in Baltimore for the last 21 years.

Colts by 10. And they should win Super Bowl 40 too.

UPDATE 11/29 8am:

The Colts win handily 26 - 7. Peyton Manning's offense is inconsistent early, with a critical interception allowing Pittsburgh to stay close until late in the first half. However, Indy's defense, fortified by Bob Hitman Sanders (yes, an Iowa Hawkeye) dominates the Steelers - no running game, no passing game, no nothing. Indy commits several costly penalties, but Pittsburgh makes some very questionable decisions - 2 head scratching fourth down calls and an unsuccessful onsides kick to start the second half. The Pittsburgh coaching staff played desperately and impatiently. Indy's offensive explosiveness, as revealed on their first play from scrimmage, coupled with their capacity to grind it out with Edgerrin James, and backed up by an increasingly explosive defense, is making opposing coaches flip out.

Tough schedule ahead, but undefeated is not impossible.

A reaction to some of the comments: though from Baltimore, I moved away at 18 and so did my family. So I may have left behind some of the passionate hatred locals feel even today for these Colts. As a diaspora Baltimorean, I find that the uniform means more than geography -- with the caveat that I detested Bob Irsay and his death made it possible to have an interest in the Indy Colts. Baltimore is a football town, and I think they love their Ravens. It helped the Ravens a lot that the old Colts adopted Modell's team early...Unitas was a regular as were many others. So I would not discount Baltimore passion for the Ravens. Some of my old firends would say there is more passion for them than the O's. One commenter correctly observed that the Browns did the right thing when they moved -- leaving the colors and name for the next Cleaveland franchise. It is a shame that the grotesque Irsay didn't make a similar agreement in 1984 so Baltimore's new team could have adopted the same colors.

Nonetheless, these Colts are quite a club. Look out '72 Dolphins...

(6) Comments

Da Bears! 

My NFL team of choice seems to have quietly won seven games in a row.

(1) Comments

Minting Marines 

To commemorate the 230th anniversary of the founding of the United States Marines, the United States Mint has designed and struck a silver dollar. The design -- tracking as it does the U.S.M.C. War Memorial and the most famous combat photograph in history -- is not very original, but it will always inspire.

(3) Comments

At Narita Airport 

I arrived at Tokyo's Narita Airport just under two hours ago, facing a five-hour layover until I could board my Qantas flight to Melbourne. I was very excited to see that the Japan Air Lines club, right across from my gate to Australia, had affiliations with both Continental Airlines, my most frequently-flown airline and my airline of debarkation, and Qantas, my airline of embarkation. Naturally, I assumed my Continental President's Club membership, my in-bound Continental ticket stub, and my outbound Qantas ticket would get me through the door.

No dice. I encountered one of the many arcane barriers-to-entry for which the Japanese are famous. It seems that in order to take advantage of the Japan Air Line club at Narita, notwithstanding its advertised affiliations, one must have an affiliated club membership that matches one's airline of embarkation. My Continental membership, Continental inbound ticket, and Qantas outbound ticket got me nothing but a long stream of "so solly," and no end of pleading changed the result. So here I sit, recharging my batteries by the child play area, isolated from all that serene relaxation by the dead cold soul of Japanese bureaucracy.

(3) Comments

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Across the world 

I am about to board a flight to Australia, via Japan. Coach. That's a lot of flying. I hope I don't throw a clot.

My objective was to go visit customers and distributors in Australia and Japan. Unfortunately, a triangular ticket from the United States to Australia to Japan and back again was almost $8000, at least according to our crack travel agency. But, if I were willing to fly round-trip to Tokyo and then fly an interior round-trip from Tokyo to Melbourne the total cost would only be $1700. Our stockholders should pay great homage to me.

Point is, I'll be posting on strange topics and at strange times between now and my return on December 7 (yes, I'll be flying from Japan to the United States on the date that lives in infamy), and I won't be posting at all between now and some point early Tuesday, when I actually get to Melbourne.

Cardinalpark and the 'Villain promise to keep the fires burning in my absence.

(0) Comments

The "plan" to bomb Al-Jazeera 

The British press published a story early in the week that claimed that but for Tony Blair's intervention, George Bush would have ordered the bombing of the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera. The story was based on a memo leaked in apparent violation of Britain's Official Secrets Act. According to the tabloid Daily Mirror, which first reported the story, one government source said the alleged threat was "humorous," while another claimed that Bush was "deadly serious." The White House, of course, has refused to respond on the grounds that to do so would "dignify" an "outlandish" accusation.

Hmmm. The old "refuse to respond so as not to dignify" dodge. I'm guessing that he said it, but knowing our Dubya it was almost certainly a joke.

At least some sensible people, even in the Arab press, agree. Al-Jazz, though, is doing what any media organization would do, which is milking the story all the way to the bank (calling for an investigation, asking to meet with Blair, describing the memo as "hugely damaging to Bush"). Given all the attention and audience Al-Jazeera is undoubtedly getting from this non-story, CBS News, no doubt, wishes that Bush would joke about bombing it. Joke, of course, being the critical nuance.

The Arab world, which will believe any depredation about the United States and has for forty years, is going wild. Here, via Sabbah, is but one delightful example of cartoonish blowback:

Various Al-Jazz staff members have started an English-language blog, "Don't Bomb Us - A blog by Al-Jazeera staff members". It is pulling down lots of comments, particularly from Western moonbats. The very first comment in the current top post comes from one "Richard":
To live with conscience in America during these days .. is to know what it was to live, as an appalled citizen under the Nazis in Germany during the holocaust.

America needs a psychiatrist and group therapy and the Bush Administration must be put on trial for war crimes.

Humanity is one family with one heart.

Next thing you know, Bush will be joking about bombing "Richard."

For more reaction from the left, a Daily Kos thread is here. Enjoy.

The issue here, of course, is that Al-Jazeera claims that it has been targeted by the United States before (American bombs allegedly hit Al-Jazz facilities in Afghanistan and Baghdad during the those two invasions). Both Al-Jazz and the Bush haters claim that this new report, if true, would "cast serious doubts" on the Bush administration's claims that those previous incidents were mistakes.

The very idea is absurd. Apart from the rank stupidity of the idea -- which does not entirely dispose of the question since there is rank stupidity done in every war -- anybody who has ever watched a Hollywood movie knows that the order would not come from the President. If the United States were going to bomb Al-Jazz on purpose, you can bet that the people behind the idea wouldn't even tell the President. That's the whole point of plausible deniability.

UPDATE: Just a thought before I head to the airport: This is but another example -- this time in Blair's government rather than Bush's -- of (presumably) unelected bureaucrats deliberately sabotaging the policies of the elected government. Oh, you will cry, this is whistle-blowing! False. Nothing happened here, even if you accept the fairly implausible idea that Bush would have ordered the bombing of Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar if Blair had not talked him out of it. There was no atrocity or outrage to blow the whistle on. So what if Bush had the idea? Every executive, and I daresay every President of the United States, has ideas that make no sense every single day. On discussion, they get talked out of them. Without such brainstorming, how else could an executive function?

But oh, you will cry again, this is such an atrocious idea that it proves that Bush is the incarnation of Hitler after all! False. Al-Jazeera may or may not be a force for good in the world in a net basis, but there is no doubt that it has worked tirelessly against the American effort to bring a representative government to Iraq, and that its coverage provides prestige and sheer audience for some of the most wicked men on Earth. Sure, if Bush's comment reflected a more developed idea than simply thinking out loud it was a bad one, but that does not make Al-Jazeera any less opposed to America and, more importantly, the mission of our soldiers.

(5) Comments

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Carnival of the New Jersey Bloggers is up! 

Check out da linkage at Gigglechick. Or else.

(0) Comments

Women stand for election in Saudi Arabia 

This is news.
All eyes are on Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) today as the election to its board of directors begins with 17 women contesting alongside 54 male candidates — for the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia.

Women’s participation in the elections has grabbed attention worldwide amid reports that some female candidates might surprise everyone by winning. In an unprecedented move, Saudi authorities gave the green light last September for women to run in the chamber elections.

True, it is only a Chamber of Commerce election. But Sabbah, with whom I only occasionally see eye-to-eye, thinks something is better than nothing:
Even if all women candidates lose the election, the biggest winner will still be the principle that allowed them to contest side by side men.

Faster. Please.

(0) Comments

Eliot's blessed 

Regarding the most extra-territorial attorney general of our age, so says New York Magazine. Professor Bainbridge calls bullshit. Somebody's got to.

(0) Comments

Pitchers o' stuff 

Gigglechick ("the perfect combination of estrogen and humor"), who is the hostess with the mostess for this week's Carnival of the New Jersey Bloggers (of which I am an occasional contributor), put the word on the street. She's looking for non-political blog posts. Never one to decline a woman who pleads, I promised an all-fluff, no content post. So, with that in mind, I present herewith photographs of things that struck me as interesting, beautiful or fun in the month or so just past (run your cursor over them for the captions). And, yes, that is a slice of brain to the right. Actual. Human. Brain.

It is no secret to regular readers that the TigerHawk household is not spic n' span. What with children, dogs, domesticated rodentia, and many better things to do, we don't keep a very neat house. Still, we were at least a little disturbed to find this old Chesterfield Cigarettes package on the floor of our basement. Since it contains no Surgeon General's warning, it must be at least 40 years old, which is a long time even by the standards of our household. So it's a mystery.

For years, Princeton's cheerleaders have been progressively more attractive. I have no idea whether this is because Ivy League cheerleading was at something of a nadir twenty-five years ago, or if it is just that I think college girls look better every year (which is a pathetic but nonetheless widespread affliction of middle aged men). This year, though, Princeton's cheerleaders are looking a bit burly...

They would, however, make a great kickline for the Triangle Club show.

So there we were, visiting the TigerHawk Mom and Stepfather in the suburbs of Palmyra, Virginia. Inside their front door there is an umbrella rack with all sorts of random things sticking out, including the haft of this sword (hefted in the picture at left by the TigerHawk Son). It is all rusty and trashed, but if you carefully study the base of the blade you can see there engraved "U.S. J.H. 1862" (see below for the details). Anybody care to find out how many Union officers, serving in 1862, had the initials "J.H."?

And, since my stepfather, who practices law in a two-lawyer town, seems to have received it "in kind" from a local, one is forced to wonder whether "J.H." did not meet some ugly fate at the hands of a soldier of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Regular readers also know that I collect coins. I both buy them and hunt through my change for them. It is rare to find something of numismatic interest in one's pocket change, but an experienced collector can tell by the color or feel of a coin whether it is different enough to warrant further inspection. On occasion, I have been tempted to reach into a tip jar to take an interesting coin "in change," but the fear of getting caught in a "Costanza-like" tip-jar move was sufficient deterrence. Until last week. I spotted a silver "war nickel" in the tip jar in the Princeton Starbucks. I brazenly offered the woman behind the counter a dollar for it, and when she said yes I plucked it out of the tip jar. Right in front of the flower and chivalry of Princeton. From the looks on their faces, I have to be at least a little concerned that I'll never eat lunch in this town again.

Here's the booty:

So what's the deal with a "silver" nickel. Wickipedia:
From mid 1942 to 1945, so-called "Wartime" composition nickels were created. These coins are 56% copper, 35% silver and 9% manganese. The only other U.S. coin to use manganese is the Sacagawea dollar. These coins are usually a bit darker than regular nickels, due to their manganese content (as was true of many British coins minted from 1920 through 1947), and feature the largest mint mark ever to grace a United States coin, located above Monticello's dome on the reverse. Nickels of this series minted in Philadelphia have the unique distinction of being the only US coins minted prior to 1979 to bear a "P" mint mark.

And, last but not least, a tombstone from the TigerHawk family cemetary in Buckingham County, Virginia:

If you draw all the hideous obvious conclusions, you're probably right.

So, Gigglechick, did I fill the bill?

(2) Comments

Silent support for American policy: political reform and the fight against al Qaeda 

It is possible to be both right and unpopular at the same time. Today, the United States is both in the Arab world.

Increasingly, the Arab world is understanding that only significant political reform -- the embrace of popular, rather than divine, sovereignty -- can save it from Islamic fascism. We see this in big ways -- the bloody rise of representative government in Iraq, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and the first hints of political reform in Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and even Saudi Arabia. We also see it in small ways -- such as newspaper editorials that agree with American policy without saying as much. The Daily Star of Lebanon, for example, wrote an editorial yesterday on the importance of political reform to Jordan's fight against al Qaeda.
The unfulfilled desire for economic opportunities and political reform has long been a source of popular discontent in Jordan. But since the recent triple suicide bombings in the kingdom, the need for reform has become even more urgent. The attacks, which were the work of Jordanian-born Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, underscore the deadly ramifications of popular dissatisfaction with the regime. Zarqawi, who grew up in the poverty and squalor of the Jordanian town of Zarqa, is a text-book case of how political and economic conditions prompt masses of young men to join the ranks of Osama bin Laden and his ilk.

Emphasizing this point, a respected think tank, the International Crisis Group, warned that "the attacks should be seen as a wake-up call." It warned that the kingdom's lack of economic opportunity, centralized government, excessive control by the security and intelligence services, limits on freedom of expression, lack of an effective political arena and rampant corruption are feeding popular discontent.

Jordan has, in effect, been oppressing and impoverishing its people in the name of stability. For two generations at least, the United States has supported this trade-off in Jordan and elsewhere. This policy came to an end in 2003, when the Bush administration renounced it explicitly. In a great speech at the National Endowment for Democracy on November 6, 2003 (which every student and critic of American foreign policy must read), Bush said:
Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe -- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.

The world did not notice, even though Bush repeated himself again and again. Finally, Condoleezza Rice went to Cairo in June 2005 and rammed it down the throats of the Arab world:
For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.

(The BBC declared Rice's speech "a complete departure" for the United States, apparently having missed the previous 18 months of statements from the Bush White House. No matter. Better late than never.)

The Daily Star agrees with the policy of George Bush's United States, even if our unpopularity is such that it will not say so.

(2) Comments

Friday, November 25, 2005

The New York Times and the question of Iraq 

American Future has analyzed the shifting positions of the editors of the New York Times on the matter of Iraq and how to deal with it. The first of three promised posts covers the Clinton years. The point is less to tweak the NYT (however entertaining that might be) than it is to show the twists and turns in thinking about Iraq during a time when George W. Bush was not the president. The New York Times is as close a bell-weather for the liberal internationalist perspective as there is. One cannot understand the arguments about the purposes of today's war without understanding the arguments during the Clinton years. American Future's excellent work is a great place to start.

Via The Daily Demarche.

(1) Comments

Muzzle nuzzle 

The TigerHawk Daughter with the TigerHawk Herd on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, somewhere in the vicinity of Warrenton, Virginia.

OK, two horses is only a herd when you have to drive them down I-95 on Getaway Wednesday.

And for those of you who have always wondered what co-blogger Charlottesvillain looks like:

He's the one on the right.

(7) Comments

Peace in Palestine: Leftists unite the Arabs and Jews 

Leftist activists have managed to do what a common love of Moses, shared ancestry, the hideous waste of warfare and the endless twisting of hankies have not: unite the Arabs and Jews of Hebron.
Arab leaders in Hevron have contacted the city’s Jewish leaders for help in getting rid of self-proclaimed anarchist volunteers who, they complain, are destroying their traditional way of life.

The anarchists, many of whom are members of the International Solidarity Movement, flock to flashpoints throughout Judea and Samaria, ostensibly to help PA Arabs contend with IDF closures and protect them from harassment. In actuality, many of the volunteers seek confrontations with IDF soldiers and local Jewish residents, taking advantage of their Western passports to cause havoc – knowing that, at worst, they will be deported, not jailed.

The local Arabs in the Hevron region whom the activists claim to be helping are now complaining that the American and European students behave in a provocative and offensive manner in Hevron’s public areas. The Arabs say the activists disrespect the moral norms and standards of the local population.

Several local Arab residents told the Kol Ha’Ir newspaper that the activists have been exposing the local youths to drug use and sexual promiscuity.

Exposing local youths to drug use and sexual promiscuity? That sounds a lot like cultural imperialism to me. That being a huge no-no in lefty circles, one is almost forced to wonder whether the International Solidarity Movement folk actually read all the required lefty tracts before embarking on their mission. Did they somehow fail to study Edward Said on their way to Palestine?

Since in uniting Arabs and Jews the activist left seems able to accomplish what Rome, the Ottomon Turks, Whitehall, Henry Kissinger, Nassar, Ariel Sharon and the United Nations were not able to do (admittedly, in each case by different means), perhaps we should encourage them all to go to the West Bank.

UPDATE: Then again, perhaps Arab youths need a little more sexual release in this world, rather than the next.

CWCID: Little Green Footballs.

(0) Comments

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Give thanks... 

...that your politics don't compel you to do this.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. Thank you to my co-bloggers, Cardinalpark and Charlottesvillain, for adding a new dimension to this space, and thank you to the readers -- and especially our very smart and civil commenters -- for making blogging so much fun.

And, of course, thank you to God for permitting me to survive the towing of a trailer with two horses on the Washington Beltway during rush hour on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

(1) Comments

The rally in the stock market: It's Bush's fault 

The stock market hit a 4 1/2 year high on Friday (Pajamas Media round-up here). The fall rally reflects the muscular American economy, which managed to produce economic growth in the third quarter at almost triple the rate of the Euro zone. The comparative American strength was particularly impressive in light of the hurricanes: As I wrote a few weeks ago, not a single European city was destroyed this year (although I suppose Paris had a close call).

Today's news also forces me to remember -- against my will, to be sure -- the tradition at the New York Times of linking short term swings in the financial markets -- at least when they are negative -- to the policies of the Bush administration. On April 16, 2005, for example, the Times ran a front page story with the headline "Stocks plunge to lowest point since election," suggesting that it was the election that had something to do with the "plunge."

We eagerly await the front page story with this headline: "Stocks soar to highest point since before September 11, 2001". We're fairly sure, however, that we won't see it in the Times.

(9) Comments

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

More, Tireless Optimism 

An insightful piece from Max Boot in the LA Times today (thanks to Instapundit) worries that defeatism in the MSM and public opinion can become a self fulfilling prophecy -- as Boot suggests it did in Vietnam.

I don't see it that way. In Vietnam, you had an opposing force, well fed and supplied, with large numbers. You had a North Vietnam which eventually overwhelmed an abandoned South Vietnam. Furthermore, it wasn't MSM defeatism or anti-war opinion that got Nixon. It was corruption - a stupid, two bit political break-in - and a subsequent cover-up. It wasn't covert expansion of the war to Laos ad Cambodia, or Tet, or anything else.

I'll repeat what I've said many times. Iraq is already "won." The enemy leader and his heirs are in jail or dead. A new democratic government has been elected, a constitution voted upon and ratified and new elections are upcoming. Boots also cites data which reveals dramatic economic and military progress as well.

The American press doesn't create self fulfilling prophecies im Vietnam or Iraq. That is an immensely arrogant, even ridiculous, concept. Eason Jordon, Dan Rather, the CIA, the Russians and the French couldn't ultimately protect Saddam from his own fetid behavior meeting up with American strategic and moral interests. Iraq is well on its way to its post Saddam existence. This new Iraq may, and may not, align itself with US interests in the future. Its representative government alone will determine this. But it seems to me that there is no significant opposing force which will derail majoritarian rule in Iraq. Could it devolve into a civil war, or Iraqi dissolution? Every day that passes, this likelihood shrinks to vanishingly small, especially post constitution.

If the Murthas and the Democrats were serious about caring for our troops, rather than their obession with Bush, they would stop declaring defeat as a way to bring the troops home; they would instead declare victory as a way to bring the troops home.

(5) Comments

Michael Scott Doran at the NSC 

As we reported here back in May, Michael Scott Doran, formerly of Princeton University's Near Eastern Studies Department, has joined Stephen Hadley's team at the National Security Council. Doran is an expert on jihadi ideology, and has devoted himself to reading al Qaeda's philosophical and tactical writings. The Washington Post published an interesting profile of Doran last week which is well worth reading for anybody who wants to know how today's NSC forms its opinions about our enemy.

The WaPo article also reports that Doran is an excellent lecturer, which fact I can personally attest to. I attended a public lecture that Doran gave last spring on "Al Qaeda's grand strategy," and wrote up my notes here. My account of Doran's lecture remains the most widely read post I have ever written, and goes into much more detail than the Post's story.

Doran is probably the highest profile academic advocate for the view that al Qaeda's campaign is essentially a civil war within Islam, and that the West's involvement is something of a sideshow. Four years ago, when Doran wrote an article for Foreign Affairs that said as much, it was very controversial and quite inconsistent with the Bush administration's public pronouncements on the war on terror. Today, with al Qaeda attacking Muslim weddings in Jordan and Sunni leaders in Iraq, Doran's analysis seems spot on.

Doran has also written on the problem of Palestine, and whether a settlement with Israel would weaken al Qaeda. Since this is virtually received wisdom in Europe and American universities, his assertion that peace in Palestine would have very little impact on al Qaeda is more than a little controversial (my thoughts on that subject are here). If you have a moment over the long weekend, read the whole thing.

(1) Comments

Al Gore was for "extraordinary rendition" before he was against it 

While we're on the subject of the loyal opposition's wholesale memory failure, perhaps it is worth reviewing Al Gore's support for the practice of "extraordinary rendition" (aggressively anti-rendition Wikipedia entry here). I stumbled across this passage in Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, published last year in a fairly blatant attempt to compare the Bush administration's anti-terrorism efforts unfavorably with those of Bill Clinton:
Snatches, or more properly "extraordinary renditions," were operations to apprehend terrorists abroad, usually without the knowledge of and almost always without public acknowledgement of the host government.... The first time I proposed a snatch, in 1993, the White House Counsel, Lloyd Cutler, demanded a meeting with the President to explain how it violated international law. Clinton had seemed to be siding with Cutler until Al Gore belatedly joined the meeting, having just flown overnight from South Africa. Clinton recapped the arguments on both sides for Gore: Lloyd says this. Dick says that. Gore laughed and said, "That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass." (pp. 143-144)

This passage is especially interesting in light of Gore's more recent speechifying, in which he specifically denounced rendition. No more "go grab his ass."

Al Gore supported rendition before al Qaeda had declared war on the United States and hung its battle flag on the Khobar Towers, the USS Cole, the African embassies, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the Bali disco, the Madrid trains, and the United Nations. But after those defeats, Al Gore changed his mind. Has any reporter for any major news organization bothered to ask Gore to explain his reasoning?

(41) Comments

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Demonstration disparity 

In the midst of an already excellent column, Mark Steyn makes a useful observation about the press coverage of demonstrations in the Middle East:
True, [Abu Masab al-Zarqawi] did manage to kill a couple of dozen Muslims. But what's the strategic value of that? Presumably, it's an old-fashioned mob heavy's way of keeping the locals in line. And that worked out well, didn't it? Hundreds of thousands of Zarqawi's fellow Jordanians fill the streets to demand his death.

Did they show that on the BBC? Or are demonstrations only news when they're anti-Bush and anti-Blair? And look at it this way: if the "occupation" is so unpopular in Iraq, where are the mass demonstrations against that?
I'm not talking 200,000, or even 100 or 50,000. But, if there were just 1,500 folks shouting "Great Satan, go home!" in Baghdad or Mosul, it would be large enough for the media to do that little trick where they film the demo close up so it looks like the place is packed. Yet no such demonstrations take place.

Nobody likes to be occupied. It is a shame that the optimists in the Bush administration assumed that Iraq would be an exception. Steyn, however, puts it in helpful perspective -- the dynamic in the Middle East does appear to be changing against al Qaeda and the other fascists. The press -- especially the foreign press -- is deeply reluctant to recognize this change because of the implication that it might -- Allah forfend -- be the result of American foreign policy under the hated Bush administration. But the world is changing whether the BBC admits it or not.

(2) Comments

Optimism and Thanksgiving 

One of the (many) things which motivates my animus towards much MSM reporting about our government, our military and our country generally is its profound pessimism. As the child of immigrants, who counts his blessings for having been born in the USA and no place else, I can say I feel extraordinarily fortunate. This is an amazing country - where people with no "birthright", no connections and no money, can enjoy great success and build a future for their families not available to so many elsewhere.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday which I think captures much of that sense of optimism. It is in some ways religious, yet non sectarian. Everyone who comes here and lives here can enjoy Thanksgiving -- and it isn't plagued with the commercialism of a Christmas holiday. Thanksgiving unites, brings families and the country together. I don't think any other nation shares this kind of event (though I may be corrected on this).

Reagan was right -- it is Morning in America.

Happy Thanksgiving...

(9) Comments

Would Bill Clinton have invaded Iraq? 

In the comments to this post by our sharp-penned co-blogger Cardinalpark, one of our leftish but nevertheless polite and reasonable commenters alleged:
Of course Clinton wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Most former presidents wouldn't have (including 41).

At one level, this is an easy claim to make, at least with respect to the last several presidents: None of them did invade Iraq, even when they had the chance (as was the case with Clinton and Bush pere). However, I am not at all sure that "most presidents" would not have invaded Iraq under circumstances similar to George W. Bush. Setting aside Bush 41 and Clinton, I submit that virtually all American presidents prior to Jimmy Carter would have invaded Iraq under similar circumstances. Do we really believe that Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Jack Kennedy or Harry Truman (each the author of geopolitical belligerance far greater and more erroneous than anything considered by George W. Bush) would not have invaded Iraq under the same circumstances? What about Woodrow Wilson, who never missed an opportunity to send a gunboat to support his foreign policy? Or Theodore Roosevelt? Or William McKinley, who was more than willing to wage a limited war of less strategic moment in the Philippines? Or James Polk? Or Thomas Jefferson, who launched America's first "small war"? President-by-president, I think we could construct a pretty persuasive argument that "most former presidents" would have invaded Iraq long before 2003. Certainly most of the great ones would have.

Indeed, there are many of us who believe that, in retrospect, the right time to have invaded Iraq was 1998, when Saddam booted out the UNSCOM inspectors the second time. George H. W. Bush might very well have done so had he been in office. How else to protect the legacy of the Gulf War? Clinton had the opportunity but did not, and history may well reveal this as one of his biggest errors. I think he knows this deep down, and that is why he has been curiously understanding of President Bush's decision (with occasional pandering lapses).

Why didn't Clinton invade Iraq in 1998, substituting stand-off bombing (the true "chickenhawk" tactic, by the way)? I think that two factors effectively limited his options. First, the Starr investigation and resulting impeachment made it very difficult for Clinton to take tough action abroad without appearing to "wag the dog." It is not honest to deny that the combination of an independent prosecution and Republican political attacks operated to limit Clinton's menu of options in foreign policy. This is not to say that Clinton would have invaded Iraq if he had not been under siege at home, but Republican attacks effectively took away the option of pre-emptive military engagements. The attacks on Clinton, however invited by his own moral weakness, damaged his ability to deal with both Iraq and al Qaeda aggressively.

Second, it is no secret that Clinton had a poor relationship with the military. He attacked military culture early in his term and built his fiscal policy around massive cuts in defense spending (as a proportion of national income). He filled his administration with people who were not comfortable around soldiers. The military responded in kind. It is not at all clear that he could have gotten the support within the military to launch an invasion of Iraq in 1998. The generals probably would have leaked to death any such effort, calling down the rage of the Republican Congress, which back then stood squarely against "nation-building."

One of the more interesting passages in Richard Clarke's book, Against all Enemies, reveals the intense frustration that characterized the Clinton administration's efforts to enlist the military in the war on al Qaeda:
Snatches, or more properly "extraordinary renditions," were operations to apprehend terrorists abroad, usually without the knowledge of an almost always without public acknowledgment of the host government. One terrorist snatch had been conducted in the Reagan administration. Fawaz Yunis, who had participated in a hijacking of a Jordanian aircraft in 1985 in which three Americans were killed, was lured to a boat off the Lebanese shore and then grabbed by FBI agents and Navy SEALS. By the mid-1990s these snatches were becoming routine [Counterterrorism Security Group] activity. Sometimes FBI arrest teams, sometimes CIA personnel, had been regularly dragging terrorists back to stand trial in the United States or flying them to incarceration in other countries. All but one of the World Trade Center attacks from 1993 had been found and brought to New York. Nonetheless, the proposed snatch in Khartoum [of bin Laden associated ABu Hafs al-Muratani] went nowhere. Several meetings were held in the White House West Wing with [National Security Advisor Sandy] Berger demanding the snatch. The Joint Staff had an answer that they used whenever asked to do something that they did not want to do:

- it would take a very large force;

- the operation was risky and might fail, with U.S. forces caught and killed, embarrassing the President;

- their "professional military opinion" was not to do it;

- but, of course, they would do it if they received orders to do so in writing from the President of the United States;

- and, by the way, military lawyers said it would be a violation of international law. (pp. 143-144)

Clarke believed that this was systematic (p. 145):
Whether it was catching war criminals in Yugoslavia or terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, it was the same story. The White House wanted action. The senior military did not and made it almost impossible for the President to overcome their objections.

This is, of course, as self-serving as the rest of Clarke's book. But that doesn't make it any less true. And there are more conservative voices that substantially agree.

Clinton, in effect, faced the same sort of obstructionism from the military as Bush has faced from the State Department. Perhaps, when the history of the era is written, bureaucratic in-fighting will be seen as the real reason why Bill Clinton did not put boots on the ground when it was obviously appropriate and propitious to do so, and why George Bush did notwithstanding the footnoted objections, leaked memos and hushed subversion of Foggy Bottom.

(12) Comments

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?