Monday, April 30, 2007

Some polar ice caps are melting fast 

It seems to me that any anthropogenic theory for climate change on Earth needs to explain this:

Mars is being hit by rapid climate change and it is happening so fast that the red planet could lose its southern ice cap, writes Jonathan Leake.

Scientists from Nasa say that Mars has warmed by about 0.5C since the 1970s. This is similar to the warming experienced on Earth over approximately the same period.

Now, the linked article does offer a possible basis for distinguishing climate change on Mars from the sort I just caused on the 405:
The mechanism at work on Mars appears, however, to be different from that on Earth. One of the researchers, Lori Fenton, believes variations in radiation and temperature across the surface of the Red Planet are generating strong winds.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, she suggests that such winds can stir up giant dust storms, trapping heat and raising the planet’s temperature.

Either that, or Lori Fenton wants to make tenure.

The righty blogs are going wild on this one, but I couldn't find a single lefty blog reporting this story. Even though I'm sitting at a "beer garden" at LAX. So we will have to argue both sides. In the interests of completeness and in tribute to the intellectual honesty for which we are known far and wide, we offer this link to a 30-month old post by Steinn Sigurdson at RealClimate. It specifically -- almost tediously -- distinguishes the Martian case on any number of grounds, including other evidence that the shrinkage of the southern polar ice cap is the result of "regional" climate change rather than "global" trends. Ex ante, Sigurdson reported the impact of "giant dust storms" similarly to Lori Fenton (click through for the embedded links):
Globally, the mean temperature of the Martian atmosphere is particularly sensitive to the strength and duration of hemispheric dust storms, (see for example here and here). Large scale dust storms change the atmospheric opacity and convection; as always when comparing mean temperatures, the altitude at which the measurement is made matters, but to the extent it is sensible to speak of a mean temperature for Mars, the evidence is for significant cooling from the 1970's, when Viking made measurements, compared to current temperatures. However, this is essentially due to large scale dust storms that were common back then, compared to a lower level of storminess now. The mean temperature on Mars, averaged over the Martian year can change by many degrees from year to year, depending on how active large scale dust storms are.

See this in particular.

The "Mars" argument is really a subset of the "solar forcing" theory of climate change, which, I understand, the preponderance of climate scientists reject for reasons that certain appear to be very analytical. Not that I would know analytical climate science if it smacked me over the head.

CWCID: Instapundit.

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My whereabouts 

I have a long day in front of me.

I got up at 4 to catch a 4:30 car to Newark airport. I depart Newark before 7 for a flight to Los Angeles, drive an hour, have a meeting, return to LAX and fly to San Francisco. If all goes well, I will next hit the hay at 11 pm, San Francisco time.

Keep the home fires burning.

In the meantime, if you are, like me, a fan of comic books in general and Frank Miller specifically, catch up on his latest venture here. He plans for the Dark Knight to whale on the jihadis, but certain major media execs are putting on the brakes because they're worried about blowback.

Idiots. Frank Miller's never done anything that was less than amazing.

UPDATE: The flight to LA, unfortunately, is frackin' packed. I am situated in seat 21D, desperately hoping that the people who land in 20D and 21E don't need a lot of legroom and belly room, respectively.

I was a good person this weekend. One would have thought that would have earned me an upgrade.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Lawrence Wright on Al Qaeda's past, present and future 

Lawrence Wright, a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, spoke at Princeton University on Wednesday afternoon. His topic was "Al Qaeda: Past, Present and Future," and he was excellent (which will come as no surprise to anybody who has read The Looming Tower).

Lawrence Wright at Princeton University, April, 2007 -- TigerHawk exclusive
I ran into Fausta Wurtz there, and she posted comprehensive notes. See also Hugh Hewitt's recent interview of Wright, which echoed his talk at Princeton on Wednesday.

In light of all that superlative coverage, I'll confine my comments to a few observations.

The important thing to understand about Lawrence Wright is that he is a genuinely independent thinker. While he is plenty critical of American foreign policy in the last six years, neither does he have patience for the partisan opposition. Regardless of your political persuasion, if you are interested in American national security above and beyond its consequences for the next election, you should listen to Lawrence Wright.

With that in mind, here are the high points as I heard them (quotations are approximate):

Where did al Qaeda come from?

Wright forcefully argues that al Qaeda's members are not, by and large, social or economic failures. They come from wealthy families, were not products of the religious schools, in many cases were educated in the West, and had no obvious mental disorders. "So what is it that draws these people to al Qaeda?"

The most common element among all these people is "displacement." The great majority joined the jihad when they were away from home, away from their roots. This is just as true for Yemenis in Saudi Arabia or Pakistanis in England. These people feel marginal in the culture in which they are living. The summer airline plotters were "second and third" generation British citizens. They were marginalized, at least in their own mind.

Wright did not say, but I would add, that Sayyid Qutb, one of the intellectual forefathers of radical Islam, quite famously radicalized during his extended stay in the United States from 1948-1950. There was no evidence that he was particularly mistreated during his two years in Colorado, but he felt horribly out of place.

Nevertheless, we have much less radicalism in the United States because we have much less displacement. "If you want to know what makes you safer, it is not the contact lens solution that they take away at the airport. It is that Arabs and Muslims in the United States have higher incomes than the American average."

I suppose there must be another difference. American Arabs and Muslims come here quite consciously. The United States has no post-colonial or commonwealth ties to the Muslim world, so we offer no passport of convenience to Arabs and Muslims who hope for nothing more than to duplicate their lives under better economic conditions. The world knows, or thinks it knows, how different the United States is. For better or for worse, Arabs and Muslims who come to the United States by and large know they are rejecting their past and embracing their future here. I have to think that difference in expectations has a huge impact on the extent to which American Arabs and Muslims become alienated.

Wright also emphasized the economic and civil failures of the Muslim world, quoting the well-known statistic that the Muslim world accounts for 20% of the world's population but half of the world's poor, and that Finland's manufactured exports exceed all those of entire Arab world. More than a billion Muslims mostly living in the 57 countries of Organization of Islamic Countries produce less than Germany.

"We are starting from the fact that these are barren economies that offer their young people very little to look forward to."

In addition to Wright's observations on the subject of Muslim economic incompetence, some of our newer readers might be interested in Stephen Den Beste's "strategic overview" post, which I amended and restated in November 2005.

Unfortunately, Wright offered no hypothesis or explanation for the question that burns at the heart of his diagnosis: Why are the economies of Muslim countries so incompetent?

Wright also argued that Muslim countries, particularly the most religious ones, suffer enormously from the absence of Americans call "civil society."

If you are a young Saudi, there are no movies, no plays, no dating, few parks, no political life, no unions -- that entire space of life that we call civil society simply does not exist. There is nothing between the government and the mosque except shopping.

It is not surprising in such circumstances that people are depressed.

A study of depression at a major Saudi University showed huge rates of depression among both men and women.

The separation of the sexes is also a problem. This takes a toll on women. A Saudi woman can't drive, she can't travel without permission of her male guardian. A single Saudi woman can't even check into a hotel.
This also takes a toll on men as well. They are deprived of the solice of female companionship. They haven't spent their adolescence molding their behavior around pleasing girls, which is a lot of what civilization is. It is hard to be a terrorist if your girlfriend won't let you.

Then there is the "element of humiliation." Many of the people around al Qaeda have been personally humiliated, so humiliation is a real factor. But why do bin Laden or other young rich Saudis feel humiliated? Why does the concept of humiliation strike such a chord?

"I think we are talking about a profound sense of cultural humiliation. It goes back to September 11, 1683, when the king of Poland arrived at the gates of Vienna to turn back the greatest advance of the Muslims in Europe."

Again, I wonder what it is about this defeat that makes Muslims feel so "humiliated"? Islam rolled up victory after victory against Christianity for 800 years (from the rise of Mohammad in the early 7th century until the ejection of the Muslim from Spain in the early 15th century), yet there is no record that these serial "humiliations" -- and they were many -- pushed Christiandom into despair. On the contrary, the adversity seemed to strengthen Western civilization, which had fallen into great disarray with the fall of the Roman empire at the hands of the barbarians from the north and east.

In any case, in the words of Bernard Lewis the radicals went from "how did this happen to us?" to "who did this to us?" They settled on numerous enemies, including particularly the United States but really the entire non-Muslim world. It is reinforced among the population by "countless images of Muslims under seige in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine."
Can you imagine living in a culture where everything you touch comes from somewhere else? Even if you are a terrorist your weapons were made somewhere else. The measures we use for cultural excellence are practically missing from the Muslims world.

Again, Wright was much longer on description than explanation. He did not explain why Muslim societies have been so ineffective, or even acknowledge that it is a legitimate question. Indeed, during the Q&A session, no member of the audience put the question to him (I had arrived late and was watching via video feed in an overflow room, and he did not call on Fausta). In my experience, it is almost impossible to generate an honest discussion of this topic in academic settings because nobody wants to suggest that there might be something inherently disfunctional about Arab culture or Islam as a religion.

On bin Laden's own "flypaper" strategy and the impact of Iraq

According to Wright (and any number of others), bin Laden wanted us to invade Afghanistan. "He envisioned Afghanistan to be a great bear trap for us, thinking it would bring down our culture the way that the Soviet Union fell apart." He miscalculated, and even though he and other top leaders escaped, Afghanistan hurt al Qaeda terribly. Even al Qaeda insiders admit that 80% of its membership was captured or killed.

At this point I heard Wright to make two points that struck me as inconsistent, at least without elaboration (perhaps all will become clear if Princeton posts the video, which they usually do within a week or two of an event). At the fall of the Taliban, Wright said, "the war on terror was essentially over. It was Iraq that breathed that war back to life." His point was that Iraq created a huge new basis for the radicals to attract volunteers and contributions from across the Muslim world.

He went on to say, though, that Al Qaeda had long planned for the day when its central organization would be defeated, killed or captured. As early as 1998 al Qaeda had envisioned the day when the leadership would be smashed and they would have to recreate it into a new form.

The old al Qaeda was a top-down centralized organization. "You had to fill out a form to buy a new tire. You had health care!" The leaders knew that wouldn't last forever, so they planned for a new, distributed al Qaeda. Their model for the new al Qaeda was more like an alliance of street gangs tied together by the internet which offers them a safe place to conspire.

So was it Iraq that inspired the recovery of al Qaeda, or was al Qaeda inherently regenerative as long as its ideology had not been discredited? Perhaps there is room for both arguments -- one could argue, I suppose, that Iraq accelerated the healing of al Qaeda.

In any case, Wright argues that the training camps were a vital element of the success of al Qaeda, which is why eliminating them was so important. Now al Qaeda has new camps, including Mali, Somalia, Pakistan, and the tribal areas of Afghanistan, and they are feeding trained recruits into the revived, decentralized jihadi network.

Wright did not discuss the question that dominates many of the arguments over American strategy: To what degree must the enemies of al Qaeda respect the sovereignty of states that cannot or will not interdict al Qaeda operations on their own soil? In that regard, Wright also mentioned that there were al Qaeda training camps in Iraq, but I wonder if there really are "camps" of the sort that exist in these other countries. It seems to me that the training in Iraq is a bit more on-the-job, and that open and notorious camps -- destinations for recruits from Europe, for example -- would have a hard time of it notwithstanding the debate about Coalition force levels.

Interestingly, Wright believes that the continuing involvement of the United States in Iraq is now less harmful than its abandonment would be. He teased his audience in his prepared remarks when he said that "[t]he failure of the American project in Iraq is bound to embolden radical Islamists everywhere," but in the Q&A reported made it quite clear that while he had opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he finds himself "in the strange position" of arguing that now the United States must not leave.

On the terrible condition of American intelligence

Whatever we decide to do in Iraq, there are things that we can and indeed must do to defend ourselves.

First, we have to fix our intelligence, which has done such a terrible job of understanding, much less penetrating al Qaeda. Domestically, almost six years after the attacks on September 11 and 14 years after the first WTC bombing, the FBI is woefully unprepared to deal with the jihad. There are only 25 Arab speakers in the FBI, and many of them "took a course at Middlebury" and push the boundaries of their Arabic "ordering food." "We fought the IRA and the mafia with who? Irish and Italian guys!" Those are still the people who dominate the organization.

"We have to turn to the people who can help us. Last year, the FBI graduated a class of 50 new agents. Only one of them speaks a foreign language at all."

I must admit, that really is astonishing.

This incapacity in Arab and Muslim language and culture goes well beyond the FBI. When Wright was last in Iraq, there are a thousand people in our embassy in Baghdad. Only six of them speak Arabic.

Second, we have to fix our reputation in the world. Wright says "we are radioactive. There are a lot of reasons why many countries should be helping us in Iraq, but we haven't been able to marshall them in any regard."

This idea gets dangerously close to the Kerryist idea that we need to "work with our traditional allies." It is actually different, I think, but much more important: We cannot afford to be so unpopular in the world that even countries that want to help us find it politically difficult to do so. Even leading Republicans understand that the Bush administration's failures in public diplomacy have catastrophically undermined the ability of other supportive governments to take risks on our behalf (see, for example, this article in today's New York Times regarding Saudi Arabia's fairly conscious efforts to distance themselves from the United States).

Third, Wright argues that we are also at a "very pregnant moment" in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The governments of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are crippled, but it is clear that the Arabs are suing for peace. They face a much graver threat, by which it was clear, to me at least, that Wright meant both Sunni jihadism and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Recognizing that it is virtually received wisdom among the chattering classes that a two-state settlement of the struggle between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs will somehow diminish the jihad, I do not understand why. The radicals do not want Israel to exist. Whether or not there is a settlement, the radicals among the Palestinians will continue to attack Israel. The government of the Palestinians will be no more able to stop the radicals from doing this than the governments of any of the other Arab countries, virtually all of which claim they are working to shut down al Qaeda, Hezbollah and so forth, and virtually all of whom have failed miserably. Israel will retaliate for those attacks. Al Jazz will portray the retaliation as aggression, and Arab passions will remain inflamed. That Israel will retaliate from across an internationally recognized border will only make the matter worse, it seems to me. (See Michael Scott Doran's useful essay on this very subject.)

Why al Qaeda can't win

Recognizing his pessimistic tone, Wright offered "three reasons why al Qaeda won't win."

First, everyone is its enemy. Al Qaeda's leadership has called out virtually everybody in the world as its enemy at one time or another. Muslim apostate regimes, Shiites, Jews, Israel, the United States, Westeners in general, NATO, Russia, China, and "atheists, pagans and hypocrites".

Second, most of the victims of al Qaeda are Muslims. Muslims know that al Qaeda is their enemy too, and that they will be the first to suffer under al Qaeda rule.

Finally, al Qaeda offers nothing to the people who follow it. No economic policy, no government, no program to really get to the problems of the Muslim world. It offers only one thing: death. "Al Qaeda is a suicide machine."

Perhaps Wright is right in this. I worry, though, that his ultimate optimism turns on the meaning of "win." Yes, if victory requires that al Qaeda realize its plan for total domination of the world, I agree that represents a tall order. If, however, we recognize that even intermediate "success" -- the destruction of Israel following a nuclear exchange with a radicalized Muslim power, the interdiction of Middle Eastern oil, or something approaching civil war in Europe -- could have devestating consequences, then we have to wonder whether the West's ultimate victory will come at the cost of a great deal that we hold dear. If we are worried about unwarranted surveillance of international communications, trial by jury for foreign nationals or freedom from profiling at security checkpoints, how will we feel about the casualties we will have to inflict in order to crush a suicide cult's will to resist? They could run into the millions.

In any case, even Wright thinks the road ahead will be brutal. He revealed in the Q&A session that he was opposed to a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq because he was terrified of leaving behind a vacuum. He was particularly worried about the consequences for Europe, which he believes will feel the first blowback.
Europe has a big problem. In the aftermath of the Iraq war, you will see veterans returning to new or preexisting cells with enormous experience and training. I don't think the future in Europe looks very attractive.

In this, Wright has synthesized the position of the conservative hawks -- Mark Steyn in America Alone, Berlinski in Menace in Europe, and Melanie Phillips in Londonistan -- and the anti-Bush doves into a frightening scenario for the future of Europe.

He is also obviously pessimistic about the "democratization strategy," which I have long supported. Arab and Muslim civil society is such a mess, Wright argues, that reforms that would take root in other cultures are likely to lead to disaster in this part of the world. As Wright says of the Saudis, "[i]t is not that they like the monarchy. It is that they are afraid of what might come after."

So are we all.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bill Frist is exonerated 

Bill Frist at Princeton April, 2007 - TigerHawk original photograph

Newshounds will surely remember that in the fall of 2005 the press and the lefty blogs spun themselves up into outrage over the timing of Bill Frist's sales of HCA stock. Everybody from AMERICABlog to the New York Times -- admittedly, a narrow ideological range -- were certain of the impropriety of the sales and hoped for their criminality. At the time, I wrote a fairly detailed analysis of the timing of the sales and concluded that Frist had almost certainly acted both morally and lawfully. Nevertheless, the press continued to torture him for months.

Well, Bill Frist has been exonerated.

In the end, Bill Frist's habit of frequent e-mails helped document the former Senate Republican leader's account that he was not involved in insider trading in his 2005 sale of HCA Inc. stock.

The former Tennessee senator was able to show in copies of e-mails given to federal investigators that he began the process of selling his family's HCA stock in April 2005 - well before HCA had disappointing second-quarter earnings and publicly reported that fact July 13, two people familiar with Frist's records said Friday.

Frist disclosed in a written statement recently that he had received letters from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York saying they had closed their investigations and were taking no action against him.

Like the Power Line trio, I think Bill Frist is one of the most decent people to have served in either house of the United States Congress during the last 15 years. He is smart, modest, very concerned about issues that animate both the left and right, and -- most importantly -- he is much, much more than a professional politician. Lest there be any doubt, read this post from his blog, in which he discusses the emerging field of "conservation medicine" and its application to the gorilla population of Rwanda. We should all hope that Bill Frist returns to public life.

UPDATE: Regular commenter "Howard in Boston" wonders if the New York Times will bring itself to cover Frist's exoneration as prominently as it covered the allegations against him. Actually, it did not cover his exoneration at all, even though it had plenty of time to do so. Apparently the news that Bill Frist was telling the truth is not "fit to print," even on its web site.

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Today was the annual "Communiversity" street fair in Princeton, during which the constabulary close Nassau Street and Witherspoon Street and townies and students alike eat food they don't need and buy stuff they won't use. I took my hard-working son (he has been laboriously writing a history paper) downtown for a study break.



Flags arranged in a "P" festooned Nassau Hall. Sadly, it isn't the least surprising that Princeton gave the flag of Iran a place of honor on Nassau Hall, but not the flag of Israel.



The band Shaxe...


...to whose music this guy was bobbing and weaving...


I love street fairs.

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TigerHawk's global reach 

The map at right discloses the locations of our last 500 visitors. I think it is safe to say that we're a globe-straddling imperialist enterprise.

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I'm a bad parent... 

...for posting this link where my children can read it.

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Follow the (Saudi) money 

If you are who your donors are, then we now know who Jimmy Carter is. Harvard University, which is known neither for its moral subtlety nor its cavalier attitude toward gifts, managed to locate principles that were beyond a man who claims more for his own "morality" than any three other former presidents.

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Friday, April 27, 2007


Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club writes about a turf battle erupting between the various services over the control of aerial drones (click through for the links):

A high stakes battle in the skies between USAF and the other services for control of unmanned aerial vehicles is in full swing. Former Spook looks at the Air Force's claim to be the "executive agent" for all "medium- and high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles across the U.S. military." RofaSix smells a plot. Congress has entered the debate to fight Homeland Security's corner. Defense Industry Daily notes that the clash is partly cultural. The Air Force insists that all UAV operators, even if they are sitting at video terminals, must be rated pilots but the Army says this nonsense, pointing out that the best Army UAV operator in Iraq was trained as a cook.

On the basis of exactly one data point, I think the Army is right. Four years ago our au pair was a young Canadian woman. Her boyfriend Scott was that rarest of men, an active duty Canadian soldier. His "trade" (as they call it in his army) was the artillery, but he was being trained to operate UAVs in preparation for his looming deployment to Afghanistan. I asked Scott how difficult it was to learn, and he said that the Canadians, at least, had an incentive system that focused the mind: If you lost a drone, you had to go with the extraction team to retrieve it.

The last thing we need is featherbedding in the middle of a war.

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The students are rising in Iran... 

...and Fred Thompson says that we should be prepared to help them. Good for Fred, but let's not get carried away.

Much as I would love to see a revolution overthrow the Islamic Republic, we have to remember that there is a huge difference between the spring fever of college students and credible rebellion. The demonstrations that turned Iran against the Shah - who by 1978 was a sick and exhausted man - were the largest in the history of the world. The Islamic Republic is built around an entire group of leaders, many of whom have greater credibility and deeper resolve than the Shah did at the end. And, without question, a far greater willingness to brutalize their own citizenry. How many millions will have to take to the streets to run the mullahs out of town?

(From my Blackberry outside a PetSmart in West Windsor, New Jersey.)

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Is our influence of Pakistan waning? 

In a part of the world where it is very important to back the winning horse, this declaration by Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf certainly looks like bad news to me:

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf says Afghan and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan are losing the war against the Taliban.

It is unlikely that this is a plea for NATO to be more aggressive with the Taliban. Pakistan would much prefer not to be caught between a rock and a hard place. It may, however, be a sign of Pakistan's view that the recent improvement in its relations with India gives it more freedom to distance itself from the United States. If this were indeed the first hint of a public shift toward the Taliban it would be very distressing. Fortunately, this looks mostly like an extension of Musharraf's pissing contest with Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, who has accused Pakistan of failing to police its borders and hunt al Qaeda with sufficient diligence.

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine wondered allowed whether we would not have been better off stepping back in 2002 when India and Pakistan almost went to war. Would our ability to influence or even coerce Pakistan today be greater, or lesser, if we had?

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The Sultans of Swing: John Kerry "stands with" Harry Reid 

I suppose it should not surprise us that the man who voted for the $82 billion dollars before he voted against it is "standing with Harry Reid," who has managed to say that the "Iraq war is lost" and the "the military mission has long since been accomplished" in the same week.

Well, at least Kerry's being consistent.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Liveblogging the Democratic Presidential Debate 

It is just after 7 pm, and you can watch the Democratic presidential candidates debate on MSNBC now. I'll be liveblogging in numbered posts here. Quotations are approximate.

[Completed. My real-time notes and commentary follow. From my perspective, the moment of the evening came at the end of Section 9 below, in which Edwards and Obama totally dodged an emotional question asking about their response to a hypothetical terrorist attack by al Qaeda on two American cities. Hillary stepped up and clearly answered. Edwards and Obama reinforced the image of Democratic weakness, and Hillary crushed it.]

1. The first question goes to Hillary regarding Harry Reid's statement that the Iraq war "is lost." Does she agree? She strongly endorses the result of the bill just passed in the Congress, emphasizes the support for the troops, but dodges the question.

Same question to Joe Biden. He also dodges the question, drives the answer toward the Peter Galbraith "regionalization" strategy.

To Barack Obama, "you have called this war in Iraq 'dumb,' how do you square this with the sacrifices of our troops and votes for funding resolutions since"?

2. He's proud that he "put forward a plan in January" that mirrors what this Congress ultimately adopted.

Senator Edwards, you made "a high profile apology for your vote" for the war. Was that a direct shot at Senator Clinton?

Edwards: No, I think it is a challenge to anybody who supported this war.

Hillary: "I take responsibility for my vote, and I have said many times that if I had known then what I know now I would not have voted that way. But we need to know what we will do now." Attacks Bush for his "stubborn" refusal to change.

To Kucinich: "Is it possible to be against the war and still vote to fund it?"

Kucinich: "No. You can't tell the American people you are against the war and then vote to fund the war. The Democrats have the power to end the war right now and that's what we should do." Furthermore, "I don't think it is sufficient to say that if I had the information at the time I would have voted differently. They had the information at the time."

3. Bill Richardson: "This war is a disaster. We must end this war. I would withdraw all our troops by the end of the war year, coupled with intensive diplomacy. I would convene a security conference, and invite Iran and Syria. They are going to be tough, and I would be tough with them. And three, I would have a donor conference."

Christopher Dodd: "This is a failed policy. Our troops have been heroic, but the policy is a failure. The Iraqi people have to assume the responsibility for their own future. We also need to engage in the robust diplomacy that we have not been engaged in."

Senator Mike Gravel: "This war was lost the day George Bush invaded Iraq on a fraudulent basis. I'm embarrassed about this Congress."

Gravel is a loon, by the way. He makes Kucinich look sober as a judge.

To Obama, from the wife of a soldier: "What would you regard as a 'mission complete' status in Iraq?"

Obama: Thanks her for her sacrifice, goes on at length about the abuse of military families. "We are one signature away, or sixteen votes away, from ending this war."

Me: Do any of these people genuinely believe that the war will end with an American withdrawal? Or are they really saying that they will end our operations in Iraq, which is an entirely different matter?

4. Elephants in the room -- questions about the embarrassing stuff that has dogged their candidacy.

Brian Williams (who is doing a pretty good job, by the way) asks Obama about a hinky campaign contribution.

To Edwards: You have spoken with great eloquence about the two Americas and the problems with poverty, but why did you pay for your haircuts out of campaign funds?

Edwards: If the question is, do I live a privilaged and blessed lifestyle now, the answer is yes. Many of us do. The question is, where do I come from. Tells a story about leaving a restaurant because his father couldn't afford the prices on the menu.

To Edwards: You have advised hedge funds. Do hedge funds make America any better?

Me: Silly question. Of course they do!

To Clinton: How is America a better place because all these hedge funds?

Clinton: We are a great country because we have this capacity to create wealth, and also because we know how to regulate it. We have to get back to a Democratic president who will "set the rules," and so that we can begin to repair the damage that has been done by this president.

Me: The only damage that has been done by this president in that regard has been submitting to the absurd overregulation of Sarbanes-Oxley. But you know that.

5. Williams asks Richardson a question about having admitted that he appointed somebody because he was Hispanic. Richardson gets in the line of the night so far: "The American people want candor, not some blow-dried candidate that is going to tell them what he thinks they want to hear."

To Kucinich: You were anti-war before that was popular in the polls. Why don't you have more traction politically?

Kucinich: This debate tonight is going to change that. Not only do I oppose this war, I oppose using war as an instrument of American policy.

To Biden: "Words have gotten you in trouble in the past -- gaff machine. Can you reassure voters that you will have the discipline to control yourself on the world stage?"

Biden: "Yes." Me: That's it! Excellent answer.

Another Gravel rant. Me: Guy's a loon, but he is the most entertaining guy up there.

To Clinton: Recent polls indicate a majority of the American public has an unfavorable view of you. Why do you think Republicans are looking forward to running against you?

Clinton: I take it as a perverse form of flattery. If they weren't worried, they wouldn't be so vitriolic in their criticism of me. America is ready for a change after the corruption and cronyism of the Bush years.

6. Domestic questions.

To Edwards: Regarding the Supreme Court's decision to sustain the law against partial birth abortion, is this a place where the opinions of the public are at odds with most elected officials?

Edwards: No it is not. This is an example of what is at stake in this election. The people appointed by the next president will control whether a woman's freedom to make her own reproductive choices will be limited by the government.

To Obama: What about your view on the partial-birth decision?

Obama: I think that most Americans recognize that this is a profoundly difficult decision for the women who make them. I trust women to make them. The broader issue is do women have the right to make these decisions and I trust them to do it.

To Biden: Would you have a litmus test question to support your nominees for the Supreme Court?

Biden: I would not have a litmus test question, but I would want my nominees to reflect my values. Runs a victory lap for having opposed Bork, Thomas, Alito and Roberts. This decision was intellectually dishonest. The rationale offered will justify the next step.

Same question to Kucinich: "Any of my appointments to the high court would necessarily reflect my thinking."

To Dodd: "You were the only Senator on this stage to confirm Chief Justice Roberts. Do you regret your vote?"

Dodd: No, but he disappointed me today.

Same question to all of them:

"Your model (living) Supreme Court Justice:"

Richardson: Justice Ginsberg.

Dodd: Justice Ginsberg.

Edwards: Ginsberg or Breyer.

A shame they couldn't get answers from the rest of them.

To Clinton: "Did the government fail those students at Virginia Tech?"

Clinton: "Yes." Recalls visiting Columbine, and says that we need to limit access to guns by people who should not have them. We now know that the background check system did not work. She looks tough and stern, on this one.

To Richardson: You are the NRA's favorite candidate in either party. Did anything that happened at Virginia Tech cause you to rethink anything about your position regarding guns.

Richardson: You're right, I'm a Westerner. The Second Amendment is important to us. This is an issue that goes to two issues. Mental illness. There should be "mental health parity" in this country.

Show of hands question: How many of you in your adult lifetime have had a gun in the house? By show of hands: Richardson, Dodd, Biden, Kucinich, Gravel.

To Biden: What could the federal government have done to save those kids at Virginia Tech?

Biden: Runs a victory lap on having "worked with law enforcement." "We should not have let the assault weapons ban lapse, and we should close the so-called gun show loophole. And I agree that we have let the country down in the way that we have not focused on mental illness."


To Edwards: You have said you would raise taxes to pay for a healthcare plan. Which ones?

Edwards: I would get rid of George W. Bush's tax cuts for people who make more than $200,000 per year. Then gives a big speech about how great his plan is. "Rhetoric is not enough. High faluttin' language is not enough." Then proceeds not to answer the question.

Me: Getting rid of those tax cuts for those people will do nothing.

To Obama: Same question, same basic answer. Focuses on the terms of his plan, rather than explaining how he will pay for it. Talks about controlling costs, catastrophic coverage, and so forth, but nothing about the taxes.

Clinton to the same question: All of the ideas are very important. I do have the experience of putting forth a plan, but explains the political failure on insurance and pharmaceutical companies. "We have to control and decrease costs for everyone. This is not just about the uninsured. We can save money within the existing system. I am not ready to put new money in a system that does not work until we have cut costs in the one we have."

Me: Clinton was the only one of the three to answer the question. Edwards basically dodged, and Obama totally dodged.

8. Richardson on healthcare: Have to save billions of dollars in efficiency, eliminate HMOs, focus on prevention. Opposes new taxes.

Audience question to Biden: Question on the NAACP's ban on South Carolina because of the Confederate Flag. Do you support that ban, and if so, why are you here?

Biden and Obama both handled well. Obama says the Stars and Bars should go into a museum.

What mistakes have you made?

Hillary: Her two big mistakes were in the promotion of her health care plan and "believing the president" when he said Iraq had WMD.

Me: She can't think of any others? That was a very lame answer. Very. Her weakest moment tonight.

Biden: "Overestimating the competence of this administration and unestimating the arrogance. I really thought I could have an impact on George Bush's thinking."

Edwards: "I was wrong to vote for this war."

Dodd: "I also agree the war in Iraq was a big mistake."

Richardson: "I'm too impatient. I'm too aggressive."

Me: I think my biggest mistake was watching this debate and thinking it would be a good thing to blog live.

To Clinton: Would you offer amnesty to illegal aliens in defiance of the American people?

Clinton: Dodges the question, but says that she wants to "get 12 million illegal aliens out of the shadows."

To Biden: How are you going to reverse the trend toward fewer students studying science and engineering?

Biden: Pay teachers more!

To Dodd: If you have to pass a drug test to earn a pay check, shouldn't a welfare recipient have to pass a test to get their check?

Dodd: Shouldn't deprive them of their relief because "they have an illness."

To Edwards: Why are gas prices still rising?

Edwards: Goes on about carbon sequestration, green stuff. Not responsive.

9. One sentence: "While sitting in the Oval Office, name the first thing you want to accomplish?"

Richardson: The first day, I would get us out of Iraq with diplomacy. The second day I would make us energy independent.

No time for any of the others to answer.

Questions re non-Iraq foreign policy:

To Obama: What are America's most important foreign policy concerns?

Obama: The European Union, NATO alliance very important. Afghanistan. Have to concentrate on bin Laden. We also have to look east. China is rising, neither an enemy nor a friend. They are competitors.

Follow-up: Do you stand by the remark, "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people."

Obama: That quotation was incomplete -- "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people from the failure of the Palestinian government."

Me: Nice recovery. True?

To Biden: What are the three biggest threats?

Biden: North Korea, Iran, and Russia. Long rant about how we have lost respect all over the world.

Gravel: "We have no important enemies. We have to deal with the world as equals." Long rant about the military industrial complex.

To Edwards: Do you regard Russia as a friend or a foe?

Edwards: It has moved from being a democracy under Yeltsen to a complete autocracy under Putin. How does America change the underlying dynamic of the world? I've led an effort to make primary school education to 100 million children who don't have it. Lots of stuff about helping poor people.

The TigerHawk Wife: "Isn't that what the Peace Corps does. Edwards sounds like he's the first guy who thought of it."

Richardson: "Being stubborn isn't a foreign policy. Power without diplomacy is blind." Runs a huge victory lap over his foreign policy experience.

To Clinton: Quotes Giuliani -- "the Democrats do not understand" the threat against us. How did it happen that Republicans took on the image of the security party?

Clinton: I think there is a big disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality. The usual litany of complaints about security, some of which are true. "This administration has tried to hype the fear without delivering on the promise." Also, foreign policy has made the world less stable.

Same question to Dodd: How is it that the Democrats are tagged with being weak on defense?

Dodd: It's a myth.

Show of hands question: Do you believe there is such a thing as a "global war on terror?"

Richardson, Dodd, Obama, and Clinton hold their hands up yes. Edwards, Biden, Kucinich and Gravel say "no."

To Kucinich: Why is your hand not up?

Kucinich: "The global war on terror has been a pretext for aggressive war." We need a president "who understand this is a complex world, but doesn't see the world in terms of enemies."

The TigerHawk Wife: "[Kucinich] has a sort of ferrety look."

To Obama: "If we learned that two American cities were hit by terrorists and we further learned beyond a shadow of a doubt that it had been the world of al Qaeda, how would you change the U.S. military stance overseas as a result?"

Obama: Talks about our domestic emergency response. Then says we need good intelligence, even though the question presumed that we knew. Says we should not "alienate the international community." We need to talk.

Me: Obama totally avoided the question, refusing to say a single thing about our military stance.

Edwards (same question): I would make certain we knew who was responsible, and then I would act swiftly and strongly. Then I would want to know how this happened without us knowing in advance.

Me: These are very cerebral, "talking points" answers. I think Williams was looking for a passionate response, and that these guys blew it.

Same question to Clinton: "Having been a senator on 9/11, I understand the horror of that sort of attack. I think a president must move as swiftly as prudent to retaliate." Lots of emphasis on reliation. "That doesn't mean we should go looking for other fights. Let's focus on those who have attacked us and do everything we can to destroy them."

Me: Hillary crushed Edwards and Obama on this question. They looked like were deer-in-the-headlights, and bleated on irrelevantly. Clinton rolled through them, focusing on the need for retaliation. On that answer, she would have my vote (if somebody put a gun to my head and made me vote for a Democrat).

10. Asks Dodd about whether there is a difference between civil unions and gay marriage.

Dodd: "I have two very young daughters who one day may have a different sexual orientation than their parents, how would I want them treated?" They ought to be able to have their loving relationships sanctioned. I believe that civil unions are appropriate, but not marriage. Does not really explain the difference.

To Biden: What should we do about climate change?

Biden: We need a "Manhattan Project" for the climate. Goes wild with all the regulatory proposals and investments he would make.

To Richardson: How do you feel about normalizing relations with Castro's Cuba.

Richardson: Answers the question about attacks on American cities with a call for a decisive surgical military strike. Then says that we have to plan for a post-Castro policy. That means reevaluating the embargo, and finding ways to ensure that Cuba becomes democratic with free elections.

To Gravel: "With the French system as a model, is the United States woefully behind on nuclear power."

Gravel: Answers the question about the war -- "we are mischaracterizing the war -- terrorism has been with us forever."

To Obama: "What in your personal life have you done to make the environment better?"

Obama: Plant trees. "We've been working to install light bulbs." Then talks about foreign policy.

Kucinich accuses Obama of "setting the stage for another war" with his statement that "all options are on the table with Iran."

Obama: "Iran is developing nuclear weapons. I don't think that is disputed by any expert. They are the largest state sponsor of terrorism."

To Edwards: "Who do you consider to be your moral leader?"

Edwards: [After a long and uncomfortable silence.] "I don't think I could identify one person that I could consider to be my moral leader. My Lord is important to me." Says he prays every day. Says his wife is a source of great conscience. His father taught him important stuff.

To Clinton: Overall, is Wal-Mart a good thing or a bad thing for the United States of America?

Clinton: "It is a mixed blessing." Gave people an opportunity to stretch their dollar. As they've grown bigger, they have ignored their obligations and their impact. Long rant about this administration and "the corporate elite" ignoring the middle class.

Biden closed strong with an endorsement of "necessary and justified use of force."


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The Irish need your help 


We've all seen the faces of those ravaged by the floods of Sri Lanka & New Orleans. This award-winning photograph of the recent flood waters rising in Ireland captures the horror & suffering there. Please keep these people in your thoughts & prayers.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Iraq intel: Dick Durbin opens the kimono a bit too far 

Dick Durbin has declared that as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee he knew ex ante that the Bush administration was lying about the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

“I was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and I would read the headlines in the paper in the morning and I'd watch the television newscast and I'd shake my head. …[T]he information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American people. I couldn't believe it.”

“You see, in the Intelligence Committee, we're sworn to secrecy. We can't walk outside the door and say, ‘The statement made yesterday by the White House is in direct contradiction to classified information that's being given to this Congress.’” (Sen. Dick Durbin, Floor Speech, 04/25/07)

Oops. As the linked post makes clear, either Durbin is lying now or Senators Carl Levin, John Rockefeller, Evan Bayh and Harry Reid were lying then.

So, what did the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee know, and when did they know it? Somehow, we doubt the Washington press corps is curious enough to figure out the answer, or even to ask the question.

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They caught "the Bishop": "Going postal" in real life 

An arrest has been made in "the Bishop" corporate terrorism case. I don't mean to pick on the United States Postal Service, but it is disturbing that this news isn't the least bit surprising:

Authorities arrested an Iowa machinist Wednesday who they say sent pipe bombs to two investment firms in an effort to drive up stock prices in two small companies he had invested in. Authorities said the bombs, which would have been live had a single wire been connected, came with threatening letters signed "The Bishop."

John P. Tomkins, 42, a former part-time postal carrier from Dubuque, Iowa, was arrested on his way to work, and federal agents began searching his home and a storage facility, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago.

Far be it from me, a devoted civil libertarian, to suggest that law enforcement officials hunting for suspected lunatics routinely begin by sorting through the personnel records of the USPS.

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I am, as of this writing, as minimally above average as can be. Guessing all the way, I scored a 5 on this week's O'Quiz. The average score is 4.99, at least until TigerHawk's brilliant readers try their hand.

Let's see how high you can pump up the average.

UPDATE: As of 8:15 am Thursday, the cumulative average score had crept up to 5.05, suggesting that TigerHawk readers -- even if not TigerHawk himself -- are substantially more knowledgeable about ephemeral political pop-culture news than the average BillOreilly.com quiz-taker. Keep it up!

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The most amusing "reality" show on television 

This year, our au pair is actually English. Under her influence we have taken to watching BBC America, and accordingly I can report that we have discovered the most amusing "reality" show on television: "How Clean Is Your House?" It sounds more boring than watching paint dry, but it is in fact hilarious. Professional cleaners Kim and Aggie sweep into a different disgusting house or flat every episode, heaping understated yet rapier scorn at the homeowners along the way. They devote the first few minutes to close-up shots of insects and feces, microbiological examination of surfaces, and wide-angle shots of absurd clutter. The rest of the show is an extended examination of cleaning techniques, all with faux dramatic narration and endless British humor -- sort of a mixture of "hints from Heloise" and "Extreme Makeover," but funny. When they are done the home is, of course, beautiful. Then they come back months later for a snap "inspection" to see if the homeowners have maintained their home as rehabilitated or receded into their old ways. Either outcome is satisfying in its own way.

Watch it weeknights at 7:30 on BBC America. And, no, I'm not being paid to write this.

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Doublespeak watch 

A "demonstration for peace," Palestinian-style. According to Reuters.

Since the British National Union of Journalists has voted to boycott Israel -- which apparently is unique in its perfidy among all the countries of the world -- it shouldn't surprise us that Reuters would write whatever it takes to make its point.

The next time somebody uses the word "profession" in connection with "journalism," call them out. If it weren't so disgusting it would be a joke.

CWCID: Richard Fernandez.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Perceptions of financial risk 

There are some very strange things happening in the financial markets these days. Mish Shedlock reproduces this facinating table.

Things with the same yield

30 year Treasuries
2-year Fannie Mae Benchmark Notes
2-year Freddie Mac reference Notes
World Bank 2-year notes
Mexican Global 2-year notes
Brazilian 2-year notes
Colombian Global 2-year notes
Chilean 2-year notes
Peruvian 2-year notes
2-year Citigroup notes
This raises a lot of very interesting questions regarding the market's current perception of relative risk. I'm not sure what the answers are, but I suspect that some of these instruments will prove to have been mispriced.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Why do women on the Pill still get their period? 

I will admit, I have once or twice wondered why women who take birth control pills still bleed once a month. Being a man I have wondered this only once or twice, but my sister the opinionated biologist has thought about it a lot. And, since the reasons are paternalistic and religious rather than scientific or medical, she is decidedly pissed off about them.

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Harry Reid agrees with George W. Bush! 

I think we can all agree that President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln was not one of his better photo ops. Imagine our confusion, therefore, when Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, declared today that Bush had, in fact, been spot on:

The military mission has long since been accomplished. The failure has been political. It has been policy. It has been presidential.

Whatever. The military misssion has been accomplished! At least we have that straight.

I have to admit, when the Democrats promised new bi-partisan government, I wasn't expecting this.

Isn't there somebody in either party that knows how to play this game?

CWCID: John Hinderaker, here and here (and don't miss this delightful Photoshop).

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Laurie David's various crimes against the atmosphere 

Laurie David, the producer of Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, is quite the chickengreen. Even ignoring the private jet she uses to fly from campus to campus hectoring college students to sacrifice for the good of the planet, David's hypocrisy is arresting. Is it that she is utterly unaware of how she appears, or does she think that Americans are idiots? Is there a plausible third explanation?

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John Walker Lindh wishes he had gone to Gitmo 

Adam Liptak's weekly column in the Grey Lady (sequestered behind the TimesSelect wall) reports that John Walker Lindh thinks he got a raw deal -- twenty years of hard time -- compared to similarly situated Westerners who put in their time at Gitmo and then received much lighter sentences from the military:

“He was a victim of a hysterical atmosphere post-9/11,” Frank R. Lindh said about his son. “Much like the country has reassessed the premises for the Iraq war, it should re-examine the premises for this sentence.”

To hear Frank Lindh tell it, his son was an earnest and confused student of Islam who took up arms in a civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance. “A very substantial number of people in America believe John fought Americans or committed terrorism or supported terrorism,” Frank Lindh said. “That’s just not true.”

But John Walker Lindh is not serving time for terrorism or treason. And he made a considered decision to accept a 20-year sentence.

On the other hand, two men accused of quite similar conduct managed to make much better deals. They had the good fortune, it turned out, to be held by the military rather than by civilian authorities, and they probably also benefited from the fact that the memory of the Sept. 11 attacks had receded a little by the time they sat down to negotiate.

Consider Yaser Hamdi. Mr. Hamdi, who held Saudi and American citizenship, was captured along with Mr. Lindh and was also accused of helping the Taliban. But he was detained as an enemy combatant and never charged with a crime.

A few months after the United States Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Hamdi could challenge his detention in 2004, he was sent to Saudi Arabia (“in civilian clothes and unhooded,” as stipulated in his deal with the government) in exchange for giving up his American citizenship and agreeing to restrictions on his ability to travel. He is home and free.

Last month, in the first guilty plea before a military commission at Guantánamo, David Hicks, an Australian, admitted to more serious crimes than Mr. Lindh had. He was sentenced to nine months and should be home and free before the end of the year.

Mr. Lindh’s situation, by contrast, keeps getting worse. In February, for reasons the government will not explain, he was moved from a medium-security prison in California to the maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo., one of the toughest in the federal system. He is 26 now, and his lawyers say that even with credit for good behavior he has 13 more years to go.

Obviously, Liptak and the Times are sympathetic to Lindh's plight -- otherwise, why devote so much precious space to the arguments of his family and lawyer, when there are so many people in prison with much more worthy claims for clemency? Missing from Liptak's column, though, is any acknowledgement that perhaps Guantanamo and the military's system of detention are not so unfair after all. Of course, Liptak is trying to make the point that if Lindh's sentence -- which was negotiated in a plea bargain -- is longer than those of people who went to Gitmo then it must be unfair. It never crosses Liptak's mind that the Gitmo detainees might have been better off in the care of our military than in the civilian systems in any of their respective countries of origin, including the United States.*

As for Lindh, let's not go all gooey. The guy ran guns for the Taliban. Even if he did not participate in action against the United States, he was a combatant for a regime that overtly gave sanctuary to al Qaeda, which had declared war on the United States in 1998. No religious belief can justify that. Who are we kidding? The guy may have been "confused," but he was "confused" in a really bad way.
*Yes, I know that I am making this comparison to the post-Hamden Gitmo, rather than the version originally conceived by the Bush administration. Fine. I intended no props for the Bushies. The question, though, is what to do about Gitmo now?

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Atlas Shrugged turns 50 

Ayn Rand's novel of subversion, Atlas Shrugged, was published fifty years ago.

"Who is John Galt?"

With that enigmatic opening line, author-renegade philosopher Ayn Rand began her 1957 novel "Atlas Shrugged," which remains a controversial book 50 years after publication.

Critics slam Rand for poor writing. Intellectuals ridicule Rand for sophomoric philosophy. And readers gobble it up.

More than 700,000 copies of Rand's books sold in 2006, 25 years after her death. Several years ago, when the Modern Library published readers' choices for the best novels of the 20th century, four books by Rand made the list: "Atlas Shrugged" (No. 1), "The Fountainhead" (No. 2), "Anthem" (No. 7) and "We the Living" (No. 8).

A survey in 1991 by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found "Atlas Shrugged" the second most influential book in the United States. The Bible was first.

I think that's about right, actually. I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that while Atlas Shrugged has not influenced literature, it has influenced people -- particularly Americans -- more than any novel since Uncle Tom's Cabin.

I first read the book in the 8th grade, and have read it a couple of times since (the last time about ten years ago). As the years have gone by I have understood and digested many of the criticisms leveled at Ayn Rand from the religious right (she was a strident athiest) and the do-gooder left, and I have never considered her a prophet or even a particularly deep philosopher. However, she is in many ways the ultimate champion of the human spirit, the greatest modern popularizer of the idea that our purpose -- the meaning of life -- is to create, and that people who do not create but appropriate the creations of others for their own gain are not merely parasites. They are the destroyers of the human soul.

It is probably time for all of us to read Atlas Shrugged again -- we're going to need a refresher course to get through the next few years, I think. If that seems too daunting, though, just read Francisco d'Anconia's great cocktail party monologue on the meaning of money. I know of no more powerful defense of free trade as a profoundly moral act.
To trade by means of money is the code of the men of good will. Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort. Money allows no power to prescribe the value of your effort except the voluntary choice of the man who is willing to trade you his effort in return. Money permits you to obtain for your goods and your labor that which they are worth to the men who buy them, but no more. Money permits no deals except those to mutual benefit by the unforced judgment of the traders. Money demands of you the recognition that men must work for their own benefit, not for their own injury, for their gain, not their loss - the recognition that they are not beasts of burden, born to carry the weight of your misery - that you must offer them values, not wounds - that the common bond among men is not the exchange of suffering, but the exchange of goods. Money demands that you sell, not your weakness to men's stupidity, but your talent to their reason; it demands that you buy, not the shoddiest they offer, but the best that your money can find. And when men live by trade - with reason, not force, as their final arbiter - it is the best product that wins, the best performance, the man of best judgment and highest ability - and the degree of a man's productiveness is the degree of his reward. This is the code of existence whose tool and symbol is money. Is this what you consider evil?

But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality - the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind.

Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he's evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he's evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgment, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money.

Whole speech, whole book.

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Green is as green does 

I, for one, am troubled that the CIA's publicists believe that this reflects well on the agency. I know that I want my spies driving around with all the horsepower that good tradecraft will allow. If the CIA is worried that it will not appear green enough to its liberal base, it should buy carbon offsets from the State Department.

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Sunday morning heroism 

Lest we forget what sacrifice really means, remind yourself of the story of Admiral James Stockdale.

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Wolfowitz and his supposed conflict of interest 

I have not closely followed the details of the controversy surrounding Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, other than to notice that among my friends who routinely oppose the Bush administration this is yet another moment for rejoicing. Suffice it to say, Christopher Hitchens has a rather different take.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Working women and fertility 

The current issue of the Economist has a chart that is going to be awfully confusing for some American conservatives, at least those remaining few who think that women should stay home and raise the children. It compares female participation in the workforce with fertility rates and reveals a positive correlation.

In the rich countries, at least, the smaller the gap between male and female labor force participation the higher the nation's fertility rate.

One is forced to wonder what Spanish and Italian women do all day long.

Or, perhaps, cause and effect are reversed. Children are expensive. Does more fertility mean that families need more money, so that a higher proportion of women feel they have to work?

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Bill Clinton: At home abroad 

Hillary Clinton has announced that if elected president her husband -- Bill'42 -- would become a "roaming ambassador to the world."

"I can't think of a better cheerleader for America than Bill Clinton, can you?" the Democratic senator from New York asked a crowd jammed into a junior high school gymnasium. "He has said he would do anything I asked him to do. I would put him to work."

Smart move. She has simultaneous capitalized on and diffused the idea that Bill would shadow Hillary's presidency. On the one hand, he'll be part of the team. On the other hand, he'll be "roaming" the world.

Whether or not "trolling" would be a more accurate verb, Bill's prospective job seems to meet the needs of the husband, the wife, the Democratic primary voter, and the general election voter.

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Pictures of Princeton 

I wandered around Princeton's campus today taking pictures. It was a beautiful bright morning. The flowers are out but the leaves are not, so Princeton's great buildings are visible in a way that they will not be even next weekend. Sample below, slideshow here.


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Friday, April 20, 2007

Is Ansar al-Sunnah in Germany? 

Stratfor reported this short note($) this afternoon, culled from the German media:

German media reported April 20 that the increased threat cited by the U.S. Embassy in a Warden Message released earlier that day could have been prompted by an Iraqi militant group. Citing security sources, Die Welt reported that U.S. intelligence warned Germany's Federal Criminal Investigation Office that Ansar al-Sunnah operatives had been observed surveying U.S. installations in southern Germany.

Bad news, if true. Not only would this amount to actual blowback from Iraq into the West, but it would considerably degrade the claim that it is better to fight them "over there."

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Cho Seung-Hui's sister calls her friends 

The Virginia Tech gunman's sister graduated from Princeton a few years ago, and she called friends here in the aftermath and offered some insight into the Cho family's reaction. The Daily Princetonian wrote a story about it.

CWCID: An undercover Princeton TigerHawk reader.

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Inflating the currency: praising little by praising much 

In my capacity as a parent, I have long disagreed with those who believe that children need constant praise, even when their performance is well within the bounds of our expectations. Praise is like currency -- if you dump too much of it into circulation, it soon becomes worthless.

That is why this development (WSJ) is such bad news for the American workplace:

You, You, You -- you really are special, you are! You've got everything going for you. You're attractive, witty, brilliant. "Gifted" is the word that comes to mind.

Childhood in recent decades has been defined by such stroking -- by parents who see their job as building self-esteem, by soccer coaches who give every player a trophy, by schools that used to name one "student of the month" and these days name 40.

Now, as this greatest generation grows up, the culture of praise is reaching deeply into the adult world. Bosses, professors and mates are feeling the need to lavish praise on young adults, particularly twentysomethings, or else see them wither under an unfamiliar compliment deficit.

Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up. Corporations including Lands' End and Bank of America are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees using email, prize packages and public displays of appreciation. The 1,000-employee Scooter Store Inc., a power-wheelchair and scooter firm in New Braunfels, Texas, has a staff "celebrations assistant" whose job it is to throw confetti -- 25 pounds a week -- at employees. She also passes out 100 to 500 celebratory helium balloons a week. The Container Store Inc. estimates that one of its 4,000 employees receives praise every 20 seconds, through such efforts as its "Celebration Voice Mailboxes."


Back in the day there were bosses who were so curmudgeonly that they would not praise even outstanding work. The linked article quotes an older lawyer who says that when he was an associate, "If you weren't getting yelled at, you felt like that was praise." And it was. Praise was praise, and a dollar was worth a dollar.

Now, just as the gold standard had its shortcomings, it is possible to be too abstemious with the compliments. Fine. By all means praise somebody who does something worthy, something that causes you to think "if I only had three more of her." But if you are a parent, teacher, or employer, please don't ruin your credibility and spoil your children, students or employees with vacuous, disingenuous praise, the only honest purpose of which is to manipulate the target's emotional state. When your children, students or employees understand that a compliment from you is a real achievement, they will cherish it all the more and work harder to earn another one.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

On raising the drinking age, and a story about the Iowa of my youth 

In the category of swinging pendulums, Glenn Reynolds links with apparent approval to various columns -- including one by George Will -- arguing that the drinking age should revert to 18. The arguments in favor are legion, but the political opportunity lies in the traditional place:

In the first four years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 563 Americans under the age of 21 were killed in the line of duty. These citizen soldiers were old enough to vote, old enough to put on military uniforms, and old enough to die for their country: They were old enough to do just about anything, except drink a red-white-and-blue can of Budweiser.

This argument does not have quite the force it did in generations past, because even our teenaged soldiers and Marines are vastly more experienced, skilled, trained, mature and responsible than most of their peers who have chosen the repose of college life. One has the sense that the typical 18 year-old of the '40s, '50s, and even '60s was not nearly as sheltered and, yes, childish as he is today (for more on that tendentious subject, I highly recommend Glenn and Helen's interview of author-psychologist Robert Epstein). That said, I certainly agree that we should reduce the drinking age. Indeed, I first wrote about this issue 29 years ago, in the summer of 1978.

That year, I was 16 and quite mindful of Iowa Governor Robert Ray's earlier campaign promise not to raise the drinking age. By 1978 Ray had backtracked, and signed a law that moved it from 18 to 19. I was grandfathered, but my highly refined sense of justice spun me up into a state of outrage nonetheless. Not having a blog at the time I unburdened myself the traditional way: I wrote the governor a letter detailing the many stupidities and injustices in the new law and dropped it in the mail. I'm sure it was both persuasive and witty.

One Saturday morning a couple of weeks later I was sitting around indolently eating Captain Crunch when the phone rang.

A woman: "Can you spare a few minutes for Iowa's governor, Robert Ray."

Me (having completely forgotten the letter, and assuming that I was about to listen to some taped political message or other solicitation that would not actually involve Robert Ray): "Uh, sure."

A man: "TigerHawk*, I wanted to talk to you about the fine letter you wrote about raising the drinking age."

Me: "Governor Ray?"

Then ensued a delightful and mutually respectful 15 minute conversation about the wisdom and lack thereof in the raising of the drinking age, at the end of which we agreed to disagree, but take each other's ideas into account.

The most Iowa thing about the whole episode was not that the governor called me, a pimply high school student, at home to discuss a matter of public policy. At the time, I didn't even find it particularly surprising. No, the most Iowa thing was that the governor didn't turn it into a publicity moment. No reporter called to find out what it was like to talk to the governor, and Robert Ray never claimed credit for talking to the average voter off camera, one-on-one. It was just the way Iowa worked.

On the drinking age, I think the right answer is now and always will be obvious. Individuals should be able to purchase alchohol on their own account starting at age 19, which would liberalize the current law considerably and still allow for the policing of unsupervised drinking among high school students. In addition, teenagers older than, say, 15 should be able to drink in the company of their parents, either in private or in restaurants. Responsible drinking has to be taught. One can't help but believe that the current generation binges because it has had no opportunity to learn that responsibility from the people in the best position to teach it to them.
*Not my real name.

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Questions for Harry Reid 

The Senate Majority Leader, Democratic Senator Harry Reid, has declared that the war in Iraq "is lost." Excluding domestic partisan political advantage, what purpose is served in making such a statement? Regardless of one's political opinions, how is it to the advantage of the United States for the leader of the opposition to say such a thing in public? How will this influence the avowed enemies of the United States?

These are not rhetorical questions. Have at them in the comments.

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Fallows on Virginia Tech and the Chinese media 

James Fallows has an interesting post at the HuffPo that traces the geopolitical impact of a single erroneous report by a Chicago Sun-Times columnist, Michael Sneed. Sneed erroneously reported very early that the Virginia Tech killer was Chinese. Fox and some local news outlets picked up on the story, and the rest was, well, predictable:

What the Chinese media did next was bad in a predictable way. Many web links to outside news of the shooting were blocked to limit subsequent details from reaching China. As reported in this blog from Beijing, parts of CCTV and the other official news outlets downplayed all announcements about the shooting until they could be sure what the "correct" Chinese angle would turn out to be. Meanwhile some other Chinese press web sites reported the news -- and the suspicion, emanating from America, that the killer was Chinese. I have friends in the U.S. consulate here, and I could imagine them tearing through the visa records yesterday, trying to figure out who the student might posibly have been, and which consular officer had stamped Approved! on his papers.

Why all this flurry, over a suspect who proved to have nothing to do with the Shanghai consulate or China at all? As best I can tell, the alarm in the world's most populous nation was caused by one person, the (female) columnist Michael Sneed of the Chicago Sun Times...

All interesting stuff, lessons about our interconnected world and such. But then Fallows twists the story into a bizarre "lesson":
Meanwhile it was striking through the day that no "real" news source stepped up to confirm Sneed's report. (The ones who passed it along were Drudge and Fox.) But eventually the Chinese started to assume that it must be true. Otherwise, how could an American journalist dare go public, fast and alone, with a detailed claim sure to cause international ripples?

How indeed? It turns out the "normal" media were right to wait; that every detail of Sneed's story about the Chinese culprit was wrong; and that something went wrong in the basic journalistic process here....

1.3 billion Chinese people are grateful to you, Michael Sneed -- grateful the alarm created singlehandedly by you proved false. They hold endless seminars on media ethics here, on the theory that this can help shape up a state-controlled press. Maybe you'd like to come speak? I guarantee you'd draw a crowd.

I think that James Fallows is an extremely good journalist, but this is asinine. The Sneed incident it is hardly a question of journalistic ethics. Sneed was reporting on a crime, and reported the ethnicity of the suspect according to rumors she had heard. She said he was Chinese, he turned out to be Korean. This is like saying that a suspect is believed to be Argentinian and have him turn out to be Brazilian. If this is the sort of error that counts as an ethical lapse in James Fallows' world, then we all need to scrutinize the pages of The Atlantic more closely. Even that exercise would be unfair, since that magazine hardly operates in the competitive business of reporting news. It goes to bed days or weeks before it hits the newsstands. Unlike news, The Atlantic's content robustly survives the passage of time instead of decaying into irrelevance, so its editors have vastly more time than any newspaper to confirm alleged facts.

Now, Fallows is apparently in China, and no doubt feels the Chinese reaction acutely. Fair enough, but who is responsible for the Chinese reaction? The sole American columnist who reported a fundamentally harmless rumor, the few American media organizations who passed it along, or the "1.3 billion Chinese," who run a police state that prevents any market in ideas and who (apparently) responded with a parochialism that makes the dumbest American rube look cosmopolitan?

C'mon. If Sneed's mistake is unethical, or even unprofessional, then there is hardly an ethical or professional newspaper reporter in the Western world.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Confusion and moral error at the United Nations 

The U.N.'s fetish for moral equivalence is bad enough, but sometimes the United Nations drifts into rank moral error. When that happens, it is very easy to despise.

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The poor seal butchers got trapped in the ice 

I am not a vegetarian, regard animal rights activists as at best tedious, and think that hunting is the sport of kings. That said, I don't believe in hunting cetaceans, and I can't imagine how people who club baby Harp seals look at themselves in the mirror in the morning.

Mother Nature, apparently, feels the same way, for she conjured up the mojo to overcome all that anthropogenic global warming and hammer those bastards with Arctic ice.

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Tigerhawk's worlds collide 

This kind of thing happens so rarely it is noteworthy. It seems that incoming Hawkeye basketball coach Todd Likliter has closed the deal on his first basketball recruit, point guard Jeff Peterson from DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md.

Peterson, 6-foot, 185 pounds, is expected to provide immediate help at the point guard position and allow Tony Freeman and Justin Johnson to spend more time at their more comfortable, off-guard positions.

He reportedly is a top academic student and initially committed to Princeton last fall.

Of course Princeton might have stood a better chance if it had a basketball coach at all.

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Yet another inconvenient truth: The lazy husband myth 

This news isn't going to be popular in certain circles:

Everyone from economists and sociologists to Oprah knows that women work more than men. Their longer combined hours, at the home and at the office, stop men from taking afternoon naps on the couch and cause fights that end with men spending nights on the couch. And yet according to new study, those longer hours are a myth, because it's just not true that women carry a heavier load....

Throughout the world, men spend more time on market work, while women spend more time on homework. In the United States and other rich countries, men average 5.2 hours of market work a day and 2.7 hours of homework each day, while women average 3.4 hours of market work and 4.5 hours of homework per day. Adding these up, men work an average of 7.9 hours per day, while women work an average of—drum roll, please—7.9 hours per day. This is the first major finding of the new study. Whatever you may have heard on The View, when these economists accounted for market work and homework, men and women spent about the same amount of time each day working. The averages sound low because they include weekends and are based on a sample of adults that included stay-at-home parents as well as working ones, and other adults.

So why do women think men sit around and watch television? Because they do, but only after they have put in their time:
Although men in many rich countries do not work less than women, they do enjoy about 20 to 30 minutes more leisure per day (over an hour more in Italy) because they spend less time on sleep and other biological necessities. Men spend almost all of this additional leisure time watching television.

If this is true (and it may not be), why is it received wisdom that women work much harder than men? My theory, which is bound to get me into deep doo-doo, is that men, on average, enjoy their work more and complain about it less. I admit to no idea whether this is because of male joi de vive or simply that men have arrogated to themselves work that is inherently more fun -- driving the lawn tractor is more fun than buying groceries, to pick a couple of gender roles that do not apply stereotypically in our household -- but I believe it to be true.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds, who at least seems to have great fun at "work." Indeed, Glenn might have told us whether blogging "market work," "homework", or "leisure". Jeez, but he didn't. Well, I think blogging is fairly obviously "market work" if you're the Instapundit, and "leisure" if you're TigerHawk.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"Where do we find such men?" 

Wow. Just wow.

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Who pays the federal income tax, and who does not 

Yesterday I put up a short little post about the "dirty little secret of tax evasion." Since your taxes are due today and it is probably too late to evade any taxes you weren't going to dodge anyway, you will be happy to learn that you are among the few and the proud!($)

If the tax forms you're filing this year show Uncle Sam entitled to any income tax, you increasingly stand alone. The income tax system is so bad, and increasingly reliant on a shrinking number of Americans to pay the nation's bills, that 40% of the country's households -- more than 44 million adults -- pay no income taxes at all. Not a penny.

Think of it this way. After dropping off your tax forms at the Post Office, you find 100 people standing on the sidewalk. Forty of them will be excused from paying income taxes thanks to Congress. Twenty of them, the middle class, will pay barely a thing. The 40 people who remain, the upper middle class and the wealthy, will pay nearly all of the income taxes.

Look at that crowd again and find the richest person there. That individual will pay 37% of all the income taxes owed by those 100 people. The 10 richest people in the crowd will pay 71% of the income-tax bill. The 40 most successful people will pay 99% of everyone's income taxes.

The article comes with the nifty graph at right.

Recognizing that one can never derive what ought from what is and that there is no a priori level of just taxation, what do you believe is the average citizen's view of the fairness of the Federal Income Tax, and do you think it is justified?

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