Friday, February 29, 2008

Wholly unproductive organic food lunatic walks in the direction of India 

If this is not laugh-out-loud funny, I don't know what is:

A man who planned to walk from Bristol to India without any money has quit, after getting as far as Calais, France.

Mark Boyle, 28, who set out four weeks ago with only T-shirts, a bandage and sandals, hoped to rely on the kindness of strangers for food and lodging.

But, because he could not speak French, people thought he was free-loading or an asylum seeker.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the geography of France, Calais is as close to England as you can get, so it is no wonder the locals were suspicious. Nevertheless, I think we all know what really happened here: the citoyens de Calais pretended not to understand Mr. Boyle.

This, I think, is the best part:
He now plans to walk around the coast of Britain instead, learning French as he goes, so he can try again next year.

Are there really a lot of opportunities to learn French along the coast of Britain? I admit, that is something I did not know. But this solution invites a more troubling question for Mr. Boyle: What happens when he gets to Italy? Will he then walk around France trying to learn Italian, all the while begging for handouts? Indeed, one can imagine this learn-as-he-goes process continuing for many years as he makes his way through the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan.

But wait, I was wrong. Here is the really truly best part:
Mr Boyle, a former organic food company boss, belongs to the Freeconomy movement which wants to get rid of money altogether.

No wonder he is a former "organic food company boss." All the organic food companies I know of charge vastly more, er, money for their products than their factory-farming, mass producing, hormone injecting competitors.

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After all, his lips were moving 

Should I be upset that Obama may be misleading voters or happy that he *actually* has no intention of pursuing a really stupid policy?

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He who smelt it dealt it? 

This version of the dumb photo story is consistent with our prior commentary:
That same day, the notoriously right-wing, scandal-mongering Drudge Report website ran a photograph of Obama dressed in the traditional clothing of a Somali elder during a tour of Africa, attached to an assertion, without evidence, that the Clinton campaign was "circulating" the picture. The story was silly on its face--there are plenty of photographs of Hillary Clinton and virtually every other major American elected official dressed in the traditional garb of other countries, and Obama's was no different. The alleged "circulation" amounted, on close reading, to what Drudge's dispatch said was an e-mail from one unnamed Clinton "staffer" to another idly wondering what the coverage might have been if the picture had been of Clinton. Possible e-mail chatter about an inoffensive picture as spun by the Drudge Report would not normally be deemed newsworthy, even in these degraded times.

Except by Obama and his campaign, who jumped on the insinuating circumstances as a kind of vindication. The Drudge posting included reaction from the pinnacle of Obama's campaign team. "It's exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world," said Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe, who also described the non-story as "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election" and "part of a disturbing pattern." Although he never explicitly spelled out the contours of this pattern, he was clearly alluding to race baiting. Later in the day, Obama himself jumped in, repeating the nasty, slippery charge that the Clinton campaign "was trying to circulate this [picture] as a negative" and calling it a political trick of the sort "you start seeing at the end of campaigns."

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Who is the rube? 

Eventually, somebody is going to ask Barack Obama to explain his position on free trade with our most important and proximate trading partners. That will be interesting, since up until now it seems he has been deliberately confusing the boobery:

When it comes to things like NAFTA, there seem to be only two possibilities. Either Obama's anti-NAFTA talk is a ruse to fool the rubes, or his coterie of distinguished economic experts is a ruse to fool a different batch of rubes.

Regardless, he apparently thinks Canadian diplomats are rubes. In that he may be right, but no presidential candidate should allow his campaign to say as much.

MORE: "Coming next -- an Obama adviser tells the Iraqi government not to pay attention to his troop-withdrawal talk?"

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Bush in Africa 

Bob Geldof has written a nice portrait of George W. Bush in Africa. It amounts to a small hint that in a couple of generations history may render a verdict on the Bush administration that is substantially more nuanced than we would expect from those of us who lived through it.

The Bush regime has been divisive — but not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent — but not in Africa. It has created bitterness — but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives.

It is not all so complimentary, but that too reflects well on the author. Bob Geldof has written about George W. Bush with more intellectual and emotional honesty than most professional journalists or bloggers ever do. Not bad, coming from a transnational progressive rock star.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Those fat dogs are brown, therefore these brown dogs are fat 

With regard to my earlier post about Liberal Fascism, I should point out that my criticism of the book also applies to assertions made in the comments. For instance, one commenter immediately remarks on the "Body Count" of left vs. right ideologies. The problem is that authoritarian communists (who have some big body count numbers) don't bear a lot of resemblance to contemporary american 'liberals'. No more than the supposed right-wing fascists of history do contemporary conservatives. It isn't constructive to combat the ridiculously wrong conventional wisdom of Chris Chambers in the comments ("fascism is a construct of the right. period") by spinning out an equally specious argument about the left. The notion that a modern liberal is closer to Soviet Communists on a constructed right-left spectrum (government control of the economy, say) doesn't allow you to lump them together as fellow travelers. It's the same mistake Goldberg combats effectively, yet ends up making in return, I think.

Another interesting criticism of Goldberg is that he conflates all authoritarianism with fascism:
The primary problem I had with this book is not so much the author's associating American liberalism/progressivism with European fascism but with his attempt to say that all authoritarianism and idealization of the State is by definition, his definition, fascism. He goes so far as to say Lenin, Stalin, and Castro are fascists. This is absurd. They were, or are in the case of Castro, certainly authoritarian, but to call them fascist it to miss the clear differences in their economic policies from people like Hitler or Mussolini who were economic centrists--a Third Way between capitalism and socialism.

If one takes into consideration all of the various political ideologies present in western democracies during the 19th through the early 21st centuries and places them on a Cartesian plane with economic issues on the x-axis (left/right) and social issues on the y-axis (authoritarian/libertarian) one can more easily distinguish the differences between various points of view. Authoritarian rightists like the American Republican and Democratic Parties would be in the upper right, authoritarian leftists like Castro and Lenin would be on the upper left, libertarian leftists like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela would be on the lower left, and libertarian rightists such as Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand would be on the lower right.

This commenter is wrestling with the obvious problem of trying to reduce ideologies and political or motivational tactics to a simple right-left axis. Even invoking the various criteria for fascism around the web, ask yourself - do these criteria simply define the more 'right wing' (with respect to corporations or opposition to convenient leftists) forms of authoritarianism? It seems like the accusation that fascism is "a construct of the right" might properly be re-formed as "fascism is a definitional construct of the left designed to identify some of the most heinous authoritarians as 'right-wing' ".

Most of these definitions lean heavily on things like "patriotism", "nationalism" , "anti-communism" and "corporatism" as common fascist/right wing indicators. Goldberg presents a mountain of evidence that self-defined progressives and liberals have also displayed these traits in abundance, along with intolerance of dissent and suppression of civil rights. The idea that jingoism or racism makes something "right wing" is demonstrably false name-calling.

If a vigorous commitment to small government and individual freedoms is to be defined as on the political "right", then the political right can safely say it is distanced from authoritarianism of any stripe. Sadly, this isn't always the case.

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Does anyone know of examples of anti-blogs on the right side of the ideological spectrum? I know they were a fad a few years ago, but I can't think of any.

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A Snake Bites Dog Story 

Python stalked, then ate family dog .

That's why we keep our boas in locked cages. Let's face it, a "silky terrier-Chihuahua crossbreed" is not a creation destined to thrive in a Darwinian contest.

UPDATE: some speculation about tougher breeds in the comments. Once bitten, I don't like anyone's chance against a large snake (without armed assistance). Their constricting strength is not to be believed, and they can withstand amazing amounts of injury while squeezing the life out of their prey. There is an outfit in Wanaque NJ that takes in abandoned reptiles and uses them for animal shows. They have a Burmese Python in their care that bit and constricted its owner's arm, having not been fed for 7 months. He stabbed it with a carving knife over 1000 times and still couldn't get it off*. The snake's name is Slash, of course.

Here's an interesting tip that you will probably never use. If you are trying to remove a constricting snake, pull from the tail first. You'll never get them to budge from the head.

*I didn't say they were smart, just mighty, tough and persistent.

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Regular readers know that we are building a new house. Mrs. TigerHawk has graciously indulged my request that the house have a great many bookshelves to accomodate our great many books, most of which today are in boxes in the attic, on makeshift shelves with bricks and boards, or even in piles in corners. Yes, in the course of moving I will work up the courage to dispose of many books that I will neither read nor refer to, but we expect to live in the house a long time and it needs to be able to absorb the large number of books I buy every year because I am both affluent and insane. You see, I am not a bibliophile so much as a biblioloon. I basically cannot walk into a bookstore without buying something. I buy books because they look interesting and I fantasize about having time to read them, but am way too busy actually to read more than a fraction of them. Books are really my only consumerist frivolity (if you do not include the absurdly high household Starbucks budget, and in that there are other culpable parties), but there is no defending my "problem".

Anyway, I was highly entertained by this analysis of the linkage between the books one displays and one's self-image. One view, which I would call the "merit badge" theory, is that it is wrong to display books in the public spaces of one's house that one has not read. Proponents of this theory believe it is tantmount to claiming credit for work you have not done, or learning you do not have. Ezra Klein's very amusing response is that the books you display reflect how you want to be perceived; I would call this the "image" theory. Just as our clothes or cars or houses shape our identity, so do our books, or so the theory goes.

I will confess that years ago, when I was, well, Ezra's age, I subscribed to the image theory, at least insofar as I gave some thought to the books I would keep in the living room where guests would see them. No longer, though. Now my motives are purely practical -- to get them off the floor and out of other places where they are not books but "clutter," and to render them accessible for (the kids') term papers and (my) blogging and other writing. The real purpose of the home library, as opposed to the home big-pile-of-cartons-filled-with-books, is so that you can easily refer to the indexes.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Remembering William F. Buckley, Jr. 

I am sorry to see that William F. Buckley, Jr. died today. He surely counts as one of the most influential Americans of the second half of the 20th century, giving form and shape and intellectual heft to a conservative political movement that would eventually replace the statism that dominated American politics, with short breaks, from the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt forward. That conservative era that Buckley helped birth may itself be in twilight; if we are indeed in an era of resurgent statism, we will all certainly miss Buckley's great wit and intellectual leadership, but perhaps it is better for him that he will not have to see it.

Anyway, there are many commemorations of Bill Buckley's life today, but Joe Lieberman's is certainly the most heartfelt you are likely to read from a liberal. The Wikipedia entry is pretty interesting as well; he led a life anybody would envy.

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Is Russia stepping up on Iran? 

Russia, for all its interest in keeping the United States tied up in Iraq instead of up its own shorts, does not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons even if that sad development would pin us down in Iraq longer than otherwise necessary.

Read that last sentence carefully, because I meant every word.

Now consider that the Russians are now threatening to join the three Western UNSC members in imposing sanctions on Iran.


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Ideology and "Fascism" 

Tim Noah reviews Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism:
Liberal Fascism, then, is a howl of rage disguised as intellectual history. Some mean liberals called Goldberg hurtful names, so he's responding with 400 pages that boil down to: I know you are, but what am I?

Among the liberals I know, you don't, in fact, hear the word fascist bandied about much, and if somebody blurts it out to describe contemporary conservatism, the most common reaction is a rolling of the eyes. It's a provocation rather than an argument, much overused by the left during the 1960s and now mostly absent from mainstream political discourse.

True and untrue. I do think LF is an identity-politics argument made in response to a common identity-politics argument. Goldberg is indeed responding to overheated rhetoric about the loss of freedom in the Bush administration (yes, Tim, this stuff is out there, and not just in throw-away Hollywood comments). He is also, I think, responding to a meme that has some traction in dinner table conversation- the idea that fascism emerges from or can be identified with the right, not the left.

He does a superb job of demonstrating the following:

1) the ideological heritage of the left is full of leaders who took actions that are appropriately described as fascistic
2) Left-leaning heros were, on occasion, admirers of fascists

Noah's point is that among his own cognoscenti there is no need to re-state these obvious facts. That same criticism could be leveled at lots of books, and, I'll wager, quite a few of Noah's columns. So I'm not sure it amounts to much. Goldberg's book isn't written for Noah's dinner party of bien pensants.

On the other hand, Goldberg's argument is not too far, logically, from the one he deplores. They tend toward the fallacy of generalization: Wilson engaged in fascistic behavior. Wilson was a man of the technocratic left, therefore leftists are fascists. The difference is that Goldberg's accusers are historically ignorant and Goldberg is not.

Which leads me to the real value of this book. I don't believe the temptations of state power are unique to "the right" or "the left". They are simply a human and bureaucratic hazard. Goldberg puts together a fascinating history of the use of state power in the pursuit of ends that were and are deemed noble by the left. If you have no time for the book, read Goldberg's article on Woodrow Wilson. It will leave you shaking your head at the idea that any modern politician would voluntarily label themselves "progressive":
Under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, Wilson's administration shut down newspapers and magazines at an astounding pace. Indeed, any criticism of the government, even in your own home, could earn you a prison sentence. One man was brought to trial for explaining in his own home why he didn't want to buy Liberty Bonds.

The Wilson administration sanctioned what could be called an American fascisti, the American Protective League. The APL – a quarter million strong at its height, with offices in 600 cities – carried government-issued badges while beating up dissidents and protesters and conducting warrantless searches and interrogations. Even after the war, Wilson refused to release the last of America's political prisoners, leaving it to subsequent Republican administrations to free the anti-war Socialist Eugene V. Debs and others.

Now, obviously, none of the current crop of self-described progressives are eager to replay this dark chapter. But we make a mistake when we assume that we can cherry pick only the good parts of our past to re-create.

There's much more to say (and I will likely edit this post, because I have to get back to something else), The real point is that social engineers, imperialist and racists need the coercive power of government to realize their plans. That way lies the Road to Serfdom. It is certainly not a road paved with free markets and individual rights. From an ideological perspective, the latter the only reliable contra-fascist indicators. Ideologies that subordinate these principles hazard becoming fascist.

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This will make it difficult to get the Dreck vote 

Pajamas Media: Final Face-Off: Clinton, Obama Spar in Ohio
On NAFTA the candidates are agreed: Free trade sucks. Although Obama was quick enough to provide a little shout-out to American workers’ productivity, a smart move in blue-collar Ohio. In fact, that line could be seen as poaching on yet another of Clinton’s core constituencies. It could be seen that way because that’s exactly what Obama was doing. Neither candidate would be cornered into threatening to cut off NAFTA inside of six months, but both promised to “reexamine” or “renegotiate” the treaty. The fact that the original agreement took years, not months, to negotiate was left unmentioned. That NAFTA then took a determined President Clinton and a lot of willing Republican Senators to get ratified was left unmentioned, too.

Do you suppose they'll ditch this crazy-talk in office?

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Stupid and curious things the Democrats said last night 

The transcript of last night's debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is far more painful than the event itself. Nobody will read it from beginning to end, because simply getting through the 16 minutes of squabbling over health care plan minutia will cause most people to regret their literacy. I did scroll through it, though, looking for nuggets of stupidity that I thought I heard last night while responding to (literally) 272 unread emails. There are at least two that impressed me.

Clinton, who is worried about Democrats seeing her as in favor of free trade:

So what I have said is that we need to have a plan to fix NAFTA. I would immediately have a trade timeout, and I would take that time to try to fix NAFTA by making it clear that we'll have core labor and environmental standards in the agreement.

So, National Mom, we are all going to take a "time out" from "trade" while you convene 500 experts to "fix NAFTA" according to the interests of the unions and environmental activists. What are we supposed to do when we are not trading and you are flapping your gums. I understand, you know, the five minute "time out" that you give your kid who is acting up, but how long is this trade time out supposed to go on? Is this part of your economic growth strategy, Mrs. Clinton?

The simple fact that the audience did not erupt in laughter and catcalls tells you something scary about the people who actually attend these things.

In quick response, we did get this comedy gold from Barack Obama, which I do not dare hope he actually means:
We can't have medicines that are actually making people more sick instead of better because they're produced overseas.

Of course, if you reimport drugs, how do you know they were actually produced here?

Then there was this bit of geopolitical brilliance from Barack Obama:
So on Pakistan, during the summer I suggested that not only do we have to take a new approach towards Musharraf but we have to get much more serious about hunting down terrorists that are currently in northwestern Pakistan.

And many people said at the time well, you can't target those terrorists because Musharraf is our ally and we don't want to offend him. In fact, what we had was neither stability in Pakistan nor democracy in Pakistan, and had we pursued a policy that was looking at democratic reforms in Pakistan we would be much further along now than we are.

Actually, back last summer Obama did not say that he would get "much more serious" about hunting down terrorists in Pakistan, or if he did that was not the point of controversy. He said he was willing to attack terrorists in Pakistan without the government's consent -- that is, he was prepared to violate Pakistan's sovereignty -- "[i]f we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act...". The objection at the time was not that an attack would "offend" Musharraf, but that it would weaken him or result in his overthrow. Does Obama actually not understand this?

The best part, though, is the sentence in bold, which is right out of the original Bush playbook for the entire Middle East. From Condoleezza Rice's much-reviled but nevertheless brilliant speech delivered in Cairo on June 20, 2005:
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. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.

As something of a neocon in these things, I am delighted that Senator Obama supports the Bush administration's democratization strategy, which it has effectively abandoned under pressure from the American left, European cynics, and Arab dictators who oppose it even for Iraqis. It is strange that Obama would say this, though, because it isolates him within his own party. One would be hard-pressed to find a Democratic foreign policy expert who thinks that democratizing Pakistan is good for American interests in the region. That sort of optimistic idealism is now the province only of the neoconservatives who built the Bush administration's post-9/11 foreign policy, and we know how unpopular they are among Democrats.

Or maybe Obama was just spewing nonsense he does not really believe, and Tim Russert and Brian Williams were too deferential or too clueless to call him on it.

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Another labor union forms a circular firing squad 

For those of you who wonder why American business people resist the unionization of workers, look no further than this story in today's New York Times. It is not the money, but the work rules.

The Air Line Pilots Association cannot even get its own members to agree among themselves on the calculation of seniority between pilots who work for different airlines. It is not that they are struggling mightily to compromise on difficult issues. Rather, they are not even trying to compromise:

Each side, though represented by the same union, pushed seniority arrangements that would have put pilots on the other side toward the bottom of the list. They refused to compromise....

When US Airways and America West merged in the fall of 2005, pilot officials from both sides expressed optimism that seniority could be worked out in a matter of months. But a year of direct talks failed. A mediator in October 2006 could not bring them together. So they entered binding arbitration before a panel led by George Nicolau, an 82-year-old New York arbitrator with experience in seniority disputes.

“All of us on the board kept saying, ‘Sit down, work this through,’ ” Mr. Nicolau said. But he added: “The intransigence worked all the way through. We simply couldn’t shake them.”

The US Airways pilots felt that after two bankruptcies and lost pensions, they needed to make up ground, and so they proposed a list that had 900 or so US Airways pilots atop it and that would have placed some furloughed US Airways pilots above active America West pilots.

The America West pilots, meanwhile, argued that their company saved US Airways from liquidation. So they wanted a list shuffling the two groups together, which essentially ignored date of hire. And they wanted hundreds of US Airways pilots at the bottom of the list so that America West pilots would be insulated from layoffs.

“Neither side blinked,” said Mr. Stephan, the union chief from the US Airways side.

If you read the article, you realize that the union members are among the most churlish people on earth, caring not one wit for labor solidarity but only for their unreasonable position, anybody else be damned. Even that would be just fine if federal labor law did not give them the power to take down two companies on which tens of thousands of other employees and millions of customers depend, but it does.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Democratic debate notes 

Not a live-blog exactly as I'm watching this on a 40 minute Tivo delay, but I'll put up my strong reactions here when and if I have them. For an actual live-blog, check out Stephen Green, who is also several drinks ahead of me.

It is not original to point out that it is very interesting that Clinton and Obama are no longer fighting over their manifest differences over Iraq and national security, but are splitting hairs over their competing health care plans, both of which are substantially to the left of anything that is likely to get enacted. True, Democratic primary voters have apparently bottomless interest in "universal health care," but is this really the best point on which to differentiate between the two?

[Many minutes transpire]

If they don't stop talking idiotically health care I'm going to have to switch to one of my other 400 channels. At random. I hope a lot of independent voters are watching this.

Hillary's extended whine about "always getting the first question" was both legitimate and very unattractive. Frank Luntz's little dials no doubt twisted to the negative on that one.

Hillary's pandering on NAFTA really is depressing. Obama drafts behind Hillary's answer, which is to threaten to withdraw in order to "renegotiate" the labor and environmental standards.

"Green collar" jobs are apparently the wave of the future, if only we would subsidize them the way Germany has. So says Mrs. Clinton.

Obama is completely incoherent on foreign policy, or at least I believe that a reading of the transcript will reveal that his answer, particularly as it relates to Pakistan, is nonsensical.

Hillary's point -- that she an Obama have voted identically on Iraq, and that his 2002 speech without any associated responsibility to act is really just a speech -- is a good point. Obama, meanwhile, is digging in on his point that we should strike al Qaeda inside Pakistan without regard for that country's sovereign rights. Good on him, but does he really believe it?

Here's what drives me nuts about Obama and other lefties: "It is not going to be easy to have a sensible energy policy in this country. ExxonMobil made $11 billion last quarter. They are not going to give up those profits easily." So, a sensible energy policy requires the producers of energy to give up profits? Does this guy not understand capitalism, or is he just trying to abolish it?

Russert is torturing Obama over Louis Farrakhan's endorsement, demanding that he "reassure Americans" over his support for Israel. Russert is especially strained when he points out that Obama quoted some minister in his book who happens to be a fan of Farrakhan. On the one hand, Obama's lengthy claims about the sheer quantity of Jews who support him are dangerously close to "many of my friends are Jewish" or, for that matter, black. On the other hand, Russert's line of questioning really is unfair. Nobody would try to hang any of the presidential candidates if, say, Osama bin Laden "endorsed" them; why is an endorsement from the odious Farrakhan really any different?

I can't take it any more.

OK, one more point -- some analyst on MSNBC said that tonight's winner was John McCain, insofar as the debate was stultifying and granular, pecking us to death over trivia. But that impression, alas, will not likely last into the general election. It is easy to forget that it is only February.

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Blame Bill? 

Bill O'Reilly, just now: "If Hillary Clinton loses, will Bill Clinton get the blame?"

Me, to the television: "He will, according to Hillary at least."

Mrs. TigerHawk, from the other room, regarding the unfortunate position Bill may be in: "Another decade without sex!"


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Wasting asset 

Gennifer Flowers has decided to auction the recordings of her telephone conversations with Bill Clinton. It seems to me that she has timed her sale poorly, insofar as they would have been much more valuable -- or at least politically relevant -- six or seven weeks ago. Then again, nobody may care at all in another week or two.

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One more for the dyspeptic doc... 

Eddie's brilliant.

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An odd choice 

It's enough to make you sick.
The New York Philharmonic under its music director Lorin Maazel was visiting Pyongyang, North Korea. It would be playing a concert of Wagner, Dvorak and Gershwin.

Since I wasn't around in Nazi days when fine orchestras delighted tyrants, I sat down with anticipation. The concert has provoked considerable nausea. Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal and Norman Lebrecht of Bloomberg News have both expressed dismay that an orchestra would entertain the elite of a country that abuses and starves its citizens.

This would be no ordinary concert. A podcast on the orchestra's Web site had promised a live streaming on the public broadcasting channel http://www.thirteen.org and I had verified it the day before.

On this site, Maazel had defended the event: ``Music is a powerful language in which those of us who are humane and intelligent can speak to each other in defiance of political and cultural boundaries,'' he wrote.

It was probably the first time that North Korea's leader had ever been called ``humane'' outside his circle of apparatchiks.

...With an Orwellian figure such as Kim Jong-Il behind the event, it was surprising that things did not run smoothly. The advertised streaming did not take place. Eerily, there was not a word about a change of program on the Web site. At another site http://www.arte.tv , the concert was not available in the U.K. for copyright reasons. After a long scrabble around the Internet, a colleague found the concert at http://www.medici.tv . The sound was choppy and the picture grainy. A large notice which said ``for contractual reasons the concert will be available on Friday February 29'' blocked the center of the screen. There were many visual and aural lapses. Curiously, every time the presenter spoke English, the interference increased and made what he said unintelligible.

"Curious" indeed. The most charitable interpretation of Maazel is that he is engaged in the "all dialogue is progress" form of rationalization, which allows one to justify being manipulated by all sorts of 'orwellian' types.

I'm astonished that someone thought Wagner was a good choice for the program. Not entirely the composer's fault, but his name and work carries more than a little political baggage.

UPDATE: in light of the information in this article, even more strange:
In North Korea, 20th-century modern music among the classical music is forbidden because it is regarded as too liberal." Jazz, too, is barred "because it is seen as 'vicious' music that confuses people's minds. Wagner's music is also restricted because of Nazism; and Rachmaninoff's music is forbidden because he flew to the United States as an exile."

And then there's this lovely story:
Kim Cheol-woong was born in Pyongyang to a politically connected family. His father worked for the party and his mother was a professor. In 1981, at the age of 8, he was selected for a special program for young artists at the Pyongyang Music and Dance Institute. Many North Korean musicians study in Russia, and in 1995, the young pianist was dispatched to the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow.

"The study in Russia changed my life," he says. "I was greatly impressed by the free harmonics in jazz music. I was so shocked when I first heard 'Autumn Leaves' by [French pianist] Richard Clayderman. I had never heard music like that before, and it gave me goose bumps all over my body. I was practicing hard [to learn the piece and] to be able to play it for my girlfriend back in North Korea; but somebody reported the fact to the National Security Agency, and I had to write 10 pages of apology. The fact that the pianist, just because of playing his music, was forced to apologize, caused a great sense of aversion in me, and I decided to seek a freedom of being able to play freely."

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My two favorite 'Bits of Fry and Laurie':

Hugh Laurie is a fantastic comic actor, from his spot-on depiction of Wooster to his portrayal of the Prince Regent in Blackadder. Stephen Fry is also an amazing improvisational comic. and has a blog.

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Monday, February 25, 2008


According to the Times of London, the Democratic race has been "blighted" over the now famous pictures of Barack Obama in traditional Somali dress, complete with turban. Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin catalogues numerous examples -- most of them hilarious -- of American politicians dressing up in, er, native garb. There are a lot of them; most of them look substantially more clownish than Senator Obama.

The question is, in light of Michelle's carefully unearthed precedent, why has the sneaky dissemination of Obama's turban photo "blighted" the campaign? Presumably it is because it deceptively appears to substantiate the untrue rumors circulating on the internet that Obama is a Muslim. Put differently, if the intent was merely to mock Obama (in the same way we mock Nancy Pelosi for her Muslim headscarf), there would be no grounds for outrage. Instead, the intent was probably to fuel the rumor, to substantiate a falsehood.

Meanwhile, we have the curious spectacle of a black man, running to be the nominee of the party of multiculturalism, "smeared" by a claim that he is a Muslim. Of course, if the Democrats mean what they say about "diversity," labeling him a Muslim ought not smear him in the first place.

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Inconvenient snow 

Flying home from Chicago yesterday afternoon, I continued to be impressed with how much snow and ice there was on the ground. Lake Erie was all but completely frozen over, and the farms of Michigan and Ohio were covered in snow. Apparently the same is true everywhere in the northern hemisphere:

Snow cover over North America and much of Siberia, Mongolia and China is greater than at any time since 1966....

China is surviving its most brutal winter in a century. Temperatures in the normally balmy south were so low for so long that some middle-sized cities went days and even weeks without electricity because once power lines had toppled it was too cold or too icy to repair them.

There have been so many snow and ice storms in Ontario and Quebec in the past two months that the real estate market has felt the pinch as home buyers have stayed home rather than venturing out looking for new houses.

In just the first two weeks of February, Toronto received 70 cm of snow, smashing the record of 66.6 cm for the entire month set back in the pre-SUV, pre-Kyoto, pre-carbon footprint days of 1950.

This is going to be a tense year for climate models and their critics. The modelers got out in front of the cold winter, predicting that 2008 would start cooler than most years since 2000 but would nevertheless be one of the ten warmest years on record. January was in fact dramatically cooler globally, and all the snow and ice in the northern hemisphere suggests that February is heading in the same direction. So far, the weather has made a fool out of neither side. If, however, the cooler temperatures persist through the year and 2008 finishes well below the "warmest ten," the only certainty will be that a massive public relations fight will erupt between the modelers and activists on one side and the "skeptics" on the other. The question then will be whether the mainstream media, having been duped by models gone wrong, starts to pay more attention to people who resist the supposed "consensus" view that carbon dioxide emissions lead inexorably to planetary catastrophe.

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Stupid Guilty Pleasures 

I must admit, LOLcats are a guilty pleasure of mine*. But part of the guilt comes from seeing that, like America's funniest home videos, these pictures are often set up, occasionally endangering the animal. For instance this and this and this, or of more concern, this.

My all-time favorites? This is good, but I like Invisible Steamroller best. Actually, all the "invisibles" are good, like Eye of the Tiger.

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If I do say so myself... 

I noted at Megan's
It does appear to me that the 2008 election will be an insipid contest between two sanctimonious vessels, one filled to the brim with projected and fuzzy hopes for the 21st Century and the other spilling carefully fertilized virtues from the 20th.

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Anti-Americanism and creative destruction 

Asia Times has an interesting opinion piece about Barack Obama, arguing that anti-Americanism runs deeply in his family, from his departed mother to his opinionated wife. I quite honestly do not know what to make of the argument, other than that it is fairly free of actual evidence and long on psychoanalysis. There is this, though: Barack Obama has not really been tested on the question, because Democratic primary voters include a large proportion of people who profess themselves "ashamed" to be American, at least with George W. Bush in the White House. Obama's intramural rivals, to date, would have had little to gain by raising the issue. That will not be true once his opponent is John McCain.

In any case, the essay does include an interesting explanation for anti-Americanism outside the United States:

America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America is the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Between half and nine-tenths of the world's 6,700 spoken languages will become extinct in the next century, and the anguish of dying peoples rises up in a global cry of despair. Some of those who listen to this cry become anthropologists, the curators of soon-to-be extinct cultures; anthropologists who really identify with their subjects marry them....

I rather like this formulation, insofar as it captures my own attitude: the purpose of life is to create, and all creation requires destruction. We complete ourselves by creating, and also destroying. Most Americans understand this deep down. It is far from obvious that most other people in the world, whose ancestors did not avail themselves of America's new start and many second chances, agree either that creation is the purpose of life or that all acts of creation also destroy (although it does appear that a couple hundred million people in each of China and India are catching on fast). If true, then we should neither be surprised by anti-Americanism nor expect it to change without sacrificing the essential characteristic that makes America exceptional.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Union Yank 

For TigerHawk points that can be redeemed for respect on this blog, identify this now defunct flag without peeking at the answer. [UPDATE: Second and perhaps better answer here.] Propose contemporary uses for it in the comments.

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Hillary as manager 

Andrew Sullivan, who does hate Hillary Clinton with the intensity that the pope hates a woman's right to choose*, makes a good point about her management style:

[W]e've learned something important these past couple of weeks.

Clinton is a terrible manager of people. Coming into a campaign she had been planning for, what, two decades, she was so not ready on Day One, or even Day 300. Her White House, if we can glean anything from the campaign, would be a secretive nest of well-fed yes-people, an uncontrollable egomaniac spouse able and willing to bigfoot anyone if he wants to, a phalanx of flunkies who cannot tell the boss when things are wrong, and a drizzle of dreary hacks like Mark Penn. Her only genuine skill is pivoting off the Limbaugh machine (which is now as played out as its enemies). Her new weapon is apparently bursting into tears. I mean: really.

It's staggering to me that she blew through so much money for close to nothing (apart from the donuts). Without that media meltdown in New Hampshire, she would have been forced to bow out much earlier. She didn't plan for contests after Super Tuesday. She barely planned for any before that. She was out-organized in Iowa and South Carolina, and engaged in the pettiest form of politics in Florida and Michigan. Her fundraising operation was very pre-Internet. She has no message that isn't about her and the Republicans.

It is fashionable to complain about our endless and bottomlessly expensive presidential campaigns, but we often do learn something important from them that we would not have in a more truncated process.
*Line swiped from the great comedian Todd Barry (buy his CDs here).

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Naval porn 

I was fortunate to have dinner the other night with Norman Friedman, the author of numerous books on navies and naval power. His new book, Naval Firepower: Battleship Guns and Gunnery in the Dreadnaught Era, is incredibly cool, at least if you get excited looking at military hardware (which I most certainly do -- one of the many reasons I am unqualified to serve in Congress). Anyway, I had a chance to page through it and gaze on its photographs and other illustrations, and have already ordered my own copy. Order your own by clicking below!

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A couple national security questions for Barack Obama 

Matthew Continetti has an excellent essay that describes how and why the House Democratic leadership prevented what would have been a favorable bipartisan vote on the extension of the Protect America Act, the legislation enacted last summer to permit the surveillance of electronic transmissions passing through American switches. The result is that the National Security Agency has just lost a large proportion of its ability to filter telephone calls for threats, even between foreigners speaking in foreign countries. Continetti wonders with much justification whether House Democrats are serious about national security.

This causes me to wonder how Barack Obama -- he being the most likely Democratic nominee -- accounts for the complete failure of al Qaeda or other Islamist terrorists to pull off a second successful mass casualty attack in the United States after September 11. At the time, essentially everybody on left and right believed that more such attacks would be forthcoming, but there have not been any. Why? Is this because we (all) grossly overestimated the threat posed by Islamist terrorists? Was al Qaeda just a paper tiger that got a lucky break? Or is it because our foreign and domestic security policies have created conditions under which it is much more difficult to succeed in such attacks? If so, which foreign and domestic security policies are most responsible for interdicting al Qaeda or channeling their attacks away from Americans? Since we know Obama believes the Iraq war has made us "less safe," is there a possibility that more aggressive signals intelligence than is permissible within FISA's "probable cause" standard is the domestic security policy that has prevented another attack?

CWCID: Andy McCarthy.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Clark Hoyt on the McCain/Iseman story 

I am no fan of the current "Public Editor" of the New York Times, Clark Hoyt. He often takes weeks to address real controversies with the paper's coverage so that he can devote himself to trivia instead, often in defense of the paper. Fair is fair, though, and Hoyt gets points for having jumped on the McCain "affair" controversy and come down squarely on the side of, well, principled journalism.

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Women's lib 

Free women are hot.

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Doers and talkers: The difference between Texas and Massachusetts wind 

The New York Times has an interesting story this morning about the rapid development of wind farms in Texas, which has surpassed California and now leads the country in the generation of energy from wind. This is perhaps surprising from a state with such a deep political and cultural commitment to the oil industry, which is probably why the editors saw fit to run the story on the front page.

Accordingly to the article, one of the reasons for the success of wind power in Texas is that the state is friendly to economic development of all sorts. People are not inclined to sue to stop wind projects, and are likely to lose if they do. Contrast Texas to Massachusetts, which has far more people who at least say they care about green energy. Ted Kennedy has done is level best to kill a wind farm near his retreat on Cape Cod, which -- if you have ever been there -- has a huge amount of wind. And not just from the flapping of the Kennedy jowls. (The Nantucket Sound wind farm proposal seems to be making more progress lately, notwithstanding the passionate opposition of most locals.)

There is a lesson in this. The development of clean energy is development, and states that are friendly to development in general will find it easier to displace fossil fuels than those for whom anti-progress litigation has become an art form.

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The view from my window 

Navy Pier and Lake Michigan, from the 39th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, about 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon.


We flew to Chicago yesterday to attend the retirement party of my professional mentor and friend, who is hanging it up after a long career at Latham & Watkins. It was a wonderful event, complete with a profoundly genuine outpouring of affection from colleagues, clients, old friends and -- this is often the tricky part for very hard workers -- family. There really are not that many people, perhaps especially big firm lawyers, who at the end of their career could assemble such a gathering of the people they have helped.

Separately, we flew over Lakes Erie and Michigan yesterday, and it certainly seemed that there was a lot of ice down there, at least by recent standards. On the other hand...

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Friday, February 22, 2008

An explosion in Durango, Colorado 

Normally we do not report on local news, but my sister-in-law lives in Durango, Colorado where news is breaking. A huge fire is devastating the downtown historic district, and Fox now reports that seven firefighters have been injured battling the blaze. The Denver Post has coverage here. Our family, at least, is fine, and we hope the firefighters pull through with no permanent injuries.

Of course, if any animals have been injured we recommend that they be taken immediately to the Kindness Animal Hospital, where they will receive excellent and compassionate care.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Iraq: The "R" word 

The purpose of the surge was to create sufficient security, broadly defined, so that the government of Iraq could develop the capability to police the territory under its control. One of the measures of that capability is political "reconciliation," a future state of affairs that has achieved totemic significance in the political debate within the United States. Without "reconciliation," Democrats maintain, the surge will not have succeeded.

Not surprisingly, most journalists covering Iraq strain themselves to avoid using the "R" word, or implying that it is happening now. Also not surprisingly, supporters of continued American military involvement in Iraq, including me, argue that Iraqis are reconciling, even if it is not taking the precise legislative form demanded by the leaders of the United States Congress. So, for example, I would regard the news that Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi "army" is extending its cease fire for another six months as evidence of reconciliation. Why? Because al-Sadr is only extending his cease fire because the political circumstances demand it. Bill Roggio:

While the reporting has focused on the negative implications the US and the Iraqi government if Sadr ended the cease-fire, Sadr himself had his own problems if the truce was ended. After Sadr's political movement withdrew from the government in early 2007, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki had a greater freedom of movement to tackle Sadr and his Mahdi Army. Since then, the Iraqi military has repositioned itself to take on the Mahdi Army in the south....

By calling off the cease-fire, Sadr risked reigniting the violence in Iraq, which has dropped dramatically since last summer. Sadr risked alienating Iraqis as well as exposing his real level of support in the Shia community.

Point is, the Sadrists may not be "reconciled," but other Iraqis are to such a degree that al-Sadr will isolate himself if he does not go along. Iraqi Shiites no longer need al-Sadr's protection because of the surge and the success of the Awakening Movement against the Sunni jihadis; they will reject him politically if he imperils the first real peace they have had in least four years. If that is not reconciliation, I do not know what is.

CWCID: Tottenpundit.

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Election Musing 

All the chatter today seems to be on the NYT hit piece on McCain, lobbyists and an alleged affair. Frankly, I think this stuff helps McCain. And the Times looks foolish. Didn't they just endorse the guy as "the least bad Republican" like two weeks ago? This story was well in the works by then, certainly. So isn't their editorial board sort of acknowledging the "who cares" nature of the allegations?

Frankly, given that his age is likely to be a topic of discussion, suggesting that not only can he have a younger "trophy" wife but also maybe carry on with a second younger woman is simply not going to hurt the guy. It is going to defuse the age issue. By the way, I tend to discount the allegations in any event -- he was gearing up an election run in 1998-9 -- but still, I think the suggestion helps him. Let's remember that everybody in the country knew Clinton was a philanderer long before Ken Starr and it didn't preclude his being elected twice. And there isn't much "there, there" on the lobbying stuff. Again, it's likely to help him with the moderate voter -- he was trying to make sure the FCC continued to give minorities an edge, as they do by statute, in procuring radio stations.

So this is going to hurt McCain? With who? Hispanics? Blacks?

One other, separate thought to consider as Obama begins to overtake the Clinton machine. In the general election, who do we think Hillary voters are going to support? Will partisanship dominate, as they naturally march across to support Obama? Or will they consider a vote for McCain?

When faced with a debate moderator's obnoxious question meant to highlight Ronald Reagan's advanced age in a debate with Walter Mondale, Reagan brilliantly responded that age should not be an issue in the election, and that in any event, he would not use his opponent's youth and inexperience against him. Mondale had no choice but to crack up. It was a one-liner which at once defused an issue, humanized Reagan and made him instantly likeable and made the moderator look churlish.

McCain will be abe to unleash a similar barrage upon Obama who, unlike Mondale, will have an enormous challenge addressing his genuine youth and inexperience. Obama is an empty vessel - a gifted orator, but absolutely no record.

Just sayin'.

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What a tangled web we weave, when we censor our disease 

My Goodness!
At my high school, which is majority-minority, the newspaper did a survey in which they asked the kids what they though white and black characteristics were. The white kids called whites dorky and mostly uncool. They said that blacks were funny and outgoing. The black kids said that whites were smart and hard-working, and blacks were ignorant and loud. The teacher who advised the student newspaper decided that the results of the survey weren't suitable for publication.

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Behold Our Future 

This is the inevitable path of a country that has huge unfunded retirement promises, massive social benefits and an aging population that has not been replacing itself. (US: Check, Check, half-check)
Chancellor Angela Merkel has failed to fulfill a campaign promise to simplify the tax code and reduce tax avoidance. Germans evade about 30 billion euros in taxes every year, estimated Dieter Ondracek, head of the German tax collectors' union DStG. That's more than 6 percent of the 495.3 billion euros of taxes collected at all levels of government last year.

``Unfortunately, tax evasion has become a popular sport in Germany,'' Ondracek said Feb. 19 in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Berlin.

Germany last year increased its top income tax rate to 45 percent, ranking it eighth among the 27 European Union nations. Capital gains taxes of as much as 50 percent are also among the highest in Europe.

Zumwinkel is one of several hundred wealthy Germans under investigation for illegally funneling money to foundations in the principality of Liechtenstein to avoid taxes. The inquiries will uncover more well-known individuals in business, politics and sports, the Handelsblatt newspaper reported today, citing unidentified investigators.

People of more modest means can find loopholes in books such as ``1,000 Legal Tax Tricks'' by Franz Konz, who's helped Germans cut their tax bills for 20 years. His book, published last year by Droener/Knaur, is the bestselling tax volume on Amazon.com's German language site.

Part of the issue is that German tax laws have become increasingly complicated as politicians added more and more exemptions. Since German reunification in 1990, the number of tax advisers in the country has jumped 60 percent to 72,669, according to the latest statistics from the BStBK tax advisers' federation.

Unfortunately, an expensive Christmas tree full of "refundable tax credits"...[sorry, I threw up a little].. is just the beginning.

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Tiger picture of the day 

The 'Villain sends us this interesting tiger story.

A pregnant tigress makes a spectacular leap to freedom from a boat in eastern India.

The tiger had to be rescued from a date palm tree where she had sought sanctuary after being chased and stoned by terrified villagers.

Leaping tiger

You have to love the concept of "terrified villagers." You never read "enraged urbanites" or "anxious cityfolk." You get the feeling that "terrified villagers" is journalistic code for "clueless rubes." A bit unsympathetic, I would say, given how scary tigers are.

More pictures at the link.

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Attention Hillary-haters 

Be careful what you wish for. If as now seems likely Hillary does not win the Democratic nomination, how will Barack Obama get her out of the way? Here's one hideous idea that should put to rest Republican qualms about "borking."

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Jesse Jackson's struggle for relevance 

Jesse Jackson is concerned about the possibility of a rift in the Democratic Party if blacks and Hispanics remain polarized, if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fail to "fervently" embrace each other at the national convention this summer, and if the "super delegates" do not fall out substantially in line with the popular vote.

Naturally, he has offered to help in any way he can.

I have the audacity to hope that an Obama presidency would marginalize Jesse Jackson and his ilk, who make a living fanning the flames of racial sensitivity and indignition. If so, that would be a truly rich dividend.

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Oil prices 

I've been arguing for several months now -- on the basis of no expertise whatsoever -- that oil would hit $60 a barrel again before it hits, say, $140. Of course, I could be wrong. Oil prices have surged more than 16% in just two weeks, and have now powered past $100. I blame global cooling.

It is hard to predict the direction and rate of change of oil prices, as this three year-old article from Forbes makes clear.

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Staying on message.. 

The Anchoress:
I join neo-neocon in appreciation of the semicolon, and I urge its increased usage! Between love and madness lies obsession; between commas and colons lie semicolons.

Perhaps our intentional use of the darling thing will help keep the synapses firing a bit longer and prevent us from sounding like Noam Chomsky in the Times article, who - asked to opine on the subject of semi’s - remarked (or, as the Times wrote it, “sniffed,”) “I suppose Bush would claim it’s the effect of No Child Left Behind.”

That remark, by the way, would be called a perfect non sequitur. Ask a man about the musty dust of elevated punctuation and he - fried by a strain of Bush Derangement Syndrome that creates U-turns out of cogent thought - cannot follow; all he can do is double-back.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On respecting Fidel 

I suspect that had CNN been around when Benito Mussolini "stepped down" from power, it would not have qualified its criticism with a respectful nod toward the fascist program for social justice in Italy (universal suffrage, including for women, eight-hour workday, minimum wage, reform of the pension system, establishment of worker safety rules, promotion of secular public schools, progressive taxation, not to mention making the trains run on time). It has, however, directed its reporters to mention all the "social reforms" that Fidel Castro accomplished during his long murderous rule over Cuba:

* Please note Fidel did bring social reforms to Cuba – namely free education and universal health care, and racial integration. in addition to being criticized for oppressing human rights and freedom of speech.

John Derbyshire pre-responded to this sort of idiocy eight years ago:
Wherever there is a jackboot stomping on a human face there will be a well-heeled Western liberal to explain that the face does, after all, enjoy free health care and 100 percent literacy.

This is, of course, much the same thinking that claims that Iraqis were better off with the "stability" that they enjoyed under the tender mercies of the Hussein family.

CWCID: Michael Totten.

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Lunar eclipse! 

If you're in the northeast, run outside right now and see if you can catch the lunar eclipse. It is spectacular, and a few minutes from total as I write this (9:25 pm).

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Missing the point entirely 

A commenter on Chris Bertram's post referenced earlier asks:
who cares about economic prosperity if you aren’t healthy, educated, and so on. That’s because I think that education and health are intrinsically valuable, whereas ‘participating in the economy’ is mostly just instrumentally valuable. But if free-market economic activity is the point, then I suppose Cuba seems pretty evil.

What is the point of either if you aren't free and can't own yourself and the product of your labor?

UPDATE: Another interesting comment, but this time one I would echo:
“There is a large, well-funded reaction which has as its stated goal the overthrow of the current government of Cuba.”

The same could be said of Israel, but they have managed to create stable democratic institutions, a free press and freedom of association and movement as well as universal health care and education for its citizens and a thriving economy. Of course, Israel has perpetrated its ‘fair share’ of human rights abuses in the occupied territories in the meantime, but CT-ers don’t seem to find the depth of sophisticated understanding for the Zionist state’s indiscretions as they do for the Fidelist one. In fact, they seem almost to prefer Fidelist dictaorship in Cuba to a democratric Israel, but that can’t be right, it must be my misreading.

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But where did he put the iocaine powder? 

Megan McArdle writes about presidential platforms as complex signaling mechanisms:
But does that even matter? After all, one might argue, if he runs on protectionism, he'll have to deliver in office. Well, actually it does. George Bush promised to protect the steel industry when he ran in 2000, for the same reason Obama may be sounding so anti-trade; he needed the swing states. In office, he delivered--but in a particularly stupid way that was thoroughly unlikely to withstanding a WTO challenge. Looked at that way, the very stupidity of Obama's plan may be a feature, not a bug; it signals voters that he cares, but signals policymakers that he's not really going to do much. Of course, "I support my candidate because I'm sure he's lying" is hardly a stirring rallying cry. And there remains the disturbing possibility that he's serious about all this.

Well, watch what they do, not what they say, and all that. Yet I'm not sure how many layers of this kind of kremlinology is required to determine whether you support a candidate.

sorry about the Megan links - remember, I used to be on her site.

Also - see Iocaine Powder

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Apart from that Mrs. Lincoln.... 

I'm surprised by this bit of Useful Idiocy
Still, I’m reminded of A.J.P. Taylor writing somewhere or other (reference please, dear readers?) that what the capitalists and their lackeys really really hated about Soviet Russia was not its tyrannical nature but the fact that there was a whole chunk of the earth’s surface where they were no longer able to operate. Ditto Cuba, for a much smaller chunk. So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let’s hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid. Let’s hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who held off the US forces for a while on Grenada. Let’s hear it for Elian Gonzalez. Let’s hear it for 49 years of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!

Just to pick one example -what did those Cuban farmers fight for?
After the execution of Bishop, the People's Revolutionary Army formed a military government with General Hudson Austin as chairman. The army declared a four-day total curfew during which it said that anyone leaving their home without approval would be shot on sight.

Six days after the execution of Bishop, the island was invaded by forces from the United States. The US stated this was done at the behest of Dame Eugenia Charles, of Dominica. Five other Caribbean nations participated with Dominica and the USA in the campaign, called Operation Urgent Fury. While the Governor-General, Sir Paul Scoon, later stated that he had requested the invasion, the governments of the United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago expressed anger at not having been consulted.

After the invasion, the pre-revolutionary constitution was resumed

Bertram casts a Churchillian glance at Castro's deficiencies while he prepares this concoction. It seems one could do the same for Chavez or even Qaddafi. But why? Because Cubans, who aren't allowed to have internet connections at home, can't?

That Castro stood in opposition (principled or otherwise) to the U.S. and Capitalism is not in his favor. Furthermore, divining intentions for opposition to the Soviet Union is only useful if one is appraising a potential ally. Opposing the Soviets stands us firmly on the right side of liberty and shared prosperity. The Armchair psychology ("what they really hate") adds nothing.

CWCID: Megan McArdle flagged this post in her google reader (which I see), so I suspect she will have something to say about it.


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What, if anything, about Islam would alarm you? 

Mark Steyn discusses his book America Alone -- which is still, 17 months after its publication, ranked #531 on Amazon -- and whether it is "alarmist" in an essay in Maclean's. I thought this bit was particularly good:

Okay, enough already. I get the picture: alarmist, alarmist, alarmist. My book's thesis — that most of the Western world is on course to become at least semi-Islamic in its political and cultural disposition within a very short time — is "alarmist."

The question then arises: fair enough, guys, what would it take to alarm you? The other day, in a characteristically clotted speech followed by a rather more careless BBC interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that it was dangerous to have one law for everyone and that the introduction of sharia — Islamic law — to the United Kingdom was "inevitable." No alarm bells going off yet? Can't say I blame you. After all, de facto creeping sharia is well established in the Western world. Last week, the British and Ontario governments confirmed within days of each other that thousands of polygamous men in their jurisdictions receive welfare payments for each of their wives. Still no alarm bells? I see female Muslim medical students in British hospitals are refusing to comply with hygiene procedures on the grounds that scrubbing requires them to bare their arms, which is un-Islamic. Would it be alarmist to bring that up — say, the day before your operation?

Sharia in Britain? Taxpayer-subsidized polygamy in Toronto? Yawn. Nothing to see here. True, if you'd suggested such things on Sept. 10, 2001, most Britons and Canadians would have said you were nuts. But a few years on and it doesn't seem such a big deal, and nor will the next concession, and the one after that. It's hard to deliver a wake-up call for a civilization so determined to smother the alarm clock in the soft fluffy pillow of multiculturalism and sleep in for another 10 years. The folks who call my book "alarmist" accept that the Western world is growing more Muslim (Canada's Muslim population has doubled in the last 10 years), but they deny that this population trend has any significant societal consequences. Sharia mortgages? Sure. Polygamy? Whatever. Honour killings? Well, okay, but only a few. The assumption that you can hop on the Sharia Express and just ride a couple of stops is one almighty leap of faith. More to the point, who are you relying on to "hold the line"? Influential figures like the Archbishop of Canterbury? The bureaucrats at Ontario Social Services? The Western world is not run by fellows noted for their line-holding: look at what they're conceding now and then try to figure out what they'll be conceding in five years' time.

The other night at dinner, I found myself sitting next to a Middle Eastern Muslim lady of a certain age. And the conversation went as it often does when you're with Muslim women who were at college in the sixties, seventies or eighties. In this case, my dining companion had just been at a conference on "women's issues," of which there are many in the Muslim world, and she was struck by the phrase used by the "moderate Muslim" chair of the meeting: "authentic women" — by which she meant women wearing hijabs. And my friend pointed out that when she and her unveiled pals had been in their 20s they were the "authentic women": the covering routine was for old village biddies, the Islamic equivalent of gnarled Russian babushkas. It would never have occurred to her that the assumptions of her generation would prove to be off by 180 degrees — that in middle age she would see young Muslim women wearing a garb largely alien to their tradition not just in the Middle East but in Brussels and London and Montreal. If you had said to her in 1968 that Westernized Muslim women working in British hospitals in the early 21st century would reject modern hygiene because it required them to bare their arms, she would have scoffed with the certainty of one who assumes that history moves in only one direction.

Compared to Europe's immigration issues, ours are, well, intramural.

My review of America Alone is here. Among other subjects, it quotes Ralph Peters on the durability of European pacifism:
Yet Europe is likely to be good for a number of surprises - surprising not least to Europeans themselves. With our short historical memory (one American quality Germans welcome), we thoughtlessly accept that, since much of Europe appears to be pacifist now, so it shall remain. But no continent has exported as much misery and slaughter as Europe has done, and the chances are better than fair that Europe is only catching its breath after the calamities it inflicted upon itself in the last century.

We last saw widespread pacifism in Europe just before 1914 and again during the half-time break in that great European civil war that lasted until 1945 (or 1991 east of the Elbe).

Europe's current round of playing pacifist dress up was enabled by America's protection during the Cold War. We allowed our European wards to get away with a minimum number of chores. The United States did (and still does) the dirty work, seconded by our direct ancestor, Britain. Even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization merely obscured how little was asked of Europe. For almost a century the work of freedom and global security has been handled by the great Anglolateral alliance born of a struggle against the tyranny of continental European philosophies hatched on the Rhine and Danube. Our struggle continues today, against fanaticism and terror.

It is unlikely that Europe's present pacifism will last... Europe will rediscover its genius, reforming itself if necessary. There will be plenty of bitterness and recriminations along the way, but Europe will accept the need to change because change will be forced upon it. The trouble with European genius, of course, is that it has a dark side. If its racist populations feel sufficiently threatened by the Muslim millions within their divided societies and by terror exported from the Islamic heartlands, Europe may respond with a cruelty unimaginable to us today. After all, Europe is the continent that mastered ethnic cleansing and genocide after a thousand years of pactice. We Americans may find ourselves in the unexpected
position of confronting the Europe of tomorrow as we try to restrain its barbarities toward Muslims.

I suspect he is wrong, that the cultural connection with Europe's violent past died, finally, with the last destruction of Germany and the full revelation of the Third Reich's horrors. The counterargument is, of course, Serbia.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Do not let this guy near the puppies:

It was the biggest, baddest, meanest froggy ever to have hopped on Earth.

Scientists on Monday announced the discovery in northwestern Madagascar of a bulky amphibian dubbed the "devil frog" that lived 65 million to 70 million years ago and was so nasty it may have eaten newborn dinosaurs.

This brute was larger than any frog living today and may be the biggest frog ever to have existed, according to paleontologist David Krause of Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, one of the scientists who found the remains.

Its name, Beelzebufo ampinga, came from Beelzebub, the Greek for devil, and bufo -- Latin for toad. Ampinga means "shield," named for an armor-like part of its anatomy.

Though from Madagascar, it is closely related to frogs in South America, having in all likelihood traveled there over a land bridge via a much warmer Antarctica during the late Cretaceous.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More on the cold January 

Anthony Watts continues to report on the sudden and dramatic global cooling in January, now confirmed by various different metrics. The data really are startling:

The ∆T for the past 12 months is 0.595°C which is in line with other respected global temperature metrics that I have reported on in the past two weeks. RSS, UAH, and GISS global temperature sets all show sharp drops in the last year. We are in an extended solar minimum, we have a shift in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation to a cold state, and we are seeing arctic ice extents setting new records and rebounding from the summer melt. While weather is defined as such variability, the fact that so many things are in agreement on a global scale in such a short time span of one year should give us all pause for consideration.

And then there is this:
The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for January was the 31st warmest on record, 0.32°F/0.18°C above the 20th century mean. Temperatures were colder than average across large parts of central and southern Asia. The January global land surface average was below the 20th century mean (-0.02°F/-0.01°C) for the first time since 1982. (emphasis added)

Flip side: Climate models are predicting that 2008 will begin on the cool side.

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Attention New Jersey taxpayers, part II 

Enlighten - New Jersey is continuing his series on the "education of the New Jersey taxpayer," this time with a discussion of the changes in the Garden State's system of confiscation taxation over the last ten years (part one, dealing with the expense side of the budget, is here). There is much that is interesting in there, including this:

As Governor Jon Corzine explained in his 2008 Budget in Brief, 85 percent of the state’s income tax revenue is paid by 20 percent of the state’s income tax paying households.

While affluent New Jerseyans may feel oppressed by that burden, it is actually almost identical(pdf) (see table 2, page 7) to the share of federal income taxes paid by the top quintile of Americans -- blue New Jersey, therefore, is no more progressive for the top fifth than the United States as a whole, even after the notorious "Bush" tax cuts that the Democrats have promised to repeal.

That said, the increase in marginal state income tax rates (for ordinary income) for the top earners in New Jersey under the McGreevey administration -- from 6.37% to 8.97% -- effectively erased more than half of the allegedly excessive Bush tax cuts for affluent New Jersey residents. If, therefore, the Democrats do allow the Bush cuts to expire, high income New Jerseyans will be paying income tax at a substantially higher aggregate marginal rate than they were in 2000. You might decide you do not care, but it is hard to imagine a more powerful argument against locating a business here.

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Count the "refundable tax credits" in 

Obama's economic plan.

By the way, anybody who objects to "death tax" should not be allowed to even think the term "refundable tax credit".

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No further comment... 

All I can say is that I wish I were as used to women fainting around me as Obama is.

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Conservatives need to get a grip 

Christopher Buckley, who absolutely writes the funny words good, has a little fun while arguing -- seriously -- that conservatives ought to get over their issues with John McCain. Best part:

Some of the anti-McCain shrieks on the right have averred that it would be preferable to let a Clinton (Hillary, technically) or an Obama have the presidency, so that the post-George W. Bush (“compassionate conservative,” small or large C not mattering much at this point) mess will land on Democratic laps and not ours.

This is an odd and sour banner to unfurl. It’s hard to imagine Ronald Reagan, or for that matter other conservative icons (Churchill, Margaret Thatcher), pounding the podium and announcing: “O.K., here’s the plan — we’ll tank this one and then look like heroes four years from now. Let us march!”

Conservatism is — among other things — a question of character. Mr. McCain has never been boastful on this score. He admits his failures with almost suspicious candor. He can in fact be a real bore on the subject. His Keating Five disgrace so offended his own sense of personal honor that he enacted an auto-auto-da-fé crusade for campaign finance reform: very unconservative.

And yet the sum of Mr. McCain seems (to me, anyway) far greater than the parts. How many elections offer such an inspired biography as his? And who among “us” — with the exception of Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who issued a statement saying that the thought of Mr. McCain in the Oval Office sent “chills up my spine” — would not sleep soundly knowing that the war hero was on the job calculating how to dispatch more Islamic fanatics to their rendezvous with 72 virgins, without an interlude of waterboarding, while in his spare time vetoing Senator Cochran’s latest earmark.

Conservatives who want to pull the rug out from under John McCain -- as opposed to nudging him to the right -- obviously have a very different view of their political position than I do. From where I sit, conservatives are massively misjudging how far the country has moved to the left in the last six years. The magnitude of the move has been masked by the war, which inspires patriotism and exposes the anti-Americanism of the activist left, but it has been dramatic nonetheless. The Bush administration has been far more anti-business than the Clinton administration was, and we know that it has nothing to do with its predilections. It is responding to popular opinion flowing from Clinton-era corporate governance scandals. Massive government entitlement programs are no longer out of style as they were in the nineties. Free trade is under seige, and it was the Bush administration that cracked first over steel tariffs. Regulation is now the favored solution to virtually every problem, a condition we have not seen since early in the Carter administration. Social conservatives are losing essentially every battle, from attitudes toward condoms to gay marriage to abortion. Finally, it is not original to observe that "nation-building," a central tactic in the counterinsurgency we now fight across the Muslim world, was high on the list of things that conservatives detested as recently as seven years ago. The only issue that seems to have moved in the conservative direction is immigration.

Meanwhile, conservatives sound more like whiners than winners. They could not carry the day for the candidates they preferred because the Christian right and the capitalist right could not agree, and now they cannot come to terms with the candidate chosen by the Republican rank-and-file.

The ugly truth is that four or eight years in the wilderness will not help conservatives unless they get incredibly lucky (as the Democrats have been to a great degree). Unfortunately, conservatives may not be able to avoid that even if they get behind John McCain with their money and their time right now, because the left side of most policy arguments is more vigorous and innovative than the right. The conservative ideological well is more than a little dry, and that has to change before the right starts winning elections again.

Conservatives need to man up, support McCain like they mean it, and get back to building the intellectual case for the conservative point of view. Otherwise, it will be 1960 all over again.

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Good news and bad news from Cuba 

The good news: Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public in 19 months, has resigned. The bad news: Nobody thinks it will matter much to the people of Cuba, either symbolically or substantively.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Sometimes the parody just writes itself 

For some reason, the image of Al Gore congratulating the assembled "wine industry" is hilarious:

Speaking via a live video link-up he told attendees the “wine industry must respond to this crisis”. [Yes, the usual crisis. - ed.]...

“I wish every industry was doing what the wine industry is doing today,” he said.

The former vice-president added: “Some wineries are now deciding to become carbon neutral and are using offsetting to do this.”

No, really. Every industry should buy carbon offsets.

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Hezbollah in the tradition of Hitler 

According to the Associated Press, it is not in the least bit interesting that Iran's proxy Hezbollah uses the form of salute made famous -- and infamous -- by the Nazis.

It would be fascinating to know how many newspapers around the world had the courage to pick up the linked picture and write their own caption.

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Rewriting history at the New York Times 

The New York Times has imagined "southern" Republican Senators who never existed, an error so fundamental that one is forced to wonder whether the Times has any actual editors. Or are they merely all under the age of 45 and entirely unschooled in political history?

Nixon's "southern strategy" is famous for a reason.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Smearing Obama: Scraping the bottom of the barrel 

Clinton aide Howard Wolfson has charged Barack Obama with plagiarism, a charge The Politico calls "explosive." The "explosive" charge is that a passage in Barack Obama's stump speech closely tracks a speech given by Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, back in October 2006.

Seriously? Politicians are not allowed to crib arguments from each other? I, for one, had literally no idea that principles of academic integrity applied to political speeches.

I am forced to conclude that Howard Wolfson is an idiot, or thinks that we are idiots. Is there a third possibility I am missing?

If this is the most potent stuff the Clintons have to throw at Obama, they are scraping the wood at the bottom of the barrel.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Hez to "destroy Israel": Threat, or prediction? 

An Iranian general has declared that Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, will soon destroy the "Zionist regime." As is usual with Iranians, it is impossible to know whether Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari's remarks were a threat or a prediction. Ought Israel be entitled to regard statements such as these as threats? If not, why not?

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Iraq: Institutionalizing "reconciliation" 

Richard Fernandez explains why the election system originally designed by the United Nations for Iraq encouraged the subsequent sectarian split, and why the election law passed by the Iraqi parliament last week is vital to institutionalizing the gains from the "surge."

The impasse in Baghdad is partly the result of a logjam of sectarian interests. There are also a fair number of politicians, who because of the sectarian nature of the coalitions, are stooges of Teheran. A new election law could sweep the logjam away in a flood, with the stooges in the bargain. Electoral reform is supremely important for long term success. It is the linchpin of "reconciliation".

Of course, widespread acknowledgement that Iraqis are capable of reconciliation and actually doing so under the aegis of American security will discredit a lot of people, including virtually the entire chattering class, the majority of the foreign policy "establishment," and the leadership of the Democratic party. Expect news of progress to travel very slowly.

UPDATE: Much more in the same vein here (CWCID: Glenn Reynolds), and here's Captain Ed on the part about news of benchmarks traveling slowly. Live by the benchmark, die by the benchmark. That's what I always say.

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