Monday, March 31, 2008

What are you doing on Saturday night? 

If you can get to Princeton this Saturday night, you can hoist one with me and other New Jersey bloggers at the Triumph Brewery on Nassau Street from 6 - 11 pm. Fausta Wertz is the moving force behind the gathering, which promises great conversation and good humor.

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The civil rights activists come full circle 

In the curious world of the politically correct, "separate-but-equal" is now to be demanded rather than overturned.

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I admit it... 

...I find Post Secret riveting. Post Secret, on the small chance you are unfamiliar with it, is an online community art project which calls on people to send in post cards with their deepest secrets. A couple from this week's run:

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The most influential puppy in American history 

In this age of almost constant political apology and explanation, read Power Line's post about Richard Nixon's brilliant "Checkers" speech and the puppy that -- for better or for worse -- rescued his political career and changed American history.

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Oil bears and the Basra ceasefire 

Whatever it was the happened between Moqtada al-Sadr and the government of Iraq over the weekend, it drove down the price of oil:

Oil prices plunged $4 to below $102 a barrel on Monday as a week of heavy fighting in Iraq's oil port city of Basra ended and officials predicted a recovery in crude exports from the hub within a day.

It would reinforce my faith in humanity if I knew that al-Sadr shorted oil before settling up with Prime Minister al-Maliki, but that is probably too much to hope for.

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Is Barack Obama a centrist, or not? 

Is Barack Obama manifestly left of the center of American politics, or is he the centrist that he sounds like? Amazingly, at this stage in the campaign nobody can really be sure, which is why, I think, relatively minor episodes (the Rev. Wright kerfuffle, for example) take on such significance. We really do not know where his heart is on important subjects, carefully edited pie crust promises position papers notwithstanding. So, here is yet another clue.

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

The battle in the south of Iraq 

I was going to write a post today about the battle in the south of Iraq, in which the central government is attempting to consolidate its authority over the objections of the Mahdi army. Thing is, I was busy hiking in the woods with the dogs and making tacos and swapping snark with my daughter, and all of that was more important. So instead check out the big pile of links and commentary over at Instapundit.

There are enemies in Iraq who have not yet tired of fighting, so there will be more fighting. Still, the fact that Moqtada al-Sadr blinked today and ordered his fighters to stand down says one of three things: the Mahdi army is losing big time, al-Sadr has no nerve, or both. Any and all would bring victory closer.

UPDATE Monday morning: The NYT positions the al-Sadr ceasefire as a negotiated stalemate, weakening Prime Minister al-Maliki (which had intended to disarm the Shiite militias).

Stratfor has the most interesting take, suggesting a much more subtle American and Iranian influence than is available on the pages of most press and blog coverage (bold emphasis added):

There have been signs for several months now that the al-Sadrite militia, the Mehdi Army, is moving away from its original role as a renegade outfit. Sunday’s move by al-Sadr in the wake of the Iraqi military’s Basra operation, however, is the strongest indication to date that the al-Sadrite movement no longer will be challenging the writ of the Iraqi central government dominated by its Shiite rivals. The silencing of the al-Sadrite guns required Iranian acquiescence.

Two key Shiite parliament members — Hadi al-Amri from the Badr Organization (affiliated with the movement led by Iraq’s most powerful and most pro-Iranian politician Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim) and Ali al-Adeeb (deputy leader of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawah party) — traveled to Tehran to get the Iranians to pressure al-Sadr. It is quite interesting that al-Sadr’s announcement comes a little over a month after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadineajd’s trip to Baghdad. There are reports that during that trip, in a secret meeting with U.S. officials, Ahmadinejad offered to finally help Washington stabilize Iraq in exchange for security guarantees for Tehran. It is unclear to what extent the Iranians and Americans agreed to cooperate on Iraqi security, but the Basra security operation did not emerge in a vacuum.

The Basra operation was a way for the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to extend its writ to one of the last remaining and critical outposts in the Shiite south — the oil-rich Basra region. While there are other Shiite factions and oil syndicates in the area targeted by the operation, the main target was the al-Sadrite militia. It also should be noted that the operation was not limited to Basra; it targeted other al-Sadrite strongholds in the Shiite south and Baghdad.

The Iranians have realized that they no longer can use the Shiite militia threat against the United States to force Washington’s hand on Iraq without jeopardizing their own interests. Thus far, Tehran had allowed intra-Shiite conflicts to persist in the hopes of using violence perpetrated by Shiite militants to pressure the United States into accepting Iranian terms for stabilizing Iraq. More recently, though, Iran had a rude awakening when the U.S. military began cultivating its own direct relations with members of al-Sadr’s movement. This demonstrated that Washington was not beholden to Iranian goodwill to stabilize Iraq and that all roads to Baghdad did not go through Tehran.

It was not just the threat of unilateral moves on the part of the Americans that forced the Iranians into a course correction. The Iranians were also terrified that the schisms within the Iraqi Shiite landscape have deteriorated so badly over the past five years that unless Tehran acted soon, any hope that its Shiite proxies would be able to dominate Iraq would evaporate into thin air. In other words, reining in the al-Sadrites was no longer something that was purely a U.S. interest; it was a necessity from the Iranian point of view.

Iran expects that al-Sadr’s backing down can help get the Iraqi Shiite house in order. After all, as long as the Shia (who, despite being the majority, have never ruled Iraq) are at war with themselves, they have no chance of standing up to the Sunnis, much less dominating Iraq. Iran, at a bare minimum, wants an Iraq that can never again threaten its national security, and it needs cohesion among the Shia for that purpose.

Just how much cohesion the Iraqi Shia are capable of will become apparent in the coming months.

Release the hounds.

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Eco-publicity conundrum 

So, this strikes me as a rather painful, if welcome, eco-publicity conundrum. Under the headline "Thick ice hinders controversial seal hunt," we read:

Canada's annual seal hunt, which the government promised would be more humane this year, cranked up slowly on Friday because of thick ice.

The government is allowing hunters to kill up to 275,000 young harp seals on the ice floes off Eastern Canada, but only three had been reported killed on the first morning of the hunt in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

"It's a very slow start," said Phil Jenkins, spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, noting that sealing boats were finding it difficult to get to the herds because of thick ice.

You know, for a country that can get tediously sanctimonious about Gitmo and such, the clubbing of baby harp seals is a pretty damned hideous stain on the national reputation. Not that I'm against hunting, mind you, but there ought to be some challenge or artistry to it. Since baby seals are not that dangerous, you might have to inject sport artificially by, say, rigging up one baby harp seal in 10,000 to explode on first contact with a hunter's club. Yeah, that would also annoy the animal rights crazies, but they would have the comfort of knowing that the seal at least took a hunter with him. And imagine the ratings if you then filmed the hunt for reality television.

Then, when all those guys who deliver neurotrauma unto baby seals for a living quit because they do not want to be blown up, we could recruit them to serve as guards in our hopefully still extant network of secret prisons. The humiliation of Canada would then be complete.

(Kidding, guys. I remember my days as a primary school student in Dundas very fondly.)

CWCID: Not without irony, Small Dead Animals.

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Barack Obama's favorite Hillary Clinton ad 

Is there any doubt that this would be Barack Obama's favorite Hillary Clinton campaign ad?

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Google's massive carbon fart 

In yesterday's ceremonial darkening of the planet to save the planet, Google only made the problem worse:

Google today joined in the celebration of Israel's "Earth Hour" campaign by turning its background from white to black. Unfortunately, on LCD monitors sized 22 inches or less, Google's new black actually consumes more energy than its usual white one. But don't let that stop you from appreciating Google's touching tribute... (emphasis added)

If an energy company claimed it was saving the planet with a publicity stunt that actually made the situation worse, the chattering classes would erupt with derision and outrage. A hip California tech company does it, though, and the only people who notice are right-wing curmudgeons.

Of course, Google has a long history of talking without walking on the issue of climate change. One might reasonably ask why the firm should get any public relations "credit" for climate change initiatives so long as its founders fly around in a grotesquely large private jet, or why its current executives need one at all. "Black Google" is nothing less than a purposeful distraction from corporate practices that are anything but green.

Apparently, unlike "stupid," "green" is not as "green does."

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George W. Bush's greatest appointment 

Something to think about the next time you read about the TSA extracting the nipple rings from a Dallas housewife:

"So far as focusing investigations, we investigate where the threat is coming from. The threat is coming from Islamist extremism. It's not coming from Calvinism," the attorney general said. "We'd be out of our minds, not to mention the waste of resources, to look everyplace simply in the name of being correct."

Is it possible that Attorney General Michael Mukasey will turn out to be George W. Bush's finest cabinet appointment (and, yes, I'm ready for the "best hockey player in Ecuador" wisecracks)? It sounds as though Andy McCarthy would make that argument.

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Old pictures of lower Manhattan 

The New York Public Library has a very cool catalog of stereographic images of lower Manhattan taken before the internal combustion engine got hold of us.

Old New York

My question: What did they do with all the horse pucky?

CWCID: GoodShit (link ok, but main page NSFW).

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Teaching about responsible drinking 

This is something that has needed to be said for some time:

“The best evidence shows that teaching kids to drink responsibly is better than shutting them off entirely from it,” he told me. “You want to introduce your kids to it, and get across the point that that this is to be enjoyed but not abused.”

He said that the most dangerous day of a young person’s life is the 21st birthday, when legality is celebrated all too fervently. Introducing wine as a part of a meal, he said, was a significant protection against bingeing behavior.

There is much that is romantic in this article about the joys of wine and such, but to me it is a much simpler question. I drink something with alcohol perhaps 340 nights per year (around twice a month I work too late or for some other reason do not imbibe), yet have been drunk twice in my life, both times in connection with initiation ceremonies. I do not understand the appeal of anything more than the mildest intoxication, and find myself somewhere between bemused and irritated when I hear somebody declare their ambition to get "shitfaced," as if that were the purpose of social drinking.

To what do I attribute my, er, sober attitude about alcohol? Genes and upbringing, of course. I do not crave alcohol as I understand alcoholics do -- if circumstances prevent me from having a drink I do not get discombobulated. But I was also taught to drink like a grown-up, both by the example of my parents and didactic instruction. My parents usually had beer with dinner, and by the time I was 16 or so I was allowed to join in. They made it clear that alcohol was deeply embedded in Western civilization, that there was nothing wrong with consuming it every day, and that it was entirely unacceptable to get drunk (my father's famously destructive Fish House Punch notwithstanding). In my opinion, if you yourself consume alcohol -- and thereby set the example of it -- it is your obligation to teach your children about it with useful nuance and texture rather than the prohibitionism that seems to be favored among the promoters of the D.A.R.E. curriculum. Accordingly, it should be entirely lawful and socially acceptable for minors to consume alcohol in the presence of their parents, whether at home or in a restaurant. Otherwise, you are running the risk of unleashing a future moron into the world.

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Are you hoping for climate change? 

One does occasionally get the impression that some of the people who are most passionate on the requirement that we radically transform the global economy to hedge against the risk of anthropogenic global warming are actually hoping for some sort of catastrophe. It is almost as though they dislike the idea of everybody getting richer, buying more gadgets, going more places, and generally leading longer and more stimulating lives.

I must say, I cannot imagine preferring to live in a different time or place (meaning other than a rich country in the early 21st century) than I do now*, and I do not understand people who would resist creating more such places. Indeed, it seems to me that we should relinquish the dream of wealth for everybody with enormous reluctance and sadness.
*I do allow for the possibility that the future will be even better.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Again, the "violence veto" 

Geert Wilders' film Fitna has been pulled from LiveLeak, its principle internet outlet, in reaction to threats:

Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, Liveleak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers. This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else.

It is almost impossible for responsible companies to avoid caving in to threats of violence, because they have a duty to protect their employees and stockholders. Since that duty cannot be waived by any operation of law with which I am familiar, courageous and freedom-loving media employees cannot successfully persuade their employers to defend freedom of speech even if they are willing to put themselves personally at risk to do so. The "violence veto," therefore, can and does effectively suppress any "speech" by any speaker or owner of a conduit for speech who can be found or hurt. Even individuals have families, and most will not risk a visit from jihadis over a mere principle. The only speakers truly free to criticize the body of opinions known as "Islam" are those who have found a way to transmit from some indefinite and unidentifiable place, beyond the reach of those Muslims who brook no criticism of their religion.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Why won't there be a "green revolution" in Africa? 

Because European lefties have persuaded African governments that their people are better off dead from starvation than alive for having eaten GM foods. Even Jimmy Carter supports GM foods for Africa, which says something about how jaw-droppingly stupid these policies are.

Here's the tough question that the world very much needs to settle: To what extent ought the rich countries of the world act without regard to the sovereign rights of the world's poorest countries when the corrupt fools who run them actually obstruct attempts to save the lives of their people? If rich governments should act against sovereign rights (presumably by force if necessary) in order to rescue people, should there be a difference in how we treat governments that obstruct aid for malign reasons and those that are simply duped by political fashion?

It seems to me that if we are unable or willing to answer these questions, we should stop fretting about Darfur, Rwanda, and other such circles of hell.

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The nipple ring hazard 

This strikes me as something less than the TSA's finest hour:

A Texas woman who said she was forced to remove a nipple ring with pliers in order to board an airplane called Thursday for an apology by federal security agents and a civil rights investigation.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that no matter how crafty those jihadis get, they are unlikely to do a lot of damage with weapons disguised as nipple rings.

But who knows? I, along with Captain Ed, could be wrong.

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Union vs. Union 

For those of us inclined to believe that labor unions and the laws at their disposal are mostly about arrogating wealth from some hard-working people to other hard-working people, all at a significant sacrifice to productivity, this story confirms our prejudices.

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Political monoculture in the academy 

There is an interesting discussion over at Instapundit -- including links and emails -- on the impact or lack thereof of left-wing faculty on university students. One of the links is back to this post of mine, but I have written on this subject many times before.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

On the ambivalence of African-American national identity 

Contrary to the expectations of those among my readers who consider me a right-wing goon, I read as much as I can bear outside my political and cultural comfort zone. So it is with Lena Williams' It's the Little Things: Everyday Interactions That Anger, Annoy, and Divide the Races, which I impulsively picked up on Sunday afternoon after having been exhorted to participate in a national conversation about race from the Easter service pulpit. Since the genesis of this exhortation was the controversy that has raged around the campaign for the Democratic nomination, and in particular the anti-American statements of Barack Obama's pastor of many years, Jeremiah Wright, I thought that this passage from Williams' book was worth your consideration (while bearing in mind that Williams is both black and worked for many years as a reporter for the New York Times):

I've always been ambivalent about my nationality. When I was young I loved being an American. I was as American as Mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. In school we pledged allegiance to the flag, staged plays on the American Revolution, with black girls playing the role of Betsy Ross and little black boys reciting the ride of Paul Revere. I believed in democracy, saw communism as a threat to the world, and thought Africa was synonymous with the jungle.

Then black power got hold of me. I danced on the flag and grew to despise the hypocrisy of a nation that preached freedom and justice for all while oppressing a segment of its population. A nation that wanted to dictate policy to communist regimes in the former Soviet Union and Cuba but refused to right its own wrongs. Black soldiers fought and died in wars in Germany, Japan, and Vietnam, only to return home to be called niggers. Forget integration; I believed in a separate black state.

When did I change back? When did I begin to hear myself say how disappointed I was that children today do not know the pledge of allegiance? When did I begin to routinely refer to myself as a black American?

Was it 1978, when I and two friends went to Paris and heard Parisians instinctively refer to us as Americans. Not black. Not Negroes. Americans. Or was it in 1983 while visiting London, where British citizens remarked on my American accent.

"Are you from the States?" a London cabbie asked me upon my arrival at Heathrow. "You speak English with an American accent."

But it wasn't in Europe that I found my Americanness. I found it in Africa, of all places.

I went to Nairobi, Kenya, in 1987, to visit a friend, Sheila Rule, who was working there as bureau chief for the New York Times. In the two weeks traveling throughout Kenya and Harare, Zimbabwe, with Sheila, who is black, I was constantly reminded of my nationality.

Two African men who spotted Sheila and me at an airport in Kisumu, Kenya, said that beyond our speaking English with an American accent, they could tell we weren't African because of the way we carried ourselves.

"You're very demonstrative," one of the men said. "You tend to gesture with your hands, you walk with your heads held high. Most African women don't act that way. Even the way you dress. It's very Western. And we can tell that your American accent isn't fake."

An African man in Harare noticed that when Sheila and I walked into a restaurant with a white male friend, we immediately asked to be seated at a table near the window. "Americans have this sense of entitlement," he explained to us. "That's how I knew you were American."

Africa may be the motherland, but America is my homeland. I realized it then. And I embraced it. I embraced its uniqueness and its freedom. In spite of its faults, it is my home and my native land.

I suspect that Williams' journey -- from childhood patriot to rejectionist anti-American to a more mature and settled love of country -- is traveled in whole or in part by many African-Americans. Perhaps it explains one version of a story that is being told in different ways in this campaign -- that many of our African-American leaders, be they religious or political, have wrestled their entire lives with an ambivalence about America that leaks out (see, e.g., Michelle Obama) or detonates (see, e.g., Jeremiah Wright), depending on the personality and position of the speaker and the distance of his or her journey.

The question, then, is what impact this learning, if that is what it is, ought to have on the presidential campaign? Unfortunately, my answer leads me to something of a double standard: While we can abide nothing less than absolute love of country from our president, if we elect a president with African-American friends and family it is very likely that they will harbor some significant qualifications to their love of country. If that is true, then anti-Americanism among the friends or family of an African-American candidate might actually tell us less about the opinions of the candidate himself than would similar attitudes among the friends or family of a white candidate.

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Fixing the Democratic civil war 

"Things are being done."

No doubt.

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How influential is "big oil"? 

Regular readers know that I am a huge fan of the oil industry -- I think that it works miracles of production, refining, and distribution, especially given the hideous geographical and political landscape in which it operates. I therefore bridle at politicians who scapegoat the oil industry, as if it were the source of problems in the world rather than solutions. So, with that useful background, take a look at QandO's analysis of the size and influence of "Big" Oil, and decide for yourself whether populist opposition to it is justified on the facts.

CWCID: Maggie's Farm.

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Joe Klein's dream scenario 

Under an extraordinarily good headline, Joe Klein argues that the Democrats should, in their moment of great division, turn to the Gorebot. Klein, of course, does not address the question on everybody's mind: Can Gore lose all the weight he's gained fast enough? (Indeed, Klein implicitly understands this, insofar as his Time story uses an obviously dated and misleading picture of a thin-faced Gore.)

Not that I am one to talk, but I'm not a presidential candidate.

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Quel surprise: The United Nations picks Javert to investigate Israel 

The United Nations has selected Richard Falk, a former Professor of Politics at Princeton and longtime critic of Israel, to sit in judgment of the Jewish state:

The United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday appointed American Jewish law professor Richard A. Falk - who has compared Israel to the Nazis - as special investigator on Israeli actions in the territories for a six-year term.

Falk, who formerly taught international law at Princeton University, replaces South African professor John Dugard, who was an expert on apartheid.

Since my dear departed father taught me to run intellectual risks, I actually took a course from Richard Falk back in 1981, "Introduction to World Order." Falk was an astonishingly tedious lecturer, and unabashedly left wing. He evinced not the slightest interest in anything other than transnational progressive cant, and did not think it important even to pretend to objectivity. I remember him having the second most closed mind in Princeton's Politics Department at that time (the most closed mind belonging to Manfred Halpern, who taught a course called, ironically, "Radical Thought"). My experience with Falk tells me that there are few people less well suited to the role of investigator, unless the point is to adduce evidence to prove a point already believed. The Israelis ought to be outraged, as should anybody who clings to the fantasy that the United Nations is a principled organization.

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Performance art of deep coolness 

Very cool:

Apologies in advance if I am the last person in the world to have seen this.

CWCID: Janelle, a former TigerHawk au pair.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Junketing with the enemy 

From the party that decries junketing sponsored by "corporations," we get junketing sponsored by an enemy dictator!

Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency secretly financed a trip to Iraq for three U.S. lawmakers during the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

An indictment unsealed in Detroit accuses Muthanna Al-Hanooti, a member of a Michigan nonprofit group, of arranging for three members of Congress to travel to Iraq in October 2002 at the behest of Saddam's regime. Prosecutors say Iraqi intelligence officials paid for the trip through an intermediary.

At the time, the Bush administration was trying to persuade Congress to authorize military action against Iraq.

The lawmakers are not named in the indictment but the dates correspond to a trip by Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Washington, David Bonior of Michigan and Mike Thompson of California. There was no indication the three lawmakers knew the trip was underwritten by Saddam.

No. There is "no indication" that they knew bupkis. But there is "an indication" that it never crossed their astonishingly incurious minds to ask where their benefactor, Muthanna Al-Hanooti, got the money to fly them to Iraq in the run-up to the war. Saddam's agent probably figured that if they believed his cover story, whatever it was, they would also believe whatever Saddam told them.

Ba'athist is as Ba'athist does. Somebody ought to check into who paid for Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria.

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The New Republic jumps the shark 

If this is not the single creepiest use of Photoshop in the history of the universe, I don't know what is:


CWCID: Regular commenter Howard in Boston, who pushed me over the edge.

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I've lost track of my age, too 

Barack Obama apparently does not know the year of his birth. Or conception.

Which is the worse trait in a president: Imagining non-existent sniper fire, or not knowing how old you are?

And people worry that McCain is too old for the job.

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Spit, instead of blood or urine 

For those of you who do not like the sight of your own blood or have a hard time manipulating the sample cup, this is good news:

U.S. researchers have identified all 1,116 unique proteins found in human saliva glands, a discovery they said on Tuesday could usher in a wave of convenient, spit-based diagnostic tests that could be done without the need for a single drop of blood.

As many as 20 percent of the proteins that are found in saliva are also found in blood, said Fred Hagan, a researcher at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York who worked on the study.

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The best conservative T-shirts 

John Hawkins has posted his selections for the eight best conservative t-shirts out there in logo land. Naturally, I cannot account for his failure to select one of these... Obviously, we are going to have to work on our designs.

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Remind us again, please, who are the rubes? 

Barack Obama's own "Checkers speech" may well have boxed up the Jeremiah Wright kerfuffle, at least as far as Democratic primary voters are concerned, but does he have a second such speech in him to explain away Tony McPeak's group libel? If he does, he is going to have to tell somebody that, well, they are the rubes.

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The enemy of my enemy is my friend 

Not since al Qaeda teamed up with Hezbollah has the above-captioned principle been so vividly illustrated.

Well, at least we know she will be able to get along with the Saudis.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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SniperGate: Those sexist Democrats 

The sexist pigs in our mainstream media and in the Democratic flackery unfairly expect women to have better memories than men:

I deplore the sexist double standard being applied to Hillary on her Bosnia fantasy. John Kerry just made stuff up about his wartime heroics to promote himself, as for example with his Christmas mission to Cambodia or his first Purple Heart, and did loyal Dems denounce him bitterly? Did the media pry under every rock in a relentless quest for the truth, or even new evidence?

Of course not! Instead of looking for the truth, Dems and their media enablers looked for new words, coining "swiftboating".

So why are they "swiftboating" Hillary?


Of course, the real question is why Democrats think they have to embellish the risks they run on behalf of their country. I think we all know the answer.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Freedom Never Cries" 

Most blog readers who travel in the InstaSphere (as I obviously do) know that John Ondrasik (Five For Fighting) has launched an open-source charity that donates money to worthy causes via traffic generated from videos of his songs. It is a very creative idea, and I hope quite successful. This video, "Freedom Never Cries," moved me to give fifty bucks to Operation Homefront, which Ondrasik's site supports.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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The difference between Tibetans and Palestinian Arabs 

Why is the world outraged over the treatment of the Palestinian Arabs, but does not seem to care about the Tibetans?


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A crisp note on vaccinations and the public health 

TigerHawk declaration of the day: Vaccination should not be optional, even if some people think they or their children would be better off without it. We should do it, or not do it, e pluribus unum.

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Because I'm in a mood... 

CWCID: Maggie's Farm.

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Sarko trades troops for national prestige 

The good news: Sarkozy's France wants to reintegrate with the NATO command structure. The bad news: They want command of Allied Forces South Europe, based in Naples. The good news: They are coughing up more troops for Afghanistan to sweeten the deal. The bad news: It's only 1,200 soldiers, which might seem like a lot if you are European but is about 10% of the number that would be useful. The good news: The French are willing to put them under British command, which is an enormous concession if you think about it.

It is probably in our interest to give Sarko "victories," so that the voters of France know that working with the United States pays off compared to Villepainist obstructionism. I say take the deal, but also understand why "working with traditional allies" is such a load for our guys.

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Alt-History question: What if the American Revolution had failed? 

TigerHawk cousin and regular commenter GreenmanTim is writing an alternative history novel that wonders what the world would look like if the battles of Trenton and Princeton had gone the other way. TigerHawk readers, being more interested in history than most, will have some fun with it.

Harry Turtledove, look out!

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Snipers of the mind 

By popular demand (meaning regular commenter DEC, who writes the bizarrely riveting blog Jungle Trader), herewith the CBS News report that tags Hillary with having fabricated "sniper fire" during her trip to Bosnia back in the 1990s. It rather graphically shows that Hillary made the story up out of whole cloth. Hillary's campaign now says that she "misspoke," whatever that means.

This is a perplexing gaffe, because it is so easily revealed as wrong. There were many reporters with rolling cameras following Hillary around Bosnia, and the absence of actual snipers or even sounds that might have been confused with snipers is demonstrable fact. So while it is true that many politicians are unreconstructed embellishers, it is strange that such an experienced one would be caught "exaggerating" to reporters about something many of those same reporters witnessed only a bit more than a decade before.

The other explanation is that Hillary had a brain fart. Perhaps she had heard sniper fire somewhere else and been hustled back into some other helicopter, and now she has the time and place confused. I'm fifteen years younger than Hillary and am starting to make that sort of mistake in my own memory (OK, not about dodging sniper fire while I zig and zag to a helicopter, but I've not led such a dramatic life), so if she can cough up another sniper fire experience and admit she was confused that would be fine with me.

Of course, confessing to a faulty memory about having been shot at would make it difficult for an average person to stand on the same stage as John McCain, but I think we learned a long time ago that Clintons do not have normal shame impulses.

Both explanations are incomplete, though, because neither discharges the underlying question raised by the sniper gaffe. If Hillary thought she could get away with a wild embellishment of a public moment that was recorded by the flower and chivalry of the White House press corps, is she completely delusional? If not, and if there is no other "sniper fire" incident in some other war-torn place that she may be remembering instead, what was Lady McHillary seeing when she imagined her snipers of the mind?

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Obama's popular vote in context 

This is very interesting:

In the race for the most popular votes in the Democratic Party's presidential primary contests, Sen. Barack Obama's lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton is about 711,000 votes -- not including Florida or Michigan -- according to Real Clear Politics.

Of Sen. Obama's 711,000 popular-vote lead, 650,000 -- or more than 90% of the total margin -- comes from Sen. Obama's home state of Illinois, with 429,000 of that lead coming from his home base of Cook County.

That margin in Cook County represents almost 60% of Obama's total lead nationwide.

Now, the "popular vote" in an aggregation of Democratic primaries and caucuses spread over -- dare we say "many" -- months is not technically or legally relevant. I am not even sure that it reflects the popular will within the Democratic party, given all its inherent limitations. The aggregated popular vote, though, has taken on some significance in the argument over whether the Democratic "super delegates" ought to vote in accordance with their individual preferences, those of their own constituents, or the popular vote across time and space. In other words, the aggregate popular vote is largely fodder for spin, and that is why this deconstruction is so interesting.

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Taxing business 

One occasionally hears a "progressive" argue that American individual income tax rates are lower than those of many other countries, as if that justified raising our rates (it does not, insofar as one can never derive "what ought" from "what is"). Next time you encounter that reasoning, delight your interlocutor by noting that our corporate income tax rates are, basically, the highest in the world, and warrant, by the same "logic," a reduction.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Annals of Communism: Eating the breedstock 

If you can banish images of misery, poverty, and starvation from your mind, this is actually hilarious:

The man who breeds the world’s biggest bunnies has gotten over the drama of last year when, he claims, North Korea’s leaders ate the prize rabbits he sold them to set up breeding farms....

North Korea denied the allegation but Szmolinsky maintains that there has been no sign of the rabbits since a birthday banquet was held for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in February 2007.

The North Korean Communists really do make the most decadent Roman emperors look like diligent Scandanavian technocrats by comparison.

CWCID: Jungle Trader.

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Caption This! 

Yes, Monday morning is the wrong time for a caption contest, but some photos are hard to resist.

Caption This!

The original, unbelievable caption to this picture: "Senators John Kerry, left, and John McCain meeting with reporters in 2002 as they discussed automobile mileage standards."

I'd be prepared to believe almost anything other than that. Show the New York Times what you're made of!

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A metaphorical catastrophe 

Of the many things that I am grateful for, one of them is that I've so far had the good sense not to refer to Hillary Clinton as a "beaver."

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bill Clinton on race matters 

Back in 1997, President Bill Clinton called for "a great and unprecedented conversation about race."

Judging from the sermons in churches throughout America this Easter morning, Clinton is finally, eleven years later, realizing his aspiration. Just not quite in the way he imagined.

CWCID: Lena Williams, It's the Little Things: Everyday Interactions That Anger, Annoy, and Divide the Races.

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A service to my readers 

I'd be remiss if I did not supply you with the link to the huge DVD sale going on at Amazon...

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(One of) the best music videos ever 

I admit it. More than 20 years on, I still watch when this video comes on the monitor at the gym:

Yes, I am a Philistine. So sue me.

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Cataloging the violence veto 

Regular readers know that I periodically inveigh against the "violence veto," which involves censorship -- including self-censorship -- of perfectly lawful speech because of the fear that people who choose to be offended by that speech will vandalize, assault, and murder on account of it. I was, therefore, interested to read a ranty enumeration of vetos to date in George Weigel's excellent and previously TigerHyped book, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism:

The 2006 Danish cartoons controversy -- or, better, the Danish cartoons jihad -- brought these patterns of appeasement and self-imposed dhimmitude to international attention. Despite the fact that the Danish government of the time was beginning to address some of the problems of Islamic nonintegration into Danish society, the original publication in the Copenhagen daily Jyllands-Posten of a set of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad caused little comment, in Denmark or anywhere else. But after several Islamist Danish imams began agitating throughout the Middle East (aided by three additional, and far more offensive, cartoons of their own devising), an international furor erupted, with dozens of people killed by rioting Muslims in Europe, Africa, and Asia. As Henrik Bering wrote at the time, "the Danes were suddenly the most hated people on earth, with their embassies under attack, their flag being burned, and their consciousness being raised by lectures on religious tolerance from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other beacons of enlightenment."

And the response from Europe, in the main, was to intensify appeasement.

Thus the French government encouraged the French Union of Islamic Organizations and the Grand Mosque of Paris to sue the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in order to prevent the magazine's publication of the cartoons; when the suit was thrown out, French president Jacques Chirac offered Muslim groups the services of his personal lawyer in order to help them file suit against the magazine's editor on charges of racism. The Italian "reforms minister," Roberto Calderoli, resigned under pressure from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, because Colderoli had worn a T-shirt featuring one of the offending cartoons -- which "thoughtless action," Berlusconi deduced, had caused a riot outside the Italian consulate in Benghazi in which eleven people were killed. Newspapers that ran the cartoons were put under intense political pressure; some journalists faced criminal charges; websites were forced to close. The pan-European Carrefour supermarket chain, bowing to Islamist demands for a boycott of Danish goods, placed signs in its stores, in both Arabic and English, expressing "solidarity" with the "Islamic community" and noting, inelegantly if revealingly, "Carrefour don't carry Danish products." The Norwegian government forced the editor of a Christian publication to apologize publicly for printing the Danish cartoons, at a press conference at which the hapless editor was surrounded (appropriately enough) by Norwegian cabinet ministers and imams. EU foreign minister Javier Solana groveled his way from one Arab capital to another, pleading that Europeans shared the "anguish" of Muslims "offended" by the Danish cartoons. And, not to be outdone by those appeasement-obsessed national governments that were in headling flight from tradition concepts of freedom of the press and free speech, the EU's justice minister, Franco Frattini, announced in early February 2006 that the EU would establish a "media code" to encourage "prudence." Which in this instance was a synonym for "surrender" -- irrespective of one's view of the artistic merits of, or the cultural sensitivity displayed by, the world's most notorious cartoons.

What these cheese-herring-sausage-pasta eating surrender monkeys failed to realize -- or at least acknowledge -- is that the right of freedom of speech is only relevant if the speech in question offends. Nobody cares about uncontroversial speech, so it needs no right to defend it. Therefore, any censorship or threat to censor in response to violence or complaints from foreign religious leaders -- who are demanding, in effect, that their speech prevail over the putatively offensive speech -- eviscerates the freedom of speech in its entirety, not partially as the appeasers would protest.

MORE: Whoa! Latest violence veto here.

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Risk and public policy 

With financial markets in turmoil and promises for indemnification against risk flowing from presidential candidates, I was reminded of a post I wrote back in 2006 on the management of risk in democratic countries. I was delighted to conclude that I still agree with every word of it!

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Western liberals and Muslim moderates 

In an essay with plenty of Bush-bashing, Paul Berman is at least direct on the unwillingness of Western liberals to stand up in support of Muslim reformers:

I notice a little gloomily that I may have underestimated the extremist ideologies in still another respect. Five years ago, anyone who took an interest in Middle Eastern affairs would easily have recalled that, over the course of a century, the intellectuals of the region have gone through any number of phases — liberal, Marxist, secularist, pious, traditionalist, nationalist, anti-imperialist and so forth, just like intellectuals everywhere else in the world.

Western intellectuals without any sort of Middle Eastern background would naturally have manifested an ardent solidarity with their Middle Eastern and Muslim counterparts who stand in the liberal vein — the Muslim free spirits of our own time, who argue in favor of human rights, rational thought (as opposed to dogma), tolerance and an open society.

But that was then. In today’s Middle East, the various radical Islamists, basking in their success, paint their liberal rivals and opponents as traitors to Muslim civilization, stooges of crusader or Zionist aggression. And, weirdly enough, all too many intellectuals in the Western countries have lately assented to those preposterous accusations, in a sanitized version suitable for Western consumption.

Even in the Western countries, quite a few Muslim liberals, the outspoken ones, live today under a threat of assassination, not to mention a reality of character assassination. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-Dutch legislator and writer, is merely an exceptionally valiant example. But instead of enjoying the unstinting support of their non-Muslim colleagues, the Muslim liberals find themselves routinely berated in the highbrow magazines and the universities as deracinated nonentities, alienated from the Muslim world. Or they find themselves pilloried as stooges of the neoconservative conspiracy — quite as if any writer from a Muslim background who fails to adhere to at least a few anti-imperialist or anti-Zionist tenets of the Islamist doctrine must be incapable of thinking his or her own thoughts.

A dismaying development. One more sign of the power of the extremist ideologies — one more surprising turn of events, on top of all the other dreadful and gut-wrenching surprises.

Much as this needs to be said again and again, Mr. Berman, I think, dodges the point. The Western left, especially of the chattering class variety, generally believes that foreign hostility including but not limited to jihadism is an understandable reaction to one or more Western sins, whether capitalism, materialism, cultural or actual "imperialism," or Zionism, and that it will end only if we stop sinning. This much is obvious to anybody who attends lectures on national security at a major university and who listens to the questions from the professors and students in the audience. Well, if one believes that foreign hostility is purely or even mostly a function of our own immoral policies, "moderate" Muslims are offensive in three ways. First, in arguing that jihadists ought to be held accoutable for their own hostility the moderates impeach the left-wing view of the world, and nobody appreciates that. Second, the moderates lend credibility to the idea that Western sins are not sins at all, which means they are in fact "stooges" of the capitalists, imperialists, and Zionists. Third, they force Western liberals to express a "value judgment" about a non-Western institution -- Islam -- and that is an enormous no-no according to two generations of scholarship, one generation of schooling, and half a generation of corporate compliance training.

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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Actualizing religious freedom 

An Italian journalist conspired with the Pope today to exercise actual freedom of religion:

Pope Benedict led the world's Catholics into Easter on Saturday at a Vatican service where he baptized a Muslim-born convert who is one of Italy's most famous and controversial journalists....

One of the seven adults he baptized on Saturday night was Magdi Allam, 55, an Egyptian-born journalist who, as deputy director of the leading newspaper Corriere della Sera, is one of Italy's best-known intellectuals.

Allam, a fierce critic of Islamic extremism and a strong supporter of Israel, is protected by a police escort because of threats he has received.


His conversion to Christianity was a well-kept secret, disclosed by the Vatican in a statement less than an hour before the Easter eve service started.

Think, for a minute, about the implications of that last sentence: "His conversion to Christianity was a well-kept secret...." How can anybody possibly argue that Islam is not attacking the most fundamental freedoms of the West and winning when the Pope must keep the conversion of a Roman secret for fear of violence against the worshiper and the Church?

Nevertheless, huge props to the Pope for stepping up and baptizing Magdi Allam in public for all the world to see. If the Roman church does not draw a line against Islamist intimidation, who will?

MORE: Glenn Reynolds: "Well, this will irritate the right people." Precisely. I've never thought much of the Roman church (the term we "high" Episcopalians often use to refer to the Catholics), but I do love it when the Pope is a vicar valiant, a conquering hero, and champion of the West.

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Happy Birthday! 

As of today, we have no Tweens in our house, only Teens:

Thirteenth Birthday

She is pictured with the major present she received today, her 13th birthday: the way-cool enV Phone. She delighted her father by choosing orange.

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Has the climate stopped warming? 

Regular readers know that while I accept that greenhouse gases can, at the margin, warm the Earth's climate, I am also skeptical that intensive regulation of greenhouse gases is necessary to avoid global catastrophe. Against that backdrop, I am justly accused of preferentially linking to articles and stories that suggest that cataclysm is neither visible nor predictable. So: the latest story that wonders whether the planet's climate has stopped warming and possible explanations therefor.

If that is not enough to get you to click the link, then perhaps this is:

Well-meaning intellectual movements, from communism to post-structuralism, have a poor history of absorbing inconvenient fact or challenges to fundamental precepts. We should not ignore or suppress good indicators on the environment, though they have become extremely rare now. It is tempting to the layman to embrace with enthusiasm the latest bleak scenario because it fits the darkness of our soul, the prevailing cultural pessimism. The imagination, as Wallace Stevens once said, is always at the end of an era. But we should be asking, or expecting others to ask, for the provenance of the data, the assumptions fed into the computer model, the response of the peer review community, and so on. Pessimism is intellectually delicious, even thrilling, but the matter before us is too serious for mere self-pleasuring. It would be self-defeating if the environmental movement degenerated into a religion of gloomy faith. (Faith, ungrounded certainty, is no virtue.)

This, I think, explains why I am not a leftist and never will be. I am too optimistic! I do not find pessmism to be "intellectually delicious" or "thrilling"; I consider it to be tedious and banal. That does not mean that I do not take risks seriously, but it does mean that when a risk of harm appears to diminish the news of improvement cheers me. I wonder, though, how many environmentalists and other climate change activists would actually be happy if the scientific "consensus" shifted and concluded that greenhouse gas emissions were no big deal after all.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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What is going on with BlackBerry service? 

Is it just me, or has AT&T's BlackBerry service had a lot of glitches lately? It seems that outages have increased in frequency -- I had a long one this afternoon -- and my BlackBerry internet access has been down for at least three days. Anybody out there also having troubles, particularly with BlackBerry/AT&T internet access?

I'm telling you, all this unreliability makes it really difficult to check the SiteMeter obsessively.

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Married, with children 

I'm not sure whether I think this is hilarious or deeply disturbing:

I suppose it is both.

CWCID: Mrs. Charlottesvillain.

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German spies are not what they used to be 

I suppose we should all be grateful, but German espionage -- like most espionage in this very transparent world -- has definitely seen better days. At least according to those who are trying to rehabilitate Colin Powell's reputation among the chattering classes:

Five years after the US invasion of Iraq, intelligence agency failures in the run-up to the war are once again taking center stage. Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), provided the Bush administration with critical -- and questionable -- information regarding alleged mobile biological weapons laboratories, according to former US government officials.

Indeed, when then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell gave his infamous presentation to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003 during which he made the case that Iraq presented an immediate threat to global security, his comments about Saddam Hussein's alleged biological weapons program were based largely on information provided by the BND.

The information, as it famously turned out, was completely wrong -- and it came from one single source, codenamed "Curveball." An Iraqi engineer who came to Germany seeking asylum in the winter of 1999, "Curveball" was ultimately interviewed by BND agents more than 50 times by the summer of 2001 and provided them with detailed information about the alleged mobile biological weapons laboratories.

According to Lawrence Wilkerson, a close aide to Powell at the time, the BND "did not just send their information about Curveball as a chance operation. It was carefully considered what they sent to us, each and every word was weighed very carefully." He continues: "I can’t exclude the Germans completely here from their share of guilt."

Guilt? German "war guilt" has been almost a cliché for 90 years, but I've never heard it applied to Iraq. Or maybe Wilkerson just means "guilt" for making Colin Powell look like a fool, which is a matter of ultimately small moment. The mobile weapons labs were "evidence" to support a legal point made in a brief that did not carry the day in the forum in which it was "adjudicated," and had little to do with the geopolitical grounds for invasion.

Anyway, this is what comes from working with our "traditional allies"!*
*Yes, I know, only anti-Bush Democrats would argue that Germany is a "traditional ally," but since they dominate the mainstream media it is a widely-understood convention.

CWCID: Jungle Trader.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Real Nasty Preaching 

These folks set up near my office from time to time. I carry a video camera so I taped a few minutes of the fun.

It's difficult to divine anything coherent from them, but this appears to be a description.

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Arthur C. Clarke, RIP 

Regular TigerTroll Christopher Chambers has written a post in his inimitable style about Arthur C. Clarke. I actually agree with it.

I've noticed, by the way, that a fair number of people are buying Clarke's books on Amazon even though I have not, heretofore, put up a link.

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John Kerry: Could he be stupider? 

When you get right down to it, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's take on race and politics is nuanced, subtle, and fair compared to John Kerry's.

No. Seriously.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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The invalid comparison of Jeremiah Wright to Martin Luther King Jr. 

Andrew Sullivan declares E.J. Dionne, Jr.'s apologetic column on the Jeremiah Wright kerfuffle "one of the best he has ever written." That it may be, but if Andrew is correct then Dionne is not the author he is reputed to be. Dionne's piece on Wright is full of very shoddy thinking, including its central thesis.

The first bit is this (bold emphasis added):

One of the least remarked upon passages in Obama's speech is also one of the most important -- and the part most relevant to the Wright controversy. There is, Obama said, a powerful anger in the black community rooted in "memories of humiliation and doubt" that "may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends" but "does find voice in the barbershop or the beauty shop or around the kitchen table. . . . And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews."

Yes, black people say things about our country and its injustices to each other that they don't say to those of us who are white. Whites also say things about blacks privately that they don't say in front of their black friends and associates.

The bolded paragraph, which stands alone, contains at least two sleights of hand. First, nobody with two brain cells to rub together has any problem if black people, or any people of any other pigmentation, say even derogatory and unfair things "about our country and its injustices," whether to each other in private or sung to the rafters in a church. It is transportingly disingenuous of Dionne to suggest that this controversy is about Rev. Wright's fulminations from the pulpit. The only question is whether Barack Obama's persistent interest in his sermons over two decades discredits his claim today that he does not subscribe to these opinions himself.

Second, the idea that "Whites also say things about blacks privately that they don't say in front of their black friends and associates" is in any way comparable to the preaching of hatred -- if that is what Wright was doing -- is absurd. Nobody considers preaching in a church or any other form of speechifying to compare to private conversations among friends. See, for example, the famous case of Trent Lott's implied defense of Strom Thurmond's segregationist presidential campaign and the outrage that followed from that. I do not recall anybody -- right, left, or crazy -- arguing that, well, "blacks say all sorts of racist things to each other that they would not say in front of whites" in apologetic defense of Lott. But maybe I missed it.

The thrust of Dionne's column, though, is that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said things that were at least as anti-American as the Rev. Wright to black audiences, that this sort of inconsistent rhetoric is well within the tradition of black leadership, and that this ought -- somehow -- to relieve Obama from the requirement that he explain his attention to Wright:
An important book on King's rhetoric by Barnard College professor Jonathan Rieder, due out next month, offers a more complex view of King than the sanitized version that is so popular, especially among conservative commentators. In "The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me," Rieder -- an admirer of King -- notes that the civil rights icon was "not just a crossover artist but a code switcher who switched in and out of idioms as he moved between black and white audiences."

Listen to what King said about the Vietnam War at his own Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1968: "God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war. . . . And we are criminals in that war. We've committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation. But God has a way of even putting nations in their place." King then predicted this response from the Almighty: "And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power."

If today's technology had existed then, I would imagine the media playing quotations of that sort over and over. Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American and to discredit his call for racial and class justice. King certainly angered a lot of people at the time.

I cite King not to justify Wright's damnation of America or his lunatic and pernicious theories but to suggest that Obama's pastor and his church are not as far outside the African American mainstream as many would suggest. I would also ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their consciences and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.

The difference, of course, is this: King was the leader of a movement that sought a radical change in American law, society and culture but nothing else, and Obama wants to be President of the United States. It is essential that the President of the United States love this country, believe in this country, and defend the interests of this country with gladness and singleness of heart. King did not need to do any of those things, any more than (say) Al Gore does in his capacity as a champion of the environment. It did not matter to King's objectives in the 1960s or legacy today that he said palpably anti-American things in pursuit of his objective, just as it does not matter that Al Gore attacks the United States to foreign audiences in furtherance of his cause. But Barack Obama wants to be President, and it is therefore non-negotiable that he actually love this country. Voters are entitled and reasonable to demand that Obama reconcile -- credibly -- his attendence at Rev. Wright's church with his own professed love of country.

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Golden Airs 

The Tice Clock is one of a number of audio gadgets whose effects and price strain credulity:
Let me start out with the Tice Clock. This clock is a basic LED digital clock, substantially identical to a $30 clock sold by Radio Shack. But George Tice sells this for $270. He makes some very lavish claims that by plugging this clock into your audio amplifier's main 115-V power socket, the clock will make all your audio equipment sound much better—that is, if you have a "Golden Ear." However, if you can't hear any difference, then you're admitting that you don't have a Golden Ear—that you have only limited auditory capability to appreciate the BEST in audio.

Having invested quite a bit of my income in audio equipment (but not the Tice clock) in years past, I can tell you this is just the beginning. There were the Shun Mook discs and the short-lived use of Armor-All to improve CD sound (of course resulting in a much more expensive re-packaged Armor-All..), green magic markers and, of course, cables that cost the GDP of a small African Nation per foot.

Emirates Air has announced they will allow cell phone calls in-flight, and have installed equipment to protect their avionics from Cell Phone interference. Perhaps they've plugged in a Tice clock for that?

More importantly, will they let me keep my e-book on during taxi and take-off, for crying out loud? How long will this nonsense go on? If the avionics can't stand some weak nearby electronic interference, they are faulty and we shouldn't be flying at all. Or living near an airport, for that matter.

N.B. - before you ask, my abbreviated view on expensive audio equipment: Electrical systems are chaotic so it is perfectly possible that these kinds of things can make a difference in sound or behavior. The effect may be transient or only exist in musical transients. The trouble with double-blind tests is often that the switching equipment or gain-leveling/impedance matching method used in double-blind tests may introduce or negate audible effects (see Julian Hirsch's famous amplifier tests). More importantly, the value of the product is simply its perceived value in listening. If I take a pill and it makes me feel better, (hate to admit this..) I don't care if it is a placebo. Similarly, if gazing into glowing vacuum tubes makes me enjoy the listening experience more, then...I enjoy the listening experience more.

I love my system now and haven't bought anything in years. When I did, I tended to purchase things that made plausible electronic sense, i.e. high current-delivery amps for low or variable-resistance speakers (Ohm's Law is not yet disproved), sufficient cable gauges to handle current delivery with consistent electrical characteristics, an SACD player and balanced interconnects. I also auditioned speakers for a long time because most speakers/systems that sound great briefly in a store are fatiguing over long listening periods (the old Bose 901s are a good example - the Pamela Anderson of speakers). Thiel speakers are, in particular, neutral-sounding and non-fatiguing for me. For all of this, I only think my relatively modest level of investment is worth it for non multi-tracked Jazz and Classical recordings.

If you want to hear a staggering difference, try listening to a ripped MP3 of a good classical recording vs. the CD and the vinyl over a decent system. Higher-resolution digital and vinyl can both be rewarding sonic experiences, although clearly different. But MP3..yuk.

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TigerHawk stuff 

Notwithstanding my absolute lack of taste or artistic ability, I heedlessly cooked up a logo for t-shirts and other stuff now available for purchase through Cafe Press. What do you, our loyal readers, think of it?

TigerHawk.  Right writing.

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PassportGate and the "curiousity" defense 

The lefty blogosphere is in a twist because a couple of unrelated State Department contract workers took an unauthorized peek into Barack Obama's passport file. The Obama campaign "blasted" the Bush administration, but the State Department -- which is investigating -- said that the now-fired workers were probably just curious.

Apart from the silliness of "blasting" the Bush administration for something that low-level State Department employees have done -- believe me, the Bush administration wishes there were enough Republicans in the State Department for such trivialities -- the curiousity explanation is simply very credible. People who have access to the confidential information of famous people are naturally curious about it. Indeed, I have a confession to make along these lines. In the summer of 1980 I worked as a summer intern doing credit investigations in a huge international bank; my friends and I spent at least one afternoon peeking into the bank accounts of famous people. I still remember that Bianca Jaggar had $40,000 in her checking account, which seemed like an absurdly huge amount in those much less flamboyant times.

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Getting ready 

The day after TEOTWAWKI, Greenleaf, Idaho should be in pretty good shape.

A year and a half ago, Greenleaf drew nationwide attention for officially suggesting that its residents own guns. From a Jay Leno monologue to the New York Times, the town was suddenly famous for its "gun ordinance," which actually was a one-sentence clause in a five-page emergency preparedness ordinance.

But Greenleaf doesn't want to be known for that. What didn't draw attention is the overall push behind that ordinance - something that has picked up considerable momentum in the past few months.

"What we're working on here is a long-term attitude, and we might be in a position to help other people in the area," Greenleaf Friends Church Pastor Alan Weinacht said. "I laud that. It strikes me as smart city planning."

A few months ago city leaders hired a part-time preparedness coordinator, funded by the federal "Experience Works" program. On Feb. 29 they completed a "continuity of operations" plan outlining what steps to take at City Hall if disaster strikes. In the past few days they have been gathering supplies - canned food, flashlights, emergency blankets, heavy vinyl to seal windows and doors - to shelter and sustain city employees for several days if there's a toxic spill or other emergency.

Read the whole thing.

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The Right to Bear Arms 

Gun enthusiasts are closely following an important second amendment case before the Supreme Court.
"The case has been structured so that they have to confront the threshold question," said Robert A. Levy, the wealthy libertarian lawyer who has spent five years and his own money to bring District of Columbia v. Heller to the Supreme Court. "I think they have to come to grips with that."

The stakes are obviously high for the District, which passed the nation's strictest gun-control law in 1976, just after residents were granted the authority to govern themselves. It virtually bans the private possession of handguns, and requires that rifles and shotguns in the home be kept unloaded and disassembled or outfitted with a trigger lock.
Arguments were made this week, and Jim Rawles is not happy with what he heard. He's posted his reactions to arguments over at Survivalblog. One particular complaint regarding what he considers flawed analysis on the lineage of machine guns:

In my opinion, Gura (attourney for the plaintiffs challenging the DC ban) also stumbled badly when he stated: "At the time that -- even at the time Miller was decided, the civilian arms were pretty much the sort that were used in the military. However, it's hard to imagine how a machine gun could be a "lineal descendent," to use the D.C. Circuit's wording, of anything that existed back in 1791, if we want to look to the framing era."

I beg to differ! The US Springfield Armory designed and produced nearly all of the shoulder-fired arms for the US infantry from 1777 to the 1950s. You can follow the "lineal descent" of those rifles directly from flintlock muskets, to caplock rifles, to the Trapdoor Springfield, to the M1898 Krag, to the M1903 Springfield, to the M1 Garand, (semi-auto) and finally to the M14. Each of these iterations display some quite distinctive design features that are carried on from its immediate predecessor. Some design features are almost continuously-used (such as bayonet lugs and butt traps for cleaning equipment), but others (like stacking swivels) were eventually dropped, as military doctrine changed. It is notable that the pinnacle of this unbroken lineal descent was the M14 and it is fully automatic! The only distinct "lineal break" came when Defense Secretary Robert McNamara forced adoption of the Colt M16. But, again, the selective-fire (semi-auto and full auto) M14 pre-dated that lineal break. And, coincidentally, M14 rifles (now equipped with plastic stocks) are still in service with the US Army in limited numbers in the present day, as designated marksman's rifles.
Is it too late for a friend of the court brief?

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The Saudis establish remedial imam school 

Isn't it a little late for this?

Saudi Arabia is to retrain its 40,000 prayer leaders - also known as imams - in an effort to counter militant Islam.

Details of the plan were revealed in the influential Saudi newspaper Al- Sharq al-Awsat.

The plan is part of a wider programme launched by the Saudi monarch a few years ago to encourage moderation and tolerance in Saudi society.

The timing of this program reveals at least a little something about the Saudi royals; having waited this long since September 11, why are they only now responding to Washington's demand that they crack down on jihadism rather than appease it? One would think that in light of the lame-duckness of the Bush administration and the high altitude of oil prices Riyadh's ability to resist pressure from the United States would be at an all-time high. Could it be that the success of the surge and the recruitment of the Sunnis of al-Anbar in the war against al Qaeda have emboldened the Saudis to increase the heat as well? Is the United States now the strong horse?

Or maybe the Saudis have simply decided that if they keep riding the tiger of extremism they will eventually be ripped to shreds. Either way, faster, please.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The mathematics of Easter 

John Derbyshire scoffs at the complex mathematics applied to calculate Easter (which feast, by the way, will not come so early again until 2160, by which year March 23 should be well along into summer if climate models prove themselves).

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May you all have a freilichen Purim! 

We are a couple of hours from sundown in New York, and the Jewish holiday of Purim is about to begin. It commemorates the first time Jews survived a confrontation with the stooge of an Iranian regime. Sort of.

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Premature martyrdom 


Palestinian militants accidentally set off a large blast at a Hamas training base in the central Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing two members of the violent Islamic group and wounding another, a Palestinian medical official said.

Delight in the incompetence of your enemy. And, by the way, a tip o' the hat to the Associated Press, which reached deep into its pocket of adjectives to describe Hamas as "violent."

Of course, Hamas tried to blame Israel:
Hamas initially blamed Israel for the blast, but later acknowledged that it was caused by a mishandling of explosives, saying its men died while performing a "holy mission."

Finally, the State Department speaks with almost unprecedented clarity:
In Washington, meanwhile, the State Department again ruled out U.S. talks with Hamas, which it designates as a terrorist organization.

"It'll be a cold day in hell before you see a change in U.S. policy with respect to discussing, winking at, nudging, looking at or otherwise dealing with a terrorist organization," deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.

At least before January 20, 2009.

All in all, a good story.

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Villain of the Week 

Credit is the new Neocon
Failed deal? Blame credit. Ailing high street sales? Blame credit. Lost your house? Blame credit.

Hellish traffic jams on your journey out of the capital for your Easter break? Blame credit.

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The Arctic ice, past and present 

While the total area of Arctic sea ice has apparently rebounded dramatically from last summer's lows (which induced no end of claims that we were on the verge of a climate change tipping point), scientists are now arguing that even during this cold winter there is substantially less of the very thick "perennial" sea ice than in recent decades.

"Because we had a cold winter, the public might think things have gotten better," said Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "In fact, the loss of the perennial ice makes clear that they're not getting better at all."

The surprising drop in perennial ice makes the fast-changing region more unstable, because the thinner seasonal ice melts readily in summer.

The Arctic lost an unprecedented amount of ice during last summer's unusual warmth, and Meier said conditions are right for a similarly large melt if the temperatures are at all above normal this year. The area of thick Arctic ice lost over the past two decades equals 1 1/2 times the size of Alaska.

While normal weather variation plays a role in yearly ice fluctuations, officials said the dramatic decline in perennial ice -- which can range from 6 feet thick to more than 15 feet thick -- appears to be consistent with the effects of global warming.

Officials said the loss of long-lasting ice was less the result of warming of the atmosphere than of a long-term rise in ocean temperatures and the effects of the "Arctic oscillation," a variable wind pattern that can either keep icebergs in the Arctic (when the wind pattern is "negative") or push them south (when it is "positive"). Climate experts believe that both the rising water temperature and increasingly frequent "positive" oscillations are a function of global warming.

So that's bad news, for those of us who believe that nature should indemnify us against change. But here's some good news: 3,000 robots dispatched to report the extent to which the oceans are warming have actually reported that they are cooling, which is very confusing not least of all to the people at NPR. (CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.)

The problem, of course, is that we are all so used to random press coverage of expert opinion that it is very difficult for the average person to make sense of it all. Under three minutes of searching the archives of the New York Times, for example, reveals this story, in which an expert confidently predicts that the Arctic Ocean "will soon be open sea" and finds lots of other people to agree with him (there are dissenters, too). The date on that article: February 20, 1969. (Read the whole thing here, and note especially the reference to "the century of climate warming before 1940 or 1950".)

Now, obviously ancient predictions by long-retired people without access to the technology that we have today do not impeach today's experts, but they do put the average informed citizen with access to the internets in a difficult spot. How are we to know that the science -- and I use the term seriously, not mockingly -- will not change again? Basically, we have to go on faith.

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Blog quip of the week 

It is pretty clear that this is the quick-witted inside blogball quip of the week, or even some longer period of measurement.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

China and the direct action Olympics 

The spectacle of John Derbyshire plotting direct action protest is more than a little entertaining:

I still doubt that a big Olympic flop could bring down the communist government of China, and of course Tibet might be forgotten again a news cycle or two from now, having no oil, and with a population insufficiently barbarous, and a religion insufficiently dogmatic to produce terrorists. Still, a boycott of the opening ceremony by leaders of free nations might actually come off. The French seem to be seriously pondering it.

All sort of other ideas for embarrassing the ChiCom gangsters are buzzing around. Some are suggesting, for example, that athletes simply not show up for the opening ceremonies. (They are not required to by their Olympic contract.) There is also the idea, which I rather like, that an entire national team might shave their heads the night before the ceremony to show solidarity with Tibetan monks and nuns, the bravest and most persecuted of Tibetan patriots.

The possibilities are endless.

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Is it possible that Jeff Skilling is innocent? 

Regular readers know that we are corporate tools around here, and this blogger in particular tends to project his own good faith on others. That said, this is probably a bad week -- but perversely appropriate -- to point out that former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling may not be as guilty as previously advertised. The sober and august Economist has picked up the story that blogger Tom Kirkendall has been following for more than a year:

THERE may be a glimmer of hope for Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron who is now serving a 24-year jail sentence for his part in the his company’s collapse. On March 14th, evidence emerged that government prosecutors may have misled the court and Mr Skilling’s defence team about the content of interviews with key witnesses, including Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer.

Mr Fastow’s testimony was widely regarded, not least by the prosecution, as crucial to securing Mr Skilling’s conviction: it was the only direct evidence that Mr Skilling actually knew about the various frauds at Enron for which he was found guilty. Yet the new document reveals that, at least in his early interviews with the FBI, Mr Fastow did not appear to implicate Mr Skilling as unequivocally as he did when he testified in court. Indeed, on crucial points, his original answers appear to exonerate Mr Skilling.

Why is this inconsistency only now coming to light? Rather than handing over the original interview notes, the government instead produced a composite summary. This is standard practice, but the summary must accurately reflect what was said. Mr Skilling’s defence team, after eventually persuading the court to order the government to hand over its original notes, makes a strong case that the summary of Mr Fastow's interview omits details in a way that consistently favours the government.

Read the whole thing, and pay particular attention to this bit:
For many people, the mere fact of Enron’s collapse is evidence that Mr Skilling and his old mentor and boss, Ken Lay, who died between his conviction and sentencing, presided over a fraudulent house of cards. Yet Mr Skilling has always argued that Enron’s collapse largely resulted from a loss of trust in the firm by its financial-market counterparties, who engaged in the equivalent of a bank run. Certainly, the amounts of money involved in the specific frauds identified at Enron were small compared to the amount of shareholder value that was ultimately destroyed when it plunged into bankruptcy.

Yet recent events in the financial markets add some weight to Mr Skilling’s story—though today's credit crunch creates a far more hostile environment that the one Enron faced and nobody is (yet) alleging the sort of fraudulent behaviour on Wall Street that apparently took place at Enron. The hastily arranged purchase of Bear Stearns by JP Morgan Chase is the result of exactly such a bank run on the bank, as Bear’s counterparties lost faith in it. This has seen the destruction of most of its roughly $20-billion market capitalisation since January 2007. By comparison, $65 billion was wiped out at Enron, and $190 billion at Citigroup since May 2007, as the credit crunch turned into a crisis in capitalism.

Note, as well, that the government can actually cause a figurative "run" on a business that requires the trust or faith of its counterparties or clients. See, e.g., the destruction of public auditing firm Arthur Andersen after its indictment following the collapse of Enron. If it should come to pass that prosecutors secured their convictions of Skilling and Lay through misconduct, how will all those former Andersen employees and partners react (not to mention all of us who pay much higher auditing fees today because there are four big firms rather than five)?

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