Thursday, July 31, 2008

The World Trade Center still stands... 

...in China? In a park designated as an official protest zone?

Talk about your cuppa weird.

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Victory watch: The longest stretch without an American KIA 

There have been only five American KIA in Iraq since June 26 (excluding one poor soldier who died on July 2 from injuries incurred in 2005). No American soldier has died in combat since July 15, the longest such period since the invasion. Recorded deaths of Iraqi civilians were at their lowest level since April 2005, notwithstanding a spate of female suicide bombings in the last week of the month. Still too high, but let's put it in perspective. If you annualize the 305 civilians who died in July and divide it into Iraq's population of 27.5 million, you get 0.00013. In July, at least, an Iraqi's risk of death from homicide was only 16% higher than in the United States during the first year of the Clinton administration. Now, you can take such thinking too far; the Iraqi statistics probably understate homicide because they are based on press accounts, and there is a big psychological difference between garden-variety homicide and deaths from bombing. But that does not make the improvement any less impressive.

[Time stamp corrected]

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Policing prosecutorial misconduct 

In a short note about prosecutorial misconduct (stemming from a panel discussion on the Duke lacrosse non-rape case), Glenn Reynolds writes this:

I disagree, though, with the idea that replacing elected prosecutors with appointed prosecutors would fix the problem. As with elected vs. appointed judges, it doesn't get rid of the politics, just make it less transparent. And I suspect that situations like that obtaining in Britain, where burglars face little risk of prosecution while homeowners who defend their homes against burglars are targeted by authorities, could possibly prevail in a system of elected prosecutors.

I agree, assuming Glenn meant "could not possibly prevail" in the last line. However, I have long wondered whether we would not benefit from a rule that banned prosecutors for running for other offices for some period after leaving their prosecutorial job. That is, my loose impression is that some of the most high-profile excesses (think Giuliani and Spitzer) come from prosecutors who want to build their name in the service of some higher political ambition. If we passed a rule that prosecutors could not run for any non-prosecutorial elective political office for, say, five years after leaving the prosecutor's office (or the attorney general's office), prosecution might lose its appeal as anything other than an end in itself. That might mean that prosecutors would care more about their reputations as lawyers than as politicians, which in turn might temper the really offensive abuses.

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Great advertising 

You have to admit, Canadian football is a manly game.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Judging by the average score of this week's O'Quiz -- 3 out of 10 as of this writing -- it is more difficult than usual. I, however, got 7 out of 10 right, which is a monster performance under the circumstances (and, of course, in full recognition that I usually suck at these). How did you do?

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Handicapping Barack Obama's cabinet 

"A murder's row of stupid." Yep. If the phrase "John Kerry as Secretary of State" does not make you want to take up Koranic studies -- you know, to hedge your bets -- it is only because you secretly believe that it does not really matter who is in charge at Foggy Bottom.

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The "50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill". The Republican hotties look pretty much the way you expect Republicans to look, which is probably bad news for the party.

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Ice watch 

With more than half of the summer melt season gone, it looks like an uphill battle for an ice-free arctic this year.


More here:
New data from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute shows that there is more ice than normal in the Arctic waters north of the Svalbard archipelago.

In most years, there are open waters in the area north of the archipelago in July month. Studies from this year however show that the area is covered by ice, the Meteorological Institute writes in a press release.

In mid-July, the research vessel Lance and the Swedish shp MV Stockholm got stuck in ice in the area and needed help from the Norwegian Coast Guard to get loose.

The ice findings from the area spurred surprise among the researchers, many of whom expect the very North Pole to be ice-free by September this year.

That bit is certainly not getting a lot of headlines in the mainstream media, which is not surprising insofar as it does not fit the narrative.

Meanwhile, Bruce Lieberman has promised to follow up on my question last night regarding albedo.

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Selective greeniness 

Good question: "If other countries didn't subsidize fuel, consumption would be dropping faster worldwide. So why aren't the greens going after fuel subsidies?"

The answer, of course, is that the greens really only complain about rich countries that do not directly subsidize fuel, and then mostly the United States. If greens complained about developing countries and their fuel subsidies they would discredit their most powerful ideological ally: International anti-Americanism.

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Investing against "the Congressional effect" 

A new mutual fund invests with the belief that it can achieve above-market returns by jumping in when Congress is out of session and selling when it is in session:

The Congressional Effect Fund is the first mutual fund to explicitly seek to minimize investor exposure to potentially negative impact of new and proposed Congressional legislation on the broad stock market.

The Congressional Effect Fund seeks to capture the historically higher returns on Congressional out of session days by primarily having exposure to price moves of the broad market as measured by the S & P 500 index on vacation days. The Fund does not try to capture the dividends of stocks in the index. Instead, it invests in interest bearing instruments including, without limitation, treasury bills, other government obligations and bonds, collateralized repurchase contracts, money market instruments and money market funds.

Sounds plausible! It would be interesting to know whether the Congressional effect is greater when Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party, or whether it matters whether the Republicans or the Democrats are in control.

CWCID: Donald L. Luskin.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why the melting of the Arctic sea ice may still be trouble, or not 

Because we are nothing if not fair, we call your attention to this apparently reasonable post on sea-ice journalism at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media. It reviews the media's coverage of the issue and finds it wanting while nevertheless holding up the majority view that melting Arctic sea ice both reflects anthropogenic global warming and threatens a feedback loop that could accelerate warming (by reducing the reflectivity, or albedo, of the far Northern Hemisphere). Since I have occasionally pointed out that Southern Hemisphere sea ice is increasing and above the baseline, I thought this assertion was particularly interesting:

One final point: While Arctic ice has been declining, Antarctic sea ice has been increasing recently. But changes at the bottom of the world are well within the range of natural variability, Alley said. In contrast, the Arctic changes under way are far outside of it.

Sadly, the post's author (Bruce Lieberman) neither adduced evidence in support nor explained why the increase in Southern Hemisphere albedo does not compensate for the decrease in the Northern (since the total global sea ice coverage was actually above the baseline average as recently as this spring). This seems like a big miss, even for a Yalie.

Anyway, if the Yale operation is serious about presenting climate change science in an intellectually honest way, it had better address the actual objections raised by the skeptics instead of the straw-man objections thought up by the activists.

NOTE (posted April 7, 2009): Via Bruce Lieberman, this email from Professor Alley:
The “simple” answer is that the ice-albedo feedback is primarily a local-regional one rather than a global one. Ice-albedo does matter globally, but not a whole lot, because most of the snow and ice hang out in the winter in small polar regions with low sun angles and often with clouds, so that not a whole lot of the total sun reaching the planet actually can bounce off the snow and ice and back to space. Ignoring ice-albedo will get you in trouble quantitatively globally, but ignoring water vapor would get you into way worse shape. Locally, however, the sea ice makes a much bigger deal. The easiest way to cause a big temperature change is to alter sea-ice coverage in a polar winter—open water is at or above freezing, and nearby air can’t escape this, whereas in the dark of a polar winter you can run to –40 over sea ice without too much trouble. Very little else in the climate system can get you 40 degrees C or more for a chnuk of a season. So probably correct, with modern ice coverage, to view ice-albedo as a positive but not overly strong feedback on global temperatures but with the potential to have very large regional effects, insofar as the absorbed heat from reduced ice can delay ice regrowth and cause corresponding anomalies not only from the direct balance of absorbed versus reflected sunlight, but also from other things including the lid-or-not on the ocean in winter.

If (big if, see below) Antarctic changes were offsetting Arctic changes in sea ice, and if some other things also are comparable (cloud cover, for example, and seasonal persistence of the anomalies—the sea ice has to be illuminated by the sun to matter), then globally you could have offsetting changes in radiative balance of the planet. For what it’s worth, though, the trends in sea-ice coverage from NSIDC (http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/s_plot.html and http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/n_plot.html) are listed as –3.4 +- 0.7 % per decade with a 1979-2000 mean of 12.2 million sq km in the Arctic, and 0.9 +- 1.3 % per decade with a 1979-2000 mean of 13.8 million sq km for the Antarctic. If one is interested in momentary radiative balance, then it may be acceptable to pick a month or three and compare northern and southern values, but any assessment of statistically significant trends shows that the southern trends are not offsetting the northern ones.

Your correspondent might locate the 1984 J. Hansen et al. paper in Climate Processes and Climate Sensitivity, to get a better feel for the amplification of feedbacks, and the strengths of various feedbacks. --Richard

My apologies for the delay in posting this email, which I received in mid-December. I only remembered that I had not corrected this post when another spate of news about the meltic Arctic sea ice cropped up in the news in early April 2009. That said, I do have a question: It seems to me that Antarctic sea ice is, on average, further from the pole than Arctic sea ice. Would that not mean that the albedo of Antarctic sea ice would have a greater impact on the reflection and absorption of heat?

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The IOC: Iraq can go after all 

The International Olympic Committee has reversed its decision banning Iraq from the Beijing games. Good. Such unadulterated stupidity should not stand even when it is perpetrated by an international bureaucracy.

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Blogging after November: A forecast 

Vanity Fair wonders how the "netroots" -- the lefty blogosphere -- will alter its tone if Barack Obama is elected in November. Good question, since in the matter of blogging "offense" is much easier than defense. Conservative Jonah Goldberg, who knows something about both, put it best:

It’s simply easier to be on offense than defense. On offense you can make ‘the perfect’ the enemy of ‘the good.’ On defense you have to defend ‘the barely good’ against ‘the perfect.’”

If Obama is elected, it will represent the first change in position since blogging became a factor in American politics. The left will move to defense and the right to offense. Both will be constrained, at least up to the point of their own self respect, by their respective records for exacting intolerance (in the case of the left, which has held George W. Bush to a standard of "competence" required of no previous wartime president) or "reasonable" qualification (in the case of the right, which has turned explaining away the administration's fumbles in to something of an art). When the teams switch ends of the field, enterprising righties will no doubt comb the archives of lefties for posts that demand perfection, and the left will do the reverse. Expect defensive airbrushing in response, and unsubstantiated accusations of same.

We bloggers will learn a lot about intellectual honesty in the next couple of years.

CWCID: Patrick Appel blogging at Andrew Sullivan's.

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So, you think Al Gore inflates the threat... 

If you think that Al Gore has inflated the threat of anthropogenic global warming you are going to delight in this bit from the BBC:

New and cautious calculations by the New Economics Foundation's (nef) climate change programme suggest that we may have as little as 100 months starting from August 2008 to avert uncontrollable global warming.

Nothing short of the rapid and wide-scale re-engineering of the economy will be sufficient. Radical change, though, is needed anyway because of the credit and energy crises; the latter driven significantly by the imminent peak and decline of global oil production.

No simple techno-fix exists that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast or far enough to solve the problem.

The answers are going to be economic, political and behavioural. Many countries, not just the UK, are going to need to learn the art of rapid transition.

Among the supposed remedies for climate change proposed in the article:

Proposals like these published in supposedly serious forums give credence to the concerns of the rest of us that climate change hysteria is just the latest justification for socialism. Many of us who love economic wealth and the post-industrial consumer economy are big believers in weaning the planet from fossil fuels for both environmental and geopolitical reasons, but we are loath to support a cause that attracts so many people who want to destroy capitalism. If the climate change activists are serious about winning the political battle in the United States they should propose solutions that maximize wealth and minimize the distribution of wealth and the regulation of the economy. Of course, most of those solutions will take longer than 100 months to implement. One suspects that is why the socialists are cranking up the hysteria -- only command and control "solutions" can even theoretically be implemented in 7 1/2 years.

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Glass house 

So, I'm watching New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine on "Squawk Box" talking about how important it is to bring the federal government budget deficit down, and how Barack Obama understands this. So far, nobody has pointed out that the state he governs has very close to the most disastrous fiscal posture in the country. Apparently even the governor of New Jersey can experience the magical Obama teflon by the simple speaking of the man's name.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Preferred Narratives in Financial Reporting 

Calculated Risk is one of my favorite financial blogs. For the TH audience, I recommend the category titled: Picking On Poor Gretchen. The latest item is from this weekend's screamer.

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I had a Coke in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills 

Remember this ad? Well, the ambition in the ad is reflected in the theory that Coca-Cola is a leading indicator for Africa's stability:

Finally, a political indicator I can get behind. Coca-Cola sales are a key signal of peace and prosperity in Africa, according to an intriguing theory from Jonathan Ledgard, The Economist's Africa correspondent.

Africans buy more than 36 billion bottles of Coca-Cola each year, and the price is low enough that many even in the most impoverished villages can afford a bottle now and then. Folks love their Coca-Cola: As the largest private employer on the continent, Coca-Cola is so entrenched in hearts that people go to the grave with the stuff. And since Coca-Cola tracks its sales and distribution in Africa down to the most minute details, any swift drops in sales or problems in the distribution chain can point to real-time economic hardship and instability.

In other words, if Coke sales drop off swiftly and suddently in parts of, say, Kenya, there is a good chance that either the area has become too dangerous for deliverymen to make their rounds or that something catastrophic is happening to peoples' incomes. Either way, bad news.

It turns out that Cokes and smiles really do go together. Links through the link.

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Olympic pollution 

Regarding the air in Beijing, the Chinese and the IOC are beginning to panic.

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How to attract lightning 

Five people in Hicksville, New York were injured by lightning strike over the weekend. I hate to sound unsympathetic, but...

Five people were struck by lightning on Long Island. The group was playing soccer in Hicksville when they were caught off guard by powerful thunderstorms. The victims, all in their 20s, sought shelter under a tree. (emphasis added)

Not one of the five of them knew that it is, shall we say, a bad idea to "seek shelter" from lightning under a tree? Am I the only person who learned that when I was a little kid? I thought it was an integral part of, er, the learned wisdom of, er, all humanity. What are the odds that not one out of five people, even five Long Islanders, knows this?

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Tiger picture of the day 

Going to bed now, but consider this an open thread.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

It is time to irritate the neighbors 

Living as I do in Princeton, the approaches to my house are lined with Obama yard signs. No matter which direction you come from, you have to pass through a gauntlet of Obamamania. This morning I decided that enough was enough and ordered four McCain yard signs and various other paraphernalia. Click here to do the same.

There will be pictures.

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Victory lap popularity indicator 

In the wake of Barack Obama's grand tour, public opinion polls suggest that he picked up a few supporters. Interestingly, the prediction markets seem to indicate that the chances that he will be elected -- a somewhat different point -- have declined a little.

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Politics and the International Criminal Court 

There is a story in the New York Times this morning that -- unwittingly, no doubt -- illustrates why the United States should not recognize the International Criminal Court. The key bit:

The dueling war-crimes cases of July — first [Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan] Bashir is told that a prosecutor is seeking a warrant for his arrest on war-crimes charges, and then Mr. Karadzic actually gets arrested in Belgrade, Serbia, in a move that will most likely send him to The Hague — received two very distinct reactions from the international community. The reason may well lie in the two very distinct pathways that Mr. Bashir could choose in our opening puzzle.

Just about everyone except a few übernationalistic Serbs appeared to cheer the arrest of Mr. Karadzic, who was indicted for the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica in which Bosnian Muslim men were singled out for slaughter. But curiously, the request by the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, for a warrant for Mr. Bashir’s arrest was greeted with ambivalence among international human rights activists.

“The problem is, it doesn’t stop the war,” said one human rights official, who spoke on condition that his name not be used. Gary Bass, a Princeton professor who wrote a book on the politics of war-crimes tribunals, said human rights advocates were caught in a bind in the Bashir case because they worry that an indicted Mr. Bashir might think he has no option but to continue waging war; if he makes peace, he will still have an indictment hanging over his head and could end up in The Hague.

“From a human rights perspective, what’s more important?” Mr. Bass asks. “Delivering justice for people who’ve been victimized, or preventing future victimization?”

There is, apparently, growing recognition in the human rights "community" that ICC indictments might prolong wars, because indicted but uncaptured leaders have no alternative but to fight to the bitter end. Why? Because there is nobody empowered to grant immunity as part of a surrender package.

Of course, this view is obviouslyy controversial. Otherwise, the quoted "human rights official" would not have needed to withhold his name (shabby journalism points to the New York Times for not explaining why the human rights official insisted on anonymity). It is controversial not only because it validates the position of the hated United States, but because it undermines the cherished ideal (among transnational progressives, at least) that legal process can prevent war. This would seem to be a case of legal process prolonging war.

Imagine how this dynamic might play out under a "progressive" American president given to military interventions for humanitarian reasons (Rwanda/Darfur scenarios come to mind). Such a war might go on much longer than the United States would prefer because the ICC limtis its ability to negotiate with the enemy by indicting the enemy's leadership. Our soldiers would be in harms way and civilians would continue to die because some prosecutor in The Hague files an indictment that nobody with any skin in the game has the power to quash.

Now, the linked article addresses the counterarguments, which is that ICC indictments can shape the postwar political environment in favorable ways, including by discrediting the bad guys and giving heart to the presumably less criminal opposition. Fair enough, but in a world in which only one country -- the United States -- has either the capability or the inclination to intervene against the bad guys, these arguments are really nothing more but the legalistic expression of the idea that countries that chose not to intervene should now participate in shaping the postwar settlement. We do the fighting, they determine what happens next. Perhaps this is why Barack Obama has not (to his credit) committed to joining the ICC. (Aside: I wonder how many of his supporters understand his position?)

Then, of course, there is the meta point of the article -- that indictments of the ICC are not actually meant to deter war crimes (there is a lot of evidence in the article that they do not), but rather are a means of political leverage toward a geopolitical objective. That, of course, is precisely why the United States fears that the court will be used against it.

MORE: Then again, maybe prison teaches war criminals to get along!

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A short note on casualties 

Suddenly the mainstream media is declaring victory in Iraq (although, as Tom Maguire says, victory has 999 fathers). I hope to have more to say on all these subjects over the next couple of days, when and if I get all my important day-job work done.

By at least one famous measure of victory -- the enemy losing its will to fight -- the news is great but not definitive. Great, because in the 31 days since June 26 only five Americans have died in Iraq from hostile action. There have been no American KIAs for twelve days. It is possible that the last American soldier will die in combat before Labor Day, if it has not already happened.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Killing in the name of Islam in Londonistan 

I suffer from at least a little Anglophilia, but there is no denying that the British suck at assimilation:

ALMOST a third of British Muslim students believe killing in the name of Islam can be justified, according to a poll.

The study also found that two in five Muslims at university support the incorporation of Islamic sharia codes into British law.

The YouGov poll for the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) will raise concerns about the extent of campus radicalism. “Significant numbers appear to hold beliefs which contravene democratic values,” said Han-nah Stuart, one of the report’s authors. “These results are deeply embarrassing for those who have said there is no extremism in British universities.”...

The report was criticised by the country’s largest Muslim student body, Fosis, but Anthony Glees, professor of security and intelligence studies at Buckingham University, said: “The finding that a large number of students think it is okay to kill in the name of religion is alarming.

“There is a wide cultural divide between Muslim and nonMuslim students. The solution is to stop talking about celebrating diversity and focus on integration and assimilation.”

Indeed, but that will require a sea-change in thinking on the left, particularly the British academic left.

That said, if the question simply asked "can killing in the name of Islam be justified?", even I would be forced to answer that there were circumstances when it might be. Substitute "Christianity" for Islam in that question and I would answer yes, killing in the name of Christianity can be justified. How could any actually religious person believe otherwise? Surely there is some circumstance that would justify killing in the name of religion? The more illuminating question is, what are the specific circumstances that "can" justify killing? It is almost certainly the case that a vocal minority of Muslims believes that there are more than a few such circumstances (the occupation of Spain, for instance, by non-Muslims 600 years after the reconquest by Christiandom), while virtually all modern-day Christians would say that their religion would require some substantial collateral justification that would be equally accepted by non-believers. So, for instance, if I were a Christian Nigerian villager and I and my family were at risk of being slaughtered by the neighboring Muslim villagers, I might be justified in striking first. If I did that I might say that I killed in the name of Christianity since it was my Christianity that put me in peril in the first place. So it can happen.

Something tells me, though, that the Muslim respondents to the survey were not, generally, imagining similarly remote circumstances.

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Summer breeze 

I wish I'd taken this...

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Public service announcement 

I'd be remiss if I did not alert you, my loyal readers, to the huge science fiction DVD sale at Amazon. Watching DVDs purchased through our link is a great way to amuse yourself without burning gasoline on that long drive to the theater or pounding down over-priced Junior Mints!

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Helicopter parents 

The New York Times devotes some of its front page to a story about overbearing parents who torture summer camp administrators with their specific instructions, whiny demands for exceptionalism, and unreconstructed anxiety. This is an excellent use of that newspaper's valuable real estate. Anxious and controlling parents are as great a threat to this country's posterity as, say, climate change or Islamic terrorism. As the article makes painfully obvious, parents are teaching their children all the wrong lessons with their interventions, which include attempts to eliminate every discomfort, redress every injustice, and break any rule (such as the ban on cell phones) if it is an obstacle to intensive parent-child contact. These parents are teaching their children to be easily discomfited, hypersensitive in the defense of their own prerogatives, and disrespectful of rules, all traits that are opposite to those required to be a good citizen.

There is some good news in this, at least if you believe that social mobility is a good thing (and I certainly do). Most of these children are from affluent, highly-educated families. If by dint of their upbringing they turn out, on average, to be as dependent and petulant as is the likely consequence of this much parental intervention, they will not be successful and will be displaced in the upper quintile by the children whose parents actually taught them to be adults.

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Bill Frist: Why Africa Matters 

Among American politicians, is there a greater champion of Africa than Bill Frist, the retired Republican Senator from Tennessee? George W. Bush is certainly the runner-up and there are politicians who have done their bit (particularly among the evangelicals), but Doctor Senator Frist actually goes there, rolls up his sleeves, scrubs in, and saves the lives of some of Africa's most suffering people. Frist's blog has some great stories quite obviously written by him personally. For example:

I woke up to a crystal blue sky in Maputo. I began the day performing a major lung operation for tuberculosis (pneumonectomy), and I ended the day discussing with the President of Mozambique the American people's commitment to fighting extreme poverty in his country.

At 7:30am, we departed for Maputo Central Hospital. The hospital is housed in a 100 year old building, but is a functional public hospital with 1,200 beds. All the doctors are government employees, and they make about $700 per month. The doctors are very prestigious figures in the community. In Mozambique, there are only 500 doctors for 20 million people, and there are very few specialists. In terms of equipment, there is one CT Scan, in Maputo, for 4 million people. By way of comparison, there are probably 32 in Nashville for about 1 million people.

Dr. Atilo Morais, a superb thoracic surgeon training in cardiac surgery, gave us a tour through the hospital. His patient, Elias Novela, a 59 year old man, had a history of tuberculosis (TB). His symptoms included shortness of breath, bloody coughing, and fevers. We reviewed his x-rays which presented a huge right lung mass, thought to be an empyema secondary to his TB. This man would die without surgery of his “bronchopleural fistula” that had developed because of the TB.

I operated with Dr. Morais having been given full surgical privileges for the duration of our stay. He speaks basic English, and I speak no Portuguese – but luckily cutting and sewing doesn't require any talking!

I explored the patient through the bed of the 6th right rib. We removed the empyema cavity, careful not to spill the purulent material within the TB abscess. This is a big operation, but one common in Maputo because of the high incidence of tuberculosis infection. We removed the entire lung, suturing closed the bronchus, the pulmonary artery and vein. The patient as of right now is recovering well. He will remain on anti-TB therapy and should have a good long-term course. This is something very very rare in the US because TB gets treated early.

Bonus post: In the category of the "butterfly effect," back in the day Bill Frist literally saved David Petraeus' life. How many more lives were saved as a result?

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy: Casino gambling in Iraq? 

Remember "Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!"? Well, perhaps we will see some of that.

Via Jungle Trader, is casino gambling coming to the cradle of civilization?

Iraq's investment committee is studying projects proposed by U.S. and Russian firms to turn Saddam Hussein's palace near the site of ancient Babylon into a tourist site with a casino, an Iraqi paper said.

Government paper Al-Sabah quoted Saleh al-Muslimawi, governor of the Babil Province about 85 kilometers (55 mi) south of Baghdad, as saying that the projects also entailed the restoration of museums in Babylon. He declined to give the companies' names.

Babylonian architectural and religious monuments are on the list of investment options compiled by the province's authorities, the paper said.

The lavish hill-top palace that belonged to former dictator Saddam Hussein - who was executed by hanging in December 2006 - overlooks the ruins of Babylon and the Euphrates River.


This strikes me as good news in at least three respects. First, it seems like a classic deal between real estate developers and a government that needs support for one or another public good. So, just as developers in the United States will build affordable housing or protect wetlands in exchange for permission to build a golf course or a heap of McMansions, the firms bidding on the casino project would also restore museums or other culturally important sites damaged in the war. In Iraq, that may be as close to good government as they are likely to get.

Second, it suggests that the religious factions that want to stamp out vice and enforce Islamic law are losing their influence to the (relatively) tolerant center.

Finally, money is always a good barometer of social stability. If there are private investors looking to put money into Iraq, perhaps the recent improvements in security and government are more sustainable than, well, the pessimists claim.

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Bumper stickerology... 

I certainly don't expect to see one of these bumper stickers in downtown Princeton any time soon.

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Olympics double-standard watch: The IOC banned Iraq because...? 

Game, set, match:

For a decade, the International Olympic Committee allowed Saddam Hussein's son Uday to imprison, torture, and kill Iraq's Olympic athletes without a word.

Meanwhile, the IOC, much like it did Germany in 1936, gives China a free ride despite the imprisonment, torture, and execution of political prisoners and asks that nobody politicize the Olympics.

It is fascinating then that the IOC decided that the current Iraqi Olympic committee has suffered political interference and therefore Iraqi athletes were banned from participating in the Beijing Olympics. ...

Apolitical my a**. So, to all you athletes out there, the IOC has now given you the green light to wear your save Tibet t-shirts whether or not you know where it is on a map.

More along the same lines at A Tangled Web.

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Rejoice, for He has come 


From there he went forth to Mesopotamia where he was received by the great ruler al-Maliki, and al-Maliki spake unto him and blessed his Sixteen Month Troop Withdrawal Plan even as the imperial warrior Petraeus tried to destroy it.

And lo, in Mesopotamia, a miracle occurred. Even though the Great Surge of Armour that the evil Bush had ordered had been a terrible mistake, a waste of vital military resources and doomed to end in disaster, the Child's very presence suddenly brought forth a great victory for the forces of the light.

And the Persians, who saw all this and were greatly fearful, longed to speak with the Child and saw that the Child was the bringer of peace. At the mention of his name they quickly laid aside their intrigues and beat their uranium swords into civil nuclear energy ploughshares.

From there the Child went up to the city of Jerusalem, and entered through the gate seated on an ass. The crowds of network anchors who had followed him from afar cheered “Hosanna” and waved great palm fronds and strewed them at his feet.

In Jerusalem and in surrounding Palestine, the Child spake to the Hebrews and the Arabs, as the Scripture had foretold. And in an instant, the lion lay down with the lamb, and the Israelites and Ishmaelites ended their long enmity and lived for ever after in peace.

As word spread throughout the land about the Child's wondrous works, peoples from all over flocked to hear him; Hittites and Abbasids; Obamacons and McCainiacs; Cameroonians and Blairites.

And they told of strange and wondrous things that greeted the news of the Child's journey. Around the world, global temperatures began to decline, and the ocean levels fell and the great warming was over.

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The Los Angeles Times has its rules 

A major American newspaper has banned its employees from even mentioning the existence of a story about John Edwards.

It seems to me that it is never smart to order journalists not to write about something. Even if they comply with the substantive requirements of the edict, reporters will complain loudly about the fact of the edict which will then provoke interest in the underlying story. And, of course, it makes your newspaper look as though it is in the tank for a political party (although in that regard the Los Angeles Times has no important reputation to tarnish).

MORE: Fox News apparently has no such rule.

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Chinese math 

According to the Associated Press, "China says has more people surfing the Web than US".

Shouldn't the A.P. have said "part of the Web"?

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The soul of wit 

Two speeches, each at the site of a great battle that came to define freedom from tyranny: Compare and contrast.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fact-checking Barack Obama on climate change 

Yes, another tedious climate change post.

Among many curious moments in Barack Obama's speech in Berlin on Thursday, this line takes Gorean liberties with the facts:

As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.

"As we speak"? You have to love the royal "we."

In any case, as we write, Barack Obama is just wrong. Sea levels have been declining, not rising, for the last two years.


What about drought to farms in Kansas "as we speak"? Again, not so much. With the exception of one "moderately dry" area in the southwest, this year (at least) Kansas has been normal to "exceptionally moist," depending on the part of the state you are talking about.

precipitation index

You don't suppose there is any chance the press will check his facts "as it reports"?

MORE: Via Glenn Reynolds, non-climate facts checked here.

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A short note on Barack Obama's speech in Berlin 

Tom Maguire looks at Barack Obama's speech in Berlin (which I am listening to as I write this), and says that

Obama also wants the Germans to man up in Afghanistan and the world to support the new Iraqi government after he cuts and runs - great, if he can pull it off.

If only. Here is what Obama said about Germany and NATO in Afghanistan:
This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets. No one welcomes war. I recognize the enormous difficulties in Afghanistan. But my country and yours have a stake in seeing that NATO’s first mission beyond Europe’s borders is a success. For the people of Afghanistan, and for our shared security, the work must be done. America cannot do this alone. The Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation. We have too much at stake to turn back now.

The Germans have provided soldiers to the NATO command in Afghanistan. The problem is that they encumbered them with rules of engagement that prevent them from using lethal force.
Although forces from all 26 Nato member states are deployed in Afghanistan, only Britain, America, Canada, Denmark and Holland have not used caveats to limit the rules of engagement of their troops. While the French, Italians and Spanish have all come in for criticism in the past, particular ire has been directed at the German contingent, whose forces may only be deployed in a non-combat role in the relatively peaceful north.

The United States and the other actually manned up countries have repeatedly asked the Germans to make their soldiers available to, er, fight, but the idea is so unpopular in Germany that even Angela Merkel's relatively serious government cannot make it happen. This would have been the perfect moment for Obama to invest some of his massive popularity to request specifically that Germany revise its rules to allow full participation in the NATO mission. Yes, he would have risked losing Germany's electoral votes, but in return he would have demonstrated that oh so elusive gravitas on an issue that is crucially important to the credibility of the multilateral action that Obama and most other Democrats view as the archtype for American military action. Obama says that Afghanistan is the important war and that we must fight it in partnership with our traditional allies (a label that is applied to Germany with only great effort), but he still cannot bring himself to use his unprecedented popularity to ask the Germans actually to participate in the alliance that protected them for almost 50 years. Obama did not tell Germany to man up at all. In fact, he gave his tacit approval to Germany's abdication of its responsibilities to the alliance if only it will not pull its troops out of Afghanistan all together. That is a missed opportunity to show real leadership and actually advance the interests of the United States. It is also a hot steaming cup of lame.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Climate change: Deja vu all over again? 

Anthony Watts has, with the help of others, put together an absolutely awesome compendium of articles describing climate change stretching back more than 100 years. The history of climate coverage at the New York Times is particularly instructive and, well, embarrassing. It is almost as though the paper writes about the climate without feeling any obligation to acknowledge its previous coverage of the subject.

MORE in the same vein:

Not bad, actually. Except, of course, that the melting of sea ice will not raise sea levels.

STILL MORE media flip-floppery (from commenter Vilmos).

CWCID: Maggie's Farm.

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Nanny state lunacy 

Here's the latest piece of genius from local government.

San Diego's city attorney said on Wednesday he filed a lawsuit against Bank of America Corp and its Countrywide unit to prevent the mortgage lenders from foreclosing on homes in the city, which he aims to make a "foreclosure sanctuary."

City Attorney Michael Aguirre plans to file similar lawsuits against Washington Mutual Inc, Wells Fargo & Co, and Wachovia Corp, in an effort to make the lenders negotiate with mortgage borrowers facing foreclosure.

"We would like to see San Diego become a foreclosure sanctuary," Aguirre said.
Are these people on crack? Why on earth would any financial institution loan their money to someone in a "foreclosure sanctuary"? And what do you suppose will happen to the local housing market if no one is willing to make loans there?

(CWCID: Calculated Risk)

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Sea ice watch 

Notwithstanding claims that the Northern Hemisphere's sea ice would shrink to record lows this year, satellites indicate that there is almost a million square kilometers more of it this year than on the same day last year. It remains about a million square kilometers below the mean for the 1979-2000 base period.

In the Southern Hemisphere there is also more sea ice than on this day a year ago, and the total area exceeds the base line period.

You can bookmark the links above and check them every day. By mid-September we will know whether the people who portentiously predicted the record melt this summer were correct. Then watch them explain why this presumably good news is not news at all and has no bearing on the climate change debate.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taxes and income: What is fair? 

When it comes to income and taxes, what is fair? In 2006, the most recent year for which data are available, the 1% of Americans with the highest incomes earned 22% of the total income reported by taxpayers and paid 40% of the taxes. Is this state of affairs, in its entirety, "fair," or "unfair" according to your personal morality? In rough terms, Barack Obama says it is unfair -- the several percent at the top should pay an even higher proportion of the federal income tax collected -- and John McCain says that it is fair. It is not clear whether Obama would agree that the top 1% should pay a lower proportion of total federal taxes if they earned a lower proportion of total reported income.

Looking at the linked article and accompanying graph, it seems to me that the more troubling problem is not that the top 1% are earning too much of the total income or paying too little of the total tax, but that the bottom 50% earns only 12% of the total income. There are several questions that one might ask. First, how much movement is there between the top half and the bottom half of the population? If many people spend some time in both then perhaps there is nothing unfair about it. If most people spend their entire lives in either the top or bottom half, then the justice in that result turns on whether you believe that such different outcomes are inherently unjust. If, however, you believe that the injustice of (relative) poverty is a function of its causation, then you need to decide whether the people in the bottom half are there by dint of choices they made or their families made for them, or whether they have, in effect, been coerced into their economic station.

Release the hounds.

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State taxes and interstate migration 

Attention New Jersey politicians and the voters who elect them: There is a reason why people are leaving our state. It is the same reason why people are leaving Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York. But not New Hampshire.

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The O'Quiz is up, and it is pretty tough. I scored six out of ten against an average this week of 4.89, so I'm obviously spending way too much time in management meetings. Take the O'Quiz, and report your score in the comments. We will judge whether you are brilliant or merely frittered away last week staring at obscure political stories on the internets.

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Movements Afoot? 

Much has been written about the recent exchange whereby Hezbollah returned the bodies of two slain Israeli soldiers in return for certain Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails. Of those, one was a particularly ghastly murderer of children, and his release has shocked much of Israel.

As a single act, the Israeli government's decison to release this criminal seems to fly in the face of typical Israeli policy, and stands as an insult to the victims.

However, I am not inclined to see this as an isolated act. Something's clearly going on. Israel bombs Syria; Syria arranges Mugniyah's demise; Iraq settles down materially with the Surge; Assad is invited to and attends a European conference arranged by Sarkozy; Hezbollah and Israel engage in the aforementioned prisoner exchange. There are many small fragments suggesting tremendous effort to defuse regional tensions among the Arab nations and with Israel.

Alongside this keep in mind we have 4 political leaders in search of legitimacy and a legacy - Assad, Abbas, Olmert and Bush are all late in their political lives. Furthermore, Assad (western educated) may be tired of his isolation and Syria's impoverished condition, fearing the personal impact of both Western enmity and domestic instability. Having lost Lebanon as a wealthy colony, Assad is rumored to have ended the domestic fuel subsidies which allowed his cronies to profit from overseas fuel sales at market - he can't let them get away with it anymore.

Of course, all of this may mean nothing. But it does seem to me that these disparate and perhaps unconnected acts suggest that Syria may be weighing coming in from the cold.

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Police officer fatalities decline dramatically 

Overprotective parents notwithstanding, it is getting safer out there, at least if you are a cop.

Via a USA Today factoid box, we learn that only 59 American police officers died in the line of duty during the first half of 2008, the lowest level since 1965 (when, obviously, the country had far fewer people in it). For the 11th straight year the majority of those deaths came from traffic accidents rather than direct combat with bad guys. Not surprisingly, violent crime continues to be "near historic lows" (unless, unfortunately, you are a black male).

There are fewer people at large doing violent criminal things than there have been since the Kennedy administration. Professional gum-flappers from journalists to politicians to activists to bloggers traffic in pessimism about America, but if the decline of violent crime is not an indicator of social health I do not know what is.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Barack Obama says Israeli strike on Syria "appropriate" 

The Imperfect Vessel has spoken. Barack Obama has taken at least one clear stand this week that I agree with:

Couric: This is not a speculative question then. Was it appropriate, in your view, for Israel to take out that suspected Syrian nuclear site last year?

Obama: Yes. I think that there was sufficient evidence that they were developing-- a site using a nuclear-- or using a-- a blueprint that was similar to the North Korean model. There was some concern as to what the rationale for that site would be. And, again, ultimately, I think these are decisions that the Israelis have to make. But-- you know, the Israelis live in a very tough neighborhood where-- a lot of folks-- publicly-- proclaim Israel as an enemy and then act on those proclamations. And-- I think that-- you know, it-- it's important for-- for me not to-- you know, engage in speculation on what steps they need to take.

This is not going to make Glenn Greenwald happy. And it is also rather at odds with this otherwise hilarious video.

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Oh. That liberal media. 

American Thinker (bold emphasis added):

An analysis of federal election records shows that the amount of money journalists contributed so far this election cycle favors Democrats by a 15:1 margin over Republicans, with $225,563 going to Democrats, only $16,298 to Republicans .

235 journalists donated to Democrats, just 20 gave to Republicans -- a margin greater than 10:1. An even greater disparity, 20:1, exists between the number of journalists who donated to Barack Obama and John McCain.

Searches for other newsroom categories (reporters, correspondents, news editors, anchors, newspaper editors and publishers) produces 311 donors to Democrats to 30 donors to Republicans, a ratio of just over 10:1. In terms of money, $279,266 went to Dems, $20,709 to Republicans, a 14:1 ratio.

And while the money totals pale in comparison to the $9 million+ that just one union's PACs have spent to get Barack Obama elected, they are more substantial than the amount that Obama has criticized John McCain for receiving from lobbyists: 96 lobbyists have contributed $95,850 to McCain, while Obama -- who says he won't take money from PACs or federal lobbyists -- has received $16,223 from 29 lobbyists.

A few journalists list their employer as an organization like MSNBC MSNBC.com, or ABC News, or report that they're a freelancer for the New York Times, or are journalists for Al Jazeera, CNN Turkey, Deutsche Welle Radio, or La Republica of Rome (all contributions to Obama). Most report no employer. They're mainly free-lancers. That's because most major news organization have policies that forbid newsroom employees from making political donations.

Of course, there is nothing surprising or wrong about this. Journalists are, on average, well to the left of the American center on most issues. We do not need a study to know this or to argue about their various sins of commission or omission; anybody who knows a reasonable number of reporters, editors, and free-lance writers understands that most of them would be on the left in Massachusetts, never mind middle America. Nor should we object if journalists participate in politics by voting for, contributing to, or even working on behalf of particular candidates. The aforementioned Big Media conflict of interest rules are asinine, a policy intended to erect a legalistic defense against the charge of hypocrisy. These rules against financial conflicts reflect the press's own interest in accusing others of trivial conflicts of interest rather than a belief that a reporter or editor might skew an article to favor a particular candidate because he had contributed money to that candidate.

There are, however, several things that may be said about the hugely disproportionate tendency of journalists to contribute to Democrats. First, it suggests a homogeneity of political opinion that simply cannot be healthy for Big Media as a business or journalism as a "profession." How can Big Media sustain or grow its audience if its leading lights all agree? Second, it requires us to ask not only whether journalists as individuals can be objective -- probably not -- but also whether media organizations as institutions can be. Third, it poses an interesting conflict for those journalists who purport to be objective in their work product regardless of their political views. They are usually unwilling to cut similar slack to others in positions of trust and power.

CWCID: Maggie's Farm.

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New Jib Jab! 

The new Jib Jab campaign video is up! Heh.

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Layers of editors... 

The price of oil is down another $4/barrel today, more than $20 below its high earlier in the month. Sadly, the Associated Press headlined otherwise:


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Another reason to hate the United Nations 

While I have always believed that the first purpose of the United Nations -- to serve as a forum at which countries that do not ordinarily speak to each other might do so -- is worthwhile, its many efforts at world government almost always side with the oppressors to the great disadvantage of the oppressed, and those who would take away freedom at the expense of the free. For example.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Ted Kennedy's most recent award 

However churlish I may be for complaining about a man with a brain tumor, neither should a brain tumor immunize Ted Kennedy against criticism for this:

Mexico has awarded Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy the country's highest honor for his work defending the rights of immigrants during his decades in Congress.

Mark Krikorian rather nicely captures the problem with this:
It's not like last year's award, which went to Bill Gates for humanitarian work in Mexico. This is an award to a serving American legislator rewarding him for promoting the preferred policies of a foreign government in domestic matter.

There is no evidence from the article that Kennedy rejoiced on having learned of this award, but so what? The testimony of the foreign government is damnation enough. If you doubt me consider this quaint little thought experiment: Ask yourself how crazy the mainstream media would become if Saudi Arabia gave George W. Bush an award for "his work defending the petroleum-based economy."

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Giving Barack Obama bad advice 

This seems like bad advice:

My suggestion to Obama: forget Berlin, go to Mecca. If you really want to be seen in a Kennedy / Reagan light in the diplomatic arena, you should use your popularity and your unique heritage to address the Christian and Muslim worlds. A thoughtful speech that focuses on our similarities, rather than our differences, is clearly needed between both communities of faith. Kennedy and Reagan in their speeches addressed the major foreign policy concerns of our country. Obama has the opportunity to do something similar if he takes up this challenge. However, the issue is much trickier and more dangerous than either Kennedy or Reagan had to face. Instead of disarming conventional and nuclear weapons, Obama has to disarm fear and prejudice on both sides, Christian and Muslim.

This is where the “Audacity of Hope” meets the reality of fear…let’s see if hope can transform the world once again.

Among the many reasons why this is a terrible idea, non-Muslims are not allowed in to Mecca under the law of Saudi Arabia. Obama's admission into Mecca would constitute recognition from the seat of fundamentalist Islam that Barack Obama is, well, a Muslim. He really does not need that kind of trouble.

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Correlation is not causation 

I've just returned from a very nice vacation in the Adirondacks with family, made far more pleasant by the fact that Thing Two, my five year old, can swim this summer, meaning his mother and I could actually relax instead of constantly looking up for fear he would drown in the boat slip. This anxiety has been with us on vacations since Thing One was a toddler, and its absence more than made up for the fact that one of the two nesting pairs of eagles in the Adirondacks is in the white pine that grows through our porch, rendering it unusable due to periodic showers of whitewash, partially eaten small mouth bass, and the bones of small mammals.

Anyway, for the second year in a row my Adirondack vacation has coincided with serious dislocations in the financial markets, so while I note that the r-squared of my vacation and financial catastrophe might seem particularly high, correlation is not causation.

I did manage to keep tabs on things, generally through the lenses of my favorite financial blogs Calculated Risk, Naked Capitalism, and Mish's Global Economic Analysis. The last couple weeks of all three are worth a scroll if you need to catch up on things, although far too much for me to link to.

One exception: Tanta at Calculated Risk put up a great post entitled On Maes and Macs which would be very useful for anyone sort of following things financial but confused about the difference between, say, IndyMac (seized by regulators a couple of weeks back) and Freddie Mac (apparently too big to fail.) A short excerpt:

Anyway, the players long ago accepted the nicknames to the extent of actually legally changing their names to Ginnie Mae, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, which was great for those of us who had to type Assignments of Mortgage. At some point the student loan corporation climbed on board and we got Sallie Mae, plus the agricultural loan guarantor known as Farmer Mac. By the mid-80s, if you were a government agency or GSE involved in the secondary loan market, you were almost always a Mae or a Mac of some kind. The Federal Home Loan Bank Board never did accept "Freddie Bob," which some of us thought was unsporting but there it is.

Regarding various Maes and Macs I will admit to outrage over Paulson's and Bernanke's approach to Fannie and Freddie, and also to some selfish joy at the failure of Indymac cause I was their whipping boy in 1993 when I was working on their mortgage deals. Rather than make this post interminably long, I'll expand in the comments should anyone give a damn.

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More on drilling, oil leases, and the real agenda of the Democrats 

Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog explains the "logic" of the various arguments that the Democrats have made against opening up more areas for the drilling of oil. Teaser:

Here is the problem that smart Democrats like Drum face, and the reason behind this confusing logic: They have adopted environmental goals, particularly the drastic reduction of CO2 in relatively short time frames, that they KNOW, like they know the sun rises in the east, will require fuel and energy prices substantially higher than they are today. They know these goals require substantially increased pain and lifestyle dislocation from consumers who are already fed up with fuel-cost-related pain. This is not because the Democrats are necessarily cruel, but because they are making the [faulty] assumption that the pain and dislocation some day from CO2-driven global warming outweighs the pain from higher priced, scarcer energy.

So, knowing that their policy goal is to have less oil at higher prices, and knowing that the average consumer would castrate them for espousing such a goal, smart Democrats like Drum find themselves twisted into pretzels when they oppose oil development. They end up opposing oil development projects because in their hearts they want less oil around at higher prices, but (at least until their guy gets elected in November) they justify it with this bizarre logic that they oppose the plan because it would not get us oil fast enough. The same folks who have criticized capitalism for years for being too short-term focused are now opposing plans that don't have a payoff for a decade or so.

It is almost lunchtime, so you really have no excuse not to read the whole thing.

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Indy film watch: Leaving Barstow 

Back in the day, Madelon Smith was an advertising executive with Leo Burnett in Chicago and a substantially more regular Episcopalian than me and the Mrs. (especially me). We met Madelon at St. Peter's Episcopalian Church on Belmont Avenue, and eventually she and Mrs. TH became such good friends that she survived the very competitive process to serve as the maid of honor at our wedding in 1988 (the 'Villain, by the way, was best man). Career took a backseat to marriage and children, and before she knew it the Nineties were history and Madelon was a housewife in Boulder, perhaps wondering whether America was in fact the land of second acts.

It was for Madelon. She talked her family into moving to Los Angeles, where she enrolled in the American Film Institute, earning her MFA in 2005.

This year, at the age of 45, she has completed her first feature film, Leaving Barstow, and it is winning awards at film festivals across the country.

Madelon's story almost sounds as though Hollywood made it up. Wish her well, and by all means check out the film's web site for news, times and locations where you can see the film, pictures of the cast and staff, and, of course, a trailer. And, if you happen to be a movie distributor: Pick up the damned movie so I can see it in a proper theater without driving to Providence, fer Chrissakes!

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Location, location, location 

Having been rebuffed in its request to let Barack Obama speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the Obama campaign scheduled his speech for a site selected by Adolph Hitler for a memorial to German victories over our actual "traditional" allies.

Force yourselves, if you can, to imagine what the American press would say if a Republican chose such a site.

MORE: A reader reminds us of the obvious parallel -- the storm of controversy surrounding Ronald Reagan's visit to the cemetary at Bitburg, where various war criminals had been buried along with countless honored dead. We await the corresponding outrage with 'bated breath.

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Shunning the foreign media 

Barack Obama is purportedly shunning the foreign media:

As a German correspondent in Washington, I am accustomed to the fact that American politicians spare little of their limited time for reporters from abroad. This is understandable: Our readers, viewers and listeners cannot vote in U.S. elections. Even so, Obama’s opponents have managed to make at least a small amount of time for international journalists. John McCain has given many interviews. Hillary Clinton gave a few. President Bush regularly holds round-table interviews with media from the countries to which he travels. Only Obama dismisses us so consistently.

I'm certainly OK with this, since I really do not care what foreigners think of our presidential candidates. Obama's supporters do claim to care, though, so his decision to avoid the foreign press entirely must mean something else. Perhaps he is worried that they will ask him to reconcile his various public statements about American foreign policy.

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Note on casualties 

Make of it what you will, but only five Americans have been killed in action in Iraq in the 24 days since June 26. More than four months ago, I wondered what the reaction of the Obama campaign would be if the last American KIA were in, say, July 2008. Suddenly, that looks possible.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Seven graphs 

Australia's Andrew Bolt: "So, dude, where's my global warming?" Regular readers of our climate links will have seen most of the data he presents, but I had not seen that sea levels have fallen the last two years. No wonder Al Gore is losing it; a few more years of cooling temperatures and lowering sea levels and his movie will seem at best quaint and at worst quackery, so he had better achieve his transformation of global consumer capitalism before the panic subsides.

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Another anti-war myth dies 

This news must be very disappointing to the people who have been claiming that the looting of Iraq's archeological sites is another example of the Bush administration's incompetence:

Since the 2003 coalition invasion there has been repeated concern expressed about looting of archaeological sites. We reported last month, in a review of a new scholarly book on Iraq’s cultural heritage, that Professor Lawrence Rothfield of the University of Chicago claims that sites are being “destroyed at the rate of roughly 10% a year”. Professor Stone, a member of the recent mission, has also repeatedly expressed her fears of extensive looting.

The international team which visited southern Iraq last month had been expecting to find considerable evidence of looting after 2003, but to their astonishment and relief there was none. Not a single recent dig hole was found at the eight sites, and the only evidence of illegal digging came from holes which were partially covered with silt and vegetation, which means that they must have been at least several years old.

The most recent damage was found at Larsa, Tell el-Ouelli, Tell el-Lahm and Lagash. However, this probably dated back to 2003, during and in the aftermath of the coalition invasion. At Ur, Ubaid, Eridu and Warka, no evidence was found of any looting.

We learned back in 2004, per that nefarious rightwing rag The Atlantic, that the vast majority of the art supposedly looted on account of poor American security was actually taken by Baathists before the invasion or ahead of the Coalition front. Now we learn that the important archeological sites were not looted either, and were remarkably undamaged considering that a major war had been fought all around them. You would think that the Western press and chattering classes would be delighted to know this bit of good news, since it suggests that the war destroyed far less heritage than originally supposed. Funny that there has been virtually no correcting coverage in the mainstream media.

CWCID: Bloodthirsty Liberal.

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Sweltering tiger picture of the day 

It is really hot outside. Good day to lounge around in the pool.

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Will Sarbanes-Oxley go down in infamy? 

The Financial Times rather casually links Sarbanes-Oxley, the bane of any public company executive who went into business actually to do business, to other famously destructive regulatory overreactions:

Legislators do not always make their wisest calls at such times of financial frenzy. The Bubble Act of 1720 banned the issue of all stocks that were not authorised by royal charter and as such made it difficult to start a legitimate business in Britain for more than a century until its eventual repeal. The Wall Street crash of 1929 led to the Smoot Hawley tariff legislation of 1930, with its devastating impact on international trade. The dotcom bubble in the early years of this century was followed in the US by the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, with expensive consequences for all US listed companies.

The comparison is apt. The costs of Sarbanes-Oxley are not limited, by the way, to measurable added expense for auditors and lawyers. Certain aspects of the law (largely related to the elevation of financial controls to the same status as truthfulness in the preparation of financial statements) are equally as destructive as other famous anti-business regulation. They exhaust management with administrivia, require directors to spend a huge proportion of their time on formalities rather than understanding the actual business, promote the importance of law and accounting over sales, marketing, and product development, and create an inherent bias toward the aversion of risk (because every action requires multiple approvals). One result is that the best executives no longer want to work in public companies -- I literally do not know a single public company executive who does not wish that he or she worked for a private company instead. That is a sea change in attitude, and one that does not bode well for American publc companies or the domestic economy in the long haul.

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If you want to know why conservatives are depressed... 

...look no further than this graph. Tragically, I do not actually believe this reflects the inclinations, such as they are, of George W. Bush, but rather an unholy alliance between Karl Rove's statistical approach to victory -- his job -- and Tom DeLay's lack of, er, conservativism.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Barack Obama's grand tour 

Even the Financial Times marvels that one week's travels should somehow establish Barack Obama's foreign policy bona fides:

This week [John McCain] scored points against Mr Obama on the most pressing foreign relations issue of all: Iraq. The Democrat has reformulated his position on the withdrawal of US forces so many times – latterly, twice in the space of a few days – that one’s head spins. The McCain campaign has produced an eight-minute video compilation of these iterations, and it hits home. Most recently, Mr Obama has again stiffened his commitment to bring combat troops home within 16 months of the election, playing down any conditions and qualifications. That is an unsatisfactory and irresponsible posture. It would be better to say that forces will be withdrawn as soon as conditions allow.

Mr McCain’s complaints are unlikely to get much airtime next week, however. Breathless coverage of Mr Obama’s procession will drown them out. In many ways, the callow Mr Obama already looks more presidential than his rival. If he watches his step next week, his ability to shrug off Mr McCain’s attacks on his lack of foreign policy expertise will be even greater when he returns.

Every sentence of that excerpt may well be true, including the dispiriting prediction in the last.

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Coming home 

The TH Son and I are relaxing in Dublin airport, soon to depart for Newark. It was a great three days.

While I am in transit, consider exploring this list of top history blogs. However much its credibility is diminished by the inclusion of Talking Points Memo (TPM's a history blog?), it is enhanced by Walking the Berkshires, the blog of TigerHawk cousin and regular commenter Tim Abbott.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

The remedy for trapped wind 

In a Dublin pharmacy window, a poster that demands we dream the impossible dream:

Trapped wind

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On the question of Iraq policy, is Barack Obama fundamentally consistent, a cynical waffler, or sensibly changing his point of view as new facts develop? A new McCain campaign video rather forcefully selects door number two. Ouch.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

The antidote for Gore: Another scientist changes his mind about AGW 

If you forced yourself to read Al Gore's speech about the catastrophe that awaits us if we do not generate all our electricity from sources other than fossil fuels within the next ten years, then you might want to drink the antidote before you go completely insane:

I DEVOTED six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian Greenhouse Office. I am the rocket scientist who wrote the carbon accounting model (FullCAM) that measures Australia's compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, in the land use change and forestry sector.

FullCAM models carbon flows in plants, mulch, debris, soils and agricultural products, using inputs such as climate data, plant physiology and satellite data. I've been following the global warming debate closely for years.

When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty good: CO2 is a greenhouse gas, the old ice core data, no other suspects.

But now he has changed his mind. Read the whole thing.

MORE (via Glenn Reynolds): John Tierney has three questions for Al Gore. The first (why does Gore keep citing "junk science"?) is easy to answer, as is another Tierney did not ask but Glenn Reynolds does: Why does Gore keep hurting his cause by transporting himself to public events on private jets and in fleets of SUVs? He believes that most people will not notice -- sadly true, insofar as the regular readers of righty American blogs probably do not exceed 1% of even the U.S. population -- and that the people who do notice are either (i) his enemies regardless or (ii) will forgive him because of his self-evident and universally accepted personal nobility.

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Another taboo falls 

As has been predicted on the left since the rise of Barack Obama, assassination is no longer beyond the Pale.

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Pelosi: Bush is failure, kettle is black 

Is it wise for Nancy Pelosi, who has accomplished essentially nothing since she has become Speaker of the House and notched the lowest approval ratings for any Congress since the invention of public opinion polling, to call George W. Bush a "total failure"? Whether or not it is true, does it not beg an obvious question: If Bush is such a failure, why haven't the Democrats been able to enact any significant plank in their platform over his objection in the 19 months since they have been in control of the Congress? It is hard to imagine any fact more damning of Pelosi's tenure as Speaker.

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As many know, I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a stridently and reflexively liberal enclave. It is remarkably good fun to dine and drink with this set and discuss politics if you are a moderate to conservative type with an ego and a sense of humor.

One of their gravest weaknesses is failure to understand just how unusual they are in the greater context of the American electorate. And I am usually surprised at how these pretty bright people are so poorly versed in American history. Since I am always in the minority, I find myself under relentless verbal assault on these matters, and wind up doing history lectures and socratic questioning in response. Drives my wife nuts. She finds it miraculous that these people ever go out with us again, but they do.

Anyway, Jonathan Chait's article from the New Republic provides an interesting glimpse into how a devout MSM liberal can still feel some reserve love for John McCain. I get the sense that the strident liberals are really missing how strong a candidate McCain is. I keep hearing from this set that Obama is a shoo-in, a landslide victor. I remind them that they said the same of John Kerry in 2004 against W, and W had everything going against him. By contrast, McCain seems to even get some benefit from the MSM. In fact, they really appreciate how candid and open he is with them and has been over many years, while they seem to be getting a little restless with Obama. Even the Upper West Side liberal immediately concedes they don't hate McCain -- they hate W with immense passion -- and while the like the idea of Obama, none profess passion for the man.

Why is this important? It diminishes Obama's fundraising advantage. If the press is willing to given McCain a benefit they don't typically afford a Republican candidate, he won't need nearly as much money to get his message across. Good for McCain that he's capable with the press. Good for the country too.

McCain is going to get many crossover voters who would typically vote Democratic. For instance, it's pretty clear to me that McCain will have the votes of at least the Clintons and Jesse Jackson.

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Hitchens on New YorkerGate 

Hitchens the literary critic is much pained over the Obama-era rule that we must expunge political campaigns -- or at least certain political campaigns -- of all satire:

Ludicrous as it might seem to have John McCain enlisted as an art critic, and obvious as it should be that the New Yorker would never do anything deliberately to hurt the Democratic nominee, it remains the case that a Newsweek poll has just found 12 per cent of voters believing that Obama is a practicing Muslim and another 12 per cent (possibly the same 12 per cent) convinced that he used a Koran for his swearing-in ceremony at the United States Senate. These are of course exactly the sort of people who do not read the New Yorker, or go in very much for the ironic and the satirical, so that as usual the aesthetic effort is somewhat lost on what ought to be its target audience.

Instead, you have sophisticates in the metropolis laughing at a portrayal of the fears of the lowly white hicks. This set-up could itself be the subject of a satire, but probably at some other time and in some other magazine. Mr Blitt himself could hardly have been more anxiously literal, contacting the liberal "Huffington Post" blog to assure them that "depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness it is". Let us by all means be certain that there is no ambiguity about our satires.

My question: If satire such as the now-infamous New Yorker cover is ruled out-of-bounds on account of Obama's candidacy, will it suddenly become acceptable if he is President? There is no reason to expect that it would. That could be extremely bad news for satirists of the left, who will walk on eggshells lest something that they say or draw offends their humorless multiculturalist allies. One is forced to wonder, therefore, whether an Obama presidency will usher in a golden age of political satire from the unapologetic right. Maybe, but -- readers of this blog notwithstanding -- there are perilously few metropolitan sophisticates on the right. Does the American right have what it takes to deliver the satirical goods? We will probably know by this time next year.

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"Recession-Plagued Nation Demands New Bubble To Invest In" 


Demand for a new investment bubble began months ago, when the subprime mortgage bubble burst and left the business world without a suitable source of pretend income. But as more and more time has passed with no substitute bubble forthcoming, investors have begun to fear that the worst-case scenario—an outcome known among economists as "real-world repercussions"—may be inevitable.

"Every American family deserves a false sense of security," said Chris Reppto, a risk analyst for Citigroup in New York. "Once we have a bubble to provide a fragile foundation, we can begin building pyramid scheme on top of pyramid scheme, and before we know it, the financial situation will return to normal."

CWCID: The 'Villain.

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Comparing journalism in Britain and the United States 

Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times has an interesting piece about the quite different ways in which American and British journalists regard themselves.

My first encounter with the very different culture of US journalism came when I was working as a freelance in Washington about 20 years ago. Every now and then, I would wander into the Chicago Tribune offices next door - but I could see that something about me was upsetting their bureau chief. Eventually, he approached and said: "Would you mind wearing a tie when you come into the bureau?"

American journalists, I realised, regard themselves as members of a respectable profession - like lawyers or bankers. Their British counterparts generally prefer the idea that they are outsiders. They like to quote the adage of the late Nicholas Tomalin that: "The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability."

The British sometimes argue that because American journalists have joined the establishment they are easily duped by "senior sources". The US press's supine role in the run-up to the Iraq war is cited as evidence.

Maybe so. On the other hand, it was painstaking and daring American journalism that uncovered the Watergate scandal.

Certainly, after a while in Washington I began to develop a grudging respect for my neighbours at the Tribune. I admired the fact that their investigative team would work for months on a single article. On the British paper I then worked for, an "investigation" was something we started on Tuesday and published on Sunday. I was also sure that when American papers used the phrase "sources say", there really were some sources. I was not always so confident when that phrase appeared in my own newspaper [not meaning the Financial Times].

Since most of what political bloggers do is derivative (in the sense that it is reaction to mainstream journalism), Rachman's column is useful perspective for both writers and readers of blogs. For starters, we should all be a bit careful about turning small items in the British press into blog-bursts of outrage.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What Prime Minister al-Maliki and Barack Obama have in common 

The excellent counterinsurgency blog Abu Muqawama dissects what Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki actually said about the withdrawal of American troops and what he meant by it. The short version is that al-Maliki's main base of support wants American troops out quickly notwithstanding the improved security, but that he and other politicians in the government know that both they and Iraq still need the Americans and will continue to for some time. Fair enough. The thing that struck me, though, was how closely al-Maliki's political dilemma mirrors Barack Obama's. Both are practical men with vocal supporters who want American troops out of Iraq yesterday, but both have to appeal to other constituencies who worry that a precipitous American withdrawal would be extremely unwise. It is less clear what the two men themselves actually believe. Al-Maliki backed the Petraeus strategy with bold political and military initiatives of his own, and seems to believe that he needs the United States for a matter of years even if he will not admit it. Obama, however, does not seem to believe that the United States needs Iraq to succeed, but he covets the votes of many more Americans who do think Iraq is important and, in any case, wants to keep his options open in the likely event that he becomes president.

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So, the TH Son and I spent the afternoon wandering around Dublin, getting back to the hotel in the 'burbs by around 7 p.m. I had a business dinner, and he was able to get a second nap. We are both now awake later than we ought to be on account of jet lag, which I hope will subside soon (recognizing, obviously, that blogging is not a great way to make oneself drousy, whatever the effect out there in Readerland). Anyway, here are some pictures from the day's exploration, which included a walk through Trinity College, shopping on Nassau and Grafton streets, Dublin Castle, and a visit to a pub that purports to date from the 1690s.


Oscar Wilde's birthplace, Dublin

The TigerHawk Son in Dublin

You have to admit that the TH Son looks great sporting his old man's colors (buy TigerHawk stuff here!).



Farrington's of Temple Bar, allegedly founded in 1696, which was a long farookin' time ago:



Farrington's Pub

...and the black gold...

Guinness in Farrington's pub, Dublin

The next couple of days the Son will be on his own in Dublin while I sit through long meetings discussing countless poorly-crafted Powerpoint slides. I envy him so much. Do you remember the first time you were alone in a foreign city with nothing but time to explore and see and learn? If you were young enough, you can probably still remember what a glorious feeling that was.

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