Monday, August 31, 2009

Father-in-law issues 

Chelsea Clinton is engaged to Marc Mezvinsky, and may indeed marry him on Chappy in the coming year. She ought to remember, or perhaps nobody has mentioned it yet, that when you marry somebody you marry their whole family.

Just saying.

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Tab dump 

A few items from my browser tabs, before I run out for the evening.

Dan Riehl notices that the unpopularity of President Obama's endorsee in the Garden State is such that the AFL-CIO is having to campaign for him among its own membership before that it can get the rank-and-file to work to start looking for other votes.

Even tobacco companies have rights under the First Amendment.

Al Gore's "thundering" about our moral duties again. This time, though, our moral duty is to provide health insurance. He did not compare the relative dutiness of the universal health insurance moral duty to the climate change moral duty, so we we do not know where to start in a world of limits. In any case, nearly as I can tell the only thing these two moral imperatives share is that the "rich" will pick up the tab.

A tip for falling asleep when it does not come easily. Do it privately, though, or your partner will think you are a weirdo.

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Sunday Times opinions 

The Sunday Times had two interesting op-ed pieces looking at the successes and failures of past attempts at significant bipartisan legislation, contrasted with the editorial page, which asked for a cram-down in the current health care reform debate.

The first op-ed article was written by former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, who looks back on the 1986 tax reform legislation, and notes that the Republicans very much wanted the top personal income tax rate slashed, and the Democrats wanted to close loopholes in the tax code.
"In the end, the tax bill passed because each party got something it wanted: Republicans got a lower marginal tax rate, and Democrats eliminated special-interest loopholes. By adhering to the principles of equity (equal incomes should pay equal taxes) and efficiency (the market is a more efficient allocator of capital than Congress), the bipartisan coalition produced a bill that lowered the top tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent, eliminated $30 billion annually in loopholes and resulted in the wealthy contributing a higher percentage of income-tax revenues than they had before the reform."
(emphasis added -- as an aside, I wonder how many members of the current Congressional Progressive Caucus, numbering over 80 elected representatives, would agree with their fellow Democrat about the market and its capital allocating abilities).

Bradley goes on to draw a parallel between the top tax rate and loophole compromise struck 23 years ago, and a possible compromise now on universal coverage and tort reform:

"Since the days of Harry Truman, Democrats have wanted universal health coverage, believing that if other industrialized countries can achieve it, surely the United States can. For Democrats, universal coverage speaks to America’s sense of decency and compassion. Democrats also believe that it will lead to a healthier and more productive country.

"Since the days of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have wanted legal reform, believing that our economic competitiveness is being shackled by the billions we spend annually on tort costs; an estimated 10 cents of every health care dollar paid by individuals and companies goes for litigation and defensive medicine. For Republicans, tort reform and its health care analogue, malpractice reform, speak to the goal of stronger economic growth and lower costs.

"The bipartisan trade-off in a viable health care bill is obvious: Combine universal coverage with malpractice tort reform in health care."
Senator Bradley's op-ed is worth reading in its entirety, though I would say that, while I think it is a neat concept, his suggested compromise is not likely to happen -- I have heard any number of Republicans say that universal coverage is not a problem for them (that is how far the ball has been moved since 1993), but I have not heard any Democrats willing to touch the notion of malpractice litigation reform.

The second op-ed was written by R. Glenn Hubbard, formerly the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, and currently the dean of Columbia Business School. Hubbard compares the failure of the Bush administration to achieve Social Security reform with the problems that the Obama administration is having with health care reform:

"In the case of Social Security, we should have had two debates. The first would have been about how to shore up Social Security’s long-term standing. Again, reductions in benefit growth for middle- and upper-income individuals offered a budget-neutral progressive solution. The second should have been about how to accomplish the president’s goals of more private saving for retirement. There, enhanced savings incentives — including for lower-income households — offered a solution.

"In the case of health care reform, we also need two debates. The first is over how to reform insurance arrangements to reduce cost growth and provide better value for the money spent. The second should be about access to health care. To achieve these goals, the president could embrace a compromise of tax and regulatory reform for cost containment, and progressive intervention to offer assistance to low-income individuals. But President Obama, like his predecessor, has been unwilling to let go of his campaign goals even as his words fuel intense partisan debate and obstruct his ultimate objective of improving health care value."
As an AEI Scholar, among other things, Hubbard has pretty solid conservative credentials, and writes a forthright op-ed, and does propose limiting the tax exclusion for employer-provided insurance, something many conservatives might find objectionable.

Finally, the voice of the Grey Lady herself, just a couple of pages away in the print edition, entitled "Majority Rule on Health Care Reform":

"The talk in Washington is that Senate Democrats are preparing to push through health care reforms using parliamentary procedures that will allow a simple majority to prevail in their chamber, as it does in the House, instead of the 60 votes needed to overcome the filibuster that Senate Republicans are sure to mount.

"With the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, the Democrats do not have the votes just among their 57 members (and the two independents) to break a filibuster, and not all of these can be counted on to vote in lock step. If the Democrats want to enact health care reform this year, they appear to have little choice but to adopt a high-risk, go-it-alone, majority-rules strategy.

"We say this with considerable regret because a bipartisan compromise would be the surest way to achieve comprehensive reforms with broad public support. But the ideological split between the parties is too wide — and the animosities too deep — for that to be possible.

"In recent weeks, it has become inescapably clear that Republicans are unlikely to vote for substantial reform this year. Many seem bent on scuttling President Obama’s signature domestic issue no matter the cost. As Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, so infamously put it: 'If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.'"
Short version: "ehhh, screw the thoughtful bipartisanship presented on our other pages, go for the cram-down."

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My summer travels are over, and my posting should return to a more regular frequency, for better or worse.

I did see a spectacular full-arc rainbow last week, and wanted to share:

The picture was taken from the deck of a cottage looking east over Muscongus Sound to Hog Island, where the Maine Audubon Society has a center. I did not check to see if there was a pot of gold there, but I do not think that it is a coincidence that the rather large nest of a Bald Eagle is located at the spot where the rainbow touches down. There were no signs of leprechauns (or unicorns).

On a sunnier day, I was close-hauled:

UPDATE: The boat is an Alberg-designed 18' Cape Dory Typhoon, and it actually belongs to a very generous friend who encourages me to use it when I am in Maine. Other pictures from two other days:

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You haven't heard from me in a while but.... 

So far, college is great, and I'm really happy to be here.

For one thing, the food is great, although I do miss cooking a bit. I've worked out the bang/buck ratios of most of the dining halls, and should any of you visit I could probably give you a decent tour. One thing I'm not the happiest about is the dorm that they assigned me to, but I'm a freshman and I can't have everything, after all. My dorm is on the North end of campus, where the Corps lives, (by and large) and it's close to all of my classes, but is far away from where I park my car, all the other dorms, and all of the (good) dining halls. On the plus side, my roommate is cool and agreeable and most of my neighbors are musicians of one sort or another; a guy across from me plays acoustic guitar, sings, and plays harmonica at the same time and the neighbor adjacent to me plays bass.

The town is really nice and the people are friendly. There's lots of little independent restaurants and stores that alumni have opened, and everyone seems to like current students. The girls are pretty and smart, and all of my classes are teaching interesting things. Having so much free time is wonderful, but I'm sure that's going to come to an end pretty soon when the year starts in earnest.

If any of you are interested in my opinions about the Corps, further readings must be taken to provide an accurate assesment. Although they DID inspire a song in me, to the tune of "Left! Left! Left, Right, Left!"

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Canadian brain surgery 

On this, the opening day of the World Congress of Neurological Surgery in Boston, a "Short Course in Brain Surgery." In Canada.

Yes, yes, we know that none of the actual bills in front of Congress now are actually proposing a Canadian-style single-payer system. We also know that many in the House who are holding out for a "public option" hope that it morphs in to such a system over time.

CWCID: A reader.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Blunt" cards 

This web site has possibilities...




There are many more where those came from.

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Gift shop semiotics: Has the tide turned? 

A reader sent along a photo from the gift shop at Baltimore-Washington International airport. His slightly edited descriptive email follows.

BWI Gift Store

I traveled through BWI in late January, and the gift shop was literally wall to wall Obama Inauguration T-shirts and the like. Which makes sense since lots of enthusiatic people came to DC and BWI is a gateway airport.

I traveled through BWI last week and was struck by the window display in the same gift shop. (see pic attached). Half the stand was Obama gear, and I had a picture of that too, which also has a closeup of my thumb. D'oh!. But we also see Nope Keep the Change and Don't Blame me I voted for McCain - Palin. (And I while the Don't blame me I voted for .... is a hardy perennial, I have never seen the undercard so promoted like this.)

Storekeepers follow the money, and at the very least don't want to scare away bidness. So I found this interesting. Not dispositive, but interesting.

Me, too. Are the forces of Hopeless on the rise?

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My talented family 

My aunt -- cousin actually, but of my father's generation -- really knows how to quilt. For real. And so does my sister.

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Brush 'em back: Christie still leads Corzine by 11 

We are coming to this a bit late, but on Thursday Rasmussen released a new poll that has Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie ahead of Obama endorsee Jon Corzine by 11 points. The poll was taken after the latest bit of mildly bad news for Christie:

A Rasmussen Reports poll released this morning shows Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie leading Governor Corzine by 11 points – a small narrowing of the gap since the company’s last poll, but within its margin of error.

The bad news for Christie is that his negatives have gone up dramatically.

The automated survey was conducted on Tuesday -- well after highly publicized negative news stories broke about Christie’s loan to former U.S. Attorney staffer Michele Brown and his conversations with Karl Rove.

Here's the underlying Rasmussen release, which reports as an aside that the Republicans are also in front in Virginia (the other gubernatorial election this November), there by 9 points.

It will be interesting to see whether the Democrats stick with Corzine, or whether he will pull a Torricelli. Christie's hopes fade fast if that happens, I think.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Annals of advertising: Mocking the customer 

Who knew Los Angeles County had a fair? Not surprisingly, it is very well promoted...

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Prosecuting the good guys: Why going after CIA interrogators puts us all at risk 

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a retired CIA operative and outstanding essayist, explains why the Obama administration's decision to investigate counterterrorism interrogators and put the FBI in charge is a terrible idea and will make it impossible to recruit competent interrogators in the future. You probably will not read anything more important all weekend (which, I appreciate, is not a bold claim in the last weekend of August).

This is a huge topic that many have explored more deeply than me (scroll through The Corner for the last few days, for example), but I have two thoughts of some small originality.

First, every American over the age of 45 with an interest in such things remembers the "Church Committee," which is as infamous in intelligence affairs as the House un-American Activities Committee is to Hollywood. The Church Committee hearings and the subsequent Carter-era "Halloween massacre" of more than 800 operations personnel -- and, indeed, the entire reign of Carter's director Stansfield Turner -- cemented the reputation of the Democrats as foreign policy weenies for a generation to come. Barack Obama has just reminded us of this history, a load that will burden all Democratic presidential candidates the next time the voters remember that the world is a dangerous place.

Second, Gerecht argues that the Obama administrations investigations will make it impossible to recruit good interrogators: "A good case officer with Middle Eastern languages and a penchant for understanding Islamic radicalism would now have to be insane to accept an assignment that detailed him to interrogate Islamic terrorist suspects." Perhaps, but it does seem to me that there is a way back if we wake up and realize that there are indeed wars that must be fought in the shadows. We could indemnify CIA interrogators for their legal fees, whether or not they are found to be guilty of, or plead to, a crime. This would preserve the rule of law insofar as actual criminals could still be prosecuted and punished, but it would ensure that poorly paid operatives would not have to consign their families to financial ruin because they have to defend themselves after the voters install a new president. Otherwise, the actions of this president will impossibly hamper subsequent presidents, whom the voters will also have installed, who might want to wage war differently.

Now, I don't ask for proclamations condoning distasteful methods of war, but I do say that we must take for granted that it does happen. Let's not give our officers hazy, vague instructions about what they may and may not do. Let's not reprimand them on the one hand, for hampering the column with prisoners, and at another time, and another place, haul them up as murderers for obeying orders.

Release the hounds.

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A useful lesson 

Bored while shopping with the old ball and chain? If you know where to look and what to do, there is fun to be had everywhere!

Why one woman ought to shop alone

You have to wonder whether the same dude isn't responsible for the "green dogs of South Ossetia."

CWCID: Linkiest.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday afternoon exploitation post 

Not really safe for work, but very funny: America's 25 "douchiest" colleges.

Princeton is only #3.

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Wooden legs and coffee filters 

This almost seems like a step backward, but instead it is incredibly cool:

Italian scientists have developed a new procedure to turn blocks of wood into artificial bones, which may be implanted into large animals and eventually humans, allowing live bones to heal faster and more securely after a break than currently available metal and ceramic implants.

For more exciting out-of-the-box medtech innovation, check this out.
José Gómez-Márquez's lab at MIT seems to be part toy store, part machine shop, and part medical cente­r. Plastic toys are scattered across the bench tops, along with a disassembled drugstore pregnancy test, all manner of syringes, and a slew of fake body parts. Coffee filters have been transformed into paper-based diagnostics; a dime-store helicopter provides the design for a new asthma inhaler; even a toilet plunger has been put to use, rigged with tubes and glue to form a makeshift centrifuge.

Good stuff.

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Mocking scandal fatigue 

The oppo research and negative advertising in the New Jersey gubernatorial campaign has reached pathological levels, but the Christie campaign, at least, has retained its sense of humor.

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Iowa's "Katrina" legitimized 

In June 2008 we referred to the flooding in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere in the Hawkeye State as "Iowa's 'Katrina'." We were only pushing along an analogy first seen on Fox News, but that fact did not prevent -- or perhaps it exacerbated -- charges of racism or, at a minimum, stone-heartedness.

Something tells me that the same people will not object to the New York Times constructing the same analogy, or even to the direct reference from Iowa's Democratic governor to the character of the people:

“We’re not making a lot of noise about it,” said Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, reflecting on a sense of Midwestern stoicism. “We’re going about our business. That’s a determination that’s impressive, but it doesn’t attract attention.”

Me, a year ago, to great controversy:
The thing is, though, the people of eastern Iowa seem to be stepping up in the Iowa stubborn way. I have seen any number of man-on-the-street interviews, and nobody is complaining. They all seem to be working to solve their problem, which is not surprising because Iowans do not complain about tragedy. They complain about hot weather and dry weather, but not tragedy. And I have looked for reports of looting and come up empty so far.

Katrina has become a metaphor for many things beyond natural disaster, including governmental and individual incompetence (depending on your point of view). In Iowa there is a 500 year flood, but the people are not paralyzed, whining, or looting. There will be no massive relief effort from around the world, and nobody will step up to help Iowans except for other Iowans. Yet years from now, there will be no Iowans still in FEMA camps.

The difference is not in the severity of the flood, but in the people who confront the flood.

Granted, that last sentence was a bit harsh, but neither it nor the paragraphs above conveyed any different opinion than Chet Culver's negative pregnant tip o' the hat to Hawkeye stoicism. That's the difference between a blogger and a politician, not in the substance of the point, which, I believe, stands largely unmolested.

Now, all of that notwithstanding, people who live in small towns and the country are in some respects much better equipped to deal with natural disasters than city-dwellers. People in places such as Iowa still revere personal competence in the Walt Kowalski sense -- "a man acquires tools over the course of a lifetime." Perhaps more significantly, rural economies are a lot less specialized than urban economies, so people actually need to do more for themselves. It was easy, therefore, to cut the people of New Orleans a break; not only did they have less time to prepare, many of them quite naturally did not have the skills necessary to prepare even with all the time in the world. They counted on their government to prepare for them, and it failed them miserably.

That is why I lost all sympathy for the people of New Orleans when they re-elected the transportingly incompetent Ray Nagin, the mayor who let his city drown and who has failed to rally and inspire effective reconstruction in the years since. You can argue that they did not know he was ineffective in 2002, but under what logic do you re-elect him in 2006?

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The bizarre saga of the Arctic Sea 

Not another climate post, but while we've been looking elsewhere the story of the "missing" Russian cargo ship Arctic Sea has gotten even more bizarre:

Remember the missing cargo ship that had all of Europe in an uproar earlier this month? Turns out it may never have been missing after all:

President Medvedev sent the Russian Navy to find the Arctic Sea after it apparently disappeared while passing through the English Channel en route to Algeria from Finland. However, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow now says that Russian and international agencies had monitored the ship throughout its strange three-week voyage.

“Of course, the dry cargo carrier with a displacement of more than 7,000 tonnes was never missing. Its movement was being followed and its co-ordinates were being reported from several sources, including our foreign partners,” the ministry said.

This might have been something they could have shared with the other half dozen navies searching for the vessel.

One is tempted to chalk this ex post facto claim that the ship had not been lost to Russian ego, which over the years has moved Moscow to claim that intelligence and competence were behind no end of stupid and incompetent things. But then why this?:
The saga also took a bizarre new twist when the ministry disclosed that the ship’s captain had tried to pass off the Arctic Sea as a North Korean vessel when it was intercepted by the Russian Navy. This is the first time that investigators have implicated the crew in the mystery.

FP Passport's Joshua Keating asks the right question: "Who gets caught and then claims to be from North Korea???"

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Health care "reform" question of the day 

Philip K. Howard asks a great question:

It is incredible to me that, amid public concern over the leading healthcare proposals, congressional leadership continues to stonewall any discussion of legal overhaul. They have effectively left the field open to Republicans, who now have seized the center with proposals for special health courts and other ideas that enjoy broad support from almost all healthcare constituents, including consumer groups and patient safety advocates. See here, here and here. I know the trial lawyers give Democrats a lot of money, but can this possibly be smart politics?

The Republicans ought to pound this issue harder than Rocky smashed Apollo Creed's broken rib.

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A small symptom of monopoly power 

Public Service Enterprise Group, the utility that exerts dominion over New Jersey's electricity and gas, charges a service fee of $5.95 if you pay your bill online with a credit card. Is there a single consumer business in an actually competitive market that does that?

Of course, PSEG is a notoriousy inefficient operation, so it does not surprise me that they would rather you mail in a check that they then have to process at greater expense in labor and float than the bank card fees they could negotiate if they tried. There is no doubt somebody inside PSEG who owns the check envelope-opening turf, and it is his or her mission to maximize employment within that operation, the interests of stockholders and ratepayers notwithstanding.

MORE: The local water company does the same thing, including for electronic checks (which are free through PSEG). Apparently employing a staff to tend envelop-opening machines and handle the paper directly with the delay of physical mail delivery is preferable to automating the front end. I would describe these people as idiots, except that I know that they do not exist for the same reasons that real businesses do, to maximize profits.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Your government at work 

The government that runs your auto industry and a large part of your financial industry and which aspires to manage your health care is so careful that the summer interns cannot get cleared before, well, the end of summer!

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Ted Kennedy, RIP 

Brain cancer has claimed Senator Edward M. Kennedy. TalkLeft is at a "loss for words," so every cloud has a silver lining.

Kennedy led a long, large, and mostly well-intentioned life (yeah, yeah, "Mary Jo Kopechne was unavailable for comment"), was loved by millions, resented or even despised by almost as many millions, and respected for his dedication to the craft of legislating. His famous work ethic came from a genuine desire to change the world; heaven knows, there are few Senators with safer seats, so you know he was not running scared, and he has all the money one could want, so you know he was not personally venal.

But Ted Kennedy did more to push American government and civil society toward a European social welfare model than any politician of the post-war era, with the possible exception of LBJ. By my reckoning, he left the country worse off than he found it, and to the moment of his death supported legislation that, if enacted, will make it a lot harder for the generation of my children to succeed, thrive, and reach for their own stars. So I will end on perhaps a churlish note: I wish Ted Kennedy had not led the life he did.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The twelve most annoying types of Facebookers 

If you are on Facebook -- and I do recommend it for those of you who want to win friends and influence people -- do not commit these atrocities more often than occasionally. Yeah, yeah, glass houses, but heed nevertheless.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Must-read health care reform article 

Whether left or right, if you read one article on health care reform it ought to be this one. It is so reasonable and such a departure from the received wisdom among the progressivetariat that I am surprised The Atlantic published it. Print it off and read it over lunch, and then go to a town hall meeting with a few sharp questions.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday evening sex post 

This is definitely science, and it is almost certainly not safe for work, but who can really say that an MRI image of human intercourse from the inside is not appropriate for this tawdry blog?

CWCID: Ann Althouse, who has Dave Barry's take.

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Sunday afternoon gender differences discussion 

From Susan Pinker's very interesting book, The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap, only just released in paperback:

"There is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper," wrote the social critic Camille Paglia, and her quip hints at a biological truth. Compared to women, there are more men who are extreme. Even though the two sexes are well matched in most areas, including intelligence, there are fewer women than men at the extreme ends of the normal distribution. Men are simply more variable. Their "means," or the average scores for the group, are roughly the same as those of women, but their individual scores are scattered more widely. So there are more very stupid men and more very smart ones, more extremely lazy ones and more willing to kill themselves with work. There are more men with biological frailties, and more with isolated areas of brilliance, including men weighed down by other deficits, such as the very problems dogging the children in my waiting room. The bell curve simply looks different for males, with more men at the tail ends of the distribution, where their measured skills are either dismal, stellar, or a mix of the two. So even though male and female averages are the same, there are more male outliers -- and more "normal women overall. Comparing mena nd women in the middle ranges one finds fewer sex differences, but at the extremes the picture looks - well - extreme.

I like to think that I am both dismal and stellar. I mean, I know I've got some dismal, so I had better hope also to have some stellar.

MORE: A couple of commenters mentioned the Summers incident. Pinker writes about that immediately after the preceding paragraph:
Sex differences at the extremes was one of the issues that sank the former president of Harvard University, Larry Summers. This book was already under way in January 2005, when I received an email from one of my literary agents. "Did you see this?" she wrote, attaching an electronic article from that morning's New York Times. Summers had made a speech to a science and engineering diversity conference on the origin of sex differences in high-powered university science faculties. His remarks launched more than a thousand articles in the press, sparked a year of bitter dissent at Harvard, prompted several public apologies from Summers, and ultimately a commitment of $50 million to hire and promote female and minority faculty at the university. Still, by 2006 he was forced out. What was the fuss about? Summers conjectured that there were three reasons for the paucity of women in high-level science and engineering faculty positions. The first was that these jobs are so greedy that many women avoid them. "What fraction of young women in their mid-twenties make a decision that they don't want to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week? What fraction of young men make a decision that they're unwilling to have a job that they think about eighty hours a week?" he said, adding that whether it's correct for a society to ask for that commitment is a different question. His second point was about male variability. If men are more variable than women, then there will be more men at the very bottom and very top of the distribution. So in research positions in physics or engineering that compete for a tiny fraction of human talen at the very top end -- where there are not only very few women, but also very few men -- one might find more extreme sex differences, he said. This was not a new idea and was one that at least a dozen researchers had already mapped out. One Edinburgh psychologist, Ian Deary, had even documented the phenomenon after examining the records of more than 80,000 children, nearly every child born in Scotland in 1921. At age eleven, boys' and girls' IQ scores were no different, on average, Dreary's team found. But the difference in male variability was unmistakable: there were significantly more boys than girls at the low and high extremes of ability.

For more than a decade, other researchers -- Amy Nowell, Larry Hedges, Alan Feingold, Diane Halpern, Camilla Benbow and Julian Stanley, Yu Xie, Kimberlee Shauman, the Scholastic Aptitude Testing Service, as well as my own brother Steve -- had found and written about the same phenomenon, but in Summers' case it caused a furious uproar that wouldn't abate. "I felt I was going to be sick," said MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, who reported that Summers' comments upset her so much that "my heart was pounding and my breath was shallow." Summers went on to talk about a third factor -- socialization and continuing discrimination -- but few listened. His messaged about extremes, standard deviations, and greedy jobs had been distilled as "women are not as good as men at math and science." The electric atmosphere surrounding the discussion of sex differences became even more charged.

Pinker goes on to describe the chill that descended on the willingness of researchers to discuss their work for fear of coming under attack for being perceived as politically incorrect. Good book, so far.

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Three years ago today... 

...I took this picture. Just sayin'.

Big Wolf Lake, August 23, 2006

Nothing beats Adirondack light. A couple more here.

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Simple steps for a more perfect world 

From Men's Health, "25 Simple Steps to a More Perfect World." The best:

10. Men would be permitted to admit uncertainty, and women would find this hot.

13. If you setout to climb Mt. Hood wearing shorts and sandals, and then have to be rescued by 12 men, two helicopters, and a team of huskies, your marginal tax rate would be raised to 81 percent until you've repaid the cost of being an idiot.

18. Parents would strive to give their children self-reliance instead of self-esteem.

25. Parent-teacher nights would come with nachos and tequila shooters.

Of course, your results may vary.

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Rules for radicals turn to the right 

A couple of weeks ago I speculated that the right was, finally, adopting the disruptive tactics of the left, perhaps because the nomination of Barack Obama taught those of us with full-time jobs and families to take care of what a "community organizer" was. Obama's rise introduced the rest of America to Saul Alinsky's manual for "social change," Rules for Radicals, which today ranks an astonishing #64 on Amazon (for those of you keeping track of the Amazon zeitgeist from home, Atlas Shrugged has slipped to #118 after a surge to #18 in the early weeks of the Obama administration). I'm going to climb out on a limb and speculate that most of the recent sales of Alinsky's book have gone to righties who want to understand what has been done to them and to do it back in spades. What righties lack in free time, after all, they make up for in money and managerial skill.

Anyway, all of that sets up this link to a piece in the New York Times, "Know Thine Enemy," which sets forth some of Alinsky's rules of the road in a short memo that can be easily absorbed by the hurried corporate executive. Among them, "any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical." True, that.

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Please, God... 

...make absolutely sure you do not so much as hint to Sean Hannity that he ought to run for president. Your divine say-so seems to be important here, so unless You have it in for the Republican party -- and there is a no small locker of evidence that, in fact, You do -- please direct Your inspiration elsewhere.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mainstream media error correction of the month! 

If a Murdoch outlet had made this mistake, the leftys would have thought it was on purpose.

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Render this 

The Obama administration has rendered its supposedly first alleged bad guy, "supposedly" because we obviously do not know whether there have been secret cases. The case involves naked photographs and allegations of food deprivation and other abuse. Bizarrely, the target is not accused of terrorism per se, but for, well, inflating invoices.

A Lebanese citizen being held in a detention center here was hooded, stripped naked for photographs and bundled onto an executive jet by FBI agents in Afghanistan in April, making him the first known target of a rendition during the Obama administration.

Unlike terrorism suspects who were secretly snatched by the CIA and harshly interrogated and imprisoned overseas during the George W. Bush administration, Raymond Azar was flown to this Washington suburb for a case involving inflated invoices.

Azar, 45, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit bribery, the only charge against him. He faces a maximum of five years in prison, but a sentence of 2 1/2 years or less is likely under federal guidelines.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors declined to comment on the case Friday.

But Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counter-terrorism director at Human Rights Watch, called the case "bizarre."

"He was treated like a high-security terrorist instead of someone accused of a relatively minor white-collar crime," she said.

It will be interesting to see whether "inflating invoices," which presumably is an indicia of other corruption, is the actual offense charged or whether Azar is in fact suspected of financing terrorists. If the former, I suppose it is just another example of the Obama administration cracking down on business offenses. Don't inflate your invoices while abroad, guys, or you will be hooded, cuffed, subjected to a cavity search, photographed naked, shackled and flown back to the United States without judicial process. If the latter, then it is unfortunate we brought him to the United States. Predictable, but unfortunate.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Advice from Melissa Harris-Lacewell 

Melissa Harris-Lacewell is Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University, and appeared on Countdown today.

Professor Harris-Lacewell reacts to recent polling data indicating declining support for President Obama, even among self-identified liberals, and interprets it to mean that President Obama should do more. This is an interesting contrast to the Politico piece that ran today, entitled "Obama's Big Bang could go bust," the theme of which was that President Obama has attempted to do too much too soon. Professor Harris-Lacewell predicts that unless a health care bill is passed with a public option, the Democrats will lose the House in 2010.

Well, I guess it takes guts to double down on a deteriorating hand -- maybe Princeton professors have become inveterate gamblers since I graduated. There is, I suppose, a certain logic to keeping your base motivated and turning out in big numbers on election day, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which President Obama's core base wouldn't be well organized in key districts in 2010 (CWCID, their ground game in 2008 was outstanding, something I saw first hand in my county), conscious of the need to maintain a legislative majority. The problem may not be the loyalty or ferocity of President Obama's base, but the fact that it lacks significant size in many districts that will be in play in 2010, where independent and swing voters may well determine the outcomes.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

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Facebook status of the day 

From my evening scroll:

[Mrs. Charlottesvillain] ponders styrofoam disposal: (1) recycling center doesn't take it, (2) pack & ship store will take peanuts . . . but what if it's not peanuts?, and (3) (the kicker) our trash guy LEAVES it behind. Sure, it is an environmental disaster --... but I didn't send it to me! (Care package to follow . . . ).

The only answer is to break it up and conceal it with legitimate trash.

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POTUS potty-mouth? 

I think the quote is self-explanatory:
"'There's something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-weed up,' Obama told an audience at the Democratic National Committee headquarters."
Nonetheless, Robert Gibbs was still asked about it at the daily White House press briefing, bringing the need for clarification to a new low. It was, perhaps, not President Obama's most presidential sounding statement, particularly given his reputation for delivering flowing set-piece speeches.

Something tells me that there will be no shortage of mammalian waste product in Washington after Labor Day.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

John Edwards' "new plan" 

John Edwards really is the comedy gift that keeps on giving. The National Enquirer, which broke the story that John Edwards was having an affair with Rielle Hunter because, well, the other media organizations with the story did not want to hurt a liberal Democrat, is now reporting that he is moving Hunter and their progeny to North Carolina so that Edwards can play an "active role" in the baby's life. I actually laughed out loud when I read this bit (emphasis added):

"John is definitely behind Rielle's move to Wilmington," the source, described as an insider, told the Enquirer. "There's absolutely no way that he didn't approve or arrange her moving closer to him -- it's all part of his new plan to do the right thing."

It seems that Edwards' sainted "meal worker" father never got around to the part about doing the right thing from the get-go. Or, if he did, Edwards blew him off.

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Detonating the narrative: MSNBC and the gun-guy at the Obama rally 

If you are in the tank, is it possible to get more in the tank? Apparently.

On Tuesday, MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer fretted over health care reform protesters legally carrying guns: "A man at a pro-health care reform rally...wore a semiautomatic assault rifle on his shoulder and a pistol on his hip....there are questions about whether this has racial overtones....white people showing up with guns." Brewer failed to mention the man she described was black. (bold emphasis in original)

Yes, you heard it. The guy with the "assault rifle" at the Obama rally was black, a fact that just slightly undermines the Maddow-Rich narrative (if you had the spine to catch her show last night) that this is all about the resurgent right-wing militias.

Hot Air has more, including this useful stroll down memory lane.

MORE: Don't miss Ace (unless you are offended by rhetorical misogyny aimed at MSNBC talking heads), who not only names the guilty but provides useful contact information at NBC.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Greaseball is as greaseball does.

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Facebook status of the day 

From a friend who eats dinner in a fine restaurant almost every night:

[T]his was a first; there's a table with all the tables around it emptied because the couple has rancid BO. They're seating people at the bar instead, and for good reason. The poor waitress!

Apparently "the couple has rancid BO." It just goes to show you, there's somebody for everybody. Reminds me of the great Greg Giraldo line about Siegfried and Roy, to the effect that it is extremely affirming that one gay lion tamer found another gay lion tamer! If that can happen, then anybody can find his true love.

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British air conditioning and climate change 

If you have ever spent a lot of time in England, you know that few people have air conditioning. Except, bizarrely, the government's Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Plans to switch off the air-conditioning and instead open windows at the Department for Energy and Climate Change have been scrapped after staff complained about the noise.

Noise? I thought climate change was going to lead to TEOTWAWKI. We're going to let a little noise get in the way of saving the planet? These particular bureaucrats do not seem to have a particularly can-do spirit.

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The Hungarian Picnic 

AP reports on the anniversary of an important picnic put together by some clever Magyars:
"It was a picnic that changed the course of history.

"Twenty years ago Wednesday, members of Hungary's budding opposition organized a picnic at the border with Austria to press for greater political freedom and promote friendship with their Western neighbors.

"Some 600 East Germans got word of the event and turned up among the estimated 10,000 participants. They had a plan: to take advantage of an excursion across the border to escape to Austria.

"Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took part in festivities Wednesday marking the 20th anniversary of the 'Pan-European Picnic,' which helped precipitate the fall nearly three months later of the Berlin Wall.

"'Hungarians gave wings to the East Germans' desire for freedom,' Merkel told an audience that included politicians, diplomats, former East German refugees and several of the picnic's organizers.

"One of the key factors allowing the Germans to escape: the decision by a Hungarian border guard commander not to stop them as they pushed through to freedom."
There is an old saying about Hungarians (and I have joke-telling immunity here, since my mother was born in Hungary) -- they can go into a revolving door behind you and come out the other side ahead of you. Maybe the picnic crew put the most attractive women (of which there are many in Budapest) in the front of the line as they approached the border guards. What was the commander going to do?

Arpad Bella was that commander that day, and he decided to let everyone through. The trickle of Iron Curtain citizens heading west turned into a flood, thanks to Soviet inaction, and the Wall eventually came down.

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For cyclists only... 

If you've ever hung with cyclists, you know how true this is:

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Cramdown on the Hill? 

I can understand the frustration of liberal legislators in the Democratic Party regarding the current health care reform debate. The Party controls the White House, has 60 seats in the Senate, and a 256-178 advantage in the House. The planets are aligned for the Progressive Caucus to pass a bill that would significantly change the status quo, and ultimately pave the way for Single Payer down the road. They are (or were) so close that they can taste it, and all that is standing in their way are a handful of moderate members of their own Party, and the illness of two of their Senators. Republicans are largely irrelevant in the actual mechanics of getting a bill passed and signed.

Here is a list of the House Democratic Leadership -- and note the actual overlap from the CPC list linked above (Becerra, Miller, Pastor, Schakowsky, Waters), in addition to Speaker Pelosi's announced views. Why wouldn't they attempt a cramdown this fall? Pass a bill that includes a public option, and bribe Blue Dogs if you have to with promises of private sector consulting jobs if they get booted out in 2010. The Senate is not likely to filibuster the bill -- Ben Nelson might vote against the bill, but would he actually vote to filibuster? It might mean that Ted Kennedy might have to resign and that the Massachusetts Legislature selects a reliable temporary U.S. Senator (recall that the Governor was stripped of that power in 2004, because it was feared Romney might select a Republican to replace Kerry, had Kerry won the Presidency), and also West Virginia Governor Munchin picks a replacement for Byrd, if Byrd cannot show up to vote against a possible filibuster attempt, all so that the Democrats can get to 60 votes. Also, there is always the Nuclear Option.

Regardless of the backlash in 2010, it would be worth going for it if you are a True Believer in the CPC or House Leadership. The legislation is massive and "sticky" -- once it is passed, it is difficult to undo completely without a tectonic shift in legislative (and executive) power.

Of course, if the Democratic Party leadership (including Senators Reid and Durbin) are pragmatic and not ideological, they might read Steven Pearlstein's interesting column in today's WaPo, or yesterday's editorial in the Wall Street Journal, both of which observe the death of the public option, but see that the "fight is a long way from over" for health care reform legislation. Indeed, liberals should be happy about how far they have advanced the ball in the last 16 years (since the attempt and then crash and burn of HillaryCare) -- even conservative Republicans such as Paul Ryan (R-WI) want universal access to health insurance.

Prediction: a bill gets passed this year without a public option, but with provisions addressing portability, individual mandates, and pre-existing conditions. The White House has simply used too much political capital to walk away with nothing. Should President Obama win a second term, he might revisit it (the public option as a means for ultimately getting to Single Payer) in 2013.

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Barack Obama: More awesome than the Grand Canyon! 

Lest you thought that the mainstream media was getting real on Barack Obama, get a load of this bit from the Arizona Republic on the occasion of the president's visit to the Grand Canyon:

For tourists at the Grand Canyon Sunday, the political star power of President Barack Obama and the First Family temporarily eclipsed the landmark's majestic natural beauty.

More awesome than the Grand Canyon! What country can say that about its president?

CWCID: Smitty at the Other McCain.

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In which I agree with Glenn Greenwald 

Three and a half years ago, Al Gore traveled to Saudi Arabia, of all places, and deliberately undermined American foreign policy. Suffice it to say, I denounced Gore at the time in no uncertain terms.

Whether or not one agrees with Gore on the substance, if he wants to change American policy to let in more Saudis the only way he can do that it is to campaign for that change among influential Americans. It is, however, another thing entirely to travel to a foreign country that features pivotally in the war of our generation for the purpose of denouncing American policies in front of the affected foreign audience. It is especially problematic to mess with Saudi political opinions, which are subject to intensive influence and coercion by internal actors and the United States, al Qaeda, and Iran, among other powers.

Now Mike Huckabee has gone to Israel and denounced American policy under Obama. While I agree with Huckabee on the substance and thought Gore's plea for more visas for Saudis was substantively absurd, Huckabee was wrong to have criticized the United States from Israel and it should count against him should he run for president again.

To be sure, there are differences. Gore made his comments in a calculated and scripted speech for which he had been paid, Huckabee's comments were extemporaneous while walking through Jerusalem. Israel is a land of open and tendentious political argument with a deep understanding of American politics; Israelis are therefore unlikely to be influenced against the United States (as Saudi elites might be) by a single remark from an American politician. And, finally, Huckabee obviously has a small fraction of Gore's stature, here or there. None of that takes away from the basic point, though, which is that there is no legitimate purpose served in attacking American policy in front of a foreign audience.

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Annals of advertising: Banned, offensive, and rejected ads 

The fifteen "most offensive, banned, and rejected" ads. Standards and practices vary widely. This one, for instance, was banned in Russia:

That is a perfectly reasonable depiction of the relationship between the Euro and the dollar through, say, July of last year.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stratfor on the endgame in Iraq 

Editor's note: Stratfor circulated the following analysis with permission to republish. The section about the jockeying over Kirkuk is particularly interesting.

Though the Iraq war is certainly not over, it has reached a crossroads. During the course of the war, about 40 countries sent troops to fight in what was called “Multi-National Force-Iraq.” As of this summer, only one foreign country’s fighting forces remain in Iraq — those of the United States. A name change in January 2010 will reflect the new reality, when the term “Multi-National Force-Iraq” will be changed to “United States Forces-Iraq.” If there is an endgame in Iraq, we are now in it.

The plan that U.S. President Barack Obama inherited from former President George W. Bush called for coalition forces to help create a viable Iraqi national military and security force that would maintain the Baghdad government’s authority and Iraq’s territorial cohesion and integrity. In the meantime, the major factions in Iraq would devise a regime in which all factions would participate and be satisfied that their factional interests were protected. While this was going on, the United States would systematically reduce its presence in Iraq until around the summer of 2010, when the last U.S. forces would leave.

Two provisos qualified this plan. The first was that the plan depended on the reality on the ground for its timeline. The second was the possibility that some residual force would remain in Iraq to guarantee the agreements made between factions, until they matured and solidified into a self-sustaining regime. Aside from minor tinkering with the timeline, the Obama administration — guided by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whom Bush appointed and Obama retained — has followed the Bush plan faithfully.

The moment of truth for the U.S. plan is now approaching. The United States still has substantial forces in Iraq. There is a coalition government in Baghdad dominated by Shia (a reasonable situation, since the Shia comprise the largest segment of the population of Iraq). Iraqi security forces are far from world-class, and will continue to struggle in asserting themselves in Iraq. As we move into the endgame, internal and external forces are re-examining power-sharing deals, with some trying to disrupt the entire process.

There are two foci for this disruption. The first concerns the Arab-Kurdish struggle over Kirkuk. The second concerns threats to Iran’s national security.

The Kurdish Question

Fighting continues in the Kirkuk region, where the Arabs and Kurds have a major issue to battle over: oil. The Kirkuk region is one of two major oil-producing regions in Iraq (the other is in the Shiite-dominated south). Whoever controls Kirkuk is in a position to extract a substantial amount of wealth from the surrounding region’s oil development. There are historical ethnic issues in play here, but the real issue is money. Iraqi central government laws on energy development remain unclear, precisely because there is no practical agreement on the degree to which the central government will control — and benefit — from oil development as opposed to the Kurdish Regional Government. Both Kurdish and Arab factions thus continue to jockey for control of the key city of Kirkuk.

Arab, particularly Sunni Arab, retention of control over Kirkuk opens the door for an expansion of Sunni Arab power into Iraqi Kurdistan. By contrast, Kurdish control of Kirkuk shuts down the Sunni threat to Iraqi Kurdish autonomy and cuts Sunni access to oil revenues from any route other than the Shiite-controlled central government. If the Sunnis get shut out of Kirkuk, they are on the road to marginalization by their bitter enemies — the Kurds and the Shia. Thus, from the Sunni point of view, the battle for Kirkuk is the battle for the Sunni place at the Iraqi table.

Turkey further complicates the situation in Iraq. Currently embedded in constitutional and political thinking in Iraq is the idea that the Kurds would not be independent, but could enjoy a high degree of autonomy. Couple autonomy with the financial benefits of heavy oil development and the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq becomes a powerful entity. Add to that the peshmerga, the Kurdish independent military forces that have had U.S. patronage since the 1990s, and an autonomous Kurdistan becomes a substantial regional force. And this is not something Turkey wants to see.

The broader Kurdish region is divided among four countries, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The Kurds have a substantial presence in southeastern Turkey, where Ankara is engaged in a low-intensity war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), members of which have taken refuge in northern Iraq. Turkey’s current government has adopted a much more nuanced approach in dealing with the Kurdish question. This has involved coupling the traditional military threats with guarantees of political and economic security to the Iraqi Kurds as long as the Iraqi Kurdish leadership abides by Turkish demands not to press the Kirkuk issue.

Still, whatever the constitutional and political arrangements between Iraqi Kurds and Iraq’s central government, or between Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish government, the Iraqi Kurds have a nationalist imperative. The Turkish expectation is that over the long haul, a wealthy and powerful Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region could slip out of Baghdad’s control and become a center of Kurdish nationalism. Put another way, no matter what the Iraqi Kurds say now about cooperating with Turkey regarding the PKK, over the long run, they still have an interest in underwriting a broader Kurdish nationalism that will strike directly at Turkish national interests.

The degree to which Sunni activity in northern Iraq is coordinated with Turkish intelligence is unknown to us. The Sunnis are quite capable of waging this battle on their own. But the Turks are not disinterested bystanders, and already support local Turkmen in the Kirkuk region to counter the Iraqi Kurds. The Turks want to see Kurdish economic power and military power limited, and as such they are inherently in favor of the Shiite-dominated Baghdad government. The stronger Baghdad is, the weaker the Kurds will be.

Baghdad understands something critical: While the Kurds may be a significant fighting force in Iraq, they can’t possibly stand up to the Turkish army. More broadly, Iraq as a whole can’t stand up to the Turkish army. We are entering a period in which a significant strategic threat to Turkey from Iraq could potentially mean Turkish countermeasures. Iraqi memories of Turkish domination during the Ottoman Empire are not pleasant. Therefore, Iraq will be very careful not to cross any redline with the Turks.

This places the United States in a difficult position. Washington has supported the Kurds in Iraq ever since Operation Desert Storm. Through the last decade of the Saddam regime, U.S. special operations forces helped create a de facto autonomous region in Kurdistan. Washington and the Kurds have a long and bumpy history, now complicated by substantial private U.S. investment in Iraqi Kurdistan for the development of oil resources. Iraqi Kurdish and U.S. interests are strongly intertwined, and Washington would rather not see Iraqi Kurdistan swallowed up by arrangements in Baghdad that undermine current U.S. interests and past U.S. promises.

On the other hand, the U.S. relationship with Turkey is one of Washington’s most important. Whether the question at hand is Iran, the Caucasus, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan, Russia or Iraq, the Turks have a role. Given the status of U.S. power in the region, alienating Turkey is not an option. And the United States must remember that for Turkey, Kurdish power in Iraq and Turkey’s desired role in developing Iraqi oil are issues of fundamental national importance.

Now left alone to play out this endgame, the United States must figure out a way to finesse the Kurdish issue. In one sense, it doesn’t matter. Turkey has the power ultimately to redefine whatever institutional relationships the United States leaves behind in Iraq. But for Turkey, the sooner Washington hands over this responsibility, the better. The longer the Turks wait, the stronger the Kurds might become and the more destabilizing their actions could be to Turkey. Best of all, if Turkey can assert its influence now, which it has already begun to do, it doesn’t have to be branded as the villain.

All Turkey needs to do is make sure that the United States doesn’t intervene decisively against the Iraqi Sunnis in the battle over Kirkuk in honor of Washington’s commitment to the Kurds.

In any case, the United States doesn’t want to intervene against Iraq’s Sunnis again. In protecting Sunni Arab interests, the Americans have already been sidestepping any measures to organize a census and follow through with a constitutional mandate to hold a referendum in Kirkuk. For the United States, a strong Sunni community is the necessary counterweight to the Iraqi Shia since, over the long haul, it is not clear how a Shiite-dominated government will relate to Iran.

The Shiite Question

The Shiite-dominated government led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is no puppet of Iran, but at the same time, it is not Iran’s enemy. As matters develop in Iraq, Iran remains the ultimate guarantor of Shiite interests. And Iranian support might not flow directly to the current Iraqi government, but to al-Maliki’s opponents within the Shiite community who have closer ties to Tehran. It is not clear whether Iranian militant networks in Iraq have been broken, or are simply lying low. But it is clear that Iran still has levers in place with which it could destabilize the Shiite community or rivals of the Iraqi Shia if it so desired.

Therefore, the United States has a vested interest in building up the Iraqi Sunni community before it leaves. And from an economic point of view, that means giving the Sunnis access to oil revenue as well as a guarantee of control over that revenue after the United States leaves.

With the tempo of attacks picking up as U.S. forces draw down, Iraq’s Sunni community is evidently not satisfied with the current security and political arrangements in Iraq. Attacks are on the upswing in the northern areas — where remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq continue to operate in Mosul — as well as in central Iraq in and around Baghdad. The foreign jihadists in Iraq hope such attacks will trigger a massive response from the Shiite community, thus plunging Iraq back into civil war. But the foreign jihadists would not be able to operate without some level of support from the local Sunni community. This broader community wants to make sure that the Shia and Americans don’t forget what the Sunnis are capable of should their political, economic and security interests fall by the wayside as the Americans withdraw.

Neither the Iraqi Sunnis nor the Kurds really want the Americans to leave. Neither trust that the intentions or guarantees of the Shiite-dominated government. Iraq lacks a tradition of respect for government institutions and agreements; a piece of paper is just that. Instead, the Sunnis and Kurds see the United States as the only force that can guarantee their interests. Ironically, the United States is now seen as the only real honest broker in Iraq.

But the United States is an honest broker with severe conflicts of interest. Satisfying both Sunni and Kurdish interests is possible only under three conditions. The first is that Washington exercise a substantial degree of control over the Shiite administration of the country — and particularly over energy laws — for a long period of time. The second is that the United States give significant guarantees to Turkey that the Kurds will not extend their nationalist campaign to Turkey, even if they are permitted to extend it to Iran in a bid to destabilize the Iranian regime. The third is that success in the first two conditions not force Iran into a position where it sees its own national security at risk, and so responds by destabilizing Baghdad — and with it, the entire foundation of the national settlement in Iraq negotiated by the United States.

The American strategy in this matter has been primarily tactical. Wanting to leave, it has promised everyone everything. That is not a bad strategy in the short run, but at a certain point, everyone adds up the promises and realizes that they can’t all be kept, either because they are contradictory or because there is no force to guarantee them. Boiled down, this leaves the United States with two strategic options.

First, the United States can leave a residual force of about 20,000 troops in Iraq to guarantee Sunni and Kurdish interests, to protect Turkish interests, etc. The price of pursuing this option is that it leaves Iran facing a nightmare scenario: e.g., the potential re-emergence of a powerful Iraq and the recurrence down the road of the age-old conflict between Persia and Mesopotamia — with the added possibility of a division of American troops supporting their foes. This would pose an existential threat to Iran, forcing Tehran to use covert means to destabilize Iraq that would take advantage of a minimal, widely dispersed U.S. force vulnerable to local violence.

Second, the United States could withdraw and allow Iraq to become a cockpit for competition among neighboring countries: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria — and ultimately major regional powers like Russia. While chaos in Iraq is not inherently inconsistent with U.S. interests, it is highly unpredictable, meaning the United States could be pulled back into Iraq at the least opportune time and place.

The first option is attractive, but its major weakness is the uncertainty created by Iran. With Iran in the picture, a residual force is as much a hostage as a guarantor of Sunni and Kurdish interests. With Iran out of the picture, the residual U.S. force could be smaller and would be more secure. Eliminate the Iran problem completely, and the picture for all players becomes safer and more secure. But eliminating Iran from the equation is not an option — Iran most assuredly gets a vote in this endgame.

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Sand animation 

This video of the very cute Ukrainian artist Kseniya Simonova painting with sand is, well, worth your time.

CWCID: My very learned and interesting Facebook scroll.

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A warning from England 

Member of Parliament and righty YouTube phenom Daniel Hannan warns Americans about nationalizing health care. If you were going to waste 30 minutes of your life this evening watching television or otherwise making the donuts, watch Hannan's talk instead. And don't miss the spectacular Winston Churchill anecdote in the first segment.

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Arctic sea ice: Still more than the last two years 

Media bleating notwithstanding, it now appears unlikely that the summer melting of the Arctic sea ice will exceed the record set in 2007 or even, perhaps, 2008. If the trend continues, next year we will have more of the all-important "multi-year" ice.

Unless, of course, the powers that be move the goalposts again.

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Four "bad bears" and the ursine/bovine question 

Of the following graph, Paul Kedrosky writes:

The chart compares recovery periods after major market implosions over the last hundred years. As you will immediately see, while they have many differences, flattening out, or even declining, is the most common pattern after the initial "we're not dead yet" bounce.

Four "bad bears"

There's a difference between a rally in a bear market and an actual bull. This one still smells awfully ursine to me. But that's not a reason not to buy.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Delightful toys from the Arab world 

A friend of mine just got back from Morocco. Knowing that we have to feed the beast around here, he bought a Chinese made toy ("Super Funny Children's Toys"!!??) featuring Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush, the former on a skateboard and the latter on a military vehicle of some sort. There is a toy track on which your bin Laden and Bush characters travel through your imaginative fight of fancy...

Fun with September 11

Apparently the destruction of the World Trade Center is more a curiousity than a tragedy in Morocco, one of the most pro-American of Arab countries.

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Stopping Bob Dylan 

Tom Maguire's take on Bob Dylan's strange arrest is the quietly-chuckle post of the morning. Be sure to read through to the first "MORE".

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Sunday, August 16, 2009


Friday afternoon, over Carolina, from a Blackberry. The phone cameras are getting pretty good.

Clouds over Carolina

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Exploitation post of the day 

Stephen Green calls this "the best video ever created by the hand of man or beast" and, indeed, "the Greatest Thing in the History of All Stuff Ever." I'm not sure how the second claim is possible in a world with biegnets, but it's probably an exaggeration.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hillary: Africa's elections are corrupt, like ours! 

Why, precisely, Ivy League Democrats think that identifying with African kleptocratic dictators will help either the people of Africa or the United States is beyond me, but they seem to. Now, Hillary Clinton (of all people) has diminished Nigeria's endemic corruption with a comparison to Florida 2000:

Clinton caused another firestorm during her trouble-plagued Africa tour last night by drawing comparisons between political corruption in Nigeria and President Bush's contested election win nine years ago in Florida....

"Our democracy is still evolving. You know we had some problems in some of our presidential elections," she said. "As you may remember, in 2000 our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of one of the men running for president was governor of the state. So we have our problems too."

Seriously? Hillary is complaining about corruption arising from a family relationship with the governor of a southern State? That resurrects memories I would think Hillary ought want to stay buried.

Now, if she had compared Nigerian corruption to Chicago politics....

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Self-reliance from a surprising place 

The September issue of The Atlantic profiles Craig Fugate, Barack Obama's new head of FEMA. He seems like an excellent appointee in at least two respects. First, he is adjusting the expectations for the agency to conform to reality, something the Bush administration ought to have done much better.

“We need to change behavior in this country,” he told about 400 emergency-management instructors at a conference in June, lambasting the “government-centric” approach to disasters. He learned a perverse lesson in Florida: the more the federal government does in routine emergencies, the greater the odds of catastrophic failure in a big disaster. “It’s like a Chinese finger trap,” he told me last spring, as a hailstorm fittingly raged outside his office. If the feds do more, the public, along with state and local officials, do less. They come to expect ice and water in 24 hours and full reimbursement for sodden carpets. But as part of a federal system, FEMA is designed to defer to state and local officials. If another Katrina hits, and the locals are overwhelmed, a full-strength federal response will inevitably take time. People who need help the most—the elderly, the disabled, and the poor—may not get it fast enough.

Friendly observation that these were not observations readily found in the pages of the Atlantic or most other mainstream media publications in, say, September 2005.

Fugate's means for changing the terms of the discussion is even more interesting, more "Army of Davids" than nanny state:
To avoid “system collapse,” as he puts it, Fugate insists that the government must draft the public. “We tend to look at the public as a liability. [But] who is going to be the fastest responder when your house falls on your head? Your neighbor.” A few years ago, Fugate dropped the word victim from his vocabulary. “You’re not going to hear me refer to people as victims unless we’ve lost ’em. I call them survivors.” He criticizes the media for “celebrating” people who choose not to evacuate and then have to be rescued on live TV—while ignoring all the people who were prepared. “This is a tragedy, this whole Shakespearean circle we’re in. You never hear the media say, ‘Hey, you’re putting this rescue worker in danger.’”

At his first all-staff meeting with FEMA employees, Fugate asked for a show of hands: “How many people here have your family disaster plan ready to go? [If you don’t], you just failed your first test … If you’re going to be an emergency manager, the first place you start is at home.” Already, Fugate is factoring citizens into the agency’s models for catastrophic planning, thinking of them as rescuers and responders, not just victims.

The test, of course, will be our first disaster under Fugate's watch. Will the White House back him as he demands more from the locals, or will it throw him under the bus when the press starts weeping for the "victims" who ignored the order to evacuate? Let's hope Fugate prevails in his vision, which strikes me as a genuinely American response to disaster.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Which sort of not-plan is worse? 

Glenn Reynolds (implicitly) raises a good question: Is it worse to invade a country without an endgame in mind, or to set in motion the restructuring of almost 18% of GDP without one?

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Yet another service for our female readers 


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A CEO's Marie Antoinette moment 

So, a CEO of a public company writes an op-ed objecting to Obamacare. Bad idea, if you are the CEO of Whole Foods. Outraged lefty customers are up in arms:

"I will no longer be shopping at Whole Foods," Taylor told ABCNews.com. "I think a CEO should take care that if he speaks about politics, that his beliefs reflect at least the majority of his clients."

Countless Whole Foods shoppers have taken their gripes with Mackey's op-ed to the Internet, where people on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook are calling for a boycott of the store.

A commenter on the Whole Foods forum, identified only by his handle, "PracticePreach," wrote, "It is an absolute slap in the face to the millions of progressive-minded consumers that have made [Whole Foods] what it is today."

Live by the limousine liberal, die by the limousine liberal. I always say that.

In any case, how does Whole Foods CEO John Mackay not know that a huge proportion of his customers are Obama supporters? He did not notice the sea of be-stickered Volvos in his parking lots? How out of touch is he?

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Equity and debt 

Via Glenn Reynolds, "Most Americans Want Unused Stimulus Money Returned to Taxpayers." Candidly, I'd be happy if we simply gave it back to the bond holders.

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Rachel in Paris 

Rachel Lucas has another chapter up in her always entertaining "Hillbilly Travelogue," this time her trip to Paris. Apparently she didn't think much of Notre Dame,

But I took a picture anyway, because what kind of jackass goes to Paris and doesn’t come home with a photo of Notre Dame?

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