Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hurricanes vs. oil spill 

In the tradition of Godzilla vs. Mothra and Alien vs. Predator -- contests where neither contestant is all that wonderful -- NOAA has published a Q&A regarding the upcoming hurricane season and the massive and continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (original document here in .pdf format).

According to NOAA, the slick won't "appreciably affect either the intensity or the track of a fully developed tropical storm or hurricane," although climate expert Al Gore has yet to offer his opinion. The only potentially positive note I can see in the Q&A is the bullet point stating: "The high winds and seas will mix and 'weather' the oil which can help accelerate the biodegradation process." It is, however, "difficult to model exactly where the oil may be transported," so storm track clearly matters a great deal.

This is one contest which we hope has no sequels.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

2012 doubts 

Up until this evening, I have been skeptical of the chances of President Obama losing his re-election bid in 2012. My skepticism was based on the quality of the campaign he ran in 2008, the predisposition of the media to treat his administration more kindly than the previous one, approval ratings (ex-Rasmussen) that are down from the stratospheric levels of a year ago -- but still better than W's numbers throughout most of his two terms, and the lack of a clear-cut challenger at this point.

Tonight, however, I am having serious doubts for the first time regarding President Obama's chances in 2012.

Earlier this evening, I was walking through a parking lot at the local Whole Foods Market, where I was shocked to see a Toyota Prius displaying the following bumper sticker:

If you've lost the Whole Foods-shopping Prius-driving voter, you've lost liberal America, and you're in trouble with your base.

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Advantage: Toomey 

The controversy about Joe Sestak's claim that the White House offered him a position has certainly grown legs, and the White House's Friday-before-the-holiday-weekend story release will only serve to help Sestak's Republican opponent, Pat Toomey.

The White House story just doesn't seem all that credible. Using Bill Clinton as an intermediary makes sense only in that Sestak supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries, but President Clinton has a bit of a reputation of playing fast and loose with the truth, or at least it is fair to say that people have learned to parse his words very carefully. More importantly, the story the White House is now putting out is that "among the possible jobs considered for him was a seat on the president's Intelligence Advisory Board," which is an unpaid position, thereby avoiding the legal issue of a quid-pro-quo involving anything having monetary value. The problem is that such a position would not have had a chance of dissuading Sestak from going after Specter's seat, and Rahm Emmanuel or Joe Biden would have known that. Furthermore, the White House claims that it wanted Sestak to stay in his House seat, fearing it could be lost to the Republicans, but discovered only after the feeler was put out there that Sestak couldn't keep his seat and serve on the Board at the same time. Oh, we made this procedural error in offering an unpaid position to a Congressman.

Now, this is all a sideshow to what will otherwise be a well-contested election between two distinct candidates. To Sestak's credit, he did not take the deal and drop out of the primary. He is, however, still blemished by this politics-as-usual story, at least in part because of his reluctance to provide details over the past week or so, and dodging the question during a number of TV interviews, giving the appearance of delaying so that the relevant parties could get their stories straight. It will diminish Sestak in the eyes of Independent voters and bitter clinger Democrats in the central part of the Commonwealth, who may have voted for President Obama in 2008 to help him carry Pennsylvania convincingly, but are now suffering from varying degrees of disillusionment.

Sestak can still win the election, and in fact might be favored to do so at points in time between now and November. One strategy will be to paint Pat Toomey as a Pennsylvania version of Rand Paul. Toomey will undoubtedly recruit moderate Republicans to campaign with him and for him to combat that theme, and will have the advantage of Tom Corbett running on the Republican ticket for governor, and currently being favored to win.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

The garden gnome controversy 

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall wrote a funny and somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece in today's paper, about a promotion and giveaway that the AA Reading Phillies are planning in August, to salute Major League slugger Ryan Howard. It has resulted in a minor controversy in local sports talk radio today, which in turn has created a small amount of racial tension where there needn't have been any.
I don't know whether to laugh hysterically or to run.

The Ryan Howard Garden Gnome, the R-Phils' featured giveaway Aug. 3, depicts our slugger in pinstripes, sporting a waist-length gray beard and a pointy little R-Phils elf cap.

Face all Vaselined up, grinning from ear to ear, kneeling on one knee, and, as he is prone to do, holding a bat like a billy club - all ready to beat back those menacing garden snails.

Say what?

"He's there to protect your garden," affirms Kevin Sklenarik, the team's director of operations. Fans are sure to "enjoy them and display them in their gardens."

Well, OK. I can laugh with the best of them.

But, hmm. This is all starting to veer dangerously close to lawn-ornament territory, and we all know that history.

The original jockey statue, standing proud and usually carrying a lantern, shepherded runaway slaves to safety during the days of the Underground Railroad, explained Charles Blockson, curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple.

But as time went on, lawn jockeys were often caricatured as a stooped-over black man with dark skin and painted-in white eyes and big red lips. They were usually displayed on lawns of homes in the South and served no real purpose other than to diminish African Americans.

So you can understand why this Howard gnome thing creeps me out, even if the team's intentions were to tout its former star.
Here is a photo of the gnome in question:

Here is a photo of a "lawn jockey" from the Wikipedia entry:

Aesthetics aside, I can't say that I see much in the way of similarities here, sufficient to raise hackles, but I am not African-American, and Annette John-Hall is. Part of my view is that I think of Ryan Howard as a former NL MVP and key member of the Phillies, so it is hard for me to see him any derogatory or diminished fashion because of a giveaway item. He is able to earn ten digits a year in part because of such promotions at the big league level.

An interesting side note to the controversy is the long history of "lawn jockey" type statues, which the Wikipedia entry summarizes nicely -- that the statues originally saluted an aide to General Washington, and later, as Ms. John-Hall pointed out, served as signposts along the Underground Railroad, before eventually being generally seen as racist depictions of subservient African-Americans.

I wonder if the rule should be that no outdoor small statues of African-Americans can be placed in your garden or next to your front walk, simply because of the bad association many people have with it throughout much of the late 19th and 20th Centuries. We probably need someone in a position of absolute moral authority to guide us (help us, Oprah-wan-kenobi, you're our only hope). As Ms. John-Hall implies, there need not be any kind of bad intent for offense to possibly result. So, if you're a life-long Democrat who helped campaign for President Obama, you probably should not get a version of the Indonesia statue of young Barack Obama to display on your property.

I am not much for putting objects in gardens beyond something like a sundial, so, no worries here.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Culture clash in Rabat 

A planned concert appearance by Sir Elton John is causing trouble in Morocco, but not because people don't like his music. Some in the country -- one of the more liberal in the Muslim world -- do not care for his sexual orientation, and Islamists do not want him to appear at all, reports AP:
A concert by Elton John has tested the limits of Morocco's drive for modernity, probing this Muslim nation's complex and ambiguous attitudes toward homosexuality like rarely before.

Islamists in the North African kingdom were outraged by the gay pop star's visit, while the royal palace, government and his many fans backed his appearance Wednesday night.
Setting aside for the moment that I was under the misapprehension that John was bisexual, he has enjoyed a career spanning four decades, and hardly needs to be putting a bullseye on his head at this point. One has to admire his courage to go and perform where he has many fans, but a few potentially violent enemies.

I have always been partial to John's earlier music -- in the 1970s, he made some good Top 40 rock.

In a certain sense, John and pop culture stars like him are important characters in the struggle for modernity in the Muslim world. There is a simultaneous attraction to his music and a revulsion to his declared lifestyle. I wonder what goes on in Sir Elton's mind when he returns to his native Britain, happy that his Moroccan concert went off without incident, only to read in the London papers about the reluctance of British officials to enforce their laws in Muslim neighborhoods.

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Public service announcement: World MS Day 

Today is World MS Day. Consider giving to defeat this terrible disease and to sustain needy families who have been stricken by it.

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Lunchtime video fun: Governor Awesome on meaning what you say 

The air from Trenton has never been so fresh:

CWCID: Hot Air (which link includes a particular example of the Christie style).

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The luckiest people in history 

Via my Facebook scroll, five questions for Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. I liked this one:

5. You have five minutes with President Obama. What point would you want to get across to him as it relates to your book?

That it is precisely because there is still so much wrong with the world that it is vital to understand how powerful the engine of prosperity can be – the process of specialization and exchange through which we all work for each other. Thus the best way to improve the world is not to expect catastrophe but to have the ambition to reach for growing prosperity, that the twenty-first century will be a time of ecological restoration, not managed ecological retreat, and that the free flow of ideas, goods, services and innovations is what causes prosperity.

A lot of life is dumb luck. As long as I can remember I've thought that I had a much greater chance of being born in some miserable time and place than the United States of 1961. Say, West Africa in 1971. Or Russia, in pretty much any time or place before about 1980. Or Europe in the 14th century. Indeed it is hard to imagine how I and my American peers (however many of them whine as a matter of habit) could be luckier. We were win-the-Powerball lucky, just by the circumstances of our birth.

Take it a bit further. There are six billion people alive on the planet today, probably less than 6% of all the humans ever born. Many of them -- perhaps a majority -- are among the luckiest in history by virtually all measures, including expected lifespan, material well-being, and social, economic, and political freedom. In turn, freedom and the prosperity that comes with it are the reason why so many people today enjoy such good fortune. Our job is to rejoice in that freedom and prosperity and understand that it must be sustained in order that our posterity is, well, even luckier than us. So I am a rational optimist, worried only that the forces arrayed against freedom and prosperity -- and they are legion, from Islamist jihadis to Middle Eastern kings to leftist authoritarians to squishy progressive fantasists -- do not in the end carry the day.

Seems like it might be an interesting book.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Massa charges Petraeus with treason 

Eric Massa, who resigned earlier this year as a Democratic U.S. Representative for the 29th Congressional District in New York, is quoted extensively in Esquire by writer Ryan D'Agostino:
• Earlier in the year, long before the allegations had been made public, Massa had called me with a potentially huge story: Four retired generals — three four-stars and one three-star — had informed him, he said, that General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, had met twice in secret with former vice president Dick Cheney. In those meetings, the generals said, Cheney had attempted to recruit Petraeus to run for president as a Republican in 2012.

• The generals had told him, and Massa had agreed, that if someone didn't act immediately to reveal this plot, American constitutional democracy itself was at risk. Massa and I had had several conversation on the topic, each more urgent than the last. He had gone to the Pentagon, he told me, demanding answers. He knew the powerful forces that he was dealing with, he told me. They'd stop at nothing to prevent the truth from coming out, he said, including destroying him. "I told the official, 'If I have to get up at a committee hearing and go public with this, it will cause the mother of all shitstorms and your life will be hell. So I need a meeting. Now.'"

• Massa eventually came to the Esquire offices in New York to tell us the Petraeus story. He spoke with the bluster and hyperbole I had seen in him at stump speeches, but he had credibility on this matter — twenty-four years of active service in the Navy, a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, and an increasing voice in the media as a Democrat who would speak with authority about military issues. Still, when he called the possibility that Petraeus could beat Obama in an election a "coup" and "treason," the characterization seemed odd. "If what I've been told is true — and I believe it is," he told myself and two colleagues, "General David Petraeus, a commander with soldiers deployed in two theaters of war, has had multiple meetings with Dick Cheney, the former vice-president of the United States, to discuss Petraeus's candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency. And in fact, that's more than a constitutional crisis. That's treason."
(Emphasis added)

Massa probably deserves some sympathy for the health issues he is dealing with right now, and he is clearly a man under a fair amount of stress, but the use of the word "treason" might cross the line into destructive hyperbole.

First, I would be shocked if Petraeus had any interest in running for political office in 2012, or at any point in the future, for that matter. TigerHawk and I saw him speak 3 months ago at Princeton, and he was nothing but complimentary regarding the civilian leadership generally and President Obama specifically, and today, through a spokesman, made it clear yet again that he "has no political ambitions."

Second, while the ethics rules are different now as compared to May, 1952, when General Eisenhower retired from active duty to campaign, the country seemed to survive that crisis quite nicely, because, you know, he actually ran in a contested election against Adlai Stevenson, and did not simply line up the tanks and march on Washington, D.C., and take over the seat of government. I think Petraeus would have to go through pretty much the same political process, which hardly constitutes a military coup d'etat.

Let's assume this (false) scenario for a moment -- Cheney, unbeknownst to the General, drew up papers for a Petraeus exploratory committee and presented them to him to sign, and he did sign them. What we would have is an ethics violation that might well force Petraeus to resign his position, but it is a far cry from treason.

It is funny how Darth Cheney, evil genius, is involved in any number of speculative conspiracy theories. He really is a boogieman for many Americans.

I say this respectfully: it might be time to try a different set of meds, Eric.


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The most unloved heroes in America 

Oil continues to pour out of a hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and BP Plc is the latest corporate villain by dint of its ownership of the hole and its failure to plug it after more than a month of trying. Whether the company survives the disaster probably depends on whether it stops the oil before hurricane season gets in to full swing. Regardless, the executives and employees of BP are under siege, just trying to survive the present and worrying whether they have any future.

There will be time to sort out culpability in some imperfect political or prosecutorial process. We will blame some of the right people, but it is a lot more probable than not that we will also blame some of the wrong people and omit to blame at least some person or institution that will escape the gauntlet of hearings and depositions. That spectacle will come as night follows day.

In the last few days, however, I've been thinking about other people, the nameless men and women who will actually remediate this disaster.

Somewhere within BP true heroes are working night and day to stop the gusher and clean up its consequences. These people -- everybody from petroleum engineers to the rough men and women who work in oil fields in the world's most challenging environments to the machinists and welders who labor around the clock to build the next solution -- are not, in the main, responsible for the disaster. They are responsible for ending it. They are not known to us as individuals. In the current climate, where liberal activists intimidate the families of corporate executives to gain leverage, they no doubt hope to remain anonymous. They are working around the clock, to the point of exhaustion, in conditions, both physical and emotional, more stressful than most American employees (including many who complain about all the stress they are under) can possibly comprehend. They will eventually solve this problem they did not create. At the moment of their success, which no doubt will come, these men and women will have prevented staggering incremental damage. Their only reward, though, will be relief and the satisfaction of a job well done.

I respectfully submit that the anonymous employees of BP and its contractors who are devoting themselves to plugging the hole and cleaning up the oil are, perhaps, the most heroic people in America right now. I'm one American who is grateful for you, and wish you the strength and wisdom to finish the daunting task before you.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Freakonomics: Gender imbalances and savings rates 

Why do some cultures save more money than others? A surplus of males!

Large savings and current account surpluses by China and other countries are said to be a contributor to the global current account imbalances and possibly to the recent global financial crisis. This paper proposes a theory of excess savings based on a major, albeit insufficiently recognized by macroeconomists, transformation in many of these societies, namely, a steady increase in the surplus of men relative to women. We construct an OLG model with two sexes and a desire to marry. We show conditions under which an intensified competition in the marriage market can induce men to raise their savings rate, and produce a rise in the aggregate savings and current account surplus. This effect is economically significant if the biological desire to have a partner of the opposite sex is strong. A calibration of the model suggests that this factor could generate economically significant current account responses, or more than 1/2 of the actual current account imbalances observed in the data.

File under "the unanticipated consequences of infanticide."

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Generally, those readers who have followed Tigerhawk for some time will know that I am no great admirer of Obama and the current administration. However, in general, I have been pretty silent because it is really in my interest for the US to do well and prosper. I have been rooting for Obama, though I seem to disagree with so many of his and the Administration's policies and practices.

I have to say, at this very moment, I think their administration is failing. The evidence is, sadly, all around us. And it is failing at an alarming rate.

1) Our economy is at a very uncertain crossroads. We have thrown a fiscal hail mary pass. Not only did we pass emergency measures like TARP, but we passed irresponsible measures, like the healthcare reform bill. We can't afford it. We are running $1.5 trillion deficits. We are accumulating crisis levels of debt. And we have a short maturity profile.

If our country's CFO Timothy Geithner knew better, he might be alarmed. Our unemployment levels are mired at high 9s%. Our markets have turned south with Europe's fiscal and currency difficulties. At this moment we have corrected about 10% from the recovery highs, and are down 3.7% year to date.

The rising bond market and the equity markets are signalling a recessionary double dip. M3 monetary statistics are down 5+% in the latest twelve months, signalling deflation. This is urgent stuff.

2) On the domestic front, we have recently been subject to a series of failed, but nonetheless troubling terrorist atatcks. While the attacks themselves were incompetently executed, our intelligence capabilities failed us. If we suffer a significant domestic terror attack, the economic and social consequences will be awful.

3) Louisiana again is ground zero for an environmental disaster, this time of the man made variety. And while my quick study says BP is at fault, our Federal Government has failed to accomplish anything to stop the damage. Every day this disaster goes by, the Administration must assume more responsibility for its spread. Certainly if the prior Administration was held to account for its slow response to a natural disaster, this one should be held to account for its response to a man made one.

4) Oh my goodness, on the foreign policy front, can someone please point me to a success? Not a speech. A success. The Middle East? Nothing. Europe? Russia? North Korea? Iran? Our policy of "engagement," "reset", a "global apology tour" - what have these achieved? If anything, the anxiety level with respect to each of our confrontational adversaries has increased. We have given back some of the Surge's progress in Iraq in our rush to exit. And our mission in Afghanistan is not clear and not yet yielding tangible results.

We should avoid poker games because we have become the mark. We have alienated allies and tried to embrace adversaries, thus far with no concrete (not even wet concrete) achievements.

Of course, what little evidence we have at the polls would suggest voters are uncomfortable with the current Administration's governance, but we will know better in November of course. Heretofore, I had hoped that electoral considerations serve to moderate Obama, Reid and Pelosi. I no longer have this sense of "pragmatic optimism."

I love the summer, but I may never have as much appreciation for November as this particular one.

PS - Previously I left this untitled - I decided to add a title simply because it looked odd. Sorry:)

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The Onion - Report: Majority of Government Doesn't Trust Citizens Either 


"It makes complete sense for Americans to lose faith in a government that has allowed lobbyists and special interests to take over Washington," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters. "That being said, you could see why Washington might likewise lose faith in a populace that apparently still suspects that its president is a secret Muslim who was not born in the United States."

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Teaching America 

The cover story by Steven Brill in today's New York Times Magazine is entitled "The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand," and is worth reading in its entirety. Brill outlines a number of forces which he believes are culminating in a sincere effort by Democratic politicians and their advisors to actually reform public eduction.

Underlining the "Nixon to China" element of this effort, which Brill acknowledges in the article, is his description of the sheer size and force of the unions within the party:
If unions are the Democratic Party’s base, then teachers’ unions are the base of the base. The two national teachers’ unions — the American Federation of Teachers and the larger National Education Association — together have more than 4.6 million members. That is roughly a quarter of all the union members in the country. Teachers are the best field troops in local elections. Ten percent of the delegates to the 2008 Democratic National Convention were teachers’ union members. In the last 30 years, the teachers’ unions have contributed nearly $57.4 million to federal campaigns, an amount that is about 30 percent higher than any single corporation or other union. And they have typically contributed many times more to state and local candidates. About 95 percent of it has gone to Democrats.
So, one of the fundamental questions is whether Democratic politicians at any level of government can literally bite the hand that feeds them. Is the "Race to the Top" program launched by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama a genuine challenge to the "protectionist contracts" that the NEA and AFT have enjoyed for most of the past several generations?

One of the interesting elements of Brill's article is the number of people in the education reform movement who are alums of Teach for America, founded by Wendy Kopp, Princeton Class of 1989, "based on a senior thesis she wrote envisioning a Peace Corps-like cadre of young college grads" (this is a rare instance where it is probably fair game to to look closely at a thesis to help discern a graduate's thinking a few decades later!). The vision, idealism, and ingenuity of Ms. Kopp and her TFA alums are now confronting the reality of powerful organizations where -- at least with respect to compensation -- seniority is everything, and measuring performance is a concept that is not embraced.

I spent Kindergarten through 9th grade in a large suburban public school system, and I believe I received a good education from a unionized work force, although the quality of teaching was better at the private school I attended for the last three years of school. I had the enormous advantage of having two parents with Ivy League degrees who emphasized school work above all else, and were available to answer almost all home work questions (clearly, even the best teachers might struggle to demonstrate performance through the achievement of their students, in districts where the home life of students is not conducive to education). One of the secondary reasons I left the public school system was the labor strife which began in the early 1970s, when I was in middle school, with a series of short strikes. My family was concerned with the possibility of a longer strike, which could compromise the academic calendar. That nearly came to fruition in the late 1970s, when a strike lasted almost long enough to prevent seniors from having a sufficient number of days in school to be able to graduate.

Public education is usually more of a local hot button political issue than a national one, but it is important, and I think everyone along all parts of the political spectrum can acknowledge that it has consequences in terms of how well American citizens compete in a global economy. Everyone has heard war stories about an incident at a public school -- my personal favorite is a teacher in Jersey City showing the 1999 movie "The Mummy" during a class that was supposed to focus on African-American History Month (Egypt being in Africa, one supposes). Schools will get better only when parents, students, administrators, and, yes, teachers are held accountable for results. Without accountability, there is little possibility of improvement.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010


Last month, in Dayton, Ohio, the largest gathering of B-25s in a long time, there to celebrate the 68th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. The video of the flyover is the official TigerHawk feel-good video of the weekend.

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The talkies: A short note on Robin Hood 

I saw Robin Hood last night. Yes, it exceeds the basic requirement that it be "better than the Kevin Costner version," but I'm going to climb out on a limb and say that neither Russell Crowe nor Ridley Scott improved their personal brand equity with this film. The plot was, at best, incoherent, and Crowe's Robin was not nearly inspirational enough to rally all of England against an invasion from France. Maximus mailed in, I would say. Still, there were a lot of arrows and more than enough gurgling shots through the throat to keep me engaged, if only the story were not so offensive to history in the little things. Now, I'm not really troubled by battles that did not happen or a wholly ridiculous conception of French monarchical power or amphibious landing craft that looked like they might have stormed ashore on D-Day, but that they were wooden. All of that is well within traditional Hollywood license. No, I'm referring to Marion Loxley's great worry that they would not be able to plant crops because they had no "seed corn." Really? They worried about a corn shortage in England 300 years before Columbus sailed? Was there not one person on the Robin Hood set who did not know that freaking corn is a New World crop?

Goddamn. See it only if your date is cute.

UPDATE: I stand corrected on the corn point. It hurts, but we are nothing if we do not admit our mistakes.

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A diversity moment 

A college friend of mine, a lawyer, posted the following comment in a Facebook thread. As a long-time reader of comic books, I took great offense.

A friend went to our firm's diversity training, and one person from each table was asked to share something that made them unique. Lawyer 1 noted he was gay, previously in the closet. All clapped. Lawyer 2 was in a cloistered monastery for 5 years before law school. My friend volunteered a collection of 5000 comic books. The most senior lawyer in the firm loudly commented "Jesus Christ" with disgust.

That, right there, is all you need to know about most corporate diversity training programs. My more extended thoughts on that subject are here.

Separately, I wonder at the substance of the senior partner's disgust. I suppose I do not think there is anything worthy in reading comic books, but why is it so contemptible, especially in this context? Is somebody who spends five years in a cloistered monastery really going to make a better lawyer than somebody who read 5000 comic books (a feat that can be accomplished in the equivalent of one 2000 hour working year)? If not, then what's the point of the contempt?

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Bull defeats matador 

Um, don't play this video if you have a weak stomach.

That's gotta hurt.

Spanish bullfighter Julio Aparicio is reportedly in stable condition. I hope he has the phone number of a good cosmetic surgeon.


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Governor Cuomo, II 

Andrew Cuomo, currently serving as New York State Attorney General, announced his candidacy for governor today. Given his name recognition, and the significant advantage that Democrats hold in voter registration in the state, it will be a tough slog for any of the three Republicans in the race. Unless Cuomo has a Blumenthal moment, as just took place in neighboring Connecticut, the race is his to lose.

AP writers wasted no time in considering him to be a possible successor to Barack Obama:
If elected, Cuomo would almost certainly be viewed as a potential presidential contender in the future. Mario Cuomo also considered and ultimately rejected several entreaties to run during his years in office.
The piece continues:
In his early days in the public eye, Andrew Cuomo was the ruthless 20-something "Prince of Darkness" campaign commando from his father's three runs for governor. He went on to run a nonprofit organization to combat homelessness, and his work won the notice of President Bill Clinton, who named him an assistant secretary and later secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In that role, critics have accused him of pushing questionable mortgages that some say contributed to the recent subprime mortgage crisis.
(Emphasis added)

Indeed, before Andrew Cuomo can measure drapes in the Oval Office in 2017, he will at some point need to deal with the issues raised from his left by Wayne Barrett in the Village Voice nearly two years ago:
Andrew Cuomo, the youngest Housing and Urban Development secretary in history, made a series of decisions between 1997 and 2001 that gave birth to the country's current crisis. He took actions that—in combination with many other factors—helped plunge Fannie and Freddie into the subprime markets without putting in place the means to monitor their increasingly risky investments. He turned the Federal Housing Administration mortgage program into a sweetheart lender with sky-high loan ceilings and no money down, and he legalized what a federal judge has branded "kickbacks" to brokers that have fueled the sale of overpriced and unsupportable loans. Three to four million families are now facing foreclosure, and Cuomo is one of the reasons why.
In no way is Andrew Cuomo solely or even primarily responsible for the housing crash -- there is plenty of blame to go around in nearly every segment of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, it is worth reading all of Barrett's lengthy article, which provides a description of Cuomo's manner of making policy judgments and balancing political considerations.

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Hawaii special election 

Keep an eye on the special election today in Hawaii:
Republicans believe they are on the cusp of taking control of a congressional seat in President Barack Obama's hometown in a special election Saturday that represents the latest battleground in the fight for control of Congress in the midterm races.

Republican Charles Djou is favored to win the seat, and a victory would be an embarrassment to Democrats locally and nationally given that Obama was born in the district and spent most of his childhood here. It also is in a state that gave Obama 72 percent of the vote two years ago and where he remains quite popular.
A Republican winning a House seat in Hawaii is close to being on par with a Republican winning the Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. Since Hawaii became a state in 1959, there has only been one Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives from Hawaii, and that was twenty years ago, in the person of Pat Saiki. From 1959 to 1977, Hiram Fong served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from Hawaii.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

More thesis 

I have previously posted about the relative uselessness of taking excerpts from a decades-old Princeton senior thesis, as a means of gaining insight into the mind of a middle-aged Princeton graduate today.

To Ron Radosh's credit, he has taken the time to read and review Elena Kagan's entire senior thesis, over at PajamasMedia. (The thesis in .pdf format is available here). He liked it:
As a historian who has read widely in socialist and communist history, and written about the topic, I found her thesis to be academically first rate, based on a wide-ranging use of primary and secondary source material, with a thoughtful analysis and sound conclusions that derive from the evidence.
Radosh continues and concludes:
Her thesis — written from the perspective of an anti-communist scholar who was not in sync with the pro-communist leftism of what by then was a declining New Left — does not reveal that she was an advocate of radical social change. It does reveal an individual who, like the socialists and unionists she was writing about, also wanted to “change America.” It is clear that she found their struggles inspirational and that she empathized with their fight. If she has not changed her views on these issues, it puts her right in the mainstream of what is today’s left-of -center Democratic Party. Her views, however, were far removed from those Obama appointments like the short-lived one of Van Jones, who openly espoused communist and revolutionary ideas, which once exposed, forced him to offer his resignation.

Some may disagree with the political sympathies that led her to write on this topic, but I believe the thesis itself should serve as no grounds to deny her appointment to the Supreme Court.
Several observations:

1) It is by reading the whole document that Radosh arrives at his thoughtful conclusion.

2) History was and is a popular department at Princeton, and submitting a "first rate" thesis is not an easy task. One of my roommates was in that department, and I remember the effort he put into his thesis (also on an aspect of 20th Century American history), and he was quite happy that it was well received. He has gone on to have a very successful career in finance.

3) I seriously doubt that a reading of my thesis, submitted the same year to a different department, would hold up as well by an equally well-versed reviewer.

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From a native Thai with whom I went to high school:

Dear friends,

I am sure you have all been reading or hearing about the current problems in Thailand. Many of you have inquired about it. I want to tell all of you that my family is fine, though obviously not very happy about what has been happening. I find that the international press coverage has been incomplete and sometimes downright inaccurate. The problem is so complex that it can’t possibly be presented in a short news piece or article, especially when done by reporters who don’t understand the language or enough background. I’ve been reading a lot online and have found these web pages to be fairly objective and informative. In the case of Somtow’s blog, it’s also fun to read, to the extent this awful situation allows.

I’d rather not discuss the situation at this time (too emotional), but I appreciate your concern.

By way of background.

And a very good blog by a very interesting Thai person (author, musician) that hits it just right about why international news coverage left a lot to be desired.

followed by a bit of clarification.

And an older entry that I find gives good background.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Trick or treat, it's the SEIU! 

Fortune columnist Nina Easton writes about a recent incident on her block:
Last Sunday, on a peaceful, sun-crisp afternoon, our toddler finally napping upstairs, my front yard exploded with 500 screaming, placard-waving strangers on a mission to intimidate my neighbor, Greg Baer. Baer is deputy general counsel for corporate law at Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500), a senior executive based in Washington, D.C. And that -- in the minds of the organizers at the politically influential Service Employees International Union and a Chicago outfit called National Political Action -- makes his family fair game.

It's worth reading all of Easton's piece, and a partial response over at Huffpo (and, of course, the comments as well) to see that this could be described as a skirmish between the vanguard-left and the center-left (Baer worked in the Clinton administration, and his wife was formerly an advisor to Hillary Clinton). There's a small possibility this was a set-up of street theatre (that is, Baer knew in advance), but I seriously doubt it.

This story got air play on FOX News today, with one commentator stating that the SEIU has close ties to the current White House (true, in the sense that SEIU boss Andy Stern -- soon to step down -- has visited the Obama White House frequently), and alleging that the White House may have had foreknowledge of this rally, and tacitly approved of it in an effort to score political points as the financial regulation bill is being debated on the Hill. That's a pretty serious charge, and if true, means that we're sort of having an American mini-version of the Menshevik-Bolshevik street conflict. I exaggerate, but not greatly.

So, we are at a point where someone who is not a particularly senior officer at a publicly-held company can be targeted for union protests at his house ("IN MY HOME! IN MY BEDROOM! Where my wife sleeps... and my children play with their toys"). Remember, Baer is a deputy general counsel, meaning his decision making authority is pretty minimal in the greater scheme of things at Bank of America. In theory, the SEIU could get upset at any company, either for "charging too much" for its products or services, or simply not agreeing to hire its members. If I'm an officer of any standing at a listed company, I don't think I want my address known, nor (given the prevalence of Google Maps street view) would I post photos of the front of my house on the web. Evidently, it has come to that.

Next thing you know, we'll have former Clinton administration officials buying .30-30 rifles for home security.

UPDATE: Suggestions by commenters below as to how to best deal with difficult SEIU protest situations are helpful, and require a bit of pop culture visual reference:

With a nod to commenter PDQuig, the scene from Animal House when Bluto smashes the guitar (bonus points if you can name the singer) --

With a nod to frequent commenter Boludo Tejano, from the Seinfeld episode "The Fire" --
GEORGE: You know what you oughta do. You should go to her office and heckle her.

JERRY: Yeah, right.

GEORGE: You know, like all the comedians always say, 'How would you like it if I came to where you work and heckled you?'

JERRY: Yeah, that'd be something.

GEORGE: I'm not kidding, you should do it.

JERRY: But wouldn't that be the ultimate comedian's revenge? I've always had a fantasy about doing that.

GEORGE: Well, go ahead! Do it!

JERRY: Why can't I?

GEORGE: No reason!

JERRY: You know what? I think I'm gonna do that! She came down to where I work, I'll go down to where she works!

GEORGE: This is unprecedented!

JERRY: There's no precedent, baby!

GEORGE: What...are you using my babies now?

New scene - Toby in her office at Pendant. Jerry pokes his head in the door.

JERRY: Hey, nice shoes. What, you wear sandals to work? It's always nice to walk into a room and get the aroma of feet. That's real conducive to the work atmosphere. I'm sure your co-workers really appreciate it. 'Hey, let's go eat in Toby's office. Great idea! We can check on her bunions!'

TOBY: You know, I have work to do here! I'm very busy!

JERRY: Oh, is this disruptive? You find it hard to work with someone...interrupting?

TOBY: Well, how would you like it if I called security?

JERRY: Security? Well, I don't know how you're gonna make it in this business if you can't take it! Ya gotta be tough! Booo! Boooo!

Kramer arrives just as Toby gets upset and storms out.

KRAMER: Wait a second, what's happenin' here? Toby! Toby!

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The North Korean denial 

The aftermath of the sinking of the South Korean vessel Cheonan in late March is getting more tense, following the the disclosure of the results of an international forensic examination of the wreckage, and a denial by North Korea.
Investigators from the five-nation team said detailed scientific analysis of the wreckage, as well as fragments recovered from the waters where the Cheonan went down, point to North Korean involvement.

Torpedo fragments found on the seabed "perfectly match" the schematics of a North Korean-made torpedo Pyongyang has tried to sell abroad, chief investigator Yoon Duk-yong said. A serial number on one piece is consistent with markings from a North Korean torpedo that Seoul obtained years earlier, he said.

"The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine," he said. "There is no other plausible explanation."

Pak, the North Korean military official, dismissed it as faked evidence.
That North Korea would go the denial route, instead of retorting, "yup, we did it, you were in our waters, whatchagonnadoaboutit," is interesting in an of itself, but will serve to prolong the tension around the incident, as Seoul considers taking its claims to the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council does not have a recent history of responding decisively or to much effect in such matters.

For more CSI-like details of the Cheonan sinking, the Christian Science Monitor has an excellent article.

I don't believe that this will devolve into a shooting war, because the outcome of such a conflict would be pretty bad for both sides, and South Korea isn't seriously considering that option. It will be added to the long list of similar incidents (of greater and lesser lethality) over the past five-plus decades, since the signing of the 1953 truce.

Exit question: Assuming that the U.S. Navy would keep at least one silent and deadly Ohio class SSBN near the peninsula, are U.S. interests served by continuing to have 28,500 ground troops in South Korea, or would the removal of those forces destabilize the situation?

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Everybody Draw Mohammed Day 

Today is "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," a satirical protest against the censorship that derives from the fear of physical violence from Muslims who take umbrage at, well, speech. My thoughts on the subject are long-standing and well-known. Blogger Zombie makes a cogent case for this day of protest with which I heartily agree. We owe it to Galileo to do this.

Not being an artist, the best I can do is a Mohammed emoticon: (((:~{>

More along the same lines here (heh).

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

TSA spots a problem 

Regardless of whether Jose Pol had malicious intent, it's nice to know that TSA can catch someone who tries to board a flight with weapons "that included a stun gun, a switchblade knife and four box cutters."

It will at least make me feel a bit better, the next time I am queueing for TSA screening.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Specter out 

Incumbent U.S. Senator Arlen Spector lost the Democratic primary tonight to Rep. Joe Sestak. Not all precincts have reported as of this post, but it appears to be about a 6 point win.

It is clearly a difficult year for incumbents, although Spector's loss is perhaps not the same as a long-time Democratic incumbent losing in a primary, since he switched parties last year. President Obama did campaign for him -- in a state which Obama won convincingly in 2008 -- and his support had little effect.

Sestak will face Pat Toomey in November, and Pennsylvania voters will have a fairly clear-cut choice between candidates with significantly different political and economic philosophies. Overall, the voters in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are neither deep blue nor deep red, and Toomey is likely to the right of the center of PA politics, and possibly to the right of more than a few Pennsylvania Republicans. If turnout in Philadelphia County is low in November, Toomey could emerge with a close win, but in any case, I would expect both parties to pour significant resources into the race, including lots of money from outside the Commonwealth. It will be interesting to see the extent to which Sestak seeks President Obama's help in campaigning, as the race nears its climax.

In the meantime, with a nod to James Taranto over at The Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web Today, a "Bye-ku" for Senator Spector:
No magic bullet
Switching parties didn't help
Arlen lost his job
The late Hugh Scott, a Republican, was a long-serving U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, and in fact was Senate Minority Leader from 1969-77. His legacy in Pennsylvania is largely a positive one. Whether Arlen Spector's political legacy will be adversely effected by his late career party change and primary loss tonight is difficult to predict, but generally, it is better to go out on your own terms.

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The almost Vietnam veteran 

It will be very interesting to see what kind of lawyerly language that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, can use to overcome this article in the New York Times, as he campaigns this year for the U.S. Senate seat.

Uncle Jimbo over at BLACKFIVE is not amused, nor, I suspect, will many other milbloggers rally to Blumenthal's defense.

There is nothing wrong with not having served; there is nothing wrong with having served and not having been deployed overseas or in combat. There is, however, something very wrong when anyone -- especially an elected politician -- outright lies (or makes "plainly untrue" statements, to use the terminology of the NYT) about his service, in an effort to further his career.

I think it is too soon to predict that a Republican could win the seat that Chris Dodd is leaving.

UPDATE: Huffpo has a copy of the talking points that are being circulated in an effort to keep Blumenthal's campaign alive.
-In the past twenty years, Dick has attended literally hundreds of vets events, debates, news conferences where he was clear, honest, and proud about his service in the Marine Corps Reserve. In fact, as recently as the US Senate debate on March 1, 2010, Blumenthal clearly stated "serving in the United States military gave me a perspective as well, even in the reserves. Although I did not serve in Vietnam, I have seen first-hand the affects of military action, and no one wants it to be the first resort, nor do we want to mortgage the countries future...."

-Dick has been a constant champion of veterans and of the military. Today Connecticut veterans will come together to show they have his back, just like he has had theirs.

-On a few occasions out of hundreds, Dick misspoke and he'll be the first to admit that those were mistakes. That doesn't take anything away from Dick's service or his long record of standing up for veterans - he is known throughout the state as a strong advocate for vets services and benefits.

-His opponent's campaign admits they are the ones who cherry-picked the quotes and are behind the hit piece. It is no surprise Linda McMahon would want to smear the Attorney General, considering all of the debauchery at the WWF under her watch, including her attempt to interfere with an investigation into widespread drug abuse.
(Emphasis added)

It's probably the best tactic available to the campaign to try and place his "plainly untrue" statements in an overall context -- that in the vast majority of cases of speaking in public, he told the truth about his military service. That might lead to a good campaign slogan for any politician of any party: I tell the truth most of the time. There might even be a game show or a reality show TV concept in there somewhere.

There is a certain irony that Linda McMahon's campaign evidently fed the story to the NYT. It's not as if World Wrestling Entertainment (the company she has run with her husband Vince) is expert at distinguishing fact from fiction.

CWCID: Hot Air

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Monday, May 17, 2010

The schism within Zionism 

Peter Beinert has a lengthy and well-written essay in the New York Review of Books, entitled "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment." It will undoubtedly be the subject of much analysis and criticism. An excerpt:
Among American Jews today, there are a great many Zionists, especially in the Orthodox world, people deeply devoted to the State of Israel. And there are a great many liberals, especially in the secular Jewish world, people deeply devoted to human rights for all people, Palestinians included. But the two groups are increasingly distinct. Particularly in the younger generations, fewer and fewer American Jewish liberals are Zionists; fewer and fewer American Jewish Zionists are liberal. One reason is that the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes.
A partial and short rebuttal by Philip Klein in the American Spectator starts out with some quasi-Borscht belt humor:
In the past, I've remarked to friends that the difference between a Jewish liberal and a Jewish conservative is that when a Jewish liberal walks out of the Holocaust Museum, he feels, "This shows why we need to have more tolerance and multiculturalism." The Jewish conservative feels, "We should have killed a lot more Nazis, and sooner."
Klein continues:
The problem, however, isn't with leading Jewish organizations that defend Israel, but with liberalism. As sickening as it sounds, Jewish liberals see their fellow Jews as noble when they are victims being led helplessly into the gas chambers, but recoil at the thought of Jews who refuse to be victims, and actually take actions to defend themselves. It isn't too different from American liberal attitudes toward criminal justice or terrorism, where morality is turned upside down and the lines between criminals and victims become blurred, and in certain cases, even reversed.
Whatever one thinks of Beinert's politics, my sense is that his (or Frank Luntz's) demographic and attitudinal trend analysis in the entirety of his essay is probably more right than wrong, even if his explanation of the reasons behind it might not ring true. There is probably not a synagogue or temple in the U.S. that does not have an Israeli flag in it somewhere, so perhaps it is accurate to describe what has developed as a split between at least two different views of Israel -- call it "muscular Zionism" versus "Zionism-lite." The debate between Beinert and Klein is illustrative of one that is ongoing within American Jewry and also within Israel itself, and has international ramifications. Hopefully, it is a healthy and not destructive debate, but one wonders whether the tension between these two positions can ever be fully resolved.

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World Cup plot 

There are many countries -- first-world, second-world and third-world -- whose citizens have sufficient anti-American sentiment such that they might be somewhat sympathetic to the political grievances of al-Qaida, but messing around with the World Cup will not win Osama bin Laden's crew any new admirers.
Iraqi security forces have detained an al-Qaida militant suspected of planning an attack targeting the World Cup in South Africa next month, an official said Monday.

Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Baghdad security services, said Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani was an officer in the Saudi army. He is suspected of planning a "terrorist act" in South Africa during the World Cup beginning June 11, al-Moussawi told a news conference in Baghdad.
Security has been an enormous concern in South Africa as it holds the World Cup, much as it is during the holding of the Olympics in various countries. South Africa's police commissioner made a statement earlier this month that he hoped the U.S. did not advance past the first round so that a possible visit by President Obama would not materialize, given that such a visit would complicate security matters even more.

But football/soccer is almost a religion in many Islamic and non-Western countries, and those countries field quite competitive national teams at the World Cup. It is hard to see what advantage an Islamist terrorist organization could gain by trying to plan and launch an attack in South Africa that would kill and wound many non-Americans and non-Europeans. From the perspective of, say, an average Nigerian (Nigeria is in Group B in the World Cup, along with Argentina, Greece and South Korea), hey, it's one thing to drive airplanes into a few skyscrapers in New York City and have them collapse; it's quite another to violently disrupt a televised sporting event that more than a billion people watch. That might really upset some people.

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Speaking of triathlons... 

It never occurred to me that one could combine the riding with the swimming.

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Lunchtime video fun 

Mothers against debt:

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The apology thing 

He did it again.

While I disagree with the vast majority of the things that Barack Obama says and does, nothing irritates me more than his serial apologies for the United States. It accomplishes nothing, and diminishes us. Even Julia Child, who had a lot more experience abroad than Barack Obama, knew better than to apologize, in the sense of explaining failures or shortcomings.

Regular readers know that I am a staunch advocate of apology in personal matters, an entirely different affair. If an individual or even an enterprise hurts somebody, whether culpable or not, it is right, proper, generous and pragmatic to apologize sua sponte. Apologizing for previous policies of the United States or individual states is just self-serving, and weakens us in the eyes of a world that respects leadership and strength a lot more than abstract contrition for matters of history. Apology as a tool of foreign policy -- and I use that term advisedly -- serves domestic politics, and at it makes it more difficult for us to accomplish our national interests because other countries know that our current government, at least, will be loathe to do anything inconsistent with prior apologies.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

College Humor 

There are at least two amusing videos over at the College Humor website.

The first clip is "Grammar Nazis", a send-up of a scene in the movie Inglourious Basterds, with the title character done in by a dangling participle.

The second clip is "Sing Talk", and will appeal to those who have had it with the whole teenage obsession over the Ke$ha phenomenon.

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Congratulations to Jessica Watson 

There are technological advantages available to blue water sailors today, as compared to a couple of generations ago, but this is still an incredibly impressive feat, as AP reports:
A 16-year-old Australian who braved boat knockdowns and seven months of solitude on a sail around the world set foot on dry land outside the Sydney Opera House on Saturday and quickly set an earthier goal - getting her driver's license.

Jessica Watson became the youngest person to sail around the globe solo, nonstop, and unassisted when she cruised into Sydney Harbour in her pink, 34-foot yacht to a rock-star welcome. She successfully maneuvered her boat through raging storms, 40-foot waves, and seven knockdowns during the 23,000-nautical-mile journey that critics thought she would not survive.
Her website is here.

I'm a moderately experienced sailor, and would not even attempt to do what Jessica has done, partly because I would be concerned about my physical durability (at three times her age), and partly because sailing is recreational fun for me, not a risk-my-life activity. I am not sure that I would grant permission if I had a 16 year-old child who wanted to embark upon a similar trip. That said, it is gratifying to see that the risks she has taken have been rewarded, and that her journey is completed and she is home safely.

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"Ick vs. Ugh" 

Karen Heller is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and she will never be confused with, say, Michelle Malkin, in terms of her political perspective.

In today's paper, she writes about the primary race in Pennsylvania between incumbent Arlen Specter and challenger Joe Sestak:
If you watched the candidates' sole debate May 1 - and most likely you didn't because it was a beautiful Saturday night and the Mets were in town and you surely had better things to do - let me tell you, this was a battle between ick and ugh.

Sestak was strident and tone deaf and kept on message instead of listening to Specter, who was strident and petulant and kept demanding an apology from Sestak for calling him a liar. Schoolyard garbage. It was the battle of the ego monsters, dinner with your least appealing relatives, and, if you were leaning toward one or the other, the exercise nulled any affection for either...

...We get it. They're both yucky. Almost a third of all Democratic voters remain undecided. It may come down to who bothers you less. Come Tuesday, go to the polls, hold your nose, and vote.
It's worth reading the entire piece, just for the entertainment value. Lukewarm support for the Democratic primary winner among the base of the party probably offers encouragement to the Republican candidate, Pat Toomey, between now and November.

Another Inquirer columnist (and radio talk show host) Michael Smerconish endorsed Specter today (noting his "pragmatism"), as did the Inquirer editorial page. Columnist Dick Polman wrote about the race in less critical terms than his colleague Ms. Heller, and also did not offer an endorsement.

Pennsylvania has a closed primary system, and I am not a registered Democrat, so I don't get to cast a vote in this U.S. Senate race on Tuesday. My guess is that Sestak will win the primary.

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News you can use: In re "sex injuries" 

Though they can be embarrassing to report to your doctor, sexual injuries are fairly run-of-the-mill in the emergency department, according to a U.K. poll of one thousand adults.


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Tri pics 

These will probably cause at least some of you to puke all over your keyboards, but I had so much fun doing my first triathlon (a mere "sprint", but still) this morning that I wanted to "share." The course involved a .3 mile swim in Barnegat Bay near Tom's River, a 10 mile bike ride, and a 3 mile run. Did it in 1:12:58, finishing 75th out of 140 entrants, all men, all ages.

Before the swim...

Before the start

Stripping off the wet suit after a tough swim -- it's like NASCAR out there, lots of rubbin'...

After the swim

I had a relatively fast transition after the swim, and passed a lot of people in the bike phase...

In from the ride

Third leg...

Starting the run

At the finish...

At the finish

And, finally, a camera phone picture when all was said and done...

In repose

Bucket list checked! Now the question is whether I have the ambition and, more importantly, time to train for a longer one.

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bad news for incumbents 

Somewhat better news for Democrats, according to a new AP-GfK poll:
People want Democrats to control Congress after this fall's elections, a shift from April, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Saturday. But the margin is thin and there's a flashing yellow light for incumbents of both parties: Only about one-third want their own lawmakers re-elected.

The tenuous 45 percent to 40 percent preference for a Democratic Congress reverses the finding a month ago on the same question: 44 percent for Republicans and 41 percent for Democrats.
(Emphasis added)

I am not sure precisely how the two notions reconcile themselves mathematically -- that is, since many more incumbents are presently Democrats, a two-thirds attrition rate would hit that party much harder in the House and Senate. The analysis would need to be done seat by seat and account for a primary loss by an incumbent, but the party of the incumbent keeping the seat in November. An example of that would be in Pennsylvania, if Sestak beats Specter on Tuesday, and then Sestak beats Toomey in November.

It will be interesting to see if news about the financial markets (and the recent gyrations of equity markets in particular) will play as important a roll in the 2010 midterms as it did in the last few months of the 2008 elections. It isn't clear at this point whether there would be a significant net advantage to either party if the PIIGS debt crisis intensifies, and drives equities lower around the world, but results in a flight to Treasuries of various maturities in the U.S., driving prices higher and yields lower.

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My front porch 

I got up at 3:30 this morning to cheer on my training partner in her inaugural triathlon (I go tomorrow), then went to Home Depot and bought an old-style rotary lawn mower for my little back yard. Assembled same and mowed and raked said lawn. Now sitting on my front porch in the chair pictured below, drinking that exact glass of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, eating those peanuts, and watching the constant excitement on the street where I live. I hope you are having as wonderful a Saturday as I.

My front porch

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Annals of finance: Blame Marge Simpson! 


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Governor Awesome 

Lest you harbor lingering doubts that New Jersey now has the best -- as in most culturally attuned to his own state and potentially most hopey and changey -- governor in the United States, this video of a Chris Christie press conference encounter ought to lay them to rest.

Substance here.

Yes, indeed, Governor Awesome now works in Trenton. Of all places.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Boola boola housing neutrality 

In this and other respects, Princeton now stands alone. For better or for worse.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Lunchtime fun: Possibly the best local commercial evah! 

If I were going to buy a mobile home, I'd buy it from this dude.

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Yet another media mystery 


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The prosecution rests 

Via the comments in one of yesterday's posts, behold at least one consequence of studied "diversity" at the University of California. A Muslim student is either endorsing the murder of all Jews everywhere or she is dumber than a box of rocks. Either way, not good.

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Handicapping a double dip 

By at least one metric, a "double dip" recession in the current interest rate environment would be entirely unprecedented. Which is, for those of you keeping track at home, good news.

Of course, there's nothing in there about the chances for a huge surge in wealth-destroying inflation.

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Ann Coulter agrees with Eric Holder! 

As something of an authoritarian when it comes to the waging of war, even a shadow war, I rather enjoyed the opening paragraphs of Ann Coulter's column this week. Eric Holder, I imagine, would have a rather more ambivalent opinion on the small chance somebody calls his attention to it.

Americans can thank the Supreme Court for the attempted car bombing of Times Square, as well as any future terrorist attacks that might be less "amateurish" and which our commander in chief will be unable to thwart unless the bomb fizzles.

Over blistering dissents by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, five Supreme Court justices have repeatedly voted to treat jihadists like turnstile jumpers. (Thanks, Justice Kennedy!)

That's worked so well that Obama's own attorney general is now talking about making massive exceptions to the Miranda warnings -- exceptions that will apply to all criminal suspects, by the way -- in order to deal with terrorists having to be read their rights as a bomb is about to go off.

Let's be clear: When Eric Holder thinks we're being too easy on terrorists, we are being too easy on terrorists.

Then there is this:
We are at war. The Supreme Court has no right to stick its fat, unelected nose into the commander in chief's constitutional war powers, particularly in a war against savages whose only reason for not nuking us yet is that they don't have the technology. (The New York Times hasn't gotten around to printing it.)

I don't care who you are, that's funny.

Because I am nothing if not fair-and-balanced, ships-passing-in-the-night counterarguments here.

If you are reading this late, permalink to Ann's column here.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Washington State defines candy 

Before a retail item can be taxed, it has to first be defined and categorized by a taxing authority. Occasionally, hilarity ensues. The News Tribune in Washington State reports:
The taxman is about to lay a finger on your Butterfinger, but he’ll give you a break on that Kit Kat bar.

Candy, like other food, is exempt from sales tax. That changes June 1, when a tax on candy and gum approved this year by the Legislature takes effect.

But not all sweet treats are considered candy, in the eyes of the state Department of Revenue.

In a letter dated Tuesday and going out in the mail later this month, the department will tell retailers how to figure out which products are subject to Washington’s 6.5 percent sales tax and local add-ons. It’s a process many other states have gone through, but it has some sellers and shoppers here scratching their heads.

“If it’s got chocolate around it, it’s candy,” Ruth Ann Behunin of Lakewood protested as she bought gifts for family at Johnson Candy Co.

Not according to the new law.

Here’s a rule of thumb: If it contains flour or requires refrigeration, you probably won’t pay tax on it.

Snickers is candy, but a Snickers Cruncher is tax-free.

Shoppers may know candy when they see it, but defining it legally is harder. The definition used by Washington was crafted nearly a decade ago by the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, which is trying to make state tax codes more uniform.

Previously, each state had its own definition. “We had states that looked at Twix bars as a chocolate-covered cookie, and the state right next door … looked at that as a candy bar with a cookie center,” said Scott Peterson, executive director of the governing board.
The new Secretary of the Department of Revenue in Washington State is none other than George Costanza.

This tax has the potential to be somewhat regressive, depending upon the precise manner in which consumption of sweets correlates with income levels in the state.

Exit question: has anyone tried a tax-free Snickers Cruncher yet?

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Lower polls, more bruises 

Via Instapundit, Howard Fineman predicts that Elena Kagan will have a tougher time in the Senate than Sonia Sotomayor.
Based on conversations with Republican sources in the Senate, there will be no filibuster, and such an effort would almost certainly fail if the GOP tried it. Based on my current count, at least three Republicans, and maybe one or two more, will end up voting for her, and likely all of the Democrats will.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a fight over her nomination.

In fact, there is going to be a nasty one; far nastier than the relatively polite treatment accorded Sonia Sotomayor last year. Here’s why:

The political situation in the country is far different — and far more likely to push Senate Republicans into confrontational mode — than it's been in recent history. President Barack Obama is much less popular than he was when Sotomayor was nominated.

In May 2009, his job-approval rating stood at 66 percent in the Gallup Poll. Now, it's barely cresting 50 percent. He never had much GOP support, and now he’s now lost most independent backing, which is one reason why Republicans are likely to make major gains in the midterms.
Fineman's point may have entered into the political calculation or the thinking of the White House in not selecting a nominee who would have been more pleasing to the base of the Democratic Party. Sometimes, in political confirmation processes, it is better to bat leadoff.

On the other hand, if you believe you have a lock on 59 votes for only a short while longer, why not take the small gamble on someone more doctrinaire? This is the tactical philosophy espoused by Frank Pentangeli, speaking to Michael Corleone in Godfather II, responding to Michael's assertion concerning Hyman Roth and the attempt on Michael's life: "Look, let's get 'em all -- let's get 'em all now, while we got the muscle."

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds

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Free speech has a new champion and I have a new hero 

His name is Lars Viks. "Officials" at Uppsala University, however, are pusillanimous weenies who do not deserve to so much as cut the freaking grass at that previously great university.

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This week's O'Quiz is a toughie, with the average score at only 4.51 more than two days after publication. I cadged a 6, but I suspect you can do better. Take the O'Quiz, and post the then average score (which is displayed after you submit your results) in the comments. Let's see how far TigerHawk readers can pull it up.

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Joint statement from Milbloggers 

Over at BLACKFIVE today, Uncle Jimbo posts a Joint Statement from Military Bloggers advocating an end to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Uncle Jimbo (Jim Hanson as signatory to the Statement) is a Retired Special Operations Master Sargeant, and I believe it is fair to say that he is someone who would self-identify as a conservative. Judging from the mixed comments under the post, there is not universal acceptance.

We consider the US military the greatest institution for good that has ever existed. No other organization has freed more people from oppression, done more humanitarian work or rescued more from natural disasters. We want that to continue.

Today, it appears inevitable to us that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy and law restricting those displaying open homosexual behavior from serving will be changed. And yet, very little will actually change. Homosexuals have always served in the US Military, and there have been no real problems caused by that.

The service chiefs are currently studying the impact and consequences of changing the DADT policy, and how to implement it without compromising the morale, order and discipline necessary for the military to function. The study is due to be completed on Dec. 1st. We ask Congress to withhold action until this is finished, but no longer. We urge Congress to listen to the service chiefs and act in accordance with the recommendations of that study.

The US Military is professional and ready to adapt to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell without compromising its mission. Echoing Sec. Def. Gates and ADM Mullen, we welcome open and honorable service, regardless of sexual orientation.
This is a complex issue, both with respect to attitudes of people inside the military (enlisted and officers), civilian leadership; and, the practical challenges of implementing the change from DADT.

I haven't served in the military. My late father dissuaded me from volunteering for a hitch in the Navy after I graduated from college in 1981, believing that "the peacetime Navy was pretty dull." He had enlisted in the Navy in 1940, received his commission during WWII, saw some action hunting U-Boats, completed his active duty service after V-J Day, and stayed in the Reserves for another dozen years, so he had some basis for comparison. He was an FDR Democrat and had fairly progressive views for someone born before women even had a codified right to vote in the United States, but he was not in favor of having gays in the military, saying, "I can see how it might be detrimental to morale on board ship," which, for some reason, always made me chuckle and think of the classic SNL skit with Michael Palin as the title character and John Belushi as Captain Ned aboard the Raging Queen in The Adventures of Miles Cowperthwaite ("Now, men, I run a mans' ship. I will run it in a manful and masculine way! I will tolerate no men under my command who act in such a way so as to discredit their manhood and manliness! Do I make myself clear?"). Also, my father, while still an enlisted man, once firmly rebuffed an advance made by an officer while ashore stateside, so I think that weighed on his thinking.

I have wondered about a specific hypothetical, and whether combat is the best place to test the bonds that exist between lovers versus the bonds that exist between warriors. Bear with me here, it's just a thought exercise, and your comments are welcome. Let's say that I am in a Marine infantry platoon with TigerHawk, and we are both gay and enlisted men, and have developed a physical relationship, notwithstanding any non-fraternization rules which exist (hey, it's war, it was a crazy time, things happen, we're both good-looking guys). We are on patrol outside of Kabul, and Cardinalpark is on point. Is it reasonable that he would be worried that TigerHawk and I do not have his back to the extent that we would if we were all heterosexuals -- that is, inherent in any relationship involving physical love, is it natural and instinctive to look out for your partner more than you would for someone else, even if that is your duty? Obviously, this hypothetical is also an argument against having women in combat situations, where Cardinalpark on point might be worried that I would be more concerned about my female significant other. The likely response is that the professionalism and training of the Marines overrides the specific protective instinct of a sexual partner, which I would like to believe, but I am not positive.

Setting aside my hypothetical above for the moment (with apologies to fellow bloggers TigerHawk and Cardinalpark for using them as a props without prior notice), I believe that, with respect to non-combat positions, gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. I realize that distinguishing between combat and non-combat positions is not always a bright line, and that there is both a practical and intellectual inconsistency in that approach. It reflects my muddled current thinking, which I throw open for critique. I do take comfort (borrowing a word used aboard the Raging Queen in the SNL skit linked above) that Uncle Jimbo posted this five years ago:
"If I am lying by the road bleeding, I don't care if the medic coming to save me is gay. I just hope he is one of those buff gay guys who are always in the gym so he can throw me over his shoulder and get me out of there."
Finally, the timing of potential changes to DADT provides an interesting background to the inevitable questions which will arise during the Kagan confirmation hearings, regarding her term as Dean of Harvard Law School and the restrictions on military recruiting on campus. If there are a group of politically conservative Milbloggers who basically now support then-Dean Kagan's position that DADT should be changed, it will tend to undercut the criticism that Senators can make regarding her tenure there.

Fire away.

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