30 December 2006

Falling Down

Although I don't often blog about it, I make it a point to keep abreast of the 9/11 denier community. 9/11 denial has a little bit of everything. It is hilarious, it is sad, it is frustrating and it is infuriating. It reminds me of the limitations of reason and rational argument. It even gives me faith: 9/11 denial has been roundly rejected by Democratic Underground, which can even be the source of excellent rebuttals.

Today, I ran across an especially good example of the complete irrationality and lack of insight that characterize the deniers. The blogger at Humint [sic] Events Online is a no-planer. That means that he knows that no planes were flown into the towers. What he's not sure of is how the towers were brought down. He has narrowed it down to five possibilities:
1. the towers were pre-built with demolitions embedded in them for future re-activation

2. the towers were loaded up internally with essentially conventional explosives

3. the towers were taken out by a few extremely powerful bombs, such as mini-nukes

4. the towers were demolished by some external force, such as a directed energy beam

5. the towers were demolished by a combination of the above
What makes this perfect is his reaction to Saddam's execution:

I'm just saying the conspiracy theories will flourish unless extremely good quality video of the execution is shown.
Because of course conspiracy theories are impossible if an event is captured on live video.

29 December 2006

Worthy Canadian Initiative

Today, we welcome Peter Burnet and his blog Diversely We Sail to our links and to our list of daily reads.

Come Right In

Last Minute Darwin Award Nominee

Hip-Hop Car Stunt Leaves 2 Dead (Garance Burke, AP, 12/29/06)
"Ghost riding the whip" - a stunt in which a driver gets out of his car and dances around and on top of the slowly moving vehicle to a thumping hip-hop beat - has gotten at least two people killed, led to numerous injuries and alarmed police on the West Coast and beyond.
Apparently, the answer to the question, "If the song lyrics told you to jump off a bridge, would you?" is yes.

28 December 2006

A Cautionary Tale

In this December 15 story, the New York Times reported that the head of Morgan Stanley was slated to receive a $40 million bonus for 2006. They didn't report some other numbers of interest: that Morgan Stanley's income had increased 26% to $33 billion, that it reserved nearly $3.5 billion for taxes, that its net income increased by 46% to 7.4 billion, that it spent $14.4 billion on compensation and benefits and that John Mack, its CEO had refused any bonus the year before.

In any event, the Times comment section is now filled with some of the most ignorant commentary on the web, mostly attacking but also supporting Mr. Mack's bonus. Surprisingly, though, the stupidest comment of all is not hard to detect. It jumps right off that page. Less than 90 minutes after the story was posted, "jb" delivered him or herself of this gem:
That’s great! Now he can go out and buy shoes for the maintenance workers’ children. CEO’s should not make more than 10 times the lowest paid worker in their firm!

And we wonder why ten million young muslim men are angry?
This put me in mind of one of my least favorite leftist tactics: that some emergency requires us all to sacrifice by -- what an amazing coincidence -- adopting the preexisting lefty political platform wholesale. (Sometimes we see the right do this, too, but must less often.) This can be seen most clearly when it comes to global warming. To save the planet, we must all sacrifice by nationalizing everything, reducing our population, reducing our economy, etc., etc., etc. Here, the war on terror requires us to limit CEO compensation. It's just happenstance that the left has wanted to do this for decades, anyway.

This is related to the need to believe (as AOG recently noted) that we are in control and our enemies are all ciphers. The Islamists are not committed to our destruction. They're just mad at income inequality. All we need to do is punish some people we hate anyway (CEOs, not murderous barbarians who shoot back) and we can solve this pesky terror problem.

27 December 2006

Why Is There A "Their" They're

Does anyone else find, when on a typing jag, that their mind inserts a random "there," "their" or "they're" regardless of which of the homonyms is actually required?

Well Done, Good And Faithful Servant

Gerald Ford has died. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a better man we have treated worse than President Ford. He agreed to take on an impossible situation and we then blamed him because the situation was impossible. (To get a sense of just how badly he was treated, go see OJ's memorial post.) That's not to say that some of the criticisms aren't well taken. In particular, Gerald Ford was part of the go-along-to-get-along permanent Republican minority in the House and never managed to shake the mind-set. Far outweighing these lapses, though, was his service to the nation in pardoning Richard Nixon and then taking the heat for that decision.

It is clearly true that it was President Ford's fate to be a lacuna. Yesterday, we were talking about how there could not have been a President Reagan without the hideous Jimmy Carter. In turn, there could not have been a President Carter without the loathsome President Nixon. But it didn't matter, much, who filled the gap between Nixon and Carter. It was our luck (more evidence of American exceptionalism) that an obscure congressmen turned out to be a decent man.

We should also note that the general perception of President Ford as a clumsy dunce was ludicrous; the first, and most successful, example of the modern mainstream media convincing us that their perception was reality.

26 December 2006

American Zionism

OJ points us to a fascinating Michael Oren column posted at Opinion Journal setting forth the history of American Zionism, starting in colonial times. Mr. Oren also makes a point that can't be made too often: in this, as in so much else, Jimmy Carter is unlike his predecessors and successors. How such a limited, delusional, hate-filled man became president is beyond me but the fact that we not only survived but thrived (for without President Carter there never could have been a President Reagan) is yet another sign of American exceptionalism.

24 December 2006

Merry Christmas

To those of you who believe in that sort of thing, and to the neo-pagans who don't yet realize that by putting up with the tree and the solstice, the Church will coopt them just as it did their predecessors.

22 December 2006

Misguided, But Not Actually Wrong

An Antifederalist essay, from "Montezuma," published in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer on October 17, 1787

We the Aristocratic party of the United States, lamenting the many inconveniences to which the late confederation subjected the well-born, the better kind of people, bringing them down to the level of the rabble-and holding in utter detestation that frontispiece to every bill of rights, "that all men are born equal"-beg leave (for the purpose of drawing a line between such as we think were ordained to govern, and such as were made to bear the weight of government without having any share in its administration) to submit to our Friends in the first class for their inspection, the following defense of our monarchical, aristocratical democracy.

lst. As a majority of all societies consist of men who (though totally incapable of thinking or acting in governmental matters) are more readily led than driven, we have thought meet to indulge them in something like a democracy in the new constitution, which part we have designated by the popular name of the House of Representatives. But to guard against every possible danger from this lower house, we have subjected every bill they bring forward, to the double negative of our upper house and president. Nor have we allowed the populace the right to elect their representatives annually . . . lest this body should be too much under the influence and control of their constituents, and thereby prove the "weatherboard of our grand edifice, to show the shiftings of every fashionable gale,"-for we have not yet to learn that little else is wanting to aristocratize the most democratical representative than to make him somewhat independent of his political creators. We have taken away that rotation of appointment which has so long perplexed us-that grand engine of popular influence. Every man is eligible into our government from time to time for life. This will have a two-fold good effect. First, it prevents the representatives from mixing with the lower class, and imbibing their foolish sentiments, with which they would have come charged on re-election.

2d. They will from the perpetuality of office be under our eye, and in a short time will think and act like us, independently of popular whims and prejudices. For the assertion "that evil communications corrupt good manners," is not more true than its reverse. We have allowed this house the power to impeach, but we have tenaciously reserved the right to try. We hope gentlemen, you will see the policy of this clause-for what matters it who accuses, if the accused is tried by his friends. In fine, this plebian house will have little power, and that little be rightly shaped by our house of gentlemen, who will have a very extensive influence-from their being chosen out of the genteeler class ... It is true, every third senatorial seat is to be vacated duennually, but two-thirds of this influential body will remain in office, and be ready to direct or (if necessary) bring over to the good old way, the young members, if the old ones should not be returned. And whereas many of our brethren, from a laudable desire to support their rank in life above the commonalty, have not only deranged their finances, but subjected their persons to indecent treatment (as being arrested for debt, etc.) we have framed a privilege clause, by which they may laugh at the fools who trusted them. But we have given out, that this clause was provided, only that the members might be able without interruption, to deliberate on the important business of their country.

We have frequently endeavored to effect in our respective states, the happy discrimination which pervades this system; but finding we could not bring the states into it individually, we have determined ... and have taken pains to leave the legislature of each free and independent state, as they now call themselves, in such a situation that they will eventually be absorbed by our grand continental vortex, or dwindle into petty corporations, and have power over little else than yoaking hogs or determining the width of cart wheels. But (aware that an intention to annihilate state legislatures, would be objected to our favorite scheme) we have made their existence (as a board of electors) necessary to ours. This furnishes us and our advocates with a fine answer to any clamors that may be raised on this subject. We have so interwoven continental and state legislatures that they cannot exist separately; whereas we in truth only leave them the power of electing us, for what can a provincial legislature do when we possess the exclusive regulation of external and internal commerce, excise, duties, imposts, post-offices and roads; when we and we alone, have the power to wage war, make peace, coin money (if we can get bullion) if not, borrow money, organize the militia and call them forth to execute our decrees, and crush insurrections assisted by a noble body of veterans subject to our nod, which we have the power of raising and keeping even in the time of peace. What have we to fear from state legislatures or even from states, when we are armed with such powers, with a president at our head? (A name we thought proper to adopt in conformity to the prejudices of a silly people who are so foolishly fond of a Republican government, that we were obliged to accommodate in names and forms to them, in order more effectually to secure the substance of our proposed plan; but we all know that Cromwell was a King, with the title of Protector). I repeat it, what have we to fear armed with such powers, with a president at our head who is captain- -general of the army, navy and militia of the United States, who can make and unmake treaties, appoint and commission ambassadors and other ministers, who can grant or refuse reprieves or pardons, who can make judges of the supreme and other continental courts-in short, who will be the source, the fountain of honor, profit and power, whose influence like the rays of the sun, will diffuse itself far and wide, will exhale all democratical vapors and break the clouds of popular insurrection? But again gentlemen, our judicial power is a strong work, a masked battery, few people see the guns we can and will ere long play off from it. For the judicial power embraces every question which can arise in law or equity, under this constitution and under the laws of "the United States" (which laws will be, you know, the supreme laws of the land). This power extends to all cases, affecting ambassadors or other public ministers, "and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction; to controversies to which the United States shall be a party; to controversies between two or more States; between a State and citizens of another State; between citizens of different States; between citizens of the same State, claiming lands under grants of different States; and between a State or the citizens thereof, and foreign States, citizens or subjects."

Now, can a question arise in the colonial courts, which the ingenuity or sophistry of an able lawyer may not bring within one or other of the above cases? Certainly not. Then our court will have original or appellate jurisdiction in all cases-and if so, how fallen are state judicatures-and must not every provincial law yield to our supreme flat? Our constitution answers yes. . . . And finally we shall entrench ourselves so as to laugh at the cabals of the commonalty. A few regiments will do at first; it must be spread abroad that they are absolutely necessary to defend the frontiers. Now a regiment and then a legion must be added quietly; by and by a frigate or two must be built, still taking care to intimate that they are essential to the support of our revenue laws and to prevent smuggling. We have said nothing about a bill of rights, for we viewed it as an eternal clog upon our designs, as a lock chain to the wheels of government-though, by the way, as we have not insisted on rotation in our offices, the simile of a wheel is ill. We have for some time considered the freedom of the press as a great evil-it spreads information, and begets a licentiousness in the people which needs the rein more than the spur; besides, a daring printer may expose the plans of government and lessen the consequence of our president and senate-for these and many other reasons we have said nothing with respect to the "right of the people to speak and publish their sentiments" or about their "palladiums of liberty" and such stuff. We do not much like that sturdy privilege of the people-the right to demand the writ of habeas corpus. We have therefore reserved the power of refusing it in cases of rebellion, and you know we are the judges of what is rebellion.... Our friends we find have been assiduous in representing our federal calamities, until at length the people at large-frightened by the gloomy picture on one side, and allured by the prophecies of some of our fanciful and visionary adherents on the other-are ready to accept and confirm our proposed government without the delay or forms of examination--which was the more to be wished, as they are wholly unfit to investigate the principles or pronounce on the merit of so exquisite a system.

Impressed with a conviction that this constitution is calculated to restrain the influence and power of the LOWER CLASS-to draw that discrimination we have so long sought after; to secure to our friends privileges and offices, which were not to be ... [obtained] under the former government, because they were in common; to take the burden of legislation and attendance on public business off the commonalty, who will be much better able thereby to prosecute with effect their private business; to destroy that political thirteen headed monster, the state sovereignties; to check the licentiousness of the people by making it dangerous to speak or publish daring or tumultuary sentiments; to enforce obedience to laws by a strong executive, aided by military pensioners; and finally to promote the public and private interests of the better kind of people-we submit it to your judgment to take such measures for its adoption as you in your wisdom may think fit.

Signed by unanimous order of the lords spiritual and temporal.

21 December 2006

One Good Carol Deserves Another (But All I Could Afford Was This Dreck).

For Brit, Duck and Skipper:

We three Dunnoist bloggers are;
On Christmas we sit at the bar,
Gin and tonic, so ironic,
Rubbishing Jehovah.


O stars of gases, fusion displays,
Stars, a source of gamma rays,
Nowhere leading, us unheeding,
Wholly natural displays.

Born a primate on Africa’s veldt
Born a monkey without a pelt,
Despite endeavor, die forever,
Even in the Bible belt.


Received wisdom I decry,
My own reason I live by.
Prayer and praising, just navel gazing,
Better to worship π.


Religions are all the same to me,
Just an excuse for bigotry,
Hating, lying, killing, dying,
Blinding the bourgeoisie.


Glorious now behold Us rise;
From the muck we’ve made us wise.
Alleluia, Alleluia,
We deserve the Nobel Prize.


19 December 2006

Without The Umbrella, It's Completely Different

David Zucker takes on the Iraq Study Group:

18 December 2006

That's Embarrassing

British Lord Stings Senators Rockefeller and Snowe: 'Uphold Free Speech or Resign' (PRNewswire, 12/18/06)
Lord Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, has sent an open letter to Senators Rockefeller (D-WV) and Snowe (R-Maine) in response to their recent open letter telling the CEO of ExxonMobil to cease funding climate-skeptic scientists. [Lord Monckton's letter is here]...

Concludes Lord Monckton, "I challenge you to withdraw or resign because your letter is the latest in what appears to be an internationally-coordinated series of maladroit and malevolent attempts to silence the voices of scientists and others who have sound grounds, rooted firmly in the peer- reviewed scientific literature, to question what you would have us believe is the unanimous agreement of scientists worldwide that global warming will lead to what you excitedly but unjustifiably call 'disastrous' and 'calamitous' consequences."
It's not quite the Germans advising us on morality, but it's still embarrassing.

My Skepticism Melts Like Snow In December

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data," but it is harder to maintain my anthropogenic global warming skepticism when I'm about to go walk the dog in a tee shirt because its 50 degrees F at 9:30 am on December 18.

On the other hand, trying to convince me that agw is a bad thing is just getting harder and harder.

16 December 2006

Harry Gives Me A Hanukkah Present

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Harry Eagar left this comment:
As long as there are demands to 'put Christ back in Christmas,' it is obvious that Christmas is BOTH religious and non-religious (or irreligious). It's a free country -- take your choice.

I'm an atheist, but I celebrate Christmas. I like the sentiments that have accumulated around it, even if some (though not many) Christians share them.
Harry's comment drew this comment:
Precisely. As one more data point, my wife and I are both atheists, and we very much enjoy our Christmas tree. It was a pagan holiday before it was coopted by Christians, and for us, it retains a great deal of beauty as a celebration of the arrival of winter and of gift giving.
I couldn't have asked for a nicer proof of my thesis that American atheists are functionally Christian.

Thanks, Harry. I'll try to find a story about mean religious people for you.

12 December 2006

That Didn't Last Long

I did want to leave a pointer to this discussion in the Telegraph of what it would take for British Ex-pats to return. I was surprised that so many of those who left appear to be Tories, although that might simply be the Telegraph readership.

Real Life Intrudes

I probably won't be posting here again until Sunday or Monday. Have a Happy Hanukkah, everyone.

10 December 2006

And Swimmers Get Wetter Compared To A Control Group

The New York Times Magazine tells us, in its annual Ideas issue, that women gain wait once they've found a long-term male companion:
For every woman who complains about how messy her new live-in boyfriend is, add a new concern: his effect on her health. Dietitians have found that women tend to gain weight once they move in with male partners. "Living with a male seemed to put pressure on females to consume more of the 'unhealthy' choices," Amelia Lake, a research fellow at the Newcastle University Human Nutrition Research Center in Britain, wrote this year in the journal Complete Nutrition, "while females had a positive influence on the diets of the males."
I don't generally object to scientific studies just because they confirm something that has been obvious for centuries if not millenia. After all, even the most seemingly obvious fact can benefit from careful study and some scientific rigor. The real problem with this study (single women are more careful about their weight) is the explanation: men force unhealthy diets on their mates. Poor women, just putty in the hands of men.

The Divine Science

UN downgrades man's impact on the climate (Richard Gray, Sunday Telegraph, 12/10/06)
Mankind has had less effect on global warming than previously supposed, a United Nations report on climate change will claim next year.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there can be little doubt that humans are responsible for warming the planet, but the organisation has reduced its overall estimate of this effect by 25 per cent.

In a final draft of its fourth assessment report, to be published in February, the panel reports that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has accelerated in the past five years. It also predicts that temperatures will rise by up to 4.5 C during the next 100 years, bringing more frequent heat waves and storms.

The panel, however, has lowered predictions of how much sea levels will rise in comparison with its last report in 2001.

Climate change sceptics are expected to seize on the revised figures as evidence that action to combat global warming is less urgent.

Scientists insist that the lower estimates for sea levels and the human impact on global warming are simply a refinement due to better data on how climate works rather than a reduction in the risk posed by global warming....

The IPCC has been forced to halve its predictions for sea-level rise by 2100, one of the key threats from climate change. It says improved data have reduced the upper estimate from 34 in to 17 in.

It also says that the overall human effect on global warming since the industrial revolution is less than had been thought, due to the unexpected levels of cooling caused by aerosol sprays, which reflect heat from the sun.
New science scares, like any cult, start out with an Apocalypse and end with a whimper, so this was entirely predictable. On the other hand, it warms my soul to know that the direct cause of the current warming has been air pollution laws and anti-CFC laws. None of the warmists, though, will find any relevant lesson there.

08 December 2006

Four Weddings and a Funeral

We watched this movie at home tonight, because we both had fond, albeit vague, memories of it. As it turns out, the movie is dreadful. What were we thinking? In order to find out, I went and looked up Roger Ebert's review of the movie. Ebert liked it, but his description might as well be of some other movie entirely. Ebert always gets something wrong about the movie, writing in the dark apparently not being one of his talents. This time, however, he bollixed up the entire film and ends up reviewing a film that was not made. Oddly, the movie as reviewed would likely not have been any better.

Jeane Kirkpatrick Died Yesterday

From the AP:
Kirkpatrick was known as a blunt and sometimes acerbic advocate for her causes. She remained involved in public issues even though she'd left government service two decades ago. She joined seven other former U.N. ambassadors in 2005 in writing a letter to Congress telling lawmakers that their plan to withhold dues to force reform at the world body was misguided and would "create resentment, build animosity and actually strengthen opponents of reform."
It is hard to explain, today, how important Jeane Kirkpatrick was to the intellectual victory of what is now known as Reaganism. Reagan was dismissed as a fool who offered only simple answers to complex questions; as someone who ignored the truths obvious to the smarter, more subtle professionals. Kirkpatrick hit those people over the head with the truth until they said "Uncle."

The sweetest part of Ronald Reagan's funeral, for those of us who were conservatives in the 80s, was the Democrats' pretense that we were all anti-communists together. What greater victory can there be then when your opponents claim to have been with you all the way? The victory was, in large measure, Jeane Kirkpatrick's doing.

07 December 2006

A Bullet, Dodged

In a new installment of its informal, never-ending series, "Oh, That Wacky Internet," the New York Times investigates the pressure to be witty when declining an evite:
Just last week Carolyn Fitzpatrick, 32, a retired lawyer from Wollaston, Mass., spent 20 minutes drafting a "no" response to an Evite.

"Twenty precious minutes," said Ms. Fitzpatrick, the mother of a 3-month-old and a 2-year-old. "Do you have children? You don’t understand what 20 minutes to yourself is."

So why bother?

"There’s pressure," Ms. Fitzpatrick said. "You’re on stage."

Her Evite reply had to indicate she was glad to have been invited. It had to illustrate she had good reason for not attending. Most of all, it had to be so witty that invitees she did not even know would find themselves wishing she was coming to the party....

And so she wrote: "With a boatload of in-laws in town, I unfortunately will be doing nice nice in my own home when I’d much rather be doing eggnog shooters at yours. Please keep us on the guest list. With luck, I won’t be pregnant, traveling or hosting extended family who hate me next year! (Bah Humbug.)"

Don't You Love It When Jokes Come To Life?

Two Jews were marooned on a desert island. One year later, when they were rescued, the rescuers found three synagogues. They asked one of the Jews why two marooned men needed three synagogues.

"I've got mine, he's got his, and we're both boycotting that son-of-a-bitch on the hill."

Today's New York Times notes that Conservative Judaism has now decided that gay rabbis and commitment ceremonies are legal, and illegal:
The highest legal body in Conservative Judaism, the centrist movement in worldwide Jewry, voted yesterday to allow the ordination of gay rabbis and the celebration of same-sex commitment ceremonies....

But in a reflection of the divisions in the movement, the 25 rabbis on the law committee passed three conflicting legal opinions — one in favor of gay rabbis and unions, and two against.

In doing so, the committee left it up to individual synagogues to decide whether to accept or reject gay rabbis and commitment ceremonies, saying that either course is justified according to Jewish law.
I come down gingerly on the side of allowing gay Rabbis and commitment ceremonies, although I can't even fool myself into thinking that, by doing so, we are following Jewish law. A Rabbi is not like a Priest or even a Minister. He is a teacher of Jewish law, and a guide to living a Jewish life among the goyim, but he does not mediate my relationship with G-d. Whether he is a sinner (and he is, since we all are) is his business, not mine, other than in how it effects my willingness to take his advice.

Commitment ceremonies, on the other hand, are just flummery. If I thought about it too hard I might be bothered by using our most sacred symbols in this way. But the point of the Temple is to promote a Jewish community and identity within the majority culture, which necessarily involves some flummery. Nothing to see here, people, just keep moving.

[I don't know how odd the Committee's action will seem to non-Jews. It is fairly common in conservative Judaism for the prayer books to contain multiple versions of various prayers, from which the Temple's Ritual Committee or the individual congregant can choose. There are, for example, traditional versions and gender-neutral versions. Mostly, I like the gender-neutral versions better]

02 December 2006

From The BrothersJudd Archives: KINGS NEVER HAVE A SECOND INAUGURAL (Via The Corner)

The Left's war on Britishness (Anthony Browne, The Spectator, 7/23/05)
The terrorist attacks of 7 July, as the ludicrous BBC refuses to call them, have raised many questions. We might ask what turned ordinary Muslim youths into mass murderers. Or we might wonder how a religion of peace can inspire people to terrorism across the world.

A more pressing question, however, is: why Britain? Not why was Britain attacked, because the list of countries targeted by Islamist terrorism is growing so fast it will soon be quicker to list those unaffected. But rather: why did Britain become the first country in the developed world to produce its own suicide bombers? Why is Britain just about the only country in the world to have produced suicide bombers who sought to kill not another people but their fellow citizens? Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland were all part of the war on Iraq, and have not produced suicide bombers. The US and Spain had to import their terrorists. For those who think that Muslims in Britain are particularly oppressed and poor, try visiting Muslims in France or Italy. . . .

No, the real answer to why Britain spawned people fuelled with maniacal hate for their country is that Britain hates itself. In hating Britain, these British suicide bombers were as British as a police warning for flying the union flag.

Britain's self-loathing is deep, pervasive and lethally dangerous. We get bombed, and we say it's all our own fault. Schools refuse to teach history that risks making pupils proud, and use it instead as a means of instilling liberal guilt. The government and the BBC gush over 'the other', but recoil at the merest hint of British culture. The only thing we are licensed to be proud of is London's internationalism; in other words, that there is little British left about it.
If a society teaches its children that their own culture is bankrupt, that it is built on lies and the blood of the other, that it is selfish and bloated and corrupt, then how does can it object when those children agree?

Obviously, I'm not talking about Britain.

If you read enough about the 50's and 60's, particularly biographies but also fiction, a shared experience emerges. The radical as a child has a pure love for this country, which he learns in school is good and just; the greatest country in history. He then goes on to college and discovers (either through his own brave exploration or with the help of a brave truth-telling teacher) that in fact nothing he was taught in kindergarten was true and in fact our history is stained with sin from conception. Never the same again, he fights the reactionary forces for control of the country in order to establish true justice. Also, he doesn't want to be killed in Viet Nam.

Becoming a radical because history is more subtle than is presented in kindergarten is easy to mock. To teach, in reaction, that America is tainted, unexceptional and hypocritical is not just wrong, but suicidal. Yet we can't ignore our history. The native peoples were destroyed. Many of the Founders were slaveholders. The Constitution is a pact with the devil. There is a different justice for the rich. We are war-mongers.

The trick is to understand that this does not change the essential truth. The United States is the great achievement of humanity. We are the indispensable nation. We are exceptional, just and true. Our history is everything we are taught in kindergarten, and everything we learn afterwards. The United States is the most human of nations, with everything that implies. We need to face that much of what our enemies say about us is true -- which should make us proud and them nervous.

(Originally posted July 22, 2005)

A Market Kind Of Guy

If you follow the link to Paul Krugman's latest column, you run up against the Times Select firewall. It let's you see only the first line of the column: "The odds are very good that 2007 will be a very tough year." The Times hopes that this taste will get you to sign up for Times Select, but, really, what more do you need? 2007 may well be a tough year; I'm agnostic. But Paul Krugman is like the market: he's predicted 8 of the last 2 recessions, including one for each year George Bush has been in office.

30 November 2006

Foreign Ownership Of US Treasuries

Prompted by this post at Thought-Mesh, I went looking for some information about foreign ownership of US Treasuries. I found this slide show, prepared for the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee. The facts are very interesting, and indicate that there isn't much here to worry about.

Foreigners, both governments and private entities, own a little better than half our outstanding non-intergovernmental federal government debt. As of today, the public debt is $4,920,983,368,955.71, or about $5 trillion. So foreigners own about $2.5 trillion and foreign governments approximately 60% of that, or about about $1.5 trillion. US 2005 GDP was about $12.46 trillion, so foreigners own debt equal to approximately 20% of GDP and foreign governments own debt equal to about 12% of GDP. That doesn't seem problematic to me.

A couple of other facts make it even less problematic. First, foreigners have clearly been crowding out domestic buyers of US debt. As a result, our total cost to service the debt is less than it otherwise would be and there is a currently untapped market for US Treasuries if foreigners, for some reason, decide to stop buying Treasuries. Domestic buyers actually own fewer Treasuries, absolutely, than they did ten years ago.

Second, Treasuries are a decreasing factor in the domestic securities market. Treasuries now account for less than 10% of the total amount of marketable domestic securities. This, too, indicates that the domestic market would be able to sop up any excess Treasuries if foreign governments stopped buying them.

It also seems clear that the point made at Thought-Mesh is questionable. Foreign purchase of US Treasuries can be meaningfully compared to the rates Americans receive for other investments. As noted, foreign purchase of our public debt decreases the interest rates the government has to pay. This saves the tax payers' money and decreases our deficits. Also, assuming that in the absence of foreign purchasers of our public debt the government would fill the gap by either taxation or more domestic borrowing, it is worth noting that the money freed up by foreigners lending us money can be profitably invested by individual Americans.

29 November 2006

I Swear I'm Not Making This Up

Following a long tail from BrothersJudd, I discovered this debate on which would be the better international language: Japanese or Esperanto. As far as I can tell, both sides are dead (morto?) serious.

In The Dictionary Next To "Credulous"

While reading a quite enjoyable article about how global warming, and thus catastrophic depopulation, is already unavoidable, I was stunned to come across this paragraph:
Lovelock adopted the name Gaia, the Greek mother earth goddess, in the 1960s to apply to his then revolutionary theory that the earth functions as a single, self-sustaining organism. His theory is now widely accepted.
His theory is now widely accepted?

Self Referential? You Ain't Never Seen Self-Referential

One of the oddities of having commented so prolifically at BrothersJudd for so long is that, when I'm looking for something in the archives, I'm constantly coming across things I've written of which I have no memory. It's as if someone else wrote them. Sent to the archives by this post at Thought Mesh, I came across this comment thread. I had remembered holing OJ's nutty "broken windows" theory under the waterline, but I hadn't remembered the comment "So we just need to give the invisible hand a rock." That comment just really, really amuses me.

28 November 2006


(originally posted June 5, 2005)

Freakonomics: Monkey Businesss (Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, NY Times, 6/5/05)

But these facts remain: When taught to use money, a group of capuchin monkeys responded quite rationally to simple incentives; responded irrationally to risky gambles; failed to save; stole when they could; used money for food and, on occasion, sex. In other words, they behaved a good bit like the creature that most of Chen's more traditional colleagues study: Homo sapiens.
OJ also comments on this article here.

About 12 years ago, when I was still young and foolish, I decided to give up coffee. I did pretty well for a while, but found that I missed the ritual of coffee drinking. So, for a about a week, I drank mugs of hot water. I was amazed at how much of what I thought of as the coffee drinking experience was actually the hot water drinking experience. I had neither the wit nor the nerve to add Half & Half to my hot water but, if I had, I'm sure that I would have found that at least 90% of coffee drinking is hot water and creamer drinking.

Similarly, we now see that, perhaps, a surprising proportion of what we think of as human economic activity has little to do with humans. The laws of supply and demand really are laws, and are inherent in the economy. This helps us be mindful of what capitalism is, and what it isn't.

Although he didn't coin the word, modern thinking about capitalism is based largely on the work of Marx. Needing a thesis for which socialism could be the antithesis, Marx created "capitalism" just to tear it down. It is no mistake that he focused on the rights of capital, which is often resented by those without capital. But capitalism, as a theory of economic organization, doesn't exist. What exists is freedom.

The monkey experiment, along with the universal experience of mankind, shows that freedom and the protection of reasonable expectations (what we call the "rule of law") are the hot water and creamer of our economic life. If you allow people to control their own property, and they can be certain of reaping the benefits of their own decisions, then the universal rules of the market will express themselves.

The interesting question has to do with what happens when people can't control their own property, or if they must fear the arbitrary loss of the gains they have reaped. The economy becomes inefficient, and the people become miserable. But the laws of the market apply as fully as where the people are free. The "capitalist" economies used to be called market economies; with the implication that, under communism, the people weren't at the mercy of the market. But the market is everywhere. In free economies, the price mechanism works as a signal for the allocation of resources. Where people are not free, the price mechanism is not allowed to work and the market delivers misery: insufficient supply and shoddy quality bought only after standing in long queues. More to the point, freedom, it turns out, is indivisible. The freedom to invest cannot be separated from the freedom to protest. Whenever "capitalism" is attacked, it is attacked only as a proxy for freedom.

I Have Long Thought That The Boston Accent Is The Ugliest Of The American Accents

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: Boston

You definitely have a Boston accent, even if you think you don't. Of course, that doesn't mean you are from the Boston area, you may also be from New Hampshire or Maine.

What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

26 November 2006

It's A Big Internet Out There

You wouldn't think that "DailyDuck" would be ambiguous.

Also, I mean absolutely no disrespect to our Duck when I say that we apparently have lost the DailyDuck sweepstakes.

In Which I Propose An Hypothesis For Empirical Testing

My hypothesis is that cell phone use leads to safer driving.

I base my hypothesis on two threads of thought.

First, the well-known data suggesting that automobile safety devices lead to more reckless driving. The theory here is that drivers seek a more or less constant level of perceived risk to themselves, resulting in more reckless driving as they rely upon new safety devices. The data is pretty solid for both seat belts and air bags. My hypothesis is that drivers perceive themselves to be a greater risk while using their cell phone, and thus drive less recklessly.

Second, Instapundit noted, several months ago, that automobile accident rates had fallen sharply for reasons that were a mystery to insurance companies and regulators. So, there is at least a correlation: an unexplained fall in accidents at a time of increased cell phone use.

(I suppose I should cop to a third thread: I like counterintuitive explanations, and particularly those that make the goo-goos look like idiots.)

As someone noted on the Internet in the last week or so, the most effective possible safety device that could be added to cars is an eight inch spike jutting out from the steering wheel.

MORE: I should note that the NHTSA has just published the early addition of Traffic Safety Facts 2005. The accident rate is down, as are injuries, per one hundred million miles driven. The fatality rate is up slightly, by .02 fatalities per one hundred million miles, but (if I'm reading the report correctly) fatalities among occupants of motor vehicles are down. This is somewhat at odds with my hypothesis, although not enough to falsify it.

23 November 2006

The Caterpillar, Our Closest Relative

Genetic breakthrough that reveals the differences between humans: Scientists hail genetic discovery that will change human understanding (Steve Connor, Independent, 11/23/06)
Scientists have discovered a dramatic variation in the genetic make-up of humans that could lead to a fundamental reappraisal of what causes incurable diseases and could provide a greater understanding of mankind.

The discovery has astonished scientists studying the human genome - the genetic recipe of man. Until now it was believed the variation between people was due largely to differences in the sequences of the individual " letters" of the genome.

It now appears much of the variation is explained instead by people having multiple copies of some key genes that make up the human genome.

Until now it was assumed that the human genome, or "book of life", is largely the same for everyone, save for a few spelling differences in some of the words. Instead, the findings suggest that the book contains entire sentences, paragraphs or even whole pages that are repeated any number of times.

The findings mean that instead of humanity being 99.9 per cent identical, as previously believed, we are at least 10 times more different between one another than once thought - which could explain why some people are prone to serious diseases.

The studies published today have found that instead of having just two copies of each gene - one from each parent - people can carry many copies, but just how many can vary between one person and the next.

The studies suggest variations in the number of copies of genes is normal and healthy. But the scientists also believe many diseases may be triggered by an abnormal loss or gain in the copies of some key genes.

Another implication of the finding is that we are more different to our closest living relative, the chimpanzee, than previously assumed from earlier studies. Instead of being 99 per cent similar, we are more likely to be about 96 per cent similar.

The findings, published simultaneously in three leading science journals by scientists from 13 different research centres in Britain and America, were described as ground-breaking by leading scientists.

"I believe this research will change for ever the field of human genetics," said Professor James Lupski, a world authority on medical genetics at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

Professor Lupski said the findings superseded the basic principles of human genetics that have been built up since the days of Gregor Mendel, the 19th century "father" of Mendelian genetics, and of Jim Watson and Francis Crick, who discovered the DNA double helix in 1953.

"One can no longer consider human traits as resulting primarily from [simple DNA] changes... With all respect to Watson and Crick, many Mendelian and complex traits, as well as sporadic diseases, may indeed result from structural variation of the genome," Professor Lupski said.

Deciphering the three billion letters in the sequence of the human genome was once likened to landing on the Moon. Having now arrived, scientists have found the "lunar landscape" of the genome is very different from what they expected.

Matthew Hurles, one of the project's leaders at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, said the findings show each one of us has a unique pattern of gains and losses of entire sections of our DNA.

"One of the real surprises of these results was just how much of our DNA varies in copy number. We estimate this to be at least 12 per cent of the genome - that has never been shown before," Dr Hurles said.

Scientists have detected variation in the "copy number" of genes in some individuals before but the sheer scale of the variation now being discovered is dramatic.

"The copy number variation that researchers had seen before was simply the tip of the iceberg, while the bulk lay submerged, undetected," Dr Hurles said.

"We now appreciate the immense contribution of this phenomenon to genetic differences between individuals," he said.

The studies involved a detailed and sophisticated analysis of the genomes of 270 people with Asian, African or European ancestry. It was important to include as wide a sample of the human gene pool as possible.

They found that 2,900 genes could vary in the number of copies possessed by the individuals. The genes involved multiple copies of stretches of DNA up to a million letters of the genetic code long.

"We used to think that if you had big changes like this, then they must be involved in disease. But we are showing that we can all have these changes," said Stephen Scherer of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

But it is also becoming apparent that many diseases appear to be influenced by the number of copies of certain key genes, said Charles Lee, another of the project's leaders at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

"Many examples of diseases resulting from changes in copy number are emerging. A recent review lists 17 conditions of the nervous system alone, including Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, that can result from such copy number changes," Professor Lee said.

"Indeed, medical research will benefit enormously from this map, which provides new ways for identifying genes involved in common diseases," he said.

Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, the medical charity that funded much of the research, said: "This important work will help to identify genetic causes of many diseases."

The key questions answered

What have scientists discovered today?

They have found that each of us is more different genetically than we previously believed. Instead of being 99.9 per cent identical, it may turn out to be more like 99 per cent identical - enough of a difference to explain many variations in human traits. Instead of having just two copies of every gene - one from each parent - we have some genes that are multiplied several times. Furthermore these "multiple copy numbers" differ from one person to another, which could explain human physical and even mental variation.

Why does this matter?

One practical benefit is that it could lead to a new understanding of some of the most difficult, incurable diseases. Although it adds an extra layer of complexity to our understanding of the human genome, the discovery could lead eventually to new insights and medical treatments of conditions ranging from childhood disorders to senile dementia. Scientists are predicting for instance that the knowledge could lead to new diagnostic tests for such diseases as cancer.

How was this discovery made?

Scientists have developed sophisticated methods of analysing large segments of DNA over recent years. "In some ways the methods we have used are 'molecular microscopes', which have transformed the techniques used since the foundation of clinical genetics where researchers used microscopes to look for visible deletions and rearrangements in chromosomes," explained Nigel Carter of the Sanger Institute in Cambridge.

What genes are copied many times and why?

There are just under 30,000 genes in the human genome, which consists of about 3 billion "letters" of the DNA code. The scientists found that more than 10 per cent of these genes appear to be multiplied in the 270 people who took part in the study. They do not know why some genes are copied and some are not. One gene, called CCL3L1, which is copied many times in people of African descent, appears to confer resistance to HIV. Another gene involved in making a blood protein is copied many times in people from south-east Asia and seems to help against malaria. Other research has shown that variation in the number of copies of some genes is involved in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

Are there any other practical applications?

The scientists looked at people from three broad racial groups - African, Asian and European. Although there was an underlying similarity in terms of how common it was for genes to be copied, there were enough racial differences to assign every person bar one to their correct ethnic origin. This might help forensic scientists wishing to know more about the race of a suspect.

Who made the discovery and where can we read more about it?

Scientists from 13 research centres were involved, including Britain's Sanger Institute in Cambridge, which also took a lead role in deciphering the human genome. The research is published in Nature, Nature Genetics and Genome Research.

Scientists have discovered a dramatic variation in the genetic make-up of humans that could lead to a fundamental reappraisal of what causes incurable diseases and could provide a greater understanding of mankind.

The discovery has astonished scientists studying the human genome - the genetic recipe of man. Until now it was believed the variation between people was due largely to differences in the sequences of the individual " letters" of the genome.

It now appears much of the variation is explained instead by people having multiple copies of some key genes that make up the human genome.

Until now it was assumed that the human genome, or "book of life", is largely the same for everyone, save for a few spelling differences in some of the words. Instead, the findings suggest that the book contains entire sentences, paragraphs or even whole pages that are repeated any number of times.

The findings mean that instead of humanity being 99.9 per cent identical, as previously believed, we are at least 10 times more different between one another than once thought - which could explain why some people are prone to serious diseases.
It has long been the position of this blog that genetic copying errors, and particularly multiple copies of certain genetic sequences at points that, for reasons still to be discovered, are prone to duplication, play an important unacknowledged role in evolution. Natural selection, not so much.

22 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

A Happy Thanksgiving to all who happen, by mistake we assume, upon this page. May you all -- even those of you who, by accident of birth, are not celebrants -- eat too much, drink too much and spend too much time in the bosoms of your families.

If you would like to do good, too, you might want to look here.

19 November 2006


Israel developing anti-militant "bionic hornet" (Reuters, 11/17/06)
Israel is using nanotechnology to try to create a robot no bigger than a hornet that would be able to chase, photograph and kill its targets, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

The flying robot, nicknamed the "bionic hornet", would be able to navigate its way down narrow alleyways to target otherwise unreachable enemies such as rocket launchers, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth said.

It is one of several weapons being developed by scientists to combat militants, it said. Others include super gloves that would give the user the strength of a "bionic man" and miniature sensors to detect suicide bombers....

Prototypes for the new weapons are expected within three years, he said.
I assume that the Israelis let this information out just to increase their enemy's paranoia.

Follow Up

The local paper follows up on its PS3 story:
Heather Lord of Amherst said the act of reselling the machines for $2,000, $3,000 or more on eBay demonstrates a class divide between those who have thousands of dollars to purchase an item that costs much less and those who don't.

'The industry is manipulating the consumers,' said Lord, who also wasn't early enough to walk away with a console.

The campers at the front of the line saw it differently.

'Finally, the poor are taking advantage of the rich,' said Chris Brodeur, a UMass student who had been waiting in line since Wednesday morning with plans on selling his console.

Those who are paying thousands of dollars over retail may, indeed, be being taken advantage of, said Dan Hsu, editor in chief of Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine, by phone....

Buying a brand-new system at launch can also be frustrating for consumers due to the lack of strong titles available right away, with only one game title, 'Resistance: Fall of Man' being a standout.

'Do you want to pay $600 to play one game?' Hsu asked.
Anyone want to take another shot at why Sony left tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on the table?

18 November 2006

In Which I Am Forced To Notice Darwinism

I've been keeping the blog clear of Darwin, mostly because I just don't care. But this really is the stupidest thing I've seen yet on the subject:
Darwin got it right - it's survival of the fastest (Lewis Smith, timesonline.co.uk, 11/17/06)

THERE’S nothing like the threat of being eaten to make an animal evolve in double-quick time, a study of lizards has shown.

Twice within a year the brown arole lizard has evolved changes in its body and behaviour to outwit a predator — confirming Charles Darwin’s theory on natural selection.

Changes in limb length were observed by biologists after they introduced a predator, the northern curly-tailed lizard, to islands off the Bahamas where the brown arole is found.

In the first six months the brown arole, Anolis sagrie, developed longer legs so that it could outrun its predator, Leiocephalus carinatus.

Over the second six-month period the arole changed its behaviour so that it spent far less time on the ground and longer on branches and plant stems.

After a year the surviving aroles had much shorter, stumpier legs that were more suited to clinging on to thin branches. "We showed that selection dramatically changed direction over a short time, within a single generation," the researchers reported in the journal Science.

In Which I Propose A New Metaphor

I like metaphors and am always on the look-out for new ones. In that spirit, I'd like to propose a new metaphor for the unemployment dislocation caused by creative destruction, globalization and technological advances. My metaphor is the car cigarette lighter.

There were a couple years there when the future of the car cigarette lighter looked bleak. Changing fashion (and that pesky link to cancer) were quickly reducing the number of smokers in the US. Cars were recognized as particularly bad places to smoke: there were other passengers to consider; those other passengers are often children; and people suddenly realized that maybe holding burning leaves while driving wasn't the best idea anyone had ever had, particularly as your hands had to be free to eat lunch. It seems obvious that the familiar cigarette lighter was doomed.

And then along came the cell phone, the iPod, the navigation system, the DVD player, the car fax, the car air pump, the hand held video game and, of course, the hot cold personal car fridge. Suddenly, the problem is too few cigarette lighters.

What If The World Changed?

Glenn Reynolds points us to the following, which is either a cold fusion level con or world changing:
Israel to produce synthetic oil from low quality shale at $17 a barrel (Leah Krauss, UPI, 11/7/06)

The Israeli process for producing energy from oil shale will cut its oil imports by one-third, and will serve as a guide for other countries with oil shale deposits, according to one company....

Oil shale is limestone rock that contains hydrocarbons, or fossil fuels -- about 20 percent of the amount of energy found in coal. Using the rock as a raw material and coating it with bitumen, a residue of the crude oil refining process, the company can produce natural gas, fuel, electricity, or a combination of the three.
I have to suspect that there's something shady about it -- news like this should be on the front pages in Second Coming type (hey, maybe this is how the media would cover the Messiah coming) -- but we'll know in a few short years.

17 November 2006

Everyone Agrees They Should Charge More

WalMart has issued the following press release:
Former Senator John Edwards Turns to Wal-Mart for PlayStation3

Just like the millions of Americans who turn to their neighborhood Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) for their holiday shopping needs, Wal-Mart announced today that former Sen. John Edwards is seeking to be one of the first to get a Sony PlayStation3, one of the most coveted holiday gift items this Christmas season.

Yesterday, a staff person for former Sen. Edwards contacted a Wal-Mart electronics manager in Raleigh, North Carolina to obtain a Sony PlayStation3 on behalf of the Senator's family. Later that night, Sen. Edwards reportedly re-told a homespun story to participants of a United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union-sponsored call about how his son had chided a fellow student for purchasing shoes at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart welcomes Sen. Edwards to visit his local Wal-Mart store and explore the extensive line of home electronics as well as the Metro7 line shoes for men and boys.

The Company noted the PlayStation3 is an extremely popular item this Christmas season, and while the rest of America's working families are waiting patiently in line, Senator Edwards wants to cut to the front. While, we cannot guarantee that Sen. Edwards will be among one of the first to obtain a PlayStation3, we are certain Sen. Edwards will be able to find great gifts for everyone on his Christmas list - many at Wal-Mart's "roll-back prices."
Best of the Web notes that Senator Edwards blames this on a overeager young volunteer who apparently didn't know of the Senator's strict policy against doing business with the anti-Christ.

Blame Brit


Lileks writes about skipping today. I don't skip very often; actually, I haven't skipped in a while. (I think I'll try it when I go walk the dog today. I'm sure it will freak him out.) Whenever I do skip, I'm always amazed at the ground I cover for what seems like a surprisingly small energy output. Skipping is all about inertia. Why isn't skipping a socially acceptable way of getting around?

Anyway, my gift to you all today is the mental picture of an fat 44 year old skipping while walking his dog.

16 November 2006

One Of Life's Enduring Mysteries

With the coming of the new PS3, the local paper runs a staple of "Ha, ha, look at the funny people" journalism:
But for the UMass students who have begun camping out on the sidewalk in front of Best Buy at the Hampshire Mall in Hadley, the highly touted next-generation game machine that also plays high-definition movies isn't primarily about movies or games.

It's an investment.

For $600 plus tax and two days of waiting, the enterprising young men and women waiting in front of the store plan to reap at least $1,400 in profit when they resell the machines between now and the holidays.

As of Wednesday afternoon, on eBay, PS3s were being sold for as much as $3,000, two days before they hit store shelves.
In fact, this is one of life's little enduring mysteries.

Sony, like Microsoft and Nintendo, underprices the first run of its new gaming system by thousands of dollars. They leave hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars on the table. Nor is this unexpected. It is as predictable as the tide.

While it is easy to come up with possible explanations, it is difficult to come up with an explanation that can explain walking away from massive revenues that would fall directly to the bottom line. To put this in context, Sony's 2006 net income was a little better than $1 billion. Estimates of how many games systems Sony will sell this year vary widely, but 500,000 seems to be a good conservative estimate. If Sony could realize just an additional $500 per system sold this year, that would be an extra $250 million in profit.

So why is Sony walking away from an amount equal to nearly a quarter of its profit for the whole of last year? What ever the reason is, it's got to be better than having at least $250 million in Sony's pocket now.

So what are the possible explanations? Sony doesn't want to appear greedy. Is there anyone over 12 to whom this explanation applies? If this is really a worry, lead with the PS3 Premiere Addition. Throw in accessories that cost you $50 to make and include a gold-plated case. Sony is still ahead of the game.

The want to get the system into the hands of persuasive early adopters. This makes no sense at all. Identify the 1000 most persuasive players and give them systems. Sony would still be ahead of the game; it would hardly even notice that cost. Also, note that the current arrangement doesn't work that way. The systems are being snapped up by arbitrageurs, not by players.

15 November 2006

Least Likely To Attack The New York Times

Upon review, I see that this is cryptic even by my standards. The key to understanding this post is that the New York Times Company has two different classes of common stock. One publicly available and one owned by the Sulzberger family. All of the power over the corporation is locked into the stock owned by the Sulzbergers to ensure that they remain in control. The company is currently being run by Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., known as "Pinch" to his friends, of whom he has many, I'm sure. Although there are a lot of unhappy public shareholders, the best they can hope for is that the combination of bad financial results (which hits the Sulzbergers where it hurts) and public outcry forces the family to replace him with one of his cousins.

A mutual friend points me to this article in OpinionJournal about my good friend and college roommate:
[I]t's hard to resist the urge to cheer on Hassan Elmasry. He's the mutual fund manager who last spring organized 28% of the shares to withhold their votes from Times directors at the company's annual meeting and last week proposed to put before the next annual meeting the question of whether to end the special voting rights that allow the Sulzberger family to control the company while owning less than 5% of the shares.

Mr. Elmasry is a fund manager associated with Morgan Stanley's Van Kampen outfit, but he's based in London and began his campaign long before the Mack allegations emerged (so forget the idea that his motive is anything but to rescue his fund's long investment in the New York Times Co.). The selling point of his fund is its disciplined focus on buying a handful of companies (no more than 40) with unique franchises, holding them for the long term and watching them carefully. The New York Times Co. has been in his portfolio for a decade.

This hasn't stopped the usual kibitzers from suggesting that his Times campaign is just a "typical" Wall Street effort to squeeze out short-term profits at the expense of journalism. But Mr. Elmasry actually has a record of taking a dim view of companies that don't protect and burnish the long-term franchises that attracted him to invest in the first place. Thus when he writes to Times shareholders that the company's voting-rights rules are "eroding the foundations of the enterprise which they were created to protect," it's worth considering, in light of all the accidents the Times has inflicted on itself lately, whether he might be right.
I assume that no one will be amazed that my college friends at the University of Chicago tended to be rightwing or libertarian, but Hassan has always been a liberal
Democrat and moves farther left as he grows richer. He hates George Bush, that American Fuhrer. Nonetheless, he is a good guy and good American and a good human being -- and a very good fund manager. I could wish the Sulzbergers no better enemy.

Nonetheless, I don't expect much in the way of success. (I've never discussed this with Hassan, so none of this represents his views.) The Sulzbergers run the Times for the good of the Sulzbergers. The hold on the corporation is firm and I don't see the mechanism through which the public shareholders can leverage themselves into a position of power. There hope would seem to be to either shame the Sulzbergers into giving up total control or waiting until the paper is in such dire straits that they have no choice. By that time, the brand will not be worth anything.

12 November 2006

You Go To War With The Senate You Have

It is now clear that the Republicans lost the House some months ago and they arguably managed to limit the damage. (On the other hand, the failure of the New Hampshire Republican incumbents to recognize the danger and run as if it were their last campaign calls even that conclusion into question.) But losing the Senate was a purely self-inflicted wound, brought to us thanks to the stupidest fringes of the Stupid Party; the people for whom National Review Online purports to speak. A little accommodation and we could easily have squeezed one more Senator out of the electorate.

How ever we got here, here we are. Fortunately, on the two most important questions likely to be decided by the Senate, conservatives have been more fortunate than we deserve. The Democrats have 51 Senators, but do not have a majority on either of the big two issue: the war in Iraq and Supreme Court Justices.

The war in Iraq is in the capable hands of Joe Lieberman. Senator Lieberman has asked to be identified as an "Independent Democrat" and, if that were not enough to give Harry Reid nightmares, has already suggested that he could possibly caucus with the Republicans. Lieberman is a liberal, he could never join the Republicans on, for example, confirming a real conservative to the Supreme Court, but he is absolutely trustworthy on the war. If he would going to cut and run, he would already have done so. Because he can, simply by abstaining, bring the entire Democratic Senate tumbling down, Lieberman owns any issue he cares about, and he cares about the war.

The fate of any Supreme Court nominations are less clear, but there is good reason to hope that a real conservative can be confirmed. Every Democratic Senator makes the difference here, but let's focus on James Webb. Webb is an odd duck on the Democratic side. He is more conservative than a number of Republicans. The President will have to worry more about satisfying Olympia Snowe than James Webb. I am assuming, however, that when it comes to the Supreme Court, the Democrats won't dare to either filibuster or lock up in committee an acceptable conservative nominee.

10 November 2006

A Little On The Nose For An English Eccentric, Innit.

Apparently, England is about to drag us into an intergalactic war.

'Aliens could attack at any time' warns former MoD chief:
UFO sightings and alien visitors tend to be solely the reserve of sci-fi movies.

So when a former MoD chief warns that the country could be attacked by extraterrestrials at any time, you may be forgiven for feeling a little alarmed.

09 November 2006

Well, That's Convincing

This profile wants to convince us that Nancy Pelosi and San Franciscans generally are just Mom and Pop (or Pop and Pop) America and not at all loopy moonbats. It doesn't necessarily succeed.
More recently, the San Francisco area's embrace of gay marriage, medical marijuana and the anti-war movement reinforced the city's image as a loopy place out of sync with the rest of America.

That's ironic, said Richard DeLeon, professor emeritus of political science at San Francisco State University.

'The values of the American creed - individuality, liberty, free speech, democracy and at least the aspiration of equality - can be expressed and experienced in San Francisco to an extent that's hard to find elsewhere,' said DeLeon, who first came here during the 1967 Summer of Love. 'San Francisco isn't un-American. America has become less American, with a retreat from civil liberties and, in the White House, suppressive policies and pre-emptive war.'
I know that the Left learned everything they need to know in Kindergarten, but in every argument do they have to go straight to "I know you are, but what am I?"

I'm Very Humerous, Whenever I Make You Laugh

The Corner points to a series of nice statements about Robert Gates from Democrats. I like this one:
Bobby R. Inman, Former CIA Deputy Director And National Security Agency Director: Gates is a "good listener" who, "after he makes up his mind, is very decisive." (Scott Shane, "Robert Gates, A Cautious Player From A Past Bush Team," The New York Times, 11/9/06)

The Presidency Is Still Relevant

In 1994, after the Republicans took the House, pundits started to write Bill Clinton's political obituary. He was powerless, he was irrelevant, he would be out the door in two short years. In fact, a popular Bill Clinton won an easy re-election victory over Bob Dole.

History doesn't repeat itself, but it does have a tendency to rhyme. The Democrats won and they'll get a little bit of time to bask in the glory of that win. The assumption will be that they will get their way on every little thing and the Bush Era is over. But George Bush is not a moron, nor is he a bad politician. If he can't run for re-election, then he also doesn't have to worry as much as Clinton did about finding a productive relationship with the new Congress. Bill Clinton whined when he said it, but it is still true: the Presidency is still relevant.

08 November 2006

This, Too, Shall Pass

A bad night for the Republican Party and a bad night for conservatives, but the Union continues to be strong. We shouldn't be too depressed: our enemies will rejoice, but they're foreigners and who cares what they think; two years will go by quickly and then we get to go again; and the nation has survived worse than Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. They are not the enemy; they are not even folk enemies. I've never seen either wear their baseball cap sideways.

We shouldn't be too optimistic: the nation is sick of the war in Iraq and that's not good; the next two years will probably see one or two Supreme Court resignations and this Senate will not give us a good conservative Justice; and while there may be more Blue Dog Democrats in the House, they're all going to vote to empower Pelosi, and Conyers, and Rangel. The House will hang the Administration up in committee for the next two years. That they might well overplay their hand won't change the fact that the administration will be distracted and disrupted for two years.

Still, everyone's looking for the silver lining (you can barely hear for all the whistling past the graveyard in the Corner) and here's mine: once again, anti-immigrationism proves to be perfectly irrelevant in American politics.

07 November 2006

A Hat Tip To OJ

OJ says "voting is fun" better than I did:
All too many people will vote today with a mad on, when it should instead be a joyous occasion. After all, we are about to elect the 110th Congress of the United States of America, a representative legislature that has served without interruption for longer than any other in the history of human affairs. If it sometimes seems less an august body than an Augean stable, it has nonetheless served us remarkably well, regardless of which party was in power and irrespective of peace, war, plenty or poverty. Sure, each of us imagines that if we had absolute personal power we could make it run more efficiently and accomplish greater things, but each of us would run it differently and seek to do different things, which is why we have it in the first place. That's why, while there's never a bad time, this is an especially good time to recall the words of Eric Hoffer, that most American of creatures, a longshoreman who's one of the few significant philosophers of the 20th century:
Free men are aware of the imperfection inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, etc. are far from absolute, and that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestation of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance, and equity.
So, when you head over to your local school or wherever you happen to vote, don't just trudge dutifully past the gaggle of folks with signs and the candidates hoping to shake your hand or the pollster begging you to answer a few questions. Soak it all in and enjoy it.

Election Day is one big pageant and you are just as much a part of it as every single one of your fellow citizens. Today should be as fun as your favorite holiday, with that same touch of solemnity for leavening. Feel a bit sorry for the folks who voted by mail, who won't get to take their full part in the civil ceremony. Pity the folks who choose not to vote at all, who do not even grasp the great gift our forbears have handed us. And shed a discrete tear for the many in other lands who either don't get to choose their leaders or whose choices make the blood run cold.

You will naturally prefer your candidate, Mr. Smith, to his opponent, Mr. Jones, but in just about every other country on Earth, in nearly every other year of human existence, government by 500 Mr. Joneses would be the best that nation had ever experienced. Despite working on two losing campaigns, the one election that I recall least fondly was 1992. We were living in Chicago and, despite my vote, Bill Clinton carried Illinois, Carol Mosely-Braun was elected to the Senate, and Dan Rostenkowski was returned to the House. But, you know what, the Republic didn't skip a beat. The simple truth, which both parties would rather we lose track of at election time, is that America has, and has generally had, a broad enough consensus on the things that matter that whoever wins today is unlikely to mess things up too badly and whoever wins isn't going to rock the ship of state overmuch. And, best of all, in just two years we get to do it all over again....
Go vote. Think of how much more others have paid to vote. Think of how much more you would pay, if you had to. Most of all: Enjoy it.

An Educated Voter Is A Democrat's Nightmare

Instapundit, Captain Ed and a bunch of other bloggers are having fun with Michael Kinsley's Michael Kinsley's latest WaPo op-ed noting that the Democrat plan for Iraq is defeat.
Older readers may recognize this formula. It's Vietnamization -- the Nixon-Kissinger plan for extracting us from a previous mistake. But Vietnamization was not a plan for victory. It was a plan for what was called 'peace with honor' and is now known as 'defeat.'
But I haven't seen any focus on the truly astonishing Kinsleyesque gaffe: when Kinsley points to Nancy Pelosi's election manifesto, but says "By all means read it. But do me a favor and vote first."

In other words, elect the Democrats despite their awful tax and spend plans, despite their disingenuousness and despite their plan to lose the Iraq war. I think of myself as partisan, but I'm a piker. That's real partisanship.

06 November 2006

Economists Don't Get That Voting Is Like Gambling, Which They Also Don't Get

The Economist's new Democracy in America blog notes that "Economists tend to agree that voting is irrational act; the odds of one's vote affecting the outcome are tiny. What, then, does this suggest about the thought processes of those who vote?" One of my professors doesn't vote because his chance of being killed on the way to vote was greater than his chance of effecting the election. (This was, though, well before the 2000 election, in which George Bush won the presidency because 500 people decided to risk their lives by voting.) In other countries, people run much greater risks to vote. Why?

Voting is, in this way, reminiscent of gambling. In gambling, we trade present value (the bet) for a lower expected value (the payoff). The odds favor the House, but we still bet. We even bet in state lotteries, in which the payoffs are ludicrously small. Gambling is particularly puzzling given the people are, otherwise, quite risk averse. Ordinarily, we don't trade present value for an expected value unless the expected value is either very safe, or very much higher than the present value.

With gambling, the answer is pretty obvious. Gambling is entertainment, and the House's cut is the amount we pay for the being entertained. We like our hearts to pound and a cold sweat on the back of our necks. We like to back our teams with our money. We will pay for that experience. It seems likely that the answer to why we vote is similar. The entire experience of voting is a benefit, not a cost. There is something of a sense of risk, there are important issues at stake, we can help our team -- and we also get to act as part of the community. They could charge us admission, and we'd still do it.
I see that over at the Volokh conspiracy, they are also discussing whether voting is pleasurable. They seem to be missing the extent to which the act of voting is fun. I go to the neighborhood school, I invariably see some friends manning the bake sale, I get into line and see the ward workers, who I only see every other year, I fill out my little dots and feed the ballot through the counting machine. I never have to wait very long, I get a little thrill from grabbing hold of the passed democratic torch and I can walk out having done my citizenly duty. What's not to enjoy.

05 November 2006

Useless Choices '06

The last curse of the Progressive Movement (the real one, not the ersatz "Progressivism" adopted by the socialists after they made "liberal" political poison) is the citizens initiative. As a Massachusetts conservative, I don't get much of a choice in choosing politicians. This year, however, I get to make the following decisions:
1. Should cities and towns be allowed to license food stores to sell wine?

2. Should candidates be able to run as the nominee of two or more parties, with their votes accumulated to determine the winner?

3. Should licensed child care givers be allowed to bargain collectively with the state subsidized child care program.

4. Should my state representative "be instructed to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon the President and Congress of the United States to end the war in Iraq immediately and bring all United States military forces home from Iraq?"

5. Should my state representative vote to petition Congress to amend the Constitution to provide Senators and Representatives for the District of Columbia?
Four and five are easy. Even if I weren't a war-mongering conservative, I would reject the idea of voting as symbolic gesture. Two easy nos.

Two is fine. One yes.

The other two are a little harder. On three, I'll probably vote no on the principle that no one should be able to collectively bargain for the state. My hesitation is based on a less creditable instinct: the state should have to suffer as it makes its citizens suffer. Amusingly, this initiative is opposed by the goo-goos, who usually scream at any attempt to stop unionization, because greater compensation for care-givers not matched by an increase in the total appropriation for childcare will decrease the availability of subsidized childcare in the Commonwealth.

Number one is the hardest decision for me. I'm sufficiently libertarian that I think that more freedom is better and people should be able to enter any legal business without interference. On the other hand, I'm conservative enough to regret the easier and less expensive availability of alcohol. Wine is less worrisome than either beer or liquor, but that is why wine was chosen. In a few years, barring disaster, they'll be back for beer.

You Call That Reforming The Military? I'll Show You Reforming The Military

The Army Times (and its sister trade journals for the armed forces) are running an editorial calling for Donald Rumsfeld to go:
Time for Rumsfeld to go

“So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion ... it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth.”

That statement was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Marguerite Higgins more than a half-century ago during the Korean War.

But until recently, the “hard bruising” truth about the Iraq war has been difficult to come by from leaders in Washington.

One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “mission accomplished,” the insurgency is “in its last throes,” and “back off,” we know what we’re doing, are a few choice examples.

Military leaders generally toed the line, although a few retired generals eventually spoke out from the safety of the sidelines, inciting criticism equally from anti-war types, who thought they should have spoken out while still in uniform, and pro-war foes, who thought the generals should have kept their critiques behind closed doors.

Now, however, a new chorus of criticism is beginning to resonate. Active-duty military leaders are starting to voice misgivings about the war’s planning, execution and dimming prospects for success.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee in September: “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it ... and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.”

Last week, someone leaked to The New York Times a Central Command briefing slide showing an assessment that the civil conflict in Iraq now borders on “critical” and has been sliding toward “chaos” for most of the past year. The strategy in Iraq has been to train an Iraqi army and police force that could gradually take over for U.S. troops in providing for the security of their new government and their nation.

But despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.

For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don’t show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves.

Meanwhile, colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops. Service chiefs have asked for more money.

And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.

Now, the president says he’ll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake. It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers’ deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go.
I have only a couple of points to make about the editorial. The first, and there has been some confusion on this point, is that the various Army/Navy etc. Times newspapers are not affiliated with the Defense Department or the US government. They're owned by Gannett, and thus are sister publications to USA Today. They are written by journalists, not soldiers, though some of the journalists used to be soldiers.

My second point is that the editorial's arguments are weak. They boil down to "We haven't won yet, and the Administration said we would win." Many of the statements the editorial makes, like "Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership" or "colonels and generals have asked their bosses for more troops," are not supported by the facts supplied. In any event, as long time readers know, I firmly reject the "more troops" position. It wouldn't have helped before and it certainly wouldn't help now. The only solution now is for an Iraqi government (or three) to stand up and bring peace. (If Iraq were broken up, either de jure or just de facto, two of three parts would probably have peace, more or less, from day one.)

My concern at this point -- and it has little to do with Rumsfeld or the Iraqi war -- is that the remaking of the military Rumsfeld has been pushing, while attacked as extreme, has been so moderate. It has been almost 60 years since a real shake up of the Pentagon, and another is past due. Here are five ideas for really shaking up the military.

First, and with all due respect for Colonel Guinn, we need to abolish the Air Force. Air power is just artillery writ large, and it should be part of the Army. Pilots should have to serve with infantry units for promotion to field grade. Both the US and Israel have been ill-served by having Air Force officers at the top of their general staffs. It is time to return the infantry to the center of our military thought. Similarly, Marine aviation should be turned over to the Navy, but Naval Officers should have to put in a tour with the Marines just as Army pilots will have to serve with the infantry.

Second, there should be a professional General Staff separate from the Army and Navy. Officers should be seconded to the General Staff for tours of duty, during which they should wear uniforms distinct from their branch of service. The Chairman of the General Staff should always have a CIB.

Third, the Quartermasters for all the services should be centralized into a single corps, and perhaps privatized.

Fourth, all special forces should be incorporated into a single centralized command.

Fifth, we should engage in a thorough review of foreign bases with the presumption that they should all be abandoned. Only a clearly positive cost-benefit should be allowed to save any foreign base. US troops should not be kept in an area as a "trip-wire" so that when they are wiped out, we will be forced to respond.

As a bonus, and only because I am a conservative, I'd love to rename the Defense Department the War Department.

03 November 2006

Some Spam Is More Delicious Than Other Spam

From an email I received today:
Ooops, I forgot I said that!

"One way or the other, we are determined to deny Iraq the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. That is our bottom line."
-President Clinton, Feb. 4, 1998

"If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program."
-President Clinton, Feb. 17, 1998

"Iraq is a long way from [here], but what happens there matters a great deal here. For the risks that the leaders of a rogue state will use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against us or our allies is the greatest security threat we face."
-Madeline Albright, Feb 18, 1998

"He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he has ten time since 1983."
-Sandy Berger, Clinton National Security Adviser, Feb, 18,1998

"[WE] urge you, after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs."
-Letter to President Clinton, signed by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI), Tom Daschle (D-SD), John Kerry( D - MA), and others Oct. 9,1998

"Saddam Hussein has been engaged in the development of weapons of mass destruction technology which is a threat to countries in the region and he has made a mockery of the weapons inspection process."
-Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, CA), Dec. 16, 1998

"Hussein has ... chosen to spend his money on building weapons of mass destruction and palaces for his cronies."
-Madeline Albright, Clinton Secretary of State, Nov. 10, 1999

"There is no doubt that . Saddam Hussein has invigorated his weapons programs. Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War status. In addition, Saddam continues to redefine delivery systems and is doubtless using the cover of a licit missile program to develop longer-range missiles that will threaten the United States and our allies."
-Letter to President Bush, Signed by Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL,) and others, December 5, 2001

"We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandated of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them."
-Sen. Carl Levin (D, MI), Sept. 19, 2002

"We know that he has stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country."
-Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power."
-Al Gore, Sept. 23, 2002

"We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction."
-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D, MA), Sept. 27, 2002

"The last UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in October of 1998. We are confident that Saddam Hussein retains some stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he has since embarked on a crash course to build up his chemical and biological warfare capabilities. Intelligence reports indicate that he is seeking nuclear weapons..."
-Sen. Robert Byrd (D, WV), Oct. 3, 2002

"I will be voting to give the President of the United States the authority to use force-- if necessary-- to disarm Saddam Hussein because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a real and grave threat to our security." - -Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Oct. 9,2002

"There is unmistakable evidence that Saddam Hussein is working aggressively to develop nuclear weapons and will likely have nuclear weapons within the next five years . We also should remember we have always underestimated the progress Saddam has made in development of weapons of mass destruction."
-Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D, WV), Oct 10, 2002

"He has systematically violated, over the course of the past 11 years, every significant UN resolution that has demanded that he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons, and any nuclear capacity. This he has refused to do"
-Rep. Henry Waxman (D, CA), Oct. 10, 2002

"In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.. It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons."
-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D, NY), Oct 10, 2002

"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction."
-Sen. Bob Graham (D, FL), Dec. 8, 2002

"Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime .. He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation ... And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction ... So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real"
-Sen. John F. Kerry (D, MA), Jan. 23. 2003
If only I could tell you who I received it from...