Saturday, August 30, 2008

the devalued dollar and the price of oil and gas

Thanks to "" (hat tip: Duncan Adams)...

Dobson endorses McCain: sliding down a slippery slope toward Pat Robertson?

A Dennis Prager interview with Dr. James Dobson-- turned into a essay-- brings us the news that Dobson has reversed his decision/commitment and will now endorse McCain.

Not only does Dobson have a political worldview that is inconsistent with Scripture. He has often said awkward things within the political realm (for reasons related [or not] to his deficient worldview).

Now, with his very public reversal on McCain, he seems to be drifting into sad and more dangerous territory-- the sort occupied most notably by Pat Robertson's pronouncements about prophecy, natural disasters and foreign affairs.

I pray that Dobson will soberly reflect on his public/political face-- so that it does not damage God's Kingdom or violate the 3rd Commandment...

Palin, "inexperience", and how to look like a donkey in criticizing hers

In emailing a friend yesterday-- who was excited about the selection of Gov. Palin-- I added that her "inexperience" was actually an asset.

We've already seen evidence of this in the first 24 hours...

(Full disclosure: I'm not a Republican but am relatively excited about Gov. Palin as a choice-- and in fact, I can't imagine a better one that was on McCain's radar. Moreover, as a political observer, I think it is a brilliant pick.)

On her experience: as a former mayor and current governor, she has more executive experience in government than the other three combined. Failure to understand the practical importance of this shows an ignorance of what executives do.

But here's where her experience is important in terms of rhetoric.

First, if one thinks this is a big deal, then one must have the same critique about Obama. This is where I think her experience is an asset. If you raise the point, you look like an idiot. And if you don't raise it, people are thinking about it even moreso, and so it diminishes Obama further.

Moreover, to the extent that this is a concern, a Biden-Obama ticket makes more sense than a Obama-Biden ticket.

Despite these two relatively obvious points, we've already seen people stumble into the trap-- e.g., the editorialists in this morning's C-J...

Governor Who?

Not necessarily a bad title, but insulting in light of what follows...

Count us among those who are baffled by the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to run for vice president.

Sen. John McCain celebrated his 72nd birthday yesterday and is a cancer survivor. The most important factor in selecting a vice presidential candidate is fitness to assume the presidency -- a more pressing concern than usual in Sen. McCain's case.

And so he opens the envelope yesterday and announces that the winner is -- a small-state governor with about a year and a half in office?... is insulting to women to suggest that Gov. Palin's experience and vision are remotely equivalent to Sen. Clinton's....

But Gov. Palin's selection occurred at a time when the country faces severe challenges at home and abroad. Let's hope that Sen. McCain is taking all of this seriously.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

oh so true...

We haven't been there for a year or so, but Dave Coverley hits the proverbial nail on its proverbial head in today's Speed Bump...

Friday, August 22, 2008


From a letter in today's News-Tribune...

Reader got bad impression of Hill

There are several things I expect of a Congressman, especially one who represents me. I want him to tell the truth, but realistically, don’t expect him to. I expect him to dress the part. That’s easy. Most of them like $500 suits. But the big item I demand is respect for constituents.

Baron Hill was insulting and offensive to several people during his presentation to a group on Aug. 15 in Sellersburg. Hill left the podium area twice to silence audience members who disagreed or questioned his statements. Additionally, he listened to questions from audience members and then said he would not answer them or simply turned away without comment and took another question.

One young man asked about programs providing new technology to protect troops in combat and was told to see Hill after the program rather than giving any answer during the Question/Answer session. Not surprisingly, this sizable group gave only a few seconds of light applause when he concluded his presentation.

Hill has made it clear that he wants his job back this Fall. If he treats a well-educated, polite audience rudely, I wonder what impression he leaves of us when he’s in Washington. Perhaps the choice this Fall should be between Mike Sodrel and Eric Schansberg.

— Denise Canaday, Georgetown

union chafes USPS workers

From a blurb in World about letter carrier Dean Peterson who is...

on a campaign to make the classic fashion for male Scots—the kilt—a uniform option for Postal Service employees. "In one word, it's comfort," Peterson told the Associated Press. The letter carrier, who weighs in at 250 pounds, says slacks chafe against his thighs. Last month at his union's convention he made the case for the kilt option: "Please open your hearts—and inseams—for an option in mail carrier comfort!" But the union decided against a kilt resolution...

6.6 degrees of separation

According to Microsoft, as reported in a blurb in World

After studying 30 billion computer instant message conversations among 180 million people, Microsoft found just 6.6 degrees of separation between any two users of its Microsoft Messenger instant message program. In essence, any two random people in the Microsoft survey were separated by a string of just 6.6 acquaintances on average....

Thursday, August 21, 2008

where's the (Chinese) wealth redistribution at the Olympics

The Onion strikes again...

This is funny in its own right-- but funnier still when you consider China's supposed economic system...

Chinese Olympic officials say they are no closer to catching the swashbuckling, green-uniformed archery competitor who has disrupted every single medal ceremony of the Games by bursting in, stealing the gold medal or medals in the name of the poor in an archery-related fashion, striking a triumphant pose, and then disappearing without a trace.

"Good people of the world, take heart!" the mysterious figure said in his most recent appearance, when he burst into the medal ceremony for the Men's 200 Meter Freestyle. "Truly, these are good men, doughty and true; and their swimming has won the day. First place in the very world may they rightly claim, but in the name of the poor, the sickly, the lonely old, and the weak without voice, I hereby claim this gold that with it I may do greater good!"

The archer then shot a goose-feathered arrow through the ribbons holding the gold medals around the necks of the U.S. team, causing their medals to fall to the ground. The archer himself proceeded to leap from the rafters, alight on the podium's top step, collect his prize, and disappear through a nearby window.

Since entering China last month by using a forged Sherwood Forest passport under the name Robert Huntingdon, the archer has appeared at more than 70 medal ceremonies, escaping with the gold every time. In almost every case, archery-related schemes were used to secure the medals, although some were more difficult for him to obtain than others.

An epic four-way fencing match broke out during the Women's Saber medal ceremony, with the archer taking on the three American women in a clash of blades that spilled out onto the balcony and across the Beijing rooftops. Germany's Ole Bischoff, winner in the Men's 81kg judo event, threw the archer through a nearby table and down a flight of stairs before his feet were nailed to the ground by arrows. And the Chinese women's gymnastics team was almost impossible for the archer to catch.

The athletes themselves are divided in their opinion of the bow-weilding outlaw. Although many regard him as annoyance at best, and still others as a dangerous menace, a considerable faction has voiced sympathy for his cause.

"Put it this way—that guy has some stuff of mine, but he's welcome to it," said U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps. "I mean, I'm not political, really, but I've had a lucky life. If my gold medals can help someone get a hot meal and a place to sleep for a few nights, that's okay. It doesn't mean I didn't win."

Phelps confessed his admiration that, although the archer had burst into the ceremony for the men's 400 Meter Relay, the team had been allowed to keep a single medal, as the archer praised the "epic performance by four doughty good men and true, who soundly defeated the Norman French, uplifted the hearts of all who saw, and enriched the very World thereby."

Chinese officials have been less charitable. "His disregard for our culture, our laws, and these Games will not go unpunished," a statement from the Chinese Olympic Committee read in part. "We demand he turn himself in, return the medals to the rightful winners, and face his punishment for these thefts, as well as for his repeated demands that we free Tibet and his continued poaching of deer in Yu Nan province."

Law enforcement officials, acting in liason with the Nottingham Sheriff's Department, have also concocted a scheme to capture the elusive archer by staging an archery contest with an especially large and valuable gold medal as the prize, an event already underway. The contest is currently in the semifinal rounds and is being led by Britain's Rob Enhood, a mysterious eyepatched figure with a penchant for archery so accurate that he routinely splits the arrows of his competitors.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

The Onion strikes again-- combining a spoof of disaster coverage by the media and a common assessment of the Bush Presidency.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

sound effect

This is probably my favorite (common) sound effect.
We're getting ready to work it into one of our TV ads!

Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

C.S. Lewis quote-of-the-week

“Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends.”

--Mere Christianity, book 3, ch. 4

This gets to the vital principle that God holds us accountable for what we have been given-- in terms of knowledge, gifts, and so on. That complicates matters considerably in trying to judge things from a human perspective. But it is no surprising given a just God who created a complex world.

Friday, August 15, 2008

trying to define "flip-flop"

From Gloria Borger in USN&WR, something I've written about in the past-- here and here...

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" the economist John Maynard Keynes once asked famously. But in American politics today, changing your mind is a very bad thing to do. It is taken as evidence of weakness. Or confusion. Or worse yet, a sign of pandering for votes (as if that would be a political stunner).

Yet in this campaign, both candidates have flipped. First John McCain, who reversed an earlier position by calling for an end to the federal ban on offshore drilling as "something we have to do," given the nation's dependence on foreign energy. Then, after criticizing McCain, Barack Obama followed him, allowing that he might consider some offshore drilling, but only as part of a larger, comprehensive energy bill.

Sure, we get it: They're running for president, and $4-a-gallon gasoline refocuses the mind, not to mention the talking points. But what, exactly, is wrong with that? If high gas prices are causing Americans to change their thinking and, in fact, their lifestyles—buying smaller cars, moving closer to their workplaces—why should politicians remain stagnant? After all, as the man said, the facts have changed.

Still, suspicions remain, and with good reason. We've been burned before on this flip-flop business. Consider Mitt Romney—firmly pro-abortion rights (while running for office in Democratic Massachusetts) until he became firmly antiabortion (before running for the Republican presidential nomination). All of which leads voters to the obvious question: How do we decide when a presidential candidate's flips are because of conviction or craven calculation?

Character assessment. Truth is, there's really no clear answer, except this: Voters view these policy decisions through the prism of their overall assessments of a candidate's character. If we think we know who you are—and consider you to be a truth-teller, for instance—we're likely to draw a direct line between our sense of you and your policy choice.

So when McCain says he changed his mind about offshore drilling because times have changed, some voters will say, "OK, he's a straight talker," and give him a pass....But Obama has a harder task when he flips. He's new, and voters are still scratching their heads about him....

isn't it ironic...don't ya think?

Early-on, when reading about Bob Barr's litigious effort to get into the Saddleback Church presidential event (hat tip: Mark Rutherford), I thought it was a bad idea-- the church should have the right to invite who it wants.

But, then this beauty at the end cinched it:

"The complaint is based upon a violation of McCain/Feingold campaign finance legislation. While we're no fans of that legislation. However, we don't write the rules, we're just forced to play by them. In this case, we're using McCain/Feingold to our advantage. . ."


the Edwards saga and the continuing decline of the MSM

An interesting essay from Tim Rutten with the LA Times in the C-J...

When John Edwards admitted Friday that he had lied about his affair with filmmaker Rielle Hunter, a former employee of his campaign, he may have ended his public life, but he certainly ratified an end to the era in which traditional media set the agenda for national political journalism.

From the start, the Edwards scandal has belonged entirely to the alternative and new media. The tabloid National Enquirer has done all the significant reporting on it -- reporting that turns out to be largely correct -- and bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion.

Slate's Mickey Kaus has been foremost among the anyone who recalls the media frenzy over conservative commentator and former Cabinet secretary William Bennett's high-stakes gambling would agree....

But what's really significant here is the cone of silence the nation's major newspapers and the cable and broadcast networks dropped over this story when it first appeared in the tabloid during the presidential primary campaign. Next, the Enquirer reported that the unmarried Hunter was pregnant. Still no mainstream media interest, and the campaign press corps meekly accepted Edwards' categorical dismissal of the Enquirer's allegations. Late last month, Edwards came to Los Angeles, and Enquirer reporters trailed him to the Beverly Hilton, where he met Hunter and her daughter in their room.

The Enquirer went with the story, and when no major newspaper or broadcast outlet even reported the existence of the tabloid story, bloggers and online commentators redoubled their demands that the mainstream media explain their silence. The tabloid followed with a story alleging payments of hush money to Hunter and, last week, with a photo of Edwards holding an infant in what appears to be a room at the Beverly Hilton. As pressure mounted on major newspapers to take some aspect of the unfolding scandal into account, editors and ombudsmen issued statements saying it would be unfair to publish anything until the Enquirer's stories had been "confirmed."

Well, there's confirming and then there's confirming....

It's interesting that what finally forced Edwards into telling the truth was a mainstream media organization. ABC News began investigating the Edwards affair in October but really began to push after the Beverly Hilton allegations. When ABC confronted Edwards with its story (which confirmed "95 percent to 96 percent" of the tabloid's reporting, according to the network), he admitted his deception.

With that admission, the illusion that traditional print and broadcast news organizations can establish the limits of acceptable political journalism joined the passenger pigeon on the roster of extinct Americana.

Edwards in love...

From Nick Anderson in the C-J...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

2081: Harrison Bergeron

An awesome short story by Kurt Vonnegut (I've used it in class to talk about poverty, redistribution, and "equality") turned into a short film-- or at least, this trailer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nobama's Louisville connection

One part ugly; one part regrettable (since the GOP has so little to brag about in McCain); one part necessary (since Obama is the great unknown in the race)...

From Joseph Gerth in today's

Among the trendy restaurants along Frankfort Avenue, in an area that almost certainly will vote heavily for Democrat Sen. Barack Obama in November, sits the de facto national headquarters for the "Nobama" campaign.

Workers there stuff T-shirts, campaign buttons and bumper stickers -- possibly a million free bumper stickers -- into envelopes that will be sent to Republican activists, disaffected Democrats and conservative independents around the country.

It's all the brainchild of Louisville Republican strategist and businessman Ted Jackson, who is trying to counteract any potential groundswell for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee by distributing much of the merchandise for a price -- but up to 1 million "Nobama" bumper stickers for free.

Jackson announced to his customers Aug. 1 that he would give the stickers to those who request them, in hopes of spurring a grass-roots anti-Obama movement....

In all, he is selling 29 "Nobama" items, including shirts, coffee mugs, buttons and stickers.

One shirt -- playing on Obama's rock-star image and his position favoring dialogue with rogue nations -- is patterned after T-shirts sold at concerts.

It's the Nobama "World Appeasement Tour," and on the back lists appearances in Tehran, Havana, Caracas and other hot spots.

Jackson also has developed "Nobama" merchandise targeted to gun owners, abortion foes and members of other conservative groups....

Monday, August 11, 2008

GOP grasps defeat out of the jaws of victory again

From Kimberly Strassel in the WSJ, the sad story of the GOP undermining themselves on (what would easily have been) the #1 issue of the 2008 campaign...

Politics has its puzzling moments. John McCain and most of the GOP experienced one late last week. That was when five of their own set about dismantling the best issue Republicans have in the upcoming election.

It's taken time, but Sen. McCain and his party have finally found -- in energy -- an issue that's working for them. Riding voter discontent over high gas prices, the GOP has made anti-drilling Democrats this summer's headlines.

Their enthusiasm has given conservative candidates a boost in tough races. And Mr. McCain has pressured Barack Obama into an energy debate, where the Democrat has struggled to explain shifting and confused policy proposals.

Still, it was probably too much to assume every Republican would work out that their side was winning this issue. And so, last Friday, in stumbled Sens. Lindsey Graham, John Thune, Saxby Chambliss, Bob Corker and Johnny Isakson -- alongside five Senate Democrats. This "Gang of 10" announced a "sweeping" and "bipartisan" energy plan to break Washington's energy "stalemate." What they did was throw every vulnerable Democrat, and Mr. Obama, a life preserver.

That's because the plan is a Democratic giveaway. New production on offshore federal lands is left to state legislatures, and then in only four coastal states. The regulatory hurdles are huge. And the bill bars drilling within 50 miles of the coast -- putting off limits some of the most productive areas. Alaska's oil-rich Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is still a no-go.

The highlight is instead $84 billion in tax credits, subsidies and federal handouts for alternative fuels and renewables. The Gang of 10 intends to pay for all this in part by raising taxes on . . . oil companies! The Sierra Club couldn't have penned it better. And so the Republican Five has potentially given antidrilling Democrats the political cover they need to neutralize energy through November....

It's not quite this clean-- at least at the Congressional level. The intuitive, common-sense position still has tremendous clout-- and from what I've seen, when pressed even a little bit, the Democratic boiler-plate is lame and contradictory.

But, in a time when the GOP has come up so lame, it's troubling to see them shooting themselves in the foot again...

an historian of Olympic proportions

An interview with a former IUS colleague of mine, history professor John Findling-- with Katya Cengel in the C-J on one of his areas of expertise and one of tremendous contemporary relevance...

The first Olympics in which China participated was in 1932 in Los Angeles. It sent a team of one.

The athlete was runner Liu Changchun, and he didn't make the finals in either of his events -- the 100 and 200 meters. But he became a celebrity, said John Findling, who in 2006 traveled to China to speak on China's historic participation in the Olympics.

"The whole Chinese-American community in Los Angeles came out to greet him," the retired Indiana University Southeast history professor said.

Four years later, China sent 69 athletes to the Olympic Games in Berlin via ship and train. They were supposed to have practiced during the voyage, but instead suffered from seasickness, said Findling.

They won no medals that year, or in years to come.

It was not until the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles that China won its first Olympic medal, and 31 others.

Now, the Summer Games are in China for the first time, and the Chinese hope to win more gold medals than any other country, said Findling.

Because China has a "home field advantage" -- its athletes don't have to travel as far or adjust to unfamiliar food, weather and customs -- they will probably do better than ever, he explained.

Findling co-edited a dictionary of the Olympics in 1996, which was updated in 2004 and rechristened "Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement" (Greenwood Press,

Co-editor Kimberly Pelle, who manages the adult student center at IUS, stressed the encyclopedia is not a "records book" but "more of a historical, political, socio-economic essay."...

Click here for the rest of the interview...


Robin Roberts' interview on Good Morning America with Steve Curtis Chapman and his family...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

C.S. Lewis quote-of-the-week

“Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party.”

--Mere Christianity, book 3, ch. 3

Actually, this is true for many people on many different topics and in many facets of life. On the latter, people already know what they want to do (and are going to do)-- and seek "input" that verifies the conclusion they've already reached while dismissing that which does not agree that conclusion.

On topics, do yourself (and others) a favor and read something on "the other side"-- whether on global warming or not, skepticism or Christianity, eschatology, prohibition or legalization on drugs, and so on.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Krugman is right: Dems are thinking a lot harder than Reps on domestic oil

Hat tip to Conservative Edge for pointing out Paul Krugman's frustrated essay in the NY Times...

The reason he's correct: It's a no-brainer, so one doesn't have to think very hard! Listening to the Democratic politicians do mental gymnastics to defend the indefensible (both politically AND economically!)-- now that takes difficult and creative thinking. Very impressive! Sad and stupid-- but quite impressive in its way. I just hope they can apply their better-developed thinking skills in a more constructive way in the future.

So the G.O.P. has found its issue for the 2008 election. For the next three months the party plans to keep chanting: “Drill here! Drill now! Drill here! Drill now! Four legs good, two legs bad!” O.K., I added that last part.

And the debate on energy policy has helped me find the words for something I’ve been thinking about for a while. Republicans, once hailed as the “party of ideas,” have become the party of stupid.

Now, I don’t mean that G.O.P. politicians are, on average, any dumber than their Democratic counterparts. And I certainly don’t mean to question the often frightening smarts of Republican political operatives.

What I mean, instead, is that know-nothingism — the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise — has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: “Real men don’t think things through.”

In the case of oil, this takes the form of pretending that more drilling would produce fast relief at the gas pump. In fact, earlier this week Republicans in Congress actually claimed credit for the recent fall in oil prices: “The market is responding to the fact that we are here talking,” said Representative John Shadegg....

Uhh, Paul, that's how markets-- in particular, futures markets-- work.

Then, Paul compares demand and supply to the War in Iraq! Wow, what a leap. Here, Krugman displays his own amazing thinking skills.

Is this political pitch too dumb to succeed? Don’t count on it.

Remember how the Iraq war was sold....

prophecy: predictive vs. fitting after-the-fact

This morning, I was reading Matthew 2 and began to think about the distinction in the title of this blog. Matthew writes to a Jewish audience and so, is particularly interesting in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ.

Matthew 2 has four such examples:

The first is the one that caught my attention: the wise men come to Herod looking for "the king". Herod has no clue so he calls in the teachers of the law and the chief priests and asks them. The text does not provide conclusive detail, so perhaps there was delay or debate. But in a seemingly reflexive manner, they answer: Bethelem-- in fulfillment of the prophecy in Micah 5:2.

Why is this impressive? Because the prophecy was seen as-- and more importantly, had-- predictive power. Along those lines, 2:15 is less impressive-- what Matthew sees, through Holy Spirit, as a second fulfillment of Hosea 11:1. Even moreso, 2:18 will be less impressive to a skeptic or objective outsider. (Not that I doubt it, but if the prophetic evidence amounted to that, it would be a slender reed on which to base an argument!) In 2:23, it's a tougher call, depending on how one of the terms is translated.

Anyway, of the dozens of OT prophecies about Jesus, some are presumably more impressive than others to the seeker.

Friday, August 8, 2008

perennial candidates and perennial "losers"

Two friends/acquaintances of mine messing with each other-- HoosierPundit pointing out two cut-and-paste errors and Andy Horning responding (pointing to the trivial nature of the remark and some far larger issues)...

I agree with HP that such mistakes are regrettable. But I agree with AH that mistakes happen (especially in smaller budget efforts) and it pales against the far larger issues he'd like to raise. Excerpts:

For years now I’ve been called a “perennial,” “frequent” and even “habitual” candidate by people who won’t just come out and say what they mean. The fact, however, is that I have not run for office nearly as many times as most of our congressmen, senators, judges, dog catchers, etc.

And yet do we call Richard Lugar a “perennial candidate?” Certainly not. We call him “honorable.”

What the perennial, frequent and habitual cynics, blatherers, bloggers and “journalists” mean by their “perennial” sophistry is that I am a loser. I wish they’d come out and say it.

George Bush may be destroying America, but he’s a winner. I may be trying to set things right, but I’m a loser. Say it.

Those who spring onto the scene with fame, money, power and success are winners. The poor underdogs fighting for liberty and justice for all …are quite obviously losers....

Call me a loser. Call all of us embattled underdog protesters losers. I won’t mind.

I’ll be in the best company.

That is fact.

PETA, pot, puppies, prohibition, police, and poor policy

or I hate when that happens: the Drug War gone awry
or one could think about it this way: WWJD?
or WWPT: what will PETA do?

From Brett Zongker in the C-J, a sad/funny story about the Prohibition II...

Mayor Cheye Calvo got home from work, saw a package addressed to his wife on the front porch and brought it inside, putting it on a table.

Suddenly, police with guns drawn kicked in the door and stormed in, shooting to death the couple's two dogs and seizing the unopened package.

In it were 32 pounds of marijuana. But the drugs evidently didn't belong to the couple.

Police say the couple appeared to be innocent victims of a scheme by two men to smuggle millions of dollars worth of marijuana by having it delivered to about a half-dozen unsuspecting recipients.

The two men under arrest include a FedEx deliveryman; investigators said the deliveryman would drop off a package outside a home, and the other man would come by a short time later and pick it up.

Now, federal authorities say they're looking into how local law enforcement handled the July 29 raid....

Calvo insisted the couple's two black Labradors were gentle creatures and said police apparently killed them "for sport," gunning down one of them as it was running away....

The mayor, who was changing his clothes when police burst in, also complained that he was handcuffed in his boxer shorts for about two hours along with his mother-in-law, and said the officers didn't believe him when he told them he was the mayor. No charges were brought against Calvo or his wife, who came home in the middle of the raid....

Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin High said Wednesday that Calvo and his family were "most likely ... innocent victims," but he would not rule out their involvement, and he defended the way the raid was conducted. He and other officials did not apologize for killing the dogs, saying the officers felt threatened....

Investigators said the package that arrived on Calvo's porch had been sent from Los Angeles via FedEx, and they had been tracking it ever since it drew the attention of a drug-sniffing dog in Arizona....

Calvo's defenders - including the Berwyn Heights police chief, who said his department should have been alerted ahead of time - said police had no right to enter the home without knocking.

The print version of the story ends with this telling line:

But officials insisted they acted within the law.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

suicide terrorism emerges in Afghanistan

From Alan Cullison in the WSJ...

More on an important topic-- where does suicide terrorism come from and what is its aim?

Cullison starts with the story of Hamza-- a suicidal 20-year-old who turns his depression into an opportunity to strike at American soldiers. Fortunately, the plan failed and he is now in prison.

Hamza's trajectory from depression to attempted mass murder mirrors a larger shift that is changing the war in Afghanistan and giving it a more vicious twist. It also provides a glimpse inside a suicide bombing network that Western diplomats and the Afghan military say Pakistan has allowed to flourish in its lawless border areas. Pakistan denies the charges....

Suicide attacks were virtually unheard of in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. That started to change after the U.S.-led occupation in 2001. Two were reported here in 2003; three in 2004. Then the numbers mushroomed: In 2006 there were 123 suicide attacks reported, a sevenfold increase from the year before, according to the United Nations. Last year 160 attackers blew themselves up, killing or injuring more than 1,700 people. So far this year, about 100 suicide attacks have occurred, making 2008 on track to outstrip last year in terms of fatalities.

According to Pape, with the Soviets, only two of the key determinants for "the strategic logic of suicide terrorism" were in play: (percevied) oppression/occupation by a much more powerful force. With America, the third key came into play: a democracy as the occupying force. As Pape observes, dictators won't be moved nearly as much by this tactic, while democracies are "softer" and more likely to bend (e.g., as Reagan with the Marines in Lebanon).

This dynamic is problematic-- in the short-term (as the paragraph below notes) and for the long-term...

The rise of suicide bombings is one reason security is crumbling in Afghanistan seven years after NATO forces invaded. The attacks have forced Western aid workers and the military to retreat into bunkerlike fortresses. They have also undermined confidence in the central government led by U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai. Victims have included regional police chiefs, members of Parliament, and a large number of bystanders.

With practice, they've grown more effective. A car bomb at the Indian Embassy July 7 was one of the deadliest yet, killing 58 people with a blast so powerful that it stripped the needles off a pine tree in the embassy compound.

When al Qaeda freely ran its own training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, its leaders worked up theological arguments to justify suicide attacks, but they never swayed local Afghans to partake in them. The locals' resistance was hardened partly by a deeply traditional social fabric, where village elders often gave the final word on right and wrong and settled disputes. Many were suspicious of Arab visitors. Suicide attacks were considered cowardly and un-Islamic.

But that social fabric may be unraveling after decades of war in Afghanistan, the mass movement of refugees, and the expanding presence of radical groups such as al Qaeda in the Pakistani border region....

Wal-Mart worries about Democratic victory and pro-union "card check" legislation

From Ann Zimmerman and Kris Maher in the WSJ...

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores would have to pay hefty union dues while getting nothing in return, and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise.

The actions by Wal-Mart -- the nation's largest private employer -- reflect a growing concern among big business that a reinvigorated labor movement could reverse years of declining union membership. That could lead to higher payroll and health costs for companies already being hurt by rising fuel and commodities costs and the tough economic climate.

The Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don't specifically tell attendees how to vote in November's election, but make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states....

Wal-Mart's worries center on a piece of legislation known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which companies say would enable unions to quickly add millions of new members....

First introduced in 2003, the bill came to a vote last year and sailed through the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, but was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate and faced a veto threat by the White House. The bill was taken off the floor, and its backers pledged to reintroduce it when they could get more support.

The November election could bring that extra support in Congress, as well as the White House if Sen. Obama is elected and Democrats extend their control in the Senate. Sen. Obama co-sponsored the legislation, which also is known as "card check," and has said several times he would sign it into law if elected president. Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, opposes the Employee Free Choice Act and voted against it last year....

human vs. computer political surveys

I'm not sure I would have cared much about this until I was a candidate, but SurveyUSA has done most of the polling in my two campaigns, so this-- including their use of computers and their accuracy-- caught my eye.

Then, there's the potential for race bias-- the extent to which people will say they'll vote for Obama when they do not intend to do so.

Anyway, from Carl Bialik in the WSJ...

There are some presidential polling numbers you won't see on the nightly network news broadcasts. Yet, they have proved themselves to be every bit as accurate as other, widely reported polls -- in some cases, more so.

These shunned polls, however, are conducted by computer rather than by a person, so they don't make the cut with many of the big mainstream media, nor with polling experts. One prominent polling textbook, by Paul J. Lavrakas and Michael Traugott, refers to these surveys as Computerized Response Automated Polls -- insulting acronym intended.

The critics have legitimate complaints about such polls, including that a 12-year-old boy can convince a computer, but probably not a live interviewer, that he's a 37-year-old woman. But in these times of slashed media-polling budgets, declining response rates and the migration to cellphones, most polls are far from theoretically pure. Watching the survey sausage get made isn't pretty. Excluding only computer-assisted polling numbers seems arbitrary and leaves gaps in our knowledge about the presidential election....

The automated polls, or IVRs for interactive voice response, work like this: Respondents hear a recorded voice -- sometimes of a local TV-news anchor, sometimes of a professional actor -- that greets them and asks if they're willing to take part in a quick survey. Then they're asked to enter their political preferences and demographic information using their keypad...

Automated polls can cost as little as one-tenth the equivalent, live-interview phone poll. The cost advantage builds when a poll is repeated, identically, to track opinion over time...

As a result, automated polls are beginning to crowd out the rest....

Their accuracy record in the primaries -- such as it was -- was roughly equivalent to the live-interviewer surveys. Each missed the final margin by an average of about seven points in these races...

SurveyUSA, which pioneered these polls, has an impressive record for accuracy....

Recorded polls, however, offer several advantages. Interviewers are selected because their voices inspire trust (SurveyUSA uses local TV anchors; other automated pollsters use actors or, in the case of Rasmussen Reports, women 30 to 40 years old with Midwestern accents). Politicians' names are pronounced correctly and identically each time, and responses entered correctly are recorded correctly.

There also is evidence that automated polls inspire honesty, particularly on sensitive topics....

Meanwhile, conventional polls are hardly reaching a truly random sample these days. Response rates have fallen below 20% in many cases, and it's hard to know whether the other 80% who aren't home or refuse participation are like those who do respond. Most pollsters aren't dialing cellphones. And traditional pollsters don't always randomly select respondents from within households....

Until this election cycle, the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call wouldn't publish results from automated polls. Now it's commissioning polls from SurveyUSA.

10 Commandment at and about the workplace...

Check this out: the 10 Commandments applied to the workplace-- from Drew Crandall at Northeast Christian Church in Connecticut (hat tip: Linda Christiansen)...


heroin "addiction"

Excerpts from a fascinating interview by Marvin Olasky in World with Theodore Dalrymple on his new book, Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy...

Olasky calls Dalrymple's book, "an extraordinary look at heroin addiction...based on [his] experience as a prison doctor and hospital psychiatrist".

He explains that heroin is not highly addictive, withdrawal from it does not require medical assistance, addicts do not become criminals to feed their habits, and heroin addiction is often a spiritual problem. His observations concur with the experience of some Christian anti-addiction programs such as Teen Challenge. Dalrymple argues that many addicts have learned to game the medical system, and many doctors make things worse by medicalizing a moral issue.

WORLD: What is the standard, orthodox view of heroin addition?

DALRYMPLE: I think it is this. The man who becomes the addict stumbles across heroin somehow or other, takes a few doses, is "hooked," has to continue to avoid the dreadful symptoms consequent upon stopping. He finds himself unable to pay for the heroin he needs so he commits crimes, and then, if he is lucky, finds medical assistance for his condition which consists largely of a substitute drug. Without assistance, he is doomed; with it he is saved. All this is nonsense....

Dalrymple has some interesting comments on withdrawal from heroin and some good but somewhat confused discussion of drug legalization. (He sees it as a mixed bag in terms of practical consequences, but also talks about a black market still existing even if drugs were legal.)

Click here to read the rest of the interview...

slow ride...take it easy: an update on ZAP

Following up on a post from a few weeks ago...

From Tom Loftus and Brandy Warren in the C-J...

The phrase "slow lane" is about to take on a new meaning on some Kentucky roads.

Gov. Steve Beshear issued an executive order yesterday allowing low-speed electric vehicles on many of the state's roadways, acknowledging that he was acting in part in an effort to lure an electric car manufacturing plant to Kentucky....

Kentuckians with three- or four-wheeled electric vehicles will be able to get them licensed and drive on roads with speed limits of 45 mph or less...must meet federal safety standards for low-speed vehicles but placed no other significant restrictions on what the regulations should contain.

Beshear said one reason for his decision was to try to persuade a California-based electric car company called ZAP and its Kentucky partner, Integrity Manufacturing of Bullitt County, to locate a plant to make the cars in Kentucky....

But Aaron Bragman, an auto industry analyst in the Detroit office of Global Insight, an international economic-forecasting firm, said Kentucky should be skeptical.

"ZAP is really good at making big speeches and press announcements, but to date has not been very good at execution, follow-through and delivery to customers," he said.

He said the three-wheel ZAP model known as the Xebra had gotten poor reviews for "how it functions and its abilities to meet its stated performance."....

Medved on pirates vs. terrorists

From, Michael Medved with a confused attempt to analogize Bush and the War on Terror to Thomas Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates...

Medved's thesis:

Most Americans remain utterly ignorant of this nation’s first foreign war but that exotic, long-ago struggle set the pattern for nearly all the many distant conflicts that followed. Refusal to confront the lessons of the First Barbary War (1801-1805) has led to some of the silliest arguments concerning Iraq and Afghanistan, and any effort to apply traditional American values to our future foreign policy requires an understanding of this all-but-forgotten episode from our past.

Then, he digs into his analysis...

The war against the Barbary States of North Africa (Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli—today’s Libya) involved commitment and sacrifice far from home...

So far, so good...

...and in no way involved a defense of our native soil.

Yes and no. Not our soil per se, but certainly our citizens' ability to engage in trade-- a question of life, liberty and property. (This certainly introduces a slippery slope: when the interests of American citizens are involved, should the government intervene with force?) Medved actually makes this argument later in his essay!

Moreover, this conflates our efforts in Afghanistan (punishing and eliminating terrorists) with those in Iraq (deposing a tyrant and then, far more challenging, trying to rebuild a nation).

When Jefferson became president in 1801, he resolved to take a hard line against the terrorists and their sponsors.

A none-too-clever rhetorical move to equate the pirates of 1801 with the terrorists of 2001. Two key distinctions: the pursuit of money and wanting to avoid death vs. trying to fend off perceived oppressors and a determined willingness to die.

After some useful historical detail, Medved draws seven lessons-- the first three of which are worthy of comment/critique:

1. The U.S. often goes to war when it is not directly attacked. One of the dumbest lines about the Iraq War claims that “this was the first time we ever attacked a nation that hadn’t attacked us.” Obviously, Barbary raids against private shipping hardly constituted a direct invasion of the American homeland, but founding fathers Jefferson and Madison nonetheless felt the need to strike back. Of more than 140 conflicts in which American troops have fought on foreign soil, only one (World War II, obviously) represented a response to an unambiguous attack on America itself. Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a long-standing tradition of fighting for U.S. interests, and not just to defend the homeland.

I've already covered some of this, but let's add some more problems with Medved's expansion of his earlier point: fallacy of authority (referring to "founding fathers") and appeal to tradition and begging the question (just because it's been done before, should it be done now and should it have been done then?)

2. Most conflicts unfold without a Declaration of War. Jefferson informed Congress of his determination to hit back against the North African sponsors of terrorism (piracy), but during four years of fighting never sought a declaration of war. In fact, only five times in American history did Congress actually declare war – the War of 1812, the Mexican War, The Spanish American War, World War I and World War II....

Appeal to tradition and begging the question again. Beyond that, what does the Constitution say about this? And why would a "conservative" implicitly encourage flaunting the Constitution?

3. Islamic enmity toward the US is rooted in the Muslim religion, not recent American policy. In 1786...the Americans asked their counterpart why the North African nations made war against the United States, a power “who had done them no injury"...: “It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.”

This is a reasonable line of argument. But as I have written elsewhere, there is little contemporary evidence for this view. Pape acknowledges the secondary role of religion in about half of all suicide terrorist attacks. But the data show that only perceived occupation and oppression is enough to motivate suicide terrorism as a strategy (in all cases).

hilarious school choice video

I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but this video is excellent!
(hat tip: Bluegrass Policy Blog)

This reminds me of my first debate-- when an econ professor and I (a mere, precocious grad student) took on two education faculty. It was relatively even until one of the ed faculty said that parents were not competent to choose schools for their own kids. The audience went nuts with that little show of elitism!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

more on what motivates terrorists

I've already written an essay based on Robert Pape's book.

Here's a useful essay from James Payne in The Independent Review as well as an article from Mark Sageman in the Washington Post (hat tip: C-J).

Payne's essay is entitled "What do the Terrorists Want?". Sageman's piece was entitled "The New Face of Terrorism: The old Al-Qaida has faded-- meet the next generation" in the C-J.

Payne notes the prevalence of the neo-con argument that "the Muslims hate us" and are "out to conquer the world". But then he asks about the evidence. Ahhh...that pesky evidence!

Payne opens by noting that Frum and Perle, in their key book, An End to Evil, fail to present a single quotation from a terrorist leader announcing such aims. Perhaps the evidence is out there. Can a fan of our current Iraq policy please add a link to my comment section.)

In contrast, from Bruce Lawrence's edited volume of Osama bin Laden's writings, Messages to the World, we learn that 72% of his writing criticizes U.S./Western/Jewish aggression and oppression of Muslim lands and peoples and 21% criticizes Saudi leadership for knucking under to the U.S. Of the rest, 5% is an exhortation to martyrdom, 1% is his personal life, 1% criticizes American society/culture, and .2% talks about spreading Islam to the West.

On bin Laden's critique of Saudi leadership, Payne notes that bin Laden was a respected member of the Saudi elite in 1990 until the U.S. deployed troops there.

Payne also points to what's not said in bin Laden's writing: nothing on Muslims in Western countries, no interest in Turkey ("would expect him to be extremely hostile toward Turkish leaders [who] perhaps more than any other rulers in the world, 'polluted' the traditional, fundamentalist creed"), nothing on Iran, very little discussion of particular religious doctrine and religious practices, and nothing on the variation between Islamic republics and their adherence to various strains of Islam.

From there, Payne surveys the relevant literature: from Lawrence Wright's excellent book, The Looming Tower (I enjoyed Wright's book; if I have time, I hope to blog on it), Michael Scheuer (a CIA'er who is arguably the key player in Wright's book), John Jandora, Peter Bergen, Jessica Stern, and of course, Pape's definitive work.

Payne concludes by likening our current approach to "trying to put out a fire by spraying it with gasoline". To Sageman's point below, a better analogy would be reducing one fire while others get rolling-- or moving away from fire, perhaps something about stepping on a lump in a carpet which is too big for the room in which it sits. In any case, surely Payne is correct in calling for a dynamic analysis of foreign policy and terrorism: "Policy toward terrorism must continue to grapple with the hatred felt by existing terrorists [while] avoid increasing the ranks of America-hating killers."

Sageman's thesis is that Al-Qaida has been largely contained-- but new threats, bolstered by our continuing efforts in the Middle East, are on the horizon...

We are fighting the wrong foe. Over the past six years, the nature of the international Islamist terrorist threat to the West has changed dramatically, but Western governments are still fighting the last war -- set up to fight an old al-Qaida that is now largely contained.

Unless we understand this sea change, we will be unable to ward off the new menace.

The version of al-Qaida that Osama bin Laden founded is a fading force....Over the past six years, most of the professional terrorists who fit this profile have been eliminated during the U.S.-led manhunt for "high-value targets." The few that remain are huddled in the Afghan-Pakistani border area, struggling to extend their reach beyond Pakistan.

That old guard is still dangerous and still plotting spectacular attacks. But it is the new wave that more urgently requires our attention. It is composed of homegrown youths who dream of glory and adventure, who yearn to belong to a heroic vanguard and to root their lives in a greater sense of meaning. Inspired by tales of past heroism, they hope to emulate their predecessors, even though, for the most part, they can no longer link up with al-Qaida Central in the Pakistani badlands. Their potential numbers are so great that they must now be seen as the main terrorist threat to the West....

What makes next-gen terrorists tick? The process of radicalization consists of four prongs: having a sense of moral outrage, seeing this anger as part of a "war on Islam," believing that this view is consistent with one's everyday grievances, and mobilizing through networks.

Many Muslims feel a powerful sense of moral outrage at the treatment of their co-religionists, be it the sight of U.S. troops killing Muslims in Iraq or the aftermath of police harassment of local mosques. To lead to political violence, a next-generation jihadist must come to believe one simple sound bite: that there is a "war against Islam."

Unlike their fanatical predecessors, the new terrorists are not particularly religious....The problem has been worse in Europe than in the United States. In the land of the American dream and the melting pot, a broader, more inclusive view of American-ness undermines the jihadist insistence that the U.S. government is at war with its Muslim citizens. Overall, ordinary Muslim Americans simply do not feel some "war on Islam" in their daily experiences....

McCain's ad, Paris Hilton's response, and Jon Stewart's commentary on race

McCain's now-infamous ad (click on "TV Ad: Celeb"), invoking Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, makes a valid point-- that Obama is more celebrity than candidate. (I see Obama as more talker than do-er-- and therefore, I'm not all that worried about him, relative to other potential Dem candidates.) But in invoking Hilton and Spears by name-- or more precisely, by picture-- McCain unnecessarily takes pokes at individuals. (Ironically, many of his supporters would typically be uncomfortable with attacking individuals they see as "troubled".) Bottom line: McCain should have made the same point, but without singling out two particular celebrities

Paris Hilton countered with her own "commercial"-- a hilarious parody! (And here's a "behind-the-scenes" account of its making.) Ironically, she sounds better than either McCain or Obama.

Then, there's this from Jon Stewart (hat tip: Jewish World Review-- an ironic source given the last part of the segment). Not surprisingly, the bit is off-color, but spot-on in ripping media analysts about race-baiting and the X "card".

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

TARC finds greater demand problematic

One of these days, I may research TARC-- beyond the little bit I've already done, noting its staggering subsidy and cheering when its monopoly over Kentucky Derby services was broken.

From Marcus Green in Sunday's C-J, news that increased demand presents a problem for TARC-- an odd outcome and probably one more sign that it's a mess...

Rising gas prices have resulted in more riders boarding Louisville buses -- roughly 1.4 million in June alone -- and passengers are clamoring for better service.

"They want more frequent buses. They want cross-town buses. They want park-and-ride lots and so forth," said Barry Barker, the Transit Authority of River City's executive director. "That conversation starts to bog down when you start talking about the money to improve that, to pay for it."

TARC officials say they plan to address those demands, weighing options such as bus-only lanes and more neighborhood routes to get riders to their destinations faster.

But first they have to find the money -- at a time when diesel-fuel prices have forced TARC to raise fares and announce service cuts.

TARC depends on a share of Louisville's occupational tax revenue to operate its fleet. But to make improvements, the agency must compete with other cities and regions for federal funds.

As opposed to being (even close to) self-financing...

Since 1995, TARC has received nearly $23 million in federal discretionary money, mainly to add buses and improve its maintenance annex. But officials note that the most recent round of federal funding didn't commit any money for TARC's $6.7 million request to overhaul its radio system and buy new buses. In the past four years, TARC has received $740,000 in federal earmarks, according to the agency. The overall government funding is "not adequate to provide any kind of upgrade or expansion of our service," said Nina Walfoort, a TARC spokeswoman.

While a recent local effort to increase bus funding failed, TARC is part of a group that is lobbying for more than double the amount of federal money, to $123 billion, in the next transportation bill.

Thanks TARC for working to take more of our money to subsidize highly inefficient services. If they worked this hard at being efficient, maybe things would be improved? (Or maybe they're already doing the best they can-- and it's just that bad!)

would they extend the same courtesy to Libertarians?

From Lesley Stedman-Weidenbener in the C-J, news that the Indiana Election Commission decided to put the Republican and Democratic candidates for Clark Circuit judge on the ballot in November.

In a unanimous ruling that can be appealed, commission members said the parties and candidates -- Republican Abe Navarro and Democrat Dan Moore -- made errors in filing papers with the Indiana Election Division that could have resulted in neither being certified.

But they also acknowledged that the election laws and rules were confusing.

"We want to err on the side of putting people on the ballot so voters get to make the decision," said Sarah Steele Riordan, a Republican on the four-member panel.

I don't remember all the details, but my memory is that some Libertarian office-seekers did not get the same angle when they fell prey to confusing/changing election laws in Indiana in 2006.

one more reason to hate high gas prices

Thanks to President Bush and Congress!!

From Bill Wolfe in the C-J, an article about how high fuels prices are increasing costs for airlines, reducing quantity demanded, causing airlines to cut back, and increasing monopoly power for airlines...

Democratic antics on Alaskan oil

From Rep. Michelle Bachmann in the WSJ on the Drill Responsibly in Leased Lands (DRILL) Act...

The bill would have mandated that leasing be done in an undefined, "environmentally responsible" way. We know from experience that such ambiguous language leads to lawsuits and delays....currently there is no production in the National Petroleum Reserve because of ongoing litigation.

nice maneuver!

would have mandated that they be built in an "environmentally responsible manner" using labor agreements that earmarked all the work for labor union members...

of course, we all know that placating unions is important for energy policy.

Then, Bachmann turns to some helpful comparisons of the National Petroleum Reserve and ANWR. NPR has an estimated 10.6 billion barrels, but spread over 23 million acres-- compared to an estimated 10.4 billion barrels in ANWR on merely 2,000 acres. The National Petroleum Reserve is 250 miles from the current pipeline infrastructure; ANWR is only 75 miles away.

health care reform in Massachusetts (how's that workin' for you?)

From the editorialists of the WSJ...

Gearing up for 2009, liberals are eager to claim Massachusetts as a Valhalla of health reform. Their enthusiasm is apparently evidence-proof.

Even Mitt Romney, who should know better, took to these pages recently to proclaim, "Health-care reform is working in Massachusetts." Shortly after Mr. Romney's self-tribute, Governor Deval Patrick wheeled out a new $129 million tax plan to make up for this year's health spending shortfalls....cuts the state's uninsured rate by about half. That's not the promised "universal" system, but never mind....

Mr. Patrick wants one-time (yeah, right) charges of $33 million on insurers and $28 million on providers, plus some shuffling of state funds. The balance comes from an estimated $33 million boost in the state's "pay or play" tax: If businesses don't offer "fair and reasonable" insurance to their employees, they get hit. This is a textbook example of how business taxes evolve into "pay or pay," the first recourse of state-funded health systems....

More evidence that health-care "reform" (like this) should be tried at the state level if at all...

govt in action

From News of the Weird, news about vegetable and fruit regulations in Europe-- in the name of quality and for the purpose of lowering quantity (restricting competition)...

The European Union allows fruits and vegetables to be sold only in prescribed sizes and colors (such as its 35 pages of regulations governing 250 varieties of the apple, or rules that cucumbers must be straight and bananas curved). In June, British marketer Tim Down complained that he was forced to discard 5,000 kiwi fruit because they were 1 millimeter in diameter too small and one-fourth ounce too light. (It is illegal even to give them away, as that would undermine the market price.) "Improvements" in the EU system continue, according to a July Washington Post dispatch from Brussels: Despite 10 pages of standards on the onion and 19 amendments, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture recently issued a report urging further refinements, using 29 pages and 43 photographs.


polemic (or confusion) vs. analysis

Two essays on The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule-- one from the author (Thomas Frank in Harpers) and one from a reviewer (Adam de Jong in the C-J)...

De Jong opens by critiquing cable TV's political analysts and then holds up Frank as a paragon of the same ("a welcome read"). Unfortunately, it is obvious (quickly) that Frank can be no significant improvement-- and that de Jong's admiration for Frank can only get in the way of his ability to objectively deal with the subject.

In his short essay, De Jong echoes Frank in conflating Republican, conservative, "right-wingers", ("radical") "free-marketers", and "the absurdity of Washington". Such characterizations are erroneous and not helpful (especially when they come from "experts")-- unless, by helpful, one means forwarding a wrong-headed (or at least muddy-headed) view/agenda.

Contra de Jong, governing Republicans are certainly not conservative in many significant ways; there are many types of conservatives; and there has certainly been no triumph of the free market (even under Reagan-- but certainly since then).

One sees the same sort of conflation in the so-called evolution/creation debate: conflating creationism with ID, young-earth creationism with old-earth creationism, evolution as no-debate micro observation with Evolution as a supposedly comprehensive "explanation" for the development of life.

Both cases reveal a startling ignorance or a purposeful obfuscation of key distinctions that is depressing to see among people who should know better.

Frank examines what happened in Washington, D.C., once these right-wingers had the chance to govern. He offers a harrowing version of contemporary Washington -- a city that has seen its competent and nonpartisan civil servants replaced by radical free-marketeers...Now, after years of Republican governance, the free-marketeers have created exactly the kind of government they want -- one that does not work, one in which the American people have no faith. Free-marketeers, Frank argues, not only revel in such cynicism but also promote it. Because so long as people think that government is the problem...

What a mish-mash!

-Laying the blame for contemporary governance at the feet of "conservatives" or even more laughable, "radical free-marketers" is simply absurd.

-Perhaps one could argue that a free-marketer might want a poorly-run government-- if there's going to be a big government. But it is incoherent to say that free-marketers want the vastly expanded govt we see today.

-We've gotten even bigger government with economic liberal and a Democratic Congress in charge. So, Pelosi & Co. have drunk the same conspiratorial Kool-Aid?! Mr. de Jong's analysis would apparently improve (at least slightly) by watching more Cable TV.

-Why do people have so little faith in government? Because it doesn't work well. There's not some vast right-wing conspiracy to bring in lots of bad govt in order to reduce the people's trust in govt. For one thing: If they had that much power and principle, then they would have brought us their version of utopia by now! For another, let's go with Occam's Razor here: people of all stripes have pursued big govt and it hasn't worked well-- because big govt doesn't work well.

Elsewhere, De Jong says that "Frank believes regular citizens like regulations" before heading into a litany of universally-acknowledged difficulty for markets and potential for government (pollution and info problems). Then DeJong tucks Social Security into the same dog's breakfast. Not quite-- either in terms of SS's supposed popularity or the theoretical case to be made for market struggle. Nice try.

Frank, in his longer essay/excerpt, uses the same conflation obvious in de Jong's review. He takes reasonable aim at Jack Abramoff but then conflates him with "conservatism" (and wants to connect him to Reagan). Then, this gem:

There are plenty of good conservative individuals...but put conservatism in charge of the state and it behaves very differently.

-Would Frank say the same thing about "liberals"? If so, why doesn't he? If not, why/how not?

-If the two things behave "very differently", why is he so comfortable calling him the same thing?" For example, there are plenty of good people in PETA, but when you put them in charge of the state, they pass laws to kill baby seals." Huh?

In an odd way, these are difficult times to be a Statist. Because most Democratic and many Republican politicians are doing their bidding-- when the "fruit" of govt activity is difficult to defend-- the rhetoritician is left to do impressive gymnastics in finding or exaggerating differences between the two major parties.

Blackwater in Darfur?!

A provocative article from William McGurn in the WSJ on the potential use of force to deal with evil (of course, subject to the usual caveats about theory vs. practice!)...

When Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg announced a new antismoking campaign the other day, they put their money in line with their mouths....pledged $500 million to target what Mr. Gates called "one of the greatest health challenges facing developing countries."

[But] the gravest health threat typically comes from a combination of murderous government and Western powers unwilling to use their force to stop them.

Oh, Darfur gets plenty of news coverage from sympathetic reporters sickened by the carnage and devastation they have seen. What the people of Darfur do not get is an armed force capable of taking on the Janjaweed -- a horse-mounted militia. The Janjaweed has murdered men, gang-raped women, beaten children to death, and left poisoned wells and burnt-down villages in its wake....

Enter Erik Prince, the chairman and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide. Yes, that Blackwater. Most of the attention the company has attracted has been for its security work in protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq. But much more of their work is training: from border and narcotics police in Afghanistan to police and maritime forces in countries ranging from the United States and Japan, to nations in Africa and South America.

Mr. Prince says that the 9,000 or so African Union soldiers in Darfur, as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force, are a good start. But he says that to be effective they need better training, communications and equipment. That is more or less the same message from a report released yesterday by the Darfur Consortium, a coalition of 50 African-based and Africa-focused NGOs....

Mr. Prince has a remedy. He believes that with 250 or so professionals, Blackwater can transform about a thousand of the African Union soldiers into an elite and highly mobile force....

At this moment, the U.N. is again debating a resolution on Darfur. Others are still hoping for a boycott of next month's Summer Olympics, hoping to pressure Beijing to pressure Mr. Bashir, who supplies the Chinese with a healthy percentage of their oil. Still others are working to tighten sanctions.

But nothing appears to have had much of an effect on Mr. Bashir's behavior. And if we are honest with ourselves, nobody really expects any of this activity ever will.

Then again, that's the point: Strongly worded resolutions, sanctions and boycotts are generally what you do in place of decisive action. I understand that the whole idea of Blackwater helicopters flying over Darfur probably horrifies many of the same people frustrated by Mr. Bashir's ability to game the system. But it's at least worth wondering what that same Blackwater helo might look like to a defenseless Darfur mother and her daughters lying in fear of a Janjaweed attack.

political pay-outs and pay-offs

From the editorialists at the WSJ, more on the nasty business of the taxpaper bailout of Fannie & Freddie Mac...

President Bush is poised to sign the housing and Fannie Mae bailout bill, after the Senate passed it with 72 votes on the weekend. But an underreported part of this story is that Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to allow a vote on Republican Jim DeMint's amendment to bar political donations and lobbying by Fannie and its sibling, Freddie Mac.

This is a rare parliamentary move for a body in which even Senators in the minority party have long been able to force votes. The strong-arm play illustrates how politically powerful these government-sponsored enterprises remain even after going hat in hand to taxpayers....

We believe in the right of individuals and businesses to lobby Congress. But with Fan and Fred now explicitly guaranteed by taxpayers, letting them ladle cash all over Washington amounts to using government-guaranteed profits to lobby for continued government protection. Congress sets the rules in favor of Fan and Fred, which then repay the Members with cash from their rigged profit stream. This is the government lobbying itself for more government. And, oh, what a stream of political cash it is....

-Fannie and Freddie's political action committees: $800,000 in this election cycle
-F&F's "charitable" foundations: the top two in the country-- at $21 and $25 million respectively

On this latter point, "most of this foundation money goes to charity groups uninvolved in politics and policy, but tens of millions of dollars find their way to policy advocacy groups on the left and even some on the right"-- including Jesse Jackson's Citizenship Education Fund, an offshoot of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition: more than $500,000 since 1996 (after Mr. Jackson accused Fannie and Freddie of discriminatory lending practices)

Then, this kick in the shorts to wrap things up:

Groups on the left complain about "corporate welfare" all the time, but curiously nary a one has opposed the Fannie and Freddie bailout -- which amounts to one of the biggest corporate welfare gifts in U.S. history.