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March 31, 2006

Cynthia McKinney to be arrested?

All part of an elaborate, Zionist conspiracy, no doubt.

I'm predicting this won't ultimately amount to anything. Of course if stupidity were a punishable offense, Ms. McKinney would have been bustin' rocks in an orange jumpsuit years ago.

Blatant rumor-mongering

DBK reports rumors of Fidel Castro's death. I know he hasn't been in the best of health lately, but I'm not getting my hopes up. This guy has more lives than Osama bin Laden.


There are two reasons why I've yet to mention this new, hot political topic of the day. First, I've been so busy with real life for the past couple of days that I've barely blogged about anything. Second, like many people, I don't really know what to say about it.

First of all, I want to know how the immigration issue finally exploded so prominently on our national stage? Last time I checked, pretty much only Pat Buchanan and Michelle Malkin were yammering about it. Next thing I know, massive rallies and protests are breaking out, there are competing bills in Congress, and it's all anybody's talking about.

What happened? As near as I can tell, there was no precipitating event which triggered this "crisis." Joblessness in American is near an all-time low, and I haven't seen any news stories about al Qaeda operatives infiltrating our country over the Mexican border.

And yet, here we are. The issue has acquired a political momentum that demands it be addressed once and for all, no matter how much individual lawmakers may wish to avoid going on record with their position. Funny how things work out that way sometimes.

So what do we do? Passions are clearly inflamed on all sides, so how do we arrive at a satisfactory common ground?

On the positive side, I can't help but think there is much more that unites us than divides us on this issue. I think the majority of reasonable people in both parties would agree that our southern border is far too porous, and that it's desirable to strengthen those borders and to stem the steady flow of illegal immigrants into this country.

Likewise, I think most would agree that we also have to offset this policy by increasing the number of legal immigrants into this country, providing our economy with the influx of workers on which it has come to depend.

So I guess the real sticking point, then, is what to do with the illegals who are already here. Automatic deportation of undocumented workers is a non-starter. It would be politically non-viable even if it were desirable. Think, for example, of how many illegals have had children since coming here. Those children are U.S. citizens, and we're not about to start breaking up families. On the other hand, a blanket amnesty, even a de facto amnesty, doesn't exactly sit right with our fundamental sense of fairness and the rule of law.

Clearly, some middle path is desirable, but it's hard to know what that should look like. Maybe undocumented workers could be given a choice: return home and apply for "guest worker" status under the new, more lenient statutes, or pay a fine and stay here, but forfeit your right to apply for citizenship.

Or something else. I just made that up as an example, to help illustrate that it is possible to come up with a fair, humane compromise and simultaneously reinforce our borders in the process. I don't know what the best solution is, but I am confident that reasonable answers can be found.

So why am I so pessimistic about the whole thing? Why can't I shake the feeling that, with passions so inflamed all the way around, that nothing good will come from this current debate?

March 29, 2006

French madness

What's going on in France is just unfathomable to me, and I'm not even sure why.

I lived in France for almost three years, and I have a good sense of the people and their culture. On the one hand, there's nothing fundamentally surprising here. The French have always reacted negatively to even the suggestion that market-based reforms might be in the offing, no matter how modest.

Still, I just can't wrap my mind around the virulence of this current uprising. Here is American, we can't even agree on the wisdom of tenure in an academic setting. In France, tenure is a birthright. When you graduate and get that first job it's yours for life, for all intents and purposes. As Roger Simon points out, the thought of keeping one's first job for life would be infinitely depressing for most Americans, but it's a different culture over there, so let's just set that aside.

The problem with this system should be fairly obvious. French employers are understandably very picky when it comes to hiring people. Employers aren't allowed to "date," really -- they have to commit to a lifetime marriage based on a resume and a brief interview. Under these circumstances, it's not surprising that the unemployment rate among French youths now exceeds 20%.

The French government doesn't want another summer like last one, with thousands of cars being torched nightly by disaffected, disenfranchised youth, so they proposed a fairly modest reform measure. The idea was to remove some of the disincentives for hiring French youth by allowing them to be hired on a provisional basis. For the first two years on the job (later bargained down to a single year) it would be easier (read "possible") to terminate employment for employees who simply weren't working out.

That didn't go over too well. French youths took to the streets in massive numbers, in riots that sometimes turned violent. Looking at the wire photos of these protestors, it's interesting how few of them look like the swarthy, North African rioters of last summer, for whom the joblessness rate is astronomical. Rather, these rioters are people who fully expect to be in the 80% who do find jobs, and dammit, they don't ever want to lose them for petty little reasons like incompetence or non-performance.

It's an astonishing spectacle, and a fairly depressing one. I've said it before and I'll say it again: France will either be forced to swallow some measure of economic reform from mainstream politicians or else risk the rise of a Le Pen-like figure. The protestors, whether they realize it or not, are working hard to realize the latter.

Across the Atlantic, we understand that American economic hegemony is not to be taken for granted, and that sooner or later the era of American dominance will end. For the time being, however, it seems that we need not fear any competition from Western Europe.

What Jon Corzine has done for me

He's increased my traffic. For whatever reason, this site has moved up to third place when you Google "Corzine sucks." I'd noted this phenomenon earlier, and was a bit perplexed by it.

Now, according to my referral logs, my number of "Corzine sucks" search hits has increased dramatically since the governor submitted his new budget. I guess that's not terribly surprising. There's clearly a core group of people out there who are deeply unhappy with Corzine's "tax-the-air-we-breathe" approach to budgetary policy. I find that reassuring, because I was beginning to think such people didn't exist. Most folks I talk to in this monolithically Democratic continue to insist with a straight face that the budget is all the Republicans' fault. Presumably, they're talking about that RINO governor the state had three governors ago.

If New Jersey never again elects another Republican for statewide office (which seems a likely bet given current trends) it will be interesting to see how long the Democrats can continue to blame Christie Whitman for all the state's ills and broken Democratic campaign promises. Do you think they can push it into the next decade? The next century?

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal worries that Corzine's abrupt 180 on tax relief might be a harbinger of what we can expect in the (increasingly likely) event that the Democrats take control of Congress this year. President Bush, for God's sake, find that veto pen, learn how to use it, and keep it handy.

March 28, 2006

Plagiarism and politics

A few people have asked me why I've been so "strangely silent" on the Ben Domenech plagiarism scandal. The answer is much simpler than you might imagine: I'd never heard of the guy until the scandal had already broken, and he was practically on his way out the door.

Ideological bias had nothing to do with it. I also didn't post about socialite-turned-liberal-blogger Arianna Huffington's recent (and second) plagiarism scandal. What would be the point? To demonstrate that Huffington is an opportunist and a moron? We all already knew that. There are few ideological points to win here, because all but the most hyperpartisan idiots realize that plagiarism occurs across the political spectrum. For every Monica Crowley, there's also a Joe Biden, and vice versa.

None of this has stopped the lefty bloggers from having a field day with this, however. As near as I can figure it out, their logic seems to be something like this: "Hah! Take a look at what YOUR guy did!! He did something wrong, so if you share any of his political views, this invalidates anything and everything you stand for!!!" Of course anyone who's rhetorically challenged enough to live by such vapid tactics will certainly die by them as well.

And meanwhile, the AP has been busted plagiarizing a blog. Does anyone believe this will get even a fraction of the attention that the Ben Whatsisname story got? Does anyone care?

(Hat tip: Dean)

Deficits are bad

And one of the worst things about budget deficits is that people try to use them as an excuse to raise taxes. Bush's opponents rightly criticize the Republican leadership for the oceans of red ink, but rather than focus on the orgy of federal spending that has characterized the past five years, they prefer to place the blame on the relatively modest tax cuts that Bush implemented during the economic downturn following the tech bubble crash and the attacks of 9/11.

We can't let them get away with that. Even a cursory look at the revenue side of the equation will demonstrate the problem lies elsewhere.

In the first five months of Fiscal 2006, through February, overall revenue continued to surge, growing at an overall rate of 10.3%, or an $81 billion increase from the year ago period, to $871 billion. That builds on the astonishing 15%, or $274 billion, revenue increase for all of 2005, which various fiscal wisemen assured us would fall off dramatically. Apparently not.

This year's double-digit increase is roughly triple the rate of inflation, reflecting strong gains in business profits and individual wages and bonuses -- both signs of a vibrant underlying economy. Corporate income taxes are up 30% so far this year, while individual income tax payments have climbed by 10.3% through February.

The problem, of course, is on the spending side, and that's where the solution must lie.

March 27, 2006

Banach-Tarski: weird triangles

Okay, this has nothing to do with Banach-Tarski mathematically, but it is disturbing and unsettling for exactly the same reasons. Alert reader Brian sent me this image of cut-up and reassembled triangles. See if you can figure out what's going on.

More GOP polling reports

I can't remember the last time that GOP straw polls so accurately reflected my own preferences for a presidential candidate (Oh wait, yes I can! Never.)

Yes, I know I shouldn't get my hopes up. Yes, I know it's ridiculously early. Yes, I know Rudy is pro-choice. Yes, I know McCain is unpopular with some conservatives. But results such as these have been fairly stable for more than a year now. When do we begin taking them seriously?


As anyone who has ever functioned in some sort of tech support role knows, sometimes you have to deal with difficult personalities. This guy, however, takes the cake.

I understand that some people are ignorant of computer technology, and that's fine, but you don't have to compound that ignorance with being an asshole. Tech support geeks are frequently the object of much scorn and derision, but this one had the patience of freakin' Job. I think I would have reached through my monitor and throttled the guy if I'd been in his shoes. Just read the whole e-mail exchange.

(Hat tip: Dean)

Sopranos blogging (spoiler alert)

Well I guess Tony didn't die, but "Kevin Finnerty" finally did, thank God. It looks like we'll be back to the usual mayhem next week, and not a moment too soon.

Buck Owens, RIP

By the time I came along, Buck Owens was primarily known as the grinning hayseed with the red-white-and-blue guitar who told corny jokes on Hee Haw. When I was growing up, my family dismissed him as an untalented joke, so I never really bothered to investigate his earlier music career.

It was only years later, through the music of the people he inspired, like Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, and Ringo Starr, that I took a fresh look at Buck Owens. His "Bakersfield sound," characterized by distinctive harmonies and twanging steel guitars, was instantly familiar to me. It had always been there in the background, part of the soundtrack to the very earliest years of my life, even though I'd never been able to put a name to it.

I've got a few Buck Owens CDs on my shelf, and I'll give 'em a spin maybe once a year or so. While he may not rank among the highest deities of my musical pantheon, it's always a bummer to see yet another piece of one's childhood slip away.

For those unfamiliar with Buck's music, I can't really think of a better introduction than his 1988 duet with Dwight Yoakam, "The Streets of Bakersfield."

March 26, 2006

Republicans, Democrats and freedom

As a small-l libertarian, I've never harbored the illusion that we could trust either major party to safeguard our individual freedoms. That being said, I've usually preferred Republicans to Democrats when push came to shove. I tolerated Republican positions on social issues in favor of their economic agenda. I thought it more likely that a Democrat would raise my taxes than that a Republican would criminalize abortion. Up until now, that formulation has served me well.

Recently, however, the Republican Party has been doing its damnedest to destroy its reputation as the party of fiscal responsibility. That, coupled with the pernicious influence of the religious right, has led me to do some soul searching of late. Perhaps it's no longer true that the Democrats are the more clear and present danger when it comes to individual liberties.

There's a lot of dire talk about the current administration and its supposed erosion of our rights via the PATRIOT Act, NSA wiretapping, or what have you. But how many of us in our day-to-day lives have actually experienced a direct abrogation of our personal freedoms?

I tried to take an inventory of my own experience during the first 5 years of Bush/Republican control, and I could find precious little difference between my life now and life under his predecessor. The principle difference, I suppose, is that I now keep a larger chunk of my earned income than I did under Clinton. The other difference is that when I go gun shopping (which I sometimes do) I am now free to choose from among a wider selection of cool firearms than I was when Bush was sworn in.

So call it a two-point Republican advantage so far, I guess. It ain't much, but it's something. On the other side of the coin, how am I more constrained by government power than I was five years ago? Honestly, I pretty much came up blank on this one. Am I missing something? Granted, I'll probably never again see Janet Jackson's hideous breast on network television, but then again, we never saw it when Clinton was in office either. Besides, I can always see boobies on cable.

So what's the conclusion? I'll admit the Republicans aren't giving me much to work with here. At the same time, it's far, far from obvious that I should view Democrats as our only hope for saving the Bill of Rights. No matter how disgusted I get with the Republicans (and lately that's been a lot) I can always count on the Democrats to remind me why I don't support them either. My most recent reality check has been our newly-minted governor's proposed two billion dollar tax increase in what is already one of the most highly taxed states in the union, because digging deeper into our wallets is much easier than tackling waste, fraud, corruption and special interests. What's even more telling has been listening to the chorus of New Jersey Democrats defending this atrocity and telling us we should shut up, stop whining, and pony up.

Thanks, guys. I needed a reminder for why I can't support your party.

March 24, 2006

Saddam and Osama...

...sittin' in a tree.

A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.

The report then states that "Saudi opposition figure" bin Laden had to leave Sudan in July 1996 after it was accused of harboring terrorists. It says information indicated he was in Afghanistan. "The relationship with him is still through the Sudanese. We're currently working on activating this relationship through a new channel in light of his current location," it states.

Click at your own risk

Leonard Nimoy sings "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins." There's video too. You were warned. (Hat tip: The Corner)

March 23, 2006

My biggest problem with Democrats

Note to my non-New Jersey readers: Don't be scared away by this post. Although I begin it by discussing Garden State politics, the crux of this post is applicable on a national scale.

Here in New Jersey, our newly minted governor Jon Corzine has just announced a slew of new tax increases -- two billion dollars worth, in fact. Yes, this means he's broken two of his campaign promises already. And no, I'm not surprised.

Needless to say, I have been unhappy with these developments. What's bugged me even more, though, is the reaction of many New Jersey Democrats to this abomination.

"Yeah, of course there's waste in the budget," they tell me. "...but stop whining about it. Yes, of course there's graft and corruption... but let's just tighten our belts. Yes, of course, this is hard on already-overtaxed New Jersey families... but we want our schools to be funded."

Well excuse me, but what the f*ck? If you want to convince me that the Democratic Party is the new home for fiscal conservatives, this is not the way to do it!

Look, here's the deal. There are plenty of us economic conservatives out there, for whom social issues are secondary. We have tended Republican in the past, but we have been betrayed by the Republican Party -- betrayed wholly and utterly.

Democrats are trying to capitalize on this Republican failure. People like Howard Dean, Paul Hackett and others are trying to convince people like me that the Democratic Party should be our new home.

We're a bit skeptical of Democrats, given our history and theirs. Nonetheless, we're willing to be courted. Hell, we're eager to be courted. We desperately want to believe that at least one major party will do more than pay lip service to constraining government spending. If that party turns out to be the Democrats, then so be it. Sign me up.

But when Democrats I know talk this kind of nonsense? That we should sit still and shut up while our already-high taxes are raised even further? Nevermind that the root causes of the current crisis go unaddressed, we should shut up because California has even higher taxes, or because Jon Corzine inherited this mess, or because we want our schools fully funded, or for whatever reason, we should just suck it up and stop whining?

Well excuse me, but that's just crap. And worse than that, it does nothing but reinforce every negative stereotype we have against the Democrats on fiscal policy -- that you believe wasteful spending is just A-okay, so long as taxes are high enough to balance the budget. If Corzine had made a serious attempt to reduce waste and eliminate corruption but was still forced to raise taxes, I could be brought on board, but that ain't what happened -- not by a long shot.

You're losing us, dammit! We don't want to be lost, but you're losing us! And perhaps you still don't get it, but you need us if your party is ever again going to be successful on a national level. You need the people who are turned off by the conservatives' social agenda, but fear that voting for a Democrat will lead to an increased tax burden.

At the very time you need to be reassuring us, you're reinforcing our worst fears about you. And that's a damn shame.

Jesus and Hillary

Hillary is all about a bill that would criminalize illegal aliens.

Yes I know. You thought illegal aliens were already illegal, didn't you? You assumed a bill criminalizing illegal aliens would be sort of a no-brainer, didn't you? Ah, the simplisme of you narrow-minded, non-nuanced wingnuts.

Because you're so damn dense, Hillary Clinton takes a stab at explaining to you why it's wrong:

"It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures," Clinton said, "because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."

Let's set aside, for the moment, the appropriateness of using Christian scripture to oppose a bill. I just can't figure out how this comment even makes any sense. What is the point? Did I miss something in the gospels about Jesus and the Good Samaritan traveling to America an expired visas?

It just proves that this kind of nonsense is just as ridiculous when Democrats do it as when Republicans do.


I agree with K-Lo. A simple "thank you" might have been nice.

U.S.-led Coalition forces rescued peace-activist hostages in Iraq today. As you know, one of their colleagues, Tom Fox, was recently found dead, murdered by their captors.

So in their statement today, Christian Peacemaker Teams, says:

Harmeet, Jim and Norman and Tom were in Iraq to learn of the struggles facing the people in that country. They went, motivated by a passion for justice and peace to live out a nonviolent alternative in a nation wracked by armed conflict. They knew that their only protection was in the power of the love of God and of their Iraqi and international co-workers. We believe that the illegal occupation of Iraq by Multinational Forces is the root cause of the insecurity which led to this kidnapping and so much pain and suffering in Iraq. The occupation must end.
You're welcome. asswipe.


...but perhaps not surprising. While even the French and the Germans are holding Hamas's feet to the fire, Switzerland recognizes the terror organization as a partner.

March 22, 2006

Idol blogging

Oh what the hell, why not? I have no pride.

I thought It was a great night last night. I really like Taylor Hicks, and his "Not Fade Away" made up for Bucky Whatsisname's wretched "Oh Boy" earlier in the show (I'm a big Buddy Holly fan.) I loved Simon's earlier characterization of Taylor as a "drunk dad at a wedding." I know what he means, but I still love the guy.

I was nervous about the dude that chose a Johnny Cash song, because that's just asking for trouble. In the end, however, he pulled it off the only way he could -- by reimagining the song and making it his own. I thought it was a great job, and I'm also a huge Johnny Cash fan.

Bucky is probably a goner, although I didn't even bother to watch Ace.

Mandisa and Paris were also great, and my homegirl Kelly did a very credible Patsy Cline cover. I get the idea that Lisa is better than she's been showing us, but... oh well.

And I hadn't even heard about the pregnancy rumors surrounding Katherine until I heard them from Soobee this morning, but I have to admit I'd been wondering the same thing myself. I think it's those shapeless evening dresses they always make her wear. Why do they do that?

So anyway, that's all I've got to say about that. Anyone placing any bets?

Republicans need to lose

This will probably piss off some of my Republican readers, but I hope that principled conservatives will understand why I'm writing this, even if they don't agree. I'm hoping the Republicans lose at least one house in Congress this November. It might not happen, of course, but this is a wish, not a prediction.

Let's be honest. The Republicans have become too comfortable and too entrenched in the culture of power and corruption that permeates the capital. I've reluctantly concluded that the only hope of snapping them out of it is to hand them an electoral defeat. Look at the exploding federal budget and ask yourself what good they're doing. I've long been a fan of divided government, and I believe a few years of such a setup could be quite healthy (although Bush would have to learn how to use his veto pen.)

By all rights, it should have happened years ago, but the Democratic Party was too inept and too incompetent to administer the spanking the Republicans deserved. The GOP got a reprieve, but its leadership coasted along on borrowed time and never did anything to address the party's fundamental weaknesses.

But that's okay. November, I believe, will be ideal timing to shake Republican out of their complacency. Democrats can take over the Capitol and open the floodgates on six years of pent-up rage and anti-Bush histrionics. We'll be treated to censure debates, impeachment hearings, the whole bit.

Then, after they've spent their furor in a two-year Bush-bashing orgy, the very man whom the Democrats have allowed to define their identity will be gone. With a new Republican presidential candidate on the stage (McCain or Giuliani, with any luck) the Democrats will need to craft a message that goes beyond mindless, knee-jerk opposition to everything Bush says or does.

They will have to run on their record of the previous two years. If that record is one of genuine accomplishment (lower deficits, more modest budgets) then we might as well leave them in place for as long as that remains the case. If, on the other hand, their record is one of pathologically obsessive attempts to punish and humiliate a lame duck president on his way out the door (as I suspect it will), then the voters will likely remember why they turned these guys out in the first place.

It's been 12 years already. A reminder is overdue.

A new trend in blogging

Wednesday coffee art.


How does a coyote get into Central Park? Seriously?

March 21, 2006

Jon Corzine, asshat

Who didn't see this coming? New Jersey's Jon Corzine has proposed a series of tax hikes to fund his new $30.9 billion budget, which is 9% larger than the previous year's.

Spending cuts are few, far between and paltry in this budget, so Corzine plans to rely almost solely on tax hikes to close the existing gap. This includes

  • An jump in the sales tax from 6% to 7% (more than a 16% increase)
  • An expansion of items that are subject to the sales tax
  • A 2.5% "surcharge" on corporations
  • A 30-cent per pack hike in cigarette taxes

Oh wait, I forgot! When I said that Corzine was too timid at cutting spending, that wasn't completely fair. I neglected one very important item -- he's reneging on the property tax rebate he campaigned on. That will be scaled back significantly.


Sorry, but it beggars belief that one of the most heavily taxed states in the union (first in property taxes, and well above the national average for both sales tax and income tax) can't enough fat to trim in the budget to avoid a whole slew of additional tax increases. This is particularly outrageous and insulting given New Jersey's well-known reputation for waste and corruption.

The problem is, of course, that tackling waste and corruption is hard. It's much easier just to dig deeper into taxpayers' pockets. A household or a corporation wouldn't have that option available. They'd simply have to budget themselves better to close a deficit. Governments, however, have the unique ability to simply vote themselves a higher income, thus sparing them the tough choices the rest of us have to make. I can't say I'm surprised by this, but that doesn't make it right.

And how tough a choice should it be, anyway? New Jersey's tax revenues have risen by an average of more than 8 percent annually since 2002. I know if my household income increased by 8% every year I'd be doing pretty damn well. You'd think that such an increase would be sufficient for Trenton to stem the red ink even if they didn't have the stomach for budget cuts, right? Guess not. The Garden State has still managed to far outpace this increase with additional spending. There's no excuse for that.

If Corzine truly doesn't know where to start saving money, he could find out where to start just by reading today's Wass Street Journal.

The last thing people want to hear in a high-tax state notorious for political corruption is that their tax dollars are being mismanaged. But according to a two-year probe of school superintendents by New Jersey's State Commission of Investigation, that's exactly what's going on in Tony Soprano country. No wonder there's a property-tax rebellion brewing there as in many places around the country.

The report -- "Taxpayers Beware: What You Don't Know Can Cost You" -- sampled 71 of New Jersey's more than 600 school districts and found a pattern of "questionable and excessive" practices that included boosting salaries and padding pensions surreptitiously and in ways that have cost unsuspecting taxpayers millions of dollars. A school chief in Ocean County was paid nearly $350,000, or 65% more than he reported to the Department of Education. A Camden official received $223,000, which included $43,000 in undisclosed bonuses, car expenses and an annuity. And a Bergen County superintendent received more than a half-million dollars in extra pay for unused sick time and other benefits.

According to the report, if these perks were disclosed at all they were in the minutiae of contracts rather than in reported salaries. "If a school board wants to pay a superintendent $300,000, fine," wrote the Newark Star-Ledger, a paper that typically favors higher taxes and spending. "But taxpayers shouldn't be told the salary is $200,000 and given no clue that the total package makes the compensation 50 percent higher."

I'm not holding my breath, though. Given the Democratic hegemony in New Jersey, I think Corzine will get all the tax hikes he wants, no one will be required to belt-tighten, and it will be business as usual.

Yep, my new governor sucks. So does my new senator, for that matter. The only real improvement is my representative, who has gone from being Bob Menendez to an empty chair.

An ideal war

The growing discontent with the war in Iraq is certainly based in part on the realities of the ground. It's also a function, however, of the president's ability (or lack thereof) to sell it. George W. Bush may, in fact, be the least effective spokesman for the war that I've heard.

None are better, however, than Christopher Hitchens. Bush should sideline Karen Hughes and hire this guy as chief of wartime communications or some such. This new piece, via Jeff Goldstein is a prime example.

[...] It seems amazing to me that so many people have adopted the “Saddam Hussein? No problem!” view before the documents captured from his regime have even been translated, let alone analyzed. I am sure that when this task has been completed, history will make fools of those who believed that he was no threat, had no terror connections, was “in his box,” and so forth. A couple of recent disclosures lend some point to my view. The first are the findings published in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, and the second is the steady work of Stephen Hayes, over at the Weekly Standard, aimed at getting some of the captured documents declassified.

The long report in the May-June Foreign Affairs gives us a view of the regime that confirms the essential contours of Kanan Makiya’s Republic of Fear. A system of hideous cruelty we have learned to take for granted, but this also reminds us of a system of amazing irrationality. Saddam Hussein wanted, until the very last days, to maintain ambiguity about his possession of weapons of mass destruction. Given his past record, there was absolutely no reason why any serious government should have taken his word that he had dropped this stance. (And we also know, from the Duelfer report and many other sources, that he hoped to retain his latent ability to restart production once the sanctions -- which were themselves a crime against the Iraqi people -- had been lifted or rendered ineffective.) It is in the light of that last point that one of the article’s crucial discoveries must be read. Saddam believed until the end that the French and Russian governments would save him. He also knew what we -- at the time -- did not: The oil-for-food system had turned into a self-sustaining racket that cemented his support in French and Russian circles. He thought that contracts would speak louder than words, and in this instance he wasn’t completely crazy to do so.

As for the “terror” connection, Hayes in a series of unrebutted articles has laid out a tranche of suggestive and incriminating connections, based on a mere fraction of the declassified documents, showing Iraqi Baathist involvement with jihadist and Bin Ladenist groups from Sudan to Afghanistan to Western Asia. If you choose to doubt this, you might want to look at the threat, neglected by the U.S. military, of the “Fedayeen Saddam.” (See also Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor’s admirable new book Cobra II.) This interestingly named outfit, known to many of us for some time, did most of the serious fighting against the coalition after the ignominious and predictable collapse of the Iraqi army and the Republican Guard. Its ranks were heavily augmented with foreign jihadists, and from this para-state formation and its recruitment pattern, we get an idea of the way in which things would have gone in Iraq if it had been left alone. Never mind “imminent threat,” if that phrase upsets you. How does “permanent threat” sound?

So, now I come at last to my ideal war. Let us start with President Bush’s speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, which I recommend that you read. Contrary to innumerable sneers, he did not speak only about WMD and terrorism, important though those considerations were. He presented an argument for regime change and democracy in Iraq and said, in effect, that the international community had tolerated Saddam’s deadly system for far too long. Who could disagree with that? Here’s what should have happened. The other member states of the United Nations should have said: Mr. President, in principle you are correct. The list of flouted U.N. resolutions is disgracefully long. Law has been broken, genocide has been committed, other member-states have been invaded, and our own weapons inspectors insulted and coerced and cheated. Let us all collectively decide how to move long-suffering Iraq into the post-Saddam era. We shall need to consider how much to set aside to rebuild the Iraqi economy, how to sponsor free elections, how to recuperate the devastated areas of the marshes and Kurdistan, how to try the war criminals, and how many multinational forces to ready for this task. In the meantime—this is of special importance—all governments will make it unmistakably plain to Saddam Hussein that he can count on nobody to save him. All Iraqi diplomats outside the country, and all officers and officials within it, will receive the single message that it is time for them to switch sides or face the consequences. Then, when we are ready, we shall issue a unanimous ultimatum backed by the threat of overwhelming force. We call on all democratic forces in all countries to prepare to lend a hand to the Iraqi people and assist them in recovering from more than three decades of fascism and war.

Not a huge amount to ask, when you think about it. But what did the president get instead? The threat of unilateral veto from Paris, Moscow, and Beijing. Private assurances to Saddam Hussein from members of the U.N. Security Council. Pharisaic fatuities from the United Nations’ secretary-general, who had never had a single problem wheeling and dealing with Baghdad. The refusal to reappoint Rolf Ekeus—the only serious man in the U.N. inspectorate—to the job of invigilation. A tirade of opprobrium, accusing Bush of everything from an oil grab to a vendetta on behalf of his father to a secret subordination to a Jewish cabal. Platforms set up in major cities so that crowds could be harangued by hardened supporters of Milosevic and Saddam, some of them paid out of the oil-for-food bordello.

Well, if everyone else is allowed to rewind the tape and replay it, so can I. We could have been living in a different world, and so could the people of Iraq, and I shall go on keeping score about this until the last phony pacifist has been strangled with the entrails of the last suicide-murderer.

That's my favorite bit, but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing, along with Jeff's commentary. It will be the best investment of your time all day -- blogwise, that is.

March 20, 2006

Banach-Tarski: More paradoxes of the infinite

In the latest installment of my math-blogging series (see previous posts here and here), I'm continuing to explore paradoxes of the infinite, working toward the goal of understanding the Banach-Tarski paradox.

This is one I came up with myself when I was bored in calculus class one day. I'm going to calculate how long it takes for a rubber ball to bounce an infinite number of times. No, really.

You know how it is when you bounce a ball. With each bounce, the ball loses energy and only rises to a fraction of its original height. As the height of each bounce diminishes, so does the time it takes for the bounce to complete. Towards the end, the ball bounces very, very quickly, accelerating to culminate in a bunch of frenzied, tiny little bounces in the last second, just before it stops entirely.

Consider a ball that returns to exactly one-half its original height each time you bounce it. You drop it from a height of one meter initially, it bounces back up to a height of 50 cm, then to 25 cm, then 12.5 and so on. Theoretically, the ball will bounce an infinite number of times. In the real world, of course, we know it doesn't really bounce infinitely many times, for a number of reasons. Eventually, for example, the altitude of the bounce would become smaller than the physical imperfections on the surface of the ball, causing the bouncing to stop.

As usual, however, we're going to set aside such practical considerations and consider the theoretical case. How long then, would it take for a ball to bounce infinitely many times? The answer might surprise you.

In Physics 101, we learn that the time it takes for a ball to be dropped from a height h is

where g is the gravitational acceleration constant, 9.8 meters per second squared. The time it takes to fall, hit the floor, and then bounce back up to half its initial height is then

Similarly, we can add up the time required for all the bounces to take place:

The coefficient 2 in front of the summation represents the "round trip" all subsequent bounces must take -- up, then back down. We can actually calculate this sum by taking the following integral:

The result of this calculation (if I did it right) is

Now I didn't bother to calculate how many seconds this corresponds to, but that isn't really the point. The point is that the answer is a finite number. Depending on the initial height you drop the ball from, it may take 3 seconds, 5 seconds, 7.2532 seconds or some other amount of time for the ball to stop bouncing. But the point is that after a finite period of time, the ball will have actually bounced an infinite number of times -- theoretically, at least. Far out, huh?

This isn't directly related to Banach-Tarski, other than the fact that both problems are examples of how infinite numbers can lead to bizarre and non-intuitive results. The next examples I'll show here are going to be a bit more set theoretical in nature, as they get us closer and closer to the kind of thinking required to look at Banach-Tarski. More later.

Why do conservatives support Bush?

I'm not quite as supportive of the president as his detractors make me out to be. To be fair, I'm partly to blame for that misperception, given that I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time defending him. That's a reaction to what I see as a frenzy of mindless, hysterical knee-jerk Bush-hatred on the part of many Democrats these days. It's not enough for them to point out his many legitimate faults and shortcomings. Instead, they feel a compulsive need to define him as a kind of antichrist, an avatar of pure and distilled evil.

For these pathological Bush haters, the president has taken on the role of the ubiquitous (and imaginary) Jewish-financed, "one world" conspiracy that so animated the John Birchers in past decades. He is directly to blame for every ill and every wrong in American society. (And by the way, I know that doesn't apply to all Democrats, so please spare me the aggrieved comments and e-mails. If you're offended by this
characterization, it probably means I'm not talking about you.)

This is pathological, of course, but to defend this president against any charge, no matter how outlandish, is a faux pas of the first order within many Democratic circles. If I point, for example, that President Bush probably is not directly to blame for sunspots or the influenza pandemic of the early 20th century, I'm branded a "Bush worshipper." Again, I'm partially at fault for even engaging such irrationalities as if they represented serious political discourse, rather than the petulant, puerile temper tantrums they actually are.

And just so you don't think I'm singling out lefties unfairly, many conservatives were guilty of exactly the same type of irrational Clinton hatred back during the 90s. This anti-Clinton fervor that culminated in his impeachment also triggered a backlash, and gave us the rather odd spectacle of committed liberals and progressives passionately defending the (fairly conservative) president who gave us welfare reform and NAFTA.

I think the same basic dynamics are at work today, and that's part of the reason I find myself defending a guy that I refused to vote for in 2000, on the grounds that I thought he was a terrible candidate who would tarnish the reputation of "conservatism" for years to come.

But I think there's another reason as well. Via James Taranto, I discovered this quote by David Boaz. I'm sure it was written with tongue firmly in cheek, but I see a fair amount of truth in it at the same time.

As a nominating speech for President Grover Cleveland once put it, "They love him most for the enemies he has made." Conservatives love Bush because the left hates him. If the New York Times would run a front-page story headlined "Bush Delivers the Big Government Clinton Never Did," and the lefty bloggers would pick it up and run with it, maybe conservatives would catch on.

So here's your challenge, lefty bloggers: If you don't like the tree-chopping, Falwell-loving, cowboy president--if you want his presidency fatally wounded for the next three years--then start praising him. One good Paul Krugman column taking off from that USA Today story on the surge in entitlements recipients under Bush, one Daily Kos lead on how Clinton flopped on national health care but Bush twisted every arm in the GOP to get a multi-trillion-dollar prescription drug benefit for the elderly, one cover story in the Nation on how Bush has acknowledged federal responsibility for everything from floods in New Orleans to troubled teenagers, and maybe, just maybe, National Review and the Powerline blog and Fox News would come to their senses. Bush is a Rockefeller Republican in cowboy boots, and it's time conservatives stopped looking at the boots instead of the policies.

Ain't it the truth? Granted, it's not a very high-minded reason to admire the president, but what can I say, I'm human. Subconsciously, at least, I figure that anyone who so enrages Michael Moore, George Galloway, Barbra Streisand and Paul Krugman must be doing something right. Right?

So uh...

...does anyone this this is a good idea?

A Dutch multicultural group is organizing a soccer tournament between gays and Muslims, hoping to counter what a study published on Thursday said was a rising tide of fear among gays.

A nationwide survey by the Police Research Academy said that most gays questioned feel unsafe and reported experiencing verbal attacks in the last year.

Of the 776 homosexuals who responded to an internet questionnaire, 80 percent said they believed their safety was threatened at some time during the year, said academy director Frits Vlek, who commissioned the research.
Muslim-gay tension is the theme of the soccer tournament organized by the Institute of Multicultural Development, to be held next week.

An organizer of the group, Suzanne Ijsselmuiden, said she hoped the competition will "help ease these tensions so that people can openly talk about homosexuality."

March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's a pretty busy day for me today, so I probably won't get around to everything I had intended to talk about. I do want to take the opportunity to wish everyone a Happy St. Patrick's day, however.

We're having some of our vegetarian friends over for dinner tonight, so I'll be cooking a vegetarian shepherd's pie. It's completely experimental, so wish me luck. Ah well, even if it's a total disaster, there will be plenty of ice cold Guinness on hand, at least.

Heh heh

I think I might have dated this girl in college.

March 16, 2006

National "Buy a Gun" Day

This makes twice in one week! First it was this fine holiday which Godzilla helpfully brought to my attention the following day (I could have at least grilled a steak!) And now I find out that National "Buy a Gun" Day is coming up in less than a month.

Yeah, I know it's still a few weeks away, but now that I've moved to a state that's hostile to gun rights, it requires a bit more advanced planning than that. I need to apply for a "permit," or some damn thing.

Anyway, I think it's a fine idea, but I guess I'll be celebrating it a bit belatedly this year. It'll give me something constructive to do with my tax refund, I guess.

Time to retire this meaningless term

Twice during the past few days, I've seen articles referring to William F. Buckley, Jr. as a "neocon." Seriously.

This is as clear a sign as any that the term has lost all meaning, if indeed it ever had any. Perhaps it actually described a certain subset of conservative thought a decade ago, but now it has become nothing more than a meaningless slur.

March 15, 2006

Are we trendsetters, Adam?

I'm beginning to think this math blogging thing may catch on. They're even doing "West Wing" math blogging over at The Volokh Conspiracy. Check out their puzzler; it's kind of intriguing.

It's similar to a puzzle involving a mountain climber that I used to enjoy torturing people with. It goes like this:

On Saturday, a man climbs a mountain. He begins at the base of the mountain at 9 AM and arrives at the summit at 6 PM. Other than that, we can make no assumptions about his route or his rate of progress. He might have gone at a steady, even pace, or in bursts, with frequent rests. He might have even lingered for nearly nine hours near the bottom and then sprinted up to the top during the last 10 minutes. Who knows.

The next day, Sunday, he comes back down. Again, he starts out at 9 AM and reaches the bottom at 6 PM. We know nothing of what happens in between. My assertion is this: There is some time on Sunday during which the climber is at the exact same height as he was at the same moment Saturday. It could be noon, it could be 9:37 AM, it could be 4:10 PM, could be anything. But there exists some moment at which the dude is at the same elevation as he was exactly 24 hours earlier. Again, this is independent of his route or his pacing.

Do you buy it or not? It seems non-intuitive at first, but it's true. Think about it, and if you give up you can click below for the answer.

This doesn't constitute a formal proof, but it's a hand-waving kind of argument that you'll hopefully find convincing nonetheless. Instead of one hiker going both ways, imagine there are two different hikers, one going up and one going down. Also assume that they're climbing/descending on the same day rather than one day apart. If they each start out at 9 and each finish at 6, they will certainly pass each other at some point. They may not see each other, because they may be on opposite sides of the mountain, but there will be some instant during which they are both at the same elevation.

UPDATE: Paul made me realize I did a crappy job of relating the two-climber case to the original problem. Let me try to bridge the gap like this.

You've got two movie screens, side by side. On one screen, you're watching Climber A climb the mountain in real time. On the other, you're watching Climber B simultaneously descend the same mountain, also in real time. At some point, their paths will "cross" in the sense that they will both be at the same elevation.

Now imagine that instead of watching the two climbers, you're watching two different videos of the same climber taken exactly 24 hours apart. That gets us back to the original problem, but the stuff you see on the movie screens is essentially no different from the two-climber case. There exists some point (some moment in time) during which the descending dude is at the same elevation he was the day before.

And no, there's no way to predict when that moment will occur, only that it will. That's obvious in the two-hiker case, but it seems less so when you state the problem in terms of one hiker over two days.

Oh well, I'm doing a sucky job of explaining this. Nevermind.

Feingold censure update

You've got to check out Dana Milbank's piece on how Feingold's Democratic colleagues are reacting to his call for censure.

Democratic senators, filing in for their weekly caucus lunch yesterday, looked as if they'd seen a ghost.

"I haven't read it," demurred Barack Obama (Ill.).

"I just don't have enough information," protested Ben Nelson (Neb.). "I really can't right now," John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters -- an excuse that fell apart when Kerry was forced into an awkward wait as Capitol Police stopped an aide at the magnetometer.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

"Ask her after lunch," offered Clinton's spokesman, Philippe Reines. But Clinton, with most of her colleagues, fled the lunch out a back door as if escaping a fire.

Heh, you've got to admit, it's kind of fun to watch 'em sweat like this. And wouldn't you love to know what's being said in the accompanying photo of Feingold with Harry Reid and Dick Durbin?

Many Senate Democrats are understandably upset at being placed on the hotseat by Feingold. Most of them are intelligent enough to understand the point that NR makes today.

The left-wing netroots are rallying to Feingold's proposal, and posting the phone numbers of Democratic senators, so Bush haters everywhere can call to urge them to vote for the Feingold's censure resolution. These bloggers and their readers are a key part of Feingold's constituency for a run for the 2008 presidential nomination from the left. Anything Feingold does to please them helps himself, even if it is irrational and harmful to his party's interests. It often will be, since the netroots can't distinguish between political strategy and pointless, self-gratifying stunts. This is why they pushed Democrats to compound the disaster of the Alito hearings with a doomed filibuster of the nomination, championed -- not coincidentally -- by another '08 hopeful, John Kerry.

This is going to be fun. Please pass the popcorn. For the time being, however, I'm keeping the boycott in place.

Let's adopt British-style health care!

...or not!

The link I've posted above points to the blog of a British doctor working for the National Health Service. He's dissatisfied, to say the least, and he's speaking his mind. Monday was a particularly trying day for him. Here's a sampling.

First patient is David. Elderly man. Charming. He was a tank commander during the war. He is in atrial fibrillation, he is not maintaining his blood pressure, he keeps flipping in and out of heart failure and is being admitted for pacing in two days. When Dr Crippen was a houseman, all patients such as this were “clerked in” by the houseman. That does not happen anymore. Nowadays, they are assessed by cardiac nurse specialist. She is much cleverer that Dr Crippen because she can do this assessment by telephone. David has had a letter saying that he should be at home by the phone this afternoon, waiting for her call. He is puzzled. “How can she assess my cardiac status over the phone?” Beats me. I have to use a stethoscope, but then I am only a doctor.


Third patient in is Mary, one of the local speech therapists. She is approaching retirement. I sent her husband into hospital three weeks ago in rip-roaring heart failure. He was on CCU for three days but now is on the far flung corner of Dixon, one of the medical wards. He is partially sighted due to an old stroke, and is hard of hearing. The nursing care is appalling. He has developed pressures sores on his sacrum and heels and, oddly, a suppurating area above both ears which Mary thinks is due to the oxygen mask he uses being too tight. He is losing weight because he cannot really manage to feed himself. Mary was in each day over the weekend. Uneaten food from Saturday was still on his bedside table on Sunday. Mary went to the nursing station at the end of the ward. The nurses were all eating take-away Pizza. Deep Pan pizza from Pizza Hut. Mary remembers that particularly. Mary thinks her husband is dying. She is not sure which consultant he is under, and has not been able to find a doctor to talk to. The nurses over the weekend do not speak English. She tried to tell them that her husband is partially sighted but they do not understand. They show here the nursing assessment. Under “visual problems” it says "none". Mary is in tears and asks what she should do. I suggest she phones the Chief Executive and makes a formal complaint.

I do not suppose that Pizza Hut pizzas carry harmful bacteria, but should they be on an acute medical ward?


Mavis is a hugely efficient retired social worker. Her husband has Alzheimer’s disease, quite advanced now. There is a three year waiting list for in-patient care of Alzheimer patients and he has only just gone on it. Social services offer her two weeks respite care a year. She is not managing. She is on her knees. She has a bit of angina (stable) and needs full investigation but will not go for it at present.

Trouble is, she is looking after her husband really well. So when social services “assess” her, she is classified as low need. She knows the system. She worked in it herself. “The best thing I could do is have a heart attack, then we would be high need” she says.

She is right.

I would (and do) encourage you to read the whole thing, but I have to warn you that some of the content there is quite graphic. The excerpts I've posted above are very mild.

(Hat tip: Iain)

March 14, 2006

Is it just me...

...or does this seem somewhat inappropriate?

Tuna stockpiling

In some rather bizarre advice, Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans stock up on canned tuna, powdered milk, and other "essentials" against the possibility of a bird flu pandemic.

No need for me to do anything. Since my wife discovered Costco, our basement and both pantries are so stocked with provisions that you can barely open the door. I think we've got provisions enough to ride out the bird flu, Y2K, two hurricanes and a blackout sequentially.

Brokeback bitch

I've seen neither "Brokeback Mountain" nor "Crash," so I have no idea which movie (if either) deserved to win the Best Picture Oscar. Check back after they've come out on cable and I might have an opinion for you.

Meanwhile, however, I am of the opinion that Annie Proulx is an annoying harpy.

For starters, I was already a bit peeved that her publisher is now selling her short story "Brokeback Mountain" in book form for $9.95. Not "Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories," mind you, just "Brokeback Mountain." One story. Ten bucks. The "book" has 64 pages, and that's with some pretty hefty margins. I read the entire damn thing while standing up at the bookstore last week in about 20 minutes. Ten bucks for that. More in Canada. What a rip. Anyway, I figured the whole thing was probably her publicist's idea to begin with, so I gave her a pass.

Now, however, she's a whining, sore-loser crybaby, alleging sinister conspiracies and making crass, juvenille insults against the movie that won top honors.

And rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash -- excuse me -- Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline.

"Trash," tee hee. Gee, with witty wordplay like that, maybe she should've written the screenplay herself.

Classy, huh? Everyone loves a gracious loser. But then again, it's not like she even lost. She neither directed the movie, acted in it, nor wrote the screenplay. She merely wrote a short story that served as its inspiration, that she's now hawking copies of for ten bucks a pop.

Perhaps Hollywood needed to see "Crash." If you've read the short story, you'll know that three of the major characters (including Ennis) were Latinos, but Hollywood cast all the roles with white dudes. In a normal movie, you'd expect something like that to generate some controversy, right? Well not here. The story about "the love that dare not speak its name" has become "the movie that we dare not criticize."

Ironically, most of the effusive praise I've heard for the film so far has come from straight white liberals. And that's fine, I'm glad they liked it, but I'd be really curious to hear more reviews from gay people. If any of my gay readers want to weigh in, I'd love to hear your opinions. Was it a great movie? Was it a crime that "Crash" won? Do you think homophobia might have played a role in the academy's decision? Seriously, I'd like to know.

"He dead"

For some reason, that line from Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" has stuck in my head ever since I heard the news about ol' Slobodan quietly kicking off in his jail cell.

Yep, Milosevic is dead, and everyone seems pretty happy about it. There doesn't seem to be any significant post factum hand-wringing about whether we did the right thing by removing this evil dictator from power.

That's odd, in a way, considering Milosevic

  1. didn't attack us on 9/11
  2. wasn't allied with al Qaeda
  3. and didn't pose a direct threat to the United States or American citizens

Not only that, but the military campaign that unseated him was not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council. And yet toppling Milosevic was just A-okay.

The reason this should be the case is left as an exercise for the reader.

Happy Pi Day!

Mmm, π....

Today, March 14 (get it? 3/14?) is the day we celebrate everybody's favorite transcendental number, pi.

If you're looking for ways to celebrate, eating pie seems like a good idea. Not only does it sound like "pi," but it has both a circumference and a diameter, whose ratio is... π.

It might also be a good idea to remember Ludolph van Ceulen, a German mathematician who, centuries ago, made it his life's work to calculate pi as accurately as possible.

He did quite well for his day. He calculated 35 decimal places! Unfortunately, the effort proved too much for him, and he died of exhaustion as a result. All 35 digits were carved into his tombstone as a tribute. No, I am not making this up.

It's kind of a sad story when you think about it. I mean think how easy it would be to reproduce his life's work on a computer these days? Oh well, at least they didn't invent computers like, that next year or something.

That and many more fun geeky stories can be found in Petr Beckman's fascinating
"A History of Pi."
Seriously, it's a more interesting read than you'd think.

My fantasy came true

Unfortunately it was for someone else.

To a Norwegian woman, it may have seemed like magic when beer began running from her kitchen faucet. But it was a nightmare to the bar two flights down when water poured out of their taps.

A clumsy plumber accidentally hooked beer hoses to the water pipes to the woman's apartment.

Now that you mention it...

... I remember that too, Jonah.

I remember how in the late 1990s and early 2000s "neoconservatism" was the good conservatism. The New York Times and the New Republic went out of their way to praise the Weekly Standard, not just on the merits, but out of a strange admiration of neoconservatism. This was driven partly by ignorance about what "traditional" conservatives believed, part of it had to do with Pat Buchanan's limited success at dividing all of conservatism between "paleo" conservatives and "neo" conservatives, even though neither group amounted to more than a small fraction of the conservative movement. Another factor was that neocons were seen, favorably, as urban and Jewish and therefore not culturally alien and scary to urban and Jewish liberals. I remember talking to a conservative historian friend of mine who told me that in academic journals anything conservative and intelligent was, by definition, "neoconservative" because unprefixed conservativism was racist, sexist and thuggish and hence could not warrant attention from legitimate scholars.
And then, 9/11 and Iraq.

Suddenly, it turned out that the neocons weren't the "conscience" of conservatism they were the warmongers. This struck the left and liberals as a horrible and embarrassing betrayal. So now, almost everything got reversed. Where neocons were good, now they were evil. And, all of a sudden, liberals found a Strange New Respect for the Old Right. Frank Foer started lavishing praise on Albert J. Nock. Pat Buchanan found traction in the lefty blogosophere and among Naderites.

March 13, 2006

Thank you, al Jazeera!

...for sparing me any impure thoughts.

Some things you have to see to believe. Just go here.

I'm launching a boycott

This weekend, Senator Russ Feingold (Moonbat, WI) proposed censuring President Bush.

Now I'm not sure what this entails, exactly, but it doesn't sound very good. I wish these ankle-biting obstructionists would quit attacking our president in time of war for keeping us safe. And to prove it, I'm going to break with tradition and officially start a boycott. From this point forward, I will not drink a single Feingold beer until the senator drops this outrageous proposal.

That's right, not one more beer, dammit! (All right, I know it's not exactly spelled the same, but it's the closest I could get.)

I know this goes against my normal "no boycotts" policy, but this one should be fairly painless to implement, since no human has actually consumed a Feingold in, what, thirty years? The ones I see at the corner deli still have a pull-top on 'em, for God's sake.

Who's with me?!?

From the sublime to the ridiculous

After watching the terrific season opener to "The Sopranos" last night, and seeing Tony Soprano get plugged by an angry Mr. Six, I allowed my wife to talk me into watching the season premier of that bigamy show, "Big Love."

Sigh. I will say that Jeanne Tripplehorn just looks better and better with age, but that's about the only positive thing I can say about the experience. The entire show was too depressing to have any real entertainment value to me, I'm afraid.

I wonder whether Mormons will protest this show? I wonder whether they'll burn buildings and attack plastic Ronald McDonalds?

No, somehow I doubt it. I doubt there's anything safer than mocking Mormons, yet the show has already been praised for its "courage." Another Hollywood moment of greatness.

Anyway, I doubt I'll tune in again. But I think my wife owes me one. Say, does anyone know of a website that has tips for how to get your wife to watch "Battlestar Galactica?"

Speaking of recipes...

Heh, this is kind of funny. Last year in the Outer Banks, my wife got a bit bored and decided to amuse herself with an empty box of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. They were sponsoring some contest in which the person who submitted the best original recipe, as determined by the judges, would receive money or cool prizes.

She didn't have the patience (or indeed any cream cheese) with which to actually develop new recipes experimentally. Instead, she simply made them up off the top of her head, assigned them arbitrary names, wrote them out on a dozen or so index cards and mailed them away.

We'd pretty much forgotten about it until last week when, lo and behold, she received notification that one of her recipes had come in second place. Now mind you, we never tried any of these "recipes," and in fact we didn't even keep copies. Curiosity got the better of her, so she called the prize headquarters on the phone and sheepishly asked which recipe of hers had won, since she entered several. It was her terrific recipe for "Vegetable Delight," she was informed. No, we have no idea what it is. We're sort of too embarrassed to ask.

March 12, 2006


"The Sopranos," or "Desperate Housewives?"

March 10, 2006

I want to make this!

I've gotten some great recipes from Stephen in the past, and this one looks like it might be a keeper! It's leg of lamb in a slow cooker. What's not to like?

Kofi goes too far

As a CN reader points out,

That whole genocide in Africa thing -- heck, that could happen to anybody. Nuclear proliferation, the spread of Islamic radicalism -- he's only one guy! What do you expect from him?

But we're gonna draw the line when it comes to outsourcing!

UN staff vote no confidence in Annan management

The U.N. Staff Union voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to express no confidence in U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his top managers after Annan announced plans to overhaul the U.N. bureaucracy"
"Annan two days earlier had introduced a 33-page report on U.N. management reform that proposed outsourcing some U.N. work or moving staff out of the United States for some translation services, document production, printing and publishing and information technology."

Definitely good news

Looks like we bloggers might be exempt from onerous campaign finance reporting requirements after all.

The House Administration Committee today approved a bill calling for the exemption of certain online communications from rules for reporting campaign finance activity.

National Journal's Technology Daily reports that the bill, H.R. 1606, was approved by voice vote. Last November, the full House failed to garner the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the bill under expedited procedures. That 225-182 vote kicked the legislation back to committee.

Potentially good news

Some Sunnis appear to be targetting al Qaeda in Iraq.

Residents reported curious declarations hanging from mosque walls and market stalls recently in Ramadi, the Sunni Muslim insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad. The fliers said Iraqi militants had turned on and were killing foreign al-Qaida fighters, their one-time allies.

A local tribal leader and Iraq's Defense Ministry have said followers of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, have begun fleeing Anbar province and Ramadi, its capital, to cities and mountain ranges near the Iranian border.

"So far we have cleared 75 percent of the province and forced al-Qaida terrorists to flee to nearby areas," said Osama al-Jadaan, a leader of the Karabila tribe, which has thousands of members living along the border with

He claimed his people have captured hundreds of foreigner fighters and handed them to authorities. The drive, dubbed Operation Tribal Chivalry, is designed to secure the country's borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to prevent foreign fighters from crossing in.

More kind of good news

It looks like the Senate might be on the verge of resolving the whole "domestic spying" controversy in a fairly reasonable way -- by providing the level of Congressional oversight the program's opponents claimed to want.

I was always confident that this issue would ultimately be clarified and settled by either Congress or the federal courts, and I'm happy that it seems to be the former instead of the latter.

I've never thought the claim that the NSA spying was unconstitutional was convincing, honestly. It may well have been illegal by statute, but the legal waters are murky and ambiguous enough to render even that point unclear.

Tacit Congressional approval, however, would seem to mute the statutory issue, while at the same time addressing the program's biggest weakness -- lack of oversight from outside the executive branch.

Democrats are still going to bitch, of course, but they know the poll number on this issue and they're going to realize that most voters will see this compromise as a reasonable one.

Sort of good news

By now this seems a bit anticlimactic.

Republican congressional leaders told President Bush Thursday the House and Senate both appear ready to block a Dubai-owned company from taking over operations at several U.S. ports, GOP officials said.

The leadership delivered the assessment in a private meeting at virtually the same time White House spokesman Scott McClellan reiterated Bush's vow to veto any legislation interfering with the deal.

The developments came one day after a GOP-controlled House committee voted 62-2 to block the transfer, which has prompted an election-year Republican congressional revolt against the administration -- made all the more striking because it is related to the war on terrorism.

The Dubai ports deal never sat right with me. Moreover, it never stood a chance of passage in the face of such bipartisan opposition. Under the circumstances, it's best to put it behind as us quickly as possible.

I have to confess to having some mixed feelings about it, however. I'll admit that it's perfectly possible that DP World might have done a fine job of managing our ports. It's also likely that the way this whole unfortunate saga played out will further alienate moderate Arabs, but inside the UAE and out. I have to fault the Bush administration for not anticipating the political firestorm this would trigger. Had it done so, Bush could have very quietly scuttled the deal much earlier, sparing us all this unnecessary melodrama.

On the plus side, it's good to see confirmation that the American public still takes the War on Terror very, very seriously. Another positive bit of fallout is that it has highlighted the port security issue in general. Hopefully that focus will remain in place long enough to take a good luck at one of our weakest security links.

March 09, 2006

More referrer log fun!

Today's neat fact: If you Google "I need pictcher of yemen," this site comes up first.


More stellar reporting on Iraq

This time it's from USA Today, and comes to us courtesy of James Taranto.

The meat of the article indicates that desertion rates in the U.S. military have "plunged" since September 11, and indeed have decreased every year since 2001, as the graph below demonstrates.

So what's the headline for the story?

8,000 desert during Iraq war

and the article begins
At least 8,000 members of the all-volunteer U.S. military have deserted since the Iraq war began, Pentagon records show, although...

Great journalism, huh?

Democrats and Iran

No matter how vulnerable Republicans are in the polls, Democrats have shown a marked inability to capitalize on those vulnerabilities. When opportunities to exploit GOP weakness arise (as they often do these days) the Democrats will either sit idly by or fumble it altogether.

Why is that? I mean, it's not rocket science here. It seems pretty simple to me. Take the case of Iran, for example. Here is the perfect opportunity for Democrats to acquire some genuine credibility on national security. That would be good thing for their electoral prospects. (They may think they've done that by opposing the UAE ports deal, but they haven't. They've merely shown they're capable of being as xenophobic as anyone else, but we already knew that.)

The script is so easy, it almost writes itself. Try this, for example.

Iran is a very real threat, and it is too important an issue to allow this president to screw it up, as he's done with Iraq. The United States cannot allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, and thus far the response of the U.N. and the international community has been woefully lacking. We cannot sit idly by and let the U.N. or this incompetent administration blow this very important window of opportunity. That's why we Democratic senators are acting now to impose economic sanctions on Iran if they refuse to abandon their nuclear ambitions, blah blah blah...

Now why is that so hard? It's such a frickin' no-brainer! There are many millions of voters out there who are dissatisfied with the current Republican leadership, and are looking for alternatives. There's a lot of low-lying fruit in those trees, but it's not enough to stand there stupidly and wait for it to fall. Sometimes you've got to shake the tree a little bit.

The Democratic Party should clearly hire me as a political consultant.

A Roe v. Wade for men?

Years ago when I lived in France, I had a friend who was a "men's liberationist." I had no idea what that meant at first, but he explained it to me over crappy Alsacian beer during those long Parisian summer evenings. The movement's philosophy was a bit like radical feminism to me, in that some of it was plain crap, much of it was nutty, but there were some pretty good points in there as well.

Men's liberationists are at their most convincing on issues like the legalities of unwanted pregnancies, in which the woman has all the options and the man has none. Consider the following cases (let's set aside the state of South Dakota for a while, shall we?)

  1. The woman wants to terminate the pregnancy. The man doesn't. The woman wins. Period.
  2. The woman wants to carry the baby to term. The man doesn't. The woman wins. Period.

I should point out that I don't have a problem with this, as far as it goes. After all, it's the woman who has to incubate the fetus in her body, so she should have the right to make the final decision. Fine.

Where I do have a problem, however, is when the woman carries the baby to term over the objections of the man (case 2) and feels entitled to a substantial chunk of the man's earnings for the next 18 years simply because she chose to make a decision he disagreed with. I find that profoundly unfair.

A woman may exercise sole authority over her own body, but she should not have such authority over a man's paycheck. As long as abortion remains a safe, legal alternative, no man should be forced to pay years of child support for an unwanted, unintended pregnancy. If the woman choses to have the baby anyway, in spite of the man's objections then fine, but she's on her own financially. The man should be legally responsible for no more than half the cost of an abortion.

That's the way I see it, and that's the point behind this lawsuit.

Contending that women have more options than they do in the event of an unintended pregnancy, men's rights activists are mounting a long shot legal campaign aimed at giving them the chance to opt out of financial responsibility for raising a child. The National Center for Men has prepared a lawsuit -- nicknamed Roe v. Wade for Men -- to be filed Thursday in US District Court in Michigan on behalf of a 25-year-old computer programmer ordered to pay child support for his ex-girlfriend's daughter.

The suit addresses the issue of male reproductive rights, contending that lack of such rights violates the US Constitution's equal protection clause.

The gist of the argument: If a pregnant woman can choose among abortion, adoption, or raising a child, a man involved in an unintended pregnancy should have the choice of declining the financial responsibilities of fatherhood. The activists involved hope to spark discussion even if they lose.

"There's such a spectrum of choice that women have -- it's her body, her pregnancy, and she has the ultimate right to make decisions," said Mel Feit, director of the men's center. "I'm trying to find a way for a man also to have some say over decisions that affect his life profoundly."

They won't win, of course. But perhaps it will at least begin a debate and raise awareness of a situation that many men believe to be unjust, even if they're afraid to say so. In an ideal world, of course, this would never be an issue, because there would never be any unwanted pregnancies. We all know that's not the case, however. As we're tirelessly reminded by pro-choice advocates, no form of birth control is a hundred percent reliable. Unintended pregnancies can (and do) occur even with the most responsible couples. Women (rightly) have a lot of options in such cases. It's time that men had a little more.

UPDATE: more here.

March 08, 2006

Banach-Tarski: Paradoxes of the infinite

A few days ago I began a series of posts regarding the Banach-Tarski paradox. The implications of this paradox, that it's possible to decompose a sphere into a finite number of pieces and reassemble them to form two solid spheres equal in size to the original, has never set well with me.

One of the keys to understanding Banach-Tarski is understanding that a mathematical sphere is infinitely divisible, and can be divided into infinitely complex subsets. In part, Banach-Tarski is a paradox of the infinite.

Paradoxes and bizarre, counter-intuitive results go hand-in-hand with the study of transfinite sets. My goal now is to start getting us accustomed to such paradoxes, and to proceed from there to an understanding of Banach-Tarski.

I'm going to skip Zeno's paradoxes, because frankly, they're kind of stupid. Everyone knows you can catch the damn turtle. Anyway, Zeno is taught in freshman calculus as a way to demonstrate that a sum of infinitely many infinitesimally small quantities can be finite. Let's just forget Zeno and move on to a more interesting example.

One of the main things they teach you in second semester calculus is how to calculate the volumes and surface areas of some highly improbably shapes.

Let's consider a simple function: the reciprocal function, 1/x.

Cool chart, huh? Now what if we formed a surface by rotating this line around the x-axis. It would sweep out a cool cone shape.

It's a fairly straightforward exercise in integral calculus to determine the volume and surface area of this cone for a value of x equal to k:

A = 2&pi ln k

V = π (1 - 1/k)

Now consider what happens as we let k approach infinity. The surface area of this cone approaches infinity, as we'd expect. The cone's volume, however, approaches π.

So what does that mean? We have a cone with an infinite surface but a finite volume. Does that mean that we can fill it up with paint, but we can't paint it? Or does that mean that we can paint an infinite surface with a finite volume of paint simply by pouring it into the cone?

Yes, there are easily a dozen reasons why this wouldn't work: Paint is made of discrete molecules, and beyond a certain point, paint molecules would be too large to go any further down the cone. Coats of paint are not infinitely thin, but have a finite thickness, so the paint would be used up before it got to the nether regions of the cone.

That's all true, of course, but... isn't there still something unsettling about this result, even after you've made excuses for the real world?

Anyway, weird, huh? There's more to come. We'll explore a few more such oddities before tacking Banach-Tarski directly.

Cool discovery

I, for one, welcome our new fuzzy lobster overlords.

I know it's not an actual lobster, but I do have to wonder if it tastes like one? And whether my wife would be allergic to it?

Stop the presses!!

What would we do without the AMA to provide us valuable studies like this one? Apparently college kids on spring break drink and have sex.

March 07, 2006

Help for Rick Santorum?

Just when you thought Rick Santorum was dead meat, he may be receiving help from the unlikeliest of places. Remember last month when I castigated abortion activist Kate Michelman for criticizing Hillary Clinton? (Hillary had committed the unpardonable sin of supporting Santorum's Democratic opponent in Pennsylvania's upcoming Senate race.) Now she's gone one further -- she's actually contemplating entering the race herself.

Normally I enjoy watching Democrats form a circular firing squad, eating their young, or whatever metaphor you want to use, but Rick Santorum is one Republican that I'd truly love to see defeated this year. The moonbat left seems bound and determined to do as much heavy lifting as possible for Karl Rove and the GOP, but in this case I wish they'd go do it somewhere else. I mean, can't she run against Joe Lieberman or Dianne Feinstein or something? God knows her residency won't be an obstacle.

Let's adopt Canadian-style health care!

...or not!

Until she was hobbled by hip pain last year, 73-year-old Gloria Gauvin went for a three-mile walk near her home in the Quebec countryside every day.

Now, 16 months after a nearby public hospital put Ms. Gauvin's name on a waiting list for a hip replacement, she is barely able to get around the house. So she and her husband, Yves Cyr, are taking advantage of a new development on Canada's health-care front. They have made an appointment to have the operation at a private clinic near Montreal in early April. The cost: about $10,000.

"We're borrowing against our property," says Mr. Cyr, a 22-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. "If we have to sell our house because of this, we'll go into an apartment. We don't have a choice. We can't wait."

The couple's willingness to absorb such financial strain to get medical help is a sign of the growing dissatisfaction here with the national health system and the increasing acceptance of private care. As provinces struggle to contain waiting lists for medical treatment under the country's vaunted publicly funded health-care system, private care is starting to play a bigger role.
Most provincial governments have tried to bolster their systems by pouring in money, with federal help, and tweaking management of waiting lists. Hospitals deal with crowding by devoting more beds and operating-room hours to the sickest patients. Ted Marmor, a health-policy expert at Yale University, says there is no evidence that delays are having "devastating consequences" on Canadians' health.

Yet glaring problems persist: waiting times of as long as two years for nonemergency orthopedic surgery; overcrowded emergency rooms where patients lie on gurneys in corridors; and operating rooms idled because of staffing shortages.
Doctors who have opted out of the public-insurance program say they became frustrated with the system, and disturbed that their patients were forced to suffer. "Telling someone they have to wait 18 months -- this isn't what they taught me in medical school," says Nicolas Duval, the orthopedic surgeon who will do Ms. Gauvin's hip replacement.

Read the whole thing.

Math blogging: Banach-Tarski

Is it possible to slice a golf ball into pieces and reassemble the pieces to form the Statue of Liberty? Not a golf-ball-sized reproduction of the Statue of Liberty, mind you, but a life-sized one, solid and with no holes or gaps? According to a really bizarre mathematical paradox, the answer is "yes," at least theoretically.

As a physicist by training, I had more advanced courses in mathematics than is probably healthy. I first encountered the Banach-Tarski paradox in one of these classes about 20 years ago, and it has been one of my white whales ever since.

The paradox states that it is possible to decompose any arbitrary shape and size into a finite number of pieces, and, through a series of translations and rotations, reassemble those pieces to form another object of arbitrary shape or size.

I'll let that sink in for a moment. One popular formulation is that it's possible to deconstruct a pea and reassemble the pieces to form a sphere the size of the sun -- again, with no gaps or holes. The most classic formulation (and a rather boring one if you ask me) is that you can disassemble a sphere and reassemble the pieces to form two spheres equal in size to the first.

This is mathematically provable, but I had a real problem with this. As a physicist, it offended every notion I had about the conservation of mass. How can you magic up something out of thin air, even theoretically?

The odd thing is that I was largely alone in freaking out about Banach-Tarski. The mathematicians I knew didn't really freak out about it because they were accustomed to living in strange, bizzarro worlds that had no bearing on our physical reality. The physicists I knew were equally untroubled because they were accustomed to dismissing mathematicians. Banach-Tarski didn't apply to the real world, they'd say, because matter isn't arbitrarily divisible. We have atoms, after all.

Well yes, we do have atoms, and no one ever claimed that these kinds of bizarre decomposition would ever be possible in practice. But that wasn't good enough for me. It was dodging the issue. It's all too easy to imagine a universe in which matter is infinitely decomposable, but the laws of conservation of mass should still apply. As a physicist, I had been trained to view mathematics as a reliable tool for predicting the behavior of the physical world. If mathematics predicted nonsense like this, even in theory, then mathematics was a ass. There had to be some flaw in the reasoning, I figured.

Anyway, I have struggled with this paradox on and off over the years, and have finally, recently, come to an uneasy truce with it. I'd like to share my journey with this problem over the next weeks and months. It makes me regret that I never enabled categories on this blog, though. That decision made sense at the time, since pretty much everything I write here is either political in nature or else defies categorization altogether. Still, it would be cool if I could classify all these coming posts as "Math blogging," so that everyone besides Adam (thanks for the inspiration to math-blog) and Tami and a handful of others could ignore it.

But since I don't have categories, just look for the words "Banach-Tarski" in the headline in days and weeks to come. If you're math-averse, you might want to avoid those. More on this later.

A NJ ban on anonymous Internet postings?

I saw this on Slashdot yesterday, but was too busy to comment until now. Oddly, I haven't seen many others commenting on it either. One wonders where all the civil libertarians and privacy advocates are. I guess because this legislation didn't originate from the Bush Administration or the Republican Congress, there's no cause for concern.

The bill would require operators of Internet discussion forums to collect legal names and addresses from anyone who posts there. This would effectively ban the practice of posting anonymous comments on said discussion boards.

I'm tempted to ignore this issue myself, based on the hope that such a ridiculous bill would be DOA, even in the New Jersey legislature. Since it potentially affects me directly, however, I feel that I really can't afford to.

Spine detected in France

Does this mean I'm going to have to start buying French products?

I read Voltaire in college, and it makes me ask the same question I asked about Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses": How can anyone be offended by this without succumbing to boredom first?

Anyway, some Muslims have managed to be offended anyway, and they protested to stop a reading of Voltaire's "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet" in a small town near the Swiss border. The town stood firm, however, and refused to be intimidated.

Now that tempers have calmed, Mayor Bertrand says he is proud his town took a stand by refusing to cave in under pressure to call off the reading. Free speech is modern Europe's "foundation stone," he says. "For a long time we have not confirmed our convictions, so lots of people think they can contest them."

He does have one regret: He found the play, five acts in archaic verse, "deeply boring."

All right, I'm an idiot

For 30 years, I'd thought Al Stewarts' song "Year of the Cat" was "Year of the Cow."

What if I'd gone to my grave never knowing the truth?

March 06, 2006

It's "The Simpsons"

...except they're not orange and they have five fingers on each hand.

My Oscar report

Gay cowboys are so last week. Hollywood has now moved on to gay, lisping, alcoholic, pathologically lying southern writers with cigarette holders. And it's about time! It's pretty much the last remaining taboo, isn't it?

I also heard Jon Stewart was pretty good last night. I mean, he's no Ryan Seacrest or anything, but I think he has some potential.

So that's about it. It's not much of an Oscar's report, but since I didn't watch the show last night and I only saw one movie last year, it's all you're gonna get.

Now that the Oscars are out of the way, let's talk about some real entertainment! Don't forget to start watching 24 an hour early tonight! We're going to have two back-to-back episodes, and you wouldn't want to miss anything. I have it on good authority that someone gets whacked tonight.

Not to beat a dead horse, but...

Since the controversy over Bush's remark about the levees being "breached" continues to rage, I think it's worth noting here that the AP was forced to "clarify" its (mis)use of the term.

An Associated Press story Thursday on this page incorrectly reported that federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees in New Orleans, citing confidential video footage of an Aug. 28 briefing among U.S. officials.

The story should have made clear that Bush was warned about floodwaters overrunning the levees, rather than the levees breaching.

The Army Corps of Engineers considers a breach a hole developing in a levee rather than an overrun.

The day before the storm hit, Bush was told there were grave concerns that the levees could be overrun. It wasn't until the next morning, as the storm was hitting, that Michael Brown, then head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Bush had inquired about reports of breaches.

Well thanks for admitting, in a roundabout way, that the entire premise for your "news" story was bogus. Unfortunately, this tepid correction was released to about as much fanfare as such admissions typically are (not much), but it's still vindication for those of us who raised the objections early on.

As for those who continue to insist that there is so substantial distinction between water sloshing over the top of an intact levee and water gushing from a hole or rift in the levee structure, followed by a total collapse of the levee... well, I don't know what to say. Such "reality based" thinking continues to bemuse me.

The real cost of sugar subsidies

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal looks at the economic costs of this country's ridiculous system of price supports for the sugar industry. It's a good read, but they failed to mention the most disastrous impact of this program of all.

Despite the name, Coca-Cola Classic is not the same stuff we used to enjoy in the good old days. It's been a syrupy mess ever since cane sugar was replaced by a cheap-ass corn syrup. If sugar didn't cost three times what it should, we could go back to having our colas sweetened with pure cane, just as God intended.

March 04, 2006


Sometimes I get really busy and I can't blog as much as I'd like. I feel bad about that, but then I look and see that the last post I made to this site has (as of now) 49 comments. At least I'm blessed with readers who are more than capable of amusing themselves during my absence.

Anyway, I plan to write more posts soon. The bad news is that some of them will involve math.

March 02, 2006

Dictionaries for liberals

I'm not normally much for giveaway programs, but I'm beginning to think we should pool our money to buy some dictionaries for our liberal friends so they can look up what "breach" means. Practically every lefty blog in the world is trumpeting another "BUSH LIED!!!" story today, based on an AP video juxtaposing two things: the president's assertion that no one could have anticipated a breach in the levees around New Orleans, and a video in which Bush is being briefed about the possibility that the levees might be topped.

"Topped" and "breached" are not the same thing, any more than having your bathtub overflow is the same as having it shatter. The video in question can be found here, along with commentary from an assortment of linguistically challenged bloggers.

Of course I don't expect much from the "reality based" blogging community, and I certainly would never expect them to let trivialities like the English language and the meaning of words to get in the way of a good "BUSH LIED!!!" narrative. But what's disheartening (if not surprising) is the extent to which the mainstream media (in particular the AP) has driven it. Is this the kind of crap they're teaching in J-schools these days?

I'm not going to sit here and claim that the government's post-Katrina response wasn't flawed and lacking. It was. But this kind of shoddy, dishonest, tendentious journalism is inexcusable, and I for one am sick of it.

Kick-ass potatoes

All right, I don't usually do this here, but I've got a recipe I need to share. This is a great way to cook potatoes and it's extremely simple, but it sounds a little strange, so you'll just have to trust me.

First, get about two pounds of fingerling potatoes. If you can't find those, any really small potatoes should do. Next, put two quarts of water in a large pot. Add four cups of kosher salt to the water and stir. No, that is not a misprint. I said add four cups of kosher salt. Just do it, okay?

Now add the potatoes (they will float, of course) and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes for about half an hour or until they're tender. Drain them into a colander and let them sit a few minutes before serving. You can serve them with butter, sour cream, or whatever you normally serve potatoes with, but I think they're extremely good just the way they are.

Just trust it before you call me crazy.

Harry Browne, RIP

I voted for Harry Browne for president in 1996, and almost certainly would have done so again in 2000 had extenuating circumstances not compelled me to write in John McCain that year. Browne was as effective a spokesman for libertarian ideas as the political arena has ever seen, in my opinion. It's a bummer that he's died at a time when we need more like him, not fewer. Dang.

March 01, 2006

This is cool...

...but is it progress? Eric at Classical Values informs us of an amazing new product called AWOL (I am not making this up) which allows you to get drunk without drinking.

Basically, it lets you to intoxicate yourself by breathing alcohol vapors. No drinking is involved.

Predictably, the usual assortment of prigs and ninnies are hyperventilating in their opposition to this product, but my complaint is a bit more aesthetic. I can appreciate a good buzz as much as the next person, but this contraption is no substitute for a frosty pint mug of a fine British or American ale.

So why would someone pony up two hundred bills for one of these? I suppose it could be useful for getting drunk without your wife noticing, but aren't there better ways? I mean seriously, doesn't anybody have an ounce of creativity anymore?

I dated this girl once who had to live with her parents for a while during college. Economics forced the move, but she wasn't prepared to give up her hooch. The solution? She used the plastic Mickey Mouse sippy cup that she had as a child. You know the kind, with a plastic lid with a hole for the straw? She'd fill it with vodka and Kool-Aid, sit on the couch, and get quietly hammered while watching Judge Wapner. And of course there's always Jim Treacher's trick involving vodka, green food coloring and an empty Scope bottle for hiding your stash.

Technology can no doubt improve and even revolutionize some hobbies. I'm just not sure drinking is one of them.

Michelle and the right

I'm not a huge Michelle Malkin fan. It's nothing personal, it's just that she's not one of my regular reads, for whatever reason. That being said, I do read her often enough to realize that she's getting a bum rap.

Michelle is one of these people who is an absolute lightning rod for her opposition. There are conservatives who are much more strident in their views and much more rabidly partisan and confrontational, but almost no one elicits the kind of knee-jerk animus that Malkin generates. (See, for example, here and here.)

The ostensible justification for mindless Malkin-hatred is that she's too partisan, never daring to criticize her beloved president. This is bogus for two reasons.

First, her bitterest critics (think Kos, Atrios and Oliver Willis) are engaging in more than a little projection here. If any of them were any more partisan, they'd be in a zoo. None of them have ever once dipped so much as a tentative toe outside the roped-off wading pool of liberal orthodoxy. The only criticisms they have ever lobbed at their beloved Democratic Party have been for being insufficiently progressive.

Second, it's just not true. As I said, I don't read Malkin often, but I've still read enough of her columns to know that she's a lot less partisan than the majority of her critics. This piece from yesterday is a case in point.

Last week, I skewered Democrat opportunists who have turned into tough-sounding profiling advocates to exploit the White House ports debacle.

Today, I must express bottomless disgust with those on the Right who have turned into mush-mouthed race-card players to shift blame away from President Bush for his miserable mishandling of the situation.

It's one thing for feckless grievance-mongers on the Left to accuse Americans genuinely concerned about national security of Islamophobia. It's quite another for the Right to sink to such a level in accusing all good-faith critics of demagoguery. Reasonable people can disagree on the process pitfalls and security implications of the deal. But the elite Right has simply lost its marbles:

As I said, there are many examples of right-leaning pundits who truly are partisan Bush ass-kissers (I won't name names, but you know I can.) Malkin's detractors should simply be honest about the true core of their acrimony. It's because Malkin has the audacity to be conservative while not being white.

A question

Do all cops drive like idiots? Or is that just a New Jersey thing?

It's Lent!

And I don't have ashes on my forehead. If you ever see me with ashes on my forehead, it means I passed out in a bar and my face landed in an ashtray. I'm not giving up anything, either. I'm just going to try to be more industrious about going to the gym. It's a worthy goal, but it's hard to cast in terms of self-denial.