« December 2006 | Main | February 2007 »

January 31, 2007

Sounds familiar

Yep, I've had conversations just like this, on more than one occasion.

— Listen, we’ve got global warming.
— Mmm.
— So will you sign on to this protocol?
— Nah. Gutting American industry doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.
— But the world is going to end in ten years.
— So how will not opening a few new car factories help? And wouldn’t this protocol encourage our chief competitors to open their own new factories while we’re hamstrung here?
— Because it will. Sign here, please.
— I don’t think that’s good policy.
— Listen. Why do you hate science?
— I don’t hate s—
— You’re a crazy Christian, aren’t you?
— What? Yes, the earth is getting warmer but this cycle’s been happening f—
— What we need to do then is sign this protocol here. Ready to sign?
— …
— Here’s a pen.
— …
— Sign.
— Look, the problem is that even if you can throw off a million years’ worth of evidence and demonstrate that human industry, in the plink of time we’ve had here, has caused a planet-killing shift in atmosphere, your ideas about fixing it are absolutely unworkable. I mean, it’s a gnat compared to the leviathan weight of human history you claim led us here.
— Stop it. OK? Just stop. Look at this picture. It shows a mountain with snow. Now, that was fifty years ago. Here’s another picture. What do you see?
— No snow.
— No snow! How can you not believe in global warming now, you planet-hating bastard? Don’t you understand that there is a scientific consensus? A consensus!
— Right, I know it’s getting warmer.
— Then sign on to my policy slate. Don’t read it. Just sign.
— No.
— When will we ever convince you Global Warming skeptics?

(Hat tip: The Corner)

Divided government, working for you

This is cool! Republicans in Congress just blocked a congressional pay increase. Of course if Republicans were still running the show, the COLA would have sailed through like a greased pig. Stuff like this is exactly the reason I was cautiously optimistic about the Democratic takeover last year. If it takes being in the minority for Republicans to act like conservatives, then so be it. I have no illusions about what's going on here, of course. This isn't about responsible stewardship of the taxpayers' money. It's about partisan spite, plain and simple. I'll take it.

And this comes right on the heels of the GOP's block of a minimum wage hike unless it included tax breaks to soften the blow for small businesses. That's encouraging to me because I don't much like the minimum wage, even though the currently proposed increase is likely too tepid to cause significant economic damage. Without rehashing the whole debate here, I'd like to quote a bit from The Economist. (Yes, I know it's all but redundant to link to anything that Glenn has already linked to, but I think this represents the most sensible thinking on the minimum wage that I've yet to hear from either side, and I think it's worth repeating.

It is probable that the minimum wage increase will not cost enough jobs to make its effects readily distinguishable from random economic variation. It is also probable that it will improve the lot of a few poor people, though not many, as fewer than 20% of those who earn the minimum wage live in poor households now. On the other hand, it also seems probable that much of any benefit that goes to poor families will come out of the pockets of other poor people -- very probably even poorer people, such as convicts, who are currently barely hanging onto the fringes of the labour force. . . .

Yep. And isn't it funny that the minimum wage is being debated almost exclusively by people who are guaranteed not to be affected by it one way or the other?

January 30, 2007

AmeriKKKa under our Fascist-in-Chimp

America's relentless march toward dictatorship continues apace, at least according to the left-wing blogosphere. They've been making much of this piece in the New York Times, describing Bush's executive order involving regulatory oversight.

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

Sounds ominous, right? It did to me too, until I actually read the entire article.

Typically, agencies issue regulations under authority granted to them in laws enacted by Congress. In many cases, the statute does not say precisely what agencies should do, giving them considerable latitude in interpreting the law and developing regulations.

The directive issued by Mr. Bush says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify “the specific market failure” or problem that justifies government intervention.

That sounds quite a bit different from the first paragraph, doesn't it?

This is what always bugged me. Somewhere along the line, Congress delegated (abdicated) its Constitutional role as the sole author of federal law. Consequently, we have completely unelected career bureaucrats crafting de facto legislation outside of Constitutional authority. (If you don't think a "regulation" is a law, then try breaking one.) I've never been okay with that.

The ideal solution would be for Congress to reclaim its monopoly on legislative powers. Since that's not happening, however, I'd prefer to have them overseen by political appointees who are at least somewhat accountable to the electoral process than by career bureaucrats.

Your mileage may vary, of course, and while I understand that many people will be unhappy with this move, the cries of "dictatorship!" and calls for impeachment seem largely misplaced. At their core, they are lacking in substance, and upon inspection boil down to little more than "we don't like Bush."

New York's Hell Garage

New York is getting a robotic auto garage, and Ace is kind of stoked.. But when I was in Hoboken, I lived on the same block as the only other garage of its kind in the country. Walking the dog past it at night gave me the creeps. It's exactly the kind of thing Stephen King would write a shitty horror novel about. And if you followed the local news about all the mishaps and malfunctions that plagued the garage's existence, you'd have plenty of fodder to fuel the fears that it will one day start trapping people and mangling cars.

January 25, 2007

Carter apologizes, and other unrelated thoughts

Here's a video of Jimmy Carter apologizing for a certain passage in his crappy book. Make of it what you will.

Skipping over the content of his apology for a moment (I find it hard to believe that he's never been called a "coward" before, but whatever) there's something else that struck me about this clip. Is it just me or is Saint Jimmy beginning to sound more and more like Jesse Jackson? Listen to his voice. Sounds like Jackson Syndrome to me. Maybe it's something that manifests itself whenever people lose more than 90% of their brain cells.

Jesse Jackson was relatively fresh in my mind because I recently heard him speak. A week or so ago he was being interviewed on some local radio talk show. I hadn't heard the man speak more than a soundbite for years, and I'd forgotten just how stupid he is. I mean just wincingly, jaw-droppingly ignorant. Thank God the Democrats finally stopped kissing his ring, and he's reduced to doing local talk shows in time slots where no one but me is listening.

And on an unrelated note, I was listening to the same dumb-head talk show yesterday and heard Tom Tancredo. I tuned in during the middle, so it took me a while to figure out who he was. I'll have to admit, I was surprised. He came across as very intelligent, articulate and rational, even when I disagreed with him. I don't know what I was expecting. After reading how he's portrayed in the media, I guess I had a mental image of some toothless, goat-raping redneck. Anyone else ever heard/seen him in action?

January 24, 2007

SOTU and response

All right, I actually started watching Bush's speech even though I hadn't planned to. I bailed 10 minutes into it because I was bored to tears. It seemed to me little more than a laundry list of domestic initiatives, many of which he's been pitching in one form or another for years already. The only difference is that now it's completely irrelevant since he's a lame duck facing an oppositional Congress. Critics seemed to give it high marks for a Bush speech, but really, who cares.

The Democratic response was rather more interesting. Not necessarily "better," mind you, but certainly more interesting. To be honest, I actually like Jim Webb. It's not often you see politicians these days bemoaning the feminization of the military or openly lauding the Confederacy, so I find that rather refreshing. His performance last night, however, seemed stiff and awkward. Much has been made of the fact that he wrote his own speech. Perhaps someone with a modicum of screen presence should have delivered it.

January 23, 2007

State of the Union

I doubt I'll be watching. I got bored just reading the bullets..

Brats on a motherf*cking plane!

So this 3-year-old girl's parents are pissed off at AirTran because they threw the brat off the plane, but I'll bet the other passengers applauded.

She was removed because "she was climbing under the seat and hitting the parents and wouldn't get in her seat" during boarding, AirTran spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver said.

AirTran officials say they were only following Federal Aviation Administration rules that children age 2 and above must have their own seat and be wearing a seatbelt upon takeoff.

"The flight was already delayed 15 minutes and in fairness to the other 112 passengers on the plane, the crew made an operational decision to remove the family," Graham-Weaver said.

The family flew home the next day, and the airline reimbursed them the cost of their tickets and offered them three free round-trip tickets to wherever they wanted, but the couple is still torqued off.

I think they should quit their whining (we see where the child gets it from.) They think AirTran's reaction was harsh? Don't they remember Paul Lynde?

(If you don't remember the anecdote I'm referring to, click here and scroll about two-thirds of the way down.)

Service note

Okay, I've migrated this site to a new server yet again, and hopefully for the last time. I think all is well, but if you happen to notice any weirdnesses over the next few days, just give me a shout.

Cheap shot Tuesday

So I hear Jim Webb will be delivering the Democratic response to Bush's State of the Union speech tonight. Maybe Webb will turn Bush upside down and put his penis in his mouth.

Ha ha, get it? Not only is it a cheap shot, but it's dated as well! But I can write it anyway, since I don't have an editor! Ha ha. (God, I love blogging.)

24 blogging!

Okay, how many people besides me were secretly hoping that Donald Sutherland was going to show up as Jack's creepy (and probably evil) father?

Yeah, I knew it wasn't going to happen, but you've gotta admit, that would've been cool! So who'd they get instead? The farmer from Babe. Truly an opportunity lost, but it looks like they're going to make up for it by having Jack waterboard his own brother. God, I love this show....

January 22, 2007

Let me get this straight...

"If Hollywood movies didn't show titties, terrorists would stop blowing us up."

Unless I'm missing something, that seems to be a central theme in Dinesh D'Souza's new book, The Enemy at Home.

My friend JMK is much more receptive to D'Souza's premise than I am, and I've respected some of D'Souza's writings in the past, so perhaps I should give the book a fair shake.

There may be a new book review in the works. Hopefully it'll be a bit timelier than it was for Carter's book, but given my workload and how slowly I read, I somehow doubt it. Anyway, it can't possibly be as bad as it sounds (can it?) so I think curiosity will get the better of me. What do you say, Blue? Wanna do "dueling book reviews" again?

Blogging for choice

On this, the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, lots of people out there are Blogging for Choice.

For my part, I like to think I "blog for choice" every day. I think it's unfortunate that the term "choice" in our national dialog has become so tightly bound up in the abortion issue. I think that's much too narrow a view, and that being "pro choice" should mean so much more than that.

For the record, I fully support a woman's right to choose whether to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. I also support her right to choose which school to enroll her kids in, or whether to purchase a firearm, or whether to opt out of Social Security, or whether to wear her seat belt or smoke or eat trans fats. You get the idea.

I am a libertarian, and I support choice across the board. Unfortunately, I'm typically forced to choose between two parties who protect my choice on one set of issues but try to deny it on others. That's a tough balance to make.

During the 80s and most of the 90s, I weighed the issues out and I leaned Republican for most of that time. I felt, for example, that our second amendment rights were in more immediate danger than the right to abortion, and I voted accordingly. It's an oversimplification, of course, but you get the idea. Now, however, a shift has occurred. For the first time in a long time, I believe the right to abortion is in more serious jeopardy than the right to bear arms. Those are just two issues, of course, but they're bellwethers. In the end, I found myself actually pulling for the Democrats last year. That's fine, and I don't regret it, but I just wish there could be a viable party that stands for choice across the board.

January 19, 2007

Happy Day

Yet another reason to love South Carolina.

You've heard of ''Happy Hour'' but how about ''Happy Day?'' All-day drink specials may become a reality in South Carolina.

A state House subcommittee on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow bars and restaurants to choose one day a week, except Sundays, for all-day specials on liquor drinks.

Currently, businesses can sell and advertise drink specials from 4 to 8 p.m. only.

Who didn't see this coming?

CAIR objects to the latest season of 24.

Hit US television show "24" came under fire from a Muslim group, which accused the program's makers of fuelling anti-Muslim prejudice with its latest storyline.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said "24's" season premiere, in which Islamic terrorists detonated a nuclear bomb near Los Angeles, risked stoking racial hatred.

I'm guessing that CAIR has a time-saving, outraged template saying "We don't like 24" and every time a new season starts, some secretary pushes a button on her desktop that fills in a few dates and automatically distributes it as a press release. (Actually, I'm thinking of doing the same thing with "The View." Not that I ever watch it.)

I'm a genius

When I heard that Lindsay Lohan was entering rehab, my first thought was "I just hope Lindsay can finally get the help she needs."

Ha ha, just kidding. My first thought was that Britney Spears and Paris Hilton could check in with her. You know it's only a matter of time before they all end up there anyway, and they'd probably have more fun if they just did it together.

And then I start thinking that it could be a new reality show! Wouldn't that be great? Maybe they could even throw in Nicole Richie and work it into the "Simple Life" franchise -- "Simple Life: Rehab." Or it could be more Survivor-like, where each week they'd get to vote for who gets to be discharged. Can you imagine what the tribal council would like on that one? Paula Abdul could pull dual duty as both contestant and judge. The possibilities are endless. Okay, I published it here first, so if this TV show actually gets filmed I want my cut.

Earmark victory

I was too busy to blog about it yesterday, but it looks like Jim DeMint's strategy paid off, and the Senate, under a reluctant Harry Reid, has adopted much tougher earmark reform than I ever thought possible, by a final vote of 98 to 0.

I'm actually beginning to like this Congress. I know some Republicans will say that the Democrats' hearts aren't really in this, that they're just posing for the camera to make a good first impression. Likewise, Democrats will say that Republicans are being disingenuous for "rediscovering" their fiscal conservative bona fides only after the Democrats took control.

You know what? They're probably both right. But it doesn't matter. It's a good reform and it's passed overwhelmingly, regardless of what cynical calculations went into it. That's more than happened during the past six years of Republican hegemony.

January 17, 2007

Racism in the UK?

Now this is odd. Some people are claiming that "racism" might actually exist in the UK. That Borat dude is probably kicking himself for traveling all the way here to make his movie when he could've highlighted ethnic hatred right in his own backyard and saved the airfare.

Nah, who am I kidding. Such ugliness is unknown to Europe, and exists only in the rodeos and honky-tonks of red state America and among evangelical Christians. Minorities are universally loved across the European continent, Jews in particular. Thanks to Borat for highlighting the real, unquestioned epicenter of global anti-Semitism -- Arizona. That Golden Globe was well deserved.

January 12, 2007

Oh for God's sake

Don't tell me those dimwads are still effin' around with that stupid pretend "clock." I thought this meaningless exercise of pure nonsense went out of style with bomb shelters and Burma Shave signs. Guess not.

The keepers of the "Doomsday Clock" plan to move its hands forward next Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world."

Whatever. Somebody hit the snooze button so we don't have to hear from these clowns for another ten years.

Saint Jimmah's crappy book

Don't ask me why, but I've actually bought and read Jimmy Carter's awful book. Believe me when I say that I approached this volume with low expectations, but they were promptly surpassed. This book is so bad on so many different levels that I found myself subconsciously attempting to conceal its cover while carrying it in public, because I was actually embarrassed to be seen reading it.

I'm a slow reader and I came late to the book review party, so I won't try to rehash all the critiques about the book's biases and factual errors, as those have been extensively documented elsewhere. I will, however, share a few thoughts that occurred to me while reading it.

First of all, the book's frontispiece really set the tone for the rest of the volume. It contained two lengthy quotations, one from the Holy Bible, and another from... Jimmy Carter. No, I kid you not. What kind of person would do that? The kind of person who would also make statements like this one.

"Because Jefferson was a humble person, I feel a kinship with him."

There's a certain kind of "pompous humility" that only a deeply religious person can have, I believe. Anyway, Carter must have been terribly enamored of that particular block of prose of his. Not only did he quote it alongside the Old Testament, but he repeated it again for good measure, in toto, at the end of the first chapter. Not as a quote this time, or with a footnote, but simply embedded right into the body of the text. As far as I know it's not a crime to plagiarize oneself*, but that's still kinda weird.

Speaking of religion, I had forgotten the extent to which Carter wears his Christian faith on his sleeve. I remember (vaguely) that he raised a few eyebrows among the Northeastern elites when he burst on the scene in the 70s, because many of them had been unfamiliar with terms such as "born again," and didn't know what to make of a president who spoke openly of his faith in Jesus Christ.

This book was a shocking reminder. If George W. Bush went around talking about Jesus and his faith one tenth as much as Carter does in this book, he'd have been fed to the lions already. There's even one anecdote in which Carter suggests to Golda Meir that Israel's political problems might stem from Israel's secular society, that God might be angry because His people have turned their backs on Him, as happened so often throughout the Old Testament (Jimmy was a Sunday School teacher, don't you know.) No, I'm not making this up and I'm not exaggerating. It's even more bizarre to read his account of the meeting than my brief summary of it.

If you can get beyond the turgid, sanctimonious prose, the book's content is even more troubling. As I said, I won't rehash all the arguments about the history of the region, but one does have to wonder what makes a man like Carter feel compelled to find fault with Israel at every single turn, even when historical facts must be altered to allow it.

The book is shocking in its one-sidedness (Hint: If you're really trying to write an unbiased and dispassionate account of the Palestinian conflict, you might want to rethink using the word "Apartheid" in the title.) By comparison, Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel was much fairer and more evenhanded than Carter's screed, even though Dershowitz makes no pretense at impartiality. His book sets out to be avowedly pro-Israel, and yet Carter comes across as the shrill partisan by comparison.

It's not really surprising, though. Dershowitz is a legal scholar and he wrote a scholarly book, replete with footnotes, extensive references and a detailed bibliography. Carter's book had none of this. Carter chose instead to adopt the "Believe what I say because I'm Jimmy Carter" approach.

The problem is that more and more people don't believe him anymore. The number of Carter Center board members to resign over the book now hovers at fourteen, which is the bit of news that prompted me to write this admittedly late quasi-review.

I've never been a big Jimmy Carter fan, but I did (naively) buy into the conventional wisdom that he was intelligent, sober, well-meaning, and honest to a fault, despite the fact that he was an incompetent chief executive. Perhaps that really was the Carter of the past, but the Carter of today has devolved into a caricature of full-fledged moonbattery. Sad.

* There was actually a court case about this 15 years ago or so. IIRC, there was some dude who (like my father used to do, God rest his soul) read like a quadrillion Western novels every year. One day he was reading one of those crappy "adult westerns" and (miraculously) recognized that he'd read it before. Not the stale, hackneyed plot, mind you, but the prose itself. He went back through his stack of paperbacks, and sure enough found that whole chunks of the book had been lifted wholesale from a previous title by the same author. The book publisher was pissed off because they had commissioned a "new" work and they sued the guy. It was the first time I'd ever heard of anyone being sued for plagiarizing themselves. I never did hear how the ruling came out, however. Oh well.

Bush's legacy

Rumors were swirling during recent months that President Bush stood poised to approve a payroll tax hike as part of a deal to save Social Security. I prepared to be outraged, of course, should Bush take the final step of undoing the one unalloyed positive accomplishment of his presidency (his tax cuts.)

The most exasperating aspect of the rumors was that Bush wanted this Social Security deal to help cement his "legacy." Can you believe that? I shouldn't have to explain the problems with this view, but I'll do it anyway.

First, a simple payroll tax hike is not exactly the stuff legacies are made off. Ronald Reagan brokered a very similar deal with Tip O'Neill back during the 80's. It extended the trust funds solvency for a few more decades, but it hardly even ranked as a footnote in Reagan's obituary. Reagan's legacy wasn't Social Security, it was tax cuts, breaking inflation, and the Cold War.

Second, Bush's legacy is Iraq. Right or wrong, good or ill, and whatever the final outcome, Iraq is and always will be his legacy, and cutting a deal on payroll taxes is not going to change that.

This may be premature, but I'm standing down on my "outrage alert" regarding a Social Security deal. He wakes up late, this president, but it appears that he's finally woken up to the reality that Iraq is his legacy, and if he doesn't want history to view it as a debacle, then he'd better focus all his energies on achieving as good an outcome there as possible.

Now I don't know whether this "troop surge" will work or not. The track record so far has not been encouraging, to say the least. Nonetheless, Bush's new plan and his new-found willingness to confront Iranian belligerence are signs that he is no longer content to let the war in Iraq stumble along on auto-pilot. That's by no means a sufficient condition to ensure an acceptable outcome, but it is a necessary precondition. For that reason alone, I'm inclined to view it as a positive development.

House vs. Senate

Some Republicans will no doubt argue that Pelosi's anti-earmark bill is disingenuous, cynical, and calculating. Doesn't matter to me. It's a good bill, they passed it (which is more than the Republicans ever did) and good on 'em.

But the real fun began when South Carolina's Jim DeMint introduced Pelosi's language into the Senate. Dick Durbin lost his shit, and Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy and others attempted to kill the measure. Their attempt failed by 5 votes, so now the Senate leadership is frantically whipping its caucus to vote to kill exactly the same measure their Democratic colleagues in the House just approved. Pass the popcorn, this one will be interesting. Glenn is keeping track.

January 11, 2007

Understanding Christopher Dodd

And also help me understand Christopher Dodd, who's running for president. (Stop laughing. That's not a joke. I'm cerial.)

Dodd was on Don Imus's show, and as near as I can understand his remarks, what he said was: "I was honored to walk Joe Lieberman down the aisle, even though I f*cked him."

IMUS: I still got to get by the fact that [you] screwed Joe. You know, I'm still sore about that. So how do I get by that?

DODD: I'm sure you can. Joe and I are getting by it so I'm sure you can too.

IMUS: I've urged Joe not to get by it. I've urged Joe to get even with you.

DODD: No, no, listen, Joe and I talk — we talked yesterday. In fact, I talked to all the other candidates, I reached them, the people who are thinking of running or who have already declared and let them know what I was going to do.

I know that's sort of old-fashioned, but I believe in courtesies and calling people so they don't get blindsided by news. And when I talked to Joe, listen, I remember 2000, I worked with him, I nominated him to be vice president, I was his honorary chairman to be president of the United States when he was running himself in 2004 and we have got a good, strong relationship.

Obviously last summer and fall was a very awkward time for both of us to put it mildly. But we're working on that, we're bringing it back. I was honored to walk him down the aisle if you will in the Senate the other day when he was sworn in again for a new term in the Senate and that relationship is strong and will survive what happened last summer and fall.

IMUS: Well, I can't believe it. I mean, how did you have the nerve — maybe you would be a good president because if you've got the guts to do that, after what you did to him to walk him down the aisle. You are unbelievable, Senator Dodd.

DODD: Let's move on.

More of that famed Democratic "nuance," no doubt.

Understanding Dick Durbin

Can someone help me understand Dick Durbin's response to the president last night? What it sounded like to me was "The president either needs to send much more than 21,500 troops to Iraq or none at all, but sending 21,500 troops is definitely the most wrong decision to make!"

Where do we find such men?

Angelina Jolie

I was standing in line at the grocery store last night, trying to purge this image from my head, and began thumbing through all the gossip mags near the checkout.

That means I was exposed to a lot of Angelina Jolie. I know the woman can be annoying and is certainly overexposed, but you have to give her credit for one thing. She's hot. No wait, I didn't mean to say that. What I meant to say was this. It's common for celebrities to feel guilty about their unjustifiable financial success and get a bug up their ass about saving the world, one cause célèbre at a time. Often, however, they limit their actions to a PSA or two asking us to donate money to something-or-other and then pat themselves on the back for being such great humanitarians.

Say what you will about Pitt and Jolie, but they have been quietly and very substantially putting their money where their mouths are. One of the trash mags I was perusing compiled a list of the couples' biggest philanthropic gestures, and it was jaw-dropping, honestly. Just a few examples can be found here, here, and here. You've got to admit, that's pretty cool, right? Plus, she's hot.

New York moment

It's one of those things I'd prefer not to have seen. I was in the grocery store last night, and there was this guy who appeared to be trying to insert his (ahem) "winkie" into the cuff of the blood pressure machine in the pharmacy area.

It was definitely one of those "New York Moments," but I liked the nuns I saw rollerblading in Hell's Kitchen better.

The speech

Bush has never done a good job of making the case for our efforts in Iraq, so I wasn't really expecting him to start last night. I was hoping for, but not expecting, a little more substance. I think it would have been a pretty good speech had he given it three years ago. But he didn't. He gave it last night.

Consequently, I think he should've upped the ante a little more. A lot of emphasis was placed on the 25,000 new troops, but I would have liked to have heard something like the following: "Moreover, the 150,000 or so troops who are already in theater will be refocused. From this point forward, their first, second, and last priority shall be improving security conditions on the ground. Not one more school will be painted, nor hospital built, nor runway paved, nor power station modernized, until the Sunni Triangle has been pacified. Period. The rebuilding can come later, but for now, we won't put two sticks together until the violence has been quelled."

But I didn't hear that, and I wonder why. If Bush really believes his own words about the stakes in this war, it seems that's the bare minimum he could have said.

January 10, 2007

Does Iran Really Need Nuclear Power?

Surprisingly, the answer may be YES.

The U.S. case against Iran is based on Iran's deceptions regarding nuclear weapons development. This case is buttressed by assertions that a state so petroleum-rich cannot need nuclear power to preserve exports, as Iran claims. The U.S. infers, therefore, that Iran's entire nuclear technology program must pertain to weapons development. However, some industry analysts project an Irani oil export decline [e.g., Clark JR (2005) Oil Gas J 103(18):34-39]. If such a decline is occurring, Iran's claim to need nuclear power could be genuine. Because Iran's government relies on monopoly proceeds from oil exports for most revenue, it could become politically vulnerable if exports decline.

Link (PDF)

The iPhone

Do me a favor. If you ever see me this excited about a f*cking cell phone? Please, just put a bullet in my brain, okay?

Somalia and Iraq

How many others watched the reports of the AC-130 gunship attacks in Somalia and thought, "Now this is what a global war on terror should look like?" So why doesn't the GWOT look more like this more often? Because we're focusing far too much energy, militarily, strategically and politically, on Iraq.

The view of the Iraq was as part of the greater GWOT always seemed predicated on the benefit of having a strategic, large-footprint foothold in the region, and one that is not in Saudi Arabia. Iraq seemed the perfect choice because it offered us an "easy in." Iraq's sovereignty already lay in shambles, thanks to no-fly zones, trade sanctions and the presence of weapons inspectors. Moreover, a formal state of hostilities obtained between the West and Iraq, which continued to thwart the will of the international community. And given Iraq's prime strategic location, the choice, it seemed, was obvious.

It seemed a reasonable idea, but alas, did not work as planned. Worse, I fear an inversion has taken place, in which Iraq is now seen less as a failed strategic move in a broader struggle and has become the pre-eminent focus of American foreign policy in its own right.

And now we're facing a "troop surge." Not two or three years ago when it might have done some good, but now. Counterinsurgency experts estimate that 20,000 to 30,000 troops would be the minimum number required to have an impact on the security situation, but current political realities quickly transformed this "minimum" into an absolute maximum.

Can it work? I suppose it's possible, if it's done right, but I'm not betting on it. Who would? I'll try to watch Bush's pitch with an open mind, but I'm deeply skeptical going into it. I'm hoping, although not really expecting, somebody can give me reason to change my mind.

January 08, 2007

Breaking up Christmas

I like Christmas a lot, probably more than is really appropriate for my age. As a result, I've got the post-holiday blues a little bit today. It's sad to see all the discarded Christmas trees all over the sidewalks. (Although my wife and I have our own tradition of searching all of them for forgotten or overlooked Christmas ornaments. We've salvaged a few good ones this way, and although it may take a while, we one day hope to have an entire tree decorated in nothing but "rescued" ornaments.)

When I was a kid, the big climax was on Christmas morning, of course, and the post-gift-giving letdown began in earnest by Christmas evening. Now that the big day itself is less important to me, I milk everything I can out of the entire season, which is great, but sooner or later I'm left with the post-Epiphany malaise. Bleh.

So it seems like as good a time as any to talk about "Breaking up Christmas," which I'll bet very few of you have ever heard of. It's both an old fiddle tune and a an even older southern Appalachian tradition which is all but dead. It was a travelling, all-night party with music and dancing that would begin after Christmas was over and continue night after night until Epiphany, or "Old Christmas," as the old-timers called it.

Hooray Jake, Hooray John
Breaking up Christmas all night long
Santa Claus come, done and gone
Breaking up Christmas right straight along
Don’t you remember a long time ago
The old folks danced the doesey-doe

The parties were typically held at somebody's house, and two rooms would be cleared of furniture to make room for dancing (in good weather, the chairs, beds, etc. would be dragged out onto the lawn, and that was one way to know where the party was for that night.) The musicians (banjos and mandolins were common, but there was always a fiddle) stood in the doorway between the two rooms so that everyone could hear.

Sadly, I don't remember any of this first-hand. It's all been explained to me by people who are much older than I am, and remember a time and a place where Christmas Day was only the beginning of the celebration. There's a bit more information on the tradition here, but the definitive reference is probably Paul Brown's excellent Blue Ridge Mountain Holiday: The Breaking Up Christmas Story.

Our modern lifestyles would never allow a revival of this tradition in the same way it was practiced back then. We may not work nearly as hard as those old Blue Ridge mountaineers did, but we work hard at pretending to work hard. We're way too "busy" to host and attend Breaking up Christmas parties for two solid weeks following Christmas.

Still, I sometimes wish that some watered-down, contemporary version of the same tradition would at least keep the spirit of the old celebrations alive, to help smooth out the abrupt transition back into normal, non-holiday life.

You know they'd use it too

As a goodwill gesture, I'd like to offer the following meaningless soundbite to Nancy Pelosi and company, free of charge: "We need a truth surge, not a troop surge."

January 05, 2007

Let the games begin!

Pass the popcorn, because the 110th Congress is getting started. Whatever happens, I'm sure it will give bloggers like me more interesting fodder than we've had in a while. So what are everyone's predictions?

I'm a big fan of gridlock, but I'm not at all convinced that we'll see as much of it as conventional wisdom would have us believe. We'll probably get an early indicator of how things are going to shake out during Pelosi's first 100 hours.

I guess that there are two different schools of thought here. On the one hand, Bush's hard-core base has stuck with him through thick and thin, even as the president (along with the GOP congress) has destroyed Republican credibility and lost control of the legislative branch. The least Bush could do in return, it's argued, is wear out the veto pen.

Unfortunately, I don't see that happening. Take the minimum wage hike, for example. This is exactly the kind of thing I can see Bush signing as a sop to this whole ridiculous "compassionate conservatism" BS. And why the hell not? It's a popular measure, and the Republicans have squandered any and all fiscal or small-government bona fides that would be necessary to mount an effective campaign against it. Congressional Republicans are already on record as supporting a minimum wage hike if the pot is sweet enough. Objection as a matter of principle is no longer feasible. After all the wide-open profligacy of the past six years, I can't see Bush exercising the second veto of his presidency on a bill to marginally raise the hourly wage of part-time teenagers.

The minimum wage debate is almost entirely symbolic, but it may prove to be an interesting bellwether as to how much gridlock we can actually allow ourselves to expect.

January 04, 2007

The honeymoon is over

Wow, some lefties are really upset with Cindy Sheehan..

I hate Cindy Sheehan- Again- Go Away
GO AWAY. GET OF THE STAGE. Dems and libs generally already support the cause (preaching to the choir) But she will not sway red state and moderates who generally support the Pres. and the war. As I said months ago, and this clearly shows, SHE NOW HURTS US. If there are two people it would be great for Dems to never see on the news again, its Cindy Sheehan, and John Kerry. GO AWAY.

Somebody should remind these folks that Cindy Sheehan's moral authority is "absolute."

January 03, 2007

Horse trading in the House

I'm not sure what I think about this yet (I'll listen to Rush Limbaugh later today and adopt his opinion as my own) but it's certainly interesting.

The new Democratic majority, in the first months of the new Congress, is expected to take up a bill that would increase the voting membership of the House from 435 to 437, giving new vote each to Utah, a Republican stronghold, and the District of Columbia, dominated by Democrats.

There's no doubt that D.C. residents are getting screwed, and I guess this proposal is as reasonable a way to redress that as any. But is it going to fly?

This probably won't be a slippery slope toward representation for Guam and Puerto Rico, since these territories don't pay income taxes, but the Utah bit seems potentially problematic. I understand why it's thrown in there, of course. Without it, the bill would amount to "give the Democrats another vote in the House" and would be DOA. But still, doesn't it seem a bit arbitrary? Surely Utah isn't the only state that thinks it got shafted in the last census? It'll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

What do the Senate rules say about this?

It appears that Ted Kennedy is moonlighting as a caption writer for CNN.

Call me a traditionalist...

...but I'm not sure I like the Wall Street Journal's new size. I'm used to my hands being a certain distance apart when I read.

Putting things in perspective

I haven't said much about Saddam's execution because I didn't have much to say. When I heard the news I tried to decide what I thought about it, but any emotion seemed equally inappropriate, and there were enough other people talking about it round the clock without my having to weigh in with my studied ambivalence.

But one thing I do have a distinct reaction to is a lot of the hand-wringing commentary that accompanied the news. This is typified by Josh Marshall, who penned this piece even while Saddam was still swinging, judging from the dateline. He had lots of company among port-side pundits and bloggers in the days that followed.

Let me begin by granting the Josh Marshalls of the world a few points. First, I don't feel altogether comfortable with what happened. I'll admit that Saddam's trial wasn't the kind of proceeding we'd hope to have for ourselves if we stood accused of a crime here in the States. And yes, there was unquestionably an aura of sectarian revenge that tainted the process and, certainly, the execution itself. Granted.

Still, I'd like to point out a few things to help put this in perspective.

  1. Whatever we think of the trial by Western standards, it was damn near a model of jurisprudence compared to the norm of the region. It was likely as fair a trial as Iraq has ever seen.
  2. Of the countless thousands of Iraqis who have been executed over the past few decades, Saddam is certainly among the most deserving.
  3. The dude basically confessed.

Right or wrong, once it's placed in the proper context, the execution is only worth so much hand-wringing and self-flagellation. Josh Marshall has done enough for all of us.

January 02, 2007

The Theodicy of satellite radio

I just heard Englebert Humperdink's "After the Lovin'" on XM Radio. How can such a thing be allowed to exist in a universe governed by a benevolent, merciful God?

(BTW, who else knew that Englebert Humperdink was also the name of a "famous" opera composer? That's just the kind of valuable information I strive to provide to my readership here at CN.

Ford coverage

I'm interested to hear what readers think of the media coverage of Gerald Ford's death. As my friend Mal pointed out, one might easily conclude, based on newspaper accounts alone, that Ford was Abraham Lincoln made over, or at the very least, the next visage to be carved in rock on the face of Mount Rushmore.

Why is this? I always considered Ford a nice guy, but a fairly inept president. I cut him a fair amount of slack for his two years in office simply because he "ended up" in the White House, even though he never campaigned for the job, and because he wasn't Nixon.

So what's behind the glowing media portraits of the guy? My guess is twofold.

First, I think it's just a natural proclivity we humans have for speaking well of the dead. And dead Republicans in particular tend to fare better than their living counterparts. That's a laudable aspect of human nature, and I have no problem with that.

I think there's more to it, however. I think there's also a subtext of "look how far the Republican Party has descended down into the morass of right-wing fanaticism since Ford's time" at work here. Let's face it, Ford was no conservative, even by pre-Reagan standards. Remember Nixon's characterization of the McGovern Democratic platform as "acid, abortion and amnesty?" At least two of the A's in that formulation described Nixon's successor as well (to the best of my knowledge, Jerry Ford never dropped acid in the Oval Office, but I suppose one can't be sure.)

Most of the liberal blogosphere seemed to take this angle, and came across as almost nostalgic for the guy. More bizarre, however, was the minority of lefty bloggers who took the reverse route, and actually savaged Ford as some kind of extremist, ideologically driven hack, whose legacy to the world was Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (still no mention of Earl Butz, however. Am I the only American who hasn't blocked that from my consciousness?)

I'm not linking to specific examples of bloggers who chose to shout "Good riddance!" over Ford's grave. You can find them yourselves if you search. They tend to be the same bloggers who couldn't find it in themselves to utter even the most muted criticism of Saddam Hussein on the occasion of his death, typically eschewing even the obligatory liberal boilerplate of "Yes, Saddam was a bad man, but..." It's bloggers like those that reinforce every negative and unfair stereotype of the anti-war left that Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter can spew out, and that's a pity.