Saturday, January 31, 2004

What would the people of Eastern Europe have done without David Hasselhoff? 

'Hasselhoff claims he had hand in Berlin Wall falling' - headline, January 29.

It really doesn't get any better than this:

Speaking to German magazine TV Spielfilm, Hasselhoff said in 1989, the year the wall fell, he had helped reunite the country by singing his song 'Looking for Freedom' among millions of German fans at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

He said he felt he had moved people on both sides of the wall, although he admitted hardly any of the East Germans could speak English. He said: "I find it a bit sad that there is no photo of me hanging on the walls in the Berlin Museum at Check-Point Charlie.

"After my appearance I hacked away at pieces of the wall that had the black, red and yellow colours of the German flag on it. I kept the big piece for myself and gave the smaller pieces to colleagues at Baywatch."

Hasselhoff has completely missed his contribution to freedom in the world. There is no question that Baywatch, in its time the most popular television show in the world (it was possible to understand without a deep grasp of American English), inspired more people to aspire for freedom than any song Mr. Hasselhoff may have sung to gathered Germans in November 1989.

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Princeton wins, Penn loses, again! 

On the weekend flip-flop, the Tigers held off Yale 49-47 in New Haven, while just up I-95 Brown disposed of Penn 92-88 in OT. This leaves Princeton up on Penn by two games before the two teams have played even once, and the Tigers are now the only unbeaten team in the Ivy League, 'ceptin' of course Cornell. And Cornell hasn't played Princeton, Penn, Brown or Yale yet. And it is pretty hard to imagine Cornell winning the Ivy title anyway. That would be too weird.

In one weekend, the Tigers have put themselves into the driver's seat for the Ivy title. Not a bad start.

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Taking the test 

Daniel Drezner and Andrew Sullivan (links adjacent) have directed the blogosphere to this Presidential Match Guide, which asks you for your views on most of the big issues of the day, and then asks you to weigh the importance of those issues to you. It then generates a list of the leading candidates for President, including Bush, ranked by your preference for them based on their positions on those issues and yours, weighted for their importance to your selection. This is an interesting exercise for me, because it is exactly the sort of left-brain decision matrix that I like to do when I am buying a car or hunting for a house (recognizing that the design of the questions and the interpretation of the candidates' actual -- as opposed to stated -- positions on the issues is crucially important to the value of the model).

It is also challenging to me, because I went out on a limb and wrote a long litany of my basic policy preferences and political beliefs in the "unofficial version" of our annual holiday letter, and most of them are captured, more or less, in the Match Guide. As I said in the holiday letter, I am pro tax cuts, welfare for the poor (but against welfare for the not-poor), fiscal responsibility, free trade, “corporate greed,” the war on terror, regime change, choice both for schools and reproduction, and against “family values,” capital punishment, the anti-globalization movement, animal rights and the plaintiffs’ bar.

A friend of mine who has migrated from voting for Bush in 2000 to supporting anybody but Bush today claimed that if I really held these beliefs I would support any Democrat against Bush. I objected, pointing out that a simple counting of these issues would line up about half in the Bush column and half in the column of some theoretical Democrat. But what would happen if we weighted the issues? Well, the Match Guide does that, though the questions chosen do not line up precisely with the topics in the TigerHawk holiday letter.

So how did I do? The Match Guide revealed that my preferred candidates, ranked according to the weighted results of its test, are Bush (100), Lieberman (99), Kerry (89), Clark (87), Dean (85), Edwards (79), Sharpton (74) and Kucinich (56). Since this result is, with regard to the first two candidates and the last two candidates, basically how I feel in my gut, the test at least randomly generates a result consistent with my political views. It doesn't account for engaging charisma or essential creepiness, though. If somebody were to condemn me to an evening shooting the breeze with one of these guys over a beer, I would pick Edwards in a heartbeat, followed by Lieberman. I'm guessing that Bush would bore me to tears. Rumsfeld or Rice, though, would be a barrel of laughs.

In any case, my vote will count for nothing since I live in the heart of blue state country, so I will probably register my objection to the Christian right with a vote for the Libertarian.

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Friday, January 30, 2004

Princeton crushes Brown in Providence; Penn loses 

Princeton pooped on Brown 61 - 49 in Providence this evening, so the Tigers are 1-0 in Ivy League play. More importantly, Yale upset the Quakers in their first meeting this season (get it? - Quakers, first meeting of the season?), so the Tigers are a game up on Penn very early on. Other than Princeton, only Cornell is unbeaten in the conference, and that record won't last too long. Princeton and Penn swap opponents and arenas tomorrow night, so stay tuned.

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'Castro Says Bush Plotting to Kill Him' 

He probably would if he ever gave Castro any thought.

The headline alone will probably carry Florida for Bush, so I don't think he has to kill him in fact.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

MEMRI translates the story on Saddam's oil vouchers 

The pre-war "oil for food" program, which was supposed to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, became yet another means for Saddam to buy the influence of important people and institutions outside Iraq. Since Saddam, through the offices of the United Nations, effectively controlled all meaningful trade in and out of Iraq, he could transfer tremendous wealth to external supporters by devaluing his oil, as it were, relative to the true cost of Iraq's lawful imports. This was well-understood before the war, and it was one of the reasons why the system for containing Iraq that prevailed since the end of the Gulf War was unsustainable over the long term.

The Iraqi daily newspaper Al-Mada has obtained a wad of documents that describes Saddam's "oil voucher" program, and it is naming names. MEMRI has translated a big chunk of the article, and it is eye-opening. I'm sure this article won't be the end of this story.

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You heard it first here... (Jan 25) 

According to the Associated Press, today:

The Bush administration, deeply concerned about recent assassination attempts against Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and a resurgence of Taliban forces in neighboring Afghanistan, is preparing a U.S. military offensive that would reach inside Pakistan with the goal of destroying Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, military sources said.

True, I got it from Stratfor, but most TigerHawk readers saw it here on January 25. Interesting and troubling. And if you didn't read my post on Sunday, now would be a good time.

The AP article posits that we could see a U.S. offensive against Al-Qaeda inside Pakistan as early as this spring, well before the November election. Obviously, this is very different than the scenario predicted by Stratfor, which supposed that the White House would wait until after the United States general election. Will we catch Bin Laden, or confirm that he is dead, by fall? What would be the implications of such an action in the Islamic world, for Kashmir, and for U.S. presidential election?

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Jonah Goldberg and Kenneth Pollack on the WMD issue (post revised) 

'Straightforwardness would defuse WMD issue.' Goldberg makes a couple of key points here. First, he convincingly hammers home the point that the charge from many of the Democrats (including Monsieur Kerry) that the Bush Administration "misled" or "lied to" the American people about WMD is ridiculous on its face, to wit:

[T]he idea that the president lied to the American people hinges on - at least - one almost impossible fact: that George W. Bush knew for a certainty that the intelligence agencies of America, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, Australia, as well as the United Nations and countless independent experts were all wrong.

Second, it is now fairly clear that the Bush administration, along with all these other good people, were fundamentally incorrect in their assessment of Iraq's WMD capabilities. We need to understand why this assessment was so incorrect, and the first step toward that end must be an acknowledgement from the White House that we have to look at our gathering and analysis of intelligence. "And just because a bunch of self-serving presidential wannabes are for it, doesn't mean you have to be against it."

Third, Goldberg is absolutely correct that this issue will substantially diffuse itself if the White House responds constructively with some open and honest criticism of its own processes. That can be accomplished without any concession that the decision to go to war was a bad decision. Indeed, even if you believe that that the purported existence of WMD was the most important reason to go to war in Iraq (and WMDs were certainly not my favorite reason), it is still pretty easy to conclude that Bush and Blair made the right decision: "In the post-9/11 world, when the Iraq sanctions regime was falling apart, President Bush had two basic options: put his faith and trust in his own and his allies' intelligence agencies or in the promises of a truly warmongering madman who'd twice before pursued nuclear weapons and used other WMDs on his own people." TigerHawk agrees completely.

All of that having been said, anyone who wants to dig into this issue should read Kenneth Pollack's article in the current issue of The Atlantic. Pollack was the Clinton Administration's Persian Gulf expert, and the author of The Threatening Storm, which is a powerful and systematic argument in favor of removing Hussein by military means. Pollack generally believes now that the Bush administration had the right idea, but chose the wrong time and manner for the war (see his contribution to the "Liberal Hawks" discussion at Slate, here). In his Atlantic article, Pollack essentially charges that the Bush Administration blinkered itself in its assessment of pre-war intelligence on a range of topics, and closed its mind to alternative intelligence that might have altered the time or the manner of the conduct of the war. Pollack's thesis:

Democrats have typically accused the Bush Administration of exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq in order to justify an unnecessary war. Republicans have typically claimed that the fault lay with the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, which they say overestimated the threat from Iraq—a claim that carries the unlikely implication that Bush's team might not have opted for war if it had understood that Saddam was not as dangerous as he seemed.

Both sides appear to be at least partly right. The intelligence community did overestimate the scope and progress of Iraq's WMD programs, although not to the extent that many people believe. The Administration stretched those estimates to make a case not only for going to war but for doing so at once, rather than taking the time to build regional and international support for military action.

Pollack traces the history of Western intelligence concerning Iraq, the degradation of the quality of that intelligence after 1998, when the U.N. inspectors were essentially expelled, and the various known or possible explanations for our inaccurate assessment of the intelligence that we did have. It is interesting that he ultimately prescribes the same remedy as Jonah Goldberg, disclosure:

Finally, the U.S. government must admit to the world that it was wrong about Iraq's WMD and show that it is taking far-reaching action to correct the problems that led to this error. Iraq is not going to be the last foreign-policy challenge in which we must make choices based on ambiguous evidence. When the United States confronts future challenges, the exaggerated estimates of Iraq's WMD will loom like an ugly shadow over the diplomatic discussions. Fairly or not, no foreigner trusts U.S. intelligence to get it right anymore, or trusts the Bush Administration to tell the truth. The only way that we can regain the world's trust is to demonstrate that we understand our mistakes and have changed our ways.

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David Leip's Atlas of Presidential Elections 

A friend of mine alerted me to this fascinating site. If you click on "election results," you can plug in any presidential election and display a series of maps color-coded by party, proportion of the popular vote, electoral vote, and so forth. There are some data going back to the election of 1789 (the first election was the only election in an odd-numbered year), and for recent decades you can look at "red and blue America" by county as well as by state. The county maps are particularly instructive -- compare, for example, the county-by-county voting maps for the election of 1980 (Reagan v. Carter) with the election of 2000. This is a great site worth bookmarking for this election year. I'll make it a permanent fixture in the "links" listing on TigerHawk so that you can find it easily!

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Monday, January 26, 2004

The Onion's take on homeland security... 

'Air Marshal Stuck In Conversation About Passenger's Patio'

Laugh out loud funny:

Gillam, a former Navy SEAL, trained for 12 weeks last year in tactical terrorist suppression aboard an aircraft. Delsman, who was traveling to Newark on business, single-handedly spruced up his backyard in July.

The flight-long discussion about patios was prompted by an umbrella advertisement in a SkyMall catalog sitting open on Gillam's lap.

"That's close to what I have in my yard," Delsman said. "But mine was a lot cheaper. A lot cheaper. I know this great place in Elmhurst that sells top-brand stuff. You should check it out if you're ever doing some remodeling...."

Gillam, who knows 18 different ways to disarm a knife-wielding adversary, nodded rhythmically as Delsman related the simple pleasure of lounging in his newly finished patio.

Good cheer requires that you read the whole thing.

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Sunday, January 25, 2004

The last Jews in Baghdad 

'Baghdad Once Had Thousands of Jewish Residents; Today, About 21 Survive'

In 1948 there were 150,000 Jews in Baghdad. Now there are 21.

The world obsesses about Palestinian refugees, because Arab countries won't take them, integrate them, and make them part of their world. Instead, they fester in their own hatred, and teach their children to become mass murderers. Jews in Arab countries are murdered and thereby do not become refugees, or flee to the United States or Israel 'voluntarily' and become part of, and contributors to, their new country. Read this article about the end of the Jews of Baghdad and think about whether the world cares about all refugees equally.

One telling passage:

Zionism was a capital offense under the Baath Party.

In 1969, half a million Iraqis celebrated in the streets when a dozen Jewish "spies" were publicly hanged. Later, a pro-Palestinian gunman opened fire in another Baghdad synagogue.

"I was one of the only people who escaped without a scratch," said Aaron Bech, who was there that day.

...Just outside town, there is a vast Jewish cemetery. But these days, the graves go largely untended. On the walls of the synagogue, small white plaques list the names of the dead.

"That's my father," said Khalida Eliahu, a dentist, pointing at one plaque. Eliahu's father was shot in the head in 1998 as he worked at a construction project.

The article brought tears to my eyes.

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The next steps in the war on terror, according to Stratfor 

Stratfor posted one of its "free sample" analyses the other day, and it is well worth reading in its entirety. In the essay, Stratfor reviews the strategic purpose (as opposed to the rationale) for the Iraq war, where we have travelled geopolitically since then, and the next likely steps.

The purpose for the war, according to Stratfor, was two-fold. First, "the United States had to establish its ability to carry out extensive military operations to the conclusion, despite casualties." This was necessary to counter widespread belief in the Islamic world, promoted heavily by Al-Qaeda, that the U.S. no longer had the stomach to sustain casualties. Indeed, our conduct of the war in Afghanistan did nothing to allay this belief, so we needed a second step.

The Iraq war's second strategic purpose was, in Stratfor's view, geopolitical. "The United States knew it could not defeat al Qaeda on the retail level. They were too well dispersed, too few and too secure. Defeating al Qaeda meant inducing several enabling countries -- particularly Saudi Arabia. These countries had little interest in the internal destabilization that engaging al Qaeda would entail, and in some cases, they sympathized with al Qaeda."

Without any real direct means to exert pressure on the region, the United States had no chance to defeat Al-Qaeda -- there were too many refuges. "Iraq -- bordering on Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran -- was the single most strategic country in the region, and a base from which to exert intense pressure throughout the region."

So the successful prosecution of the Iraq war would counteract, and even reverse, the perception that the United States would not fight the war to its conclusion, and it would give us a massive base in the heart of the Arab Middle East from which we could influence the policies of the regimes bordering Iraq, and others besides.

Stratfor believes that the situation on the ground in Iraq has improved sufficiently since the dark days of October and November that it is much more likely than it was in the fall that the U.S. will achieve the first objective -- the reversal of the impression that we will run from a fight when casualties are involved. More importantly, we have dramatically influenced the policies of the important countries in the region, including Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, and most significantly from Stratfor's perspective, "threats that an explosion in the Islamic world would follow a U.S. invasion of Iraq proved to be in error. The single most important fact is that the genuine anger in the Islamic street has not had any political repercussions. Rather than trending away from the United States, the political behavior of Islamic states has been toward alignment. This tendency has accelerated since the decline in guerrilla activity until it is difficult to locate an Islamic state that overtly opposes the United States. When even Syria is asserting its desire to cooperate with the United States, the situation is utterly different than what some expected in February 2003, before the war began."

The Stratfor essay also discusses the next likely military action in the war on terror, but if you're interested you'll have to go to the source (I'm getting tired here). Suffice it to say that Stratfor predicts it will involve Al-Qaeda's last truly safe haven, northwest Pakistan, and that any new U.S. initiative in that part of the world will have to wait until after the November election.

Stratfor's analysis of the current state of affairs is probably correct, although only history will reveal whether the changes in the region that we have catalyzed in the Iraq war will help or hurt the cause of peace in the long-term. Only time (at least ten months, apparently) will tell whether Stratfor's prediction is also on target, and there is the little matter of an intervening presidential election before then.

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Friday, January 23, 2004

The tax cuts were more effective 

'Bush Stops at Diner to Boost U.S. Economy'

"The stop was evidence that Bush is moving into campaign mode ahead of the November presidential election."

I, for one, am relieved.

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Will the corruption indictment make Sharon more flexible? 

Or will it make him more intransigent? In any case, I find it hard to believe that the indictment of Ariel Sharon will not in some say alter the dynamic of Isreal's position vis a vis the Palestinians. Here are three captions from Debkafile this morning, not connected in any explicit way:

Weisglass met Rice at White House Thursday night. DEBKAfile reports: Israeli emissary delivered Sharon’s offer of substantial changes in separation fence route at points cutting through Palestinian areas, and intention of adhering as closely as possible to pre-1967 Green Line.

Route will be re-assessed in Jordan Valley and Beit Arie where barrier designed to defend Ben Gurion international airport and around Gush Etzion east of Jerusalem. They also talked about early Sharon-Bush meeting

Sharon repeats he will serve full term as prime minister “at least until 2007” despite being named in bribe charges against businessman David Appel.

Will Sharon make more concessions because he is politically weakened, or will he dig in around his Likud base? In the United States, a President in such a situation would run to his base, as Clinton had to do in the late '90s. Sharon has to operate in a parliamentary system, which might result in a different dynamic. Will he run to the center?

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Thursday, January 22, 2004

Catering to a niche market... 

'First Christianity-themed nudist resort to open in Florida.'

To be sure, it's more plausible than a Muslim-themed nudist resort.

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John Kerry fights for everything 

Having returned from Washington and taken in the Princeton Charter School Winter Concert, TigerHawk is now watching the debate among the Democratic candidates in New Hampshire. I agree with Lieberman the most, since he is sustaining his menschhood over the Iraq war in the teeth of his trivial poll numbers, and I think Edwards is the most personally appealing of the lot, which perhaps is like being the best hockey player in Equador. Dean, fortunately for him and all of us who yearn for a brokered convention, does not look like a "prairie dog on speed," in the immortal words of Alan Simpson, retired Senator from Wyoming.

At the moment I'm thinking about John Kerry's unusual speech impediment -- he apparently "fights" for absolutely everything. He never bargains, cajoles, barters, weasels, negotiates, horsetrades, supports, applauds, argues, advances, promotes, or votes for anything. He only fights for things. I'm not sure I can take that for four years, even if I can get past his Franco haughtiness (c.f., Taranto).

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Wednesday, January 21, 2004

On the road 

I am in our nation's capital for a couple of days learning about the analysis of the "root cause" defects in the design, manufacture, or distribution of medical devices. I have been very busy and generally unable to post to TigerHawk, so please accept my apology in advance. I hope I'll add to the site over the weekend, but no promises.

A reader sent me a link to a disappointing story. Apparently the tale of Churchill's parrot is in doubt, at least according to his descendants. Lady Soames, Sir Winston's 82 year-old daughter, denounces the story as a fraud. I hope that she is either misinformed or aggressively defending Churchill's legacy among bluenoses, because I love the idea that his parrot is still alive and still proposing that we "Fuck the Nawzies."

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Tuesday, January 20, 2004

A fool and his money are soon parted 

"Lottery winner Jack Whittaker, who had more than half a million dollars stolen from his sport utility vehicle last year, had another $100,000 swiped from his vehicle over the weekend."

Lotteries, apparently, redistribute wealth even more quickly than previously imagined.

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Monday, January 19, 2004

U.S. Postal Service honors Stalinist 

The United States Postal Service is issuing a stamp commemorating Paul Robeson, a local icon in Princeton. The Trenton Times describes Robeson as "sometimes controversial," and sides with those who view him as a precursor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Robeson, an All-American football player who graduated from Rutgers College and Columbia Law School, subsequently gained international renown as a singer and actor during the 1920s.

The youngest of five children born to a minister who escaped slavery at age 15, Robeson parlayed his stage and screen fame into social activism, championing racial equality and workers' rights.

But his outspoken political beliefs, association with the Communist Party and admiration for the Soviet Union drew scorn from the U.S. government.

The Times further reports that Robeson was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and that he had his passport revoked during the height of the Cold War. The article contains no explanation as to why this might have happened, leaving the impression that Robeson was just another show business type victimized by Joe McCarthy. No wonder people are thrilled to put him on a stamp.

There is another side to this story. I am far from an expert on Paul Robeson (although I drive down Princeton's Paul Robeson Place a couple of times a week, which should count for something), but you don't have to do much work (try Googling "Paul Robeson") to figure out that he revered Stalin. Read his tribute to Stalin, "To you beloved Comrade," on the occasion of Stalin's death in 1953. For all his artistic achievements and his manifest political courage, he was an American Stalinist. Robeson honored the second or third most murderous political leader of the 20th Century (I've always been a little unclear on the whole Hitler, Stalin, and Mao bodycount thing, and don't really care to sort it out -- once your list of victims gets into the tens of millions you're really murdering at an industrial scale, which puts you in a very select club).

So are we putting Paul Robeson on a stamp (and naming streets after him) because decades of public support for Stalin is just a detail? Was Robeson's courage in the expression of his political beliefs so redeeming that it trumps the substance of his political beliefs? That is a strange thought, since courage per se would not seem to me a basis for redemption. There were many courageous Nazis, many courageous Japanese, and there are apparently a great many courageous Arabs.

There may be all kinds of ways to explain away the substance of Robeson's reverence for Stalin, and it might be that if I knew more about Robeson I would be all for the stamp and the street and such. But why would the Trenton Times, which is actually a decent paper, completely ignore this side of Robeson? Perhaps we should call Ann Coulter and ask her point of view!

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We need more parrots like this... 

Winston Churchill's parrot is alive and kicking at age 104, and it still apparently will declare "Fuck Hitler" and "Fuck the Nazis" in "that unmistakable Churchillian inflection."

It makes me wish, of course, that American presidents kept parrots in the Oval Office. Some of these parrots would not be very interesting. Would anyone line up to listen to the Eisenhower presidential parrot, or the Carter or Ford presidential parrots? I think not. But a Johnson parrot, a Nixon parrot, or a Clinton parrot -- they would be a lot of laughs.

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Another plan for the Iraq transition... 

The Onion proposes splitting the $87.5 billion for reconstruction among the entire citizenry of Iraq:

The 14-member Allawi family in Tikrit received $49,628.74 Monday.

"I'm very excited," Ahmed Allawi said. "A free, unregulated market will swiftly and efficiently lead to the establishment of an array of fairly priced goods and services. Any day now, there should be something available to spend this money on. As for today, the open-air market down the street is still on fire."

If you believe in starting your day with a hard laugh, read the whole thing.

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Sunday, January 18, 2004

Lame employee... 

Literally. "Court OKs Disability Pay for Horseplay Injury." The employee in question "required hip surgery after crashing to the floor of a social club on the atoll after he bet soldiers $100 that one of them could not high-kick over his head without touching him. He won the bet but got kicked to the floor."

What's this about an atoll? It turns out the employee worked for an exceedingly unfortunate federal contractor running a store catering to American soldiers on Johnson Atoll, which is 700 miles west of Hawaii. The Ninth Circuit concluded that the atoll was so boring and so otherwise devoid of opportunities for entertainment that it was foreseeable that "horseplay of the type" that caused the injury would occur.

Excuse me? How stupid is too stupid for the Ninth Circuit? The plaintiff in this case bet a room full of drinking soldiers that they couldn't "high kick" over his head without hitting him! In the Ninth Circuit, apparently, employers are now required to indemnify their employees for self-inflicted injuries, even when those injuries occur off the clock. Why? Because atolls are boring, so horseplay is expected? Any horseplay? What if the employee decided to play mumbledy-peg with a Ranger's Kbar? Does the boss have to pay for new fingers? Put differently, are employers now de facto insurers of their employees in boring Ninth Circuit locations for all bodily injury? If not, what quality or quantity of stupidity would not be foreseeable, if inviting drunken soldiers to "high kick" at your head does not qualify?

If, in fact, the current economic recovery is "jobless," it is because employers have learned that the costs of hiring are no longer predictable.

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Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War 

All last week, Slate ran a marvelous discussion among a group of "liberal hawks" -- manifestly liberal journalists and academics who nonetheless supported the war in Iraq. The group includes Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth M. Pollack, Jacob Weisberg (the host) and Fareed Zakaria. Virtually to a man, this group believes that the Bush Administration has botched the management of Iraq since the now infamous "end of major combat operations," but only a couple of them have changed their mind about the need to invade Iraq, even with the benefit of hindsight. The series is a wonderful antidote to the bleatings of the antiwar left, the equivocating of most of the Democrats running for President, and the blinkered intransigence of the Bush Administration. If you pretend to have an open mind about the Iraq war, know the arguments in the Slate dialogue.

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How to sing the Star Spangled Banner 

On the brink of the AFC Championship Game, LeeAnn Rimes (no, Lee Ann does not rhyme, and I bet it isn't the first time somebody wrote that) sang the Star Spangled Banner. Like a lot of pregame hired voiceboxes, she showed up with her own arrangement of our national anthem, changing the tune at various places, trilling away at others. I wish she hadn't. I like my national anthem straight, sung the way it has always been sung, with no element of originality. Oh, I don't have any problem with people playing around with it on their own time (see Jimi Hendrix), it being a free country and all, but when I sit down to watch a football game and am essentially captive (OK, I'm only captive insofar as I don't want to haul myself out of my Lay-Z-Boy sofa to reach the remote so that I can hit the mute button), I want my national anthem straight, without so much as a twitch of artistic expression.

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The Barron's Roundtable 

The annual Barron's Roundtable is one of my small joys during the dark days of January. Each year, Barron's convenes a dozen or so famous money managers in a roundtable discussion, and publishes the results over three issues starting in the middle of January. Part I appears in the January 19 issue, which hit the stands yesterday, and it is as entertaining as always. You have to pay for it on the web, so you might as well buy the recyclable version and read it offline.

This year's Roundtable includes an exchange between Marc Faber, Art Samberg, Bill Gross, Mario Gabelli, Meryl Witmer and Oscar Schafer that elegantly frames a debate over the future of the American economy. It begins with Faber, a famous and lifelong bear:

Faber:...But's let's distinguish between real and fictitious growth. In China, there is tremendous investment in plant and equipment and infrustructure, which is real economic growth. On the other hand, it has now become fashionable, especially in the U.S., for men to have cosmetic surgery. As a result, let's say more hospitals are built. More doctors have to be hired and employment goes up. But to what extent does that create economic growth? A lot of economic growth in the U.S. is artificial, essentially transferring money from Peter's pocket to Paul's.

Samberg: That's a dangerous slope to go down, because it means quality-of-life expenditures have no economic role.

Gross: It's all well and good to have plastic surgery, or buy or sell a certain service. But we can't sell our plastic surgery to the rest of the world. To the extent we can sell our paper, or could sell our automobiles in the past, that was good. But if growth now is predicated on services that are not tradable and that the rest of the world does not want, it's a negative in terms of the trade deficit, the dollar and ultimately our standard of living.

Witmer: If the dollar is low enough, the world can get its plastic surgery here.

Gabelli: Take New York City. One of its largest employers is hospitals. Not only is the population aging, but people from around the world come here to get medical treatment. American universities are still the schools of choice. Agriculture is our largest export. Movies are our second largest export. So let's cut it out about cars. We haven't sold many cars outside the U.S. But we sell lots of corn and wheat and soybeans. And software.

Gross: You're optimistic on the U.S. economy because of our agricultural exports?

Gabelli: The Iowa corn farmer is the most productive individual in the world.

Barron's: He is also subsidized.

Gabelli: You've got $100 billion of livestock and $100 billion of commodities. There is only $20 billion of transfer payments.

Gross: You can't knock the American farmer. But in order to sell agricultural goods to the rest of the world, you need a depreciating dollar. That might be good for the farmer, but ultimately it lowers the standard of living for all Americans. That's the point most Americans don't seem to realize. As the dollar declines, it costs more to import goods.

Schafer: Imports are a small part of our GDP. Why does a weak dollar hurt?

A group of the most successful money managers in the world disagrees sharply about the relevance of such matters as our surging services sector and the value of our currency. These opinions have weight -- more weight than those of all the politicians and journalists in Iowa -- because the people who are expressing them must commit their money, and their clients' money, based on their beliefs about these matters. Yet they disagree enormously on fundamental matters. There is much food for thought in this exchange, and in the entire roundtable discussion.

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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Protesters Push Past Barricades at Martin Luther King's Tomb to Protest Bush Visit 

"When I heard Bush was coming here I couldn't believe it. I was outraged and disgusted, and I just think it's a photo op. It's so transparent," said Kathy Nicholas, a flight attendant from Atlanta.

Bush's visit to observe King's birthday upset some civil rights activists who said the president's policies on Iraq, affirmative action and funding for social services conflict with King's legacy. They also complained that the scheduling conflicted with their own plans to honor King.

It is a shame we have come to this. Whatever might be said of the conflict between King's legacy and Bush's policies, Bush has conferred more genuine power and influence on the blacks in his administration -- specifically Rice and Colin Powell -- than any president in history. Rice is the most influential National Security Advisor since Henry Kissinger (and therefore the second most influential National Security Advisor ever), and Powell has repeatedly bent the adminstration away from its most unilateralist impulses. There is, in fact, no evidence or even a hint of a suggestion that Bush judges anybody by anything other than the content of their character, whatever the objections to his substantive policies. So why is a visit to King's tomb such an outrage? Wouldn't staying away be worse? Is it not progress of the sort that King fought for that a president as conservative as George Bush either wants to honor Dr. King (if you believe him sincere) or needs to honor Dr. King (if you believe him cynical)? Isn't it all good?

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Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Thoughts on submissive urination 

When I waltz in the door any given evening, our two young Springer Spaniels, Julie and Penny, jump all over me with joy and affection. They are reasonably well behaved and settle down quickly, but I have to be very careful how I address them. If I speak to them in my usual manly voice at its customary volume, they both immediately urinate and then roll on to their backs in a “Springer salute.” The urination is a “submissive pee,” and has nothing to do with how well housebroken they are. It is a reflex, and I can usually prevent it by addressing the dogs in a falsetto, which is undignified but keeps the floors clean.

Thinking about it, I’m fairly happy that humans don’t practice submissive urination. Sure, there are times when it would be really entertaining to intimidate some schlemiel into wetting his pants, but by and large we’re better off without this particular canine trait.

If humans urinated submissively, much of life would just be that much more complicated. Think about it.

On the job, only powerful people could wear light colored pants. Until your promotion to a “C level” job, wearing anything other than navy blue chinos would be tantamount to daring some evil senior executive into intimidating you into a submissive pee. The top guys would fold the urination into their war stories: “So the guy doesn’t make his numbers, and tops it off by wearing khakis to the sales management review! I really couldn’t deal that kind of cockiness even from a sales guy, so I blew my top. By the time I was done with him, those pants were history!”

Once you made it into a position of true power, though, the situation would reverse – you would wear stain revealing clothes just to flaunt your power: “What, me urinate submissively? To precisely whom and for what reason?”

Of course, there would always be some cocky young go-getter who thinks he can get away with anything because of his keen wit and good looks. He’ll wear the light-colored pants before he’s earned his stripes – then one day he’ll screw something up, and the responsible executive of rank will grump to him in a deep voice until the fellow has a stain the size of a dinner plate on the front of his pants. Messy, but at least the executive will know that he got the message across.

It certainly would be a topic for career advancement books (“Chapter 6 – Tips on How Not to Pee During Job Interviews”), and Fortune magazine would have to tweak its “best employers” ratings to take into account the degree to which sensitive submissive urinators are given a shot at upper management. Does the company in question have a "porcelin ceiling," or not?

What about the opportunities for litigation? I’m sure that the trial bar would figure out a pretext to demand damages for discrimination against chronic submissive urinators; indeed, would we need affirmative action programs to ensure that submissive urinators got a fair shot at top management jobs? These would all be important questions.

Imagine the human resources training that would follow from the first big verdict: “Take great care not to cause any of your direct reports, or their direct reports, to urinate submissively. Submissive urination is about power and its abuse, and is not to be confused with incontinence, which is a medical condition. If you see anybody speaking in a deep voice that might trigger a submissive urination, please report it to your supervisor, your local HR representative, or your plant's compliance officer.”

Politics would also be interesting. Think about the current nasty fight for the Democratic nomination for president. True, people who run for president probably do not intimidate easily, so you couldn’t really expect, say, Al Sharpton to bully Joe Lieberman into stainmaker mode. But think of the press reaction if Dale Ungerer had wet his pants when Dr. Dean shouted at him? It would have hurt Dean with the “I’m OK, You’re OK” Democrats, but he might have picked up some Stars and Bars Southerners in the trade.

Yes, of canine traits I’d take the friendliness, the hearing, the sense of smell, and perhaps even the indiscriminate palate, but I think we should leave submissive urination to the dogs.

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Howard insults Republicans 

'Dean Accuses Clark of Being a Republican'

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Good idea to settle this one... 

'Restaurant Settles Condom-In-Soup Lawsuit'

This will ruin your whole evening:

Sultan, 48, said the trouble began Feb. 26 when she and three companions sent their soup back to the kitchen to be reheated while dining at the Irvine, California, restaurant.

Sultan said she was treated rudely by the waiter, and when she began eating the soup she encountered a chewy, rubbery object that she first thought was calamari or shrimp, she told local media. She spit the offending object into her napkin and discovered it was a rolled up condom, she said.

"I said, 'Oh my god' and ran into the bathroom with another friend of mine and I started throwing up," she said.

At least it was rolled up.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Tigers and Hawks fair differently vs. Gophers 

The Minnesota Golden Gophers held off Princeton on Saturday, winning at home 57-53. This was the fifth narrow defeat for Princeton this season against non-Ivy opponents, and very disappointing for TigerHawk. Fortunately, I protected myself against the psychic pain by going to see The Last Samurai with number one son, and only heard the last 30 seconds or so of the game on Princeton's own WPRB radio. Meanwhile, Iowa was busily embarrassing itself against Northwestern in Iowa City, so Saturday was not a good day by any measure. You begin the Big Ten season by losing your home game vs. the 'Cats, you have to figure that the road ahead is a long one.

As it happens, Minnesota's next game was against the Hawkeyes this evening, so I fortified myself with meatballs, a pinch of spaghetti (TigerHawk watches the carbs, though is by no means a diet wierdo), and wine, settled in to watch the game. The Hawkeyes trounced the bucktoothed weasels from the North Country, 83-68.

Obscure sports thought for the day: I wonder if it is the first time that Princeton and Iowa have played the same team consecutively?

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"Diana Ross won't stand on drunk driving charges" 

Of course not. She's drunk. She should sit down. She blew 0.20, which is high even by my lax standards.

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Sunday, January 11, 2004

Alert the media 

Study reveals bullies have high self esteem.

According a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News, "schoolyard bullies do not suffer from low self-esteem and are often popular and considered 'cool' by their classmates, according to a new UCLA study." This finding is, allegedly, "contrary to popular opinion."

What popular opinion would that be? The popular opinion that prevails among the education establishment? Apparently so, because "[u]nfortunately, most anti-bullying programs in schools are based on the concept that bullies pick on other kids because they have low self-esteem," said the author of the UCLA study.

Indeed, if the UCLA study is to be believed, the "popular opinion" perceived by the reporter is exactly wrong: "[Bullies] don't show any signs whatsoever of depression, loneliness or anxiety. They look even healthier than the socially adjusted kids who are not involved in the bullying."

I don't know anybody who has actual experience bullying or being bullied who believes that bullies have low self-esteem. The remarkable thing is that the reporter covering this story is aware of "popular opinion" to the contrary. We must run in different circles.

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When George Will is good... 

...he is really very good. He warns Republicans not to take too much comfort from the Dukakis precedent, however appealing the analogies to Dean may appear:

"Yet in spite of all his misadventures, Dukakis, a chilly vessel of New England's starchy, hectoring liberalism, running in a conservative decade and in an unpromising year against Republican peace (the Soviet Union was crumbling) and prosperity (the unemployment rate was 5.5, the economy's growth rate was a robust 4.1), convinced 41,809,074 Americans. Sixteen years later—and four years after an essentially tied election—there is a polarizing president who may have made the undecided "swing" voter an endangered species. How confident can Republicans really be that Dean or any other Democrat cannot conceivably get 4.4 percent more of the popular vote than Dukakis got?"

While I am not sure I agree that New England's liberalism is particularly starchy or hectoring (Tip O'Neil was a lot of things, but he definitely wasn't starchy), Dukakis was certainly a chilly vessel. Still, Will's point is an excellent one -- notwithstanding the worst campaign in memory, Dukakis got more than 45% of the votes. Aren't Dean or Clark likely to do better, under the circumstances? Read the whole thing.

Will also takes a sarcastic swipe at the relevance of Iowa (it hurts TigerHawk -- a loyal naturalized son of the Hawkeye State -- to republish it here):

"The night Dukakis finished third in Iowa's Democratic caucuses (behind Dick Gephardt and Illinois Sen. Paul Simon—perhaps Dukakis's endive idea needed tweaking), Robertson finished second to Bob Dole in the Republican caucuses. He handily beat Vice President George Bush, who 10 months later became the slayer of Dukakis. Which gives you some idea of just how important next Monday's Iowa caucuses might be."

It almost sounds like George Will agrees with Howard Dean!

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Saturday, January 10, 2004

Non-Yemenese illiteracy 

"CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dismissed US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) as a "true illiterate" for accusing him of not playing a constructive role in Latin America."

In her indictment of Chavez, Condi inexplicably failed to include Chavez's outrageous support for Bolivia's claims on Chile's coastline. What gives? Perhaps she doesn't want to annoy Kofi Annan or Jimmy Carter. I mean, any more than she has already.

What a woman.

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Friday, January 09, 2004

Chile gets hot... 

"Chile: No way will we give Bolivia sovereign access to sea."

Reluctant as I am to reveal my own deplorable ignorance of South American history, I must confess that I did not know that Bolivia has not always been landlocked:

"Bolivia lost its Pacific coastline during a war it and Peru waged against Chile between 1879 and 1883.

"During that conflict, Chile occupied 120,000 kilometers (46,332 square miles) of Bolivian soil as well as part of southern Peru.

"Bolivia's repeated attempts to persuade Chile to return the seaside territory over the course of the last century caused the countries to break off diplomatic ties in 1962, with a brief resumption between 1975 and 1978, when both nations were ruled by military regimes."

It is comforting to know that when military dictators are in charge, South American enemies can patch up their differences.

Anyway, Bolivia's territorial claims are supported by the governments of Cuba (Castro), Venezuela (Chavez), Uraguay and Brazil, plus Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter.

I'm still waiting to for someone to answer: WWBASD?*
*What Would Butch And Sundance Do?

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Res Ipsa Loquitor 

"Yemen to celebate Arab Illiteracy Day."

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Clinton lied!!! 

"Former US president Bill Clinton said in October during a visit to Portugal that he was convinced Iraq had weapons of mass destruction up until the fall of Saddam Hussein, Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said."

Of course Clinton didn't lie (at least about this), and neither did the Bush Administration. When all is said and done, it may very well be the case that even Saddam Hussein believed that Iraq had WMD in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. They may not, in fact, exist, owing only to the incompetence of his government, but that doesn't mean that anybody lied about them.

And in any case, what happened to the anthrax?

The risk that Iraq had WMD was but one of several good reasons to invade Iraq. (Hey, the site isn't called TigerHawk because of its dovish inclinations!)

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A poor reason to probe somebody... 

"Divers Probed for Giving Fish Champagne." Polish divers, no less.

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Safety fascists strike again... 

"Handheld cell phones may be banned" in Los Angeles.

This is an astonishingly silly idea, and a particularly egregious example of how sloppy thinking about risk results in laws that take away small, day-to-day freedoms.

Is holding cell phones in cars dangerous? You certainly can't tell from the trends in national accident data. During the cell phone era (which we can reasonably define as something like 1988 or 1990 to the present), driving became safer by every measure. Not only did deaths and injuries decline in absolute terms (continuing a long-established trend), but they declined as a percentage of vehicle miles driven, which is probably the better metric. Is that only because our cars are getting safer? Unlikely, since accidents that involved only "property damage" (which I take to mean damage to the vehicle but no human) also declined during that period. So to support a law like the one proposed in LA (or already in force in New York State), you have to believe that the decline in accidents, deaths and injuries would have been even greater during the last 15 years were it not for the scourage of cell phones. That seems like a stretch, but it might be the case. Fortunately, the sponsor of the ordinance in LA provides us with information that reveals how silly the law is.

According to the LA Times, "Councilman Tom LaBonge, who pushed the council to endorse the state bill, pointed to a CHP study that found cellphones contributed to 11% of accidents blamed on distracted drivers in a six-month period." So cell phones in general -- not the holding of phones, mind you, but cell phones in general -- contributed to one ninth of the subset of accidents blamed on distracted drivers. LaBonge (TigerHawk thinks that "LaBonge" would be a great brand name for a new line of weed paraphernalia) wants to give the LAPD cause to pull people over because of a fraction of a fraction of a declining number, and it isn't even clear that his law will do anything. If LA enacts LaBonge's ordinance, how many drivers will fumble with coffee, a McMuffin or a mascara wand in the hand now liberated from the burden of their cell phone? Sure, the percentage of "distracted driver" accidents caused by cell phones will decline from 11%, which will allow the safety fascists to claim victory, but who is going to measure McMuffin risk?

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Thursday, January 08, 2004

Another Middle Eastern refugee problem. 

"'The Israeli Government are to start moving more than 18,000 Ethiopian Jews to the Middle East,' says Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. At the end of a two-day visit to Ethiopia, Mr Shalom said the emigration of the Falasha Mura community would start by the end of next week.

"The Falasha Mura are the last remaining Jewish community in Ethiopia and have long been persecuted for their beliefs."

Since 1948, the Israelis have taken more than 900,000 Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Arab world, and many more from Communist countries that persecuted them before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The number is actually fairly close to the 750,000 or so Palestinians who left Israel -- whether voluntarily, in fear of their lives, or under orders -- during or following the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Of course, Jewish refugees -- even the Falasha Mura, who have not been welcomed as unreservedly as other Jews -- are not confined in camps for generations. They have been integrated into Israeli society, and in many cases become far more productive economically than they were in their country of origin. And, of course, Jews don't teach their children to strap on high explosives and detonate themselves in the midst of Muslim civilians.

If the Arabs handled their own refugees the way the Jews handle theirs, the world would not be such a dangerous place.

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Biting off his nose to spite his face... 

"Colombian authorities arrested a man who arranged to be kidnapped to get back at his cheating wife, police said."

How stupid do you have to be to get arrested for kidnapping your ownself in Columbia? Nobody gets arrested for kidnapping in Columbia! No wonder she cheated on him.

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Hawkeyes win Big Ten opener vs. Purdue 

A regular reader thrashed me this morning for not commenting on Iowa's victory last night against Purdue. Fair enough. Princeton also walked over Monmouth, and will have its own chance against a Big Ten opponent later this week when it takes on Minnesota. A good evening.

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From an email thread most of you have probably seen:

Physical exercise

The doctor told me "Physical exercise is good for you."
I know that I should do it, since my body is so out of shape. So I
have worked out this easy daily program I can do anywhere:

Beat around the bush.
Jump to conclusions.
Climb the walls.
Wade through paperwork.

Drag my heels.
Push my luck.
Make mountains out of mole hills.
Hit the nail on the head.

Bend over backwards.
Jump on the band wagon.
Balance the books.
Run around in circles.

Toot my own horn.
Climb the ladder of success.
Pull out the stops.
Add fuel to the fire.

Open a can of worms.
Put my foot in my mouth.
Start the ball rolling.
Go over the edge.

Pick up the pieces.

Frankly, this looks like something George Carlin would write, but there was no attribution in the email so perhaps I'm shrifting the shorts of somebody else by suggesting that.

Most of these activities look less like exercise and more like a list of management principles!

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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Franco-American relations continue to deteriorate... 

The Onion has the story.

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"EU to go ahead with canceled anti-Semitism seminar after all"  

Apparently the President of the EU read TigerHawk and decided to do the right thing.

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Howard Dean's worst nightmare 

"Painting depicts Bush holding bin Laden's head."

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EU cancels conference on racism because minority group accuses it of racism 

European Commission President Romano Prodi has suspended a conference on racism after Jewish leaders accused the EU of fuelling anti-Semitism. This is really quite astonishing, and it reveals a lot about the insidious and hypocritical nature of anti-semitism. I've always thought that one of the purposes of these big international gatherings was so that minorities could identify the sources of the injustices that they perceive. If Jews can't identify racists acts against them at a conference on racism, what, exactly, is the appropriate forum?

Sure, you can take issue with Bronfman and Benatoff's arguments (why not publish both the poll and the report?), but that is no excuse for the Europeans to pick up their marbles and go home. How pleasant and decorous is a conference on racism expected to be?

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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

For better or worse, lots of things are changing in the Middle East 

I wish I knew enough about Middle Eastern politics to put all the recent news into context, but I really don't. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of news in just the last couple of days suggests that something has changed.

Consider that Israel and Libya are in direct contact, and that an Israeli delegation "will visit Tripoli toward the end of this month, with the aim of discussing the end of a formal state of hostility between Libya and Israel, and building normal ties between both countries."

Consider that Iran and Egypt are closer to restoring ties after more than 25 years. This apparently is possible because Iran has "agreed to rename a street which commemorated Khaled Islambouli, an Islamic radical who opposed the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal and killed Sadat in 1981. The street's name was changed to Intifada street, after the Palestinian uprising, at the request of Iran's Foreign Ministry. Cairo had demanded Iran rename the street before it would contemplate restoring ties." (TigerHawk wonders whether there is a John Hinckley, Jr. Boulevard anywhere in Iran.)

According to the article, the U.S. is quietly positive about the Iran-Egypt rapprochment, because "a U.S. ally like Egypt could help nudge Iran to take actions Washington wants to see as well as provide another window on Tehran."

Consider that Turkey and Israel have announced a remarkable "arms for water" deal, through which Turkey will supply 50 million cubic meters of water per year to Israel in exchange for tanks and aircraft. Although Turkey has long recognized Israel, it seems remarkable (to me, at least) that a Muslim country with a significant Islamic political faction should overtly cut a deal to barter arms from Israel. Also, Israel's requirement for fresh water is a factor in its reluctance to withdraw from certain of the territory it occupies, including the Golan Heights. Might this deal alleviate some of Israel's fresh water supply problems?

Finally, the winds of change -- or at least breezes of change -- are beginning to blow in Saudi Arabia. True, the source is DEBKAfile, which a friend of TigerHawk's calls "a Likud propaganda organ," but since I'm not sure what Likud propaganda objective is met by this story I'll take it as plausible. Let's see if anybody else picks it up.

I have no idea whether any of this adds up to anything significant -- as I said, my knowledge of the region is perhaps a notch above that of any concerned citizen, at best. But if you add to this the Libyan capitulation on WMD, the recent silence of Hezbollah, the pause of Hamas, and the direct U.S. - Iran contact since the catastrophe of Bam, it looks like there is more favorable activity in the region since the Oslo breakthrough in 1994 and the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel in 1995.

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Stoning rape victims is not enough... 

Apparently, Nigerian Islamicists aren't satisfied with state-sanctioned flogging of 15 year old rape victims. The Nigerian army goes after a group of "middle-class Nigerian graduates inspired by the Taliban's vision of a Islamic state."

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Islamic law at work 

Whether or not the rapist deserves death by stoning for forcing himself on his 15 year old stepdaughter -- a sentence with which reasonable non-Europeans might agree -- it is revolting that the court sentenced the victim to 100 lashes. But only after she delivers the baby.

Islamic law, at least as practiced on Earth, is an abomination.

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Police: Woman says she lost $162M ticket 


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Monday, January 05, 2004

Bad headline alert 

"Benefit of fuel economy increase limited."

I happen to think that Corporate Average Fuel Economy (known obviously, yet idiotically, as CAFE) standards are bad policy, and it is fairly clear that the editors of the Washington Times agree with me. Unfortunately, the story doesn't fit the headline in the least, to wit: "The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that an increase in fuel economy standards for automobiles would raise vehicle prices $228 and reduce gas consumption by 10 percent." While technically "limited" (what benefit is unlimited?), this strikes me as an extremely cost-effective improvement, notwithstanding the negative implication of the headline.

I figure that my fairly average family (OK, it isn't average in most respects, but we have five people, and three drivers, so it must be close to the typical New Jersey suburban standard) burns up about 700 gallons of gasoline per car per year. Were new standards in force, at our rate of use we could spend $228 more to achieve a savings of 70 gallons per year. Assuming that I keep each car five years, I am spending less than $50 per year to save about $100 per year in gasoline expense, even at the incredibly cheap prices that prevail in New Jersey. Seems like an easy decision to me, assuming that the data are good: where else can you earn 100% on your money, risk free?

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Sunday, January 04, 2004

Why do Western elites hate our civilization so much? 

Victor Davis Hanson has a marvelous essay on the "Western Disease." Here's the opening salvo:

"After watching a string of editorial attacks on America both at home and from abroad in the aftermath of Saddam's capture, I thought back to the actual record of the last two years. In 24 months the United States defeated two of the most hideous regimes in modern memory. For all the sorrow involved, it has already made progress in the unthinkable: bringing consensual government into the heart of Middle Eastern autocracy, where there has been no political heritage other than tyranny, theocracy, and dictatorship.

"In liberating 50 million people from both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein it has lost so far less than 500 soldiers, some of whom were killed precisely because they waged a war that sought to minimalize not just civilian casualties but even the killing of their enemies. Contrary to the invective of Western intellectuals, the American military's sins until recently have been of omission, preferring not to shoot looters or hunt down and kill insurgents, rather than brutal commission. While the United States has conducted these successive wars some 7,000 miles beyond its borders, it also avoided another terrorist attack of the scale of September 11, and all the while crafting a policy of containment of North Korea and soon-to-be nuclear Iran.

"Thus by any comparative standard of military history, the last two difficult years, despite setbacks and disappointments, represent a remarkable military achievement. Yet no one would ever gather even the slightest acknowledgment of such success from our Democratic grandees. Al Gore dubbed the Iraqi liberation a quagmire and, absurdly, the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Howard Dean, more absurdly, suggested that the president of the United States might have had foreknowledge of September 11."

Read the whole thing. I certainly wish I could write so well.

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Newsweek interviews Dr. Dean 

In a Howard-on-Howard encounter, Fineman interviews Dr. Dean. While I suppose that there are not too many natural Dean supporters among TigerHawk's readership base (with the possible exception of my sister, who lives in Montana, so her vote won't count anyway), it is still worth taking a hard look at the man's thinking.

On his persistent claim that we are not safer because Saddam Hussein has been captured:

"A lot of the attacks are about putting words in my mouth that I never said. One of the attacks they don't bring up very often anymore is the Saddam Hussein thing, that it's not safer since Saddam Hussein's been captured because we now have 23 troops killed and we're having fighter planes escorting passenger jets through American airspace. I noticed that line of attack disappeared fairly quickly."

Frankly, I agree with the simple statement that "we are not safer since Saddam Hussein's been captured," or if we are safer it is purely a matter of conjecture. It is unlikely that the capture of any one person -- including Osama Bin Laden or Mullah Omar -- will make us "safer" in any quantifiable sense. Sure, in the long run it always helps to chip away at the enemy's command and control structure, but Arab and Islamic fascism has millions of adherents and (at least) thousands of activists, so it is unreasonable to expect that any one event will render us incrementally safer.

Unfortunately, Dr. Dean offers completely nonsensical evidence to support the proposition that the capture of Saddam has not made us safer. Casualties on the battlefield are the consequence of engaging the enemy, and can as easily be evidence of tactical victory as tactical defeat. Casualty levels prove nothing about the relative safety of Americans, but citing higher casualties as evidence of "less safety" suggests a lot about Howard Dean's bizarre sense of cause and effect.

More troubling is his view that we are less safe because fighter planes are escorting passenger jets through American airspace. Since the jets are not randomly there, but are shadowing particular aircraft, I take their presence to suggest that we are penetrating terrorist groups and developing specific intelligence about their intentions. While it is highly unlikely that any new intelligence bearing on transatlantic air travel derives from Saddam's capture, the fact that we now scramble jets to shadow particular commercial flights is almost certainly evidence that we are making progress against the enemy, rather than the contrary. Again, Dr. Dean's "evidence" proves the opposite, if it proves anything at all.

Fineman then asked Dean what he would do if he were command-in-chief:

"If I were commander in chief ... we've gotta get Osama however we can. If they have the opportunity to kill Osama, they have to do it. Bill Clinton signed that order in 1996 and I certainly support it."

That seems like a good idea. Somebody send the White House the link to TigerHawk so the President can get to work on it right away.

Of course, Dean is setting himself up here. First, he needs to explain how getting Osama will make us "safer" -- my own view is that his killing or capture would be a tactical victory in a long war, and nothing more. Second, by making the capture of Osama the sine qua non of success in the war on terror, he runs the great risk that we actually do capture Osama sometime in the next ten months. He has, in effect, set himself up to hope that we don't get Osama, just as he was clearly disappointed when we captured Saddam. Even George McGovern avoided creating the impression that he was rooting for American failure.

Finally, Howard F. asked Howard D. whether he had a deadline for the removal of troops from Iraq.

"Absolutely not. I think that would be a big mistake. To remove troops prematurely, Al Qaeda --which was not in Iraq, but is now -- will set up shop in Iraq and present an enormous national-security danger."

So exactly why is it a problem that we have attracted Al Qaeda to a place patrolled by 130,000 American soldiers? I can't think of a better place for them to be. Better Iraq than America, or some jurisdiction that is beyond our reach.

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More clear thinking on "Mad Cow" 

Tech Central Station's Sandy Szwarc (no, I have no clue how her name is pronounced) has an excellent piece on the de minimus risks of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "Mad Cow" disease). There are none, at least none that can be compared to taking a bath, or putting one foot in front of the other.

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Observation from a reader 

An alert reader pointed out the following with respect to the "vagina bomb" story:

"I'm sure you recognize the odd coincidence that the defense expert quoted in the linked article regarding female terrorists with exploding vaginas is named 'Paul Beaver.' There's a man who was destined for this line of work."

I confess that I missed that particular odd coincidence, which is a serious lapse for which I apologize.

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What would we do without researchers? 

"Researcher links obesity, food portions."

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Saturday, January 03, 2004

Are you worried about flight cancellations? 

There seems to be some low grade finger-pointing between American and French officials over the Air France flights that were cancelled last week. There shouldn't be. There are roughly 50,000 commercial airline flights in the United States alone every day, and every day there must be hundreds of flights delayed or cancelled for reasons of weather, equipment failure, union rules or bureaucratic fiat. If cautious governments and airlines cancel a few flights more -- even a few flights every day for the rest of the twenty-first century -- because they catch a whiff of a scent of an attack, that is fine with me. If terrorists are indeed planning attacks like this, we are absolutely better safe than sorry. People will just have to recognize that if their flight is cancelled, there is a tiny chance that it was cancelled in light of security considerations, instead of for mundane reasons.

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Friday, January 02, 2004

Infectious disease and individual rights 

Tech Central Station has an interesting article denouncing the litigation that has put an end to Department of Defense's program to vaccinate soldiers for anthrax. The lawsuit that is the subject of the article is but one example of resistence to a basic public health program couched in terms of individual rights. There are whole organizations devoted to objecting to mandatory vaccination programs. The absurdly overdone obsession with privacy in medical matters, as evidenced by the popular support for the health information privacy rules under HIPAA, is another example.

While I am a committed individualist, I think that these rights-based objections to sensible public health measures are both troubling and ironic.

They are troubling, because sometimes it is important to take strong measures to contain the spread of an infectious disease before the threat is so obvious that it is popularly understood. The litigation over the anthrax vaccination program began in 1999, two years before some lunatic turned the United States Postal Service into a delivery system for anthrax spores. If SARS or a more deadly contagious disease were to threaten the United States, would our courts even allow us to take the sensible measures that were standard operating procedure before the antibiotic era, including mandatory vaccination and quarantine? Even if most judges were sensible, how many silly injunctions would issue from our 500 federal district judges before the appellate courts sorted it all out?

These rights-based objections are ironic, too. It is no coincidence that the rise of legally cognizable individual rights in the United States and Europe during the last 50 years corresponded with the antibiotics era. When virulent infectious diseases posed a mortal threat to virtually all Americans -- as they did before World War II -- we needed government to act swiftly, and without anything resembling due process, to quarantine infected or even merely exposed individuals in order to isolate outbreaks before they spread widely. We understood instinctively that we had to impose harsh measures on individuals in order to protect the public. We didn't give a damn that sometimes we had to board people up in their houses or make them take a shot because we knew that the consequences of doing otherwise could be devastating. Does anybody believe that smallpox could have been confined to its tiny little lockbox if vaccination for the disease had been voluntary?

The defeat, or at least the subsidence, of infectious disease since World War II meant that we no longer needed our government to impose these harsh obligations on individuals for the public good. As a result, we see very few examples today of individuals who are required to bear great (or even small) individual burdens for the benefit of the public, so any such circumstance looks like a great injustice and therefore becomes the subject of litigation.

So it was antibiotics and vaccine that created the political climate necessary for today's individualist and litigious culture. It is therefore ironic that individualism is the basis for attacking programs to control the spread of infectious disease.

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Thursday, January 01, 2004

Hawkeyes roll in the Outback Bowl! 

Iowa trounces the Florida Gators, 37-17, for their first January bowl game victory since 1959. A good day.

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Happy New Year 

However wonderful your 2003 was, it did not compare to the great year that this man had. He is an Iraqi blogger, with some very interesting things to say: "Good bye 2003, good bye my most beautiful year. I'll grieve your end and sing your legend as long as I live. You made my greatest dream come true. I know that the coming years will bring all the good to my country, simply because we have put our feet on the right path. The will of the good have achieved victory, and that is enough for me to be optimistic, but those will not be as special as you were 2003; the year of freedom." For a real lift, read the whole thing.

There are a number of interesting Iraqi bloggers, some of whom write quite well in English. Healing Iraq is a very thoughtful blog by a dentist. Over the last couple of weeks he has traveled from Baghdad to Basra and back again, and does a great job of describing the real differences between the capital and the rest of the country.

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