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Monday, February 28, 2005

When was the last time anybody saw this in Beirut? 

From The Australian!
 Posted by Hello


That is a beautiful flag, isn't it?

You have to wonder whether any European newspapers picked up this photograph.

UPDATE: Some people will deny Bush credit no matter how compelling the evidence:
Of course, this will be portrayed as a victory instigated by Bush and CO. It simply is not the case, though. And you could not tell anybody in Lebanon that Bush is the reason this has happened.... This is a historic day for Lebanon instigated by the Lebanese alone--not Bush CO.

I have seen no evidence that the Bush Administration has even hinted at taking a bit of the credit, as it were, for the Cedar Revolution. But doesn't the photo above suggest that at least one Lebanese thinks it should?

Link via Gringo Unleashed!

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Another suicide bombing, and defining the war 

A suicide car bomber blew himself up Monday in a crowd of police and Iraqi National Guard recruits south of Baghdad, killing at least 106 and wounding 133, police and witnesses said. It was one of the deadliest insurgent attacks since President Bush declared the war over in May 2003.

Uggh.

I read these stories and my heart breaks for the innocents, and I remember for the thousandth time that the war against Islamic fascism is just and good, and it is a shame that so many other Western countries are too compromised or too weak to fight it with their armies.

And then, of course, I wonder why the Associated Press finds it necessary in the first paragraph to measure every big suicide bombing against Bush's technically true but politically clumsy "declaration" in May, 2003. Why isn't the relevant measurement "one of the deadliest attacks against civilians since the March 11, 2004 bombing in Madrid, and the deadliest suicidal attack since the October 12, 2002 bombing in Bali?" Whether or not the invasion of Iraq was part of the Global War on Terror when launched (a subject that will be debated for at least a generation), even the anti-war Left says it's the same war now. Why does the press continue to argue, implicitly and explicitly, to the contrary?

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The Cedar Revolution II: A thousand words 

 Posted by Hello

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Minibar journalism 

The Scotsman's Katie Grant:
The truth is that hatred for George Bush and all he stands for is so entrenched in the eyes of bien pensant western commentators, that using the word "success" about Iraq would choke them. If word ever slips out, in relation, for example, to the highly influential Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani’s rejection of an Iranian-style theocracy, or that both Sunni and Shia openly state that they must get on together and not destroy the country through civil war, it comes hedged with such portentous and lugubrious caveats that it sounds more like a distasteful disease.

Most reporters "on the spot" couldn’t raise even the tiniest hint of joy when followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiercely anti-United States young cleric, poured out to vote, clearly with their leader’s blessing, or when it became clear that al-Sadr had decided to send representatives to the new national assembly.

Of course, one trouble is that in Iraq most reporters are never actually "on the spot". Journalism from Baghdad is not, for obvious reasons of safety, real journalism, but is "hotel journalism", reflecting far more the correspondent’s view of what he or she supposes is happening, or even wants to happen, than what really is happening. When such journalists tell us from their hotel bedrooms, with appropriate gloom-doomery, what "most Iraqis are saying", they use the word "most" in the loosest possible way.

As we righty bloggers know, Arthur Chrenkoff has been making this point -- and backing it up -- for the better part of a year.

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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Stamp out public sobriety 

More bad news for the Russian economy.

CWCID: The Shadow of the Olive Tree.

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The geopolitical significance of nutmeg 

On Friday afternoon I had a little time to kill in Washington's Union Station, so I clung to habit and impulsively bought books. I'm a good chunk of the way through one of them, Tracy Dahlby's book Allah's Torch: A Report From Behind the Scenes In Asia's War On Terror. The book is as much travelogue as geopolitical treatise, and as such contains a lot of non-GWOT local color. The author's vehicle is a hair-raising trip to the Banda Islands in the eastern reaches of Indonesia on a boat full of jihadis off to whack a bunch of Christians. In case you are not familiar with the Bandas, herewith a map:
 Posted by Hello


The Bandas have a storied past, all because they were once the only place on earth where nutmeg could be found:
The Bandas, thirteen jots of volcanic rock located in a stretch of far ocean between the Java and Arafura seas, north of Australia and west of New Guinea, were interesting for a variety of reasons. It was there in 1512 that sailors, swabbing in the squadron of the Portuguese explorer Antonio de Abreu, had followed an alluring fragrance smack into the fabled islands to discover an incredibly large treasure hidden in a deceptively small package -- the golden, walnut-sized fruit Myristica fragrans, otherwise known as the common nutmeg.

It is hard to fathom today just how popular the nutmeg was in Europe in those benighted days. More than three hundred years before the invention of anything remotely resembling either modern refrigeration or miracle drugs, the humble fruit, dried and grated, was prized (correctly) for keeping meat from rotting, and (wrongly but understandably) as a poultice for warding off the Plague, a.k.a. the Black Death, which had wiped out a full third of Europe's population and was still at its deadly work. In addition, the nutmeg's use as a tranquilizer, sleeping potion, and a medieval form of Viagra led to a stiffening [heh - ed.] demand that set its price in the bourses at Rotterdam, London, and Paris on a par with silver and gold.

And that was when it was available at all. Up to the time of Abreu's discovery, the nutmeg had arrived in Europe as if by magic, traveling from the Orient by caravan through the bazaars of Central Asia, passing through many hands, exact point of origin unknown. When the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, effectively cutting off Europe's fix, it was collective nutmeg withdrdawal that helped propel Europe into its vaunted Age of Exploration. Christopher Columbus had been searching for a sea link to the "spiceries" of the East when he'd had the rum luck to bang into North America. When the luckier Abreu found his way into the Bandas two decades later, the tiny archipelago, the only known source of nutmeg on earth, quickly became a focal point of the global economy. As author Giles Milton notes in his riveting history Nathaniel's Nutmeg, the shipyards of Portugal, Spain, England, and Holland when into "a flurry of activity that sparked what would later become known as the spice race, a desperate and protracted struggle for control of one of the smallest groups of islands in the world."

With nutmeg now selling FOB Europe at fantastical markups northward of 30,000 percent, the European spice hunters, and the merchant princes who backed them, were only too happy to make their money the old-fashioned way, which is to say through murder and theft. After outmaneuvering both Portugal and Spain, Holland seized the Bandas in 1621, and set about "pacifying" the native population. According to one historical account, the Dutch briskly killed or displaced 14,400 of the 15,000 Bandanese islanders. Less successful in uprooting the well-armed British, who had managed to grab the harp-shaped island of Run, the most prolific natural nutmeg factory of them all, the methodical Hollanders eventually struck a deal. Under the treaty of Banda, signed in 1667, the English gave up their stake in the Bandas in return for New Amsterdam, a larger but comparatively unpromising Dutch trading post on the same chilly northern island where I now happen to live -- Manhattan.

Got that? We're speaking English today* instead of Dutch because the merchants of Holland went for the big money in arbing nutmeg.
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*Actually, demographics were on the side of the English in North America, so we'd probably be speaking English of some sort. But we'd probably call little streams "kills" instead of "creeks" or, as they say in Iowa, "cricks," and we would have a in-bred need for siroopwafelen.

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The Cedar Revolution 

Al-Jaz:
"We are going ahead. They cannot prevent us from going down peacefully, democratically and paying tributes to Rafiq al-Hariri on the day of the national parliamentary debate where our main aim is to ask who killed al-Hariri," Jumblatt said.

"Tomorrow residents of Beirut and those coming to it from across Lebanon will hold a sit-in in Martyrs Square," the opposition said in a statement, issued shortly after the government announced the ban on Sunday.

Opposition figure Elias Att Allah said: "The ban does not concern us, we are only holding a peaceful sit-in which will be maintained.

"Let them arrest us."

Interior Minister Sulayman Franjia had earlier outlawed all public demonstrations, on the eve of rival rallies called by the opposition and pro-government parties sympathetic to Syria.

CNN:
Lebanon's interior ministry on Sunday ordered troops to "use all necessary means" to prevent demonstrations Monday against Syria's military deployment, but protesters vowed to hold them anyway.

The Cedar Revolution is coming. Keeping cheering them on, and make sure that Western politicians know that you care.

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The Dutch go on the offensive, and a note to Starbucks 

According to the Dutch Report, the Netherlands is sending 145 commandos and marines to Afghanistan to join the offensive against the Taliban and al Qaeda remnants. This is the first time that the Netherlands is sending ground troops for offensive operations in the global war on terror. The Dutch soldiers will be under American command.

The Dutch decision to go into Afghanistan follows the withdrawal of the Netherlands from Iraq. There was always a tremendous amount of political opposition to the Dutch peacekeepers in Iraq, and when one of their officers shot an Iraqi looter he was threatened with prosecution by a Dutch magistrate. Dutch Reporter speculates that if their politicians are going to undercut the military in any case, the military figures that it might as well do some real whacking of bad guys. Also, a quirk in Dutch law gives the government more flexibility in Afghanistan:
It is noteworthy that the government says it does not need parliamentary approval for the offensive operations they now planned to join in Afganistan, they say approvale of parliament is only needed for ‘peace keeping operations’.

I've decided to honor the Dutch decision to fight in Afghanistan by eating one of these, available at the local Starbucks:
 Posted by Hello


Starbucks, if it had a clue, would at least note the correct term for this Dutch delicacy: siroopwafel.

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Have you noticed... 

That the "Iraq War Was Wrong Blog" has not posted since the elections?

I doubt it, since you've probably never noticed the Iraq War Was Wrong Blog.

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More on Egyptian democratic reform 

The New York Times reports this morning that the Bush Administration is reacting cautiously to Mubarak's announcement that he will permit multi-candidate elections in Egypt this year.
Among the details that are as yet unclear, officials said, was how freely opposition candidates would be able to campaign, whether the state-controlled media would be permitted to cover all the candidates equally, whether the government would allow rallies in support of opposition candidates and whether international election monitors would be allowed.

The State Department, in a statement issued Saturday, said, "We strongly advocate in all countries guarantees of civil and political rights, including freedom of speech, the press and the right of all citizens to participate fully in political life and to choose their own leaders."

The Arab News has more here, looking at some of the misgivings of the opposition.
Sherif Hetata, writer and husband of feminist Nawal Al-Saadawi who has announced her plan to take part in the presidential race, said Mubarak’s announcement would not change the situation as long as the state did not abolish laws that restrained political freedom. “What happened is just a concession to the internal and external pressure particularly from the United States,” said Hetata. “The president just wanted to show the world some creditability.”

It is not clear whether it is good or bad, in his mind, that the pressure cam "particularly from the United States."

Here's a report from last month on the arrests in Egypt that moved Condi to express "displeasure." Al-Jazz here:
Public opposition to Mubarak's standing in the September polls has been mounting, but this is the first time police have arrested people involved in the campaign. Earlier this month, about 100 people demonstrated against another Mubarak presidential term in Cairo and last month about 1000 people held a similar protest.


Ten days ago, James Joyner considered whether democracy in Egypt would lead to an Islamic government.

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, wrote an article last summer on the lack of prospects for democracy in Egypt.
Last November [2003 - ed.], President Bush delivered a speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, in Washington, spelling out the loftiest of his rationales for the war in Iraq—a determination to remake the political world from North Africa to the Arabian peninsula.... For Bush, one region in particular remained stubbornly unfree. “Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty?” he asked. The United States, he declared, had “adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East” that would depend on American “persistence and energy and idealism” but also on the Arab countries—not least, the most populous, powerful, and influential country in the region. “The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East,” Bush said, “and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."

The logic of that rhetorical instruction was not lost on the Egyptians: just as Anwar Sadat, a quarter-century earlier, had flown to Jerusalem to make peace with Israel, Hosni Mubarak, an unchallenged four-term President, a modern pharaoh, should take the equally bold step of creating a constitutional democracy, even at the risk of surrendering power. Egypt is historically central, a civilization of more than seven thousand years’ standing, and, unlike the sectarian societies of Syria and Iraq or the arriviste dynastic oil depots of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, it is a true nation-state, the center of nearly all currents, intellectual and ideological, in the Arab world. In Bush’s own mind, at least, he was encouraging a revolution from above, an Arabian perestroika. And the revolution, he made plain, ought to begin in Cairo.

There has, of course, been no such revolution in Cairo, and no sign of one. Part of the collateral damage of the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq is the erosion of American prestige and influence all over the world. Rather than take the democratizing cue from Bush, Mubarak’s regime has offered itself as an example to the United States: Spare us the pretense of an open society, its leaders imply.

Last summer, at least, the security situation in Iraq was seen to have undermined the cause of Arab democracy:
Abdel Moneim Said, who is the head of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank that works closely with the regime, was among many who told me that the American failure so far to establish security in Iraq has decisively undermined the idea of a democratization movement in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. “The United States is in a position that looks like Lebanon in the nineteen-eighties—occupation, resistance, as well as a competition among groups,” he said. “You want Egypt to democratize, to change, but Egypt has drawn the opposite lesson. Instead of creating a liberal model, we see chaos, and the Saudis and the Syrians see the same thing. Now you have arrived at a much more modest sense of a liberal state than you started with.”


Remnick's article is an excellent summary of modern Egyptian political history, anti-Americanism there, the declining fortunes of the jihadist movement in Egypt, and Mubarak's own war on terror. Read the whole thing, and hope that Remnick, who has been one of the sharpest observers of national change since Lenin's Tomb, writes a follow-up.

UPDATE: The Big Pharoah weighs in:
Now, I am not stupid nor am I living in la la land. Mubarak's decision today came after immense pressure from the US and the current earthquakes (the purple revolution in Iraq and the Hariri revolution in Lebanon) that shook the region days ago. However, I credit US pressure as the number one reason. Condoleezza Rice cancelled a trip to Egypt scheduled for next week because of the arrest of Ayman Nour and Mubarak's failure to "change". Well, it seems that Bush turned out to be bloody serious about this democracy in the Middle East thing. It also seems that Bushie will in fact make it to the history books that my grandchildren will be reading at school 50 years from today. If Syria or Iran fell, Bush can rest assured that he will add his name to the Lincoln-Wilson-Roosevelt-Reagan quartet.

I would say that it is a little early -- perhaps fifty years early -- to conclude that George W. Bush will become one of the great Presidents of history, but there is no question that he is having a good week.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis rounds up the reaction of Egyptian bloggers. Via Instapundit.

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The most petulant op-ed column ever 

Maureen Dowd stamps her feet, screams at her readers, and slams the door on the way out. Her column this morning is perhaps the most petulant, peevish, childish column I have read on those pages in quite some time. I'm just saying.

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Saturday, February 26, 2005

"Nuculer" diplomacy 

Russia and Iran again delayed the signing of a controversial contract to supply the Islamic republic with fuel for its first nuclear power station, amid a new dispute over the plant's opening date....

It was the latest and most spectacular hitch to a contract that the United States -- which accuses Iran of using an atomic energy drive as a cover for weapons development -- has been trying to convince Russia not to sign.

In a concession to the United States, Moscow had refused to provide fuel for the Bushehr plant in southern Iran unless spent fuel -- which potentially could be reprocessed and upgraded to weapons use -- was returned....

Bushehr was raised during a summit between US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava on Thursday, where both publicly agreed agreed that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons.

According to Russian diplomats, the United States has been lobbying against Moscow's involvement in Iran's nuclear programme "on a daily basis" -- and right up until the Bratislava meeting.

The Russian nuclear power industry is on the ropes. According to the article, the Bushehr [a bizarre name for an Iranian nuke - ed.] contract "virtually saved Russia's atomic energy industry." It appears that an ex-Communist will sell the rope to hang him by.

UPDATE: The Russians went ahead and signed this morning. There are also reports that Iran has known how to develop the fuel cycle for quite some time, via Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's nuclear traitor hero.

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The power of "displeasure" 

Yesterday, the papers reported that Secretary of State Rice was not going to Egypt, as expected. The announcement bagged the Egyptian government, which has been waving its arms around and generally trying to look supportive of the United States in the Middle East:
The decision not to go apparently caught Egypt off-guard. The country's major pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, reported Friday that Rice would be in Egypt next Saturday.

Cloaked behind the usual diplo-deniability, we see that there was a reason:
A senior U.S. official, citing Rice's displeasure with the arrest and other internal actions taken by the Egyptian government, said change was needed and she wanted to see what steps were taken before going to Cairo. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Today President Mubarak announced a new package of democratic reforms. The Associated Press's Maamoun Youssef:
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Saturday ordered a revision of the country's election laws and said multiple candidates could run in the nation's presidential elections, a scenario Mubarak hasn't faced since taking power in 1981.

The surprise announcement, a response to critics' calls for political reform, comes shortly after historic elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, balloting that brought a taste of democracy to the region. It also comes amid a sharp dispute with the United States over Egypt's arrest of one of the strongest proponents of multi-candidate elections.

"The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will," Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.

Even the activists, grudging as they are, see cause and effect. From the A.P.'s Nadia Abou El-Magd:
Hafez Abu Saada, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, praised Mubarak's ``unexpected step,'' which he said reflected local, regional and international pressure. [Pressure from whom? - eds.]

``It is an important step that gives the Egyptian society a strong push for more freedom and democracy,'' he said.

Activist Aida Seif el-Dawla was tentative in her praise.

``This concession is made to the United States of America. It is better for him (Mubarak) if this decision came as a result of the national dialogue with the opposition parties and in response to the protests against the law,'' she said. ``Let us wait and see, because a free campaign of more than one candidate requires more than a statement from the president.''

Of course it would have been better if Mubarak allowed democratic elections "as a result of [a] national dialogue..." But he didn't, did he?

Talking democratic reforms and walking them are different matters entirely, but it is astonishing and wonderful that Hosni Mubarak thinks that he even has to talk them. Now the world has to work hard to see that Egypt actually delivers reasonably honest elections.

The Big Pharoah should update his dream. David Brooks needs to update this morning's op-ed column already.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers.

UPDATE: Cassandra says that it's all about the boots.... Indeed.

UPDATE: And then, of course, there's the Scrappleface version.

FINAL UPDATE: I published a new post this morning with links to articles on democratic reform in Egypt going back to last summer.

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Friday, February 25, 2005

"Press 1 if you want English, press 2 if you want French..." 

A day after opting out of the U.S. ballistic missile defense shield, Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin reiterated Friday that Washington must get permission from Ottawa before firing on any incoming missiles over Canada.

"This is our airspace, we're a sovereign nation and you don't intrude on a sovereign nation's airspace without seeking permission," Martin said.

Fool.

He is also wrong, by the way, as a matter of international law. If Russian bombers were flying over Canada toward Chicago, we would be within the law to engage them over Canadian airspace. If that were true in the case of enemy planes, which can be turned around, it must be true a fortiori of ballistic missles.

Fortunately, I'm not the only person who thinks that Paul Martin is a barking moonbat:
Stockwell Day, the Conservative Party's foreign affairs critic, laughed off Martin's demand that Washington would have to alert Ottawa before taking out an incoming missile.

"These missiles are coming in at 4 kilometers ( 2.5 miles) a second, and if the president calls the 1-800 line and gets: `Press 1 if you want English, press 2 if you want French, press 0 if nobody's there ...' I mean, it's crazy."

Indeed.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Canada Free Press is, er, not pleased.

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Notes from the TigerHawk trip to Washington 

I've been too and fro our nation's capital in the last thirty or so hours, which accounts for the blogging gap. I saw and heard a few things, in no particular order.

As many of you undoubtedly know, there was a dusting of snow yesterday afternoon and last night. It never stuck to the street -- I saw wet pavement and nothing that would impair driving -- but the federal Office of Personnel Management shut down the government anyway. Even long-standing Washingtonians -- who tremble in fear at the rumor of snow -- thought that the decision was silly.

Washington is basically flat. There are relatively few steep hills to climb, and the streets are wide so there is plenty of room to pile cleared snow. Snow only paralyzes the city because the city's government, an organ of the federal government, does an incompetent job dealing with it. It is fascinating to me that the same government that refuses to clear snow lets all its employees go home at the first darkening of the clouds. And they make it all sound so damn complicated:
At 4 a.m. yesterday, Dan G. Blair, OPM acting director, made the call to keep government offices open. By 1:15 p.m., he had made the call to dismiss federal employees two hours early.

"I wish it was a pure science, but it is not," Blair said. "It's always a best guesstimate."

Blair said he tried to balance competing priorities -- looking out for the safety of federal employees and keeping the government open for business.

Excuse me, but this safety argument is spun down, reprocessed, pre-packaged horse pucky. What happens when it snows in Washington? Traffic grinds to a halt. Even if the risk of fender-benders goes up, it simply must be the case that the average speed of the accidents that do happen is far lower. I'd bet dollars to donuts that Washington's snowbound bumper-to-bumper traffic jams are much safer than the normal commute, even if a few tail lights get knocked out. Those traffic jams are, however, inconvenient. We certainly don't want any of those government employees to be inconvenienced.

I stayed at the Hilton Hotel and Towers near DuPont Circle. I had forgotten that John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan there, until a friend mentioned it in an email.

I had dinner with some of our European executives and one of our Australian distributors. Talked a little geopolitics. Learned that it really is true that average educated Europeans think that Jews control American foreign policy, and that the unifying explanation for most of the allegedly stupid things that Bush has done is that Israel will benefit. Pointed out that -- as they know from Michael Moore -- the Bush family has long been known for its close ties with the House of Saud, and that lots of people think that the Bush Administration is a tool of the Saudis. They acknowledged this confusing detail and undertook to revise their thinking. Then I had a similar (but more nuanced) conversation with an American friend the next day. Resolved to suck up more to my Jewish friends, since they apparently have a lot more power than I realized.

Goddamn.

The same friend pointed out a little brick building at 1806 Eye Street. It is unmarked, and it is listed in the National Register of Historical Places. It's the "Alibi Club," and it is the most exclusive club in the entire world. At any given time it has only around 25 members (according to my friend), including the current and former Presidents of the United States, Justices of the Supreme Court, and "real" Cabinet Secretaries (Defense, Treasury, State and so forth, but presumably not the various weeny welfare state cabinet departments that have popped up in the last fifty years). Supposedly, Bush 41 used it a lot for delicate meetings that had to be away from prying eyes. In any case, it leaves few tracks in cyberspace -- Google "Alibi Club" and you get only hints of the place.

I'm wondering who underwrites the expenses for such a club. The taxpayers? Or was it heavily endowed at some distant time in the past, and now runs off investment income? How does the Alibi Club govern itself? Is there logo attire? These are the interesting questions.

I took the 5:10 regional train back to Trenton and learned late in the trip that the woman next to me was a public defender in Alexandria. She had spent the last year defending drug and DUI defendants, many of whom are Hispanic aliens. Interestingly, these cases never plea out, because any form of conviction results in virtually automatic deportation. The defendants have no incentive to negotiate, so every case goes to trial. Some of them are even acquitted (although my defender friend said that the police are now so well trained in procedure that it is rare that found drugs actually get thrown out because of police error). By taking a hard line on deportation, we are choking our courts and probably denying justice in other cases. I have no idea whether we should change this policy, but I thought it was an interesting example of unintended consequences in regulation.

Now I gotta crash.

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Thursday, February 24, 2005

Who killed Rafik Hariri? 

Jim Geraghty has some alleged inside skinny on who might have killed Rafik Hariri. It is well worth reading. However, Geraghty is a bit too dismissive of the possibility that Iran might have been behind the murder:
The Iranians, conceivably, could have done this to put the west’s attention and heat on Syria. But my guy is skeptical of this kind of bank-shot skullduggery. The risk doesn’t seem to be worth the reward.

This, I think, misapprehends Iran's possible motives. As I wrote here, even though Hariri's death now appears to work against Syria's interests, the Lebanese intifada would not have been obvious in advance. Iran might have directed the killing as a sign of good faith to Syria, which it has been wooing into a Damascus-Tehran axis. The Iranians would not have been trying to redirect western "heat" toward Syria, but they might have been trying to do Syria a favor and demonstrate their capacity to manipulate Hezbollah, all in one fell swoop.

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The politics of the AMT and a TigerHawk victory lap 

Earlier in the week I argued that the Republicans would have no political interest in reforming the Alternative Minimum Tax:
The New York Times only hints at the politics behind AMT reform. It does point out that high tax jurisdictions will come under pressure to keep taxes down as their citizens lose federal deductions, and it suggests that higher "after tax taxes" may curtail soaring home values in high tax jursidctions such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California. The Times does not ask the obvious question, though: If the AMT hammers "blue states" disproportionately (as the NYT demonstrates), will the Republican federal government really want to repeal the tax? Sure, some of these hapless AMT victims may be Republican contributors or happen to vote in Republican congressional districts, and the Republicans have rarely met a tax cut they didn't like, but will that be enough?

If the Republicans do reform the AMT they will accomplish four things, none of which will obviously benefit them politically. First, they will be repealing a tax specifically designed to nail rich tax avoiders. It is inevitable that Democratic candidates and 527s will hammer at that point in the next election campaign with all the deceptive advertising they can muster.

Second, repeal of the AMT would have the effect of shifting wealth from low tax states -- which tend to vote Republican -- to high tax states which almost always vote for Democrats.

Third, repeal of the AMT would make it harder to shrink the federal deficit, which the Democrats will use against the Republicans at every opportunity.

Fourth, the repeal of the AMT will alleviate pressure on local governments, which in my experience are the most wasteful and least accountable level of government that we have.

Fortune seems to agree, albeit with a substantially less nuanced analysis!

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The continuing quest for relevance 

'UN to probe Hariri killing'

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Don't send emails you wouldn't want your mother to read 

Especially to bloggers (follow the links). There's a lesson in there somewhere.

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Who's negotiating with whom? 

Europe:

"We have a really great idea. If you give up your atom bomb, we will let you buy a bunch of commercial aircraft from us."

Mulluhs:

"?"

No. Reallly.
A participant quoted the German leader as saying the EU needed to offer incentives in non-sensitive goods to make it difficult for Iran to walk out of negotiations for curbing its nuclear program and ending uranium enrichment that could be used to make a bomb.

Schroeder cited as an example selling one Airbus now and raising the prospect of further aircraft deliveries if the talks were concluded successfully, the source said.

If this is what Germany, France and the U.K. are coming up with in their negotiations with Iran, is there any wonder that the United States doesn't want any part of it? European governments have been prying away sales from Boeing for thirty years. If the world's fascists wanted their planes this badly, I would have thought that all those lavish subsidies would not have been necessary. In any case, there has never been any reason to take the mullahs at anything other than face value.

And people say that Bush isn't a realist. Where are Bismark, Talleyrand and Churchill when you need them?

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What were Kurt Gödel and Albert Einstein talking about? 

A decade after arriving in Princeton, Einstein acquired a walking companion, a much younger man who, next to the rumpled Einstein, cut a dapper figure in a white linen suit and matching fedora. The two would talk animatedly in German on their morning amble to the institute and again, later in the day, on their way homeward. The man in the suit may not have been recognized by many townspeople, but Einstein addressed him as a peer, someone who, like him, had single-handedly launched a conceptual revolution. If Einstein had upended our everyday notions about the physical world with his theory of relativity, the younger man, Kurt Gödel, had had a similarly subversive effect on our understanding of the abstract world of mathematics.

If, like me, you dodged skipped physics in your formal schooling, this short article from The New Yorker may be your last, best chance to underestand Albert Einstein's contributions to our understanding of the universe, all quite disguised as the story of a remarkable and enduring friendship. Link it, bookmark it, and read it in a quiet moment with a glass of wine.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Calvin and Hobbes 

Every strip ever drawn.

UPDATE: The site seems to have been taken down and replaced with a redirect to the Google search page. Interesting.

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The taste for change 

Glenn Reynolds links to this article from Der Spiegel, which wonders whether George Bush might be right. Professor Reynolds focused on the heart of the column, which dares wonder whether Bush's visit to Europe this year might not compare to Reagan's "tear down this wall" tour of 1987. Then, as now, the European sophisterati snorted at the simplistic cowboy from America. Will they be as wrong this year as they were 18 years ago?

Buried in the article, though, is a very direct paragraph about the difference between the American and European appetite for change:
This, in fact, is likely the largest point of disagreement between Europe and the United States -- and one that a President John Kerry likely would not have made smaller: Europeans today -- just like the Europeans of 1987 -- cannot imagine that the world might change. Maybe we don't want the world to change, because change can, of course, be dangerous. But in a country of immigrants like the United States, one actually pushes for change. In Mainz today, the stagnant Europeans came face to face with the dynamic Americans. We Europeans always want to have the world from yesterday, whereas the Americans strive for the world of tomorrow.

This great disparity in the taste for change explains many of the differences between Europeans and Americans, including our respective employment laws (theirs being designed to maintain the status quo, and ours intended to equalize opportunity) and the much greater willingness of Americans to form and tolerate the destruction of businesses.

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The final straw in Princeton's lost season? 

Tiger Shot, Killed Near Reagan Library

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Plain speaking 

Is George W. Bush an embarrassing rube, or refreshing? Your reaction to this report from the BBC probably predicts your answer to that question:
The president is wonderfully un-European - refreshingly so in the view of those of us who have worked in Brussels.

He is unsmooth. He stumbles over his sentences. He uses short, plain, sometimes almost babyish words, while the sophisticated multilingual Euro crowd prefer obfuscatory long ones.

And he gets a clear message across, like it or not. He has no need of spin.

It was interesting that on the White House bus back into town, the journalists did not need to compare notes or discuss the president's words and what they meant.

On the other hand, for Chirac and Schroeder there was a discussion that would have made an old-style Kremlinologist blush.


Much of it was over my head, but my clever colleague Alec Russell from the Telegraph held his own rather well, I am pleased to report, in an argument with a Dutchman about whether a particular message was "implicit" or "explicit" in a text.

Some people think Schroeder said one thing about Nato and some think he actually meant another. Others claim that Chirac really believes Schroeder wanted to say... etc etc.

Welcome to Europe, Mr Bush.

Sounds a lot like Canada.

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Mubarak tries to buy time 

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak dispatched his intelligence chief to Syria's capital on Wednesday to meet with President Bashar Assad in an attempt to defuse tension in Lebanon and discuss American and European pressure on Syria.

Presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad told reporters that Mubarak believes the ``tense situation in Lebanon and the escalation of pressure on Syria through the U.S.-European summit needed a swift and vigorous move to contain the situation there.''

Mubarak, at least, is getting the message. He desperately needs to prove that he is personally important to American interests in the Middle East. Hence his new willingness to pressure the Palestinians, to play the host to Ariel Sharon, and to drop the hammer on Bashar Assad. Of course, if Syria does withdraw from Lebanon, the world's media and chattering classes will say that it was despite Bush, rather than because of him. Mubarak, though, knows the truth. He just isn't talking.

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Canada rejects missle defense 

This is not going to improve our relationship with Canada. Not only are the Canadians free-riding, they're trying to have their cake and eat it to:
"(The Americans) were told we will not participate," a federal official, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Canadian Press.

"It is a firm No. I am not sure it is an indefinite No"

A firm-but-not-indefinite "No." Why does anybody wonder that George Bush has little patience for the language of diplomacy?

Canada Free Press calls this "Canada's pathetic slide into irrelevance":
The Americans asked us a very simple question for crying out load. We were not asked to pony-up cash or place weapons on our soil. All we were asked was to give our moral imprimatur, whatever that is worth these days, on the project. Yes or no. Very simple. Do we as a nation make a token gesture to stand with the US in the war against terror[?] Were we willing to extend our NORAD role in defending North American airspace[?]...

The Liberals will try to couch the decision as some sort of principled one. The Americans won’t be fooled, believe me. They’ve seen Martin waffle back and forth ovber the last couple of years. Trying to play both sides of the fence, trying to have it both ways and avoiding making a choice. They know, that despite whatever principled-sounding spin they put on this, the real reason was to appease anti-American sentiment.

Canada has long had an anti-American bent. After the American Revolution, roughly a third of our population -- the "tories" who were opposed to the revolution and the "loyalists" who stuck with the Crown -- did not support the new government. Many of these people fled the thirteen independant states, and most of them ended up in Canada. There they were granted land, and permitted to use the initials U.E.L. after their name, meaning "United Empire Loyalist." As recently as the 1960s there were still old Canadians who ran around writing U.E.L. after their names, signalling that they were descended from Loyalists who had sided with the Redcoats. When I was a kid living in Dundas, Ontario (my father taught at McMaster for a stretch in the sixties), we sang "God Save The Queen" at the beginning of every school day. For all that I know, they still do today.

In more modern times, the Canadians have continued to dislike their neighbors to the south, even if they put up with us as long as Canada was, in effect, a front-line state in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. In 1973, when the Canadian journalist Gordon Sinclair broadcast this seemingly pro-American editorial, it was turned into a record in the United States and played on the radio as if it were a top-40 hit. What most Americans did not consider was that the editorial was addressed to Canadians to remind them that America was not at the root of all that was wrong in the world. More than thirty years ago, during the height of the Cold War, anti-Americanism was a powerful strain in Canadian politics. That it remains so during the presidency of George W. Bush, probably the least popular president in foreign parts since, well, ever, should come as no surprise.

The question is, how long will it take the American left to blame Bush for this long tradition in Canadian politics? Oops, it already has!

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Reggie Roby RIP 

Reggie Roby has died.

One of the greatest punters in NFL history, Roby was a freshman in Hayden Fry's first Hawkeye Football team in 1979, and he went on to become a legend. Hawkeye fans had plenty to cheer about as Fry brought the program back from the dead. One of the enduring memories for anyone cheering for Iowa during those days was the sight and sound of the Kinnick Stadium faithful jumping to their feet to cheer.... a punt. Roby was a critical part of Fry's 1981 team which broke a streak of 20 straight losing seasons and broke the Michigan-Ohio State lock on the Rose Bowl. The team won on the strength of its defense and field position game, and Roby was a big part of that. He went on to a very successful NFL career, primarily with the Miami Dolphins. Roby was 43.

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Damning with faint praise 

If you don't read The New Yorker, you don't get to read "briefly noted" book reviews like this:
Milk, by Darcey Steinke (Bloomsbury; $17.95). Steinke's idiosyncratic, unsentimental fourth novel continues her examination of sexual and religious obsession. While caring for a small baby and waiting for an absent husband, Mary sees her kitchen ceiling produce showers of sparks. She encounters a lapsed monk named John who suggests that her sparks may be an "aleph, a point in space that contains all points." After sleeping with John, Mary abandons her husband and moves into the church where her friend Walter is the pastor. Walter is dogged by the memory of his dead lover, Carlos, even as he trawls New York for erotic excitement. All the characters struggle to establish a relationship with God through contact with those around them, but Steinke's prose repeatedly hints at the divine in tangible things. [February 28, 2005, p. 89]

Call me a Philistine, but you couldn't pay me to read that novel.

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The genius of Hunter S. Thompson 

Hunter S. Thompson, who killed himself on Sunday, was -- notwithstanding his personal shortcomings, which were legion -- one of the few truly great American journalists. In his later years his star began to fade, but if you doubt that he was a genuis consider that he wrote this defense of the Hell's Angels in 1965, when he was 27 years old and the nation -- and The Nation -- was in many respects more open-minded than it is today.
Ever since World War II, California has been strangely plagued by wild men on motorcycles. They usually travel in groups of ten to thirty, booming along the highways and stopping here are there to get drunk and raise hell. In 1947, hundreds of them ran amok in the town of Hollister, an hour's fast drive south of San Francisco, and got enough press to inspire a film called The Wild One, starring Marlon Brando. The film had a massive effect on thousands of young California motorcycle buffs; in many ways, it was their version of The Sun Also Rises.

The California climate is perfect for motorcycles, as well as surfboards, swimming pools and convertibles. Most of the cyclists are harmless weekend types, members of the American Motorcycle Association, and no more dangerous than skiers or skin divers. But a few belong to what the others call "outlaw clubs," and these are the ones who--especially on weekends and holidays--are likely to turn up almost anywhere in the state, looking for action. Despite everything the psychiatrists and Freudian casuists have to say about them, they are tough, mean and potentially as dangerous as a pack of wild boar. When push comes to shove, any leather fetishes or inadequacy feelings that may be involved are entirely beside the point, as anyone who has ever tangled with these boys will sadly testify. When you get in an argument with a group of outlaw motorcyclists, you can generally count your chances of emerging unmaimed by the number of heavy-handed allies you can muster in the time it takes to smash a beer bottle. In this league, sportsmanship is for old liberals and young fools. "I smashed his face," one of them said to me of a man he'd never seen until the swinging started. "He got wise. He called me a punk. He must have been stupid."

Read the whole thing, and imagine the impact of such writing on a country that still cut its hair short and was only dimly aware of parts of its society that it still referred to as subcultures. Most journalists today go their whole lives without being half so evocative. Thompson wrote like this time and time again, and captured the attention of a country that had been depressed, militarized or just plain conforming since the Roaring Twenties crashed into the Great Depression.

I should add that if The Nation published such articles today I would happily renew my long-lapsed subscription.

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Private accounts and the example of states 

I'm not really up to speed on either the merits or the politics of Social Security account privatization, other than to have observed that it is a massively bigger subject in the lefty 'sphere than among conservative blogs, which probably does not bode well for its prospects. It also seems that the establishment press is working against it.

This morning's edition of The Note links to a very dubious article in the Los Angeles Times about the failure of private accounts among government employees in the various states that have tried them.
The Los Angeles Times' Peter Gosselin looks at how well personal investment accounts have fared among public employees over the last decade in seven states that have offered them. Answer: not all that well, in terms of levels of participation and rates of return.

The Gosselin article cites Jeb Bush's Florida, for example:
Among the states, by far the biggest test of private accounts' popularity in recent years has come in Florida, where Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother, proposed replacing public employees' defined benefit pensions with a mandatory defined contribution plan.

Although the governor eventually compromised on a voluntary plan, state officials still predicted a stampede. Early surveys of Florida's 600,000-plus public employees suggested that more than half would go for accounts. But since the accounts' introduction in 2002, 43,000 employees, or about 7%, have enrolled.

"The stock market can't be trusted the majority of the time," said John Miller, a 44-year-old clerk with the state's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in Tallahassee who chose not to take up the governor's offer.

The thrust of the piece is that private accounts have been a tough sell, notwithstanding President Bush's argument that Americans want to "own" their retirement security.

Actually, I would argue that the attitudes of state government employees tell us exactly nothing about the reception that private accounts would receive from Americans in general. In my experience, state government employees are -- not surprisingly -- the most statist Americans that there are, with an abiding and entirely unjustified faith in their own ability to manage our affairs.

I am very open to the idea that the Bush proposal is deeply flawed policy and dead-on-arrival politically. But the fact that state employees do not like their own state's program is evidence only that state governments can screw up any good idea.

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White smoke in Iraq 

Interim Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jaafari was chosen as his Shiite ticket's candidate for prime minister Tuesday after Ahmad Chalabi dropped his bid, senior alliance officials said.

On the surface, this looks like a defeat for Iran, for which Chalabi is alleged to shill. What's below the surface?

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Movable Type magnates 

Here's the story of a couple of people who are going to be very wealthy someday.

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The Chicago Sun-Times blows it big time 

Via Paul at Wizbang!:

Michael Barone, February 21:
Sometimes a decision made in the heat of partisan battle has reverberations for years to come.

One such decision was the one of Al Gore's campaign to selectively challenge the results of the 2000 election in Florida by demanding hand counts of votes cast in three counties -- Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. The latter two produce huge majorities for Democratic candidates, and the election officials in charge of the hand counts were Democrats. In other words, Gore sought new counts only in areas where he was likely to gain votes and would not take the risk of a statewide hand count, where those gains might be offset by others for George W. Bush.

Jesse Jackson, February 22:
Sometimes a decision made in the heat of partisan battle has reverberations for years to come.

One such decision was the one of Al Gore's campaign to selectively challenge the results of the 2000 election in Florida by demanding hand counts of votes cast in three counties -- Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. The latter two produced huge majorities for Democratic candidates, and the election officials in charge of the hand counts were Democrats. In other words, Gore sought new counts only in areas where he was likely to gain votes and would not take the risk of a statewide hand count, where those gains might be offset by others for George W. Bush.

Read the whole things. They're quite good on the question of selective recounts.

Normally, it is the plaigerized who is the aggrieved party. In this case, I think it is going to be the "plaigerist." The Sun-Times is gonna get a lot of letters on this one. Here's the screencap:
 Posted by Hello


Does anybody out there know whether this mistake made it into the hard copy?

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When you nationalize the healthcare system... 

...your health becomes the state's business. All you fans of single-payor healthcare shouldn't forget that.

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Australia ups the ante 

John Howard just announced that Australia was increasing its contingent in Iraq by 450 soldiers, or 50%, from current levels.
Mr Howard said Iraq was now at a "tilting point" following its landmark elections, and the Australian troops were needed to help rebuild the country.

The task force, which will have infantry and cavalry units as well as some 40 armoured vehicles, will be assisting the roles of Japanese troops currently serving in southern Iraq.

"Tilting point" must be Australian for "tipping point." I sort of think of "tilting" as coming before "tipping," so maybe Howard wants to flip a tilt into a tip. No matter. Thank you again, Australia!

The best part is the mission:
Their primary task will be providing security for the Japanese engineering and support forces doing humanitarian work in the Al Mutthanna province.

"The first (task) will be to provide a secure environment for the Japanese engineering and support forces which are making a valuable humanitarian contribution to the rebuilding process," Mr Howard said.

There are ANZAC veterans from World War II who never, ever, in a million years would have imagined that they would see the day that Australian soldiers would deploy to protect Japanese doing humanitarian work. The world can change a great deal in a very short period of time.

Via Chrenkoff.

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Monday, February 21, 2005

Tagging al Qaeda's leadership structure 

James Dunnigan checks the boxes against al Qaeda's known "civilian" and military hierarchy. From this perspective, it looks as though the West is making a lot of progress. Also, check out this extensive listing of known jihadis and their current, er, status.

CWCID: Free Republic.

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You decide what she hits 

A naked woman rides down the hill on a bicycle. You -- you -- determine that with which she collides. If you have the sense of humor of an 8th grade male -- and I definitely do -- this is the web game for you.

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Syria, Iran and al-Hariri (updated) 

'Bush issues forceful words to Iran, Syria'

'Thousands rally in Beirut against Syria one week after Hariri murder'

'Syria Indicates It May Withraw Some Troops From Lebanon'

Read between the lines.

UPDATE: More, this time from Al-Jaz:
"In response to the criminal and terrorist policy of the Lebanese and Syrian authorities, the Lebanese opposition declares the democratic and peaceful intifada [uprising] for independence," said leading opposition figure Samir Frangia after a meeting of leading Lebanese opposition figures.

Now there's an intifada I could get behind.

It will be very interesting to see how long Syria sustains its occupation in the face of Arab outcry. If the world keeps its eyes on Lebanon, Hama rules will not apply.

UPDATE: (2:55 pm EST)

George Friedman just published an analysis of the diplomacy involving the Iraqi Sunnis, the Saudis, leading Sunni clerics, Iran, Syria, Achmed Chalabi, and pretty much everybody else with an oar in the Euphrates that is both illuminating and arcane ($). Toward the end, this interesting speculation fairly leaps from the screen:
...It is no surprise, therefore, that the Iranians should have reached out to the Syrians over the past few weeks, trying to forge a strategic alliance.

The Syrians' primary interest is retaining their position of power in Lebanon, just as the primary interest of the Iranians is in building up their position in Iraq. The Americans are systematically whittling away at both of these interests. Tehran has asked for a united front with Syria. Damascus views Iran with suspicion. First, Syrian leaders are not sure what Iran can do for them; second, they are not sure Iran won't negotiate a deal with the Americans, leaving the Syrians wide open. Our guess is that the regime in Syria responded to the Iranians with the demand for a down payment -- some indicator that the Iranians were prepared to cross the Rubicon.

The price we believe they asked was the life of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Hezbollah is an Iranian-founded and -controlled Shiite group that is permitted to operate by Syria. The Syrians wanted al-Hariri out of the way and, if our conjecture is accurate, wanted Tehran to do this via Hezbollah. The Iranians would have accommodated the Syrians -- first, because they needed some international support; and second, because they wanted to throw Hezbollah into the pot. Hezbollah invented suicide bombings and, even more than al Qaeda, it is a global organization. It has grown fat and somewhat complacent in the past decade -- cutting deals in booming Lebanon and elsewhere in a range of businesses -- but the group still knows its craft. And in the al-Hariri affair, Tehran signaled the United States that it has more cards to play than just nuclear weapons.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether al-Hariri's murder was in fact in Syria's best interest -- today's news suggests that it was not. However, Syria has a long tradition of idiotically overplaying its hand in foreign affairs and ruthlessly smashing opposition in domestic matters. These tendancies may well have combined into an intemperate signal from Damascus that it would be thrilled if Hezbollah did away with al-Hariri. And Friedman is certainly right that it is in Iran's interests to demonstrate the reach and power of its own terrorist network, regardless of the impact on Syria's hold on Lebanon, because it reminds the United States that Iran can project power whether or not it has nuclear weapons.

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Roaming through today's New York Times 

The driveway is shoveled, the nose is blown, and my next move is to go to the office and read a huge stack of documents. But since I'm undercaffeinated for that task, I've stopped at Starbucks for a spin through the New York Times and as many shots as it takes. Think of this as the ultimate derivative work, the liveblogging of me reading the Gray Lady.

The politics of the Alternative Minimum Tax

The first article to attract my inner geek is a long-anticipated rehashed bit on the "alternative minimum tax," or AMT. The AMT is a sort of parallel tax system enacted in 1969 guard against the possibility that rich people might avoid normal federal income taxes entirely. It imposes an alternative calculation of tax assuming one large AMT exemption, but none of the usual tax deductions (such as state and local taxes). The problem is that nobody thought to index the AMT triggers to inflation. A nominal income that would have been considered quite large in 1969 is now a bit above average in affluent states. The result is that literally millions of basically middle class people living in high tax states are going to get hammered by the AMT in the next few years unless Congress repeals or otherwise modifies it drastically.

The New York Times only hints at the politics behind AMT reform. It does point out that high tax jurisdictions will come under pressure to keep taxes down as their citizens lose federal deductions, and it suggests that higher "after tax taxes" may curtail soaring home values in high tax jursidctions such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California. The Times does not ask the obvious question, though: If the AMT hammers "blue states" disproportionately (as the NYT demonstrates), will the Republican federal government really want to repeal the tax? Sure, some of these hapless AMT victims may be Republican contributors or happen to vote in Republican congressional districts, and the Republicans have rarely met a tax cut they didn't like, but will that be enough?

If the Republicans do reform the AMT they will accomplish four things, none of which will obviously benefit them politically. First, they will be repealing a tax specifically designed to nail rich tax avoiders. It is inevitable that Democratic candidates and 527s will hammer at that point in the next election campaign with all the deceptive advertising they can muster.

Second, repeal of the AMT would have the effect of shifting wealth from low tax states -- which tend to vote Republican -- to high tax states which almost always vote for Democrats.

Third, repeal of the AMT would make it harder to shrink the federal deficit, which the Democrats will use against the Republicans at every opportunity.

Fourth, the repeal of the AMT will alleviate pressure on local governments, which in my experience are the most wasteful and least accountable level of government that we have. Most local tax jurisdictions are controlled by one party with no serious opposition. They collect money in all sorts of opaque ways, and spend it on public works meant to buy more votes to expropriate more tax revenue. In Princeton, our taxes have gone up by leaps and bounds in the six years that we have lived here, and the local governments have managed to spend every bit of it. The loss of the federal deduction subsidy might, though, create enough wind in the face of the local politicians that they think twice about the next grandiose scheme for spending our money. It's our last, best hope for fiscal sanity at the local level.

So, as an affluent voter living in a profligate "blue state" college town, I would personally benefit from AMT repeal -- at least until Princeton Township grabs the "ups" for some white elephant construction project. I honestly can't imagine, though, why the federal Republicans would make AMT a priority. The math is all wrong. (And here is at least some evidence that the Republicans are looking at the politics of AMT reform the same way I do.)

Voting with their feet

Sam Roberts has an interesting article about African immigration to the United States.
For the first time, more blacks are coming to the United States from Africa than during the slave trade.

Since 1990, according to immigration figures, more have arrived voluntarily than the total who disembarked in chains before the United States outlawed international slave trafficking in 1807. More have been coming here annually - about 50,000 legal immigrants - than in any of the peak years of the middle passage across the Atlantic, and more have migrated here from Africa since 1990 than in nearly the entire preceding two centuries.

According to the Times, the inflow is "already redefining what it means to be African-American... The influx... [is] recalibrating the largely monolithic way white America views blacks to raising concerns that American-born blacks will again be left behind."

The article focuses on the assimilation, or lack thereof, of African immigrants into the African-American community, and it raises the possibility that we may start thinking of blacks more on ethnic terms than racial terms. Indeed we will if African immigrants follow the economic arc of other immigrant groups rather than that of the descendants of American slaves. We would then know that the limitations on African-American success are defined less by the color of their skin than other considerations. This is not to say that racism did not create the conditions that have limited the economic success of blacks, but it may be that it has burned away, like the gasoline that starts a fire. We may still be picking through the wreckage of the fires caused by racism, even if the accelerant is largely burned away.

The Times avoided one interesting question, which is whether the new immigration from Africa may reflect a growing sense that blacks can make it in America. I have observed elsewhere that it is important to watch the flow of the refugees. If they come home -- as in Iraq and Afghanistan -- you know things are better than they were. Well, if African immigration to the United States is picking up, is it because the United States may today be a better place for blacks than it has ever been before? People flow like water to opportunity, and the emergence of voluntary African immigration may be the best measure of the strength of American opportunity for black people.

Too much knowledge in public health

Gina Kolata, the Times most well-known science reporter, has a lengthy front-page article about a new federal proposal to require that newborn babies be tested for 29 diseases. The proposal is generating "fierce debate" between doctors and patient-advocacy groups who argue that more information is always better, and others who argue that for most of the rare diseases in question "it is not known whether the treatments help or how often a baby will test positive but never" manifest the disease. The Kolata article graphically illustrates a problem that has long fascinated me, the uses and abuses of deception in public health. There are clearly times when the withholding of information may improve the public health outcome, even if it works against the interest of any particular patient. The mandatory testing of infants for rare diseases may be one of those cases.

That's it for now.

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Giant Blogroll update 

It's time for the regular blogroll update, in which we add to our sidebar the blogs we like to read, the blogs that annoy us to no end, and the blogs that have respected TigerHawk with first moving linkage. As always, if we blow it and don't include your blog here, hang tight and give us another chance.

Right-to-Center Blogs

BabyWings. "A Retired M.I. Soldier gives vent to random thoughts, rants, raves, and silliness - while suffering from mild distraction. Husband, father, miniature wargamer. Growing Christian." And, most importantly, a devoted TigerHawk linker.

Austin Bay. National security. A link from Austin Bay is a personal fantasy of mine. Don't really see it happening, but a man can dream.

Confederate Yankee. 'Nuff said.

Different River. "[O]ne of the seemingly few economists in the Washington, DC area who is not employed by the federal government."

Done with Mirrors. Conservative blogger with a very attractive wife.

History's End. Loyal linker, inveterate commenter, and more.

Moonbattery. Res ipsa loquitor.

Pikespeak. A thoughtful centrist who merely lists to the right.

Steal The Bandwagon. I always thought this blog should be named "Stealth Bandwagon," which would be very cool.

The Untamed Fire of Freedom. "Life in Washington DC, school issues, gun nuts, war protesters and all the strange things that happen in the news." And TigerHawk loyalist.

Left-to-Center Blogs

Alas, a Blog. A blog by Barry Deutsch, a lefty cartoonist with an open mind and a commendable willingness to link to TigerHawk.

Bitch, Ph.D. A professor of something somewhere with a very snarky edge. Sort of a lefty A Small Victory with an academic bent.

Ezra Klein. A young lefty blogger talented far beyond his years.

Oliver Willis. Lefty blogger of some considerable readership, with an amusing tag line ("Like Kryptonite to stupid"). Not to be confused with Sissy Willis.

Regional Blogs

Canada Free Press (CFP Blog). Righty from the North Country.

Dutch Report. Better than siroopwafel.

Simon's World. All Asia, all the time.

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Review of Hugh Hewitt's Blog 

Weeks behind the rest of the righty 'sphere, I have now read Hugh Hewitt's Blog. A righteous and blogworthy read, fer sure.

For those few of you who do not know, Hugh Hewitt is:
the host of a nationally syndicated radio show heard in more than 70 cities nationwide, and a Professor of Law at Chapman University Law School, where he teaches Constitutional Law. He is the author of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World as well as the New York Times best selling author of If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat. He has written 4 other books. Hewitt has received 3 Emmys during his decade of work as co-host of the PBS Los Angeles affiliate KCET's nightly news and public affairs show Life & Times. He is a weekly columnist for The Daily Standard, the online edition of The Weekly Standard.

Hewitt is also a much-read blogger, and -- along with TigerHawk -- a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, perhaps his most important credential.

Blog is partly a triumphalist history of blogging, with an emphasis on the triumphs of the right, and part business book, with all sorts of cautionary tales and helpful suggestions for executives who run companies. It has been heavily reviewed by bloggers (Reynolds here, Polipundit here, Beldar here, Library Stuff here, etc.), so rather than rehash well-plowed ground I'll confine my comments to a brief synopsis and a couple of rifle-shot points.

To Hewitt, blogging is the universal media solvent -- it is cleaning away the grime on the screen, cancelling the static in the signal, and hyperlinking the text on the newsprint. Hewitt compares the transformational power of blogging to Gutenberg's movable type (not coincidentally, the name of popular blogging software). That technology lowered the cost of publishing to the point that it unleashed the Protestant Reformation, the first popular revolt against the guardians of dogma.
Between 1517 and 1520, Luther alone authored roughly thirty works, and scholars estimate he sold more than three hundred thousand copies. And the numbers only escalated from there. Edwards reports that the period of 1517 to 1524 saw an overall fortyfold rise in the number of pamphlets published, over 6.6 million in all, the vast majority the works of the Reformers.

In a world where nothing much changed over the span of a lifetime or several lifetimes, the Church's monopoly on publication collapsed in less than a decade. Hewitt sees the same thing happening today, with bloggers pamphleteering their way around the institutions of the "mainstream media" (known to center-to-right bloggers as the "MSM"). Hewitt chronicles the "blog swarms" and "opinion storms" that have throttled the careers of Trent Lott, Howell Raines, John Kerry (the "Christmas in Cambodia" affair, which destroyed his ability to discredit the Swifties), and Dan Rather. Were Hewitt writing today instead of three months ago, this list of scalps would now also include Eason Jordan and "Jeff Gannon." These are all cases of stories that germinated, or at least gestated, in the blogosphere before breaking out into the MSM. None of these now unemployed (or underemployed) people would have been retired under the same circumstances even in 1998. (I cannot recall whether Hewitt credited Drudge for the proto-example of career destruction by blog -- Monica and her dress -- and cannot track back to find out one way or the other because Blog does not have a farookin' index, an absolutely intolerable publishing faux pas for a book about, ultimately, transparency.)

The "business book" chapters dwell on defense ("[a] blog swarm around your business or organization could be catastrophic") and offense (the value of blogs to leadership, management, employee relations, and the gathering of eyeballs for marketing purposes). This is all fairly basic stuff that will be obvious to any blogger, but probably illuminating to the rare reader of this book who reads it in the hope of understanding what "all this blog stuff" might be about. It is to Hewitt's credit that he keeps this section brief -- most business books puff up one or two fairly minor ideas into hundreds of repetitious pages -- but he would do well to reduce it to an even shorter article and peddle it to Fortune.

Occasionally, Hewitt walks right up to an interesting observation and then doesn't quite develop it. I was tantalized by Hewitt's nibble of a thought on the "talent gap" that he sees between left and right, but ultimately a bit disappointed in his analysis:
A final word on ideology and the blogosphere: there is currently a talent gap. The political left is seriously behind in the promotion and development of bloggers with insight and good humor. It may be that the early entrants such as DailyKos, Atrios, and Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo have set a tone of self-importance combined with courseness that has repelled would-be bloggers, or that Peter Principle bloggers with energy but not enough talent have taken up valuable shelf space. Either way, there is definitely a talent gap. And there is a great deal more encouragement among the center-right for new entrants, a sort of "Welcome aboard, now grab an oar" attitude that applues the arrival of, say, Galley Slaves or The Hedgehog Report (davidwessing.com) as fellow workers, a generosity of spirit that I just don't see on the left side of the spectrum. This is a decided advantage for my center-right ideology....

Now, I spend a good deal of time trolling the lefty 'sphere, and I gather the best and most representative work in my "Carnival of the Commies" series (the two most recent installments are here and here), but I only agree with bits of Hewitt's observation. The best bloggers of the left are hilarious -- if you're a lefty -- and infuriating if you're not. If you don't believe me, read a week or two of Billmon and try to imagine your gut-tightening laughter if you actually agreed with his sentiments. He is every bit as snarky as the Allahpundit of old, or the Rottweiler. So are Tom Tomorrow and August J. Pollack on their good days. Atrios, the link-meister of the left, is definitely funnier than Glenn Reynolds, even if he is also a lot nastier. If there is a talent or humor gap, it is difficult to see.

However, Hewitt is right that there is a substantial difference in tone and emphasis between left and right, quite distinct from substantive political orientation. Volunteerism, for example, runs through most righty blogs (see, for example, the Spirit of America, which has been essentially uncovered on the left), whereas the lefty blogs promote activism (they are always "meeting up," and covering demonstrations in the sincerest of tones). This is probably an echo of underlying political assumptions. Conservatives genuinely believe that much can be accomplished through volunteerism, particularly through churches. Professional activism, though, has been almost entirely the province of the left (with the obvious but virtually singular exception of the anti-abortion activists). Why does the left dominate activism? Because they developed it as a tradition during the civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements of the sixties, and -- I incautiously speculate -- because conservatives have actual jobs and businesses and family and golf obligations that chew up scads of time that might be spent demonstrating against the depredations of the trial bar.

It also seems that the lefty blogs are quite focused on the political right -- they are almost obsessed with the political influence of religious conservatives, for example -- far more than the righty blogs worry about the left. This is strange, but perhaps not surprising. It is an artifact of history that blogging developed as a technology and a culture during a period of ascendancy on the right -- the Republicans have not been so relatively powerful since the 1920s -- so maybe it is natural that the lefty 'sphere has taken on the psychology of the opposition to a much greater degree than the right. Sure, we take our shots, but we also have the luxury of taking the high road. And besides, we know the White House, the agencies and the influential staffs of the Senate and the House read what we write (even I, firmly in the middle of Hewitt's "tail," get readers from both the Congress and the executive branch). Why worry about Atrios, Kos, Billmon or any of those others when they so clearly don't have any stroke? Damn, that must piss them off.

So here's a fearsome prediction: the relative tone of the right and left 'spheres will change perceptibly the day a Democrat next wins the White House.

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Eyes 

The TigerHawk residence does not, at the moment, provide hostelry services to cats. This has significantly constrained my cat-blogging ambitions, which -- fortunately for me -- are fairly easy to suppress. However, this afternoon we visited a former TigerHawk nanny at her home in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, and I spotted this mysterious kitty lurking about six feet off the ground, giving me the evil eye. Cute, but obviously not trustworthy.
 Posted by Hello

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The poverty of liberalism 

Wretchard:
Martin Peretz in "Not Much Left" says what many have been saying for a while: that Liberalism is out of ideas. The curious thing about his intelligent and literate essay is that he never manages to explain why this condition has taken place....

Liberalism has lost its books because it has burned them. The campaign to dismiss Harvard President Larry Summers for remarking that women may have less aptitude than men for mathematics and sciences is a case in point.

Dershowitz (who disagrees with Summers on the substance):
"In my 41 years at Harvard, I have never experienced a president more open to debate, disagreement, and dialogue than Larry Summers," wrote Dershowitz, adding that "professors who are afraid to challenge him are guilty of cowardice."

As Wretchard, Peretz and Dershowitz all argue, academic liberalism no longer cares to contend with ideas on their merits, but objects that certain ideas are expressed at all. The New York Times editorial board, for example, argues this morning that Summers should not have said what he said:
We have been informed many, many times in the past that Dr. Summers likes to make waves, and who could blame him? It's fun to toss out provocative ideas and watch as everyone's ears redden and all eyes turn to the daring speaker who started the hubbub. But it's an exercise better restricted to radio talk show hosts than the heads of major academic institutions. Harvard is supposed to be teaching its students not just how to start a controversy, but also how to have an intelligent conversation.

That's right: The president of Harvard University needs to keep his mouth shut, at least if the words that would otherwise emerge from that mouth are not "intelligent," according to the arbitration of The New York Times. Astonishing.

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No difference 

Steyn out of order:
The entire "Trans atlantic Split: Chirac Aghast At Blundering Yank Moron Shock!" vs "Transatlantic Rapprochement: Rumsfeld Gives Tongue Sarnie To Schröder – See Souvenir Pictorial" narrative is wholly post-modern: either way, it makes no difference. That suits Europe; the Kyoto Treaty makes no difference to global warming, the EU negotiating troika makes no difference to Iran's nuclear programme, the threat of an ICC subpoena makes no difference to the Sudanese government's mass slaughter programme – and Washington has concluded that a Europe that makes no difference suits it just fine, too....

The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt compared the President's inaugural speech with Gerhard Schröder's keynote address to the Munich Conference on Security Policy last week and observed that, while both men talked about the Middle East, terrorism and 21st-century security threats, Mr Bush used the word "freedom" 27 times while Herr Schröder uttered it not once; he preferred to emphasise, as if it were still March 2003 and he were Arab League Secretary-General, "stability" – the old realpolitik fetish the Administration has explicitly disavowed. It's not just that the two sides aren't speaking the same language, but that the key phrases of Mr Bush's vocabulary don't seem to exist in Chirac's or Schröder's.

The differences between America and Europe in the 21st century are nothing to do with insensitive swaggering Texas cowboys. Indeed, they're nothing to do with Iraq, Iran, Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, or any other particular issue. They're not tactical differences, they're conceptual.

Europeans have sacrificed everything -- economic growth, freedom of contract, fluid labor markets, national sovereignty, their own fertility -- all in the service of stability. It would be ironic if the greatest threat to that costly stability weren't the United States with its muscular foreign policy and Darwinian economy, but the uncontested ascendency of Islamic fascism. Not that it makes a difference.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Gender Genie 

Do you write like a girl? Find out using the Gender Genie, into which you pump some of your text -- nonfiction, fiction, or blog entry -- and from which burps a prediction of your gender. My writing makes me only slightly male. Gotta work on that. Maybe I should write about guns 'n' farts 'n' stuff.

Eager to learn whether Gender Genie might have helped uncover the blogosphere's latest marketing scheme, I ran a few randomly selected 'graphs from the old Libertarian Girl blog through Gender Genie. Two out of three came up as "male." Which isn't too surprising, considering that she is male.

CWCID: A Small Victory.

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Friday, February 18, 2005

The 100 greatest gadgets. Ever. 

77. HASBRO LITE-BRITE, 1967
Who knew that all those happy hours spent punching multicolored pins into black paper were actually preparing us for a rewarding career designing web page bullets and desktop icons?...

54. THE CAR ALARM KEY FOB, 1990s
The guy who invented the car alarm? We have no idea. With any luck, he's roasting in hell. The one who invented a way of turning those alarms off wirelessly? No idea, either, but we nominate him for sainthood...

20. SWISS ARMY KNIFE, 1891
Karl Elsener's first knife, which was distributed to Swiss enlisted men, featured a blade, a screwdriver, a can opener, and a punch. Today, the company Elsener founded, Victorinox, and its competitor, Wenger, offer dozens of knives featuring up to 33 different tools. Meanwhile, the name has passed into cliche as an apt description of the knife's versatility...

12. APPLE IPOD, 2001
It wasn't the first hard-drive audio player, it was expensive, and it worked only with Macintosh computers. But the original iPod cracked the portable audio market wide open with its ease of use and to-die-for aesthetics. Some estimates peg Apple as now claiming an astounding 92 percent of the mobile audio market...

There are 96 more where they came from.

CWCID: Donald Sensing.

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What they will look like in forty years... 

Cameron Diaz, Photoshopped:
 Posted by Hello

Here are the rest of them.

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