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Saturday, April 30, 2005

The return of two great Americans 

This week marked the public return of two great American species, the ivory-billed woodpecker, last seen in 1944, and the American chestnut, once America's iconic tree.

The discovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker, thought extinct for at least fifty years, is astonishing, "the equivalent of Elvis being found alive and kicking" for ornithologists. The bird has been seen and definitively identified in the cypress and tupelo swamp of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge of eastern Arkansas. Known as the "Lord God bird" for the oath that is breathed by those who have seen its majesty,
[t]he ivory-bill has had an awesome hold on people's imaginations, to the immense benefit of the environment. In the 1970's, after an Audubon official reported merely hearing the bird in a South Carolina swamp, the state spared 10,000 acres from clear-cutting.

And it is no surprise:
Ivory-billed woodpecker

The story of woodpecker's rediscovery is dramatic.
With its 30-inch wingspan and formidable bill, its sharp black and white coloring, and the male's carmine crest, the ivory bill was the largest of American woodpeckers, described by John James Audubon as "this great chieftain of the woodpecker tribe."

Once a dominant creature of great Southern hardwood forest, its numbers dwindled as logging increased. The woodpecker inspired one of the first conservation efforts in the nation's history, but its seeming failure turned the ivory bill into a symbol of loss. The last documented sighting was in Louisiana in 1944.

But the ivory bill lived on as a kind of ghost in rumor and in numerous possible sightings. Despite lengthy expeditions, no sighting was confirmed, until Feb. 11, 2004.

On that date Gene M. Sparling III sighted a large woodpecker with a red crest in the Cache River refuge. Tim W. Gallagher at the Cornell Lab saw the report from Mr. Sparling on a Web site where he was describing a kayak trip.

Within two weeks Mr. Gallagher and Bobby R. Harrison of and Bobby R. Harrison of Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., were in a canoe in the refuge, with Mr. Sparling guiding them.

Mr. Gallagher said he had expected to camp out for a week, but after one night out, on Feb. 27, he and Mr. Harrison were paddling up a bayou bounded on both sides by cypress and tupelo when they saw a very large woodpecker fly in front of their canoe.

When they wrote down their notes independently and compared them, Mr. Gallagher said, Mr. Harrison was struck by the reality of the discovery and began sobbing, repeating, "I saw an ivory bill."

Mr. Gallagher felt the same. "I couldn't speak," he said.

There's a brief and blurry video of a sighting here.

The greatest American woodpecker has a shot at recovery. Ornithologists confirmed the sighting more than a year ago, but the scientists, conservation groups and government agencies involved "kept the discovery secret for more than a year, while they worked to confirm the discovery and protect the bird's territory." The Nature Conservancy and other groups have bought up land around the existing wildlife refuge to improve the bird's chances.

Since I generally support the deployment of sneakiness, deception and secrecy in the national interest, I am very happy that the government and the conservation groups were able to keep this secret long enough to buy up land around the refuge under, er, false pretenses. One can only wonder, though, that The New York Times has not denounced this clear conspiracy to deprive the public of its "right to know." I suppose that we should be happy that the mainstream media abandoned its commitment to absolute transparency, even if it was only because it happened to agree that the government's deception would benefit a noble objective. This case is evidence, though, that the mainstream media's attacks on governmental secrecy relate more to their political inclinations than they care to admit.

The return of the American chestnut tree is less surprising, but no less satisfying. President Bush planted a hybrid American chestnut tree on the White House lawn this week. The planting marks the symbolic return of the greatest American tree, which had once dominated the virgin forests of America's eastern mountains only to be wiped out by an invasive Japanese fungus in the first half of the twentieth century.

The American Chestnut Foundation web site is a wonderful place to learn about this awesome tree, its destruction during the childhood of our grandparents, and the possibilities for its return.

The American chestnut tree once dominated America's eastern forests before succumbing to chestnut blight. An estimated four billion chestnut trees grew over this range -- more than twice the total population of humans on the planet at the time.

Chestnut range

The Foundation's description of the tree and its significance says it all:
In the heart of its range only a few generations ago, a count of trees would have turned up one chestnut for every four oaks, birches, maples and other hardwoods. Many of the dry ridgetops of the central Appalachians were so thoroughly crowded with chestnut that, in early summer, when their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the mountains appeared snow-capped.

And the trees could be giants. In virgin forests throughout their range, mature chestnuts averaged up to five feet in diameter and up to one hundred feet tall. Many specimens of eight to ten feet in diameter were recorded, and there were rumors of trees bigger still.

Chestnut trunk
Native wildlife from birds to bears, squirrels to deer, depended on the tree's abundant crops of nutritious nuts. And chestnut was a central part of eastern rural economies. As winter came on, attics were often stacked to the rafters with flour bags full of the glossy, dark brown nuts. Springhouses and smokehouses were hung with hams and other products from livestock that had fattened on the harvest gleanings. And what wasn't consumed was sold.

Chestnut was an important cash crop for many Appalachian families. As year-end holidays approached, nuts by the railroad car-full were shipped to New York, Philadelphia and other cities where street vendors sold them fresh roasted.

The tree was one of the best for timber. It grew straight and often branch-free for 50 feet. Loggers tell of loading entire railroad cars with boards cut from just one tree. Straight-grained, lighter in weight than oak and more easily worked, chestnut was as rot resistant as redwood. It was used for virtually everything - telegraph poles, railroad ties, shingles, paneling, fine furniture, musical instruments, even pulp and plywood.

The new chestnut on the White House lawn is the product of the American Chestnut Foundation's breeding program, which has bred blight-resistant Chinese chestnut trees into the American chestnut line. The goal has been to create a tree that is more than 93% American chestnut, but which retains the Chinese genes that protect the tree against the Asian blight.
Chestnut blight was first introduced to North America in 1904. Like many other pest introductions, it quickly spread into its new - and defenseless - host population. American chestnut trees had evolved in the absence of chestnut blight, and our native species lacked entirely the genetic material to protect it from the fungus.

In Asia, however, where the pathogen originated, most native chestnut species and particularly Chinese chestnut are well defended against the blight. Over the course of their millennia of coexistence with the fungus, Chinese chestnut trees acquired the genetic material that confers resistance. Blighted North American chestnut species die, while blighted Chinese chestnuts suffer only cosmetic damage. Since all chestnut species can be crossed with relative ease, Chinese chestnut offers a potential solution to the American tree's susceptibility to chestnut blight.

But Chinese chestnut lacks many of the characteristics of the American. Most obvious is stature: the Chinese species is low-growing and spreading, much like an old apple tree - an American chestnut can grow straight and strong to a hundred feet or more. This habit of growth combined with the quality of wood makes the American a dominant forest tree species.

Less obvious is the role the American chestnut played in its native forests. The blight is a very recent introduction to the chestnut ecosystem. In those thousands of years preceding the blight's arrival, an enormously complex set of relationships evolved which tied the chestnut to innumerable bird, mammal, and insect species and other organisms, as well as to rocks, water, soils and fires. Essentially, chestnut was tied to the very shape of the hills and mountains on which the trees were found. This history of co-evolution on the North American continent is carried in the genetic material only of the American, not the Chinese chestnut.

The goal of TACF's breeding program is therefore two-fold: to introduce into the American chestnut the genetic material responsible for the blight resistance of the Chinese tree, and at the same time, preserve in every other way the genetic heritage of the American species.

Blight-resistant American chestnut seedlings will be available for test plantings in forests next year, with wider distribution in the coming decade. If that happens, your grandchildren may one day walk through eastern forests that look like those your grandparents would have known.

UPDATE: Dr. Sandra L. Anagnostakis of the Department of Plant Pathology and Ecology at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has published a very interesting history of the invasion of chestnut blight in 1904 and the years following. Good. We should never forget that four billion trees died because Americans did not know that it was dangerous to import alien plants.

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Friday, April 29, 2005

Photo of the week 

Photo.net's photo of the week, taken by Juan Riera, March 2, 1978:

Photo of the Week

Twenty-six years later, the photographer had this to say about his photograph:
This foto has been an old favorite of mine. This is a place where you can only get by low tide (it is at the seaside). We used to go there for swimming but this time was the first time after the whole winter and spring. The green algae grown during the spring had changed the site and I saw the rock form as some kind of primigenial and protective nest. If you see the place, under his feet there is some sort of stone seat covered by this green algae. I ask my model (in fact he is my brother) to seat there trying not disturbing the green coverage (you can see this was not completely achieved). A few seconds after the taking he slipped away unhappily removing the green covering around the seat. I can say I previsualized the image and everything was ok to get it right!

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Sandstorm 

The BBC has a slideshow of a sandstorm approaching an American base in Iraq, photographed by Gunnery Sergeant Shannon Aldredge, US Marine Corps photographer. The storm hit on Tuesday, at the former Iraqi airbase at al-Asad, about 180 km (110 miles) west of Baghdad, now home to a US marine corps unit.

Sandstorm1

Sandstorm2

Sandstorm4

And here's the money shot:

Sandstorm5

CWCID: Sabbah, who takes the point of view that nature is resisting the American occupation.

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America the Unpopular 

Victor Davis Hanson tells us when we should start to worry about ostracism abroad:

Think about it. When Europe orders all American troops out; when Japan claims our textbooks whitewash the Japanese forced internment or Hiroshima; when China cites unfair trade with the United States; when South Korea says get the hell off our DMZ; when India complains that we are dumping outsourced jobs on them; when Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians refuse cash aid; when Canada complains that we are not carrying our weight in collective North American defense; when the United Nations moves to Damascus; when the Arab Street seethes that we are pushing theocrats and autocrats down its throat; when Mexico builds a fence to keep us out; when Latin America proclaims a boycott of the culturally imperialistic Major Leagues; and when the world ignores American books, films, and popular culture, then perhaps we should be worried. But something tells me none of that is going to happen in this lifetime.

Read the whole thing.

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With friends like this... 

Syrian Prime Minister Mohammed Naci Otri celebrated the appointment of Ibrahim Jaafari as the Prime Minister in Iraq, and announced that they are ready to assist the new Iraqi government in every area.

Otri sent a congratulatory message to Jaafari and wished him success in his office to realize the hopes of Iraqi people. The Syrian Prime Minister also expressed: "Syria is ready to offer any type of help necessary to their brother Iraqi people in all areas."

How about closing the farookin' borders?

Meanwhile, the Kuomintang (KMT) have finally "ended" the Chinese civil war.
Taiwan opposition leader Lien Chan and Chinese President Hu Jintao closed the book on decades of hostility on Friday with a simple handshake in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

The civil war enemies agreed in a two-hour meeting that they described as frank and friendly to work to end enmity between the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, and the Chinese Communist Party and avoid military conflict in the Taiwan Strait, one of Asia's most dangerous flashpoints.

This would have been a useful gesture from the KMT a few years ago, when it was in power in Taiwan. Now the KMT is in opposition to Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has been pushing at the boundaries of full-fledged independence (at no small risk to the United States, I might add).

With the minor qualification that I know next to nothing about Taiwanese politics, today's handshake seems like a transparent attempt to suck up to Taiwanese voters and other actors who are worried about recent sabre-rattling with China. The message from both China and the KMT is clear: only the KMT can restore the status quo ante, which is a tacit understanding that Taiwan will remain unmolested by the PRC and free to get rich only so long as it does not represent itself as either China or an independent country.

Is it not astonishing that the KMT, which overthrew the emperor of China and governed that massive country for more than thirty years between 1911 and the rise of Mao, is now the party to "make peace" with the Communists in a bid to win votes in a democratic Taiwan?

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The New Jersey governor's race 

Newshounds know that New Jersey holds its elections on odd years, which makes this year's governor's race one of the few big state elections that political junkies can twist their hankies over.

The Democratic candidate in this very blue state will be Senator Jon Corzine, who is willing to trade his very expensive first-term seat in the United States Senate for the opportunity to preside over the nest of vipers in Trenton. Corzine expects to spend another big wad to win Drumthwacket, but is trying to turn his wealth into an asset: his wealth, we are to believe, makes him uncorruptible, at least in the petty Sopranos sense of corruption:
Corzine said he will refuse campaign donations from people associated with firms that have state contracts. He will limit individual contributions to $500 - more than $2,000 lower than state law allows. And he said he would forgo public financing and pay for his effort largely out of his personal wealth, valued at $300 million.

"There might be a better way for the public to spend its money than financing someone who has the wherewithal to do it," Corzine said.

Well, there is no arguing with that.

Corzine has spent around $15 million of his own money for every year that he has served in the Senate, and now he is going to switch jobs. Why? Perhaps he calculates that as a liberal Senator from a blue state he can't really get anything done in Washington right now. Sure, like the rest of the Democrats in the Congress he can devote himself to frustrating Republicans, but that won't satisfy a guy like Corzine, who once ran the most powerful investment bank on Wall Street. Perhaps he has also learned from John Kerry's example that it is very difficult for a sitting Senator to become President. While he is unusual among Democratic politicians in that he has extensive experience as an executive, most voters won't give him credit for that until he has been a governor. This year is his shot.

The Republicans will nominate either Bret Schundler, the conservative former mayor of Jersey City, or Douglas Forrester, the choice of New Jersey's creaky Republican establishment. This is a choice not unlike Dean and Kerry last year -- Schundler is the choice of the faithful, but Forrester is the moderate who "can win."

Jersey blogger DynamoBuzz linked yesterday to the results of a new poll that show Forrester and Schundler neck and neck in the Republican primary race, even though most of the respondants admit that they have weak preferences. More interestingly, both Forrester and Schundler have narrowed the gap vs. Corzine significantly, trailing by only ten points, instead of the usual twenty or so. The question, of course, is whether this reflects a substantive improvement in Republican chances, or whether it is an artifact of the publicity around the forthcoming Republican primary. Unfortunately, I believe it is the latter.

Meanwhile, New Jersey's last elected governor, James McGreevey, continues to sink into the mire.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Roger L. Simon has an announcement 

Blogging takes its next big step.

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Live-blogging the President's press conference 

I'll be live-blogging the President's news conference here, updating with numbered posts. While we're waiting, take a look at today's Note, which tells us what Mark Helperin, at least, thinks we should be alert for.

1. He is focusing on high gasoline prices. "We must address the root causes that drive up gas prices." Our energy consumption is growing 40X faster than production. We must take four key steps. First, use technology to become conservors of technology. Second, exploit existing alternative energies. Third, develop new alternatives. Fourth, encourage the big foreign consumers to use new technologies to burn less.

This last point I have not heard discussed at any point. Interesting -- what would it entail? Is it serious?

Next he moves to Social Security. "The math has changed. A generation of baby boomers is getting ready to retire. I happen to be one of them." No chuckle, even though there should have been.... The press is probably loaded for bear on this issue.

2. "All Americans born before 1950 will get their full benefits." We have a responsibility to improve Social Security by helping those most in need, and by making it a better deal for younger workers. We must focus on three goals. Keep the promise to future retirees. Benefits should be equal to or better than the current deal. Second, make it progressive! We want to give more generous benefits for low income employees. Holy triangulation! It is going to be interesting to watch the Democrats fight this one.

Third, any reform must replace the empty promises being made to younger workers with "real assets." Voluntary personal retirement accounts are the answer, because they will generate a higher rate of return. The money would supplement the check on receives from Social Security. They would offer workers a number of investment options that are simple and easy to understand. One investment option would be entirely of Treasury bonds (how does this solve the problem? -- maybe it doesn't, but it is the bait that gets others into private sector investments).

"I'm willing to listen to any good idea from either party."

3. Terence Hunt, AP: Are you frustrated because a majority of Americans don't agree with your approach on Social Security and energy?

Bush: I'm not surprised that people do not want to face these tough problems that we have blown off for twenty years. But I have a duty as President to define the problems and propose solutions. I think Bush is pretty loose, and pretty effective in this. Yet another invitation to the Democrats to propose ideas -- he clearly is trying to define the Demos as not willing to do anything other than obstruct.

"The longer we wait, the more expensive the solution will be for the younger generation of Americans." He is hammering away at the young.

Steve Holland, Reuters: Why haven't we been more successful in limiting the violence in Iraq?

Bush: Still some in Iraq who are not happy with democracy. But we are making progress - "the Iraqi people saw a government formed today." But Iraq has hard-nosed killers. "A free Iraq in the midst of the Middle East is an important part of spreading peace."

Bush is more articulate in this unstructured setting than I have ever seen him. Had he been like this during the campaign, he would have won by a much wider margin, I think.

4. Still on Iraq: "It is not easy to go from a tyranny to a democracy."

David Gregory: Are judicial filibusters an attack on people of faith? What does Bush think generally about the role of faith in politics today?

Bush: I think people are opposing my nominees because they don't like the judicial philosophy of the people I nominate. I certainly hope that my nominees get an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. "I believe religion is a personal matter." How do people live their lives?

Gregory pushes him: Bush reiterates that he believes that faith is a personal issue, but "I don't condemn somebody in the political process because they don't worship the way I do." Great speech about how wonderful freedom of religion is.

John Roberts, CBS: How will the energy bill have an effect on the current record price of oil?

Bush: Encourage producing nations to put more crude oil on the market. [But is this true? It certainly is in a direct sense -- crude oil prices lead directly to the price of gasoline, but what influences crude oil over the long term.]

Bush is not answering this question well, which is frustrating because he is an energy guy. ANWAR, liquified natural gas, terminals to handle LNG, active nuclear energy resources, clean coal technology.

5. Terry Moran: State Department reports that terrorism attacks are at an all-time high. If we are winning the war, how do you explain that more people are dying from terrorist attacks on your watch than ever before?

This question is a State Department/CIA plant, and Bush handles it very well:

"Our strategy is to fight the terrorists abroad." Bingo. "In the near term I can only predict one thing -- we will stay on the offense."

Suzanne Malveaux: [Bush jokes with her -- pretty good.] She asks a sharp-edged question about Putin, and his willingness to cooperate on Iran.

Bush: I had a long talk with "Vladimir" in Slovakia -- he and Condi take Vladimir at his word. Bush positions Vladimir as trying to help, and offers the view that Putin understands the dangers of Iran with a nuclear weapon. I think this is right, by the way -- Putin doesn't want the mullahs to have a nuke, either.

Wendell Goler, Fox: The Bolton question -- should the allegations about his treatment of subordinates, if true, disqualify him?

Bush: "John Bolton is a seasoned diplomat, and has been confirmed by the United States Senate four times. John Bolton is a blunt guy. Sometimes people say I'm a little too blunt."

Bush is very strong on this -- the "UN needs reform. If you are interested in reform at the UN as I am, it makes sense to put somebody who is skilled and not afraid to speak his mind in that job." Bolton thinks the United Nations is important, but it needs to be reformed.

6. Bush calls on Stretch (do you mind if I call you "Stretch"? -- "I've been called worse."): Richard Keil did not take the nickname thing very well. Asks quite seriously about whether Bush would consider Social Security reform a success if the long-term solvency problems were addressed without personal accounts.

Bush: Personal accounts are important. "Why should ownership be confined only to rich people." The Congress liked the idea so much, it set up personal accounts for themselves. Long tear on personal accounts. It appeals to me, especially the pitch that they are voluntary, and that people will have the flexibility to avoid risk.

David Sanger, NYT: Based on what we have learned in fighting the insurgency, do we think we might have a very substantial withdrawal of American troops from Iraq?

Bush: It is tempting to set out a timetable, but it is not wise. That will just cause the enemy to adjust. The answer is "as soon as possible," and that depends on the Iraqis. The key question is, "are they able to recruit?" [I couldn't agree more -- continued strong recruitment is an important metric.]

Sanger follow-up: Do you feel that the number of troops tied up in Iraq is limiting options in North Korea and Japan?

Bush: He says that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs feels that we have enough capacity.

Expands the answer to talk about Korea. Talks about the importance of Chinese involvement, and multilateral engagement. I agree -- there is no game in Korea without Chinese involvement.

8. Ed Chen, LA Times: Do you bear any responsibility for the poisonous partisan atmosphere here in Washington?

Bush: I don't know. It is a very partisan town, with a zero-sum attitude. "I think the American people appreciate somebody bringing up tough issues, especially when they understand the stakes." This is a serious problem, and the American people expect us to put our politics aside and get the job done. I don't believe I've resorted to name-calling, but I also understand that the American people wonder why we can't get an energy bill, for example.

Bill somebody: Has the atmosphere become so poisoned that it will imperil your agenda?

Bush: I don't think so. He lists all the things he's been able to accomplish.

I think he should address the question of partisanship more forthrightly -- he does not need to personalize, but it would be a good time to point out that it did not used to be so difficult to get judges approved, for example. Instead, he has dragged the issue back to Social Security -- that's why he called this news conference, to recover Social Security. I think he is making some progress, but perhaps not enough to matter. Too little, too late?

Mike Fletcher, WaPo: Are the six-party talks working in North Korea?

Bush: I do think it is making a difference to have China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia working together with North Korea. We need to continue to work with our friends and allies -- the more KJL threatens and brags, the more isolated he becomes.

9. Mark Knoller asks about the practice of renditioning.

Bush: We have to protect the American people. You bet, we will detain people who will do harm to the American people.

10. John McKinnon, WSJ: What's your view of the economy? Bumps in the road, or reasons for real concern that could affect your agenda on Social Security?

Bush: He is concerned about the economy, "because people are paying higher prices at the gas pump." Like a "tax on families." This is true at some basic level, but ultimately asinine. Every expenditure is "like a tax" looked at from this perspective. I must say, I wish we thought more carefully about energy.

Question re No Child Left Behind: Is it working?

Bush: Yes, we are making progress, and we know this because we are measuring. Good answer re the importance of simple objectives "like literacy," annunciated with the full Bush annunciation thing, as when he's really concentrating. "Some people don't like to measure. But if you don't measure, how do you know if you have a problem in a class room."

By the way, of course you have to measure. The idea that education is the one thing that can't be measured, as if it were a black art, is absurd.

Bush is very strong: "If you teach a child to read and write, it shouldn't bother you that we measure." Damn, that was good.

11. Oliver Knox, Agence-France: Tries to trap the President absurdly into agreeing that we would not take military action without agreeing with the other parties.

Bush: "My point is that it is best to work with the other countries, best to consult. We want to develop a consensus, a common approach." Oliver Knox is an asshat, I might add, for asking the question the way he did. It was ridiculous.

Good crack about the sweeps month.

Ron Hutcheson "Hutch": Asked about Social Security solvency problems.

Bush: The whole goal would be to see that nobody would retire in poverty. "The system today is not fair for a person whose spouse has died early." This is part-and-parcel with structure of Social Security today -- a voluntary personal savings account would be "an asset you can leave to your spouse or your children." Batters away at fairness.

I thought this was a pretty good job, overall. Recap commentary coming up.

12. The first post-debate comment comes from Mrs. TigerHawk, who says "they are turning Social Security into welfare, but they are doing it incrementally." Damn straight, and about time. Make it progressive, make it a safety net, and make sure that the affluent save as much as they can.

Watching Fox, Barnes, Kondracke and Nina Easton coming up.

Easton: This is a President who insists he doesn't follow polls, but this was a very poll-driven press conference. He is hitting the two issues that were causing him to sink in the polls -- Social Security and gas prices. Easton is skeptical that the energy bill won't really do anything about the price of gasoline.

Mort: Wonders whether Bush doesn't regret doing something about energy -- "pressing harder" on the energy bill -- sooner. Four of the "last ten years" were on his watch.

Barnes: "His performance was dazzling. He's in total command." I agree. He was way stronger, more adamant than he ever was in the first term, especially last year. Barnes also says that his explanation of personal accounts was his best explanation yet, and the new wrinkle of progressivity is good, too. He faces a partisan log-jam in the House and the Senate, but as good as the President was, that will not change. I agree with that, too.

Kondracke: Bush was very gentle to the Democrats -- he never really socked it to the opposition, which is standing in the way of everything that he has done.

13. Easton: He has got to find a way to peel off some Democrats. Perhaps he made some progress there.

Kondracke: The Democrats won't budge as long as personal accounts are on the table in any form.

Barnes: He was at his most passionate on personal SS accounts, and on testing (no child left behind).

I think that the most interesting aspect of the President's announcements tonight was the proposal to subject Social Security to means-testing. I love that, precisely because the Democrats think that it is the absence of means-testing that gives the program its political protection. This is a huge challenge to the Democrats.

Here's the TigerHawk question of the night: Is the proposal to means-test Social Security fundamentally serious, or is it meant to be so offensive to statist Democrats that they will trade away personal accounts in order to avoid means testing?

Kondracke: The Democrats are going to obstruct and remain in lock-step opposition until the President takes personal accounts off the table. Barnes agrees.

But what if they hate the means-testing even more?

Done.

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Nice flag 

Putin and the Star of David

On the first visit by a Kremlin leader to Israel, Russia's Vladimir Putin soothed his hosts Thursday by aiming sharp words at Iran over its nuclear program, but he sparred with his Israeli counterpart on a Syrian missile deal that Israelis see as a threat.

Making a trip meant to cement relations after decades of Soviet-era discord, the Russian president said his country and Israel are linked by the Holocaust and the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens in World War II. And he noted Israel's large population of Russian-speaking immigrants.

Link.

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Giving India some friendly advice 

Asking India and other countries aspiring for permanent membership of the Security Council not to press for veto powers, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday said they should strive to make the world body "broadly representative" taking into account current geo-political realities.

You don't deserve a permanent seat, much less a veto, if you care what Kofi Annan says about anything.

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Marvel-ous 

Variety reports that Paramount Pictures has landed an exclusive deal with Marvel to distribute films of the remaining Marvel characters who have yet to hit the big-screen. Among the first to get the feature film treatment will be Captain America and Nick Fury.

How cool is this guy?:

Captain America

When they do Nick Fury, will they have the courage in this oh-so-PC age to go with the cigar?

Nick Fury

If they don't, it won't really be Nick Fury.

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Live blogging taking the TigerHawk daughter to work day 

Hello! This is the TigerHawk daughter! I came to TigerHawk's office for Take Your Daughter To Work Day [actually, it is now take your child to work day - ed.]. I spent almost three hours playing on Neopets while my dad had an extremely boring meeting [it was scintillating! - ed.]. Here is a picture of me online.

 Posted by Hello


After lunch, I will update this post and tell you more about Neopets.

UPDATE (from TigerHawk): We had a delicious potluck lunch (I had some sort of pasta hamburger dish, with chips and cookies), after which the instrument guys taught the kids how to stabilize the cranium during surgery. Now the kids are watching The Incredibles in the big conference room, after which they are supposed to stand up and tell each other what their parent does all day long. I've instructed the TigerHawk daughter to be vague and speak in only the most respectful tones. Right.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Painting Abu Ghraib 

Der Spiegel, Germany's leading news magazine, is publicizing the work of a Columbian artist who has seen inspiration in Abu Ghraib:
Columbian Painter Fernando Botero has become one of the first artists to use the horrors of Abu Ghraib as inspiration for his work. In a series of 50 oil paintings and sketches, which is to be exhibited in Rome on June 16, Botero graphically depicts the prisoner abuses at the Iraqi prison.

Here are examples of Botero's work:
Botero1

Botero2

Until he discovered Abu Ghraib, Botero was known for renditions -- some might call them parodies -- of Old Masters. Here, for example, is Botero's "Fatso Mona Lisa":

Not its real name!

Now Botero plans to break into the big leagues on the back of a wave of publicity. He sees opportunity at the intersection of mistreated Iraqis, political anti-Americanism and European sanctimony, and he is going to press at it until he is famous not just today, but to posterity:
Botero has used the now infamous photos, as well as written descriptions of the abuse, as sources for his work. He says that his aim is to burn the images onto the world's consciousness in the same way that Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" did for the Spanish Civil War. The exhibition is due to appear next in Germany.

You have to admire Botero's ambition. He has been pumping these babies out at the rate of at least one exhibitable painting a week since the scandal broke last year. It's as though he's completely given up on his Old Masters parody gig.

It is interesting that Botero has only now, at age 73, found a political cause to inspire his art. He does, after all, live in Columbia, a country with a long and recent history of shocking abuse of human rights:
Colombia’s forty-year internal armed conflict continues to be accompanied by widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Both guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups commit serious violations, including massacres, targeted assassinations, and kidnappings...

Units of the armed forces have historically maintained close ties to paramilitary groups, and have been implicated in the commission of atrocities in collusion with such groups. However, the government has yet to take credible action to break these ties. Impunity, particularly with respect to high-level military officials, remains the norm.

Apparently none of this was sufficiently tragic to distract Botero from mocking da Vinci.

Or maybe Botero just assumed that Europeans would not flock to see depictions of brutality in Latin America, but that he could buy his way into massive publicity in Europe if he took on the big, bad United States.

One can almost picture Botero's upcoming exhibit in Germany. What I wouldn't give to see a room full of Germans sipping fine Rhineland wine and ja-jaing about America's supposed atrocities in the world, secure in the knowledge that Botero would never mock them. After all, pictures of Auschwitz with fat corpses wouldn't be funny at all.

Auschwitz

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Legitimate use for a camera phone 

I've long thought that the little digital cameras imbedded in mobile phones were ridiculous doo-dads incorporated solely to get teens to upgrade their hardware. Indeed, I've struggled to conceive of a legitimate use for the things, although illegitimate uses abound. The one positive development of this is the moratorium on cell phones that is now in place in many locker rooms, for obvious reasons.

But then today I see, via Lucianne, this interesting story from The Telegraph:

Mobile phone picture saves spider bite man

By Richard Savill


Doctors were able to treat a chef bitten by a poisonous South American spider because he had photographed it on his mobile phone. Matthew Stevens, 23, was cleaning behind the freezer in the Quantock Gateway pub in Bridgwater, Somerset, when he was bitten by the Brazilian Wandering Spider, which had apparently found its way into Britain in a crate of bananas.

The five-inch long spider, normally found in the Amazonian forest, is one of the world's most poisonous. After collapsing at home, he was taken by ambulance to Musgrave Park Hospital, Taunton, and placed on a saline drip. "I thought I wasn't going to make it," he said yesterday. "My chest was so tight I could hardly breathe. My blood pressure was going through the roof and my heart was beating so hard I could feel it hit my chest.

"The doctors didn't know what type of spider it was, but I'd got a picture of it on my phone and they faxed it to Bristol Zoo to identify it. "When the spider bit me, it was like a thorn going really deep into my hand. My hand went up like a balloon." The poison was counteracted and he was discharged the next day. The spider itself has now been captured by Defra for analysis.


Ok, I now concede that there are legitimate uses for a camera phone.

(4) Comments

Another false hate crime 

A Trinity International University student unhappy about attending the school was charged with a hate crime after confessing she sent racially threatening mail to fellow minority classmates, prompting a temporary evacuation of blacks and Latino students, authorities said Tuesday.

Alicia Hardin, 19, of Chicago, an African-American woman, made up the hoax to try to convince her parents that the Bannockburn school was too dangerous a place for her to stay, police said.

It is too bad that it in our world it seemed plausible to Alicia Hardin that her parents would believe that Trinity International was unsafe because of some nasty letters.

It is also too bad that the sending of a few letters, however hurtful, is a crime that will ruin this girl's life. Shame should make her apologize (there is no indication in the news reports here in Chicago -- yes, TigerHawk is in Chicago this morning -- that she has), and then she should continue with her life. We should prosecute for "sticks and stones," and we should remind everybody that words only hurt people who choose to be hurt by them.

It is too bad that this has happened before:
A handful of similar hoaxes have played out on other college campuses over the past five years, including some involving students who were Jewish, Muslim and African-American who falsely claimed to be victimized, said one former college administrator...

In one instance, three black freshmen students confessed to writing racial slurs in a residence hall at the University of Mississippi in 2002, a prank that drew national scrutiny as the college celebrated 40 years of desegregation.

A similar incident occurred at Northwestern University in Evanston in November 2003, when anti-Hispanic graffiti was scrawled on a wall and a poster near a student's dormitory room. The student, who described himself as the son of an interracial couple, told police he was the victim of racist harassment and a knife attack before confessing the reports were fake.

These false claims are particularly destructive to race relations -- much more, I should think, than genuine expressions of racial hatred -- because they use the best impulses of people (including whites) as a weapon. These incidents are traumatic only because most people today -- including most whites -- want our society to be just in these matters. If we weren't troubled by racism, we wouldn't care.

Finally, it is too bad that the Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the press a quotation that could be read to mean two entirely differently things:
"We must work to clean up the environment that makes such a hoax believable, a hoax that does harm to so many individuals and the institution."

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Iowa schools ban (some) blogs 

School technology facilitator Janet Erbe knows a lot about computers. So do more than 1800 students at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids. They also know one certain computer blog site is off limits. Erbe says, "it's frightening. It's frightening. That's why it is filtered here at school."

Erbe is talking about Xanga.com. An online diary blog site popular amongst Eastern Iowa teens. Erbe says, "kids use it to vent. And sometimes they say good things, sometimes they say inappropriate things."

You can see the problem that the school has -- like employers, it does not want its computers used for "inappropriate things." In a normal world, we would hold the user of the computer responsible, not the institution. But we have spent forty years spreading and diffusing responsibility in our society. Now schools (and employers) are responsible when others use their assets "inappropriately," even if identical computers and phones and other such items are readily available outside of school (or the workplace). The school's (or employer's) ownership of the computer somehow infects the school (or employer) with culpability for the "inappropriate behavior" of the user of the computer. It is entirely asinine, if you think about it, but also entirely irreversible.

That having been said, the school in this case is obviously trying to avoid a "blog scandal" that would upset parents who are too ignorant to know that their children will blog on Xanga.com whether the school blocks access or not. If I were a school administrator, I wouldn't want angry and naive parents screaming at me, so I'd probably do the same thing.

(0) Comments

Would you take medical advice from a genetic defect? 

'Genetic defect calls for colon cancer screening' - headline, Forbes.com.

(0) Comments

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Explore the abyss 

Deep sea squid

Check out the incredibly cool galleries of deep sea photography at exploretheabyss.com. Beautiful.

Rough Skate

CWCID: Subzero Blue (who, by the way, does a great job unearthing -- no pun intended -- fascinating and linkworthy material).

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Hawkeyes in the Draft 

For an interesting view on the draft, I suggest you check out the latest posts from Sports Prof. His observation that Penn State had no players drafted is stunning and says volumes about the current state of that program.

The Iowa Hawkeyes failed to have a player drafted in the first round for the first time in three years, primarily because of the intangibles of defensive end Matt Roth (and the fact that their two-year run of all-American offensive linemen was interrupted). The two-time all-conference pass rusher was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the 46th pick overall (ahead of linemate Jonathan Babineaux who was selected with the 59th pick by Atlanta). Roth's stock rose considerably after the senior bowl where he dominated, but slowly dropped as that became a memory and his workout statistics came in a shade below other high profile pass rushers like Erasmus James and Marcus Spears. Whatever his time in the 40, Roth's intensity is unmatched, he is durable, and I predict that he will find NFL success.

As is often the case with the Hawkeyes, the most interesting stories are about the successful development of the unheralded, and Sean Considine is this year's example. Considine almost ended up in Division III before getting the last campus visit to Iowa on the strength of an unsolicited tape he sent into the program. He was invited to walk on and, with hard work and good coaching, became a star, demonstrating once again that the program knows something about player development (having sent former walk-on Dallas Clark to the pros in the first round of the 2003 draft). Considine was selected by the Eagles with the 102 pick, and joins the growing ranks of former Hawkeyes at the safety position, including Bob Sanders, Derrick Pagel, and Matt Bowen (not to mention former all-pro Merton Hanks). A smart player and under rated athlete, Considine will no doubt start his career as a special teams player, but don't be surprised if he ends up getting considerable playing time later in the season. Like many recent products of Ferentz's program, Considine's edge will be in his work ethic and knowledge of the game.

If the draft is, as Sports Prof suggests, an indication of whether or not a college program is "elite," than the 2005 draft confirms that the Iowa program is moving in that direction. A total of five Hawkeyes were drafted, bringing the three-year total to 15, a number exceeded only once in the history of the program (and not, as one might suspect, in the Hayden Fry era).

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Has North Korea overplayed its hand? 

Will the United Nations Security Council have the stones to pick it up?
North Korea said it would regard any sanctions by the United Nations as an act of war, after Washington said it may take the issue of the communist nation's nuclear program to the UN Security Council.

``The U.S. may bring the nuclear issue to the UNSC, if it wants that so much,'' the North's official Korea Central News Agency said late yesterday, citing an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman. North Korea ``will regard the sanctions as a declaration of war.''

Sanctions are the means of confrontation that doves prefer to substitute for other methods of coercion. Doves especially approve of sanctions authorized by the United Nations, which seem to internationalists to be all that more legitimate. Indeed, even I think that sanctions have their uses.

If, however, the prospective target of sanctions declares preemptively that their imposition would in and of itself be an act of war, the doves find themselves in something of a pickle. If the Security Council actually imposes sanctions, it opens itself up to the accusation -- and the actual possibility -- that it is "risking war" with North Korea. The Security Council must therefore only authorize sanctions if it is also prepared to go to war. But if the Security Council shrinks from imposing sanctions, then every dirtbag in the world -- or at least every dirtbag who might have a nuke -- will know that the way to avoid sanctions is to announce in advance that they are "a declaration of war." The Security Council would end up with less credibility than Dan Rather.

The question is, what is the best move for the United States? If it requests that the Security Council impose sanctions in the teeth of North Korea's declaration, it will run smack into the Paris-Beijing block, which does not want North Korea's government to fall. Beijing does not want to see the Korean peninsula united for any number of reasons, and Paris will go along because it will do or say almost anything to get into good graces with China. China first choice would be to veto the sanctions resolution, rather than risk war or destabilization in North Korea. China's veto would both hand North Korea a huge diplomatic victory -- it would have "deterred" the great powers of the world by dint of a simple threat -- and trash the credibility of the Security Council.

Of course, if the United States were willing to risk trashing the credibility of the Security Council, its demand that that the Security Council call North Korea's bluff and impose sanctions would might corner the Chinese into voting for sanctions, if only to uphold the value of Beijing's Security Council seat (which would be pretty damn worthless if the Security Council backed down in the face of North Korea's threat). There is some evidence that the United States and China are already headed in this direction:
The newspaper, quoting senior officials of US President George W. Bush’s administration and diplomats briefed on the proposal, said the possible resolution would amount to a quarantine of North Korea, although it said White House aides were not using that word.

The Times quoted several American and Asian officials as saying the main purpose would be to provide China with political cover to police its border with North Korea, that country’s lifeline for food and oil.

It is possible, therefore, that North Korea has made a huge mistake in putting the Security Council's credibility in play. By preemptively declaring that sanctions would be the equivalent of war, it has given the United States a golden opportunity to force China to choose between support for North Korea's horrid regime and the value of its own seat in the Security Council. Will we take that opportunity, and how will China respond?

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Monday, April 25, 2005

The eye of the beholder 

The caption to the picture below reads "Trading for sex. A 19th century painting crudely depicts the power of wealth and dominion." But who is really dominating whom?

Who is dominating whom?

Credit: Bridgeman Art Library

CWCID: Bacchus.

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Do quotation marks go inside or outside? 

It depends if you're American or British. Volokh says "yes," but only if you are a Yank.

He does not say whether a hyperlink's label should embrace the comma, or exclude the comma, which is the next big question.

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I know what her husband wants her to do... 

It's a choice that could give pause to some Green Bay Packers fans. A judge ordered a woman convicted of theft to decide whether to spend 90 days in jail or donate her family's Packers tickets next season to charity.

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One helluva grudge 

A black man shot a white former co-worker to death on Easter, claiming he did it because he overheard the victim telling a racist joke seven years ago, authorities said Monday.

Seven years of bottled up rage exploded into the chest of William Berkeyheiser, age 62, at point blank range.

Berkeyheiser
Investigators said that last month Douglas paid a private detective $150 to locate Berkeyheiser, who had recently retired as a maintenance supervisor at Holy Redeemer Hospital.

Links to video here.

For seven years Stanford Douglas, Jr. nursed his rage over an alleged but unspecified racial slur. Then he hired a private detective, found William Berkeyheiser, and shot him in the chest.

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Ant blogging 

Ant traps

A fierce species of Amazonian ant has been seen building elaborate traps on which hapless prey are stretched like medieval torture victims, before being slowly hacked to pieces.

With cunning and patience, Allomerus decemarticulatus worker-ants cut hairs from the stem of the plant they inhabit, and use the tiny fibres to build a spongy snare, Nature magazine reports.

This ingenious feat of engineering has only ever been observed in one other species of related ant, French researchers say.

The ants cut hairs to clear a path under the plant stem, while leaving some hairs standing to form "pillars" on top of which the lethal platform will sit.

Using the plant hairs they have harvested, the ants weave the platform itself, which is bound together and strengthened using a special fungus.

When the ants have completed the chamber they puncture holes all along its surface, each just big enough to poke their heads through.

Then, hundreds of worker ants climb into the chamber and wait for an unfortunate victim.

Some of these "victims" can be quite large, at least relative to the ants in question:

grasshopper death

The when the prey steps through a whole, the ant in waiting grabs its leg. Then zillions of workers swarm out and bite the trapped food until it is immobolized, at which point it is dismembered and carried into the nest.

Cool.

UPDATE: The New York Times has more:

NYT cartoon

UPDATE: The TigerHawk Sister, an actual entomologist, has more in the comments. Among other things, I think she called me a "temporary sperm storage bag."

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The big issues, in order of importance 

According to today's issue of The Note:
Washington's political foci, in alphabetical order:

1. Bolton nomination
2. Budget negotiations
3. DeLay fate
4. Economy, oil, and Saudi Arabia
5. Filibuster face-off
6. Iraq war completion
7. Social Security

The White House's political foci, in the order it cares about them (from most to least):

1. Iraq war completion
2. Economy, oil, and Saudi Arabia
3. Social Security
4. Budget negotiations
5. Bolton nomination
6. Filibuster face-off
7. DeLay's fate

The left-leaning and conflict obsessed MSM's political foci, in the order it cares about them (from most to least):

1. Filibuster face-off (Bill Frist is an extremist puppet of the Right!!!)
2. Economy, oil, and Saudi Arabia (release the SPR!!!)
3. DeLay fate (bring him down!!!)
4. Bolton nomination (withdraw it!!! or Hagel and other GOP defections will cause it to go down on votes!!!)
5. Social Security (let it suffer a fate worse than HillaryCare!!!)
6. Iraq war (is that thing still going on??!!!)
7. North Korea (David Sanger only.)
8. Areas of disagreement between Brad Freeman and Roland Betts regarding the White House gardener (Elisabeth Bumiller only.)
9. Budget negotiations

Heh.

Other noteworthy bits from today's Note:
Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times entertains the Notion that the giant-killing, leveling effect of the Internet, with its now-tested ability to raise money and recruit volunteers, could give rise to a third-party presidential bid in 2008. But the real issue isn't the new and improved tool for recognizing a base and pumping up enthusiasm, it's the directions that the major parties are going that are creating the conditions by which a kind of grassroots movement could take place.

On Saturday, The State's Lee Bandy sized up Sen. Joe Biden, who headlined Friday's Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Columbia Friday night. If you didn't watch Biden work the crowd afterwards on C-SPAN, you missed an awesome show. And no one asked him about his college grades. And he was like butta.

Karl Rove stopped by Rep. Katherine Harris' office last week to talk about Social Security reform and her political future.

The Sarasota Republican has been slippery about both.

In case you only catch the paper on the Web, Wal-Mart Watch has launched a new full-page ad in USA Today, questioning what happened to the Wal-Mart "Buy American" program, saying that "70% of Wal-Mart merchandise is from China," complete with a photo depicting a main aisle of a Wal-Mart store complete with "Made in China" arrows pointing to merchandise. Later this week, the ad will show up in local papers in communities affected by job outsourcing.

According to Barron's, the pressure from labor unions is having some impact on Wal-Mart stock.

If you don't read the Note, you miss some good stuff.

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The Bulls are BACK 

Last night the Chicago Bulls played in, and won, their first playoff game since Michael Jordan's last championship team in 1998. This edition of the Bulls has a long way to go to reach the championship level, and will likely be vanquished by Shaquille O'Neal and the Miami Heat (assuming they survive the Washington Wizards in round 1). Still, it has been a long hard slog for the franchise and they deserve some recongnition.

Since MJ's departure the Bulls have traded Elton Brand for a high school player and seen the promising career of Jay Williams end before it got started. Opening this season 0-9, it looked pretty bleak for this group as well. But coach Scott Skiles brought the team together, and they finished the season with 47 wins, one of the more interesting stories in the NBA this year. While young star Eddie Curry sits out the playoffs with a heart murmer, this young group, lead by Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, should be fun to follow this post season, and in seasons to come.

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The gift of the Magi. Not. 

An Indian who became a man to marry a female relative was dumped after the surgery, a newspaper reported on Monday.

Twenty-nine-year-old rubber tapper Kuttiyamma, born with both male and female genitals, had been in love with the relative, Laura, 25, for 15 years before having surgery to become a man and change her name to Binu, according to a national newspaper.

But Laura became engaged to another man and Binu is suing her for breach of trust after spending Rs 50,000 ($1,150) on the sex change in Kerala.

There is so much wrong with this story that I don't quite know where to begin. I will say, though, that $1,150 for a sex change operation seems like a good deal.

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Canada's hollow military 

Canada's Armed Forces are so underfunded and overstretched that the government's much-lauded budget commitments may not come close to fixing them,documents released to CP suggest . Economic impact assessments filed by all three services paint a picture of a decaying military that is, as the navy commander put it, fast approaching the point of "critical mass in its ability to execute its mission."

The navy is docking ships, the air force is grounding planes and the army may some day be unable to meet overseas commitments without significantly more cash, say the documents, obtained under access to information.
Link.

If the Canadians want us to care whether they go along with our foreign policy adventures, they should put themselves in a position to participate.

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How to build your self-esteem 

Cassandra explains why genuine self-esteem is not bestowed by the bleatings of teachers and therapists, but earned. Her post is so good, she made me wish I were a Marine.

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Wrongful life 

A mother who gave birth to a twin girl after an abortion failed is suing the hospital for £250,000 to help bring up her daughter.

This is an English case, based on English law. Were such a case brought in the United States (perhaps one has been -- I am no expert on this subject), it would strike at the heart of the American rationale for legal abortion. Those who claim that the right to an abortion derives from a woman's right to control her own reproduction would have a hard time defending the theory that damages should compensate the mother for the costs of rearing the child. After all, if the reason to permit abortion is so that a woman may choose not to be burdened with carrying a fetus to term, then the right to an abortion is really the right to separation from the fetus, not termination of the fetus. The damages in the case of a failed abortion should therefore be some measure of the burden of pregnancy and childbirth, not the cost of raising the child after birth.

(1) Comments

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Al Qaeda and the efficiency of coercion 

This strikes me as likely to backfire:
Al Qaeda's Iraqi wing threatened Sunday to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who join the country's new government, saying they would be considered infidels.

"We warn all those who want to join the politics of infidels and apostates that the steel sword will be their only fate," the group, led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said in a statement posted on a Web site used by Islamic militants.

Al Qaeda has given up on winning "hearts" in Iraq -- there was never much chance of that, and the chance there was vanished in January -- so now it must rely on coercion alone to sustain its war. In order for that coercion to succeed, al Qaeda has to convince Sunnis that they are better off cooperating with al Qaeda than with the government of Iraq. Since the government has more money, power and prestige to induce cooperation, al Qaeda must countervail with accurately targeted punishment. The punishment must be accurate because the typical person caught between the insurgency and the counterinsurgency will cooperate with the side that he perceives is more certain to punish him for not cooperating. If one side in the war appears to kill more randomly than the other, then there is no reason to cooperate with that side because they are as likely to kill you if you cooperate as if you don't. Al Qaeda's almost daily deployment of car bombs to kill masses of essentially innocent civilians undermines the very impression that it must create in order to punish accurately and coerce successfully.

UPDATE: I revised the title of the post to reflect its contents.

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The penguin threat 

Kid Various, who generally does not support profiling in the securing of our airports, thinks that it was more than a little ridiculous to require that these penguins go through airport security:

penguin trouble

Indeed, Kid Various "can't even fathom" why the TSA would make them go through the metal detector.

Kid Various, apparently, doesn't know from exploding penguins:

exploding penguins

Me, I find it comforting that the TSA is learning from old episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus. You know the jihadis are.

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Writing upside down 

From a Reuters article discussing the growing population of prisoners in the United States:
THE US penal system, the world's largest, maintained its steady growth in 2004.

The latest official half-yearly figures put the nation's prison and jail population at 2,131,180 in the middle of last year, an increase of 2.3 per cent over 2003.

The United States has incarcerated 726 people per 100,000 of its population, seven to 10 times as many as most other democracies. The rate for England is 142 per 100,000, for France 91 and for Japan 58....

According to the Justice Department, violent crime in the United States fell by more than 33 per cent from 1994 to 2003, and property crimes fell by 23 per cent.

Yet the prison population has continued to climb, increasing an annual average of 3.5 per cent since 1995....

"Yet"?!?

This is the sort of upside-down writing that reinforces the belief among conservatives that the international media is unrelentingly leftist in its politics. The crime rate has fallen so dramatically -- New York's is now lower than most major European cities -- because we have deliberately increased the frequency and the duration of jail time for crime.

Imagine the outrage if any mainstream media outlet reversed cause and effect in writing about liberal social programs, to wit: "According to the Social Security Administration, poverty among the elderly has declined steadily since 1940. Yet the percentage of senior citizens dependant on government subsidies has continued to climb."

It is astonishing that neither reporters nor editors think there is anything wrong with this.

(5) Comments

Modernization 

Miss Egypt, 2005:

MissEgypt

Now we're getting somewhere. I'm guessing that she's going to be the subject of a couple of Friday sermons.

CWCID: The Big Pharoah.

(1) Comments

Redbud blogging 

The TigerHawk backyard is a riot of glorious color that even colorblind old me can see. Enjoy.
 Posted by Hello


 Posted by Hello

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Saturday, April 23, 2005

The first Saudi waitresses 

The Emirates Economist flags this story about the first Saudi waitresses.
Three Saudi women — Ameera, Awatef and Amna — have valiantly withstood social stigmas and defied Saudi traditions to become waitresses in a five-star hotel in Jeddah. They are the first Saudi waitresses.

All three were students at Abdul Lateef Jameel (ALJ) Fund for Training and Development majoring in accommodation preparation. ALJ has assisted younger generations to achieve independence and self-sustainability through job creation....

Ameera has only completed intermediate school but took several English and computer courses....

"My father passed away when I was very young. My older brother raised me and has been a father to me since. He and my mom were very supportive and trusted that I would stick to my Islamic values no matter where I worked. This job is not considered a disgrace. A disgrace is when a family is poor and in need and the girl is a burden to her family."

Indeed.

Is Ameera the Saudi Rosa Parks, or something much more prosaic? Is this yet another hint of modernization of the Arabian society and economy, or a meaningless aberration?

(5) Comments

OPEC's renewed leverage 

The Capital Spectator -- an interesting econoblog I had not seen before -- has a crisp post up on "the new new golden age of OPEC." In particular, the very anonymous author points to China's famously increased demand for oil -- its imports are up 23% in the last year -- and concludes that the incremental supply can only come from OPEC. Previously, according to Spectator, spikes in the price of oil have unleashed new non-OPEC supply, such as from Mexico, the North Sea and the North Slope. This time, there is no evidence that significant non-OPEC supplies are forthcoming.

While I think that command-and-control regulation is not the answer, I do wish that the Republicans would be more thoughtful on energy policy. You can be correct that corporate average fleet economy requirements and synfuels are bad policy and still worry that we are damaging our economy and funding our enemies by importing so much oil at such high prices.

Cheap gasoline is a dangerous addiction for the country, and something we can easily do without if we are willing to endure the slightest inconvenience. The parking lot at our offices is packed with massive SUVs. Nobody carpools to work even though it would be very simple for most people to share a ride. Our household consumes about 2000 gallons of gasoline directly each year (in our own cars), and we could easily cut 10-20% out of that figure (Thursday afternoon we drove three cars to my daughter's softball game because none of us could be bothered to drive three miles out of our way!). We don't save that gasoline because, as a value proposition, it is so damn cheap. Compared to virtually every other liquid -- including imported bottled water, perhaps the most wasteful product widely sold in rich countries today -- gasoline is an unbelievable good value, even at today's prices.

We need to increase the taxes on oil significantly and steadily over a period of years so that the economy has time to adjust. The additional revenue can be returned to the current generation in the form of tax cuts or other subsidies to lower-income people or the next generation in the form of lower government debt. In either case, we would be paying ourselves rather than the Arabs, and building a stronger America.

(10) Comments

Zut alors! Des bloguers sont arrivé! 

Wired reports that the French have embraced blogging more than any other people in Europe.
The French have a long tradition of speaking loudly," said Loïc Le Meur, a Frenchman and Six Apart's European vice president. "We are the people who made the French Revolution, (the national uprising of) May '68 -- and just look at all our strikes! We always want to debate. Perhaps blogs are the ultimate tool for us to express ourselves."

Interestingly and unfortunately, however, des bloguers are not deconstructing France's establishment media with the zeal of their American counterparts:
While bloggers elsewhere are commonly depicted warring with mainstream media, the rise of France's blogeurs owes much to traditional publishers and broadcasters like VNU, 01net and Europe2, which have popularized the form with high-profile consumer blog services.

Le Monde, France's biggest newspaper, is also a weblog host, letting thousands of readers write journals alongside those of staff reporters and columnists. Just two days after the invitation to "become your own editor" in December, readers-turned-writers were leapfrogging the pros in a rundown of the online paper's most-read pages.

At the risk of exposing latent Francophilia, it certainly appears as though Le Monde has embraced blogging more than any major American paper. The first American newspaper of comparable stature to embrace blogging -- to harness the power of a million editors -- will vault past its competition in both credibility and readership. But it will take the courage of, er, a French newspaper to make it happen.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Dennis Miller on racial profiling 

So I'm devoting the last hour or so of my Friday to finishing Brian Anderson's new book, South Park Conservatives. I'm not sure that I've seen scholarship inside it to warrant Jonah Goldberg's cover blurb ("This book will change the debate about the future of conservatism"), but it is entertaining. Smack in the middle of the book is a chapter ("South Park Anti-Liberals") that surveys anti-PC comedy, complete with one-liners. This excerpt from a Dennis Miller rant -- which of course is totally offensive -- made me laugh out loud (revealing what a bad person I really am):
As for what many are calling racial profiling in the aftermath of September 11, well, get ready to be pissed off, you ACLU-Fucking-Morons, we're dealing with a massive threat and limited manpower, so you want them to check everybody out equally? Sure, fine, okay, but lete's at least compromise and put the Swedish dwarf a little further down the list than the Iraqi explosives expert carrying a Belgian passport with more eraser marks on it than Kid Rock's trig final.

"A Belgian passport with more eraser marks on it than Kid Rock's trig final"? I don't care who you are, that's funny stuff.

(1) Comments

Animal asininity 

Dog owners in Turin (Italy) will be fined up to 500 euros ($650) if they don't walk their pets at least three times a day, under a new law from the city's council.

People will also be banned from dyeing their pets' fur or "any form of animal mutilation" for merely aesthetic motives such as docking dogs' tails, under the law about to be passed in the northern Italian city.

You would think that people as conscious of style as the Italians would understand that some dogs would look foolish with long tails. The dog below, for example, is very stylin'.
 Posted by Hello


Dontcha think Julie would look idiotic with a big old floppy tail draggin' along behind her?

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Little people: They've got some bite 

An Afghan boy whose father received treatment from a visiting U.S. military medical team last week turned a cache of ammunition and drugs over to coalition forces April 21.

The boy led Afghan National Army and coalition forces to a house in a village 10 kilometers away from Ghazni. The ANA approached the house's owner, who claimed he had no weapons inside. Afghan and coalition forces searched the dwelling and discovered a cache of 13 rocket-propelled grenades, a Russian-manufactured machine gun, a mortar round, several improvised-explosive-device components, plastic explosives, numerous rounds of ammunition and two bags of opium.

In addition to the munitions and drugs, a number of documents pertaining to Taliban operations were recovered.

Sometimes, the kids are worth more than "twenty armies."

According to the article, Afghans account for more than 50 percent of all munitions turned into coalition forces and for more than 90 percent of all improvised explosive devices discovered.

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Al Qaeda goes on trial in Spain 

The suspected leader of al Qaeda in Spain, accused of helping the Sept. 11 hijackers, and 23 other men went on trial in Madrid on Friday in Europe's biggest trial of suspected Islamist militants.

Reuters has a round-up of the defendants, the charges against them, and the maximum sentences to which they will be subject. Moroccan-born Driss Chebli, charged with the September 11 murders (i.e., more than 2500 counts of murder), faces a maximum penalty under Spanish law of 30 years. Not only is the death penalty off the table, but so are life sentences. Spanish justice is, apparently, the very opposite of Texas justice. Which isn't surprising, if you think about it.

Prosecutors have assembled more than 100,000 pages of evidence against the defendants. The trial is expected to last for months, during which time al Qaeda will have ample opportunity to attack Spanish targets. One can't help but wonder whether, after months of trial, the Spanish people will wish their government had just rendered these dirtbags to American custody at Guantanamo Bay.

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Gay marriage, Microsoft, and The New York Times 

The New York Times reports today on its front page that a bill authorizing gay marriage has failed again to pass the Washington state legislature. Supporters of the bill blame its defeat on The Microsoft Corporation having withdrawn its support. They accuse Microsoft "of bowing to pressure from a prominent evangelical church in Redmond, Washington, located a few blocks from Microsoft's sprawling headquarters."

As I wrote more than a year ago, I support legalizing gay marriage [yeah, I know, "boo, hiss" - ed.] via action by legislatures (although not by courts). If I lived in Washington, I would have supported the defeated bill.

That having been said, the NYT's article is interesting for the assumptions that are embedded in it.

The fulcrum of the article is here:
The bill, or similar versions of it, has been introduced repeatedly over three decades; it failed by one vote Thursday in the State Senate. Gay rights advocates denounced Microsoft, which had supported the bill for the last two years, for abandoning their cause. Blogs and online chat rooms were buzzing on Thursday with accusations that the company, which has offered benefits to same-sex partners for years, had given in to the Christian right.

The story is not about the failure of the legislation, but about Microsoft refusing to support that legislation. Interestingly, neither the Times reporter nor any of the presumably left-of-center activists interviewed for the story had any problem with the idea that Microsoft would seek to influence the state legislature on a very high profile social issue largely unrelated to its business. Everybody actually quoted in the story seemed to think that Microsoft should try to influence the legislature. Is it really such a good idea for progressives to promote the idea that big corporations should involve themselves in these matters? If it is, does that mean that the left's objection to corporate contributions to political campaigns is cynical, rather than principled?

It is also revealing that the Times embraces the activists' argument that Microsoft's declaration of neutrality means that the company has "given in to the Christian right." There is no recognition that its previous position in support of the legislation was "giving in to the secular humanist left." If the Times is going to restate the position of the activists, it should also acknowledge that Microsoft had previously "given in" to gay-marriage activists.

The assymetry in this story is a very good example of the embedded liberal bias that infects so much of the mainstream media.

Microsoft of course denies having given in to anybody. The article, however, discusses the charge that Microsoft withdrew its support for the legislation only after meeting with the pastor of an evangelical church located near the Microsoft campus.
Microsoft officials denied any connection between their decision not to endorse the bill and the church's opposition, although they acknowledged meeting twice with the church minister, Ken Hutcherson.

Dr. Hutcherson, pastor of the Antioch Bible Church, who has organized several rallies opposing same-sex marriage here and in Washington, D.C., said he threatened in those meetings to organize a national boycott of Microsoft products.

After that, "they backed off," the pastor said Thursday in a telephone interview. "I told them I was going to give them something to be afraid of Christians about," he said.

Microsoft backed off because some minister threatened a boycott of its products? On this one, I believe Microsoft, not an anti-gay marriage evangelical who has an interest in looking powerful. For starters, that has to be the least credible threat since Maxwell Smart asked "would you believe...?" What are boycotting Christians going to do -- buy Apples? All switch to Word Perfect? I thought the whole lefty complaint about Microsoft was that there were no meaningful alternatives to its products. All of a sudden it is believable that Microsoft would give in to the demands of the "Christian right" because it is afraid of a boycott? The whole idea is ridiculous. It is fascinating, though, that the activists suddenly forget everything they have always believed about Microsoft if it enables them to ascribe demonic power to evangelicals.

Speaking as a corporate tool with a great many opinions that I do not channel through my company, Microsoft's explanation for its switch in position is far more credible than the activists' claim that Ken Hutcherson's boycott scared them:
"Our government affairs team made a decision before this legislative session that we would focus our energy on a limited number of issues that are directly related to our business," said Mark Murray, a company spokesman. "That decision was not influenced by external factors. It was driven by our desire to focus on a smaller number of issues in this short legislative session. We obviously have not done a very good job of communicating about this issue."

You scratch where it itches, and pissing off a bunch of conservative legislators is definitely not in the interests of Microsoft's lobbyists. Does anybody doubt that's the real reason?

The activists also seem deeply offended that Microsoft might have been taking the sentiments of its own employees into account:
But State Representative Ed Murray, an openly gay Democrat and a sponsor of the bill, said that in a conversation last month with Bradford L. Smith, Microsoft's senior vice president and general counsel, Mr. Smith made it clear to him that the company was under pressure from the church and the pastor and that he was also concerned about the reaction to company support of the bill among its Christian employees, the lawmaker said.

Mr. Smith would not comment for this article.

Representative Murray said that in a recent conversation with Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith said that the minister had demanded the company fire Microsoft employees who testified this year on behalf of the bill, but that Mr. Smith had refused. According to Representative Murray, Mr. Smith said "that while he did not do the many things that the minister had requested, including firing employees who had testified for the bill, he believed that Microsoft could not just respond to one group of employees, when there were other groups of employees who felt much different....

Representative Murray said the company's contention that the decision not to support the bill had nothing to do with the church was "an absolute lie."

Actually, Representative Murray's own account of his conversation with Bradford Smith proves that it is he, and not Smith, who is being misleading (assuming that the Times quoted Murray properly). Smith is clearly worried about upsetting his employees who do not agree that gay marriage should be lawful. Perhaps some of those employees attend Hutcherson's church, but a lot of them probably attend other churches. Most people who go to church regularly oppose legalizing gay marriage. It is far more credible that Smith was concerned about the morale of Microsoft's conservative employees than about threats from the Antioch Bible Church.

The thesis of the activists quoted in this story (and, by extension, the author of the story) is (1) that Microsoft should spend its money to manipulate state legislatures to pass laws on matters unrelated to its business, (2) that Microsoft's business is so susceptible to competition that the threat of a boycott by a single minister from a church down the road is enough to make it reverse its position, and (3) that it is far more likely that Microsoft bowed to pressure from the church than to the concerns of its own employees. That any of these ideas -- much less all of them -- should erupt from the mouths of Democratic politicians and gay activists is astonishing. It is difficult to know whether these people are utterly lacking in self-awareness or are being deliberately disingenuous. It is hard to imagine a third explanation.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

"The most unstable form of government" 

Ledeen:
Five hundred years ago Machiavelli insisted that tyranny is the most unstable form of government, and he warned that the most dangerous development for any tyrant was the contempt of his own people. That dramatic tipping point is now very close in China, Iran, and North Korea. All that is required to get there is a steady flow of the truth from outside their borders, guidance for those who undertake the struggle against the tyrants, and constant reminders — backed up with modest action — that we are with them.

Now, please.

Read the whole thing.

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Iran signals intent to attack American soldiers 

From Stratfor:
At a ceremony organized by the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement in Tehran on April 20, a group spokesman said 440 young men and women volunteered to carry out suicide attacks against Americans in Iraq as well as Israeli military targets. The spokesman said the group already has carried out attacks inside Israel, although the group has not previously claimed responsibility for attacks there.

Since you can't twitch in Iran without at least the tacit consent of the government, is this not a declaration of an intent to wage war against the United States under any plausible understanding of international law? If we do go to war against Iran (very possibly a bad idea), this is all the justification that we should need.

This same group has been at it for some time, with the support of the government:
The 300 men filling out forms in the offices of an Iranian aid group were offered three choices: train for suicide attacks against US troops in Iraq, or train for suicide attacks against Israelis. Or train to assassinate British author Salman Rushdie.

It looked at first glance like a gathering on the fringes of a society divided between moderates who want better relations with the world and hard-line Muslim militants hostile toward the United States and Israel.

But the presence of two key figures – a prominent Iranian lawmaker and a member of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards – lent the meeting more legitimacy, and a clear indication of at least tacit support from some within Iran’s government.

Of course, I'm sure that the Iranians believe they are justified in organizing attacks on American soldiers. That does not make them any less our enemy.

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Mao rolls over in grave... 

The end of Chinese communism in everything but name is old news. Nevertheless, this morning's Wall Street Journal displays a front page headline that is at least a little startling to those of us who read The Sayings of Chairman Mao in our youth. "Investors accuse Communists of hyping" the stock market? Would this not have been the stuff of comedy even twenty years ago?
 Posted by Hello

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Professor Stephen J. Safranek on Pope Benedict XVI 

Being Protestant as the day is long, I have refrained from serious Pope-blogging. Until now. TigerHawk proudly presents a guest post from Professor Stephen J. Safranek, Professor of Law, Ave Maria School of Law, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Professor Safranek (bio here -- scroll down) is a distinguished professor of constitutional law, a former colleague of TigerHawk, and once had the honor of advising Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger ("until yesterday, I had his personal fax number"). Professor Safranek graciously agreed to offer his thoughts on Pope Benedict XVI exclusively to TigerHawk's readers. We were, of course, thrilled.

Professor Safranek:

Safranek

I think that the selection of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to be the new Pope needs to be seen on a variety of levels.

First, unlike political appointments, Catholics believe that this action is guided by the Holy Spirit in a unique way. Thus, all of my comments below may completely fail to capture the enormity of this selection and can only be taken as the views of this world. But, his selection tells us some things.

1. The Cardinals, who had all recently witnessed the outpouring of love for John Paul II, thought that Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was the person most able to continue what John Paul II has done in the Church. They, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, picked John Paul II's right hand man or vice-president as we might say in America.

2. People should remember that Ratzinger was one of the Catholic Church's leading theologians before he was called to Rome. He and John Paul II were important figures in Vatican II.

3. Benedict XVI is said to be humble, a bit shy and quiet -- an academic with humility (a rare commodity) -- he will not be like John Paul II who was a natural extrovert.

4. The selection of Benedict by Ratzinger is probably a good indication of his view of the status of the Catholic Church today. Benedict was the founder of Western monasticism. At that time, the Church and all of civilization was being destroyed -- the dark ages we might call them. Benedict formed monasteries so that the Catholic faith and its life could flourish. And it did. The Benedictine monasteries became the basis for the eventual reflourishing of all that we know as western civilization.

Many might have their own view of what the Church should be -- but when the Church truly flourishes, so does the society in which it is rooted.

I think that Benedict XVI will try to help the 1st world see why the 3rd world Catholic Church is flourishing -- because faith and family are at the core.

5. If you want to see what Benedict the XVI thinks about the world today, google or yahoo his homily before the conclave met.

6. What those of us here see is not what holy men and God sees. Today, the West, especially tired old Europe sees militant Islam as its huge concern. From the Church's perspective, these are millions of potential converts. I think that just as the Huns, Goths, Franks, and Normans of old threatened Christendom and became part of it, so too -- in 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 years -- will we see the rebirth of Catholic Europe. And just as the man we call St. Benedict worked to make this so, so too Benedict XVI hopes to be God's instrument to make it so in the future.

Remember above all else, Benedict XVI is an intelligent and holy man who will want to continue the legacy of John Paul II who wanted to continue the legacy of Jesus Christ.


Much of the commentary that has accompanied Benedict XVI's elevation has focused on the influence he will have within the Catholic church. Few observers have predicted as Professor Safranek has -- that the new Pope will usher in a new age of expanding Christiandom, perhaps at the expense of Islam. We live in interesting times.

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