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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fool flambé 



Per Theo, who has a more, er, colorful term for this guy.


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Allies 


Once again, critics of the Iraq war are disappointed that George Bush has been able to maintain the support of our "traditional allies":

Britain's new prime minister, Gordon Brown, has disappointed American and British critics of the war in Iraq by declaring that he believes the West is involved in a "generation-long battle" against radical Islamic terrorism, that he believes the American mission in Iraq is worthwhile, and that he will stand by President Bush in his efforts to promote democracy in Iraq and in the rest of the Middle East.

After a four-hour meeting yesterday, which followed a two-hour discussion with the president at Camp David over dinner Sunday night, Mr. Brown offered little encouragement to those who hoped that the departure of Prime Minister Blair from Downing Street would lead to a weakening of the traditional alliance between America and Britain or would diminish the British resolve in Iraq.

"We are at one in fighting the battle against terrorism, and that struggle is one that we will fight with determination and with resilience and right across the world," Mr. Brown said at a press conference at the presidential mountain retreat.

While repeating his aim to hand over to "the democratic government of Iraq" the administration of the southern Iraqi province that surrounds Basra when security conditions allow, Mr. Brown did not flinch from his support of Mr. Bush, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, or the wider war against terrorism.

That makes two left-wing British prime ministers in a row who believe not only that we are in a long-term ideological struggle with radical Islam, but that the American strategy for contending with that threat is broadly correct. What do they know that we do not?

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Monday, July 30, 2007

"A War We Might Just Win?" 

Are you kidding me?

Tigerhawk posted earlier today on the notable subject of two Brookings Institution critics of the Bush Administrations's "handling" of the Iraq War coming around to the view captured in the title above (I added the question mark). The opinion is of course notable because Brookings is probably among the most credible of the Democratic Party thinktanks -- they are traditionally locked into the Democratic Party policymaking apparatus. This might suggest that the "cut and run" meme of Democratic Party candidates may be muted if a candidate becomes a potentate (or something like that).

Let me suggest something else. It has begun to dawn on even lefties with a couple of brain cells to rub together that we ain't fighting Iraq here. That war is over. We won. Saddam ain't the winner if we leave. He and the Baathists are dead. We are allied with "Iraq" in a fight against Salafist Al Qaeda. We had to figure out how to create our ally -- literally recreate Iraq -- and General Petraeus seems to have figured out how to do that. And furthermore, that ally has in turn figured out that in Petraeus and his strategy, Iraq has a capable friend in the US.

The corollary is that if we leave, Al Qaeda wins. Not Iraq. Not Saddam. Al Qaeda. Got it? And Brookings has figured that out. No kidding. And so have Hillary, Fred, Rudy or Mitt. It is in our country's interest to be there for as long as required -- just like South Korea, Germany or Japan. Nobody wants to be responsible for an Al Qaeda victory. Nobody. Not even Obama and Edwards.

Any war we choose to fight, and demonstrate the political will to see to its conclusion, we will win. Nobody should be surprised by this. We may not get every answer right - let's remember that General Pershing showed up in wool for the summer of 1917, we went to North Africa and Italy before Normandy, and Lincoln went through a bunch of losers before he found Grant -- but we get the big ones right.

Separately, it should not be lost on anybody that with Musharraf getting a bit more aggressive in Waziristan and Petraeus banging AQ pretty hard in Baghdad, we have an unusually good offensive going right now. Too bad it doesn't seem to get reported that way. And the only answer the enemy has is kidnapping people and carbombs. Just keep squeezing please. Harder.

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Obesity and disease 


Are you a thin person who dislikes fat people, even when you have no "reason" (such as their interdiction of the airspace over your coach seat on a trans-Atlantic flight)? Well, it may be that you cannot help yourself:

From the taunting of the chubby child in the playground to cruel jibes at fat people in work and social settings, few could doubt there is widespread prejudice against the overweight. However, according to research reported in Evolution and Human Behavior some people suffer abuse because being too fat is mistaken by the brain for a sign of disease.

Researchers say the immune system can be triggered into action at the sight of obesity because it doesn't like the look of what it sees, and associates it with infection.

Just as it orchestrates attacks on viruses and bacteria and triggers nausea at the hint of bad food, so it sends out signals of disgust in some people at the sight of an obese body that is designed to encourage avoidance and survival.

Obviously, I have to re-start the totally failed "lose weight with TigerLoad" campaign before I nauseate somebody against their will.

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The Guardian: But where are the nuclear power plants? 


The Islamic Republic of Iran invited The Guardian, along with other presumably sympathetic media outlets, to look at its nuclear fuel facility. Even The Guardian came away persuaded:

With global tensions rising over Iran's nuclear intentions, the doors of the Isfahan plant were opened last week to a small group of journalists from Europe and America in a rare bid for transparency by the embattled but determined government in Tehran....

The very fact that the machinery is humming at Isfahan puts Iran in contravention of UN security council resolutions, calling for all work related to uranium enrichment to be suspended.

The tour given to foreign journalists was a show of openness which backfired when the government changed its mind at the last minute over what it was prepared to show. But the trip was also meant to send a clear message: that Iran has no intention of giving up any part of its nuclear endeavour, which it regards as entirely within its rights.

The Iranian government has dug in deep, convincing its population that mastery of uranium fuel production is synonymous with development and prosperity.

Before the Isfahan tour, a promotion film was screened showing the production of the first UF6 at the plant in 2004. The Iranian government also claims to have mastered the next step in the process, the engineering feat involved in spinning the UF6 in a high-speed centrifuge and separating out a variant, or isotope, of uranium, that is highly fissile - uranium-235. The work is being done at a centrifuge plant being built in Natanz, to the northeast of Isfahan.

Spinning the UF6 gas until it is up to 5% rich in U-235 produces nuclear fuel. Keep spinning until it is 90% enriched and you have the makings of a bomb.

That - combined with the fact that Iran omitted to tell the IAEA about Natanz until its existence was revealed by an opposition group in 2002 - lie at the roots of the global scepticism over Iran's programme.

But there is another huge question mark hanging over Isfahan and Natanz: why is the government in such a rush to enrich fuel, when it has no nuclear power plants in which to use it?

The Iranians still need to work on their flackery.

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Credibility 


Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon of Brookings have just come back from eight days in Iraq, and they have reported their findings in The New York Times. Excerpts below, on the remote chance that any of our readers are fool enough not to read the whole thing:

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, where he met with the local Sunni sheiks — all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups — who were now competing to secure his friendship....

American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab....

Another surprise was how well the coalition’s new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams are working. Wherever we found a fully staffed team, we also found local Iraqi leaders and businessmen cooperating with it to revive the local economy and build new political structures. Although much more needs to be done to create jobs, a new emphasis on microloans and small-scale projects was having some success where the previous aid programs often built white elephants.

This bit seems especially important, since it points toward the declining credibility of the extremists:
In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

Finally, given the palpable progress that they saw, the authors call for sustaining the war at least into 2008.

Commentary

The question of credibility suffuses this article. O'Hanlon and Pollack are Democrats -- Pollack worked on the National Security Advisor's staff during the Clinton administration -- but both were supporters of the invasion of Iraq ex-ante. Indeed, Pollack was the author of the book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, which persuaded me and many others to support removing Saddam's government by invasion (Christopher Hitchens called it "the argument to beat" long after it became clear the war would not turn out as the optimists had hoped). Both men have since turned sharply critical (pdf) of the execution of the war, and in that sense occupy the same ground as other Democratic hawks who are now diving for cover on this issue. No doubt their motives are broadly the same as Hillary Clinton's -- they want another shot at government, and their only opportunity is with a Democratic party that has turned reflexively against a war they argued for.

So what are we to make of it when O'Hanlon and Pollack say that we could still turn it around in Iraq? Lefties will argue that both are desperate to save themselves from the "inevitable" verdict of history, that they supported an incompetent president in the waging of an illegal war. At least some lefty bloggers think that this article so discredits them that they should be banned from future Democratic administrations. This argument invites a couple of questions, though: Why turn optimistic now after years of having attacked the Bush administration's handling of the war hammer and tongs? Why advocate continuation of the war into 2008, a state of affairs which all Democratic presidential aspirants are desperate to avoid for political reasons? O'Hanlon and Pollack know -- just as John Edwards does -- that their future in Democratic party policy circles requires contrition and penance for their original position on Iraq. This article clearly works against their professional self interest -- a groveling denunciation of the surge would have been much better for their prospects in the next administration -- so perhaps O'Hanlon and Pollack are more credible than the average analyst. Maybe Pollack and O'Hanlon just believe that in war intellectual honesty is more important than their next position in government.

It is also interesting that O'Hanlon and Pollack have gone out of their way to praise General David Petraeus. This is a serious no-no on the anti-war left, which has been preparing to attack Petraeus' status report in September by attacking his credibility in July. Either O'Hanlon and Pollack do not know that their acceptance among Democrats depends on joining that chorus, or they are unwilling to trash our last best hope even if that's the Poliburo's most recent talking point.

Finally, O'Hanlon and Pollack indirectly make a point that I have argued for a long time -- that victory in the war against violent Islamism requires that the Muslim world polarize. It is far more important in this war, which is largely a fight within the Muslim world, that we create enemies of our enemies than popularity for ourselves. Yes, the Iraq war has almost certainly helped extremists recruit more soldiers, but it has also caused far more Muslims to take the other side. They are picking up that gun and fighting the extremists because, as O'Hanlon and Pollack said, the Salafists have been brutally cruel. This is not only because, as the authors say, we have "picked the right adversary." Yes, we are at war with the extremists because they are brutal and revolting people as they have demonstrated countless times across the Muslim and Western world. It is more than that, though. In Iraq we presented them with an unavoidable but very hard target -- the Army and Marines of the United States, and the soldiers of the United Kingdom, Australia and other allies. The extremists chose a war that they soon learned they could not win on the battlefield. Their only option, then, was to horrify the media and thereby the voters in the countries that supported those soldiers. Their means for doing that necessarily polarized many Muslims against them. All that remained, then, was to supply leadership with a clue. Unfortunately, that was a long time in coming.

MORE: Wretchard and I were writing at the same time, apparently. He inadvertantly (I believe) elaborated on my last paragraph with his usual great eloquence.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Be happy for Iraq 


Ephemeral it may be, but in this all Iraqis are united.


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Throw away the sunscreen! 


We may be getting too little sunshine:

A study released today in the journal Neurology indicates that children who spend more time in the sun may have a decreased risk of multiple sclerosis. In pairs of twins where one twin had multiple sclerosis, the MS-free sibling had spent more time outside, playing team sports and sun tanning. Scientists theorize that ultraviolet rays in sunlight trigger a protective response that protects the body from this chronic nervous system disorder, either by altering the immune system or by producing vitamin D. . . .

Getting more vitamin D-drenched sunlight might be a good idea, regardless of your genetic risk for multiple sclerosis: Scientists say most people aren’t getting enough. Researchers at Boston University published a paper last week in the New England Journal of Medicine said that more than 1 billion people worldwide don’t get enough Vitamin D. Too little vitamin D for too long can result in dramatic results like rickets—a softening of the skeleton. But other dangers include Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a range of cancers, Crohn’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

Interesting. I am fair-skinned, but have always thought that giving up sunshine was a sacrifice too far, even at the cost of an occasional sunburn. Yes, that puts me at greater risk of cancer, but I am at less risk of having no fun. Anyway, I am good about getting an annual exam from a determatologist, something I have been doing since I was in my thirties. You should too.

MORE: And, no, I'm not really advocating that we throw away the sunscreen, notwithstanding the title of the post. I admit, though, I do hate putting it on.

This is pretty interesting, too.

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Vanity plate 

I'm under the yellow flag on the New York State Thruway, and just got passed by a guy in a Subaru Forester with an Ayn Rand Institute license plate frame. Who knew there was such a thing? Anyway, his plates read "USEMIND".

If he broke down and somebody offered to assist him out of altruism, would he accept the help? What would John Galt do?

Don't tell anybody that I blogged while driving.

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Nerds: A taxonomy 


Heh:

So young white nerds today are traitors to their whiteness by not pretending to be hip-hop gangstas? Could someone please just cap me with a nine right now?

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Criminalizing horseplay 


This is one of the most appalling stories I have ever read. Middle-schoolers slap each other on the butt in a form of jocular greeting, the principal calls the cops, and the local prosecutor decides that teenaged horseplay is a sex crime that warrants registration for life as a "sex offender."

Any prosecutor who cannot see the difference between horseplay among peers and sexual predation is a dangerous fool who should be removed from the office immediately. One of the reasons that there are such foolish people is that many prosecutors in our country are politicians, and politicians routinely ruin the lives of ordinary people to advance their own careers.

Another reason is that for whatever reason we have lost all sense of proportionality in dealing with human interactions that arguably involve a sexual component. In our society, you can sue your employer if your co-worker is sufficiently annoying and you can adduce evidence that his or her annoying actions or statements involved or alluded to sexuality in some way, shape or form. If your co-worker is merely a jerk, though, you have no "remedy," which is the plaintiff bar's term for "opportunity for windfall." Our employment discrimination laws essentially subsidize the hunt for sexual victimization in our daily lives. No wonder we're prosecuting 7th graders for grabass.

MORE: Cassandra agrees with me, only more eloquently.


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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Long Lake, at dusk 


Last night I raced up to the Adirondacks for the weekend -- I had an important volunteer duty to perform -- and stopped briefly in Long Lake, New York to take a couple of pictures. For those of you who know it, I took this shot from the bridge over Long Lake, looking north, around 8:30 last night.


Long Lake, New York, at dusk


Yes, I put the camera on a picnic table to steady it.


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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Tigers of Princeton University 


Thanks to a local reader for pointing me toward this photo essay(pdf), a comprehensive collection of the many and various tigers rendered into the buildings of Princeton University.



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The Tour de France -- pictures from the English stage 


The Tour de France has slipped into scandal this year, but the race that has captivated the world of cycling since 1903 -- originally conceived as an event only one cyclist would be able to finish -- began with a new twist this year, a prologue in London followed by an opening stage to Canterbury. A TigerHawk reader was there, and sent some great pictures. Run your cursor over the photos to read his captions.




The Peleton passing the Tower of London on Stage One to Canterbury.





Non-cycling blogging will resume shortly.


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How Texans bailed out the British 


With George W. Bush in office, Europeans (including the British) generally use the word "Texan" (along with "cowboy") as a slur. Few of those people know that it was Texans who first rescued the British economy in the last forty years.

There was no fanfare, no speeches and no cheering crowd. But a Westland Whirlwind helicopter flight carrying seven Texan oilmen which left Scotland 40 years ago yesterday was to completely transform Britain's economy and herald a new dawn of prosperity fuelled by "black gold".

The Bristow's aircraft, which was based at the Dyce airfield, then a quiet aerodrome on the outskirts of Aberdeen, picked up the men at RAF Kinloss in Moray before flying out to a drilling rig in the Moray Firth.

The short flight marked the beginning of the search for oil in the northern North Sea and the eventual discovery, two years later, of the first oil field in British waters. That oil strike paved for the way for the dramatic growth of an industry which has ploughed £232 billion in tax revenues into the Treasury over the last four decades and now employs 480,000 people across the UK.

Goddamn Texans. When are they going to stop making people rich?

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

A sign to heed 


A friend of mine is wandering around out West with his children, and stumbled across a building with this sign.


Biohazard


Hantavirus, like Ebola and other really scary diseases, makes you bleed from places you do not want to bleed from. I, for one, make it a strict policy to steer clear of all such hemorrhagic fevers.


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The Dow falls more than 300 points 


The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell today more than 300 points, largely on worries over the health of lenders. Cardinalpark's post yesterday afternoon on the state of the credit markets turned out to have been exquisitely timed.

I have virtually unbounded faith in the opportunity in the American economy -- we live in wonderful times -- so I remain fully invested in equities. Yes, there is some chance that we will slide into recession -- Democrats who care more about victory than the poor are almost hoping for it -- but even that bad result will only lay the foundation for the next boom.


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Tiger cub picture of the day 



A pair of Siberian tiger cubs arrived on the scene at a Romanian zoo. Funny. They don't look like remorseless killing machines.


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Iraq's "excess deaths": Lancing The Lancet 


Remember the famous studies published in The Lancet -- one on the eve of the 2004 presidential election and the other just before the 2006 mid-terms -- that purported to show hundreds of thousands of "excess deaths" in Iraq's civilian population since the invasion in March 2003? They have become holy writ on the left, from George Galloway's stump speech to the HuffPo to Juan Cole. Well, a Harvard statistician named David Kane seems to have blown a rather enormous hole in both the studies themselves and the credibility of their authors, who have steadfastly refused to subject their data to third-party analysis. Run on over to Michelle Malkin's site for the details.

I have had enough experience with shoddy statistics in medical journals (as opposed to economic and social science journals, which tend to have rigorous statistics) that I have long wondered whether The Lancet's referees knew what they were looking at when they approved the original articles for publication. It will be interesting to see whether The Lancet has the courage to accept Kane's paper.

Kane will present his paper at an academic conference on Monday, supposedly the largest gathering of academic statisticians in the country. I, for one, eagerly await the front-page exegesis in The New York Times. Not. In fact, somebody with more energy than me should gear themselves up to compare the mainstream media coverage of Kane's paper with that of the original studies. I bet there are roughly 600,000 more articles on the original Lancet studies than on Kane's deconstruction of them.

Shannon Love of the ChicagoBoyz has more -- including a victory lap.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

John Edwards and his Spandex shorts 


I have twice ridden RAGBRAI, the Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. Never did it occur to me to wear skin-tight shorts:


Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards squeezed into a pair of Spandex bike shorts today and pedaled on the RAGBRAI route with champion cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Judging from the picture, though, Edwards pulled regular shorts over his Spandex. I'm not sure what the point of that was, but it saved us from having to discuss his, er, every contour, which I suppose is a blessing.

In any case, it is obvious that Edwards has yet to escape the pretty-boy image. The Des Moines Register:
The candidate was sweaty after about a dozen miles, but there was no evidence of helmet hair.

Overall, though, it sounds as though Edwards pulled it off without looking like a dork.

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And Now, A Word on our Credit Markets 

Occasionally we depart from politics and wander into territory that actually fits our job description. Since I am in the investment business, I do feel well armed to engage in market-based rhetorical combat. And there is something quite important afoot that bears paying attention to. A lot. And we should hope the politicians don't do anything to mitigate or exacerbate it.

Our credit markets have caught the flu. And it seems to be a pretty severe gripe, spreading across markets. Let's hope that it only leads to a temporary case of lender constipation, and not a full fledged intestinal blockage. The former hurts a bit, the latter can kill you.

To function properly, any economy -- like an engine -- needs its own version of oil. If you operate in the financial markets, you call it liquidity. It's a mystical thing, liquidity -- a combination of real capital or equity, access to credit (a multiple of the equity) and a psychological appetite for risk. Some refer to this as "animal spirits." Others call it greed. Whatever. That combination of forces drives liquidity. And helps to fuel growth in our economy -- hiring, capital spending, home buying, car buying and so forth. The term money alone does not capture the phenomenon of liquidity. Money does nothing if it isn't in use. Liquidity is about using it, putting it in circulation over and over again. Oil in the motor; blood in arteries; air in lungs -- you get the point.

Now when money stops circulating, you get problems. Big ones, like recessions. So what has happened? Let's start with the Federal Reserve, which works in conjunction with the markets to determine the price of money. When our economy slowed down as a result of a variety of forces in 2000 and 2001, the Fed aggressively reduced rates, the cost of money, to motivate people to go get some and put it to use. Having succeeded in this feat the Fed reversed course in 2006, raising rates again. Why? So as not to overstimulate the economy -- which can give rise to economic bad guys like bubbles and inflation. Raising the cost of money always works, and seems to always work with a lag, usually 9 - 12 months. And here we are. The purchase of homes slowed as mortgage rates went up. The value of real estate -- especially marginal real estate -- fell. Lenders to marginal real estate -- what you are reading about as subprime lenders -- began to suffer declines in the value of their portfolios. And since they in turn are themselves levered (they borrow money to buy assets), these lenders suffer -- even go broke. When that happens, the assets they own flood the market, driving prices down further. And so the cycle turns.

Now we are in the midst of a spreading problem. Why does the problem spread from marginal real estate (and marginal borrowers) to corporate assets? Or cars? There is little denying that the problem has spread. There are at least 20 corporate borrowers and their investor/acquiror/sponsors who are trying to tap the credit markets to finance themselves and -- for the moment -- can no longer do so on terms remotely close to what they thought they could do 30 or 60 days ago. Commercial terms have "backed up" 150 basis points (1.50 percentage points) and perhaps more in that short time span. And financings that were thought to be "do-able" then are simply no longer feasible. We are talking about over $100 billion of financing. We are talking about big banks losing hundreds of millions and perhaps billions of dollars -- Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley. We are talking about them having to hold much larger amounts of risk on their balance sheet rather than syndicating that risk to other buyers -- and therefore an inability for them to continue to take risk.

That is what we call in the finance business a serious case of constipation. Bonuses on Wall Street go down or do not get paid. People get fired. Fear trumps greed.

Now, these things can go a couple of ways. Markets are resilient, and its participants don't necessarily like to pick up their ball and go home. You don't play, you don't get paid. So when the repricing phenomenon takes its toll, as long as it's not too devastating, most players come back and re-engage on new terms. As long as their capital base remains intact. If too much capital gets destroyed or impaired during the repricing of risk and paralysis prevents buyers and sellers from re-engaging, sometimes you need help from the Fed to help spur risk-taking again by reducing the cost of money. The Fed did this in 1998, for instance, when the Russian and Brazilian markets collapsed and a major US hedge fund blew up (Long Term Capital).

Always remember, it's not so much about the borrowers -- for the moment, they're pretty much fine and their prospects haven't changed, at least not yet. It's about the health of the lenders that we need to worry. And the market isn't a bad place to look to see how they doing. Bank of America is down over 10% from its highs. So is JP Morgan. And Citi. Goldman Sachs is down nearly 15%.

So far, not a disaster. But these things bear watching very closely. Confidence is not all gone; the animal spirits have not been replaced by fear completely. The Wall Street job exodus has not commenced -- though I am told the hiring freezes started a few weeks ago. We are at one of those crossroads that each economic cycle faces when the direction is not completely clear as yet. And it could still go either way. We don't yet know how far the contagion might spread and how much capital might be impaired, nor do we know what the Fed might do -- reduce rates to encourage liquidity back to market -- or stand firm to fight inflation.

Let's see.


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Abuse of cheese: A dry run? 


The jihadis are using cheese to deceive the Cheeseheads. Is there no end to their perfidy?


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The Pakistanis clean up an American mess 


Recognizing that we have spent much of the last six years dealing with Pakistan's inability or unwillingness to police its own country and borders, Pakistan cleans up the occasional American mess. Yesterday, the Pakis cornered a big Taliban in Baluchistan Province (in the southwest) who blew himself up rather than face the conseuqences. Abdullah Mehsud had spent the last three years years killing and kidnapping in Pakistan and, presumably, Afghanistan. He would not have been able to do that if we had not let him out of Gitmo in March 2004.

A senior Taliban commander and former inmate of the United States detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, blew himself up Tuesday rather than surrender to Pakistani government forces, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday. The commander, Abdullah Mehsud, died as Pakistani forces raided his hide-out in the town of Zhob in southwestern Baluchistan Province, said the spokesman, Javed Iqbal Cheema. He died as Washington has increased pressure on the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to crack down on armed extremist groups operating in the region.

In December 2001, Mr. Mehsud was captured in northern Afghanistan by Afghan forces allied to the United States. He was subsequently held at Guantánamo Bay until March 2004, when he was released.

Upon his return to the region, he took up arms again and soon became the Taliban commander of South Waziristan, a tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.

Oops.

There are many reasons why the procedural devices of the criminal justice system ought not be applied to suspected terrorists. One of them is that a false negative determination -- in this context the erroneous release of an actually culpable suspect -- is far more likely to be lethal in the case of terrorist suspect than a criminal suspect.

MORE: Stratfor wrote on the auto-destruction($) of Mehsud last night.
Mehsud's status, the circumstances of his death and the timing of the incident point to a number of problems associated with counterjihadist operations in Pakistan. For starters, it is hard to swallow the idea that authorities just happened to stumble upon the intelligence pertaining to Mehsud's whereabouts and then caught up with him within hours of U.S. threats of unilateral action against jihadists in northwestern Pakistan. The likely reason the government was able to track down Mehsud quickly is that Pakistani intelligence has at its disposal certain resources that it brings to bear in a very selective and limited manner in response to domestic and foreign policy needs....

Clearly, Pakistani intelligence has been in touch with elements who had information concerning Mehsud's whereabouts. These elements with ties to both sides were called upon to offer their assistance at a difficult time, and they obliged. This is not the first time this has happened. As recently as May 14, Pakistani authorities made a similar demonstration of abilities when they relayed intelligence to Afghan and NATO forces about the whereabouts of the Afghan Taliban's senior-most commander, Mullah Dadullah, who was then killed in an operation...

Pakistan's elimination of Mehsud -- just days, if not hours, after the highest political offices in Washington threatened Islamabad with unilateral military action against jihadists in northwestern Pakistan -- will not elicit as much praise from the United States as it will trigger increased pressure to "do more." This is because, from the U.S. viewpoint, it is clear that the Pakistanis can do a whole lot more in the war against jihadists.

As George W. Bush well knows, it is almost impossible for a president to implement a policy if his country's intelligence service opposes it.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Looking across to Delaware 


Looking west from the Cape May lighthouse, July 22, mid afternoon.


Looking at Delaware


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A "tigerhawk" of a different sort 


To be clear, when I decided to use "TigerHawk" as my nom de plume, this is not the image I wanted to conjure:


tigerhawkchimera

Thanks to regular commenter "Dr. Mercury" for tracking this down.


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If General George Patton were alive today... 


...is this what he would say?



CWCID: Theo Sparks.


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Monday, July 23, 2007

Is BO the next JFK? 


Former member of the best-and-the-brightest Theodore Sorensen argues that Barack Obama is "the next JFK". I suspect that metaphor registers differently for me than many of The New Republic's readers, but I would be very surprised if Obama were not delighted that one of Kennedy's own men has drawn the comparison. That said, Sorensen's essay betrays him as a Camelot romantic and Cambridge elitist of the first order. First, his memory of life in Kennedy's court:

At first glance, the Democratic nominee for president in 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy--the millionaire Caucasian war hero for whom I worked for eleven golden years--seems notably different from the most interesting candidate for next year's nomination, Senator Barack Obama. (emphasis added)

No doubt the Kennedy years were "golden" for Sorensen. He went to work for Kennedy at the age of 25 and stuck with him through the end, the upshot of which was that Sorensen's career in government effectively peaked well before he was 40. When next the Democrats controlled the White House, Jimmy Carter nominated Sorensen to serve as the Director of Central Intelligence. Opposition in the Democrat-controlled Senate was so great that Sorensen was forced to withdraw his name from consideration. Why? Because he pulled a Sandy Berger!
On top of all that, some affidavits that he submitted in the Pentagon papers trial of Daniel Ellsberg surfaced. As a defense witness, Sorensen testified that he, like Ellsberg, had removed classified information without authorization. When Sorensen left the White House in 1964, he took along 67 boxes of documents, seven of them classified. Included were memos on the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit meeting in Vienna, the war in Laos, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis. Sorensen used some of the material for his book Kennedy, then donated all of it to the Kennedy Library. He claimed a $231,000 tax deduction, part of which was rejected by the IRS.

Ah, yes, the golden years.

It gets better. Sorensen lists "an extraordinary number of parallels" between BO and JFK. Of more than a dozen such parallels, Sorensen leads with "[b]oth men were Harvard-educated." This is his first amazing parallel? It says more about Sorensen, who would probably prefer to be governed by the Harvard faculty than the first 200 names in the Boston phone book, than it does about Obama and Kennedy. Next thing you know we will be drawing astounding parallels between Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, and Clarence Thomas, all of whom went to the Yale Law School.

Then there is this:
Both rose to national attention almost overnight as the result of starring roles at the nationally televised Democratic convention preceding their respective candidacies: Kennedy in 1956, when he delivered the speech nominating Stevenson and subsequently came close to winning an open-floor struggle for the vice presidential nomination with Estes Kefauver; Obama in 2004, by virtue of his brilliant speech to the convention that year in Boston.

This seems as strained as it is self-promoting. Lots of politicians make speeches that raise their stature. That one of Kennedy's speechwriters should think that a particular speech launched Kennedy's career is not surprising.

I was not able to determine and Sorensen does not say whether he wrote Kennedy's speech in 1956, but neither does he admit that he substantially ghost-wrote Profiles in Courage. He does, however, regard it as the basis of yet another extraordinary parallel:
Both also gained national acclaim through their best-selling inspirational books--Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, published in 1956, and Obama's The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006.

Since Sorensen -- at the impressively young age of 27 -- wrote most of Profiles in Courage (making him the first and probably only person to ghost-write a Pulitzer prize winning book), this seems like a pretty strained BO-JFK "parallel." Unless, of course, Sorensen is implying that Obama also had a ghost writer. I doubt that, though. Sorensen's argument notwithstanding, one Harvard grad is not necessarily as brilliant as another. It was a lot harder to get into Harvard in 1980 than in 1936. Barack Obama is probably, therefore, much smarter than John F. Kennedy.

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Identify the Mystery Photo! 


What is this?


Mystery photo


Identify its location, its original purpose, and, for bonus points, the vantage point from which it was photographed!

UPDATE: We have a winner! Congratulate our astute commenter "Blues." Fame and glory all around.


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Iraq: Resolving the coercion/intelligence dilemma 


If true, this is good news:

Fed up with being part of a group that cuts off a person’s face with piano wire to teach others a lesson, dozens of low-level members of al-Qaeda in Iraq are daring to become informants for the US military in a hostile Baghdad neighbourhood.

The ground-breaking move in Doura is part of a wider trend that has started in other al-Qaeda hotspots across the country and in which Sunni insurgent groups and tribal sheikhs have stood together with the coalition against the extremist movement.

“They are turning. We are talking to people who we believe have worked for al-Qaeda in Iraq and want to reconcile and have peace,” said Colonel Ricky Gibbs, commander of the 4th Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which oversees the area.

It is fashionable to identify and decry blowback against American foreign policy, in part because it is often obvious. Blowback happens to the other guy, too. Fine. The real question is whether this story is evidence that the United States is finally resolving the "coercion/intelligence dilemma."

Background

To some significant degree, intelligence and firepower substitute for each other. From "The Possibilities For Clean Counterinsurgency," your blogger's undergraduate thesis written in the 1982-83 academic year, when I was 21:
In order to destroy something -- be it an object, a person, or an institution -- it is necessary both to know the relevant characteristics and location of the target, and to be able to damage it. To a certain extent, an aggressor may compensate for deficiency inone item by increasing the other. If I wish to kill a man in a house, but do not know which room he is in or how he is armed, I may certainly kill him by flattening the entire building under a barrage of artillery. If, however, my only weapon is an ice pick, I can still terminate him by discovering when he sleepsand attack him only then.

The man-in-the-house game is contrived, but it illustrates the nature of the exchange between intelligence and firepower. It is much cheaper and quicker for me to murder the man with my ice pick, and I do far less collateral damage (the house still stands for my own use) than if I expend money, time, and ammunition destroying the building. In short, the intelligence that enabled me to use my ice pick (i.e., knowing when the man slept) greatly increased the efficiency of my action.

In war between insurgents and an authority, a small increment in intelligence affects considerably the destructive capability of either fighting force. Early in the conflict especially, the insurgency will not have firepower to take the place of intelligence; a young rebellion thus depends utterly upon good information. The counterinsurgency, on the other hand, usually enjoys a tremendous advantage in firepower, but faces great difficulty obtaining good information about the whereabouts of its enemy. It is as if the man were hiding not in one house, but in an entire village of houses, any of which might be boobytrapped.

The problem for the counterinsurgency is that excessive application of its firepower (because it is at an intelligence disadvantage) will further increase the intelligence advantage of the insurgency. I (and undoubtedly others before me) called this the coercion/intelligence dilemma. Twenty-one year old me again (quoted passages footnoted to sources in the original):
Revolutionary theorists like to claim that guerrillas are but the military arm of a population at war with the controlling power. If that were true, many of the wars of the last forty years would have been much shorter than they were. In fact, most insurgencies begin with a nucleus of determined activists, and they usually confront a government that represents but a small fraction of the population (or a demographically discrete plurality or majority). In between the two groups lie the masses of the people, who rarely want anything more than to grow their food and say their prayers.

Neither side needs the love or loyalty of the population nearly as much as its cooperation. The insurgent must have nondenunciation so that he may carry on his war against the authority from the midst of the people. The counterinsurgent needs information, so that he may determine the nature, power and membership of the insurgency. Because a credible threat of sanction (death or torture, for example) frequently outweighs love or loyalty, the side that imposes stiff penalties for noncompliance will often win the cooperation of the people away from the side that inspires merely moral support for the merits of its cause. To the extent that cooperative action and the support of opinion among the population differ, there has been effective coercion.

Coercers fall into two general camps. The first would seek to cow a population through a combination of ferocity and caprice. One might, for example, terrorize a population into complying with one's wishes by randomly burning down villages... The capriciousness can help to convey the impression of power; if however, the level of caprice is so high that compliance seems as dangerous as resistance (or noncooperation), the population will cooperate with the side it prefers. When that happens, coercion fails by definition.

The second sort of coercer seeks to create a language of force, through which coercion takes the form of an articulate expression of severity and regularity. The coercer establishes and communicates a well-defined list of desired actions, and punishes noncompliances in a manner closely and explicitly associated with infractions. The object is to gain cooperation consistently without sacrificing the support of the population, which may understand and accept the need for violence that it knows it can avoid by complying.

The power of coercers of the second variety varies directly with the consistency and predictability of the sanctions they threaten. In order to achieve consistency, a coercer needs to know who has been naughty or nice. "The point is to be as implacable (in the case of disobedience) as one is restrained (in that of compliance), having rendered oneself, in the first place, well informed about who has behaved how." It follows directly that the would-be coercer will strive for increasingly accurate information, which in turn depends on an ever more effective intelligence apparatus.

To a great extent, then, the capacity to coerce effectively parallels the quality of one's intelligence. Two implications spring from this realization. First, the coercer confront a coercion/intelligence dilemma, for the quality of one's intelligence very frequently depends itself upon effective coercion. If one must coerce in order to collect intelligence that will facilitate coercion, one might risk the excessive caprice warned against above and alienate the population before there is any possibility of damaging most of the guilty and few of the innocent. If the counterinsurgent cannot break out of the coercion/intelligence dilemma he will find himself trapped in a cycle of deteriorating credibility, in which he will punish capriciously (for lack of intelligence), lose sources of information as a result of his caprice, and then punish more capriciously. The coercion/intelligence dilemma is therefore a central obstacle to clean counterinsurgency, and central to the war for information.

Second, the problem of collecting sufficient intelligence to coerce effectively (or, for that matter, to inflict damage of several varieties) is especially acute for a counterinsurgent, and doubly so to a foreign authority, neither of which can rely on proximity alone to furnish them with information. Cultural, racial, religious, and geographical barriers can cripple efforts to gather intelligence of quality. Even when the counterinsurgent wants to coerce, he may believe that the pursuit of good intelligence is doomed to failure (i.e., how is it possible to separate the compliant from the defiant within a faceless population?). Or, he might believe that the rebels and the people are so close that good intelligence is unnecessary. In either case, the counterinsurgent fails to establish the intelligence apparatus that would facilitate coercion, his ultimate goal.

Coupled with the less difficult but still formidable tasks of communicating both the desired conduct and the connection between noncompliance and sanction, the coercion/intelligence dilemma makes it very difficult for the counterinsurgent to coerce effectively, yet ineffective coercion will contribute to illegal violence toward noncombatants...

More concisely, a noncombatant will cooperate with the side that punishes noncooperation with the greatest specificity. If one side punishes capriciously, most rational noncombatants will decide that they are better off cooperating with the other side. Why? Because the more capricious side -- lacking good intelligence about who is and is not cooperating -- may punish noncombatants whether or not they cooperate with the other side. The side that punishes accurately, on the other hand, will only punish genuine noncooperation. Therefore, the smart noncombatant cooperates with the side that neither punishes too many actual cooperators or fails to punish too many actual non-cooperators, because he reduces his risk of punishment by the side that punishes efficiently without altering his risk at the hand of the side that punishes capriciously.

Commentary

The Iraqi insurgency in all its elements is complicated, but I have long thought that the portion of it known as "al Qaeda in Iraq" -- the Sunni jihadis who promoted and implemented beheadings and the killing of children and mass casualty car bomb attacks -- was particularly vulnerable to traditional counterinsurgency tactics. Al Qaeda's methods of punishing noncooperation struck me as capricious; car bombs kill even more indiscriminately than American air strikes, so a noncombatant is at risk of dying from them whether or not he cooperates with al Qaeda.

The linked story suggests as well that al Qaeda's brutality has widened the gap between the desires of the noncombatants among whom al Qaeda lives and operates and al Qaeda's requirements for that population. That is, al Qaeda has to coerce a higher percentage of the population into cooperating, because they are less willing to coopoerate willingly.

At the same time, modern technology may have made it easier for informants to cooperate with the counterinsurgency without risk of detection by the insurgency. See, for example, my now long-in-the-tooth post on the text-messaging war.

Finally, it is crucial to remember that noncombatants measure relative caprice, efficiency, and brutality in punishment according to their perceptions. If one side is perceived as more capricious than the other, fewer noncombatants will cooperate with it. If one side is perceived as more brutal than the other, more noncombatants will have to be coerced into cooperating with it -- that is, the side that is less popular because of its perceived brutality (and other considerations of popularity) will have to coerce more successfully in order to achieve the same level of cooperation. To some important extent, therefore, perceptions become reality.

Because perceptions are so important in counterinsurgency, capricious acts and the publicity of those acts can actually hurt the war effort. When supporters of the Coalition and the government of Iraq object to the widespread and one-sided publicity of purported American war crimes, it is not that we think, a priori, that these events should be covered up or that we care about the political fortunes of the Bush administration. Rather, it is because we know that anything that increases the perception of the counterinsurgency as capricious will actually hurt the war effort insofar as it motivates noncombatants to cooperate with the other side. Similarly, relatively muted publicity of enemy atrocities artificially dims the perception that al Qaeda kills capriciously and brutally. Both problems would diminish if the press, which has an enormous capacity to magnify perceptions, applied the same moral standard to both sides.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

The blue, white, and red honor the red, white, and blue 


Gateway Pundit has links and coverage of a ceremony on Omaha Beach honoring the United States for the liberation of France during World War II. Gateway-P is surprised on at least a tongue-in-cheek basis ("Goodness... what happened to France?", and "unbelievable"), but I am not. France's anti-Americanism is always there, but it is never deep. Yes, French governmental policy often frustrates American presidents, and French intellectuals can be as tedious as Parisian service employees can be snotty (although this last has changed tremendously in the last twenty years). That said, the French are far more aware than Americans of the parallels between the American political experience and their own. Neither we nor the French have much regard for monarchy, both having thrown it overboard in revolution. Our political system was to a great degree built on French political philosophy, and the French revolution was more than a little inspired by the American. Americans like to think they were the first great republic of modern times, but query whether a few million farmers on the edge of nowhere were "great" in anybody's mind but their own. France did revolution the hard way, and then became the first great power to try to export republicanism at the point of a gun. Sometimes, as well, I think that France is the only power on continental Europe -- other than Russia -- with the self-respect, will, and ability, to assert its interests in the world much as the United States does in the ordinary course. That can be damnably inconvenient for America, but it is also something to admire. Everybody else in Europe acts as though action in their national interest is inherently illegitimate. The French frustrate the United States precisely because they regard their own national interest as preciously as we regard our own. I like that about them, even if there have been many occasions when I wished they would leave well enough alone.

It is easy for the British to support the United States. Common language, increasingly shared popular culture, a mutual distrust of a united Europe, and rampant Anglophilia in the United States have sustained that alliance ever since the United States definitively eclipsed the United Kingdom as the more powerful of the two. It is unfair to compare France to Britain and wonder why the former cannot be more like the latter. But France is a smart and proud country with a keen sense of history and legacy. Unlike any other country in continental Europe west of Russia, France has the capacity to help the United States far beyond its own borders. It has done many times, and will do again.

MORE: The video of the event on Omaha Beach is quite good. Must be those superior French semiotics!


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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Iran: According to the Michael Moore test, even more despised than Cuba 


The Islamic Republic of Iran has invited Michael Moore to participate in a Tehran film festival (CWCID: Michael Rubin). Meghan O'Hara, the producer of Sicko who apparently doubles as Moore's flack, has issued an angry denial that Moore would ever even dream of going to Iran:

There is absolutely no truth to the right wing promoted rumor that Michael is going to Iran -- none, zero, zip. This inaccurate rumor is an urban myth right up there with alligators in the sewers of New York City, and it is getting pushed around out there by conservative opponents of Michael who would rather make up stories out of whole cloth than actually engage in a debate on the merits of our broken health care system or why it is that George W. Bush took us to war in Iraq. These right wingers should be spending their time defending why it is that George W. Bush is commuting the sentence of a convicted felon, rather than propagating this right wing trash.

Well, guilty as charged. But still, surely a man who would happily travel to Cuba and extoll the merits of its dictatorship -- at least in the sense that people used to admire Mussolini for making the Italian trains run on time -- does not have a moral objection to going to Iran. Rather, Moore has judged that Iran is so unpopular that a trip there would risk alienating even his audience. I therefore conclude that Iran is more unpopular than Cuba, even among Michael Moore's fans.

I don't know what to make of that, but the "Moore test" does suggest that an American president with some credibility on the left will have the political space to take hard action against Iran if the circumstances warrant.

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Iran and the sanctions dilemma 


The July 21st issue of The Economist (in my mailbox last night) has a multiarticle review of Iran with the subtitle "The Revolution Strikes Back." If you are not a subscriber, you should buy it at the newsstand. There is a lot in the survey, and it does a good job of tracing the options for confronting or containing Iran. On the matter of economic sanctions, The Economist wonders whether even strong sanctions can change the political dynamic within Iran enough to change the Islamic Republic's behavior in ways that matter to the West. This bit puts the potato on the fork:

Nonetheless, it is not clear that sanctions are even close to imposing the sort of pain needed to alter the government's nuclear behaviour. They have pushed down living standards, but war and revolution have taught Iranians how to muddle through. An economy like Iran's, dominated by the government budget, is better able than most to take the travails of the private sector in its stride. And since energy exports make up almost half the government's revenues, high world prices (kept high in part by the tension over Iran) have compensated nicely for much of the damage sanctions have inflicted. Besides, many powerful Iranians prosper through their control of a relatively closed economy. The openness the world proffers as an “incentive” to give up the bomb strikes at some of this group's vested interests.

The problem is that Iran is doing things that many in the West, including many people who are not Dick Cheney, want it to stop doing. Broadly, there are two options. First, we can decide that we can contain and deter Iran sufficiently that we do not need to coerce it into changing its behavior. In general, this was our strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union until the Reagan presidency. The problem is that there is no consensus that Iran -- run as it is by religious zealots who believe that suicide missions are a moral tactically advantageous weapon in war -- is containable and deterrable in the same way that the Soviet Union was. Alternatively, we can coerce Iran to change its ways. There are many tools for this at the West's disposal, but almost all of them -- including overt military action and, if you believe The Economist, stiff economic sanctions -- may have the perverse result of strengthening the regime rather than weakening it.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Battlestar Galactica notes 


I am home tonight rather than checking out the Harry Potter extravaganza at the local big box book store because Mrs. TH and I are empty-nesters for a few more days, so there is nobody to escort me. That has deterred me from going, because the paranoids would regard a lone 45 year-old male at a Harry Potter launch event as creepy at the least, and probably worthy of arrest. That does not mean, though, that I cannot blog pop culture news of great moment.

From the current edition of TV Guide, which I do not ordinarily buy but did this week because it is given over to science fiction:

BSG's fourth and final season won't air until next year, but in November die-hard fans will be treated to Battlestar Galactica: Razor. The two-hour stand-alone episode -- think "300" in deep space -- focuses on the killing-machine marines (known as "razors") who man Galactica's sister ship Pegasus under the command of bitch-goddess Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes). It's a flashback story -- Cain met her demise in Season 2, Pegasus in Season 3 -- but it will "deliver information fans will want before watching Season 4," says executive producer Ron Moore. Before the series wraps, D'Anna, the exterminated Cylon played by Lucy Lawless, will return. And, warns Moore, "we'll be losing cast members in some nasty ways as we push along in the search for Earth." But will our human heroes really find it? Notes Moore cagily: "They're going to find something we're calling Earth."

If you ask me, it is hard to think of a better promotional line than "think '300' in deep space."

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Memo to Tehran: Dig deeper 


I put this in the category of peace through superior firepower:

American stealth bombers will soon be equipped to drop the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), the gigantic deep-bunker-blasting bomb currently being developed by the Yanks....

The MOP mega-bomb, second heaviest conventional weapon ever built, is said to be able to drill through many metres of earth or concrete protection. Only 20 per cent of the weapon's weight is explosives; the rest is a hardened metal case. The idea is that the MOP will fall from high altitude and strike its target like a supersonic - or even hypersonic - spear, punching through to explode at the correct depth.

There isn't much doubt regarding whose air defence the stealth-bombers might fly through, or what valued targets they might hit with their penetrating superbombs.

The uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz is generally thought to be the main point of vulnerability in the Iranian nuclear programme, where weapons-grade metals could be produced. Most analyses - some even publicly available - reckon Natanz is the big target for the US (or Israel) in the event of a move to cripple Iran's nuke effort.

The question is, why would this news be public? To communicate a point, of course.

Regular readers know that I very much hope that we will not have to bomb Iran to neutralize its nuclear program. However, that country's ruling elites will be more likely to do what we want if they believe there is a good chance we would succeed if we did.

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Erotica, WaPo-style 

I find myself in the rare position of agreeing with the folks at Firedoglake.

This was predictable (and predicted), but entirely lamentable nontheless:

The neckline sat low on her chest and had a subtle V-shape. The cleavage registered after only a quick glance. No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable.

No, it is not lamentable that Hillary Clinton wore a lower neckline than usual (even if it was far from unprecedented). It is depressing that the Washington Post would see fit to comment that she did.

Don't get me wrong. I like visible cleavage as much as anybody. As far as I'm concerned, let's have more of it. But how will those of us who believe that political feminism has outlived its usefulness sustain that belief if one of the nation's leading newspapers insists on deconstructing Hillary Clinton's neckline?

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The Germans object to an oppressive religion 


The German chattering classes are upset about the religious beliefs of a famous actor:

German officials have baulked at the choice of Cruise to play Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, who was executed by firing squad in 1944 after the failed assassination attempt.

They cite the actor's ties to the Church of Scientology, which is viewed here as a "totalitarian" group that exploits vulnerable people, as making him unfit to play a German martyr.

My questions for these Germans: Are there any other activities from which we should bar people who have religious beliefs that "exploit vulnerable people"? You know, religions that believe that the state should be a tool for the enforcement of religious law, and which deplore the very idea that the governed should give their consent to be governed?

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Draining the jihad 


Richard Fernandez discusses this bit from a post at Strategypage. First, Strategypage:

July 19, 2007: While Saudi Arabia is not happy with how Shia Arabs have taken control of Iraq, and appear able to hold on to it, they are pleased with how the fighting in Iraq has greatly depleted the number of al Qaeda backers inside Saudi Arabia. Over 5,000 Saudi Islamic radicals are believed to have died in Iraq so far. For the last four years, up to half the suicide bombers have been Saudis, and about half the 135 foreigners currently held in U.S. military prisons over there, are Saudis. Currently, American intelligence believes about 45 percent of the foreign fighters (less than ten percent of all terrorists there) are Saudis. The next largest group is Syrians and Lebanese (15 percent), followed by North Africans (10 percent). The other 30 percent are from all over, including Europe.

The Saudis themselves are coy about how all those Saudi Islamic radicals got into Iraq. The Saudi border with Iraq is heavily patrolled, and not easy to get across, no matter which direction you are going. But the Saudis have refused calls to crack down on their young men going to Syria or Jordan, and crossing from there into Iraq.

This is not the first time that the Saudis have been accused of using a foreign war to drain off the radicals. A friend of mine with extremely deep contacts in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, says that during the Gulf War the Saudis quite consciously concentrated "the beards" in front line units in the unspoken hope that Saddam's army would kill a lot of them. I have never seen that written anywhere, but the linked Strategypage post boosts the story's credibility.

In any case, Richard Fernandez likens this Saudi tactic to "social dumping" (the practice by which one society shifts its negative externalities on another, such as when rich country industry moves production to poor countries with lax environmental and labor standards):
Maybe America should charge the UN for services rendered and not the other way around. It provides global security behind which the free-riders of Europe can pretend to defend themselves with barricades of treaties. It takes out the trash for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and employs everyone who the elites of Mexico find no use for.

Far be it from me to defend the Saudis, but they did break their long truce with al Qaeda in May 2003 and have been waging a rather aggressive war against it since. One can justly accuse them of fostering radical Islamism, rather than discouraging it, over the long term, but they have been quite delighted to kill actual jihadis for four years now. They are entitled to be happy that other violent young Saudi men have bought the oasis in Iraq.

There is something else interesting here, though. The Saudis know a lot more about combating Sunni jihadism than most Americans, including virtually everybody in the chattering classes. If the Stratgypage post is accurate, they believe that Iraq is in fact draining away their most violent radicals. Is that not evidence for the view that the jihad's huge casualties in Iraq are weakening Sunni jihadi organizations, rather than strengthening them?

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The Democrats' homeland security strategy 



If you see somebody suspicious, do not report them to anybody in authority. Unless you are judgment proof.

The senators who voted Nay (click to enlarge) believe that if in good faith you report somebody for behavior indicative of terrorism and that person subsequently turns out to have been innocent, that person should have the right to sue you, the civilian who reported them.

Only seven Democratic senators believe that a good faith conversation with authorities about suspected terrorist-related activity should confer immunity from a law suit. Two of those Democrats are Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer. Obama managed to avoid taking a position. These three aberrations are not difficult to explain.

Just so we're clear, most Democratic senators do not (any longer) want to fight terrorists aggressively with our military, they oppose law enforcement officials taking actions to interdict domestic terrorism that they would not otherwise take against ordinary crime, and they believe that if civilians, acting in good faith, report suspicious activity those civilians should be subject to a law suit if they are wrong.

For those of you late to the party, this vote determines the fate of the "King amendment," which was brought by the ejected "flying imams" against the "John Does" who reported their suspicious activity to the airline. Background here, among numerous other places.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

MORE: After reading this post, I think the Democrats are going to regret this vote. I can imagine the oppo advertising already.


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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Inflammatory science lede of the week 


True or not, this lede is bound to raise some hackles:

Dinosaurs had sex well before they reached full physical maturity, just as crocodiles and people can, research now reveals.

Let's hope that we people dominate our ecological niche as long and as completely as the dinosaurs.

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Reinventing history 


The Democrats, many of whom have labored mightily to compare Iraq to Vietnam in the hope of sustaining the "quagmire" narrative, find that the comparison is suddenly and maddeningly inconvenient. After all, Vietnamese and Cambodians suffered a great deal of violence and persecution in the years following the American withdrawal from Indochina and nobody -- other than Iranians, perhaps -- wants to see similar ugliness in Iraq. Fortunately, John Kerry, who knows all about the advantages and disadvantages of invoking Vietnam for political ends, has hit upon a solution. Rather than admitting that there is a huge risk that violence will escalate in Iraq as it did after the American withdrawal from Indochina, he is reinventing the history of the earlier war and claiming that no such bloodbath occurred.

It will be interesting to see whether other Democrats follow Kerry off that cliff.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.


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On Keeping the Peace 

While much of the figurative summer ink on Iraq is being spilled over the ridiculous show going on in Reid's Senate and Pelosi's House - this is debate? - there is extraordinary activity ongoing in what I prefer to call the Iraqi Peacekeeping Mission.

I recommend you read, listen or watch two excellent sources of material on Iraq - General Patraeus's interview by Hugh Hewitt and Charlie Rose's interview of John Burns. They cut to the absolute heart of the matter at this moment in Iraq. The General's counterinsurgency strategy is working and will continue to quell the Al Qaeda-driven sectarian violence. And in the absence of the forceful application of a counterinsurgency strategy -- which today can only be executed by the US military -- Burns makes it pretty clear that the result will be "cataclysmic" violence -- likely a genocide, not simply against Sunnis by Shiites, but rather extremists against the center. According to Burns, the US military acts as an "inhibitor" of violence, not an instigator or source of provocation.

The good news yesterday was the reported capture of the senior Iraqi member of Al Qaeda. This was no accident. As General Petraeus articulates, the "operational tempo" of American elite forces is unprecedented, and they are grinding up AQ leadership and rank and file. This is not merely good; it is spectacular.

Here is what leaves me confused. Democracy works best from the middle - a strong middle class, and a bias towards compromise and therefore moderation. While we do a spectacular job eradicating the Sunni salafist AQ and its leadership in Iraq, why do we let Moqtada Al Sadr and his Mehdi militia survive? To allow Iraqi leaders to compromise and make political progress as a democracy does, the extragovernmental extremists must be eliminated simultaneously. It does us no good to eliminate one force of extremism and allow the other to survive. His survival in the absence of the opposite extreme will only strengthen him and allow him alone to threaten the center when we have eliminated his enemy.

It seems to me that we would be well served to eliminate not just AQ in Iraq, but theMehdi army and its leadership as well. Al Sadr is a permanent long term threat to Iraqi democracy and a Pax Americana in Iraq and the Middle East much like the Khamenei in Iran and Nasrallah in Lebanon. So what on Earth are we waiting for?

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The fastest home internet connection in the world 


Frankly, this just does not seem fair:

She is a latecomer to the information superhighway, but 75-year-old Sigbritt Lothberg is now cruising the Internet with a dizzying speed. Lothberg's 40 gigabits-per-second fiber-optic connection in Karlstad is believed to be the fastest residential uplink in the world, Karlstad city officials said.

In less than 2 seconds, Lothberg can download a full-length movie on her home computer — many thousand times faster than most residential connections, said Hafsteinn Jonsson, head of the Karlstad city network unit.

That's so cool. I want that technology, and I want it now.

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Bill Frist to teach at Princeton University 


Princeton University announced this morning last month* that former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist '74 will teach at the Woodrow Wilson School during the 2007-08 academic year.

He will be appointed for the 2007-08 academic year as the Frederick H. Schultz Class of 1951 Professor of International Economic Policy, with the rank of lecturer of public and international affairs. Frist, 55, will teach a graduate course in the Woodrow Wilson School on health policy during the fall semester and an undergraduate course on a similar subject in the spring.

"We are very pleased to welcome Bill Frist back to Princeton and the Woodrow Wilson School," said Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the school. "His years of experience in public service as a doctor and as a leader in the U.S. Senate make him an ideal practitioner-professor. Our students will benefit from his perspectives both as a healer and as Senate majority leader."

I could not be more delighted. Regular readers know that I have tremendous admiration for Bill Frist, who thinks deeply and speaks widely about the impact of public health on geopolitics. He also practices what he preaches, as regular readers of Dr. Frist's own blog well know.

Also, this appointment merits another tip o' the hat to Dean Slaughter, who has repeatedly gone out of her way to expose her students to views substantially to the right of her own. In that regard, she has a respect for diversity of opinion that is all too rare in elite American universities.
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*The original announcement date was June 19, which I did not notice because Princeton sent out the email alert today, July 19. Doh! Still good news, though.

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Rachel Lucas goes to Target 


Heh.

Yes, she does get stuck behind somebody writing a check, and she definitely uses bad words.


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Are the Democrats killing the King amendment? 


If true, this is not good news:

In November 2006, six Islamic leaders were removed from a U.S. Airways flight in Minneapolis after they were observed acting suspiciously-including not sitting in their assigned seats, asking for seatbelt extenders although not needing them, and making anti-American statements. The men were questioned by authorities and then cleared. However, in March 2007, with the help of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the imams filed suit — not only against the airline but against the heroic "John Doe" passengers who reported their suspicious behavior.

Congressman Pete King (R., NY), the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee, sprang quickly into action, concluding that the lawsuits were cheap attempts to intimidate everyday Americans from taking action to help protect our country. Congressman King introduced an amendment to protect passengers and commuters against frivolous lawsuits such as those filed by the imams. The language was overwhelmingly adopted by the House in March, 304-121, as an amendment to H.R. 1401, the Rail and Public Transportation Security Act of 2007.

The House-adopted King language ensures that any person who voluntarily reports suspicious activity in good faith-anything that could be a threat to transportation security-will be granted immunity from civil liability for the disclosure. The amendment is specific to threats to transportation systems, passenger safety or security, or possible acts of terrorism, and also shields transportation systems and employees that take reasonable actions to mitigate perceived threats. The amendment is also retroactive to activities that took place on or after November 20, 2006 - the date of the Minneapolis incident.

I am reliably informed that House Democrats are attempting, under the radar screen, to strip the King Amendment from the legislation based on an alleged technical violation of Byzantine House rules.

If you look carefully you can see the spoor of the trial bar, for whom Democrats will do practically anything.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Caption this! 


Having heroically captioned the first part of the now famous whispered exchange between Hill and John, give this one the old college try:



The uncreative captioners at the A.P. actually thought this was an interesting caption:

Democratic Presidential hopefuls, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY., left, and John Edwards, talks during a forum at the NAACP convention in Detroit, Thursday, July 12, 2007. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio responded angrily Friday to a conversation overheard between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Edwards, in which the two spoke of limiting the number of candidates invited to participate in presidential forums. The Edwards-Clinton exchange was picked up by several broadcasters on an open microphone after the NAACP forum in Detroit on Thursday. All eight Democratic candidates took part in the program, including Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Mike Gravel and Kucinich.

They actually call that a caption? No wonder the mainstream media is losing audience! Show 'em what it should have said...

UPDATE: Whatever it was that Hillary said to Edwards, I like to imagine it was in response to this (Edwards waiving around a charicature drawing of Hillary while on the stump) the day before.

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The eye of the tiger! 



Link.


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Behind every tough man... 


Well. John Edwards is "tough" because his wife says so. And who in their right mind would disagree with her?


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Listen to "the greatest living American" 


The greatest living American, who is also the greatest living Iowan*, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal yesterday, and nobody noticed. Gregg Easterbrook in the HuffPo:

Born 1914 in Cresco, Iowa, Borlaug has saved more lives than anyone else who has ever lived. A plant breeder, in the 1940s he moved to Mexico to study how to adopt high-yield crops to feed impoverished nations. Through the 1940s and 1950s, Borlaug developed high-yield wheat strains, then patiently taught the new science of Green Revolution agriculture to poor farmers of Mexico and nations to its south. When famine struck India and Pakistan in the mid-1960s, Borlaug and a team of Mexican assistants raced to the Subcontinent and, often working within sight of artillery flashes from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, sowed the first high-yield cereal crop in that region; in a decade, India's food production increased sevenfold, saving the Subcontinent from predicted Malthusian catastrophes. Borlaug moved on to working in South America. Every nation his green thumb touched has known dramatic food production increases plus falling fertility rates (as the transition from subsistence to high-tech farm production makes knowledge more important than brawn), higher girls' education rates (as girls and young women become seen as carriers of knowledge rather than water) and rising living standards for average people. Last fall, Borlaug crowned his magnificent career by persuading the Ford, Rockefeller and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations to begin a major push for high-yield farming in Africa, the one place the Green Revolution has not reached.

Yet Borlaug is unknown in the United States, and if my unscientific survey of tonight's major newscasts is reliable, television tonight ignored his receipt of the Congressional Gold Medal, America's highest civilian award. I clicked around to ABC, CBS and NBC and heard no mention of Borlaug; no piece about him is posted on these networks' evening news websites; CBS Evening News did have time for video of a bicycle hitting a dog. (I am not making that up.) Will the major papers say anything about Borlaug tomorrow?

Easterbrook thinks that the press does not cover Norman Borlaug because of his modesty.
Borlaug's story is ignored because his is a story of righteousness -- shunning wealth and comfort, this magnificent man lived nearly all his life in impoverished nations. If he'd blown something up, lied under oath or been caught offering money for fun, ABC, CBS and NBC would have crowded the Capitol Rotunda today with cameras, hoping to record an embarrassing gaffe. Because instead Borlaug devoted his life to serving the poor, he is considered Not News.

Maybe -- he is certainly both modest and accomplished in comparison to the other living American Nobel Peace Prize winner -- but there is something more going on. Borlaug, even at age 93, is a champion for the politically very incorrect idea that we should enthusiastically promote biotech in agriculture, especially in the developing world. I suspect that rich-country journalists know that if they glorify Norman Borlaug and his cause they will be shunned from all the best cocktail parties. It is far easier in such circles to glorify Jimmy Carter and his cause, or even Yasser Arafat and his cause.

Here at TigerHawk, though, we are at no risk of being shunned -- we have never been invited to the best cocktail parties -- so we can happily present a fair use excerpt from Norman Borlaug's most recent wisdom, an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal titled "Continuing the Green Revolution":
Over the millennia, farmers have practiced bringing together the best characteristics of individual plants and animals to make more vigorous and productive offspring. The early domesticators of our food and animal species -- most likely Neolithic women -- were also the first biotechnologists, as they selected more adaptable, durable and resilient plants and animals to provide food, clothing and shelter.

In the late 19th century the foundations for science-based crop improvement were laid by Darwin, Mendel, Pasteur and others. Pioneering plant breeders applied systematic cross-breeding of plants and selection of offspring with desirable traits to develop hybrid corn, the first great practical science-based products of genetic engineering.

Early crossbreeding experiments to select desirable characteristics took years to reach the desired developmental state of a plant or animal. Today, with the tools of biotechnology, such as molecular and marker-assisted selection, the ends are reached in a more organized and accelerated way. The result has been the advent of a "Gene" Revolution that stands to equal, if not exceed, the Green Revolution of the 20th century.

Consider these examples:

• Since 1996, the planting of genetically modified crops developed through biotechnology has spread to about 250 million acres from about five million acres around the world, with half of that area in Latin America and Asia. This has increased global farm income by $27 billion annually.

• Ag biotechnology has reduced pesticide applications by nearly 500 million pounds since 1996. In each of the last six years, biotech cotton saved U.S. farmers from using 93 million gallons of water in water-scarce areas, 2.4 million gallons of fuel, and 41,000 person-days to apply the pesticides they formerly used.

• Herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans have enabled greater adoption of minimum-tillage practices. No-till farming has increased 35% in the U.S. since 1996, saving millions of gallons of fuel, perhaps one billion tons of soil each year from running into waterways, and significantly improving moisture conservation as well.

• Improvements in crop yields and processing through biotechnology can accelerate the availability of biofuels. While the current emphasis is on using corn and soybeans to produce ethanol, the long-term solution will be cellulosic ethanol made from forest industry by-products and products.

Listen to Norman Borlaug.
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*I appreciate the categorical problem in this clause -- all Iowans are Americans -- but the point is very important to Iowans.

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