Friday, November 30, 2007

Wishful thinking? 

I'm sure the New York Times has a perfectly reasonable explanation for this error. (Link fixed now)

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More on the subprime rate freeze 

I left a mini-rant in the comments section of TH's post below on why I don't think the Paulson brokered "deal" between lenders and investors to freeze some subprime ARMs will work. Mish Shedlock breaks it down on his blog and as his regular readers might predict, he also thinks it is doomed.

The government and the coalition have largely agreed to extend the lower introductory rate on home loans for certain borrowers who will have trouble making payments once their mortgages increase.

Treasury officials say financial institutions are likely to set criteria that divide subprime borrowers into three groups: those who can continue to make their payments even if rates rise, those who can't afford their mortgages even if rates stay steady, and those who could keep their homes if the maturity date of their mortgages were extended or the interest rates remained at the teaser rates. Only the third group would be eligible for help.

So now the lenders all get together and decide who can afford to pay what. I have a counter proposal. Why don't grocery stores all get together and decide how much customers can afford to pay for a loaf of bread? Seriously, that is what is being discussed here. (Editor: I would also point out that this kind of credit assessment is what the mortgage underwriters were supposed to be doing when the loans were originated in the first place. What makes anyone think they will do a better job of it now?)

But let's get one thing straight right up front. This has nothing whatsoever to do with "saving people's homes". This is about saving financial institutions from collapse. And the plan will fail. It rewards those who cannot afford to pay. The details are not in yet but I suspect one measure of the ability to pay will be whether or not one is current on their loans.

Anyone who wants a freeze should stop paying their mortgage now. It's clear that lending institutions do not want those homes back.

Mish can be pretty harsh but his bleak assessments have been right on the money, and I think he's right on this one too. One more general point he makes about this whole thing seems beyond obvious.
Even if is theoretically possible for such meddling to work, history shows that government meddling always makes things worse in actual practice.
I have to say I find few holes in that logic.

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Is a subprime deal in the offing? 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the White House is near to a deal with the big banks and, perhaps, the investors in subprime mortgages to temporarily freeze interest rates on mortgages that otherwise would "reset":

Details of the plan, which could be announced as early as next week, are still being worked out. In general, the government and the coalition have largely agreed to extend the lower introductory rate on home loans for certain borrowers who will have trouble making payments once their mortgages increase.

Many subprime loans carry a low "teaser" interest rate for the first two or three years, then reset to a higher rate for the remainder of the term, which is typically 30 years in total. In a typical case, the rate would rise to around 9.5% to 11% from 7% or 8%. That would boost an average borrower's payment by several hundred dollars a month.

Exactly which borrowers will qualify for the freeze and how long the freeze would last are yet to be determined. Under one scenario, the freeze could run as long as seven years. The parties are developing standard criteria that would determine eligibility. The criteria should be finalized by the end of year....

Among the holdouts have been investors, who typically hold securities backed by mortgages. If interest rates are frozen, they would lose the potential benefit of higher payments. But investors have cautiously moved toward cooperation, likely on the grounds that it's better to get some interest than none at all.

Uber-libertarian Larry Kudlow is guest-hosting "Squawk Box" this morning, and he is strongly endorsing this deal notwithstanding his incessantly repeated commitment to "free market capitalism." His argument is that with the investors in the deal this is not a confiscation of property rights but a renegotiation. It is just a tough renegotiation that is not possible for any one mortgagor because he would have to deal with too many individual counterparties. Only the White House had the capacity to round up all the parties necessary to make a deal possible. So there you have it, a rare TigerHawk bow in the direction of governmental intervention.

Meanwhile, the dollar is stronger notwithstanding new chatter from the Fed on interest rate cuts, gold and oil are down, and the stock market has now been up three days in a row for the first time since September. A lot of different people are registering new confidence that catastrophe is not in the offing. Are we going to dodge this bullet?

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

The irrelevance of "bringing the troops home" 

Don Surber righteously skewers Chris Matthews for defining victory in Iraq as "bringing the troops home":

Interesting way of redefining victory. For thousands of years, you take over a country, you’re the winner. Matthews wants to change that, saying, “As long as we‘re stuck over there, it seems we‘re losing.”

Let’s see. We still have troops in Kuwait, so we must have lost the Gulf War.

But we pulled our troops out of Mogadishu so we beat Somalia.

No American troops in Vietnam. Yeah, we won.

But we still have troops in Korea. Darn it, we lost the Korean War.

Troops still in Japan? We lost World War II.

The casualties in Iraq are now de minimis by historical standards, even if traumatic for those personally connected. No amount of historical perspective, though, will change the fact that we are not yet in a state of peaceful occupation comparable to that which prevails in all the examples that Surber cites. He is right, though, that it is absurd to define victory by the speed of the retreat following the battle. The question is whether our continuing presence in Iraq confers geopolitical advantage that is worth the cost; if it does, then that is victory. However, many on the left and in the internationalist chattering classes believe that our continued presence in that country will inflame the jihadis against us much as our garrison in Saudi Arabia did following the Gulf War. If they are right -- and I do not believe they are -- then Matthews might be closer to correct than Surber allows.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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The devious Bear: Russia's influence on Annapolis, Iraq, and Iran 

Remember, there are two paths to an Iranian bomb -- the intensive enrichment of U-235 via centrifuge cascades, and the transformation of much less enriched uranium into plutonium via a heavy water reactor. Iran is pursuing both strategies, the second with the apparent help of Russia. We use the word "apparent" advisedly, because it is not entirely clear whether Russia is helping with all the energy and effectiveness it could muster if it actually wanted Iran to produce its own plutonium. Stratfor's email of last night describes the willingness of the Russians to cooperate with the Iranians in the most cynical terms (cynicism being something of a Stratfor specialty). I have rendered into bold certain statements that might be particularly interesting or controversial to our regular readers.

The regional power whose geopolitical options would be most truncated by a nuclear-armed Iran is not the United States, but Russia. The two repeatedly have clashed in the past, and the Soviet Union occupied much of Persia in the last century. The only reason Moscow and Tehran have not recently been at each others' throats is that they have the buffer of the independent Caucasian and Central Asian states between them; at present, they can afford to be allies.

Therefore, Russia finds the idea of an Iranian nuclear program terrifying, but in keeping with a time-honored Russian tradition, Moscow is willing to flirt with helping the Iranians in order to gain leverage on related issues. Specifically, Russian assistance gives Moscow a hand in Iranian affairs, U.S. negotiations with the Iranians over the future of Iraq, and European economic relations with Iran. But should Bushehr become active, that leverage will vanish. Put another way, Russia has a vested interest in assisting Iran's program, but not in actually helping Iran finish it.

As we noted in one of our Geopolitical Diaries about a year ago, the only remaining question is: How long can Russia milk this?

The answer is: longer than one might think. The original deal to build Bushehr dates back to 1995. The project was scheduled to be completed in 1999, and even the Russians have quietly admitted that the reactor core has been ready since late 2004. But because Russia has always based its decisions on politics rather than on reality, the reactor's unveiling might still be a long time coming.

What would be required on the part of the Russians to change this strategy would be the belief that the whole system -- from their point of view -- is falling apart. And that is precisely what seems to be happening.

In the past week, two key pro-Iranian figures in Iraq -- Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki and Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the largest Iraqi Shiite faction, the Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council -- both more or less signed off on a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq. Al-Hakim even met one-on-one with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on Nov. 27. The Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md., on the future of the Palestinian territories saw nearly all of the region's power brokers -- including the Syrians -- come together to agree on a roadmap that will create a Palestinian state.

Normally, Tehran would interpret such developments as a surge of U.S. power that requires a surge of its own in response. In the past, this has meant using its connections to Shiite militias to set Iraq on fire. Yet, so far, Tehran has not so much as raised an eyebrow, and Iraq is calm -- well, as calm as it ever gets (read: attacks are still dropping) -- suggesting that the United States and the Iranians may finally be reaching some sort of deal on the future of Iraq.

Russia used every diplomatic tool in its power to derail Annapolis, including deploying former Prime Minister and Soviet foreign policy maverick Yevgeny Primakov in an effort to make the talks all about the Golan Heights -- an issue so thorny that makes the Israeli-Palestinian dispute look like a stuffed animal in comparison. Yet, peace deals and geopolitical alignments appear to be breaking out across the Middle East with breathtaking speed. And while the dominant view -- particularly in Washington, Tehran, Damascus, Riyadh and Baghdad -- is nervous optimism, the emotion percolating in Moscow is terror. A Middle East that is not on fire is a Middle East that does not consume Washington's attention. And a Washington, and even an Iran, that has free time is one that starts poking into the Russian near abroad.

In fact, the picture is worse than it appears at first glance. The Europeans have pretty much given up on economic contact with Iran; Europe is crafting a common energy policy to reduce their reliance on Russian petroleum; and Chinese economic growth continues to outshine anything the Russians can generate. High energy prices may have granted Russia more options at home, but the challenges on the Russian periphery have only gotten bigger recently.

Russia now needs to use every tool at its disposal in an attempt to upend the progress that the Americans and the Middle Eastern powers have made in order to distract the world from Moscow. One tactic will be to hold its own counter-conference on the Palestinian issue in an effort to derail the progress at Annapolis. Another will be to ship nuclear fuel to Bushehr and switch the reactor on in the hopes that this sufficiently emboldens Iran enough for it to scrap the most recent round of talks with the United States and demand more.

I'll leave it to you to discuss whether Russia is in fact playing such a deep game, and whether Stratfor describes its interests accurately. Stratfor's observation about the level of violence in Iraq is very interesting, however, and invites an obvious question. Yes, the news of a permanent base deal with Iraq is certainly a defeat for Iran. Is Iran's failure to escalate the product of some quid pro quo in the ongoing sub rosa negotiations with the United States (as Stratfor suggests), or is it a reflection of Iran's geopolitical defeat in the battle for Iraq?

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There's more than one way to wage a counterinsurgency 

Richard Fernandez of the Belmont Club compares the American counterinsurgency in Iraq to Russia's war in Chechnya, and wonders if the Americans have done better because we offer a better vision for the future:

Although it is fashionable in certain "sophisticated" circles to deride it, one of the key American success factors in Iraq may be the policy to "bring freedom" -- political empowerment -- to the Middle East. Rather than being a naive emotion at odds with "adult" foreign policy, the idea of politically empowering a population may actually have great practical value. This is not to say that the Russian campaign in Chechnya has been without result, but a straighforward comparison between the two campaigns against a Jihadi foe shows that the American campaign has been surprisingly effective.

Read the whole thing, and compare to my post on "victory conditions" in the wider war, also published at the Belmont Club.

And then, of course, release the hounds.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Should we care that Iran and Hamas are denouncing Annapolis? 

I have been worried that the Annapolis peace conference was a bad idea, although not with the intensity and conviction of many conservatives. It seems to me that the risk is that any plausible agreement will strengthen the bad guys more than the good guys. That said, the fact that Iran and Hamas are attacking the negotiations makes me want them to succeed, and wonder whether they ought to.

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Bear squeeze 

The stock market closed moments ago, capping the largest two-day advance in four and a half five years. That comes after more than a month of miserable trading; until today, the S&P 500 had not been up two days in a row since late October. What kicked off the rally? A relatively small investment by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. It has been a long time since we have seen that kind of leverage out of a single transaction. The fed spoke, the dollar is up, and crude oil prices fell almost $4 to a tick above $90 on news that crude inventories were higher than had been expected. Today, at least, it's all good.

The question is, does this mean that the collective judgment of the market is that the credit crunch will resolve without catastrophe?

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When your life is on the line, you want the infidels on your case 

George W. Bush met today with the political leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. The question is, why is al-Hakim in the United States? According to Stratfor, it is to get the infidels to validate his Iranian health care:

Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, appears to be free of the lung cancer for which he was being treated in Iran, one of his aides told McClatchy Newspapers. Al-Hakim is to have a checkup in Houston today to verify that the cancer is in remission.

Oh ye of little faith.

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Political art 

If you wonder about your emotional connection to your political beliefs, click on this and tell us whether your impulsive reaction was to be offended or amused.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Abu Dhabi and the recycling of American dollars 

The blogger Eyeon08 notes that the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has agreed to pump more than $7 billion into Citigroup, and wonders whether the protectionists of the left and right will demagogue the transaction as they did the aborted Dubai Ports deal last year. Conservative blogger Bill Quick did not, actually, "demagogue" the deal, but did attack Eyeon08 for suggesting that critics of the deal would be demagogues:

Yeah, right. Any opposition to the ever-growing influence of Middle Eastern Arab oil money in American markets, society, or other affairs is nothing but demagoguery.

That’s the sort of demagoguing that pretty much cancels itself.

Without wanting to get between these two bloggers and their parsing of demagoguery, may I respectfully suggest that "any opposition to the ever-growing influence of Middle Eastern Arab oil money in American markets" needs to start with opposition to sending American dollars to Middle Eastern Arabs. As long as we choose to ship Abu Dhabi and other oil exporters dollars by the hundreds of billions to pay for oil, they are going to need a place to spend or invest those dollars. They can either spend them on American products or invest them directly in American assets, or they can spend and invest them in Europe and Asia and then Europeans and Asians can spend and invest them here. Frankly, I'd rather that those dollars be spent and invested in the United States directly than wait around for them to be laundered through the economies of Japan, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom who knows how many times before they make it home again.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Ferentz to....Michigan? 

Speculation abounds that the Michigan Wolverines are after Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz as their next head coach. From the Ann Arbor News:
Rumors are flying today that Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has been offered the job at the University of Michigan, where he is considered a candidate to replace the retiring Lloyd Carr.
However, according to Hawk Central, the Iowa Athletic Department denies giving any of the parties permission to discuss a Ferentz move, which is apparently a provision in his contract.

So who knows.

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offers to "observe" American elections 

Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has offered to "observe" American elections next year, apparently "prompted by a belief that Americans would vote against the current administration in a truly free poll." No doubt he is correct, but through the nefarious tyranny of the United States Constitution Americans will be denied the opportunity to vote against George W. Bush a third time.

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Scarcity in crisis 

There is an interesting link today on Survivalblog to a list of 100 items that disappear first in a crisis. I'm not sure what it is based on and assume it is speculation, but it is interesting nonetheless. I've reproduced enough of the list to get to toilet paper. If you're interested in anything beyond that, read the whole thing.

100 Items to Disappear First

1. Generators (Good ones cost dearly. Gas storage, risky. Noisy...target of
thieves; maintenance etc.)
2. Water Filters/Purifiers
3. Portable Toilets
4. Seasoned Firewood. Wood takes about 6 - 12 months to become dried, for home uses.
5. Lamp Oil, Wicks, Lamps (First Choice: Buy CLEAR oil. If scarce, stockpile ANY!)
6. Coleman Fuel. Impossible to stockpile too much.
7. Guns, Ammunition, Pepper Spray, Knives, Clubs, Bats & Slingshots.
8. Hand-can openers, & hand egg beaters, whisks.
9. Honey/Syrups/white, brown sugar
10. Rice - Beans - Wheat
11. Vegetable Oil (for cooking) Without it food burns/must be boiled etc.,)
12. Charcoal, Lighter Fluid (Will become scarce suddenly)
13. Water Containers (Urgent Item to obtain.) Any size. Small: HARD CLEAR PLASTIC ONLY - note - food grade if for drinking.
16. Propane Cylinders (Urgent: Definite shortages will occur.
17. Survival Guide Book.
18. Mantles: Aladdin, Coleman, etc. (Without this item, longer-term lighting is
19. Baby Supplies: Diapers/formula. ointments/aspirin, etc.
20. Washboards, Mop Bucket w/wringer (for Laundry)
21. Cookstoves (Propane, Coleman & Kerosene)
22. Vitamins
23. Propane Cylinder Handle-Holder (Urgent: Small canister use is dangerous
without this item)
24. Feminine Hygiene/Haircare/Skin products.
25. Thermal underwear (Tops & Bottoms)
26. Bow saws, axes and hatchets, Wedges (also, honing oil)
27. Aluminum Foil Reg. & Heavy Duty (Great Cooking and Barter Item)
28. Gasoline Containers (Plastic & Metal)
29. Garbage Bags (Impossible To Have Too Many).
30. Toilet Paper, Kleenex, Paper Towels

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My whereabouts 

I'm on the road -- Jacksonville, Florida, actually -- at a management meeting. I am not sure when I will have time to blog, but if you missed it yesterday consider occupying yourself with Amir Tahiri's piece on the good and bad news from Iraq.

And then answer me this: Why does the tap water here in Jacksonville taste so bad?

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Monday, November 26, 2007

The many plumbing problems of the blogosphere 

I don't know if this counts as a blogospheric brush-with-greatness, but the TigerHawk household had a severe plumbing problem and called Roto-Rooter at exactly the same time last night as the Insta-houshold. We also got good service, to the tune of $468. Under the circumstances, I'm delighted if the man who helped us out is now able to buy his kids the G.I. Joe with the Kung Fu grip. Good for him -- as far as we were concerned, he was doing the Lord's work.

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Stratfor on Annapolis 

Buy your mother Stratfor for Christmas!

Perhaps with that promo Stratfor will forgive me for liberally excerpting their letter on the Annapolis conference.

But while expectations for this particular meeting are low, we ought to be cautious about dismissing it.

Peace in the Middle East is unlikely to unfold at Annapolis, but it is significant that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad will be there to see it not unfold. They announced their plans to attend following an Arab League vote endorsing the conference (which of course would not have passed without the blessing of the Saudis). So, while the Saudis and Syrians both grumbled about attending, neither resisted the Arab League decision enough to block it.

This is worth noting. The Saudis do not go to such conferences; they tend to give advice from the sidelines. It is therefore important that they have decided to sit down with the Israelis and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rather than boycott in solidarity with Hamas, a group they support. Whatever the outcome of the meeting, the Saudis' decision to attend is a slap in the face of Islamist Palestinians. It was not a decision taken lightly.

Two possible motives for the move come to mind. The first is to back up the United States. Saudi Arabia has become increasingly concerned that American weakness, resulting from the Iraq war, might create a power vacuum in the region. At the end of the day, the Saudis do not want to see that vacuum arise, and they want Annapolis to look successful, give the Bush administration a boost and make the United States appear to be doing better in the region.

The second motive has to do with Iran. The more unstable the Sunni world becomes, the more powerful Shiite Iran becomes, and the Saudis have the most to lose with the rise of Iranian power. The Palestinian split is a Sunni split and it opens the door to Shiite Hezbollah and the Iranians -- not something the Saudis want to see continue. Going to Annapolis is a strong signal from Riyadh that it wants the Palestinians to reconcile.

In this context, the decision by the Syrians to attend is important. The Saudis undoubtedly leaned on them heavily. The Syrians have been close to the Iranians, in a complex and not always easy relationship. The Alawite government in Syria is Shiite, but governs a predominantly Sunni country. By attending Annapolis, the Syrians have signaled that they are not to be ruled out of whatever peace process emerges, while staking a claim to their own, non-Palestinian issue, the Golan Heights. But by coming to Annapolis, the Syrians have also opened a door to the United States and the Saudis.

Or maybe the Syrians just do not want to be bombed again. Or maybe they are there to look out for Iran's interests. Or maybe they got something good in return. In all cases, Annapolis will probably be interesting and symbolic. The question is how.

Talk amongst yourselves. I'm on a plane this morning, but will return later in the day.

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Chickengreens don't fly commercial 

The righty 'sphere's hunt for greens who call for other people to make sacrifices continues:

I guess commercial air tickets and a Prius were out of the question.

Perhaps he thought about it, but worried that if he flew on a plane that was going there anyway nobody would confuse him for an environmentalist.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving Day conversation 

Big animal, small guy

What, pray tell, were they talking about?

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Women in art 

Depictions of women in art, morphing one by one from da Vinci to Picasso. Very cool.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

California schadenfreude 

More homes are burning in "ritzy Malibu." I am ashamed to admit that my first reaction was to chuckle to myself. Then I thought that was a terrible response, one that I never feel when others are suffering. I will have to explore my feelings.

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Thank you, John Howard 

After a long and successful run, America's staunchest ally has elected a new prime minister to replace John Howard. I agree with Michelle Malkin: "All Americans should mark the end of his tenure with gratitude." And then some.

The election of a left-wing government in Australia is hardly the end of the world, as sad as it is to see Howard go. Any country that can laugh at this video (warning, liberal use of the "f word") is going to be stepping up for years to come.

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Is Iran the target of the "real" surge? 

Back in January, we excerpted from a Stratfor analysis that identified Iran as the real target of the surge. It is worth reading again in light of all that has transpired since. Then go read Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club, who had this to say yesterday:

Even if the US never takes any military action against Iran the creation of a new and modern Iraqi Army, well supplied with artillery and logistics (as appears to be the case) will create a threat in being for the Ayatollahs. From a situation in which the Teheran could contemplate virtually annexing southern Iraq (as would have occurred if the US had admitted defeat in early 2007 and left) the Ayatolahs now face the prospect of having to maintain large permanent standing forces on their border with Iraq. Nor is this all. If most US ground forces are freed up by the Real Surge the Iranians will suddenly face the prospect of dangerous mobile US reserve. All in all it would be a nightmarish burden for Teheran to shoulder.

Does this mean war in the Middle East? Ironically the Real Surge may actually reduce the prospect of war considerably, while at the same time improving the prospects for the peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear problem. While it is possible that Iran, watching its window of opportunity closing, may become suddenly reckless and launch an all-out attack to destabilize Iraq, it is probably too late for banzai measures. The odds are that Iran has been strategically beaten, first by the American Surge and worse, by the follow-on Iraqi resurgence.

Doves -- virtually all of whom have opposed the Petraeus strategy in Iraq -- usually argue that even if Iran is developing nuclear weapons and destabilizing its neighbors, it can be contained and deterred. Maybe. It depends how much the leadership craves martyrdom. But if the mullahs can be contained and deterred, does it not seem likely that the successful resurrection of the Iraqi army -- only possible because of the American "surge" -- will be an essential part of that strategy?

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Regarding polar bears and climate change 

There are two "climate change" anecdotes in the news this morning. The Times (London) reports that European ski resorts are getting lots of new snow in November for the first time in ages. The paper takes great care to remind us that this cannot be taken as evidence that climate is not getting warmer. Fair enough, the sum of anecdotes is not now and never has been data.

The other story is just the latest of many to sweat over polar-bear demographics. The Hudson Bay population continues to decline, extending a trend since 1987. Biologists believe that the early retreat of the ice -- which the bears use as "hunting platforms" -- in the spring cuts short the prime feeding season, which in turn results in thin and therefore more vulnerable bears. The result is that young and old bears are dying disproportionately fast in years when the ice breaks up, and this is proposed as a link between anthropogenic global warming and the declining polar bear population in the western Hudson Bay.

Interestingly, Bjorn Lomborg, in the opening pages of his excellent book Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, takes a hard look at Al Gore's manipulation of the polar bear data, a useful pre-refutation of the linked news story:

Padding across the ice, polar bears are beautiful animals. To Greenland -- part of my own nation, Denmark -- they are a symbol of pride. The loss of this animal would be a tragedy. But the real story of the polar bear is instructive. In many ways, this tale encapsulates the broader problem with the climate-change concern: once you look closely at the supporting data, the narrative falls apart.

Al Gore shows a picture ... and tells us "a new scientific study shows that, for the first time, polar bears have been drowning in significant numbers." The World Wildlife Fund actually warns that polar bears might stop reproducing by 2012 and thus become functionally extinct in less than a decade. In their pithy statement, "polar bears will be consigned to history, something that our grandchildren can only read about in books." The Independent tells us that temperature increases "mean polar bears are wiped out in their Arctic homeland. The only place they can be seen is a zoo."

Over the past few years, this story has cropped up many times, based first ona World Wildlife Fund report in 2002 and later in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment from 2004. Both relied extensively on research published in 2001 by the POlar Bear Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union.

But what this group really told us was that of the twenty distinct subpopulations of polar bears, one or possibly two were declining in Baffin Bay; more than half were known to be stable; and two subpopulations were actually increasing around the Beaufort Sea. Moreover, it is reported that the global polar-bear population has increased dramatically over the past decades, from about five thousand members in the 1960s to twenty-five thousand today, through stricter hunting regulation. Contrary to what you might expect -- and what was not pointed out in any of the recent stories -- the two populations in decline come from areas where it has actually been getting colder over the past fifty years, whereas the two increasing populations reside in areas where it is getting warmer. Likewise, Al Gore's comment on drowning bears suggests an ongoing process getting ever worse. Actually, there was a single sighting of four dead bears after an "abrupt windstorm" in an area housing one of the increasing bear populations.

The best-studied polar-bear population lives on the western coast of Hudson Bay. That its population has declined 17 percent, from 1,200 in 1987 to under 950 in 2004, has gotten much press. Not mentioned, though, is that since 1981 the population had soared from just 500, thus eradicating the claim of a decline. Moreover, nowhere in the news coverage is it mentioned that 300 to 500 bears are shot each year, with 49 shot on average in the west coast of Hudson Bay. Even if we take the story of decline at face value, it means we have lost about 15 bears to global warming each year, whereas we have lost 49 each year to hunting....

Lomborg -- who carefully explains that global warming is real and man-made -- argues that the polar bear story is emblematic of much of what passes for public discussion of AGW -- that it drives emotional and exaggerated claims and that it makes us focus on the wrong things. Indeed, many of the supposed problems that arise from the likely outcomes described by the leading climate models lend themselves to much more efficient solutions than restructuring the global economy to slash the production of carbon dioxide.

Lomborg's book is currently #502 at Amazon. If you are interested in the argument over AGW and shaping the political and policy response to it, you will want to read his book.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

The newest lefty fad: Ending the species 

The left has found a form of "activism" that is, er, self-executing:

At the age of 27 this young woman at the height of her reproductive years was sterilised to "protect the planet".

Incredibly, instead of mourning the loss of a family that never was, her boyfriend (now husband) presented her with a congratulations card.

While some might think it strange to celebrate the reversal of nature and denial of motherhood, Toni relishes her decision with an almost religious zeal.

"Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet," says Toni, 35.

She understands the meaning of life. She is just against it.

There is, though, an obvious silver lining: The right will inherit the earth.

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The cost of social norms: The inefficiency in putting the toilet seat down 

An economist proves that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient:

The issue of whether the toilet seat should be left up or down after use seemingly generates a lot of passion among the parties concerned, however, scientific inquiries into the matter are almost non-existent. Notable exceptions are Choi (2002) and Harter (2005). Choi (2002) argues that the rule of leaving the toilet seat down after use is inefficient in the sense that there is at least one other rule that outperform this rule. The unit of analysis in Choi (2002) is the household and the efficient rule is defined as one that minimizes the total cost of toilet seat operations per household. Choi (2002) does not model the issue as a situation of conflict, hence ignores the game theoretic aspects of the problem. Harter (2005) models the situation as a cooperative game and proposes a contract that splits the costs of toilet seat operations evenly among the parties. Both papers agree that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down in inefficient in the sense that it does not minimize the total cost of toilet seat operations per household. However, both papers fail to address an important concern: If a female finds the toilet seat in a wrong position then she will most probably yell at the male involved. This yelling inflicts a cost on the male. Based on this omission, women may argue that the analysis in these papers is suspect.

In this paper, we internalize the cost of yelling and model the conflict as a non-cooperative game between two species, males and females.We find that the social norm of leaving the toilet seat down is inefficient. However, to our dismay, we also find that the social norm of always leaving the toilet seat down after use is not only a Nash equilibrium in pure strategies but is also trembling-hand perfect. So, we can complain all we like, but this norm is not likely to go away.

Emphasis, er, added.

If you are an economist, or a man, read the whole thing.

Comments from all genders are welcome.

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Neocons at the New York Times? 

In its full flower, the Bush administration's decision to promote democracy in the Arab Middle East, even at the expense of "stability" (so clearly articulated by Condoleezza Rice in Cairo in June 2005), is widely regarded by critics of the left and right as the most compelling evidence of the administration's adherence to "neoconservative" ideology. It is curious, therefore, that some of the administration's most strident critics, the editors of the New York Times, seem to be attacking Bush for failing to do exactly that in Pakistan:

President Bush must work a lot harder to restore democracy — the best hope for holding off the chaos that would make Pakistan an even more hospitable host for extremists. That means that he must make clear once and for all that Washington is firmly on the side of democracy, not more deal-making designed to keep the general in power.

Hey, that's right out of the neocon playbook!

Now, Pakistan is not Arab and is not in the Middle East, so perhaps that is a basis to support democratic regime change there and not in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia. If the editors believe those differences are significant they should say so and explain themselves. Otherwise, their position looks more like another opportunistic bashing of the Bush administration instead of a principled and sincerely-held opinion.

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Start your holiday shopping now! 

Amazon sent me a link to their "Black Friday deals" page, so go there, buy stuff, and I'll get a little tip. Note that I do not add my Amazon fees to my already well-lined pockets, but instead donate them (and quite a bit more) to charities that virtually all of my readers would approve of.

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I'm not sure most Spaniels know how goofy they look:


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Whatever you do, don't look 

I admit, I'm never going to understand quantum mechanics.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

The turducken and variations thereon 

As is customary, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Virginia with local relatives on both sides of the family. Since nobody -- other than me -- wanted to discuss whether the press coverage of the "surge" has been fair, we talked about food. My brother and co-blogger, Charlottesvillain, who is something of a foodie, brought the conversation around to the "turducken." That led to some minor controversy around the correct preparation of same, so I rendered a dramatic reading of the apparently authoritative Wikipedia entry on the subject. Read the whole thing for good Thanksgiving dinner trivia, but the best part relates to wider genre:

In addition to the aforementioned chuckey, some enthusiasts have taken it a step further, and come up with the turduckencorpheail. This is a standard turducken, which is then stuffed with a cornish game hen, which is then stuffed with a pheasant, and finally stuffed with a quail. Still others have pushed the envelope even further with the turgooponducheasanishuail, which includes both a goose and capon, in addition to the component birds of the turduckencorpheail. In recent years, another version called the turgooponducheasnishuaichuffguihagaga has been growing in popularity. It has all the properties of the previous two versions listed, but also includes beef, pork, lamb, and frog. The turduckencorpheail, turgooponducheasanishuail, and the turgooponducheasnishuaichuffguihagaga are not for the faint of heart; both are extremely time consuming endeavors, as birds of the proper size must first be obtained, and then prepared; removing extremely fragile bones from a bird such as a quail without breaking the skin is impossible for most.

Chef Paul Prudhomme brought renewed popularity to the Osturduckencorpheail with his own Osturduckencorpheail recipe. There is a similar dish in South Africa called the Osturducken, an ostrich stuffed with turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken.

Some barbecue aficionados have been known to enclose a turducken in a whole hog, and slow-smoke or pit roast it for large gatherings or festivals. Kansas City Pitmaster "Schedule Peter" Pookie Thornhill was credited in 2006 with the invention of the turdbutt, a pork shoulder (or Boston butt), inside a duck, inside a turkey. A further variant is the gurducken, where the external bird is a goose, which is stuffed with a turkey, then a duck, then a chicken. Some chefs "dress up" their turduckens, adding a vest of baby back ribs and/or a bowtie of bacon. The Turducken has also inspired variations, such as the hotchken. A hotchken, known as "the poor man's turducken," is a chicken stuffed with hotdogs.

In the UK the Turducken is commonly known as a three-bird roast. English chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall expanded this into a ten-bird roast (a turgoduckmaguikenantidgeonck - turkey, goose, duck, mallard, guineafowl, chicken, pheasant, partridge, pigeon, woodcock).

The largest recorded nested bird roast is 17 birds, attributed to a royal feast in France in the 19th century: a bustergophechiduckneaealcockidgeoverwingailusharkolanbler (originally called a Rôti Sans Pareil, or "Roast without equal") - a bustard stuffed with a turkey, a goose, a pheasant, a chicken, a duck, a guinea fowl, a teal, a woodcock, a partridge, a plover, a lapwing, a quail, a thrush, a lark, an Ortolan Bunting and a Garden Warbler. The final bird is small enough that it can be stuffed with a single olive; it also suggests that, unlike modern multi-bird roasts, there was no stuffing or other packing placed in between the birds. This dish probably could not be recreated in the modern era as many of the listed birds are now protected species.

A (possibly apocryphal) dish of camel stuffed with animal and plant foods in layers is whole stuffed camel.

Turgooponducheasnishuaichuffguihagaga "has been growing in popularity"? Who knew that?

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Iran in Iraq: 300,000 Iraqi Shiites are unlikely to be wrong 

There is a certain subspecies of leftist that believes that American claims that Iran is subverting Iraq are nothing more than propaganda to justify war against Iran. It would be delightful, then, for such people to explain this story in today's Washington Post:

More than 300,000 Shiite Muslims from southern Iraq have signed a petition condemning Iran for fomenting violence in Iraq, according to a group of sheiks leading the campaign.

"The Iranians, in fact, have taken over all of south Iraq," said a senior tribal leader from the south who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his life. "Their influence is everywhere."


The petition, which the organizers said was signed by 600 sheiks, calls on the United Nations to send a delegation to investigate what it termed crimes committed by Iran and its proxies in southern Iraq.

"The most painful stab in the back of the Shiites in Iraq by the Iranian regime has been its shameful abuse of Shiite religion to achieve its ominous end," the sheiks said a statement. "The only solution and hopeful prospect for Iraq, and in particular the southern provinces, is the eviction of the Iranian regime from our homeland."

The petition was "supported by" (the WaPo's term) "the People's Mujaheddin Organization of Iran, or Mujaheddin-e Khalq, an Iranian opposition group that is listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization but that nonetheless enjoys U.S. military protection in Iraq." This will undoubtedly provoke the rejoinder from the left that the petition itself must be an American black op, to which I will pre-ask the question, since when have our intelligence operatives been even close to that sophisticated in southern Iraq? Not that it wouldn't be wonderful if they were, but who's kidding whom?

The good news in this is that Iraqis are reclaiming Iraq. The Sunnis in al-Anbar are going after the jihadis (including those Iraqis paid with foreign money), and the Shiites in the south are stepping up to condemn Iranian subversion. Iraqis seem finally to have decided that American soldiers, infidels that they may be, are the only foreigners who will go home when asked.

The next question, of course, is whether Iraqi nationalism, founded on opposition to Iran, the jihad, and the United States, is sufficient to overcome sectarian and tribal divisions once the American troops withdraw.

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An endorsement the doves do not need 

Ricardo Sanchez, the retired general who was in charge of America's forces in Iraq during 2003-2004 and who presided over the abysmal system of internal controls that led to the mess at Abu Ghraib, has endorsed Demoratic proposals to withdraw all our troops by the end of 2008. Because, of course, if he did not succeed in Iraq, how can anybody else?

It will be interesting to see how many of the lefties who condemned Sanchez for incompetence or worse during the Abu Ghraib scandal will applaud him for strategic insight in 2007.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Selling victory short 

John Murtha cannot abide the possibility that the United States might fight its way to peace in Iraq:

"We can't win militarily," declared John Murtha, chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, on Tuesday, dismissing as irrelevant the extraordinary gains by U.S. forces in Iraq since President Bush placed Gen. David Petraeus in charge.

The political leadership of the Democratic Party, with rare exceptions, is simply terrified that Iraq might look something like victory before, say, next Labor Day. Not only will steadfast hawks run endless advertisements with their incessant predictions of defeat, but it would force them into a truly horrible rhetorical cul de sac. Their only option would be to argue that the victory, however important for Iraq, the war on Islamist extremism, or America's geopolitical advantage, was "not worth the cost" in lives and money. This is not far from telling America's military that its heavy price was all for nothing. Any voter who is not an utter barking moonbat will find that pretty tough to square with the left's claim that they "support the troops" (which claim, we all know, is rank political expediency, today's younger lefties having learned from watching their ideological forebears that it does not pay to spit on returning soldiers).

If the insurgency peters away this winter and Iraqis, tired of fighting, were to bury hatchet and build a reasonably decent society from the wreckage of two generations of virtually constant war, what would Murtha, Pelosi, Kennedy, Reid, Kucinich, and countless other anti-war liberals say then? Having sold victory short for years, they will pay a heavy price covering their losing position.

BUT THEN... Don't get too excited. There is still time for Iraq to re-destabilize. John Murtha may yet be right.

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The New York Times and the civil right it does not like 

The editors of the New York Times are, unusually for them, calling upon the Supreme Court to construe one of the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution to give individuals no rights against the government. Hint: It is not the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, or Eighth amendments. You do the rest of the thinking.

The most appalling thing about the editorial is its final sentence:

A decision that upends needed gun controls currently in place around the country would imperil the lives of Americans.

There is not a shred of sustainable evidence that this statement is true in any meaningful sense. Literally, of course, it might be: the specific life of some American might be "imperiled" because an otherwise law-abiding person owned a handgun. However, the empirical case for the impact of gun control on lives or crime is so astonishingly thin that the editors are far more guilty of "lying" on this subject than, say, the Bush administration was about WMD in Iraq (to pick a basis for comparison than the editors should understand).

For my money, the country's most articulate opponent of gun regulation is Dave Kopel, who keeps a web page and blogs at the Volokh Conspiracy. Kopel has a brief summary of arguments and links here, and much more here. Finally, Glenn Reynolds and Helen Smith interviewed Kopel about a year ago for the "Glenn and Helen Show." If you are interested in gun rights, I strongly recommend giving it a listen.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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The reasons why the tide turned 

Ralph Peters' column this morning has some praise for Generals Petraeus and Odierno -- they are winning because they want to win and their soldiers know it -- and some great bits of quippy wisdom:

"Sorry, Muqtada - that's what you get for believing The New York Times."

"Oh, and under Petraeus our troops have been relentless in their pursuit of our enemies. Contrary to the myths of the left, peace can only be built over the corpses of evil men."

Read the whole thing.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Al Gore: Winning for losing 

They said that if George W. Bush were elected, the rich would get much richer and large American corporations would oppress the weak, and they were right!

Al Gore just won a Nobel Prize for teaching the world to think green, but he's also showing he knows a thing or two about another kind of green: money. Since 2000, according to published reports, the former veep has transformed himself from a public servant with around $1 million in the bank to a sparkling private consultant with a net worth estimated to be north of $100 million. He's a senior adviser to Google, a board member at Apple and now a newly minted general partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm that made billions investing early in Netscape, Amazon and Google.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

The real reason why we invaded Iraq 

I admit, I did not see this coming:

Dolly Parton's father was a semi-literate sharecropper, and she grew up in a one-room shack with ten siblings and no indoor plumbing. Yet by the time she was in her late 20s, she was in a position to tell Elvis Presley to get stuffed. The King wanted to cover one of her songs, “I Will Always Love You”. His agent demanded the usual terms, which included signing over half the rights to the tune itself. Ms Parton said no; a bold snub that made her millions. Her composition was a global smash. Whitney Houston's cover alone sold more than 10m copies. Saddam Hussein used an Arabic version as a campaign song in 2002, though it would be unfair to blame Ms Parton for his victory, since there was no one else on the ballot.

Reason enough to overthrow him, I would say.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Who let the dogs out? 


Dog is supposed to be man's best friend but it may not be the right mode of protection if you are a pious leader of an Islamic state with a reputation for forgoing luxuries.

So perhaps, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, should have known better than to allow his security team to deploy four highly trained sniffer dogs in a search for explosives before his appearance at the national press exhibition.

It hardly helped that journalists attending the event at Tehran's youth artistic and cultural centre were ordered outside for more than two hours to enable the animals to scour the venue unhindered, before it was declared safe for the president.

The incident has put Ahmadinejad in the dog house with his critics, who point out the contradiction between the canine deployment and classic Islamic teaching that dogs are unclean.

I've always said that the world needs a good bomb-sniffing cat.

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Are we finally learning to fight the wider war? 

Two stories today make me wonder whether our governmental institutions are finally, genuinely, learning to fight this war.

First, the State Department's public diplomacy effort seems to have moved at least one notch off of ham-handed in the direction of subtle:

The State Department, departing from traditional public diplomacy techniques, has what it calls a three-person, "digital outreach team" posting entries in Arabic on "influential" Arabic blogs to challenge misrepresentations of the United States and promote moderate views among Islamic youths in the hopes of steering them from terrorism.

The department's bloggers "speak the language and idiom of the region, know the culture reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly, rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a U.S. government spokesperson," Duncan MacInnes, of State's Bureau of International Information Programs, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on terrorism and unconventional threats on Thursday.

Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

"Because blogging tends to be a very informal, chatty way of working," MacInnes said, "it is actually very dangerous to blog." So State has a senior experienced officer, who served in Iraq, acting as supervisor and discussing each posting before it goes up. "We do not make policy," MacInnes added.

The State Department team's approach is to join a blog's conversation, often when it turns to the motivation for U.S. policy toward Iraq, and when others are claiming that the U.S. occupation is meant to help Israel or to secure oil. "Our job is to address that motivation issue and show them that that's not the motivation," MacInnes said.

"You can't just say, 'Well, here's our policy,' and drop it into the blog. You have to have what I call a bridge," MacInnes said. He then described using a sporting or current event or even poetry that would "allow one to get to be in a conversational mode with people."

Even though the State Department employees were not going into hard-core terrorist sites, the worry, MacInnes said, was that after identifying themselves and using their own names, "we would be, in the parlance of the Internet, 'flamed' when we come on" -- meaning their entries would be subjected to intense attacks.

They were not, and there were such posts as, "We don't like your policies but we're sure glad you're here talking to us about it," MacInnes said. As a result, State is expanding the team to six speakers of Arabic, two of Persian and one of Urdu.

This would have been a useful approach in 2003 or 2004, too, but it is never too late to get a clue.

Then there is the news that we are trying to replicate the Awakening campaign of al Anbar in Pakistan, recruiting the tribes there to go to war against al Qaeda. John Robb wonders whether the United States has finally embraced open source warfare:
The US military is on the slow path to the realization that nation-building -- from reconstruction to other forms of traditional COIN dogma that serve to return legitimacy to the government -- doesn't work. Politics and populations in our new global environment fragment faster than they can be assembled into cohesive entities. What does work to slow the spread of temporary autonomous zones and open source insurgencies are open source militias.

The wider war, and even parts of the theater battles going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, is primarily an insurgency within Islam. We are the declared enemy of one side in the insurgency because we are perceived as the patron of the hated "apostate regimes" that govern most of the Muslim oil states, but in the end the real fight is intramural. It has always been the case that we needed Muslims to win the war against al Qaeda, not to love us but to hate them. The clash between jihadi brutality and American intransigence, wittingly or otherwise, motivated many Muslims who were on the sidelines during the rise of al Qaeda and its cognates to throw in their lot with one side or the other. The evidence is mounting that whatever Muslims may think of the United States, many more are fighting against the jihad than fighting for it, and that is the key to victory in the long run.

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Frogs and smoke alarms 

My sister the biologist ponders the similarities between certain chirping frogs and smoke alarms. According to her, both are invasive species.

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What do George Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have in common? 

What do George W. Bush and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have in common? Why, their political opponents think they are nuts:

Iran's moderates are intensifying criticism of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, landing their first blows in a bitter political fight ahead of elections next year.

The moderate heavyweights Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani [only in Iran and in the minds of AFP are these extremists "moderates" - ed.] have been unusually explicit in their criticism of Ahmadinejad's economic policies and his analysis of the threat posed by the United States....

Mohammad Atrianfar, a confidant of Rafsanjani, said the explicit criticism had been triggered by the degree of concern amongst moderates about the state of the country under Ahmadinejad.

"Rafsanjani is genuinely worried," the leading newspaper editor told AFP.

"He was one of those who created this (Islamic) system and as he was a leader in the (1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war) he knows what war means and what price people have to pay.

"Ahmadinejad does not have a true idea about reality. He has no sense of fear. He thinks that if he adopts radical positions his rivals will step back. The attacks are set to multiply ahead of the elections."

Something to think about, for those of you who believe that we can be certain that we can deter the Islamic Republic from using nuclear weapons.

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First Rolex watches, now shrunken heads 

Here are some tips on how to distinguish real shrunken heads from counterfeits.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Red vs. Blue: Why are we here? 

So, what if the soldiers in your "first-person shooter" thought deeply about why they fight?

CWCID: TigerHawk Teenager.

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Iran's fuel cycle: Blink, or just another stall? 

This is interesting and surprising, but not yet obviously sincere:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to discuss with Arab nations a plan to enrich uranium outside the region in a neutral country such as Switzerland.

He made the announcement in an interview for Dow Jones Newswires in Saudi Arabia where he is attending a petroleum exporters' summit.

Gulf Arab states recently proposed setting up a consortium to provide nuclear fuel to Iran and others.

The scheme could allay fears Iran is enriching uranium for a nuclear bomb.

Naturally, I find it very hard to believe that Iran would surrender its nuclear fuel cycle to a "consortium" of Arabs. Iran has rejected numerous proposals to buy fuel from foreign sources, including proposals from Russia and France to do the same thing. What would have made it suddenly change its mind? Trust in its co-religionists? Cynic that I am, I suspect this trial balloon is really meant to distract the West, once again, from escalating its confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program.

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Will 2008 look like 1864? 

What do David Petraeus and William T. Sherman have in common?

Here is some food for thought:

While things in Iraq could turn around again, it now looks as if the change in US strategy and the injection of additional forces in 2007 is on the way to producing a military victory over al-Qaida and domestic Iraqi terrorists. Equally important has been the decision by a number of Sunni tribes to turn against the foreign terrorists. The result has been the restoration of security to Fallujah and a large part of the country and a sharp reduction in casualties. Next November it is likely to be clear that defeat was avoided and that troops are coming home.

Another result has been that more astute critics of the war have stopped talking about the hopelessness of the military effort and switched to complaining that the Iraqi government has failed to do what they believe is necessary to achieve "reconciliation." But the development of a non-dictatorial political system in Iraq is a slow, delicate, and uncertain process and voters may not think that American senators are the best judges of how well the Iraqis are doing....

In 1864 Americans were fed up with the Civil War, in which there were days on which more soldiers were killed than have died in four years of the Iraq war. "Mr. Lincoln is already beaten," wrote Horace Greeley, perhaps the leading journalist. And three months before the election Republican leaders told president Lincoln that he had no hope of reelection. As Peter Wallison of AEI recently recalled, the Democratic platform denounced "four years of failure" in the war effort and Gen. George B. McClellan, the Democratic candidate opposing Lincoln recommended making peace on Southern terms.

But on September 1 the news reached Washington that Atlanta had fallen to the Union army, and on election day it appeared as if the North was on the way to victory. Lincoln was decisively reelected. And, according to historian Allan Nevins, "The damage done to the Democratic Party by the platform could not be undone. Its … stigmatization of the heroic war effort as worthless gave the Northern millions an image of the Democratic Party they could never forget….and would cost the party votes for a generation."

For well over a year now most prominent Democrats have insisted that the Iraq war had been lost and that the US should get its troops home as quickly as possible. It was true that the US was losing the war in 2006. Two responses were possible. The Democrats response was, in effect, "the war is hopeless, we should give up." The administration response was, "we have to do something different so that we can win."

Most voters prefer the second response - especially when it is successful.

In November 2008 it is likely to be clear that if the US had followed the Democrats' advice the US would have suffered an unnecessary defeat. Those voters who believe that the US is facing dangerous threats from jihadis may well feel that it is not safe to bring to power the party that would have brought defeat in Iraq....

Will history repeat itself? Seven months ago Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared the Iraq war lost, citing as evidence rising violence:
The war in Iraq "is lost" and a US troop surge is failing to bring peace to the country, the leader of the Democratic majority in the US Congress, Harry Reid, said Thursday.

"I believe ... that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week," Reid told journalists.

In recent months the level of violence in Iraq and civilian and military casulaties resulting therefrom has plummeted. Some intellectually honest journalist needs to ask Harry Reid whether a decline in violence is as equally a measure of victory as the increase in violence was, according to him, a measure of defeat.

Meanwhile, the left has subtly altered its argument because the change in our military strategy -- the "surge" -- has indeed improved security in Iraq, always regarded as the essential precondition to meaningful political reform. The New York Times, which rolled out yet another defeatist editorial yesterday, acknowledged that much, even while clinging to the hope -- a noun I use advisedly -- that Iraq will fail to reconcile politically and thereby fail to validate President Bush:
There have been some advances since President Bush sought to salvage his misadventure by sending even more troops into Iraq. Violence has declined and Al Qaeda in Iraq is said to be weaker. But Mr. Bush’s main argument for his escalation — that it would create political space for Iraqis to work together and achieve national reconciliation — has proved wrong.

But is this true? Within days of Reid's poorly-timed rhetorical surrender, the Sunni tribes of Anbar province decided they were better off siding with the United States and the government of Iraq than supporting the jihadis' plan to splinter Iraq into civil war. Is not military alliance the first step toward political reconciliation? Indeed, no less an authority than the government of Iran declared today that the decline in violence in Iraq is because the government of that country has gotten its act together:
A strengthened Iraqi government and a reduction of "foreign interferences" have helped improve security in Iraq, Iran said on Sunday in an apparent reference to the role of U.S.-led forces in its neighbor.

Iran knows whereof it speaks on this subject, it being one of the leading "foreign influences" in Iraq. Of course, I generally do not believe Iran and even in this case assume that its public statement is intended to discredit the American contribution to the improved security in Iraq. However, those who would "negotiate" with Iran in the open (as opposed to secretly, which we are doing now), including most leading Democrats, presume that the public statements of the Iranians can be believed. So, Senator Reid, if you do not believe Iran when it says that the government of Iraq is succeeding because it has gotten stronger, why should you believe them when they deny their nuclear weapons program?

In any case, when George W. Bush announced the new strategy in January, he was quite clear that it would take a number of months for security to improve, particularly in Baghdad:
This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace -- and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.

True, the central government of Iraq has not achieved the legislative benchmarks that Bush established, but it has achieved other things instead, including in particular a vastly more competent and credible military and police. Considering that the violence only really began to decline in September -- remember the left's outrage over General Petraeus' claims to that effect during his Congressional testimony -- even under the announced strategy we have only created the space necessary for true reconciliation in the last month or two. Is it happening? It is hard to say, but two developments are very encouraging. First, political reconciliation cannot happen without a competent Iraqi army and police and the military support of the Sunni tribes. That seems to have come together, at least for the time being, the tribes having decided after four years of violence that they are better off living under a majority government in Baghdad than as an outpost of the jihad. Second, the declining sectarian violence (resulting from the Sunni alliance which in turn is the product of the new American strategy) means that the Shiite militias have backed away from reprisal killings:
The drop in the kind of mass-casualty bombings inflicted by Al Qaeda on the Shiite community that ignited Shiite rage has also removed one of the chief motives of the Shiite militias engaged in retaliatory death-squad activity against Sunnis. The Mahdi Army militia loyal to cleric Moqtada Sadr, blamed for much of the killing, declared a six-month cease-fire in August, and U.S. officials and Iraqis say they mostly appear to be adhering to it.

In other words, Shiite and Sunni leaders are accepting the premise -- for the first time since the fall of Saddam -- that the government of Iraq, supported by the United States, ought to have a monopoly on the use of violence in that country. Is there any more important precondition to the building of a nation than that? Also, is this not at least some evidence that Iraqis are increasingly willing to trust their own government to muddle through? (More on progress toward political and confessional reconciliation here.)

At the moment the surge is unfolding as close to the schedule and the contours predicted by President Bush in January as can reasonably be expected in the fighting of a war. If the same is true in October 2008, will it be 1864 all over again? A great deal can happen between now and then, but if Iraq develops in a way that reveals the wisdom of Bush's intransigence over Democratic defeatism Harry Reid's declaration of defeat will absolutely come back to haunt the left. As it should.

UPDATE: Because we are nothing but fair and balanced, here is the best lefty argument I have seen for the proposition that our "bottom up" tactics in Iraq are actually undermining the prospects for a strong national government (because our strategy of empowering tribes is promoting "warlordism"). That is undoubtedly a risk, but it does not acknowledge the relative weakening of the militias and the increasing integration of Sunnis into the military and police. In essence, Iraqi nationalism is reasserting itself against the jihadis and the Iranians, Iraqis having apparently decided, for now, that the Americans are the only "foreign influence" who would actually leave if requested.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007


Your jaw is only meant to open so far:

A YAWNING husband almost died – after his mouth got stuck wide open.

Tired Ben Shire was making a cuppa when he strained his jaw so much he dislocated it.

The horrified store worker, 34, collapsed in his kitchen unable to breathe or swallow.

His frantic wife dialled 999 as he lay choking on his saliva.

Ambulancemen rushed him to hospital with his jaw still locked – and brought him back from the brink of death using a suction device.

Ben said yesterday after medics won a FOUR-HOUR battle to close his mouth: “We can laugh about it now – but it wasn’t funny at the time.

I actually know a guy whose jaw locked open while he was, er, administering to his wife. They were on vacation in New Orleans -- laissez les bon temps rouler! -- and she had to take him to the emergency room where the doctor released his jaw and then mercilessly questioned him about what he was doing that caused him to open his mouth so wide. Intrusive as it may have been, I sort of understand the doctor's curiousity, especially insofar as it is hard to imagine the appeal of the technique he must have been using. And, no, I never had the courage to ask his wife about that, but seeing as how it is Saturday any female readers are welcome to offer their euphamistically phrased reactions in the comments.

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Seven natural phenomena you probably have never seen 

Venezuela's neverending storm, and six other bizarre natural phenomena that you have probably never seen.

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Conservatives need to think more clearly about climate change 

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is today issuing its "synthesis report," a summary of the three other voluminous reports on climate change and potential remedies therefore that it has already pumped out this year. Many American conservatives, including me, are going to react reflexively, if for no other reason than we regard "United Nations" and "Nobel prize-winning" as just about the two most credibility-destroying adjectives in existence. Combine that with the astonishingly ham-handed and high-handed behavior of the most visible activists and politicians -- the Hollywood elites and Al Gore -- and stories about global climate change arrive at the door of most American conservatives on life support.

Nevertheless, we have to pay attention for two reasons. First and foremost, the supporters of action to confront climate change may well be correct, perhaps not in whole or to the full extent of their rhetoric, but sufficiently for us to have legitimate concern for the planet's biological systems -- some of which are quite fragile -- and hundreds of millions of humans who are vulnerable to rapid change. Second, whether conservatives like it or not, there is now sufficient belief in the underlying scientific case that massive legislation is coming. We have to understand the science in order to argue for reforms that both mitigate the problem and preserve all the things we conservatives enjoy about the modern mass consumer economy. You know, cars, jet travel, huge houses, robust international trade, and manly economic growth. That stuff.

The key is to separate the increasingly convincing scientific arguments substantiating the fact of anthropogenic climate change from the remedies for that change, which can take many forms and will shape the world in which we live for generations to come. In theory it should be easy to do so -- after all, one can never derive what "ought" from what "is." The fact of anthropogenic climate change does not tell us what we ought to do about it. Unfortunately, politicians, activists, lawyers, journalists, and other advocates specialize in claiming, falsely, that "what ought" follows inexorably from "what is," no matter how intellectually dishonest those claims may be. My advice to conservatives, therefore, is that we stop arguing about whether human activity causes global climate change and start getting in front of solutions that will accelerate the creation of wealth over the long term. I hope to write more on this subject in the future.

I expect that many of you will react to my first point -- that the people who claim human activity is rapidly changing the climate may be correct. Fine, but before you go all "Medieval warming period" on me in the comments, read this short post at Real Climate and click through to this summary of leading "skeptic" arguments and the responses thereto. It obviously does not end the debate, but it is a useful place to start on the substantive arguments.

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Friday, November 16, 2007


During last night's Democratic presidential debate, CNN planted questions in the audience and deceived its viewers about the questioners. Coming as this does in the middle of the al Durah appeal, it has been a decidedly humiliating week for mainstream media organizations. Is there anything that they are not making up out of whole cloth?

MORE: "The most busted name in news." Heh.

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The Congress to American business: Do not help America in time of war 

The Senate Judiciary Committee has reported out a new "eavesdropping bill" -- the term assigned by the New York Times to describe the overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- that confers no immunity on telecommunications companies that cooperated with requests for assistance from the United States government in time of war. The result is that dozens of lawsuits against those companies alleging that the telecoms damaged plaintiffs can proceed. Democrats blocked immunity because they believe that evidence to be adduced on the order of judges will reveal more details about our surveillance practices and, presumably, inflame new controversy that they can turn to partisan advantage.

Satisfying as this interim victory may be for Democrats and the media, there is a real chance that it will lead to no end of problems for the United States. Executives and directors of public companies are fiduciaries, and will no longer be able to help the United States government in time of war without a clear and enforceable indemnity that has been publicly acknowledged ex ante so that it cannot be taken away after the fact. While that would, presumably, be available for overt transactions, it effectively shuts off companies from assisting the government in covert work that might create a cause of action in American courts. How can the government grant a publicly acknowledged indemnity for secret work? How can any executive or director of a public company in good conscience assist the United States in covert activity that might give some plaintiff somewhere a cause of action?

The question is, do the Democrats who voted against immunity for the telecoms understand that this is the almost certain consequence of their vote, or are they actually trying to deter American companies from helping the United States in covert operations?

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Mystery photo 

A friend of mine emailed me this photo. He is eating these objects as I write this. Where is he?

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Caption This! 

The original so-called "caption" reads:

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton gestures at Amana Colonies in Amana, Iowa November 6, 2007. After a stormy couple of weeks Clinton will attempt to right the ship on Thursday night at a campaign debate with her rivals.

Seriously? That is literally the worst caption I have ever seen on a wire service feed. How does one "gesture at Amana Colonies in Amana, Iowa"? Amana is one of the Amana Colonies. More to the point, how does holding one's hand over one's, er, heart constitute a gesture at a place? If Reuters had any residual shame it would be ashamed.

In any case, I think we all know that TigerHawk readers can do much better than that. Frankly, the ten most humorless women in the Wellesley College class of 1969 could do better than that.

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Cruel and usual 

A regular and respected commenter challenged me to name five things I admire about Islamic cultures. I tried making a list, wrote down "commitment to charity," and then hit a wall. I'll keep at it.

In the meantime, I offer without comment a bit of news from the fountainhead of Islam:

A court in the ultra-conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia is punishing a female victim of gang rape with 200 lashes and six months in jail, a newspaper reported on Thursday.

The 19-year-old woman -- whose six armed attackers have been sentenced to jail terms -- was initially ordered to undergo 90 lashes for "being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape," the Arab News reported.

But in a new verdict issued after Saudi Arabia's Higher Judicial Council ordered a retrial, the court in the eastern town of Al-Qatif more than doubled the number of lashes to 200.

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A conference call with John Bolton 

One Jerusalem invited me, along with other bloggers, to participate in a conference call yesterday afternoon with former United States Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who is on the road promoting his new book Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations. I figured that anybody who has been called "human scum" and a "bloodsucker" by the North Koreans deserves a good listen. In the event, I got to ask a question about the forthcoming Annapolis peace conference. Click through to One Jerusalem for a link to an audio file if you want to hear the voice of me lobbing a softball over Ambassador Bolton's plate. I think the substance of the call was about 20 minutes.

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The al Durah blood libel and the deconstruction of imagery journalism 

Among the many interesting stories we have not covered on this blog, the al Durah libel case stands out as one that I would have written about if I had had more free time in the last couple of months. The case, now on appeal in France, turns on whether or not a French television network staged the filming of the killing of a Palestinian child by Israeli soldiers back in 2000. The question is important for general reasons and specific. Generally, because defenders of the television network -- France 2 -- are waxing all sophisticated on us naifs and arguing that all television journalists stage video and that nobody should be shocked or surprised. Specifically, because the video in question has become a staple of anti-Israel propaganda around the world, including in justification of the murder of Daniel Pearl.

Chances are you know nothing about the al Durah case. The mainstream media has virtually blacked it out, not just in France but in Britain and the United States. Pro-Israel blogs (see, e.g., Pajamas Media) and magazines have written about the case, but you will hear no discussion of it in casual conversation among even newshounds unless they are particularly attuned to the unfair treatment of Israel in the media. If you are still interested -- and you should be if you harbor any remaining faith in the credibility of television journalism -- Melanie Phillips has written about the case at The Spectator's blog. She links back to earlier pieces of hers on the subject; this post is particularly useful.

The al Durah case is fascinating because it brings together many old themes in an explosive mixture -- the moral complexity in Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories, the uses and abuses of children in asymmetrical warfare, the application of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to television journalism (in which the observation by a journalist of a bullet fired by an Israeli changes either the location or the trajectory of the bullet), and the curious historical relationship between notorious French trials and anti-Semitism.

It seems to me, however, that the case also reveals the enormous changes in the circumstances of imagery journalism in the last few years. The al Durah footage was shot and broadcast in 2000. It is now being deconstructed -- outside the courtroom, at least -- with the technique of distributed analysis honed by the blogosphere in only the last three or four years and especially during 2006's Hezbollah-Israeli war. The al Durah video was manufactured and promulgated under one set of standards -- that everybody believes what they see on television -- and is now being analyzed with the post-Rathergate, post-Green Helmet guy knowledge that journalists stage imagery all the time. My question is this: do imagery journalists, including those who scoff that "everybody" stages photographs and video, understand how dramatically their world has changed in just three years?

MORE: For a deeper dive into today's action in the al Durah case, read this.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Protection, equal and otherwise 

I had never thought of it this way:

[I]n no other arena is a swindler rewarded with a court-ordered monthly cash settlement paid to them by the person they bilked.

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Beware Chinese rubber bands 


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Lug nuts 

Sometimes, lug nuts are so frustrating that you'll do almost anything to loosen them. Note to file: Do not do this.

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Orwell's Delaware 

I have been working too hard to work myself up over the controversy that has exploded around the University of Delaware's "diversity" indoctrination program. Fortunately, Stuart Taylor is sufficiently worked up for all of us. Read it all, and ask yourself whether the radicalization of certain disciplines -- the humanities and most social sciences -- has degraded the quality of America's greatest universities. In particular, note the rigorous standards applied by Cornell in its hiring practices:

Another 88er [referring to the Duke professors who publicly condemned the now exonerated Duke lacrosse team - ed.], literature professor Grant Farred, has produced such "scholarship" as a monograph styling Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, a native of China, as "the most profound threat to American empire." In the fall of 2006, Farred accused hundreds of Duke students of "secret racism" against "black female bodies" because they had registered to vote! The students were trying to defeat rogue Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, who was courting the black vote by pressing rape charges against three white lacrosse players in the face of overwhelming public evidence of innocence.

At no point during or since the rape hoax has Duke President Richard Brodhead or board Chairman Robert Steel even hinted at rebuking Lubiano, Farred, or the other unrepentant faculty persecutors of lacrosse players.

Only in American academia could still another elite university -- Cornell -- proudly hire away and tenure a character such as Farred after he had proved himself a malicious buffoon. "We are very enthusiastic about Professor Farred, whose work everyone in this department has long admired," remarked Cornell English Department Chairwoman Molly Hite. (bold emphasis added)


CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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