Wednesday, April 30, 2008
We are moving into the new house this week, and I spent part of the morning consolidating some memorabilia into a carton so that it would end up in the right place. I came across letters of mine to the Des Moines Register back in the 1970s, which happened to coincide with my adolescence. They are hilarious, and will no doubt see the light of day on this blog at some point in the not-too-distant future. They reminded me that when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford in 1976 -- the fall of my 10th grade year -- I was miserable for days. The only thing that saved me was that Jim Leach, for whom I had volunteered many hours in September and October, beat "Fast Eddie" Mezvinsky to win a seat in Congress. I was passionate about politics back then, meaning that I could work up a lot of joy or rage over politicians and elections.
Naturally, then, this letter from one of Andrew Sullivan's readers reminded me of my youth:
I'll just put that out there. If Obama is done in by this whole Wright thing I am done with politics. I can't invest myself in something that is so sure to disappoint me time and time and time again...
Yeah, well, that's a pretty adolescent view of politics in a robust democracy. If your answer to losing is to declare yourself "done with politics," then you don't really have the stamina necessary to be a participating citizen. Which is just as well. Democracy requires the continuing participation of the losers, and if you do not have the stones to play the game again the next time then you are part of the problem, not part of the solution. The sooner the passionate people get disappointed and leave the government up to those of us mature enough to recover from the agony of defeat, the closer we will be to substituting casual, fun-loving partisanship for the bitter, spitting version that has dominated in the last 15 or 20 years.
Put differently, Andrew Sullivan evidently thinks it is a problem if his passionate correspondent drops out of politics, and I think we would be better off if he did. I yearn for the days when we could talk about politics over beers with people of the other wing and walk away looking forward to the next such conversation. All these passionate, easily-disappointed, thin-skinned people take all the fun out of democracy, and make the country much harder to govern besides. Good riddance to 'em.
Why do we think that's not the case?
You've heard of El Nino and La Nina, but probably not the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. NASA has announced that it has flipped to a cooling phase -- the last change was from cooling to warming in 1977 -- and Anthony Watts predicts hard times ahead for California agriculture:
California agriculture has ridden a wave of success on that PDO warm phase since 1977, experiencing unprecedented growth. Now that PDO is shifting to a cooler phase, areas that supported crops during the warm phase may no longer be able to do so.
One can imagine at least two indirect consequences of California cooling.
First, the demand for cheap labor from Mexico will diminish along with the yields from California farms. Production will move south, and that will probably improve the chances of Mexican farmers, who will then have climate and labor on their side. At the margin, concerns about illegal immigration will probably diminish, and calls for protection against imports of cheap Mexican produce will probably increase.
Second, it will become a lot less chic for West coasters to worry about anthropogenic global warming. Just as Americans are less concerned about AGW than Europeans because thus far its impact on us has been benign, chilling Californians may quickly forget why we need an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Or, alternatively, somebody might notice that higher CO2 levels provide protection against the PDO's thirty-year cool snap. Either way, the politics of AGW may already be changing with the temperature of the eastern Pacific.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
American society has made process as important as outcome, and it is sucking the energy out of us. It is increasingly true that it is not what you did that matters, but how you did it. It is making us slow and cautious, and that will be fatal to us because the competitive advantage of Americans is in being fast and risky.
There are countless examples in the business world, from Sarbanes-Oxley to ISO-everything to endless compliance training lest one quotes Jeremiah Wright or an episode of Seinfeld in front of an easily offended employee. Process is now so sacrosanct that we are not actually allowed to question its importance; if an executive were to speak out against the status of process, he would be deemed to have undermined the "tone at the top," which is taken to be a critical element of -- you guessed it -- a robust process.
Suffice it to say that I am not questioning the importance of process. But if I were I might notice that one big problem with the cult of procedure is that it gives officious people a lot of power. I respectfully submit into evidence two cases from the evening linkage.
First, a Dartmouth professor was so offended by her students' criticism of her that she is suing them under federal civil rights laws. Presumably she did not choose the obvious cause of action -- libel -- because truth is a defense. Either way, she took refuge in a lawsuit rather than looking at herself in a mirror and asking whether she ought not just become a better teacher.
Second, a fan goes to a baseball game, buys his 7 year-old "lemonade," and is obviously startled when a security officer informs him that "Mike's Hard Lemonade" has alcohol in it. The obvious solution is to arrest the man and consign his child to foster care because, gee, an understanding reprimand would not be part of the prescribed process.
Do we really believe that these stories and thousands like them, which reverberate and impress even those of us who have never been treated shabbily by a process, are not changing America for the worse?
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
Noted hurricane forecaster William Gray says that Colorado State University cut its support for the publicity of Gray's forecasts because of his famous skepticism about anthropogenic global warming dogma. CSU denies the charge, and says the problem is that the media relations around Gray's forecasts have become so demanding that it does not have the resources to promote them any more.
Rank speculation based on watching university bureaucracies muddle through over the years: The truth is somewhere in the middle. Reading between the lines of the story, it looks like it might be a gambit to keep Gray's younger colleague and partner from jumping ship to another university.
In any case, I do know that insurance companies, who put their money on the line, still put a lot of stock in Gray's hurricane forecasts. Just last week I heard a pitch from a top corporate insurance broker and her analyst team. They pointedly quoted Gray's forecasts to explain the pricing of property insurance for hurricane damage. So, unlike most climate models, Gray's is tested in the market by people with actual money to lose this year. That gives Gray's AGW skepticism a credibility that must be extremely irritating to activists and pundits who believe that denying AGW is akin to denying the Holocaust. Whether they are working to pull the rug out from under Gray is anybody's guess.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Andrew Sullivan has some good advice for the Obama campaign:
Obama needs not just to distance himself from Wright's views; he needs to disown him at this point. Wright himself, it seems to me, has become part of what Obama is fighting against: the boomer, Vietnam era's obsession with its red-blue, white-black, pro and anti-America fixations. That is not what this election needs to be about; and Wright's massive, racially divisive and, yes, bitter provocation requires a proportionate response.
We need a speech or statement from Obama in which he utterly repudiates this poison, however personally difficult that may be, however damaging the impact will be. The statement today will not do it. This is no longer about cynics trying to associate one man's politics with another. It is now about Wright attempting to associate himself and some of his noxious, stupid, rancid views with the likely Democratic nominee. Wright has given Obama no choice - and he has also given him another opportunity. He needs to seize it.
Jeremiah Wright's latest eruption troubles me, but not for its content. He has beclowned himself, and is no longer worthy of respect from intellectually honest people. No, my problem is this: Notwithstanding my desire to see John McCain win in November, it saddens me that Jeremiah Wright and Al Sharpton have chosen to damage his chances with the American center. Wright, in particular, owes virtually all of his mainstream stature, if that is the word, to Barack Obama, and he is returning the favor by ruining the chances of the first credible black candidate for President of the United States. If this is not tragic, what is?
MORE: Glenn Reynolds thinks Andrew Sullivan is giving Obama too much credit:
Become? I don't see that Wright has changed. People have just noticed. And if this is what Obama is fighting against, then . . . where's the fighting against part?
Wright may not have changed his views, but he has become a national figure with a very loud megaphone by dint of his lucky affiliation with Barack Obama; amplification matters, because it changes the nature and purpose of the ideas even if their literal expression does not change. As for the "fighting against" part, my sense is that three points may be made, two of which are in Barack Obama's favor. First, he is personally attracted to a post-racial world in a way that many African-Americans, including perhaps his own wife, are not. This is to his credit, it is seemingly genuine, and it is at the root of his popularity among whites. Second, he has run a campaign that has been as free of racialism as anybody can reasonably expect, especially in light of the devious pressure from the Clintons. Third, he has not genuinely "fought against" Wrightism because to do so carries a very high political price that -- so far -- he has been unwilling to pay. Perhaps that calculus has now changed.
STILL MORE: People who read Andrew Sullivan's blog more frequently, or search it for flips to offset the flops, think differently. WSJ at Patterico has some fun at Andrew's expense. He would have titled this post "Sullivan is right on Wright, finally". Meanwhile, Tom Maguire thinks that Sullivan is wrong (echoing some of our commenters), insofar as Obama cannot now credibly back away from first position as Wright's contextualizer. And don't miss Tom's post for his comparison of WrightGate coverage from the NYT and the WaPo. It is as though they are writing for entirely different propaganda ministries.
I still think it is sad that Wright (and others, like Sharpton) are choosing this time to inflame racial controversies. Wright in particular is exploiting the gift of fame that Obama has given him to divide the country in rage, whether or not it costs Obama the Democratic nomination. He is betraying Obama in the most visible and humiliating way, and that is tragic.
That said, commenter Teresita might be correct in this:
Obama is getting the Reverend Wright cable news saturation over and done with now, in the primary season, so it will be a dead horse in the general. Come September he will roll his eyes at any further questions about Jeremiah Wright and say, "That again? How many different ways can I say I repudiate and reject Pastor Wright? Proceed to the next question please."
Of course, the two preconditions for this are, first, that Obama actually repudiate what Wright has said, and second, that he wins the Democratic nomination. Wright's craziness is powerful mojo in the hands of the Clintons, who are no doubt burning up the lines to superdelegates arguing that Wright can cost Democrats the election.
WE CANNOT STOP THE UPDATES: Numerous people have recommended Wretchard's post and the affiliated comment thread. He makes two key points, one in the post itself and another in the comments. First, the nature of Wright's eruption:
Maybe James Lewis is onto something when he argues that the "moment of truth for the Left has arrived" because the ideology espoused by Jeremiah Wright and his enthusiastic audience is more a product of the Left's idea mill than anything else. You'll find equivalent versions of the Wright ideology for Latinos, Indians, gays, lesbians and environmentalists. Wright is part of a product line. A small part.
And that's why Obama's associations with people like Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, in conjunction with Jeremiah Wright are more significant than they appear at first glance. They imply a loyalty to the parent brand, the Left, more than to its special product line for black people.
Then, the reason Wright chose to speak now:
Here's why I think Jeremiah Wright did it.
The important thing to remember is that as far as the Left is concerned, Barack Obama is already the President of the United States. He's already been selected by the People. Any sequence of events which frustrates this result will be a lynching. He'll be Patrice Lumumba, Allende and Che Guevara all rolled into one.
So the Left has already won whatever happens to Obama. But in the matter of winning, it's important how he wins. The preferred mode of Leftist victory is through intimidation. Winning an ordinary electoral victory is ho-hum. Winning one with the smell of gunpowder in the air is a revolution.
Now after Obama built up a big delegate lead on Hillary, the Democratic Party was essentially committed to carrying Obama whether or not Hillary found some way to overtake the lead. Remember, Obama once in the lead, is always in the lead. Otherwise it's a lynching. I think Wright is essentially running up the Jolly Roger knowing full well that the Democratic Party will have sail under those colors or lose the black vote. He's going to force the Democrats to take Obama on his terms. This is the revolutionary act. Wright believes he has an historic opportunity and he's going to take it.
Personally, I think the Democratic Party will be dragged kicking and screaming into doing exactly as Wright wants. They can't lose the black vote. They'd rather lose in 2008 than smash the Rainbow coalition they've built over the years.
So my prediction is that Wright has gamed it this way. He's making a play for the soul of the Democratic Party. He's prepared to lose 2008, knowing that even if Obama loses the general election, Obama in the leftist hagiography, will be even greater than if he had won.
In a very subtle way, it's a putsch.
If Wretchard is correct in this last argument, John McCain will win big in November, a point Hillary will make many times in the next few weeks.
Now this is a space station:
Even I, a big believer in shipping oil all over the world in supertankers, think that this is hilarious.
CWCID: A reader.
The journal Foreign Policy is conducting an online survey to identify the world's leading "public intellectuals." There are some nominees that are only arguably "public intellectuals" -- David Petraeus? -- but I took the poll as a chance to pump up my favorites. You are allowed to select five from FP's list of 100. I chose Niall Ferguson, David Petraeus, Bernard Lewis, Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens, but there were several others on my short list (Richard Posner and Bjorn Lomborg, to name two). You are also given the option to "write in" a public intellectual not included in FP's list, and I gave them Jonah Goldberg.
Our company, which is reasonably large, put in a better "spam" filter that gives us little periodic reports on the flow of email into the organization. Sunday afternoon the system told us that in the previous 24 hours we had received 145,867 junk emails and 1,841 "good" emails. Yes, the spam/not-spam ratio is approximately 80 to 1, at least on a Sunday.
You have probably seen some of these already, but here is a compilation of Ameriquest's "Don't judge too quickly" ads. Some of them are very amusing.
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Senate lawmakers in Florida have voted to ban the fake bull testicles that dangle from the trailer hitches of many trucks and cars throughout the state.
Republican Sen. Cary Baker, a gun shop owner from Eustis, Florida, called the adornments offensive and proposed the ban. Motorists would be fined $60 for displaying the novelty items, which are known by brand names like "Truck Nutz" and resemble the south end of a bull moving north.
First of all, does the gun shop owner really advocate government intrusion in such trivial matters? Has he no sense of irony? (A rhetorical question, obviously.)
Seriously, it was bad enough when city councils around this great land saw fit to dabble in foreign policy. You'd think the state of Florida wasn't in the midst of a spectacular real estate meltdown, or anything.
I suppose we can look forward to any number of televised high speed chases as Sunshine State cops try to enforce this beauty.
If I understand Jeremiah Wright's speech in front of the NAACP, he believes there is a genetic difference in brain function between people primarily descended from Africans and people primarily descended from Europeans. An interesting theory, which we will undoubtedly be called upon to put into "context." Recognizing that Wright is certainly correct when he says that "different is not deficient," his speech begs an obvious question: Since African-Americans learn by entirely different means (according to Wright), are we now obligated to restructure our educational system to accomodate "subject learning" rather than "object learning"? Is Wright not making an argument for de jure segregation, at least in schools and at least by cognitive style, which we now learn is tied to one's ancestral proximity to Africa?
In any case, the audio track of Wright's speech is certainly NSFW. If a co-worker heard you listening to it and took offense, your HR department would have no choice but to discipline you.
CWCID: Michelle Malkin.
War crimes -- even covered up war crimes -- are just not front page news unless the people accused are American or Israeli. For example, where are the screaming editorials, documentaries, demonstrations, and long speeches when the United Nations is the alleged perp?
Is this disparity in the world's reaction because the United Nations has so much more legitimacy than the United States or Israel that people are willing to give it a pass, or so much less that criminality and corruption at the UN are just not newsworthy?
I am in the latter camp, but one of today's sad truths is that most of the world is in the former. Of course, most of the world outside of the Anglosphere and few paradisical European countries is also criminal and corrupt, so it all makes sense.
Last week a reader sent me a link to the NYT's slideshow of the Princeton Record Exchange, a nationally-famous local store devoted to vinyl and other specialties. Found it digging through the 10,000 emails in my inbox, and thought that those among you who know the place might enjoy it.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
A parable from this blog's most notorious lefty troll! Not bad at all, and thought-provoking as any good parable is.
The Iranians, for whom the taking of hostages is just another tool of statecraft, are apparently back to their old tricks:
Five British hostages who were kidnapped in Iraq almost a year ago are being held inside Iran by Revolutionary Guards, according to two separate sources in the Middle East and London.
The hostages were handed over to the Revolutionary Guards by their Iraqi kidnappers last November, the sources believe. One of the sources said they were being held in the western Iranian city of Hamadan.
If confirmed, the involvement of Revolutionary Guards would be seen as evidence that senior figures in the Iranian government had backed the decision to hold them in the country.
Meanwhile, Iran's transnational proxy is preparing for war. Don't blame the neocons or Fox; this story comes from the Guardian:
The dead of southern Lebanon watch the living from the sides of buildings and from lampposts, their faces staring out defiantly from posters, heads often superimposed on bodies of generic men in uniform. These are Hizbollah's martyrs: men killed fighting against Israel before it abandoned the occupation of the south in 2000 or in the numerous clashes since, including the bloody summer war of 2006.
The images are often the only public acknowledgement of the individuals who make up this most secretive of institutions: Hizbollah's military wing.
But an Observer investigation has discovered that this covert organisation is quietly but steadily replacing its dead and redoubling its recruitment efforts in anticipation of a new, and even more brutal, conflict. Hizbollah has embarked on a major expansion of its fighting capability and is now sending hundreds, if not thousands, of young men into intensive training camps in Lebanon, Syria and Iran to ready itself for war with Israel. 'It's not a matter of if,' says one fighter. 'It's a matter of when Sayed Hasan Nasrallah [Hizbollah chief] commands us.'...
But what is becoming more obvious, even as Hizbollah tries to hide it, is that the group has embarked on an unprecedented build-up of men, equipment and bunker-building in preparation for the war that almost everyone - Lebanese and Israeli - considers inevitable. 'The villages in the south are empty of men,' said one international official. 'They are all gone, training in Bekaa, Syria and Iran.'
When the war comes, four things will be certain. First, that Hezbollah fighters will not wear uniforms. Second, that they will camouflage themselves among non-combatants, and fire from positions using non-combatants as shields. Third, that the world's media, NGOs, and chattering classes, with few exceptions, will blame Israel for any non-combatants who die. Finally, many more people will blame the United States for that war than blame Iran.
Suppose for a moment that these two stories are true. Under any reasonable conception of law or morality, both the United Kingdom and Israel would be justified in going to war with Iran now. That is not to say that it would be wise to do so, but is there any reasonable argument that either country does not have casus belli?
Not that it matters in a world turned upside down.
Elizabeth Edwards, wife of the erstwhile candidate for both American presidencies, John Edwards, has written an extraordinarily tedious op-ed piece in the New York Times lambasting the press for focusing on style and personality more than "the issues". It's title is "Bowling 1, Health Care 0," and, true to type, liberal bloggers love it. And Edwards tosses them a bone, too:
The problem today unfortunately is that voters who take their responsibility to be informed seriously enough to search out information about the candidates are finding it harder and harder to do so, particularly if they do not have access to the Internet.
There are voters who "take their responsibility to be informed" so seriously that they are going to tease out the nuances in the policy prescriptions of Christopher Dodd (as Edwards suggests they might) but who "do not have access to the Internet"? Edwards must be referring to some third America, because in neither of the two described by her husband are there enough of such people to fill a school bus.
Anyway, Edwards' column puts in stark relief the two big reasons why liberals have not elected a president since Lyndon Johnson thumped Barry Goldwater (Carter ran to the right of the Democratic field in 1976, as amazing as that seems today). First, they believe that if American voters understood "the issues" they would care about "the issues" at the granular level that Edwards wants them to: "Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden's health care plan?" Second, they believe that American voters ought to care about the issues in choosing a President. Neither belief is even remotely realistic (the second is downright stupid), which is ironic coming from "the reality-based community."
Her first point, that Americans would understand subtle differences in policy proposals if only the mainstream media did a better job of reporting them, terribly misapprehends the American voter, and probably the voters of any democracy bigger than Princeton Borough (not that it's a democracy, but you get my point). The only people who understand the details of a health care plan at any level other than the most superficial are activists or professionals. I am a political blogger and an executive in the medical device industry and spend a lot of time reading on the subject, and even I had a hard time remembering the differences between the health care plans of the various candidates. Indeed, I have been trying to figure out whether I prefer Hillary's compulsory system or Obama's voluntary system, and I have failed.
As long as liberal politicians believe that they would be elected if only voters understood their absurdly complex policy prescriptions, they will lose.
Also, they ought to lose, at least the presidency. Why? Because it is silly to evaluate an executive on the basis of policy proposals. In no other context do we do this. I have recruited many executives, including prospective CEOs, and I have never once thought it important to know what new policies or strategies they would propose. Sure, I might ask, but I do not care about the substance of the answer. I care about how the executive thinks through the problem. I care about his or her character, attitude, judgment, decisiveness, and, above all, leadership, but in the hiring of an executive neither I nor anybody else cares about the actual substance of policies to be implemented in the future. I suspect this is also true in other executive contexts, such as in the appointment of commanders in the military.
American voters, in the main, think of presidential candidates in the same way. Yes, they care about their attitude and orientation -- do they care about the health care of poor people, or not, and are they inclined to statist solutions, or not -- but not about the absurdly subtle differences between health care reform proposals among the Democratic candidates (as Edwards wishes they would). This is as it should be, because contrary to the presumption of many liberals, American voters are not stupid. They know that a candidate's health care "plan" is at best the opening bid in a long process of legislative negotiation. Its value, if any, is in measuring the candidate's inclinations. But voters also know that the formal, published proposals of candidates are carefully measured and refined to achieve an electoral result. They are of limited use in assessing the candidate's likely effectiveness as an executive and leader. We therefore look to much more subtle indicators for clues to these ineffable but critical qualities. How does the candidate react to stress and uncertainty? Does he or she reflect our most important values? Does this person share my tastes, and my vision for America? Does he or she like beer, hot dogs, and NASCAR, or Perrier and wind-sailing? Is he or she the type of person we, as Americans, can be proud of? Would I follow this person? Would I take this person's orders? Do I trust this person to appoint capable people? Would I invite this person into my home, or to be alone with my daughter? With whom does the executive choose to associate?
Looked at this way, the mainstream media, checked by blogs and elite punditry, does a reasonably decent job of showing us who these people are. Maybe not in each snapshot, but over the sweep of a long political career we do get a good picture of the person. Indeed, the profit-seeking media corporations that Edwards deplore seem to understand the real needs of the American voter more than Elizabeth Edwards does.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
As with Jeremiah Wright, it's almost as if Sharpton is trying to hurt Obama.
I do not pretend to know the conscious motives of Al Sharpton, and neither does Glenn. This much is clear, though: The elevation of Barack Obama to the presidency would vastly diminish the influence of leaders who have built up their power by stoking, rather than alleviating, the grievances of African-Americans. The era of the "civil rights" leader would be over, perhaps sooner by decades than if Barack Obama loses. Even if Al Sharpton believes that would be a good thing -- and that is surely looking on the bright side of Sharpton -- it has to be unnerving for him. It is not a great stretch to suppose that Sharpton is rationalizing his way to public eruptions that frustrate Barack Obama's need to win votes from the vast American center.
It is Saturday afternoon, and it is time to report on a blog that's new to me: Hot Chicks With Douchebags. The tag line is "Pictures of hot chicks with total and complete douchebags. With commentary."
A little of that goes a long way, but if you've already started drinking I recommend it.
On reaching middle age, our father started building things, which he attributed to a mid-life crisis. It came to pass that one of his favorite expressions was "I made it myself, with tools." Unfortunately, he never really had the right tools -- as I recall, we used a hatchet on my first Pinewood Derby car. If there had been a "special" Pinewood Derby, I would have been in it.
Point is, if Dad were alive today I would definitely get him one of these.
Bob Herbert, with whom I rarely agree, has described the Democrats' problem well:
Barack Obama is winning, so why does it look like Hillary Clinton is having all the fun?
Senator Obama has been thrown completely off his game by a combination of political attacks (some fair, some foul), a toxic eruption (the volcanic Jeremiah Wright was a gift from the gods to the Clintons and the G.O.P.), and some pretty serious self-inflicted wounds.
You can almost feel the air seeping out of the Obama phenomenon. The candidate and his aides are brainstorming ways to counter the Clinton death-ray machine and regain the momentum. They need to generate some new excitement and enthusiasm, and they need to do it soon.
Despite all the new voters who have been brought into the process, Democrats are filled with anxiety about their prospects in November. A nervous operative told me on Friday: “If we lose this election, it would be like Johnson losing to Goldwater.”
One of the problems is that anger is growing like a cancer among Democrats. The Clintons have more than lived up to their polarizing reputations, slicing and dicing the electorate and then gleefully exploiting the myriad divisions.
Their message varies, depending on whether it’s in public or behind the scenes. But the mantra is roughly as follows: Obama won’t win! He can’t win whites. Jeremiah Wright! He can’t win women. He can’t win Hispanics. He’ll lose Jewish voters. Farrakhan! We’ll nuke Iran.
The share of Clinton voters who have been telling exit pollsters that they will not vote for Senator Obama if he wins the nomination is inching toward the red zone. At the same time, there is growing resentment of the Clintons’ tactics among Obama partisans, especially the young and African-Americans.
The problem is that the most determined candidate is not the most popular, and the line between them has been drawn more by identity and character, which are mirrors that project our self-image, than by meaningful differences in proposed policies or, for that matter, proof of executive experience or ability. It is a terrible bind for the Democrats, and a stroke of luck for the Republicans.
I open my personal mail about once a month, if that. Sorry guys, but almost nothing important comes in the mail any more, especially if you devote a few minutes to setting up your bills and other financial matters online.
The result is that the non-redundant communications in my mail are virtually all advertising. If it were not for one form or another of government process -- notices from the IRS, and those cute statements that tell me how much I have in my Social Security "account" -- the United States Postal Service would deliver only advertising to my door.
Stuff from the government and advertising. That is what the Postal Service delivers now. The answer is clear: Abolish it. Think of all the gasoline that we would not use not delivering all that junk mail.
Oh. There is one other thing in my huge pile of mail around this time of year: annual reports and proxy statements from companies and mutual funds of which I own shares. I pitch them all into the recycling bin -- after carefully extracting the reply envelope with the plastic window -- without reading them. When I want to learn something about a company I go to its web site. I do not know a single investor under the age of around 90 that reads these things on paper.
If we were serious about conservation, we would abolish printed annual reports and proxy statements. Fortunately for all of us who like big houses, fast cars, and consumer capitalism, we are not very serious about conservation. But if we were, printed annual reports should be the first things to go.
Finally, who goes into bank branches? I moved to New Jersey from Chicago in early 1994, and I still use my Chicago bank. It works just fine, and it would have been a hassle to change all the direct deposits and debits. I have set foot into a bank twice since 1994, once in Ridgewood and once in Princeton, each time with my wife to open a local joint checking account for petty household expenses. Bank branches are there to comfort people who do not understand how banking works; otherwise, there is no need for them. All of you people walking into bank branches: Stop. Let those assets be used for other things, and let the people who work there go do something more useful.
What other things can we easily do without?
Thursday, we heard that Iraq's leading Sunni groups had ended their boycott of the government of Iraq. Today the leading Shiite holdout, the mad mullah Moqtada al-Sadr, has similarly "changed his tune":
Shiite Muslim leader Muqtada al Sadr , who a week ago threatened "open-ended war" against Iraq's U.S.-backed government, on Friday called on his followers to halt their attacks on Iraqi security forces and to concentrate instead on ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq...
"So brothers in the (Iraqi) army, the police and brothers from the Mahdi Army, stop the bloodshed and let's be one hand to achieve justice, security and prosperity," the statement read....
His latest announcement repositions him in support of Iraq's mostly Shiite security forces, which his followers have battled since late last month, when U.S.-backed Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki launched a nearly weeklong assault on Sadr's forces in the southern port city of Basra....
In Sadr's latest message, he emphasized that there was to be "no war among Iraqi brothers in one homeland, whatever sect or race they belong to."
He called the killing of an Iraqi by his forces "haram," or forbidden. He asked his followers to calm down and to solve critical problems peacefully. He emphasized a goal of a sovereign Iraq free of occupiers and foreign involvement.
If this keeps up for a few more months, the only "Iraqis" who will need to "reconcile" will be Iranians and jihadis. Does Nancy Pelosi still think the "surge" is a failure, or is she parsing up a new way to declare defeat?
Ed Morrissey decries the banning of all humor from the presidential race, and he is absolutely right. What's the goddamn point of politics in a 220 year-old democracy if you cannot have a few laughs?
Morrissey's particular example comes from the Democrats; they have reprimanded one of their own guys for telling an actually funny joke about John McCain: "You know what you call someone who digs up dirt on John McCain? An archeologist.” That's pretty good! But it is ageist, so the wag is in trouble. Well, if that's bad it is no wonder everybody gets all agitated over the throwing of pies.
The problem, of course, is the hideous identity war going on within the Democrats. With each of the Obama and Clinton campaigns applying the unnatural standards of corporate diversity training to the other while spinning furiously to induce people to vote on the basis of the color of their skin or the contours of the genitalia, any joke that can be contorted into grounds for outrage has been. The Democrats have become even more anti-humor than they are anti-war, which tells you what we are in for if they capture the White House. If you think our "national conversation" is stilted and hyper-sensitive now, just wait until the donks control every branch.
Friday, April 25, 2008
All you transnational citizens of the world should form a posse and prosecute Al Gore for violating the "right to food."
Zurich, March 27, 2007:
There's a tax angle to this - if your kid can get paid for some work (yes - even by you) he can put his earnings into an IRA, or possibly a ROTH IRA. The tax deferral/savings on an IRA started when one is a teenager are extraordinary given the long period of compounding. If taxation costs 2% per year, and the IRA lasts 50 years the tax deferral amounts to $2.70 for every dollar earned. [($saved * (1+pretax return^years))-($saved*(1+posttax return^years))]
Of course tax rates may be 99% again in 50 years, in which case...well, go for the Roth IRA if you can!
If this isn't the Obama campaign's next big viral ad, it really ought to be:
How can Hillary survive that?
Actor Wesley Snipes has not filed a tax return for ten years thereby evading tens of millions of dollars in federal income tax. Now he has been sentenced to jail for three years, which strikes me as a light sentence under the circumstances.
The interesting thing is that the flower and chivalry of Hollywood turned out en masse to appeal to the judge to grant Snipes leniency.
His lawyers said he was no threat to society, and offered three dozen letters from family members, friends and even fellow actors Woody Harrelson and Denzel Washington attesting to his compassion, intelligence and value as a mentor.
Both Denzel Washington and Woody Harrelson are left-wing. Washington contributed the max to Barack Obama, and Harrelson is a lefty activist with no end of weird ideas. Washington, at least, supports a presidential candidate who has vowed to raise his own taxes and those of Wesley Snipes. It fascinates me, therefore, that these and other almost certainly "progressive" Hollywood types publicly argue for leniency for a rich man who evaded his taxes.
And for my fellow libertarian conservatives who are offended, I offer the friendly reminder that Pete Rose served five months in federal prison for defaulting on approximately 2% of the taxes and penalties owed by Wesley Snipes. Considering that federal sentencing guidelines -- which law-and-order conservatives loudly champion as the remedy for "soft judges" -- for other white collar offenses have massively increased jail time for purely monetary crimes (many of which have much more ambiguous evidentiary and legal standards than rank tax evasion), three years seems incredibly light. If Snipes had been a corporate executive he would be looking at ten years or more.
Now, if you want to argue that we have gone completely overboard in white-collar sentencing I would agree with you, but given the dollars involved Snipes got off with an easy sentence compared to the standards applied to corporate executives and even other tax-evaders.
Bernard-Henri Levy writes about the "sad end" of Jimmy Carter in today's Wall Street Journal. Levy exposes a moral confusion so deep one is forced to wonder -- and Levy does wonder -- what has happened to Carter's mind.
The problem is not that he is, or is not, talking to the Syrians – everyone does it to some degree.
It isn't that he went to Damascus to meet with the exiled head of Hamas – everyone, including the Israelis, will one day have to do that too, in accordance with that old rule which says that in the end it is with your enemies not your friends that you have to come to an understanding and make peace.
The problem is how Jimmy Carter went about it.
The problem is the spectacular and useless embrace he exchanged with the senior Hamas dignitary, Nasser Shaer, in Ramallah.
The problem is the wreath he laid piously at the grave of Yasser Arafat, who, as Mr. Carter knows better than anyone else, was a real obstacle to peace.
It is that in Cairo, if we are to believe another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, whose statement has so far not been denied, Mr. Carter apparently described Hamas as a "national liberation movement" – this party which has made a cult of death, a mythology of blood and race, and an anti-Semitism along the lines of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion into the linchpin of its ideology.
The problem is also the formidable nose thumbing he got from Hamas's exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, who, at the very moment he was receiving Mr. Carter, also triggered the first car bombing in several months in Keren Shalom on the Gaza strip – and that this event elicited from poor Mr. Carter, all tangled up in his small-time mediator calculations, not one disapproving or empathetic word.
The former president, it will be recalled, is an old hand at this sort of thing.
Read the whole thing, and ask yourself whether Israel's ambassador to the United Nations was wrong to describe Carter as a bigot. I think he nailed it. In his actions and body language, Jimmy Carter at least seems to hold the Jews to an entirely different standard of behavior than the Arabs. Are there good arguments to the contrary?
Thursday, April 24, 2008
"This is a failure. This is a failure." -- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on February 10, 2008, about the "surge" in Iraq, because there had been no political reconciliation.
Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a boycott that lasted nearly a year, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move.
The Sunni leaders said they were still working out the details of their return, an indication that the deal could still fall through. But such a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk. The principal group his security forces have been confronting is the Mahdi Army, a powerful militia led by Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric. Even though Mr. Maliki’s American-backed offensive against elements of the Mahdi Army has frequently stalled and has led to bitter complaints of civilian casualties, the Sunni leaders said that the government had done enough to address their concerns that they had decided to end their boycott.
“Our conditions were very clear, and the government achieved some of them,” said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Tawafiq, the largest Sunni bloc in the government. Mr. Duleimi said the achievements included “the general amnesty, chasing down the militias and disbanding them and curbing the outlaws.”
If this were a just world with poetic dining options, Nancy Pelosi would dine on crow au vin at the Palm tonight.
It must be tough being Nancy Pelosi, Carl Levin, Harry Reid, or any of the others who have staked their credibility, such as it is, on the inevitability of American failure.
MORE: Ace links to a Times of London article that concedes that the government of Iraq scored a "stunning" victory in Basra. He also mentions the remarks of the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, the implications of which we discussed last weekend.
In response to a federal initiative to redress alleged "gender injustice" in math, science, and engineering:
I want to see aggressive investigation into the shortage of male elementary school teachers. The absence of male role models damages children, especially those from impoverished female-headed homes. The usual excuses: "Men aren't interested," "People don't feel comfortable having their kids around men," etc., are just prejudice. We need to break down those walls of exclusion.
Indeed, the long-term social consequences of the gender imbalance in primary education are almost certainly greater and harder to remediate than in any professional field.
Apparently, there are not enough dentists in Philadelphia, or the dentists that there are do not do a good job, or maybe Philadelphians just eat a lot of rock candy.
I am within 200 yards of this fountain. Where am I?
"Dr. Irack" of abu muqawama has a thoughtful post about the seige of Sadr City and its potential to be destabilizing.
Fast forward to August 2007. The surge is in full bloom and Sadr declares a "freeze" on JAM's armed activities. His goals were many: avoid another 2004-style clash with the Americans; rehabilitate JAM's increasingly criminal reputation; and allow coalition forces to purge his ranks of the worst Iranian-backed factions, thereby enhancing his command-and-control. The effects of the freeze were profound. Go back and look at all those MNF-I slides from the September and March Petraeus testimonies. The steepest decline in violence occurred once the JAM ceasefire took hold.
Recent events in Iraq have now put this in jeopardy...
Moreover, unlike in Basra, where the Iranians appear to have bailed on JAM, Tehran seemingly continues to support JAM attacks against American forces in Baghdad. Most importantly, the convenient fiction that we have only been fighting a narrow subset of Iranian backed "special groups" is increasingly unsustainable in Sadr City. Rank-and-file JAM appear to be fighting American and Iraqi forces, regularly lobbing mortars and rockets into the Green Zone....
Under continued pressure from U.S. and Iraqi forces, Sadr has warned that he might declare all-out war. In the same Post article, Condi said "I don't know whether to take him seriously or not." Here's a tip: take him seriously.
Dr. Irack reports that he has been reading heavily on the subject of the Sadrists, and, recently at least, I have not -- we're working hard out here in real economy land. I therefore defer to his greater knowledge and, quite possibly, superior analytical skills (abu muqawama is a great counterinsurgency blog, by the way). However, I wonder whether either Iran or the Sadrists will risk an all-out fight even if Maliki's government and the United States keep pressing. Why? Because the Iranians much prefer the Mahdi "army" to survive than for it to become dominant or go down in humiliating defeat. Me, a couple of weeks ago:
Having armed and trained the Mahdi "army," Iran does not want to see its most important asset inside Iraq either win a decisive victory over the government (however unlikely that might be) or get ripped to shreds. If the Mahdi army weakened the Maliki government too much, the United States might throw in the towel and back a Sunni restoration. That is the last thing Tehran wants because it resurrects Iran's worst nightmare, the possibility in the future of another ruinous conventional war with Iraq. If, however, the Maliki government and the United States wiped the deck with the Mahdi thugs -- much more likely -- Iran would lose its principal means for exerting influence inside Iraq. Tehran's hope for a weak, Finlandized Shi'ite government would be less likely than a relatively strong coalition Arab/Kurd government backed by the United States for decades to come. The best result for Iran, therefore, is to preserve the Mahdi army as a constant threat that can be rolled out as necessary to destabilize, threaten, or deter the government of Iraq.
I still believe this, which is why Sadr keeps offering up his "ceasefire." Continued Iranian sponsorship hinges on Sadr remaining a thorn, but only a thorn, in the side of the Shiite government in Baghdad.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Mark Steyn was of above-average eloquence today:
[D]ear old Nora Ephron's sneer over at The Huffington Post about whether Pennsylvania's embittered white men are more racist than they're sexist or vice-versa gets things completely upside down. The embittered white men are just about the only demographic weighing these candidates on their merits. The significant proportion of women and blacks in the Democratic base for whom identity politics trumps all is what's stopping either candidate from gaining the momentum that would have emerged in a contest between two squaresville dead European males. It's the identity-uber-alles blocs that prevent the black guy from finishing off the feminist or vice-versa.
Of course, the Republicans would be in deep trouble if the Democrats were actually choosing their nominee on the merits, so we tax-cutting, war-supporting, job-creating tools at least have that going for us. Which is huge.
CWCID: Rachel Lucas.
Being crazy struck me as a perfectly sane response to the hand I had been dealt — the hand that all young men had been dealt in 1968. The instant I graduated from college, I would be drafted to fight in a war I despised to the depths of my being, and because I had already made up my mind to refuse to fight in that war, I knew that my future held only two options: prison or exile....
Forty years ago today, a protest rally was held on the Columbia campus. The issue had nothing to do with the war, but rather a gymnasium the university was about to build in Morningside Park. The park was public property, and because Columbia intended to create a separate entrance for the local residents (mostly black), the building plan was deemed to be both unjust and racist. I was in accord with this assessment, but I didn’t attend the rally because of the gym.
I went because I was crazy, crazy with the poison of Vietnam in my lungs, and the many hundreds of students who gathered around the sundial in the center of campus that afternoon were not there to protest the construction of the gym so much as to vent their craziness, to lash out at something, anything, and since we were all students at Columbia, why not throw bricks at Columbia, since it was engaged in lucrative research projects for military contractors and thus was contributing to the war effort in Vietnam?
Speech followed tempestuous speech, the enraged crowd roared with approval, and then someone suggested that we all go to the construction site and tear down the chain-link fence that had been erected to keep out trespassers. The crowd thought that was an excellent idea, and so off it went, a throng of crazy, shouting students charging off the Columbia campus toward Morningside Park. Much to my astonishment, I was with them. What had happened to the gentle boy who planned to spend the rest of his life sitting alone in a room writing books? He was helping to tear down the fence. He tugged and pulled and pushed along with several dozen others and, truth be told, found much satisfaction in this crazy, destructive act.
After the outburst in the park, campus buildings were stormed, occupied and held for a week. I wound up in Mathematics Hall and stayed for the duration of the sit-in. The students of Columbia were on strike. As we calmly held our meetings indoors, the campus was roiling with belligerent shouting matches and slugfests as those for and against the strike went at one another with abandon. By the night of April 30, the Columbia administration had had enough, and the police were called in. A bloody riot ensued. Along with more than 700 other people, I was arrested — pulled by my hair to the police van by one officer as another officer stomped on my hand with his boot. But no regrets. I was proud to have done my bit for the cause. Both crazy and proud.
Richard Fernandez looks at this from one angle, honesty with one's self:
While I personally have nothing against torching buildings and brawling under appropriate circumstances, I can't understand why Paul Auster simply can't say, "I ripped out the fence because I wanted to. I rioted because I decided to." The idea that a 61 year old man might act irrationally because the mere thought of US policy in Iraq deprives him of reason is a pretty disturbing. It suggests there's a whole population of people of seemingly normal people out there just waiting to go berserk at the mere mention of politics they disapprove of.
It's my hope that the next time he goes on a rampage it's because he's decided to.
Me, too. But beyond that, Auster fails in two other ways. First, much of the damage done in the sixties and seventies was not even aimed at actual institutions, such as Columbia University. In Iowa City, rioting students trashed downtown small businesses. What was it about Vietnam that justified an attack on local shopkeepers? The answer is nothing; the objection was to capitalism, and the shopkeepers were obviously bourgeoisie. Sixties apologists like to blame Vietnam now, but back then the radical vandals dreamed of taking down the whole system, man. Auster's memory is either selective, or entirely personal to him.
Second, Auster does not answer the question in the mind of any normal person reading his essay: How is his defense any different than -- dare I say it? -- the protests of the fascist thugs who tried to explain themselves after World War II? No, I'm not talking about retired concentration camp guards, but garden-variety brownshirts who had to work their way back into society's good graces. "Well, I was filled with rage for the humbled German people and broken German nation, and would do it again today." Huh?
Auster's essay is a useful reminder, though, that today's BDS moonbats really are not all that angry, or perhaps they just do a better job of controlling themselves. Forty years ago, their spiritual ancestors were so nuts that they took their rage out on entirely innocent people who were guilty of nothing other than supporting the "system." Now they just write blogs.
Australia's first astronaut is worried about global cooling on account of reduced solar output:
The bleak truth is that, under normal conditions, most of North America and Europe are buried under about 1.5km of ice. This bitterly frigid climate is interrupted occasionally by brief warm interglacials, typically lasting less than 10,000 years.
The interglacial we have enjoyed throughout recorded human history, called the Holocene, began 11,000 years ago, so the ice is overdue.
Jeez. Talk about your lonely voice in the wilderness.
Regular readers of Anthony Watts' superb blog are well aware of this problem, as well as other problems with AGW dogma. It has become one of my favorite blogs.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
For those of you who wondered about the answer to our heartland pop lyric quiz, here you go:
A Brown student -- meaning a student attending Brown University -- tossed a pie at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who spoke there last night. There is tut-tutting all around.
Now, I do think that the common lefty idea that Tom Friedman is some sort of right-wing stooge reveals far more about common lefties than it does about Friedman, who -- thoughtful as he is -- is himself well to the left of the American center. But, the throwing of pies at speakers on college campuses has a long and storied history going back generations. Not only is it funny in a "Three Stooges" way, but it has the advantage of being fundamentally not serious. Far better to toss a pie with a smile than to work oneself up into an indignant rage over some theoretical affront, which is the usual tactic of both left and right in what passes for civil society these days.
The attempted pieing of Tom Friedman reminds me of a story from my childhood. At some point in the mid-Seventies my father was pied while lecturing to his Western Civ class at the University of Iowa. He took the pie like a man, pulled out a hankerchief and wiped off his face, and finished his lecture to a standing ovation. When he got back to the office he got an apologetic phone call from the perp, who explained that he was a pie hit man -- he pied people for money -- and that he had been hired to pie the really boring math professor in the next period and had blown the assignment. At no point did my father think this was anything other than hilarious, which is precisely the reaction I would hope to have if I were hit with a pie while speaking.
I, for one, would love it if we could substitute pie attacks for the angry and tedious demonstrations that usually attend controversial speakers on college campuses. We need more humor and less anger in our politics, and the tossing of pies is a great place to start.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.
I suppose it should not surprise us that our most arrogant ex-President is now accusing our Secretary of State of lying:
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Wednesday accused Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of not telling the truth about warnings she said her department gave Carter not to speak to Hamas before a Middle East trip.
Carter has left open the possibility that Rice's misstatement was "perhaps" inadvertent, but also left no doubt that he believes she is lying.
Or maybe President Carter just does not know a warning when he sees one. We know that he completely missed the Iranian revolution even after it had begun, absolutely misunderstood the nature of the Ayatollah Khomeini notwithstanding the mullah's plain-spoken words, and was "shocked and surprised" when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. All three were telegraphed with roughly the same specificity as a no doubt diplomatic call from a State Department official; if Carter did not see those warnings, why should he have understood this one?
From the latest batch of cards up at Post Secret, this chilling tip of the hat to Hollywood:
This description of the presidential election is both reductionist and mean-spirited. I was appalled, and as a lawyer was offended on behalf of my profession.
Are URLs a form of subliminal commentary or advertising? Somebody at The Atlantic obviously thinks so. Not that anybody thought it was fair and balanced or anything.
Rather than trying to ban or restrain speech that we detest, we should contend with it in the marketplace of ideas. For example.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Hillary's victory speech was pretty good, at least by her standards. She is no Obama, but certainly made it seem as though she were in for the long haul. Frank Luntz, by the way, agreed, calling it "fantastic, absolutely the best speech I've heard her give."
I cannot recall her giving a better one, but that doesn't make it "fantastic." But here is the key point: Hillary Clinton will not quit at anything she truly dedicates herself to do. In that regard, she reminds me of none other than George W. Bush. Of course, stalwart tenacity in Bush might be tedious stubborness in Clinton, but I'm sure Democrats reverse those characterizations.
I noted, by the way, that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine was in the background behind Hillary, clapping away for the cameras to record. He has apparently recovered from his bout of superdelegate vapors.
No. Way. She would not do that.
Yes she would!
For those of you who wonder which terrorists support which Democratic contender, Michelle Malkin has produced a handy reference card.
A seven year-old girl, having learned an "Earth Day" song at her blue state private school, singing it for her parents ("belting out a hideous Earth Day ditty", in the words of my reader) from the back of the car:
"We celebrate your waterfalls, glaciers and tycoons"
Finally, an Earth Day song we can believe in!
This quiz is open only to those of you who live outside the United States or in an American state with oceanfront property, plus Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.
Explain the origin and meaning of this lyric:"Just snaking on by on L.S.D., Friday night trouble bound."
Jimmy Carter's private "peacemaking" is so tragically incompetent that he makes me wish that Jesse Jackson would give it another go. Can't we revoke his Secret Service coverage when he travels to foreign countries? In a perfect world that would reduce him to undermining the United States and our allies from inside our borders, which would at least prevent him from embracing people who cannot get a visa.
How is it that somebody this ignorant cares about Tibet? And why didn't the other demonstrators fix this embarrassing state of affairs ("hey, dude, the Nazis did host the Olympics")? C'mon San Francisco. You can do better than this.
CWCID: Don Surber for Jules Crittenden.
The craziest thing about the latest insanity from al Qaeda Central is that it rings so damnably true:
Osama bin Laden's chief deputy in an audiotape Tuesday accused Shiite Iran of trying to discredit the Sunni al-Qaida terror network by spreading the conspiracy theory that Israel was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
With any luck they will start blowing each other up in places other than Iraq. A few months of al Qaeda vs. Hezbollah might actually make moderation come back in vogue. Indeed, even Hollywood could make an anti-al Qaeda movie if the "good guys" were Hezbollah.
Read the whole thing, if for no other reason than to catch al-Zawahri channeling Al Gore.
A useful reminder that horses are not to be trifled with.
Kip at Abu Muqawama:
In a story that Kip somehow missed this weekend, the son of the Dutch Chief of Defense--the senior military post in the country--was killed in action on Saturday by a Taliban-laid IED.
In response to the attack, the Army union in the Netherlands called for the deployment of more troops to the country.
I am sad for our ally, and encouraged by the response of the "Army union" in the Netherlands. As the post points out, we and our allies are thin on the ground in Afghanistan. We need more soldiers with full capacity and authorization to engage the enemy.
Martin Kramer explores the question of national identity through the case of Nadia Abu El-Haj, "the anthropologist who last year received tenure at Barnard after a furious controversy over her book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society." When it suits a narrative, Abu El-Haj is an "American." When it suits her career, she is a "Palestinian-American." Among many interesting points in the post, it is obvious that there are certain contexts in which being of Palestinian Arab descent benefits an academic career in the United States (presumably because of its built-in victim status), and is therefore useful to advertise. Unless, of course, that self-identification tends to impeach the scholar's professional objectivity, in which case Nadia Abu El-Haj becomes, simply, an American.
Monday, April 21, 2008
If Rupert does not propose to Rachel right now, he's an idiot*.
*Unless, of course, the entire post is a devious attempt to induce Rupert to propose, which would be incredibly complex and devious but at the same time awesome to behold.
More homeowners mailing keys to lenders instead of payments
Joan Shaffer is turning in the keys of the north Phoenix Tatum Ranch home she bought with her daughter in late 2005. They put nothing down on the home, took out a loan that let them pay less than they owed each month and now their loan is $200,000 more than the house is worth.[emphasis mine]
"We paid $585,000. It was the peak of the market, but no one told us," said Shaffer, a real-estate agent from Colorado. "We would probably have to spend the next 20 years trying to get right on the mortgage. That's crazy."
Let's try the old substitution game with a hypothetical:
"We paid $108 per share for Yahoo. It was the peak of the market, but no one told us," said Smith, a stockbroker, "They would have had to sell more ads than all the networks combined to justify the price. That's crazy. "
Gordon Crovitz has a fairly banal piece in today's Wall Street Journal on the intersection of technology and optimism. I liked this bit particularly:
Our digital-native children simultaneously instant message one another, listen to iPods and watch videos – while doing their homework. Scientists now suspect that this next generation may be developing a different brain structure, reflecting online activity from toddler age.
Watching my daughter, who does her homework in the digital presence of her friends in New York and Cleveland via video chat, I would have to say this is spot on.
Notwithstanding the bleating you have heard from the left about NAFTA destroying "good manufacturing jobs," it simply is not true. Virtually all of the increase in our trade deficit with the NAFTA countries is from oil and gas.
It is amazing how some presidential candidates are blaming the North American Free Trade Agreement for U.S. job losses. They seem to believe that a substantial part of the three million manufacturing jobs lost since 2000 resulted from Nafta, and that outsourcing of manufacturing production to Mexico and Canada resulted in a huge trade deficit.
Too bad they don't know that the growth in the deficit isn't due to manufactured goods, but to oil and gas imports.
There is no question that the imbalance of trade within Nafta has soared since 2000. That deficit has almost doubled to nearly $140 billion in 2007, from $77 billion in 2000. But the deficit in manufactured goods did not displace U.S. factory production.
What the antitrade advocates have been hiding from the candidates (or maybe don't know themselves) is that almost all of the increase in our Nafta deficit since 2000 has been in increased U.S. imports of energy from Canada and Mexico. In fact, $58 billion of the $62 billion increase in our Nafta deficit has been in energy imports. That's 95% of the total increase.
We need that oil and gas, and we would rather get it from our friendly neighbors. Surely no one seeks to argue that America would be better off saying no to Mexican and Canadian oil and gas, advocating that we instead import that energy from less secure sources farther from our borders.
Except for energy, though, our trade deficit within Nafta has hardly grown at all – only $3.5 billion from 2000-2007. Our agricultural and manufactured goods sales to Nafta countries have just about kept pace with our imports. That's a lot more than one can say about the rest of our foreign trade.
While the nonenergy deficit within Nafta has grown less than $4 billion since the job loss started, with the rest of the world it grew over $150 billion. Put another way, the increase in our nonenergy deficit within Nafta has accounted for only 2% of the increase in our global nonenergy deficit since 2000.
Of course, you will not hear this from the left, especially during a hard-fought campaign in Pennsylvania, a notoriously protectionist state.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, the March 2008 Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent, which is measured from passive microwave instruments onboard NOAA satellites, was below the 1979-2000 mean, but greater than the previous four years. This was the sixth least March sea ice extent on record. The past four years had the least March sea ice extent since records began in 1979. Sea ice extent for March has decreased at a rate of 2.8%/decade (since satellite records began in 1979) as temperatures in the high latitude Northern Hemisphere have risen at a rate of approximately 0.37°C/decade over the same period.
Meanwhile, the March 2008 Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent was much above the 1979-2000 mean. This was the largest sea ice extent in March (28.6% above the 1979-2000 mean) over the 30-year historical period, surpassing the previous record set in 1994 by 10.9%. Sea ice extent for March has increased at a rate of 4.2%/decade.
There have only been a few wire service stories written about the March report, and none of them mention the rising sea ice in the southern hemisphere. Probably too inconvenient.
A regular reader challenges us all: Where was this picture taken? Specificity counts for the full TigerHawk points.
This post will go up as scheduled at 8 pm eastern time. Let's see how fast our esteemed readership can get to the right answer.
I hope the guy who took this used a long lens:
I and other rightysphere glitterati are guest-blogging for Jules Crittenden while he and the Mrs. are taking a "no blogging" vacation. This seems like the right call -- if you have to give up something on vacation, you want it to be blogging.
Anyway, my first post over there is, er, here.
Anthony Watts notices that according to a recent poll exactly 0% of American voters regard the "environment and global warming" as the most important issue in the upcoming election, which strongly suggests that almost nobody thinks that AGW has the capacity to destroy life as we know it. Al Gore has apparently failed to scare Americans, or maybe they just do not believe him. Perhaps Americans are with Glenn Reynolds, and will only believe AGW is a crisis when the people who say it is start acting like it is one.
More likely, Americans do not care about climate change because they really have not experienced it to any significant degree, at least compared to Europe. Not only has North America gotten more comfortable during the modern climate change era even while Europe has gotten less comfortable, but the trend is especially strong right now. According to the National Climate Data Center's most recent report, March 2008 was the second warmest on record globally (combining land and ocean temperature measures). In the United States, however, it was an entirely different story:
In the contiguous United States, the average temperature for March was 42°F, which was 0.4°F below the 20th century mean, ranking it as the 63rd warmest March on record, based on preliminary data.
It is almost as though Mother Nature is trying to keep Kyoto unpopular in the United States. Hey, maybe Gaia is telling us something...
In any case, if this poll says anything it is this: Voters care far more about their immediate economic circumstances than an attenuated "crisis" that theoretically creates a big problem in a couple of generations. If nothing else, this is evidence that greenhouse gas regulation that hurts economic growth will be a non-starter with Americans regardless of who is in the White House. Perhaps the AGW activists should start looking for a different solution.
If you live in Princeton and have left-wing bumper stickers on your car, I'm the guy who takes pictures of them.
I spotted this one in the Target in Nassau Park yesterday afternoon. Given its increasing interest in criminalizing the acts and omissions of executives, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the left decided that "blowing the job" was a "high crime":
Still, I am not sure that now is the perfect time for lefties to lower the standard for impeachment to "blowing the job." I'd wait to see how the vote in November turns out.
Even I -- an AGW "consequences skeptic" and unabashed booster of post-industrial consumer capitalism -- believe that we ought not pollute the environment gratuitously. Imagine my delight, therefore, to learn that Amazon has assembled all its green products through one easy-to-access page! We've been using the phosphates-free Seventh Generation automatic dishwasher detergent for years, first at our camp in the Adirondacks (where the phosphates can disrupt the biochemistry of the lakes if they leak in through groundwater) and then at home in New Jersey.
...but only after air and artillery strikes by American and British forces cleared the way for Iraqi troops to move into the Hayaniya district and other remaining Mahdi Army militia strongholds and begin house-to house searches, Iraqi officials said. Iraqi troops were meeting little resistance, said Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, the spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry in Baghdad.
Ah, yes. Iraqi ground troops wiped out the Mahdi Army in Basra, but they couldn't do it without our Air Force. Quagmire!
Anyway, it really does not matter what the editors on 43rd Street think. Iran knows a battlefield defeat when it sees one, and has obviously decided that Moqtada al-Sadr is such a loser that it rewrote history:
Why his fighters have clung to those fight-then-fade tactics is unknown. But American military and civilian officials have repeatedly claimed that Mahdi Army units trained and equipped by Iran had played a major role in the unexpectedly strong resistance that government troops met in Basra.
Whether to counter those allegations or simply because, as many Iraqis have recently speculated, Mr. Sadr’s stock has recently fallen in Iranian eyes, the Iranian ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, on Saturday expressed his government’s strong support for the Iraqi assault on Basra. He even called the militias in Basra “outlaws,” the same term that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has used to describe them.
“The idea of the government in Basra was to fight outlaws,” Mr. Qumi said. “This was the right of the government and the responsibility of the government. And in my opinion the government was able to achieve a positive result in Basra.”
So why did Iran turn on al-Sadr, who is, after all, a volatile guy?
Iran has two great ambitions for post-occupation Iraq. First and foremost, it needs to ensure that the Shiites will remain in control in Baghdad so as to minimize the risk of another ruinous Iraq-Iran war. Second and less essentially, it wants sufficient freedom to operate in Iraq that it can use it as a base against other perceived threats to its security, including from Israel and Saudi Arabia. (Note that neither goal requires "stability," which everybody from the Iraq Study Group to the New York Times claims Iran wants without any actual evidence.) The best result from Iran's standpoint, then, is a Shiite government in Baghdad that is strong enough to keep the Sunnis in check and to prevent Kurdish independence but too divided to sustain Arab nationalism against the Iranians or to keep Iranian agents from having their way inside Iraq.
The United States responded to this by building up the Sunnis. We promoted and funded the Sunni "Awakening Councils," which had two benefits. Yes, they were critical in the defeat of the jihadis, without which there could be no peace in Iraq ever. The Councils also serve an important function in the semiotics of the war, for they signal to Iran that no Shiite government in Baghdad can be too weak, lest the United States supports a Sunni restoration. Iran seems to have understood this point, and from among the various Shiite factions it has chosen the government. Assuming that the Times article is factually sound, Kevin Drum's speculation seems right to me:
This gibes with other recent evidence (see here) that Iran might finally have decided to stop playing both sides and instead abandon Sadr and throw more of its weight behind ISCI and the current government. The current government is, after all, more pro-Iran than Sadr has ever been, so this is hardly unthinkable.
As always, it's hard to say what's really going on here. But it's possible that the ground is shifting. This might be good news, or it might be in the "be careful what you wish for" category. Stay tuned.
The United States also has two great (remaining) interests in post-occupation Iraq. The first is that the government of Iraq be sufficiently strong that transnational extremists cannot use Iraq to launch or otherwise sustain international terrorism. The second is that Iraq returns to its former position as a counterbalance to Islamic Republic. We would also prefer that the government of Iraq be fairly pluralistic and representative by the standards of the Arab world and that it permit permanent American bases, both of which would help interdict jihadis over the long run.
Given all of this, one can peer through the mist and discern the outlines of an endgame. Iran gets a relatively pro-Iranian Shiite government in Baghdad, but one that treats the Sunnis sufficiently well that they continue to play ball (and the Sunnis Arabs in the region do not fund a Sunni restoration). The United States promises not to support a Sunni restoration or Kurdish independence. In return for those promises, Iran and the government in Baghdad concede a substantial indefinite American military presence, the purposes of which would be to keep the Sunnis and the Kurds quiescent (by reassuring them), to interdict jihadis, and to guarantee Iran's implicit promise that it will not use Shiite Iraq to project power further into the region.
Or maybe I'm wrong.
Your superior wisdom is welcome in the comments.
MORE: Greyhawk has a note on the importance of airpower in Basra and elsewhere, and the Obama campaign's implicit affection for it.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
More mist on Lake Carnegie, this time from October 2006. The bird on the dock -- a heron, I believe -- seems very interested in the Princeton crew.
With the economy headed south, the Iraq war a "mistake" in the popular and elitist conception, the incumbent president without friends, and a probable Democratic nominee that is still a strong candidate notwithstanding his inability, so far, to deliver a knock-out blow to the erstwhile presumptive nominee, the Republicans could have a very tough go of it this fall. I hope that this picture does not turn out to be a metaphor for our political times, but I fear that it will:
Either that, or it is just a great picture of an elephant under water.
Bill Roggio observes that the Western media has been promoting the narrative that the army of Iraq is still cutting and running. This is true even when it reports accomplishments. For instance, after a spate of front page stories on desertion rates in the Basra encounter, the press has essentially buried some impressive results:
In today’s New York Times, Michael Gordon writes about the wall being built to partition Sadr City. Buried in the article, we learn that the Mahdi Army assaulted a police station and the Iraqi forces were running low on ammunition. As the U.S. military prepared to reinforce the position, the Iraqi Army beat them to the punch...
Moving armor into Sadr City while under fire is no small feat, particularly for the young Iraqi Army. The Iraqi Army outperformed their American betters on that day. Isn’t that worth a headline as well? There is certainly nothing wrong with reporting the defection of the Iraqi company on April 16, although the context of the story was seriously flawed. But when the Iraqi Army exceeds its expectations, that is news as well, and it should be treated in the same manner.
Of course, symmetrical emphasis would not appeal to most readers of the New York Times, which -- judging from its recent financial results -- can no longer afford the luxury of alienating its base.
CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.