Thursday, December 31, 2009

There's still time to make your charitable contributions 

Remember, thanks to the joys of online giving you can still make charitable contributions and get your deductions in to the 2009 tax year. I'm cutting it to the wire, but if you're reading this blog on New Year's Eve you still have time to give and get the deduction.

Now, regular readers know that I pull out the stops for worthy charities from time to time during the year, but I am also a procrastinator of the first order so I usually rush to do a bunch of clean-up contributions in late December. The New Year's Eve push includes the following (click on the links to donate):

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Conservative blog readers know all about FIRE's work fighting restrictions on free speech on college campuses. They do the work that the ACLU used to do before it became entirely captive of the left.

Food for the Poor. I met these guys through my church. They are awesome, and deliver a huge percentage of all contributions to the beneficiaries, the poorest people on earth. These guys do the work that the United Nations only wishes it could do.

Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. Food banks are important, and you should support your local operation. If you live near me, you can help by giving to TASK through the link. But there are good food banks all over the country. Find yours on Google, and give them a nice hit tonight. Almost all of them really need the help this year.

If you make a point of giving to charity, you might be helping a museum or educational cause. If you enjoy the Adirondacks (as I do), consider giving to The Wild Center, the natural history museum of the Adirondacks. The TigerHawk uncle was a founder, and it is something of a cause for my extended family, all of whom have a great love of the Adirondacks, the wildest country east of the Rockies.

Finally, a lot of you give to organizations that fight specific diseases, or which support the victims of those diseases. For me, it is the MS Society. Many of you gave generously earlier in the year when I organized a team to ride in one of the MS Society's charitable rides. I'll be back in September again, but in the meantime consider getting out there yourself and going on an MS Bike ride near you. It is a wonderful experience, and a great way to get in shape.

What are your favorite charities? Tell us in the comments!

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Your tax dollars at work 

The history of Rep. John P. Murtha (D-PA) demonstrates why federal earmarks are a very inefficient way of trying to generate jobs. Money quote:
"If you looked at Congressman Murtha's efforts in the same way you look at an investor's efforts, it's easy to see that the business model originally conceived hasn't really panned out in terms of its rate of return," said Peter Fiske, a former defense executive in Murtha's district.
It's probably a bad idea to try and run a venture capital business from Capitol Hill. I am all for teaching a man to fish rather than giving him fish outright, but $1 million per job created seems way too expensive.

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Friendly reminder 

Once again we are reminded why we must never allow Eliot Spitzer to "rehabilitate" himself. He is unprincipled even by the low standard set by state and local politicians in the Northeast.

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Make it yourself, with tools! 

How could I fail to link to Amazon's amazing year-end deals in tools and home improvement products? I have more integrity than that.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Statistical tie 

If you are Hillary, this has gotta hurt. The one point difference is random.

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Wussie Watch: Yale censors the word "sissy" 

Proving themselves to be wussies of the first order, the administrators of Yale University have, apparently, banned students from calling Harvard men "sissies." We remind both universities that truth is a defense even to the charge of hypocrisy.

Which reminds me, I think I'll make my annual contribution to FIRE today, and in honor of Yale.

(As to the other accusation, that Princeton men are "lazy and good-looking, and aristocratic"? Guilty as charged!)

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The worst decade ever... 

The worst decade ever?

Worse: Just as the 19th century did not end in a cultural sense until August 1914, and the Seventies did not really end until January 20, 1981 (the inauguration of Ronald Reagan and, more importantly, the end of the Iranian Hostage Crisis), the "Oughts" (or whatever we ought to call them) show no sign of ending on the calendar's schedule.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Wussie Watch: The Editors of the NYT punt on Iran 

Sometimes I wonder if the editors of the New York Times got beaten up on the playground one too many times. You know, back in the day when kids would fight and everybody else would stand around egging them on. Because nothing else explains the profound wussification of these people. To wit, this morning's pusillanimous editorial denouncing the Islamic Republic of Iran for killing, brutalizing, and imprisoning protesters who dare call for reform. Sure, sure, the mullahs suck. But what should be the American response? We get this:

President Obama is right to remain open to dialogue with Iran and to continue looking for a peaceful resolution to the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. He is also right to condemn the violence against Iranian civilians and to place the United States on their side, as he did in his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize and in comments on Monday.

Talk is cheap. What are we actually going to do to "place the United States on their side"? Barack Obama will not say what we will do. Fine. The answer is either nothing or (possibly, but not probably) something covert, so his silence works for me (although overt support for dissidents would strengthen Obama in the tradition of Reagan rather than weaken him in the tradition of Ford). But here's the thing: The editors of the Grey Wimpy will not say what we ought to do. Just that we should sweet-talk this barbaric government in to giving up its nuclear program and say that we are on "the side" of the protesters. Really? We should not actually do anything? No broadcasting of President Obama's comments, squeezed in between rounds of golf as they are, in Farsi? No financial aid, perhaps laundered through Iraqi Shiites, for the dissidents? No invitation to the White House for the leaders of the revolt? No blockade of Iranian gasoline shipments? Perhaps all these ideas are unwise, but surely the sages who run our Greatest Newspaper have some idea what to do. They have an opinion on everything else, why not this?

If you are going to run an editorial like that, at least have the stones to explain how we will ever get a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue if the Iranian people fail to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Are you for regime change, or against it? Why write an editorial if you are not going to pick a goddamn side?

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Coffee. Is there anything it cannot do? 

There's a great article in the Wall Street Journal that summarizes the possible influences of coffee on health. The short version: Great for cancer prevention, perhaps not so great for cardiovascular disease. Since my family gets lots of the former and virtually none of the latter, I'm good! Money quote:

Earlier studies also linked coffee consumption with a lower risk of getting colon, mouth, throat, esophageal and endometrial cancers. People who drink coffee are also less likely to have cavities, gallstones, cirrhosis of the liver, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, or to commit suicide, studies have found. Last year, researchers at Harvard University and the University of Madrid assessed data on more than 100,000 people over 20 years and concluded that the more coffee they drank, the less likely they were to die during that period from any cause.

But those studies come on the heels of older ones showing that coffee—particularly the caffeine it contains—raises blood pressure, heart rate and levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in blood that is associated with stroke and heart disease. Pregnant women who drink two or more cups of coffee a day have a higher rate of miscarriages and lower birth-weight babies; caffeine has also been linked to benign breast lumps and bone loss in elderly women. And, as many people can attest, coffee can also aggravate anxiety, irritability, heartburn and sleeplessness, which brings its own set of problems, including a higher risk of obesity.

There's lots more where that came from, but for me the conclusion is obvious: Drink up!

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Falling for the Kennedy photo hoax 

Disillusioned, or perhaps disgusted, erstwhile semi-right blogger Charles Johnson mocks Pamela Geller for having fallen for the JFK-and-the-boat-full-of-nude-hotties picture and then having deleted her post. Fair enough, an apparent violation of the increasingly quaint blogger's tradition of owning up to one's mistakes. But -- friendly observation -- non-right wing Andrew Sullivan seems to have done essentially the same thing.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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TSA: Sanity makes a comeback 

Rumor, and Reuters, has it that the TSA is loosening the stupid new rules they slammed in to place after the "foiled" -- my word would have been "fumbled" -- Christmas day terror attack in Detroit. Good. They were stupid rules that would not have done a damned thing other than make us miserable so that the Obama administration could claim it was doing something.

Kill them over there, and, failing that, listen to their fathers.

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Lunch time video fun: American exceptionalism 

Follwing links from Facebook friends, I came across this great video (originally published in August) by Bill Whittle on the subject of American exceptionalism. Most of you will enjoy it immensely, perhaps more than any video this week. A few of you will will scream "it burns" and stab the keys on your computer to escape the horror. I think in both cases you know who you are.

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Second Amendment viral video of the day 

I don't care who you are, this is funny...

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It's not that we give up our Constitutional rights, but to whom? 

I seem to recall a lot of bleating from the left about the Bush administration's abuse of our Constitutional rights, perhaps because a computer inside the NSA might flag a telephone conversation between an American and a dude named Ahmed in northern Pakistan or a ghetto in Hebron, or maybe because we, too, might be waterboarded and packed off to Gitmo for socializing with the wrong sort of people. Looking back on it, either seems a lot less offensive to our rights than this new executive order from President Obama, but liberals, who have a bizarre, unjustified, and yet reflexive affection for "international" organizations, are unlikely to give it a moment's thought.

We await the shrill editorials from the New York Times with bated breath.


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Schadenfreude Monday: Taking joy from the relentless thrashing of others 

Rarely have I seen such a comprehensive thrashing of an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. One is almost forced to wonder how the column got by that paper's layers of editors and fact-checkers...

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Weather is not climate, but... 

...this quarter, at least, North America's weather is making a mockery of the people who use climate models to forecast the months and years ahead.

So let’s compare the complete Autumn temperatures vs. the forecasts from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. In August, CPC forecast that most of the US would have above normal temperatures from October through December, and perhaps more importantly did did not predict that any areas would have below normal temperatures.

As you can see below, their prediction was largely reversed from what has happened.

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Bauer to the people 

In thinking more about TigerHawk's post below regarding Janet Napolitano's remarks ("the system worked"; see Ace's riff on that), and the comments to the post, it does present an potentially interesting moral question for each of us.

I think that it is highly unlikely that I will be in a situation similar to Jasper Schuringa on Flight 253, and that same extremely low probability applies to the readers of this blog, I hope. But let's just say for the sake of argument that we've helped to thwart a terrorist attack on board an airplane. Part of it was luck, and part of it was quick action. Now what?

Are we really part of the "system," as Secretary Napolitano implies? Well, certainly not in any official capacity. I don't recall taking an oath or receiving a piece of paper empowering me to act with the color of law. We are therefore not bound by the same rules of engagement that would limit the techniques available to actual members of the system (namely, federal agents of some sort) under the Obama administration. Would we have the fortitude to aggressively interrogate the terrorist prisoner in the remaining 60-90 minutes of the flight, in an effort to determine whether other flights were at risk in a coordinated attack? Could we really channel our inner Jack Bauer? In addition to the moral question, there is some risk of criminal charges that would follow from such an interrogation, and conceivably even a civil suit from the prisoner -- though in either case, you would have a huge defense fund raised for you, a good lawyer getting the right venue for you, and very little chance of an adverse verdict in a jury trial, in my estimation as a layman.

Now, I am not suggesting or advocating something along the lines of the actions of the passengers in the 1985 made-for-TV movie Hostage Flight, which ends with the terrorists being hanged on the flight (video of the last minute or so here), because the prisoner probably has more information to give than can be received in an hour or so. What I am suggesting is that ordinary citizen-passengers could conceivably use very coercive interrogation techniques which are unavailable to the authorities, and do so in what would apparently be a ticking time bomb scenario (regarding the possibility of coordinated attacks). Think Sipowicz on steroids; a somewhat more serious approach than asking "who does Number Two work for?".

So what would you do? Use the poll below or the comments section.

What would you do with an AQ terrorist-prisoner on board a flight?
String him up
Get medieval on him, then string 'em
Set up a makeshift waterboard
Go for sensitive anatomical areas during questioning
Slap him around and then try to psych him out
Question him without the threat of physical violence
Make sure he is Mirandized and remains noncombative
pollcode.com free polls

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday in Princeton 

Witherspoon Street at Christmas

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A movie I like 

The TH Daughter and I are having a quiet evening at home watching Across the Universe, which is an enormously creative film (and not just because some of it was shot on Princeton's campus). Give it a go if you have a free evening.

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Tiger story of the day 

The last wild Indochinese tiger has been killed. And eaten. Which is thrifty and consistent with Elton John's admonition in "The Circle of Life," even if tragic.

According to the linked story, there are only a thousand or so wild tigers left in Asia. The loss of each one is, therefore, indeed a tragedy, and one we ought to avoid. Give to save the tigers.

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Cool photo 

I suppose my question is, how do you not instantly know this is a cool photo?

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One for the boys: Sunday afternoon exploitation post 

This one probably reflects poorly on me, but I couldn't resist. In years of searching, I'm quite sure I've never stumbled across such a comprehensive collection of "hot Santa Claus" pictures. OK, there are a few elves, too.


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Facebooking one's way through the holidays 

I have not been lonely this holiday season, although I might have been. My college classmate Walter Kirn (the author of Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever and Up In The Air, the basis of the new George Clooney movie) was lonely last year at this time, and found friendship and love through Facebook. Silly as it sounds coming from a man in his "mid-forties" (Kirn's description, not mine, and a stretch at 48), Facebook really is a very powerful tool for reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones. Beyond that, though, Facebook, like blogging software, is an instrument for which some people have more talent than others. You know it and I know it: There are witty and entertaining status updaters, and many more who test the limits of tedium with every twitch. The curious and stimulating thing, though, is that neither the interesting nor the boring Facebookers are always the people you would most expect them to be.

MORE: Then again, you might find too much love.

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Fool watch 

If you think that an effective anti-terrorism program consists of arresting perps and prosecuting them, then the "system worked." If you think that it might require more than that, then this is farookin' asinine. Janet Napolitano really needs to go.

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Barack is such a swinger! 

Here's a trivia question with which to stump your drinking buddies: Who played more golf as president, Barack Obama or George W. Bush?

Just one year into Barack Obama's crisis-ridden presidency, we know the answer already:

In his 11 months as president, Obama has played only seven known games of basketball. By contrast he has played 25 rounds of golf — more than George W Bush played in his entire two terms, according to Mark Knoller, White House correspondent for CBS.

You can take a lot of money from the liberals with that one. Without having seen headlines like this about Obama, they are unlikely to guess correctly.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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The flying Dutchman and other notes on the victory in Detroit 

The good guys won again in Detroit on Christmas. "Victory"? We are in a war, so when we interdict an enemy attack that is what it is, small though it may be. I have a few thoughts to add to the cacophony, although I doubt any of them are actually original. As my posts yesterday implied, I was not very attentive to the news cycle.

Individualists, including me, are thrilled that a passenger thwarted Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attack on Flight 253. I was even more thrilled to learn that the heroic passenger was not American, but a Dutch film director named Jasper Schuringa. Why? Because that means that I'm going to be safe even on flights with lots of Europeans! Not only is the target still hard in the United States, but it is hardening elsewhere, and that is good for the good guys.

In the final analysis, though, the attack may have failed because the detonator failed, not because Mr. Schuringa, European film director though he may be, is a man of action. Abdulmutallab exploited a weakness in screening systems, which still, by and large, rely on metal detection rather than the full-body imaging now being rolled out in a few American airports. Blowhard terrorism expert Richard Clarke says that airports have been slow to adopt imaging systems because of costs and concerns about privacy:

"We've known for a long time that this is possible," said Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism czar and ABC News consultant, "and that we really have to replace our scanning devices with more modern systems."

Clarke said full body scans were needed, "but they're expensive and they're intrusive. They invade people's privacy."

These reasons are, of course, ridiculous.

"Expensive": We now have a government willing throw incremental trillions at health care. What could be better health care than stopping mass murder? Let's hope some enterprising Democrat with a screen-system manufacturer in his district carves out a little extra health care moola for imaging systems.

"Privacy": If you're so ashamed of your naked body that you don't want somebody you will never meet at a cocktail party looking at a silhouette of it, don't fly. Or lose weight. Either way, you'll be doing the rest of us in coach a favor. Harsh that may be, but I'm really rather tired of morbidly obese people thinking that their ticket entitles them to "rolls over" in to the air space above my seat.

There is a lot of good stuff by Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. On the one hand, this is apparently the best that Al Qaeda's "top bombmaker" can do. On the other hand, these creeps are nothing but adaptive.

Morrissey proposes the adoption of El Al-style screening interviews. El Al believes in "searching the person" rather than the person's things. In my experience, disarmingly cute young Israeli women who could no doubt kill you with a pony tail scrunchie ask the passengers lots of questions. Where were you born? Where did you go to college? What were the names of your roommates in college? Who are you visiting in Israel? Can I look at the emails on your computer? And so forth. On it goes, and then suddenly in the middle of some innocuous discussion they ask "Do you have a bomb?" By the time you are done -- the interview might take 20 minutes or more -- you know that nobody sketchy is getting past these people. El Al's record suggests that it is very effective.

Unfortunately, there are at least four problems with this proposal, all of which will be difficult to overcome. The first is that it is incredibly intrusive, and many Americans would not put up with it. If you do not want some anonymous dude behind a screen looking at an image of your body, you are really going to hate actual personal questions about your past. Second, El Al's method no doubt drives results that would have a "disparate impact" or otherwise be seen as discriminatory. It works in part because they know who the old and loyal Israelis are, and they get waived through with a short verification of identity. Here, any such discrimination would trigger a lawsuit; the first time a trial lawyer could show that the Muslim dude with a history of attending a radical mosque suffered through four more questions than the grandmother from Joplin, the air transportation system would grind to a dysfunctional halt and the terrorists would have scored a bigger victory than ever could be achieved by blowing up a plane once a decade. (Although, in the sense that "only Nixon could go to China," only Barack Hussein Obama could call for profiling in security screening.) Third, the Israelis can make this work because it is a small country with little domestic air traffic. Air travel is the means for getting in or out of the country, but it is not an essential feature of the domestic economy as it is in the United States. Fourth -- and this is the most important -- the Israeli system depends on having lots of very smart people (those cute Israeli interrogators who can kill you with the scrunchie) able to sniff out bad guys. The Israelis can do this because they have an intensively educated population with universal military training. Where are we going to find enough such people in the United States? Sadly, the El Al solution is not practical.

Now, that having been said, the new restrictions that airlines are imposing, perhaps at the behest of the government, strike me as extremely intrusive and more than a little pointless:
But several airlines released detailed information about the restrictions, saying that passengers on international flights coming to the United States will apparently have to remain in their seats for the last hour of a flight without any personal items on their laps. It was not clear how often the rule would affect domestic flights.

So why not just blow up the plane an hour before it lands? Coming from Europe, that puts you over Albany instead of over Newark, so I suppose you might hurt fewer people on the ground, but the bad guys have still scored a victory and killed a couple hundred infidels as a bonus. One would think this measure will hurt us, by deterring travel and business (does this measure extend to paperback books?), more than it will frustrate the jihadis, but maybe I'm missing something. (Mixing up the screening routine strikes me as sensible, although I will be interested to see how they do that without irritating the politically correct.)

Mark Steyn makes the usual instructive point that poverty and lack of opportunity have nothing to do with terrorism, at least not of the Islamist variety:

As for the perpetrator:

The young man, who yesterday night attempted to ignite an explosive device aboard a Delta Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan in the United States has been identified as Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old son of Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, former First Bank chairman. Mutallab, a former minister and prominent banker recently retired from the bank’s board...

The family home of the Mutallabs in Central London, is currently being searched by men of the Metropolitan Police. THISDAY checks reveal that the suspect, Abdulfarouk Umar Muttalab who is an engineering student at the University College, London had been noted for his extreme views on religion since his secondary school days at the British International School, Lome, Togo.

So once again we see the foolishness of complaceniks who drone the fatuous cliches about how "in this struggle, scholarships will be far more important than smart bombs". The men eager to self-detonate on infidel airliners are not goatherds from the caves of Waziristan but educated middle-class Muslims who have had the most exposure to the western world and could be pulling down six-figure salaries almost anywhere on the planet. And don't look to "assimilation" to work its magic, either. We're witnessing a process of generational de-assimilation: In this family, yet again, the dad is an entirely assimilated member of the transnational elite. His son wants a global caliphate run on Wahhabist lines.

And, finally, does this change the politics of closing Gitmo? Mitt Romney's proposal to "double" Gitmo is looking better and better.

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Anybody here know any statistics? 

A physicist purports to prove that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995, the earliest date that I have seen asserted for this claim among the skeptics. Anybody out there with a good refutation?

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

The 10 "freakiest" ads of 2009 

From AdFreak, the "ten freakiest ads" of 2009. They are all PSAs, and not at all for the faint of heart. But they do remind us that Germans are forever and always the freakiest people on the planet.

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The best science fiction and fantasy books of 2009 

I thought this was an interesting Amazon list, the best science fiction and fantasy books of 2009.

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Rates of return in two tough years 

From Brown Brothers, an interesting pair of graphs that compares the rates of return on certain asset classes, 2009 vs. 2008. Risk has become profitable again, which is a necessary, even if insufficient, condition for recovery.

Returns by asset class, 2009 vs. 2009

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In which I (slightly) defend Barack Obama 

The righty blogosphere thinks that Barack Obama is not setting a good example -- carbon-footprint wise -- by spending his Christmas vacation in Hawaii. True enough, but in the spirit of the season I'm willing to cut the president a break on this one. He did, after all, grow up there. It is not just a "tropical island trip" for him, it is going home. I'm not such a churl that I can begrudge him that at Christmas, even if he is generally a hypocritical carbon big-foot.

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Trenton and Princeton 

You might think of them as the twin poles of socio-economic achievement in the Garden State. They are also, arguably, the two most important military victories in American history.

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Superceding Facebook status of the day 

From a globe-trotting classmate of mine:

Security at Amsterdam Airport is unbelievably strict today, after the failed terrorist plot by a Nigerian aboard a NW flight to Detroit. Funny thing is, instead of "Allahu Akbar," he said "I found 23,5$ million in gold bullion from the Microsoft-Google Lottery of the World Bank in Lagos and will share 37 per cent with you to use your bank account to effect a bank wire transfer via FedEx courier."

Heh. I love the verisimilitude in the blown dollar sign.

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Boxing Day tab dump 

It's a slow start to what I hope will be a slow day! Herewith, a dumpification of the small number of morning tabs.

Via the tireless Larwyn (you either know who I am talking about or you don't), the brown side of green energy technology.

One is forced to wonder why the government allows Fannie and Freddie, who have been "bailed out" via implicit guarantee forever, to pay such sums to their executives while banks cannot. It is not a baffling, confused sort of wonder, mind you, but the sort of wonder we experience whenever we see transporting audacity right out in the open.

Is the upper atmosphere cooling because greenhouse gases are trapping heat, as the climate models predict, or because the sun is quiescent? Perhaps regular commenter Brian is getting to me, but I'm going with both reasons.

Christmas is over, and who better to bum you out than Ralph Peters?

Off to the gym. More later.

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Pigs fly, the moon is blue, and I agree with the New York Times 

In a strange and perplexing twist of fate, I agree with the editors of the New York Times (and the Ohio Supreme Court). There is no reason why the police should not have to get a warrant to search the contents of a cell phone that they have seized.

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Facebook status of the day 

Andrew Breitbart:

Based upon my NPR listening sessions, I am fearful that reactionary Americans are going to go on a rampage against Nigerians tomorrow.

Breitbart cracks a funny, but no doubt there will be some small alleged perturbation in the "hate crime" statistics over which we will all twist our hankies.

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A Christmas card of note 

Tom "Just One Minute" Maguire posted his family Christmas card. If you have read his great blog over the years, perhaps you wondered what he looked like.

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It is still September 12 

I woke up in the middle of the night to the news that a Nigerian dude claiming to be acting at the direction of Al Qaeda tried to blow up a flight landing in Detroit (Detroit?) last night. The Associated Press reported that passengers went after him:

A Nigerian man who said he was an agent for al-Qaida tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane Friday as it was preparing to land in Detroit, but travelers who smelled smoke and heard what sounded like firecrackers rushed to subdue him, the passengers and federal officials said....

At least one person climbed over others and jumped on the man. Shortly afterward, the suspect was taken to the front of the plane with his pants cut off and his legs burned, a passenger said. Law enforcement officials said the burns indicated the explosive was strapped to his legs.

One U.S. intelligence official said the explosive device was a mix of powder and liquid. It failed when the passenger tried to detonate it.

"It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase," said Peter Smith, a traveler from the Netherlands. "First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke."

Smith said a passenger sitting opposite the man climbed over people, went across the aisle and tried to restrain the man. Syed Jafri, another passenger, said he saw a glow and smelled smoke. Then, he said, "a young man behind me jumped on him."

Two reactions.

First, airline passengers, at least, still remember September 11. Good, the target remains hard in the ways that matter. Get worried if you read a story like this without the passengers having jumped the guy.

Second, let us all hope and pray that our government does not impose some new and useless security measure that further complicates air travel. If Homeland Security closes the barn door with its usual lack of creativity, soon we will all have to take off our pants before we get on a plane, which would be very unpleasant. Not only would infrequent or otherwise incompetent travelers start wearing pants that take 10 minutes to shed -- you know those women who wear nine pounds of metal jewelry when they fly? -- but seeing our fellow Americans strip down would amount to aesthetic terrorism far more damaging than the real thing.

MORE, via Glenn: Ten questions about the attempted attack.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Moral question of the day 

Am I an enemy of the Earth because I look up the outside temperature on Weather.com?

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One for the Tigers: Christmas at Princeton 

I snuck a picture during the Christmas service at the University Chapel this morning, which was lovely. The TH Daughter and I were near the front, but there was pretty good attendance. The service included several of the classics: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "The First Noel," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Angels We Have Heard On High," and "Go Tell It To The Mountain," which the program identified as "an African-American spiritual." I just thought it was a great hymn, right up there with those Anglo-American and Anglo-German "spirituals."

Princeton University Chapel, Christmas

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News you can use: Sunrises and sunsets 

Because I know that many of you enjoy little factoids -- that's why you check us out several times a day, right? -- here is an online calculator that generates a customized sunrise/sunset calendar for any location in the United States. Very cool (if you need to know the time of sunset on a particular date, as many of us do).

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OK, now that you've opened your presents... 

...bring yourself back down to earth: "The Worst Tax Ideas of 2009." There were some doozies, and it does not even include the innovation tax to be slammed on the medical device industry in the guise of "health care reform."

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

News you can use: Bad things that are good for you 

This list of ten "bad things" that are good for you is just in time for the holiday season!

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Peace on earth 

Star over 5th avenue

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'Twas The Night Before Christmas, according to lawyers 

If a lawyer had written the iconic poem of this evening...

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A walk in the woods 

I went for a walk yesterday across the lake, over hill and dale, down a forest path, along the road, out the outlet, and back across the ice. You demanded pictures, so here they are!

Your blogger, in The Hat...

Your blogger

My great aunt Lucy used to operate a small hotel in this building, now a gathering place for people with camps on our lake.

The Big Wolf Club

Winter road...

Forest road

The lake's outlet, just over the small dam that regulates the level...

Adirondack stream

Don't walk there...

Thin ice

The outlet

Merry Christmas.

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Thousand words 

One page health care reform

CWCID: Theo.

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Warren Buffet's demon spawn and the worthless heir problem 

Apparently there are some disgusting people among Berkshire Hathaway's stockholders. The story being in Harper's, we are no doubt supposed to think this is a condition of the "rich." Myself, I've never seen a demographic or socio-economic group that did not have its share of icky people.

Anyway, those among you who are jealous of the "Berkshire heirs" would do well to remember Francisco d'Anconia's timeless and important advice:

Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth--the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it. Do not think that it should have been distributed among you; loading the world with fifty parasites instead of one, would not bring back the dead virtue which was the fortune. Money is a living power that dies without its root. Money will not serve the mind that cannot match it.

Got that?

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The decade in 50 headlines 

The last ten years of economic and financial news in 50 headlines; gives me the shivers just to read them again.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Health care "reform" and free markets 

Andy McCarthy brings together the links on the various constitutional attacks on the health care "reform" legislation that will pass the Senate tomorrow, and serves up bonus analysis to keep you asking for more. I myself have my doubts that the federal courts will strike down the dream of the Democrats to guarantee health insurance for all. When two branches gang up on a top priority, the third almost always loses, and so it will be with health care, Constitution notwithstanding. Call me dour, but that's how I'm calling it.

However -- and this is important -- the Constitutional attacks have political value. They create questions that ought and indeed must be answered, and that will take time. Throw in the schism on the left and the Obama administration's sudden "hard pivot" on jobs, and you might have a shot at knocking out the bill entirely.

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Barack Obama lays it on so thick... 

...that even lefty blogger Ezra Klein calls him out.

I have always thought that Ezra was intellectually honest even when I disagree with him (which is often), so this is not surprising. Just interesting.

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This is why I could never be a diplomat 

From the afternoon news:

The United States on Wednesday denounced China's trial of leading Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo as a political one that is "uncharacteristic of a great country."

But it is absolutely "characteristic" of a brutal Communist dictatorship, whether or not dressed up in capitalist duds.

Frankly, the whole line is nonsense. There have been numerous great countries that prosecuted political dissidents. Unless, of course, you define a "great country" circularly to mean only those countries that do not prosecute dissidents.

Fortunately, there are sufficient numbers of people comfortable with spewing utter horse pucky that this great country is able to staff its diplomatic corps. Otherwise, where would we be?

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More on Jon Krakauer's Tillman book 

A couple of months ago we linked to a devastating review of Jon Krakauer's new book about Pat Tillman. In some ways, this hurts even more. Because, you know, it suggests that Krakauer has no regard whatsoever for the facts.

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What does the health care bill have in common with mortgage-backed securities? 

Answer: Both have been scored. The post to read this morning if you only have time for one.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Help TigerHawk with his stock-picking! 

The shares of Citigroup (NYSE: C) having been beaten down to around $3.30 because of its massive recent equity offering, it occurs to me that now might be an interesting time to buy them speculatively. I am not proposing betting the nest egg, mind you, but just that small portion of capital set aside for speculative investments that could pay off handsomely. I think of it as the entertainment portion of my financial plan.

Anyway, any reactions?

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why did Copenhagen fail? 

The BBC lists eight reasons why the Copenhagen climate regulation conference "failed," and it is well worth reading if only to remind yourself how foreigners see the United States and its system of government. We note with some satisfaction that the BBC mentions a point that we have been making for years, that North America has not suffered from climate change the way Europe has, and that difference in the weather affects the politics.

In any case, the BBC misses the most important reason why the Copenhagen conference "failed": Greenhouse gas regulation is far too complex a subject to be negotiated in a short summit over a period of days or weeks. Compare it to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, which divided up the post-war world among a few European empires and the United States, a mere 30 countries in all, most of which did not count. The Paris Peace Conference lasted a bit more than a year, and it included extended "summit" meetings between the leaders of the great powers, all to resolve issues that in the end were far less complicated and involved much lower stakes than the regulation of greenhouse gases demanded by the advocacy arm of the warmist community. Woodrow Wilson spend six months in Paris in 1919 hammering out the various treaties to come out of the conference; one can argue whether he chose his priorities wisely, but it is certainly one measure of the sheer time it takes to negotiate complex multinational treaties. I would be surprised if a substantive climate treaty took less time. Even if in today's world no president would be expected to devote six months to negotiating a treaty, surely it requires more attention than a good speech and a few back channel telephone conversations.

If Barack Obama and his fellow travelers want to get a climate deal done in anything like the way environmentalists say it ought to be done, they need to make it their top priority for the better part of a year. We know this, because we know how much "senior time" was required to get the Paris conference done with fewer countries and, frankly, smaller stakes.

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A walk on the ice 

The TH Teenager walked out on the lake for an hour this afternoon, enjoying the vast expanse and the easy access to places that are otherwise difficult to get to. Herewith, more pictures of the Adirondack winter:

Our tracks, looking backward...

Our tracks in the snow on the lake

The fire place, North Island...

Fire place, North Island, Big Wolf Lake

Canine tracks of uncertain origin. We're thinking coyote, but there are also wolves in dem dar hills.

Canine tracks

The TH Teenager, following the tracks...

Son John, following the tracks

Currents in the ice...

Rivers in the ice

Ice feathers (take a close look)...

Ice feathers

The Sewards...

The Sewards, from Big Wolf Lake

More tomorrow, if we're lucky.

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Lawsuits go on sale! 

Maybe it's just me, but this is one email solicitation just does not seem in the spirit of Christmas. Or even Festivus.

Great last-minute bargains

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Morning cold 

A few more pictures from just after sunrise...

Adirondack camp, in morning

Pump house


Boat house

Sunrise highway

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Weather is not climate 

The view from our camp on December 25, 2006:

December 25, 2006

Same view (at a slightly wider angle) this morning:

December 22, 2009

You can walk on that ice. Actually, you could drive a truck on that ice.

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Our interconnected world 

Lest you wondered why foreigners care so much about the health of the American economy: Europe shares hit 14-month high on US home sales data.

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There be eagles 

Our resident eagles at around 8 o'clock this morning. Used a point and shoot with optical zoom, so the res is a bit lower than I would have liked. Still, there is nothing like having your own eagles when you get up in the morning.

Our eagles, December 22

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North woods tab dump 

It is five degrees Fahrenheit outside, and I am looking out over a frozen lake waiting for the TH Teenager to wake up so we can plot an expedition through the cold. It is beautiful out there.

Anyway, his sloth is your boon, for I have accumulated a great many tabs to dump, with the usual bonus shallow commentary.

Dude, where's my recovery? Third quarter GDP, reported originally at 3.5%, was revised down first to 2.8% and now 2.2%. Look for President Obama and the Congressional Donks to use this as a reason for even more pork deficit spending.

The good guys win again! So sad the burgler was not deterred, and therefore had to be interdicted.

Officer Krupke smiles: Crime rates continue to decline around the country. So much for the theory that economic hardship causes crime.

The winter solstice in the world's oldest building. Talk about your feng shui.

A cool analytical graph showing the growth in the Las Vegas gaming industry over 40 years. It certainly looks as though rooms will be inexpensive there for the next couple of years, so now may be your chance to plan the dream trip. You know, on the small chance that Vegas is your dream trip.

A different sort of Christmas commercial opportunity...

Let us praise the venture capitalists. Indeed we should, because we will not be able to pay for all this new federal debt without a rapidly growing economy, and that will depend on starting and funding the new growth companies of tomorrow.

James Cameron seems like he might be a little bit annoying:

The director James Cameron is six feet two and fair, with paper-white hair and turbid blue-green eyes. He is a screamer—righteous, withering, aggrieved. “Do you want Paul Verhoeven to finish this motherfucker?” he shouted, an inch from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face, after the actor went AWOL from the set of “True Lies,” a James Bond spoof that Cameron was shooting in Washington, D.C. (Schwarzenegger had been giving the other actors a tour of the Capitol.) Cameron has mastered every job on set, and has even been known to grab a brush out of a makeup artist’s hand. “I always do makeup touch-ups myself, especially for blood, wounds, and dirt,” he says. “It saves so much time.” His evaluations of others’ abilities are colorful riddles. “Hiring you is like firing two good men,” he says, or “Watching him light is like watching two monkeys fuck a football.” A small, loyal band of cast and crew works with him repeatedly; they call the dark side of his personality Mij—Jim backward.

"Hiring you is like firing two good men." I'm going to look for an opportunity to use that. At least in a Facebook status update.

This much we know is true: Climate science ain't bean bag.

Twenty market, political, and economic surprises for 2010. There are some good ones in there, and some bad (the Palins get divorced, oh no!).

Speaking of Sarah Palin, scroll down for a nice summary of the reasons why the chattering classes hate her so much. This one is really going to irritate Them:
She’s an interloper outside the normal cursus honorum. Almost all our female columnists, many of our politicians, and several of our TV personalities either married into, or were born into, influence and can trace some of their careers to the wealth or influence of powerful husbands, fathers, and mentors. Not Palin—she had no family or marital connections, no money, no powerful fixer, she’s a genuine up-from-the-bootstraps sort of feminist that, oddly, feminists don’t define as feminist.

More later.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Divorce is ugly 

Is nothing sacred? Adult Swim, the late-night part of Cartoon Network, has a clip (mildly NSFW) of Fred and Wilma Flinstone visiting a divorce attorney.

Pebbles will be emotionally scarred for life. She may not matriculate to Prinstone.

Oh, well. As long as the Jetsons stay together, it's something.

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It might not pass 

Over at NRO, Rich Lowry lists "five obstacles that still stand between Reid-Pelosi and a White House signing ceremony" of the health care bill.

While I am guessing that it will pass (and Lowry states that there is momentum for it within Congress), it will be interesting to watch how the House and Senate versions of the bill can get meshed into one bill, and the pretzel-like contortions certain Representatives and Senators will have to endure.

As for the 60-40 party line cloture vote in the Senate last night this morning, give Harry Reid credit. It's harder than it looks to bribe someone with other people's money.


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The health care "reform" taxes you have not heard of yet 

Since there are a fair number of TigerHawk readers who are considered "rich" for tax purposes or who hope to be some day, you may be interested in the extra load you will shoulder if the health care "reform" bill that is in front of the Senate becomes law. From Deloitte's most evening email on the subject (we have helpfully rendered into bold the stuff that will most vex actual and aspiring rich people, plus one item that is just bizarre, of which more below):

The manager’s amendment now has an overall cost of $871 billion over 10 years and would reduce the deficit by $132 billion during the same period, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The revised revenue package would raise $26.2 billion more than Reid’s previous draft introduced in November for a total of $398.1 billion over ten years, according to the JCT.

Increase in hospital insurance tax

Notably, the amendment increases the HI tax for high-income earners ($200,000 for singles, $250,000 for joint filers) by .9 percentage points, up from the earlier proposed .5 percentage points. The income thresholds would not be indexed for inflation.

The change further places the responsibility of covering the cost of the legislation upon high-income individuals, making the Senate legislation more similar in concept to the House bill. (The House legislation levies a 5.4 percent surcharge on a similar group of taxpayers.) The latest Senate HI tax provision, formerly scored by the JCT at $53.8 billion, would raise an estimated $86.8 billion over 10 years – a 61 percent increase in revenue from the original version. The provision is effective for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2012.

The amendment also makes a range of other minor changes to the tax title including:
  • Modifications to the excise tax on high cost employer-sponsored health coverage – The amendment would add longshoremen to the list of high-risk employees qualifying for the higher thresholds for imposing the excise tax. It clarifies that plans providing certain excepted benefits under IRC Section 9832(c) are not subject to the excise tax. The revised provision would raise $148.9 billion over ten years, slightly less than the $149.1 billion raised by the previous Senate draft.

  • Medical device manufacturers’ fee – The amendment would eliminate the fee for 2010 and establish the annual fee at $2 billion for the years 2011 through 2017 and $3 billion for years after 2017. The revised provision would raise $22.2 billion over ten years, unchanged from the previous draft.

  • Health insurance providers’ fee – The amendment would eliminate the fee for 2010 and remove third-party administration agreement fees from the allocation of the fee to health insurance providers. Further, it would establish the annual fee at $2 billion for 2011, $4 billion for 2012, $7 billion for 2013, $9 billion for years 2014 through 2016, and $10 billion for years after 2016. The amendment also would create a limited exemption from the fee for certain non-profit insurers with a medical loss ratio of 90 percent or more. The revised provision would raise $59.6 billion over ten years, slightly less than the revenue estimate of $60.4 billion of the previous draft.

  • Individual mandate – The amendment would revise the individual mandate penalty. Individuals failing to obtain coverage equal to the bronze level plan would pay the greater of $95 or 0.5 percent of income in 2014, $495 or 1 percent of income in 2015, and $750 or 2 percent of income in 2016. The revised penalty would raise $15 billion over ten years compared to $8 billion under the previous draft.

  • Expanded adoption tax credit – The amendment would increase the child adoption tax credit to $13,170 and extend it through 2011. The credit would be made refundable. The new provision would cost $1.2 billion over ten years.

  • Inflation adjustment for Flexible Spending Account (FSA) contributions limitation – The amendment would provide inflation indexing, based on the CPI-U, for the $2,500 limit on contributions to a FSA for years after December 31, 2011. This change brings the flexible spending account limit provision in line with the House-passed language. The revised provision would raise $13.3 billion over ten years compared to $14.6 billion under the previous draft.

  • Charitable hospitals limitation – The amendment would modify the limitation on the amount that can be charged by a charitable hospital for emergency or medically necessary care from the “lowest amount charged” to individuals who have insurance to “the amount generally billed.”

  • Excise tax on indoor tanning services – The amendment would impose a 10 percent tax on amounts paid for indoor tanning services, replacing the tax on cosmetic surgery included in the introduced bill. The tax would be effective for services on or after July 1, 2010. The provision would raise $2.7 billion over ten years.

  • Small business tax credit – The amendment would accelerate the effective date of the small business tax credit from 2011 to 2010. It also expands the credit to firms with average wages between $25,000 and $50,000, up from $20,000 and $40,000. The expanded amendment would cost $40 billion over ten years, up from $27 billion in the previous draft.

  • Annual tax on third-party administrators – The amendment would drop this tax.

  • Indoor tanning services? When we mocked the cosmetic surgery tax, it never crossed our mind that Harry Reid would come up with something even dumber. What possible relationship could indoor tanning have to health care? Are we to understand that the federal government is now so starved for revenue that it is slapping random rifle-shot taxes on déclassé businesses? Why not a special federal tax on cheap make-up, NASCAR, large belt-buckles, porn, country music, the entire town of Branson, Missouri, ugly carpeting, velour, or Bud Light? I'm sure they are all on a list somewhere. Except for porn, which the Democrats would never tax because it would confuse their friends in Hollywood.

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    The worst decade ever... 

    ...for owning stocks. With good reason. But what are the odds there will be two such hideous decades in a row?

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    Lake Durant, at sunset 

    We can't stop the pictures, they just keep coming!

    Lake Durant, just east of Blue Mountain Lake, around 4 this afternoon...

    Lake Durant at sunset

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    Holder at dawn 

    Holder Hall, almost exactly 12 hours ago...

    Holder at sunrise

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    Ho ho ho 

    Links galore, fer sure, but get a load of that Santa Claus.

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    Important equipment 

    (I have to dress up this post so that is not completely and shamelessly exploitative by virtue of the links)

    Most skiers will tell you that the most important part of your equipment on the slopes are the ski boots. For most of the last three decades, I have preferred Lange boots, and it really had nothing to do with the Lange Girl posters (mildly NSFW) throughout the years. The boots were well-made and pretty stiff, and it worked for me. Twenty-plus years ago, I wore the stock Lange Tii yellow "banana boots." Now I use the Comp 120s, with customized liners by Surefoot.

    Lange now runs a contest with Freeskier magazine, and invites women to submit entries to become the new Lange Girl. The 2009 contest (again, mildly NSFW) has a few weeks to run. The cheesecake being of course secondary or tertiary, I tend to like the entries which demonstrate some thought with respect to the essay section of the contest, and some evidence that the candidate can make serious turns (hard to know without seeing), so I think that "LCskis" from California is worth a look, if you like the blonde California type. Also, "Denja" represents the Adirondacks nicely and is an 8th grade teacher, which, in and of itself, might merit battle pay.

    By all means, you should evaluate each candidate carefully and cast your vote accordingly, if you wish.

    For what it's worth, I do not feel discriminated against at all by the fact that Lange (or any other brand that I'm aware of) does not have an analogous "middle-aged guy" contest. The point of the exercise is to sell product, after all, not make people turn away in horror.

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    The song remains the same 

    During the 2008 campaign, one of the more nonsensical ideas that was floated was the concept that if only we could put an African-American face on international relations, everybody would love us again, especially developing countries. Democratic 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry said as much:

    I don't recall the candidate Barack Obama saying anything similar, nor do I recall his campaign doing anything to discourage this theme. As a factual matter, the theme ignored or minimized the profiles of the Secretaries of State under President Bush.

    Now that we're nearly a year into the Obama presidency, it is clear that the song remains the same (with apologies to Led Zeppelin). Countries that didn't like the U.S. under the Bush administration still don't like the U.S. and its leadership. This has less to do with President Obama and more to do with the political interests of foreign leaders.

    AP reports today on the comments of Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba's foreign minister, as well as earlier comments by the Castro brothers:

    Cuba's foreign minister called President Barack Obama an "imperial and arrogant" liar Monday for his conduct at the U.N. climate conference, a reflection of the communist island's increasingly fiery verbal attacks on the U.S. government.

    Bruno Rodriguez spent an hour and a half lambasting Obama's behavior in Copenhagen, telling a news conference, "at this summit, there was only imperial, arrogant Obama, who does not listen, who imposes his positions and even threatens developing countries."

    He called the summit "a fallacy, a farce" and said Washington used back-room deals and strong-arm tactics to foist on the world a deal that he labeled "undemocratic" and "suicidal" because it urges — but does not require — major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts...

    "The United States won't quit trying to destroy the revolution," Castro said, referring to the armed rebellion that brought his brother Fidel to power on New Year's Day 1959...

    Rodriguez's comments Monday echoed remarks by former President Fidel Castro, who in a weekend opinion column called Obama's speech in Copenhagen "deceitful, demagogic and full of ambiguities."

    Last week, the elder Castro, who stepped down as head of state in February 2008, wrote that Washington is looking to solidify its control over Latin America and that Obama's "friendly smile and African-American face" hide his government's sinister true intentions for the region.
    If you haven't yet seen Fausta's translation of Hugo Chavez speaking in Copenhagen last week, it's worth taking a look, and "smelling the sulfur," using the same olfactory implication that targeted Bush.
    …That’s why we thank the president for giving President Morales and me a chance to speak.

    It would have been regrettable if they had attempted to veto us in this meeting. I don’t even want to think about it, no, nor suspect it.

    As Lula already said, the Kyoto Protocol can not be declared dead or extinguished, which is what the US pretends to do.

    Which is why Evo tells a great truth: If Obama, Nobel War Prize, said here, by the way, it smells of sulfur here.

    It smells of sulfur. It keeps smelling of sulfur in this world.

    The Nobel War Prize has just said here that he came to act. Well, then show it, sir, don’t leave by the back door, eh?

    Do everything you need to do for the US to adhere to the Kyoto Protocol, and let’s respect Kyoto, and empower Kyoto, and respond to the world in a transparent fashion.
    (Full disclosure: my favorite comment under the related video at the link is "FYI to Chavez. He who smelt it, dealt it." Heh.)

    Kudos to Fausta for having the translation picked up by ABC's Jake Tapper.

    There are other examples outside of the Western Hemisphere, but dictatorial regimes and their leaders are no more positively predisposed to the United States than was the case a year or two ago. In this area, President Obama makes little difference, and it was silly during 2008 to think that it would matter one whit.

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    Palin v. Gore: The public approval cage match 

    If you're Al Gore, this has gotta hurt.

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    Learning from the Netherlands? Seriously? 

    In the long list of silly things that even smart liberals do and say, citing tiny little countries as somehow instructive in the health care policy debate is among the most tedious. Saying something worked in the Netherlands or Switzerland is simply meaningless in our own national discussion. It is exactly like saying that some program works in Minnesota so it will also work in Texas and California and Michigan. Indeed, as Ezra will tell you, there are large parts of the United States, including Minnesota, where we deliver high quality health care at costs that are indeed comparable to the small European countries that progressives say have better systems than the United States taken as a whole. Well, let's adopt the Minnesota system of health care! Oh, wait...

    The huge size and diversity of the United States drive a lot of our incremental costs in health care; if we were a small country with a relatively homogeneous population 100% of which lived within a short distance of every doctor in the land, we would spend a much smaller percentage of our GDP on health care even with the "wasteful" system that we have. You'll never hear it from a liberal, but in health care diversity costs money. A lot.

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    Support your local blogger 

    The TigerHawk Teenager and I are off to the Adirondacks for a couple of days, but with two drivers and an air card blogging might well be more intensive than usual! In the meantime, there is still time to get gifts to people by the 24th through the miracle of Amazon.com. Remember, if you are going to buy from them anyway, you can support the blogger of your choice (at no cost to you) by doing so through any Amazon link on their blog. For example, you can click through the electronics banner below, buy a deep fryer and some lacy panties to go with it, and we still get our tip. Or you can click through the panties link and buy a digital camera! Isn't America great? I think the readers of this blog, at least, know the answer to that.

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    A drug problem you've never heard of 

    Being something of a libertarian, I am not much for relating individual self-indulgence to national character, but I am definitely forced to wonder whether this habit has something to do with Yemen's poverty:

    The average Yemeni spends one quarter to one third of his income on qat. Three quarters of the population devote four to six hours daily to buying and chewing the leaves, consumed in the later afternoon after the day’s main meal. Although qat has no nutritional value, a third of Yemen’s agricultural land — double the acreage of a decade ago — is devoted to it.

    I don't care what it is, if you spend more than a quarter of your income on anything other than food and shelter you have a problem. This seems especially true if you are one of the poorest people on earth.

    Maybe every bag of relief agency rice should come with a 12-step program pamphlet.

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    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    Snow pictures 

    From the dining room of my townhouse, this morning, an unusual view of our Christmas tree...

    Christmas tree

    Spaniels of the snow, wishing I would turn the blower back on...

    Great Spaniels of the snow

    Harry's Brook, which runs through the back yard...

    Harry's Brook

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    "Without doubt or competition, the single largest social policy advance since the Great Society" 

    Ezra Klein is probably the leading blogger on health care policy, left or right, though he is most certainly left. When he says something like this about the bill that is about to pass the Senate, attention must be paid:

    This is a good bill. Not a great bill, but a good bill. Imagine telling a Democrat in the days after the 2004 election that the 2006 election would end Republican control of Congress, the 2008 election would return a Democrat to the White House, and by the 2010 election, Democrats would have passed a bill extending health-care coverage to 94 percent of Americans, securing trillions of dollars in subsidies for low-income Americans (the bill's $900 billion cost is calculated over 10 years, but the subsidies continue indefinitely into the future), and imposing a raft of new regulations on private insurers. It is, without doubt or competition, the single largest social policy advance since the Great Society.

    Shorter Ezra: There has been no legislation in forty-five years that gave away more free stuff to people who produce less than they consume, paid for by people who produce more than they consume.

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    Sunday evening tab dump 

    After clearing snow much of the day and then a nice afternoon of preparing for Christmas and having a glass of wine with a friend, it is high time for a tab dump! Herewith, the stuff I have open.

    If it is true, there is bad news -- unless you are a trial lawyer -- in the Senate healthcare bill:

    The “tort reform” section of Senator Reid’s substitute amendment is not merely meaningless, but is actually a significant giveaway to the trial lawyers. It is essentially a 5-year, 50-million dollar grant program to encourage states to develop more plaintiff-friendly alternatives to the current medical liability system.

    Great. But why should we have expected anything less? As Warren Meyer wrote, "[a] lot more of this will come out as the people are actually allowed to read it."

    Lessons from the great real estate boom and bust of the 1920s. Great Depression notwithstanding, it ended better than the current one.

    How shellfish saved the human race. Here's the scary bit:
    Turns out, somewhere between 130,000 to 190,000 years ago, the human species was reduced to less than 1000 breeding individuals--just a few thousand people in total. Ancient, naturally driven climate change pushed our species to the brink, said Curtis Marean, Ph.D., a professor with the Institute of Human Origins and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University.

    Hmmm. Even before the invention of the internal combustion engine, the climate changed more quickly than even humans could evolve.

    Climate blog inside baseball, but telling.

    A chart you've seen before, updated: "Four Bear markets."

    Not my politics, but directionally very true: "When will white people stop making movies like 'Avatar'?"

    My sister, a cancer survivor and a biologist, on "changing the culture of cancer." It will surprise nobody who knows her that her point of view is not (yet) the conventional one.

    A few pictures of Princeton University in the new fallen snow.

    A Christmas letter for the soldiers in Afghanistan.

    Fabius Maximus is reborn. Read the post, which asks how to "reignite the spirit of a nation grown cold." A blog I should read more often. And here, the best reason for anonymity in the writing of a blog. (That and a stone cold desire to keep one's job.)

    More later.

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    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    Avatar: A few notes from the grumpy right 

    The TH Teenager and I took in "Avatar" this evening, braving the snow and wind after having secured our Christmas tree. A number of things might be said about the movie -- and it is definitely a movie, not a film -- including this stuff, which strikes me as about right. Other things:

  • If you enjoy fantasy spectacles, see the movie. The coolness of the planet Pandora's ecosystem and the intensity of the action sequences are worth the price of admission in their own right.

  • Be prepared for an extraordinarily hackneyed story. The bad guys are an evil corporation in a massive strip-mining operation complete with smokestacks and a Mordoresque landscape, plus "marines" that are without explanation in the service of the corporation. Every modern Hollywood stereotype is there, including the profit-obsessed white male corporate tool and the crazed white male marine colonel. Really? With no limits on the human imagination, the only bad guys they can come up with are white male businessmen and marines?

  • The natives are interesting, but for some reason wear their hair in cornrows and decorate themselves with feathers, even though no feathered creatures are otherwise seen in the astonishingly diverse jungle ecosystem. Where did these feathers come from, and why did James Cameron decide these local natives would look like African Iroquois?

  • "Avatar" is basically the Pocohontas story, updated so that the "good guys" defeat the English and deter them from returning. The TH Teenager wondered -- aloud -- when the native love interest (who is a blue, topless, hottie -- after "Watchmen," blue skin seems to give permission for nudity) would burst in to "Colors of the Wind."

  • Another theory is that it is a remake of "Fern Gully," which I have never seen. The TH Teenager allowed as much during the movie, and on the way out another wag announced it was "'Fern Gully' on steriods" to his friends.

  • Three hours, and not a single joke or other humorous moment. Well, maybe one -- on the audience. It is physically impossible for that much sanctimony and humor to occupy the same space.

  • The "avatar" theme crops up in surprising ways, at surprising times, in artificial and natural ways. That stuff is interesting and original.

  • See the movie unless plot and narrative are crucially important to you. James Cameron's cinematic originality more than compensates for the banality of his narrative. Just keep your expectations in check.

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    Friday, December 18, 2009

    The pending mid-Atlantic storm 

    Via Paul Kedrosky, a slick if somewhat daunting graphical forecast for the winter storm rolling up the mid-Atlantic states this weekend. Got your snows on?

    Dec 18-20 Winter Storm forecast

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    Bush v. Bin Laden: The online poll 

    Which was more influential: The launching of the jihadi war on the West or George W. Bush's response? Register your opinion here. (Strictly speaking, that is not the question posed, but it is the question I chose to answer.)

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    A big, hot ocean 

    Hot, but cool.

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    Chavez recites his ABCs 

    Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao are pretty islands in the southern Caribbean known as the "ABC" islands, because of their geographical proximity and their common colonial history with The Netherlands, and of course the sequence of the first letters. It's fair to say that every December, locals are worried more about the upcoming tourist season than any political or military activities.

    Hugo Chavez, however, is expressing his concern from Copenhagen that the ABCs are just a jumping-off point for American and Dutch imperial aggression:
    Hugo Chavez accused the Netherlands on Thursday of allowing the United States to use Dutch islands off Venezuela's Caribbean coast to prepare a possible military attack against his country.

    The Venezuelan leader said the U.S. military, to prepare for a possible offensive, has sent intelligence agents, war ships and spy planes to Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, which are self-governing Dutch islands.

    "They are three islands in Venezuela's territorial waters, but they are still under an imperial regime: the Netherlands," Chavez said during a speech at a climate change conference in Denmark. "Europe should know that the North American empire is filling these islands with weapons, assassins, American intelligence units, and spy planes and war ships."
    Setting aside the possibilities that he is a) suffering from end-stage venereal disease and resulting dementia; or b) doing serious crack cocaine, is he out of his frickin' mind? Does he honestly believe that the Commander in Chief of the United States, President Barrack Obama, is going to order a military strike against Venezuela?

    All I can say is: Paging Sean Penn! Paging Sean Penn! Can you resolve this misunderstanding between two men you admire so much? Thanks, Spicoli. Crisis averted.

    Sure, the U.S. invaded Grenada 26 years ago, basically to kick off the Cuban military who were on the island, but mostly to provide a good story for Clint Eastwood's movie Heartbreak Ridge. Besides, a Republican was president back then...um, what was his name...oh, right, Ronald Reagan, the guy who was around for most of the last deteriorating decade of the Soviet Union. Tip for Chavez -- President Obama ≠ Zombie Reagan.

    To go after the Dutch, Chavez must really be channeling his inner Nigel Powers:

    It probably loses much of its humor when translated into Spanish.

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