January 31, 2004

Internet motoman....

Fun article on e-mail delivered by scooter...

...Since the system went into place last September at the new elementary school here in Cambodia's remote northeast corner, solar panels have been powering three computers. Once a day, an Internet "Motoman" rides a cherry red Honda motorcycle slowly past the school. On the passenger seat is a gray metal box with a short fat antenna. The box holds a wireless Wi-Fi chip set that allows the exchange of e-mail between the box and computers. Briefly, this schoolyard of tree stumps and a hand-cranked water well becomes an Internet hot spot.

It is a digital pony express: five Motomen ride their routes five days a week, downloading and uploading e-mail. The system, developed by a Boston company, First Mile Solutions, uses a receiver box powered by the motorcycle's battery. The driver need only roll slowly past the school to download all the village's outgoing e-mail and deliver incoming e-mail...

There's an inetresting insight into what Third World people need as the villagers debate what to put in their first e-mail message...
..."I think we should send a message to the governor, asking for land titles," said Kim Seng, 53, who owns a mud-floor restaurant, as his wife listened from a hammock. Conjuring up the power and prestige of a letter sent by computer, he added confidently, "The governor will pay attention to our issues."...
In many places development is stunted because people can't use their homes or land as collateral for loans, because there is no system for creating clear titles.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:56 AM

January 30, 2004

Mississippi evaporates, bears and raccoons hardest hit...

Jay Random found this quote:

In the space of 176 years, the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself 242 miles. That is an average of a trifle over a mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old O�litic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of 1,300,000 miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod.

� Mark Twain, with an early example of a failed model in the earth sciences

Posted by John Weidner at 7:50 PM

tower of lies...

Wretchard writes:

...The strangest thing about the entire episode was how little anyone in the BBC knew about the actual facts. What Kelly really said. What Gilligan really heard. What the intelligence report really described. The very men who pretended to tell the world about the nuances of the Arab-Israeli conflict and about the cultural currents on a planet hostile to America, could not in the end tell themselves what was in their own correspondent's electronic notebook: even though they had built a towering castle of lies upon it. In a building festooned with telephones, awash in computers, with journalists from the best Oxbridge colleges, nobody knew. Nobody knew...

... In organizations of a certain type, where things must always be as they are imagined, the Emperor must always be magnificently clothed; and the last Five Year Plan always an unparalleled success. Survivors who report that their units have been wiped out are shot at once because such things never happen in the Red Army....

Posted by John Weidner at 4:40 PM

#143: He's "not buying it." No evidence needed...

P. Krugman
KRUGMAN TRUTH SQUAD

In Where's the Apology (01/30/04) Paul Krugman tries to leverage two recent reports, one by David Kay and the other by Lord Hutton to bolster the anti-war left's position that Bush (and, to a lesser extent, Blair) are guilty misleading their countries into waging war. He comes a cropper because the case he needs to make requires two steps. First, that the prewar intelligence was weak or deficient and second (and more important), that Bush and Blair deliberately hyped the intelligence to promote war. After some grandstanding and smoke and mirrors rhetoric, Krugman finally faces his problem directly with this paragraph (we added CAPS for emphasis).

"True, Mr. Kay still claims that this was a pure intelligence failure. I DON'T BUY IT: the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has issued a damning report on how the threat from Iraq was hyped, and FORMER OFFICIALS warned of politicized intelligence during the war buildup. (Yes, the Hutton report gave Tony Blair a clean bill of health, but many people � including a majority of the British public, ACCORDING TO POLLS � regard that report as a whitewash.)"
Notice that Krugman's case, as usual, comes down to what he's "not buying" or what some leftwing research group is claiming or what unnamed officials warn or some polls show. Ultimately, the Kay and Hutton reports are of no help to him at all.

He ends this pitiful column on this weak note.

"Still, the big story isn't about Mr. Bush; it's about what's happening to America. Other presidents would have liked to bully the C.I.A., stonewall investigations and give huge contracts to their friends without oversight. They knew, however, that they couldn't. What has gone wrong with our country that allows this president to get away with such things?"
The title of this column, Where's the Apology, says it all. Life would be so much simpler for PK if Bush would just confess.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Posted by John Weidner at 1:50 PM

The great blanched beast...

Natalie Angier has a fascinating article on Polar Bears in the NYT:

....Yet as a handful of hardy researchers continue to study the biology and behavior of the polar bear, they are unearthing ever more impressive and sometimes mystifying details about the great blanched beast. They have discovered that full-grown male bears play with each other for hours on end, an extremely rare behavior among adult animals. Moreover, they play at the most improbable time of year: after the long summer fast, when they are gaunt and famished and by any ordinary calculation should be conserving calories rather than frittering them away on sports.

Researchers have also learned that the bears can switch back and forth rapidly between a normal physiological state and one akin to hibernation. During the summer months, when the Arctic ice retreats and polar bears have no base for hunting seals, they migrate onto land, eat almost nothing, and lapse into a state of what is called "walking hibernation": the heart rate slows, the body temperature falls, they cease urinating or defecating, and they recycle nitrogen...

I followed a link (thanks to John Ellis) because Natalie Angier wrote one of my favorite books on science, Natural Obsessions : Striving to Unlock the Deepest Secrets of the Cancer Cell, which I highly recommend. It's a rare combination, digging seriously into biology and at the same time showing us the most fascinating personalities.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:07 AM

January 29, 2004

Support local Beatniks...

I posted this as a comment to Pedro's post on Bush supporting the National Endowment for the Arts. Someone asked why Conservatives thought this was bad...My take:

It's bad because it's no business of the Feds to decide what art should flourish. And because the ordinary taxpayer should not be forced to provide money to artists who openly despise him and his values (and his intelligence, and his taste, and his clothes, and his coffee, and his traditional morals, and his belief in American freedoms, and his desire to censor Saddam's chipper-shredder deconstructionism.)

On the other hand, it's not quite as bad as some attention-getters describe. A large part of what's subsidized is quite reasonable and sensible stuff. And often when you hear shrill despair because the NEA is subsidizing somebody's trampling-on-the-cross performance art, the truth is that they gave a grant to a museum to cover, say, 25% of one season of art shows. And maybe one of the shows is loathsome, but the NEA never supported that one in particular, and probably didn't even know it was going to happen...and likely the show organizer didn't know what he was going to get.

The NEA isn't handing out checks to beret-wearing beatniks. It's all much more bureaucratic and stuffy.

Me, I'd like to see a grant go to that Israeli Ambassador to Sweden...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:28 PM

wrap-around guys...

Here's a little more from Omar Masry in Bagdhad. (no permalinks, Jan. 29, 2004)

...As for some of the newer soldiers, they amuse when they show up wearing wrap around dark sunglasses. We used to wear them at first but found that you need to be able to establish eye contact with Iraqis if you want to convey your message, whether its while stuck in traffic or discussing issues outside the Amanat (city hall). One newer brigade commander, a Colonel, tried to come off as real hardcore to us and the locals. He wouldn't wave at any of the Iraqis as we gave him a orientation ride. We get stuck in traffic over near the downtown market district and a little girl walks up and says "I love you", amazingly the facade broke and he cracked a smile, even mustered a "salam" back....��

Posted by John Weidner at 6:58 PM

My posts are accurate (measured by the Gilligan Standard)

Best of the Web notes:

...Meanwhile, the Press Association, a British wire service, quotes a document Gilligan submitted to the Hutton inquiry, in which Gilligan argued that reporters should be allowed a "margin for error": "It is important to have in mind that in the context of political reporting, it can be right to report matters, even if it later turns out that they are untrue."...
Republicans, of course, do not have a "margin of error." Any inaccuracy or mistake is a LIE, and a scandal.

Perhaps we bloggers, when indulging in the almost daily ritual of pointing out errors and omissions in the work of the NYT, BBC, etc, should note that, under the Gilligan Margin of Error Standard, deliberately distorting the news to aid a left-wing agenda is considered to be acceptable.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:13 PM

I've really messed up...

I posted the Pepys diary entry below with the links to the comments on various terms--very bad move. I realized too late that I was pinging all those pages with Trackback pings.

I when I turned "pings' off, it made things worse--I ended up with multiple pings! And now I can't delete the silly thing. [now it's gone]

I sent an e-mail of apologies to the guy who is creating the Pepys blog...

Posted by John Weidner at 11:26 AM

"a pint of sack and a pint of claret"

So cool! Pepys Diary recreated as a weblog!. (Heres an article about it. Thanks to Orrin Judd) All the people and things of interest have links to comments pages. And people are beginning to fill in the comments with information!

You can still get in on the ground floor, this is January of 1660, when the diary begins. Sam Pepys (pronounced "peeps") is young and obscure, but with good connections. he is a fac totem for his cousin Edward Montague, a rising man involved at the moment with engineering the restorationn of the King.

At the office all the morning; dined at home, and after dinner to Fleet Street, with my sword to Mr. Brigden(lately made Captain of the Auxiliaries) to be refreshed, and with him to an ale-house, where I met Mr. Davenport; and after some talk of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw�s bodies being taken out of their graves to-day,1 I went to Mr. Crew�s and thence to the Theatre, where I saw again �The Lost Lady,� which do now please me better than before; and here I sitting behind in a dark place, a lady spit backward upon me by a mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady, I was not troubled at it at all. Thence to Mr. Crew�s, and there met Mr. Moore, who came lately to me, and went with me to my father�s, and with him to Standing�s, whither came to us Dr. Fairbrother, who I took and my father to the Bear and gave a pint of sack and a pint of claret.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:50 AM

January 28, 2004

Bargaining chips...

From Ha'aretz, about the terrorist scum being released as "bargaining chips."

Germany has promised to release another "bargaining chip," Lebanese national Muhammad Ali Hamadi, a Hezbollah operative who is serving a life sentence for the murder of American navy diver Robbie Stethem, from Waldorf, Maryland, in Beirut in June 1985. Stethem was a passenger aboard a TWA plane that was hijacked in Athens; he was tortured and murdered in Beirut's airport. Hamadi was arrested two years later in Germany, while trying to smuggle explosives. An indictment was issued against Mughniyeh as well for the Stethem murder; and the U.S. government offered a $25 million reward to anyone responsible for the capture of the Hezbollah terror mastermind...
I HATE this bilge. It should never ever have been tolerated. It is WRONG for us to tolerate the murder of an American Officer. It should not even be thinkable to kill an American. The very mildest response to a first-offense should be to kill a hundred of those terrorist slimesuckers. Second time, a thousand.

If we can't find them, we should kill their families or their friends. If we can't find them, then kill some of the fatuous ninnies who always dote on terrorist psychopaths. (Let the BBC walk in fear...)

* Update: Gary notes that "I'm a little over the top."

I am, to be sure. (But what's the use of having a blog if you can't let out a Dean-scream now and then?)

But it just drives me nuts�terrorists slaughter civilians, women and children, blow restaraunts to shreds with bombs stuffed with scrap-metal, and we are supposed to "understand" them and their angst.

If America or Israel fight back wth the same sort of violence, we are "war criminals."

The same crowd is equally indifferent when some murderer is on a killing spree. The poor victims don't even exist for them (unless it's happening in their neighborhood). But once the killer is heading to Death Row, that's "murder," and there are protests and candle-light vigils.

[A certain lefty-screwball invited a group we belong to to a "candle-light vigil" to protest the invasion of Iraq! My blogging and fisking skills enabled me to counterblaste with an instantaneous e-mail to the group which scotched the idea, (and brought me warm thanks from various people who hadn't felt able to speak up.) So perhaps all my huffing and puffing here hasn't been a waste of time!]

Posted by John Weidner at 8:18 PM

On eBay, very cheap...

The US is apparently now getting a lot of the counterfeit tools that have been a problem for a while in Europe. They look just like the familiar brands, sometimes with the brand name, like Makita, sometimes with a different name.

So if you find a brand new power tool cheap at the flea market, or are offered it under the table by a "company rep," (and maybe you think you are getting a deal on stolen merchandise), it's probably you that's getting ripped off.

My suggestion, always buy from a reputable dealer.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:35 PM

The Man Behind the Curtain...

Quoting that invaluable media critic, Cori Dauber:

...But I agree with him that the problem is that the media wants to choose a particular narrative frame for any story, present it to us as if it were "self-evident," and gets very, very, cranky when we want to see "the man behind the curtain." Why do you think the responses to Fox are so over the top, nearly hysterical? By framing stories differently, whether you want to call that conservative spin or something else, the main thing Fox does is to demonstrate that which frame is chosen for a particular story is in fact a choice .....
That's probably why one hears denials, given with a straight face, that there is Liberal bias in the media. Even the possibility is taboo, because it reveals that there is someone behind the curtain, pulling levers and making decisions about what is to be "news," and what is to be ignored...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:36 PM

"briefcase-shaped gasoline can"

Thanks to Harm for this fascinating article on a man who collects hand-made objects from the Soviet era:

...Since inspiration struck in the form of the toothbrush-cum-clothes hook, Arkhipov's collection has grown to include toys, tools, mechanical and electronic devices, and improvised forms of transportation. A few items defy classification, "because there is nothing else like them in existence," Arkhipov said.

Some are whimsical, like the briefcase-shaped gasoline can made by a driver after years of ferrying bosses and their attache cases to work. "I think he didn't even know himself why it turned out this way," Arkhipov mused. "He must have dreamed of becoming a boss himself."...

...Many of Arkhipov's objects fall into the category of professions or hobbies that simply couldn't be pursued without personal ingenuity. Soviet stores didn't provide amateur filmmakers with captioning devices or weekend ice fishermen with reels, baskets and rods. In the crisis years of the early 1990s, even firefighters found themselves making their own axes.

Arkhipov has also turned up quirky domestic niceties that few Western consumers would think possible to make by hand -- a flowerpot holder made of an old vinyl record, a hair curler-turned-paint roller, a food tin recycled as a calculator holder....


God made the 20th Century to teach us that the notion that things work better when experts plan them is a fallacy. It's a pity that a hundred-million or so had to die to illustrate the lesson. But now we got it. Right?

Posted by John Weidner at 1:46 PM

#142: Quandary for the Left

P. Krugman
KRUGMAN TRUTH SQUAD

We've said before and we will say it again. Thank God for small deficits. They keep the left in line because they can't grow government without raising taxes on the "rich." And, conservatives can't cut taxes further without slowing the growth of government by controlling spending.

Today's column by Paul Krugman, Red Ink Realities (01/26/04), is a perfect example of this quandary for the left. He's completely flummoxed! Clearly he thinks we are not spending enough, but, because of that nasty old deficit, he ends up pushing for higher taxes on the top 5% of income earners. But that's a non-starter. The top 5% starts at about $125,000. Thus a husband and wife each earning $75,000 are well into this bracket and are about as middle class as you can get these days. They pay the full load of payroll taxes, the full load of college tuition and they qualify for few if any tax breaks. They are the real victims of our current tax system.

So why doesn't Krugman want to soak the top 1% instead? Simple. There's not enough money there. The top 1% already pay 35% of the income tax. How much does Krugman think they should pay? 50%? 60%? Trust us, he'll never say.

He ends the column this way:

So here's a test for the Democratic contenders: details of your proposals aside, which of you can do the best job explaining the ongoing budget con to the American people?��
We would suggest another test:
Who will define the middle class by income bracket and then explain that anyone in that bracket gets a tax cut; anyone above it gets a tax increase.
If they all did that the soak-the-rich con would be over.

But what about the outlook for the deficit? Krugman continues to say the deficit is exploding and we keep saying it is constructively small. In fact, the latest projections [PDF] by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office agree with us. Even assuming the current tax rates are made permanent as Bush has proposed and that the Alternative Minimum Tax (ATM) is indexed to inflation at some point, the annual US deficit is still comfortably in the 2% to 2.5% range for the next 10 years. That's good enough to qualify the US for the Euro zone. If France and Germany are kicked out for violating the deficit guidelines we could take their place.

Just kidding!

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Posted by John Weidner at 7:33 AM

January 27, 2004

Heartwarming...

Nathan Scharansky told us how the prisoners in the Soviet Gulag would pass tiny scraps of paper with bits of the speeches of Ronald Reagan. Amazingly, Reagan's message of freedom and hope flowed by a sort of capillary action to the most remote and guarded corners of the globe. And the sophisticates and intellectuals who scorned him...what desperate people ever clung to their words? Who remembers them? What torch of liberty did they light?

Now it's happening again. Once again the theorists and "power-to-the-people" types are frothing with contempt at the thought of American values and freedom contaminating the world. And once again a president's speeches cannot be walled away from desperate people...

This is from a column, in awkward but sincere English, by Walid Phares:

...But beyond these two liberated countries, other civil societies expressed their support to the State of the Union. In a sense, it was their state of misery acknowledged in Washington. Students and reformist in Iran cheered. Opposition in Syria and Lebanon breathed better. Southern Sudanese and Nubians reinforced their will. Berbers and liberal seculars in Algeria clapped hands. And from the deepest underground of activism, dissident web sites, with writers around the Arab world, including women in Saudi Arabia, started to count the days. In short: the lowest layers in the region's make-up received their state-of-affairs with the voice of the most powerful man on Earth, the President of the United States.

How ironic. Inside Byzantium (read Washington's beltway), the debate had no respite. It is still about "where are the WMDs?" and "what are we doing in Iraq?" But down-under, in what will become the future generations of the entire Middle East, Shiites, Kurds, liberal Sunni, democratic Arabs and oppressed minorities, women and students are reading President Bush's speech in disbelief. "Who among our own Presidents-for-life and Fundamentalist Monarchs have ever mentioned the mass graves and our vanished human rights?" Let it come from the American President. And if he is not serious, it doesn't matter. What matters is that the Truth was said."�� This is from the underground chat rooms.��� The people have hope...

This is a good time to be alive. And American. And not a Copperhead. And I just now recollected something that happened during the Afghanistan Campaign. At one point we were bombing near the Iranian border. And just across the border, Iranians were painting arrows on the roofs of their houses. Pointing towards Tehran.

"Byzantium." Good term.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:18 PM

A mystery solved...perhaps

Yesterday I blogged about the James Risen article on the disarray in the Iraqi WMD programs.

...After the onset of this "dark ages," Dr. Kay said, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Mr. Hussein and present fanciful plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability, he said, was largely subsumed into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in a fevered police state....
That may explain something that was mysterious.

In September 2002 there was a scare because of evidence the Iraqis were developing Aflatoxin as a weapon. It's carcinogenic, and the thought of a cancer-causing terror weapon was especially creepy. But then it turned out that it's extemely carcinogenic in mice, but only mildly so to humans. It's useless as a weapon. (I blogged about it here.)

Well, if you want to sell a terror weapon to Saddam, Aflatoxin is a good bet. Sounds frightful, it's easy to make, and if you spill it it's not going to kill you. And since the results are not expected to happen immediately, it's hard to prove that it's ineffective...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:21 PM

Our left-leaning donor-base is more important than the people of Iraq...

"Human Rights Watch" feels the liberation of Iraq wasn't justified�there wasn't enough slaughter and torture going on. Having children tortured to extract confessions from their parents was too trifling to justify contamination with Right-Wing cooties. Lordy, what a bunch of phonies they are.

To that crowd, a problem is not something you solve, it's something you use to raise funds, and to justify "programs" and "studies." And to build cushy careers untainted with Capitalism and ugly competition. And use to make yourself feel superior to crass Texans and Republicans and other low forms of life. Being a member of "Human Rights Watch" is like being a member of a museum or ballet society, the badge of a self-styled elite.

...Another Human Rights Watch criterion was whether war would make life better for the population being invaded. While life was better for Iraqis today, he said "the jury is still out" on whether life was going to be significantly better for Iraq's people than it had been under Saddam...
'tis a keen pleasure to think of all those Latté Liberals being out of power for the next generation or two, at least here in the US. And them having to watch in frustration while many of their cherished "problems" are being hacked to pieces and eliminated in a new Texas chainsaw massacre...

But be of good cheer, you bloated toads. Eventually the magic of Capitalization and Globalization will lift the Iraqis into comfortable self-satisfied affluence, and they will be faced with the problem of how to feel superior to their fellow citizens. Then they will want to join "Human Rights Watch," and, like the French, look down their noses at their liberators. (And they'll drink latté, or whatever's in fashion, and laugh at people who drink coffee.) 20 or 30 years ought to do it.

(via Jeff Jarvis)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:43 AM

January 26, 2004

Quoting David Frum...

It�s very odd. People on the left-hand side of the political world are always urging us to remember that other countries have their own motives, values and interests. Yet whenever there is a Republican president, those same people on the left-hand side suddenly tell us that anything untoward that happens anywhere in the world is a reaction to that Republican president....(link)

Posted by John Weidner at 2:17 PM

In a mood to rattle some teeth...

A friend sent a link to the James Risen NYT article: Ex-Inspector Says C.I.A. Missed Disarray in Iraqi Arms Program. I hesitate to quote it because probably everybody will, but, what the heck...

...From interviews with Iraqi scientists and other sources, he said, his team learned that sometime around 1997 and 1998, Iraq plunged into what he called a "vortex of corruption," when government activities began to spin out of control because an increasingly isolated and fantasy-riven Saddam Hussein had insisted on personally authorizing major projects without input from others.

After the onset of this "dark ages," Dr. Kay said, Iraqi scientists realized they could go directly to Mr. Hussein and present fanciful plans for weapons programs, and receive approval and large amounts of money. Whatever was left of an effective weapons capability, he said, was largely subsumed into corrupt money-raising schemes by scientists skilled in the arts of lying and surviving in a fevered police state....
- - - - - -
...Dr. Kay said the fundamental errors in prewar intelligence assessments were so grave that he would recommend that the Central Intelligence Agency and other organizations overhaul their intelligence collection and analytical efforts.

Dr. Kay said analysts had come to him, "almost in tears, saying they felt so badly that we weren't finding what they had thought we were going to find � I have had analysts apologizing for reaching the conclusions that they did."....

No doubt the failures of the CIA will be shoveled all over Bush. "Buck stops here" and all.

But what I'm really bugged about is the way we got into this position. I'm sure that the thinking in the White House, post 9/11, was (the little Neocon inside me knows this): "We've got to stop the terrorists, and the ONLY way to do so is to stop the terror-supporting countries, and the ONLY way to do that is to pick one of them up and throw it against the wall." And then Bush's people probably ran the MANY factors and possibilities through a few iterations of their mental spreadsheets, and everybody came up, as I still do now, with one best answer: Iraq.

But then we were forced by a clamor to seek the approval of the UN, and France and Germany. "We MUST respect International Institutions, we MUST have German bases, we MUST be multi-lateral." And so, to get the approval of the "multi" crowd we decided to ignore our decision-matrix and pretend that our only interest was in WMD's. Because the callous Multi's don't give a damn how many Iraqis are shredded. (Iraqis are no more human or real to them than Texans are.) And they don't give a damn if Saddam was paying bounties for the murder of Jews and Filipinos, (with the occasional US citizen thrown in.) They were at least PRETENDING to believe in WMD's, and in the UN. And so we went the UN route, and enforced their UN Resolutions (which Saddam was in violation of even if he had no WMD's).

And now the very same crowd of prissy ice-hearted bastards is drooling over the lack of WMD's and gloating that the the US and Bush were in the wrong. There's not a hint that their precious UN might have any egg on its face here. I just want to SHAKE those frigid bastards and scream, "YOU forced us to play this stupid game. Why don't you show some guts and take some responsibility here?"

Oooooooh. And while I'm in a shaking mood, I'd love to rattle the teeth of those academic jerks whose only interest in the Founding Fathers of this country is to gloatingly dwell on how some of them owned slaves, yet at the same time are utterly indifferent to millions of blacks being murdered and enslaved in Sudan�not 200 years ago, but NOW. And who also care nothing that progress towards ending this nightmare is being made�NOW. By President Bush, and his warmongering gang. Progress because, and ONLY BECAUSE, we made the decision to clean out one terror-supporting country.

Oooooh, I'm feeling so pissed. How I would love to use my magic powers to pick up little Professor Snib Snib of the History Department, and paint him black and drop him into Sudan. Let him get the real low-down on slavery...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:21 AM

Today's bizzarriry

Charlene heard on the radio the Paul Krugman and Al Sharpton are going on tour together, to promote the new Lefty radio network.

Words fail me...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:36 AM

January 25, 2004

January oddities...

A couple of things from our garden...

The pink things are ferns, Blechnum occidentale. About once every three years they give us this crazy riot of color in January. (And right next to them a pink Azalea!) Not what one could call tasteful, but fun...They look ratty the rest of the time, but I can never bring myself to tear them out.

ferns inour garden, January 2004

And I've been doing a lot of things outside, and there's this one fern frond, I don't even know what species it is, but it sticks out, as you can see, and catches the sun and just shines like a lantern...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:29 PM

January 24, 2004

Zoom in

I long ago had a book called Powers of Ten. It was a long series of pictures, each showing one tenth of the last one, getting smaller and smaller, going from fields of galaxies down to protons and such.

Now some people at Florida State University at Tallahassee have done the same thing in a Java applet. You can see it here.

Thanks to Darren Kaplan

Posted by John Weidner at 9:20 PM

January 23, 2004

THIS is what's important...this is what we should be worrying about...

From The Guardian, Libya's black market deals shock nuclear inspectors

...Colonel Muammar Gadafy of Libya has been buying complete sets of uranium enrichment centrifuges on the international black market as the central element in his secret nuclear bomb programme, according to United Nations nuclear inspectors.

The ease with which the complex bomb-making equipment was acquired has stunned experienced international inspectors. The scale and the sophistication of the networks supplying so-called rogue states seeking nuclear weapons are considerably more extensive than previously believed....

..."What was found in Libya marks a new stage in proliferation," said one knowledgeable source. "Libya was buying what was available. And what is available, the centrifuges, are close to turnkey facilities. That's a new challenge. Libya was buying something that's ready to wear."...

...A centrifuge is made up of hundreds of separate components. Typically, a country covertly seeking the uranium enrichment technology will seek to cover its tracks by obtaining a design blueprint and then purchasing the varied components separately from different suppliers.

The German ship was seized by Italians after a tip-off from the CIA. Knowledgeable sources said the centrifuges on board were "made-to-order" in Malaysia for Libya, based on designs directly or indirectly from Pakistan....

"Turnkey systems." "networks considerably more extensive than believed." Chew on that a little as you listen to the "debates."

Posted by John Weidner at 9:18 PM

The "anti-war Left" wasn't anti-THIS war...

...Mass graves "are everywhere," said Sandy Hodgkinson, a U.S. State Department attorney who has been working with Iraq's Human Rights Ministry, the agency in charge of investigating the mass graves. "You follow reports, and they turn up in places you would never suspect."

Iraq is littered with bodies stuffed dozens at a time into cemetery plots, bodies shoved over cliffs, tossed in lakes or hidden in farm fields where vegetables still grow, said Saad Sultan, 32, a lawyer and detective with the Human Rights Ministry's mass graves research team.

So far, 282 possible mass grave sites have been identified, 55 have been confirmed and 20 have been explored. But nine months after Hussein's fall, the total number of graves is unknown. So, too, is the number buried, though the figure is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Among Kurds alone, for example, there are at least 182,000 people missing, 8,000 of them from one clan, the Barzanis.... (Chicago Tribune)

When I find a magic lantern, and the genie gives me three wishes, I think number one is going to be to send the entire "anti-war left" mob off to Iraq and let them sift the sands with teaspoons to help find the remains of the victims of the merciless war that they did so much, and worked so hard to support and encourage and prolong. Sort of like how the GI's marched Germans through the concentration camps...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:39 PM

#141: Lap swimmer in a cesspool ...

P. Krugman
KRUGMAN TRUTH SQUAD

We returned from a winter break and had the experience of reading Paul Krugman's last eight columns in one or two sittings. Try it sometime! It's like watching a lap swimmer in a cesspool. He just goes back and forth treading in the same muck. He even had the audacity to write yet another column (we've lost count) on Enron. Conveniently forgotten are such facts as that the principal Enron transgressions date back to the Clinton administration when Krugman was a paid member of their advisory board. To hear him now, Enron was a Bush problem from the gitgo and he blithely uses the term as a metaphor for the administration's cozy relations with big business donors.

What a guy!

But the main thing we noticed in these columns was acceleration in the trend toward Howard Dean that we spotted a few months ago. Krugman was always a latent supporter, but now he has become a true "Deaniac" just as the Democratic primary voters are coming to their senses and rejecting the kind of angry, extremist Bush-bashing that is Dean's (and Krugman's) trademark. Krugman even echoed Dean in knocking the centrism of the Clinton administration.

If the Howard Dean flame-out continues and the Democrats nominate a moderate, Krugman will have to climb out of a pretty deep hole. It'll be fun watching.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Posted by John Weidner at 2:29 PM

Ignore that noise, just dominos falling ...

Remember how so many people were shoveling scorn onto the administration for its "diplomatic ineptitude" in announcing a tough Iraq contracts policy just before negotiating with our faux allies on Iraqi debt relief? And remember how they mostly did not admit that they had been wrong, when France, Germany and Russia capitulated immediately thereafter? Did not admit that they were wrong, but just dropped the subject and tried to pretend it never happened?

Well, they are still pretending, and its still happening. We could have hardly asked countries like Kuwait to compromise their more-or-less legitimate debts before the truly odious ones were reduced. Now that's happening, and Cori Dauber has winkled the news out of some very obscure corners of newspapers, such as this, from page 8 of the NYT:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 � Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III has secured pledges from four Persian Gulf nations to reduce their holdings of Iraq's debt, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.

The official said negotiations with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar had been far more difficult than earlier discussions with Russia, France, Germany, Japan and other large creditor nations in Europe and Asia....

Posted by John Weidner at 8:48 AM

January 22, 2004

Get ready for the lies...

President Bush mentioned personal Social Security accounts again, and one can be sure that he will be pushing them. In fact, I recall that that was one of his campaign promises.(Poor naive old-fashioned fellow, he actually seems to think that a promise is a promise.) It will be very good news for this country. In fact the numbers that are being run on this look astonisingly good...

But get ready for the lie. Scoundrel Democrats are already saying that Bush wants Granny to put her retirement nest-egg into Enron. Actually, there is no possibility of a plan passing that does not require investments to be prudently diversified. Index funds are being suggested as possible vehicles. People will not be allowed to put their SS dollars into cocoa futures. And all this won't even apply to Granny, she's too old.

It's a nonsensical lie, but expect to hear a lot of it from our Democrat friends. (Josh Marshall will doubtless find a more subtle subtle way to slip in the same evil blade.)

Posted by John Weidner at 11:16 AM

Tomahawks and the SOTU...

I found this article on the popularity of a tomakawk as an all-purpose breaching tool in Iraq interesting. What most caught my eye was a tiny hint of sanity in the bureaucratic looney-bin of military procurement:

...In the summer of 2001, Prisco submitted his company's tomahawk to the Soldier Enhancement Program, a congressionally mandated system that allows the military to evaluate and adopt commercially available, off-the-shelf items. But after almost two years, progress on the tomahawk proposal seems to have bogged down.

Then, just a few months ago, Prisco learned of a relatively new program, the Rapid Fielding Initiative. Prisco said that in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, RFI was introduced as a way for military units about to be deployed overseas to quickly equip themselves with commercially available items that are not part of the military inventory.

RFI provides a brigade commander with a budget and the discretion to purchase whatever he feels he needs for the members of his unit � typically, a list of hundreds of individual items. It is a limited program, however. RFI budgets and ordering authority are given to an individual brigade commander in the months prior to a deployment...(via Stryker Brigade News)

Quite a few people have been saying that we need a larger military. Quite possibly it's true (though I suspect that if Bush and Rumsfeld were suddenly in favor of it, most of those people would suddenly be against it.)

Well, the procurement process employs a huge number of people. Get rid of half of them, and we could probably pay for an extra division. For all the small stuff, we should just have a testing lab to evaluate products, and more importantly, to make sure information flows between units. (Web forums and blogs would be helpful. There's an interesting mention in the article of units getting "menus" from previously deployed units.) Then give the various units budgets and let them buy what they like.

Some mistakes would be made, but they would be dwarfed by the savings in overhead, and by the better decision-making that would be done by people who actually have to live and fight with the gear, or eat the food. And who would be much more rigorous in evaluating the trade-offs between price and utility.

I think it's Office Depot that has a program, where businesses give people or departments budgets for supplies, and Office Depot keeps track of them, so people can just order supplies without any purchasing-department overhead. That's a model we should be following more.

It's called "choice." As in school choice, private Social Security accounts, Medical Savings Accounts... President Bush is pushing choice on a variety of fronts, though not as hard as I think he should. If I had had written the SOTU, the domestic half would have had a theme, rather than being just a Clintonian hotch-potch. You can guess what the theme would have been.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:26 AM

January 20, 2004

Platinum asteroids...

John Kalb wrote a comment to the "What use is a newborn child" post below, that made me think. (I hope he will be flattered by that and not mind that I think he's wrong.)

The issue is that space will only become a source of resources in the distant future. No one doubts that there are valuable minerals on the moon and Mars, but the cost of bringing them back here now would be prohibitive, and it will stay that way until at the very least we have factories on those planets to refine whatever raw materials we find there and then send the finished products back.

China's rhetoric about mining the moon's riches for the benefit of humanity is just that. For now, the only place in space of any strategic or economic value is low Earth orbit.

First of all, the idea that minerals and resources are what we are short of, and need to go hunting for, is wrong. It's a holdover from the Industrial Age, when coal or oil or iron ore were limiting factors to a nation's success. But the more we enter into the Information Age, the less important they become. Which is why their prices (adjusted for inflation) have been falling for the last hundred years or so. And why, despite dire predictions, we don't run out of any of them�in fact we find our reserves growing. And why the countries that specialize in providing them tend to be among the poorest. All this is a byproduct of the Information Age and its technology. NOTHING we are doing now is hindered by lack of minerals!


[To help understand this, reflect on a similar change that happened when Humankind went from the Agricultural Age to the Industrial Age. The previous limiting factor had been agricultural production. Countries were often stopped dead in their tracks by famines. And all progress was limited because most people were of necessity poor peasants and farmers. And armies were limited by the number of available peasant recruits. Once industrialization hit, all was changed and agriculture was no longer a bottleneck. Industrial nations don't have famines. And they are able to drastically reduce their farm populations and put those people to more productive work, while producing more food�often to the point of awkward surpluses. And Krupp's cannon trumped any number of infantrymen on the battlefield.]


Even if (getting back to question of space), even if there are platinum boulders ready to be plucked from low orbit which will pay for NASA's budget, that's not the point. That wasn't Pedro's point. John is thinking like those 16th Century chaps who though the New World would "pay off" in gold and silver. There was a lot of gold, but in fact (to name just one of many many items) the humble potato was a far more valuable discovery, allowing Europe's population to increase by tens of millions. And the ideas that have emerged from this hemisphere are incalculably more valuable yet.

Spain took the lion's share of the silver, and it impoverished her. Japan, a country with no resources, adopted a collection of American ideas on business management, and used them to become stupendously wealthy. Ideas, inventions, wisdom, increased human happiness and potential, those are the payoffs from new worlds. And there's no way to predict when and where they will happen.

Businesses need to consider short-term payoffs. As a nation, we should be pushing ourselves into space because we need to grow�our souls need to grow. There will be payoffs from that, probably bigger than we can imagine.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:27 PM

Really? Why?

I think I like this gal, Juliette Ochieng (thanks to Rosemary)

...Those against the proposal raised some valid concerns�there are things here on Earth that require more immediate fiscal attention--though, in my opinion, their reasons often lacked vision. But that�s not what this post is about.

In a particularly heated point in the exchange, McDonald managed to silence her male colleagues by invoking that great silencer of American men everywhere (a paraphrase; pen and paper will be on my night table from now on): �You men have to let the woman speak now!�

Really? Why? Was her opinion more important, more valid just because she�s the owner of a vagina, a uterus, a set of ovaries and a set of breasts?

The frightening part is that the guys did shut up and let her speak.

Now, as many know from reading my musings, I spent two decades in the military and, were those that have known me to give a description of my personality, I�d imagine that the phrase �shrinking violet� would never come up. There have been times in which I�ve had to exert some assertiveness and aggressiveness to allow myself to be heard. Such is life for a woman who works among mostly men. However, what got me about McDonald�s tactic was that she felt that she deserved to be heard solely because she�s a woman, not because she had a unique perspective on the subject discussed...

Posted by John Weidner at 4:13 PM

"Turning Troops Into Teachers"

Here's a thought-provoking article about a splendid program to turn retired military personel into teachers.

...Service men and women make particularly good teachers, Peters said, because they offer knowledge from outside the classroom and a bearing that makes them unlikely to be intimidated, even by the most unruly middle school students.

"These are mature, seasoned leaders. They're not just young people coming out of college who have little experience doing anything," Peters said. "Normally, they've been around the world at least once. Normally, they've already been teaching young recruits in the military." ...

...Troops to Teachers was started in 1994 to ease the transition to civilian life for people laid off from soldiering during the military downsizing. In 2001, money was included in the federal No Child Left Behind law to expand the program and convert it to a recruiting tool for low-income schools...

...Surveys by the American Association for Employment in Education show chronic teacher shortages in math, science and special education teachers. National Education Association numbers show that 10 percent of the nation's 3 million teachers are minorities, and 21 percent are men, a 40-year low for the profession.

By contrast, 40 percent of the Troops to Teachers participants go into math, science or special education. More than 85 percent of participants are men, and one-third are minorities. ... (via Betsy Newmark)

I suspect a lot of people could, and should, go for a second career in teaching. And I gather that the teacher's mafia has put a lot of obstacles in the way of that. I would hope that, along with giving parents choice in schools, we will work towards giving people the choice to become teachers.

Actually, I'm for encouraging second careers for almost everybody. It just appalls me to hear friends from European countries tell of people being expected to choose a career when they are in High School, and stick with it until retirement. Tragic antidiluvian lunacy.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:21 AM

Of what use is a newborn child? --Franklin

Pedro writes

[Lefty-blogger discussing Bush Space Plan asks:] "WHAT'S THE PAYOFF?" Holy rocket ship to the moom, batman, some of you people need to read a little less narcissitic literature and dig into some rock-'em sock-'em science fiction. 'What's the payoff?' Are you freakin' kidding me? How about the resources of an entire freakin' planet? No wait, one extra planet, one extra large satellite (the moon), a couple of little ones (Mars' moons), plus the asteroid belt thrown in as a bonus. PLUS the spin-off technologies. But how can you ask "What's the payoff?" when we're talking about an entire planet? NASA = bloated gov't, OK, we can fix that, and it's a valid point. But "What's the payoff?"
If you gotta ask, it probably means you don't really want to know. Reminds me of how our Great Plains region was once thought of as the "Great American Desert." And Alaska was "Seward's Icebox."

Posted by John Weidner at 7:11 AM

January 19, 2004

Elves, are they cool, are they hot?

I find my daughter's fascination with all things Tolkien, both books and movies, entirely admirable. Still, I had to wonder when I noticed her going to a site called hot-elf.com!
(It's actually a very nice site, if you are a Legolas Greenleaf fan. It even has recipes for Lembas.)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:10 PM

"Iraq 2.0"

Omar Masry is an American with Arab parents serving with an Army Civil Affairs unit in Iraq. I like his blog, called Iraq 2.0

Watching TV news about Iraq your usually subjected to three main themes: raids, soldiers standing around a street, and aftermath of a car bomb or roadside explosion. What you don't see is manuever commander (someone in charge of an area) of units running tankers in front of others in line for fuel at refineries so they can get more supplies for their respective neighborhoods.

You don't see captains normally trained to drive the most advanced tanks in the world pulling over a trash truck to see if it really is being used to clean up trash in the neighborhood he's working in. You don't see a Major normally assigned to a Cavalry Regiment giving a presentation on how hes working to move internal refugees out of buildings to be handed over to Iraqi ministries with slide graphics that consist mostly of pictures of Iraqi kids. Normally his graphics would be infantry formations or flanking moves, instead theres a picture of him giving a male sheikh the traditional arab customary kiss on the cheek. Briefings that would normally be preceded by a call to attention as the commander walks in are sometimes replaced with the Iraqi translator giving his/her "5 arabic phrases to learn today" lesson.

I dont think they could ever really make a good American movie about Iraq because so much here isn't black and white (good vs. evil) like American movies tend to portray; its infinite shades of gray, where so many decent and honorable Iraqis are paralyzed by fear and too many of the corrupt minority fashion themselves as sheep's in wolf's clothing...(Jan. 5, '04, no permalinks )

It's sure not the same Army we had when I was growing up...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:25 PM

Fellow of the Institute ...

One hears rumors of how State Department types get bought off by the Saudis, but here's an actual example I wasn't aware of:

....Second, the Democrats want these guys to stay credible, because they will always be there to criticize hawkish Republican proposals. Joseph Wilson is a prime example of this. He got a cushy job at the Middle East Institute after he left the government. The Middle East Institute, by the way, gets $200,000 of its $1.5 million annual budget directly from the Saudi government, and an undisclosed amount from Saudi individuals.
Hmmm. Do any of you RJ readers have contacts in the House of Saud? Could you just let them know that some of their critics in the Blogosphere might become a lot friendlier, if we were, you know, treated with consideration? Appreciated?

Or maybe I should just organize something, and then apply for funding. It doesn't have to be real; I'm sure prince Bandar doesn't expect Joe Wilson to crank out scholarly papers on neocolonialism. I suppose I would need an accommodation address in DC, and a fancy letterhead with crescents and scimitars and such. I could call it MERE; Middle Eastern Research Enterprise...I'll be the Director, various other warbloggers will be Fellows... (Maybe we should wear fezzes, to give the right flavor.) It's a cinch we will be more creative than State, and think up tons of good reasons to do nothing, and to leave the Middle East just like it is.

But probably we will prove to be less pliable than the willows in Foggy Bottom, and will not bend to just any breeze. A strong wind of appreciation will be needed.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:36 AM

January 18, 2004

But some of us are looking at the stars...

Mike writes, (concerning Lileks's Space musings)

...Oscar Wilde said a wonderful thing: �We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.� That one works for me on more than one level today. The right hand holds the sword, the left hand holds the sextant. Beautiful - and inspiring in its own right. James, once again I most humbly tip my hat to you.
I'm not enthused about the Space Initiative, because I think giving NASA the job is really a way a making sure that the big scary space genie stays in the bottle.

BUT, I am pleased with it because it is a great big thumb o' the nose to the Jimmy-Carter-turn-down-the-thermostat types who will whine that we have problems here on earth to solve first. This is the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA you're talking about here, and we can fight a war, grow the economy, shoot bricks into space AND stillspend more to exacerbate our social problems than all the little countries put together.

And it's not really very big, budget-wise. Space has been running less that 1% of the Fed budget. The cost is a bit of a bullshit issue. (Anyway, how come no one says "we need to spend money solving social problems before we subsidize professors to deconstruct James Joyce?" Or before we subsidize sugar beets?)

I have a heartfelt desire to see smaller government, but not because I think we can't afford more. Those deficit snivelers have rocks in their heads. Our economy is going to grow far faster than our debts. It's been doing that for several centuries now. Remember what happened the last time we had a tax-cuttin' President? Fellow named Reagan? To this very day we hear whinging about how he increased our national debt by 1.3 Trillion. Sounds ombinous, but not one of those lying-with-statistics crybabies ever mentions that our national wealth grew by 17 Trillion in the same period!

Posted by John Weidner at 4:50 PM

Light'n out for the territories...

Moira writes

...The daughter and I were discussing Bush's space-speech on the way to Tae Kwon Do lessons yesterday. After disposing of the pragmatic issues we moved on to the dreams. She enthused about being an astronaut and walking on Mars, I owned that it was a mournful realization for me that I would never leave the earth. I added that I would die a happy woman if she were ever able to do so, or, really, if I could see the first solid attempts to light out for the territories. But never to leave home at all! The human race living in its parents' basement apartment forever. That's a melancholy notion...

Posted by John Weidner at 12:56 PM

January 17, 2004

New realm in the air...

Rand Simberg points to an interesting article by Greg Klerkx, The Citizen Astronaut

...These days, unfortunately, the shuttle is not the best advertisement for space travel of any kind. More important, NASA has never really accepted the idea that space travel should be for anyone but professional astronauts. The agency did all it could, for instance, to stop a businessman, Dennis Tito, from visiting the International Space Station in 2001.

Underlying NASA's resistance is a fundamental disdain for sullying the human space flight enterprise with the brassy sheen of commerce. But this is backward thinking. Was Charles Lindbergh any less inspirational because he was, to put it bluntly, an aerial privateer chasing a cash prize?

President Bush's Mars initiative neatly places NASA's goal of exploration in the public spotlight. Now the agency needs to allow the rest of us to participate.... (Klerkx has a new book out also, Lost in Space : The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age. I'm going to take a look at it.)

It's not just commerce they disdain, the bureaucrats don't want to share space with the common man. They are elitists. It's no accident that elitists of all stripes are attracted to government. Only the state can overrule the marketplace.

It's worth keeping in mind how we dealt with a similar situation, with a new realm in the air where private enterprise was slow to grow to a self-sustaining size. In the 1920's the US Government used airmail subsidies to greatly expand our then tiny airlines, and encourage the creation of larger and faster planes. I wrote a post about it here; it's a very interesting bit of our history. The gist of it was that we subsidized capacity. The airlines with airmail contracts got more money if they flew bigger planes, even if there wasn't mail to fill them. In effect this was subsidizing the carrying of passengers, and of course the development of bigger planes.

But, one important thing�the US government didn't try to decide what the "goal" of airlines should be! That was good, because we really didn't know enough to decide. For instance, the transports that were created in the 30's were vital to us in WWII. But the Air Force was totally uninterested in them. If government masterminds had tried to save resources by allocating them according to a master plan for airplane development, the results would have been far worse.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:01 PM

You get what you pay for...

I don't ever expect to penetrate the walls of ignorance behind the "Macs are too expensive" meme, but this article has some useful figures...

A true story: A neighbor of mine asks me for advice on buying a new computer, his first. He tells me he wants to use it for editing home movies, playing music, surfing the web, email, and he would love to make his own DVD�s. I tell him to look at an iMac or eMac and he says they are way too expensive. He then says he sees TV commercials offering Dell�s for $500, and wants to know why Macs are so much more expensive. I ask him if he really wants to make his own DVD�s and edit home movies and he says �yes�. I tell him to call Dell and ask them to configure a PC that can do that. He does, and then comes back over and accuses Dell of �bait and switch�. They want $1500!!.....

Posted by John Weidner at 8:30 PM

On crumbling clouds of stone...

Dave T has posted a poem inspired by the Northridge Quake.

...I was browsing through the essays of Montaigne not long ago,
Reclining in the shadow of the century-old oak that shades my home,
Half drowsing in the warmth of a hazy winter day
In the city of the angels, where the sun first strikes the Ring of Fire.
We cannot hear the music of the spheres, he wrote,
Because our hearing sense is deafened,
Like the smith among the hammers of his forge,
By continual exposure to that marvelous harmony...

---

...If you could scale a few more rungs upon that cosmic ladder,
Growing 'til the stratosphere lapped round your chest,
Your heartbeat once a century, your breaths the measure of millenia�
Then you would just begin to hear the song of Earth
It rises from her iron core, engendered by the almost stellar heat
Of actinide decay, the life-bestowing legacy of dying stars...

I like it. Putting things that are more-or-less scientific into poetry or any sort of artwork is very ambitious, and is an easy way to make yourself look foolish. Erasmus Darwin could have taken some lessons from Dave.

Charlene and I were in the big quake of '89, and this rings too true: You'd see that all of us have built our lives, the castles of our dreams,
On crumbling clouds of stone...

Posted by John Weidner at 2:35 PM

Never forget, never forgive...

My friend Brad sent me a link to some fascinating photos of the USS Cole being raised by a Norwegian recovery ship, which floods, partly submerges, and then raises up from underneath, lifting an entire destroyer out of the water! Splendid sight.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:31 PM

Of course Kim is a brutal dictator, BUT...

Here's a story I don't feel like quoting much of...

There is a cell in Nongpo prison where they take the women whose babies are to be killed.

As in the other cells, the women are packed so tightly they can only crouch, squeezing together, for sleep. There is no room to lie down, so when one of the women goes into labour, the others stand up to make space...(via Judd)

One thing that's become obvious to those who are not intentionally blind, is that President Bush is not your usual BS politician. If he says something, he means it. He included (for good reasons) North Korea in the Axis of Evil.

He hasn't forgotten! The issue isn't going to go away!

SO, sure as the sun rises,

We get to look forward to...

The very same cast of idiots who pulled for Saddam and dote on Castro....

Defending Kim Jong Il from the horrors of American hegemony....(NOW will probably defend Nongpo Prison's late-term abortion rights)

'tis amazing how deja vu seems to repeat itself over and over.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:11 PM

Well done, Ambassador...

Sweden will summon Israeli Ambassador Zvi Mazel on Monday to explain his damaging on Friday a piece of art depicting a Palestinian suicide bomber displayed at a Stockholm museum.

"We will ask him to explain and from our side we will maintain that it is unacceptable to destroy works of art in this way," Swedish Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Anna Larsson said Saturday.

The artwork, entitled "Snow White and the Madness of Truth," consisted of a rectangular basin filled with red water on which floated a boat carrying a portrait of Islamic Jihad suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat, who killed herself and 22 others in an attack at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa on October 4....

The Swedes with no doubt blather about "artistic freedom," but if the "artwork" had criticized moslems it would never have been displayed (and the "artists" would probably be in trouble for violating some hate-crime statute.)

I hope the ambassador gives them an earfull. But he's probably too "diplomatic." Israel ought to start a policy of subsisizing and aiding European terrorist groups�until Europe stops aiding the Palestinians.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:14 AM

January 16, 2004

drawdown...

Here's an interesting article on the reduction in American forces in Iraq that is now starting:

....The 101st Airborne Division's approach to waging peace in this northern Iraqi city is frequently lauded as the ideal of what men and women trained for war can accomplish by setting their guns aside and targeting development and local ties.

But now it faces a crucial test: doing the same mission with half as many US troops.

In just a few weeks, 18,000 soldiers of the 101st in northern Iraq will start streaming home, part of a rotation of all 120,000 US forces in Iraq. Replacing the 101st will be a much smaller force: The Army's new Stryker Brigade, a force of 5,000 or so soldiers whose unit is built around the capabilities of the Army's latest high-tech combat vehicle, and [other] units that will bring the total to 9,000....

It's the obvious next step (and was planned months ago). The torrents of insincere criticism will continue, but this is surely bad news for those who claim we are "in over our heads," or "bogged down without a plan." Or for those who claim we don't have enough troops, or that we should beg for allied help, or that our grandchildren will have to work in factories to pay for it all...Cheer up, things may get worse.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:22 PM

Let's hear it for those brave, principled librarians who oppose the Ashcroft tyranny

Librarians ignore plea of Cuban prisoners

The American Library Association refused to respond yesterday to a plea from independent book lenders imprisoned in Cuba to demand that dictator Fidel Castro release them and end a crackdown on free expression.

...14 members of Cuba's Independent Library project were arrested last March on charges that included making available the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and books such as George Orwell's "Animal Farm."...

...Members of the task force, comprised of members from the ALA's Intellectual Freedom Committee and International Relations Committee, felt their report "finesses" the complex Cuban situation, said Schneider.

She added, ALA councilors called on the task force to "stay away" from foreign relations. Members of the association who lobbied strongly for a resolution calling for the prisoners' release found that request ironic.

They point to the ALA's strong pronouncements in the past on issues such as the plight of Palestinian libraries and apartheid in South Africa.

During the time of South Africa's apartheid regime, the ALA refused to send books to the country....(via Betsy Newmark)

Utter phonies. I hate them so. I used to own a bookshop, and encountered the same types. People who actually owned bookstores and blamed their problems on "Capitalism."

'Their report "finesses" the complex Cuban situation.' That's sure nothing new. When did the Left start "finessing" their various police states? About 1917?

There's nothing "complex" about Cuba�it's very simple. Put theorists in charge, and people have to be forced to act like the theory predicts. (I have this sneaking suspicion that something similar might happen if Libertarians were put in power.) Lenin started it, and ever since it's been "boiler suits and a long march to nowhere." (That's a line from that turkey John Le Carré. Great writer, though I hates to admit it.)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 AM

January 15, 2004

Truthtelling with statistics...

Here's a website that carefully tabulates US and Allied casualties in Iraq. A good thing to know about, especially because the press is somewhat imprecise on such figures. For instance, not differentiating between hostile fatalities and ordinary accidents (a certain number of which could be expected to happen even if the troops were somewhere else.)

It's good to see that the trend is clearly downward since the evil month of November.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:34 PM

One of the last of his cohort

When I was very young, I remember hearing of the death of the last Civil War veteran. He had supposedly been a drummer boy, though there was some doubt about him.

Now, the last American combat-wounded veteran of WWI has died at the age of 108! (Links here and here) There are only about 1,000 American WWI vets left alive.

....Born Jan. 17, 1895, in Everett, Mass., Mr. Pugh raised 16 foster children, played the organ into his 100s and was an avid football and baseball fan.

He is one of 10 veterans profiled in the book, The Price of their Blood, published last month and co-written by Jesse Brown, former U.S. secretary of Veterans Affairs.

He spoke French and was used overseas as an interpreter until the battle in the Argonne forest, when he inhaled mustard gas that left him unconscious and with chronic laryngitis.

After the war he returned to Maine and worked as a railroad telegraph operator for 12 years before delivering mail for 26 years....(Thanks to Dave Trowbridge)

Sounds like quite a guy. Pugh's outfit was the 77th Division. I wrote about them in the Melting Pot Division, the New York City division with an astonishing ethnic variety......The Jews, the Wops, and the Dutch and Irish cops
They're all in the army now!

doughboys_argonne.jpg
Doughboys of the 77th divsion wait on the edge of the Argonne Forest, before the attack on September 26, 1918.

It looks like there are two French officers in the upper left corner. (By the way, my interest in WWI has had the result, that I don't find very funny the endless jokes about the fighting qualities of the French. They lost millions in battles whose sustained ferocity we can't even imagine. Likewise, don't sneer about Italians at war until you know something about the Battles of the Isonzo.)

Posted by John Weidner at 3:35 PM

Sticking to their guns ...

Here's an interesting article from the battle against the Ba'athist holdouts (in our schools, that is), Failing Schools Underreported:

....Despite resistance of schools that want to stay off the low-performing-schools list, Mr. Paige said "the culture is changing" in the U.S. educational establishment under the act toward an acceptance that "accountability, assessment and choice as a matter of routine rather than something that is revolutionary or a new strategy for reform or something that's from the outside."

����Nonetheless, congressional Republican leaders think Mr. Paige and his team are "holding firm," which explains the delay of the overdue low-performing-schools report, said David Schnittger, Republican spokesman for the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

����"This is what it looks like when education reform is actually implemented instead of just being talked about," Mr. Schnittger said. "This Education Department has not issued waivers on demand. They have largely stuck to their guns." ...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:45 AM

January 14, 2004

some of what I do for a living....

Once upon a time there was a tiny kitchen in a tiny house, where a nice lady professor loved to cook, in conditions of the utmost cramptitude. There was a sort of niche or alcove next to the stove, which wasn't very useful. So she asked me, and my collaborator Johnny Zanakis, to rip out what was there, (a long and dirty day's work in itself) and, in a space exactly 48.5 inches wide, and 23 deep, to build in a long list of kitchen desiderata. It's close to finished, we're just waiting for the blacksmith to make more hardware, and you can see the results.

kitchen niche with cabinets

Or some of them. Many are hidden. All those drawers, for instance, have removable partitions that can be configured many ways.

Number 1 indicates some French antique glass bins with handles, sort of like square measuring cups. (Charlene saw them and is ready to kill for some.) I made pockets to hold them. #2 is a traditional Hoosier flour bin. The round part on the bottom is a sifter�you put a bowl underneath and sift flour into it. #3 is a slide-out shelf that will soon have a marble slab on it, for pastry making and such. #4, to give you an idea how crazy this project has been, is where I pushed the opening back between the wall studs, to gain an extra 3 inches for the flour bin, and for the mixers and gadgets that will soon clutter that green shelf That wasn't cabinetmaking; more like sculpture....

Posted by John Weidner at 7:40 PM

Rem acu tetigisti

den Beste writes this morning, in a nice post on media bias:

Rule number one for all reporters in Iraq and their editors back home:
Thou shalt not report any good news without also including bad news. Thus shalt thou maintain balance. (However, reporting bad news without any offsetting good news is perfectly acceptable.)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:54 AM

January 13, 2004

Space thoughts 2

Wretchard writes:

....Whether Europe, Asia or America will first find the key technology necessary to make interplanetary travel an economical reality cannot be foreseen. Yet history suggests that the answers will be found by those who are looking for them....

.... Maybe the challenge is not to put men on Mars by a date certain, but the subtly different one of making investments to ensure that any technological breakthrough can be exploited rapidly and without hesitation. Clearly the day will come when nations will expand beyond the confines of the planet and our task is to be ready to mount the first real breeze for the distant shore....

"to mount the first real breeze for the distant shore". Yes

One of the points of his post was that there is no way that there is going to be reasonably priced space travel anytime soon:

....Rocketman points out that no available engine technology can boost payloads into space in economical quantities. Current launch costs are on the order of $8,000/lb, a number that will have to be reduced by a factor of ten for the habitation of the moon, the establishment of La Grange transfer stations or flights to Mars to be feasible. This will require technology, and perhaps even basic physics that does not even exist. Simply building bigger versions of the Saturn V will not work....
I would respectfully suggest that maybe, just maybe, that isn't true. One thing that is overlooked is that neither launch vehicles nor the launch process itself has ever been subject to the ruthless cost-cutting of mass production! In the manufacturing sector, reducing costs by a factor of 10 is routine. Happens when things go from small scale production to large scale. Launch vehicles have always been produced in small batches, and most of their components are produced in small batches. And they are built by companies that are totally geared to produced small quantities of expensive planes and rockets for government agencies rather than the marketplace.

No only is manufacturing in small lots very expensive, but development costs must be amortized over a small number of units. (It LOOKS like we are spending a lot on developing our spacecraft, but in fact I suspect spacecraft research is on a starvation diet. If we were producing any spacecraft in large quantities, management would instantly decide that more R&D would be a good investment.)

Think of those "factor of ten" objections. Imagine that (yes, I know this is visionary and won't happen�don't bother to chide, it's just a thought experiment), imagine that a certain size of launch vehicle could reasonably be built and launched for $50 million each. Imagine that our government, (or some other entity with deep pockets) offered to buy vehicles+launches for only $5 million each. BUT, with a commitment to buy 400 launches a year for 10 years....I wonder if they would have any takers?

Most people have no idea of the cost-cutting that goes on behind the scenes in, say, the automotive industry. Every nut and bolt is scrutinized for possible cost savings. Every supplier is ruthlessly squeezed to lower prices and then lower them again. And they in turn squeeze their suppliers. Robots replace ever more workers. Software schedules the ordering and movement of every part, so they arrive at the factory just hours before they are due to be used.

I have a "hunch bordering on a certainty" that that "factor of ten" problem one hears of so often could be quickly solved by pure brute force. Won't happen of course.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:55 PM

Space thoughts 1

Alan pours scorn on a suggestion that the Space Initiative could help solve the problem of bone-loss in the elderly...

....Poppycock, a senior citizen might say. The idea that medical research could be facilitated in space would not withstand any honest cost-benefit analysis. This argument is simply a scam to sway an important voting block in favor of more high-flying pork. Make no mistake: at present the manned space program is no more than an engine for expropriating and spending money. If we want to learn about the cosmos, we are simply wasting resources when we send humans into space. If we want to learn about human physiology, earth is the place to do it....
We've been hearing arguments like that for decades. NASA has long pushed the idea that "spin-offs" will justify their budget. It's total balunkey, Any spin-offs are dwarfed by what would have happened if that money had just been given to good research labs.

But the whole argument is wrong on a deeper level. We can't plan what we should do in or with space, because we don't know what space IS.

We are like 16th Century Europeans becoming aware of a New World in the Western Hemisphere. We dream of cities of gold and a Northwest passage. But it's a certainty that what we will find will be the equivalent of tobacco and maize and potatoes and steamboats and geysers and the US Constitution and a "new birth of freedom." We don't know what space is, and we won't find out until a lot of people can go there. Go there with time and resources and freedom to experiment and invent and just be crazy dreamers. Freedom to try crazy things that will get some of them killed.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:50 PM

January 11, 2004

Gallant

Orin Judd, writing on the anti-Americanism of author John Le Carré

...The loathsome Mr. LeCarre said something revealing in an Entertainment Weekly profile: that he's not anti-American, in fact he believes in the American ideals that prevailed from Jefferson to Kennedy. This conveniently ends his admiration of America just as Vietnam hotted up and we demonstrated that we were in deadly earnest about defeating the Soviet Union, which is why so many Europeans hate us. Even worse than Vietnam was the Reagan presidency, when he had the audacity to call communism evil and to recommit us to its defeat. And, of course, now we've another president leading a crusade against evil and stoking Euro hatred. How can they help but hate us, who believe so fiercely in Western/Judeo-Christian values, long after they've ceased to believe in anything? We remind them of what they were when they mattered and show them what they've become, a fetid secular culture hastening towards its death...
No need to be diplomatic, Mr Judd. Go ahead and say what you think...

I had long ago an infatuation with Le Carré's books, beginning when I read the dazzling Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. I still have a bad taste in my mouth, sort of what I might feel if I had been involved with a floozy. I didn't realize what was wrong until years later, when I encountered Anthony Price.

Price was a less talented writer than Le Carré, (though by no means inconsiderable) but his heart was far warmer. In a series of books he created an imaginary department of British Intelligence, which avoided the catastrophic defections and subsequent dreary hopelessness that Le Carré portrayed so brilliantly. His characters in the "Research and Development" department fight the Cold War with wit and cunning and decency nicely leavened with a sort of schoolboy ferocity that delights in nasty revenges upon the deserving. And they are "gallant," the more so because they are far from being sure that they are going to win. The spirit of Kipling pervades the series, and Price quoted several times the words of the Roman officer defending Hadrian's Wall in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill. Pertinax tells the invading Picts that he won't surrender even though doomed, because "The Wall must be won at a price."

Anthony Price did one very unusual thing. He avoided, at least partly, the usual flaw in a series of books with the same characters, which is that they tend to be the same book written over and over again. Though he has a regular cast of characters, each book is written from the perspective of a different person. A minor character in one book may be the protagonist of the next. Very effective.

I kind of lost interest in Price after the end of the Cold War, and put his books on a high shelf with things not likely to be needed. But it occurs to me that we are once again fighting a secretive and deadly war with the enemies of freedom. And once again those on the Wall earn the sneers and contempt of nihilists like Le Carré. Perhaps I'll pick up Price's books again. If you are interested, you might start with The Labyrinth Makers or perhaps Gunner Kelly.

..."'But Maximus has given you your dismissal," said an elder. "You are certainly free to serve�or to rule�whom you please. Join�do not follow�join us!"

"'We thank you," said Pertinax. "But Maximus tells us to give you such messages as�pardon me, but I use his words�your thick heads can understand." He pointed through the door to the foot of a catapult wound up.

"'We understand," said an elder. "The Wall must be won at a price?"

"'It grieves me," said Pertinax, laughing, "but so it must be won," and he gave them of our best Southern wine.

'They drank, and wiped their yellow beards in silence till they rose to go...

-- Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill

Posted by John Weidner at 5:30 PM

January 9, 2004

�It�s all legendary, of course, especially the absurd tale of Frodo..."

If you've ever been exposed to Biblical Criticism, you'll see the humor in this...

Experts in source-criticism now know that The Lord of the Rings is a redaction of sources ranging from the Red Book of Westmarch (W) to Elvish Chronicles (E) to Gondorian records (G) to orally transmitted tales of the Rohirrim (R). The conflicting ethnic, social, and religious groups that preserved these stories all had their own agendas, as did the �Tolkien� (T) and �Peter Jackson� (PJ) redactors, who are often in conflict with each other as well but whose conflicting accounts of the same events reveal a great deal about the political and religious situations that helped to form our popular notions about Middle Earth and the so-called War of the Ring. Into this mix are also thrown a great deal of folk materials about a supposed magic �ring� and some obscure figures named Frodo and Sam. In all likelihood, these latter figures are totems meant to personify the popularity of Aragorn with the rural classes.

Because The Lord of the Rings is a composite of sources, we may be quite certain that �Tolkien� (if he ever existed) did not �write� this work in the conventional sense, but that it was assembled over a long period of time by someone else of the same name. We know this because a work of the range, depth, and detail of The Lord of the Rings is far beyond the capacity of any modern expert in source-criticism to ever imagine creating themselves....

I like the "Quest for the Historical Sauron" ...(thanks to Brothers Judd Blog)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:42 AM

Dating...

I've tended to assume that "on-line dating services" were somehow flaky and peripheral. But Dean Esmay, who met his wife Rosemary that way, has written a very interesting post on the subject....

....People joke about online dating, but you know what? It's a fabulous way to meet people, as long as you have the right attitude: you will meet people you don't click with at all, and you might wind up with a few funny stories about weird dates and weird people. But you also just might meet the person you've always been looking for. It's very hard in this modern world to meet people, especially if you don't date people you work with, and this sort of thing is a perfectly sensible solution. It's not "desperate," it's sensible as hell. My brother met his wife that way. My brother-in-law met his wife that way, and they just had their first baby. Another buddy of mine recently proposed to a woman he met through eHarmony. Not a single one of these people is or was stupid, desperate, or psychotic.

Online dating has one wonderful feature that normal dating doesn't usually have, by the way: you both know, up front, what you're looking for. You bypass that entire embarassing and uncomfortable dance: "Are you marriage-minded, do you want kids, are you just looking for a good time, are you just looking for a friend, will I look desperate if I reveal my true desires?"....

(And this is typical of Esmay�not only does he find himself a gal, he's helping other people. Apparently the FAQ he's written has been posted by the some of the services because of its usefulness..)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:41 AM

January 8, 2004

iPods

I've heard a lot of disappointed groans because when the rumored new Mini iPods were announced this week, they were priced at $250�just $50 less than the cheapest regular iPod. There had been speculation about $100 or 200.

But I think people are missing the point. With gadgets, if you buy the "newest and smallest," you often pay more. Small means tricky engineering or the newest components. Charlene's cell phone is 1/3 the size of mine, and she had to pay extra for that. (Me, I prefer my big clunky Nokia. I could hit somebody with it in a pinch.)

The iPod is already surprisingly tiny and delicate. I'm guessing that when people actually can touch the new ones, they will not think "little," they will think "elegant," or "jewel-like."

Our daughter asked Charlene for an iPod for Christmas, and mentioned that they cost $500. Charlene told her firmly to forget it, we couldn't afford one. Of course I knew that that was the top-of-the-line price, and that there were cheaper ones. We bought a 10-Gig, and because of Charlene's very convincing refusal, Besty was completely surprised, (and very happy.) I packed the distinctively-shaped iPod box into a round box, and told her it was a "Legolas lampshade."

Also announced by Apple was the program GarageBand. My musically talented (He sure didn't get it from me) son William has been starting to wrestle with MIDI software, and the stuff seems painfully awkward and hard to learn. I think GarageBand is going to be heaven for him....

* iPod Update: Wallet-size? I found this an interesting take:

...What I noticed is that women writers on the web love this thing. Why? Believe it or not, it was not the pretty colors. Women are not as stupid as most men think. They really can and do make sensible purchases. The core reason was the high quality, the usual list of iTunes/ITMS access, cool accessories, etc. that makes the standard iPods a great buy, combined with the tiny form factor. It fits inside those humongous wallets women use. A standard iPod can't do that. Neither can any other hard drive based player....

Posted by John Weidner at 8:01 AM

January 7, 2004

Book people will understand ...

I enjoyed this snippet, from Andrew

...Anyway, as I was chatting with my Girlfriend yesterday about household stuff, I said �let�s mingle our books�

She got a shocked look on her face.

�What� Said I �do you not think we are ready to have our books on the same shelves, organized in together?�

�Well, I don�t know. I mean, its such a big step�....

Posted by John Weidner at 2:21 PM

�Emergency Exit� plans

On the question of Iraqi WMD's, this, from StrategyPage is verry interesting...

....Ion Pacepa, the highest-ranking East Bloc defector, wrote of how the Soviet Union developed �Emergency Exit� plans, in which Russia would assist rogue states to make their illegal programs disappear. The plan called for dumping some weapons in the sea, destroying others, and also waging an intense propaganda campaign against the politicians and countries that claimed the rogue state had banned weapons. Although all technical documentation and research would be preserved, the disappearance of the weapons �would frustrate the West by not giving them anything they could make propaganda with.� Yevgeny Primakov, one of the Russians that told Pacepa about the plan, went to Iraq and advised Saddam Hussein in the months before the war....
What I would like to know is, when they planned the "intense propaganda campaign," did they plan, did they expect that the heavy lifting would be done by our press, and by the Democrat Party, and by our so-called "allies"......or was all that just a happy accident for them?

There's lots more in the article, do read it. There is, for instance, heaps of evidence that Iraqi WMD's have been hidden in Syria. We know where they are. But the very success of the Democrat/Iraqi/Russian propaganda campaign (centered, ironically, on not-yet-found WMD's) has made it politically impossible for us to go into Syria and "find" them.

Don't despair. Time is on our side, and Bush is a patient guy. Evidence accumulates, and, as somebody once said, "Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclination, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

Posted by John Weidner at 1:46 PM

January 6, 2004

For Christmas...

Chuck Colson tells a Christmas story--there's nothing much to add, except that it's not the first thing like this I've read [You're bluffing.--I.C. OK wise guy, chew on this.]

....I remember from my days with President Nixon what photo opportunities are: Get the picture and leave. So I thought the Bushes would shortly depart, but they didn�t. They stayed long after the cameras were gone to greet every child, to have their picture taken with them, their mothers, and their grandmothers, to talk with them, and to ask questions. Though the press didn�t report it, I noticed that both the president and Mrs. Bush talked to the Hispanic children in Spanish.

Just before the president left, I introduced him to Al Lawrence, a member of our staff. I told the president that I had met Al more than twenty years ago in a prison. Jesus had got hold of Al�s life, and he�s been working for us ever since. Then I told the president that Al�s son was now a freshman at Yale. At that point the president stopped, exclaimed, �We�re both Yale parents,� and threw his arms around Al Lawrence�an African-American ex-offender being embraced by the president of the United States in a church basement. The ground is indeed level at the foot of the cross.

I tell you this story because it�s a wonderful Christmas story, and you probably haven�t heard it. With all those reporters who crowded into that basement, the visit resulted in almost universal media silence....

Posted by John Weidner at 7:47 PM

The wildest optimists would not have predicted...

Here's a little more good news.

One could describe a great many places on this planet as: "Experimented with Socialism in the heady days after WWII. Now clawing themselves out of the resulting stagnation and corruption." Conspicuous on that long list is Israel. One of the oddities of israel's history is that many of the daring young Zionists were doing exactly the opposite of their parents. (Like hippies being long-haired and unwashed just to be the opposite of their tidy suburban parents.) The Jews of Eastern Europe were very much businessmen, even if only poor Peddlers. Their offspring were Socialists. The Kibbutz was an extreme of this, replacing an intense, urban, family and religious life with a sort of secular rural commune including communal childraising...

Jerusalem
WHEN FORMER prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu took on the thankless job of finance minister last March, Israel was facing a grave economic crisis. In the sixth year of a deep recession, the country had seen its tax receipts plummet while welfare transfer payments kept growing, amounting to more than a third of the government's $70 billion budget. The budget deficit had reached a perilous 5 percent of GNP. It was feared that the government might not be able to meet the payroll of a bloated public sector that employs every third worker in Israel, or keep paying generous benefits to the more than 10 percent of the workforce that is unemployed. To guard against inflation, the Bank of Israel kept interest rates so high (9.1 percent in real terms at their peak) that the economy was choking. There were murmurs Israel might slide into an Argentinian-style crisis or a deflation like Japan's....
Those of us who are interested in Israel have spent decades wishing they could shake off the Socialism that has crippled them. (It's has got to be one of the cruel ironies of our times, that Israelis get to be reviled as money-grubbing Jews, without actually making much money.)
....The wildest optimists would not have predicted that Netanyahu could reverse this downward economic trend, and in fairly short order. Yet the economy is growing again. Netanyahu has managed to make substantial cuts in two consecutive budgets and reduce the bloated public workforce and salaries (though not enough). He has even managed to reduce unemployment benefits that discouraged lower paid Israelis from working....
I just love it. Of course, the way things have been going recently, us "wildest optimists" are mostly yawning and saying "Lordy, not another impossible victory? I don't have time to blog 'em all."

And, like most of those positive developments that seem to be happening now, there lurks in the background the sinister gray-cloaked figures of the mysterious cabal known as...

....His trump card was, no doubt, the $9 billion in American loan guarantees this summer that allowed the government of Israel to tap international markets for desperately needed funds, as they have nearly depleted local credit markets. The U.S. government astutely made the loan guarantees conditional on the enactment of basic economic reforms, tipping the political scales in favor of Netanyahu's bold moves....
Ha ha, the Bush Administration...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:56 PM

Compassion for Mordor

This is written tongue-in-cheek, but gets Jimmy Carter perfectly. He never met a dictator he didn't like, so....

... "The stakes are enormous," the distinguished former president said with great emotion. "If enough people start thinking in terms of good and evil, all our years of cultivating moral and cultural relativism, anti-military thinking, pacifism and internationalism will be jeopardized. And college students, our greatest hope, may no longer accept their professors' view of America as an imperialist war monger."

�At the conclusion of the interview, Mr. Carter was asked if his campaign against "Lord of the Rings" had a name. The peace activist thought for a moment, and replied, "Compassion for Mordor."

(thanks to Betsy Newmark)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:20 AM

January 5, 2004

WORD NOTE

Brian Tiemann points out a common error:

The word crescendo does not mean "climax". ..

...Crescendo means, literally, growing. (I discovered this in 2nd-year Spanish class, where we learned the verb crecer, to grow, and its progressive form creciendo. Spanish and Italian follow many of the same rules.) It is used in music to signify a gradual increase in volume. It does not mean the fever pitch to which the volume finally grows. You don't "reach" a crescendo; you undergo a crescendo....

Posted by John Weidner at 3:51 PM

January 4, 2004

Back

Andrea Harris, restless creature that she is, has moved, and is blogging Here now. Mus' be the gypsy in her soul.

(The obscure link she left on the last blog didn't work for me at first, and I thought maybe she'd really decamped or even died�gone, as the Dean put it, where savage indignation can no longer ruffle her feathers...)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:05 PM

"A drowsy ship of some yet older day"

THE OLD SHIPS

I have seen old ships sail like swans asleep
Beyond the village which men still call Tyre,
With leaden age o'ercargoed, dipping deep
For Famagusta and the hidden sun
That rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire;
And all those ships were certainly so old
Who knows how oft with squat and noisy gun,
Questing brown slaves or Syrian oranges,
The pirate Genoese
Hell-raked them till they rolled
Blood, water, fruit and corpses up the hold.
But now through friendly seas they softly run,
Painted the mid-sea blue or shore-sea green,
Still patterned with the vine and grapes in gold.

But I have seen,
Pointing her shapely shadows from the dawn
An image tumbled on a rose-swept bay,
A drowsy ship of some yet older day;
And, wonder's breath indrawn,
Thought I�who knows�who knows�but in that same
(Fished up beyond Aeaea, patched up new
�Stern painted brighter blue�)
That talkative, bald-headed seaman came
(Twelve patient comrades sweating at the oar)
From Troy's doom-crimson shore,
And with great lies about his wooden horse
Set the crew laughing, and forgot his course.

It was so old a ship�who knows, who knows?
�And yet so beautiful, I watched in vain
To see the mast burst open with a rose,
And the whole deck put on its leaves again.

-- James Elroy Flecker

Posted by John Weidner at 4:27 PM

"The press missed a wonderful story that windy day"

When you read the media complaints about not being allowed to photograph the caskets of soldiers at Dover AFB, remember this story, by a woman whose son was killed in Afghanistan. The press were invited to come. Of course what those lying slimeballs want is not to honor our war dead, but to find ugly images to boost ratings and hurt Bush...

...the liaison from the Ranger regiment assured me that the press had been notified. We walked out on the tarmac next to the open cargo door of the enormous commercial jetliner, but when we turned to face the area set aside for the media, there was only a lone cameraman from the Ranger battalion.

The press missed a wonderful story that windy day. It took only a few moments for the nine members of the Ranger guard to remove the casket from the aircraft and for a crisp formation of 12 soldiers to snap to attention and salute. As they did, every construction worker and security guard, every person within sight of this small, simple ceremony came to a standstill to pay his respects. They may not have known my son's name, but they knew he was a soldier who had died in defense of his country. I was grateful that I could see through my tears to witness their tribute....

The reason the press wants to photograph at Dover is because there isn't any ceremony there. (That comes later.) I'd advise the President to lift the ban on photographers, but also to order the use of flags and honor guards for a solemn reception. The press would come once, then then hastily drop the whole issue. Because they know darn well that real Americans are going to react like those onlookers in the story. (Or like this.) And it won't be the President who looks small, it will be the chihuahuas who are biting his ankles. (via Betsy Newmark)

Posted by John Weidner at 2:44 PM

"The Meerkat and the Buffalo"

I'm always interested in evidence that our people can change and adapt quickly. That's what's really vital in the 4th Generation Warfare that we are now involved in. The people who obsess over whether our planning for Iraq was adequate miss what's important. Our enemies, if they are any good, will continue to throw surprises at us. And those surprises will have to be dealt with by ordinary people. We can't depend on having "masterminds" handy when we need them. But we can (and hopefully are) building organizations where change and creativity are expected and rewarded.

This is an article from Stars and Stripes on novel ways to deal with IED's.

....Equipped with South African-designed vehicles � the Meerkat and the Buffalo � the Arkansas-based Army Reserve troops have taken an Army side project [mine-detection vehicles] to the forefront in the military�s efforts to counter the threat of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs....

....But for six weeks, South African trainers taught Fletcher�s platoon about the equipment from the inside out. Then soldiers translated the schooling into Army tactics. And there were no mine-clearing missions. Meanwhile, IED attacks against U.S. troops were rising. �They had all this multimillion-dollar equipment sitting around, so we put it to use against IEDs,� Fletcher said. �It was pretty scary at first.�....

....Savre, 43, of Edina, Minn., recommended that the Army supply one system to each division in Iraq. Three weeks after filing the request, a half-dozen more sets were shipped out, Savre said. �I�ve never seen anything like this in my 19 years in the Army,� Savre said. �The senior leaders saw the threat and immediately bought more [systems].� ....

As Johnson said, there's nothing like the threat of death to concentrate the mind. It's not so different in the business world. Businesses and business divisions that can't adapt die. That tends to make people more open to new ideas.

Project the next: Applying that sort of pressure to bureaucracies. That's what the President is at least making a small start on. When you hear Teddy Kennedy yelping, you can guess that progress is being made...

Posted by John Weidner at 11:39 AM

Earthquakes...

Richard Bennett pointed me to an article on earthquake science, and the San Andreas Fault.

....The San Andreas last slipped in the region [Coachella Valley, in Southern California] 191 years ago. That is 40 years beyond the average interval for the southern segment, based on estimates that stretch back 12 centuries.

Geologists arrived at the calculations through paleoseismology, a fairly new technique that dates prehistoric quakes. Scientists dig into the fault to look for layers of peat and sand.

The strata time-stamp cracks � give or take 50 years � that quakes opened to the sunlight and that flood sediments filled later.

It is one of the disciplines that has made strides since Northridge, although the fault responsible for that quake resists paleo-detective work because it never broke the surface. The San Andreas is a proven crust-buster.

"Over the past 10 years, we've put a lot of effort into the L.A. Basin," McGill said. "Now it's time to put more attention on the San Andreas."

She was climbing a low ridge where the October wildfires burned away enough brush to leave fault impressions bare.

Her camera raised, she paused at a gully that stopped halfway down a hillside, as if it had hit an invisible wall. McGill pointed to a spot about 20 feet away where the gully reappeared. Its lower leg had been shunted to the right in shifting of the San Andreas....

The scientists seem to think that Northern Calififornia is not due for a big quake, that we are still benefitting from the release of tension in 1906. Doesn't mean that it can't happen, just that the probability is lower. It's Southern California that's way overdue.

Seems to me that if there is any area where we should not be thrifty, it's funding earthquake research. If I ran the circus, I'd shut down that utterly stupid "space station," (which should be more aptly termed the "space dead-end") where we spend billions to let a couple of guys do some part-time science, and use that money to let thousands of scientists do useful work.

The article is also interesting stuff on damage mitigation�how San Bernadino is pumping out excess groundwater to reduce the threat of soil liquification during a quake. I'd guess that there is a lot more that should be done, but won't. And one problem is that a lot of what should be done will be in the form of Big Government bullying people with things like tougher building codes.

Charlene and I recently investigated the possibility of adding some french-doors to open onto our garden. We spent a lot of effort and money just to find out how much it would cost (more than we can afford). The engineer said we would have to re-build the whole wall, with various pieces of steel inserted, etc. It was infuriating. BUT, a wall that's mostly window, such as we were dreaming of, is a weak point, unless it has extra reinforcement.

There's no easy answer to problems that require pushing people to do things that may pay off in the long run. One type of government coercion tends to lead to others. Building departments get hijacked by anti-growth types, who don't want to issue any permits. Which leads to evasion. And government always attracts, like flies to a corpse, the kind of people who think government should be controlling everything.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:20 AM

January 3, 2004

More news from the Big Muddy...

From StrategyPage:

...January 2, 2004: With over a hundred thousand Iraqis armed and performing security duties, the crime rate had rapidly come down, and most American troops are now concentrating on operations against terrorist and pro-Saddam Iraqis who are still fighting. A data collection system for crimes has also been installed, and it showed that Baghdad's murder rate in October was lower than New York City's (which has the lowest rate of any major city in the United States). Baghdad had six murders per 100,000 population, while New York had seven. This, however, does not count the deaths from American military operations, or terrorist acts, which would increase the Baghdad "murder rate" by at least fifty percent. That would still put it below many large American cities. The murders per 100,000 are 17 in Los Angeles, 19 in Philadelphia, 22 in Chicago and 46 in Washington, D.C.

American journalists have no problem getting English speaking Baghdad residents to complain bitterly about "high crime rates." This is because many of the victims are Sunni Arabs who grew rich working for Saddam. These people still occupy nice homes in fancy neighborhoods. The criminals go where the money is, obtaining an additional satisfaction in sticking it to someone who worked for Saddam....

Maybe we should just cut our losses and pull out of Washington DC.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:35 PM

January 2, 2004

In your dreams...

The Krugman Squad is taking a break, but I feel like mentioning this paragraph in Paul Krugman's column today (thanks to Cori Dauber)

...Even on foreign policy, the differences are less stark than they may appear. Wesley Clark's critiques of the Iraq war are every bit as stinging as Mr. Dean's. And looking forward, I don't believe that even the pro-war candidates would pursue the neocon vision of two, three, many Iraq-style wars. Mr. Bush, who has made preemptive war the core of his foreign policy doctrine, might do just that....
In your dreams Kruggie. You wish that were the Neocon vision, so you would have something to base an honest complaint on. But it's not. The Neocons have been talking and writing and arguing for a couple of decades�what they advocate is no secret.

And the first thing they said was that your lefty/Democrat/NYT policies of weakness and appeasement and self-hatred were going to fail. And they have, catastrophically. And that's one of the reasons you are going to be in the minority party for the rest of your life.

And the second thing they said was that if we are willing to fight against barbarism and for our civilized values, if we promote political and economic and religious freedom, we can start a positive feedback that will result in the long run in more peace and prosperity. Not "two, three, many Iraq-style wars."

The positive feedback seems to be starting to happen. It's too soon to be sure, but there's not a week goes by without some interesting positive development. Just one example: this 12/29 strategypage article by Jim Dunnigan

December 29, 2003: The War on Terror has had an unintended, and welcome,
side effect; world peace. Since September 11, 2001, and the aggressive
American operations against terrorist organizations, several long time
wars have ended, or moved sharply in that direction. Many of these wars
get little attention in American media, but have killed hundreds of
thousands of people over the last decade. These include conflicts in
Nepal, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Chad, Congo, Kashmir, Israel, Kurdistan,
Philippines, Burundi, Somalia and Sudan. Some of these conflicts
diminished because they had been going on for a while and, as is usually
the case with wars, eventually the participants are worn down and make
peace. But in all these sudden outbreaks of peace there was another
factor; an American crackdown on terrorist activities around the world...(Article here)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:53 PM

Fool me again...

From today's Best of the Web

Vote for Me, I'm a Chump--II."Five Democratic Presidential candidates voted for the No Child Left Behind Act as members of Congress," reports the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader. "Now they complain they were victims of a legislative bait and switch, tricked into supporting a sweeping reform bill they say is underfunded by the Bush administration."

Hmm, this sounds an awful lot like John Kerry's explanation of why he voted for war in Iraq. President Bush "misled every one of us," the haughty, French-looking Massachusetts Democrat, who by the way served in Vietnam, said in June. To paraphrase the first Republican president, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but President Bush can fool all of these guys all of the time.

Too too delightful. Remember guys, when the magician solemnly waves the wand, watch the other hand.

The poor saps have to focus on the side-issue of funding, because they can't say what they really want to say, which is: "Schools should not be held to standards, because the teacher's unions are the biggest contributors to our Party."

Or: "Parents shouldn't have any choice in their children's educations, because the Democrat voter base is almost entirely people who derive their self-image from being superior to ordinary folk, who need to be "guided" by wise Liberals."

And on the same subject, here's a good article, Education follies, by Mona Charen:

...Florida's "A+" program provides that students in schools performing poorly in two out of four years get a voucher to attend a different public school or a private school. When the Manhattan Institute studied the effect of the program, it found that schools facing the lash of competition made much greater gains than schools permitted to plod on in the old way. A Harvard study of schools in Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin has found the same thing. Amazing! Competition works better than monopoly. Adam Smith: Call your office...

Posted by John Weidner at 1:23 PM