December 31, 2004

Big Cowboy Is Watching

Our friend Frank notes that Dan Rather appears three times on the NY Post's article on the Media Research Center's annual list of "notable quotables." A record. An appalling record.

Check out the whole list. Looniness unparalleled. Perhaps my fav is the:

"John Dean, who was at the center of the greatest political scandal in this nation's history, has produced a book with perspective, and that perspective is simply terrifying. The bottom line: George Bush has done more damage to this nation than his old boss, Richard Nixon, ever dreamt of. . . . This could have been the historical, essentially, prequel to George Orwell's novel 1984, that if you wanted to see what the very first step out of maybe 50 steps towards this totalitarian state that Orwell wrote about in his novel, this [President Bush's policies] would be the kind of thing that you would see." — MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Countdown

Just one step? The first step out of FIFTY? Way to go way out on a limb with a big ol' shocking announcement, Ken. Lemme tell ya, us totalitarians are way ahead of that.

The first step was lowering taxes. That always powers-up the engines of oppression. We're also working towards letting people control their own health expenditures, and then their own Social security accounts. Ha ha, you can almost feel the shackles clicking on. Letting faith-based groups do some of our social-welfare work is a clear totalitarian move.

And holding public schools to high standards is clearly Hitlerian. But it gets better—we're scheming to let parents choose which schools their children attend—the indoctrination possibilities are obvious. Of course overthrowing totalitarian dictators like Saddam and the Taliban is an obvious feint, to distract attention from our own plots. To that we've added, with truly diabolical cunning, sponsoring elections and democracy and economic freedom. Sending our Fleets of Oppression to help tsunami victims is another way to cover up the arrests of Democrats and their shipment to concentration camps. (We haven't actually got around to it yet, but soon...soon.)

Orwell is our bible, of course. Soon the giant posters of Bush will be pasted up everywhere. How does "Big Cowboy Is Watching" sound as a slogan?

Posted by John Weidner at 1:25 PM

December 30, 2004

Bad news for science fiction writers...

Radly Balko has an excellent column at FOXNews on the many ways that things are getting better in the world. (via InstaPundit) Fabulous tidbits. I've heard most of them, but it's cool to see them listed together. And bizarre, when you think also about the huge number of people who claim the world is in terrible shape, and sneer at anyone who is trying to make it better.

Here's one item I had not heard; the lowering of the "green ceiling."

—The world is getting cleaner. Most economists now endorse the concept of a “green ceiling,” which means that although the transition from a developing economy to a developed one requires some environmental exploitation, there is a point at which a country becomes wealthy enough that its citizens will begin to demand environmental protection.

The key is to get each country to that point as quickly as possible. And as noted earlier, that’s exactly what’s happening. The good news is, the “green ceiling” is getting lower every day. Right now, it stands at about $5,000 per capita GDP, but the World Bank reported in 1997 that poor countries begin turning the corner on water pollution, for example, at as low as $500 per capita

My title comes from many depressing experiences while looking for SF books to read. I find myself examining one book after another, and they ALL depict some future earth where pollution and Global Warming are unchecked, 30 billion people are starving, corporations (evil of course) have replaced governments, industry is gray and grim and needs masses of uneducated poverty-wage workers... you get the picture. There's no hope. And it's all utterly stupid and wrong. Almost all the trends are just the opposite.

I know of course that writers need problems and catastrophes. It takes unusual skill to make a story out of a happy situation. But I suspect many SF writers learn about the "future" only by reading SF or talking to each other, and are quite out of touch with the real world. Also, they want to be out of touch with reality for another reason, because they are Liberals. That's another group that needs a world of misery that can only be helped (but never cured) by the actions of Big Government, and needs masses of wretched victims without hope. One tip-off in SF is the frequent "good guys" role given to the UN. Anyone connected to current reality knows that this is just goofy, that the UN is an utter catastrophe, corrupt and dedicated mostly to maintaining the world's miseries...(and fortunately too incompetent to have much success.)

I remember back in 2002 hearing that one of my favorite writers, Michael Swanwick, was taking a break from writing to do "anti-war activism." Which was to say pro-Saddam activism. And I speculate that what he was doing should really be described as a case of Baby-Boomer-preserving-smug-world-view-from-Vietnam-era activism. I think a similar case is Greg Bear, whose recent books have included shadowy right-wing conservatives tending towards fascism and restricting civil rights and imposing theocracy. The usual DU litany, John Ashcroft as Godzilla. To someone like me, who is IN that conservative milieu, these fantasies are pitiable.

But SF writers usually preen themselves on thinking out-of-the-box! And the conspicuous new (even science-fictiony) feature of our time is that it's conservatives and religious believers who are now the ones who are fighting for freedom and democracy and choice, who are now the Internationalists and the reformers. And it is now the liberals and secularists who are the crabbed and pevish reactionaries without hopes or dreams or optimism.

We are living in a time of astonishing change, with many reasons for hope. And SF writers should have been canaries in the coal mine, sniffing these changes ahead of the rest of us, instead of plugging their ears and singing La La La. I shouldn't have to pick up SF books and frequently say, "Oh Gawd, not another one."

I predict we will see the SF crowd now leap boldly into the future with tons of stories about hapless villages swept away by tsunamis. And ignoring the rapid deployment of warning systems that will save thousands of lives in the next disaster. And also ignoring the spread of prosperity and democracy in Third-World counties that will enable them to do much more to help themselves in the future.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:49 AM

December 28, 2004

Good thought on giving for tsunami victims...

Scott Ott of Scrappleface we all know as a very funny guy, but he's serious here:


In the wake of the earthquake and tsunami which has struck people around the Bay of Bengal, in addition to your prayers for the victims' families you may be looking for a trustworthy organization through which you can help with disaster relief. Other bloggers have provided links to the Red Cross, UN agencies and Indian government agencies, but if you're interested in giving through an agency that is committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through effective disaster relief, read on...

I have worked, briefly, side-by-side with crews from Southern Baptist Disaster Relief during a flood in Missouri and after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief crews are organized, energetic and effective. They bring not only food, water, shelter and cleaning supplies to victims quickly, but they bring the kind of comfort that can only come from a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. They do not discriminate on any basis. Their help is freely available to all, without a litmus test or sermon....

If you want a job done right, it's usually smart to go to the Red-Staters. He's got links for making donations in various ways...

(By the way, it's an odd but true thing that red-state Americans, often derided as ignorant and provincial, are actually much more likely to be familiar with distant corners of the earth than blue-state coastal-elite types, due to their military service, and also through missionary work and oil company work.)

(Thanks to Andrea)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:20 PM

More "voting with their feet"

Here's a little something to keep in mind when idiotarians (inluding UN Human-Rights types) tell you that the US has made things much worse in Iraq...

BBC News: The UNHCR is to close several camps for Iraqi refugees in Iran because more than half of the 202,000 exiles have returned home.

The UN's refugee body said 42,000 out of 50,000 Iraqis at the centres had left since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Six out of the UN's 22 camps in south Iran are empty and another two are due to close by the end of the month.

The agency has discouraged repatriation because of insecurity in Iraq and the border-crossing is riddled with mines. About 107,000 refugees have left Iran since the former Iraqi leader was removed last year...

(Thanks to Jonah)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:21 PM

Worst of times, best of times...

It's an appalling thing, that even as the world increases in knowledge and wealth, there seems to be more stupidity in public life rather than less. More times when I look at some high-level discussion and think, "I'm just an ordinary person, but even I can see that that's just silly."

But the good part is, there are also more tools available now to combat idiocy. Glenn gave me a treat to go with my coffee this morning, pointing to Baldilocks, and to Jason van Steenwyck, both with good posts pummeling the clowns who have been attacking our military to advance the sacred cause of appeasement. Van Steenwyck savages a ridiculous Bob Herbert NYT column that says that intelligence-gathering by the Pentagon is some new Rumsfeld plot, and claims as also "new" and shocking the idea of using military operations to gather intel. Anyone who knows even a few scraps of our history will see that this is asinine. For instance our Navy broke Japanese diplomatic cyphers before WWII. And the trench raids of WWI fame were intelligence-gathering operations.

Van Steenwyck is in top form, do read his post. One of his commenters writes: This column is typical of the low quality produced by Bob Herbert. In a way, the Times is promoting racism by using so mediocre a token black op-ed writer. I suspect that's exactly what they are (unconsciously) doing. There are lots of sharp writers who are also black, but they also tend to ask pointed questions about their status on the Democrat plantation.

What the NYT needs is someone like Baldilocks, who wrote today:

...The problem with the mainstream media is that so few of them are (or recognize) real men, that such foreign beings actually frighten them. Real men communicate with each other (and everyone else) without the…er…nuance that characterizes the exchanges between more neutered types. So when the SecDef says something like this to a National Guardsman,
As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time. [bold mine]
…the two men know the statements reflect a mere military axiom (regardless of whether the precipitating question was planted or not). However, the mainstream media types--and, unfortunately, some Republican US senators--who are more accoustomed to weasel-worded lip-biting drivel, squeal “Insensitivity to the Troops!” as if they gave a rat’s hairy behind about any of the troops...

So true. Even if Rumsfeld were doing a bad job (I very much think he's doing a great job) it would still be a huge plus to have real men running things again. (And real women, instead of those grotesques that Clinton seemed to turn up...)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:11 PM

December 27, 2004

A wee drop...

David Terron of The Cabarfeidh Pages kindly sent me some HTML to make this sort of drop cap:

Every government must rest on some principle or passion in the minds of the people....the very definition of a republic is 'an empire of laws, and not of men'. That is to say men are secured in their rights to life, liberty and property by clear and fair laws, falling equally on all, wisely and justly administered. Any society where rights are bestowed as privileges handed down at the whim of a king, or an aristocracy, or even of a popular assembly, is a society of men, not of laws, and a society that will tend inevitably to despotism and repression.


Posted by John Weidner at 9:23 PM

December 26, 2004

Splendid debunking!

Powerline has posted a devastating piece, a classic don't-miss blogpost tearing apart a Tom Friedman column...

"So what is the common denominator of all these news stories? Wait, wait, don't tell me. I want to tell you. The common denominator is a country with a totally contradictory and messed-up set of priorities."
There is a fundamental problem, however, with Friedman's attempt to show that our national priorities are wrong. The news stories he cites are largely either false, or mischaracterized by him. Let's take them one at a time...

Friedman is a guy capable of really brilliant work, but also of sinking to the depths of idiocy. This one's really the depths, quoting many news stories that I clearly remember bloggers showing to be false or misleading. And Powerline has some great graphs demolishing the notion that we don't spend enough on education...

Friedman concludes: "If we were actually having a serious national debate, this is what we would be discussing, but alas, 9/11 has been deftly exploited to choke any debate." Actually, Tom, there is a debate going on. The New York Times just isn't part of it, because it operates at too low a level of information to be useful to knowledgeable news consumers.

How I despise the sort of people who publish their opinions in the NYT and have the gall to claim that 9/11 is being used to "choke off debate." Conjuring up this image of coarse backwoods conservatives wrapped in flags bullyragging some sensitive plant who dares to suggest that our children need an education instead of being whipped to drive the devils out of them...

Pathetic. And one hears so much of it. I bet if you took all of the 60 or so anti-Bush books that were cluttering up bookstores only last October (and are probably now migrating towards the bargain tables) every damn one of them would include complaints about how dissent has been suppressed because of 9/11. Snivelers.

Same for the people who say we should have a "national debate" on such and such. Invariably the subject is in fact already being debated vigorously, and their side is turning out to not have much of a case.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:18 PM


Drop Cap I-1 've been playing around with Drop Caps, as you can see. Feel free to cricketize, since I don't really know what I'm doing—there's probably a better way. But it's fun. And it's a small substitute for what I'd really like to do, which is to have the actual fonts I like display in your browser. Unfortunately, the necessary technology just isn't there. I believe that IE will display embedded fonts, but other browsers don't. (My hat off to Microsoft—the other guys should have copied you on that one.)

Each cap is a little GIF, about 4k. As I go along I shall gradually have a whole Alphabet. By which time I'll be bored with them, and be ready to start over with another font.

Posted by John Weidner at 5:56 PM

Uncancelling the project...

Drop Cap I-1magine you are working for a high-tech company, and you've put a year of hard effort into writing a piece of totally cool software...and then the project is cancelled and you are out of a job!

Here's a story (thanks to Brian Tieman) of a guy in that situation at Apple computer, in 1993. Ron Avitzur decided to just keep working, as a sort of parasite-in-reverse. He still had a badge and an office, and so he carried on as if he were an employee. The result was the delightful Graphing Calculator. (It's still part of OS-9, and can be found in Classic Apps. And a new Graphing Calc is coming as part of 10.4)

...I was frustrated by all the wasted effort, so I decided to uncancel my small part of the project. I had been paid to do a job, and I wanted to finish it. My electronic badge still opened Apple's doors, so I just kept showing up.

I had many sympathizers. Apple's engineers thought what I was doing was cool. Whenever I gave demos, my colleagues said, "I wish I'd had that when I was in school." Those working on Apple's project to change the microprocessor in its computers to the IBM PowerPC were especially supportive. They thought my software would show off the speed of their new machine. None of them was able to hire me, however, so I worked unofficially, in classic "skunkworks" fashion....

...I knew nothing about the PowerPC and had no idea how to modify my software to run on it. One August night, after dinner, two guys showed up to announce that they would camp out in my office until the modification was done. The three of us spent the next six hours editing fifty thousand lines of code. The work was delicate surgery requiring arcane knowledge of the MacOS, the PowerPC, and my own software. It would have taken weeks for any one of us working alone.

At 1:00 a.m., we trekked to an office that had a PowerPC prototype. We looked at each other, took a deep breath, and launched the application. The monitor burst into flames. We calmly carried it outside to avoid setting off smoke detectors, plugged in another monitor, and tried again. The software hadn't caused the fire; the monitor had just chosen that moment to malfunction. The software ran over fifty times faster than it had run on the old microprocessor. We played with it for a while and agreed, "This doesn't suck" (high praise in Apple lingo). We had an impressive demo, but it would take months of hard work to turn it into a product...
Posted by John Weidner at 5:17 PM

December 25, 2004


Drop Cap Via I love Jet Noise, the true story of how a KC-130 landed and took off (repeatedly) from the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal, in 1963.

The C-130 Hercules, as I'm sure you know, is a big 4-engine cargo plane, with a wingspan of 132 feet. You can read the story here...including pictures and videos!

And try this video, from the same site, of a 130 dropping flares. LOTS of flares. Fireworks ain't in it.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:31 PM

Amaryllis-Blogging continues...

Our friend Frank wins the prize for "Best Star Amayllis."

Star Amaryllis

Posted by John Weidner at 3:17 PM

December 24, 2004

Charlene wins the prize...

Drop Cap Charlene wins the prize for perfect timing of her Christmas bulbs... least for this Amaryllis, in full bloom on Christmas Eve:

Amaryllis, Christmas '04

Posted by John Weidner at 6:25 PM

"Tolkien's moral universe"

Drop Cap Alan makes a good point on how the film of The Lord of the Rings is flawed because "Jackson's greatest fault as director of LOTR is his inability to enter Tolkien's moral universe."

...Another example of an immoral choice is Aragorn's slaying of the Mouth before the Black Gate. This is a barbaric act, utterly unmeet for the King of the West, who would never so treat an emissary under flag of truce. All the nuances of the Tolkien confrontation are gone. In the book, the Mouth feels menaced when Aragorn merely glares at him. In Tolkien's worldview, evil is always proven cowardly when confronted one-on-one. Cringing, the emissary appeals to the morality of his enemies, saying he 'may not be harmed' under the rules of war--rules which no servant of Sauron would honor, if the roles were reversed.

By scripting Aragorn to behead the Mouth, Jackson showed that he cares not a whit whether the heir of Numenor might seem no different in spirit from the Dark Lord himself. I fear that the director is just a spoiled, obese, nasty child playing with skulls and spiders. He is not morally fit to engage Tolkien's work. It's a pity, because he did so much right--especially in allowing the artists to fulfill their visions of Middle Earth. If someone had been handy to argue for Tolkien's values, as well as his dialogue, to be sustained in the script, the film would have fared better. But I probably couldn't have worked with him...

I myself think the whole idea of filming LOTR was a catastrophic mistake. Every single element of the story has been reduced and diminished by the literalism of film. Even the stupefying beauty of the New Zealand landscape is less profound than the far realms which the book evokes in my mind. (I have my own film running in my head, so you can put all this down to petty jealousy that the other fellow's stuff gets so much attention) All the mystery and strangeness is leached away, and the Misty Mountains have become just mountains, and elves are no longer spooky, dangerous and beautiful creatures lingering from the Morning of the World...but just people in costumes...

It is a curious fact that polls taken of people in the English-speaking world often claim LOTR as the most important book of the 20th Century. I'm sure literary-critic types greet this as more evidence that "the voters are morons," but I'm not so sure. I won't opine about literature, since I'm less and less sure what the word means. But I often think the LOTR is an extremely important political book.

You could say that the entire leftish project, from the days of Marx and Engels onward, has been to get rid of Hobbits! Hobbits are sturdy and self-sufficient, and not inclined to be clients of the state. They are democratic, but never vote for grandiose projects of reform or big government, and don't give over-much respect to elected leaders. They are not intellectual or theoretical, but have deep reserves of common sense. They are not warlike, but are dangerous, even deadly, if attacked. They are not regimented or organized, but can self-organize beautifully in time of crisis.

Tolkien himself had no sympathy for any political party, perhaps because no party of his world had much sympathy for Hobbits—that is, for the virtues of ordinary Englishmen, which is what the Hobbits really are. I suspect, if he had heard about it, that he would have understood just what John and Sam Adams were saying when they declared that they were "fighting for the rights of Englishmen." The current effort to punish anyone in England who defends his home against intruders would have been understood by JRR Tolkien and John Adams in precisely the same way. It is calculated to destroy exactly that doughty quality of Englishmen (and Hobbits) that is resistant to grandiose projects of the state. It is probably too late to save the people of England, but fortunately the hobbit-spirit has spread far and wide, and has a way of bubbling up from below in unexpected ways wherever English is spoken. Hence, the "Anglosphere."

Word Notes: The Lord of the Rings is not a "trilogy." It was divided into three parts to suit the needs of the printers, but was not written as three books. And it is not a novel. An epic fantasy or epic romance is what I guess it should be called.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:16 PM

beneath a decillion stars...

From Little, Big, by John Crowley...
hen he received these communications, Santa drew the claws of his spectacles from behind his ears and pressed the sore place on the bridge of his nose with thumb and finger. What was it they expected him to do with these? A shotgun, a bear, snowshoes, some pretty things and some useful: well, all right. But for the rest of it . . . He just didn't know what people were thinking anymore. But it was growing late; if they, or anyone else, were disappointed in him tomorrow, it wouldn't be the first time.

He took his furred hat from its peg and drew on his gloves. He went out, already unaccountably weary though the journey had not even begun, into the multicolored arctic waste beneath a decillion stars, whose near brilliance seemed to chime, even as the harness of his reindeer chimed when they raised their shaggy heads at his approach, and as the eternal snow chimed too when he trod it with his booted feet...
Posted by John Weidner at 10:05 AM

December 23, 2004

"a message that is ancient and ever new..."

I just came across this older item in my "stack of stuff," and felt like posting it...

...Those we lost were last seen on duty. Their final act on this Earth was to fight a great evil and bring liberty to others. All of you -- all in this generation of our military -- have taken up the highest calling of history. You're defending your country, and protecting the innocent from harm. And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope -- a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "To the captives, 'come out,' -- and to those in darkness, 'be free.'"

--President Bush, speaking of those who died in the invasion of Iraq,
May 1, 2003 (link)
Posted by John Weidner at 8:27 PM

WOW! Merry Christmas, Ho Ho Ho...

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush will resubmit to the Senate many of the judicial nominees blocked by Democrats as too conservative, setting off a second-term battle over the make up of the federal courts, officials said on Thursday.

Emboldened by his re-election victory and gains by Republicans in the Senate, Bush plans to resubmit 20 nominations for positions on key U.S. appeals and district courts, the White House said...

The gauntlet is thrown down. I love it. We either get some good judges, or a great campaign issue in '06.

..."It's a disservice to the American people to detract from the important work of the Senate to reconsider these failed nominees," said Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate's new Democratic leader...

Oh no no no Harry Reid, they are not "failed" candidates. You prevented the Senate from voting on them, as the Constitution requires, just because you knew they would be successful. Naughty to tell such lies. And isn't filling judicial vacancies "important work?"

NARAL Pro-Choice America derided what it called the Christian right's "Christmas wish list" of nominees...

Yeah, you hate them Christians. We get the picture. Canada beckons.

People For the American Way President Ralph Neas accused Bush of brandishing "a partisan club" instead of reaching out...

You know, even really stupid people, like Republicans, can see through a brick wall given enough time. We know what your "reaching out" means by now. Bad news pal, you're in the minority party. Better start practicing some "reaching out" yourself.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:24 PM

The election IS a weapon of the war...

Normblog quotes Naomi Klein:

...We need to deepen our discussion of what democracy means because they have taken this word 'democracy' and... made it into a dirty word. Arundhati Roy talked of [the US] bombing Afghanistan with butter. Here they are bombing [the country] with ballots: literally, the election as a weapon of war...

I get it. Of course. I wasn't thinking deeply enough. War is bad. Peace is good. Especially good if it keeps people in proper subjection to their government masters, and keeps decisions in the hands of large international organizations. And war is bad especially if it leads to the little people making decisions they are not qualified to understand, unlike Western intellectuals.

Bad news, Naomi. The election IS a weapon of the war. And it is directed just as much against YOU as it is against the Ba'athists and terrorists you suddenly find rather appealing. It is characteristic of Fourth-Generation Warfare that the battleground is everywhere. Terrorists can undermine and attack us in the newsrooms and faculty lounges and parish-halls of the western world. But IT CUTS BOTH WAYS!!

Our war against you Tranzis is also everywhere. When Thatcher and Reagan pushed the Soviet Union to the breaking-point, that led to elections in places like Poland or Bulgaria...and led thereby to friends and allies now for the forces of freedom currently fighting in Iraq. There are now millions of people in Eastern Europe who understand exactly what you are up to, and reject it. When Afghan women made ritual preparations for death, and then lined up to vote, it was a blow aimed just as much at Naomi Klein as it was against the Taliban. When Iraqis do the same about one month from now, it will be a slap in the face for John Kerry and Jaques Chirac and Noam Chomsky and Kofi Annan and Michael Moore.

And the slime-animals you are allied with, who are murdering innocent people to try to prevent the elections, are creating millions of people who understand what is happening, and who know just who wants them kept in chains. Millions who will see YOU clearly, for the vile fraud that you are...

Democracy IS a dirty word--if you believe in rule by the elite. If you think "the voters are morons." If you think that what the little people need is guidance from "activists" and "progressives," rather than a chance to decide their own futures.

...Ballots will prove far more powerful than bullets in the end, and the will of the peaceful majority of Iraqis will triumph over the terror tactics of a hateful few. To this mission, I and my colleagues from the Interim Government pledge ourselves, and we call upon the governments and citizens of our allies in the international community and our neighbors in the region to do their utmost to support Iraq at this critical juncture. A free and secure Iraq will be a victory for all peace-loving people, and we Iraqis face a historic opportunity that we shall not squander.
-- Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Allawi (

Posted by John Weidner at 1:33 PM

Favorite snarky comment of the week...

Blogging about an article by David Frum, on Canada's disasterously low birthrate, Orrin Judd titles his post: KAY CORLEONE SYNDROME !! Ooooh, I love it.

...While the suicide of the rest of the West may seem almost incomprehensible to us here in America, it's worth considering that it's a perfectly rational decision not to want to bring a child into the rather ugly world the secularists have created.
Posted by John Weidner at 9:02 AM

December 21, 2004

I like these notions...

Wired has a fascinating article on a new theory of traffic engineering...

...We drive on to another project Monderman designed, this one in the nearby village of Oosterwolde. What was once a conventional road junction with traffic lights has been turned into something resembling a public square that mixes cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. About 5,000 cars pass through the square each day, with no serious accidents since the redesign in 1999. "To my mind, there is one crucial test of a design such as this," Monderman says. "Here, I will show you."

With that, Monderman tucks his hands behind his back and begins to walk into the square - backward - straight into traffic, without being able to see oncoming vehicles. A stream of motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians ease around him, instinctively yielding to a man with the courage of his convictions...

It's about getting rid of traffic signals, crosswalks, road-markers...all the stuff that tries to make traffic flow faster and keep it away from pedestrians. It turns out this can be safer—situations that seem dangerously ambiguous force drivers to think, to slow down, and to move with care.

...The old ways of traffic engineering - build it bigger, wider, faster - aren't going to disappear overnight. But one look at West Palm Beach suggests an evolution is under way. When the city of 82,000 went ahead with its plan to convert several wide thoroughfares into narrow two-way streets, traffic slowed so much that people felt it was safe to walk there. The increase in pedestrian traffic attracted new shops and apartment buildings. Property values along Clematis Street, one of the town's main drags, have more than doubled since it was reconfigured..(thanks to Orrin Judd).

I'm a very urban person, and intensely aware of how some streets are pleasant to walk along and have flourishing businesses and restaurants. And others aren't. And the difference has a lot to do with cars. Ocean Avenue, the commercial street in my neighborhood, has heavy traffic and has never flourished. Nearby West Portal Ave, which has slow-moving traffic, and isn't a thoroughfare you would take to get somewhere else, is the most pleasant shopping-street on this end of town. Reading the article makes me think about how people often cross West Portal in the middle of the block, and how it feels rather acceptable to so so, because it's a pedestrian-friendly street.

* Update: Here are some pictures of Oosterwald.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:07 PM

"the risk-taking verve of a Denmark!"

Rich Lowry writes about how the main characteristic of those idealistic reformers of the Left is now resistance to reform and change. Including, of course, reform of Social Security...

...Reactionary liberalism will be the order of the day in President Bush's second term. Take Social Security. The program was started in the 1930s. Back then, there were 41 workers for every retiree. Now, there are three workers for every retiree. Back then, life expectancy was significantly shorter than its current 78 years. In other words, in 70 years the world has changed, but the structure of Social Security hasn't — and liberals desperately want to keep it that way.

Never mind that dozens of countries have implemented some version of the Bush-proposed private retirement accounts. "It's just too dangerous" will be the mantra. We don't have the reform acumen of a Kazakhstan! We don't have the risk-taking verve of a Denmark! We don't have the keen governmental competence of a Chile! We don't have the reckless faith in markets of a Sweden! No, no. We are Americans, and all we can manage is a defensive huddle around the status quo...

Private accounts are not rocket engineering. Though I think the recent debates about whether or not they can "save" SS are missing the point. What they are meant to save us from is the pernicious notion that we are weak creatures who need to be cared for by big government. The payoff of private accounts will simply be when people notice that the heavens haven't fallen, and start to think of things like this as normal. After that, bigger reforms will be possible, perhaps a task to give the next generation of Republicans something to get their teeth into...

Posted by John Weidner at 2:57 PM

December 19, 2004

What a story...

Blackfive has a great e-mail from a Marine Gunnery Sergeant in Iraq, thanking people for sending toys to give to children...

...On one such patrol, our lead security vehicle stopped in the middle of the street.  This is not normal and is very unsafe, so the following vehicles began to inquire over the radio.  The lead vehicle reported a little girl sitting in the road and said she just would not budge.  The command vehicle told the lead to simply go around her and to be kind as they did. The street was wide enough to allow this maneuver and so they waved to her as they drove around.

As the vehicles went around her, I soon saw her sitting there and in her arms she was clutching a little bear that we had handed her a few patrols back.  Feeling an immediate connection to the girl, I radioed that we were going to stop.  The rest of the convoy paused and I got out the make sure she was OK.  The little girl looked scared and concerned, but there was a warmth in her eyes toward me. As I knelt down to talk to her, she moved over and pointed to a mine in the road.

Immediately a cordon was set as the Marine convoy assumed a defensive posture around the site. The mine was destroyed in place...
Posted by John Weidner at 11:18 PM

December 17, 2004

"Plain, behind oracles it is, and past all symbols..."

A figure of the Epiphany

The poet's imageries are noble ways,
Approaches to a plot, an open shrine.
Their splendors, colors, avenues, arrays,
Their courts that run with wine;

Beautiful similes, 'fair and fragrant things,'
Enriched, enamouring,—raptures, metaphors
Enhancing life, are paths for pilgrim kings
Made free of golden doors.

And yet the open heavenward plot, with dew,
Ultimate poetry, enclosed, enskied,
(albeit such ceremonies lead thereto)
Stands on the yonder side.

Plain, behind oracles it is; and past
all symbols, simple; perfect, heavenly-wild,
The song some loaded poets reach at last—
The kings that found a child.
-Alice Meynell
Posted by John Weidner at 11:16 AM

More yelps of pain...

It's beginning to dawn on people that NCLB is a revolution about to happen. Orrin pointed to this article...

The Perfect Law: No Child Left Behind and the Assault on Public Schools, by Gerald W. Bracey

Imagine a law that would transfer hundreds of billions of dollars a year from the public sector to the private sector, reduce the size of government, and wound or kill a large Democratic power base. Impossible, you say. But the law exists. It is Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001, better known as the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB).

The Bush administration has often been accused of Orwellian doublespeak in naming its programs, and NCLB is a masterpiece of a law to accomplish the opposite of what it apparently intends. While claiming to be the law that-finally!-improves public education, NCLB sets up public schools to fail, setting the stage for private education companies to move in on the $400 billion spent annually on K-12 education ($500 billion according to recent statements by Secretary of Education Rod Paige). The consequent destruction or reduction of public education would shrink government and cripple or eliminate the teachers' unions, nearly five million mostly Democratic voters. It's a law to drool over if you're Karl Rove or Grover Norquist. The Perfect Law, in fact, as in The Perfect Storm..

I don't think Mr Bracey quite understands. I think NCLB is NOT an attempt to destroy public schools for the benefit of the private sector (though some of that will likely happen). It's about CHOICE. Giving choice to parents, so schools have to please parents to keep students. That's something far more interesting...

Bracey points out that the standards set by NCLB will be almost impossible to meet. Hmmm. If they are impossible to meet, I guess there will have to be some compromises down the road. Let me make a prediction. When/if the compromise happens, schools will be allowed to ease the standards a bit where they pinch...but only if parents are also given more choice about which public schools their children go to.

Grover Norquist doesn't quite get it either. He has chortled about how the reforms Republicans are pushing are perfectly calculated to injure key elements of the Democrat coalition. Tort Reform, for instance, would hit those vile animals of the Plaintiffs Bar, (the "Trial Lawyers") who are perhaps the biggest of the Dem contributors. But the Republicans didn't calculate this, they didn't choose the reforms; the reforms chose the Republicans. They called us forth from minority-status obscurity. Such reforms are pressing and urgent precisely because the Democrats can't touch them, and have been ignoring them for decades.

If NCLB does hurt the teachers' unions, that will be a splendid by-product. Those people are evil. They oppose every attempt to fix our schools. And the dirty secret is that they are not teachers—a lot of them aren't. In many public-school systems, only about half the employees are teachers—with the other half mostly a massive clog-up of bureaucrats and administrators. That's why those systems are money-sinks, and why increases in school-funding never seem to fix things. But all those educrats belong to the "teachers" unions, and always claim that any attack on their perks is an "attack on our schools."

And if the by-product of harming the unions is harm to the Democrat party, that will also be an excellent spin-off of NCLB. The Dems have been deeply corrupted by those unions, raking in huge campaign contributions in exchange for damning poor and minority children to blighted lives.

But what Bush is after is choice.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:00 AM

76 trombones led the big parade....

A friend writes, concerning my recent jab at Andrew Sullivan:

Why don't you just come clean? It's good for the soul.

When you backed Kerry because of the FMA you essentially sold out most of your conservative principles. You are now trying to save face (or recoup) on what's left of them by nit-picking, monday-morning quarterbacking, ignoring some of your earlier positions on Iraq (remember the flypaper theory?) and everything else under the sun to make it appear your presidential choice was somehow principled and based on issues other than the FMA..

Forget it Babe. Nobody's buying. (Yes, you were always a deficit hawk - raise taxes in a recession?? - what a great idea!). But as Bush gets rolling in his 2nd term as a fiscal reformer, you are going to be more and more a "renegade" without a pew. And you don't deserve a pew until you level with your readers.

I think Andrew will scurry and elbow his way back to the front of the conservative parade, and then proudly brandish his staff like a drum major, and say, "Look! everybody's following me!" (He recently wrote an article on how things in Iraq are better than they look.)

To the Bush-haters, Sullivan has no value, except as a novelty. He's only interesting only because he's a turncoat, and they will secretly look forward to the day when they can send him to the gulag. But as a gay conservative pundit, he has a nice ecological niche pretty much all to himself. I myself would roll my eyes, but welcome him back—anyone who writes as well as he does gets a couple of Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards from me...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:48 AM

December 15, 2004

The rights of Englishmen are derived from God, not from king or Parliament...

Thomas L. Krannawitter has written a piece that's right on target: Justice Thomas' Line to the Deepest Bedrock

...Savvy liberals like Reid are right to be more concerned with Thomas than Scalia because Thomas' natural-law jurisprudence represents the greatest threat to the liberal desire to replace limited, constitutional government with a regulatory-welfare state of unlimited powers.

Thomas is one of the few jurists today, conservative or otherwise, who understands and defends the principle that our rights come not from government but from a "creator" and "the laws of nature and of nature's God," as our Declaration of Independence says, and that the purpose and power of government should therefore be limited to protecting our natural, God-given rights.

The left understands that if it is to succeed, these principles of constitutional government must be jettisoned, or at least redefined. Thomas' frequent recourse not only to the text of the Constitution but specifically to the founders' natural-law defense of constitutional government is fatal to liberalism's goal...

It's only natural that leftizoids should hate both George W Bush and Clarence Thomas. They are saying the same thing. To quote the President: Freedom is not America's gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty God's gift to every man and women in this world--

...From the liberal view, liberty cannot be a natural right, protected by a government of limited powers, because there are no natural rights. As liberal political scientist Charles Merriam explained in 1920, the "natural law and natural rights" of the founders had been discarded by intellectuals "with practical unanimity." Instead, "the state … is the creator of liberty."

Bigger government means more liberty, not less. "It is denied," Merriam concluded, "that any limit can be set to governmental activity," and therefore the Constitution's original intent, which limited government power, "no longer seems sufficient."...(Thanks to
Judd blog)

"No limit can be set to governmental activity." That's the plan. That's the program. For those who believe in "legal realism," there's no logical reason why not. Which is precisely what the Founding Fathers were trying to prevent.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:04 PM

December 14, 2004

feeding the hungry of body, mind or soul...

Reader Moshe has started a blog, The Machlis Experience. But it's not about himself. Rather, it's about appreciating an extraordinary man, Rabbi Mordechai Machlis...

And that's the way it was... and is (except that the Rav and Rebbetzin now have 14 kids) ~ stop by the Machlis residence at any time and you're bound to see them feeding the hungry of body, mind or soul. On literally a daily basis Rav Mordechai and Henny dispense free food, monetary assistance, advice, encouragement, scholastic knowledge and help of all sorts to the many and varied groups of people who make their way to the Machlis's humble abode. To call their home an inspiration is quite the understatement, it is in fact Jerusalem's greatest soup kitchen, hospitality center, yeshiva, counseling hub and social center, all wrapped into one.

AND SO the purpose of this website
is threefold --

Go take a look--only a few posts so far, but probably more to come...

Posted by John Weidner at 6:55 PM

No one wanted any part of it...

Roger Simon, writing about his meeting with Omar and Mohammad, of Iraq the Model, writes:

...As it happens, the question of whether we should have "disbanded the Iraqi Army" came up at our party for Iraq the Model the other night. Because I have never been to Iraq, speak no Arabic, never have been in the Army, etc., unlike others, I have never had a strong opinion on this issue. I simply do not consider myself qualified. But I have to say I was surprised at the response to the question.

Omar, the younger brother, all of twenty-four but waaay wise beyond his years, simply laughed and said it would have been impossible. There was no way we could have kept the Iraqi Army together even if we had wanted to. The Iraqi Army, hugely underpaid conscripts who hated what they were doing, had already dissolved before we got to Baghdad. No one wanted any part of it. There was no Iraqi Army to preserve. We had to start all over again - which we have... eventually...

That fits with all that I've heard about the old Iraqi army. It's hard for us to imagine how colossally bad the combination of an Arab army plus Soviet training and doctrine can be. We simply have no institutions in America that are that bollixed-up. So the people who keep repeating that the army should not have been disbanded should perhaps be cut a little slack.

But only a little. The people who write that are, as far as I've seen, intellectually dishonest. They never address the serious objections to that plan, or discuss exactly how it might have been done. If they think the old army was so useful, how come they never devote so much as a single sentence to discussing that army? And they never address the deeper problem—that preserving an instrument of Ba'athist oppression does not fit with our plans to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq.

Summer patriots like Andrew Sullivan use the Iraqi Army business as a throw-away line for Bush bashing, but they clearly don't actually care about the subject. If we had kept the old army, they would be sneering that such short-cuts show that the Administration is no better than Saddam!

Posted by John Weidner at 6:10 PM

Thanks Jeff...

I have several times lately been furious at things written by Jeff Jarvis, but I forgive him everything for his slashing response today to the odious Juan Cole's attack on my Iraqi blogger friends. (I sort of think of them as my friends, after reading their stories about their adventures and about all their funny relatives. link link link)

...Make up your mind, Cole: Who's the enemy? Free-thinking Iraqi bloggers? Or the CIA? Or Blogger? Or liberal media? Or free-thinking Iraqi bloggers who happen to disagree with you? Or everyone?

The twit to whom Cole links -- I won't dignify his paranoid crap with a link -- goes on about how the brothers have been interviewed only by right-wing media like The Wall Street Journal. Just one problem with that, fool: They went onto NPR (liberal) radio on Brian Lehrer's WNYC
show -- and held their own. And they met with Howard Kurtz of the notoriously liberal Washington Post and they went to Harvard and met with lotsa notorious liberals there and were scheduled to meet with the notoriously liberal LA Times.

: But I don't need to defend these fine men. Their own brother Ali does a very good job of telling Cole and his confederates to go F themselves
Posted by John Weidner at 7:34 AM

December 13, 2004

You should always carry one of these...

On the subject of convergence (of our various digital gadgets) I've tended to favor the theory that our mobile phones will eat everything else. Some of them already include cameras and PDA's, and they are starting to be web-browsers and collect e-mail. And it seems like I've heard rumors of MP3 players.

But there's another multi-purpose tool that we tend to carry that already covers many that's psychologically ripe for the golden convergence...will this surprise entrant win the race for the digital future?

Swiss Army Knife with USB flash drive
Yes, folks, it's a Swiss Army Knife with a USB flash drive! Here's a story about it...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:42 PM

no one will ever know your name...

Rich Lowry wrote a good piece on that soldier with the questions for Don Rumsfeld...

...Specialist Thomas Wilson, who asked the question, is being hailed in the press for his bravery. Indeed, asking his question took guts (although it was apparently planted with him by a reporter). But make no mistake, there are much more stirring acts of courage by U.S. soldiers every day in Iraq that somehow escape the media's attention. Ask Rumsfeld a tough question, sue the military, desert or disobey orders, and you achieve fame. But if you happen to sustain a gunshot wound in the battle of Fallujah and ignore it because you so desperately want to stay with your fellow soldiers and believe so much in your mission, well then, no one will ever know your name.

But the press has its priorities. The old saw used to be that American Jews would ask of anything, "Yes, but is it good for the Jews?" The Rummy-hating media and Left evaluate any Iraq-related event through a similar filter, "Yes, but is it bad for Rumsfeld?"

Don Rumsfeld is an exceptional leader, and we are very lucky to have him. There aren't many areas of life where the leader of a huge organization lets himself in for sharp questions from the lowest ranks. Or many organizations where you can do that and not worry about retaliation. Wouldn't it be sweet if Dan Rather had to submit to probing questions from voters about why he tried to throw the election with forged documents? Or if newspaper management had to publicly sweat while answering questions about the circulation scandals?

And the lack of armored Humvees was not a scandal, it was an unanticipated need, one that the army quickly took steps to fix. Unanticipated because this was a campaign unique in the history of war. A enemy nation with a large modern military didn't fight, not seriously, but immediately dissolved itself and started a guerilla war! Even in the first weeks of the invasion, the serious fighting was against irregulars, not against Republican Guard armored divisions! (Read this for an example.)

Posted by John Weidner at 1:02 PM

December 12, 2004

"We are very, very grateful..." --President Karzai

Stephen Hayes has a great article on the inauguration of Hamid Karzai...

Karzai told the story of an elderly woman from the Farah province who came to a polling station with two voter's cards:
She went up to an election worker and declared that she wanted to vote twice, once for herself, and again for her daughter who, she said, was about to deliver her child and unable to come to the polling station to vote. "We are sorry, but no one can vote for another person, this is the rule," the elderly lady was told. So she voted--for herself--and left the station. Later in the day, the election worker was shocked to see the elderly woman back, this time accompanying her young daughter to the polling station. Her daughter carried her newborn baby, as well as her voting card which she used to cast her vote.

These are astonishing times we live in. I remember reading James Michener's Caravans when I was young and impressionable. Good book, and the impression it left with me, of an extraordinarily wild and primitive land, makes the recent elections seem like a fairy tale.

Of course the Media Wing of the Democrat Party doesn't want you to know this:

..Sadly, most Americans never heard these words. Gratitude, it seems, is not terribly newsworthy. Neither is democracy. The Washington Post played Karzai's inauguration on page A-13, a placement that suggested it was relatively less important than Eliot Spitzer's decision to run for governor of New York or the decision of the U.S. government to import flu vaccine from Germany...
Posted by John Weidner at 1:12 PM

Must be some hot stuff..

Charming, charming:

There is a battle royale within CBS over whether or not to release the full text of the upcoming Memogate report, can reveal. Many higher-ups within the network do not want it released to the public in its entirety...

They should do what Nixon proposed doing. Wasn't there one very elderly Republican Senator, and rather than release the tapes, Nixon was going to let him listen to them, and then tell the world if there was anything of importance!...Maybe only the ghost of Edward Murrow should see the whole report. I know, they don't want to show the part quoting Dan on how he will achieve vengeance on George HW Bush by destroying the entire family unto the last generation...

(Hat tip quick elbow in the ribs to Andrea)

Word Note: Shouldn't that be "battle royal?"

Posted by John Weidner at 7:45 AM

December 11, 2004

Happy Hanukkah...

I liked this piece by Dave Kopel, at Armed Jews Week.

• December 10, 2004: Tonight is the fourth night of Armed Jews Week, or as it is more popularly known, Hanukkah. Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration of the Jewish revolution against Syria in the second century B.C. The Syrian government (a remnant of Alexander the Great’s empire) attempted to wipe out the Jewish religion by forcing the Jews to conform to Greek culture. Some of them refused, and a tiny militia, led by Judah the Maccabee (“the hammer”) began a guerilla war.

The Jewish militia grew in force, and
repeatedly destroyed much larger Syrian armies which were sent to smash the revolution. Syria’s King Antiochus decided that the Jewish people were so much trouble that he would just get rid of them entirely—slaughtering as many as necessary, and selling all the rest into slavery. But his wicked plans failed, and after years of war, the Jews won their independence...

woman of the Israel Defence Forces
Woman of the Israel Defense force. Detail from a
picture by photographer
Ashkan Sahihi.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:30 PM

December 10, 2004

the leaf-mould of the brain...

The winter night is round me like a skull, Hollow and black, and time has rotted off; The sky is void, the starry creeds are null, And death is at the throat in a soft cough.

And rooted in the leaf-mould of the brain, I see the crocus burn, sudden as spring,

Yet not of seasons, not of sun or rain, Bright as a ghost in the skull's scaffolding.

It is not hope, this flower, nor love its light. It makes the darkness glow, the silence chime; Its life gives sense to death, names black with white— The timeless flame that is the wick of time.
-- Norman Nicholson

Here's a very interesting church window commemorating Norman Nicholson..

Posted by John Weidner at 9:56 PM

An easy way to help...

We just sent some phone cards to Walter Reed Hospital, to be used by wounded vets...

The address is:

Medical Family Assistance Center
Walter Reed Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue, NW
Building 2, Third Floor, Room 3E01
Washington, DC 20307-5001

You can also donate money here, to a project that provides phone cards to all our troops...

Posted by John Weidner at 12:05 PM

#170: Head in the sand...

P. Krugman

In Borrow, Speculate and Hope (12/10/04) Paul Krugman commits a grievous logical error. The Bush initiative on Social Security does NOT increase the "deficit" if debt is properly and fully recognized. Right now we have a very large unfunded liability to future retirees that is a debt in every sense of the word. It is not officially recognized as such because there are no treasury bonds directly associated with it. Krugman's hatred of privatization leads him to pretend this liability is no big deal But the facts are otherwise.

Bush would fund private accounts by simply swapping treasury debt for this unfunded liability, i.e., raise the former and reduce the latter, dollar for dollar with no change in the total. If Krugman sticks his head any further in the sand we won't be able to see his shoulders.

[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 11:19 AM

December 9, 2004

Liveblogging a pleasant morning...

It's a rainy morning, the children have gone away to their various schools, and Charlene is lingering a while before going downtown to her office to do justice.

And I just remembered that we have some nice Stilton and some Bosc pears that we've been meaning to eat all week, but keep forgetting about! So we are having Stilton and pears for our lazy breakfast—totally self-indulgent, except for the lack of sherry...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:39 AM

December 8, 2004

"So let's get this puppy configured..."

Why should you buy a Mac, when there are PC's for under $500? Bill Palmer plunges into the thickets of PC websites to try to find these beasties, and see how they compare with the lowest-priced Mac, the $799 eMac:

...I mean, this is the world's number one seller of computers? I read yesterday that Dell wants to be the "WalMart of personal computers". With a site like that, Dell would struggle to be called the K-Mart of computers. But I digress. I came here to find myself a sub-$500 computer, and while I had no idea whether I would find that in the "work" or the "home" section of the site, I figured I'd go with "home", since that's what (I think) I was in on the H-P site. I guess I picked the right one, because I found myself a model that wasn't just sub-$500, it was way sub-$500. Yep, I found myself something called a "Dimension 2400" for a mere $449. Yowzah!
So let's get this puppy configured. Let's see how cheaply I can put this thing on par with the eMac. I click on the Dimension 2400, and it presents me with what appears to be a feature list, with a series of defaults already selected for me, so just because Michael Dell dresses like a trustable fellow, I go with the defaults without looking at them (because an honest, upright company would certainly have the least expensive options selected as defaults, right?), and suddenly the "new" cost of my $449 computer has conveniently been adjusted to $846.

Now, for all the times that you or I might use "LOL" in online conversation to suggest that we're laughing out loud, there are in fact very few times where most of us are sitting at the computer and are compelled to literally laugh out loud. This was one of them. I also fell out of my chair. Literally. Of however few times you find yourself slumped to the floor, overcome with laughter, this was one of them for me....

... Oh, I went back and began to try to fiddle with the add-ons to make the thing a bit cheaper, but as I added $89 for a Combo Drive and $50 for a FireWire "IEEE 1394 adapter" (an adapter?), I gave up. At least H-P managed to keep up the sub-$500 charade going until the process was nearly complete. But Dell? They only lasted two clicks before admitting that their cheapest model is more or less price-comparable to the eMac as well...

The tricks used to sell "$500 PC's" at the price they really want to sell them at are pathetic. Pay extra to get a word processor! Egad. (eMac comes with Appleworks, Quicken, GarageBand, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD.) Or the "option" for an extended warranty that can't be turned off? Or CD burner or Firewire not included...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:07 PM

December 7, 2004

#169: To become free of the scare machine...

P. Krugman

Paul Krugmans's special column today, Inventing a Crisis (12/07/04), interrupts a mini-sabbatical taken right after the election to finish his textbook. So, the topic must be important, right? Well perhaps it is. Nothing sets Krugman's teeth on edge like a privatization initiative and when a Holy Cow of the scale of Social Security is involved, he goes absolutely ballistic.

He begins this column explaining why the Social Security program is not in immediate crisis and why the Bush administration is inventing a crisis to push through privatization. In fact, he is right about much of this. Sure, with a few tweaks here and there the current program could go on forever. We could continue slowly raising the eligibility age, end wage indexing, add a modicum of means testing, etc. So what's going on here? Why make the change? Or, why not?

We think the issue is this. To the Bush administration we could have a much BETTER retirement system IF we could transition smoothly to a system of private accounts. It would be consistent with Bush's philosophy of an ownership society. People would control their own accounts and could include them in their estates. After the transition period, the accounts would boost savings in the sense that people would reduce consumption to fund their accounts. And, over the long run they would actually earn a return. The big IF is the transition period because to finance it, the government may have to borrow. Look for Krugman to hammer away at this part of any proposal ad nauseam.

But here's what we think is really bugging Krugman – though he will never admit it. The cornerstone of modern liberalism is the nanny-state welfare entitlement of which Social Security is the quintessential example. It has kept liberals in power for years by keeping the people dependent and living in fear of losing it. Now game is starting to slip away. As people begin to see a more independent retirement, they will also become free of the liberal scare machine. If Social Security privatization succeeds, Medicare will be next.

In short, Krugman sees the rapids ahead and is paddling up-stream like hell.

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 10:02 AM

December 7th, 1941...

Damaged P40 after Pearl Harbor attack
Damaged P-40 at Bellows Field, Oahu,
after Japanese attack, December, 1941

Posted by John Weidner at 9:18 AM

December 6, 2004

"Better jump down the manhole, light yourself a candle"

Ben Stein has a funny piece on being a famous Republican in Malibu...

A few minutes later, I was grabbing a shopping cart at How's Market in the Trancas section of Malibu when a sweet faced middle aged woman approached me carefully. Then she saw a young couple nearby and turned away. Moments later, she ran into me at the egg cooler, looked around to make sure there was no one looking or listening and said. "I love what you say about politics on TV. You're so brave. I'm on your side. There are some of us here but we keep our mouths shut."

"You don't need to," I said. "The election's over. We won."

"Yes, but it's not over out here. Can you believe they just had Michael Moore at the new Malibu bookstore and they've never invited you and how long have you been out here?"

"Twenty-four years off and on," I said.

"Well, anyway, when I see you and I smile at you, you'll know what it's all about. Go Bush," she whispered and headed for the fresh fish.

Does this seem kinda familiar to me, or what? (Thanks to Bill Quick)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:15 PM

December 5, 2004

Fixed, I hope...

If you like repairing things, you should be aware of a great site,

Our Maytag dryer started making an ugly grinding noise. On my own I couldn't even figure out how to get it open. But the site had a nice picture, which with a mouse-over shows larger views of the various parts, and explanations of what they do.

I took off the front bulkhead, and spent some time rotating the drum, trying to locate the sound. (A little patience is very important...take your time, things will seem bewildering at first.) Eventually I noticed that one of the pads the drum glides on was worn away, and the metal underneath was shiny with scraping. A few more clicks, and the part is ordered, and will be shipped tomorrow. 'Till it comes, we will be living like hardy pioneers, hanging our clothes on an improvised clothesline...

* Update: The new parts worked just fine. They had to be installed with pop-rivets, which is OK with me. Our dryer is running smooth and quiet...
Posted by John Weidner at 2:42 PM

"But only slightly less silly."

Timothy Goddard has an excellent dissection of Kevin Drum's recent much-noted piece:

...He makes the mistake boldly and without apology:
The basic post-9/11 position among conservatives is that the war on terror is the moral equivalent of the anti-fascist crusade of World War II and the anticommunist crusade of the Cold War. Since this is their core argument, let’s take a look at the historical comparisons.
Thanks for playing, but that’s not an argument, that’s an analogy. The basic post-9/11 position among conservatives is that the war on terror must be fought in order to avoid terrorist attacks on US soil (and, preferably, everywhere else). We can compare this to World War II and the Cold War, but to claim that comparison is the “core argument” is just silly. It is slightly less silly in context, because Beinhart’s argument was that Liberals need to get their act together, just like they did during the Cold War (which is a silly argument for another day). But only slightly less silly.

Drum proceeds to pick apart the metaphor of the War on Terror as WWII and the Cold War. But anyone can pick apart a metaphor. If there were no differences between the two halves of a metaphor, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, now would it?...

I was vaguely thinking of writing about the same article, but Goddard's got it.

All the recent leftish/Democrat arguments about how the Dems should get serious about national defense, (or not get serious) are just a waste of electrons...until Democrats can answer the question that underlies those questions. That question is:

"What do you believe in enough to fight for?"

Posted by John Weidner at 11:25 AM

Where are the giant puppets?

Dean brings up a good point:

Hey, when is Bush bringing back the draft? I assume that must be soon...

Yeah. all those people who said that, once re-elected, they knew Bush was going to institute a draft....Why aren't they more upset now, since the draft must be coming soon? Why aren't they fighting against it? Protesting?

Could it be that the Kerry-supporters were not sincere?

Posted by John Weidner at 10:13 AM

Rush of events...

I liked this, by Tim Graham, at The Corner:

Just after the election, former ABC anchorwoman Carole Simpson had a public fit in a Newseum panel discussion about how high school kids were getting their news from Rush Limbaugh instead of ABC, which would explain why they were stupid...and, it goes without saying, favored Bush. Same thing.

No one, including Rush Limbaugh, says talk radio is your place for perfectly balanced, objective news. But of course, neither is ABC. Consider the example of the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. It's highly possible that millions of Americans discovered this news for the first time through Limbaugh, who was on the story the same day, November 2, or Election Day.

Guess when ABC got around to reporting this important story from Europe about the uneasy fit between Europeans and the high tide of Muslim immigrants? The answer: they haven't. Neither has NBC. Of the Big Three, CBS arrived first with a brief anchor-read story, and then followed up with two longer stories from the Netherlands on Nov. 10 and 20. You also wouldn't find the story in Newsweek or U.S. News & World Report. (Time had a brief 280-word report.)

So how can Carole Simpson get on her high horse and suggest Limbaugh listeners are uninformed, while someone relying on ABC for their news is fully informed?

Leftizoids love to hold Rush Limbaugh up as a ranting right-wing hate-speaker, (while not, of course, tainting themselves by actually listening to him). Actually, the thing Rush resembles most is a blogger. He reads from articles and news stories , or plays audio clips, and then comments on them. And, like blogs, he's not a news source, but you are going to learn a lot of news from him...

What's interesting is that I don't think I've ever encountered an intellectually-honest critique of Rush. People will circulate a single sentence, and gleefully claim to have exposed him as a monster (though who among us could talk extempore for three hours a day about the world's problems, without occasionally saying something hateful?)...but they won't ever actually engage with what he is really saying, the cowardly dogs.

ABC, of course, is tacitly allied with the terrorists, in hopes of electing appeasers in the US. The don't cover the van Gogh story for the same reason they don't replay clips of the 9/11. They want Americans ASLEEP.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:19 AM

December 2, 2004

New visions....

In a comment to the previous post, about the pessimism that seems to have become the dominant feature of the Left these days, Megan left a comment that pointed to a site: 2020 Democrats, as an example of optimistic "Progressives."

2020 Democrats is an independent organization dedicated to uniting young people around a vision for our future—and then turning that vision into a reality.

I do wish them all luck and success. They seem like some nice folks, but at a guess, they are not quite ready to come up with new visions. To do that, you have to be willing to give your old visions a clear hard look. And be willing to seriously consider the possibility of discarding them. I suspect they're not there yet.

For example here's an essay from their site I liked, by Jorge Miranda, one of the founders of the group. He's a teacher, and writes movingly on the difficulties teachers face, and how important it is to give them needed support and training. But he concludes by saying, more or less, "we need to think about these things." OK, yeah, but what I noticed, sitting in the middle of his essay like the proverbial elephant in the living-room waiting to be thought about, is this:

...At my current school, the MATCH (Media and Technology Charter High) School, I have a principal with 30 years experience in the public schools, available to talk through situations with me and present solutions and ideas based on his own experiences. This is how young teachers should learn.

MATCH supports me in other ways as well. We have a school-wide set of rules called the "Non-Negotiables" (i.e. Be prepared to work every day; Attend school daily on time) with school-wide consequences, which creates consistency from class to class and frees teachers to focus on the quality of student learning. For the first time in three years of teaching, I'm actually having conversations with colleagues about how to become a better teacher.

Most importantly, the MATCH school revolves around its mission: to prepare Boston students to succeed in college and beyond, including and especially those students who have not been led to expect a university education. As simple as it sounds, this mission has helped create an environment in which teachers and staff strive constantly to improve academic achievement...

SO, you go from a public school to a charter school, and discover a much better learning environment. Doesn't this cry out for some thinking? Probing? Why are charter schools different? If one charter school is good, would ten be better? Or ten thousand? Might this be a small part of a new vision?

My guess is that people like Jorge aren't going to venture down that road. It would put them in conflict with parts of the old vision. Not to mention parts of the old coalition. [Take a look at this.]

Likewise with another education essay linked on their site, about tax policy and providing more money for public schools..interesting stuff, but there's not a hint of thinking about whether lack of money is really the problem. (One might ponder on the fact that one of the best-funded ($ per student) school systems in our country is...Washington DC—a notorious failure)

I think that Democrats have internalized a lot of limits on what they can question and debate. You just don't probe certain sore spots, sort of like a family with a big scandal in its past. The 2020 Democrats claim to be young people, perhaps they will eventually be more flexible.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:10 PM

December 1, 2004

but what do you believe...what's your vision?

Also from the Corner, Rich Lowry writes:

John Podhoretz nails it today in the New York Post, where he argues that the left doesn't believe in anything overseas anymore besides despair. Paul Johnson made a related point in a piece for us a while ago--that the left's new faith, now that socialism has died, is pessimism. I'm struck by this when I'm on college campuses. I want to say to these kids (and professors), “OK, you think Bush's foreign policy is a disaster, but what do you believe, what's the alternative, what's your vision?” There is none. These people believe in nothing. They aren't even soft-headed idealists anymore because Bush's idealistic rhetoric has prompted them to reject idealism. All they have is a smug faith in American failure, that whatever we do--literally whatever we do: whether it's militaristic or altruistic or something in between--is wrong and doomed to fail
Boy that sure hits the nail on the head. Try to find a Kerry supporter with an exciting vision of making the world a better place.

The Rive Gauche still has a thin pretense of vision in domestic policy. They will tell you that whatever government health plan they are touting is going to make the country a better place...But they have nothing optimistic to say in the realm of foreign policy. No hopes, no dreams, no crazy schemes. Just pessimism and sneers.

And what makes this really loony is that right now there is more cause for optimism than ever before in history. Democracy is growing at a rate of 1.5 countries per year. The world is growing wealthier, and the percentage of poor people is shrinking. Hopeful, developments, such as those happening now in the Ukraine, are becoming almost commonplace.

When I was younger, poor and backwards places—most of the world, that is—were simply expected to produce bad news. India meant famines. Latin America meant coups and dictators, with a few rich people on top, and masses of impoverished peasants in misery. The whole Soviet Block was a black hole of ugly grinding tyranny. No one dreamed of visiting Prague, or Warsaw. China was crazy revolutionary upheavals, which killed millions. Spain, Portugal, The Philippines, Taiwan, S. Korea—all were dictatorships.

Hey. You out there...the Kerry crowd. What the hell's the MATTER with you??? You are living in an age of thrilling possibilities, and you have nothing to say or contribute. Are you brain dead? You say you are "Democrats." This moment is the greatest flowering of democracy in the history of our planet. This is the time! If you can't SEE it, you have real, serious mental problems....

Posted by John Weidner at 8:48 PM

Get ready for misinformation...

I happened to notice this morsel at The Corner, by Peter Robinson
Just had a conversation with my Hoover colleague John Cogan, a distinguished economist who served with Pat Moynihan on the President’s Social Security commission. Ramesh [NRO writer Ramesh Ponnuru] no reader of the Corner will be surprised to learn, is entirely correct: Any new borrowing would simply shift forward, to the present, a portion of the liabilities that the Social Security system has already incurred. Net increase in costs? Zero.
That's a very important point to keep in mind, because we are going to hear, ad nauseam that reforming Social Security will be very costly.

NO! We already owe ALL the money that's been promised to SS recipients. It is effectively part of the National Debt. We are also expecting to receive future taxes (the deductions from your paycheck for SS) to cover a lot (but not all) of that debt.

The reforms proposed will take part of the taxes and put them in private accounts of younger workers. We will then have to borrow money to pay the benefits that would have been paid by those taxes. But we are borrowing to pay obligations that WE ALREADY OWE.

If I owe Peter $1,000, and I borrow $1,000 from Paul and pay off Peter, I still owe exactly $1,000. I haven't increased my debts at all. (Sorry to put this in baby-talk, but the human ability to not-understand economics is amazing.)

The point of the reforms is that those private accounts are investments, and will grow over people's lifetimes. In the long run there will be a lot more SS money, and that will keep the system solvent, and provide larger benefits. (If all the money I've paid into SS over my lifetime had been invested tax-free, I could probably retire right now with comfort.)

Social Security, by the way, was not created to be anybody's retirement plan. It was supposed to be just a safety net, to keep old people from destitution if they had no retirement income. BUT, benefits and taxes have been increased over the years, until the thing has turned into what is effectively a really crappy retirement system. It's not going away, so it's time to fix it.
Posted by John Weidner at 4:58 PM