January 31, 2005

Best joke of 2004

The best jokes have some truth in them somewhere. The best one of last year was especially cool because it was both a joke and a simple statement of fact. Ron Suskind reporting hearing this from a White House Aide:

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''...

I laugh and laugh when I think of that. He's rattling Suskind's cage, but at the same time it's so TRUE. We just SAW it yesterday. The Amazing Bush goes sailing through the air at the top of the circus tent, while thousands of realists chant Doomed Doomed Doomed Doomed Doomed Doomed we're Doomed. And then the trapeze is caught at the last moment, and he swings lightly onto the platform while the crowd cheers.

Or that's how it looks to the poor reality-based guys. Actually, there was not so much of the circus-trick in the Iraq election; lots of us have long thought it was a pretty sure thing. Because we know that faith, and the the human spirit with its crazy dreams and schemes are what create "reality." But the realists are now reacting dazedly to the new reality, which us dreamers knew was latent there all the time.

I was thinking about this because I started fisking this piece by Fred Kaplan: 2020 Vision: A CIA Report Predicts That American Global Dominance Could End in 15 Years.

Fish, barrel, dynamite...

Just from the title you know it's too silly to waste any time on. But it actually became interesting (to me at least) when I started getting into the how-dya-do-it of becoming a superpower....

[Kaplan writes:] Who will be the first politician brave enough to declare publicly that the United States is a declining power and that America's leaders must urgently discuss what to do about it?..
Mr Kerry? Mrs Clinton? Any volunteers? Anyone gonna step forward?
...This prognosis of decline comes not (or not only) from leftist scribes rooting for imperialism's downfall, but from the National Intelligence Council—the "center of strategic thinking" inside the U.S. intelligence community.
"Leftist scribes" is actually a good description of the CIA. Have you ever heard of a Republican CIA person?
...The NIC's conclusions are starkly presented in a new 119-page document, "Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project." It is unclassified and available on the CIA's Web site. The report has received modest press attention the past couple weeks, mainly for its prediction that, in the year 2020, "political Islam" will still be "a potent force."
Ah Ha! Now I see how the CIA can predict the future. Just take the current situation and draw a straight line...Sheer wizardry.
...In this new world, a mere 15 years away, the United States will remain "an important shaper of the international order"—probably the single most powerful country—but its "relative power position" will have "eroded." The new "arriviste powers"—not only China and India, but also Brazil, Indonesia, and perhaps others—will accelerate this erosion by pursuing "strategies designed to exclude or isolate the United States" in order to "force or cajole" us into playing by their rules...
Funny thing is, we're forcing them to play by our rules, without even hardly trying. ALL the steps that these guys need to take to move into the big leagues involve becoming more like the USA. ALL of the tricky schemes nations use to avoid that fact FAIL. Invariably. (And those schemes always involve some reality-based crew making brilliant decisions.)
...America's current foreign policy is encouraging this trend, the NIC concluded. "U.S. preoccupation with the war on terrorism is largely irrelevant to the security concerns of most Asians," the report states...
Sure, sure. None of them need oil from the Persian Gulf, or Russia. None of them have restive Muslim groups..
The authors don't dismiss the importance of the terror war—far from it. But they do write that a "key question" for the future of America's power and influence is whether U.S. policy-makers "can offer Asian states an appealing vision of regional security and order that will rival and perhaps exceed that offered by China."
Of course. Asian countries will be eager to have China organize their whole region. So trustworthy, China is. Can protect them from Brazil.
...To the extent that these new powers seek others to emulate, they may look to the European Union, not the United States, as "a model of global and regional governance."
The EU! Vibrant! Bursting with youthful energy and creative juices. Its unity, its surging economic growth and cultural enthusiasm make it a coming global superstar. Make that GLOBAL superstar, to emphasize the resources it can project to distant parts of the earth.
...The trends should already be apparent to anyone who reads a newspaper. Not a day goes by without another story about how we're mortgaging our future to the central banks of China and Japan. The U.S. budget deficit, approaching a half-trillion dollars, is financed by their purchase of Treasury notes...
If it's in the newspapers it must be true. Right? But they never explain why, exactly, if China and Japan are coming global powers, they are investing in the US, rather than in...China and Japan? Oooops, I think I answered the question. Japan isn't on the Global-Power career-track any more. Remember how we used to hear that they were going to swamp us? Unless we got smart and emulated them?

Do you know WHY Japan became an economic superpower in the 70's and 80's? Because in the 40's and 50's the USA reorganized them, and at the same time they also enthusiastically embraced American managerial theories. And why did Japan fizzle out? Because they didn't take the whole package.

It's hard to follow the entire regimen. The first steps are the easiest, and lots of countries can get to the point of having factories cranking out cheap goods. But each step is more tricky, and more subtle. And more a matter of character, and the spirit.

What should we DO about the possibility of other countries eclipsing us? Encourage them. There is no dishonest way to do it, not in the long run. The only way to surpass us is to be better than us. Really better. Able to put on the spangled tights and sail effortlessly across the circus tent, like we just did. And a person who thinks China will be there in 15 years is called a "realist?" Now there's a joke.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:25 PM

My prediction of things to come...

UPDATE: It looks like this Telegraph story is not true. See here.

Pejman linked to this article in The Telegraph:

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners who must pay tax and employee health insurance were granted access to official databases of jobseekers...

..."There is now nothing in the law to stop women from being sent into the sex industry," said Merchthild Garweg, a lawyer from Hamburg who specialises in such cases. "The new regulations say that working in the sex industry is not immoral any more, and so jobs cannot be turned down without a risk to benefits."...

Let me guess. In fact, let me predict. The new trendy-lefty cause, from those wonderful folks who brought us gay marriage and hate-free-zones, will be a campaign, similar to the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, to fight the ugly elements in white-patriarchial-western-civilization that discriminate against "sex-workers."

Europe will lead the way, of course, charging anyone who refuses work in a brothel with a "hate crime." Condi Rice will be indicted in the ICC when the State Department fails to support these new norms of International Law. Europeans will preen themselves on their "tolerance," and the drooling American Left will struggle mightily to keep up with them. Expect the NEA to introduce elementary-school books with titles like "Mommy is a Sex-Worker." The Episcopal hierarchy will dash to the front of the parade by ordaining a sex-worker as a bishop. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will urge that courts give cognizance to the laws of other countries when deciding prostitution cases

Then, when Muslims threaten to kill European legislators, a "Muslim exception" to the pro-sex-worker campaign will be hastily proffered. Then a new anti-hate campaign will be needed, to crush those intolerant racist bigots who criticize the Muslim Exception!

Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 AM

January 30, 2005

They can't get away with quite so many lies now...

From Polipundit:

Today is the anniversary of the
Tet Offensive, when ultra-liberal CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite decided to openly side with the Vietnamese Communists.

Current ultra-liberal CBS anchorman Dan Rather, by contrast, has to grit his teeth and
report the good news. Thanks to fact-checking by the New Media, if Rather lied like Cronkite did, he’d become even more of a laughingstock than he already is.

Cronkite is a true hero of the Left, having helped consign millions to communist tyranny or death. Dan Rather and the Gasping Media would like to emulate the master, but they have much less maneuvering room these days...The teeth-gritting is evident in Rather's article...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:54 PM

US forces its "democracy" on other cultures...

Iraqis are bewildered as their ancient ways are trampled by the alien culture of the imperialist American hegemony...

Iraqi Voters show inked fingers
This picture is from Cigars In The Sand, the blog of Ryan Stiles, a security advisor in Iraq who has been ferrying Iraqis to the polls. (Thanks to Jeff Jarvis)

Charlene asks "Where are the women? (In these pictures we are seeing.) I'm guessing Iraq is still like things were when I was in grade school. When the boys start showing off and cutting capers the girls move to the sidelines...

Well, she found this one at FoxNews. Charlene thinks she looks smug enough to be worth a thousand words...

Iraqi woman votes

Posted by John Weidner at 7:58 AM

Simon says

It's late, and voting has been going on for several hours in Iraq. No bloodbath yet, and turnout seems good. I'll risk it and say the election is going to be a huge success. Roger Simon just put this well:

I know it sounds corny, but those of us in the blogosphere--readers, writers, commenters--who supported our government's actions in Iraq and suffered the opprobrium of friends and family, were called warmongers and chickenhawks, this is a time to celebrate. This is what we were fighting for in the war of opinion. It's not much, especially compared to our brave troops, but it's something.

So why am I a hawk? (As I've been asked?) Because I'm for peace! (And no, that's not Orwellian double-speak. Just the plain way things work.) Good night all.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:11 AM

January 29, 2005

Paging Mr George W Bush...Your country is under attack...Please call your office.

By Jerry Seper THE WASHINGTON TIMES [link]
Sixty-four Border Patrol agents have been assaulted in the past three months along a 260-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border — the country's busiest illegal entry point — as the U.S. government continues its fight for "operational control" of the region.

As law-enforcement efforts have increased, so have the incidents of violence and the intensity of the attacks on the agents in the stretch known as the Tucson sector — which are averaging one assault every two days and are on pace to increase this year by 80 percent....
...The State Department this week issued a warning to Americans traveling into the northern border regions of Mexico, saying they should be "aware of the risk posed by the deteriorating security situation." The warning said violent criminal activity along the border, including killings and kidnappings, was on the rise...

Perhaps the best thing to do would be to dither for a few years and hope the problem goes away by itself... (Thanks to PowerLine)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:24 AM

good question...

A reader writes:

Shouldn't both the MSM and the blogosphere be burning up with discussions of how these three captured aides should be interrogated? This is perfect case in point for the "humane treatment" types to explain exactly how they would do it when they have the masterminds of everything from beheadings to placement of roadside bombs are sitting right in front of them. I haven't heard a peep.

Now that's a good question. I didn't even ask myself that. Maybe people are assuming the matter will be "taken care of" and don't want to bring it up, either because they approve, or because they don't approve but don't want a debate at this moment, which resembles those "ticking bomb" scenarios rather closely.

And probably the Gasping Media don't want to call attention to anything that looks like a victory for us. Or call attention to the awkward fact that a few terrorist monsters are attacking us, not a popular uprising "caused" by American blunders.

Anyway, most of the people who get into a shriek on the subject of torture are phonies. They only care about it when it can be used to hurt the Bush Administration. Their compassion is an utter lie.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:14 AM

January 28, 2005

How sweet it is...

What fun it is to be alive these days! According to this article, the billboard below and a similar one is going to be plastered around Hollywood next week! (I'd love a picture of one of the real signs if anybody spots one.)

Billboard thanking Hollywood for Bush election

Sweet. Sweet sweet sweet.

Is there any excrescence more loathsome than a Hollywood Lefty? Self-righteous pomposos pretending to protect the little people from greedy Capitalists? Campaigning to take guns away from ordinary people while they themselves are protected by armed guards? Stridently lecturing Democrat politicians who have to suck-up to them in hopes of contributions?

Somebody (Jonah?) once said that the best thing about attending Republican functions is that you don't meet any celebrities! Amen brother. Say it again.

Perhaps I'll go buy a lottery ticket. If we win, Charlene and I can give SF and Berkeley and Silicon Valley the same treatment...(Thanks to Betsy N)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:13 PM

Blogs on the ground...

We can be sure the Gasping Media will not INFORM us about the Iraqi elections. The will report the "news," which will look at lot like the "news" we are getting now--pictures of smoking rubble and ambulances... <pompous voice>You don't expect us to report that a plane took off and landed safely!</pompous voice>

But, blogs to the rescue! Friends of Democracy is a giving us ground-level coverage of what's going on. Keep you eye on them over the next few days...If this plane lands safely it will be big news an important historic event.

Campaining in the Iraq election

Picture is a detail of one found here, at Friends of Democracy...

One thing that continues to surprise me is the extant to which people in faraway places like Iraq or Ukraine or Indonesia "get" elections. Give 'em half a chance and parties, posters, debates, poll-watchers, and of course lots of politicians, emerge like mushrooms on a Spring morning.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:46 AM

January 27, 2005

Ready to vote...

From Friends of Democracy, a story about Iraqi-Americans voting in the Iraq election...

IRVINE – Some boarded buses in Modesto at midnight to get here. Others flew in from Seattle, or drove six hours in the family car.

Not Suad Aleshaiker of Irvine. All she did was persuade her doctor at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center to let her sneak out of bed about noon Saturday - three days after stomach surgery....

...There are only five polling places in the United States - Irvine is the only site west of the Mississippi.

All of which made for a celebratory scene outside the old Officers Club at the former [El Toro] Marine base. People carried Iraqi flags, wore pins and Iraqi caps; they cheered and whooped while some played Iraqi music from their cars. "I cannot even describe it. I had tears in my eyes when I saw all the people coming here," said Raghad Oueida, 37, of Irvine, who arrived with her husband and 19-day-old infant. "Compare it? Believe me, it's like when I had my baby."...(link to story in
Orange County Register)

Letting the expats vote in the Iraq elections is a very good idea. They will be a valuable resource for the new Iraq, and participating in the elections will help involve them in the country.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:54 PM

Blank Slate watch...

George Will is in splendid form today, pouring well-deserved scorn on the fainting lady-professors, and the absurd truckling to PC idiocy of Harvard President Larry Summers..

Worth reading. But the essence of it all? The crux?

...The vehemence of the political left's recoil from this idea is explained by the investment political radicalism has had for several centuries in the notion that human beings are essentially blank slates. What predominates in determining individuals' trajectories -- nature or nurture? The left says nature is negligible, nurturing is sovereign. So a properly governed society can write what it wishes on the blank slate of humanity. This maximizes the stakes of politics and the grandeur of government's role. And the importance of governing elites, who are the "progressive'' vanguards of a perfected humanity...

Stalin would have nodded his head in agreement. This contretemps is something he and Professor Hopkins would have understood in just the same way. It wasn't just a whim on his part to send the geneticists to the Gulag...

Posted by John Weidner at 11:29 AM

January 25, 2005

A bit of SF history...

After the Earthquake and fire of 1906 left about 200,000 people homeless, the City of San Francisco built more than 5,000 of these simple cottages. Working class families in the refugee camps could haul a cottage to a vacant lot and live in it for $2 a month. The money went into a trust fund, and when the family leased or bought a lot, the money was returned to them.

Cottages built afer SF Earthquake
There are just a handful of them left, usually encrusted with additions so the original cottage is invisible... A few are being restored to their original condition.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:46 PM

Good point to keep in mind...

From The Corner:

2002 VS. 2005 [Tim Graham]
As you watch the top TV news stars furrow their brows about the questionable nature of the Iraqi elections, please remember that many of the networks praised or simply passed on the "Saddam got 100 percent of the vote" malarkey in 2002...

Expect those TV scoundrels to hold the Iraqi elections to far far higher standards than they did the elections of Chavez, Arafat, Mugabe or any other "elected" thug dictator....

Posted by John Weidner at 8:42 PM

blogging the blues...

I've discovered an interesting new blog, interesting to me as a blue state conservative, that is. It's called Blue State Conservative. (Thanks to Betsy N)

I noticed some posts concerning California, including this item: ...Calling it the "the last criminal sanction that treats women differently than men," a California laywer is trying to get topless sunbathing made legal for women in the the state...

Bad idea. On aesthetic grounds....

A fine woman shows her charms to most advantage when she seems most to conceal them. The finest bosom in nature is not so fine as what imagination forms.
-- Dr Gregory

This initiative is Blue State thinking at its worst. It's the same logic that thinks poetry will improve if we dispense with rhyme and meter, or that art will flourish if artists don't waste their time learning how to draw. Or that putting pornography on TV will make people more interested in sex. Or that homework is bad for children.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:49 AM

January 24, 2005

that rare critter, a civil and agreeable Republican...

From Fraters Libertas:

Reader (and writer) Gary Larson points out this little nugget from a tribute to the late Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen, that appeared in the Metro Section of Friday's Star Tribune:
Despite being a prominent and committed Republican, Dirksen believed in civility and compromise, pragmatism rather than ideology. He possessed "the rare but all-important ability to disagree without being disagreeable," as biographer Byron Hulsey put it.
Posted by John Weidner at 7:07 PM

a quote for today...'religion of secularism'

The First Amendment...does not say that in every respect there shall be a separation of Church and State. ... Otherwise the state and religion would be aliens to each other -- hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly. ... The state may not establish a 'religion of secularism' in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe.
--Justice William Douglas
Posted by John Weidner at 4:06 PM

Fools rush in (and get things done)

Mark Helprin has an essay in today's OpinionJournal that I find dubious. (Thanks to Alan Sullivan, who has his own thoughts)

Helprin writes: Our Blindness
We have ample forewarning. But will we ever act?

A hundred years ago, Republican presidential incumbent Theodore Roosevelt had just defeated the now obscure Judge Alton B. Parker, the army had long been fighting Muslim insurrectionists in the Philippines and was recasting itself to fight insurgencies, reformers were concerned with the environment and money politics, and the country's meat supply was viewed with suspicion.

Those absorbing passions would nonetheless prove completely irrelevant to the influenza pandemic that little more than a decade later would kill 50 million people, including half a million Americans; to the rise of Germany, Japan, and Russia; and to the century's three great wars....

We were not then preparing for the specific events Helprin mentions, but that would have taken a ludricous amount of foresight. No other countries were prepared for them either. BUT, America was doing a lot to prepare in a more general sense. Our preparations were NOT "irrelevent." We were creating prodigious national wealth that could be used for any need. Germany and Japan were "rising," but America was "rising" much faster (and none of those other countries were preparing for us!). We didn't foresee the pandemic, but public health and medical research were becoming increasingly important to us, and we were conquering other diseases. As for wars, were were building a world-class fleet, digging the canal, acquiring coaling stations around the globe, and vigorously preventing the encroachment of European empires in an entire hemisphere.

The real problem with Helprin's complaint is that these events were contingent. War with Germany, Japan and Russia were not inevitable, and any of these countries could have presented us with different problems, such as vigorous peaceful competition. Nor is it scientifically accepted that a flu pandemic was predictable—it is theorized that it may have arisen in the crowded hospitals of WWI, when the normal selective pressures that keep flu epidemics mild did not work.

...God help the army that must fight for an idea rather than an objective. After somehow failing to argue competently on behalf of a patently justifiable invasion, and as its more specious arguments were collapsing, the Bush administration then pivoted with breathtaking enthusiasm to nation building, something so Clinton-tinged that it had previously been held in contempt. The more that nation building in Iraq is in doubt, the more the mission creeps into a doubling of bets in hope of covering those that are lost. Now the goal is to reforge the politics, and perforce the culture, not merely of Iraq but of the billion-strong Islamic world from Morocco to the South Seas. That--evangelical democracy writ overwhelmingly large--is the manic idea for which the army must fight...

I think this is just wrong. Helprin is confusing the outward actions of the Administration with its actual plans. It was necessary to emphasize WMD's in order to get the UN on board, which was desirable for various reasons, such as giving Tony Blair cover. But neo-con types were discussing all along the possibility that ONE free and democratic Arab country could change the dynamics of the whole region. And also that hitting ONE terror-supporting nation could be a heads-up to the rest. And also that having an army in Iraq would put us a good position to pressure other Arab countries.

Also, we see every day that democracy is not some "manic" or "evangelical" ideal. It is a practical remedy for many ills, and can, in admittedly imperfect form, take root even in poor and backwards places. And there is a lot of evidence that it does have a big effect in preventing terrorism. How many Muslims are there in India? 100 million? So how many Indian Islamo-loony terrorists have we caught? I haven't heard of any. In India Muslims take their frustrations to the ballot-box. I think it is now incumbent on those like Helprin, who dismiss democracy with an airy wave of the hand, to make a case. The case FOR democracy has become self-evident.

But the main problem with Helprin's thinking throughout this essay is
contingency. The occurrence of communist Russia or Nazi Germany were contingent on various happenings, any of which could have gone differently. Suppose Germany had not helped Lenin get to Russia? Suppose Hoover had vetoed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff? I can imagine a train of events where a more careful taping of a door latch by the Watergate burglars might have prevented the war we are in now...

Helprin is guilty of a kind of lazy thinking that assumes that what happened in the past presents us with a simple and obvious lesson that can be applied to the future. But a Helprin of 100 years ago would probably have looked at Japan or Germany and seen looming problems of industrial competition or imperialist expansion. (And so it could easily have turned out.)

...By taking intelligent advantage of the fertile relation between economic development and military capacity, China will be able to leverage its extraordinary growth into superpower parity with the United States. Without the destruction of Chinese social and political equilibrium, this is only a matter of time. And just as we had no policy for dealing with the rise of Germany, Japan, and (prior to the late 1940s) Russia, we have none here....

This too sounds wrong to me. China clearly has a LOT of problems ahead on the road to becoming a "superpower." And many of the problems are ones that the solving of will tend to make China less dangerous. For instance, its huge, expensive and poorly-equipped military is big drag on China's economy. One of the two has to give. So it is intellectually dubious to consider both a huge military and economic growth as signs of a dangerous China. Also, until recently large countries produced most of what they needed themselves. Italians drove Italian cars, and Japanese drove Japanese cars. and likewise with planes, tanks, ships, guns...Helprin's "fertile relation between economic development and military capacity" made much more sense back then. Now most of China's, and everybody's, wealth is based on trade. That wealth would mostly evaporate if trade contracted or ports were blockaded.

...We have not since the Korean War been able to face China on the mainland...

I think this is nonsense. We rebuilt our armed forces in the 1970's and 80's to be able to defeat the Warsaw Pact forces if they attacked the NATO nations. Most people are unaware of how successful we were, because that war was never fought. But we did destroy, in 1991, a large army that had been trained and equipped by the Soviets. We smashed the Iraqi army in 100 hours, with trivial casualties. If you want to know what would happen in a conflict with China's soviet-style military, I suggest reviewing the Battle of Medina Ridge. And while our army is presently smaller and much-burdened with nation-building, it is also becoming increasingly powerful in conventional warfare, with new weapons and, even more important, vastly more effective digital communications being added all the time. (And we should all give thanks to Donald Rumsfeld, who valiantly resists both those who are afraid to tackle messy problems like Iraq, and those who now panic and say we should should convert our whole military to Iraq-style pacification forces.)

Helprin's way of thinking takes whatever is happening now and projects a straight line into the future. But remember that a few years ago that kind of projection said that Japan was going to be a superpower . Now we are worried about Japanese stagnation! Europe has been touted as a coming superpower, but we are starting to worry seriously about European economic collapse. If Helprin had written this in the 1980's he would be castigating us for not preparing for the coming Japanese colossus. In fact we were preparing, by allowing our economy to DESTROY a lot of it's structures, clearing the way for stupendous growth. And we are doing the same thing now.

Almost everything that gets done in the world is done by optimists who wade into projects that turn out to be more difficult that they expected. Every public project has cost over-runs and mistakes. We need the Mark Helprins as voices of caution, but the Helprins never DO anything. They are too wise to try.

Our army SHOULD be fighting for ideas. Ideas are real and potent and solid, while the things and structures around us may melt away at any time.

Posted by John Weidner at 3:04 PM

January 23, 2005

Crazy. Who could live without search engines?

From a Pew study on Internet use:

...Internet users behave conservatively as searchers: They tend to settle quickly on a single search engine and then stick with it, rather than switching as search technology evolves or comparing results from different search systems. Some 44% of searchers regularly use just one engine, and another 48% use just two or three. Nearly half of searchers use a search engines no more than a few times a week, and two-thirds say they could walk away from search engines without upsetting their lives very much.

Internet users trust their favorite search engines, but few say they are aware of the financial incentives that affect how search engines perform and how they present their search results.

Only 38% of users are aware of the distinction between paid or “sponsored” results and unpaid results. And only one in six say they can always tell which results are paid or sponsored and which are not....

As usual, one is a bit disappointed in the "folk." two-thirds say they could walk away from search engines...! Hmmm. Make that very disappointed. I can't even imagine living without Google. I jump up from the dinner table to Google things that come up. I have thousands of questions in the back of my mind, little things I've wondered about over the years, but have had no inclination to research. Or no way to research. They are almost forgotten, but not completely, and when one pops into mind, I can usually answer it now. (via boing boing)

One such question came to mind yesterday. I once read that the great pianist Gary Graffman had contracted a mysterious ailment that had left him unable to play piano. I felt very bad because I had read Graffman's marvelous memoir, I Really Should Be Practicing, (which I recommend highly). I feel like I know him, and I wondered from time to time how his life had turned out.

So yesterday I googled and found out...

(Also, if you click on the book link, you will discover that the paperback of Graffman's book is selling for $35 and up! Ouch.)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:34 PM

California mess...

Rock--slide near Ojai, Hwy 33
Here's one of the rock-slides that temporarily trapped Charlene and Betsy in Ojai two weeks ago. This is Highway 33, about 11 miles north of the town.

This is the sort of thing that can happen in many places of coastal California. The mountains and hills of our Coastal Range tend to resemble heaps of rubble. Majestic granite peaks they are not. With heavy rains hillsides often dissolve into catastrophic soups of rock and mud, which sometimes rush down canyons scouring away anything in their path.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:43 PM

More "they're on the other side"

I started to scribble a comment to this post last night, and then realized there were already a gazillion comments, so I'll just post here. The piece is a reply by a journalist, Derek Rose, to the letter of Lt. Col. Ryan about the poor coverage of the Iraq Campaign by journalists. (Via Chrenkoff) He makes many interesting points, though I am not persuaded by them. My comment:

You say you care about American deaths, not sewer plants. But the sewer plants are part of the mission of our soldiers. And sewers might seem un-newsworthy in America, but in places like Sadr City the streets often flow with raw sewage! Fixing the sewers there will have a tremendous effect on the people, which is why terrorists try to stop such projects, and we are fighting to push them through. The sewers of Sadr City are battle fronts just as much as police stations in Mosul. You remind me of those politicians who proclaim that they "support the troops," and then disparage every thing connected with them.

If American deaths were reported in the
context of the mission, then the deaths have meaning. If the enthusiasm of many Iraqis for the election, or for just having new jobs and opportunities and freedoms was prominently reported, that would give meaning to our sacrifices. That's why those things get little news play, not because they are uninteresting. Most Americans don't even know that there have been many local elections in Iraq already, and moderates have won them all! Go on, tell us how that's not news-worthy, but car bombs are.

You say it's not your fault that car bombs are going off every day. In fact, it is your fault. Those attacks, especially those against Americans, are intended for
press consumption. Think a minute: Do you really believe the "insurgents" are trying to defeat the US Army? They don't even pretend that. [Which in my mind makes them something closer to terrorists than "insurgents."] They are intended to discourage the American people, and guess who's been enlisted to help...

You people of the press are in mindless symbiosis with the terrorists. In your post you display oh-so-much skepticism for the information you get from American soldiers. But
none for the information you are given daily by terrorists. You are blind to the way Americans and Iraqis are being killed for no other reason than to control YOUR headlines and broadcasts. The bombings and beheadings are just like press releases, but these press releases you accept with no skepticism at all.
Posted by John Weidner at 8:47 AM

January 22, 2005

They're on the other side #646

Bill Roggio scrutinizes a NYT article:

...Zarqawi is a declared member of al Qaeda, and has full terrorist credentials. He has operated al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan, beheaded civilians and recorded his handy work in snuff films on al Qaeda websites, attempted to conduct a poison gas attack in Jordan, ricin and other chemical attacks in Europe... The list goes on. And yet the New York Times, the paper of record, cannot, even once, refer to him as a terrorist. Instead, he is a “rebel leader”, “insurgent”, “militant” and “guerrilla”. They know his history, yet they choose to obscure his brutal nature in the romantic language of resistance fighters...

Sounds like another Che...There may be good money to be made selling Zarqawi t-shirts to the fashion-conscious!

Posted by John Weidner at 2:04 PM

Where was the outrage...

Lane Core has fascinating stuff on what FDR did on the day of the D-Day Invasion. Laughing and joking with reporters for one. Can you imagine how Bush would be excoriated if he even cracked a smile on such an occasion?

And FDR said a prayer on the radio. Here's a part of it:

Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day without rest — until the victory is won....

Dems would HATE it if Bush said such things. "Preserve our religion?" "We shall return again and again?" Yow.

(Thanks to Betsy N)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:06 AM

January 21, 2005

'The gasping media." A good name for them...

Mohammed writes about the ridiculous Sarah Boxer, and invents a new locution:

One short look at the "article" shows how naïve the writer was and how old the methods used in writing this post are. This post has fixed another nail in the casket of the gasping media...

"The gasping media." I like it! I hope it catches on.

...From Boxer's point of view, an Iraqi who supports America's efforts in liberating his country from the worst tyrant in modern history and rebuilding his country after that is either a paid agent or a mentally confused person. As if clear thinking is an exclusive gift that only a journalist from the NYT could possess while anyone outside her office is simply confused...

Mohammed, it would astonish you to know the vast numbers of people who a NYT writer would consider "mentally confused."

Posted by John Weidner at 6:17 PM

"A great wind rushes under all of us"

Only one cell in the frozen hive of night
is lit, or so it seems to us:
this Vietnamese café, with its oily light,
its odors whose colorful shapes are like flowers.
Laughter and talking, the tick of chopsticks.
Beyond the glass, the wintry city
creaks like an ancient wooden bridge.
A great wind rushes under all of us.
The bigger the window, the more it trembles.

Ted Kooser
Posted by John Weidner at 4:56 PM

#174: Why Did Krugman Miss This Potential flaw?


In The Free Lunch Brunch (01/21/05) Paul Krugman almost gets it right. There is indeed a potential flaw in the President's transition plan to private accounts, but Krugman can't seem to find it. In this report we will first explain the potential flaw, then show where Krugman missed it (close, but no cigar!).

The Potential Flaw

As money enters the stock market from the funding of private accounts stock prices will be bid up. This is no problem as long as prospective earnings also rise so that the price-to-earnings ratios (P/Es) stay approximately the same during the funding. But unless the new money comes from increased savings there is nothing to drive earnings higher. In other words, if the private accounts are funded by borrowing rather than saving there is no diversion of national product away from consumption and into plant, equipment, technological research and all the things that promote economic growth. The result is that the private account holders end up owning stocks at inflated P/Es and will have years of lackluster returns to look forward to.

We have been careful to use the word "potential" to describe this flaw because some very smart people have thought long and hard about these issues and see them differently. For one thing, after the transition is complete further funding of private accounts would not require borrowing and would result in additional savings. One might also claim that even if stock returns are lower for the private accounts than the historical average they could still be substantially higher than the return associated with the current Social Security system. Finally, private account holders would at least own and control their accounts and that is worth a lot compared to the current system.

In a nutshell, we don't agree among ourselves on many of these issues, but we do think the borrowing vs. saving link to earnings and economic growth should be part of the debate.

So Why Did Krugman Miss It?

Probably because he is so intent on being mean and nasty that he can no longer think straight. He believes the Bush plan will fail because current stock holders are not stupid enough to swap their stocks for bonds, i.e., the bonds being issued to fund the transition.
Here's how he put it:

"So privatizers are in effect asserting that politicians are smart - they know that stocks are a much better investment than bonds - while private investors are stupid, and will swap their valuable stocks for much less valuable government bonds. Isn't such an assertion very peculiar coming from people who claim to trust markets?"

This gives Krugman a chance to take a swat at privatizers for hypocritically trusting politicians more than markets. But, in fact, the real problem is that Krugman doesn't understand markets. Of course current stockholders will give up their stocks for bonds if P/E ratios are bid up to unsustainable levels as we described above. Current stockholders will make out very well, thank you very much. It's the new private account holders with overvalued stocks backed by additional government debt rather than savings who will suffer. This is the point Krugman should have made, but apparently he doesn't even understand it.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:46 AM

Orwellian Double-Speak Pretzel-Twist

Susan Jacoby has an unintentionally funny article in the LAT, Hear 'Reform,' Think 'Destroy'.

In a 1946 essay titled "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell observed that all political language is designed "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

As President Bush begins his second term, he has already demonstrated the truth of Orwell's dictum by persuading much of the windy news media to attach the word "reform" to his plan for fundamental change in the way Social Security is financed...

It's reform in any sane sense of the word--most of the program will remain the same...
...Each time television or radio newscasters use the phrase "Social Security reform," as they do every day, they send a message to the American public that Social Security is a broken system in need of fixing.
You Dems agreed on that point until a Republican actually tried to DO something. Remember Bill Clinton saying "Save Social Security First?"
The general definition of reform is always positive, conveying the notion of changes designed to improve an institution...
It's the connotation that is positive, not the definition. But in fact we do intend to improve the institution. So "reform" fits.
...In its specific political sense, reform is offered as a moderate alternative to radicalism and revolution. Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, for instance, has been judged by history as a set of reforms that saved capitalism from its own worst excesses...
Only if you define history as "only the writings of Leftists." Many historians have different opinions on this point. The judgement of history has not been made yet.
...Neither common nor political usage justifies the application of the reform brand to such a controversial proposal as the Republican plan to privatize Social Security.
So now being "controversial" means it's not reform? The New Deal, of course, was never controversial.
A minority of newspapers (the Los Angeles Times among them) appear to have made a conscientious effort to keep the reform label out of their headlines and use more neutral terms like "change" and "revision."...
A majority of newspapers appear to have made a conscientious effort to call people who shred women and children with bombs "militants" or "activists," avoiding the T-word.
But most of the media have capitulated to the administration's understandable desire to soothe the public with the R-word, thereby displaying as profound a bias as if the Bush plan were routinely described as "Social Security destruction."...
It's not neutral to deliberately eschew anything that sounds positive. It's biased...

What's especially loony about this article is that Social Security was radical and revolutionary when it was started. Nothing like it had ever been done in America. It could not possibly have been called "reform" then, because there was nothing similar to be improved or tinkered with.

It's almost pathetic how these people let themselves be manipulated by President Bush. First he maneuvers them into allying themselves with the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan. Now he has them ready to die at the barricades to defend the very Social Security system that they were recently saying needed to be fixed. (Thanks to Juddblog)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:40 AM

January 20, 2005

the full assault treatment...

I like this thought, by TM Lutas:

...I'm starting to suspect that Social Security reform is the domestic version of Iraq and Medicare is the domestic version of N. Korea as far as Bush policy goes. Social Security is going to get the full assault treatment because it's strategic, people understand it well, and it's about the biggest problem we can handle with that approach. Medicare is too tough, too confusing, and much more susceptible to a quiet "python" approach...

I think a lot of the opposition to SS reform comes from people who just don't understand the concept of striking at the most brittle problem first, so that success there can provide a template and an inspiration for solving the messier problems. If you've climbed a mountain that is two miles high, then it becomes much easier to organize an expedition to climb a three mile-high peak.

Of course, just as with Iraq, some of the opposition comes from people who DO understand how these things might work.....

You will have to read his post to find out what the "python approach" might be...

Posted by John Weidner at 12:28 PM

I think both are wrong...

PowerLine quotes in interesting article by Professor Andrew Busch, Rolling Realignment.

Will 2004 be for Republicans what 1964 was for Democrats, a moment of triumph followed by a season of loss? Or will 2004 be, as Karl Rove has argued, another 1900, a close but broad victory that lays the foundation for a generation of dominance? Everything will depend on the choices Republicans make, the choices Democrats make, and the events that both will have to confront. If history is any guide, for Republicans hubris will be a more dangerous adversary than Harry Reid.

Both are wrong, or so I would argue. The theory of 70-Year Cycles would say that both of these are just the ups and downs that happen within the broader cycle of realignments. What was the 60's? It was the time when the men of the New Deal generation were replaced by their children, who had never known real electoral defeat, and so were tempted into a classic example of over-reaching. It was a part of the larger realignment. 2004 is similar to the 1930's. We can expect our moment of hubris to come in the 2030's.

there's another interesting (to me, you are probably bored if you've even read this far) sentence:

...If there has been a Republican realignment, though, it is not like classic realignments of the past. Perhaps, as David Mayhew argued in his book Electoral Realignments (2002), 1860 and 1932 were such extreme cases—revolving around civil war and the worst economic conditions in the nation's history—that they cannot serve as a realistic model...

To the contray, I think it was the realignment that precipitated the Civil War. Realignments are driven by neglected problems. The party in power can't or won't deal with certain things, and so a sort of vacuum is created, that pulls the other party forward. And remember, there were a lot of things besides slavery the Dems wouldn't deal with in the 1850's. Think Homestead Act, Land-Grant Colleges, Transcontinental Railroad...

And while the 1930's realignment didn't precipitate the Great Depression, they were connected. The neglected problems concerned the regulation of a modern industrial economy, and one could say that realignment and crisis came to a head simultaneously. (A cynic might suggest that the neglected problem was how to turn an ordinary business contraction into a prolonged depression, the better to further quasi-socialist solutions and make the careers of quasi-socialist Democrats.)

Posted by John Weidner at 10:58 AM

Believe the evidence of your eyes

I caught part of the President's inaugural speech on the radio as I was driving around. Good speech. Strong, uncompromising stuff. Made me proud.

...All Americans have witnessed this idealism, and some for the first time. I ask our youngest citizens to believe the evidence of your eyes. You have seen duty and allegiance in the determined faces of our soldiers. You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs. Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself - and in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country, but to its character...
Posted by John Weidner at 9:56 AM

Just breaking this morning...

From WorldNetDaily. Guess who was pals with Samir Vincent? Jimmy Carter!

...Based upon an investigation by Move America Forward, it appears President Carter and his associates are among the former officials with whom Vincent collaborated.

"One of two things happened," suggests [Melanie] Morgan. "Either President Carter was totally duped, and allowed himself to be conned into working as an indirect agent of Saddam Hussein, or President Carter knowingly associated himself with a foreign agent who was seeking to undermine American foreign policy."...

Carter always tries to undermine our foreign policy—if it threatens the dictators that he always finds sympathetic and appealing.

He is the biggest phony ever to be President. As David Frum said, "the first anti-American president." And an enemy of ours in the War on Terror. He is on the other side.

I'm sending a little donation to Move America Forward. Thank you Melanie (a local gal, we listen to her on the KSFO Morning Show).

Sigh. Bush is too smart, and too much the gent to do it, but the thought of Alberto Gonzalez dragging the peanut into the witness box and having his toughest prosecutors grill him for days...then passing him on to a House Committee for some serious clock-cleaning... Stop! Stop day-dreaming, John! There's a war to be won, and pleasures must be deferred...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:00 AM

January 19, 2005

It is to barf...

Unbelievable: ABC is advertising for a military funeral to "balance" its coverage of President Bush's inauguration... And it has to be an Iraq death. If you died in Afghanistan, ABC doesn't want your crappy little funeral.

God how I hate those animals. They are on the other side. They give Saddam Hussein more respectful treatment than they give the President of the United States of America.

And to take the funeral of one of America's heroes and exploit it for their nasty little political trickses...Unforgivable.

Posted by John Weidner at 6:52 PM

Read, as they say, the whole thing...

An article in Arab News by Amir Taheri, Algerian Lessons for Iraq, is very pertinent right now. Algeria has (but is defeating) a terrorist movement even more nihilist and evil than the one in Iraq. They once cut the throats of 800 people, many of them women and children, in one night! (If President Bush offered our help fight them, I'm sure Michael Moore and the sludge-for-brains wing of the Democrat Party would start calling them "freedom fighters.")

...Visiting Algiers in March 1994 I was struck by the mood of doom and gloom at almost every level of government. European ambassadors confided their fear that the terrorists might seize power at any time. A segment of the elite was urging negotiations with the terrorists, which meant discussing terms of surrender.

After a long moment of tergiversation in which the Algerian leaders did not know quite how to deal with the threat, they stumbled on a strategy almost by instinct....
They soon realized that the terrorists lacked a significant popular base. But it was also clear that a majority of Algerians had adopted a wait-and-see attitude, hating the terrorists in secret but too frightened of them to make a clear stand against them in public. The key, therefore, was to mobilize the “silent majority” to demonstrate the isolation of the terrorists.

The most effective way to do that was to hold elections. Few people are prepared to die, and even fewer are willing to kill in support of their political opinions. But almost everyone is ready to vote. The task of a civilized society is to render the expression of political opinions easy. The terrorists made it difficult because they demanded of the people to kill and died. The Algerian leaders decided to make it easy by asking the people to vote.

The turning point came in 1995 when Algeria organized its first ever pluralist and direct presidential election. This is was not an ideal election. The candidates were little known figures that had appeared on the national political scene just a couple of years earlier. None presented a coherent political program. To make matters worse the terrorists did all they could to prevent the election. They burned down voter registration bureaus and murdered election officers. Masked men visited people in their homes and shops to warn that going to the polls would mean death.

And, yet, when polling day came it quickly became clear that the terrorists, in the forlorn attempt at stopping democracy, were, as in so many other instances in history, facing certain defeat. Never in my many years of journalism had I seen such enthusiasm for an electoral exercise anywhere in the world. The “silent majority” spoke by casting ballots, not because it particularly liked any of the candidates but because it wanted to send a message to the terrorists that they had no place in Algeria...(thanks to
Powerline and Bill Roggio)
Posted by John Weidner at 8:24 AM

January 18, 2005

Quote 'O the day...

It is a good rule in life never to apologize.
The right sort of people do not want
apologies, and the wrong sort take a
mean advantage of them
    --P.G. Wodehouse
Posted by John Weidner at 8:55 PM

Sawicky v Kling

Here's an interesting debate in WSJOnline between bloggers Arnold Kling and Max Sawicky on SS reform. To my mind, Sawicky isn't very persuasive. Too much: "there isn't really a problem," plus too much: "there are other big problems, so how can you justify tackling this one and not them?" (Hmmm. Where have I heard that line before?) Arnold has a good response:

...OK, Max, let's get back to one of the points in your first post. You wrote that "the right-now budget crisis stems from tax cuts, military spending increases, and unsustainable, double-digit growth in Medicare and Medicaid."

The way I would put it is that politicians have three credit cards -- three ways of buying votes today and paying later. This involves making promises that will have to be redeemed by taxes collected in the future. Those three credit cards are the general budget, Social Security and Medicare.

Changing Social Security from a transfer scheme to one with personal accounts serves to take away the politicians' Social Security Credit Card. They no longer would have the authority to promise benefits out of future Social Security taxes...

Of course you can't solve every problem at once. Duh. But when you have several problems of a similar sort, then solving ONE of them can create the momentum and believability that make solving the others possible later. And it makes sense to pick the one that's the most brittle and hit it first. (Reason#2 on my List of Ten Reasons for Invading Iraq. That's where I've heard that line before. "We can't solve ALL the world's problems!")

To generalize: If a Republican tries to solve a problem, then 1. It's not a problem. 2. It's the wrong problem. 3. Our problems are too overwhelming, we dursn't do anything.

I do NOT, by the way, agree that there is a "right-now budget crisis." The deficit is decreasing right now, beause our economy is growing strongly and tax revenues are going up. All of which has, I suspect, some mysterious karmic connection with them tax cuts Max Sawicky doesn't like.

Also, part of our budget problems come from the need to buy necessities from Congress, which should decrease as the Republican majority grows with each election. The President bought HSA's by agreeing to the Prescription Drug benefit. I think it was a smart trade, an increase in the welfare state that was probably going to happen no matter what, balanced by a plan that will start teaching people a better approach to paying for health care. Our only hope is for people to become wiser--this is a democracy, and people are going to get what they want in the end. Of course the same point goes for SS private accounts. More important than the direct economic effect is that they will teach people to think like investors and owners, instead of like helpless clients of the state.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:47 PM

#174: We Need More Dan Rathers


Have you ever thought there might be a connection between the war in Iraq and the reform of Social Security? Well, neither did we. But that’s because our minds are just not as facile as Paul Krugman’s. In That Magic Moment (11/18/05) he zeros in the common denominator–the Bush administration’s deceitfulness. Just as they hyped the need for war, they are now hyping the extent of the crisis in Social Security. These are such predictable Krugman positions that one might wonder why he bothered to repeat them all again.

But to wonder that is to not understand Krugman. What’s really going on here, as we have pointed out on many similar occasions, is pretty simple. It’s another column on the cheap. If Krugman can find two subjects on which he has written before and can link them in some “original” manner, he can then write on them all over again and use the link–in this case, Bush’s deceit–as cover for his “self-plagiarism.” The mystery is why the NY Times puts up with such laziness.

There is one howler: Krugman attributes the re-election of Bush to confusion among the electorate due to Bush misrepresentations about Iraq. Likewise, he sees the political viability of Social Security reform as due mainly to more Bush misrepresentations and blames the media for not doing its job in uncovering them. Apparently, if we just had a half dozen more Dan Rathers all would be well.

[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 1:55 PM

January 17, 2005

Mini thoughts...

If anyone's interested, John Gruber has some interesting thoughts on the Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle. (One detail I was pleased to learn; it's recommended that a technician install memory in the Mini, but apparently it's not hard to crack the case and install it yourself.)

....My mistake was not realizing that a low-cost iPod wouldn’t entail Apple joining the current market for low-end players, so much as Apple redefining the market for low-end players. Not because the iPod Shuffle has amazing new features (it doesn’t), but because Apple is going to sell so damned many of them, and everyone knows it.

I mean, does anyone doubt that the iPod Shuffle will soon be the best-selling sub-$200 music player in the world? If not by the end of this month, certainly by the end of this quarter. This means Apple is able to purchase components — specifically, flash-memory chipsets — in quantities that their competitors can’t. Which means Apple gets a lower price on components, which means Apple can afford to put 512 MB of memory into a $99 player, a price point where the competition only has 256.

This is worth restating:
Megabyte-for-megabyte, the iPod Shuffle is cheaper than its competition. To my memory, this is the first product in Apple’s history where this is so. With the iPod, the tables have turned and Apple is on the right side of the volume discounts that come with majority market share....

The dangers with Apple introducing inexpensive products are both diluting the brand and, of course, not making any money. (Critics of Apple praise the makers of those cheap PC's but never mention how often they end up in or near bankruptcy.) The current pizzaz and trendiness of the iPod may have given Apple an opportunity to make mass-market products without becoming a "low-end" company.

* Update: By the way, if you are thinking of buying peripherals for your Mini, here are some amazin' cheap prices...I had no idea. A GEM LCD for $169? Whoa. Gotta look into them.

Posted by John Weidner at 10:39 AM

Sadr City of all places...

Arthur Chrenkoff's latest round-up of good news from Iraq is up, and as always is a useful counterbalance to the pro-terrorist press. (And, as always, he emphasizes that he is not denying that there are problems and violence in Iraq. Just giving us the part of the news that you won't see on TV.

One tidbit really surprised me:

...Now a U.S. officer, Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond of the 1st Cavalry Division, says Sadr City is the safest place in or around Baghdad...[link].

Astonishing! Sadr City, violent and impoverished home of Al Sadr's rebellion.

...About 18,000 people have reconstruction jobs, he says, earning about $6 a day. "Sadr City is what the future of Iraq can look like," he says.Those who were once taking up arms are now talking democracy.

"Before, the men were buying black cloth for their (martyrs') banners. Now for the election, we are buying white cloths" for posters, says candidate Fatah al-Sheikh.

Al-Sheikh, 37, rounds up a camera crew and a couple of reporters and heads out for a bit of campaigning. He presses the flesh — both cheeks and hands — and points to the failings of the current, American-backed administration, including high fuel prices and frequent power outages. "This is what will bring the people to vote for us," he says, pointing to trash and sewage along al-Falah Street, a main drag. "This kind of collapse of the services will make the people vote for us and not for the government."...

I'd say that's an answer to the people who claim that democracy is a long-term project that will do nothing right now to combat terrorism. Iraqi democracy is likely to be very flawed in the short run, but will still be a powerfully transformative, drawing people's energy into lawful contests...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:36 AM


Do read this column, by John Leo. (Thank you Betsy N) He's a conservative "embedded" in Manhattan, and his insights I can, as a San Franciscan, assure you are dead on.

...Finally, I reluctantly report that liberal friends basically reject give-and-take political discussion. Their positions are typically posed in the language of feelings or the language of rights. Either way, there is nothing much to debate--feelings are personal and rights are beyond the reach of argument and majority decision making. My liberal friends are polite and tolerant, but their opinions reflect a body of remarkably settled thought that leaves little room for dissent or new ideas. To their token conservative friends (that’s me), they seem ever more isolated from the thoughts and concerns of their fellow Americans.

From what I've experienced at my humble blog-abode here, he's right. I hadn't thought about the frequent use of the "language of rights" as a way to close off the possibility of discussion, but that's just what it does. And there's a new item to raise your consciousness:

...Over the holidays, I discovered that a relatively new argument about terror is becoming popular: the next terrorist attack on America, if it comes, will likely be minor and tolerable. I was assured that a dirty bomb is the most likely weapon, and that it would probably do no more damage than an industrial accident. So not to worry. The real problems are fear, panic and violations of civil liberties--not terror...

Right. Gotcha. And you promise not to complain about a little extra background-radiation...

Posted by John Weidner at 7:16 AM

January 15, 2005

Wandering into thickets...

DrunkenBatMan has an interview with one of the college students who is getting sued by Apple for passing around developer builds of the next version of OS-X. It is interesting to me as an example of how easy it is to wander into a legal and ethical morass with hardly a thought. Among other things, the kid signed an NDA, but didn't read it because he treated it like all those licensing agreements that come with our software. Who reads the things?

There's way too much bogus "law" these days. For instance, all those things we all sign where we accept that the product is dangerous, so we can't sue if our toe gets chopped off? Truth is, you can still sue. Charlene could cut through any of those things easily, if she were on the Dark Side. (Actually, she says the one exception is ski resorts! Those agreements have always been upheld by the courts.)

This is a different case than that Apple suit against a "blogger." Actually I don't think ThinkSecret is a "blog." I've read it for years without ever thinking "this is a blog." (And I've been blogging since 2001. That's decades in Internet time—I should be considered an expert witness on what's a weblog!)

I don't presume to say who's right or wrong in these cases. But I think there's a of of double-standarding in the way Apple gets criticized by people who blandly stand by and watch Microsoft obliterate entire companies. As Brian Tieman said recently, it's sort of like the phonies who wax indignant about Abu Ghraib while winking at the murders of Hamas or the Taliban or Saddam....

Posted by John Weidner at 9:23 PM

I suspect his pessimism is unjustified...

Bill Palmer, a Mac writer I like, thinks the new Mac Mini is going to be a marketing disaster. People who think a cheap Mac an incentive to switch will end up disgusted...

...Well, wait until they get home with their Mac Mini, only to find that neither their keyboard nor their mouse will work with it, despite Apple's claims to the contrary. Remember that perceived notion of compatibility? Gone. Instantly. Long after that Mac Mini gets taken back for a refund, the disgusted customer is still going around telling everyone that Macs aren't "compatible" after all. Regardless of the fact that it's the PC companies' faults for (still, even here in 2005) shipping PS/2-based peripherals with their many of their low-end models in order to save fourteen cents, the public will still blame Apple. Techincal explanations about the virtues of USB aren't gonna cut it. And should we even address the fact that a Windows-based keyboard has a number of different keys, in different locations, than a Mac-based keyboard? Should we even think about how ugly that's going to get when the poor sap tries to follow directions or get Mac help from a book? Forget about it...

I hope it's not that bad. I rather think it's not. I wasn't even aware they still make non-USB keyboards. Surely even PC manufacturers couldn't be that tacky! Palmer must be exaggerating. Any USB peripherals like keyboards should work fine with any USB Mac, perhaps after downloading a driver. And I'm pretty sure any ordinary monitor will be OK. I use Windows-style keyboards without trouble.

And I for one can see an advantage in buying that cheap Mac Mini precisely so I could afford a fancy expensive monitor. I'm very a visual person, and lust painfully for those big luminous screens. And come to think of it, I've usually replaced our Mac keyboards and mice with Logitech ones. I'm the one who should complain, paying for a bunch of keyboards and mice I don't use.

The recent Mac keyboards are great, by the way, but the ones from a few years ago were too cramped. Mac one-button mice are just for beginners.

I don't know enough to comment, really, except to say that it's sure frustrating when you buy something and then discover you have to buy 3 other things to make it work. Charlene bought one of our boys World of Warcraft for Christmas. It was left to me to install a faster processor in his G-4 to play the game properly. And since it's one of those games where you interact with thousands of other Trolls and Wizards around the globe, you have to subscribe to the service. So the game itself was the cheap part....

But it's a very cool game. I don't play any these days, but I hugely admire the technology. Amazin'.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:30 PM


Alan writes on the current craziness among a considerable proportion of Democrats...

...In this contempt for the electorate, we already see the first stage of a mass descent into madness. During close elections Democrats have taken to cheating on a scale beyond Nixon's dreams; and they do it with clear consciences, for the greater good, while making spurious claims about racial abuses by the opposition. But now the party sees that it cannot cheat its way to power. The electoral tide has begun to run more strongly against it. So Democrats will renounce the very idea of consensual government. Many have already done this in their hearts. That's why they accuse moderate Republicans of being 'extremists.' They are projecting their own impulses, since they believe everyone is motivated by the will to power...

My thought is that we can also see our Constitution's answer to this at work right now. We have a winner-take-all system, Federal, state and local. If you win 48% of the vote in your district, you don't get 48% of the seats in the Reichstag. You get zzzilch. Zip. You get punished.

"Descent into madness" is a very human reaction to losing the world you grew up with, and to losing a privileged position you assumed you would inherit by right of being born "one of the good guys." But now the Dems are going to be punished brutally. They are on a course of implosion: as moderates desert them the crazies gain more power in the party, which will tend to drive out even more moderates.

One's first thought is likely to be, "That's terrible! We need two parties for our system to function." True, but the very extremity of the punishment will be the saving of them. Younger Dems will be forced to re-think. Dems of my (babt-boom) generation are not going to change, but their gray-haired crankiness will become an object-lesson to those who are still mentally flexible. (I on the other hand, am getting younger, politically speaking. A world that had seemed constricted and frozen in old patterns is suddenly opening up into dazzling vistas and possibilities. Picture me jumping and clicking my heels like a kid let out of school.)

Posted by John Weidner at 10:13 AM

January 14, 2005

The leaven...

Orrin links to a great article, The Galileo Legend, by Thomas Lessl, that demolishes the urban legend that "the Catholic Church killed all those scientists..." Nonsense of course, it never killed any scientists (Giordano Bruno was no scientist, and his execution had nothing to do with his Copernican speculations.) The stories of brave truth-seekers crushed by an obscurantist church are historical rubbish, pushed by people who push science as a sort of modernist religion. (And who shed tears and eloquence over Galileo being placed under house-arrest, but have nary a tear for the thousands of scientists killed or imprisoned by socialists.)

...It is not an accident that such complicating factors as this are never discussed in popular scientific accounts. Clearly those who tell this story have strong ideological interests which make the maligning of the Christian Church attractive. A big part of this seems to be the belief shared by such storytellers that the scientific way of life would operate best in a world untroubled by religious belief. In fact one of the main themes of the Galileo legend seems to be the idea that Christianity is an anti-scientific monster, now safely caged, that sought to devour science at the moment of its birth. This in fact is how the story is presented in what is perhaps the most popular treatment of science ever published, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time:
Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science. His renowned conflict with the Catholic Church was central to his philosophy, for Galileo was one of the first to argue that man could hope to understand how the world works, and, moreover, that we could do this by observing the real world.
Since the author of this passage is often compared with Einstein and Newton in the popular press, his readers, (approximately nine million to date), are likely to assume that he is simply telling it like it is. But that conclusion would be wrong. Hawking's genius as a mathematician and theoretical physicist does not make him an historian of any kind. Neither does it lessen the temptation to succumb to a romantic legend that seems to lend itself to his preconceptions...

Hawking's giving us pure bunk as history. But read the whole article, it's worth it...

...A broader reading of scientific history shows that Galileo's mistreatment by his ecclesiastical bosses was an anomaly, a momentary break in an otherwise harmonious relationship. In fact a more complete understanding of the relationship between Christianity and science has suggested to some scholars that Christian belief may have been the leaven that made the development of modern science possible. Modern science, after all, emerged in a most unlikely place, in an adolescent European culture that was only a few hundred years removed from barbarism. Nothing so revolutionary ever developed in the great civilizations of the Middle or Far East, despite their considerable antiquity and sophistication. The reason for this should be quite clear. The founding assumptions of modern science, its belief in a universe that is highly ordered and in a human mind that was created to reach beyond its finitude to grasp the mystery of this order, are premises that are secure only where monotheism has taken root.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:28 PM

Private-sector jobs same as 1950...

My idea is we arrest all the leftizoids and not let them go until they memorize this article:

When considering the Swedish model, one can be forgiven for thinking of a comely statuesque blond with blue eyes. However, to economists and policy junkies, the Swedish model refers to the "third way" between socialism and capitalism many on the American left laud as the ideal.

Does the Swedish model work as advertised? According to a new paper by the highly regarded Swedish economist, Nils Karlson, the "model has become quite different from what was intended and to what many people still believe to be the case."

The extent of the failure of the Swedish model are both shocking and little known. For example, no new net jobs have been produced in the Swedish private sector since 1950. (By contrast, the U.S. created more than 60 million new private-sector jobs during the same period, from 52 million in 1950 to about 115 million in 2002.) "None of top 50 companies on the Stockholm stock exchange has been started since 1970."

Again, contrast this with the U.S. where many of our biggest companies had not been born or known of in 1970, such as Microsoft, Intel, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Cisco, etc., Mr. Karlson's litany of failures of the Swedish model include: "Sweden has dropped from fourth to 14th place in 2002 among the OECD countries (i.e., affluent industrialized countries) in terms of GDP per capita since 1970."....(thanks to

What's really frustrating is that countries like Sweden (Germany's another) developed their mighty industrial economies while they had LOW TAXES and a lot of capitalist freedom. Then the Socialists take over, the economy plateaus, but all the leftniks get to spend the next 40 years saying "Look how well Sweden works. We should emulate their success."

I suspect one reason the lefty caterpillars are acting so demented these days is because that claim is almost exhausted. Because ALL the economies that are supposedly more successful than us brutal free-enterprise types are looking like beached whales.

Posted by John Weidner at 9:00 PM

Visiting the City...

My daughter converses with a young girl visiting from Australia...

So how do you like San Francisco so far?
It's wonderful. I especially liked the street with the rainbow flags. It's so decorative.
Uh, you know what that's all about, don't you?
No, what?
That's the Castro District where all the gay people live and work.
You keep them
secluded ????
No no no, they like it there....
Posted by John Weidner at 6:29 PM

#173: Krug's own retirement plan is like that...


In The British Invasion (01/14/05) Paul Krugman comes up with a scare story of his own based on the UK's experience with private accounts. Here is his summary taken from one source:

"Many Britons were sold badly designed retirement plans on false pretenses. Companies guilty of "mis-selling" were eventually forced to pay about $20 billion in compensation. Fraud aside, the fees paid to financial managers have been a major problem: "Reductions in yield resulting from providers' charges," the Pensions Commission says, "can absorb 20-30 percent of an individual's pension savings."

American privatizers extol the virtues of personal choice, and often accuse skeptics of being elitists who believe that the government makes better choices than individuals. Yet when one brings up Britain's experience, their story suddenly changes: they promise to hold costs down by tightly restricting the investments individuals can make, and by carefully regulating the money managers. So much for trusting the people."

If there really is a problem here (we'd like to look into the UK system more before commenting) it seems to be a combination of fraud and fee greed. But Krugman admits that the American initiative has an answer for both problems by restricting investments to an approved list of low cost funds. He poo-poos that as not "trusting the people." But not trusting them to do what? Pick individual stocks? The evidence is that even experts have a tough time doing that–hence the rapid growth of index funds. Furthermore, the nation's teachers and college professors including Paul Krugman have a retirement plan at TIAA-Cref that is set up exactly along the lines Krugman is now knocking for lack of choice. You can read about it here. But the following table gives a quick overview of Krugman's Choice along with associated fees. It's certainly a broad and sensible choice. We can't vouch for the fees because we didn't calculate them ourselves, but they seem very reasonable as well (nothing over 0.5 %). So tell us, PK, if a program like this is good enough for you, why can't all workers have a piece of the action if they want it?

Krugman's Choice expense charges chart

[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 10:26 AM

The "enlightened" will guide us...

Big Trunk at Powerline has a don't-miss piece on the televised debate between Justices Scalia and Breyer on efforts to interpret our laws and Constitution based on "international opinion," as reflected in court decisions and legislative enactments in other countries. This is important, and it needs to be brought out into the light...

...I yield to no one in my regard for Professor Reynolds, but he misses the boat here. Justice Scalia made the same point in the debate, as the AP notes: "If justices believe foreign judgments are decisive on these moral cases, they should ban abortion since most other countries do so, Scalia said."

But no one imagines that liberal justices searching for "enlightened" world opinion will find it in statutes banning abortion, mandating capital punishment, etc., no matter how widespread such statutes may be. The diabolical nature of the "internationalist" school of Constitutional interpretation lies, in part, in the fact that there is no standard by which Supreme Court justices choose that facet of world opinion that is "enlightened," except their own prejudices...

"Diabolical" is a good word for it. The essence of being a Liberal is that one "knows" what is good for other people. And Liberals are maddeningly impervious to logical arguments to the contrary, because they are the "enlightened," they just know. The left has used the courts in this country to impose much of their agenda that they can't pass in "un-enlightened" legislatures and elections. The "internationalist" approach would cut the courts free from law and precedent and the Constitution, since they could always find some foreign law that fits what "enlightened" circles already think.

He quotes Breyer:

"U.S. law is not handed down from on high even at the U.S. Supreme Court," he said. "The law emerges from a conversation with judges, lawyers, professors and law students. ...

How clubby. How congenial. The law will "emerge" from conversations among the elite.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:19 AM

January 13, 2005

We need more Presidents with MBA's

Cool cool cool cool cool...way too cool..........

PRESIDENT BUSH HAS PROPOSED WHAT appears at first glance to be a relatively modest agenda of health care reforms. But if passed by Congress in its entirety, the administration's plan would fundamentally restructure the health care system. It would turn upside down--actually, rightside up--almost all of the current perverse economic incentives that plague the U.S. health care system.

And that's why the president will get nothing but hand-wringing, nay-saying, and eye-rolling from the liberals and elitists.

Make no mistake: The battle over health care reform is a battle of competing visions about markets, individual responsibility, and accountability. Can people make good, value-conscious decisions in the health care marketplace? Or must we all rely on someone--a bureaucrat, politician, academic, or clerk--to make health care decisions for us?

Will President Bush's ownership society extend to patients and the health care system, or will the nannies seek to undermine the president's plan and resume their drive toward government-run health care?

To understand the problems inherent in the U.S. health care system, you must first understand that it is fraught with perverse incentives. Fix the incentives and you will largely fix the system....

Wow. MORE stuff for the second term. And Bush hasn't even been inaugurated yet. This stuff takes my breath away. We were promised reform of the tax code and SS.. And now there are these other "Oh by the way" things, such as this, plus extending NCLB.

Makes me wonder if he's trying to do too much. But I trust the President's political skills. I can imagine the collectivists burning up all their fury and political capital stopping Social Security reform, while these other things sneak under the radar.

(Thanks to JuddBlog)

Posted by John Weidner at 11:26 AM


Here's a good example of a "Fisking." J.S.Bridges, one of Bill Quick's new co-bloggers, demolishes an NYT editorial that proposes solving Iraq's problems by postponing the elections... BDS strikes again; If Bush is for something, then the NYT is against it, even though it means agreeing with terrorists...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:28 AM

January 12, 2005

Splendid clarity....

I highly recommend Norman Podhoretz's The War against World War IV, in the September Commentary. He looks at the many forces ranged against the Bush Doctrine; isolationists of both Left and Right, Liberal Internationalists, Realists, extreme-hawks like Angelo M. Codevilla...and of course all the world's tyrants and terrorists. It is a daunting catlog, and yet Podhoretz is soberly optimistic.

This is from the section on foreign-policy "Realists:"

...Until 9/11, the realists undoubtedly represented the single most influential school of thought in the world of foreign policy, with all others considered naïve or dangerous or both (though a patronizing pass might occasionally be given to liberal internationalists). It would not be going too far to say that for everyone of any great importance in that world, whether as a theorist or a practitioner, the realist perspective was axiomatic. And being, as it were, the default position, it was almost automatically adopted by George W. Bush, too, in his pre-9/11 incarnation. But on 9/11, Bush’s more or less reflexive realism took so great a hit that it collapsed in flames just as surely as did the Twin Towers.

Bush made no secret of his repudiation of realism, and he did not pussyfoot around it:

For decades, free nations tolerated oppression in the Middle East for the sake of stability. In practice, this approach brought little stability and much oppression, so I have changed this policy.

That took care of the first guiding precept of the realist perspective. And Bush was equally forthright—almost brutal—in giving the back of his hand to the realist prohibition against using force to transform the internal character of other states:

Some who call themselves realists question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be any concern of ours. But the realists in this case have lost contact with a fundamental reality: America has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat; America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.

Farewell, then, to cuius regio eius religio as well.....

Podhoretz (like me) has a lot of faith in President Bush and in the strength of the American people. He reminds us of how, in WWIII (the Cold War) anti-communists like Whittaker Chambers thought that Americans "were sure that we lacked the stomach, the heart, the will, and the wit to stand effectively against the Soviet Union and its allies and sympathizers." They were wrong then, and there is reason to feel hopeful that the doubters are wrong now.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:41 PM

Butterfly caught in hat.....


        To Julia

I caught a swallow-tail inside my hat
To send you in a letter, redolent
Of sun and savage mountains, blossom too,
Lush grass and teeming flowers, bringing you
The Alpine breath:—
              But when I picked him out
He glowed so fiercely, not a feather dimmed,
His six legs waving protest, could I kill him?
Brilliant his blue eye-spots; his wings were saffron:
It would have been a blasphemy against Day.
He was life-holy. so I let him soar
Up, if he wished, to meet the glinting glacier.
He must shine, if he will, upon my page.

     --Joseph Braddock

Posted by John Weidner at 5:46 PM

Channeling Tom McC...

Californians, do you remember Tom McClintock? The conservative Republican who ran against Schwarzenegger and Davis in the recall election? He's still around, and still a very interesting politician. This is from an article by Daniel Weintraub in the Sacramento Bee...

...For the next year, McClintock watched from the Senate as Schwarzenegger learned the ropes in the Capitol, compromised with Democrats, avoided confrontation and, in the end, made little progress on the fundamental problems that bedeviled the state. The senator offered muted criticism when appropriate, support where he could.

Then, Wednesday night, suddenly everything changed. It was if the flashy governor were channeling his straight-laced colleague. Schwarzenegger's speech sounded almost as if McClintock had written it.

"Maybe I should have copyrighted some of my ideas," McClintock said with a laugh when I asked him later about the resemblance...

Gotta love it. Looks like we get a twofer, Arnold Schwarzenegger plus Arnold McClintock. Any lefty-pundits out there who have been claiming that "liberal" Republican Schwarznnegger is an indicator that the Republican Party should move left and try to avoid being captured by "radicals" (ie: 90% of the Party) should just ignore this development....

Posted by John Weidner at 5:25 PM

January 11, 2005

#172: a bare-knuckles political brawl


Paul Krugman is like a guy with a recording of just one song. All he can do for variety is turn up the volume. In The Iceberg Cometh (01/11/05) he turns it up just about all the way. However, his message is the same: Bush is creating a massive problem by trying to solve a non-existent or minor problem. He's said this all before and we've responded to it all before, so we thought it might be interesting to discuss in this report why Krugman's position is going to lose politically.

Once again Krugman and the Democrats have "misunderestimated" the president. This is how we think Bush is going to win:

First, he's going to neutralize the older workers in their fifties and up by assuring them that absolutely nothing will change regarding their Social Security benefits. This may not mollify the AARP completely, but it will certainly make their opposition seem rather pointless.

Second, with the older folks off the table, Bush will turn to younger workers knowing two things:

A substantial majority do not believe SS will be there for them when they retire, and A substantial majority believe private accounts are a good idea.

To complete the deal about all Bush has to do is convince them that they trading away a benefit they don't believe they'll ever receive for a private account that they will actually own NOW. He will have to phrase this point delicately, but it seems like a no-brainer to us.

The financing piece may be a little more difficult to promote since some borrowing will be necessary to pay for the much discussed transition to private accounts, i.e., if payroll taxes are to be diverted from the Social Security income rate (pay in) to build private accounts, then government securities must be issued to maintain the cost rate (payout). See the chart in Squad Report # 171. This will give rise to no end of demagoguery by Krugman and the Democrats about Bush's fiscal irresponsibility.

What Bush has to do here is point out that if the government kept their books correctly there would be no de facto increase in total debt because of private accounts. That is, if the entire unfunded obligation of Social Security were recognized for what it is – debt – then the transition cost is a wash, i.e., zero, because the debt incurred to fund private accounts simply replaces dollar for dollar the implied debt of the total unfunded Social Security liability. Anyone who has refinanced a home recently to gain a lower mortgage rate should pick up on this reality rather easily.

Finally, and possibly most important, this is going to be a bare-knuckles political brawl.

The Democrats seem to have forgotten what a human battering-ram the president can turn into when he really wants something. When he hits the road and starts selling his reform ideas against an opposition, including Krugman and Co., whose biggest idea is to do nothing, we expect the tide will begin to turn. When it does turn, there are several red state Democratic Senators with elections coming up whose butts will be hanging out pretty far. What will they do to avoid the fate of Tom Daschle, the "great obstructer?" Probably cut a deal.

Anyway, it should be fun to watch and hear. And may take a dog whistle to measure Krugman's shrillness as defeat approaches.

[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 9:57 PM

Old women in black...

Fayrouz writes:

I'm tired of browsing the Western media, which LOVE to show the ugliest Iraqi women on their newspapers and TV stations. I sometimes wonder if their photographers look specifically for Iraqi women covered in black...

She's posted a picture of some pretty college girls as another view...

What fascinates me is how the news media absorb a certain way of telling one type of story, and then repeat it over and over. I'm sure political bias is part of it; if Al Gore had invaded Iraq we would have found the women to be much prettier.

But the editors and photographers don't so much look for pictures of women in black, rather those pictures seem right to them, because they fit the story-line. An old granny in black next to a pile of rubble IS Iraq. Pictures of smiling attractive Iraqis are probably just invisible to them; they are rejected without a thought. And if you asked the editor why he didn't use pictures of happy Iraqis he would probably tell you that he'd never seen any.

(thanks to Dean's World)

Posted by John Weidner at 12:54 PM

January 10, 2005

Stuck in the mud...

You've doubtless heard about the floods and mudslides in Southern California. My poor wife and daughter were visiting in Ojai, and are now stuck in a motel there because mudslides have closed the road out.

But they haven't suffered any real difficulties, except for brief power outages. They are only a few miles from La Conchita, where mudslides have left 2 dead and 12 people missing

* Update: They are heading home...but from LA! after many hours of trying they escaped from Ojai, but could only go south. They will be coming home via US 5

Posted by John Weidner at 7:33 PM

Experimental control

I see that the report on Rathergate says that there is no evidence that there was any political agenda at work.

Well, we can hardly expect them to go beyond the evidence, can we? And good scientific evidence is hard to provide, there's no "control" in this experiment, no alternative version we can compare with. We just don't know whether CBS would have done things differently is it had been a Democrat candidate in the crosshairs...

Isn't it a pity no one accused John Kerry of having irregularities in his military service....

* Update: The big bloggers are all over this, so I won't try to say anything profound. One thing I found interesting was the Monves memo to CBS employees. [posted at the Anchoress, via PoliPundit.] Boy, was John Ellis ever right, when he predicted that Mary Mapes would be to blame for all. Phooey. I'm sure top management knew perfectly well that Mapes was pursuing Bush with the greed and fury of a wild pig. They were happy to let it happen, and so have betrayed the OWNERS of CBS (Yeah, you forgot about them guys, right? You may be an owner. Your mutual funds or pension plan may include a morsel of Viacom. In which case Mr Monves and Mr Rather work for you. So how do you feel about them diminishing the value of your assets to pursue a hobby-vendetta?)

Posted by John Weidner at 2:40 PM

Sign of the times...

Reader Denis Hiller sent a link to a horrifying story of a young Christian girl driven to suicide by harassment on campus...

...Instead of being nurtured, this young Christian was savagely attacked, instead of being educated, she was harassed and ridiculed and made to feel less than human because she dared to identify against the evils she saw in the society in which she lived. She spoke out against abortion, declaring it murder; she was asked if she ate meat, when she replied yes, she was verbally assaulted and called a murderer. When she returned to her dorm, she found a dead mouse, a string around its neck, pinned to her door.

She was sexually harassed as well. When she declared that she was a virgin and was proud of it, she found used condoms had been thrown all over her dorm room, the dried semen sticking to her clothing in her closet, all over her dresser and mirror. Someone had written a message across her mirror in red paint that she needed to get her “cherry popped.” She called home; her parents called the school and they were assured the matter would be looked into and the students that were responsible would be punished. Not only was no one held accountable, but her academic advisor told her she needed to “grow up.” Several of her professors openly mocked her in class for her pro-life, pro-Christian stance...

When you hear about the "culture of death," here it is. That girl was hated. Because she was Christian. And we see this every day; right now there is a lawsuit to try to forbid a prayer at the Inauguration. It's hated of Christianity, though the usual lying formula is that one is worried about America "becoming a theocracy." Which is rubbish; even when 95% of Americans were Christian we never became anything like a theocracy. Or one is protecting the sacred "separation of church and state." But that's more lying rubbish, what the Constitution forbade is a state church; it didn't call for an atheist government. The very Congress that wrote the Bill of Rights began by hiring a chaplain to open its sessions with prayer.

My theory is that the roots of this hatred lie in the fact that God loves the plumber just as much as He loves the professor or the politician; and He loves the burglar just as much as he loves the bishop. And this grates agonizingly on "leftish" or "progressive" or "reality-based" types, whose schemes invariably include superior people telling the inferior people what to do (for their own good, of course.)

WORD NOTE: The phrase "establishment of religion," by the way, meant very precisely a state church, it is still used in Britain, where people discuss "disestablishing" the Church of England. The C of E is what our founders didn't want, and many of them, such as the Virginians, had painful memories of being forced to pay tithes to support it, even if they belonged to another denomination which they supported with voluntary offerings.

* UPDATE: Andrea is sceptical. (See comment.) Her points are pretty powerful, perhaps we should put this in the "unproved" file. Though the inaction of the administration would not be at all unusual. I remember what happened a couple of years ago at nearby SFSU—when some Palestinian students attacked some Jewish students, they were "punished" by having an Islamic Studies Department created...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:42 AM

January 9, 2005

Some day I'll get even....

When I'm made Dictator of the World, I will probably be a mild and benevolent despot. With one exception: the bozos who run Borders Bookstores are in for a rough time.

I hate them bitterly for forcing me to listen to loud multicultural music while trying to find something to read. The cells they will be kept in will be very uncomfortable and very NOISY.

Posted by John Weidner at 12:49 PM

Today's quote

from a super column by Marc Steyn:

As usual, the media did their best to string along with the Democrats' alternative reality. For the most part, the press now fulfill the same function for the party that kindly nurses do at the madhouse; if the guy thinks he's Napoleon, just smile affably and ask him how Waterloo's going...
Posted by John Weidner at 11:09 AM

January 8, 2005

"that one insouciant phrase"

Natalie is back and has a nifty post on several books. Including this on Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel, with reference to the way so many history books just assume that political unity is a good thing, and that Alexander's failure to create an enduring empire was a tragedy...

...He discusses (on pages 412 –417) the fact that, because China was a unified empire, just one lousy decision, the result of a forgotten power struggle between two court factions, was enough to scrap China’s ocean–going fleets. Contrast that with the way that Columbus, living in a Europe of competing nations, could importune king after king until he hit on someone to back his voyage over the ocean.

Diamond writes:
“Europe’s barriers were sufficient to prevent political unification, but insufficient to halt the spread of technology and ideas. There has never been one despot who could turn off the tap for all of Europe, as of China.”

“The real problem in understanding China’s loss of political and technological pre-eminence to Europe is to understand China’s chronic unity and Europe’s chronic disunity.”
I fell in love with that one insouciant phrase, “chronic unity”. It turns on their heads a hundred Ladybird books, a thousand editions of Blue Peter and a million billion trillion historicist books and newspaper columns...

I haven't read Diamond's book, and now Natalie has made it sound very intriguing. Thanks!

There is a similar vein of thought in Wm. McNeill's fascinating book The Pursuit of Power : Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000. He makes the same point about the huge advantage of European disunity, especially in regard to military tactics and technology.

He sees the invention of cannon creating large "gunpowder empires" (Ottoman, Mogul, Ming, Tokagawa, Muscovite etc) across much of the world. These empires had no use for further military invention or change, and no great need for a flourishing mercantile economy.

...The one exception is Europe, where new fortifications were invented to stymie artillery. These had the effect of preserving many small states from consolidation into one empire. A crucial moment was a siege of Pisa by Florence in 1500, where shattered walls were replaced by earthworks, which were discovered to have the advantage of absorbing cannon balls harmlessly. These quickly developed into the expensive star-shaped fortifications typical of 17th and 18th Century Europe.

...In western Europe, on the contrary, improvements in weapons design continued to be eagerly sought after. Whenever anything new really worked, it spread from court to court, shop to shop, and camp to camp with quite extraordinary rapidity. Not surprisingly, therefore, the equipment and training of European armed forces soon began to outstrip those of other parts of the civilized world. Western Europe's emerging battlefield superiority became apparent to the Ottoman Turks in the war of 1593-1606, when, for the first time, Turkish cavalry met disciplined infantry gunfire. The Russians discovered a similar gap....in the Livonian War (1557-82)....

Even more disruptive than any arms race was the need by these smallish states to allow their merchants to flourish in order to grow enough of a tax-base to pay for the new military technologies. A Chinese emperor could tax and regulate merchants to keep them from growing wealthy beyond their proper humble station. A European king who tried that would see his country's trade melting away, and mysteriously re-congealing in Amsterdam or Venice or London....

Posted by John Weidner at 2:05 PM

The real torturers they don't care about...

PowerLine effectively demolishes the story that Alberto Gonzales is some sort of "torture advocate." You should just read it. Gonzales and the Administration are being smeared, and I'm sure your grandchildren will be hearing as a "fact" that the Bush Administration advocated torture.

Once again Democrats have decided that telling lies that hurt Americans and help terrorists is to their political advantage. And I predict that, after the next election, when Dems once again try to figure out where they went wrong, and once again try to come up with a formula that will convince the morons voters that they are trustworthy on national defense, they will once again not consider as a possible solution being for America and against the terrorists and Ba'athists (who really do torture people, with no worry that their Democrat/Media allies will turn against them, or even take notice).

And the venom against Gonzales is largely the same that any minority conservatives get. Dems don't want them slipping off the reservation. But funny thing, every election Republicans get a little more of the Hispanic vote. Maybe somebody's noticing that Bush keeps trying to appoint people with names like Estrada and Gonzales to high office, and Dems keep "discovering" that those candidates are monsters.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:07 AM

I had something I was going to say, but I just can't remember...

There is evidence that the spice Tumeric, which gives Indian dishes (and traditional American mustard) their yellow color, may reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's disease.

I blogged about something similar about 2 years ago. If this line of research is still active, there may well be something to it...

(Thanks to Roger Simon)

Posted by John Weidner at 6:27 AM

Nice story...

Thirteen years ago the USS Abraham Lincoln provided disaster relief after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Phillipines. It also evacuated US citizens, including 6-year old Joviena Kay. Her father was in the US Navy, and her mother ran a bar in Olongapo City.

Now Joviena is a sailor on that same ship, helping with the rescue efforts in Sumatra

...Like almost everyone on board, Joviena volunteered to help in the relief operation ashore, loading food and water onto helicopters and carrying the injured being evacuated from ruined villages. But she and the other kitchen workers have been banned from entering a potentially disease-ridden area for fear of food contamination.

Joviena, who hopes to finish her college degree in the United States, says she works up to 14 hours a day, and in some ways doesn't live as well as she did as a little evacuee, when she ate in the officers' mess and slept in their quarters. She has a narrow bunk in a crowded room shared with 12 other sailors, and the daily call for "Happy Hour" means it's time to scrub the decks and sweep the floors...
(Thanks to Ed)
Posted by John Weidner at 6:10 AM

January 7, 2005

Good slam...

Thanks to Alan, I followed a chain of links to a great post by Varifrank...

...Today, during an afternoon conference that wrapped up my project of the last 18 months, one of my Euro collegues tossed this little turd out to no one in particular: "See, this is why George Bush is so dumb, there's a disaster in the world and he sends an Aircraft Carrier..."

After which he and many of my Euro collegues laughed out loud.

and then they looked at me. I wasn't laughing, and neither was my Hindi friend sitting next to me, who has lost family in the disaster.

I'm afraid I was "unprofessional", I let it loose -

"Hmmm, let's see, what would be the ideal ship to send to a disaster, now what kind of ship would we want? Something with its own inexhuastible power supply? Something that can produce 900,000 gallons of fresh water a day from sea water? Something with its own airfield? So that after producing the fresh water, it could help distribute it?

Something with 4 hospitals and lots of open space for emergency supplies?...

It's worth reading...

Posted by John Weidner at 11:44 AM

January 6, 2005

Mobile phones...

Any recommendations for cell-phone service? Our family plus Charlene's firm share a T-Mobile account, and we are not thrilled with it. We will likely switch when the contract ends.

We are not power-users, we tend to prefer things that are simple and just work without fuss. Though I might want to get a camera-phone. Since starting blogging I seem to see a lot of the oddest things, but never while carrying a camera...(This is one of them. I had to go home and come back with camera)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:51 PM

"Only Iraqis can liberate themselves..."

Darn that Tom Friedman. Never fails, I complain that he's full of malarky and then he comes out with something brilliant. Such as this column on elections in Iraq (Thanks to Glenn Reynolds, who I think has the same view of Friedman)

...What the Bush team has done in Iraq, by ousting Saddam, was not to "liberate" the country - an image and language imported from the West and inappropriate for Iraq - but rather to unleash the latent civil war in that country. Think of shaking a bottle of Champagne and then uncorking it....

....The civil war we want is a democratically elected Iraqi government against the Baathist and Islamist militants. It needs to be clear that these so-called insurgents are not fighting to liberate Iraq from America, but rather to reassert the tyranny of a Sunni-Baathist minority over the majority there. The insurgents are clearly desperate that they not be cast as fighting a democratically elected Iraqi government - which is why they are desperately trying to scuttle the elections. After all, if all they wanted was their fair share of the pie, and nothing more, they would be taking part in the elections.

We cannot liberate Iraq, and never could. Only Iraqis can liberate themselves, by first forging a social contract for sharing power and then having the will to go out and defend that compact against the minorities who will try to resist it...

I get really annoyed at people who harp about how we've "failed" in Iraq because we haven't defeated the terrorists, or brought tranquility and happiness and enough electricity. That's not our job, that's not what we are trying to do. These things are tasks for the people of Iraq, and our job is to only to make things steady enough that they can start to do them.

We want Iraq to show the Arab world another path, to show how an Arab country can start acting like the grown-ups. We don't need Iraq to be an example of the administration of American charity and patronage, or an example of a helpless country that gets "fixed" by outsiders. A point that's probably opaque to the sort of people who don't even want the American people to be self-reliant.

Posted by John Weidner at 8:54 PM

January 5, 2005

Muddying pools...

Good point by Jim Geraghty on the rumored possibility that Barbara Boxer may challenge the results of the Electoral College:

...For Boxer and any other Democrats to go forward with this move would be bad for the country... but great for Republicans.

It would be bad for the country because it would give Fidel Castro, Kim Jong-Il, and every other dictator and foe of democracy a convenient talking point to accuse America's democratic system of being illegitimate. (You do know that Castro’s favorite response when asked why Cuba doesn’t have elections is “you mean like Florida?,” right?) Conspiracy theorists and black-helicopter types would seize the objections as evidence that the election was ‘stolen’, and a bad and false idea would refuse to die...

Actually he should say "bad for the world." It isn't us that Castro is hurting, it's the poor Cubans, and the people who suffer under other dictators and terrorists encouraged by Castro.

Events like the recent triumph of democracy in the Ukraine happen partly because democracy and its champions now have the moral high ground, and an air of inevitability and strength. If Democrats smear and disparage America's elections they will be encouraging despots around the world. And it would be particularly despicable deed because there isn't any rational hope of changing the election results.

All the Democrats are seeking is an excuse to pretend that they are still the majority party, and to block out the knowledge that they are being soundly rejected by the American people. (And Dems of my generation want to block out the knowledge that "the 60's" doesn't mean "cool," it means old, stupid, tacky, discredited, and best forgotten.)

Posted by John Weidner at 9:21 PM

Time is money...

I stumbled on this in a post by Alex Tabarrok:

...Laser eye surgery has the highest patient satisfaction ratings of any surgery, it has been performed more than 3 million times in the past decade, it is new, it is high-tech, it has gotten better over time and... laser eye surgery has fallen in price. In 1998 the average price of laser eye surgery was about $2200 per eye. Today the average price is $1350, that's a decline of 38 percent in nominal terms and slightly more than that after taking into account inflation.

Why the price decline in this market and not others? Could it have something to do with the fact that laser eye surgery is not covered by insurance, not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and not heavily regulated? Laser eye surgery is one of the few health procedures sold in a free market with price advertising, competition and consumer driven purchases. I'm seeing things more clearly already...

Yes. And that's what HSA's are all about. If you are spending your own money on medical care, you spend it carefully. And providers have a big incentive to merit your trust and to keep prices down.

There is another area where medicine has become more efficient because it is market driven. I have several times heard of hospitals that specialize in just one type of operation. I remember reading about one that only repairs hernias. Busy people, especially businessmen, find it worthwhile to travel large distances to use that hospital because recovery time is much shorter than average. I don't remember if it was actually cheaper, but the savings in time is worth money to high-paid individuals.

One of the ways most medical care is costly is in the infuriating amount of our time it wastes. They is no incentive to do otherwise, so the simplest procedure takes hours. I predict that as HSA's become more popular, we will see medical providers coming up with new ways to save our time, and then advertising that to bring in more customers.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:21 PM

January 4, 2005

Alas, alas for England...


The men that worked for England,
They have their graves at home:
And birds and bees of England
About the cross can roam.

But they that fought for England,
Following a falling star,
Alas, alas for England
They have their graves afar.

And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met,
Alas, alas for England
They have no graves as yet.

by G. K. Chesterton

(thanks to Joe Horn)

Posted by John Weidner at 8:29 PM

Head like a lumber-room...

My mother has told me I have a head stuffed with useless knowledge. That's probably true, but I read long ago about how the sea recedes just before a tsunami (in James Michener's Hawaii, I think it was) and I never forgot that creepy possibility. Might come in handy some day.

Here's the story of a 10 year-old girl who saved her family and 100 people, just because she had that same tidbit of knowledge from having done a school report on tsunamis ( story, her picture). I'l have to remember this, for when my children complain about school projects.)
(Thanks to Jim Miller)

Posted by John Weidner at 4:22 PM

#171: A Ponzi-analysis...


In Stopping the Bum's Rush (01/04/05) Paul Krugman continues his head-in-the-sand series on why there is no Social Security crisis and why the President's privatization initiative is an evil conspiracy to end this venerable entitlement. In this column he tries to explain why the oft-mentioned date of 2018, the date when withdrawals from the SS trust fund are scheduled to begin, is really meaningless and is being used by privatizers as a scare tactic. He implies that his answer today is the "short version" of a much longer explanation written elsewhere (www.bepress.com/ev). We read the other article (which is on a pay site) and found, as we expected, that the long version is the same as the short version. So here's what he has to say about the integrity of the trust fund:

"The short version is that the bonds in the Social Security trust fund are obligations of the federal government's general fund, the budget outside Social Security. They have the same status as U.S. bonds owned by Japanese pension funds and the government of China. The general fund is legally obliged to pay the interest and principal on those bonds, and Social Security is legally obliged to pay full benefits as long as there is money in the trust fund. There are only two things that could endanger Social Security's ability to pay benefits before the trust fund runs out. One would be a fiscal crisis that led the U.S. to default on all its debts. The other would be legislation specifically repudiating the general fund's debts to retirees."

The chart below describes what Krugman is talking about. The upper portion shows that in about 2018 the Social Security cost rate (payout) rises above the income rate (pay in) and stays above it forever given current law. The lower portion of the chart shows the same phenomenon from the perspective of the Social Security balance. The balance swings negative in 2018 as the trust fund begins to be drawn upon

Social Security Chart 1-05-1

What Krugman does not tell us is that this trust fund does not really contain funded assets as he slickly implies, but unfunded treasury debt that is backed by a dedicated payroll tax. This is not that different from a dedicated bridge or turnpike tax. When you need more roads and bridges, you just raise the tax. Of course, for Krugman this is no biggie since he is always ready to raise taxes. But his analysis obscures the main point as to why there is a crisis looming in the first place, namely, that as the trust fund is drawn down beginning in 2018, the dependency ratio – the number of beneficiaries per 100 workers – will be rising sharply. That's the crisis!

Until Krugman acknowledges the crushing taxes that will be required around 2030 on the 2 workers that will be available in the labor force to support each retiree (it's currently about 4 workers per retiree) and makes some attempt to justify these taxes, his ponzi analysis has no credibility.

[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 10:31 AM

"Dead that shall quicken at the call of Spring"


Here in a quiet and dusty room they lie,
Faded as crumbled stone or shifting sand,
Forlorn as ashes, shrivelled, scentless, dry —
Meadows and gardens running through my hand.

Dead that shall quicken at the call of Spring,
Sleepers to stir beneath June’s magic kiss,
Though birds pass over, unremembering,
And no bee seek here roses that were his.

In this brown husk a dale of hawthorn dreams,
A cedar in this narrow cell is thrust
That will drink deeply of a century’s streams,
These lilies shall make summer on my dust.

Here in their safe and simple house of death,
Sealed in their shells a million roses leap;
Here I can blow a garden with my breath,
And in my hand a forest lies asleep.

-- Muriel Stuart

Posted by John Weidner at 7:43 AM

January 2, 2005

What, exactly, does the Archbishop think God should be doing?

* Update to the Update: I got into the actual article [here] and it is indeed nothing like what the news story presented. It's quite good in fact. My apologies to Dr Rowan.

The Archbishop is an idiot...

[The Telegraph's reporters are idiots!]
The Asian tsunami disaster should make all Christians question the existence of God, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, writes in The Telegraph today.

In a deeply personal and candid article, he says "it would be wrong" if faith were not "upset" by the catastrophe which has already claimed more than 150,000 lives. Prayer, he admits, provides no "magical solutions" and most of the stock Christian answers to human suffering do not "go very far in helping us, one week on, with the intolerable grief and devastation in front of us"...(thanks to
Peter Burnet)

I will try to explain this in terms that even a trendizoid lefty bishop can understand: Natural disasters slaughter huge numbers of people all the time. Malaria is just as much a natural disaster as a tsunami. Malaria kills a million people every year. Most of them children under the age of five.

Most people who are educated enough to ponder the mysterious ways of God are aware of things like this. If natural disasters were going to make us question the existence of God, we would have questioned it a long time ago. Most of the people on earth will die of a natural disaster called aging, which seems to be built into our genes.

There is however a type of person to whom nothing is real unless it is at the top of the news on TV. To that sort, a million malaria deaths are no more real than the tree falling unheard in the forest. To them, AIDS is real because it causes celebrity fund-raisers, and colon cancer isn't real because it isn't noticed by Princess Diana. I think that describes the Archbishop.

And what exactly does His Holiness think God should do? Prevent all earthquakes? Prevent only BIG earthquakes? If an earthquake kills 100 people, should we doubt the existence of God because he didn't prevent it? What if 1,500 earthquakes over the course of a decade killed 100 people each? Is that the same as 1 quake killing 150,000? Or is it OK for those little quakes to be under God's radar?

And what about the souls of those killed? I notice the Archbishop makes no reference to them. To me, the Archbishop doesn't sound like someone whose faith has been shaken, he sounds like the village atheist using a disaster to try to shake other people's faith. Or maybe just a headline-grabber using a catastrophe to strike a pose and get some attention.

One more thought. There's another powerful entity that many people have faith in. That creature is government. Tsunami warning systems could have saved many of those who died, and that sort of thing is usually provided by governments. And not by God. I would be much more impressed with the Archbishop's profundity if he were to do some soul-searching about Socialism for a change.

And I'm far more impressed by real Christians (including our President) who just roll up their sleeves and get busy, without a lot of gassy philosophizing...

* UPDATE: Doug Murray says in a comment that the article misrepresents the Archbishop. The Telegraph web-site won't let me into the actual piece, but you are warned...

Posted by John Weidner at 8:50 AM

January 1, 2005

" The USA is going down"

Cliff May writes:

...Ingmar Lee, a Canadian reader, emails me: “Once upon a time, the rules of war said that one army dressed up in red, the other in blue, marched off to a field, faced each other 100 yards apart, and blew each other away. Whoever ran out of ammo first was the loser. This was the respectable way to fight a war. Nevertheless, people soon realized that such combatants were easily beaten the unconventional way.

“Now the world watches the certain defeat of the American military behemoth unfolding again before our very eyes. (Vietnam defeated the U.S. military in the same way.)

“Watching the defeat of the world's most aggressive and violent nation, its largest consumer, its largest polluter, its fattest population, the hugest debtor nation, we know what's going on. The USA is going down, and not just in Iraq.”...

May is discussing Zarqawi and Iraq, but I find the e-mail interesting as an example of misinformation, of a sort we encounter often...So what's wrong with the picture?

  1. The linear warfare of the 18th Century made perfect sense with the weapons (smoothbore muskets) and manpower (peasant rabble) of the time. Unconventional tactics failed then unless the enemy was in a state of unreadiness (ie: Lexington and Concord)
  2. Our military was not defeated in Vietnam. We defeated both the Viet Cong and the NVA, and then withdrew. South Vietnam only fell to communist tyranny after a Democrat congress cut off all military aid to them.
  3. America is not a military "behemoth." We fight with astonishing suppleness and flexibility. Compare the recent clearing of Falluja with the Russian defeat in Grozny.
  4. "The world's most aggressive and violent nation?" How about: the one developed nation that still believes enough in its culture and high traditions to confidently and aggressively attack evildoers with skillful violence.
  5. Pollution? Steadily decreasing for decades, while America-haters ignore the deadly pollution-legacy of Communism, and rapidly rising pollution in the Third World.
  6. Consumption? We've built the largest economy. We deserve to consume the most.
  7. Overweight? We like our chow! And our being overweight is mostly a matter of junk statistics.
  8. Debtors? Funny thing how everybody wants to park their money here...

Actually, about that debt, the little-known truth is that the world is buying our paper in exchange for us handling most of the security costs on Planet Earth. It IS true that if they dumped our paper, we'd be in big trouble. BUT, gee, I guess then we'd just have to mothball our fleet... I'm SURE other countries would be happy to guard the world's sea lanes, and keep China and Taiwan from nuking each other, or India and Pakistan. Hey world, you can run one Carrier Strike Group for only about 4 million dollars a day! We find that 12 or 14 of them is just about right. You'll also need certain frills and extras, like an army and an air force and such.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:37 PM

They need a weblog...

I recently sent phone cards to Walter Reed Army Hospital, in response to an e-mail that was being circulated around the web. I worried at the time that this was the sort of thing that could get out of hand, because there's no way of controlling how far the e-mail circulates. The problem has indeed materialized...

...At Walter Reed , Lee described a 40-by-60-foot storage room nearly filled to its 12-foot ceiling with gifts from across the country. Another office is filled with letters, many of them with phone cards.

Lee said space became scarce about two weeks ago as scores of phone cards arrived, many in response to a widespread e-mail soliciting them.

The naval center, which began running out of space around Thanksgiving, has "bins upon bins upon bins of phone cards," said Jensen-Withey.Awash in a surplus of free phone minutes, both facilities are urging people to stop sending the cards.

Walter Reed is steering future donors to organizations such as the Walter Reed Society, the Fisher House Foundation and the American Red Cross.

Jensen-Withey said monetary donations are better off going to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, Soldiers' Angels, the Armed Forces Foundation and the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society..

They are lucky it didn't get mentioned on Drudge, they would have to buy a new building just to hold the stuff. What these people need is a web site. In fact, they need a blog. I got a paper thank-you letter, but it should have included a request to check with their web site in the future, to see what was currently needed.

Just thinking about this makes me realize what a powerful tool blogs are. Blogs can change from hour to hour, and, with comments, they are a two-way medium. You don't just tell people things, you can also learn from them. And a blog is usually part of the Blogosphere, so its reach can be prodigious.

Posted by John Weidner at 2:51 PM

Eat your heart out, ACLU...

More from the stingy rich-nation front, this time helping the (politically incorrect) Boy Scouts...

The island was for sale, and the Scouts' $1.5-million option had a Dec. 31 deadline. Just over $300,000 had been raised.

Many believed Melita Island was destined to be sold for vacation homes.Then came an anonymous $1 million donation in mid-December and the 2-year-old campaign had new life.

"We were getting so much mail in, and all the mail had money in it," said Smoke Elser, a 70-year-old outfitter and Eagle Scout who worked on the finance campaign. "From $5 up to $50,000, it really helped. We just thank everyone that had anything at all to do with it."

In the last two weeks of December, more than $200,000 was raised in donations and pledges. On Tuesday, the Scouts were still down $150,000 - and careening toward a midnight Friday deadline. By Friday morning, the deficit was down to $30,000 and simply a matter of waiting for the afternoon mail...

When I win the lottery (would be any day now, if only I had bought some tickets) I think I'll spend my time noodling around the Internet and sending out anonymous donations to every cool thing I find. That would be a lot of fun. (Thanks to Quick)

Posted by John Weidner at 12:18 PM


JCoke, guestblogger at Bill Quick's, puts his his finger on it:

....Regardless of the faults and problems of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, they flipped the battlefield from where we were weak--- law enforcement--- to where we are strong, while escaping the shackles our foes had doubtless hoped would restrain us. The only true defense we have against another 9/11 is the credible threat that we will use our military to overthrow governments that support them. Bush, for all his faults, has created that threat...

In war, it doesn't help much to have good tactics if your strategy is wrong. And the right strategy is less important than having the right Grand Strategy. Much of the justification for the Iraq Campaign, and much else we are doing, lies in the realm of Grand Strategy. It has changed the terms of the entire War on Terror.

We've "flipped" the worldview of terror-supporting regimes. The tyrants no longer think of the US as, what was that old phrase, "a pitiful helpless giant," running from Somalia and Lebanon to avoid casualties. Now they are picturing themselves being extracted from a hole in the ground, like Saddam (Or like Dan Rather). Pretty soon, they will get a chance to imagine themselves in the trials in Iraq they will be watching on TV.

And they've also got to be noticing that the frenzied and desperate attempts of their allies in the UN and the Democrat Party and the world's newsrooms have failed utterly to stop the forces of freedom. Everyone now knows that Chirac told Saddam that he could prevent the Coalition from invading Iraq. Failed. Every remaining genocidal dictator in the world, including Kofi, was praying for a Kerry victory, and had it rubbed in his face that this ain't no "parliamentary democracy" we're running here. Winner takes all, Tranzi losers get nothing.

And all these things have also had the positive effect of encouraging those around the world who long for democracy and reform.

One of the big frustrations I've had as a blogger is the difficulty of having a real debate with those who oppose our efforts, because of their their refusal to even admit that there is a Grand Strategic element to discuss. I would, for instance, argue that even if Iraq is "the wrong war at the wrong time and the wrong place," (I don't agree) it would still be a much better move than inaction, just because it has changed the terms the war is being fought on, and forced everyone else to react to us, rather than us reacting to them.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:28 AM

"the bureaucratic crap is forgotten"

The Diplomad blogs anonymously, but from this post it's clear he is posted somewhere in the tsunami area...

...Our regular readers know that this blog is very critical of the Foreign Service and the State Department. But to be fair, I think Americans would be proud of the dedication shown and of the work being done by their Foreign Service, some incredibly competent and energetic USAID workers, and, of course, the US military. Everybody in the Embassy community is giving up leave, canceling long-standing holiday plans, volunteering for every imaginable duty -- including some quite hazardous ones -- and doing incredible work, all to save the lives of people, many of whom a few days ago probably would have been perfectly willing to burn down our Embassy or march against the USA. Most of the bureaucratic crap is forgotten and common sense rules the day. Americans are everywhere in this corner of the Far Abroad doing things that no other country on earth can or will do and at a truly amazing pace. Proud to be an American (and for the Aussies, you, too, can be very proud of your folks who are doing a bang up job -- as the Aussie military always does.)

In stark contrast, the much-vaunted UN humanitarian effort is a disgrace.... (Thanks to
Betsy N)

The UN efforts do look like exactly that. Read the rest.

And here's a new post with more, on how the UN is taking credit for stuff that hardworking Americans and Australians are doing...

Posted by John Weidner at 9:23 AM