Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pretechnological Homesick Blues

Leave it to the spokesman for his generation to wind up sounding like a cranky old man.
In a Rolling Stone magazine cover story, the 67-year-old troubadour rails against modern technology like cell phones, iPods and video games. The man who wrote “The Times They Are A-Changin’” almost 46 years ago evidently thinks the times have changed a little too much.

“It’s peculiar and unnerving in a way to see so many young people walking around with cell phones and iPods in their ears and so wrapped up in media and video games,” Dylan told interviewer Douglas Brinkley, a professor of U.S. history at Rice University in Houston.

“It robs them of their self-identity. It’s a shame to see them so tuned out to real life. Of course they are free to do that, as if that’s got anything to do with freedom. The cost of liberty is high, and young people should understand that before they start spending their life with all those gadgets.”
But doesn't the Twitter era also give a kind of freedom in anonymity? And isn't that what the Sixties were all about?

Terminator: Dislocation

I for one welcome our new robot overlords.
The worker was attempting to repair a machine that lifts heavy rocks when the violence ensued. He thought he disconnected the machine’s power source, but he was mistaken. When the worker approached the machine, it turned on, and grabbed its victim’s head.

Man is apparently no match for machine. Although the worker tried to defend himself, he suffered four broken limbs and nearly lost his life. The company was fined 25,000 kronor ($3,000) for negligent safety precautions, but the robot managed to evade assault charges.
I just hope there's a John Connor in our future...

Toke Free Or Die

New Hampshire gets on board with the Sweet Leaf Revolution:
Critically and terminally ill patients would be able to use marijuana to ease their pain under a bill the Senate passed today.

By a 14-10 vote, the Senate approved House Bill 648, which allows patients with approval from both their doctors and the state to have up to two ounces and six plants of marijuana. The law allows a patient to designate one caregiver to grow or possess marijuana for them. They can also obtain the drug from another certified patient.

The bill also sets up a commission to study whether the state should create a system for distributing medicinal marijuana, and the issues that state involvement would raise.
I really believe decriminalization is coming for all fifty states, regardless of how the worn-out drug warriors would decry otherwise. This is a libertarian moment in the making.

This Office For Sale

The past is never far away:
A former Justice Department grant-making administrator violated federal ethics and procurement rules in awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in sole source contracts to ideologically favored companies and individuals, the department’s inspector general concluded today.

The administrator, J. Robert Flores, was a political appointee during former president George Bush’s administration who left his post after the inauguration in January. The department’s public integrity section declined to pursue civil or criminal charges against Flores after ethics watchdogs forwarded their findings, investigators said.
But hey, I'm sure that at the time Bush thought he was doing a heckuva job.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When The Punishment Fits The Politically Correct Crime

The Matthew Shepherd Act has been passed by Congress (speaking of things the Republicans could have stopped if they'd gotten their act together sooner). As Reason notes:
Aside from the usual problems with hate crime laws, which punish people for their ideas by making sentences more severe when the offender harbors politically disfavored antipathies, this bill federalizes another huge swath of crimes that ought to be handled under state law, creating myriad opportunities for double jeopardy by another name. The changes would make it much easier for federal prosecutors who are displeased by an acquittal in state court to try, try again, as they did in the Rodney King and Crown Heights riot cases. They simply have to argue that the crime was committed 'because of' the victim's membership in one of the listed groups.
Preferential treatment of anyone on the basis of gender or race-regardless of the circumstances-is always a bad idea. The law wasn't intended to set people apart or classify them into preferred groups...but, as is the case with most liberal legislation, however well-intentioned, that's what happens. Crime is crime-the perpetrators don't care how politically correct their victims are. Why should the law?

Why Specter Quit

The numbers really say it all:
When you are looking for clues as to where the two parties stand politically there is only one number to remember: 21.

That's the percent of people in the Post/ABC survey who identified themselves as Republicans, down from 25 percent in a late March poll and at the lowest ebb in this poll since the fall of 1983(!).

In that same poll, 35 percent self-identified as Democrats and 38 percent called them Independents.
Can the Republicans recover from this massive internal bleeding? 2012 may well be their 1964...but can they still get a 1968 afterwards? When the purge doesn't save them, then what?

Life After the Purge

Frum responds the way a concerned conservative should:
For a long time, the loudest and most powerful voices in the conservative world have told us that people like Specter aren’t real Republicans - that they don’t belong in the party. Now he’s gone, and with him the last Republican leverage within any of the elected branches of government.

For years, many in the conservative world have wished for an ideologically purer GOP. Their wish has been granted. Happy?
I know tht Rush and Hannity are, but their glee may be short-lived when they realize the GOP can't block legislation or win elections anymore.

Got Salad?

A vegetarian laments:
The most difficult part of being vegetarian is the misconception that we judge or, worse, want to convert meat-eaters, an assumption I blame on PETA's vitriolic ad campaigns, which suggest a mindset of herbivore heroes versus carnivorous villains.

When I tell someone about my diet, their first reaction is almost always to apologize, as if even mentioning meat to me were like telling an evangelical Christian they'd performed an abortion that morning for fun. 'You know,' they always tell me, 'I barely eat meat, and I'm seriously considering becoming a vegetarian.'
As a meat-and-cheeseburgers guy I sympathize with those sincere veggies who only have the PETA loons to "Speak" for them. Their problem is, there's no one on their side to counter the loons...kind of like the Republican Party.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh No He Din't!

In case you hadn't heard, Phil Spector has jumped ship.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter will switch his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and announced today that he will run in 2010 as a Democrat, according to a statement he released this morning.

Specter's decision would give Democrats a 60 seat filibuster proof majority in the Senate assuming Democrat Al Franken is eventually sworn in as the next senator from Minnesota. (Former senator Norm Coleman is appealing Franken's victory in the state Supreme Court.)
'I have decided to run for re-election in 2010 in the Democratic primary,' said Specter in a statement. 'I am ready, willing and anxious to take on all comers and have my candidacy for re-election determined in a general election.'

He added: 'Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.'

President Obama was informed of Specter's decision at around 10:25 a.m., according to White House officials, and reached out to the senator minutes later to tell him 'you have my full support,' and we are 'thrilled to have you.'
He may have been pretty useless as a Senator, but he was there in a swing state where the republicans are on life support. And with the national party in freefall according to the polls, the GOP needed all the help it could get. This is what happens when you only want those who are ideologically pure enough to suit your needs. Pretty soon you're a party of none.

An Outbreak By Any Other Name

Politically correct, or just prudent?
U.S. pork producers are finding that the name of the virus spreading from Mexico is affecting their business, prompting U.S. officials to argue for changing the name from swine flu.

At a news briefing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took pains to repeatedly refer to the flu as the 'H1N1 virus.'

'This is not a food-borne illness, virus. It is not correct to refer to it as swine flu because really that's not what this is about,' Vilsack said.

Israel has already rejected the name swine flu, and opted to call it 'Mexico flu.' Jewish dietary laws forbid eating pork.

The Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health also objected to the name, saying the virus contains avian and human components and no pig so far has been found ill with the disease.

And there is growing sentiment in the farm sector to call it the North American virus -- although disease expert Anthony Fauci told a Senate hearing the 'swine flu' designation reflected scientific naming protocol.

For U.S. pork producers the swine flu name has hurt, forcing government officials into the position of stressing that American pork is safe to eat and that other countries should not ban imports.
It may be technically correct to say it's not caused by pigs per se, but the pigs themselves don't seem to care. And if it gets worse, does it really matter where it came from?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cheney '08?

Ross Douthat wonders what might have been-and if his loss would have been better for the GOP:
Imagine for a moment that he’d had that chance. Imagine that he’d damned the poll numbers, broken his oft-repeated pledge that he had no presidential ambitions of his own, and shouldered his way into the race. Imagine that Republican primary voters, more favorably disposed than most Americans to Cheney and the administration he served, had rewarded him with the nomination.
....

As a candidate, Cheney would have doubtless been as disciplined and ideologically consistent as McCain was feckless. In debates with Barack Obama, he would have been as cuttingly effective as he was in his encounters with Joe Lieberman and John Edwards in 2000 and 2004 respectively. And when he went down to a landslide loss, the conservative movement might – might! – have been jolted into the kind of rethinking that’s necessary if it hopes to regain power.

If a Cheney defeat could have been good for the Republican Party; a Cheney campaign could have been good for the country. The former vice-president’s post-election attacks on Obama are bad form, of course, under the peculiar rules of Washington politesse. But they’re part of an argument about the means and ends of our interrogation policy that should have happened during the general election and didn’t – because McCain wasn’t a supporter of the Bush-era approach, and Obama didn’t see a percentage in harping on the topic.
I think Douthat has an interesting point here-Cheney acts now as if he's running for office, perhaps regretting that he didn't give it a go after all. But is that where the debate belongs? Cheney probably should have made his points as a candidate. I would still have thought he was wrong, but at least the Republican Party could have gotten him out of its system and he wouldn't be out there sounding like an apologist for the worst excesses of the Bush administration now. And the GOP might have started rebuilding its "Brand" earlier, instead of trying to figure out how to move forward now.

Planes, Trains, And Photo-Ops

OK, now for an administration that's supposed to be smarter than the last one, this was pretty clueless:
Moving to fend off outrage from New York officials, the White House military director apologized for flying Air Force One and an accompanying fighter jet low near Ground Zero as part of a photo shoot Monday.

President Barack Obama was not aboard when the huge 747 Air Force jet buzzed across Lower Manhattan, prompting evacuations, 911 calls and frightful memories of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he had not been informed of the flight and was “furious” over the incident. And Obama was reported by an aide to be just as angry when he learned of the incident.

'The good news is it was nothing more than an inconsiderate, badly conceived and insensitive photo op with the taxpayers' money,' Bloomberg said, echoing the comments of Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and other New York officials.

The director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, said New York and New Jersey officials had been notified about “mission,” though he acknowledged it had caused “confusion and disruption.”

“I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused,” Caldera said in a statement issued by the White House press office.
It kind of makes you wonder how they'd handle an actual emergency, doesn't it?

We Had to Destroy the Neighborhood In Order to Save It From The IMF

Matt Welch asks why anti-capitalist protesters hate poor neighborhoods:
Considering that some of the deadliest urban riots in United States history were epicentered just five blocks north up 14th St., and that the neighborhood is only now getting around to coming back, demonstrating against the IMF by creating a plywood-on-window-frames situation in an area that has long suffered from violence and blight is like...uh, fighting the rich by kicking a bum? Protesting the pope by slapping a Muslim?
But if the neighborhood was allowed to rebound on its own with the help of those banks, that would defeat the lefties' arguments. And as any good activist knows, saving your ideology is more important than providing an actual solution to saving somebody's livelihood.

The Buck Gets Passed Here

The Wall Street Journal says that, when it comes to who to blame for the bailout fiasco, politicians doth protest too much:
The political class has spent the last few months blaming bankers for everything that has gone wrong in the financial system, and no doubt many banks have earned public scorn. But Washington has been complicit every step of the way, from the Fed's easy money to the nurturing of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and since last autumn with regulatory and Congressional panic that is making financial repair that much harder. The men who nearly ruined Bank of America have some explaining to do.
There was more than enough skullduggery to go around. And they left us holding the bag.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Where Do They Go From Here?

A warning not to dismiss the tea parties:
The tea party movement may or may not go forward — but anytime the media or politicians dismiss a grassroots effort, they do so at great peril.

People attending those tea parties were consumers and voters, with a decent number of registered Democrats and independents sprinkled in.

State Rep. Josh Shapiro, a Philly-area Democrat set to run for Republican Arlen Specter’s U.S. Senate seat, was not keen on the rhetoric at some of the events, but he is wise enough not to ignore the real concerns of angry Americans.

Elected officials “should be trying to figure out where that anger is coming from and address it, rather than trying to find ways to dismiss it,” Shapiro says.
For the record, I don't dismiss them as such. I view them for what I think they are-a fad of the moment, an anti-Obama movement in populist clothing that has become a way for frustrated conservatives to vent. But venting only gets you so far, which is why populist movements don't have a great record of success in American history.

Dispatches From The Plague

The apocalypse, Mexican style:
It is very strange, what we are living through here. The streets are empty, we are all staying in our houses. People are only going out to the hospitals, drugstores and to buy food. The great majority have their mouths covered. Concerts, festivals, masses have all been cancelled, the football matches have all been played behind closed doors. On the television and radio, every commercial break contains information on the symptoms, saying that if you have them to go to the doctor at once.
Overreaction? A preview of things to come elsewhere as this spreads? Frightening imagery, indeed.

A Friend Online Is A Friend Indeed

In spite of all the talk of internet addiction, having an online life isn't necessarily all bad:
If you’re home-bound or an older person who has lost all of their friends and family, you don’t have a lot of choices in where you can grab your social interactions. If you can get something that provides similar relief from feelings of loneliness and rejection from television or the Internet, it may be sufficient (and more than sufficient in some cases) for people faced with such a situation.
That doesn't make it OK to be doing it just because you're a twentysomething loner with no prospects living in your parents' basement, however. Not that...I was ever like that...

The Telling Of The Tale

Are obituaries really just somber tall tales?
An obituary, any obituary, transforms lives into stories, with interesting characters, a cohesive plot, and most importantly, a good ending. This is what we’ve got as humans — not the ability to understand or be at one with death, but the ability to generate lots of stupid crap to fill in the empty space of the unknown.
A good memorial, toast, euology, whatever, can be a fitting tribute to someone's life. The fact that people will be able to say that I could break steel girders with my teeth and drank from the skulls of my enemies shouldn't surprise anyone when my time comes.

Neuroenmancer

Do stims really work? Maybe, but not in the way people envisioned:
The experience that neuroenhancement offers is not, for the most part, about opening the doors of perception, or about breaking the bonds of the self, or about experiencing a surge of genius. It’s about squeezing out an extra few hours to finish those sales figures when you’d really rather collapse into bed; getting a B instead of a B-minus on the final exam in a lecture class where you spent half your time texting; cramming for the G.R.E.s at night, because the information-industry job you got after college turned out to be deadening. Neuroenhancers don’t offer freedom. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity.
Human nature being what it is, most people aren't looking for "Enlightenment" when they take drugs,but a quick fix to help them work faster and harder for the man. This is anti-establishment?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Missed It By That Much

Talk about dodging a bullet:
The outbreak coincided with the President Barack Obama’s trip to Mexico City on April 16. Obama was received at Mexico’s anthropology museum in Mexico City by Felipe Solis, a distinguished archeologist who died the following day from symptoms similar to flu, Reforma newspaper reported. The newspaper didn’t confirm if Solis had swine flu or not.
As it turns out, Obama's fine. It's one of the things that makes me glad we live in the 21st Century, when a President's health due to disease during a crisis doesn't have to be as much of a concern.

Crime Pays?

There's at least one segment of society that isn't hurting from hard times:
The crime syndicates are flush with billions of euros from extortion rackets, drug trafficking and booming sales in fake designer clothing made in China expressly for the Italian mob—an increasingly lucrative trade as hard-hit consumers search for bargains, prosecutors and police said in recent interviews.

For the mob bosses, the global economic meltdown 'is only an advantage,' said anti-mafia prosecutor Franco Roberti, in his office in Naples, the chaotic port city that is home to the Camorra, one of the Italy's major crime syndicates.

Italy has scored some spectacular successes in its decades-long fight against the Mafia, capturing top bosses, persuading turncoats to testify, and encouraging ordinary citizens to resist shakedowns.

But the mob keeps growing—and its drive in recent years to grab chunks of legitimate business is paying off big time in the financial crisis.
Maybe this explains why so many politicians are keeping their jobs-like the other crooks, they can make big bucks from the meltdown, too.

Outbreak

It looks serious:
As health officials from New York to Mexico raced on Saturday to combat a rare and rapidly spreading influenza virus, eight students at a Queens high school tested positive for a type of influenza that is probably swine flu, and possibly the same strain that has killed as many as 68 people in Mexico City.

At the same time, the World Health Organization said it was considering whether to declare an international public health emergency, a move that could involve travel advisories and border closings. For now, it only went so far as to term the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”

In New York City the health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said at news conference that eight of nine students from St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, Queens, tested positive for the type A influenza virus, which meets the probable conditions for swine flu.
I wonder what all those parents who were so against vaccination are going to say now? "We were wrong" might be a good start.

Save the Vultures

The European Parliament says it's OK to feed the birds after all:
The move allows farmers to leave dead livestock in their fields - providing it is deemed safe and hygienic.

Vultures are capable of stripping a dead cow or sheep carcass in a matter of hours.

Environmentalists describe the birds as 'nature's cleaners'.

But many vultures have been starving to death since European rules aimed at tackling mad cow disease forced all dead livestock to be cleared away.

This forced the birds to embark on some rather long-haul trips - one was even spotted recently perched on top of a bus shelter in Brussels.
I was going to make a remark about vultures feeding of the dead carcass of Europe's economy, but that would have been too easy.

Friday, April 24, 2009

El Capitan Trips

Should we be worried?
Mexican authorities said 60 people may have died from a swine flu virus in Mexico, and world health officials worry it could unleash a global flu epidemic. Mexico City closed schools across the metropolis Friday in hopes of containing the outbreak that has sickened more than 900.

Scientists were trying to determine if the deaths involved the same new strain of swine flu that sickened seven people in Texas and California—a disturbing virus that combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans in a way researchers have not seen before.

The World Health Organization was looking closely at the 60 deaths—most of them in or near Mexico's capital. It wasn't yet clear what flu they died from, but spokesman Thomas Abraham said 'We are very, very concerned.'

'We have what appears to be a novel virus and it has spread from human to human,' he said. 'It's all hands on deck at the moment.'
In response, Mexico City is doing what many American parents won't do. I guess they're not as "Enlightened" about the evils of vaccination as our medical Luddites are.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Listen To The L

It's hard to argue with this:
Libertarians look at things differently than most. Quirky, cantankerous and misunderstood, we do actually get it right. We have about as much power within the GOP as the Log Cabin Republicans, and not nearly as fun Halloween dress-up parties. But, had George Bush and Congress listened to us on the five major areas where they went wrong, we would all be better off.
....

Reasonable people have to look honestly at history and see who had the right answers to past issues. If you look at these five major mistakes made by Congress in recent years and where we libertarians stood on each issue, I think you will agree that more government is seldom the answer.
If Obama really can listen to the libertarians (which itself is so far questionable) then he really could be the kind of transformative Reaganesque figure for the Democrats that his supporters wanted him to be. Whether the Republicans will be willing to listen afterward is yet another matter.

Who Do You Trust?

Randy Balko argues it's not the old Number Two:
Cheney’s theory of executive power rests on the notion that only the executive can be trusted to protect national security—that the courts and the Congress are too burdened by political maneuvering, ego, and ivory tower theory to be entrusted with our safety. The irony here is that from Gitmo to Abu Ghraib to torture, the Bush administration’s utter and complete incompetence has become a more devastating counterargument to Cheney’s position than any of Bush’s critics could have conjured up themselves.
Cheney went on a power trip as Veep, and America's reputation suffered as a result. As a consequence, there may be some merit to this argument. Vice Presients are there in case something happens to the boss-and not much else.

Running Up That Hill

An interesting study shows how friendship can literally move mountains, or at least make them smaller:
Researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others were alone. The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.
This could be the start of one of those inspirational ad campaigns-"Make a new friend. Help move mountains together. This message is sponsored by the Foundation for a Better Life".

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Succeed In Fascism Without Really Trying

Well, this is just wrong:
Booksellers told The Daily Telegraph that while it is regarded in most countries as a 'Nazi Bible', in India it is considered a management guide in the mould of Spencer Johnson's 'Who Moved My Cheese'.

Sales of the book over the last six months topped 10,000 in New Delhi alone, according to leading stores, who said it appeared to be becoming more popular with every year.

Several said the surge in sales was due to demand from students who see it as a self-improvement and management strategy guide for aspiring business leaders, and who were happy to cite it as an inspiration.
The Fuher as a business model? Only if you believe in your business as being run by the Master Race...

Life After Rove

Nate Silver ponders the future of the GOP:
Of the roughly four different pathways the Republicans could take in the post-Obama universe -- toward Ron Paulesque libertarianism, toward Sarah Palinesque cultural populism, toward Mike Huckabeesque big-government conservatism, or toward Olympia Snowesque moderation/ good-governmentism -- the libertarian side would seem to have had the best go of things in the First 100 Days.
Unfortunately, from where I sit, it looks like the Republicans are going in the Palin populist mode. But Goldwater gave us Reagan, so Ron Paul may yet have his "Revolution".

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Service With A Smile

It will be interesting to see how they plan to encourage this:
Calling on Americans to volunteer, President Barack Obama signed a $5.7 billion national service bill Tuesday that triples the size of the AmeriCorps service program over the next eight years and expands ways for students to earn money for college.

'We need your service, right now, in this moment in history. ... I'm asking you to stand up and play your part,' said Obama, a former community organizer in Chicago. 'I'm asking you to help change history's course.'

Joining Obama was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who has been battling brain cancer. Kennedy championed the legislation with Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and the bill was named in honor of the Massachusetts Democrat.

Kennedy told the audience that included former President Bill Clinton, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former first lady Rosalyn Carter that Obama's efforts echoed that of his late brother, former President John F. Kennedy.

'Today, another young president has challenged another generation to give back to their nation,' Kennedy said, citing his brother's advocacy of the Peace Corps.

The service law expands ways for students and seniors to earn money for college through their volunteer work. It aims to foster and fulfill people's desire to make a difference, such as by mentoring children, cleaning up parks or buildings and weatherizing homes for the poor."
Well, at least it's not mandatory-yet. And in these tough economic times, how many students will be willing to ask what they can do for their country without pay?

NAFTA Stays

Did anyone else notice this?
Had the administration followed through on its commitment to renegotiate NAFTA, it would have soured relations with our two closest neighbors, with no evidence that the desired change (incorporating labor and environmental commitments into the body of the agreement) would have any real benefit.
Whatever his reasons, it's probably a good thing Obama decided not to mess with what Bill Clinton wrought after all. Protectionist rhetoric might be good for the campaign trail, but not necessarily for real life.

When Markets Attack

Greed is not good:
The bankers have an argument that needs to be taken seriously: when it comes to actual goods and services--which hybrid automobile engine is best--the market is inevitably a better judge of quality than the government. But untrammeled markets, in which Ponzi products are traded back and forth, need to be policed and eliminated--and the government has an important, and necessarily intrusive, role in channeling us back toward a rock-solid foundation and away from the flim-flam that is choking us.
In theory, I agree-but the liberal solution is regulation above all else, as a way of punishing the "Evils" of the free market instead of helping to stabilize it. Remember, give government an inch and all that.

Chump Change

Well, I guess he wanted to start somewhere:
The thrifty measures Obama ordered for federal agencies are the equivalent of asking a family that spends $60,000 in a year to save $6.

Obama made his push for frugality the subject of his first Cabinet meeting, ensuring it would command the capital's attention. It also set off outbursts of mental math and scribbled calculations as political friend and foe tried to figure out its impact.

The bottom line: Not much.
When Obama said a penny saved is a penny earned, who would have thought he'd literally mean a penny?

The Women In The Room

The creepy boys' clubhouse of the 90's, aka Promise Keepers, is letting girls in:
After 20 years of men-only events, Denver-based Promise Keepers is urging men to bring 'the women in their lives' to a July 31-Aug. 1 conference marking the group's anniversary.

'It's time for Promise Keepers men to step up and honor women,' Raleigh Washington, the group's president, said Monday. 'We're going to heal the gender divide that exists in America.
'What better way to challenge a man than nose to nose with his wife, his mother, his sister?' he said.
....

Promise Keepers filled football stadiums and boasted a $117 million budget in the mid-1990s, but has struggled to find an identity since. Revenues declined for several years to about $10.9 million in 2007, according to its tax forms. This year's budget is $7.5 million, Washington said.
Well, I guess it's nice to know they've actually decided to remember the women they're supposed to be faithful to.

The Faux Conservative News Channel

E.D. Kain doesn't like the home of Hannity, O'Reilly, et al:
The conservatism of Fox News tends to be wrapped up in loud, divisive, trashy television that is cheap and ugly and reactionary and essentially all things distasteful that conservatives should look at with scorn and antipathy. The measured, reserved, thoughtful and culturally sensible tone of NPR is far more conservative. I’d rather my kids listen to it than watch Glenn Beck.
I am no fan of Fox, but it was their original mission to shake things up, so I'm not sure how seriously to take Kain's outrage at their lack of propriety. Still, it would be nice to see the network develop less inflated egos as commentators.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Busting A Cap On Carbon

Is the threat of a bad idea enough to keep it from being put into effect?
Cap and trade regulation is bound to be extraordinarily unpopular, and the party that passes it is going to have some 'splaining to do when voters notice higher charges on their electricity and gas bills. But if the EPA concludes that it already has the authority to regulate carbon, all the part in charge has to do is . . . nothing. That won't be popular if energy prices are rising, but it's not nearly as politically tricky as actively making people pay more for energy.
The problem, of course, is that, as in most cases, it will be extremely difficult for the government not to do something. Hopefully, the potential backlash in this case will help keep them in check.

What Milton Knew

Reason Magazine points out Friedman's timeless genius:
By making a principled case for free markets, international trade, and individual rights, Friedman actually helped create the opposite of global misery. Millions of people continue to be lifted out of poverty worldwide based on these principles. If more politicians had listened to Friedman’s warnings about loose money and ill-conceived interventions in the economy, we might have avoided the latest round of economic misery as well.
Try as they might, historical revisionists can't deny what Friedman's ideas meant then and now. That's the power of having a legacy that matters.

The Bad 'Ism

While libertarians are rightfully concerned about Obama's maneuvering, the usual suspects on the right are still clueless in their own respone.
“Rhetorically, Republicans are having a very hard time finding something that raises the consciousness of the average voter,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who recently lost a bid to became national party chairman.

Workaday labels like “big spender” and “liberal” have lost their punch, and last fall, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska gained little traction during the presidential campaign by linking Mr. Obama’s agenda to socialism.

So Mr. Anuzis has turned to provocation with a purpose. He calls the president’s domestic agenda “economic fascism.”

“We’ve so overused the word ‘socialism’ that it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago,” Mr. Anuzis said. “Fascism — everybody still thinks that’s a bad thing.”
Well, I guess when using logical arguments against Obama doesn't occur to you, the old fascist canard is pretty much all you have left.

The Power Of One

Brian Doherty is concerned about Obama and overreaching:
In just three months, we have seen what Obama means when he talks about 'reach.' He doesn't mean 'our reach' but his own. His sense of that reach, and the abrupt and scary speed with which he's used it, marks him as an executive with a tentacled grip—multiple, crushing, inescapable. No longer the cautious critic of presidential power of the campaign trail, he now sees nothing as beyond his grasp.

Less than a hundred days in, the fully articulated ideological contours of his vision remain unclear-just as he wishes. It suits Obama's self-image as a mere pragmatic problem solver to never explain, to float from power grab to usurpation as if nothing but thoughtful reaction to the exigencies of the moment guides him. But it's already obvious that those actions veer strongly toward expansive government, limiting our options in every aspect of national life.
I still say it's a little early to start complaining about an Obama power grab, especially when compared to what we had for eight years. But his Cabinet appointments have been somehwat disconcerting, to say the least, and long term this could be a problem for the guy who said he would be a different kind of politician.

Where To Start Cutting

Friedersdorf has some ideas:
Spend trillions less on foreign wars of choice; take WFB’s advice — end a drug policy that includes military intervention in sundry foreign countries, billions in wasted military aid to dictators, and the costly imprisonment of countless non-violent offenders as part of a strategy that doesn’t even work; means test Social Security and Medicare; repeal prevailing wage mandates for government contracts; abolish public employee unions; lower costs at public universities by scaling back excess professorial research in the humanities, and put two-thirds of the saved man-hours into educating undergraduates; allow federal bureaucrats to anonymously submit egregious and otherwise unknown examples of government waste, and give them a sizable monetary reward should an act of Congress end the wasteful practice due to information they provided.
Sounds like a good way to start to me.

Save The Dinosaurs

John Kerry wants to save the presses:
'America's newspapers are struggling to survive and while there will be serious consequences in terms of the lives and financial security of the employees involved, including hundreds at the [Boston] Globe, there will also be serious consequences for our democracy where diversity of opinion and strong debate are paramount,' Kerry wrote in a letter sent to union leaders Friday. The union released the letter yesterday.

In his letter, addressed to 'the Boston Globe family,' Kerry voiced his commitment to the industry and to ensuring that the 'vital public service newspapers provide does not disappear.'
....

'The increase in media conglomerates has resulted in an increase in agenda-driven reporting and over time, if those of us who value a diversity of opinion and ideas, and are unafraid to be confronted with pointed commentary and analysis, do not act, it is a situation which will only get worse,' Kerry wrote.
Now, I understand his point about corporate media and agendas. But how, exactly, is government intervention going to help keep "Diversity" alive? And what does he mean by getting rid of "Agenda-driven" reporting? And whose agendas does he see as a threat?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

May The Force Be With Them

So does this mean that Gordon Brown is Palpatine?
Eight police officers serving with Scotland's largest force listed their official religion as Jedi in voluntary diversity forms, the BBC reported.

Strathclyde Police said the officers and two of its civilian staff claimed to follow the 'faith,' as depicted in Star Wars. The details were obtained in a Freedom of Information request by Jane's Police Review.

Strathclyde was the only force in the United Kingdom to admit it had Jedi officers.
About 390,000 people listed their religion as Jedi in the 2001 Census for England and Wales. In Scotland the figure was a reported 14,000. The Office for National Statistics did not recognize it as a separate category and incorporated followers of Jedi with the atheists.
Defend Scotland from the Dark Side, they will...

The Open Source Age

It's the new economy versus the old:
Gains in productivity derived from things like the internet aren’t showing up as more money in our pockets, and they are not showing up as corporate profit, but they do exist in a kind of nascent alternative economy. The “consumer surplus” is being generated outside of capitalist structures, outside of the market, though it is still occurring within a capitalist, consumerist society. It’s being made through activity that has in the past been generally dismissed as hobby behavior—collaborative open-source projects, online content production and archiving, tagging information, sharing and organizing useful data, etc., etc. The internet amasses this effort, consolidates it, distributes the example and rewards of it, and draws more people into contributing.
I've long though that the difference between the online economy and brick-and-mortar economies isn't as comparable to what the automobile did to the horse and buggy as what TV did to radio. Radio didn't vanish, but it changed and adapted to complement the new medium. The new economy could go a long way towards helping the old economy out of its slump-if the old economy would let it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Real Tweet

Is it really just the need for self-affirmation?
Being online means being alone, and being in an online community means being alone together. The community is purely symbolic, a pixellated simulation conjured up by software to feed the modern self's bottomless hunger. Hunger for what? For verification of its existence? No, not even that. For verification that it has a role to play. As I walk down the street with thin white cords hanging from my ears, as I look at the display of khakis in the window of the Gap, as I sit in a Starbucks sipping a chai served up by a barista, I can't quite bring myself to believe that I'm real. But if I send out to a theoretical audience of my peers 140 characters of text saying that I'm walking down the street, looking in a shop window, drinking tea, suddenly I become real. I have a voice. I exist, if only as a symbol speaking of symbols to other symbols.
I don't Tweet, but I think I'm real. Does that just mean I'm a figment of my own imagination?

Breaking With The Herd

Better late than never:
Speaking publicly for one of the first times since the end of the presidential campaign, John McCain's campaign manager Steve Schmidt painted a dire portrait of the state of the Republican Party, arguing that the GOP has largely been co-opted by its religious elements.

'If you put public policy issues to a religious test, you risk becoming a religious party,' Schmidt declared. 'And in a free country, a political party cannot be viable in the long term if it is seen as a sectarian party.'

The remarks came in a passionate, roughly 20-minute speech before the Log Cabin Republican's national convention, in which Schmidt laid out the case for a far more open party -- one which did not consider gay marriage to be a 'litmus test' issue. And while he made it a purpose not to offend social conservatives -- they 'remain an indispensable part of the Republican coalition,' he said -- Schmidt did not hide his concerns that religion had become the predominant thread of the GOP.

'If you reject [gay marriage] on religious grounds, I respect that,' he said. 'I respect anyone's religious views. However, religious views should not inform the public policy positions of a political party because... when it is a religious party, many people who would otherwise be members of that party are excluded from it because of a religious belief system that may be different. And the Republican Party ought not to be that. It ought to be a coalition of people under a big tent.'
This won't win him very many friends in the current GOP, and it needed to be said. Of course, it would have been nicer if he'd said this during the actual campaign.

Fear Of Huffington

An argument that the MSM could learn something from the Huffinton Post:
Top journalists aren't going to like hearing this, but not everybody has time to lounge about with the 2,000-word masterpiece that you and your editor handcrafted. They want to get to the salient point, and they want to get there now. As heretical as it may sound, the Huffington Post is adding value by skinning alive that beautiful baby seal you just birthed and serving its fresh, beating heart to readers in a hurry.

Instead of feeling diminished by the Huff Post's excerpts, more publications might want to pre-empt the site by serving distilled versions of their own articles. That's right: Even the Post and the Times and the Journal can learn something about how to serve readers from the Huffington Post.
Whatever you might think of their politics, the Post, like the Drudge Report, has changed the way in which news is not only spread but read. In these leaner, meaner times, it appears Old Media still has a lot of catching up to do.

The Transparency Stops Here

OK, this is disappointing:
The Obama administration is trying to quash an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) lawsuit aimed at holding Bush administration officials responsible for warrantless surveillance conducted prior to the FISA amendments, surveillance that Obama himself has said was illegal. It argues that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would harm national security—a claim frequently made by the Bush administration, which Obama has criticized as excessively secretive. Obama's Justice Department has gone even further than the Bush administration, arguing that the PATRIOT Act immunizes government officials who participate in illegal surveillance, except when 'the Government obtains information about a person through intelligence-gathering, and Government agents unlawfully disclose that information.' As EFF puts it, 'DOJ claims that the U.S. Government is completely immune from litigation for illegal spying [as opposed to disclosure]—that the Government can never be sued for surveillance that violates federal privacy statutes.'
I'm sorry, but it does seem that the Obama administration is employing a double standard here. They came through on the torture memos-when are they going to do the same with regards to other past abuses?

Controlled Catastrophe

Peter Coy ponders the future of economics:
The next agenda for macroeconomists will be to help make the economy far more robust—enough to survive the blunders of politicians, bankers, and economists of the future. Taleb, the scholar of unpredictability, notes that nature achieves robustness through a redundancy that economists would consider wasteful: two hands, two eyes, etc. Blake LeBaron of Brandeis University suggests preventing huge crises by tolerating small disturbances, the way foresters use controlled burns to eliminate flammable underbrush. Perhaps out of the ashes of failure will emerge a better macroeconomics profession.
I think part of the problem may be that economic models are still based on outdated macroeconomic trends that are ignoring smaller economic "Cells" that manage to survive when the rest of the body falls ill. Today's economies, where they flourish, tend to be more specialized, more individualistic-in other words, more "libertarian" than in the past. Perhaps that's where the new models should come from.

Life After Palin

A former supporter sums up:
After making her name as a determined enemy of Alaska’s corrupt Republican establishment, she recently called for Democratic Sen. Mark Begich to step down so the hilariously crooked Ted Stevens could get another crack at the seat. She loudly promised to leave federal stimulus money on the table before clawing that promise back with a whimper. One can’t help but get the impression that Palin is a clownish, vindictive amateur ... Has Sarah Palin undergone some kind of secret lobotomy?
I don't know about Palin, but it sure seems that her remaining die-hard fans have.

Friday, April 17, 2009

R.I.P. Trans Am?

GM is considering slimming down big time:
General Motors (GM), in its attempt to push its restructuring plan deeper than first proposed this year, is examining whether it makes sense to keep the GMC and Pontiac brands going, says a source briefed on the discussions.

But it may be a tough call: GMC makes money, and the plan for Pontiac was to shrink it to just one or two profitable models. Both are sold through the same Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealerships.

Still, the automaker is taking a look at every possible option for making the company smaller and leaner, says the source who didn’t want to be indentified because the discussions aren’t public.
I've long thought that one of GM's biggest problems was that it had overextended itself with new models. They may not be the giants they once were-but in their case, that's not necessarily a bad thing if it helps them innovate what they can save.

The Savage Land

Orrin Kerr responds to Michael Savages' lawsuit against over the "Right Wing Extremists" report:
Isn't the lawsuit frivolous? As I read it, the lawsuit is claiming that the issuance of a government report criticizing certain groups violates the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. But the Constitution doesn't provide a constitutional right to have the government not say things that might be considered criticism. Perhaps the plaintiffs want the Constitution to be radically reinterpreted by activist judges to invent some brand-new constitutional rights?
Now, there are perfectly good reasons to criticize the report. Michael German does so here. But by being petty, Savage only reinforces the stereotype of the aforementioned extremists (not that he doesn't contribute to it himself daily). When the right starts acting like the left, they lose the argument, even if it's a valid one.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Wilderness Escape Plan

It might look something like this:
If the Republican Party wants to win young voters in the future, an understanding of the ways that young voters view the economy is essential. Messaging that focuses on the need for less government and lower taxes is not likely to be as well received or convincing to this generation. This isn't to say these messages won't work, to be sure. But the spectre of Big Government is not as frightening to young voters, nor is the devotion to the free market so prevalent. In order for the Republican Party to grow long-term, they must work to impact these belief structures and spend the effort convincing a new generation of the sorts of beliefs that are taken for granted among older cohorts.
I would add not letting cranks and crackpots dictate that message, but that's just me.

The next generation of potential Republican voters has had only Bush and Clinton to draw on for comparison. For them, Reagan is someone they learned about in history class. They look at the current Republican mood and see frustrated teabaggers acting like Sore Losermen. Is it any wonder they're skeptical of the Republican message, such as it is?

Forward From The Tenth Century

Women's Lib, Afghan style:
The young women stepped off the bus and moved toward the protest march just beginning on the other side of the street when they were spotted by a mob of men.

“Get out of here, you whores!” the men shouted. “Get out!”...

But the march continued anyway. About 300 Afghan women, facing an angry throng three times larger than their own, walked the streets of the capital on Wednesday to demand that Parliament repeal a new law that introduces a range of Taliban-like restrictions on women, and permits, among other things, marital rape.
Didn't we invade to get rid of those kinds of laws? Must be part of that "Spreading democracy" thing that the neocons liked so much...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"Er, We're Still Here, Guys"

Tom Ricks lays out the main argument against bombing Iran from an American POV:
It would probably be impossible for Israeli aircraft to hit Iran without passing through Iraqi airspace -- and they could not do that without the Americans knowing and being able to stop them. Thus the U.S. government would be seen by Iraqis and others as an accomplice of the Israeli attack. The fallout of such a bombing would make life in Iraq very difficult for more than 130,000 U.S. troops, even before the Iranians embarked upon a course of retaliation that probably would include stepping up roadside bombings of U.S. forces.
For the record, I think Netenyahu is smarter than the zealots who want another holy war; the question is whether he'll be able to put aside the desire to survive politically and actually behave like a responsible ally.

Spend Not, Waste Not

The argument against waste in a nutshell:
Wasting money on government programs is bad, not just because it’s wrong to spend people’s tax dollars in ways that don’t maximize the return, but because in the long run it damages the effectiveness of government. If you want to destroy a government agency, or a regional government tout court, walk in, hand them a bunch of money and tell them you don’t care how they spend it.
Unfortunately, this is an area where the Democrats happen to excel, although the Republicans got there first.

It's Still The Economy, Stupid

Reality seems to be getting in the way of the fundamentalist agenda:
Legislation that would open the door to school prayer and discouraging teaching evolution has been declared dead. Prospects don't look good for a proposal to require ultrasounds for first-trimester abortions. Same goes for a bill to make marriage licenses more expensive for couples who don't take a premarriage education course.

Conservative Republicans' hallmark legislation, some from sessions past, is stagnating this session [..]

This session, with the state facing a $3 billion deficit, the bulk of political efforts are being spent on the budget and debates between the House and Senate about how to balance cuts with new revenues from such things as a cigarette tax and expanded gambling.
So it appears that sanity is returning to the GOP in Florida, at least. Will the rest of the Republican Party get the hint?

The New Privateers

I don't know if this is such a good idea:
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal, a power written into the Constitution that allows the United States to hire private citizens to keep international waters safe.

Used heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812, letters of marque serve as official warrants from the government, allowing privateers to seize or destroy enemies, their loot and their vessels in exchange for bounty money.
Well, part of the reason was because America at that time did not have a large Navy. We do, now-and, as recent events have shown, we can use it effectively. Sorry, but I think Ron Paul is out to sea on this one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day Of The Dolphin

Now this is pretty cool:
Thousands of dolphins blocked the suspected Somali pirate ships when they were trying to attack Chinese merchant ships passing the Gulf of Aden, the China Radio International reported on Monday.

The Chinese merchant ships escorted by a China's fleet sailed on the Gulf of Aden when they met some suspected pirate ships. Thousands of dolphins suddenly leaped out of water between pirates and merchants when the pirate ships headed for the China's.

The suspected pirates ships stopped and then turned away. The pirates could only lament their littleness befor the vast number of dolphins. The spectacular scene continued for a while.

China initiated its three-ship escort task force on Dec. 26 last year after the United Nations Security Council called on countries to patrol gulf and waters off Somalia, one of the world's busiest marine routes, where surging piracy endangered intercontinental shipping.
I believe the pirates lament their "Littleness" most of the time anyway, but that's another story...

Bloggin' In The Years: 1865

The President has been shot:
The President, while sitting in his private box with Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Harris, and Major Rathburn, was shot by an assassin, who suddenly entered the box and approached behind the President.

The assassin then leaped upon the stage, brandishing a large dagger or knife, and made his escape in the rear of the theatre.

The pistol ball entered the back of the President's head and penetrated nearly through the head. The wound is mortal. The President has been insensible ever since it was inflicted, and is now dying.
....

It is not probable that the President will live throughout the night.
So Lincoln has met his Brutus. But unlike the conspirator of Shakespeare's play, this is a man without honor. As our country mourns, so to do we seek justice. Let it be swift, and full.

An Honest Mistake

Well, this must have been embarrassing:
James and Sheila Slaughter said that when they answered the door of their home in San Luis, Ariz., on a July afternoon last year, they were surprised to find five armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers strapped into bulky bulletproof vests accusing them of harboring an illegal immigrant.

“Is this ‘Candid Camera’?” Mrs. Slaughter recalled asking.

That irritated the lead officer, her husband said Tuesday. “He said: ‘No, it isn’t “Candid Camera.” You need to step back into the middle of the room."

The couple said they complied, and the officers prepared to search their home. Mr. Slaughter, a six-foot, 285-pound former Marine, said he then told them, “Look fellas, do you guys realize that I’m a U.S. Customs K-9 officer at the San Luis land port?”

“The lead officer’s eyes got about as big and round as silver dollars, and the three guys who were standing just inside the door went straight outside,” said Mr. Slaughter, 51, who with a Labrador retriever, Whitey, searches cars at the Mexican border for narcotics. “They left without saying a word. They knew they messed up.”
It kind of figures that the growing trend of law enforcement not getting its facts right would eventually come back to bite it. At some point, we're going to start seeing cops accidentally raiding other cops' homes. And then what?

The Education Recession

Those without skills need not apply:
The overall unemployment rate for the more educated is only 4.3 percent. Individuals with a high school degree, but no college, have a 10 percent unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted). The unemployment rate for high school dropouts is 15.5 percent. Moreover, the unemployment rate gap between the most- and least-skilled is widening, not narrowing. Between February and March, the unemployment rate for college graduates increased by one-tenth of a percentage point. Among high school dropouts, the unemployment rate increased by four-tenths of a point.
Normally, I would say this is the natural result of not staying in school and so forth, but sooner or later this will add up. Do we really want to create a permanent class of delinquent dropouts to add to our already overburdoned system?

The Nightmare Scenario

Meanwhile, Obama's real crisis may be yet to come:
We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we're calling the war on terror now,' said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House. 'You just can't say that you're not going to worry about al-Qaeda taking control of Pakistan and its nukes,' he said.
If that happens, then all bets are off, and I have to wonder what the hoping for fail crowd will say then. Hopefully Obama is paying close attention to this one.

Harry S. Obama

Charles Johnson offers sanity in a sea of fail:
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but what the hell happened to “The buck stops here”? President Barack Obama is the Commander in Chief of the US armed forces. I certainly don’t agree with a lot of his policies, but I’ll be damned if I won’t — at the very least — respect the office and give him congratulations when it’s deserved. And when the US military succeeds in a critical mission, the CinC deserves congratulations.

There is way too much mean-spiritedness in modern politics, and I for one am totally sick of it. And disappointed in those few LGF lizards who can’t find it in themselves to be gracious and say, “Well done.”

Take a step back from the brink, folks. Oppose Obama’s policies all you like, but be the loyal opposition, not a bunch of ranting haters. The Internet already has more than enough of those.
As does talk radio. But that's the great thing about the Internets-they don't have to be as one-dimensional.

Epitaph

Summing up Phil Spector's highly disturbed life:
Insanity and insecurity haunted Spector's entire life. His older sister had to be institutionalized, and his father committed suicide when the boy was 9. The traumatized family moved from New York to Los Angeles. Spector's first hit, at age 18, was inspired by the inscription on his father's grave: 'To Know Him Is to Love Him.'
Ultimately, the "Inner demons" won. This is how the life of a madman comes to an end.

Auto Show Blues

Life isn't so good at auto shows these days:
Now that the government has helped General Motors and Chrysler stave off bankruptcy with billions of dollars in loans, these companies are finding somewhat hostile crowds at their exhibits. Which leads to scenes like the one on Friday at the New York auto show, where a blond woman in a tight black dress stood on a rotating platform and pitched the sporty Dodge Circuit, one of five electric cars that Chrysler is developing.

Donald Han, an accountant from Queens, sounded unmoved. “Why now?” he asked the woman, rather curtly, once she had finished her patter. “How come you’ve got to nearly go bankrupt before you come out with a car like this?”
A good question. So how are GM's competitors doing?
Downstairs at the Kia exhibit, meanwhile, it is party time. A D.J. is mixing oom-chick-oom-chick club tracks on an Apple laptop, beside huge LED screens that spell out phrases like “Schwing!” and “Kia Sips Gas.” The men are wearing new Hugo Boss suits, with dark-purple hankies, and the women are wearing designer dresses bought recently at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles.

On Friday, Subaru handed out flutes of Brut Cuvee Champagne to visiting Finnish car dealers. And they are preening over at the Hyundai space, where the staff is decked out in new Armani jackets, Cole Haan sweaters and a few other items picked up at Nordstrom.

“I haven’t seen anyone who looks as sharp as we do,” said Mark Laffrey, the wardrobe consultant.

The exhibit for Ford, a company in better financial shape than its crosstown rivals in Detroit, is huge and dominated by an atmosphere that could be described as we-didn’t-take-your-money festive. There are slot car races, a magician doing card tricks, and the crew of MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” upgrading a car in a cordoned-off section called Mustang Alley, which has a spring-break vibe.

“We’re the bad boys of the auto show!” yells a man who calls himself Flames, one of the ride-pimpers, as he gets to work.

Not that any of these companies are making huge sums of money. But unlike G.M. and Chrysler, they do not need to project an air of austerity and seriousness.
Maybe that's because Ford seems to actually know what they're doing to some extent. As do those nasty foreigners. They, at least, never needed no stinkin' bailouts. Maybe it's because they actually paid attention to what the customers want?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Crawling From The Wreckage

He may sound like he's gloating, but at this point it's hard to disagree with Robert Shrum's critique of the current state of the Republican Party:
With only 24 percent of voters identifying themselves as Republicans, the GOP is being miniaturized. The pettiness plays out on every conceivable stage—from the do-nothing, denounce-everything Republican minority in Congress, to the do-anything Republican attempt to overturn the Senate election in Minnesota, and the say-anything attacks of right-wing talk radio. Democrats, who had every reason to be bitter after the 2000 election, actually gave Bush a job approval rating almost ten points higher than the one Republicans now begrudge Obama—and they did so during the floundering, pre-9/11 muddle of the Bush Presidency.

This is the Republican Party the country sees, a spectacle of resentments and recriminations vying for attention with a President who pursues sweeping economic change while conquering hearts and minds overseas and coolly dispatching the shoot-to-kill order that freed an American ship captain from Somali Pirates.

Republican intransigence does not constitute a strategy, but a suicide note. Undeterred by the steep rise in the ranks of Americans who believe the nation is now headed in the right direction—up almost threefold from the rock-bottom dregs of the Bush years—the Republican remnant continues on its march of folly. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who speaks to the sour soul of his party, propagates an alternate reality in which Americans are yearning to repudiate Obama’s activist reach for economic recovery, health care reform, and energy independence.
When did this sorry state of affairs begin? Some say it began with the Terri Schiavo debacle; others with the Republicans' loss in '06; still others point to the years of spending under Republican rule. One thing's for certain-if the GOP does not get its act together and jettison the fringe kooks who have become its spokespeople, they will become the party that once was, not just the party of what could have been.

When America Wins

Joe Klein rightfully applauds Obama's response:
President Obama appears to have been crisp and decisive throughout...and what can one say about the SEAL sharpshooters--firing from a bobbing ship at a bobbing dinghy and recording three headshots?

But it could easily have gone wrong, through no fault of the President and the SEALs--a gust of wind, whatever...and then the Administration would have had to waste all sorts of energy on damage control, fending off the second-guessers--Republicans and, all too often, people like me--and perhaps overreacting to the pirate 'threat' as a result. Presidencies are, sadly, built or crippled on such quirks of fate.

As it stands, our socialist, pacifist, crypto-Muslim President has bagged three terrorist in the most dramatic fashion and saved a Captain. Congratulations to all concerned--and let's hope that the good luck continues to roll.
As far as I'm concerned, a win is a win no matter who's in charge. I just wish the supposed patriots on the other side would admit it.

Touring The Revolution

From evil imperialists to cash cows:
Legislation to free travel by Americans to Cuba is pending in the U.S. Congress, and backers expect it could be approved in what they see as a developing thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations under U.S. President Barack Obama.

'If the travel ban is lifted, you'll probably see hundreds, hundreds of American yachtsmen going to Cuba the next day,' said Timothy Ashby, a former U.S. Commerce Department official who studies Cuban commercial issues.

Cuba's government and people have been anticipating this moment for a long time, but questions about their readiness for an onslaught of American visitors are being raised.
The doubts focus on the capacity and quality of Cuba's tourist infrastructure, but also on possible political effects on an island that has resisted U.S. influence for 50 years.

After years of animosity with the United States, Cuban leaders do not like to say that developments such as the Varadero marina, and other big golf and leisure projects, are being built with the American market in mind.

The official line is that Cuba is preparing for visitors from the whole world and if that includes Americans, so be it.
Note to North Korea: This is how you "Win" a Revolution-let it fall to the tourists:
While Cuba's leaders may fret over the prospect of large numbers of Americans arriving, ordinary people in Varadero who depend on tourism for a living seem much less worried.

"Not one person here has anything against the Americans," said hotel cook and taxi driver Jorge Mendives as he puffed on a cigarette outside the stately Mansion Xanadu hotel, built in the 1920's by U.S. millionaire Irenee du Pont de Nemours.

"Let them come to Varadero in their boats or whatever because for us the Americans mean one thing -- more money".
Viva La Free Market!

Route Of Africa

So does this mean Obama isn't another Jimmy Carter?
The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.

The military also is drawing up proposals to aid the fledgling Somalia government to train security forces and develop its own coast guard, said the officials, who requested anonymity. The plans will be presented to the Obama administration as it considers a coordinated U.S. government and international response to piracy, the officials said.

The effort follows the freeing yesterday of Richard Phillips, a U.S. cargo ship captain held hostage since April 8 by Somali pirates. Security analysts said making shipping lanes safe would require disrupting the pirates’ support network on land.

“There really isn’t a silver-bullet solution other than going into Somalia and rooting out the bases” of the pirates, said James Carafano, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based group.
So when do we get to hear from the Republicans that this is a unilateral action in violation of international law?

Buy Bonds Or Bust

The risks of being America's banker are becoming more evident:
Reversing its role as the world’s fastest-growing buyer of United States Treasuries and other foreign bonds, the Chinese government actually sold bonds heavily in January and February before resuming purchases in March, according to data released during the weekend by China’s central bank. . . . China has lent vast sums to the United States — roughly two-thirds of the central bank’s $1.95 trillion in foreign reserves are believed to be in American securities. But the Chinese government now finances a dwindling percentage of new American mortgages and government borrowing.
When even Communists think you're a bad risk, there's a problem.

Big Thinking, Big Spending

If the right didn't have its collective head up its ass over tea parties and fringe politics, it might find a way to use this as an effective argument against Obama's policies:
Together, health care and energy constitute about a quarter of the U.S. economy. If their costs increase, they will crowd out other spending. The president's policies might, as he says, create high-paying 'green' or medical jobs. But if so, they will destroy old jobs elsewhere. Think about it. If you spend more for gasoline or electricity -- or for health insurance premiums -- then you spend less on other things, from meals out to home repair. Jobs in those sectors suffer.

The prospect is that energy and health costs may rise without creating much gain in material benefits. That's not economic 'progress.'
Indeed. It's feel-good politics and a band-aid at best. In other words, the "Cure" for healthcare remains worse than the disease.

They Love Only Gold

Gold may be making a comeback whether we like it or not:
Musings about a gold standard are currently cropping up in all manner of unlikely places. One savvy European property developer (who aggressively sold most of his holdings in early 2007) recently told me that he is now moving a growing proportion of his assets from government bonds into gold, even at today’s elevated prices.

“The logical conclusion of where we will end up eventually is with some type of gold standard,” he explains, arguing that future inflation will almost inevitably cause a future collapse in government bonds.

Half a world away in the Middle East, some sovereign wealth funds now say that they are stocking up enthusiastically on food and gold, due to similar reasoning.

Meanwhile, in New York a (still) formidable American hedge fund recently circulated private research that echoes the reasoning of Mr Smith. Most notably, this hedge fund points out that since the world abandoned the gold standard on August 15, 1971 credit creation has spiralled completely out of control.
Is gold really the way to go for the world's stressed economies? It should be noted that many nations' economies are highly regulated and run on welfare-state models. And the "Safety" of gold may be mostly illusion. But some sort of return to an international currency reserve is probably coming. I suppose whether that's good or bad depends on how serious the situation really is.

Give Compassion A Chance

E.D. Kain argues that the tactics of the Culture Warriors are self-defeating.
When it comes to our little manufactured wars - terror, drug, or culture - I am a devout pacifist. I will not fight them, because they almost inevitably lead to more pain, more chaos, and in the end, devastating defeat.

I think the culture wars need to end, and a culture of compassion needs to rise in their place. The only way to responsibly end abortion is not to ban it outright, thus creating a massive, unregulated, unchecked black market, but to tackle this on a cultural level, providing much needed counseling, support, and compassion for young mothers - as well as viable adoption options, that are easy and potentially even financially beneficial. I know this is being done on some level; I know that this generation of pro-lifers is wiser in many ways than the last - but it’s not being done enough, not even close, and certainly not to the level it needs to be in order to make any widespread cultural changes. Part of this is because young mothers contemplating abortion are worried about being judged, intimidated, ridiculed, or made to feel shame and guilt - made to feel somehow less than human, when in fact they are very human, and afraid, and confused. They should be met with love.

Look, part of the problem is that people have started to view the culture warriors as the bad guys: too judgmental, too power hungry, too quick to condemn, and a lot of the time that’s a justified critique. Fact is, the loudest and most divisive are always the ones driving policy and doing the most PR work. That needs to change. It only gives more power to the loud, divisive members on the other side.
Unfortunately there seems to be a lot of loudness on the right these days as they become increasingly angry and frustrated. The voices of reason are being rejected in the process. That may change, but the "Movement" is going to commit sepukku in the meantime.

The Nutroots

Andrew Sullivan responds to the Tea Parties with a suggestion of his own:
Here's a suggestion that will fall on ears with hands clasped tightly around them: why not just make them tax simplification rallies?

That's something that appeals beyond a Palin base; most of us feel angry about it at this time of year; it can rail against the rich and the special interests for carving out privileges that hurt everyone else; and it's a dagger at the heart of the lobbying industry.

No takers? One senses that this is essentially a counter-cultural protest event - against the result of the last election (with some muted disgruntlement with the eight years that preceded it). And it suggests that the right is returning to its 1950s roots - kooks, cranks, disaffected and paranoid gun-nuts, born-again culture-warriors, Birchers, book-burners, and black helicopter worriers.
I'd say it's returning more to the kook phase it went through during the Clinton years, but that can be just as bad-Timothy McVeigh and David Koresh were both products of this paranoid culture, after all. The 2000s saw this mentality brought to the national level and now that it's being marginalized again, the kooks can't take it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Home Sweet Home Alabama

Good news from the high seas:
Richard Phillips, the captain of an American cargo ship held hostage by armed Somali pirates for more than four days, was freed on Sunday after three of his captors were killed, government and shipping officials said.

“This is truly a very happy Easter for the Phillips family,” said Alison McColl, an official with the ship’s owner, Maersk Line, Limited, who has been representing Captain Phillips’ family. “They are all just so happy and relieved.”

Maersk was told at 1:30 p.m. Sunday that Captain Phillips had been rescued, the company said in a statement. “John Reinhart, President and Chief Executive Officer of Maersk Line, Limited, called Captain Phillips’ wife, Andrea, to tell her the good news,” the statement continued. “The crew of the Maersk Alabama was jubilant when they received word.”

Captain Phillips was rescued and placed aboard the United States Navy destroyer Bainbridge, CNN reported. He was then flown by helicopter to another Navy ship, and has contacted his family and received a routine medical examination.
Kudos to the Navy. It could have been a lot worse, and I'm glad it wasn't.

Welfare Pirate Kings

I've long given up trying to understand what has happened to England, but this just sounds like another nail in its coffin:
The Royal Navy, which over the centuries did more than anyone to rid the civilized world of the menace of piracy, now declines even to risk capturing their Somali successors, having been advised by Her Majesty’s Government that, under the European Human Rights Act, any pirate taken into custody would be entitled to claim refugee status in the United Kingdom and live on welfare for the rest of his life.
Look for the squeegee guy with the parrot on his shoulder...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Third Arm Blind

You can never have too many extra limbs:
After having a stroke, a 64-year-old woman reports that she now has a 'pale, milky-white and translucent third arm' that she can use to scratch itchy parts of her body. She also says the limb can't penetrate solid objects.
It is 'the first case known to doctors of a person being able to feel, see and deliberately move a limb that doesn't exist.' The woman underwent an MRI and when doctors asker her to move her imaginary third limb, her brain responded as if she really had the arm. Her visual cortex activity also indicated that she saw the arm.
Very interesting-but how would someone know when the arm's hand was giving them the finger?

The Slum Next Door

Slate has an interesting, if depressing, photo essay on what happens when neighborhoods go into freefall in declining cities:
If a resident of a middle-class neighborhood dies or moves to a nursing home, or if a dwelling burns, the empty house is usually guarded or secured by the owner's family. The police keep an eye out for it. Neighbors, well-aware of the impact of a deteriorating eyesore on property values, alert city officials whenever they see a house falling into disrepair. The situation is quickly brought under control.

It's different in a crumbling inner city like Camden. Even Walt Whitman's old house at 328 Mickle St.—the only home he ever owned—was by the 1980s adjacent to a vacant three-story dwelling and just two houses away from a ruin. House values in Camden are low and likely to remain so since the population of the city is declining, unemployment is high, and there is little new demand for houses. The number of vacant houses is likely to increase; many will eventually be acquired by the city, which is too poor either to board them up or to demolish them.
These areas are the ghosts of the Great Society. In wealthier cities, like New York or San Francisco, such areas might well have become gentrified by now. Oddly, the same liberals who protest that redevelopment is destroying the "Character" of older neighborhoods don't seem interested in saving those that are really in distress.

Still In Charge

The rumors of nespapers' demise may have been exagerrated:
Newspapers may be failing, but most do a passable job of limiting serious competition in their markets. What succeeds in the shadow of an established metro, therefore, may not be what ultimately winds up contending for the market positions vacated by Old Media giants.
But it may be easier for a liberalized news market to flourish. Unless some of them are willing to be patronized by the big papers. Could we see the era of newspaper feudalism in progress during the old media dark ages?

Thinkin' 'Bout Tomorrow

Stevie Nicks has discovered her inner activist:
I want to go home and write Bob Dylan songs, I want to go write radical, rebellious 'let's try to make it better' songs. I'm very affected by everything going on. When I do get finished with this Fleetwood Mac tour, I will absolutely write about the political situation, which I have never done before. I have never actually been very political before, and I'm starting to feel more political every day. So, pretty soon, governor (laughs).
Do we really need another lecture from someone who hasn't had a hit since the first Bush was in office? To quote one of your own songs, you can go your own way, and I'll go mine.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Politics By Two Year Olds

Andrew Sullivan on the Tea Party "Movement":
As a fiscal conservative who actually believed in those principles when the Republicans were in power, I guess I should be happy at this phenomenon. And I would be if it had any intellectual honesty, any positive proposals, and any recognizable point. What it looks like to me is some kind of amorphous, generalized rage on the part of those who were used to running the country and now don't feel part of the culture at all. But the only word for that is: tantrum.

These are not tea-parties. They are tea-tantrums. And the adolescent, unserious hysteria is a function not of a movement regrouping and refinding itself. It's a function of a movement's intellectual collapse and a party's fast-accelerating nervous breakdown.
So, basically they're a disorganized, incoherent mob? In other words, they're following the current model of the Republican Party.

Booked And Brainwashed

From Little Green Footballs, of all places, comes a report from the wingnut front lines:
At a “Project 912 Glenn Beck Tea Party,” an unnamed speaker rants about “infiltration by the Communist Party” (a John Birch Society talking point), says that digital cable boxes are “brainwashing machines” planted in our homes by the government, and swears to stop paying taxes. The rant begins at about 1:58.
This is some really deranged stuff, and the audience is eating it up.
And notice the comment about evolution at about 5:00:

Woman: [Shouts] “Burn the books!” [applause]
Man: “I don’t think you were serious about that, were you?”
Woman: “I am too.”
Man: “Burn all the books?!”
Woman: “The ones in college, those, those brainwashing books.”
Man: “[laughs] Brainwashing books?”
Woman: “Yes.”
Man: “Which ones are those?”
Woman: “Like, the evolution crap, and, yeah...”
It sounds like these loons are already brainwashed...

Osama For The Defense

Justice is...served?
In the conclusion Wednesday night to the show 'Devil's Advocate' on Dutch public broadcaster Nederland 2, the jury of two men and three women, along with the studio audience, ruled that there was no proof bin Laden was the mastermind behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.

The Netherlands, home to 'Big Brother' creator Endemol, is known for being on the cutting edge of format-based television...

...[D]efense attorney Gerard Spong...was able to convince the jury that bin Laden's connection to September 11 was a product of 'Western propaganda.'
Well, now I know where Ima Dinnerjacket can go to make his case that the Holocaust didn't happen...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Party Of Ranting

Larison says the GOP hasn't learned anything:
So far, everything the GOP has been doing in Congress and in the media has reinforced all the habits that have pushed so many people into Obama’s arms. Shouting fascism and tyranny in ever-louder voices is not going to change this pattern, but will probably ensure that it keeps getting worse for Republicans.
Insanity is the definition of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a differnt result. At this point, I think it's safe to say that the Republicans need some straightjackets in that wilderness of theirs.

Float On

You could say it has a magnetic personality:
Called the flying MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) robot, the device defies the force of gravity by flying or levitating, powered by a magnetic field.

It moves around and manipulates objects with magnets attached to micro-grippers, remotely controlled by a laser-focusing beam, the university statement said.

The tiny device's micro-manipulation will be useful in micro-assembly of mechanical components, handling of biological samples and even micro-surgery, it added.

'We have developed a magnetically levitated micro-robot, which is a new technology for manipulation using flying micro-robots,' said Behrad Khamesee, research leader and professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering, who is skilled in developing micro-scale devices using magnetic levitation.

'We are the first in the world to make such a floating robot equipped with micro-grippers. It can enter virtually any space and can be operated in a sealed enclosure by a person outside, which makes it useful for handling bio-hazardous materials or working in vacuum chambers and clean rooms,' he was quoted as saying in the statement.
Technology. Gotta love it.

Set Sail The Dogs Of War

It may be coming:
Retired U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley, who was special envoy to Somalia in the 1990s, said U.S. special operations forces have drawn up detailed plans to attack piracy groups where they live on land, but are awaiting orders from the Obama national security team....

The veteran diplomat, who also was ambassador to Pakistan, said teams of Army Delta Force or Navy SEALs "could take care of the pirates in 72 hours" if given the order to strike.

"They have plans on the table but are waiting for the green light," Oakley said.
This isn't Jack Sparrow we're dealing with. It may be time to go after them with the big guns.

Portugal Points The Way

Could this work here?
The number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006, according to a report released recently by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C, libertarian think tank. 'Now instead of being put into prison, addicts are going to treatment centers and they're learning how to control their drug usage or getting off drugs entirely,' report author Glenn Greenwald, a former New York State constitutional litigator, said during a press briefing at Cato last week.
Actually treating addicts like people with a medical problem instead of as criminals? What a concept!

The Dog And Pony Budget

It's definitely something Obama needs to be held to account for:
President Bush was an irresponsible captain of our financial ship. That's one reason why I didn't vote for him in 2004. But it's no excuse for President Obama to be more irresponsible. Two wrongs still do not make a right, even under President Obama. Obama's budgets have consistent structural deficits and a growing debt that exceeds even Bush's excesses. They are not sustainable. If President Obama wants to lead on this issue -- if he truly wants to be change worthy of belief -- he needs to level with the American people: you cannot have a puppy and a pony and a showdog too unless you are going to pay for it.
Well, Obama would provide the critters "For free"-but charge us to feed them.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Retro Wonderland

Call it That Seventies Attitude:
Shag rugs are back in the stores. The rooms in decorating magazines are starting to look just a little bit cluttered. Solar panels are hot. Men are wearing beards. There are orange cars on the road, something not seen since the days of the flaming Ford Pinto. For all we know, avocado-colored appliances are about to mount a comeback.

The culture seems to be having a 1970s moment.
I thought that explained why I saw Mood Rings at Wal Mart the other day...

One Revolution Fits All

Different rationales, same nuttiness.
People who believe in violent revolution and the murder of American soldiers and policemen generally, if on the left, appeal to basically anti-patriotic attitudes. Which is about what you would expect from advocates of the violent overthrow of the established political order. But the militia crowd exhibits much more the attitudes one would expect from a coup leader—a Franco or a Pinochet who’s actually appealing to the concepts of patriotism and nationalism as justification for violent revolution.
Would-be revolutionaries seem to have one thing in common-thinking that the people will naturally rise up and follow them to enlightenment, or back to "Real values." America's strength lies in the fact that we already have laws to protect us from the things these paranoics fear so much. It's worked out pretty well so far.

The War On Zombies

They may be annoying twits, but terrorists? I think not:
Hacktivism and griefing incidents have ranged from minor inconveniences involving modified website content and denial-of-services to potentially dangerous scenarios, such as the modification of electronic traffic safety signs.'

The center's graphic example of the 'dangerous' scenario of altered traffic safety signs was culled from a Wired magazine report on an incident in Austin, Texas, where a hacker changed a sign to warn of a coming zombie infestation.
I often wonder if these so-called "Centers" were really created to give armchair terror warriors something to do in their spare time. Or was that the Department of Homeland Security? At any rate, Bush already acknowledged the threat.

The Rumors Of Our Depression Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Free Exchange says everyone should calm down:
The handwringing over the state of economics is somewhat premature. We remain in the thick of a great test of economic policy. Given an economic shock as large or larger as that which set off the Great Depression, world leaders have responded very differently from their counterparts almost a century ago. If we still find ourselves in deep Depression, then economists will have much to apologise for. If instead the outcome is much better this time around, then the field of economics will have succeeding in preventing a great deal of human suffering.
We're certainly in a tough spot. And more government intervention may only make things worse in the short term. Long term, however, I think it's a little early to be calling for doomsday.