Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Anniversary That Officially Isn't

Speaking of history, in some parts of the world, even those who do remember don't want to talk about it.
In China, inconvenient history is sometimes publicly ignored.

A history textbook used by Chinese high school pupils bought by the BBC makes no mention of the events of April, May and June 1989.

The bloody 1989 Tiananmen tragedy was not a result of the government's inappropriate action, but the government's crime against the people

Ordinary Chinese people know their government's position and so are wary about discussing the massacre in public.

The BBC recently visited the square to ask people, many of them tourists from outside Beijing, what they knew about the protests.

Many seemed to know little - others knew but did not want to speak to a foreign journalist. Some were pulled away by friends or family members before they could comment.

Not one person was prepared to speak openly and on the record.
Considering it's still a Communist government, no matter how much money they are letting people make now, I guess no one should be all that surprised. But the rest of the world can, and should, remember.

The Last One Home

The final "Eyewitness" to the Titanic disaster has passed away.
The last survivor of the sinking of the Titanic has died aged 97.

Millvina Dean was nine weeks old when the liner sank after hitting an iceberg in the early hours of 15 April 1912, on its maiden voyage from Southampton.

The disaster resulted in the deaths of 1,517 people in the north Atlantic, largely due to a lack of lifeboats.

Miss Dean, who remembered nothing of the fateful journey, died on Sunday at the care home in Hampshire where she lived, two of her friends told the BBC.
She might have been too young to know what was happening, but she was a living link to history. And it makes me wonder: what happens to the memory of history when those who were there are no longer with us? What were the last thoughts of the last living witness to George Washington's inauguration, for example? At what point does history stop being testimony and start being words and pictures left for others to interpret?

A Killing In Kansas

An example of one of those right-wing terrorists that supposedly don't exist reared their ugly head today. There has been much reaction, with most of the establishment pro-life crowd rightfully condemning what happened.

It should be interesting to see what Bill O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, et al, have to say about this tomorrow and in the days to come. Regardless of your views, murder is murder and should not be condoned in a civilized society. We are not the Middle East. This is, after all, the sort of thing we are supposedly fighting against.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Lair Of Opportunity

Ecocomics, a cool new blog that looks at the economics of Earth's mightiest heroes, wonders if the talents of supervillains couldn't be put to more productive use:
Imagine the technological advancements that could be made if the government hooked him up with a research position! And if there’s one Leader, then it’s possible to have more metahumans with precariously large crania. Given the right incentives, maybe some of these bums turned mutant geniuses will come up with life-enhancing inventions like 3D holographs or a flying car. There should be grants and subsidies to promote their research activities and encourage investment into new technologies, so guys with green skin and giant brains can yell at MIT grad students instead of toppling civilization with armies of plastic humanoids.
Of course, there's the problem of people like Doctor Doom being megolamaniacs to begin with, but if the mad scientist thing didn't work out, they could always go into politics. Hey, it worked for Lex Luthor!

The New Elites

Will universities soon become diploma factories for only the very rich?
With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care. Patrick M. Callan, the center’s president, has warned that low-income students will find college unaffordable.
This is partly why I think employers-especially white collar ones-should do more to encourage applicants from online schools, at least the legitimate ones. This is an area where the Internet can still help level the playing field for those who don't want to have to sell their firstborn to get a decent education.

Bloggin' In The Years: 1669

Samuel Pepys has apparently recorded the final entry in his diary:
And thus ends all that I doubt I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes
in the keeping of my journal, I being not able to do it any longer, having
done now so long as to undo my eyes almost every time that I take a pen in
my hand; and, therefore, whatever comes of it, I must forbear: and,
therefore, resolve, from this time forward, to have it kept by my people
in long-hand, and must therefore be contented to set down no more than is
fit for them and all the world to know; or, if there be any thing, which
cannot be much, now my amours to Deb. are past, and my eyes hindering me
in almost all other pleasures, I must endeavour to keep a margin in my
book open, to add, here and there, a note in short-hand with my own hand.
As one of the premier witnesses of his time, Master Pepys can rest at ease. His great work is done.

The Other General Speaks

Along with Colin Powell, David Petraeus defies contemporary Republican talking points:
On Guantanamo Bay:

'Gitmo has caused us problems; there's no question about it. I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has indeed been used by the enemy against us. We have not been without missteps or mistakes in our activities since 9/11. And again, Gitmo is a lingering reminder for the use of some in that regard.'

On the notion that we should fear Gitmo detainees entering the U.S. justice system:

'...I don't think we should be afraid to live our values. That is what we're fighting for and it's what we stand for. So, indeed, we need to embrace them and we need to operationalize them in how we carry out what it is we're doing on the battlefield and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith I think, in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in courts of law.'

On the notion that terrorists might be emboldened because the administration has forsworn Bush-era torture techniques:

'What I would ask is, does that not take away from our enemies a tool, which again they have beaten us around the head and shoulders in the court of public opinion? When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Convention, we rightly have been criticized. And so as we move forward, I think it is important to again live our values to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those.'

It's probably not the kind of interview the Cheneys and their allies wanted to see.
Well, obviously he's one a them durn libruls what hates Amurka. Don't he listen to Roosh Limbo?

A Kinder, Gentler Empire

Hmmm:
The White House has asked Congress for — and seems likely to receive — $736 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for U.S. government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital. The scale of the projects rivals the giant U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which was completed last year after construction delays at a cost of $740 million.
I suppose this is in keeping with the "Occupation Lite" theme that Obama seems to have acopted, but it would be nice to know if there is any actual end game plan to what Bush started-and, unfortunately, what Obama seems willing to continue.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lost On The Playground

Peggy Noonan has some advice:
Play grown-up.

The Democrats in the White House have been doing it since January, operating with a certain decorum, a kind of assumption as to their natural stature. Obamaland is very different from the last Democratic administration, Bill Clinton’s. The cliché is true: White House staffs reflect their presidents. Mr. Clinton’s staff was human, colorful, messy, slightly mad. They had pent-up energy after 12 years of Republican rule, and they believed their own propaganda that Republicans were wicked. They were oafish: One dragooned a government helicopter to go play golf. President Obama’s staff is far less entertaining. They’re smooth, impeccable, sophisticated, like the boss. They don’t hate Republicans but think they’re missing a few chips (empathy, logic, How Things Really Work). It is true they don’t know what they don’t know, but what they do know (how to quietly seize and hold power, for instance—they now run the American auto industry), they know pretty well.
How they use that power is one thing, and should be debated, but the fact is that they do have it, and are likely to keep it for awhile. And it's not all that hard for Obama to come across like an adult when his primary opposition is this desperate.

I'd love to be able to play grown-up with the GOP again. The problem is, the way they're going, there may not be enough of them left to do so.

They Are Evolving

The Cylons await?
The prey robot, dubbed Preyro, can simulate evolution.

This is not like robot evolution in the 'Terminator' movie sense of machines turning on their human masters. Instead, Vassar biology and cognitive science professor John Long and his students can make changes to the tail of Preyro to see which designs help it avoid the predator robot.

'We're applying selection,' Long explains, 'just like natural selection.'

Long is among a small group of researchers worldwide studying biology and evolution with the help of robots that can do things like shimmy through water or slither up shores. Long's robots, for instance, test theories on the development of stiffer backbones. The researchers believe the machines will catch on as technological advances allow robots to mimic animals far better than before.
Will there one day be a robot debate over evolution? Will some of them claim that they're not related to those clanking, programmed 'bots of the remote past?

Highly Illogical, Mr. Obama

James Pethokoukis channels his inner nerd in describing Obama's automobile follies:
If George W. Bush was the presidential version of the impulsive Captain Kirk of “Star Trek”, then Barack Obama’s supposed counterpart is the superbrainy, hyperlogical Mr. Spock. (It’s a much-bandied about analogy here in Washington, one that the current president says he’s aware of. Indeed, he actually seems to dig it.)

Then you have the highly regarded White House economic team. It’s a bright group steeped in the latest behavioural economics research, a revolutionary field which theorizes that human decision-making is riddled with “cognitive biases” (such as seeing patterns in random sequences of information) and psychological quirks. Homo economicus and rational agents we usually aren’t, say behavioural economists.

Given all that intelligence and self awareness, it’s surprising to find Team Obama’s approach toward GM (and Chrysler, for that matter) marbled with so much illogical economic policy that could have a terrible long-run impact.
In fairness to Obama, it should be noted that Spock is half human and wasalways struggling with that side of himself. So maybe this is Obama's attempt to reconcile his human and Vulcan halves. Or maybe it's just hamfisted economic policy as usual for a Democratic administration.

Will The Real Ms. Sotomayor Please Stand Up?

E.J. Dionne argues that Sotomayor is no conservative nightmare.
News accounts from the 1990s consistently described her as a 'centrist' in her politics. Her lead sponsor when she was first named as a judge, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was hardly a conventional liberal. Obama may have found himself an empathetic judge, but she practices her empathy from the middle of the road.

A careful analysis of her record by Business Week, for example, concluded that she is a 'moderate on business issues' and would fit the court's current alignment of such questions.
She also upheld a ban on federal funds going to family planning groups that provided abortions overseas. Sotomayor wrote that 'the Supreme Court has made clear that the government is free to favor the anti-abortion position over the pro-choice position, and can do so with public funds.'

Dan Gilgoff, on his excellent 'God and Country' blog, points out that Sotomayor also ruled in favor of a group of Connecticut anti-abortion protesters who asserted that police 'used excessive force against them at a demonstration.' He concludes that her 'thin record on abortion is most likely a relief' to pro-life groups. In picking her, Obama sent another signal that he is serious in seeking common ground on abortion.

Liberals should not take the bait of the right-wingers by allowing the debate over Sotomayor to be premised on the idea that she is a bold ideological choice. She's not. But if conservatives succeed in painting this moderate as a radical, they will skew future arguments over the court. In fact, liberals should press Sotomayor on her more conservative decisions on business issues, an area in which the current court already tilts too far right.
In other words, she seems to be what Obama wants-someon who may be liberal in thought, but not necessarily in action. And isn't that really a better alternative than what the real thing would have been?

Senator Deadwood

Nick Gillespie has a novel suggestion for cutting spending:
Put plainly, the U.S. Senate has more dead weight than an Uruguayan rubgy squad.

Cutting the Senate workforce in half will immediately save $8.7 million per year in direct salary costs, plus millions more in pension plans, entourage costs, inevitable sexual-harassment lawsuits, and skyrocketing bean soup expenditures. If the folks who believe that government spending has a multiplier effect can be trusted (and they can't), then cutting government spending at the highest level should send more fiscally responsible ripples through the system than slapping Sen. Robert Byrd's stomach while he's playing Hooverball.
But then where would all the out-of-work lobbyists and lawyers go? Back to Wall Street?

Wiki Versus Xenu

The Super Adventure Club has been told to take a hike:
Wikipedia has finally popped its foot down and banned those at Church of Scientology HQ from adding or editing entries.

The Register reports that all IP addresses owned or operated by the Church and its associates have been blocked from contributing to the site (unless they apply for special dispensation).

Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee voted 10 to 0 (and one voter abstained) to place an immediate ban on the Church. The ban is an attempt to prevent the self-serving edits that Wikipedia alleges the Church uses to push its own agenda.
First France, now this. But at least they've got Darth Chef as their secret weapon...

Sometimes A Cigar Is Just A Prop

The hoary boogeyman of movies causing teen smoking is being revived, this time by something calling itself the American Medical Association Alliance:
American Medical Association Alliance President Sandi Frost used as her chief example of a movie with 'gratuitous smoking' this month's blockbuster 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' which was rated PG-13 'for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity.'

'Millions of children have been exposed to the main star of the film, Hugh Jackman, with a cigar in his mouth in various scenes,' Frost said. 'I'm willing to bet that not one child would have enjoyed that movie or Mr. Jackman's performance any less if he hadn't been smoking.'

A spokesman for Twentieth Century Fox, the studio responsible for the Wolverine movie series, said Jackman's cigar was never lit and it was limited to just two scenes.

In one scene, the cigar is shot out of his mouth, prompting Jackman's Wolverine character to suggest its loss would lead to clean living -- an anti-smoking statement -- the studio spokesman said.

He said that while the Wolverine character has a cigar in his mouth in almost every panel of the comic book series, producers made 'a conscious decision' to limit the cigar in the movie.
Considering that not many people actually saw Wolverine, I'd say their concerns are questionable at best. Besides, one of the characters, The Blob, is seen conspicuously drinking a Big Gulp. Is he encouraging kids to be obese?

Mr. Potatohead

Ima Dinnerjacket is up for reelection, and, in lieu of being able to provide "Free" houses or cars to his supporters, he's turned to spuds instead.
Two weeks from today, Iran’s presidential election will determine whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying, Israel-hating, America-bashing incumbent, remains in office, whether his country continues its drive to become a nuclear power, and whether a state with a key role in Iraq, Afghanistan and other international flashpoints remains hostile to the West.

The stakes could scarcely be higher, but it is the lowly potato that has been grabbing attention.

The Government is handing out 400,000 tonnes of free spuds in rural towns. It says that it is merely distributing the surplus from a bumper crop, but Mr Ahmadinejad’s opponents accuse it of bribing the poor. “Death to potatoes,” they chant at rallies.
Now why blame the potato? It could be worse-Dinnerjacket could be making them worship it. I suppose the good news is that sooner or later the people will get tired of being promised two potatoes in every pot.

Following In Mugabe's Footsteps

Well, this is encouraging news:
The U.S. economy will enter “hyperinflation” approaching the levels in Zimbabwe because the Federal Reserve will be reluctant to raise interest rates, investor Marc Faber said.

Prices may increase at rates “close to” Zimbabwe’s gains, Faber said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Hong Kong. Zimbabwe’s inflation rate reached 231 million percent in July, the last annual rate published by the statistics office.

“I am 100 percent sure that the U.S. will go into hyperinflation,” Faber said. “The problem with government debt growing so much is that when the time will come and the Fed should increase interest rates, they will be very reluctant to do so and so inflation will start to accelerate.”

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said on May 21 inflation may rise to 2.5 percent in 2011. That exceeds the central bank officials’ long-run preferred range of 1.7 percent to 2 percent and contrasts with the concerns of some officials and economists that the economic slump may provoke a broad decline in prices.

“There are some concerns of a risk from inflation from all the liquidity injected into the banking system but it’s not an immediate threat right now given all the excess capacity in the U.S. economy,” said David Cohen, head of Asian economic forecasting at Action Economics in Singapore. “I have a little more confidence that the Fed has an exit strategy for draining all the liquidity at the appropriate time.”
I'll leave it to those who know more about such things than I do to ponder that statement. And I do think it's a little premature to say that we're headed into the territory of an African basket case. But when you try to spend money that you don't have, why should the Fed agree to cover your bad credit?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Texting Generation

They text, therefore they are:
American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company -- almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.
So at what point should bloggers start to feel like cranky old people, telling these texters to get of our lawns?

Who Would Jesus Shun?

In a strange attempt to combine Christian principles and hypocrisy, we get this confusing bit of, er, logic:
Embracing them does not mean we embrace every word and every deed. But it should likewise mean we don’t race to the nearest microphone to condemn our own when they do something [indiscreet]. The people we should shun are the ones who are quick to throw the rest of us out for daring to stand up for our friends.
What does he think the hardcore Republican base has been doing? What does he think happened to Arlan Spector, why does he think Colin Powell is getting the turncoat treatment, why does he think Michael Steele is having such a hard time trying to bring some sanity to his circus? It's because of "Friends" like Limbaugh that other former "Friends" who actually had something worthwhile to say are being cast out. Supporting this isn't sticking up for your friends or even very Christian. It is, however, the sound of a movement in deep denial.

Keep On Tuckerin'

Tucker Carlson is hoping to provide competition for Drudge.

I do wish him luck, since he actually has some serious journalistic credentials, but isn't he coming in a little late in the game? At the very least, maybe he should start out with a "Niche" news site first, and then work his way up to the big Web leagues.

By Their Screams You Will Know Them

Is this the first case of Obama Derangement Syndrome from a member of the press?
LOS ANGELES — A reporter for a small newspaper was forcibly removed from a press area near Air Force One shortly before President Barack Obama arrived at Los Angeles International Airport to depart California early today.

Airport security officers carried the woman away by the feet and arms as she protested her removal.

She later identified herself as Brenda Lee, a writer for the Georgia Informer in Macon and said she has White House press credentials. The newspaper's Web site says it is monthly publication a Brenda Lee column is posted on it.

A call to the newspaper was not immediately returned.

The White House had no comment, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest said in Washington, D.C.
Lee said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that she wanted to hand Obama a letter urging him 'to take a stand for traditional marriage.'
I'm sure that she'll be able to clarify her statement...once she's been properly medicated...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Now Everybody be Nice

Michael Steele is calling on his fellow Republicans to behave themselves:
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele told CNN Radio Tuesday the party that he hopes will include more Hispanics must be cautious in how it scrutinizes a groundbreaking Latina judge.

“You want to be careful,” he said when asked about juggling Hispanic outreach with potential opposition to Sotomayor, “You don’t want to be perceived as a bully.”

But overall, the new Republican leader is calling for the GOP to avoid the explosive rhetoric attached to many Supreme Court fights.

“I think our party right now will avoid the partisan knee-jerk judgements that typically come with these things,” Steele said.
Unfortunately for him, not everybody seems to be listening:
Rove – “She is competent and will be confirmed….She has an interesting and compelling life story…”

Charlie – “She is very smart.”

Rove – “Not necessarily.”

Charlie – “What do you mean? She went to Princeton where she graduating with honors and then went on to Yale Law School….”

Rove – “I know lots of stupid people who went to Ivy League schools.” The crowd applauds.
Way to maintain the civility and not alienate Hispanics there, Mr. Permanent Republican Majority.

The Slow Road To Victory

Remember when McCain said that he wouldn't mind us staying in Iraq for a hundred years? Well, you can relax, because one of Obama's top generals says it will now only take ten:
Gen. George Casey, Army chief of staff, said Tuesday his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a sustained U.S. commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East.
'Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction,' Casey said. 'They fundamentally will change how the Army works.'

Casey would not specify how combat units would be divided between Iraq and Afghanistan. He said U.S. ground commander Gen. Ray Odierno is leading a study to determine how far U.S. forces could be cut back in Iraq and still be effective. Casey said his comments about the long war in Iraq were not meant to conflict with administration policies.

Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war as quickly as possible and refocusing U.S. resources on what he called the more important fight in Afghanistan.

That will not mean a major influx of U.S. fighting forces on the model of the Iraq 'surge,' however. Obama has agreed to send about 21,000 combat forces and trainers to Afghanistan this year. Combined with additional forces approved before President George W. Bush left office, the United States is expected to have about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year. That's about double the total at the end of 2008, but Obama's top military and civilian advisers have indicated the total is unlikely to grow much beyond that.
Well, we'll see. Will Afghanistan be a manageable occupation as we continue to draw down our forces from Iraq? Maybe, but the country has a notorious reputation for ultimately being unmanageable, as the British and the Russians eventually discovered.

The Court She'll Join

If this is any indication of what to expect when Ms. Sotomayor joins the Supremes, conservatives may not have as much to fear as they thought:
The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it easier for the police and prosecutors to question suspects, lifting some restrictions on when defendants can be interrogated without their lawyers present.

In a 5-to-4 ruling, the court overturned its 1986 opinion in a Michigan case, which forbade the police from interrogating a defendant once he invoked his right to counsel at an arraignment or a similar proceeding.

That 1986 ruling has not only proved “unworkable,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, but its “marginal benefits are dwarfed by its substantial costs” in that some guilty defendants go free. Justice Scalia was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.
This is not, as history has shown, a far-left court. Welcome aboard, Ms. Sotomayor...

Cutting Kim Loose

Fred Kaplan argues that Mini-Me's antics may finally cause Big Brother China to tell him to take a hike:
Like the Soviet Union during Cold War days, China doesn't want subordinate powers to acquire independent means to make mischief. China also fears that a nuclear-armed North Korea might compel Japan to go nuclear, which would pose a threat to China in the long run. When North Korea set off its first nuclear test, the Chinese were clearly frustrated but didn't extend their harsh words to action. It's conceivable that this second test, especially in the wake of the missile test—both of which violated Security Council resolutions that China endorsed—could alter Chinese calculations. In the past, the Chinese have put their narrow national interests above the interests of regional security and nuclear nonproliferation. Maybe this latest move will tip the scale in the opposite direction.
China really is the only real friend that Mini-Me has left these days. Here's hoping they finally get tired of subsidizing the Frankenstein they helped to create.

The Stimulus No Longer Among Us

Daniel Indiviglio is worried about life after the Stimulus:
If $787 billion can't begin to stimulate the economy, then we are in very, very big trouble. The timing of the package will also help, as its benefit will be spaced out over a few years, instead of a one-time pop. The fact is, however, anytime you throw free money at people, they get happier, or in this case, more confident. The problem is, eventually we have to realize that this money -- as well as the money attached to all of the bailouts -- was not really free.
But we're told to pretend that it is, and isn't that the problem?

Business As Usual

Stephen Walt says Obama should ignore Mini-Me's latest temper tantrums:
The best response is to remain calm, and stop talking as if this event is a test of Obama's resolve or a fundamental challenge to U.S. policy. In fact, the tests are just 'business as usual' for North Korea, and it would better if the United States 'under-reacts' rather than overreacts. Instead of giving Pyongyang the attention it wants, the United States should use this incident as an opportunity to build consensus among the main interested parties (China, Russia, South Korea, Japan) and let China take the lead in addressing it. Above all, the Obama administration should avoid making a lot of sweeping statements about how it will not 'tolerate' a North Korean nuclear capability. The fact is that we've tolerated it for some time now, and since we don't have good options for dealing with it, that's precisely what we will continue to do.
Looking like the adult in the room when dealing ith opposition has been one of Obama's strengths at home. He should be able to do it abroad, as well. Maybe if he just thought of North Korea as Asia's version of the Republican Party-both are isolated, backward regimes, after all...

Honest Obama's Used Cars

It looks like the Obama administration is determined to stay in the car business.
While overwhelming rejection by bondholders Tuesday of a proposed debt-equity swap set the stage for a GM [GM 1.15 -0.29 (-20.14%) ] bankruptcy by June 1, the administration said it is not giving up on what industry experts believe is an element of the automaker's restructuring that is destined to be settled in court.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was not specific on the parties involved in any effort led by the White House/Treasury Department's autos task force but said there is still work to be done.

'We're working towards —our hope is —an agreement with all the stakeholders involved to continue General Motors and I think we're making progress,' Gibbs said. 'Hopefully, we'll have news to report soon on that.'

With ratification of labor concessions expected this week, bondholders remain the major piece of GM's restructuring puzzle not yet in place voluntarily.

A General Motors bankruptcy filing seemed inevitable after a rebellion by its bondholders forced it to withdraw on Wednesday a plan to swap bond debt for company stock.

But there is no expectation of a bankruptcy filing by GM this week, a source familiar with the discussions said Wednesday. The source said it was likely that the timing of any next steps would be around the June 1 deadline the government has set for GM's stakeholders to reach agreement on restructuring.
If I were a shareholder, even for a company as troubled as GM, I think I'd be skeptical of the government taking over my investment, too. After all, who does Obama think the shareholders are-China?

Paint It White

Obama's energy advisor has come up with a doozy of an idea:
In a wide-ranging discussion at the three-day Nobel laureate Symposium in London, the Professor described climate change as a 'crisis situation', and called for a whole host of measures to be introduced, from promoting energy efficiency to renewable energy such as wind, wave and solar.

The Nobel Prize-winning physicist said the US was not considering any large scale 'geo-engineering' projects where science is used to reverse global warming, but was in favour of 'white roofs everywhere'.

He said lightening roofs and roads in urban environments would offset the global warming effects of all the cars in the world for 11 years.

'If you look at all the buildings and if you make the roofs white and if you make the pavement more of a concrete type of colour rather than a black type of colour and if you do that uniformally, that would be the equivalent of... reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years – just taking them off the road for 11 years,' he said.
Shades of this story. I suppose we can expect more goofiness like this to come. Al Gore must be kicking himself for not accepting the job.

Jailhouse Blues

Isn't this actually a good thing?
The Dutch justice ministry has announced it will close eight prisons and cut 1,200 jobs in the prison system. A decline in crime has left many cells empty. During the 1990s the Netherlands faced a shortage of prison cells, but a decline in crime has since led to overcapacity in the prison system. The country now has capacity for 14,000 prisoners but only 12,000 detainees.

Deputy justice minister Nebahat Albayrak announced on Tuesday that eight prisons will be closed, resulting in the loss of 1,200 jobs. Natural redundancy and other measures should prevent any forced lay-offs, the minister said.

The overcapacity is a result of the declining crime rate, which the ministry's research department expects to continue for some time.

Belgian prisoners

Some reprieve might come from a deal with Belgium, which is facing overpopulation in its prisons. The two countries are working out an agreement to house Belgian prisoners in Dutch prisons. Some five-hundred Belgian prisoners could be transferred to the Tilburg prison by 2010.
Now why would the Dutch want another country's prisoners? We've got a few at Gitmo if they're that interested...

He Bombed London, He Invaded France

Don't you have to have a lot of free time on your hads to complain about something like this?
A customer complained that the image on the underwear resembled the Nazi leader saluting as planes passed overhead.

Next said that it had investigated the complaint and found the image, among a series of cartoons, was inspired by a picture of Lenin, the former Soviet leader.

But a spokesman told The Sun it was withdrawing the remaining 5,200 pairs of the underwear anyway. He said: 'The complaint came in today and by the end of the day all 5,200 will be withdrawn.

'We have checked with the designer who confirmed the image was inspired by Lenin. Nonetheless, if even one customer is offended or upset we are happy to withdraw the range.'
It looks like said underwear was inspired by 1960s pop art. At any rate, wouldn't forcing the Fuher to literally kiss your ass be what most people would want to do anyway?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Telltale Heart

Seal organs. It's what's for dinner.
Canada's governor general ate a slaughtered seal's raw heart in a show of support to the country's seal hunters, a display that a European Union spokeswoman on Tuesday called 'too bizarre to acknowledge.'

Governor General Michaelle Jean, the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II as Canada's head of state, gutted the seal and swallowed a slice of the mammal's organ late Monday after an EU vote earlier this month to impose a ban on seal products on grounds that the seal hunt is cruel.

Asked Tuesday whether her actions were a message to Europe, Jean replied, 'Take from that what you will.'

Hundreds of Inuit at a community festival gathered Monday as Jean knelt above a pair of seal carcasses and used a traditional ulu blade to slice the meat off the skin. After cutting through the flesh, Jean turned to the woman beside her and asked: 'Could I try the heart?'
After swallowing a piece whole and deeming it tasty, Jean, whose post is largely ceremonial, defended the hunt as an eons-old traditional hunting practice that is not inhumane.
Would it hurt for the animal-rights activists who complain so much about how we use them for food to learn a little bit about how cultures around the world have actually been using animals for centuries before they came along? I'm all for saving endangered species, including the cute ones. But a little perspective here, please. We're part of nature, too.

The Pick Reax

Ann Althouse responds to Rush Limbaugh:
Confirmation should not be about ideology, and conservatives ought to want to prove that principle by their votes. Use the confirmation hearings to delineate what liberal judicial ideology is and why people ought to reject it. Then get a good presidential candidate for 2012 and make Supreme Court nominations an issue. Is that too hard? Does that take too long? Too bad! You say you want a Justice who will tell the truth about what the Constitution means. But here's something about what the Constitution means: The President has the appointment power.
I have never said that conservatives shouldn't fight for what they believe is important. But there are times when they should pick fights that they can win, and win them without descending into the kind of nastiness we've seen from much of the Right these days.

The Pick

Much is being said and will be said about Obama's choice of Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Krauthammer says it's about identity politics. Over at the National Journal, Stuart Taylor talks about the risk the Republicans face in going after what would be an historic nonimee.

For my own part, I think it's better to reserve judgement until we see how she actually does on the bench-and it's likely that she will get there, Republican plans for grilling her aside. The Court has not historically moved very radically to the left, so we'll see how she fits in with her peers.

The Price Of Good Health

Jacob Sullum responds to the notion of a soda tax as a cure for health care costs:
Leaving aside the question of whether a soda tax would have a significant impact on total calorie intake, there are a couple of problems with Leonhardt's reasoning. First, smoking and overeating (unlike, say, air or water pollution) do not inherently 'place a cost on the rest of society'; if taxpayers pick up the tab for the treatment of smoking- or obesity-related diseases, that is only because the government forces them to do so. Second, even if government-funded health care is taken for granted, both smoking and overeating actually seem to save taxpayers money. A 2008 Dutch study, for example, found that thin nonsmokers generate higher lifetime medical costs than obese people or smokers do because they tend to live longer. 'The underlying mechanism,' the researchers explained, 'is that there is a substitution of inexpensive, lethal diseases toward less lethal, and therefore more costly, diseases.' If the aim is to reduce government spending on medical care, New Jersey's tax on health club memberships, which Leonhardt cites as an example of 'taxes that seem to defy all reason,' probably makes more sense than a soda tax.
As we live longer, we increase the demand for expensive services. If we go down the "Sin tax" route, we may ultimatley only make the cost of government-sponsored care greater, and therefore the options for service less. Instead of making health care "Affordable for all," perhaps politicians should find ways to make it more available-and cost-effective-through choice and innovation instead of simply punishing people for their "Costly" lifestyles.

Right Rags

Damon Linker makes the following observation about the decline of intellectual discourse among three leading conservative mags:
Oh sure, there are bright spots at all three magazines/websites: Jim Manzi's libertarian-minded commentary on economics and finance for NRO; Max Boot's historically informed posts on foreign affairs and military issues for Contentions; and best of all, Christopher Caldwell's carefully reported essays on various political and cultural topics for the Weekly Standard. But that's pretty much it for intellectual conservatism these day, at least in the places it used to thrive.
The fact that all three still have jobs does give some measure of encouragement, but only a little. It has become increasingly difficult for them to compete against the simplistic responses offered by Limbaugh and company.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembrance




Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o'er,
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking,
Dream of battled fields no more.
Days of danger, nights of waking. -Sir Walter Scott
I hope everyone had a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Dad Goes Galt

Survivalism, once associated with kooks living in the hinterlands, is now coming to the 'burbs:
Emergency supply retailers and military surplus stores nationwide have seen business boom in the past few months as an increasing number of Americans spooked by the economy rush to stock up on gear that was once the domain of hardcore survivalists.

These people snapping up everything from water purification tablets to thermal blankets shatter the survivalist stereotype: they are mostly urban professionals with mortgages, SUVs, solid jobs and a twinge of embarrassment about their newfound hobby.

From teachers to real estate agents, these budding emergency gurus say the dismal economy has made them prepare for financial collapse as if it were an oncoming Category 5 hurricane. They worry about rampant inflation, runs on banks, bare grocery shelves and widespread power failures that could make taps run dry.
....

The surge in interest in emergency stockpiling has been a bonanza for camping supply companies and military surplus vendors, some of whom report sales spikes of up to 50 percent. These companies usually cater to people preparing for earthquakes or hurricanes, but informal customer surveys now indicate the bump is from first-time shoppers who cite financial, not natural, disaster as their primary concern, they say.

Top sellers include 55-gallon water jugs, waterproof containers, freeze-dried foods, water filters, water purification tablets, glow sticks, lamp oil, thermal blankets, dust masks, first-aid kits and inexpensive tents.
So is this just a fad among worried suburbanites? Or is it really better to be safe than sorry?

The Super Adventure Club On Parade

The cult that claimed Chef and Tom Cruise as members is going to court.
The Church of Scientology in France went on trial today on charges of organised fraud.

Registered as a religion in the United States, with celebrity members such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology enjoys no such legal protection in France and has faced repeated accusations of being a money-making cult.

The group's Paris headquarters and bookshop are defendants in the case. If found guilty, they could be fined €5 million ($7 million) and ordered to halt their activities in France.

Seven leading French Scientology members are also in the dock. Some are charged with illegally practising as pharmacists and face up to 10 years in prison and hefty fines.

The case centres on a complaint made in 1998 by a woman who said she was enrolled into Scientology after members approached her in the street and persuaded her to do a personality test.

In the following months, she paid more than €21,000 for books, 'purification packs' of vitamins, sauna sessions and an 'e-meter' to measure her spiritual progress, she said.

Other complaints then surfaced. The five original plaintiffs - three of whom withdrew after reaching a financial settlement with the Church of Scientology - said they spent up to hundreds of thousands of euros on similar tests and cures.

They told investigators that Scientology members harassed them with phone calls and nightly visits to cajole them into paying their bills or taking out bank loans. The plaintiffs were described as 'vulnerable' by psychological experts in the case.
I guess they just couldn't find their inner Thetans...

On a greater level, couldn't it be argued that all of the world's major religions started out as cults? The difference is, they eventually became respectable with responsible leadership. Scientology was deliberately founded as a con and stayed that way.

Things Go Better With Coke

Apparently it really does give you wings:
Germany is considering a nationwide ban on the high-energy drink Red Bull Cola after traces of cocaine were found in it.

Authorities in the states of Hesse and North-Rhine Westphalia have ordered retailers to stop selling the beverage - which is available in the UK.

The consumer ministries in the two states confirmed they had ordered retailers to pull the drink off their shelves after a food safety institute in North-Rhine Westphalia found the drug in samples.

'The institute examined Red Bull Cola in an elaborate chemical process and found traces of cocaine,' said Bernhard Kuehnle, head of the food safety department at the federal ministry for consumer protection.

Authorities said the cocaine levels do not pose a health threat but are not permitted in foodstuffs.
This reminds me of those Co-Cocaine T-shirts that were popular in the late Seventies-early Eighties. Incidentally, Coke itself had actual Coke in it when it was first introduced-as a medicinal product-in the late nineteenth century. But it was legal then...

The Mini-Me That Roared

Here we go again:
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea announced Monday that it successfully carried out a second underground nuclear test, less than two months after launching a rocket widely believed to be a test of its long-range missile technology.

North Korea, incensed by U.N. Security Council condemnation of its April 5 rocket launch, had warned last month that it would restart it rogue nuclear program, conduct a second atomic test as a follow-up to its first one in 2006, and carry out long-range missile tests.

On Monday, the country's official Korean Central News Agency said the regime 'successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense.'

The regime boasted that the test was conducted 'on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control.'

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency security session. His spokesman, Lee Dong-kwan, confirmed that a North Korean nuclear test was possible.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Andy Laine said: 'At this point, we've seen the reports and we're trying to get more information, but we're not able to confirm at this time.'
Well, this could get very interesting, to say the least. Bush tried the carrot approach after Mini-Me's first confirmed blowup. What will Obama do?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The General's Last Battle

Colin Powell is fighting back.
"I believe we should build on the base because the nation needs two parties, two parties debating each other. But what we have to do is debate and define who we are and what we are and not just listen to dictates that come down from the right wing of the party," said Powell, the nation's top military officer under President George H.W. Bush and later secretary of state for President George W. Bush.

Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh have openly mocked Powell as a Republican in name only, citing his endorsement of Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain in last year's presidential race.

Powell reaffirmed that he is a solid Republican and said the GOP must be more inclusive or risk giving Democrats and independents the chance to scoop up disaffected moderate Republicans. He detailed his presidential voting history - yes to GOP nominees Ronald Reagan through the younger Bush, but yes also to Democrats John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

"If we don't reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on the base," Powell said.
It's ironic. Forty or fifty years ago, Powell would have been seen as an Eisenhower-esque figure, and he was seriously considered as a Republican nominee in 1996. But it doesn't seem to be his kind of party anymore. But he's not alone, as more sane Republicans are joining him:
Fellow GOP moderate Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and homeland security secretary under George W. Bush, said if the GOP wants "to restore itself, not as a regional party, but as a national party, we have to be far less judgmental about disagreements within the party and far more judgmental about our disagreement with our friends on the other side of the aisle."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a potential presidential candidate in 2012, insisted he didn't want to pick a fight with Cheney. But Gingrich offered this advice: "I think Republicans are going to be very foolish if they run around deciding they're going to see how much they can purge us down to the smallest possible base."
Well, unless something changes dramatically very soon, it looks like the purge will continue. Remember what I said about irony? It also applies to so-called conservatives who are now acting like old Soviet leaders, getting rid of anyone who dares to challenge the new party line.

Taxman, Mr. Obama

A tax revolt...in England? Some bankers across the pond certainly seem to be talking about one:
Andy Thompson of Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers (APCIMS) said: 'The cost and administration of the US tax regime is causing UK investment firms to consider disinvesting in US shares on behalf of their clients. This is not right and emphasises that the administration of a tax regime on a global scale without any flexibility damages the very economy it is trying to protect.'

One executive at a top UK bank who didn't want to be named for fear of angering the IRS said: 'It's just about manageable under the current system - and that's because we're big. The danger to us is suddenly being hauled over the coals by the IRS for a client that hasn't paid proper taxes. The audit costs will soar. We'll have to pay it but I know plenty of smaller players won't.'

The British Bankers Association (BBA) and APCIMS had a meeting with European counterparts 10 days ago to discuss the crisis. A delegation is set to meet the US Treasury's Internal Revenue Service on 16th June to demand they drop the reforms.
I suppose things have now come full circle...

Over The Edge

Well, it was one way to solve the problem:
Retired soldier Mr Lai at first volunteered to try to talk Mr Chen down but was turned away by police, Xinhua said.
Mr Lai is said to have then broken through the police cordon, climbed to where Mr Chen sat, greeted him with a handshake - and then pushed him off the edge.

Pictures in the China Daily show him saluting to the crowd after Mr Chen fell on to the partially filled emergency air cushion.

'I pushed him off because jumpers like Chen are very selfish,' the newspaper quoted Mr Lai as saying.
'Their action violates a lot of public interests. They do not really dare to kill themselves. Instead, they just want to raise the relevant government authorities' attention to their appeals.'

Mr Chen is said to have suffered spine and elbow injuries and is recovering in a Guangzhou hospital.
Insert your own Lethal Weapon joke here...but it does seem that many "Suicides" do just want attention, or are in serious need of psychiactric help to begin with. Here's hoping that Mr. Chen now gets both.

Shatnermania

Just in time for summer: For the William Shatner fan who has everything. Can you feel the emoting?

The Decline And Fall Of The Ethanol Empire

Ed Wallace notes how the ethanol scam is experiencing epic fail:
For the fourth time in our history the ethanol industry has come undone and is quickly failing nationally. Of course it’s one thing when Detroit collapsed with the economy; after all, that is a truly free-market enterprise and the economy hasn’t been good. But the fact that the ethanol industry is going bankrupt, when the only reason we use this additive is a massive government mandate, is outrageous at best.
If it had been a free-market industry, the ethanol business could at least be failing as a result of lack of demand and other market forces. But since this scheme is subsidized to the hilt, we are the ones paying for this boondoggle. Can you imagine what could happen with health care?

The Press Versus The Populace

Matt Welch has responded to the L.A. Times as they try to shame the voters who rejected Arnold's agenda. In his conclusion he notes:
I have no doubt whatsoever that some of the impending California budget cuts will be painful, inflicting harm on precisely the type of person you might otherwise want to help with a social safety net. That's not because the state is spending just the right amount of money right now, but because the state, like all lumbering bureaucracies (including the L.A. Times) is even more horribly inefficient in cutting spending than it is at spending money in the first place. The Times is a useful example in this case: For around a decade of job cuts, the paper didn't go around firing the newsroom's ample dead wood, it offered buyouts to anyone who would walk.
There do seem to be a lot of parallels between inefficient local regimes and the supposedly objective newspapers that support them. This is the inherent problem with institutionalized deadwood-it tends to get its own way after awhile.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pelosi Galore

It looks like not everybody is on board the Pelosi bashing train:
After viewing an RNC video that juxtaposed the speaker with the James Bond villainess, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told POLITICO Saturday:

'I thought it was reprehensible, irresponsible and unpersuasive. If we're going to regain the credibility of the American people, we're going to have to stop with silly antics like that. It may get a snide chuckle inside the Beltway, but it offends most people. We have to get away from the politics of personal destruction,' he said of the video.

The RNC declined repeatedly to explain the Pelosi/Galore connection, saying only that the video was about the speaker's 'lack of leadership.' Chaffetz is the only Republican thus far who has been willing to comment on the video.

'Policy and public comments are fair game, and there are creative ways to amplify it, but I despise it when Democrats and organizations like MoveOn.org use these types of tactics,' Chaffetz said. 'I would like our party to be more consistent in calling out inappropriate behavior like this. We've got to show some leadership and get serious about the issues at hand. It just bothers me that we have someone in the bowels of the organization on payroll working on stuff like this."
Really? Who does Mr. Chaffetz think has been running the GOP lately?

Seriously though, while Nancy Pelosi may be pretty useless as a Speaker, these types of stunts do little to encourage real, meaningful opposition. It makes the Republicans look like, well, a bunch of boys who are embarrassed that they got beaten up by a girl.

Working Class Heroes

In lamenting the death of shop class, Matthew Crawford notes how economic circumstances may cause it to make a comeback:
This seems to be a moment when the useful arts have an especially compelling economic rationale. A car mechanics’ trade association reports that repair shops have seen their business jump significantly in the current recession: people aren’t buying new cars; they are fixing the ones they have. The current downturn is likely to pass eventually. But there are also systemic changes in the economy, arising from information technology, that have the surprising effect of making the manual trades — plumbing, electrical work, car repair — more attractive as careers. The Princeton economist Alan Blinder argues that the crucial distinction in the emerging labor market is not between those with more or less education, but between those whose services can be delivered over a wire and those who must do their work in person or on site. The latter will find their livelihoods more secure against outsourcing to distant countries. As Blinder puts it, “You can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.”
Of course, as he goes on to add, it's not just about economics, but the simple fact that you can still get a great deal of personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment in being able to make or fix something with your own two hands. You can say, "I did that. That's my work." In an age in which we place so much emphasis on kids' self-esteem, how about creating an environment where they can really earn it?

The Way The Future Isn't

Lane Wallace responds to Time's cover story on the future of the economy by noting the following:
Will more people work in independent jobs and from home, over the next 10 years? Quite possibly. Will company benefit structures change? Probably... but also, probably, in some companies more than others. Will health care coverage and insurance systems change? Almost assuredly, now. But will the changes in how we live and work be as sweeping as revolutionary as the Time article predicts? I'm skeptical. There are other forces, and truths, that work against revolutionary and sweeping change in the world. Just ask anyone who's ever tried to change it. And that's true for the business world, as well (more on this later). But in any event ... the future of how we work will almost assuredly evolve in defiance of any firm prediction. And in ways, and in reaction to events, that we don't, or can't, foresee.
Of course, that never stopped futurists in the past, and it hasn't yet-check out some of the claims made by transhumanists, for example. This isn't to say bold predictions of the world of tomorrow can't be fun, or sometimes even informative, just that in most cases they need to be taken with a grain of salt in most cases. Maybe we should be worrying more about the present, and let the future take care of itself. Or at least leave it to science fiction writers, who can speculate without fear.

Finding Your Inner Search Engine

Do we need to change the way we think, or the way the Internets do? Ezra Klein argues for the latter:
The key skill isn't knowing where to find information. It's knowing where to find where to find information. It's understanding connector terms and knowing the relative specialties of different search engines and finding the best aggregators and possessing ninja-level skills with Nexis. We don't need to learn to think like Google. We need to learn how to help Google think.
The human brain, for all its physical flaws and limitations, is still a remarkable piece of evolutionary hardware in the way it can assimilate and dissect various forms of information. But will bringing the speed of thought to the Web actually help us-or make us lazier? What happens to the simple joy of thought when the search engines can do it for us?

Friday, May 22, 2009

In For The Long Haul

Felix Salmon has some words of warning about the harder times that may lie ahead:
[O]ver the long term, I'm optimistic that the redeployment of US human resources away from finance and into the real economy is bound to be a good thing. But in the medium term, the process of 'scaling back and turning inwards' around the globe is going to be extremely painful -- and is far from over. Or, to put it a more familiar way, things are going to get worse before they get worse. Only very slowly and very painfully might they start to get better -- and it's not going to happen any time soon.
If people can prepare themselves for a long period of scaled-down living, they may be in a better position to ride the recovery when it does come. Part of the problem, however, is that we've become a society with a sense of instant gratification. Those who want a quick fix are bound to be disappointed.

California Cuttin'

Theysay that a conservative is a liberal who's ben mugged. Well, California's voters have been mugged by the economy, and sent a loud and clear message to a Governator who calls himself a Republican and now, ironically, may be forced to act like one.
This week, voters said they no longer want the Legislature to balance budgets with higher taxes, complicated transfer schemes or borrowing that pushes California's financial problems off into the distant future. In light of that, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has made it clear he intends to close the gap almost entirely through drastic spending cuts.

The governor's cutbacks could include ending the state's main welfare program for the poor, eliminating health coverage for about 1.5 million poor children, halting cash grants for about 77,000 college students, shortening the school year by seven days, laying off thousands of state workers and teachers, slashing money for state parks and releasing thousands of prisoners before their sentences are finished.

'I understand that these cuts are very painful and they affect real lives,' Schwarzenegger said. 'This is the harsh reality and the reality that we face. Sacramento is not Washington - we cannot print our own money. We can only spend what we have.'
Except, Arnold, that's not what you were doing. You were doing what, well, Gray Davis got recalled for, which was basically borrowing money to "Save" money. Your saving grace is that you are term-limited and then it will be somebody else's mess to worry about. So much for the legacy of the man who would be the next Reagan.

Affirmative Action For Divas

Call it forced modeling for "Underrepresented" divas:
Latin America's top fashion event, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) to be held in Brazil next month, has agreed to boost the number of black models on its catwalks after being targeted by anti-racism campaigners.

Under the terms of the deal, signed Thursday with prosecutors in the state of Sao Paulo, the number of black and indigenous models have to meet a set quota, otherwise fines could be levied against labels taking part.

'The management of the SPFW is going to indicate to all the labels that at least 10 percent of the casting has to be composed of black, African-descendant or indigenous models,' it said on its website.

The move came after the prosecutors threatened legal action against the SPFW's organizers unless they increase the number of black models.
And what happens if they simply can't get enough black models for the show? Does legal action still apply? Which neurotic who believes in world peace should get forced out of competition to satisfy the law?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Better Health Scares Through Chemistry

Ronald Bailey compares the attitudes of actual chemical experts to anti-chemical activists:
Ninety-two percent of toxicologists disagreed with the assertion that "any level of exposure is unacceptable for chemicals that have been identified as carcinogens, mutagens, or reproductive toxicants." In addition, 81 percent rejected the notion that the detection of any level of a chemical in your body indicates a significant health risk. And, 87 percent disagreed with the claim that organic or "natural" products are safer than other products. Seventy percent were against using the precautionary principle as a guide to risk regulation. The precautionary principle mandates that a substance suspected to cause harm should be banned even in the absence of scientific consensus.

So whom should the public trust when it comes to information about possible health risks from exposures to chemicals? Certainly not environmental advocacy groups: 96 percent of toxicologists believe that Greenpeace overstates chemical health risks; 85 percent says the Environmental Defense Fund does too; and 79 percent believe that the Environmental Working Group, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Center for Science in the Public Interest overstate risks. On the other hand, about 60 percent believe that industry lobbyists such as the American Chemistry Council and the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America understate chemical exposure risks.

In general, the majority of toxicologists think that government agencies are fairly accurate in portraying chemical health risks, although 41 percent thought the Environmental Protection Agency overstated risks and 40 percent thought the agency was accurate in its risk portrayals.
It's this fudging ith actual risk factors by so-called advocates that really messes up the legitimate science of risk assessment. It creates uncecessary fear (as we've seen with the vaccination scare), but it does give activists a nice target in the "Evil" chemical companies. Of course, people who actually know about chemistry aren't consulted. That would lead to actual facts.

The Not So Golden State

Megan McCardle offers a word of warning to those who think California's train wreck won't affect them:
For starters, the rest of you sitting smugly out there in your snug homes, preparing to enjoy the spectacle, should prepare to enjoy the higher taxes you're going to pay as a result. Your states and municipalities will pay higher interest on their bonds if California is allowed to default....On the other hand, I don't really see another way out of it. If Uncle Sugar bails out California, California will not fix its problems.
For decades, the "California dream" was paid for by others. Now that the dream is ending, guess who gets to foot the bill?

Dandy Nation

When the hip are no longer hip:
At its best the hipster is the new Dandy, the semi-subversive who overloads the system by over-subscribing to it (conspicuously consuming) and yet undermines it by seeming as if the real source of their cooperation is that they can't take the system seriously enough to bother to oppose it.
Those of us who aren't "Hip" have another word for people like this: Poseurs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One Man's Sin Is Another's American Renewal

Nick Gillespie defends legalized vice as a trade-off for Obama's spending plans:
Legalizing the world's oldest profession probably wasn't what Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, meant when he said that we should never allow a crisis to go to waste. But turning America into a Sin City on a Hill could help President Obama pay for his ambitious plans to overhaul health care, invest in green energy, and create gee-whiz trains that whisk 'through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour.' More taxed vices would certainly lead to significant new revenue streams at every level. That's one of the reasons 52 percent of voters in a recent Zogby poll said they support legalizing, taxing and regulating the growth and sale of marijuana. Similar cases could be made for prostitution and all forms of gambling.
The idea of America looking like Las Vegas might cause some moralists to squirm, but as long as it's there, why not make lemonade out of lemons, as it were?

This Lifestyle For Sale

The rich are different than the rest of us-they have fancier yard sales:
Fire-sale auctions of mansions, yachts, sports cars and other trappings of wealth have become increasingly common as the rich become less rich. ... Whether unable to pay their bills or loath to appear lavish at a time of national thrift, many millionaires and billionaires are unloading their baubles. In a twist on the estate sales of deceased celebrities, 'living estate sales' have become increasingly popular.
Of course, the lifestyle is still around-but the era of bling for bling's sake may be coming to an end.

Co-Opting Joey

On the occasion of what would have been his 58th birthday, Reason wonders why the Left is so eager to claim Joey Ramone as one of their own:
Forget that the Ramones made their reputation with songs that sketched an irresistible world filled with dumb and often explicitly anti-social fun. (The uninitiated can get a good sense of this from the titles of some of the band's signature tunes, which include 'Beat On the Brat,' 'Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue,' 'You're Gonna Kill That Girl,' 'Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment,' and 'I Wanna Be Sedated.')

For some righteously left-wing critics, such anarchic, aimless pleasure must always, in the final analysis, give way to something deeper, something more serious. Ironically, it must give way to precisely the sort of pedantically earnest musical messaging that helped provoke punk rock—and the Ramones—into existence in the first place.
Joey Ramone wasn't John Lennon. He was a rock and roller with attitude, perhaps one of the last. He took the same three chords and turned them into punk anthems-and managed to enjoy a level of success that eluded other punk bands while doing it. Deeper meaning, my foot. It was rock and roll.

Not In My Prison Yard

In another disappointing move from the "Antiwar" Dems, Harry Reid channels his inner Republican:
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, seemed to ramp up the concerns of Congressional Democrats, insisting during a news conference that lawmakers would never allow the terror suspects to be released into the United States and suggesting that they would never allow them to be transferred to American prisons.

“Guantanamo makes us less safe,” Mr. Reid said. “However this is neither the time nor the bill to deal with this. Democrats under no circumstances will move forward without a comprehensive, responsible plan from the president. We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.”

Pressed to explain if that meant they could not be transferred to American prisons, Mr. Reid said: “We don’t want is them to be put in prisons in the United States. We don’t want them around the United States.
Call me crazy, but don't we already have several dangerous people locked up in maximum security prisons? If they're good enough for Charlie Manson and mob hitmen, why can't they be good enough for the guys from Gitmo?

The Light At The End Of What Tunnel

Obama's Afghanistan is increasingly sounding like a new version of Vietnam, with drones replacing helicopters:
U.S. airstrikes aimed at al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan have been “very effective,” with few civilian deaths as a result, CIA Director Leon Panetta said Monday in a rare public acknowledgment of the raids.

Asked about criticism of the missile attacks by counterinsurgency experts, Panetta said he did not want to discuss specifics, “but I can assure you that in terms of that particular area, it is very precise and is very limited in terms of collateral damage.”

“Very frankly, it’s the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al Qaeda leadership,” Panetta told the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles.

***

Two leading former advisers on counterinsurgency warfare, David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum, wrote in The New York Times over the weekend that the strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders in the past three years—but Pakistani sources say the civilian death toll could be as high as 700.
This is how Presidencies can become unraveled over time. It happened to Johnson and if Obama isn't careful, it may happen to him, too. The fact that it may be more hidden from view doesn't negate the fact that it is in fact happening.

The Great Demographic Divide

Michael Steele may be trying to rally the troops (to mostly comic effect, IMO), but the news doesn't look good for his party long-term:
The decline in Republican Party affiliation among Americans in recent years is well documented, but a Gallup analysis now shows that this movement away from the GOP has occurred among nearly every major demographic subgroup. Since the first year of George W. Bush’s presidency in 2001, the Republican Party has maintained its support only among frequent churchgoers, with conservatives and senior citizens showing minimal decline.
It does seem to be a realignment of historic proportions in the making. Bush wasn't a divider, he was a realigner!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back From The Grave

The invoking of Reagan seems to be getting a little desperate these days, not to mention a tad creepy:
The Republican Party has turned a corner, and as we move forward Republicans should take a lesson from Ronald Reagan. Again, we’re not looking back – if President Reagan were here today he would have no patience for Americans who looked backward. Ronald Reagan always believed Republicans should apply our conservative principles to current and future challenges facing America. For Reagan’s conservatism to take root in the next generation we must offer genuine solutions that are relevant to this age.
But remember, Michael Steele isn't looking backward. And, uh, Reagan!

Big Government, The Next Generation

Part of the reason Republicans aren't getting much traction with the younger crowd these days may be because many of them simply aren't as scared of big government as their parents were:
What I find interesting, if not entirely revelatory, is that Millennials are stoked about the goals of liberal government (more than two-thirds support sustainable eco-solutions, universal health care, alternative energies) but pretty ambivalent about the means...Of course we don't have strong opinions about economic strategy: We're waiting to see if Obama's tactics work first. And if they don't, the big government generation could slow its leftish shift.
Interesting. Obama could unintentionally create a new generation of fiscal conservatives. Now that would be change that we can believe in.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Decline Of The Brain Trust

Richard Posner responds to his critics:
I do not favor the curtailment of individual liberties on the basis of religious beliefs, nostalgia for the 'good old days,' or traditional social beliefs (such as distaste for racial minorities or homosexuals) that cannot be related to economic, libertarian, or security values. One of Reagan's great political achievements was to unite the diverse conservatisms in a single political movement that managed to gain the support of a majority of the American people.

That unity has now dissolved, and it will require skillful political entrepreneurship plus overreaching by liberal politicians (or the kind of left-wing extremism that marred the late 1960s and early 1970s) to restore it.

The ideological division within the conservative movement has been compounded by a decline in intellectual and managerial competence--a tendency to substitute will for intelligence ('I believe it so it must be so'). Some commenters note the intellectual and ethical failings of liberals, and they are right to do so. But it is only at the Right, at present, that anti-intellectualism is embraced and extolled.
As he notes, there was a time when this wasn't always so. Just as there was always an anti-intellectual streak within conservatism, so too did it have its smart, thoughtful spokespeople. But they're all being driven away now, and the conservative movement is poorer (and mentally weaker) for it.

Where The Grads Are

Richard Forida takes note of what cities college grads are most drawn to:
New York City topped the list - despite the financial crisis - with eight in 10 survey respondents listing it as one of their top destinations. Second-place Washington, D.C. was named by 63 percent. Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and San Diego round out the top 10. And, remember, this is a list of the places that are best to find a job, not to have fun, go to great restaurants or clubs, make friends, or get lots of dates.

The list is heavy on big cities. It differs considerably from the Wall Street Journal's youth magnet list, but it's quite similar to a list my research team and I developed of the best places for recent college graduates which put big cities like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, Los Angeles, and New York on top. (D.C. jumped to the top of the list when we factored affordability and cost into the mix).

The appeal of big cities stems from a simple economic fact - they offer thicker labor markets with more robust job opportunities across a wide number of fields.
This may be a reason why the big cities will probably weather the recession better than already hard-hit older manufacturing towns. In the long run, economic demand may make these places simply less expensive and more attractive to live, which will help in their revitalization.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Don't Fear The Cooker

Our food is apparently safer than we thought:
What is discussed in terrorist training manuals, and what the CIA is worried about, is the use of contaminated food in targeted assassinations. The quantities involved for mass poisonings are too great, the nature of the food supply too vast and the details of any plot too complicated and unpredictable to be a real threat. That becomes crystal clear as you read the details of the different incidents: it's hard to kill one person, and very hard to kill dozens. Hundreds, thousands: it's just not going to happen any time soon. The fear of bioterror is much greater, and the panic from any bioterror scare will injure more people, than bioterrorism itself.
This is good news-the last thing we need is an airport or border-style approach to our supermarkets and favorite pizza hangouts. That way leads to security overkill.

A LIttle tweaking Goes A Long Way

Jonah Lehrer argues that attitude as much as anything has contributed to our current financial woes:
When it comes to the question of whether or not Americans can suddenly reverse long-term consumption trends - we want that shiny new HDTV, and we want it right now! - it's worth pointing out that this isn't simply a case of modern decadence, or of the baby boomers/Generation X not having any self-control. Instead, it's an example of how seemingly insignificant cultural tweaks - in theory, it shouldn't matter how we pay for things - can have profound implications.
In past generations there did seem to be the sense that you should save for the guture-not that you couldn't get a new house or a new car when you needed one, but that you shouldn't waste money in general. The Boomers and Generation X did change that, as did government-after all, it was pretty hard to watch your own budget when Uncle Sam couldn't or wouldn't watch his. Still, that's no excuse for cultural laziness when it comes to your wallet.

TV Or Not TV

Will the last person willing to openly criticize Hugo Chavez please turn out the lights?
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - When Venezuelans tune to Globovision, they see protests against faulty public services or a talk show guest saying Hugo Chavez could be executed by his opponents, just like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

Now Chavez seems to be gearing up for a final showdown with Globovision, Venezuela's only remaining opposition television station on the open airwaves.

Broadcast regulators are investigating the all-news channel for inciting 'panic and anxiety' during a minor earthquake when it criticized the government for slow response.

'We've been subject to dozens of investigations, but this one is undoubtedly the most absurd,' said station director Alberto Federico Ravell, a bespectacled, tough-talking man who relishes poking fun at the president.

Chavez has called Ravell 'a crazy man with a cannon.'

'There is a crazy man with a cannon in Venezuela, but it's not me,' Ravell quipped in response.
Unfortunately, this being Venezuela, the crazy seems to be winning...

Swatting Taliban

Well, better late than never:
PAKISTAN is to extend its war on the Taliban beyond Swat into the fiercely independent tribal areas bordering Afghanistan where Osama Bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda leadership are believed to be hiding.


“We’re going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations,” President Asif Ali Zardari told The Sunday Times in an interview. “Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.”

He said Pakistan would need billions of pounds in military assistance and aid for up to 1.7m refugees, the biggest movement of people since the country’s split from India in 1947.
To help take on the militants, the Pakistan army is for the first time to accept counterinsurgency training from British and American troops on its own soil.

“We need to develop our capability and we need much more support,” said Zardari. “We need much, much more than the $1 billion [military aid] we’ve been getting, which is nothing. We’ve got 150,000 troops in [the tribal areas] - just the movement of that number would cost $1 billion.”
Given that this is Pakistan we're talking about, I'd be leery of giving them the money right away. But if they're willing to take the fight to the bad guys where they live, then that's a good thing.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Obama's Kids

They provide a serious dilemma for the Republican Party in the 21st century:
The enormous advantage among young people for Obama in particular and Democrats in general matters for two reasons. The more immediate is that this generation, which is generally defined as the 93 million people born between 1983 and 2002, will comprise a rapidly increasing share of voters through the next decade. Hais and his co-author, Morley Winograd, also an NDN fellow, have calculated that in 2008, 41% of Millennials were eligible to vote, and they constituted 17% of the electorate. They project that by 2012, 61% of the Millennials will be eligible, and they’ll comprise 24% of the electorate; by 2016, the numbers will reach 80% and 30%. By 2020, virtually all of them will be eligible and they could constitute as much as 36% of all voters. If Obama maintains anything near his current strength among Millennials, they will produce a substantially larger vote surplus for him in 2012 than they did in 2008-leaving Republicans a larger deficit to overcome with older voters.
Obama’s strength among young people has a second, even more significant, implication: if Republicans cannot reverse it reasonably soon, it could harden into a lasting preference for Democrats in this huge generation.
Along with their ideological rigidity, the GOP is, rightly or wrongly, seen as the party of the past. They may not have time to reverse their fortunes before they become an endangered species.

The Return Of The Skeptics

As the kids would say, word:
I believe that the best way to restore the consistency and attractiveness of the conservative movement is for modern conservatism to return to its roots of skepticism toward governmental actions. This involves confidence in the capacity of individuals to make decisions not only in their own interests, but also usually in the interests of society at large. Such a shift in attitudes would require more flexible approaches toward hot button issues like gays in the military, gay marriage, abortions, cell stem research, and toward many other issues of this type. It will not be easy for the Republican Party to emerge from the doldrums if it cannot embrace such a consistently skeptical view of government.
It's not just the big-government statism of the Bush years, of course, which drove many from the republican Party, but also the rigid ideology that came with it. Ditch both and maybe the rest of us will start coming back.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Uncle Sam's Insurance Company

Not having learned the lesson from the banks, investment firms, and General Motors, the government is going to try again with the insurance industry.
The Treasury yesterday granted preliminary approval for some of the nation’s largest insurance companies to receive capital infusions under the government’s Troubled Assets Relief Program, Treasury spokesman Andrew Williams said.

Recipients are Hartford, Prudential, Allstate, Ameriprise, Lincoln National and Principal Financial Group, he said. The insurers notified yesterday are among hundreds of financial institutions in the pipeline “that are being reviewed and funded as appropriate on a rolling basis,” Williams said.
Should we feel good about the government getting into the insurance business? Or are they also "Too big to fail?"

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Full Metal Fakeout

A con artist, and crazy to boot.
The leader of a statewide veterans group who fought for homeless veterans in Colorado Springs was in the Denver County jail on Wednesday, unmasked as a former psychiatric patient who posed as a wounded Marine officer and 9/11 survivor. . . . Garett Reppenhagen, a past chairman of the local chapter of Iraq Veterans against the War, said he saw Strandlof collecting money for CVA during an antiwar poetry reading at Poor Richard’s Bookstore in downtown Colorado Springs, telling donors it would be used for shipping care packages to men and women serving abroad. It’s unclear if that money ever made it out of Strandlof’s pocket.
There do seem to be quite a few people in need of psychiactric treatment in these antiwar groups. No wonder he fit right in...

Daydream Believer

I knew it was good for something:
A new University of British Columbia study finds that our brains are much more active when we daydream than previously thought.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that activity in numerous brain regions increases when our minds wander. It also finds that brain areas associated with complex problem-solving – previously thought to go dormant when we daydream – are in fact highly active during these episodes.

'Mind wandering is typically associated with negative things like laziness or inattentiveness,' says lead author, Prof. Kalina Christoff, UBC Dept. of Psychology. 'But this study shows our brains are very active when we daydream – much more active than when we focus on routine tasks.'
....

Until now, the brain's 'default network' – which is linked to easy, routine mental activity and includes the medial prefrontal cortex (PFC), the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporoparietal junction – was the only part of the brain thought to be active when our minds wander.

However, the study finds that the brain's 'executive network' – associated with high-level, complex problem-solving and including the lateral PFC and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex – also becomes activated when we daydream.
If I'd only known this years ago, I could have told certain teachers that I was engaging in high-level, complex problem-solving...as it was, they just claimed I was goofing off...

Venus In Animal Skins

It's like prehistoric porn:
With its outsize bulbous breasts and hugely exaggerated genitalia, a statuette of a woman has pushed back the history of female figurative art by 5000 years, to at least 35,000 years ago.

Anthropologists are staggered by the find, which also shows that even this long ago, our brains and their ability to think in abstract ways were probably as sophisticated as they are now.
Discovered in the Hohle Fels Caves of south-western Germany, the 'Venus' figurine carved from mammoth ivory is remarkably well-preserved, with only the left arm and shoulder missing. 'It's perhaps the earliest example of figurative art worldwide,' says Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen in Germany.
Yes, but what did the first art critic think?

Peace At Last?

While the Obama administration seems to be sending mixed signals on the War on Terror, on another front things look more promising:
The Obama administration’s new drug czar says he wants to banish the idea that the U.S. is fighting “a war on drugs,” a move that would underscore a shift favoring treatment over incarceration in trying to reduce illicit drug use.

In his first interview since being confirmed to head the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske said Wednesday the bellicose analogy was a barrier to dealing with the nation’s drug issues.

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”
Unfortunately, that's how it's come to be perceived.

Coming To America

You'd think with "World Citizen" Obama in charge, this would actually be easier:
The United States needs to wage a charm offensive to woo overseas tourists seduced by rivals like France and Italy, US senators and industry experts agreed Wednesday.

'Other countries are out there saying to the international tourists: 'Come to Rome! See the beauty of Italy! Visit Paris! See the wonders of France! Come to London! Other countries are actively engaged because they know it is a huge jobs generator,' Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan told a hearing.

Dorgan is the lead author of legislation to create a coordinated national campaign aimed at attracting foreign guests to the United States, a major economic engine sputtering in the face of a global recession.
With the dollar in the shape it's in, I would think America would be a bargain for tourists. Just don't drink the water...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mr. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Scandal

See, this is why we declared independence from the Crown:
British politicians under attack from the public over their expense claims lined up on Wednesday to start paying back thousands of pounds of public money in a bid to assuage voter anger over the scandal.

Opposition Conservative leader David Cameron appeared to have outmanoeuvred Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown after he was first to announce, on Tuesday, that his top lieutenants would repay thousands of pounds of questionable expenses.

Some Conservative lawmakers claimed taxpayers' money for cleaning moats and swimming pools, repairing tennis courts and installing chandeliers in their houses, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

On Wednesday Cameron sought on to drive home the political advantage over Brown, some of whose own MPs, including cabinet ministers, have also been accused of misusing the allowances.

'Isn't it time to stop the talking, stop the endless committees and start showing some real leadership to deliver some real change?,' Cameron told Brown during their weekly jousting at parliamentary questions.
Unfortunately, our own politicians aren't much better, but at least they still claim to be stealing in the name of the public good.

White House Briefing, Interrupted

I guess it's a sign of the times:
All three cablers were taking it live when the tension was lifted briefly by a series of cell phone rings, first from John Gizzi of Human Events. 'Just put it on vibrate, man, we did this before,' said Gibbs. When it rang again, Gibbs stepped off the podium, demanded the phone, and tossed to an aide in the back room. When Gibbs began to answer the question, CBS' Bill Plante's phone rang. But Plante ignored Gibbs' request to hand it over. Instead, Plante, a 28-year White House veteran, left the room to laughter. About five minutes later Plante returned to his front-row seat.
If it's anything like some of the calls I've gotten, it was probably a warning that his car warranty was about to run out...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bloggin' In The Years: 1963

Time Magazine takes a look at the new generation of folk singers:
All over the U.S., folk singers are doing what folk singers are classically supposed to do—singing about current crises. Not since the Civil War era have they done so in such numbers or with such intensity. Instead of keening over the poor old cowpoke who died in the streets of Laredo or chronicling the life cycle of the blue-tailed fly (the sort of thing that fired the great postwar revival of folk song), they are singing with hot-eyed fervor about police dogs and racial murder. Sometimes they use serviceable old tunes, but just as often they are writing new ones about fresh heroes and villains, from Martin Luther King to Bull Connor. In Chicago, integrationist songs are sung not only at the North Side's grubby Fickle Pickle but also in the Camellia House of The Drake. In a cocktail lounge in Ogunquit, Me., a college girl shouts out: 'Sing something about integration.' Seeger has done so before a crowd of 45,000 at the Boston Arts Festival; and the Peter, Paul and Mary recording of Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind (TIME, May 31) is, according to Warner Bros. Records, the fastest selling single the company has ever cut. Blowin' is young Dylan at his lyrically honest best. It sounds as country-airy as Turkey in the Straw, but it has a cutting edge.
The silent generation of the Fifties seems to be giving way to the singing generation of the Sixties. The Chinese have a curse: "May you live in interesting times". The times may soon get all too interesting indeed if this keeps up.