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January 31, 2007

"The Tyranny of Deception"

50,000 dead. Per year. In the U. S. alone. From second-hand smoke.

For a couple of years now, I've been hearing that number cited left and right as a justification for all manner of public smoking bans or other government limitations on individual freedoms. And every time I hear it I think to myself, "Where did that number come from?" It's way too "round" for one thing, and even at that it just seemed unrealistically high. I doubted it. Not enough to check it out. I just doubted it.

On average, 1000 people per state. Not "harmed", not short of breath, not diseased. Dead. Every year. From cigarettes smoked by other people. Not buyin' it.

So along comes one Gio Batta Gori, with an article in yesterday's Washington Post called The Bogus 'Science' of Secondhand Smoke. Mr. Gori would seem to be a well credentialed commentator on the subject. He is an epidemiologist and toxicologist, and a former deputy director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention. So he's got my attention.

Gori's piece is well worth reading in full, but mainly it serves to show how difficult, if not impossible it is to measure the effects of second-hand smoke, and also how few, and how flawed are the major studies on which the estimates of deaths from second-hand smoke are based. Excerpting liberally, if I may:

Lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases develop at advancing ages. Estimating the risk of those diseases posed by secondhand smoke requires knowing the sum of momentary secondhand smoke doses that nonsmokers have internalized over their lifetimes. Such lifetime summations of instant doses are obviously impossible, because concentrations of secondhand smoke in the air, individual rates of inhalation, and metabolic transformations vary from moment to moment, year after year, location to location.

Typically, the studies asked 60--70 year-old self-declared nonsmokers to recall how many cigarettes, cigars or pipes might have been smoked in their presence during their lifetimes, how thick the smoke might have been in the rooms, whether the windows were open, and similar vagaries. Obtained mostly during brief phone interviews, answers were then recorded as precise measures of lifetime individual exposures.

In reality, it is impossible to summarize accurately from momentary and vague recalls, and with an absurd expectation of precision, the total exposure to secondhand smoke over more than a half-century of a person's lifetime. No measure of cumulative lifetime secondhand smoke exposure was ever possible, so the epidemiologic studies estimated risk based not only on an improper marker of exposure, but also on exposure data that are illusory.

Adding confusion, people with lung cancer or cardiovascular disease are prone to amplify their recall of secondhand smoke exposure. Others will fib about being nonsmokers and will contaminate the results. More than two dozen causes of lung cancer are reported in the professional literature, and over 200 for cardiovascular diseases; their likely intrusions have never been credibly measured and controlled in secondhand smoke studies. Thus, the claimed risks are doubly deceptive because of interferences that could not be calculated and corrected.

In addition, results are not consistently reproducible. The majority of studies do not report a statistically significant change in risk from secondhand smoke exposure, some studies show an increase in risk, and astoundingly, some show a reduction of risk.

Gori says that the U.S. Surgeon General's report from July, 2006 fails to back up with solid data its scary claims that...

"there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure," that "breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the cancer process in motion," and that children exposed to secondhand smoke will "eventually . . . develop cardiovascular disease and cancers over time."

While I am unconvinced that the very first breath of second-hand smoke "set(s) the cancer process in motion", there are clearly health hazards caused by exposure, and for once, invoking "the children" is more than cynical exploitation of emotion for political gain. Kids can't control the home environments they live in, and the threat to them shouldn't be minimized. (For the record, in case anyone suspects I have a dog in this fight...I don't. I smoked my last cigarette when my now 28-year old son was one, and my wife quit when she got pregnant with him.)

One of the problems in the counting of dead people from second-hand smoke, as this article points out, is that we have a lot of numbers, but very few names. The state of Pennsylvania, for example, doesn't even have a category for the purpose of recording a death caused by second-hand smoke, and officials cannot cite one death certificate that mentions second-hand smoke as a primary or even a contributing cause of death.

There are also widely varying results coming from different organizations who have studied the issue. The World Health Organization for one, says "Our results indicate no association between childhood exposure to ETS [environmental tobacco smoke] and lung cancer risk." The WHO study also found there was only "weak evidence" for a risk of lung cancer from spousal or workplace exposure.

The National Cancer Institute says 3,000 people die annually from the effects of second-hand smoke. Being the Cancer Institute, they probably concern themselves only with lung cancer deaths. That would be backed up by the Centers for Disease Control, whose estimates range from 38,000 to 60,000 a year total (you know...give or take 22,000), but says only 3000 of those are deaths from lung cancer. But...say CDC officials

"...the cardiovascular effects are about 15 times larger. We estimate at a minimum 35,000 to as high as 50,000 to 60,000 people die each year from heart attacks and strokes after being exposed to secondhand smoke."

Notice the shaky "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" argument there. They say these people died after being exposed to second-hand smoke, which of course does not mean they died as a result of being exposed to second-hand smoke. As Gori's article states, "more than two dozen causes of lung cancer are reported in the professional literature, and over 200 for cardiovascular diseases; their likely intrusions have never been credibly measured and controlled in secondhand smoke studies."

Another widely cited article on the flawed second-hand smoke studies is this one by Thomas A. Lambert, an associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law, which also appeared in the WaPo.

In releasing his ETS study this past June, Surgeon General Richard Carmona proclaimed that "there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke" and that "even brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer."

The problem is, that's not what his study actually concluded. The report was a "meta-analysis" that combined the results of a number of previous studies, and those studies considered only chronic, long-term ETS exposure. The raw data covered in the report thus doesn't address the risk of short-term exposure that is the subject of Carmona's hyperbolic statements -- statements that conflict with the toxicology conventional wisdom that "the dose makes the poison."

Moreover, the report itself, which covered only studies published through 2002, ignored perhaps the largest ETS study ever conducted -- a 2003 study that followed, from 1959 to 1998, the health histories of more than 35,000 never-smoking Californians who were married to smokers. The authors found no "causal relationship between exposure to (ETS) and tobacco-related mortality," though they acknowledged that "a small effect" cannot be ruled out.

One of the calculations to be found in the Surgeon General's report is this:

Exposure of nonsmokers to tobacco smoke increases their risk of heart disease and cancer by as much as 30 percent.

Blogger Craig Westover works with that statistic a little bit, starting with the study's definition of "exposure":

One can arrive at a 30 percent increase risk from two studies that tracked the incidence of lung cancer in non-smoking spouses of smoking spouses and non-smoking employees in smoking environments. What these two studies show is that the longer the duration of exposure to secondhand smoke, the greater the risk of lung cancer. But here’s the kicker for a policy maker -- in the case of souses, the required duration of exposure before there was a correlation greater than 1.0 (1.0 means no connection) was after 29 years of exposure. In the case of an employee in a smoking establishment, the required exposure to exceed a risk of 1.0 was 21 years.

At 29 and 21 years respectively, the 95 percent confidence interval for the increased risk ranged from 1.03 to 1.50 -- an increased risk of 3 percent to 50 percent. The 30 percent figure in the article is pretty close to the mean of that distribution. What the full confidence interval indicates is that for these studies, there is as much likelihood that the real increased risk of secondhand smoke is 3 percent as it is 50 percent as it is 30 percent. In other words, to state there is 30 percent increased risk implies preciseness not supported by the data.

Let’s take it the next step. Fifty-percent, even 30 percent sounds pretty scary. But what does that mean in terms of real numbers. The rate of lung cancer among non-smoking individuals is about 10 in 100,000 people. If you’re a non-smoker, that’s your odds of getting lung cancer. If your spouse smokes, and you’ve been married 29 years or more, and we use the government’s 30 percent figure, your odds are now about 13 in 100,000. If you’re a non-smoker and you’ve worked in smoking environment for 21 years, you odds of getting lung cancer are about 13 in 100,000.

Not exactly cause for circling the wagons just yet if you're the spouse or employee of a smoker. The point is that the use of the scary "30% increase" statistic is deceptive and, one has to assume, intentionally so.

Going back to the Gori article on the issue of using misleading or inflated data as an "end justifies the means" tactic...

Some prominent anti-smokers have been quietly forthcoming on what "the science" does and does not show. Asked to quantify secondhand smoke risks at a 2006 hearing at the UK House of Lords, Oxford epidemiologist Sir Richard Peto, a leader of the secondhand smoke crusade replied, "I am sorry not to be more helpful; you want numbers and I could give you numbers..., but what does one make of them? ...These hazards cannot be directly measured."

It has been fashionable to ignore the weakness of "the science" on secondhand smoke, perhaps in the belief that claiming "the science is settled" will lead to policies and public attitudes that will reduce the prevalence of smoking. But such a Faustian bargain is an ominous precedent in public health and political ethics. Consider how minimally such policies as smoking bans in bars and restaurants really reduce the prevalence of smoking, and yet how odious and socially unfair such prohibitions are.

By any sensible account, the anachronism of tobacco use should eventually vanish in an advancing civilization. Why must we promote this process under the tyranny of deception?

Nothing I can add to that. Thanks for hanging in this long.

January 30, 2007

Making Money With Mullahs

One reason that sanctions against Iran for their defiance of U.N. resolutions are a hard sell is that Europeans are making too much money doing business with them.

TEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iran said on Sunday it had signed an initial deal worth $10 billion with Spain's Repsol and Royal Dutch Shell to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the South Pars gas field.

If memory serves, I think it takes 17 or 18 resolutions before "serious consequences" start to kick in.

January 29, 2007

Used Up Celebrities

ScrappleFace on the "anti-war" rally the other day:

Tens of thousands of protesters will rally today on the mall in Washington D.C. to call on President George Bush to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, and to demand better celebrity spokesmen for their cause.

Celebrities slated to speak at the rally include Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Three of them have made careers out of pretending to be someone they’re not, while Ms. Fonda is best known as the daughter of actor Henry Fonda.

Organizers said the biggest challenge facing the anti-war movement today is how to hold together a loose coalition of groups with divergent agendas using celebrities who peaked in popularity 10 to 30 years ago.


January 28, 2007

Reggie Bush - Meet Everson Walls

There are two stories about NFL football players in today's news, both of which make you kind of shake your head, but for altogether different reasons. In fact, for nearly opposite reasons, if greed and selflessness can be thought of that way.

First, Yahoo Sports is now reporting the existence of tape recordings in the Reggie Bush case, which may prove that Bush and his family accepted gifts and cash valued at up to $280,000 while he was playing football at USC. Yahoo Sports has been on the story since April 2006. If you're just catching up, the allegations are summarized here:

Lake and Michaels told Yahoo! Sports in April 2006 that Bush and his family agreed to be partners in New Era Sports in 2004, then backed out of the venture after accepting the finances Lake and Michaels provided as part of the deal. The bulk of the benefits Lake and Michaels claim they gave to Bush and his family – including direct cash payments, rent-free living in a new home, paying off credit card debt and money for a car for Bush – were allegedly provided over a one-year period starting in late 2004.

In April 2006, Yahoo! Sports first revealed allegations that Bush and his family received extra benefits, including $54,000 in rent-free living at Michaels' $757,500 home in Spring Valley, Calif., according to Michaels and San Diego attorney Brian Watkins.

Yahoo! Sports also reported the Bush family received $28,000 from New Era financiers to settle pre-existing debt, according to Michaels and Watkins. Yahoo! Sports also reported that Bush received approximately $18,000 to purchase and upgrade a car while he was still a student at USC.

Kind of puts in some perspective the $500 in cash that a booster handed to Troy Smith, and for which he was suspended and the OSU program investigated by the NCAA, doesn't it? I can come up with three reasons why this story still doesn't yet have the legs of the Troy Smith or the Maurice Clarett incidents. First, it was broken by Yahoo instead of world sports giant ESPN. Second, Reggie Bush is gone from USC, and a millionaire many times over by now anyway. Third, the media adore Pete Carroll and the USC program and this story dirties them both considerably. (And yes, I know...they're still just allegations)

It could (and should) get very ugly for USC, if the tapes are as convincing as they are purported to be. They could be stripped of the one (yes, it was just one in a row) National Championship they won, in 2004. All because greedy agents sought to exploit a star player, who also happened to have his hand out for some early spoils of stardom.

But if that story raises your level of cynicism about pro athletes and the system in which they become wealthy and famous, maybe this one takes it down a notch. Ex-Cowboy and ex-Buckeye running back Ron Springs is 50 years old now, and afflicted with type 2 diabetes. He has already lost his foot to the disease, and as Gene Garber's ESPN.com article puts it, is "waiting for a miracle."

Time will tell if it works out miraculously, but this March, Springs' friend and former teammate, Everson Walls will donate one of his kidneys to Springs, to at least give him a fighting chance. Excerpting Garber...

"I don't see him as a hero," Springs said. "Heroes are somebody that just did something to get notoriety. He is not doing it for that. He is a dear friend, and he loves me and believes in me and wants to see me have a better quality of life."

This, in the hurly-burly world of professional football, constitutes an unlikely love story.

"We already know we love each other," Walls said. "I have never told Ron I love him. He has never told me he loved me. He didn't have to."

Now that's a teammate.

Dershowitz Debates Carter After All

Jimmy Carter could have participated in the debate he invites in his book. Instead he scripted an appearance at Brandeis University that didn't include anyone who could call him on his specific distortions and omissions. Alan Dershowitz obliges him anyway. Here's a sample...

President Carter and I agree on many things. We both want a two-state solution to the conflict. We both want an end to the occupation. We both oppose new Israeli settlements. We both wish to see a democratic, viable Palestinian state emerge.

But President Carter and I have our differences, too. I favored a compromise peace based on the offer by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000-2001. Carter defends Yasser Arafat's refusal to accept these generous terms, or to make a counteroffer.

In fact, Carter never mentions in his book, or in his speech, that the Palestinians could have had a state in 1938, 1948, 1967 and on several other occasions. Their leaders cared more about destroying Israel than about creating Palestine. That is the core of the conflict. It is Palestinian terror, not Israeli policy, which prevents peace.

(via RCP)

NYT - Chavez a New Castro?

Was that really the New York Times (Magazine) talking about Hugo Chavez embracing "the most ossified traditions of left-wing sectarianism", and saying that participation in a globalized economy was "the received wisdom" of our time? I'm not sure if that should surprise me or not, but the whole piece by David Rieff is a good read.

"A New Castro?" looks at the emerging anti-U.S. coalition of a growing Latin American left, and the far-right religious extremism of Iran's mullahs. The Cuban regime is propped up by Venezuelan oil dollars, its political future very much up for grabs, but the regional trend to the left dims hopes for an end to Cuba's repression when Castro is finally gone.

(via RCP)

The New York Times Magazine

January 28, 2007
A New Castro?

Policy analysts and pundits have been predicting for some time that the so-called unipolar moment, in which the United States stands unchallenged as the sole superpower, will soon come to an end. The debacle in Iraq has hastened this reckoning and sharpened the anxieties about America’s role in the world — perhaps especially among those who believe that the United States is a benign hegemon and that the real choice is between a Pax Americana and anarchy. But it is the recent conduct of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s firebrand president, that offers the starkest evidence yet of the changed circumstances that American policy makers are starting to confront around the world.

In many ways, Chávez is an unlikely figure to assume the mantle of leadership of this brewing, if slow-burning and incoherent, global revolt. A paratroop officer who instigated a failed coup attempt against the corrupt government of Carlos Andrés Pérez in 1992, Chávez would seem to conform more to the Latin American stereotype of the military man turned populist (Juan Perón of Argentina being the prototypical example) than to that of a world revolutionary à la Fidel Castro.

As his hold on power has tightened, however, Chávez’s rhetoric has increasingly embraced the most ossified traditions of left-wing sectarianism. Echoing Che Guevara’s insistence that the Cuban revolution was creating a “new man,” Chávez has spoken of what he calls his Bolívaran revolution inaugurating the “moral regeneration” of Latin America. He has compared his own regime with the Paris Commune, and boasted of sending a copy of “Das Kapital” to the bishop of Caracas. In speeches, he invokes the tutelary idols of the antiglobalization left — Noam Chomsky (whom he cited in a speech at the United Nations); Pierre Bourdieu, the French social theorist; and Antonio Negri, the erstwhile theorist of the Italian Red Brigades. Such rhetoric is commonplace at antiglobalization events like the annual World Social Forum but not in the public declarations of heads of state.

Now Chávez’s deeds have begun to catch up with his rhetoric. Re-elected overwhelmingly to a second term in December, Chávez subsequently announced that he would consider nationalizing, among other things, the assets of some foreign oil companies and the largest phone company, which is partly owned by Verizon.

To non-Latin Americans, these statements seem incomprehensible. And given Chávez’s outlandish rhetoric, it is tempting to dismiss him as a madman — as many in Washington were doing until quite recently. After all, Chávez had endorsed the theory that the attacks of 9/11 were planned and carried out by the Bush administration as pretext for going to war. And he has repeatedly praised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making five visits to Iran — visits that President Ahmadinejad reciprocated with a recent tour of Latin America that began in Caracas.

The general sense that Chávez must be unhinged derives even more, perhaps, from his enthusiastic support of a Soviet-style command economy. He rejects out of hand what has become the received wisdom of our time, which is that every country, like it or not, must participate in a globalized world economy. But Chávez declares that he is going to construct a socialist Venezuela in a socialist Latin America, globalization be damned. To many, this seems as quixotic as trying to bring back feudalism and the divine right of kings.

In moving from rhetoric to action, Chávez may indeed have set the stage for the end of his rule. But the Chávez phenomenon should not be dismissed. Not only is he still immensely popular within Venezuela, but he also has become an iconic figure for many people across the world who see the United States as the principal threat to world peace, not its benevolent guarantor. In fact, he has come to play the same role in 2007 that Fidel Castro played in 1967. Perhaps, globalization or no globalization, the world has changed less than most people thought.

Of course, it is anything but clear that communism in Cuba will survive the death of Castro. Indeed, Cuba hangs on economically only because Venezuela provides it with subsidized oil in much the way the Soviet Union did before it collapsed. At the same time, however, the left-wing surge throughout Latin America continues unabated. Ecuador’s new president, Rafael Correa, joins not only Chávez but also Evo Morales of Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. It’s significant that President Ahmadinejad — who, it should be noted, is not a Socialist or particularly hostile to capitalism of the crony kind — met with all of them. More significant still is that all these men were swept into power by an electorate for whom globalization is an epithet, not the collective economic destiny of humanity in the 21st century.

In all likelihood, the chances of a lasting unipolar world were always slight. History teaches that any time one power predominates, a coalition forms to oppose it. Many people expected such a coalition to be led by China (American naval war planners still do). But the coalition that seems to be arising first as an “antiprinciple” to U.S. power is one that unites a Castroite Latin American left, hard-line Shiite parties like Hezbollah, Iran and at least some extreme elements of the antiglobalization movement. Note that at Hezbollah’s so-called victory rally in Beirut after the summer war with Israel, many participants held up placards with Chávez’s face pictured alongside that of Sheik Nasrallah. It is the oldest of foreign-policy instincts, after all, to hold that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Perhaps we were kidding ourselves when we imagined that when Castro died, the yearning in many parts of the world for a figure like Castro would die as well. If Hugo Chávez proves nothing else, it is that such dreams are alive and well.

David Rieff is a contributing writer for the magazine.

January 27, 2007

U.K. Gun Crime Up

With gun crime rising in Britain, the Labor Party is taking heat:

Labour has been accused of losing control of gun crime as new figures show a sharp rise in armed robberies.

Guns were used in 4,120 robberies last year - a 10% jump - including a 9% rise to 1,439 in the number of street robberies where guns were used.

There was also a rapid and unexplained increase in the number of times householders were confronted in their own homes by armed criminals. Residential firearms robberies show a 46% leap, a record 645 cases in England and Wales - up 204 on the previous year and four times the level recorded in 2000-01.

Taranto is incredulous.

"This can't possibly be true. After all, guns are illegal in Britain!"

Ban Backpedaling

New U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon had encouraged U.N. watchers last week when he promised a “an urgent, system-wide and external inquiry into all activities done around the globe by the U.N. funds and programmes.” But as the old saying goes; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Claudia Rosett reports:

....by Monday, Ban was backtracking faster than you can say “ACABQ” — which is the acronym for the U.N. General Assembly’s own budget oversight body, the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions — which Ban was suddenly proposing to use as the overseer of his promised housecleaning.

To call that a huge step backward would be understatement. Among other things, the former chairman of the ACABQ, Vladimir Kuznetsov, was one of two U.N. officials indicted in 2005 on charges of bribery and money-laundering in connection with a highly publicized U.N. procurement scandal. (One, Alexander Yakovlev, pleaded guilty. Kuznetsov has pleaded not guilty, and goes on trial next month in New York federal court).

It was during the time that Kuznetsov held his U.N. budget oversight job that illicit funds were allegedly passing through his secret Caribbean bank account. Somehow, his alleged crimes escaped the ACABQ’s attention.

It is this same ACABQ that Ban now proposes to use as a conduit for handling the inspection of the UNDP’s North Korean unit, which will be carried out not by a truly independent outside auditing firm, but by using the U.N.’s own “external auditors.”

January 26, 2007

Just For Laughs

If you are sitting next to somone who irritates you on a plane or train....

1. Quietly and calmly open up your laptop case.
2. Remove your laptop.
3. Turn it on.
4. Make sure the guy who won't leave you alone can see the screen.
5. Open this email.
6. Close your eyes and tilt your head up to the sky.
7. Then hit this link: http://www.thecleverest.com/countdown.swf

What do you mean that's not funny?

(via Rodger at C&S)

Or...if you're more interested in winning a bar bet than freaking out strangers, dazzle your friends with this trick.

January 25, 2007

Commentary Blog

Commentary magazine has joined the headlong march of print media organs into the world of blogging with a site called Contentions. As a longtime subscriber to the magazine, I look forward to regularly reading the contributions of people like Joshua Muravchik, Gabriel Schoenfeld, Hillel Halkin and David Gelernter. And the first few weeks of entries certainly haven't disappointed.

One of the early posts features a preview of an essay from the February issue of Commentary by Eric Cohen and Yuval Levin examining the issue of health care in the U.S.; "Health Care in Three Acts". It's a pretty good starting point for what looks to be a national conversation over the next couple years.

Matt at RAB

If you follow Ohio politics you really should be reading Right Angle Blog, the blog home of Matt Naugle. Matt is one of the bright young stars of the conservative movement in Ohio. He had a popular blog while still a college student at OSU, and then was tapped by Ken Blackwell to run the official Blackwell campaign blog during the Governor's race.

At the moment, Matt is running a straw poll to determine readers' preferences for the Republican nominee for '08, so go on over and cast your vote. While you're there, check out his posts on Ohio's Commercial Activity Tax (CAT), and on higher education funding in the state, among others.

As important as state political issues can be, I don't always do a good job of staying on top of them. So I'm glad Matt is there as a resource, with his twenty-something energy level, and a talent for writing to go along with it.

Now, Matt....isn't that just the way we rehearsed it?

January 24, 2007

A Fjordman File

I always enjoy reading Fjordman, both at Gates of Vienna and at Brussels Journal. The Norwegian blogger-essayist has a new post examining the reasons for Western weakness in the face of those who would undermine our civilization. It begins this way...

I sometimes am criticized for being too focused on the left-wing of the political spectrum and ignoring the problems caused by right-wing parties. First of all, the line of separation between what constitutes “Left” and “Right” in politics now tends to become blurred. And second of all, only a fool believes that everybody on one side is always right, and everybody on the other side is always wrong. I have been consistent in pointing out that the European Union, which I loathe, cannot be explained simply as a one-sided Leftist endeavor. It also contains elements of Big Business interests, political corruption and the general desire of politicians and bureaucrats to rid themselves of the restrictions imposed on them by a democratic society.


It is also true that not all those who undermine Western civilization through support for Multiculturalism and mass immigration do so out of a hidden political agenda. Some do it out of plain stupidity and vanity. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s most open-minded of them all?” It’s a beauty contest for bored, Western intellectuals who use immigrants as a mirror to reflect their own inflated egos, a sport where they can nurse their vanity in the mistaken belief that denigrating your own cultural heritage is a sign of goodness and lack of prejudice.

Read on...

January 22, 2007

Monday Browse

Recommended 1/22:

OpinionJournal - "Will Al Gore Melt?"
Al Gore no-shows an interview with Denmark's largest newspaper and author Bjorn Lomborg.

NRO - "Winning, and Losing, on Abortion"
Ramesh Ponnuru takes stock of the abortion wars.

Newsweek - "Golly, What Did Jon Do?"
George Will on Down Syndrome, and his son Jon.

Christopher Hitchens - "Facing the Islamist Menace"
Hitch reviews the new Mark Steyn book for City Journal

Andy McCarthy - The Corner
Andy has some sensible questions for candidate Clinton.

NY Sun - "The Second Holocaust"
Benny Morris on what it will be like the next time.

Claudia Rosett - NRO - "UNder the Law"
A few days old, but a valuable update on an O-F-F indictment.

January 20, 2007

Silence and Denial

PowerLine's Scott Johnson has been writing for three years on the 30-year cover-up by State Department officials of evidence that Yasser Arafat personally ordered and approved the murder of two U.S. diplomats in 1973. He has a new piece at TWS this week: How Arafat Got Away with Murder. Here's the hook:

Twenty years before he joined Bill Clinton and Yitzhak Rabin in Washington for that famous handshake--and proceeded to become Clinton's most frequent foreign guest at the White House--Yasser Arafat planned and directed the murder of an American ambassador and his deputy chief of mission. From the first moment of the deadly operation, which took place in Khartoum on March 1, 1973, the State Department possessed direct evidence of Arafat's responsibility, yet neither the State Department nor any other government agency made public its knowledge. Indeed, as recently as the summer of 2002, the State Department denied that such evidence existed. Across seven administrations, the State Department hewed to silence and denial.

Until last spring. In June 2006, the department's Office of the Historian quietly posted an authoritative summary of the events dated June 1973. The source of the summary is not given, but the CIA had previously produced it in redacted form in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Prepared by the CIA on the basis of intercepted communications, it baldly states: "The Khartoum operation was planned and carried out with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasser Arafat." What happened?

Lots of related links, including Johnson's previous posts here: Wizblog: State Dept. Covered For Arafat (Dec. 2006)

January 19, 2007

New Ways To Grab You

The potential for being victimized by one scam or another on the Internet is apparently growing. Not just credit card fraud and identity theft and email from Nigerian heiresses, but security problems like "invisible links" that can result from just browsing. This ITSecurity.com article isn't reassuring.

Mafia 2.0: Is The Mob Married To Your Computer?

There's not a lot of detail in the above article on the organized crime elements involved, from the UK, The Netherlands and Russia for example, but there are links to more info, including this TechWeb report:

"The Internet is the perfect playground for organized criminal activity," said Marcus Sachs, a researcher at SANS Internet Storm Watch, in an online note Tuesday. "Near-total anonymity, multiple ways to launder money, enormous amounts of value and wealth, extreme complexity, few laws and fewer law enforcement experts, and millions of users who have no concept of what is going on inside their shiny new computer."

Sachs is quoted later as saying he fears the Internet might not survive an "implosion" from criminal activities. Bruce Schneier, information security blogger and writer says software has to get better:

Fundamentally, the issue is insecure software. It is a result of bad design, poorly implemented features, inadequate testing and security vulnerabilities from software bugs. The money we spend on security is to deal with the myriad effects of insecure software. Unfortunately, the money spent does not improve the security of that software. We are paying to mitigate the risk rather than fix the problem.

The only way to fix the problem is for vendors to improve their software. They need to design security in their products from the start and not as an add-on feature. Software vendors need also to institute good security practices and improve the overall quality of their products. But they will not do this until it is in their financial best interests to do so. And so far, it is not.

Schneier on Security Blog

January 18, 2007

Not Good For You

Why wouldn't there be one guy in the world who has both the ability and the inclination to do this? (saw it at Ace)


As Sen. Diane Feinstein makes noise in the Senate about the "firing" of seven U.S. Attorneys "without cause", she has Andy McCarthy wondering if she and other critics of this move completely slept through the nineties. Read it all, but here's the meat:

One of President Clinton’s very first official acts upon taking office in 1993 was to fire every United States attorney then serving — except one, Michael Chertoff, now Homeland Security secretary but then U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, who was kept on only because a powerful New Jersey Democrat, Sen. Bill Bradley, specifically requested his retention.

Were the attorneys Clinton fired guilty of misconduct or incompetence? No. As a class they were able (and, it goes without saying, well-connected). Did he shove them aside to thwart corruption investigations into his own party? No. It was just politics, plain and simple.

Patronage is the chief spoil of electoral war. For a dozen years, Republicans had been in control of the White House, and, therefore of the appointment of all U.S. attorneys. President Clinton, as was his right, wanted his party’s own people in. So he got rid of the Republican appointees and replaced them with, predominantly, Democrat appointees (or Republicans and Independents who were acceptable to Democrats).

We like to think that law enforcement is not political, and for the most part — the day-to-day part, the proceedings in hundreds of courtrooms throughout the country — that is true. But appointments are, and have always been political. Does it mean able people are relieved before their terms are up? Yes, but that is the way the game is played.

Indeed, a moment’s reflection on the terms served by U.S. attorneys reveals the emptiness of Feinstein’s argument. These officials are appointed for four years, with the understanding that they serve at the pleasure of the president, who can remove them for any reason or no reason. George W. Bush, of course, has been president for six years. That means every presently serving U.S. attorney in this country has been appointed or reappointed by this president.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's classic 1997 Telegraph column "Goodbye, good riddance" is a reminder that the Clintons did not stop at merely firing all 99 U.S. Attorneys as they took the reins of law enforcement in America in 1993.

The Clintons wasted little time taking charge of the US Justice Department. All US Attorneys were asked to hand in their resignations. It was a move of breath-taking audacity, one that gave the Clintons control over the prosecutorial machinery of the federal government in every judicial district in the country.

They then set about eliminating the Director of the FBI, William Sessions, who was known for his refusal to countenance White House interference in the affairs of the Bureau. The post of FBI Director is supposed to be a 10-year appointment that puts it above politics. But Sessions was toppled in a Washington putsch, without a murmur of protest from America's press, and replaced by the hapless errand boy Louis Freeh. And I almost forgot, the Clintons installed their friend Webster Hubbell as "shadow" Attorney General - until Hubbell was jailed for Arkansas crimes.

I pull this AEP article up periodically just to remind myself what it was like just ten short years ago, when we had "shadow" Attorneys General going to jail, Chinese bagmen delivering cash to the White House, Presidents testifying to grand juries in harrassment and obstruction cases, and 900 raw FBI files turning up in the White House via bizarre bureaucratic snafus.

Is any of this coming back to you?

Goldstein - MLK

MLK Day came and went on me, but I don't suppose it's too late to link Jeff Goldstein's re-posted essay on race, which I caught for the first time Monday.

January 17, 2007

Murray Series

In Charles Murray's second in a series of OpinionJournal articles on education and intelligence, he says we're sending entirely too many kids to 4-year colleges. Many of them are either not interested in, or not intellectually prepared to truly benefit from a 4-year college curriculum. We do them a disservice by pushing them in that direction.

Large numbers of those who are intellectually qualified for college also do not yearn for four years of college-level courses. They go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children of their social class are supposed to do after they finish high school. They may have the ability to understand the material in Economics 1 but they do not want to. They, too, need to learn to make a living--and would do better in vocational training.

Combine those who are unqualified with those who are qualified but not interested, and some large proportion of students on today's college campuses--probably a majority of them--are looking for something that the four-year college was not designed to provide. Once there, they create a demand for practical courses, taught at an intellectual level that can be handled by someone with a mildly above-average IQ and/or mild motivation. The nation's colleges try to accommodate these new demands. But most of the practical specialties do not really require four years of training, and the best way to teach those specialties is not through a residential institution with the staff and infrastructure of a college. It amounts to a system that tries to turn out televisions on an assembly line that also makes pottery. It can be done, but it's ridiculously inefficient.

As a society we still stigmatize vocational training, and attach an artificially high social status to a graduate of a 4-year school. Until that changes, we'll have more mis-employed liberal arts graduates (or dropouts) than we can handle, and a continuing shortage of carpenters, electricians and skilled craftsmen of all types.

A reality about the job market must eventually begin to affect the valuation of a college education: The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter, electrician, plumber, glazier, mason--the list goes on and on--is difficult, and it is a seller's market. Journeymen craftsmen routinely make incomes in the top half of the income distribution while master craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India. And the craftsman's job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction?

Even if forgoing college becomes economically attractive, the social cachet of a college degree remains. That will erode only when large numbers of high-status, high-income people do not have a college degree and don't care. The information technology industry is in the process of creating that class, with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as exemplars. It will expand for the most natural of reasons: A college education need be no more important for many high-tech occupations than it is for NBA basketball players or cabinetmakers. Walk into Microsoft or Google with evidence that you are a brilliant hacker, and the job interviewer is not going to fret if you lack a college transcript. The ability to present an employer with evidence that you are good at something, without benefit of a college degree, will continue to increase, and so will the number of skills to which that evidence can be attached. Every time that happens, the false premium attached to the college degree will diminish.

Part One: Intelligence in the Classroom

UPDATE 1/18: Part Three: Aztecs vs Greeks

January 16, 2007


Terry Pluto, sportwriter extraordinaire, accomplished author and genuinely nice guy, wrote an article for Sunday's Beacon Journal taking to task the few Hall of Fame voters who left Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn off their ballots in the first year of eligibility for both players. Here's what Pluto had to say in his article, "Omissions Inexcusable":

I'd like to know who didn't vote for Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken for the Hall of Fame.

It doesn't matter that Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or any other great failed to receive 100 percent of the Hall of Fame votes. The people who didn't vote for those guys were just stuck on stupid when it comes to the honor of voting for the Hall of Fame.

Among a few writers is the belief that no player deserves every vote on the first ballot, so they refuse to vote for anyone such as Ripken or Gwynn who is obviously going into the Hall of Fame.

Look, either a guy belongs, or he doesn't.

If you're not sure -- as I was about Mark McGwire -- you can leave him off for a year to consider the situation.

But there are no questions about Gywnn (.338 lifetime average in 20 years) and Ripken (the new Lou Gehrig, 431 home runs, 3,184 hits), who represent the best of the game from performance to attitude.

There were 545 Hall of Fame ballots. All but eight voters picked Ripken, and 13 left off Gwynn. I don't want to hear why: No excuses.

As Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend."

According to Terry, the year (or more) he grants himself to give more thought to the McGwire nomination is not an option for a voter who is "not sure" about Cal Ripken. There can be no excuse for being unsure about the first-ballot Hall of Fame merits of Ripken. And Terry doesn't "want to hear why."

He had to know someone would just have to tell him why.

Now, I am a charter member of the Terry Pluto Fan Club (see above), and of course, I have no Hall of Fame voting privileges. But I'm not sure about Cal Ripken, and I can understand how some voters might be similarly conflicted about him, certainly about his status as a lead pipe cinch, no-brainer, first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Because Cal Ripken, in my opinion, is emblematic of a recent trend in voting for the various Halls of Fame. It seems induction used to be reserved for truly "great" players, whereas these days it can suffice to have simply been "very good", but for a very long time. And Cal Ripken is the poster boy for that trend.


Cal Ripken had a lifetime batting average of .276.

There is a certain shortstop who will probably get into Cooperstown mostly on the merits of his glove, but whose detractors point to his lack of offensive prowess as a mark against his candidacy, calling him "light-hitting". His 18-year career batting average is .276.

Reaching the 3000 hit plateau is generally thought to be the automatic door-opener for Cooperstown, and Ripken amassed 3184 hits in his fine career. There is one number, however, which mitigates this automatic Hall of Fame trigger. That of course, is .276.

Because Ripken also amassed 11,551 career at-bats, hence the relatively low (for a Hall of Famer) batting average. By contrast, Tony Gwynn had a similar career hit total (3141), but accomplished that feat in 9288 at-bats. In other words, with "Iron Man" Cal averaging a whopping 570 at-bats per 162 game season, it took him four full 570 at-bat seasons longer than Tony Gwynn, to achieve approximately the same hit total. (By the way, I have no similar reservations about Gwynn, who was arguably one of the top three or four pure hitters who ever walked the planet.)

Ripken also had 431 home runs, a very respectable number, although 500 is generally considered the total that assures HOF status. But here again, as admirable as his longevity was, it also qualifies the home run total somewhat. Ripken homered once every 27.8 at-bats. I checked the ratio for some of the other players around him in the all time career home run rankings for comparison purposes. Mike Piazza (419 HR, 15.7 AB per HR), Billy Williams (426, 21.9), Juan Gonzalez (434, 15.1), Darrell Evans (414, 21.6). Very good. Long time.

So Cal Ripken averaged a .276 batting average, with 21 home runs and 84 RBI over his 20 full big-league seasons. Those are very good numbers, especially when you consider the remarkable length of his career. They are not, however, numbers that scream out "Cooperstown" just to look at them. They are solid, steady numbers. Good, not great numbers.

Cal Ripken was an above average defensive player. He was extremely reliable, but did not have the best range. He was one of the first of a new breed of exceptionally big men who were coming to play the shortstop position. While his team gained something in offensive punch from the position, they gave up a little in defensive range as well. That said, if there were two outs in the ninth, and I were an Orioles fan, I would want the ball hit to Ripken. Steady.

And "steady" is really what it's all about. "Iron Man" Cal Ripken showed up every day to play. His career was "made" by virtue of The Streak more than it was made by his greatness on the field. If Cal Ripken had sprained a thumb in say, 1985, and missed a couple of games, and if he had then had the misfortune to come down with the flu in say, 1991, and missed another game or two, it would not have appreciably changed his career statistics or performance. And yet, without the streak record, I daresay we would not have had the near unanimity on him as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

He broke one of the most romanticized baseball records of all time, the great Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak. In another time and place, he would be Saint Cal by now, or at the very least, a knight. I am not among those people who have criticized Ripken as selfish for maintaining the streak, perhaps to the detriment of his team, by playing when he was hurt or fatigued or slumping, when most players would sit down or be benched by their manager. I have nothing but admiration for the guy. You have to first be good enough to be penciled in as a starter every game for 2632 in a row in order to achieve what he achieved, although it did take a bunch of good fortune just to stay healthy enough to do it. But there is a case to be made that while the streak helped make him a baseball icon personally, the positive effects for his team of his playing every game without a break may well have been partially counteracted by the negatives.

And the consecutive game streak has to be the most overhyped record of all time anyway. For starters, it doesn't involve anything that happens "between the lines" other than trotting out to the field in the first inning (or for that matter, pinch-running in the eighth.) Had the record been held by John Altobelli instead of the revered Lou Gehrig, whose tragic death touched millions of fans, breaking it would not have elicited much more than a few stifled yawns.

I know, there are lots of intangibles that go into what gets a player into the Hall. I believe that Cal Ripken possessed many of those intangibles in large quantities. Leadership, clutch play, dependability, consistency, were all hallmarks of his career. If I did have a vote, those attributes might very well put me over the top to vote for Ripken on the first ballot myself.

But the bottom line is that lots of ballplayers have demonstrated those qualities in the course of their careers, without making it into the Hall of Fame. Vern Fuller might have had wonderful attributes of leadership, and consistency and dependability. He might even have suited up for thousands of games in a row without anyone much noticing.

In case this long ramble is at all unclear (how could that be?), I am not saying that Cal Ripken doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. What I am saying is that if eight voters out of 545 opted to leave him off of their ballots, there is a valid case to be made for doing so, and the fact of their disagreement with the estimable Mr. Pluto doesn't make their action inexcusable. It just means they disagree.

Newsweek's O.J. Chapter

All 400,000 copies of O.J. Simpson's book were recalled for destruction after Rupert Murdoch cancelled the project and fired publisher Judith Regan. Newsweek has access to one chapter, however, and they say it could actually serve as evidence of Simpson's guilt.

Newsweek has obtained a copy of the book's key chapter from a source who asked not to be identified because of the ongoing controversy. The narrative is as revolting as one might expect, but it's also surprisingly revealing. What emerges from the chapter is something new in the nearly 13-year Simpson saga: a seeming confession in Simpson's own voice.

Indeed, how else is one to take narrative like the following by Simpson, as told by Newsweek's Mark Miller:

As a correspondent for this magazine, I covered the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman through the criminal trial and acquittal of O. J. Simpson in 1995. What is striking about the chapter I read, "The Night in Question," is how closely it tracks with the evidence in the case—and how clearly Simpson invokes the classic language of a wife abuser. In his crude, expletive-laced account, Simpson suggests Nicole all but drove him to kill her. He describes her as the "enemy." She is taunting him with her sexual dalliances, he says, and carrying on inappropriately in front of their two children.


At Simpson's criminal trial, to explain how one man could have killed two people, the Los Angeles County coroner theorized that Simpson knocked out Nicole, then quickly slit her throat before turning to Goldman. If the book's account is true, the coroner's hypothesis was correct—almost. Simpson writes that his ex-wife came at him like a "banshee." She loses her balance and falls hard, her head cracking against the ground. Goldman assumes a karate stance, further angering Simpson. He dares the younger man to fight. Then, in the book, Simpson pulls back. He writes, "Then something went horribly wrong, and I know what happened, but I can't tell you exactly how."

We know the rest, O.J. Read it all.

Not only is it galling that a double murderer walks free, but he apparently craves a public profile of some sort, and insists on insinuating himself into the public eye by calling talk shows and trying to profit from a pseudo-confessional book. It comes off as a pathetic attempt to recreate his celebrity as something other than what it is. Now that he's got this ritual cleansing out of the way, maybe it's better he just crawls back under a rock.

January 13, 2007


A very cool site that is new to me - The Museum of Online Museums

January 12, 2007

Boxer Tin Ears

Barbara Boxer, showing the world what she's made of:

From Taranto:

At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, Sen. Barbara Boxer quizzed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Iraq strategy. The New York Post is rightly appalled at what Boxer had to say:

"Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price," Boxer said. "My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young."

Then, to Rice: "You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family." . . .

The junior senator from California apparently believes that an accomplished, seasoned diplomat, a renowned scholar and an adviser to two presidents like Condoleezza Rice is not fully qualified to make policy at the highest levels of the American government because she is a single, childless woman.

It's hard to imagine the firestorm that similar comments would have ignited, coming from a Republican to a Democrat, or from a man to a woman, in the United States Senate.

Part of the reason this is shocking, of course, is because it breaches feminist etiquette. If Boxer had said this to a male official who had no children, it wouldn't have carried quite the same sting--though it would still be creepy.

We've remarked frequently upon the tendency of war opponents to infantilize American servicemen--by demanding, for example, to know why President Bush hasn't "sent" his daughters to fight in Iraq, as if he had the power as their father to order them to enlist.

In truth, members of the military are adults who have made an adult commitment. They deserve to be respected for their maturity, not patronized as victims. It dishonors them to use their sacrifice as a political cudgel.

Touché. See also Robert A. George

Taking One For the Team

One of Jay Nordlinger's "Impromptus" yesterday spoke of facing uncomfortable prospects.

I have a friend who, in a phone conversation last weekend, said the unsayable. Come to think of it, this friend makes a specialty of saying the unsayable. That is one reason he is invaluable.

He said, “The Democrats have to win in 2008 — I mean, the whole enchilada: House, Senate, and presidency.” You ought to know that my friend is a staunch conservative Republican. “Why?” I said. “Why do they have to win?” He answered, “Because that’s the only way they will be fully onboard the War on Terror. They won’t fully support it otherwise, because they will always be trying to trip up the Republicans. If you want the Democrats onboard the War on Terror, they have to be in charge. Period.”

A dark, dark proclamation. And redolent of ol’ Joe, the one from Wisconsin. I am not entirely convinced of its wrongness, however.

It sent me chasing back to June, 2006, when I wrote about A Necessary Cold Shower and linked Robert Kagan's article on what electing a Democrat would mean. (Sorry about the third self-referential link in a week. I'm way over quota.)

We Mean Come On

Finally some overdue recognition for the kids over at The Hatemongers Quarterly. Kudos guys, really.

Dems Prescription End Run

Sally Pipes at NRO

The 110th Congress has already begun the process of imposing price controls on prescription drugs. On the very first day in session, Democratic lawmakers John Dingell (Mich.) and Charles Rangel (N.Y.) unveiled the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007. The bill is being rushed to a floor vote on Friday. There will be no public debate, committee hearings, or minority participation.

Small wonder. It's a transparent power grab and a step backwards in terms of a public-private partnership in prescription drug services to Medicare recipients. A week ago we took a look at this regressive policy dressed up as a reform.

Jimmy Takes A Hit

LGF and Claudia Rosett both have good roundups on the mass resignation at the Carter Center.

ATLANTA -- Fourteen members of an advisory board at the Carter Center resigned today, concluding they could "no longer in good conscience continue to serve" following publication of former President Jimmy Carter's controversial book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."

"It seems that you have turned to a world of advocacy, including even malicious advocacy," the board members wrote in a letter, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. "We can no longer endorse your strident and uncompromising position. This is not the Carter Center or Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support. Therefore it is with sadness and regret that we hereby tender our resignation from the Board of Councilors of the Carter Center effective immediately."

Another letter to Carter by an Emory University professor has also surfaced, and is well worth reading in full.

January 11, 2007


WSJ Editors

You might have thought President Bush's announcement yesterday that he intends to deploy several thousand more combat soldiers to Iraq would have been sweet policy vindication for the Democrats. They're the ones who spent the better part of the past four years using Eric Shinseki--the former Army Chief of Staff who, prior to the war, estimated it would take up to half a million troops to occupy the country--as a cudgel with which to beat this President over the head.


Ostensibly, the Democratic complaint is that the Administration has failed to come up with a new strategy for Iraq. In fact, Mr. Bush says he is offering a qualitative departure from what the U.S. has attempted before. (See "Mission Baghdad.") The real question is whether the Democrats are prepared to act like a responsible opposition now that they control both houses of Congress, in contrast to the last four years of partisan minority sniping.

On the evidence of the past week, the answer is no. On Tuesday, the Democrats announced they would hold a symbolic, nonbinding vote on the troop increase, without so much as hearing what the President has to say. The vote, says Senator Joe Biden, is an effort to "demonstrate to the President he's on his own." So much for presenting a united American face to the jihadis and insurgents killing our troops in Iraq. And this from someone who fancies himself Presidential-timber.

Read it all. And Taranto is en fuego today.

Totten in Lebanon

A wonderful piece of photo-journalism-blogging by Michael Totten, from Hezbollah country in South Lebanon. And all with no pajamas.

On Ellison and Jefferson

Christopher Hitchens examines what Thomas Jefferson learned about Islam and the Quran while dealing with the problem of the Barbary Pirates.

The Barbary states of North Africa (or, if you prefer, the North African provinces of the Ottoman Empire, plus Morocco) were using the ports of today's Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia to wage a war of piracy and enslavement against all shipping that passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. Thousands of vessels were taken, and more than a million Europeans and Americans sold into slavery. The fledgling United States of America was in an especially difficult position, having forfeited the protection of the British Royal Navy. Under this pressure, Congress gave assent to the Treaty of Tripoli, negotiated by Jefferson's friend Joel Barlow, which stated roundly that "the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen." This has often been taken as a secular affirmation, which it probably was, but the difficulty for secularists is that it also attempted to buy off the Muslim pirates by the payment of tribute. That this might not be so easy was discovered by Jefferson and John Adams when they went to call on Tripoli's envoy to London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman. They asked him by what right he extorted money and took slaves in this way. As Jefferson later reported to Secretary of State John Jay, and to the Congress:

The ambassador answered us that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

Medieval as it is, this has a modern ring to it.

And if you think Christians are spared Hitch's rapier, think again.

January 10, 2007

Education Myths

Interesting takedown of a few of the common Myths of the Teachers Unions by Jay Greene of The American Enterprise. I'm married to a high school algebra teacher and department head with 34 years of experience in public schools, and we've argued about discussed some of these things several times, including today over this article.

She is anything but a teachers union sympathizer, having never joined as a matter of personal principle, but she rightly points out that the union is hardly the only villain of the piece. A great deal of the increase in cost per student today, versus a decade or two ago, goes to pay for the "special needs" kids of all kinds, the "alphabet kids" as they are called, with their tutors, their monitors, their escorts, their transporters and their counselors in tow. Her estimate is that at her school, about one third of all school staff is engaged in the education of this small fraction of the overall student body.

Throw in parents who are either uninvolved on the one hand, or highly visible and outraged when teachers demand performance and discipline instead of mere attendance on the other. Throw in administrators without the spine to stand up to parents by enforcing discipline, or by defending a teachers' demand for actual "school work." Toss in a large dose of "social promotion", and you get a high school student arriving without junior high skill levels, and carrying with him an attitude that is dismissive of the entire enterprise.

With all of those things as qualifiers, my criticisms of the teachers unions (and Greene's) stand. Generally speaking, they want no part of teacher accountability or peer review. They oppose teacher testing and policies that would make it easier (than impossible) to fire the worst performing teachers. The notion that teachers are poorly compensated doesn't hold up to serious scrutiny compared to other professional occupations, especially when benefits packages and hourly compensation are considered. Nor does the idea that there is a correlation between dollars spent per student and the quality of education that student receives. And it is hardly coincidental that the union's pet reform, class size reduction, would if broadly implemented add significantly to union membership rolls and union dues. It would of course also drive up significantly the costs to taxpayers.

Class size reduction is also the hot button solution for politicians these days, largely because it's hard to argue with. Sure it's virtually incontestable that it is easier to teach effectively in a classroom of 15 students than it would be in a class of 30. (Strangely, when college students are paying for the privilege of attending, lecture halls for some classes at major universities accomodate class sizes in the hundreds without compromising the learning.) And if we operate on the premise that the quality of public education is worse today than it was 40 years ago, (and I don't think we would have too many dissenters from that view) then the class size activists should have to explain why class sizes of 25-30 were not a debilitating problem then, but have become so today.

January 9, 2007

Killer Apps

Engadget.com live-blogs Steve Jobs' keynote address from Macworld 2007 where he introduces the iPhone. Apps upon apps...features with features. Impressive.

Oh yes, and "Apple TV" too. (via Slashdot)

UPDATE 1/9: Much more at PJM

Saddam Speaks

From the NY Times' John F. Burns - Audio tapes of Saddam played at the trial of his henchmen confirm his central role in the use of chemical weapons to murder thousands of Iraqi citizens. (The NYT archives after a few days, so I have excerpted liberally after the jump - DW)

The New York Times
January 9, 2007

by John F. Burns

BAGHDAD, Jan. 8 — The courtroom he dominated for 15 months seemed much smaller on Monday without him there to mock the judges and assert his menacing place in history.

But the thick, high-register voice of Saddam Hussein was unmistakable. In audio recordings made years ago and played 10 days after his hanging, Mr. Hussein was heard justifying the use of chemical weapons against the Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s, predicting they would kill “thousands” and saying he alone among Iraq’s leaders had the authority to order chemical attacks.

In the history of prosecutions against some of the last century’s grimmest men, there can rarely have been a moment that so starkly caught a despot’s unpitying nature.

On one recording, Mr. Hussein presses the merits of chemical weapons on Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, his vice-president, and now, the Americans believe, the fugitive leader of the Sunni insurgency that has tied down thousands of American troops. Mr. Douri, a notorious hard-liner, asks whether chemical attacks will be effective against civilian populations, and suggests that they might stir an international outcry.

“Yes, they’re very effective if people don’t wear masks,” Mr. Hussein replies.

“You mean they will kill thousands?” Mr. Douri asks.

“Yes, they will kill thousands,” Mr. Hussein says.

Before he was hanged Dec. 30 for offenses in another case, Mr. Hussein had used the so-called Anfal trial, involving the massacre of as many as 180,000 Iraqi Kurds, as a platform for arguing that the chemical weapons attacks of the kind that devastated the town of Halabja on March 16, 1988, were carried out by Iranian forces then fighting Iraq in an eight-year war.

But the recordings told another story. Court officials gave no hint as to how they obtained the recordings, which Iraqis familiar with Mr. Hussein’s voice said seemed to be authentic. But they appeared to have been made during meetings of his Revolutionary Command Council and of the Baath Party High Command, two groups that acted as rubber stamps for his decisions. Mr. Hussein regularly ordered meetings to be recorded, according to Iraqis who knew the inner workings of Mr. Hussein’s dictatorship.

Mr. Hussein sounds matter of fact as he describes what chemical weapons will do. “They will prevent people eating and drinking the local water, and they won’t be able to sleep in their beds,” he says. “They will force people to leave their homes and make them uninhabitable until they have been decontaminated.”

As for the concern about international reaction, he assures Mr. Douri that only he will order the attacks. “I don’t know if you know this, Comrade Izzat, but chemical weapons are not used unless I personally give the orders,” he says.


Gone were the cries of “Mr. President!” as Mr. Hussein entered the court to join them in the dock, and gone, too, was the emboldened posture they took from Mr. Hussein, with frequent challenges and insults to witnesses, prosecutors and judges. Perhaps Mr. Hussein’s hanging, and the humiliating taunts he endured from witnesses and guards as he stood with the noose around his neck, had broken the last illusions among those surviving him that they could somehow evade a similar end.

When the chief judge, Muhammad Ureibi al-Khalifa, began the proceedings by abruptly cutting the microphone as Mr. Majid stood to intone a prayer in memory of Mr. Hussein, the former dictator seemed to be judicially, as well as existentially, dead. But the anticlimactic beginning swiftly gave way to the most astonishing day of testimony since Mr. Hussein and his associates went on trial. Once more, it was Mr. Hussein, this time in an involuntary orgy of self-incrimination, who dominated.

In the sequence of scratchy recordings — some with the dialogue quite clear, some barely decipherable — Mr. Hussein repeatedly showed the ready resort to brutality that seized Iraq with fear during his 24 years in power. At one point, he is heard telling a general to summarily execute field commanders who fail to adequately prepare their defenses against Kurdish guerrilla raids.

He cites as a precedent “some commanders who abandoned their positions when they found themselves in an awkward situation, who deserved to have their necks cut, and did.” At another point, he tells subordinates to execute any internal security officials who fail to stop Iraqi soldiers sneaking home from the Iranian front on fake passes.

“If you arrest any of them, cut off their heads,” he says. “Show no mercy. They only joined the security to avoid having to join the army and fight Iran.”

One recording revealed, more clearly than anything before, Mr. Hussein’s personal involvement in covering up Iraq’s attempts to acquire unconventional weapons, the program that ultimately led to President Bush sending American troops to overthrow him. Talking to the general who led Iraq’s dealings with United Nations weapons inspectors until weeks before the 2003 invasion, he counseled caution in the figures being divulged on the extent of Iraq’s raw supplies for chemical weapons, so as to disguise the use of unaccounted-for chemicals in the attacks on the Kurds.

But it was Mr. Hussein’s chilling discussion of the power of chemical weapons against civilians that brought prosecutors and judges to the verge of tears, and seemed to shock the remaining defendants. One of the recordings featured an unidentified military officer telling Mr. Hussein that a plan was under development for having Soviet-built aircraft carry containers, packed with up to 50 napalm bombs each, which would be rolled out of the cargo deck and dropped on Kurdish towns.

“Yes, in areas where you have concentrated populations, that would be useful,” Mr. Hussein replies.

Another recording involves a General Thabit, who was not further identified by the prosecutors, telling Mr. Hussein that his forces had used chemical weapons in the northern sector of Kurdistan, but that “our supplies of the weapons were low, and we didn’t make good use of the ones we had.” The general notes that Iraq’s production of mustard gas and sarin, a nerve gas, was “very low,” and says they should be used sparingly. “We’re keeping what we have for the future,” he says.

Before they recovered enough to begin pleading their innocence, Mr. Hussein’s erstwhile companions in the dock buried their heads in their hands, gazed at the floor, and glanced furtively toward TV cameras transmitting live coverage of the trial. Mr. Majid shifted uneasily in his seat as one recording had him telling officials to warn Kurdish refugees that they would be attacked with chemical weapons if they attempted to return to their villages.

The prosecutor, Munkith al-Faroun, came to court as almost the only person who attended Mr. Hussein’s execution on Dec. 30 to emerge with an unsullied reputation. It was he, as he and others confirmed, who attempted to halt the taunts hurled at Mr. Hussein as he stood with the noose around his neck, moments before the trapdoor opened. Over the hubbub, an illicit camera phone recording showed Mr. Faroun calling out for silence, “Please, no!” he said. “The man is about to be executed.”

But back in the courtroom, Mr. Faroun became, again, the man holding Mr. Hussein to account and, in one poignant moment, counseling restraint among those who have expressed outrage over the manner of the former ruler’s execution. That moment came after the court watched television images taken after the Halabja attack, which more than any other event focused world attention on the atrocities committed under Mr. Hussein.

The video showed the horrors: a father wailing in grief as he found his children lying along a street littered with bodies; dead mothers clutching gas-choked infants to their breasts in swaddling clothes; young sisters embracing each other in death; and trucks piled high with civilian bodies. “I ask the whole world to look at these images, especially those who are crying right now,” Mr. Faroun said, referring to the outpouring of sympathy for Mr. Hussein.

The recordings played at Monday’s trial session, seemingly eliminating any doubt about Mr. Hussein’s role in the attacks on the Kurds, may go a long way to answering criticism of the government for executing him before he was judged for the worst of his crimes.

American justice department lawyers, who have done much of the behind-the-scenes work in sifting tons of documents and other evidence gathered after the invasion of 2003, had never hinted that they held the trump card, judicially and historically, that the audio recordings seem likely to be.

100 Most Influential Americans

The 100 most influential figures in American history are selected by a team of historians engaged by The Atlantic Monthly.

Interestingly, only three living Americans made the list: Bill Gates (No. 54), James D. Watson (68) and Ralph Nader (96), and among those living Americans who got some votes from the panel but didn't make the Top 100 were Bob Dylan, Steve Jobs, Muhammed Ali and William F. Buckley.

I have some quibbles with a few of the selections. Both Margaret Mead and Rachel Carson had great influence, but both also did research that turned out to be fundamentally flawed. In Carson's case, the DDT ban her book engendered can be said to cause to this day the unnecessary deaths of millions of people annually from malaria.

And Margaret Mead's research has taken a beating over the years. As Peter Wood said, "Few anthropologists seem to think that she intentionally lied, but we are left with gradations from culpable negligence to inadvertent error." That's being kind.

Moving the Deck Chairs

Thomas Lifson writes about the decline of Time magazine.

Not Champions

Ohio State was outplayed, outcoached, and out-hustled, and they got their butts handed to them tonight. Credit Urban Meyer and Florida for a great effort. I was one of many who were spectacularly wrong about what kind of game we'd see, and what kind of Buckeye effort we would get. It was miserable. Tressel was out to lunch for the entire game. Troy Smith played like he was on downs. The OSU offensive line didn't show up. I don't get it.

Congratulations to the Gators. They played their asses off.

January 8, 2007

Go Bucks


O-Zone - BCS Championship Game Preview

ESPN BCS Championship Game Homepage

SI.com on Tressel - "Best Around?"

A Florida fan says the Gators are going to win.

Bucknuts Game Preview

There's Hope

It's always worthwhile to read what Reuel Marc Gerecht has to say on the Middle East. This time it's The Consequences of Failure in Iraq

January 6, 2007

10 Plays

Mostly interesting to hardcore Buckeye fans, but of general interest in the name of pre-game hype...

Ten Plays that got the Buckeyes to Glendale.

Ott on Katrina

Serious must reading is Scrappleface Editor Scott Ott's non-satirical reply to a listserv editor, who had responded to a Ott's original satire. It helps to read the original first. What a talent.

Big Game Troy

This column by ESPN.com's Pat Forde captures the essence of why I am so confident of a Buckeyes victory on Monday night.

There is a look in Troy Smith's eyes these days.

A Vince Young look in his eyes.

A look that says, "There's no way Ohio State is losing while I'm wearing its uniform."

I have seen every play of Troy Smith's three year playing career, plus three Spring Games, and I have to agree.

No way.

A lot of people are predicting a low-scoring game because both defenses are so good. I don't think so. Florida's skill position players scare me, as does the prospect that Coach Meyer will surprise the Bucks with some big trick plays. So I think they could score as many as 24 points.

And I'm also remembering the buildup to the OSU-Michigan game seven weeks ago, which by the time the game was played, had lionized the Michigan defense as one of the best ever in college football history. Their fast, strong defensive line, giving up a microscopic 29 yds per game rushing for the season, their tough, speedy linebackers, and their rugged secondary featuring 1st Team All-American Leon Hall, would be by far the best the Buckeyes had faced all year. Studs like Hall and Woodley and Branch...plus Harris, Crable, Burgess. Surely the Buckeyes would struggle with all that defensive speed and talent.

All Troy Smith did was shred the Wolverine defense for four passing touchdowns, to four different receivers, and Buckeye running backs Pittman and Wells each had a rushing TD of over 50 yards. OSU totaled over 180 yards rushing, and racked up 509 yards overall.

Color me skeptical that Florida's defense will fare enough better than that to pull off the upset.

My prediction is the Buckeyes over Florida, 34-20.

UPDATE 1/7: From Fox Sports, 10 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Beat Florida (thanks, BobG)

January 5, 2007

LeBron's Shot

If you haven't seen LeBron James' 83-foot shot at the end of the third quarter Wednesday night in Boston, you can still see it here. The league announced today that it was the third longest successful shot in league history, behind Baron Davis (89 feet in 2001) and Norm Van Leer (84 feet in 1977). Just sayin'.

Will on Minimum Wage

George Will - "Raising the minimum wage is still a bad idea". A jewel by George. Clip and save.

January 4, 2007

Prescription Drug Reform By Regressives

The Bush administration's 2006 prescription drug benefit, the Medicare (Part D) program has been largely successful, and apparently the Democrats can't stand for it any longer. One of the first items on the Pelosi agenda is to alter the Medicare program to allow the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies, presuming (pretending?) that this will save money on drugs, and help pay for the program.

An article from the Dec. 25 issue of The Weekly Standard, by Robert M. Goldberg (not available free online) explains that the market mechanisms were instituted precisely to avoid the kind of government price-controlling proposed by Democrats today, and proven destructive in the past.

The Medicare legislation creating the prescription drug benefit that took effect in 2006 (known as Part D) prohibited the government from negotiating directly with drug or biotech companies in order to guard against price controls. Instead, pharmacy benefit managers--the same service organizations most health plans use--would negotiate drug prices, pay pharmacy claims, etc., while offering competing versions of the Part D benefit to seniors. Democrats and most policy experts predicted the new drug benefit would be confusing and unworkable, that seniors would fail to sign up, and that those who did would receive scant coverage as drug companies jacked up prices to cash in on sweetheart deals absent any government jawboning.

Liberal and conservative opponents of the Bush program both predicted that angry seniors by this fall would be headed to the polls outraged at the cost, complexity, and inadequacy of their new drug benefit. In fact, as the Washington Post reported (after the election), polls show 80 percent of those covered are satisfied with the plan. The plan covers 22.5 million people who previously had no prescription drug coverage. Another 9 million poor seniors have their entire drug costs covered, with fewer restrictions on choice than under the state or Medicaid programs on which they previously relied. Under the lash of competition, the cost of the program has been lower than expected--by a whopping $26 billion in 2006. Medicare officials believe the plan's average per-person subsidy will drop 15 percent next year to under $80 per month, even as the out-of-pocket costs of seniors continue to drop.

Unwilling to recognize the good news, Democrats have consistently pointed to the government-negotiated drug prices offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a model for what they would do with Medicare Part D. Ron Pollack, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Families USA (which supported a market-based approach to Medicare drug coverage when Democrats and President Clinton advanced it in 2000), has asserted, "Medicare is overwhelmingly the largest purchaser [of prescription drugs], and it's ridiculous for Medicare not to get the best deal of all institutional purchasers."

However, both the Congressional Budget Office and Medicare analysts estimate that the government could do no better than a private company in negotiating prices. So why do Democrats insist they can? Because they aren't proposing market-like negotiations but a combination of price controls and restrictions on what drugs seniors can use. In a word: HillaryCare.

The point is that the track record of the Veterans Affairs system that Democrats want to clone for Medicare's prescription drug benefit is miserable. The system actually prevents the newest (and thus most effective) medicines from being available to the people they purport to serve. More from the Goldberg piece:

Far from negotiating drug prices, the VA imposes them. Federal law requires companies to sell to the VA at 24 percent below wholesale price. If they won't, they are banned from selling medicines to Medicaid, Medicare, and the public health service. The VA demands even deeper discounts by creating a national formulary--a restrictive list of approved drugs for its patients. Companies that don't meet that additional discount don't make the list. Patients must get drugs from VA pharmacies instead of retail outlets. Patients who endure side effects from a formulary medicine--or who fail to respond to one--must submit themselves to an arduous and time-consuming bureaucratic process to gain access to any pharmaceuticals not on the list.

In opposing the Medicare Part D reform in 2003, Democratic senator Patty Murray stated that she "was unhappy at the prospect that this plan could tell patients with MS, Parkinson's disease, and ALS that they can't get the drugs they need because their plan will not cover them." Yet Azilect, the newest drug to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, approved in 2006, is not on the VA drug list, though every Medicare Part D plan has adopted it. In delaying access to new medicines, the VA is no different from the national health services of Canada and Great Britain. Tysabri, a new drug for multiple sclerosis, is available under every Medicare plan. It is not on the VA drug plan.

That doesn't seem to bother Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi. She is readying a proposal to force Medicare to
ratchet down prices for every drug now and in the future using the VA approach. Yet as former Medicare director Mark McClellan points out, the Stark proposal will perversely encourage higher prices. "You set a top price for Medicare or the VA, or demand a deeper discount than the private sector, and watch the drug prices increase and discounts disappear. Demand cost-effectiveness studies, and the drugs will be offered to Medicare last while the case is made to the private sector first. That's one reason lots of drugs are available to Medicare patients now, but not to folks in the VA system."

Indeed, the VA price controls take a toll on the health of seniors who depend on the veterans' system for their care. Frank Lichtenberg, an economist at Columbia University's Graduate School of Business, found that the majority of the drugs on the VA formulary are more than eight years old--just 19 percent of prescription drugs approved since 2000 and 38 percent of those approved from 1990-2000 have made it onto the VA formulary. None of the drugs regarded as priority medicines since 2000 by the Food and Drug Administration are on it either. Lichtenberg estimates that "the use of older drugs in the VA system may have reduced life expectancy by 2.04 months" per person.

Our veterans are not getting access to 81% of all of the newest and most effective drugs approved since 2000, and are able to get less than 40% of all new drugs approved in the last 16 years, because their system is crippled by bureaucracy and federal price controls.

That's an outrage in itself, but it's even more outrageous that the Democrats now plan to take it national! They just can't figure out how a private company can be making a profit in there somewhere, and yet the system is far more efficient and effective than the one in which drug prices are "negotiated" by the government. They are indeed slow learners.

This proposal isn't "progressive" policy of any stripe. All kinds of cliché truisms apply here. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. When a person or group is doing a bad job at one task, you don't give them more to do.

The Democrats' proposed "reform" rings ideological, because it sure isn't practical. It's a power grab, and an anti-market hissy fit prompted by the success of the privatization aspects of the existing Bush plan. (It would suffice that it is the "Bush plan".) Today's Democratic power brokers will have none of that privatization stuff, thank you, even if they have to take a large step backwards, reversing positive reforms, and in the process denying seniors the best drugs our companies can produce.

Having already stomped all over the fair use doctrine in this post, (did I mention you should subscribe to TWS?) , I'll post one more paragraph from the Goldberg article. There are some indications of sanity among Democrats:

Some prudent Democrats have begun to hedge their bets. Incoming House Way and Means chairman Charles Rangel appears more interested in working with drug companies to expand their existing patient assistance programs, which help subsidize needy patients. Incoming Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, who supported the Medicare drug benefit, has agreed to hold hearings on government price negotiations but is cool to the idea. For all the talk about the supposed virtues of the VA price controls, nearly 2 million VA beneficiaries have signed up for Medicare Part D. That's because the new plans give them access to medicines they can't get under the VA. Congressional Democrats should take note.

Let your Congressman know how you feel about regressive policy-making.

UPDATE 1/7: Turns out the Goldberg article isn't "protected" online after all.

Irish Reality Sandwich

Charlie Weis spoke candidly about the state of the Irish football program after they got waxed by LSU last night.

"Right now we're just a nice team," said Charlie Weis after LSU handed the Fighting Irish (10-3) their worst loss of the season, 41-14. "We're a nice, solid team, okay, but you want to be an upper echelon team."

John Walters' "reality check" piece at NBCSports.com reads like a Notre Dame fan making the definitive case that the Irish didn't deserve to be playing in the Sugar Bowl. Good stuff.

For a moment when the Irish were down 14-0 early, and Brady Quinn's eye black was getting a little smeared, I had a brief pang of sympathy for the kid from Columbus. He just didn't have enough help. It passed quickly, and didn't happen again, mind you. But I'm not gloating... a little schadenfreude maybe...because in the big picture, that game meant nothing.

Go Bucks.

January 3, 2007

Redeker Case

Commentary has a new homepage design, and a new issue worth of material up, including "The Redeker Affair", an account of how... "In today’s France, speaking candidly about Islam can be hazardous to an academic’s career—and personal safety." Read it while you can. This is from the top...

This past September, Robert Redeker, a French high-school philosophy teacher at Saint-Orens-de-Gameville (a small city near Toulouse) and the author of several scholarly books, published an op-ed article in the newspaper Le Figaro. The piece, a response to the controversy over remarks about Islam made a week earlier by Pope Benedict XVI, was titled “What Should the Free World Do in the Face of Islamist Intimidation?” It was a fierce critique of what Redeker called Islam’s attempt “to place its leaden cloak over the world.” If Jesus was “a master of love,” he wrote, Muhammad was “a master of hatred.” Of the three “religions of the book,” Islam was the only one that overtly preached holy war. “Whereas Judaism and Christianity are religions whose rites reject and delegitimize violence,” Redeker concluded, “Islam is a religion that, in its own sacred text, as well as in its everyday rites, exalts violence and hatred.”

Having been posted online, the article was read all across France and in other countries as well, and was quickly translated into Arabic. Denunciations of Redeker’s “insult of the prophet” spread across the Internet. Within a day after publication, the piece was being condemned on al Jazeera by the popular on-air preacher (and unofficial voice of Osama bin Laden) Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi. In Egypt and Tunisia, the offending issue of Le Figaro was banned.

As for Redeker himself, he soon received a large number of threats by letter and e-mail. On an Islamist website, he was sentenced to death in a posting that, in order to facilitate a potential assassin’s task, also provided his address and a photograph of his home. Fearful for himself and his family, Redeker sought protection from the local police, who transferred the case to the national counter-espionage authorities. On their advice, Redeker, his wife, and three children fled their home and took shelter in a secret location. Since then, they have moved from city to city, at their own expense, under police protection. Another teacher has been appointed by the French Ministry of Education to replace Redeker, who will probably never see his students again.

Who Cares?

Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks' new book on charitable giving in America is causing something of a stir, as it blows away some of the political Left's favorite stereotypes of conservatives. Jonah Goldberg comments on Brooks' research:

...basically, if you are religiously observant, a married parent, and skeptical toward the role of government, you are much more likely to be generous with your time and money.

You’re also more likely to be a political conservative, but it’s a mistake to find causation in that correlation. Certain types of people are likely to be conservative and to be charitable. But being a conservative doesn’t make you charitable.

Still, the partisan ammo is what has interested the Bill O’Reilly types the most — and it is interesting, since it so directly contradicts the generations-old propaganda of the left, which depicts the rich right as stingy, unfeeling and selfish. “Blue state” America spends a lot of time talking about how much more caring and enlightened it is. But that’s with somebody else’s money. When it’s their own money, that’s a different story.

But Goldberg finds more interesting what Brooks' research demonstrates about America as a whole: (someone call Stern)

Our charitableness is a distinct cultural artifact. America’s simply a lot more generous than most other countries. Not counting government aid, we give, per capita, three and half times more than the French, seven times more than Germans, and 14 times more than the Italians.

This is not merely a byproduct of our wealth. In fact, one of the most interesting observations of the book is that the most giving Americans, measured as a share of their income, are the working poor. The rich come second and the middle class last.

The difference lies in European attitudes toward God and state. Europeans have largely turned their backs on the former and consider the latter the answer to everything.

Europeans defend their comparative stinginess by claiming that their outsized welfare states, and the taxes they pay into them, amount to charity. Brooks demolishes these and related assertions. But the most basic response is this: Compelling payment by others through high taxes isn’t charity.


Jamie Glazov interviews the author at FPM.

K-Lo interviews Brooks for NRO.

The U.N. in The Sudan

Your tax dollars at work. The Telegraph reports. (via Claudia Rosett at PJM)

January 2, 2007

Greatest Ever?

C.W. Nevius, who writes a sports blog at SFGate.com, calls last night's Boise State-Oklahoma game the greatest game ever played. Seriously.

The Boise State-Oklahoma bowl game on New Year's Day has raised a simple question: Was that the greatest college football game ever?

The answer? Yes. It was.

What the heck. One of them has to be.

At least he's given it lots of thought.

If you missed the ending, turn on SportsCenter. They'll be showing highlights for weeks.

At the very least, the last two minutes of regulation time and the overtime period combined for the most exciting finish to a college football game in about four years. And for sheer drama and guts and razzle-dazzle, it even topped OSU-Miami 2003.

By the way, was this the longest football game in all of recorded history, or did it just seem like that, coming as it did as the last leg of my 14-hour football-watching odyssey? I spoke to people today who did something else on New Years Day, in some cases, actually getting worthwhile tasks accomplished. I had nothing more to say to these people, such is my bewilderment with their world.

Is There Some Other Kind?

I don't normally get into "News of the Weird" type stories, but rules have exceptions, you know. Like the story this past weekend about the drunken Christmas party that ended in a woman being charged with "malicious castration" for, with her bare hands mind you, grabbing a man's genitals and inflicting a wound requiring 50 stiches to close. It's the name of the charge that got me.

Malicious castration. As differentiated from...say, "benign castration" or maybe "just kidding around castration"? "Mercy castration"? I mean if it were "accidental" (as I'm sure happens from time to time) there wouldn't have to be a criminal charge name for it, right?

What next? A "mean-spirited murder" statute? (Oops...got that already. Hate crimes laws.)

UPDATE 1/2: Ace's take

January 1, 2007

Carr and Mason

After Penn State and Wisconsin beat SEC teams early today and vindicated the Big Ten a little bit, Michigan went out and got hammered by USC, possibly sealing Lloyd Carr's fate in the process.

I said a month ago that I couldn't root for Michigan today, even though I normally want them to win on New Years Day for the Big Ten. But Carr acted like a major jerk in the Ohio State game, (can you even imagine Tressel running the sidelines screaming into the ear of the official?) and Hart was classless afterwards. Screw 'em. I wanted them to go down. Humble pie. USC outplayed them from the start, and Carroll outcoached Carr. No surprise there.

There have been persistent rumors for over a year that Carr might step down after this season and cite health reasons for doing so. It's all second hand information for me, and the health issues may be totally legit, so take it for what it's worth, but who could blame the powers that be at UM for wishing to bring the Lloyd Carr era to a close? He won a share of the '97 national championship, but he's 0-6 now in Ohio State games and bowl games since 2004. The long knives will be out after today's embarrassment.

It's awkward, because nobody really expected the Wolverines to win their first 11 games, but once again they lost their last two, and Carr will be roasted for it. Most of my fellow Buckeye fans hope he never leaves. I'd be surprised to see him back in the Fall.


When I heard Glen Mason was fired at Minnesota after his Gophers blew a 38-7 third quarter lead in their bowl game, I was stunned. He seemed as secure as anyone in the league, and it didn't seem right to fire him for one loss after what he has done for the program. Minnesota was consistently terrible before Mason, and he brought them into the first division of Big Ten teams. But the more I read from people from Minnesota, the more it's obvious that many people there couldn't stand him. And a coach who admits his "dream job" is Ohio State while he's working at your school might be hard to warm up to. This game apparently provided the administration and alumni of Minnesota a pretext for doing what they have wanted to do for some time.

Here's a (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune op-ed on the firing