Posted by Rojas @ 3:57 pm on July 25th 2007

The Democrats and the Axis of Evil Summit

Striving as they are to create any kind of tension out of the Dems’ miserable “debate” hugfest, the media has seized upon the skirmish between Obama and Hillary over inviting hostile leaders to the US. Blogging the event live, I had this to say:

Here’s a questioner who wants a sort of meta-Axis of Evil Summit involving the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea, hosted by the United States. Obama says yes, Clinton says, “that’s kinda stupid; we can’t have a freaking summit without a specific agenda.” Edwards is both for it and against it. Score one for Clinton.

Nothing that’s been said about the conflict since then has changed my mind. This strikes me as a pretty clear example of Obama telling the voters what he thinks they want to hear and Clinton answering the question the way a responsible commander in chief would. Which is strange behavior from Hillary–if she could bring herself to tell more politically inconvenient truths of this sort, my respect for her would increase substantially.

Posted by Adam @ 3:12 pm on July 25th 2007

What’s the harm?

When you’re going to take an action, you should weigh the benefits against the costs; in particular, this is true when you’re breaking the rules. So, I am a bit disturbed by the revelation that the US broke a ‘caveat’ agreement with UK security services to grab a couple of suspected bad guys, according to a report from a British Government committee investigating the UK’s role in any ‘renditions’ that have taken place:

The committee said the UK services “used caveats specifically prohibiting any action being taken” when they handed over the intelligence on the men.

It says the UK security services did not foresee that the US authorities would disregard the caveats, given that they had honoured the caveat system for the past 20 years.

“This case shows a lack of regard on the part of the US for UK concerns – despite strong protests – and that has serious implications for the intelligence relationship,” the report concluded.

“In fighting international terrorism it is clear that the US will take whatever action it deems is necessary, within US law, to protect its national security,” it said.

“Although the US may take note of UK protests and concerns, it does not appear materially to affect their strategy; the rendition programme has revealed aspects of this usually close relationship that are surprising and concerning,” the report warned.

The report goes on to criticise the British Intelligence service for not reacting to the change in policy on the part of the US intelligence services.

Well, it could be rather more complicated and justifiable than that — this is one side of it — and maybe the two people in question were so very important that the 20-year old agreement was a justifiable casualty of the attempt to grab them. However, one would imagine that intelligence-sharing depends on trust and that it is quite valuable. I’ll be interested to see if this develops at all, although I can imagine that much of it might happen away from our eyes.

Unintended consequences a-plenty.

Posted by Adam @ 1:54 pm on July 25th 2007

Wikipedia musing

Wikipedia is an interesting case study in human nature, albeit on a self-selected sample of individuals. I guess I first became aware of some of the things that go on behind the scenes (although freely available) when I looked at the wikipedia page for William Quantrill. Compare, for example, this version on 29th June 2004, containing this line:

William Clark Quantrill (July 31, 1837–June 6, 1865) was a pro-Confederate guerrilla and terrorist.

and gives this description of the “Lawrence Massacre”:

The climax of Quantrill’s guerilla career came on August 21, 1863, when he led a force of 450 raiders into Lawrence, Kansas, a stronghold of pro- Union support and the home of Senator James H. Lane, whose leading role in the struggle for free-soil in Kansas had made him a public enemy to pro-slavery forces in Missouri. Lane managed to escape, racing through a cornfield in his nightshirt, but Quantrill and his men killed 183 men and boys, dragging some from their homes to murder them in front of their families, and set the torch to much of the city.

However, the 12 January 2004 version has him back as just a pro-Confederate guerilla and describes the “Lawrence Massacre” thus:

The climax of Quantrill’s guerilla career came on August 21, 1863, when he led a force of 450 raiders into Lawrence, Kansas, a stronghold of pro- Union support and the home of Senator James H. Lane, whose leading role in the struggle for free-soil in Kansas had made him a public enemy to pro-slavery forces in Missouri. Lane managed to escape, racing through a cornfield in his nightshirt, but Quantrill and his men killed around 143 men whose names were on death lists due to their criminal deeds in Missouri and their inflammatory speaches enticing Kansans to plunder homes in Missouri. Out of 300 buildings in Lawrence only around 80 were burned.

Now, Rojas will probably comment that this is the sort of thing that happens when you let Missourians near the keyboard of a computer with an internet connection, although happily now the page seems a little fairer (the Lawrence Massacre page, however, may still upset Quantrill fans).


Posted by Rojas @ 10:13 pm on July 24th 2007

Spamming for Ron Paul

A variety of sites have accused Paul supporters of spamming their polls. It seems that these South Carolinians decided to take the complaint literally, and “spammed” a local charity food bank. Good for them. There’s no better way of proving that government isn’t necessary than to demonstrate the effectiveness of private sector antipoverty programs.

Posted by Rojas @ 6:35 pm on July 24th 2007

Machiavellian strategies for Giuliani

The new Rasmussen poll released today has Giuliani actually trailing Fred Thompson nationally. Taking the recent polls as a bunch, I’d have to think that Rudy’s actually still ahead of Thompson by something on the order of four points. However, that still represents an eroding margin for him.

And of course, the reality on the ground is far worse than the nationwide numbers would indicate–because if Rudy does indeed lose Iowa and New Hampshire, as he appears set to do, then a lot of his weaker support is going to erode away before the big primaries a couple of weeks later. That would likely cause him to lose Florida and South Carolina to Thompson, and at that point it’s hard to see him coming back to win under any circumstances.

Where does Rudy go from here? One would have to think that he’s gotten as much support as he’s gonna get with the “war leadership” card, and it’s hard to imagine him picking up Republican primary voters on any other issue. “Electability” would appear to be his other strong suit in Republican voters’ eyes, but is it enough?

If I were Giuliani, my research staff would be funneling info to Brownback’s campaign at this moment–I might even be covertly financing some of his media buys. Brownback is going absolutely psychotic on Romney over the last couple of weeks in a desperate effort to improve his own position in Iowa. Giuliani’s best hope might be that Brownback erodes Romney’s support just enough to make Rudy the suprise winner in Iowa or New Hampshire. He’d also profit from a worse-than-expected showing for Romney in the Iowa straw poll–perhaps he could throw some money at Huckabee, Brownback, or Paul for that purpose.

Posted by James @ 2:12 pm on July 24th 2007

Man, oh man, footballers are a tough breed I tell ya.

It seems the Iraqi football (soccer to good people) team is no exception. They can handle nonstop physical exertion, bone crunching collisions and confrontations, and have the thespian prowess of Shakespearian players. They can endure things that most of us mere mortals cannot, and only crumble into sobbing girlie-men when faced with the most heinous of punishments: Not getting a little mint on their pillows.

Posted by James @ 1:55 pm on July 24th 2007

What’s another 9 cents?

So, Starbucks Raises Beverage Prices 9 Cents. How long before customers paying for their Double Caramel Soy Latte Decaf Semi-Sweet Fraparamas will ask the cashier if they want to count the money in the briefcase?

Posted by Rojas @ 1:53 am on July 24th 2007

Keep on truckin’.

Ah, the life of the imaginary trucker. The fake thrill of the nonexistent open road. The impressive fictional vistas. The unreal shock of staying awake for 40 hours on would-be stimulants, falling asleep at the wannabe wheel, and plowing your almost-truck through a make-believe cow pasture.

Yes, I’m playing. It’s weirdly addictive. I’m not sure why. Between this, The Sims, and Second Life, it seems that there is nothing so mundane that it can’t be turned into an online game.

Posted by Rojas @ 9:28 pm on July 23rd 2007

Debate wrap-up

You’ll find the line-by-line in the thread below. My thoughts on who helped themselves, and otherwise.


*1. JOE BIDEN. I’ve stopped expecting Biden’s excellent debate performances to register in the polls. Be that as it may, he was far more in command of the policy details than anyone else on the stage. As usual, he was emotionally emphatic on the issues that called for it. I also liked his willingness to attack hard targets (Bill Richardson, the guy asking the gun question) instead of easy targets (Dick Cheney, pharmaceutical lobbyists).


Posted by Rojas @ 7:09 pm on July 23rd 2007

Debate live

Comments in this thread. Early reaction: I’m hating the format.

Posted by James @ 7:06 pm on July 23rd 2007

Help me, Obi Ron, you’re my only hope.

It seems that Paul stands tall with talk on freedom among the the young. Perhaps youth is not wasted upon them after all.

Ron Paul Photochop

Posted by James @ 6:39 pm on July 23rd 2007

Bye George!

Apparently the fiery MP, George Galloway was suspended from the UK Parliament for being all kissy-face with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

George Galloway

Now, I am no Galloway fan mind you, but this guy does have a cast iron scrotum…

Galloway accused his opponents of hypocrisy.

“Being lectured by the current House of Commons on the question of the funding of political campaigns is like being accused of having bad taste by Donald Trump, like being accused of slouching by the Hunchback of Notre Dame,” Galloway said.

..and a sense of humor that he may need going forward.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:09 pm on July 23rd 2007

Scary questions

A truly wonderful link from Andrew Sullivan: Steven Pinker of Harvard’s lists the questions we dare not discuss. Among my favorites:

Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?

Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer no lifelong damage?

Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape?

Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men?

Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give parents the option of euthanizing newborns with birth defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability?

Would unwanted children be better off if there were a market in adoption rights, with babies going to the highest bidder?

Is there a cost to raising such issues? Ask Lawrence Summers. Is there a market for them? Ask the authors of Freakonomics.

Posted by Adam @ 1:09 pm on July 23rd 2007

France invades Belgium

Not quite. But the guy expected to become Belgium’s next PM did, when asked to sing the Belgian National Anthem, sing the French National Anthem instead.

Say what you like about the French, but they do have the best National Anthem. So good, apparently, that even neighbouring countries want to steal it.

Posted by Rojas @ 12:12 pm on July 23rd 2007

Debate night

Don’t forget that tonight, the Democrats will be debating again. As always, TCP will have live commentary, with which no reliable analyst will agree.

Posted by Rojas @ 12:18 pm on July 22nd 2007

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

At the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, a business across the street from the Fleet Center dared to put up a banner expressing support for George W. Bush. The banner contained no obscene language and was displayed on private property zoned for commercial use. The city of Boston imposed a fine and required that the banner be taken down.

Again: political speech, at a political event, on private property in an area explicitly zoned to permit advertising. This struck me, at the time, as one of the most absolutely obvious violations of the first amendment that I had ever encountered. Yet for some reason the courts allow municipalities broad discretion where printed political advocacy in the form of signs is concerned. The latest iteration of this relates to the Ron Paul campaign in Kansas City, where this ordinance, among others, is being employed by the city government in an attempt to get people to stop displaying signs supportive of Paul’s candidacy.

I can’t begin to imagine, frankly, how this is constitutionally permissable. To argue that one can’t advertise outside of a certain period prior to an election is insane, given the mechanics of the current primary process; such a restriction provides an explicit advantage to those candidates annointed as “front-runners” in that they get free media exposure. The idea that advertisements can’t be run in residential areas is similarly obnoxious; one could just as easily justify restriction on verbal speech on exactly the same grounds, and people who complain that they don’t want to live in an environment of constant political advocacy are richly deserving of Adam’s “world’s smallest violin”. All of this is particularly galling given the long history of selective enforcement of these statutes, and in light of the very apparent reality that trying to silence people’s legal expression of their ideology leads inexorably to expressions far more disruptive of public order-graffitti, for instance.

Not that I would ever encourage Ron Paul supporters who’d been denied the right to post yard signs to grab a can of spray paint and take their message to the streets. That’d be counterproductive. But the state really needs to be a lot wiser about the way it seeks to regulate political speech–these wire-enclosed “free speech zones,” campaign finance shenanigans, and penny-ante police tactics aren’t doing the tone of political discourse in the country a bit of good.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:21 am on July 22nd 2007

Viva La Gridlock


Guess what? The Democrats hate filibusters again.

I maintained throughout last year’s arguments about the filibustering of Bush’s judicial nominees that the entire issue in dispute–the legitimacy of the filibuster–was being raised for tactical, self-serving reasons. Well, now that the shoe is on the other foot, both parties are proving me right; the Republicans by practicing a tactic they claimed to despise, and the Democrats by whining like babies about it.

At least one of the contributors to this site supported a Democratic takeover of Congress last year in a deliberate attempt to recreate the gridlock of 1992-1998. The reasoning was that the Republicans seemed completely incapable of restraining spending on their own, but they might suddenly find themselves compelled to resist pretty much the same spending bills if the Democrats proposed them. Indeed, that strategy seems to be working out as planned. Congress has ceased to legislate–and I wish them stamina and fortitude in their inaction.

Posted by Adam @ 7:54 am on July 21st 2007

The Harry Potter madness

I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday at about 4pm and already a queue had started to get the book at midnight. Whatever one thinks of the Harry Potter books — like every phenomenon with such a large number of enthusiastic supporters, it is pretty easy to hate them — it is an extraordinary achievement, to have children (and adults) around the world queueing up overnight for the chance to buy a book. A book, note, that will still be available the day afterward.

JK Rowling is reputedly the world’s richest author. She is one individual that nearly everyone, I think, would agree has earnt her money in an agreeable way.

Posted by Brad @ 5:43 pm on July 20th 2007

Pope Quote of the Day

From his first book, Introduction to Christianity. The context is the believe in the triune god, the doctrine of the Trinity as a sort of negative theology, in his words, a necessarily “baffled theology”. But I like it generalized.

The Jansenist Saint-Cyran once made the thought-provoking remark that faith consists of a series of contradictions held together by grace. He thereby expressed in the realm of theology a discovery which today in physics [circa 1968], as the law of complementarity, belongs to the realm of scientific thought. The physicist is becoming increasingly aware today that we cannon embrace given realities – the structure of light, for example, or matter as a whole – in one form of experiment and so in one form of statement; that on the contrary from different sides we glimpse different aspects, which cannot be traced back to each other. We have to take the two together – say the structure of corpuscle and wave – without being able to find any all-embracing aspect – as a provisional assessment of the whole, which is not accessible to us as a unified whole because of limitations implicit in our point of view. What is true here in the physical realm as a result of the deficiencies in our vision is true in an incomporably greater degree of the spiritual realities and of God. Here too we can always look from one side and so grasp only one particular aspect, which seems to contradict the other, yet only when combined with it is a pointer to the whole which we are incapable of stating or grasping. Only by circling round, by looking and describing from different, apparently contrary angles can we succeed in alluding to the truth, which is never visible to us in its totality.

Posted by Adam @ 11:50 am on July 20th 2007

Vitter: resignation the correct action?

There is broad agreement between Jonah Goldberg, Kathryn Jean Lopez and, as Goldberg links, with Ross Douthat and Ruth Marcus. Vitter should probably resign.

If a politician were caught with his name on the “call list” of a prominent drug dealer, he wouldn’t be able to wriggle out of it by admitting to a “serious sin” and leaving it at that. And unless prominent Republicans are prepared to join Matt in supporting the repeal of laws banning prostitution – which I certainly hope they aren’t – then they shouldn’t be backing Vitter’s “it’s a private matter” line. It isn’t. It’s a crime.

I am pretty much with Ross on the first part; it’s the same sort of thing as if he’d been engaging in some recreational drugs. However, I don’t see why either should be illegal, which is why I only gave the criminal aspect brief mention in my post on it; Vitter’s problem is that he’s done the big family-values nonsense whilst at the same time he’s been playing away from home with a hooker (or hookers). For as long as it is a crime, though, yes, it needs to be considered. As crimes go, it could be worse (it could be perjury, but wait — I forget, Republicans don’t care about perjury anymore).

The hypocrisy is, as Douthat points out, the problem. The fact is, if he’d legally been getting it on with another man, he’d be in more trouble; although he might still have to resign over this, if it’d been a guy that wasn’t a prostitute, resignation would be more certain than it is now.

Posted by Adam @ 11:18 am on July 20th 2007

Cricket commentary

India and England are playing the Second Day of the First Test, which is taking place at Lords. The BBC, as ever, have live audio commentary and are doing live text commentary:

1555: India 31-2

In strides Tendulkar, burdened with the shameful knowledge that his Test average at Lords is 65 runs lower than ruddy-cheeked pie-fan Rob Key. Two slips, a gully, a man in short and straight on both sides of the wicket. Let’s see what happens.

Tendulkar, for the uninitiated, is the Great Batsman of those still active around the world. Rob Key is a portly English player whose record isn’t really that good (although he has done well at Lords).

Sometimes, I miss England.

Posted by Adam @ 8:52 am on July 20th 2007

Pushing it past September

So, the pressure on Petraeus to deliver by September, a pressure he in large part brought upon himself (although the eagerness with which others seized on it was perhaps a little unexpected), has resulted in talk of having to wait until November:

“In order to do a good assessment I need at least until November,” said Odierno, a deputy to Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq.

This looks like a political gift to the Democrats, to me, who’d probably do better the longer this goes on, so long as they can play the convincing part of “we’re doing all we can, but the Republicans just love this damn war”. Of course, if Petraeus can show convincing progress by November, he’s a hero and a lot of the administration’s incompetence in running the war are going to be forgotten. Democrats will then be the commanders of a ship from which most of the voters are jumping. Obviously, I want Petraeus’ plan to work — I just hope that people remember what came before, when they are handing out credit — and I’d actually like to see this issue still live through to next year, so candidates really have to take, and keep, a stand on it.

Of course, another way to see it is as an admission that the surge isn’t working and that this is a desperate attempt to kick it down the road, as Brad sees it (and quite possibly he is right).

Posted by Adam @ 7:24 am on July 20th 2007

Labour hold Ealing and Southall

The by-election in the British constituency of Ealing and Southall also Labour hold their seat, although with a significantly reduced majority.

The bad news for the tories is not just that they were in third place to the Liberal Democrats but that their candidate, who had been selected at short notice, apparently in large part because of his ethnic heritage (sound familiar, Alan Keyes watchers?), did worse than expected (he had been seen at a labour fundraiser not long before, at which he met Tony Blair). They weren’t expected to win this or the Sedgefield by-election but a better showing had been hoped for. However, tactical voting is a particular characteristic of by-elections so underlying Tory support in those areas may be a little stronger than is obvious from the figures. Cameron hopes.

Posted by Adam @ 9:57 pm on July 19th 2007

Labour hold Sedgefield

The Labour Party has comfortably held the North of England seat that Tony Blair vacated. More significantly (it was always a safe labour seat), the Tories were pushed into third place by the Liberal Democrats.

Tactical voting? Maybe. Not great news for Cameron and his new-look Tory party, though. The Ealing and Southall result, the result of which is not yet out (and which has been a weirder campaign), will be more interesting.

Posted by Brad @ 1:54 pm on July 19th 2007

Pope Quote of the Day

So, I’m doing some theology reading. I’ve become really impressed with the writings of a very sharp young German theologian named Joseph Ratzinger. I’m reading back now, currently on his first book, appropriately called Introduction to Christianity. I highly recommend it. The sheer confidence of command that this whipper-snapper has is sometimes staggering, othertimes gently revelatory. The sheer breadth of his writings is also pretty staggering. In the introduction to this one (itself an introduction), he essentially summarizes the History of Thought for the last 3000 years of mankind, which he accomplishes as well as I’ve seen it done, in about 50 pages.

Anyway, came across a good, and surprising, quote about the nature of God, and what distinguishes the Christian view of the universe from the other main thrusts of thinking about the universe, both the materalistic view (God is nowhere, everything is matter), but also the pure philosophic view (God is everywhere, all matter is God-thought (implicitly, that everything is already charted out and every atom of the universe is just playing to a script)).

Ratzinger’s contention is that Christianity is in neither camp.

Herr Ratzinger:

At the same time it becomes evident that the idea of freedom is the characteristic mark of the Christian belief in God as opposed to any kind of monism. At the beginning of all being it puts not just some kind of consciousness but a creative freedom which creates further creative freedoms. To this extent one could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom. For Christianity, the explanation of reality as a whole is not an all-embracing consciousness or one single materiality; on the contrary, at the summit stands a freedom that thinks and, thinking, creates freedoms, thus making freedom the structural form of all being.

Posted by James @ 12:59 pm on July 19th 2007

Are our children learning enough about whales?

The Onion: On the cutting edge of the issues that affect us all.

In The Know: Are Our Children Learning Enough About Whales?

Posted by Rojas @ 12:01 pm on July 19th 2007

Beckham madness

Being a soccer fan in the US is something like being an epileptic sloth. Every now and then, these frenzies erupt out of nowhere and you’re the center of everyone’s attention; then everybody goes away and it’s back to another long, long period of blissful obscurity.*

The last of the media frenzies was over Freddy Adu, who is now 18 and maturing nicely, whatever the unrealists in the American media would like to think. Lacking a fourteen-year-old day-laborer to cover, the media has now found a new bone to gnaw on with the transfer of David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Media flailings over soccer are generally predictable, with the old guard throwing tantrums about the fact that nobody ever scores and the soccer apologists making unrealistic predictions of total sports hegemony. In this particular instance, we compound the foolish, visceral, hyperbolic reactions to soccer with foolish, visceral, hyperbolic reactions to Beckham himself. On the one hand, you have the considerable anglophile element within the American soccer community cavorting about the fact that an active English international now plays in LA, teamed up with thousands of screaming teenage girls. On the other hand, you have the soccer purists, such as semiprofessional Beckham-hater Aleksandar Hemon, who throws a tantrum here.

As is the case with America’s wildly contrasting recent World Cup performances, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes. No, Beckham’s not a two-footed player and not a defensive specialist, but as a world-class crosser of the ball and free kick specialist with excellent field awareness, he’s likely to be a well-above-average MLS player. Moreover, he is the sort of player whose “moments” are the stuff of highlight reels, which is exactly the sort of player MLS needs to increase its foothold in the nightly-recap-centric American sports landscape. (more…)

Posted by Adam @ 9:42 am on July 19th 2007

The things males do

To get a mate:

There is the extraordinary vocal display of the lyre bird: youtube link (embedding disabled, but it’s worth looking at nevertheless)

Not to mention the astonishingly house-proud diligence of the bower bird: youtube link (again, embedding disabled)

Then, there is always the anglerfish, which perhaps should be renamed the LizaMinelliFish:

In lieu of continually seeking the vast abyss for a female, it [the male Anglerfish] has evolved into a permanent parasitic mate. When a young, free-swimming male angler encounters a female, he latches onto her with his sharp teeth. Over time, the male physically fuses with the female, connecting to her skin and bloodstream and losing his eyes and all his internal organs except the testes. A female will carry six or more males on her body.

Posted by Rojas @ 1:23 am on July 19th 2007

Rumblings in Iowa

Strategic Vision’s latest Iowa poll asked likely Republican caucus attendees the question: Do you favor a withdrawal of all United States military from Iraq within the next six months?

Their answers:

Yes 56%

No 38%

Undecided 6%

Again: those are the results among likely Republican caucus voters. Not benchmarks, not redeployment, not a drawdown, but a comprehensive unilateral withdrawl within six months.

I’m thinking Ron Paul’s supporters are looking forward to the straw poll. Patrick Ruffini at sure thinks they are. I’m also guessing Dr. Paul might reschedule things and spend some more time in Iowa between now and August 11.

Posted by Rojas @ 1:01 am on July 19th 2007

Fred Ahead

Don’t look now, but the Rasmussen and Zogby polls taken last week have Fred Thompson in a statistical dead heat with Giuliani. And while Gallup still has Giuliani up, all three polls tell the same basic story–Giuliani has lost momentum completely and Thompson is picking up pretty much all of his and McCain’s strays.

Personally, I credit this massive swing in the last month to the Ted Nugent endorsement. Does this mean Nugent goes to the top of the VP shortlist? Fred and Ted–our generation’s Tippacanoe and Tyler Too.

One wonders what would happen were Thompson to, you know, actually campaign or something.

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