Monday, January 31, 2005

Kerry's Magic Elixir


Reaching out and not overhyping

This space has refrained from commenting on John Kerry post-election as a sign of respect to a losing candidate within the democratic process. Enough ink was thrown at him prior to the election, and there remained no more to be said except ungracious piling on after his loss.

But his appearance on Meet the Press cancels out that policy. After throwing cold water on one of the most proud days in American foreign policy history (“no one. . . should try to overhype this election”), Kerry proceeds to cite a litany of process failures that could only be solved by “a more significant outreach to the international community” – Kerry’s Magic Elixir for all things Bush:

“I was in Egypt three weeks ago. I met with President Mubarak. We were talking about training. I asked him, 'You know, why don't you do more training?' His response was, 'We've offered do more training. We're doing 146 officers today. I don't know why we're not doing more. People haven't followed up with us. They haven't gotten back to us.'"

Did Kerry then offer to smooth Mubarak’s feathers and gain a commitment of tangible support for the training effort? Did Kerry offer to work the issue to see how their support might fit into our plans? Did Kerry question Mubarak’s assertion that it’s all the U.S.’ fault? No. Kerry isn’t about solutions, he’s all about process - all talk, all the time. It’s why he hasn’t been successful in passing legislation in the Senate. He prefers to carp, criticize, and pontificate about others’ actions.

Bush is thinking about eliminating Global Tyranny, Kerry is more interested in who returned who’s phone call. It's why he could never credibly articulate a foreign policy alternative for Iraq that was worthy of comparison against Bush's Grand Vision of Democracy as the antidote to terror in the Mideast. Kerry doesn't have anything to say. When asked whether Iraq was now more or less of a threat to the U.S., he replied "more," and then launched into a discussion of how we need to inspect more ocean containers at the ports. Maybe he can hire some Egyptian trainers.

Kerry is a caricature writ large of the pompous, blow-hard Senator who is all talk and no action. It's why he keeps hawking his Magic Elixir of "outreach" - you don't have to have an end in mind, or be accountable for its success or failure.

At least his colleague from the State of Massachusetts has a specific strategy for Iraq.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Real Iraqi Minutemen


Michael Moore's terrorists. . .

. . . via here:, hat tip to Sluggo:

. . . and don't think that this isn't on par with the fall of the Berlin wall. . . read this and try to argue that there won't be any lasting, positive change in the Middle East as a result of our policies.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Jacques' Tacques


Chirac reacts to suggestion of greater French development aid

The words "global" and "tax" were just too ripe for the French not to put them together and propose a new means to try and make France relevant. Jacques Chirac, via video address, has again proposed a global tax to fund international development to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But don't laugh this off as another flight of fancy from the French, because, along with Tony Blair, he seems to have some support for this proposal:

"But Chirac isn't some lone gunman advocating a global tax. There is a growing chorus of supporters in favor of assessing an international levy that would be used for humanitarian purposes. Critics may laugh it off now, but the idea isn't going away soon. "

And how might this tax be levied? Digging deeper into the proposal one finds, besides the airline ticket and air/sea fuel taxes, a proposal to tax e-mails:

“UNDP estimated that globally in 1996, such a tax would have yielded $70 billion. . . the idea continues to stir interest and on February 12, 2002, EU finance ministers approved sales taxes on internet transactions. New technology and changing politics may bring this proposal (email taxes) swiftly forward.”

And it gets even better. These socialist bureaucrats want to create a global lottery as well:

"In the case of the global lottery, the prize structure can be constructed in a way that helps differentiate it from the national lotteries and to avoid the negative effects of potentially very large prizes."

Here's one way to avoid those negative effects. They should raffle off the opportunity to, as Monty Python so aptly quipped, fart in Chirac's general direction.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Global Warming Science, Defined?


Scientific Methods for Global Warming Doom Merchants?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Condi, George, and Tony

John Ray uses his scalpel and skewers The New Republic in their attempt to equate Condoleeza Rice's Congressional testimony with a Stalinist worldview, noting

"So Condi makes the perfectly simple and commonsense point that it is the sum of the decisions that matters -- nobody gets it right all the time -- and that is somehow twisted into a claim that the end justifies the means! Pathetic."

Meanwhile, the deeply disturbed and disturbing megalomaniac George Soros has re-surfaced, trying to find fault with Bush's inaugural speech, and tying himself in knots as he tries to separate Bush and America from the concept of freedom:

"A better understanding of the concept of open society requires that promoting freedom and democracy and promoting American values and interests be distinguished. If it is freedom and democracy that are wanted, they can be fostered only by strengthening international law and international institutions."

Yup. If the Sudan was only given the Chair of the Human Rights Commission earlier, all would be well in the world.

". . . the most successful open society in the world, the United States, does not properly understand the first principles of an open society; indeed, its current leadership actively disavows them. The concept of open society is based on the recognition that nobody possesses the ultimate truth. To claim otherwise leads to repression. In short, we may be wrong."

We're the freest country on earth, but we don't understand the principles of democracy, because to understand the principles of freedom and democracy is to realize that they may not lead to freedom and democracy, but they may lead to repression. Or something like that.

And finally, Tony Blair is bleating about Global Warming, semi-acknowledging that the catastrophe theory is not definitively proven:

"The majority is not always right. But they (the proponents) deserve to be listened to."

He's coming along. The Kyoto backtracking and backfilling continues:

"We need to send a clear signal that whilst we continue to analyze science ... we are united in moving in the direction of greenhouse gas reductions," said Blair.

Being "united" and cavalierly imposing CO2 caps that would cost the U.S. between $275-394 billion are definitely two different things. And, to Blair's credit, I think he's given up on the Kyoto ghost.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Save Iraq and Get Rich Too

Lawrence Kudlow has a wonderful post today, infused with his patented optimism and clear thinking. He weaves in the terrorist risk premium, the price of oil, the stock market, social security reform, consumer confidence, and car bombers into a great survey of the economy:

Ever since late December, the step-up in pre-election Iraqi terrorism has disrupted the post-election stock market rally in the US.Not coincidentally, a steep fall in oil prices was reversed on fears that terrorists would disrupt energy flows by bombing oil fields in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. As new gloom settled on trading markets, wild predictions of $70 or $80 per barrel-- a price that would damage most corporate profits, jobs and the economy-- became commonplace.Hence shares headed south on the fear factor.

Before the re-embedding of terrorists risk premiums, Pres. Bush's handily won election victory, with his pro-growth platform of tax, social security and legal settlement abuse reforms, caused the major equity indexes to roar ahead with double-digit gains. Highly growth-sensitive technology indexes advanced more than 20%. Expectations of new recruits for the investor ownership class, and a flood of newly incentivized saving and investment to fund capital formation, technology advances, productivity gains and job creation had propelled the indexes higher and buried the Kerryite pessimists in the election aftermath.

The latest batch of economic data for December shows solid growth and tame underlying inflation suggesting 3.5% to 4% growth ahead, well above the post WWII yearly trend of 3.4%. Unemployment is a low 5.4%, and Americans are saving enough to create a record $51 trillion of family wealth (net of family debt). Foreign capital inflows are rising faster than a trade gap driven mainly by rising consumer and business imports in the strong economy. At lower tax-rates, double-digit revenue gains from an expanding economy (read: Laffer curve) could bring the much overrated budget deficit down below 3% of GDP.

Read it all.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

10 Years to Catastrophe

This blog has been critical of the Global Warming lobby, and skeptical of both the case and the proposed remedy for the perceived climate crisis.

This post isn't going to address the relative merits of the proponents vs. the skeptics. But I do want to point out that there seems to be a momentum shift away from the Global Warming Orthodoxy, and not just because Crichton published his book.

How can you tell? By the increasingly ominous rhetoric and doomsday scenarios that are being released into the media:

From the UK's Independent - A joint Australia, UK, and US report sponsored by the Center for American Progress (a liberal thinktank chaired by John Podesta, Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff), and the Australia Institute (an advocacy group which argues for communal rights over private property rights as it relates to environmental concerns), gives us ten years before the "point of no return" is reached in Global Warming - i.e., two degrees above the average temperature in the year 1750 - which the report says will be reached within the decade. The consequences, according to the report, will be dire:

These could include widespread agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased disease, sea-level rise and the death of forests - with the added possibility of abrupt catastrophic events such as "runaway" global warming, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, or the switching-off of the Gulf Stream.

Fixing a date and precise temperature trigger to the onset of environmental cataclysm is not the sign of a self-assured movement that is confident in its data and policy prescriptions. By ratcheting up the fear factor, these groups are attempting to stall the counter-momentum that is being felt as adoption of Kyoto guidelines loom and skeptics challenge the policy prescriptions; Canada is having serious second thoughts, the E.U. is threatening many of its members for dragging its feet, Japan is going squishy, and Blair is desperately trying to fashion a Kyoto-lite that doesn't include CO2 caps.

The fever pitch of the hysteria, and The Day After Tomorrow media scenarios suggest that, instead of a concerned citizenry recognizing a real threat, thinking people are looking at all the evidence and determining that reasonable environmental limits, investments in technology, and the underlying principles of economic growth are the appropriate path forward. After Global Cooling, Nuclear Winter, the Population Explosion, and Acid Rain, people hear "ten years until catastrophe" and just step on the gas.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Turbans Need Not Apply

On this Monday, January 24, the worst day of the year, some hopeful signs that the pending Iraqi elections may set an example not just for the democratic act of the voting process, but also for the model of government to be created.

According to today's New York Times, the concerns about Iraq becoming a greater Iran might be unfounded based upon a prevalent commitment to secularism:
"There will be no turbans in the government," said Adnan Ali, a senior leader of the Dawa Party, one of the largest Shiite parties. "Everyone agrees on that."
And that view appears to be widespread, and based upon a negative perception of the Mullahs of Tehran:
The conviction that the Iranian model should be avoided in Iraq is apparently shared by the Iranians themselves. One Iraqi Shiite leader, who recently traveled to Tehran, the Iranian capital, said he was warned by the Iranians themselves against putting clerics in the government. "They said it caused too many problems," the Iraqi said.
These hopeful signs are mitigated somewhat by the background of one of the likely candidates for Prime Minister, to be chosen by the Party that is able to assemble a government from the 275-seat National Assembly:
Adil Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi finance minister and a leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, flirted with communism in his youth, has two master's degrees from French universities and maintains a home in France.

Communist background, French educated (sic), French landowner. Now that's reason enough to brave the car bombs and head to the polls.

A thorough roundup of all the Shia, Kurdish, Sunni, and National list parties up for election in Iraq can be found here.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Toilet Paper, Dogfood, and Picassos


Picasso's Weeping Woman

Buy two get one free, 30-day money-back guarantee

Big Box Retailers have been criticized for squeezing out the little guy, paying low wages, and erecting behemoth warehouse stores that create congestion and tear up the landscape. But nobody ever accused them of having artistic pretensions. That's about to change. In a sign of the pending apocalypse, Costco is selling Picassos online:

Via MSNBC:

SEATTLE - Costco shoppers were offered an online deal this month — an original Picasso. The crayon-on-paper drawing of a face signed and dated by Pablo Picasso was listed for $39,999.99 on the retailer's Web site Jan. 12. It sold Wednesday, said Jim Sinegal, Costco's chief executive, who would not identify the buyer.

The Issaquah-based discount retailing giant may be better known for bulk chicken and cases of soda, but the Costco.com site features an eclectic mix of items, from caskets to computers to sports equipment.
Art dealer Jim Tutwiler, who sold the Picasso, has been selling art through Costco for the past decade. He said Costco's markup is one-tenth that of traditional galleries.

Tutwiler described the drawing as a "doodle" on the blank side of a book jacket. Picasso probably traded it for a new suit or a boat or some service, he said. "He was a barterer. He hated to spend money," Tutwiler said.

The work was signed and dated Nov. 29, 1970. Picasso's daughter, Maya, authenticated it through a handwritten and signed declaration, which was further verified by the International Society of Appraisers.
This was the second Picasso Tutwiler has sold through Costco.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Over the Top?


Why can't President Bush dance?

Why can't President Bush dance? White man's disease? Hip replacement surgery? Is he restricted by his defibrillator?! Doesn't do physical nuance? With Laura looking beautiful, somebody needs to take her for a spin on the dance floor.

But did Bush go over the top in his inaugural speech? Peggy Noonan thinks so. I like the soaring rhetoric about our nation's calling to promote freedom around the globe, but the more I absorb the scale of events like the Hajj, and try to reconcile our concepts of individual liberty and secular government with the realities of vast swaths of Asia and the MidEast, the less optimistic I am of a universal triumph of democratic structures and individual freedom as we know it. Bush did caveat his speech with the "institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own" comment (that's a disclaimer that doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about toppling existing tyrants), but, the noble goals of his address may in the end be more difficult to achieve than teaching him how to dance.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

What Albright Thinks


Maddy and Dear Leader, together

In the wake of Condoleeza Rice's confirmation hearings, I couldn't help but compare her to our last female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

And, coincidentally, I happened on this article in the WashPo about a recent bio-terrorism war game played out by a variety of former government officials, Madeleine Albright being one. Playing the United States' President during a scenario in which a smallpox epidemic breaks out in the Europe and the U.S., Albright, according to this press release from Johns Hopkins,

expressed doubts as to whether the American people would be willing to give away a portion of the U.S. stockpile to European countries whose governments had been less than supportive of U.S. policies in the recent past.

The U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and the Netherlands are the only countries that stock enough vaccine to inoculate their populations, so the question surrounded the willingness to share excess vaccine.

Given the outpouring of generosity that the American public exhibited for the Southeast Asia tsunami victims, why does Albright think the U.S. would be unwilling to help stanch a global epidemic of smallpox that would know no boundaries?

"A lot of Americans are saying, 'Why cooperate with them anyway?' " Albright said at one point.

Is this your belief? Should we hunker down and hoard our excess vaccine in the wake of a global outbreak? Or, as I suspect, is Albright betraying her misunderstanding of the generosity of the American people, and confusing conservative distrust of the U.N. and the E.U. with absolute isolationism?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Jumbo or Dumbo?


A380: Jumbo or Dumbo?

Airbus unveiled yesterday the world's largest commercial jet, the A380 SuperJumbo, capable of carrying 800 passengers in its all-economy configuration, 555 in its three-class configuration. The question: does this signal the end of Boeing as a viable competitor to Airbus, or is this Airbus' Concorde, Edsel, and/or Le Car? The answer depends on how the plane performs, its acceptance in the market, and its cost to produce. Some of the trade-offs:

Dumbo: terminal infrastructure costs, long ground prep times, hidden development costs, limited deployment flexibility, passenger avoidance, soft hub demand, WTO pressure on subsidies, terrorist target.

Jumbo: traveler amenities (casino, beds, bars, work out area in first class config), lower fares, lower operating costs, added passenger and cargo capacity for high demand routes

In the 80s, super-size container ships that couldn't fit through the Panama Canal (post-Panamax) were introduced into the Pacific trade, dramatically lowering shipping and operating costs, and helping to promote the global trade boom. FedEx and UPS have both ordered 10 A380s apiece, no doubt fully understanding the economies of scale and the leverage of fixed assets against heavy demand - so this story isn't just about passengers. It's likely that, provided it can manufacture these beasts in an efficient manner (a big assumption), Airbus will further pull ahead of Boeing, putting increasing pressure on the release of their 7E7 Dreamliner in 2008. That plane is focused on point to point, high efficiency, mid-range passenger load. There's a market for both products, but it's telling that Boeing is also defensively upgrading its 747.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Jesse's Home Team


Jesse's Home Team demonstrates the sleeper hold

"We call the home team the insurgents and we're the home team," said Jesse Jackson during his MLK day speech, lamenting the war in Iraq. "Dr. King, what are we doing?"

Jackson, a long-time fan and season-ticket holder of the Baghdad Bombers, is upset that his favorite team is not accorded its appropriate WWE status as the Home Team, which would assure preferential treatment for street-side seats in the much-hyped Smackdown: Democracy Deathmatch II, scheduled for Jan. 30 (also available via pay-per-view.) Jackson threatened to jump the ropes and hit Prime Minister Allawi over the head with a chair if the Bombers were required to enter the ring first as the challenger. "The Coalition are pansy-asses, we're gonna do some serious damage come the 30th," said Jackson, adding "the Bombers were cheated out of their WWE MidEast Regional Terror Championship Belt." "We've got some surprises" in store for the Iraqi National Guard, he said, referring to new moves such as the "Shi'ite Suplex," "Saddam Sleeper," "Zarqawi Slam," and the "Mosul Monster-lock." Action begins when the polls open.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Biggest Setback in the GWOT?


What went wrong?

The biggest setback in the Global War on Terror may have nothing to do with Iraq, Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, WMD stockpiles, Madrid bombings, or Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi. A blow for the Islamists may have been struck inadvertently by our own hand. And that setback may have occurred on our own soil, in the conference rooms, cubicles, and server rooms of the FBI and one of their largest contractors, Science Applications International Corporation.

According to USA Today:

"The FBI said Thursday that it probably will scrap nearly all of a $170 million computer program that was being designed to help agents share information to stop terrorism - because it doesn't work.

The software, known as Virtual Case File, has been in development for four years and is the third phase of a $500 million overhaul of technology in the bureau.

The FBI contracted with Science Applications International of San Diego to develop software four years ago because the technology did not exist to manage the records and evidence generated during investigations."

Now systems implementation debacles are routine in corporate America, where many things can go wrong - from poor requirements assessment, through insufficient application gap analysis, to data conversion and integration issues, to platform and technology problems, incomplete testing routines, and cultural change-management issues.

But methodologies exist to reduce the likelihood of failure. And the U.S. is a world leader in making system solutions work. And there isn’t a more important system integration issue on the planet than insuring that the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, and other agencies can share information about potential terrorists effectively. Now this article is vague on the causes of the problem, but I want to know – What went wrong?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

"Songs, Not Sermons"


The young singer from Hibbing, MN

During his uncomfortable 60 Minutes interview a few weeks back, Bob Dylan addressed those who attempted to hijack his art for their own political gain - or to deify the artist - by saying that he wrote "songs, not sermons," thereby validating this piece. He's now back in the news again.

A tape of one of his earliest performances from his coffee house days in Minneapolis, prior to his migration to New York, has surfaced. And the owner has held on to it since 1960 and refused to cash in on his bounty - he's donating it to the Minnesota Historical Society:

(Associated Press) Cleve Pettersen said he made the reel-to-reel tape at a Minneapolis apartment in 1960 after getting to know Dylan at coffeehouses in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis near the University of Minnesota.
Dylan, briefly a student at the university, didn't make any formal recordings until two years later. On the tape, he sings traditional folk songs by Woody Guthrie, Jimmie Rodgers and others.
Pettersen, a teenager when he invited Dylan to the apartment to record the songs, has been the sole owner of the tape ever since.

To those of us who are fans, the surfacing of this tape is as historically significant as finding Tutankhamen's tomb, or of validating the identity of the Bard from Avon. But of course that has already been accomplished.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Richard Clarke, Invertebrate


Backbone-challenged

Few public figures rankle this writer more than Richard A. Clarke, former counter-terrorism czar under Clinton and Bush.

And with his latest attempt to sell himself as the well-intentioned civil servant-who-wasn’t-listened-to, it’s time to forgo any journalistic professionalism and take the gloves off.

Commanding the cover of the Jan/Feb issue of the Atlantic (subscription only, on the newsstands), Clarke writes an “imagined” history looking back from the year 2011, recounting in vivid detail a horror-show of terrorists attacks within America’s homeland, from Las Vegas casinos, to a theme park named “Mouseworld,” to the “Mall of the States,” to public transit system bombings in major cities, Stinger missile attacks at our major airports, and chemical plant and cyber attacks that paralyze the U.S. economy.

There is something deeply troubling as a citizen to have the former head of U.S. counter-terrorism write a cheap-thriller account of our defeat by terrorists as a way of working out his guilt from failing to crush Bin Laden when he was tasked to do so.

But it’s even more pathetic to fabricate a strawman of a dozen years of homeland terrorist attacks in order to ankle-bite our present course in the War on Terror and prove that his counsel should have been followed all along.

And what is that counsel? Just petty second-guessing, and knee-jerk, feel-good bureaucratic mush:

“If we had not from the start adopted tactics and rhetoric that cast the war on terror as a new “Crusade,” as a struggle of good versus evil, we might have been able to achieve more popular support in the Islamic world.”

And this bowl of warmed-over oatmeal:

“we never developed a country-by-country program, or provided practical steps for moving theocracies and autocracies in (the) direction (of democracy).” - Tell that to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and the Palestinians. . .

More defeatist pearls of wisdom:

"Our haranguing of Arab governments to be nicer to their citizens (has produced) a backlash against us, because our exhortations (are) seen as hypocritical in view of our bombing, torture, and occupation tactics in Iraq."

And this inspiring action-plan to defeat the jihadists:

"We talked about replacing the hate-fostering Madrassahs with modern education programs, but we never succeeded in making that happen."

And this meaningless hand-wringing :

"In 2002, we squandered opportunities to unite the global community in a successful counter-terrorism effort."

Hey Dick, it’s your types that bitch but don’t produce results that squandered the opportunity to save 3,000 lives on September 11, 2001.

The underlying theme of Clarke’s entire piece is that the U.S. is responsible for bringing terrorism to its shores, and for perpetuating its existence. My take is that it is precisely the mindset of bureaucrats like Clarke, without backbone and resolve, and who infest our defense, intelligence, and security establishments, that can prevent us from long-term success in the GWOT. It's our job to call out these invertebrates, remove them from positions of power, and replace them with doers who don't see the U.S. as the source of the terrorist problem. It's the Islamo-fascist thugs, stupid.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Global Dimming?

We now have a new cataclysm to worry about in the Global Warming debate: Global Dimming.

What's that, you might ask? It's the effect of fossil fuel by-products reflecting back the sun's rays, keeping an underlying warming trend in check and moderating any global warming increase.

Why's this a potential cataclysmic event? Because the Kyoto Protocol, fully implemented, would lead to a dramatic increase in the Earth's temperature. You heard that correct, according to the latest twist in climate science, Kyoto will accelerate Global Warming:

(Reuters) "The researchers say cutting down on the burning of coal and oil, one of the main goals of international environmental agreements, will drastically heat rather than cool climate.
When the cooling affect goes away -- and it must do because particles like sulfur dioxide are damaging to humans -- global warming will be much stronger,' climate change scientist Dr Peter Cox told Reuters on Wednesday.

A BBC documentary titled "Global Dimming," to be aired on Thursday, will assert that cutting down on fossil fuel pollution will turn parts of Europe into desert by 2100. Even Reuters, pamphleteer for the environmental movement, has to backtrack and qualify its stance given this latest wrinkle in the ongoing saga:

Scientists differ as to whether global warming is caused by man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse" gases, by natural climate cycles or if it exists at all.

And this last sentence is worth all of the confusion, contradictions, and scientific inconsistencies. If Reuters can come to its senses and properly hedge the stampede towards the Global Warming litany, then we're all making progress.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hit and Sunk


Dan (and the MSM) takes a direct hit

When you play the classic board game Battleship, you don’t expect to get the Aircraft Carrier on your first hit. You expect it’s the two-hole supply ship or three-hole sub when your opponent first cries “it’s a hit.”

But the CBS National Guard story, and the counterattack from the blogosphere, has turned into a direct hit not just of CBS News but of the entire MSM Battlegroup. You can tell it's fatal because the rats are jumping ship.

Howard Fineman, Mr. Newsweek, Mr. MSNBC, and Mr. Inside-the-Beltway, is the first to don the orange vest and jump overboard into the inflatable life raft:

“A political party is dying before our eyes — and I don't mean the Democrats. I'm talking about the ‘mainstream media,’ which is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush's Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox's canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards.

The moment it made air it began to fall apart, and eventually was shredded by factions within the (MSM) itself, conservative national outlets and by the new opposition party that is emerging: The Blogger Nation. It's hard to know now who, if anyone, in the ‘media’ has any credibility.”


Not exactly the words of someone who wants to go down with the ship. Howard Kurtz, media watchdog for the Washington post, continues:

“President Bush was reelected, and Dan Rather wasn't.” calling it a “ setback for a network, and the Mainstream Media.”

What the Mainstream Media is just learning, and what many of us have known all along, is that media consumers understand the concept of synthesis: by relying on one’s own ability to gather information from more than one source, a greater internal truth is achieved. Through a few clicks on a cross-section of the newswires, a few clicks on global and regional perspectives, a few clicks on the bloggers, a few clicks on bulletin board commentary, a few clicks on reference sites, and, voilayou’ve done more fact-checking than Dan Rather on a 60 Minutes news segment.

Oh, and add one more click on this. You’ll want to get the full story. . .

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Shangri-La for Men


Shangri-La?

Men’s Journal is reporting that the secrets to men's longevity might reside in the remote mountains of the Italian island of Sardinia, where an unusually high concentration of centenarian men have been identified. Everywhere else in the world, you find a ratio of four centenary women for each man. In the province of Nuoro in the interior of Sardinia, that ratio is one-to-one. With a U.S. man's life expectancy of 75 years (women's at 80), that extra quarter century just might come in handy. Get your notepad ready:

The researchers have discovered a nexus of surprisingly applicable factors at play: a vigorous work ethic, a certain dark pragmatism, a thirst for wine loaded with potent heart-protective polyphenols, a richly satisfying diet that has as much in common with Atkins as it does with typical Mediterranean fare, and an unexpected twist on an important recent discovery regarding the size of one's diet that suddenly makes it applicable to millions more men.

First, the attitude - apparently perpetual, sunny optimism isn't in vogue in the Sardinian mountainsides. But with a bit of cynical curmudgeonliness you'll fit in just fine:

If you really want arteries that will let you live to 100, you'd do better to follow the example of a Sardinian peasant and respond to everything, good and bad, with the same sort of droll fatalism. . . it's a depression without anxiety or much artery-constricting stress.

And for diet? Cheese, cheese, and more cheese. And

loads of fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, fava beans, and artichokes and other vegetables, all of which serve to flush their systems with a purgative of fiber, phytoactive vitamins, and minerals.

Finally, the researchers have found that leaving the table a little hungry ain't a bad idea after all. Lower calorie intakes have a direct effect on longevity:

The body, responding to the environmental stress of less energy, activates enzymes called sirtuins that boost the rate of cell repair, thus slowing the natural cellular deterioration at the crux of aging, and giving the undernourished subject some extra time to reproduce.

So, to live a longer life, you need to be constantly hungry, eat cheese at every meal, and walk around depressed. Maybe that extra quarter century ain't so attractive after all.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Racist Football Bodes Ill for the E.U.


Thierry Henry takes one for Arsenal

It would be unthinkable for the fans at a professional sporting event in the U.S. to engage in mass, coordinated racist chanting against black or minority players on the field of play. Notwithstanding the dynamics of the Detroit basketball brawl, or the drunken fan yelling racial epithets at a football game, the U.S. has moved beyond using the sporting field as the crucible of its racial anxieties.

But not so within the European Football leagues. In November at Madrid's Bernabeu stadium, tens of thousands of fans sang racist epithets at black players, including Arsenal’s Thierry Henry, pictured above. And it wasn’t the first time:

(Guardian)
“Mass racist chanting against black players has been a feature of international games in Slovakia, Macedonia and many other countries. Henry was the object of racist chanting in an Arsenal game in Greece. Porto fans engaged in monkey chanting against Chelsea's black players. England fans engaged in mass racist abuse during the Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey. Countless other examples go unreported.

This followed an extraordinary outburst by the Spanish manager, Luis Aragones, who had referred to Thierry Henry, one of the most sublime talents in the game, as "that black shit". The under-21 match between the two countries the night before had also been scarred by racist chanting.”

Thierry has over the years been a consistent target of abuse, and has become the spokesperson in opposition to this ugly practice.

If sport magnifies and reflects the tensions within society, then the political veneer that enshrouds the lofty goals of unity within the European Union masks deeper fissures within its social fabric. And as the Union expands outward and includes countries such as Turkey, these displays of racial hooliganism are likely to increase, fanning the flames of ethnic hatred, even as the bureaucrats and politicians announce constitutions, amendments, treaties, and communiques. And yet the U.S. is routinely described within European circles as a racist, intolerant society. In this case the European’s net is wide open.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Changing the Equation


Torture or Freedom plane?

Newsweek is reporting that a new strategy is being considered in Iraq, called the “Salvador Option,” which entails arming nationalist “death squads” of Kurdish fighters and Shiite militiamen who would seek out insurgents and their sympathizers, and neutralize them. These groups, supported by U.S. special forces teams, would be empowered to cross the Syrian border if necessary.

By calling this strategy – which I would be surprised is not already in place – the “Salvador Option,” Newsweek has conveniently drawn parallels to Iraq and the killings of the four American nuns in 1980 which galvanized opposition to support for the Contras.

Regardless of Newsweek’s hyperventilation, we need to change the equation in Iraq and have the Sunni population pay a price for overtly or tacitly supporting the insurgents/terrorists.

And offense is better than defense. And the time is now, just a few weeks in front of the election. The coalition forces need to put the insurgents back on their heels rather than waiting for the next car bomb.

Meanwhile the Mainstream Media is doing all it can to extend the torture story. The Chicago Tribune, along with all the major outlets, is reporting that it has located the CIA’s “torture” plane that ferries Al-Qaeda fighters and other high value terrorists to locations that aren’t that hung up about water-boarding. Daily Kos has picked up the story and makes sure that the plane's tail number is well known as the CIA attempts to maintain its cover. What's interesting is that this jet isn't a 747, but a sleek Gulfstream with a seating capacity of maybe 12. I sleep better at night knowing that our fifth estate knows which bones to pick in the big scheme of things. . .

Saturday, January 08, 2005

The Big Picture


World population %, 1800-2050 - link

Sometimes it’s instructive to look at the big picture. With the tsunami and its devastation still in the news, many Americans are getting a first hand picture of an area of the world in which they are not familiar. Comparisons of the developing vs the developed world are being made, and there is talk of linkage between man’s unchecked activities, tsunamis, and future environmental catastrophes.

We’re all familiar with Malthus and his theories that populations always, over time, exceed the growth of their food supply, leading to the politics of scarcity. This hypothesis is at the root of much environmental thinking today – as populations increase, environmental degradation and scarcity increase proportionally (or exponentially).

But we know that the developed and developing world have radically different growth rates as wealth, education, and choices limit the desireability of large families:

Women in developed countries average only 1.6 children, compared to 3.6 children per women in less developed countries (excluding China).

Current thinking suggests that the next 50-75 years will see a world population increase from its current 6 billion to 9-10 billion, and then, just as developed nations have stabilized, global population will stabilize and even potentially decline. Our friend Mr. Crichton even hazards a guess that global population will be less in 100 years than it is today (pg 570, State of Fear). Doomesday scenarios of unfettered population growth and rampant scarcity seem farfetched. A better concern should be how we accelerate these countries’ status from developing to developed.

The “Anglosphere,” that grouping of countries that share a Western heritage and values such as the rule of law, private property, representative democracy, market-based economies, and the English language as its first language, is currently and will remain a very small percentage of total global population, being dwarfed by Asia and Africa. The demographic decline of Europe, and Russia in particular, and the growth of China and India, will be large factors in this gap. China is even relaxing its one-child policy given its social dislocations.

But India, as the world’s largest democracy and substantially English-speaking, can be viewed as on the periphery of the Anglosphere, and China seems predisposed towards internalizing its power, as seen in its inability to play a major role in the tsunami relief effort.

What does all this mean? Your guess is as good as mine, but 1) I don’t subscribe to the overpopulation fears of the environmentalists, and 2) the Anglosphere is likely to continue to play a disproportionate role in shaping the world we live in. And that is a good thing.

Friday, January 07, 2005

He's Back


Jacques on a roll

The distinguished President of France, perhaps irked by his country’s inability to show well in the tsunami relief effort, has decided to make his own headlines. And the script could have come out of euro-socialist central casting, with a “logic” that is uniquely French:

"I propose the creation of a humanitarian rapid reaction force, within the framework of the United Nations," he declared Thursday.

Apparently the U.N. aid agencies don’t do emergencies, so Chirac wants to round out their job description. And this “force” will need to be funded. And that requires creativity given France’s 35 hour-work-week-challenged GDP:

"These events stress the need to find innovative financing mechanisms such as an international taxation."

With the Oil for Food trough running dry, alternative sources of revenue will have to be secured. And France would be the natural administrators of that global extortion, er, tax. And Jacques offered up continued support for Kofi Annan, calling him a

"man of peace, of conviction, of courage and of integrity."

Of course no President of France would be caught in front of the press without announcing another Great Leap Forward:

he has proposed no less than a new "agency of industrial innovation" that will promote the "national champions" of tomorrow.

He’s going to need that innovation, because the economic picture isn’t rosy:

Final revisions to the data show that real gross domestic product did not grow at all in the third quarter. Consumer spending fell even more than first estimated.Growth probably was weak in the fourth quarter, meaning the economy grew less than 2% for all of 2004. The slowdown is hitting the job markets. November's jobless rate stayed at a high 9.9%, above the 8.9% rate for the total euro zone. With work prospects dismal, confidence was weak at yearend.

Given this performance, and these tired proposals, there’s only one thing that Chirac can do. Run for re-election.

But as political observers here like to point out, as long as he stays in office Chirac is immune from attempts by judges to investigate his role in a party financing scandal at the Paris City Hall when he was mayor in the late 1980s and the early 1990s.

Jacques, where have you been, we missed you.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

“Kahl-ee-foe-nya” Here We Come


Arnold Goes Nuclear

If you thought all the action was occurring in the Indian Ocean and the coast of Sumatra, you might have missed the explosion that went off in Sacramento last night.

Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped a 20-megaton cluster bomb on the California legislature during his State of the State address, and after the next general election there might not be many survivors: "A year ago, I told you I wanted to blow up the boxes,'' the governor said. "Well, we have lit the fuse.''

From the San Jose Mercury:

In his second State of the State speech since taking office, the Republican former actor said the state's legislative districts should be redrawn to "make elections democratic once again.'' In November, not one of the state's 153 legislative or congressional seats changed party hands.
Schwarzenegger suggested the districts, approved four years ago by the Legislature, be set by an independent panel of retired judges.
The governor said he would seek to broadly reorganize and streamline state government. He wants to wipe out 100 boards and commissions and more than 1,000 politically appointed positions.

In addition to the radioactivity of playing with the legislature’s safe districts, Schwarzenegger proposed 1) radically reforming the massive state employee pension fund from a traditional pension plan into an employee-directed program similar to a 401K where employees contribute out of their paychecks, 2) changing the state constitution to trigger automatic spending cuts if state spending outpaced revenues, and 3) instituting a merit-based performance pay for teachers.

Given the perpetual sclerosis of the California legislature, these proposals are beyond bold, and define Schwarzenegger as one of the most audacious reformers of the modern political era.

"If we here in this chamber don't work together to reform the government, the people will rise up and reform it themselves. And I will join them.''

Bush has been accused of one-upping the world with the U.S.’ pledges of tsunami disaster relief, but it is Schwarzenegger who has one-upped Bush in the audaciousness of his reform agenda. This man is the real deal, and the contrast with Gray Davis, the ousted former Governor, is more striking than Arnold's portrayal of Danny DeVito's brother in Twins. He may not be able to run for President given his foreign-born status, but Schwarzenegger just might become one of the most consequential politicians in our lifetime.

“Kahl-ee-foe-nya” may never be or sound the same again.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Getting It Done


U.S. Military in Action

In the business world, when a staff manager from corporate visits the field to suggest changes that he won’t be held accountable for, the field line managers typically nod, smile, and humor the corporate representative until they leave. When it comes to delivering disaster aid, U.S. and Australia military personnel simply go about their business flying helicopters to far flung villages round the clock while U.N. high commissioners work on their travel plans. No need to even nod and smile.

From the National Business Review:

“As news media are increasingly dominated by footage of US, Australian and regional military forces actually delivering aid to stricken survivors of the Boxing Day tsunami, UN officials are carping about housing in major cities far removed from the front lines and passing around elaborate business cards.”

And this:

“. . . detailed daily reports of activity in the affected regions also reveals that UN officials are working hard at planning to work -- and estimating the need for work -- rather than actually delivering aid on the ground. . . And their number one concern, even before phones, fax and copy machines? Arranging for the hotel to provide 24 hr catering service. ”

And this gem from Diplomad:

"this (most recent U.N.) assessment team will coordinate all the other assessment teams." In addition, the UN will set up a "Civil-Military Coordination Office to coordinate all military assistance because the military do not have experience in disaster relief "

Planning and coordinating for activities that are already getting done. That's what unaccountable managers without line authority do while the field focuses on execution. The U.N. has a role to play, it's just not in jobs that require results, quickly. Or results, slowly.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

World Gone Mad


American Aid Arriving in Sumatra

Granted, Britain’s the Independent is not the most objective or representative paper on the planet, but their recent roundup (via Drudge) of quotations from local notables is prima facie evidence of the World Gone Mad: (Shaking Spears in italics)

Question: Will the tsunami disaster be a turning point for the world and might 2005 see a new determination to tackle global poverty?

STEPHEN TINDALE, Executive director, Greenpeace
"It seems churlish to say it, but while it's relatively easy for most of us to give £50, it would be much harder for us to make the changes in our modern lifestyles that are needed if we are to move to a fairer world." What he's really saying: we need a world where everyone lives in economic misery and subscribes to my eco-hysteria, and the way to alleviate our manufactured guilt is to funnel money thru Greenpeace so that I can make a living terrorizing those that actually do the work of lifting the fortunes of the developed and developing world.

THE RIGHT REV TIM STEVENS, Bishop of Leicester
"I am hopeful, but we must see a real commitment to changing the economic relationships between the West and the poorer countries. As well as charitable giving, we need to tackle these fundamental issues." What he's really saying: the rich are rich at the developing world’s expense, we need to get poorer and less relevant. . . adopting the Anglican Church management techniques could be a start.

RORY BREMNER, Comedian
"On an individual level, it is not just about what we are prepared to give, but what we are prepared to give up. Having left Afghanistan and Iraq in their wake, can our leaders be trusted to fight a war on poverty?" What he's really saying: I can fain guilt for not living in a Sumatra hut while the pictures of devastation are on the telly, and it’s easier to pledge intentions than pounds. Oh, and I side with the Islamists in the war on terror.

DINOS CHAPMAN, Artist
"Western capitalism demands that people must be impoverished. I cannot think that anything will change this year, because we are the ones who have made the world the way it is. I don't believe in altruism." What he's really saying: How many greenies to induce a coma?

SIR MAX HASTINGS, Journalist and historian
"We have to bear in mind that we have been here before. There have been tragedies before, and many fine things have been said, a lot of them by the US. We just have to hope that in this case they will follow through." What he's really saying: the tsunami is due to fat Americans driving big cars, so let them shoulder the burden of providing the aid while I carp from the sidelines.

TONY BENN, Former cabinet minister
"It may make people realise that the UN needs to be well-equipped and funded. If people diverted money from weapons and war, we have the technology and money to be able to help - if we decide to do that. " What he's really saying: the outlook for jobs for a former minister within a U.N. bureaucracy would be greatly increased if it regained its credibility, and the skimming is less messy than in national government.

Conclusion: Sumatra isn’t poor because the West has free markets and a higher standard of living. The path to raising the Third World economically is ultimately through trade, investment, and political pluralism. Emergency aid is a moral imperative, but it is not the long term answer. The path to eliminating liberal guilt and environmental hysteria is less clear.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Kofi, the U.N., and the Dot.Com Bust

One wonders how the world gets by without Richard Holbrooke as part of our government. With an ego the size of Kojo Annan’s Swiss bank account, the Democrats’ favorite diplomat has put on his mask and cape and is riding to the rescue.

After arranging for a “secret gathering” at his Manhattan apartment, Holbrooke and his out-of-work pals at the Council of Foreign Relations gave Kofi Annan a confidential pep talk with the goal of saving his position as Secretary General and improving relations with the U.S.

Then he promptly went public with the New York Times to tout his heroic efforts:

"(I) care deeply about the UN and believe that the UN cannot succeed if it is in open dispute and constant friction with its founding nation, its host nation and its largest contributor nation."
Needless to say, the actual results of this “internal” diplomacy are nowhere to be found. And that’s because the U.N. resembles more and more the failed Dot.coms of the technology bubble.

That’s right. The U.N. model is akin to the failed Dot.com business plans drawn on the backs of napkins throughout the Silicon Valley in the late 90s. Those plans were showered with venture capital funds based on Powerpoint diagrams and the belief in the limitless application of technology. But then, just like the U.N. in the tsunami relief effort, reality kicked in.

The failed Dot.coms believed that all the nuts and bolts of value creation could be seamlessly outsourced to other entities through the magic of system integration. The Dot.com would be the Integrator, getting the fees and margin with little capital expended, while sub-contractors did the dirty work.

Just like the Dot.coms, the U.N. is trying to skim the political capital in the relief operation while the member states do the heavy lifting, and it’s not clear what value it is bringing to the party.

With no significant assets, poor performance monitoring, a history of graft and un-accountability, no generated cash-flow, no long-term strategy, no "products", and the reliance on outsourcing partners for execution (i.e. U.S., India, Australia, and Japan), the U.N. is on the path to becoming a Dot.Bomb.

It's the bricks and mortar countries like the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan that have chosen to execute through partnership, not outsourcing, that are having success loading the vessels, flying the helicopters, manning the warehouses, delivering the goods, and saving lives. Now if Richard Holbrooke could just get Kofi Annan to liquidate. . .

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Moving Sideways into Open Water


Sideways

You know your instincts might be on target when the New York Times feels it needs to contradict your impressions.

My instinct, as an infrequent movie-goer who has had enough of Hollywood, is that Sideways has staying power well beyond this movie season. And I can’t remember laughing out loud so frequently in a movie theater, or buying into each character on the screen so completely.

Sideways avoids the current Hollywood conventions of quirkiness-as-hip, and is written for adults who want to laugh as well as relate to the life-challenges faced by the characters. What’s also noteworthy here is that this movie is brilliantly casted – you couldn’t imagine another actor playing the part any better. Well-written, confidently directed, honestly acted, this movie would get my vote if I cared about the Oscars.

Along the theme of avoiding Hollywood conventions. . . Open Water, the low-budget indy film, is now out on DVD. Critics will deride certain aspects of the script and the acting, but for me, this is the type of movie I want to see more of: an honest attempt at presenting a real, life-threatening situation played straight without the Hollywood bells and whistles. A great movie concept based upon a true story, it puts the viewer in a predicament and let’s you wonder about how you would react. Shot in a semi-documentary style, you don't feel that you are being manipulated, but honestly presented with the circumstances at hand.

Between this past week's tsunami and seeing Open Water, I think we'll avoid the beach vacation this year. . .

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Missing the Absurdity

Australia's The Age just can't step back and see the irony. After all, we're talking about the impending catastrophe of global warming. In their latest review of Michael Crichton's State of Fear, the Age writes:
"Highlighting a 'natural warming trend' afflicting the globe, he (Crichton) estimates that in the next century temperatures will rise by just '0.812436C, well-below the 1.5-6C estimated by the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC)'."
Crichton's estimate, found in the "Author's Message" postscript to his novel, is an intended absurdity - otherwise known as a joke - meant to illustrate the foolishness of long-term climate modeling by giving a value to the millionths decimal place. The Age also doesn't report his follow-on sentence:
"There is no evidence that my guess about the state of the world one hundred years from now is any better or worse than anyone else's."
Current computer-based climate models vary as much as 400 percent, proof, as Crichton says, of the relative validity of his "guess." He suggests that before any policy decisions are made on the basis of those models that they be required to predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years. I don't hear any takers.

Crichton's thesis is that science has not shown how much, if any, measurable global warming is man-made, given the larger trend of natural warming from the latest 400 year "little Ice Age" which ended in the 1800s. He also points out that the "precautionary principle," the belief in "better safe than sorry," is self-contradictory and likely to lead to disasterous policy decisions, not unlike the banning of DDT and its horrific costs, which have far exceeded the loss of life from this past week's natural disaster.

So the Age soldiers on, insuring that the scare mongers are lauded and the skeptics are "debunked."