Friday, July 10, 2009

Book Review: The Guards, By Ken Bruen

Over the years, I’ve created a formula for choosing a book for a summer vacation: Fiction, involves crime, and light enough to go with beer consumption. With this in mind I went with an Irish noir called: The Guards, by Ken Bruen.

I had never read a Bruen before but I love noir, and thought the Irish would have a good take on it. It did not disappoint. It was bleak, and hilarious; pithy, and poetic.

Jack Taylor is an ex-policeman, of the Irish Garda (Guards) the national force. He was fired for drinking and pissing off the wrong people. (He knew he was in trouble when the chief was giving him the: "Every man likes a pint every now and then but..." speech.) Now his job is finding things:

There are no private eyes in Ireland. The Irish wouldn’t wear it. The concept brushes perilously close to the hated “informer”. You can get away with most anything except “telling”.

What I began to do was find things…...
A woman whose daughter allegedly committed suicide, hires him look into the real reason for her death.

Doesn’t sound very funny does it? The case almost takes the back burner as Taylor narrates us through his drinking binges, his hatred of his mother, his failed relationships with women, his lack of money and his sordid friends. He begins the morning at the pub, where his “coffee” is topped up with Jameson’s. It’s like a very good Irish story teller at a local pub who you’re happy to listen to. He’s got his opinions on books, alcohol brands, music, the church, history, and of course the Irish. It’s charming and grim all at the same time. If you were a bar fly, he would be your best buddy.

Between blackouts, hospitalizations and hangovers, he actually works on the case, with the help of his dodgy friend Sutton. (Sutton has a murky past, probably ex-IRA and has killed people.) Taylor is a drunk and an amateur, and things often don’t go well. I would spoil it by describing some of the foul ups and surprises, but I can say it's laugh out loud funny. (If you like dark humor.)

I enjoyed Bruen's interesting chapter headings. It could be a title, a book or movie quote, or blankness. Sometimes even a bit of poetry like this:

… so smug believed-that desolation
had the limits full explored
I’m not much of a poetry guy, but that one stopped me in my tracks. The Black Irish blood in me can appreciate that sentiment.

If you like noir, and you get a kick out of Irish lyricism, you cannot go wrong with The Guards. Bruen has a series of Jack Taylor novels that I will explore further.

Electric Cars Still Need Energy

In the rush to go green, people have lost sight of common sense.

Investors.com: Not So Fast With Those Electric Cars

It's a beautiful theory — highways full of electric cars emitting no greenhouse gases or pollutants after being plugged into an outlet in our garages overnight. The problem, according to a new Government Accountability Office report, is that the effort may only shift the problem somewhere else.

"If you are using coal-fired power plants, and half the country's electricity comes from coal-powered plants, are you just trading one greenhouse gas emitter for another?" asks Mark Gaffigan, co-author of the GAO report. The report itself notes: "Reductions in CO2 emissions depend on generating electricity used to charge the vehicles from lower-emission sources of energy."

The GAO report says a plug-in compact car, if recharged at an outlet drawing its power from coal, provides a carbon dioxide savings of only 4% to 5%. If the feeling of saving the environment from driving an electric car causes people to drive more, that small amount of savings vanishes entirely
Sorry to spoil the party.

It's the Tribes, Stupid

Author Steven Pressfield gives the blogesphere a try with his newly launched site It's the Tribes, Stupid.

On the site he produced five videos, on his own dime, focusing on the Afghan (and Iraqi) conflicts and how the western forces must realize who we are fighting: The eastern tribesman. Pressfield makes the case that the US made a major mistake, blundering in and hoping the spread of democracy was going to be popular. Au contraire, these people do not want democracy, because they have a different way of viewing the world. Freedom for them has a different meaning. Democracy is a threat to rheir way of life and is to be fought off.

While researching Alexander the Great's conquest of Afghanistan, for his book The Afghan Campaign, Pressfield realized there were incredible similarities to the modern US action in that country.

I have a review of the book here: The Afghan Campaign by Steven Pressfield. (This is one of my most popular posts.)

For anybody interested in the conflict and open to alternative viewpoints, it's well worth your time to have a look. Personally, I think Pressfield's angle is the best explanation of why, after eight years in Afghanistan and six in Iraq, we are failing.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Rage, Whining, Paranoia, Conspiracy Theories in Wake of Palin Resignation

The Palin phenomenon continues to amaze me. There is a big article that is making the rounds on right wing blogs is proof that a large section of the conservative movement has gone bat shit crazy.

Over at the National Review Online (NRO) is an article by a one David Kahane that is ludicrous, paranoid, and chock full of conspiracy theories. I thought it was intended to be satire but not to the people reading and commenting on it. Remember, NRO was founded by William F Buckley and was once considered a very highly respected, intellectual magazine.

The premise is a fictional narrative/confessional from a left wing operative. The story is that seeing that Sarah Palin was such a strong pick for the Republicans, the operatives decided to gather all the vast left wing conspirators and ruin her.

Read the full article here: I Still Hate You, Sarah

Excerpts:

Not only were we offended at the sheer effrontery of McCain’s pick: How dare the Republicans proffer this déclassée piece of Wasilla trailer trash whose only claim to fame was that she didn’t exercise her right to choose? Where were her degrees from Smith or Barnard, her internships at PETA, the Brookings Institution, or the Young Pioneers? We were also outraged that the Stupid Party had just nominated a completely unqualified candidate nobody had ever heard of, a first-term governor of Alaska whose previous experience consisted of a small-town mayoralty. As opposed to our guy, Barry Soetoro of Mombasa, Djakarta, and Honolulu, a first-term senator nobody had ever heard of, whose previous experience had been as a state senator (D., Daley Machine) in Illinois. After eight long, illegitimate, lawless years of &*^%BUSH$#@! tyranny, how dare you contest this election?

And so the word went out, from that time and place: Eviscerate Sarah Palin like one of her field-dressed moose. Turn her life upside down. Attack her politics, her background, her educational history. Attack her family. Make fun of her husband, her children. Unleash the noted gynecologist Andrew Sullivan to prove that Palin’s fifth child was really her grandchild. Hit her with everything we have: Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, taking a beer-run break from her quixotic search for Mr. Right to drip venom on Sister Sarah; post-funny comic David Letterman, to joke about her and her daughters on national television; Katie Couric, the anchor nobody watches, to give this Alaskan interloper a taste of life in the big leagues; former New York Times hack Todd “Mr. Dee Dee Myers” Purdum, to act as an instrument of Graydon Carter’s wrath at Vanity Fair. Heck, we even burned her church down. Even after the teleological triumph of The One, the assault had to continue, each blow delivered with our Lefty SneerTM (viz.: Donny Deutsch yesterday on Morning Joe), until Sarah was finished.
OK. Take a breath. You can see the premise.

Here's a some other nuttiness:

I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but maybe now you’re beginning to understand the high-stakes game we’re playing here. This ain’t John McCain’s logrolling senatorial club any more. This is a deadly serious attempt to realize the vision of the 1960s and to fundamentally transform the United States of America. This is the fusion of Communist dogma, high ideals, gangster tactics, and a stunning amount of self-loathing. For the first time in history, the patrician class is deliberately selling its own country down the river just to prove a point: that, yes, we can! This country stinks and we won’t be happy until we’ve forced you to admit it.
...

Did Sarah stand for “family values”? Flay her unwed-mother daughter. Did she represent probity in a notoriously corrupt, one-family state? Spread rumors about FBI investigations. Did she speak with an upper-Midwest twang? Mock it relentlessly on Saturday Night Live. Above all, don’t let her motivate the half of the country that doesn’t want His Serene Highness to bankrupt the nation, align with banana-republic Communist dictators, unilaterally dismantle our missile defenses, and set foot in more mosques than churches since he has become president. We’ve got a suicide cult to run here.

And that’s why Sarah had to go. Whether she understood it or not, she threatened us right down to our most fundamental, meretricious, elitist, sneering, snobbish, insecure, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders bones. She was, after all, a “normal” American, the kind of person (or so I’m told) you meet in flyover country. The kind that worries first about home and hearth and believes in things like motherhood and love of country the way it is, not the way she wants to remake it.
When I first saw this article, I read it thinking: oooh boy this is crazy. NRO will end up removing it. They didn't and it's making rounds on blogs.

I noticed it on popular Canadian blog Small Dead Animals yesterday, posted as Your must read of the week.

Be sure to check out the comments over there. Sample:

Posted by EBD:

David Kahane is my new hero. The guy knows what time it is, and he's not afraid to tap his watch and clear his throat, if you catch my drift.

Bang-on piece. Great to see.
This is what happens to people who only read the same blogs, listen to the same talk radio and watch shows like Glenn Beck. They lose touch with reality.

Two simple points of contention.

1. George W. Bush was in the White House for the last eight years, and up until 2006, had majority Republicans in both the House and Senate. If these vast left wing conspirators are that powerful, how do they explain that? (Funny too, they accuse Al Franken of stealing the election. Hmmm... do they really want to go there?)

2. Sarah Palin was not destroyed by the media. She destroyed herself when she opened her mouth. Even hardcore Republicans admit that she should "read up on international politics, etc." Which is an admission that she doesn't know anything. The public could see that, and that's why she's so unpopular.

If anything, the media has been soft on her. Look at this recent puff piece in Time Magazine:

Whether that is true or not, Palin's unconventional step speaks to an ingrained frontier skepticism of authority — even one's own. Given the plunging credibility of institutions and élites, that's a mood that fits the Palin brand. Résumés ain't what they used to be; they count only with people who trust credentials — a dwindling breed. The mathematics Ph.D.s who dreamed up economy-killing derivatives have pretty impressive résumés. The leaders of congressional committees and executive agencies have decades of experience — at wallowing in red ink, mismanaging economic bubbles and botching covert intelligence.

If ever there has been a time to gamble on a flimsy résumé, ever a time for the ultimate outsider, this might be it. "We have so little trust in the character of the people we elected that most of us wouldn't invite them into our homes for dinner, let alone leave our children alone in their care," writes talk-show host Glenn Beck in his book Glenn Beck's Common Sense, a pox-on-all-their-houses fusillade at Washington. Dashed off in a fever of disillusionment with those in power, Beck's book is selling like vampire lit, with more than 1 million copies in print.
In a way I'm glad Sarah Palin came along. It has exposed an element of the American right that had been under a rock for a while. Paranoia, whining, conspiracy theories. (These are not only the dominions of the far left.)

Polls say more than two thirds of Republicans strongly approve of Sarah Palin. Instead of dreaming up conspiracies, why don't they face that she's not a winner and try to win an election with somebody who might be? If not, it'll mean four more years of Obama, and more rage from them. It's hard to believe we're only six months into his term and these people think he wants to purposefully destroy the United States. Are the nutters going to snap out of this or is it going to get worse?

Final note: This line from the article, is the most pathetic whining: Did she speak with an upper-Midwest twang? Mock it relentlessly on Saturday Night Live.

Get a life.

China, India Scoff at Emissions Cuts

The G8 leaders made a bizarre promise to limit the global temperature increase to within two degrees by 2050. (Hey, I'm going to the beach Saturday, I'm hoping for sunny, 25C. Can you help me on that?) To do this, they plan drastic emissions cuts. Once again, though, they forgot to sign on major polluters China and India:

L’AQUILA, Italy — The world’s biggest developing nations, led by China and India, refused Wednesday to commit to specific goals for slashing heat-trapping gases by 2050, undercutting the drive to build a global consensus by the end of this year to reverse the threat of climate change.

As President Obama arrived for three days of talks with other leaders of the Group of 8 nations, negotiators for 17 leading polluters abandoned targets in a draft agreement for the meetings here. But negotiators embraced a goal of preventing temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and developing nations agreed to make “meaningful” if unspecified reductions in emissions.
For the good of the world they have to stop all these summits where statesmen grandstand and try to make historic deals.

The article explains why the developing countries are balking at the deal:

But the impasse over the 2050 targets demonstrated again the most vexing problem in reaching a consensus on climate change: the longstanding divisions between developed countries like the United States, Europe and Japan on one side, and developing nations like China, India, Brazil and Mexico on the other.

While the richest countries have produced the bulk of the pollution blamed for climate change, developing countries are producing increasing volumes of gases. But developing countries say their climb out of poverty should not be halted to fix damage done by industrial countries.
It's very simple. It costs too much money. They know it and we know it. Only over here they tell people that these cuts will actually make us wealthier and create endless green collar jobs.

When the money runs out in western countries, and China and India are the new superpowers we can point to folly like this as one of the causes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

US Right Echo Chamber Getting Louder

I had skimmed a few right wing blogs in the last few days triumphantly touting that the American public is moving further right. David Frum takes a closer look at the numbers and is not impressed:

We are not, in other words, viewing a big national shift from the left to the right. Rather we are viewing a shift among those who already described themselves as conservatives toward an acceptance of more extreme forms of conservatism.

...

What the Gallup poll seems to have discerned is not a change of substance, but a change in style. Over barely six months of the Obama presidency, the right has worked itself into a furious state of mind, not so much over any one issue in particular, but over the very existence of the Obama administration. Then we confuse our own mood of extremism with a more general swing to conservatism by moderates and liberals. That’s a big misjudgment – and a misjudgment that may lead to some very serious strategic mistakes in the months ahead.
I'm not an Obama fan myself, but is he really all that different from W. Bush? Crazy spending, subsidys, bailouts, increasing government stake medical coverage, continuing wars without a plan for victory, etc. Yet going to some of the old blogs I used to like on the right, you see them either screaming about Obama or praising the useless twit Sarah Palin ad infinitum. It doesn't seem to bore the bloggers or their audience.

GOP Implosion Watch

Headline at USA Today: Poll: Palin's support still strong among GOP

Sarah Palin's bombshell that she is resigning as Alaska governor actually has boosted her a bit among Republicans, a nationwide USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, though it also has dented her standing among Democrats and independents.

Two-thirds of Republicans want Palin, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2008, to be "a major national political figure" in the future. Three-fourths of Democrats hope she won't be.

Independents by 55%-34% would prefer she leave the national stage.
Not since William Jennings Bryan , who lost three Presidential contests for the Democrats, has a party refused to give up on a sure loser. Obama will be beatable with a decent candidate, but not the Whacko from Wasilla. Why can't these people see this?

Lame Duck British PM Lectures: Canada Ignores

Gordon Brown, who was never elected as Prime Minister of Britain and is so far down in the polls that he never will be, is lecturing the G8 countries on what needs to be done. He's not happy that Canada isn't going along with the plan:

And he hinted that international regulation of markets would be necessary, putting him at odds with countries like Canada and Germany, which would rather retain national regulators.

“I think that every country in the world is now having to look at its regulatory systems,” he said. “Let's be clear: If nothing changes as a result of the events in the financial crisis, then the world will be a more unstable place, and growth will be unsustainable. So things have got to change.”

The interview made it strikingly apparent how far out of step Mr. Harper's government has fallen from Western European and U.S. views, especially on climate change and international aid.

Mr. Brown outlined a “growth strategy for the world” consisting of African development funding, investments in climate-change reduction and reform of global institutions to create a worldwide regulatory framework.

While those ideas have won the broad support of the major European nations and of U.S. President Barack Obama, and are likely to set the agenda at the Italian summit today, they also differ sharply from the agenda of Mr. Harper's government, which has moved away from African aid, avoided a major role in carbon-emission reduction and shunned the notion of international regulatory bodies.
The tone of Doug Saunders' article in the Globe is that this is a bad thing. If Harper sticks to his guns and away from the peer pressure to conform, it'll be the first thing he's done this year that I would whole-heartedly approve of.

The western countries are starting to look like suckers. China sends aid to Africa but expects things in its interest, such as mineral rights, in return and doesn't lecture them on human rights. China also ignores climate change rules and grows at 9% every year. They must shake their heads at bankrupt western countries who call for more stimulus. (On loan from China itself.)

I like how Harper is taking a step back and being cautious about this madness.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hitchens Still Faithful to Neo-Con Movement

Christopher Hitchens doesn't regret being a leading media proponent of the Iraq invasion and subsequent insurgency quagmire. Today in Slate Magazine he writes that the Iranian democratic uprising may have gotten a jumpstart from the US invasion next door.

Which brings me to a question that I think deserves to be asked: Did the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, and the subsequent holding of competitive elections in which many rival Iraqi Shiite parties took part, have any germinal influence on the astonishing events in Iran? Certainly when I interviewed Sayeed Khomeini in Qum some years ago, where he spoke openly about "the liberation of Iraq," he seemed to hope and believe that the example would spread.
The theory is not a slam dunk and even if it is: Sorry if I'm not that impressed on this angle as a selling point. The thousands of lives and trillions of dollars wasted don't seem worth it to me. Nowhere is it written in the US Constitution about the obligation to stabilize the governments of Iran, Iraq or Outer Mongolia.

Cognitive Dissonance: Palinites Deny Reality

It's a mystery to me that certain right wing conservatives refuse to acknowledge that Sarah Palin has no business being in a high political office. On Friday, she had a rambling, incoherent press conference explaining that she is quitting her job as governor of Alaska just over halfway through one term. If you haven't seen the speech check it out:



She's toast right? Not to everybody. Read this job dropping piece from Republican big shot Roger Stone: Palin's Plan

This moment came last week for Sarah Palin and her husband Todd. Sick of the derision of the media for her unsophisticated country ways, her plain speaking and consistently being held to a higher standard than her critics, Palin had had enough.
She didn't actually say this was the reason of course. This is Stone's interpretation. Also, how is she plain speaking? To me, that means speaking coherently, getting to the point. Not saying: "You betcha" to important policy questions. How in her speeches or interviews does she come across as plain speaking?

There is a stock excuse from Palinites: that media elites tarnish her because it is all about class and urban snobbery. They say unfair things against her. Nothing to do with her being stupid. Harry Truman used to get cracks about his rough country manner, his hick accent and lack of university degree. But you wouldn't find many who thought he was stupid. Bubba Clinton was from Nowhereville, Arkansas and if anything that helped his popular appeal. But again, nobody accused Clinton of being stupid.

It's about being unintelligent and inarticulate. If anything, I think some of the media are overly kind to her. That weird resignation speech, the media were earnestly trying to interpret what she said instead of merely saying the speech was nonsensical.

Palin could accomplish nothing more as Governor to burnish her "experience" credentials. Nuisance lawsuits and ethics complaints from garden variety left-wing nuts were costing her hundreds of thousands of dollars and paralyzing state government. Palin's accomplishments as Governor in boom times where behind her. The lot of a Governor today is painful cuts and delivering bad news for the next 18 months. Who needs it?
Do I even need to comment on this? Stone reasons that she quit because she had some tough cuts and bad news to deliver, and who needs it? Just what we want in a President. Lincoln: "Well, the Civil War isn't going well, so I thought I'd quit. Maybe I can run again in 1868 when things calm down again." Good God, does this man believe what he's saying?

Palin has the most valuable commodity a Presidential candidate can have - a base. Roughly 23% of Americans and 68% of Republicans have a favorable view of Palin. She alone has this kind of intense following. She alone can fill a large hall or small stadium anywhere in Republican Country. This is similar to the following that sustained Nixon through two defeats and his 'self-destruction' in 1962 to win the White House in 1968.
OK. A) Only 23% of Americans have a favorable view of her. And that math will win her the election? B) Stone uses another Nixon example. Ummm.., didn't he resign in disgrace and was the most hated political figure in American politics for a generation?

Here's a doozy:

Like Nixon, Palin needs some rehabilitation to her political image caused by the relentless attacks of the elitist media, the knife-work of the relatively talentless Republican Party pros like Steve Schmidt and her own self-inflicted wounds from the post election period that were born out of inexperience at this level of political combat. Like Nixon, Palin can re-make herself in the controlled environment of television. Instead of being tortured by smug media types like Katie Couric, Palin can demonstrate her better understanding of issues and articulate a case against Obama. She can be folksy and plain-spoken and above all, 'smart.' All hail the Conservative Oprah!
The first part about the elitist media is pure whining on Stone's part.(His memories of being picked last for sports when he was in school are coming back to him. Pathetic.)The stunner for me is that somehow, these Palinites are still blaming Katie Couric for how badly Palin's performance was during her interview. For example: Couric asked her what newspapers Palin reads to keep up to date on the issues of the day. She could not name one, even when pressed. Is this torturing somebody? The denial is clinical.

Look at the video of the newspaper question, and decide for yourself:



Almost every segment of the Couric interview, she comes off as batty. Stone however says that she's "smart"?

Here's his delusional view of the future:

Palin's "star-power," charisma, presence and genuineness cannot be discounted. No one can discount her moxie, her energy and her inspirational qualities. Her anti-elite middle-class message can have resonance again when the Obama economic policies likely fail. The Ivy leaguers and Hollywood crowd so high on Obama may be riding for a fall. The media has unfairly labeled her as "dumb." All she must do is disprove this...and she can have sixty minutes each week to do it.
Conservatives like Stone would probably be the first one to tell you that leftists are pie-in-the-sky unrealistic. The GOP are utterly shipwrecked.

Ear Drum Relief

News I missed while I was away:

Oxiclean guy buys it.

Does this now make the ShamWow guy the undisputed King of the Pitchmen?

Is It Possible Defeat a Guerrilla Insurgency?

I have come to conclude that the Iraq and Afghan conflicts are virtually unwinnable. Now that we're almost a decade into the conflcits, one has to wonder if a popular insurgency can ever be defeated. Robert Kaplan has a piece in The Atlantic on how the Sri Lankan government defeated the Tamil Tigers. It wasn't pretty, and the US and NATO troops will never be permitted to try the brutal tactics. Here's two examples:

The insurgents are using human shields? No problem. Just keep killing the innocent bystanders until you get to the fighters themselves. There is no comparison between the few civilians that have been killed by American Predator drones in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and the many that were killed by the Sri Lankan government. The Americans have carefully targeted select al-Qaeda members and, in the process, killed a few—at the most, dozens—of civilians among whom the fighters were surrounded. By contrast, the Sri Lankan military indiscriminately killed large numbers of civilians—as many as 20,000 in the final months of fighting, according to the United Nations.

Bad media coverage is hurting morale and giving succor to the enemy? Just kill the journalists. That's what the Sri Lankan authorities did. Precisely because insurgencies are unconventional, there are no easy-to-follow infantry advances and retreats, so the media holds the power to shape a narrative for the public. Aware of the need for a compliant media to aid the war effort, the Sri Lankan government struck fear into the ranks of journalists. There were hundreds of disappearances of top opinion leaders.
In the run up to the Afghan War and more particularly, the Iraq War, was anybody asking if the Americans had a solution for a guerilla uprising? They lost Vietnam that way, you would think somebody might have. I guess nobody thought of it.

It should also be noted that it took Sri Lanka 26 years to totally defeat them. I can't see a democratic society accepting a commitment for that long.

Daily Salt Shaker Back From Ontario



I'll be back up posting today.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

See You July 7

I'll be back up posting July 7. Take care.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

State of the Salt Shaker

The blog is going to be on hold for a little while. I'll re-start again in early July. I'm hoping to post a book review for The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman either late tonight or tomorrow.

I'll be doing some thinking on how to revitalize this site. I've had some great periods of traffic and I've had extremely slow times. Ultimately, my book reviews have given me the most long term traffic, so I'm thinking of heading in that direction. My policy is to only review books/movies/television that I enjoy. However, maybe I should treat blog as if I'm a reviewer for a newspaper, where like it or not, you are assigned books/movies/television to review and you have to write a column about it.

I think my political posts suffer from my lack of a coherent ideology. Partisanship is what drives successful political blogs. You get traffic from people of your stripe and you get the haters, who want to see what the enemy is up to. I simply can't do that. That bores me.

Be sure to get out and enjoy the summer in the next little while.

Iranian Security Forces Regaining Control

The situation appears to have quieted down in Iran:

"I had insisted and will insist on implementing the law on the election issue," Khamenei said. "Neither the establishment nor the nation will yield to pressure at any cost."

Now that police and religious militia have regained apparent control of the streets after the biggest anti-government protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran's hardline leadership is blaming the discontent on foreign powers.

"Britain, America and the Zionist regime (Israel) were behind the recent unrest in Tehran," Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said, according to the semi-official Fars news agenc
y.
The uprising needs more organized leadership. The spontaneous nature of it will peter out if it doesn't have direction.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama Press Conference Live

It's on the television right now. I'll look for a transcript for his comments on Iran. Let's just say this: He is kicking ass. He's saying the exact right things. After eight years of the dummy, it's amazing to watch. Witty, articulate, quick on his feet. (Are these idiots who make teleprompter jokes watching this?)

He's talking about some domestic issues as well. I don't care about the US healthcare system. I disagree with almost all of his domestic initiatives.

Foreign policy is what interests me, and I think he's handling the Iran file masterfully.

UPDATE: I don't have the transcript yet, but to paraphrase, he said it's up to the Iranian people, not the United States. How bloody refreshing. What a concept!

UPDATE II: Here are his opening remarks:

First, I’d like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in the Iranian government are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others outside of Iran of instigating protests over the elections. These accusations are patently false and absurd. They are an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That is precisely what has happened these last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we have watched what the Iranian people are doing.

This is what we have witnessed. We have seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands Iranians marching in silence. We have seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and their voices heard. Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government
.

Iran Axes Footie Players For Displaying Green

In an act of solidarity with the uprising in Iran, some soccer players wore green wrist bands during a World Cup qualifying match. Suddenly, they have been retired.

Their gesture attracted worldwide comment and drew the attention of football fans to Iran's political turmoil. Now the country's authorities have taken revenge by imposing life bans on players who sported green wristbands in a recent World Cup match in protest against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election.

According to the pro-government newspaper Iran, four players – Ali Karimi, 31, Mehdi Mahdavikia, 32, Hosein Ka'abi, 24 and Vahid Hashemian, 32 – have been "retired" from the sport after their gesture in last Wednesday's match against South Korea in Seoul.

They were among six players who took to the field wearing wristbands in the colour of the defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, which has been adopted by demonstrators who believe the 12 June election was stolen
.
What a great "F-you" gesture by the players. I admire their courage.

Things I Didn't Know About Iran

Some interesting articles have popped up in the wake of the Iranian Uprising. Here are a few shocking things, I never would have thought about Iran:

David Frum:

The collapsing economy has exacerbated Iran's already horrific social problems. Iran is home to some two million narcotics users. Despite (or perhaps because of ) the regime's repressive sexual attitudes, prostitution flourishes: An estimated 85,000 prostitutes work in Tehran alone. Last year the head of Iran's anti-vice police force was arrested cavorting with six naked prostitutes in a Tehran brothel. It's generally estimated that Iran is home to 80,000 cases of HIV/AIDS -- three-quarters of these cases traceable to intravenous drug use.

Anne Applebaum:

Since 2006, the "One Million Signatures Campaign" has been circulating a petition, both online and in print, calling for an end to laws that discriminate against women: for equal rights for women in marriage, equal rights to divorce, equal inheritance rights, equal testimony rights for men and women in court. Though based outside the country, the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, founded by a pair of sisters, translates and publishes fundamental human rights documents online; it also maintains an online database containing names of thousands of victims of the Islamic republic. In the last decade, Iranian women have participated in student strikes as well as teacher strikes and in organizations of Bahai, Christian, and other religious groups deemed "heretics" by the regime.
Junkies, hookers and women's rights protests. Not as pious, and conservatively Islamic as I had assumed.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Classic Clint

Oh Yeah, That War

The BBC reports: At least 21 people have been killed and 75 people wounded in a spate of bomb attacks across Iraq, police say.

Three students on their way to sit exams, three Iraqi soldiers and a four-year-old child were reported to be among the dead.

More than 70 people were killed and 200 wounded by a massive truck bomb in the northern city of Kirkuk on Saturday - the deadliest single bomb this year.

The attacks come days before US troops pull out of Iraq's towns and cities.

With so many attacks in such a short space of time, it appears insurgents are determined to make things look as unstable as possible as the pull-out deadline approaches, the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged Iraqis on Saturday: "Don't lose heart if a breach of security occurs here or there."

He said the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq's towns and cities by the end of this month would be a "great victory".
You don't hear much about Iraq these days.

I've said it before on this blog, it's not going to be an easy thing for the US to withdraw from Iraq. Fires are going to be burning. There won't be a smooth handing over ceremony and the country won't be at peace. There will be calls to stay. It will take an act of pure will by Obama, and that would mean turning his back on what could be an out of control situation. Whether he has the nerve to go through with this, is the question.

Beatings and Shootings Continue in Iran

It appears that the Iranian government sees no choice but to crack down even harder. Perhaps they realize if they give in to the protestors they'll be thrown out of office.

Today, the regime is threatening to play an even stronger card.
Earlier Monday, the elite Revolutionary Guard issued its sternest warning so far in the post-election crisis. It warned protesters to "be prepared for a resolution and revolutionary confrontation with the Guards, Basij and other security forces and disciplinary forces" if they continue their near-daily rallies.

The Basij, a plainclothes militia under the command of the Revolutionary Guard, have been used to quell streets protests that erupted after the election result was announced.

The Guard statement ordered demonstrators to "end the sabotage and rioting activities" and said their resistance is a "conspiracy" against Iran. On Sunday, acting joint chief of the armed forces Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid issued a thinly veiled warning to Mousavi, saying "we are determined to confront plots by enemies aimed at creating a rift in the nation.
Let's hope this does not turn into a horrible massacre. The only way out of it, is if the army disobeys orders.

Absurd Afghan Push Under Way

Newly deployed American troops are in Afghanistan looking for a fight. They're going after Taliban and their cash crop:

The assault capped a day of fighting Saturday in the poppy fields, orchards and walled compounds of southern Afghanistan between newly arrived U.S. Marines and well dug-in Taliban fighters. It was a foretaste of what will likely be a bloody summer as Washington tries to turn around a bogged-down, eight-year-old war with a surge of 21,000 troops.

"This was the first time we pushed this far. I guess they don't like us coming into their back door," said Staff Sgt. Luke Medlin, who was sweeping the alley for booby traps as Marine Gunner John Daly covered him from behind when the Taliban struck.

Does anybody think this is going to work? All the Taliban have to do is retreat over the Pakistan border to safe havens. Or fight and die, because they'll be more to replace them. The Americans and NATO can go on like this for the next 20 years and they can't win. There's no winning. Afghanistan isn't going to turn into a western style democracy.

The poppy crop is their only economy. To bring "Drug War" morality to the situation is folly. It's not going to win friends.

The only argument for continuing this war is that it is combating terrorism. But with safe harbors in Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Algeria,(to name a few) it's like swatting at a single mosquito in Winnipeg during bug season. A small accomplishment that doesn't solve the problem.

Retreat. Get out. We have a great thing over here in North America. Let's stick to our territory and defend against it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Solstice



June 21st, the lightest day in the Northern Hemisphere.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

BS Detector: North Korea Is Going to Launch a Missile at Hawaii?

Who knows, Kim Jong Il is crazy, but this seems a bit far fetched to me:

North Korea may launch a long-range ballistic missile towards Hawaii on American Independence Day, according to Japanese intelligence officials.

The missile, believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 4,000 miles, would be launched in early July from the Dongchang-ni site on the north-western coast of the secretive country.

Intelligence analysts do not believe the device would be capable of hitting Hawaii's main islands, which are 4,500 miles from North Korea

It was announced today that the U.S. has deployed anti-missile defences around Hawaii in response to the threat.

Hitchens Interview in Walrus Magazine

Outside of the Iranian crisis, the news has been pretty slow. Here's a great interview with Christopher Hitchens, who is never boring. (read here.)

Excerpt:

Walrus: But let’s presume that most people who claim to be moderate Muslims, or in fact, moderate believers of any stripe, would be open to hearing alternative views such as yours.

Hitchens: But they don’t ask me. I told you I get Catholics and Rabbis wanting to debate me on a regular basis. [But there are] people who don’t take up the challenge. Mormons don’t and Muslims don’t. They just don’t. They don’t think there’s anything to discuss. They don’t want someone to come and say, “You know what? The Koran is not a holy book, and Muhammed was not spoken to by god, there is no god, there is no messenger.” They’re not going to have that — that’s how moderate they are!...

Ayatollah Defiant: Crackdown Looms in Iran

Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran made a highly anticipated speech today and there was no attempt at reconciliation.

There were threats:

"Rioting after the election is not a good way. It questions the election. If they continue [the consequences] will be their responsibility. ... If they continue they will be receiving other consequences, behind the scenes. I'm asking my friends and brothers to follow the laws. Let God give us blessing to follow those ways."

There was denial:

"The election showed that people with belief, hopes and joys are living in this country. Our enemies are using it. If the young did not feel free they would not have participated in the election. This trust is the biggest asset of the Islamic republic. "There were claims of fraud before the election. Don't listen to those allegations.

There was the old bag of tricks in the blame game:

"The competition for the election was very clear. Enemies and dirty Zionists tried to show the election as a contest between the regime and against it. That is not true, all four candidates support the regime." [He lists the government positions of the opposition candidates]. All of the candidates are part of this system and regime. Zionists and the bad British radio said it was a challenge to the regime.
The question of course, is whether this uprising is too big for a crackdown. It's much larger than the one at Tiananmen, and cuts across age and class in Iranian society. They are going to have to kill a lot of people. Let's hope they don't.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Artie Lange Flips on Joe Buck

Broadcaster Joe Buck has a new talk show on HBO. Every baseball and football fan out there can't stand the guy. I've never met a person who said: "I like Joe Buck, he's a great announcer."

Anyway, so the first episode of his show aired Monday. I have HBO-Canada, but we don't get the show up here. (Thank you Can-Con.) Crazed comedian Artie Lange was a guest and went berserk on Buck, with profanity laced cut-downs. It's incredibly awkward to watch.

They posted a clipped video of it an the Huffington Post. (Click here to view.)

Lange took some digs at the Dallas Cowboys too, and sorry if I laughed, I'm a Giants fan.
"As a Giants fan, and a well-known homophobic," Lange said, "it's like a white trash gift from god that the fucking Cowboys have a quarterback whose last name rhymes with homo."

Iranian Uprising Continues



Another massive protest in Tehran. I have a feeling the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad might try to sweat this one out and hope the world, with it's short attention span news cycle, become bored of the story. Yesterday, Obama swatting a fly was the biggest story.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bush Supporters Flail

I'm still shocked that neo-con Bush supporters are poo-pooing the Iranian uprising and claiming that somehow Obama has messed this whole thing up. During the entire eight years of the Bush administration, they were trying to promote a civil uprising against the government in Iran. Now that we have a full blown one going on right now, they seem annoyed by it.

I was listening to Dennis Miller Show yesterday and he was interviewing Mark Steyn. They both had a dour tone, that the situation is a bad thing. I don't have a transcript, but I wrote down some of the things they said. (Please note these are not exact quotes, but transcribed as best I can.)
Miller: The world seems like a much more fragile place, because the bus driver up front, President Obama doesn't have a stern look on his face.

(...)

Steyn: Iran has been to emboldened to act much more like a thug state such as Egypt and Syria. [Because of Obama's perceived weakness.]

(...)

Steyn: Iran has concluded that the US are no longer serious... They are pastsies, dupes, pushovers.
There's a civilian uprising against Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs! This is a dream scenario. What the hell are they talking about? The government got panicky and rigged the election, and the people are fighting back.

Today I was listening to Hugh Hewitt who had on the number one Bush apologist, Victor Davis Hanson. (Recorded from yesterday.) Again the tone was dour. VDH gets going:
Well now, we have the political correct version of that, which says we have no right to judge another culture, multiculturalism taken to the Nth degree. So we’re not judging, we’re not making any moral judgments. We’re just keeping out of it, and this thug is going to kill a lot of people, and then we’ll deal with him. This is, if anybody else did it, it would be considered heartless realism. But when Obama does it, it’s sort of a postmodern, ‘who are we to say what’s good and bad’?
Is that what Obama is saying? Who believes this shit? You can see the mind-set though. VDH can't seem to grasp that the President of the USA has the option of keeping out of a foreign country's business.

Warning, prepare the vomit bags, Hugh wants to talk about what their hero would do in this situation:

HH: I asked the question last hour, I’ll ask it of you, what WWWD, what would W. do? What do you think George Bush would have done by now?

VDH: Well, he would have given a statement like he did in Iraq, and like he said about Iran earlier. He would have said our hearts are with people who yearn for universal freedom, and then say it’s not predicated on any particular culture. It’s something we all share. And he would have come out, I think, pretty strongly. But you know, once you’ve apologized to a dictatorship, and you’ve said that we don’t meddle in the affairs of a dictatorship, and we’re sorry for what happened in the past, then you’ve sort of self-censored yourself. And that’s what Obama’s done, that he’s already predicated that he wouldn’t make, exercise moral judgment, and he wouldn’t meddle. He only meddles in democracies. So if it’s a democracy like Iraq, or it’s Uribe in Colombia, or if it’s Israel, then he will meddle and dictate and tell them what he thinks of them, but not an autocracy.
Good grief. Obama didn't apologize to a dictatorship. Speaking to the people, he acknowledged the hand of the US in a coup to overthrow the Iranian government in 1953. It's a universal grievance among Iranians. He was throwing them a bone. It's called diplomacy.

Bush's phony platitudes mixed with military threats didn't win over the people. The Bush supporters still can't get over that the people of the Middle East didn't hold him up as THE champion of freedom and democracy. It's killing them that: a) Maybe the people are running toward freedom without US help and b) Maybe Obama inspired them.

There was a time that I actually bought the neo-con program. I'm still kicking myself.

UPDATE: Allow me to qualify: I think Obamas running of the economy is terrible. However, I think this diplomatic initiative he began is worth a try.

UPDATE II: The neo-cons want Obama to start screaming about it, this is why it's better to keep a low profile.

IRAN ACCUSES US OF MEDDLING AFTER DISPUTED ELECTION

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran accused the United States on Wednesday of "intolerable" meddling in its internal affairs, alleging for the first time that Washington has fueled a bitter postelection dispute. Opposition supporters marched in huge numbers through Tehran's streets for a third straight day to protest the outcome of the balloting.

Watching a Revolution in Real Time

If there were a Pulitzer Prize for blogging, it should be rewarded to Andrew Sullivan for his coverage of the Iranian uprising. The government of Iran has blocked most broadcasts in the country, but the regular person on the street are using cell phones and digital cameras to film the carnage. They are using Twitter to communicate with the world. Sullivan has been tirelessly compiling coverage, as well as collecting a variety of opinions in the US. I doubt he's getting much sleep. I've been glued to my monitor since Saturday. The internet as a medium has reached a new level. I've watched a bit of television news and it's just not enough information.

He makes a great point today, above a youtube clip of gunfire in the streets:

They're shooting directly at civilians, but the civilians are undeterred. Have we ever been able to watch a revolution like this in real time? Has any mainstream media ever been able to broadcast scenes like this? Now that everyone is a broadcaster, revolutions will always be televised (or, broadcast anyway, since much of cable news is uninterested):
Check out his website at the Atlantic.

Not the Prussian Army of Old


For centuries the German army were the most fearsome and disciplined army in the world. Not these days. Reports from Afghanistan paint a different picture. German soldiers 'drink and complain too much to fight Taleban'
Now Germany’s most senior officer has berated his troops for going soft. “We cannot guarantee soldiers that they will have an all-round feel-good experience,” said General Wolfgang Schneiderhan.

His outburst follows complaints made by German soldiers to the official ombudsman about their tours abroad. Some have grumbled about unsuitable sleeping bags for their Congo peace-keeping mission — “there is no reason why this issue should have come before Parliament,” said General Schneiderhan — while others moaned about the long hours, a lack of childcare for their families at home and poor medical care.
All in all, this is a good thing. Having started two world wars, it's good to see they aren't up for another.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hollywood Is the New GM

Forbes magazine listed the top earners for actors over the last year.

1. Harrison Ford
2. Adam Sandler
3. Will Smith
4. Eddie Murphy
5. Nicolas Cage

Yep, you read that one right. If that isn't a sign that Hollywood has no new ideas, I don't know what is.

I guess these washed up, cardboard cut-outs are what the public wants? When's the last time you and your friends talked about a great Eddie Murphy movie? 1983? Do people actually enjoy Adam Sandler movies? I guess so. Since my IQ is in triple digits, I find it hard to relate.

There was actually a time that I liked Nicolas Cage. Wild at Heart, Raising Arizona. Since then, he has done so many bad movies it literally makes me nauseous if I see his face on the screen. I feel like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, after his rehabilitation: "TURN IT OFF! PLEASE, TURN IT OFF!"

Will Smith. Hate to be a snob, but the Fresh Prince doesn't do it for me. All big laughs and high fives.

The only movie I can name from any of these guys over the last few years is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I saw about 20 minutes of it before turning it off. An 88 year old Harrison Ford, hides in a refrigerator at ground zero of a nuclear blast. The fridge gets blown into the air several miles, and lands in a thud. Ford opens the door, dusts himself off and walks away unharmed. It was so bad, a new phrase was added to the Urban Dictionary: Nuke the Fridge.
Nuke the fridge is a colloquialism used to refer to the moment in a film series that is so incredible that it lessens the excitement of subsequent scenes that rely on more understated action or suspense, and it becomes apparent that a certain installment is not as good as previous installments, due to ridiculous or low quality storylines, events or characters.
Hollywood is the new GM. They're going down. Those big budget, unwatchable movies with cardboard actors mean the studios won't be able to sustain themselves.

Pat Buchanan Praises Obama While Neo-Cons Seeth

Old school conservative Pat Buchanan has encouraging things to say about the situation in Iran and a hat tip to President Obama and it is published in Townhall of all places.

The dilemma for America is that the theocracy defines itself and grounds its claim to leadership through its unyielding resistance to the Great Satan -- the United States -- and to Israel.

Nevertheless, Obama, with his outstretched hand, his message to Iran on its national day, his admission that the United States had a hand in the 1953 coup in Tehran, his assurances that we recognize Iran's right to nuclear power, succeeded. He stripped the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad of their clinching argument -- that America is out to destroy Iran and they are indispensable to Iran's defense.

With the mask of patriotism and the legacy of true revolution lost through this election fraud, Iran's regime stands exposed as just another dictatorship covering up a refusal to yield power and privilege with a pack of lies about protecting the nation.
It sure seems that he's right. The regime did panic and you have to think the Cairo speech was a part of that.

Meanwhile the Bush defenders seeth. You'd think they'd be happy that Iran is crumbling, but not if it's under Obama's watch.

Steyn:

Obama? They don't care about his speeches. The nukes? They'll happen regardless, with wide support. This election was stolen for reasons of internal survival and long-term regional strategy by a regime confident enough to snub not just a U.S. government promoting impotence as moral virtue but those allies in Europe who regularly jet in to offer cooing paeans to the vibracy of Iranian democracy.

Victor Davis Hanson:
There is some value to the present irony. Erstwhile U.S. allies can begin to fathom the wages of their much-desired “post-American world.” It appears that it wasn’t George W. Bush’s Manicheanism that “played into the hands” of Mr. Ahmadinejad, who now has a fresh lease on power, despite the U.S. charm offensive of the last six months.
The Neo-Con experiment, unfortunately didn't work. Continuing to threaten and scold Iran was meaningless. They knew the US could not invade, especially after the Iraq debacle. There was no big stick to fear. More creative diplomacy was needed. We have to move on to new ideas. Some people don't want to let it go.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Meanwhile in Canada...

Iggy threatened to force an election, but decided not to.

Yawn.

Breaking: Protestors Fired Upon in Tehran?

Reuters reports

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Armed men fired on people at a rally held by supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi on Monday, killing one person and wounding many, a witness said.

The witness, an Iranian photographer, said people in the crowd had attacked a building housing members of the Basij religious militia, who then opened fire.
What's going on in Iran has a 1989 feel to it. Unfortunately, we don't know if that means Tiananmen or Prague. Gunfire starts to tilt it towards Tiananmen.

This is a huge story, and I'm following closely.

Again, Andrew Sullivan's blog is the place to be.

Cable news is not doing enough. There's almost no coverage.

UPDATE: The shooting was filmed. (click here) Warning: Some graphic images.

Popular Uprising in Iran Leads to Results

UK Times Online: Tens of thousands defy ban to march in Tehran in support of Mousavi

Tens of thousands of Iranian opposition activists have taken to the streets of Iran for a third day protesting against the disputed presidential election, defying a ban by the Interior Ministry.

Chanting crowds wearing green campaign colours greeted Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated candidate in Friday's disputed presidential elections, as he slowly moved through the streets on the back of a four-wheel drive car.

"Mousavi we support you! We will die but retrieve our votes!" shouted the crowds of thousands, young and old, who packed his route.
...

New York Times: Khamenei Calls for Vote Inquiry Amid Calls for Calm

Mr. Moussavi met with the supreme leader on Sunday night, several news agencies quoted state television as reporting. Ayatollah Khamenei then asked that the powerful Guardian Council “precisely examine” Mr. Moussavi’s charges of irregularities, state media said.

The council will make its findings known in 10 days, according to the state media reports.

The ayatollah’s call appeared to be a shift in his position. Earlier, Mr. Khamenei had said the vote, which gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an overwhelming victory, had been fair.
...

Slate Magazine: Events in Iran prove that even a little bit of democracy is a powerful thing.

Yes, this was a highly managed, deeply illiberal election, and it didn't even change the composition of the Iranian government: After all that, Ahmadinejad is still president. But the voting process did open a crack where none had existed before, the possibility of choice did inspire what had seemed to be a passive society to protest, and the campaign rallies allowed people to shout political slogans in front of the police without the police reacting. One could argue—and many Iranians do—that the poll was farcical. But Iran goes to show that a bad election is better than none at all.

What comes next? As I write, the Internet rumor mill says that Mousavi is under arrest. By next week, he may be president—or he may be in prison. But that, too, is the point: The impact of democracy—even halfway, tentative, incomplete democracy—is unpredictable. Which is, of course, why dictators try to control it in the first place.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Battle of Algiers Trailer

Lately, I've been somewhat obsessed with the 1966 film The Battle of Algiers. I wrote a review of it recently: here. Today, I did a simple youtube search and found the trailer. It gives a taste. It's one of the greatest movies I've ever seen.

PJ O'Rourke on Hugh Hewitt

PJ O'Rourke is on a tour for his new book Driving like Crazy. On Friday, he was a guest on Hugh Hewitt's radio show and it proves to be a fun 35 minutes of audio. (Click here to listen.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

While We Slept

I spent a pleasant, unelectronic Saturday morning reading, so I just got on to the computer now and it appears that chaos is breaking out in Iran over the election. Ahmadinejad was declared the winner but the people believe the election was rigged and rioting has broken out. Supposedly protesters have been beaten and killed.

This could be very serious and profound. Cracks in the Islamic regime widen.

Andrew Sullivan's blog is on top of it. That's where I'll be tuning in today.

The Main Stream Media seems a little tepid with coverage of it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lousy Cartoons of the 70's

I remember we got a channel converter at home to hook up to the tv. It enabled us to get channel 19, which we couldn't get on the 13 station dial. That meant ABC, and that meant Super Friends for Saturday morning cartoons. Some kids at school talked about it, so I was excited to get it, and join the elite club. Unfortunately, even as a seven year old, I knew it sucked. I hated the Wonder Twins especially.

What's the Point of Listening to (Macro) Economists?

Steve Chapman writing in Reason Magazine has a good point:

So why should we listen to what macroeconomists say? Some economists think that often we shouldn't. Russell Roberts, a scholar at George Mason University and the Hoover Institution, told me, "I think some of macro is useful—what causes inflation, for example. I just don't believe we're very good at testing theories at the macro level in a convincing way." Many times, he says, all macroeconomists can do is concoct stories that explain events after the fact.

Microeconomists, by contrast, make predictions about the effect of policies on individual markets, and those predictions are easier to confirm or refute. They virtually all agree, for example, that price controls lead to shortages, and governments occasionally take the trouble to prove them right.

But macroeconomists can almost always claim to be right, no matter what happens. If they recommend Policy X and the economy weakens, they can say it prevented a complete disaster. If they say Policy X will hurt and things improve, they can say without it, we'd be even better off. Being a macroeconomist means never having to say you're sorry.
Economics is an art, not a science. Any given economist can look at a set of numbers and all have different subjective opinions. Forecasting the course of the economy is like picking who is going to win a football game. Nobody knows.

Sarah Palin Milking the Letterman Joke Controversy for All Its Worth

I thought it was a shrewd move for Palin to lash out at David Letterman's jokes. She piled on the hyperbole, and implied that the joke about her daughter was about rape, and that Letterman was a perv. It made Letterman look bad, and people weren't talking about her being a dummy for once.

(In case you've been on a deserted island this week, link here for a summary. )

The joke was awkward, but was clearly not implying rape. However, talk radio, and right wing blogs were leaping to her defense, summoning all the outrage they could muster. Finally it was something they could sink their teeth into, instead of the usual routine of trying to pretend that she's bright enough to hold a major political office.

Today, she's back for more: Sarah Palin Calls for Uprising Against Letterman for Joke About Her Daughter
In her interview, Palin said that Letterman does not owe her an apology.

"He doesn't have to apologize to me. I would like to see him apologize to young women across the country for contributing to that thread that is throughout our culture that makes it sound like it's ok to talk about young girls that way."

Gov. Palin was apparently pleased to see women organizations speaking out against the comments and then proceeded to read from her BlackBerry an e-mail she received from someone she described as not a typical feminist. "Every male organization. . . should rise up and shout in defense of their daughters, their sisters, their mothers," Palin read to NBC's Lauer.
You go girl! This should help her in her pursuit for the Republican nomination for 2012.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When Drugs Were Legal



Check out other classic "medicine" ads from days gone by.

via: Andrew Sullivan

Sealed in Ideological Purity

David Frum has had a war of words right wing talk radio host Mark Levin, throughout the year. Recently Levin screamed at a woman caller on his show, that her husband should kill himself for being married to her. Many conservatives, including Frum, thought these radio screamers were hurting, not helping the cause. Levin shot back that his show is popular and that he has a best selling book, hence, he is helping the cause.

In that spirit, Frum promised to read and review Levin's book Liberty and Tyranny. I thought there were some very interesting nuggets in the piece that made me think. (Read the full review here at The New Majority)
Some conservatives say, “No more bailouts.” That’s a fine principle, up to a point. Only – if it had been applied in the fall of 2008, the world economy would very probably have tumbled into a true depression. And it has to be recognized too (as Milton Friedman no less acknowledged in his lifetime) that it is to some degree the existence of those maligned government programs that protects modern America from economic depressions like those of 1929-1941 (or 1919-21, or 1893-96, or 1857, or 1837). The stock market may crash, factories may close – but Social Security checks continue to flow to seniors, doctors collect their fees from Medicare, faculty at state universities earn wages, and depositors at failed banks can still withdraw their funds from cash machines. Conservatives “know” this, but we tend not to emphasize it. Yet it too is part of the story of our times, and as we regroup for the political struggles of the next era, we ought to keep this knowledge somewhere in mind.

None of this interests conservatives very much right now, and it interests Mark Levin not at all. Levin thinks there is nothing to learn from the present crisis, and indeed seems to regard the whole enterprise of learning as ideologically suspect. It’s very striking that nowhere in this book does he ever engage the ideas of intelligent people on the other side. He quotes stupid statements from a fringe group like Earth First! But he flinches from any encounter with any more substantial opponent. He lives in a sealed mental universe, into which nothing new or unsettling can ever penetrate.
It's a wonder to me that there are so many sealed off people who listen to the same talk radio everyday, only read rightist blogs, and read books like Levin's and see and hear nothing else. Even if you agree, isn't that extremely boring? It's the inverted version of a commie country where the people listen to the commissar’s speeches every day, wave red flags and read the little red book.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Robert Kaplan: The Revenge of Geography

Heavyweight writer Robert Kaplan has a huge essay in Foreign Policy, about how we need to view the world, and its realities for the 21st Century. The focus is on Asia and the Middle East. All the big shot US government officials and policy makers read Foreign Policy.

I increasingly think a certain amount of isolationism is necessary for Europe and North America, away from the Middle East, and this article underlines some catastrophes and conflicts that could happen. Not to mention a power reorganization of Asia and the Middle East. (Guess what? There's not a lot of room for Americans.) We have to start looking at geopolitics in a new way and Kaplan gets the ball rolling. It's definitely one of those articles to plug in the coffee pot, find a comfortable chair, print it out (too long for on screen) and have a good read. There are too many parts to excerpt, but I'll put in this taster from the opening:
So now, chastened, we have all become realists. Or so we believe. But realism is about more than merely opposing a war in Iraq that we know from hindsight turned out badly. Realism means recognizing that international relations are ruled by a sadder, more limited reality than the one governing domestic affairs. It means valuing order above freedom, for the latter becomes important only after the former has been established. It means focusing on what divides humanity rather than on what unites it, as the high priests of globalization would have it. In short, realism is about recognizing and embracing those forces beyond our control that constrain human action—culture, tradition, history, the bleaker tides of passion that lie just beneath the veneer of civilization. This poses what, for realists, is the central question in foreign affairs: Who can do what to whom? And of all the unsavory truths in which realism is rooted, the bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most deterministic of all is geography.

(READ the entire article here.)

Interplanetary Smash Up



Earth-Venus smash-up possible in 3.5 billion years: study

Terrorists on Air France 447?

As I wrote last week: Why Is a Terrorist Attack So Quickly Dismissed as the Cause for the Missing Air France Plane?

Today the New York Post's headline story is: 2 PASSENGERS ON FLIGHT 447 HAD ISLAMIC TERROR TIES
Two passengers with names linked to Islamic terrorism were on board the Air France flight which crashed with the loss of 228 lives, it has emerged.

French secret servicemen established the connection while working through the list of those who boarded the doomed Airbus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on May 31st.

Flight AF447 crashed in mid-Atlantic en route to Paris during a violent storm.

While it is certain that there were computer malfunctions, terrorism has not been ruled out.

Soon after news of the fatal crash broke, agents working for the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure), the French equivalent of MI6, were dispatched to Brazil.
It's interesting that the media were reporting right away that terrorism was ruled out as a cause, when clearly it wasn't. France dispatched the DGSE immediately.

I don't understand why they do that. Isn't the job of the press to open mindedly ask questions and try to find answers instead of ruling something out, with no proof?

There's no definitive proof of the cause yet, and we may never know.

UPDATE: Bomb threats were made days before flight 447

Today, ABC News has confirmed that Air France received a bomb threat over the phone concerning a flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Paris days before Air France flight 447 disappeared over the Atlantic.

Authorities at Buenos Aires' Ezeiza Airport delayed the May 27 flight before takeoff and conducted a 90-minute search of the threatened aircraft. Passengers were not evacuated during the search, which yielded no explosive material. After the inspection, authorities allowed the plane to take off for Paris.

Four days later, flight 447 departed from Rio de Janeiro. There was no known threat against the missing flight.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Hard Deadline For Success in Afghanistan?

My excitment jumped seeing this Yahoo headline: Pentagon: Next 18 months key to Afghan victory

What does it mean?
He and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen told senators they're more optimistic now than in recent months about efforts to combat insurgents and extremists along the remote Afghan-Pakistan border.

But, Mullen said, "I think the next 12 to 18 months will really tell the tale."

Gates emphasized that he did not mean the Afghan campaign would achieve success in that time, but rather that officials hoped to "see a shift in the momentum" by then.

"It's very important for us to be able to show the American people that we are moving forward ... to show some shift in momentum," Gates said. "This is a long-term commitment, but I believe the American people will be willing to sustain this endeavor if they believe this is not just a stalemate."
Oh. I see. So by 2011 we can at best expect a momentum shift. (Whatever that means.) At that time the war will be a decade old. If that's not a stalemate, I don't know what is.

And They Say Women Are the Gentler Sex

Don't give me the "if women were in charge, there'd be no wars" line....

Yglesias: The Status Quo Remains the Policy in the Middle East

As the bills for the Middle East wars continue adding up in lives and treasure, and the US in poor economic health, they really have to figure out a new shift of direction. Obama had a great speech in Cairo, but it's the actions that are going to be important. If he keeps up what Bush started for his term as President, the words won't matter.

In a search to find alternative ideas, I stumbled across this Matthew Yglesias piece in the Daily Beast. He doesn't offer great solutions, but at least points out that the status quo isn't working. (Read the full article here.)

What we can do is change the way we relate to the existing governments. Currently, whether we're officially on record as favoring democracy or not, we're still deeply in bed with status quo regimes. Our global network of military bases includes installations in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Iraq and our warships operate constantly in the region's coastal waters. After Cairo, Obama went to Germany where America also has military bases. But unlike the German bases, the Middle Eastern ones are deeply unpopular and seen as a legacy of colonialism. When the president of the United States stands besides a German chancellor, a French president, or a British or Canadian prime minister, it is seen as a meeting of equals; in the Middle East, it's more like a visit from the imperial center to the provinces.

And while we shouldn't be naïve enough to think that Osama bin Laden would just pack up and live a quiet life in the absence of the heavy American military presence in the region, it can't be denied that they're frequently cited as a rallying cry and recruiting tool. What's more, it's their presence that undergirds the broader logic of al Qaeda's view that Muslims must attack the "far enemy"—the United States—in order to express their grievances with local governments. The invasion of Iraq, needless to say, did a great deal to intensify Arab fear that the United States is seeking the imperial subjugation of their lands (and oil). And Obama's disavowal of the invasion helps in this regard, but there continues to be speculation about "residual forces" remaining in Iraq even after Obama's promised withdrawal of "combat forces."

More tellingly, the bulk of our bases in the region were first established in the wake of the first Gulf War in order to "contain" the threat from Saddam Hussein. Today, Saddam is gone. But the bases aren't. On the merits, there's no need for them. The balance of power in the Persian Gulf is of some interest to the United States, but forces kept "over the horizon" could move into place if for some reason they were needed. Meanwhile, as long as the bases exist, they continue to serve as visible reminders of the ties between the U.S. and Arab autocracies—reminders that speak more powerfully than any speech can.
This is a big dilemma for the Americans. They can't understand why, and refuse to believe that the Arabs don't like their presence. America is a great force of good in the world, but they have to face up to the fact that the people in that region don't see it that way.

They need to pull up the stakes and get out of there. There's nothing in the US Constitution that says America has to protect democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's messy, it's ugly: Let them work it out alone. Don't think of it as a loss but a gain for the good of the country.

Novel Idea from the European Right: Budget Sanity

Anne Applebaum goes to Europe and sees it tilting to the right. For economic reasons:

For the record, Ferguson is, at least by origin, a British Tory. For the record, there aren't any U.S. Republican polemicists making the same arguments in quite as public a way. With a few exceptions, the American center-right's loudest and most articulate voices have been focused almost exclusively on national security for the better part of the last decade. Lip service was paid to "small government" and "reduced spending" while successive Republican Congresses, hand in hand with a Republican White House, enlarged government and spent like crazy. How can they now criticize Obama's possibly lethal budget deficits when their own were so vast, so recently?

None of this is to say that any of Europe's conservatives would necessarily go down well in the United States. (Picture Silvio Berlusconi, paparazzi and alleged teenage mistresses in tow, campaigning in Mississippi.) It's also true that they don't necessarily have much in common: Allegedly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy can hardly stand to be in the same room at the same time. But if nothing else, the success of the European center-right during the current crisis proves that there is something to their political formula. They are fiscally conservative. They are, if not socially liberal, then at least socially centrist. They haven't been swayed by the fashion for big spending. They are trying to keep some semblance of budget sanity. And, at least at the moment, they win elections.
It's not rocket science is it?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sass Palin: Economic Genius

Sass Palin made the top story on Drudge Report today. In it she gives her opinions on the economy.
HANNITY: You know but it goes back - It does go back a little to the campaign. I mean, ‘spread the wealth, patriotic duty…’

PALIN: Kind of a ‘we told ya so’.

HANNITY: Well, is that how you feel?

PALIN: That’s how I feel! I feel like… and I think that more and more constituents are going to open their eyes now and open their ears to hear what is really going on and realize ok… Maybe we didn’t have a good way of expressing that, or articulating that message of ‘here is what America could potentially become if we grow government to such a degree that we cannot pay for it and we have to borrow money from other countries, some countries that don’t necessarily like America.
Well, what was Sass saying back in the campaign? Listen to her field the question from Katie Couric about bailouts. And GOP diehards say it's a smear to call her stupid:



UPDATE: Palin lays groundwork for 2012 presidential bid
At one event in Auburn, New York, over the weekend, Palin was greeted by the crowd with a revised version of her campaign-trail mantra of "Drill, baby, drill". As she arrived on the podium, the 20,000-strong audience erupted in a chant of "Run, Sarah, run."
What a joke.

Snapshot of a Failed State

Recently I had seen, and written a review of the movie: Battle of Algiers. It depicts a successful guerilla campaign to force the French out of Algeria.

This movie had a great affect on me. I have been studying guerrilla/insurgencies/terrorism movements. It is with interest that I read this compelling AP article: In Algeria, al-Qaida extends franchise

What we see in Algeria is a failed state.
Four years ago, the Algerian terrorists — then known as the Salafist Group for Call and Combat — were running out of steam.

Born in an insurgency in 1992, the group took part in a near-civil war the next decade that killed about 200,000 people. But its fighters had lost popular support after killing Muslim civilians. Many leaders had turned themselves in during government amnesties, and the group was weak from internal feuds.

So its new emir or leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel, reached out to the superstar of international jihad: Al-Qaida.

(....)

Still, violence is persistent. Data obtained by the AP from Western diplomats in Algeria shows 85 significant bombings in 2008. Some 639 people died that year because of terrorism-related violence: 409 suspected militants, 158 security force members and 72 civilians.

This year, there were 64 bombings from January to April alone, with deaths of 19 civilians and 61 security force members. The data also shows 167 suspected militants killed amid police sweeps, army raids and aerial bombardments.

Construction entrepreneur Mohammed remembers his terror in February, when he and his son returned late from a construction site, unarmed. They saw five gunmen blocking the road and waiting for them, said Mohammed, who asked to be identified only by his first name for fear of retaliation.
Clearly, the lesson is that once terrorist, insurgent tactics take hold in a society, it's hard to get rid of them. The French are long gone but the civilian Algerians live a miserable life in fear of bombings and kidnappings.

The extent of Al-Qaida in North Africa is shocking to read. Quietly, that too is becoming a major front for the war on terror. The Europeans are seeing it spread to their own soil:

It shows that the battle against radical Islam in Algeria has become crucial — and not only for North Africa. Intelligence officials throughout Europe are convinced that AQIM [Al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb] wants to expand in their region.

A senior counterterrorism official in France, who was not authorized to talk on the record, told The Associated Press that his services work "daily, constantly" with Algerian security to contain this threat. He says at least six AQIM-related cells, dormant or getting ready for action, have been dismantled across Europe in recent years.

Last month, the Spanish judiciary announced it had caught 12 Algerians from a suspected support cell. And last week, Italian authorities issued arrest warrants for two Tunisians, two Moroccans and an Algerian suspected of plotting attacks on a church and a subway line.

"For now, we've been good," the French official says. "But we've basically been lucky."

This is a very disturbing article. It's seems like yet another smoking volcano in that region. After eight years in the war on terror, it seems the situation is worse, not better.

Poseur Alert

Be prepared when a written piece on pop music is titled: Cultural Sorbet

Random sentence: Waits acted as a palate cleanser, allowing them to care about new sounds once more.

As I've written before: What's with pretentious Tom Waits' fans?